Who makes these rules?

One of the interesting things that has happened this year is the enormous increase in people baking bread. I am baking at the same level, and I don’t limit myself to just a few things. I will admit that I am fairly new to the pasta scene; I only started a few years ago. One thing that I love to make up to this point is gnocchi. I like to eat it too. Each batch gets a little better, and I am getting braver about experimenting with adding different herbs and spices from my pantry.

I don’t know why baking bread has taken over as the primary thing to make with bread. Pies, pastries, and pasta provide a way to make something delicious while getting to play with your food. Seriously. Have you ever rolled out a pie crust or cut biscuits? Pie crust is a little tricky, and I haven’t quite gotten mine to where I can quit obsessing over them. Cakes are easy peasy, and you can always make cupcakes if you want less mess for serving. The main thing is to quit worrying about getting flour on the counter, and just make something. That was the hardest part of learning to make pasta. I now don’t worry about the amount of flour used to keep the pasta from sticking together, and it is lots of fun to form shapes.

When I am working on repetitive tasks like making gnocchi, my mind ponders random things. Like, who makes the rules about not playing with your food? I bet that person(s) has never made bread, pasta, or even colored outside the lines. Sometimes you have to do that. I am a firm believer that everyone should do something creative every day. It doesn’t have to be good; in fact, it can turn out completely horrible. The point is to make something. Get a coloring book, a tub or two of Play-doh, or even just sing out loud in your car. Loudly, if the song is one you love.

We learn a lot when we make things, and it nourishes the soul in ways that you can’t always put into words. I craft and make things almost as much as I cook and bake. Sometimes the process doesn’t go the way I was expecting (like regular hot glue doesn’t stick for long to metal), and now and then I wind up with something amazing. With each project, I put a little bit of myself into it, and I give myself permission to fail (and also to succeed). I’ve learned more by the “fails” and “almosts” than if things turned out spectacularly every time.

Which brings me back to pasta and bread. I’ve been baking and cooking since I was very young. My parents were very supportive, and didn’t tell me until I was in my late 20s that they flushed my early attempts to fix them breakfast in bed. To be fair, I was about 7 or 8 years old and just learning my way around the kitchen. But they were never negative, and my dad taught me how to cook. Because of that, I am not afraid to try new things. Pasta seemed scary to make at first, but each batch is better than the one before it. My sourdough baking is the same way. I don’t always get the loaf dialed in (weather and humidity are a thing!) but the results are tasty, and I can always turn it into breadcrumbs or a panzanella salad.

If at first you don’t succeed, dust the flour off and try again.

If you need help getting started learning how to be creative, this is a great place to start. Felicia Day is truly delightful both in person and in her writing. I hope you check it out.

(This is a personal recommendation, I do not receive any remuneration for any purchases. She really is that nice in person!)

Potato Chickpea Stew

We have been doing pretty well at not gaining the Quarantine 15, but eating healthier is always a good idea. We have started swapping out a few meals during the week to vegetarian/plant-based, and with recipes like this potato chickpea stew we don’t miss the meat at all. It is easily adaptable for what you have on hand, and you can add the protein of your choice (or not).

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 carrots
1 stalk celery
4 medium potatoes
1 red or orange bell pepper
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon 5-spice mix
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup onion
1 can chickpeas, drained
2 cups vegetable broth
4 tablespoons raisins
1/2 cup cashew pieces
3 cups spinach or kale leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 small lemon, cut in half
1 tablespoon peanut or almond butter (optional)

In a small dry pan, cook the cashew pieces over low heat for 2-3 minutes until smelling toasted. Remove from heat and put in a small bowl.

Wash and dice the potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes, and cut the bell pepper, carrots, and celery into bite-sized pieces. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrot, potato, celery, garam masala, 5-spice, and cumin. Saute for 2 minutes, then add the bell pepper, garlic and onion.

Add the vegetable broth to the skillet and bring to a boil. Let boil for 3 minutes, then stir in the drained chickpeas and raisins. Place the lemon halves in the pan. Cover and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer 15-20 minutes (until the potatoes are tender). Gently stir in the peanut or almond butter, and turn to low. Cook for 5 more minutes.

Stir in the spinach or kale and let the leaves wilt for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the cilantro leaves and top with the toasted cashews.

This is good by itself, but you could also serve it over rice, or with buttered naan or garlic bread on the side.

Easy peanut butter cookies

Did you ever get the craving for something sweet to snack on that was easy to make with only a few ingredients? This one is for you! I love cookies and coffee as a quick mid-morning snack when I’m at work. Just one or two cookies will tide me over until lunchtime. You can change it up by adding shredded coconut, raisins, or chocolate chips.

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Mix together the peanut butter(s), sugar, brown sugar, salt, and baking soda until well combined. Add in the vanilla extract, egg and flour, and beat until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips, cover the bowl, and chill the dough in the refrigerator for an hour.

Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone sheet.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Form the dough into small balls about the size of a walnut, then shape into an oval. Gently pinch the middle of the oval together so that it has a rough peanut shape. Use a fork to make the crisscross marks gently on the cookies. If the dough sticks to the fork, dip the tines in cold water first.

Place on prepared baking sheet about two inches apart, and bake for 10-12 minutes. If you like softer cookies, take them out at about 10 minutes. If you want to put frosting in the middle to sandwich them, leave them in closer to 12 minutes.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes before moving to a rack to finish cooling. Store in a covered container.

You can leave out the chocolate chips, or add in other goodies to your liking.

Ice cream is the way to go

It seems to be the summer without end in California. We are having 100+ temps for weeks on end, and so many fires around the state that the haze never clears completely. Mother Nature is telling us to stay inside. I can do that since I’m working remotely, and only leave the house when I have to because of Covid-19. I don’t have it, but I have to assume it is out there given the counts. So Monday through Friday 8-5 I push paperwork, schedule things, and make calls for the department I work for. The start and end of semesters is very busy, and I don’t expect to make much headway for about another week. Thank goodness we have a holiday next Monday. I have nothing special planned, as the forecast is 108-110 for Sunday/Monday.

One thing I do have control of during the crazy year that is 2020 is what I make for food and beverage. Well, that and listening to drum corp recordings on http://www.flomarching.com all day during work. It makes the day that much better when you hear a screaming trumpet, a slamming drum line, and every type of music you can think of (Appalachian Spring just segued into Take 5). I have a penchant for percussion and low brass. I highly recommend it. Anyway, back to food.

I have lots of small appliances, baking pans of all shapes and sizes, and now two refrigerators. Living where we do, there is an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been swapping out a few more meals to plant based, or increasing the whole grain/veg and reducing the meat a little. Baby steps are easier to keep up with than big changes. The flavor is still wonderful, so nothing is lost in the process. The two things I refuse to give up are ice cream or cheese. Won’t do it. Low/no fat is no bueno for me. It doesn’t mean that I go overboard, I just make sure to use quality products so I don’t have to use as much.

I did start making my own ice cream or frozen treat bars. I found silicone forms (adult sized) that are easy to clean and store that provide a perfect portion size. I can control what goes in them, and I only make two at a time. Well, maybe four, but they are two different types and sizes. It takes cheesecake to a whole other level. Tonight will be tropical fruit bars with toasted coconut and coconut cream. I’ll make ice cream soon to go with the dark chocolate cookies from last weekend before we eat them all. Do you think ice cream should have a special place on the website just to itself? Let me know.

The worst day can be made better with ice cream. It can’t solve problems, but it can make you feel loved. Leave a comment in the section below on what your favorite flavor is.

As summer wraps up….

What a strange year. It has been a roller coaster of emotions and happenings for everyone, both good and bad. I hope everyone is staying safe, wearing masks, and social distancing as much as possible. Not everyone can work from home, and I feel very much for those that go off to work every day. I also feel for those that are struggling because of a lack of work due to the pandemic. These are not easy times, and we are not out of the woods yet. It will take everyone doing their part, no matter how small, to pull us through to the other side.

Adapting to working remotely 95% of the time has been interesting, and a lesson in planning and personal determination. I like the summer hours the campus keeps, as I can get a lot of things done once I”m off the clock at 3:30pm. It doesn’t sound like a lot of time, that hour and a half difference. However, when you are focused with a goal you can get a lot done. I was able to pull and write recipes, draft copy for attempting my first food videos (sorry for the packed and tiny kitchen – I’m working at reorganizing and moving things around for the future), get grocery shopping done without rushing, and FINALLY start cataloging my huge cookbook library.

I want to say thank you to Allison Wolfe for her continuing collaboration and support of the zany Worst Cooks bingo that I started earlier this year. I am not part of the Food Network family (though I’d love to!), just a big food groupie. It is fun to watch past seasons and try to guess what to put on the bingo cards. Most of the time I come pretty close, since basic skills are something everyone has to learn when they first start. Interacting with some of the contestants has been a blast, and I think Season 20 was a terrific one with Alex Guarnaschelli’s style complimenting that of Anne Burrell. The camaraderie among the two teams was above and beyond what I’ve seen previously, and it was easy to see that they all got along.

Now that summer is almost over, it is time to make new plans. The yearly fair turn-in deluge will not be happening due to the pandemic causing most of the fair to be cancelled or go virtual. I think my husband is a little relieved, because the two turn-in weekends (crafts and baked goods) are super hectic as I try to get everything possible done and turned in before 5pm. I’m a little sad because I was going to try to beat my record of 26 items baked in a day and a half (including yeast breads and candy). There’s always next year, and will give me time to perfect a few things. (I do miss having taste testers handy at work for feedback.)

I think between now and the end of September will be more about getting organized and update parts of the kitchen so we can make better videos. It has a small galley-style kitchen, next to no pantry space, and the upper cabinets over what should be a breakfast bar are hung too low to do anyone any favors. The house is older than I am, so we never know exactly what twist might happen on a project until we are in the middle of it. I will finally get the cookbook cataloging project finished and uploaded so that I quit accidentally buying duplicates, and get started on writing a cookbook. I promised myself I’d get one done before I turned 60, and that is only a few years away. I have an idea for a quirky cooking show (no, I’m not telling anything about it just yet), and will be pushing my comfort zone to do more cooking videos. You might see me tackle real-life leftover issues, or random ingredients and what to do with them (or not!). I really want people to be able to relate and not be intimidated with cooking and baking. There is a lot I don’t know, but I’m always willing to research and learn. I can laugh at my cooking blunders and figure out how to do better the next time. It’s food; if it tastes good it’s still a win in my book.

It is a tough time for the nation, and will be so until we get a handle on the pandemic. Look out for each other, check in on your friends and family remotely, practice self-care, and above all, be kind. Choose to respond to a challenge or situation instead of react. Making the conscious decision on what you do will change more than just the outcome. It will change your outlook and resilience for the better. Remember, you are living, you occupy space, and you matter.

Also, life is too short for bad food. Drop me a message or comment on what you want a recipe for or see me make. I’m up for a challenge, so let’s make it fun!

Time for Worst Cooks In America Bingo!

Apparently 2020 is the year of wild and crazy Food Network shows. I loved last season’s Worst Cooks in America with Anne Burrell and Alton Brown, and watched Amy Schumer Learns To Cook (she actually did, a teeny tiny bit) as a way to liven up staying home during the pandemic. Due to Worst Cooks, I teamed up with Allison Wolfe to make and post bingo cards for last season celebrity edition. They have proven to be popular, so we are gearing up for the new season that starts Sunday, June 21st.

The new season bring a feisty new chef to Team Blue – Alex Guarnaschelli. She was a judge during the early stages of the show, but has not had to run the gauntlet of boot camp recruits. I don’t know if she knows what she signed up for; I think she should have asked Alton for tips or what to be on the lookout for. Both chefs are amazing in the kitchen, and it will be great to see what they can do with people that can burn water.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Food Network, but I am a huge food groupie. Watching food competition shows is my idea of a sporting event.

Want to play along? Click here to pick a bingo card: Worst Cooks Bingo

Bingo card archive

I hope you have fun playing bingo along with us. I don’t get to see the show ahead of time, so I am just as surprised at the shenanigans that go on. You can print up an individual card or play a few, the choice is up to you.

Let the Friday Happy Dance begin!

What a week! I don’t know about you, but this was the quickest, longest week that I can remember in awhile. We are in central California, and it is scary watching the Covid-19 numbers rise as quickly as they are. Adding to that is the fact we see people we know posting pictures of vacationing, going out to eat (albeit outside now), and hanging out – all without wearing a mask or social distancing. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy having someone else cook dinner and do the dishes afterwards. At this point in the pandemic, that is a “want” instead of a “need”. As long as we aren’t completely locked down and can go to the store, our household will be fine.

The week started off rough with slicing a bit off of my thumb with a mandolin on Tuesday while prepping apples to dehydrate. Luckily, the gouge is more towards the side of the thumb pad instead of in the middle. It should be healed by early next week. Yesterday I knocked over a lamp while vacuuming and broke the glass on it. No one got hurt, and I was able to get all the pieces cleaned up before the dogs tried wandering through. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for a replacement glass over the next month or so.

I got another batch of cookbooks cataloged, and hopefully will get it uploaded early Saturday. I have to get the new Worst Cooks bingo cards out first though. What a wild ride this season is! The final four go at it this weekend to narrow things down. It is pretty close; no one really stands out as being better than the others. I have an idea on who I think makes it to the final two, but I’m not going to say. Creating the bingo cards and learning how to use Instagram to do a live feed has been interesting. I have fun with it, and will eventually get the hang of merging multiple platforms together.

On to the weekend! I am looking forward to the last video posting for the Fresno County Library summer series – Versatile Veggies. I picked a few that are quick, light, and easy to do. The average daytime temperature in the summer is around 100 degrees, and the idea of fixing something complicated in the heat is not fun. I am pretty happy with the results, and listed a few swap-outs at the end of the recipes for variety. If you try any of the recipes, let me know what you think.

Apple and Shaved Fennel Salad

1 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
 Freshly ground black pepper
1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 small fennel bulb(s), thinly sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, halved and cored, thinly sliced or cubed
(you can also use whatever apple you have on hand)
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fennel fronds or parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
1 ½ ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved (about 2/3 cup)

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, and whisk briskly until dressing is emulsified. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt if needed.
  2. Place the walnuts in a dry pan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on it so the oil in the nuts does not burn. After 3-5 minutes, remove from heat and dice when cool. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the apple, celery, fennel, and walnuts.
  4. Toss the fennel, apple, walnuts, and celery with the dressing. Fold in fennel fronds or parsley, and top with Parmesan cheese just before serving.

    NOTE: Dressing can be made the day before serving, and stored in the refrigerator. Toss with salad ingredients up to 1 hour before serving.

*optional substitutions:
almonds or pecans for walnuts;
gorgonzola or blue cheese for the Parmesan cheese;
mint or basil for part or all of the parsley

Roasted Beets with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

3 large beets, roots intact but tops trimmed off

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cups packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons packed fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1/8 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons loosely packed fresh mint leaves, julienned or minced
2 tablespoon fresh-leaf parsley leaves, julienned or minced

For the salad

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Salt the water, then add the beets and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, or until fork-tender. Alternately, you can cook the beets in a pressure cooker under high pressure for 15-20 minutes with a cup of water added. Let naturally pressure release for 5 minutes, then manual release the rest of the steam.
  2. Drain the beets and rinse under cold water, using your fingers to rub off the skins off. Set the beets aside and let cool.
  3. In a food processor, combine the garlic, parsley, mint, pepitas, olive oil, and lemon juice. Pulse until very well combined. Season with salt. If the pesto is too thick, add water a tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
  4. Slice the beet into rounds or wedges, place on a platter, and lightly season with salt. Drizzle the beets with the pesto and olive oil, then sprinkle with the mint and parsley leaves. Serve immediately, or refrigerate and serve chilled.

**optional substitutions:
substitute cilantro for part of the parsley in the pesto or finishing herbs;
swap out toasted sesame oil for the olive oil drizzle 

Roasted Carrot Hummus

1 cup baby carrots**
3 cloves whole garlic, peeled (or 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic)
2 tablespoons and 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon salt
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (optional)

Serve with:
Root vegetable chips, pita chips, celery sticks, tortilla strips, toast points

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

On a rimmed baking pan, toss together the carrots, garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover with aluminum foil and roast until the carrots and garlic are soft, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Place the carrots, garlic and chickpeas in a food processor. Pulse to combine and break apart slightly. Add the lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Puree until smooth and has an even color overall. If the hummus is too dry, add water a tablespoon at a time and blend until the consistency you want.

Make sure to taste the hummus at this point and see if you want to adjust it with additional salt or seasonings.

Serve with root vegetable chips, pita chips, tortilla strips, celery sticks, or toast points for dipping.

**You can use 8 ounces carrots that have been peeled and cut into 1-inch strips.

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