Monday, January 31, 2011

Beefier than Taco Bell Nachos for Super Bowl Sunday

Have you been following the crazy law suit against Taco Bell? A consumer is calling for Taco Bell to be more honest about the actual percentage of beef they use in their tacos, burritos, and cheesy gordita crunch-a-ma-jigs. I don't know what they have on their menu. I haven't been there in years. Not since my sister Heidi bought a burrito on our drive from California to BYU and it dripped all over her cut-off sweats as she cruised the I-15. I was riding shotgun, trying to sop it all up with napkins and laughing my head off. I don't think that incident was Taco Bell's fault, but if you think it was, maybe I should consider a lawsuit. It has caused me considerable emotional distress and I haven't been able to step into a Taco Bell or wear cut-off sweats since then.

I think we're getting a little too big for our litigious britches, don't you? Here's what you do if you don't like what they're doing at Taco Bell, at Mc Donalds, at Acme Roller coaster company-you don't go. You don't spend your money there. You don't have to sue, get it? Your dollar is your vote. And aren't we forgetting the obvious here? Who goes to Taco Bell because they are expecting the finest quality Angus beef? Unless I've got America pegged all wrong, I think people are there for taste and price. Taco Bell, like any good housewife, stretches their budget by adding a little of this and a little of that to their ground beef. Didn't your Mom put oatmeal in her meatloaf? Beans in her chili? Breadcrumbs in her hamburger patties? That conniving little penny pincher! Take her to court and sue her for all she's worth! How dare you, Mom? Um...It sounds ridiculous, because it is ridiculous. Businesses, just like people, balance their budgets by making compromises here and there. If you don't like the extended beef at Taco Bell, take your discriminating dollar somewhere else. (Or make your own food at home; I'm here to help.) I'm pretty certain you'll be paying more, but maybe you'll be so busy eating you can keep your litigious mouth shut.
That sounded a little harsh. Let me try that last line again. Maybe you'll be so busy eating, you can keep your litigious mouth closed. Was that nicer? Oh, good. This is nicest of all: I've got some big, beefy nachos for your Super Bowl Sunday. They're loaded with shredded beef, melted cheddar, sour cream and homemade super-fast salsa. Get a pot roast going sometime this week so you'll have plenty for nachos this weekend. And if you're too busy to cook, you can always go to Taco Bell. No suing though, OK?
Pot Roast for Mexican Recipes
Estimated Cost: $8.00 for lots
Any inexpensive roast will work well, since you're going to be simmering for a long time.
1 pot roast, about 3 lbs.
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, whole
1 cup smooth salsa
1 cup beef broth
Put everything in the crockpot on high for 4 hours, or on low for 6-8. Mash up the onion and garlic with the juices. You can also do it on the stove top; just brown the roast in a little oil, add all the ingredients and simmer until tender about 3 hours.
Quick Salsa
Estimated Cost $1.00 for about 2 cups
1 (14 ounce) can Mexican style diced tomatoes with jalapenos
juice of 1/2 lime
pinch of sea salt
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 clove minced garlic
Combine all ingredients in blender and process to smooth, or leave it a little chunky.
Nachos:
Layer tortilla chips, refried beans, shredded beef, and shredded cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 until cheese is melted. Top with sour cream, salsa, and chopped scallions and tomatoes.

Next Up: More Super Bowl food. Or Chinese New Year. Still thinking...

PS I might go to Taco Bell one of these days, just to show my support.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Vermont Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Maple and Mustard

If it weren't for men, I'd say that grilled cheese sandwiches are the perfect dinner. I think most women and children would agree. Men, on the other hand, are perfectly happy to eat a grilled cheese sandwich as part of a dinner, perhaps as the appetizer part. You have to train men to recognize that grilled cheese, or soup, or even a baked potato, and worst case scenario-a bag of popcorn can quaify as dinner. They will put up a fight, but don't give up. Or compromise and let them have their bag of popcorn and a bowl of cereal as a well balanced meal. And let them have their grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of soup. (It has to be tomato soup with grilled cheese, in my bossy opinion.) Here's my favorite grilled cheese in the world. We discovered it on a trip to Vermont with my sister Heidi and husband Mikey. We were all instantly enraptured. (It was lunch time and for men a grilled cheese sandwich can be cautiously accepted as lunch.) You might be tempted to think that apples are a strange addition but they are perfectly at place with the sharp cheddar cheese, buttery sourdough bread, hearty ham and maple mustard dipping sauce. I've also swapped out the apples for tomatoes and it was equally good. If you are going to have grilled cheese for dinner, then this is the one. Be firm. He's going to love it.

Vermont Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Estimated Cost: $6.00 for 4 sandwiches
4 tablespoons yellow mustard
4 tablespoons maple syrup
8 slices sourdough bread
softened butter
deli sliced ham or turkey
thin slices of apple-any variety
sharp cheddar cheese
In a small bowl, combine mustard and maple. Spread just a dab very thinly on insides of two slices of bread. Stack one slice of bread with cheese, apples and meat. Top with other slice of bread, mustard side in. Butter outsides of bread and cook in preheated frying pan over medium heat for two minutes. Flip, reduce heat to low and cover and cook an additional three minutes, or until bread is toasted. Serve with extra maple mustard dipping sauce.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Frosted Fudge Brownies with Pecans from Ramona's Tree

Every year in late January, my dear neighbor Ramona hires a man to come with a machine-a-ma-jig to knock the pecans off her stately tree. The first year when the pecan-shaker came, I thought it was an earthquake and sent the kids to stand in doorways while I shouted instructions about covering their heads. I got that from my good old fashioned Los Angeles upbringing. But it was just the rumblings of the pecan-shaker and not a 6.3 on the Richter scale. We could relax and enjoy the pretend earthquake, kind of like a Disneyland ride. We got into the swing of things and we really started looking forward to the pecan-shaker. Afterwards, Ramona's yard was always full or pecans. They needed to be collected and sorted. If you don't hustle over to help Ramona, you won't get the chance. She is spry and hard-working AND she has dozens of helpful grandchildren. If you want to help Ramona, you better not procrastinate or there will be nothing left to do. Here are my Ramona, my two charges and cousin Reeve collecting the nuts. West is making sure it's a good nut before he tosses it into the basket. (We need those little Willie Wonka scales for good nuts and bad nuts. )Sailor has a handful of perfectly good pecans, ready to be shelled and toasted and made into all sorts of lovely things, like the glazed pecans that Ramona brings us every year for Christmas. Since it was getting late in January, I asked Ramona when the pecan-shaker was coming for our annual thrill. But this year, all the pecans fell off by themselves. No shake, rattle or roll was necessary. When Ramona saw that we were disappointed, she brought us over another bag of sugared pecans and a whole bag full of pecans. We've been in heaven. To show our gratitude, I decided to bake Ramona some chocolate frosted brownies with lots of pecans. I spotted the recipe on Cookie Madness, my friend Anna's baking blog. The brownies were utterly divine. They were rich and fudgy and full of buttery pecans. (They've gotten nothing but rave reviews from everyone we've shared them wtih.) They are relatively inexpensive to make since they don't require any baking chocolate; just plain old cocoa powder does the trick here. You could swap out the pecans for another sturdy nut like walnuts, but I think the pecans are worth the splurge. Or you could move onto my street and wait for sweet Ramona to bring you a basket. Frosted Fudge Brownies with Pecans from Cookie Madness
Estimated Cost: $4.00 for 9 servings
4 oz (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 scant teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup Hershey’s natural cocoa (not sure what results you’d get with Dutch)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Frosting
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional) or 9 pecan halves
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8 inch metal pan with foil and mist the bottom with cooking spray.
Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Whisk in the sugar, then whisk in the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. Gradually add flour mixture to the batter. Stir in the pecans (if using). Pour into pan and bake for 20-25 minutes (I baked for 20). Pull from oven and make frosting.
Frosting: Stir together cocoa powder and powdered sugar. If you have time, you might want to sift it. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the milk. Stir it into the chocolate/sugar mixture. Stir in the vanilla. Add pecans if using. Pour over the warm brownies and kind of spread it a little to cover. Garnish with pecan halves.
Let brownies cool completely. Lift from pan, set on a cutting board, trim edges and cut into squares. I trimmed the edges and made 9 large squares.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sullivan's Homemade Crusty Bread-with a shortcut

Post Edit: Thanks to Shanzanne for pointing out that the name of the bread creator is Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. Forgive the error. I promise to keep making mistakes just as long as you will keep forgiving them.
I am pretty certain at this point that most people have tried the famous no-knead bread. I have and I'm a believer. Sullivan Bakery master Jim Lahey believed that the ancient Romans probably weren't setting a timer for 8 minutes to knead their bread erstwhile eeking out a living and guarding their homes against invading Barbarians. No, more likely than not, they were mixing up some very basic and standard ingredients and leaving the mass to fend for itself for the day. Sullivan mixed up some flour, water, and salt and found that with a very small amount of yeast and an ample amount of time, he could produce some exemplary loaves of bread. The other issue, of course, is capturing the crustiness produced by the blazing hot temperatures of the old wood fired ovens. Lahey found that if you preheat a pot and lid in your oven at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, you could slip in your dough and produce roughly the same effect. It works. The bread is crusty and full of beautiful holes. It was grand.... Except I have to confess that it really bothered me to have my oven on for 30 minutes with nothing inside of it. It's an apalling waste of energy and money. I started skipping the 30 minute hellfire and began putting my pot in the oven for as long as it took for the oven to preheat to 450 degrees. I felt a little better. But wait; it gets better still. A while back, Lahey found that he could produce the same great results by popping his bread into the cold pot and skipping the preheat all together. The first time I tried it, my bread was stubbornly plastered to the bottom of the pan. The next time, I coated my pot with a slick of vegetable oil and the problem was solved.
Here's what you're going to do. Roughly 24 hours before you want to eat bread, mix up 3 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon yeast (If you're kitchen isn't at least 70 degrees, use 1/2 teaspoon yeast), 1 and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 and 7/8 cups water. Stir it together just until you have a shaggy mess. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit for somewhere between 12 and 18 hours.

Get a little flour on your hands. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it for a few seconds until it comes together in a smooth ball. I used to take the smooth ball and put it on a floured dishcloth to let it rise for two additional hours. Now, I oil the bottom of an oven-safe cooking pot and dust it with cornmeal and put the bread in there to rise.Here's a picture of my pot when I used to preheat. You could use a Dutch Oven, or a glass casserole dish. I use my regular old stock pot, but I cover the handles with tinfoil, since the handles aren't ovenproof.
If you're using the shortcut method, you won't have to worry about the preheat. In fact, Jim says you can even skip the second two hour rise. I tried it once, but I had better results with a second rise in the cold pot for two hours. Place the cold pot with your bread inside, covered with a lid, in the oven and turn the oven on to 450 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake an additional 30 minutes. Here's what's waiting for you. Ta-da. You're not supposed to slice into it until it cools. I can never last that long. I bet the ancient Romans didn't resist, either. Sullivan's Homemade Crusty Bread-the shortcut
Cost: less than $1 a loaf
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon yeast (double it if your kitchen is colder than 70 degrees)
1 and 7/8 cup water
1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt
cornmeal for dusting
Stir together flour, yeast and salt. Add water and stir until shaggy and combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 12-18 hours. Coat hands with flour and shape dough into ball. Place in pot with lid. (I grease the bottom of my pot.) Let rise for two more hours. Place bread in pot, covered with lid, in the oven and turn the oven to 450 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake an additional 30 minutes.
PS Thanks everybody for all of your Tiger Mother input on the last post. I'm still thinking about it and your comments were very insightful.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More on Tiger Mothers and Slow Cooker Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

I don't think we're done hearing about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. (Click to hear about it on NPR.) At least I know I'm not done thinking about Tiger Mothers. Last week, most of the buzz focused on Amy Chua's methods for forcing success, but then I found this article that gets personal. Did you know that Chinese kids, in addition to making superior music at young ages, are also kicking our collective booties at math? I was pretty certain they were kicking mind, but my kids too? It kind of makes you wonder. I'm not sure if I should make the kids stand on hot coals and recite algebraic formulas while practicing Bach concertos on their violins, or if I should just let them take the day off to roller skate and eat hot fudge sundaes. What is best? Again, it's probably somewhere right down the middle. (Minus the hot coals, of course.) In my self-evaluation I've learned a few things.
Here is how I'm like a Tiger Mother.
My kids practice their violin for one hour on school days and sometimes more if they are getting ready for a performance. They also practice piano 1/2 hour daily.
School work is a firmly mandated affair. Even though I homeschool, I am demanding and regimented about schoolwork.
There are no sleepovers with friends.
I sometimes yell. I'd rather use a pleasant euphemism like "raise my voice," but the truth is I sometimes yell.
Here is how I am not like a Tiger Mother.
I accompany them on the piano while they play their violin. I tell them what a good job they are doing, not to tease them into greater heights of achievement, but mostly because I honestly believe they are doing very good work. I teach them piano and for the most part I am doing a very mediocre job.
Sometimes we take trips on schooldays. Sometimes we bring our homework on airplanes and sometimes we don't. I don't worry about it when we travel. Sometimes when we have family visiting from out of town, we only do a half day of school.
We have sleepover with cousins.
I don't yell very often, but even once is too much. But here's what make me very Western: I feel terrible afterwards. Do Tiger Mothers experience guilt? Because I sure do. Doggone it kids, make sure you listen the first time.
How are you like and unlike a Tiger Mother? Leave me a confessional comment. I won't judge.

All of this Chinese mothering has made me very hungry for Chinese food. Do you think there has been a run on Chinese take-out with all of this Chinese mothering buzz? I bet. Here's a recipe that introduces big Asian flavors to Western convenience: Slow Cooker Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps. Chicken is slow simmered in the crockpot in ginger, garlic, and soy until it is fall-apart tender. The chicken is then spooned into crisp lettuce leaves with brown rice, carrots, cilantro and chili garlic sauce. It's cheap and easy and delicious and my family loves it for dinner. At least this Western mother is getting one thing right.Slow Cooker Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Estimated Cost: $6.00 for 4 servings
1 pound boneless chicken
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce (Available in Asian Foods section)
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
For Serving:
lettuce leaves (I like red leaf)
cooked brown rice
thinly sliced carrots or radishes
chopped cilantro
sliced green onions
Place chicken, soy sauce, 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce, and ginger in the crock pot. Cook chicken on high for 3-4 hours or on low for six hours. Shred with a fork and serve in lettuce leaves with rice, carrots, cilantro, onions and chili garlic sauce.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Western Childhood

Post Edit: I just watched an interview with Amy Chua and she seemed a perfectly reasonable, intelligent woman. Maybe the reviews were really just a lot of unfair hype. But then again, now I will plunk down my dollars and read the book. So maybe all of this unfair hype is good for Amy (and her pocketbook) after all. Then again, maybe I'm getting it all wrong. See why I could never be a Tiger Mother? I'm always second guessing myself. Love, Kitten Mother

There's a lot of buzz about a new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Amy Chua, a Yale law professor, wrote this memoir to her Chinese style parenting. I haven't read the book but I've read alot of the hype. My Dad sent me an article yesterday from the Wall Street Journal that was titled something like if not exactly, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." I was expecting ten ancient Chinese secrets for rearing children to be happy, healthy, and loyal family members. Instead, I read a monument to abuse. I'm sure that the reviews include only the most sensational elements of the story, so I spent more time reading up on Amy Chua and her methods. I will read the book before I cement my views, but here's my impression. Her basic premise is that Western parenting has gone soft. Children that are not at the top of their class and rising are virtually dunces. Children who do not spend two to three hours on instruments (piano and violin only) are doomed to mediocrity. Her theories are odd but her practices are offensive. She threatens to burn her children's toys, withold birthday parties and gifts, and calls them garbage-all this if they can not master a particular piece on the piano. The children, unsurprisingly, conform and perform. This is a totalitarian regime and mama means business. Amy pats herself on the back as a successful parent. After all, she believed they were capable right from the start, even when there hands slipped clumsily over the piano keys. There are no play dates, no school plays, no television. There are instead performances at Carnegie Hall and Ivy League futures. But does that make a child successful? What about the magic of childhood, the only time when you can paint pictures, kick a ball, or sing operettas all day even if you are lousy at it ? And at what point do we allow our children to discover what they are passionate about? Why not buy a dog to train if it is only hard, certifiable results that we are after? Success-or happiness for that matter-isn't always about a showy performance and a stellar resume. It's about figuring out who you are, what you love, how to be kind and connect with other human beings. It's learning that you are good enough, even if you never make it to America's got Talent or land on the Fortune 500. And if you're good enough, then everybody out there is good enough. And you'll treat them that way.

Here's what I wrote my Dad about the article: Pop, I read the article with interest but in the end I concluded that her style is abusive. Many Chinese mothers are decrying her system, stating that it does not represent their methods or philosophies. I'm sure that her girls will grow up to be conventionally successful, but I worry that they will be unkind, unfeeling, uncreative, disconnected and unresponsive to conventional displays of affection. What do you think, Dad?

Then my Dad wrote me a kind email and came over for ice cream. That's the kind of Dad he is. Soft and Western and absolutely perfect. I hope your parents were just like that too.
"Above all else, children need to know and feel they are loved, wanted, and appreciated. They need to be assured of that often. Obviously this is a role parents should fill..."
Ezra Taft Benson

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gingerbread Granola

I spent the weekend in California, in Huntington Beach specifically, visiting my little sister and her family. I can't decide if I want to come home and aggressively jump into my workpile and ferociously make and conquer new goals or.... not. Maybe I just want to move to Huntington Beach and collect seashells, take up the ukelele, and chase pigeons all day. It might be just as fulfilling. It might even be more fulfilling. What is the meaning of life, by the way? Is it six-mile jogs and flax smoothies or is is it relaxation and double cheeseburgers? Because I could really get into either. Just point me in any direction and obsession kicks in. But hang on. I'm starting to suspect that the meaning of life is all of it: the double cheeseburger, the flax smoothie, the six-mile jog and the beach bum sloth.

While I'm sitting on the fence thinking about such important and meaningless things, I think I'll have some granola. Gingerbread granola, to be exact. It's just the right thing for wafflers like me, because it's about as healthy as that flax smoothie I mentioned earlier and almost as satisfying as a double cheeseburger. I love the warm wintery combination of molasses, cinnamon and ginger. It makes January seem a little more celebratory and a lot less serious. Make some of my granola and have it on a big bowl of yogurt with frozen berries. Or not. Have it on triple scoops of vanilla bean ice cream with caramel sauce and whipped cream. Either way you'll be getting it right. Here's to a New Year of success and failure, work and play, gluttony and diet. Stick around.
Gingerbread Granola
Estimated Cost: $2.00 for 8 servings
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
4 cups old fashioned oats
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk all ingredients except oats. Add oats and toss to coat. Spread onto foil lined cookie sheet. Bake for 28 minutes, stirring every seven minutes. Let cool before storing in an airtight container.
Next Up:
Better for You Pizza

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sesame and Soy Roasted Broccoli

I promised you some healthful January food. But it's no good if it isn't delicious. So rest at ease; this broccoli is delicious. You might be thinking that my New Year's Resolutions have made me a little loopy. I might be a little loopy, but it has nothing to do with my New Year's Resolutions. (Besides I didn't make any.) This broccoli is not your typical microwaved, soggy, cruciferous florets. Broccoli that is roasted at a high temperature becomes slightly sweet and delicately crispy with a pleasant, nutty aftertaste. With a drizzle of soy and sesame it really is delicious. So make it in January because it's healthful and full of fiber and antioxidants-just like I promised-but make it all year because it tastes really, really good. Besides it will make your mother really happy if you tell her you had broccoli for dinner and that you liked it.
Money Saving Tips: Check the price on loose broccoli and bagged. Sometimes the bagged is cheaper and it's a great time saver. Sesame oil is pricey but a little goes a very long way.
Sesame and Soy Roasted Broccoli
Estimated Cost: $4.00 for six generous servings (about 1 cup each)
1 (12 ounce) bag broccoli florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Line cookie sheet with foil. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread broccoli on cookie sheet and coat drizzle with olive oil (or coat with cooking spray) and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast broccoli for 10 minutes. Drizzle with sesame and soy and roast for10 minutes longer, or until broccoli is browned in places and crisp tender.
Next Up: Better for you Homemade Pizza

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ringing in a New Year

Before we toss out the butter and the cream, I wanted to show you my New Year's Appetizer Party. It's just the kind of food that we swear off in January. Good bye spinach and garlic stuffed mushrooms.

Sweet Chili meatballs, it was nice knowin' ya.
My Dad's cottage cheese dip. We won't say good-bye. Just au revoir. Cottage cheese dip, you're invited to the Super Bowl party.Baked brie with French Bread and blackberry jam. I'll miss you.
Hot Jalapeno Popper Dip. We were just getting to know each other.
Veggies and Sweet Curry Dip. You might be allowed to hang around still.
Chips and Salsa. I could never, ever give you up.
Teeny-Tiny Chocolate Chip Cookies. They're kind of harmless, don't you think? Never mind the fact that I can eat 87 in one sitting.
See how innocent they look in the hand of a five year old niece?

Happy New Year! There are lots of good, healthy dishes waiting around the corner. (And plenty of bad-for-you food too. I gotta be me.
And one more thing before I go. Take a look at the snow we woke up to yesterday. I live in the desert. Those are palm trees that you see covered in snow.

PS This is my parent's pool. This is where we hang out in the summer when we have days that are approximately 100 degrees hotter than yesterday.
Be back soon with fiber and antioxidants.