Monday, March 23, 2009

Chocolate Trifle



William and I made this tonight for our FHE tomorrow (Aaron is in Chicago tonight).  It is very easy, and really yummy - although all we did was lick the bowls and utensils when we were done.  

INGREDIENTS (Nutrition)

  • 1 (19.8 ounce) package brownie mix
  • 1 (3.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 1 (12 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 1 (1.5 ounce) bar chocolate candy

DIRECTIONS

  1. Prepare brownie mix according to package directions and cool completely. Cut into 1 inch squares.
  2. In a large bowl, combine pudding mix, water and sweetened condensed milk. Mix until smooth, then fold in 8 ounces whipped topping until no streaks remain.
  3. In a trifle bowl or glass serving dish, place half of the brownies, half of the pudding mixture and half of the 12 ounce container of whipped topping. Repeat layers. Shave chocolate onto top layer for garnish. Refrigerate 8 hours before serving.

Comfort Food: Pasta Salad

I have to explain why this is a comfort food. I have decided pretty early in my mom-days, that dinner is the most important thing I can do in a day. If nothing else goes right, I want to be able to sit down with my family for dinner. Because of that, I've gotten into the habit of making most of my meals, as much as possible, in the morning. I use my crockpot a lot, make casseroles and stick them in the fridge, etc. This meal is my favorite because I can get it totally and completely done in the morning. There is no last minute prep stuff for it, like there is for a lot of my other meals. It makes me happy to know that dinner is ready. And, my kids absolutely love this one. There is something in it that everyone will eat.

So, the recipe. We like to use shells, but you can pick any fun pasta you want. Boil it, strain it, and then immediately cool it with cold water. Dump a little ranch dressing in, just enough to coat the noodles. Then, stick it in the fridge to finish cooling. (You coat the noodles so that they don't stick to each other.)

While that cools, chop up whatever you want to put in it. We do a meat (chicken, ham, or deli meats), veggies (tomatos, cucumbers, celery, carrots), cubed cheese, olives, whatever else sounds good. This is the nice part, because if kids interupt you, you can stop, attend to them, and come back to it. There is no time limit on this step.

Dump stuff into the noodles. Add more ranch, and then, add some italian salad dressing. Trust me, it gives it the perfect zing. I'd say mine end up with about 2 parts ranch to 1 part italian, but there is no measurements.

If your in my house, the last step is to make sure Seth doesn't keep snitching from the bowl throughout the day.

These make great leftovers, too. When we are going to have a few days of back to back craziness, or if I just don't know how many people I'll be feeding, when, I make this up, and then it is there, ready for whoever needs to eat whenever.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

April Proposal

Comfort food month seems to be a success. Therefore, I am proposing a theme for next month. I propose that April be "Summer food" month- salads, grill recipes, fruit, etc.

I don't think that every recipe has to be with the theme, but it did help me think of recipes to post, so I say we do it again.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Comfort Food: Warm Pudding

1 package, any flavor, cook and serve pudding
milk

Make the pudding according to directions. Take it seriously when it says to stir constantly. And make sure to keep the bottom of the pan scraped. When it is done, pour immediately into mugs and serve.

Matt introduced me to this when we were engaged. I was very dubious at first, but now its a standard in our house. By far, the best flavor is butterscotch, but be aware that its very rich. We usually just do chocolate. Vanilla is all right, but not the best.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Comfort Foods: Beans and Bread

Okay, I have no good title for this one. It is an homage to Grandma and Grandpa Pratt.

Admittedly, one of the first tests of my marriage was introducing Stef to Grandma Pratt's cooking. Stef barely survived the experience. It's not that Grandma Pratt didn't know how to cook, it's that she wasn't willing to spend any money on ingredients. So if she had leftover piecrust, green beans, and canned beef, well, she'd make it work. Or at least try.

But there was one time they devised something that was truly great out of leftovers:

Grill a slice of homemade bread.
Pour baked beans (from a can, hormel or van camp's work just fine) on top.
Put a slice of fresh tomato on top of that.
Then melt a slice of mozarella cheese on top of that.

After the Whole-Wheat Griddle cakes with Santa Barbara Plum Jam, this has to be my favorite Pratt recipe. The Burnham side is another story - my mom and grandma and great-grandma have 'the gift' with cooking - but the Pratt side produced just two great recipes.

By the way, if anyone manages to perfect a recipe for the griddle cakes(it was made 'off-the-cuff'), be warned of the following:

As I understand chemistry (which is very little at all), when you combine elements, the new compound has properties that are unrelated to the properties of the original elements, e.g. flammable hydrogen plus fire-feeding oxygen = water, an extinguisher. The only exception to this rule is mass: You cannot create mass by combining elements. The mass of the new compound is the sum of the masses of the elements. Properties different. Mass same. There is only one exception to this law:

Pratt Whole-Wheat Griddle Cakes defy all of the laws of chemistry, physics, and gravity. Their atomic weight is greater than gold. If you can eat more than one, and they're good enough to make you want two, you need to be prepared for the fact that you've just swallowed fiber with a density that defies the law of physics - even light can't escape. Astronomers wondered for decades why their black hole studies consistently become erratic at 5:30 AM pacific time. It's because that's when Grandma got back from her morning walk and fired up the griddle and started mixing the Sprite and Buttermilk.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Comfort Foods: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Go to store. Walk to refrigerated aisle. Put package of Nestle Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough in your cart. Proceed to check out. Pay and go home. Follow directions on package.

The bonus is, no mess and they're done faster.

Ha ha ha ha. You thought I was gonna post my secret recipe. Fooled you.

But really, the reason why I do cookies this way is because I haven't been able to make my recipe work in our oven. Like all rented apartment ovens, its a piece of crap and doesn't bake right. Since the Nestle pre made cookie dough is cheaper than my secret recipe, I just do it that way. And then, when I find out my visiting teachers are coming over in 30 minutes, I can pull those out just as they walk in. And then they think that not only am I amazing for having cookies ready, but that I'm extra amazing for already having the mess cleaned up. I've been told that I'm passive aggressive because I do things like that. Oh well. I need to get out of this place. April 27th can't come fast enough.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Alternate cooking methods for Bubbles and Squeak

Although a couple of the Pratt siblings use the oven for this recipe, some prefer the stove top method, allowing for a more fresh cabbage texture, and making it more likely you'll have this in warm weather when you don't want to heat up the house with the oven. I have adjusted this to include both the stove top and the crock pot, thus allowing myself to prepare it around 2pm, before the kids come home from school, yet eat it when Aaron gets home at 5:30pm.

Boil 12 medium potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces, but not all the way. They should be firm still when the sausage is done being browned. If you check them and they are getting close to ready, remove, drain, and reserve them.
Brown a pound of sausage in wok or large skillet, then drain the fat and return to pan. I agree with Melissa that Jimmy Dean is not the best option for this. We have a different brand here than what is available there, but it has a wonderful flavor which has some fennel in it.
Mix in about 22 oz cream of (whatever) soup or a basic thick roux of your own making (which is a whole lot healthier than Campbell's) to the sausage, and add the potatoes.
Cut up a whole cabbage into bite-sized chunks. Add them to the top of the pan and sprinkle some kosher salt and some sugar on it, then cover. The chemical reaction of the salt and sugar with the cabbage allows it to retain a pleasant color, rather than turning gray. It also removes its bitterness.

If you have a few hours before you need to serve it, than steam the cabbage until it is at a point where it has lost its crunch, but is not soggy, and then move the whole concoction to a crock pot. Turn it on low. 20 minutes before you serve it, sprinkle it with mozzarella.

If you aren't looking for some extra time before serving it, steam the cabbage until it has lost its crunch, then mix it in and add the mozzarella as soon as the potatoes and cabbage are just getting fork-tender. It doesn't take a whole lot of time to melt, so dinner will be ready very soon!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Comfort Food: Bubbles and Squeak

Okay, so you all know this recipe I'm sure. I just want to share a few ideas we've had in the last few years regarding this meal.

Matt and I both prefer this with cream of mushroom soup instead of cream of chicken. It doesn't confuse your protein tastebuds as much this way.

Do not use cheddar cheese with this. Its nasty. Definitely use a white cheese. I prefer mozzarella.

The Tennessee Pride brand of sausage has the best flavor. Jimmy Dean just doesn't do it justice. Don't use the sage flavor of either.

This should age at least one day before bringing it to a potluck or as a meal to someone.

Drop an egg in the leftovers and fry it up for breakfast the next morning. It makes a breakfast skillet that is way better than anything you can get at Denny's.

Boil your cabbage and potatoes in the same pot at the same time. It disguises the cabbage a lot better. And you only dirty one pot that way. After I drain the water off, I even mix everything in that pot and stick that in the oven. That cuts out another dish or two.

This is the dish that was the determining factor for whether or not I dated Matt. The day after our first date, he was coming over for dinner and I wasn't sure if I should continue the relationship. I went to lunch with my friends and they convinced me to make this for dinner. I decided that if he ate this without flinching, I'd keep dating him. Most people are repulsed when they first look at this hotdish. Anyway, he ended up finishing off the pan before the night was through. And here we are, four years later.

Comfort food: Fajitas

Tom won an award for this recipe. Okay, not really. We had fajitas out at the farm, and, for some reason, the meat ended up in two pans. Amy (Tom's sister) and Tom decided to have a cook-off, with each of them seasoning one pan of meat. Without knowing whose was whose, everyone tasted, and voted, and Tom's won. They are a staple in our house now.

Meat (I prefer chicken, Tom likes steak.)
onions
peppers (red, yellow, and orange all make it pretty and add a slightly sweeter flavor that I like. But, they are pricier, so we use green mostly.)

Cut it all in strips. Heat oil in a pan, and add the meat. After it cooks a little, add onions. Then, you start seasoning, and this is where the secret comes in- ranch powder. Dump a bunch of ranch dressing powder in. (We buy it in bulk at Sams just for this.) Yep, that's it. Yummy. We use chili powder (some hot and some mild to make it medium, but do it how you want) and ranch powder. After the meat is all cooked and tender, throw in strips of pepper. You want the peppers to go in last so there is a little crunch to them, but not much crunch.

Place in a tortilla. Top with the typical toppings- lettuce, tomato, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, olives, cheese. Sometimes, we put the meat and cheese on the tortilla and nuke it for a few seconds, or throw it in the hot oven for a few minutes, until the cheese is all melty and yummy.

So, not really a recipe, but the beauty of comfort food is that it can be made for how you are feeling in that moment.

Comfort food: Cookie Pie

This is a recipe of my own invention. It came out of that same lunch where I had the Grilled ABC. But again, comfort food to me involves variations on a theme. Perhaps it has something with President Uchtdorff's talk on creation. When I vary the theme, it becomes my own creation, and as a result of that I get both the warm fuzzy from having invented something as well as from getting to eat it. This recipe makes two pies. I see no point in only making just one pie for a number of reasons. First of all, you never make a pie without the intention of sharing it. And when you are sharing a pie, you should always have at least two at your disposal, partly to offer different choices, and partly in order to have enough for everyone. And since this food is designed to be comforting, I actually reccomend using pre-made pie crust from the feezer section at the grocers. I still have not perfected my pie crusts, and they are quite a bit of work. And since I can't do it exactly right, it tends to only cause me more anxiety, which is counter-productive, don't you think? Why dish up more anxiety when a decent and simple solution can be found a few blocks away for $1.79 plus tax? Not to mention the fact that you can then easily leave one pie with the people you shared it with while you take a few pieces home, all in disposable tins that came with the storebought pie crust. No mess, no fuss, no returning pie pans and no dishes once you finish the rest of it for breakfast the next morning!

But I am getting ahead of myself! We haven't even made the pie yet!

Start with the two pie crusts. Spread something delightful in the bottom of them. So far, I have tried Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chips, and Hot Fudge. Next I am going to try crushed oreos or perhaps some jam. I also like combinations of things. Like peanut butter and then chocolate chips or oreos and then marshmallos. (oh man, that sounds great, and I just barely thought of it...mmmmm.) This is your chance for the variations on a theme so have fun with it!

Next you are going to mix up a standard batch of Nestle Tollhouse cookie dough. You know the recipe. It's a couple sticks of butter and 3/4 cup of both kinds of sugar and you are supposed to add extra liquid at high altitudes, so instead of water I always add extra vanilla, and then I started adding extra vanilla at low altitudes as well and it works just as well, so be generous with the vanilla. And here's a little secret for those of you who are actually reading my ramblings: add even a dash or two of cinnamon and people will think you are a genius chef.

Anyways. When you mix up your cookie dough for this pie, add an extra egg to the mix. It will make the cookie dough more spreadable and more cake-like as it bakes. And once it is all baked, it keeps the insides of the pie that mushy texture that makes it so rich.

Do not add chocolate chips to the dough if you have spread them across the bottom of the pie... The chocolate chips in the dough have a natural desire to sink to the bottom, and it will make it difficult to cut through sort of layer if you have too much. Instead, save the chocolate chips for the top of the pie, where they not only look nice, they also give the texture some vareity.

Split the dough between the two pie tins, spread it out, put your chocolate chips on top, and bake at 350 until it all brown and cookie-looking on top. (30 minutes? a little more? I didn't exactly watch the clock.)

I do reccommend serving them warm. Especially if you have gone with the hot fudge option. and nothing quite compliments a warm pie like a scoop of ice cream. You know, when the warm pie makes the ice cream sort of melty and then the ice cream makes the warm pie sort of saggy and they blend together in pools on your plate and you have to eat them with a spoon because they get drippy and gooey...

I have to admit, it's comforting jsut to write about it.

Comfort Food: Grilled Cheese

The thing about comfort food is that it is often the most ordinary, even childish food that helps life to roll along more sweetly. Like grilled cheese sandwiches. But the even more glorious thing about comfort food is that it can and should be varied to fit your mood. For example. a grilled cheese sandwich can be made to recall perhaps the only decent food the WHS cafeteria ever served. You simply take a piece of white squishy bread and a slice of cheap cheddar and put it in the oven until the bread is cruchy and the cheese gets those little beads of oil congealing on the top. Not gourmet, but certainly not bad. That is, of course, if you have and pleasant memories of the WHS commons and want them recalled to your memory.

On the other hand, if you want a truly comforting experience, I suggest you consider a more gourmet approach. Just the other day I went to lunch with some friends and experienced the greatest grilled cheese I have eaten this side of the Atlantic. (The other side of the Atlantic is fodder for a different paragraph). I call this a "Grilled ABC" in which A is Avacado, B is Bacon, and C is Cheddar. And instead of squshy white bread, you have to use some really good bread. A sourdough would bring out the flavor of the avacado, or you could use some thick slices of Mom's homemade bread. (And by thick, I mean, Nancy cutting the bread style thick, not wimpy 1/2 inch slices, but at least double that.) You have to butter the bread on the outside, with whatever butter or margarine has the flavor you prefer. I actually prefer Blue Bonnet in this case. And by all means, throw two slices of cheese in there, one on either side of the avacado and bacon, so that the meltiness gets full coverage. and when you grill it, turn the heat on the burner only 3/4 of the way up, so that it takes a few minutes longer, allowing the stuff in the middle to get melty before the bread toasts up. Flip it only when the bread gets that lacy brown toasty pattern on it. Don't anticipate going back to a side to finish it off, you get one shot at the lacy brown texture.

Now, you can always throw other ingredients into the mix, if you don't have any bacon on hand, a slice of ham works quite nicely as well. And you can always pay homage to the Grandpa Pratt way of having a sandwich and throw fresh tomato in there, at which point you are not only honoring your heritage, but you are approaching the "other side of the Atlantic" way of doing it. Of course, then you need to baste your bread with a little egg and butter and put some emmental or swiss with the ham and tomato. Add some dijon mustard (this is pretty much the only way I will eat mustard!) and some italian herbs or a spice blend called "herbes de provence" and you have magically created a glorious thing called the "Croque Monsieur". Dad and Mom experienced the Croque Monsieur in France, and Dad has willingly admitted that it was in fact the best grilled cheese he had ever tasted in his life, with the qualifier that it was also the most expensive. Well, that is easily fixed by moking one of two choices: Make them at home, or take me with you next time you go to France. I would find both to be quite comforting!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Comfort Food: Brownie dessert (AKA The Chocolate Sasquatch)

This is what I do when I've had a really extreme day. Its not for the light hearted or anti chocolate people out there. Here you go.

1 brownie (preferably the center piece, from the Ghiradelli's mix)
1 cup of chocolate pudding (preferably the cook and serve kind, but the instant will do)
1 scoop of vanilla icecream
a bit of chocolate sauce.

This must wait until after the kids are asleep or until your favorite primetime TV show has is about to start. Put the brownie in the bottom of the bowl. Add pudding, then ice cream, then chocolate sauce. Eat slowly. This will make you sick if you eat too much too fast.

This is actually a creation that we came up with when we were living in the blue house. There were some really rough shifts that needed more than just a brownie to dull our senses. The one that comes into mind is when Matt was attacked and I hid in our bathroom with 3 babies so that none of us were next. The inspiration for this dessert comes from Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Therapy ice cream. You can only get it in the shops, you can't buy it at the grocery store.

Comfort Food: French Toast!

Are you ready for a Dad-style lecture on the properties of properly prepared Pain Perdu?
Unlike French Horns, French Toast is actually a true name. Sure, the French have been know to toast their bread the German way, dried out in an oven, toaster or conventional, and served with some form of mashed fruit, but the French way of toasting things actually involves the egg mixture and the cinnamon and the powdered sugar. Yes, folks, for once the translators got it right. And the true nature of French toast is directly related to the bread that they eat. The most common breads in France are the Pain de campagne, or Country Bread, and its smaller, more familiar cousin, the Baguette. If you have ever eaten a true chunk of either, you would immediately know why throwing the bread in the oven for toasting is out of the question. Both are, by nature, already very crunchy on the outside, and very squishy on the inside. I used to love watching little kids eat a baguette, because they would sit and scoop the soft insides out with their fingers , creating a hole through the middle as far as they could reach, and then stuff the hole with some fabulous cheese and crunch through the crust, creating a crumbly mess, but relishing every bite. I ate my bread like this when in the privacy of my apartment (Sisters do have to maintain some level of propriety) and saw the merit and blessing of becoming like a little child. But to simply toss that crunchy crust into an oven would spell petrified disaster! You would break teeth, and since most Europeans don't have much dental coverage, a better way of toasting had to be discovered.
Enter the restaurants and bakeries. The French are not capitalists. Even a brief visit to the countryside will reveal that most bakeries and restaurants close for lunch. What is a quandry for most Americans holds a simple response for the French. People that work in bakeries and restaurants have to go home and eat with their families too. And if you can throw the capitalist voice out of your head for a moment, and understand that you are not in fact on the earth to make money, you would see the logic. Of course it's more important for people to go home and have lunch with their families. The children come home from school for lunch, why shouldn't grown ups meet them there? Of course, now the bakeries and restaurants have to figure out how to stay afloat without the, uh, capital from the lunch rush. And they have all this leftover bread. And French bread, even a few hours old, no longer holds the glorious properties I mentioned in the previous paragraph. The Crust goes softish, but is too chewy to be squishy, and the inside absorbs some of the crunch from the crust and goes sort of elastic-y as well. What should a restaurant or bakery do with all that leftover bread?
Don't think for a moment that the head chef is becoming a capitalist, no. Their every goal is to create a masterpiece of flavor. They pride themselves on being artists, and an artist can create from the medium they have readily at hand. And a French chef knows that where you are faced with beginning a creation, you should start where all of the best French creations start. With the Egg. (and I answer with all the fervor of my heart, which came first, the chicken or the egg?, it was the egg. It all begins with an egg. The egg was prominent in French kitchens long before King Louis XIV declared that every household had to have chicken for dinner on Sundays because he liked it.)
So what if you take this egg, and you create a sort of a batter with it, in order to re-cook the bread and restore some edible texture to it? You would need to blend the egg with a little milk to loosen it up, and then you would want to add some of your own signature flavors to it. Vanilla is particularly comforting. And cinnamon, Every kitchen smells better when there is cinnamon in the mix. Whisk it all together, and soak that nasty Lost Bread, Pain Perdu, in it, let it absorb the egg mixture and soften back up again, then put it back in the oven, and turn it halfway through cook time so as to redistribute its new crust evenly. Mmmm.... doesn't the house smell great? Lets make it pretty when we serve it, by sprinkling powdered sugar on the top and offering some confiture on the side... in a cute little mini cup!
Of course, every French chef will have their own variation on the theme. Once word gets out that you can re-use old bread with just a few eggs and some milk, everyone will want in on the market... err, art.
The misconception some Americans have about the French is that they want to own their ideas. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. Sure, the French want you to acknowledge the true origins of a thing, but they are artists in their hearts, and if you want to use the foundations they have given you in order to create and express your own masterpiece, you are welcome to it. The French give us the stale bread, the egg, and permission to learn and grow and experiment.
So when you try it, perhaps you could use egg and some orange zest, maybe a little orange juice instead of milk. I would still add some vanilla to the orange egg mix, but I am a little nuts for vanilla flavoring. And cinnamon, although I might add some nutmeg and ground cloves with the orange as well. And don't bother putting the jam on the side this time. Just the powdered sugar with the Pain Perdu a l'orange. Or there is the lovely chocolate variation, with a little nutella and bananas to top it off. Of course, if you return to the cinnamon and vanilla approach, you can vary the topping in a glorious way. I have found that a balance of maple syrup and peach spice jam makes me feel like I am 6 years old, and sitting on the bar stools at the counter in the Michigan house. I can see cinnamon speckled syrup dribbling onto the green shag carpet. How do you get peach jam and maple syrup out of green shag carpet?