Friday, March 29, 2013

Never Whine Over Left Over Wine – March 29, 2013

We had a great party the other night and woke to find several open bottles of wine.  We finished the red wine that night, but decided to cook with the white.  John was craving mussels after reading about a newly opened mussels restaurant, so we decided to make our own.  We bought 1 ½ lbs. of mussels at the local seafood market and had the rest of the ingredients at home.  But, I also had a lovely bag of mushrooms from a local farmer and decided there had to be a way to take advantage.  Here was the resulting recipe:

Mussels and Mushrooms

1 1/2 lb mussels
1 T unsalted butter
3/4 cup white wine
1 chopped shallot
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 /2 c. fresh chopped parsley
Scrub and remove the beards from the mussels. This means tossing and mussels that do not close because they are dead!
Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a large, wide-bottomed pot with a lid.  Saute the shallot until it is soft. Add the garlic cloves and do the same.  Add the white wine and bring it to a boil.  Add the mussels in one layer if possible.
Cover the pot and let the mussels steam for 3-8 minutes.  After three minutes, check the mussels to make sure most are open and toss in the parsley.  Cook longer if necessary.  Again, throw out any mussels that did not open.  Serve the rest with crusty bread.
So then, I took about a ½ cup of the broth and put in a small pot and warmed back up to medium.  I added the mushrooms and cooked until all the flavor was through the mushrooms.  I had them with my mussels but added the left overs to a delicious salad the following day!  Yum!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Start or End Your Day with Applesauce – March 23, 2013

Back in the Fall, I blogged about putting up apples and pears.  This included making about a dozen jars of applesauce with nothing but apples and honey or a bit of cinnamon if you like.  We gave them as holiday or housewarming gifts and used some to make holiday jam cakes also included in this blog.  We also had some delicious breakfasts with apple sauce as a side and if I ate pork or peirogis, they would both be fabulous accompanied with homemade applesauce.  I also found two new recipes using applesauce as an ingredient that I tried this Winter.  One is for breakfast and the other for dinner:

Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins

1 1/2 + ½ cups oats
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 + ¼ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup + 2 T. packed brown sugar
3 T. vegetable oil
1 egg white
1 T. melted butter

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Line 12 muffin tins with paper cups.  Combine 1 ½ c. oats,
1 ¼ c. flour, ¾ tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. baking powder and ¾ tsp. baking soda.  Add applesauce, milk, ½ c. brown sugar, oil and egg white.  Mix just until dry ingredients are moistened.  Fill muffin cups almost full.  Combine remaining ingredients.  Sprinkle evenly over batter.  Bake 20-22 minutes until deep golden brown.  Serve warm.

Applesauce Meatloaf

2 lbs. ground meat (pick your combination of beef, pork, lamb or turkey)
½ c. chopped onion
1 c. applesauce
3 T. Ketchup
1 c. breadcrumbs
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all ingredients and place in greased loaf pan.  Bake for 1 ½ to 2 hours.  Cool 10-15 minutes.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What I Learned During the Food Stamp Challenge - March 18, 2013

Last week, my husband and I took the food stamp challenge.  This is an opportunity to gain some understanding about the difficulty of food stamp rules and limitations.  Check it out and consider trying it yourself at  As the director of The Coalition for the Homeless, I felt pretty confident in my understanding of food stamp rules and limitations, but I still had a lot to learn. 

My husband and I started out by discussing our shopping for the week.  As usual, we asked what we'd like to eat this week, but we also asked what is reasonable considering our limitation of $34 per week per person.   This was my first learning opportunity.  We eat a lot of fish and vegetables most weeks and both were included on my shopping list.  However, when I got to the grocery, there was no deal on fish but I found chicken breasts for .99 per pound.  I also found a large container of lettuce on sale which could be used for salads and soft tacos where many vegetables were more costly and less easy to fit with various meals.  In other words, this level of money for our weekly food bill means it is hard to plan meals ahead.  I really had to take advantage of grocery store deals and coupons.  This was easy in my large suburban grocery, but might have been more difficult in a small city corner store.

Here are the other major learnings from my week:

1) I really had to challenge myself to buy healthy fresh vegetables.  I usually eat several vegetables a day, but when I saw what they cost, I quickly started to eliminate these from our list.  I did use beans for tacos and salad.  I also used canned tomatoes in spaghetti sauce, but my only fresh vegetables were a bell pepper and lettuce.  My usual breakfast is an apple with peanut butter.  When I realized I could buy a box of peanut crackers for the week at .99, my fruit for the week at .99 per day was crossed off my list.  My reading shows that the healthiest people focus on what healthy things they can eat versus what they are missing.  The truth is that I lost the healthy things in my fridge that I allow myself as a treat whenever I want them.  Instead, because I was limited to only one snack purchase for the week, I picked goldfish over a bag of carrots, when I'd usually take both.
2) Food stamps are not going to force people to eat what they should.  In fact, as I described above I gave up my daily apple and the underlying reason was that I wanted enough money left to insure I could have a diet coke each day.  I'm not saying that food stamps caused me to drink pop daily.  I drink pop daily because I like it and it makes me happy and I'm willing to give up other more healthy things in my diet to insure I can still afford it.  But why do I feel guilty about that because I'm only allowed $34 per week?  I realized during this experience that we blame poor people for making the same bad choices I make every week in the grocery - buying Diet Coke at .40 per can. 

3)  Putting up or canning foods really helps when you're limited on funds.  My cheese sandwiches were good because I had canned tomato jam.  My tacos and quesadillas were especially good because I had canned salsa from the summer harvest and I had pickled veggies which were great in my salads.

4) One of the rules in the food stamp challenge is that you can't eat any place for free.  Well, I'm here to tell you from my experience that if you only had $34 to eat each week, you are definitely looking for any opportunity to eat for free.  My mother-in-law took me to dinner one night during the week, but I also took advantage of every sampling at a grocery, anything co-workers brought to the office and even gave blood to get the cookies.  But, the sad thing about this is that someone like me who has plenty money for food has a lot more opportunities to eat free than anyone on food stamps.  I get lots of free meals and snacks at work.  I live in the suburbs were my grocery has samples and I have friends who invite me over for food and drinks.

5) Food stamps only addressed a portion of my grocery and food needs.  When I drove to Birmingham for my day's surgery, I included the cost of my fast food stop and lunch at the hospital in my $34 limit, but neither of these locations would have taken food stamps and in Kentucky, where I live, you cannot use food stamps for these warmed items even if you are homeless.  But, I could have purchased peanut crackers, chips or a cold sandwich at a gas station.  And, food stamps cannot be used for non food items.  I still needed dish soap, laundry detergent and toilet paper this week which couldn't be purchased with food stamps.

6) Finally, it is possible to eat on $34 per week, but it is difficult and certainly takes the joy out of eating.  I tended to eat more pasta and bread versus vegetables and fruits and simple hearty foods versus items with many ingredients.  People certainly aren't living it up on this benefit and they are really struggling if they are living on the streets trying to eat unprepared and unwarmed foods.

What I bought during the week:
$1.50 peanut crackers
$3 Diet Coke
$2.50 lettuce
$3 salad dressing
$1.5 tortillas
$.99 chicken breast
$2.5 bagette (also used to make croutons)
$1.99 sour cream
$.99 red bell pepper
1.99 cheddar cheese
$1.49 sandwich bread
$1.50 pasta
$.99 tomato sauce
$.49 tomato paste
$2.49 bag of goldfish crackers for snacking
$5 cafeteria food at hospital
$1.25 Taco Bell bean burrito
I used my own spices, pickled vegetables, tomato jam and salsa

What I ate during the week:
Peanut crackers for breakfast each morning
Two Diet Cokes each day for breakfast and morning
Cheese sandwiches and salads for lunches 5 days
I had a lunch at the hospital and a burrito at Taco Bell while driving
My family bought my dinner one night
I had chicken soft tacos two nights and quesadillas another
I had pasta three nights with bread a slice of bagette I had to buy the wine to make pasta sauce and have a glass both nights with my pasta without food stamps
I had water with the rest of lunches and dinners
I also couldnt buy toilet paper, napkins, laundry detergent or any other of my household needs with food stamps

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Healthy and Green Breakfast – March 8, 2013

During the holidays, I decided to make Lemon Curd again.  It is a great homemade holiday gift.  But, I was left with the usual dilemma – what to do with all the leftover egg whites.  I have a previous blog where the answer was angel food cake in case you want to try that out.  This time, I started thinking about all the fancy breakfast and brunch places I’ve been to lately that feature an egg white omelet. 

It turns out that two egg whites only have 34 calories.  If you can then use a small amount of a sharp cheese and focus on the veggies in your fridge, you can have a really healthy but filling meal.  I had four unused egg whites which I whipped up with a fork (adding salt, pepper and a bit of parsley) before pouring into my frying pan.  I usually let the eggs cook a bit, scraping the bottom to keep the uncooked portion seeping through to the bottom of the pan.  When all the liquid is gone, I add the veggies and cheese and double over the omelet.  In this case, I added sauted tomatoes, onions and parsley.  It was delicious and I did not miss the calories at all.

 One year ago - Limoncello

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Harvesting of Walnuts - March 1, 2013

One of the benefits of living in the eastern half of Kentucky is walnuts!  There are three varieties of walnuts - English, Black and White.  When you buy walnuts in the grocery, you are getting the English walnut.  It has a smooth shell that is easy to crack and the nuts come out in halves that are great for recipes where this is important.  But, the variety that grows in the parks around my house and on our property in Pendleton County is the black walnut.  It has a shell with sharp wrinkles that is really hard to crack so the pieces come out in small bits.  The benefits though are that they are free all around us (just like Pecans where I grew up in Alabama) and they have a stronger walnut flavor than the English walnut.  I would say more about the white walnut if I'd ever seen one.  According to my research they also grew in this part of the country but are now an endangered species!  What a shame.

It is important to note here that this shell is not what you'll see when the nuts are on the tree.  The shell is actually surrounded by a smooth green soft outer shell or hull.  When the nuts begin to drop (around September in my area), this green hull begins to rot off as the weather changes from warm to cool and back again and the rain washes it away.  If you have an asphalt driveway, I hear the easiest way to remove the outer shell is to drop them on your driveway and drive over them for a couple weeks.  I just watch the harvest and in November start picking up bags of the ones where the outer hull has turned black and started to come off on it's own.  I used to take these home and scrub them, but now I just remove as much of the outer husk as I can and dump them in a big metal wash pan in the basement to dry out.  I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU USE GLOVES WHEN REMOVING THE OUTER HULL.  THIS IS HOW THEY MAKE WALNUT DYE AND IT WILL DYE YOUR FINGERS DARK BROWN FOR ABOUT A WEEK OR MORE.

I usually let the nuts sit until after Thanksgiving when I'm ready to start making Christmas cookies and other goodies using walnuts.  If you crack them too early, the nuts are mushy and you will need to put them in a warm oven to dry out.  If you crack them too late, the shells get really hard and your job is tougher.  The key, however, is a walnut cracker.  The picture above is mine.  It cost about $50 and has to be bolted to a wall or table.  It isn't worth the money or trouble if you only plan to try this once, but if you plan to harvest walnuts annually.  It's the only way to do it.  I also recommend you have one work glove for this project.  When you crack the nut, the shell and nut meat fly in all directions.  To address this, I cover the nut with my glove when cracking and dump the whole handful in a bowl.  After you fill the bowl, you can pick through the pile to get the meats.

If you just want to try harvesting your walnuts once before you invest in a cracker, I recommend putting the nuts in a canvas bag and then hitting with a hammer.  You have to hit really hard because these shells are hard!

Once you've picked out the nut meats, they freeze quite well in zip lock bags until you are ready to use.  We use ours most often in salads with dried cranberries and blue cheese.  They are also great in stir fry with asparagus and noodles and you can make a walnut pie just like a pecan pie but substituting walnuts.  My favorite use, though, is Canadian Biscuits (cookies).  See the recipe below:

Canadian Biscuits

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. shortening'
3/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. flour (white, wheat or both)
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. dried fruit and/or chocolate chips
2 c. quick oats
1 c. chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cream butter, shortening and sugars.  Add eggs.  Add other ingredients one at a time in order.  Drop by teaspoon on greased or lined baking sheets and bake 8-10 minutes.  Makes 3-4 dozen.

If you really want to celebrate the taste of walnut, try this favorite of my husband's family:

Walnut Cake

1/2 c. butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. milk
2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. chopped walnuts

Cream butter and sugar.  Add beaten eggs.  Add flour and powder, sifted.  Slowly add milk.  Add vanilla.  Add walnuts.  Cook at 350 degrees until done.  Serve with cream cheese icing and walnuts sprinkled on top.

One year ago - Homemade Limoncello