Monday, July 23, 2012

Green Bean Summertime Memories

To me, Farmers' Markets are just about the best thing since sliced bread (and I can slice my own bread, so maybe they are a little better than sliced bread.) The freshest of ingredients, picked just this morning, the fact that going to one just screams summertime, and actually makes you WANT to eat healthy, instead of feeling obligated to do so, and the flood of inspiration that comes every time I even get near one.

This is what came of my most recent Farmers' Market visit, and it just so happens to be one of my favorite meals of all time.

Stewed potatoes, green beans, and ham - just thinking about this meals brings back memories.
 I was, and still am, one of those strange kids who actually liked it when their grandma enlisted them to help pick and string green beans for dinner. Some of my fondest memories are of Mommaw and I, out in her front yard with big bowls in our laps and lemonade at our elbows, watching the river flow by as we threw green bean strings in the grass. Not a care in the world, just watching the time pass by.

The whole ensemble, just begging to be enjoyed on the porch with some iced tea.
 Boppaw always loved this meal too, since whenever we made it, we always had extra cornbread left over, which means that he would get a midnight snack of cornbread and milk. Yep, just crumble the cornbread in the bottom of a bowl (or in my case, warm it a little in the largest mug you have) and pour over some milk. The best part is the bottom, when the cornbread has turned to mush... a little unknown comfort food at it's finest. He and I would know just when to meet at the kitchen island to make ourselves a bowl.

No summertime meal is complete without some vine ripened tomatoes and cucumbers. Add a chunk of whole wheat cornbread and I'm in heaven.
 Here's hoping you too are making wonderful summertime memories.

Stewed Potatoes and Green Beans

1 LB fresh green beans, strung and snapped
1 LB red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite size pieces
1/2 LB country or pit ham, cut into bite size pieces (you can also use a ham hock here)
water to cover

Place all your ingredients in a large pot and cover with water. Leave on low and cook all day long. One hour before you want to eat, put your cornbread in the oven and season your stewed veggies with salt and pepper, as needed.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

We Tried to do Thai

Let's start with what we actually ate for dinner this week. Check out this incredibly beautiful plate of noms:

Spicy peanut Thai noodles, with traditional Thai  garnish

Now that we have all admired the actual dinner, let's discuss the fiasco we had to go through in order to put this on the plate. My original plan for quite different. Taking my inspiration from the local farmers' markets, I found some absolutely beautiful Swiss Chard last week. Not having worked with it before, but immediately being inspired to do a Thai flavored spring roll, I bought a half pound and gleefully returned home. I would pair these with some soba noodles tossed simply in sesame oil and sesame seeds, so the true highlight of the dish were the spring rolls and the spicy peanut dipping sauce I would pair them with. So far, so good right?

Spring rolls, all sprung up and ready to serve the next day.

Here is where I think I went wrong - I made these spring rolls the day before I planned on eating them. By blanching the Swiss chard leaves (in order to make them pliable enough to roll up, and to take away some of their innate bitterness) I am afraid they sat overnight and developed a most unpleasant slimy texture, which is most definitely not good eats. But they were encompassing such beautiful ingredients inside, what was I to do... plus I wanted to use my dynamite spicy peanut sauce.

Spring rolls, before being all sprung together.

And then, genius struck. Why not reconfigure the whole dish? Toss the noodles (whole wheat thin spaghetti because my grocery was out of soba noodles) in the spicy peanut sauce, and then top the noddles with the insides of the spring roll, completely discarding the Swiss chard all together. I was displeased with having to waste the Swiss chard, but at least the rest of the meal was salvaged. As Peter has often said, the best meals are those which are conceptualized on the fly, as this one was.

Our new and improved noodle toppings.

The lesson here? So what is things don't go according to plan? Everything will turn out in the end (and may be even more delicious than first anticipated.)

Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
4 TB fresh lime juice
3 TB light sodium soy sauce
3 TB honey or brown sugar
2 TB orange juice (or enough to thin)

Mix everything together with a little elbow grease; this mixture can be quite thick, so thin with orange juice until it is pliable and smooth. 

**Remember that this sauce can be used as a dipping sauce (as I had originally planned) or tossed with noodles, to be served either hot or cold. If this is case, the sauce can be a bit thicker as the heat of the noodles after they are cooked will naturally thin the sauce down for you.

** Spring Roll/Thai Noodle toppings:
julienne carrot
julienne red bell pepper
julienne mango
green onion
poached chicken
sesame seeds
chopped peanuts

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cake for Breakfast!

I am sure you all begged your parents to let you have junk food for breakfast at least a few times in your childhood (and maybe you still fight with yourself every once in a while... go ahead and pour some Lucky Charms, I won't tell.) I was never a huge fan of sugary cereals and the like, but I love anything that combines sugar and carbs, like pancakes, bagels, or in this case, coffee cake! Along with some Greek yogurt, what a great way to start a lazy Sunday.

Hazelnut Coffee Cake

dry ingredients:
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg (bonus points if it is freshly grated yourself!)

wet ingredients:
2 eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup fat-free milk

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

4 handfuls chopped and toasted hazelnuts

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, grease and 9x9 baking dish, and your pretty much should know the drill after this. Toss around the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Whisk the wet ingredients together, then fold into the dry ingredients. Set this aside to mix the two sugar and cinnamon together in yet another bowl (I said it was simple, not without dishes - this is what dishwashers were invented for!) Pour half the batter into the baking dish, top with half the topping and two handfuls of hazelnuts (or more if your are a nut for nuts, like me!) Repeat this layering process one more time. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Enjoy with coffee! (I like mine black, or on the rare occasion, with a slash of skim milk.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Ying and Yang Kind of Morning

You know those mornings when you can't decide what you want to have for breakfast, but skipping breakfast is never an option? Yeah, me too.

So why not have a little bit of everything?

I knew I needed some protein because I have a long, hot day of work ahead of me, so some fiesta scrambled eggs were in order...

But, but, but...I really wanted to have some of the blueberry preserves that I made a few days ago. Not having any bread on hand, I went with the next best thing - cornbread! Sweet and spicy, not a bad combination. 

Top it all off with a peach fresh from the farmers' market, and I am good for great day at work!

Monday, July 2, 2012

How to be a Baker in 2 Easy Steps!

Long time, no blog y'all! I wanted to share with you my latest adventures attempting to really make bread for myself on a regular basis. I know, crazy escapade to take on, but it summertime, and what is summertime for if not to try things you never thought you would do. Isn't that why we all attempt to sleep outside in a tent at least once in these hot months, even though we know that we are going to wake up sore and cold?

I won this amazing cookbook from TasteSpotting, a blog that I religiously follow that have beautiful noms and great suggestions for other blogs you might like to boot. (Check it out if you haven't already clicked!) They have give away's every now and then and I always enter, not necessarily expecting to win, but just to play the game. But lo' and behold, I won! "Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day" is now mine and I have been devouring it ever since (pun intended.)

What a great addition to my ever growing cookbook collection!
I highly recommend this book if you are even remotely interested in baking your own fluffy, fresh, and healthy bread! The authors, a baker and a doctor, teamed up to come up with methods and recipes to make scrumptious bread without breaking the bank and without draining you energy. With a little planning, you can have bread baking in the oven while you shower and get ready in the morning (as I am now.)

Place holder of champions!
I chose to start simple and easy, mixing up a batch of the 100% Whole Wheat Bread. Now, I have done quick breads all my life, and I can somehow manage to make a decent dinner roll or cinnamon roll for the occasional Thanksgiving or brunch, but I really am not that talented of a baker. I find that I am way too impatient for all that rising and waiting, simply because there is no action! I have a few recipes which I have perfected, such as my Whole Wheat Pizza dough recipe that I grill outside, or the banana bread recipe I have imprinted on my brain from constant use, but yeast and I are still getting to know each other. I have a feeling that this book will help us get though the awkward introductions. 

This is basically just a mix and dump kind of recipe. Mix your wet and your dry (this book has some great tips and fascinating insight on the true life of yeast, liquid, and dry ingredients) and let raise.

Here is my dough right before it went into the oven!
 In the end, I was left with a not-too-terrible loaf of whole wheat pecan honey loaf, which was delicious when slathered with my homemade Strawberry Jam. I have been anxiously awaiting another day when I can again dive into this book and pick something else out that I want to try.

So here are my two steps to becoming an expert baker:
1. Buy an awesome book to help you out! (such as this one)
2. Be patient. (and be willing to start over...)