Creativity Cooks

Collage ~ Cooking ~ Creativity … inspired by three generations of women

Soups On!

Go ahead, you can do it. Make a big pot of vegetable soup. You know you can and you know how delicious it will be! Remember the vegetable soup of our childhood? It came in a can, and we thought it was good. Well, some of us did, especially if it was sided with a sandwich we loved. I remember how canned vegetable soup tasted and I didn’t like it. Tinny, a bit sour and way, way too salty. Mushy cubed vegetables, like the frozen mixed that if we were lucky got tossed with some salt and pepper and a bit of butter before clumping into a bowl for the table. But they were colorful, weren’t they…even if the cubes were the picture of conformity. Hmm, even our vegetables were forced to conform. Sounds like an unsavory plot to me.

Let’s go shopping for the fresh organics, here’s your list:

1 bag carrots (1 lb.), 2 large, sweet onions, 1 pkg. celery, 1/2 lb. fresh green beans, 2 med. zucchini and a small bunch of parsley or even cilantro would do nicely. You will need 4 plum tomatoes (or you can used Pomm diced – just half the package or less). And a small knob of ginger.

Have some garlic? 2 or 3 large cloves will do. Is there Turmeric in your spice cabinet? How about Cumin, Paprika, Cinnamon (did she say Cinnamon)? Good… I am sure you have some olive oil, sea salt and fresh pepper to grind. Excellent…

Take that dutch oven or big soup pot and dust it off. Chop those two onions to a medium dice, slice the celery in 1/4″ bits (use 2/3 of what you bought – no, it’s not too much…) and put that into the pot with enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot and then just a bit more. Turn the heat to medium and put a lid on it. Check after a few minutes to see they don’t brown, turn down the heat a bit if need be. Pots and stoves are all different, don’t burn or brown your veggies!

Take the whole bag of carrots and peel, snip off the ends and rinse. Chop them into 1/2″ bits, you can cut rounds or halve the carrots and cut them. Not too big, not too small. Pop them in with the simmering onions and celery, stir, put the lid back on. Clean up the mess you made from the prep so far and then check the veggies. Chop the plum tomatoes if that’s what you are using. Add water to cover and then some, about an inch more. Add the tomatoes. No need to measure. Add 2 tsp. sea salt, 1 tsp. Paprika, 1 tsp. Turmeric and 1 tsp. Cumin. Stir, turn the heat up a bit to get it going (a steady simmer) and put the lid back on.

Rinse and prep the green beans and zucchini – snip off the ends and cut into nice sized pieces, set them aside for now as these two veggies cook quickly so they go in last. Peel a 1/2″ piece of ginger for grating.

By now the soup should be a-bubblin’… turn the heat down, low on gas and #2 on electric stoves. Set the time for half an hour. When it dings, stir in the green beans and zucchini in and grate the ginger into the whole mix, cover. Set the timer for another half hour. When it dings, stir again and taste it. If it needs a bit more salt, add it. Grind into it some pepper, a few healthy turns is good. Now, add a pinch of Cinnamon. Yes, Cinnamon. Stir… wait… stir again… taste. Can you feel the warmth of those spices?

Mmmm, I bet you can.

You have made a wonderful soup! This is a very low fat and low carb soup too, that can be ‘beefed’ up, so to speak. You can easily add cooked grains to this, for a heartier version. You could grate some good cheddar on top! You could add cooked beans or potatoes (I recommend cooking 5 or 6 red bliss potatoes at the beginning of the week to keep – after they cool – in a bowl in the frig – it makes for easy hash browns, or rough mashed) ~ red bliss or sweet/yams work very well!

This delicious accomplishment also freezes very well (without the potatoes) ~ which is why we made such a nice, big pot! Portion it out to your convenience. 

This is making me hungry…..

 

 

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Look What You Can Eat!

That is what my kids called the tv show they suggested I create for the Food Network. With a family full of food sensitivities it was my quest to find all the foods they could eat, so they could stop feeling so bad about what they couldn’t. No wheat, no gluten, so sugar, no dairy, no fat, no meat, no preservatives, no pesticides, no GMO’s … the list seems endless. It is a daunting discovery to face what foods you cannot have when you enjoyed them so, were comforted by them, rewarded with them. Our American relationship to food is bizarre – and I think we are all beginning to understand this. Too many of us have health issues, starting at younger ages and wreaking havoc in our lives. So, while my kids (or myself) looked at the list with a quivering lip, raging anger, extreme frustration or just plain disappointment, their cries of “I’ll just never eat again!!” did not fall on deaf ears. Let’s take things one at a time, I am sure you have been where I am about to go.

Tis the season for salads, slaws, more veggies from the farmer’s market, summer fruits and lighter foods in general. Keep it seasonal and simple. Here are some easy things you can do with foods you can have and none of these recipes has any of the n0-nos listed above.

Can’t have Cole Slaw anymore? Too much fat, sugar or salt in the mayo? Use lemon or lime juice and the zest, a little olive oil, some sea salt, fresh ground pepper and some fresh herbs to make a dressing you can keep in the frig for green salads as well. If you like a touch of sweet, use a little agave (low glycemic nectar for sweetening) or some organic honey or even a bit of stevia/truvia/pure-via if that’s what you like. Whisk together and set aside in a jar in the frig. Change your dressing taste as you change the herbs or citrus. Try adding a bit of chili powder and chopped cilantro to the lime based version…yum! Grab a green cabbage, some carrots and a red onion. Thinly slice or grate the cabbage and carrots, very thinly slice the onion. Toss with the dressing to taste. I always add toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds – you can add some currants or raisins too. Try red cabbage, which is delicious this way, combine it with the green. I recommend herbing it up with fresh dill or fresh tarragon or fresh parsley – whatever you like!

Not enough fiber in your diet? Eat more veggies! No one eats enough veggies, except perhaps vegans and some vegetarians. Get thee to the farmer’s market or the organic section of the produce aisle! Maybe you have a garden? How about some of these suggestions:

Diced Veggie Saladsummer squash, zucchini diced small and red onion diced even smaller, carrots peeled and grated (no more than two unless you are making this for a party), corn kernels (fresh or frozen thawed), diced red bell pepper (green too if you like) and use the dressing above. I recommend the chili powder/lime version or a dilly lemon version for this salad. Like potato salad but the regular kind is on your ‘don’t’ list? Try cooking a few red skinned potatoes (not too soft!) and dicing them into this salad. Look what you can eat! This salad is happy to go to any barbecue this summer as your contribution!

On the veggie side of things, think soups for summer, chilled soups! Easy now, don’t bolt… I have some delicious ideas for you!

Chilled Carrot-Ginger (or Carrot-dill if you prefer) – couldn’t be easier. First, carrots – 4-6 of the nice big ones – peel, trim top and bottom, and rough chop kinda small. Take one Vidalia onion, medium size and dice that. Slice a nice, big clove of garlic.  Start sauteing the onions in a drizzle of olive oil (about a tablespoons worth on a med-low flame or setting) in a saucepan that will also hold 4 cups of liquid or more, I like room – with a lid on it. Check it occasionally as it sizzles – stir them, cooking till golden in color. This may take some time, but the window exhaust fan is on, the pot is covered reducing escaping heat and maybe you’re making the slaw at the same time! As the onions cook down a bit, add the garlic and the carrots, stirring it up. Add 4 cups (or more depending on your carrots – cover them with liquid) of water and a veggie stock cube – or chicken or vegetable stock depending on your choice. Turn up the heat to med-high to start a good, brisk simmer. Once there, take the heat to med-low and lid on, let it simmer slowly. Leave it alone, set a timer for 30 minutes if you worry.  When the timer goes off or you know it’s been a half hour, turn it off and let it cool down a bit. Got a hand-held blender? I love it for this job – I use the low setting and put it right into the pot and puree away! I add fresh chopped dill or 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger (peeled) and sea salt and pepper to taste. You can also jazz this up with lemon zest if you like, use fresh parsley instead of dill. Chill it and then you can chill out and enjoy!

Do you like cucumbers? Yogurt? Try this:

Peel 3 large cukes and cut two of them in quarters, discarding  the seeds. Grate one into a big-ish bowl, rough chop the other two into another bowl or leave on the cutting board. Grab your favorite plain yogurt and your blender. Put two chopped cukes and 16 oz. of yogurt in the blender, add the juice of 1 lemon (zest the skin into the big-ish bowl with the grated cukes), 1 garlic clove (peeled and pressed) and a tablespoon of honey. Blend on medium till all is creamy. Pour this into the big-ish bowl. Chop some fresh dill and add to the mix, stirring gently to combine. Sprinkle some sea salt and grind some fresh pepper into it, to taste. Chill this ~ I swear it’s the most refreshing chilled soup you have ever eaten. Not only that, this soup is good for digestion too. Who knew? Well, okay, I did. You probably do too.

It’s summer… we want ice cream, but we can’t have it – too much sugar, dairy, fat, or all three. What to do?

Have you tried Greek yogurt yet? Try the plain; whole or 2% (*see note below) and add fresh fruit. Blueberries are the easiest, and you could use frozen, which makes it nice and frosty! Drizzle a bit of organic honey or Agave Nectar on top.

Make your own frozen treats – get some paper cups and some wooden popsicle sticks (yes, the old-fashioned kind, this is a good thing for kids to do) and fill them with homemade lemonade (water, lemon juice or lime juice and agave sweetened to taste). You can add bits of fruit or whole berries to and freeze overnight.

*Note: I have been instructed by naturopathic nutritionists that calcium is a fat soluble mineral (the mineral is contained in the fat to transport it through the digestive process) so I do not eat fat-free dairy products. Yogurt and aged cheeses (especially goat/sheep or organic only cow dairy) are my main dairy indulgences…everything in moderation!

That’s enough for now… you can bet I have more ideas in mind and next blog will have  – I love to say “Look what you can eat!”

I hope you enjoy my amateur food photography – it’s nuthin’ if it ain’t honest! Here is a picture of the Chilled Carrot-Dill soup and my favorite – Fage yogurt and fresh blueberries!

Chilled Carrot-Dill Soup and Favorites

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Memorial Day Deviled Eggs

This past Monday was Memorial Day and it was really hot, sunny, what some might call the perfect beach day. I call it a day I wish for winter. But that’s just me, anything above 65 degrees and I’m complaining. I love shoveling snow? Needless to say it was the kind of day for cold foods. Salads. Deviled eggs…yes, absolutely!

I remember Memorial Days of my childhood, how chilly it was in the morning and how anxious we kids were to dress in our summer clothes and play outside from the moment we awoke. I was a very ‘serious’ child, full of conscience and gravity, especially about this particular holiday. I seemed to feel, very strongly, about how wrong it was to be at war and how sad and pointless it seemed to lose so many lives to conflict. Even as an 8-year-old I carried the weight of it ~ which in 1965 meant I was “too interested for such a young girl” in the conflict in Vietnam. My way of acknowledging all those dead soldiers and the hope for no more war carried me right out to the steps of our front porch to watch the first rose of the season bloom in the late morning sun. Every year only one rose was ahead of the others, one red rose that bloomed right next to where I would sit, on the cold step, waiting patiently for the sun to reach us and warm us – the rose to the point of its protective petals opening to let that first rose have its moment. This might have gone mostly unnoticed, had it not been for my sense of gravity and my sense of hope along with my insistence of sitting on the cold, cement step. My mother thought I was crazy to go out in sleeveless shirt, shorts and new sandals in the chilly morning, demanding I wear a sweater and bring yesterday’s newspaper to sit on, lest I get ‘piles’, whatever that was.

There I sat, waiting and thinking. My 8-year-old mind was full of battle scenes and worrisome thoughts about what soldiers had to go through in a war. My 8-year-old heart was full of sadness for all the death and destruction war caused. Head in my hands, near tears, I waited to feel the warmth of the sun as it crept across our tiny yard toward me and the rose-bush. I am sure I must have hummed or even sang the words to one of my favorite songs, Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” while I watched and waited. That song usually brought tears, or sobs…so serious I was, so burdened under the weight of what was happening so far away. Neighborhood kids were still inside watching cartoons, overhearing their folks talk about plans for the afternoon barbecue; who would bring what, how many hot dogs and what’s for desert. There I sat, on the cold step, mournful.

When the sun reached us the rose began to warm and respond to its inner sense of timing. As a second-grader I hadn’t taken the science classes that would have assured me the rose was just doing its natural thing. I was sure this red rose was blooming for the soldiers. Red for the shed blood and blooming in hope of a brighter day to come, one where war was just a memory, never a reality. As the rose opened my hope renewed and my mood lightened. I ran to tell my mother, who was in the kitchen boiling potatoes and cooking macaroni.

Memorial Day is usually the first barbecue holiday of the season, with all the summertime foods that come with such an event. Our family favorite is Deviled Eggs and we don’t care when the season begins, we will make them anytime. My daughter’s graduation the week before heralded a plate of delicious eggs that were gobbled up in no time. It seemed only fitting to make them again – it felt like July outside – what is summer repast without Deviled Eggs? Saturday evening found me boiling 8 gorgeous brown eggs for 12 minutes and setting them on a rack to cool. I mixed my simplest ingredients in a bowl: 2 tbsp. Dijon mustard, 2 tbsp. mayo (mine is homemade, French style), 1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley, sea salt and pepper to taste. I peeled, cut in half and de-yolked the eggs, putting the yolks in the bowl with the mustard/mayo mixture and smashing them with my pastry cutter/blender but a fork will do, just mash it together well. Using one of my Nana’s ice tea spoons, I spoon the mixture into each egg half and put the eggs in a container with a lid for chilling in the refrigerator. I especially like to eat them when they are just made and still room temperature. I thought I might include a picture of the last remaining egg (actually now it’s in my stomach) complimented on the plate by the sweet potato salad I made last night.

For the record, my 4th of July eggs might be spiced up a bit ~ with a tsp. or two of curry powder, or with fresh dill and chives. I might even go all out if I am bringing them to a party by topping my ‘dilly’ eggs with tiny capers and thin strips of smoked salmon. These will go fast so I should consider making a larger batch and keeping some at home!

Let me end this by saying how much I appreciate and acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of our soldiers and veterans. Gratitude is not enough payment for their suffering or the loss of life. Ending war might be.

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Nothing Says November Like Thanksgiving!

 

Wow… how time flies. It’s already November. Once school starts for my grand kids summer feels long gone and it’s a fast, downhill slide into the Christmas holidays. No sooner did I put the Halloween witches and pumpkins away then I start to notice all the Christmas commercials for the holiday programs, and worse, holiday shopping. UGH! I cannot possibly think about that now! I refuse to watch anything related to Christmas until I see Santa in his sleigh at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I will boycott all holiday hints or notions until I have had that infamous leftover hot turkey sandwich with cold cranberry sauce falling out as I take my first bite!

November first is when I start gearing up for my favorite food holiday, next to St. Paddy’s Day – I cannot tell a lie, I love corned beef and cabbage! I have waited to open up my Martha Stewart Living, November issue, until today. I make it a practice not to look ahead. My pen in hand, white sheets of paper next to the magazine, I anticipate jotting down my alterations of her holiday recipes as I thumb one page to the next. I am rarely disappointed, and this issue is giving me some great ideas. After about three pages of notes on possible stuffing choices, deciding to do pumpkin mousse this year (though I bet I will be thoroughly harassed into also making pumpkin pie again) and jotting down changes to the turkey brine recipe, I start to feel my pulse rate increase. My mind starts to swim trying to remember how many vegetable side dishes I got up to last year…was it eleven or thirteen? I had a personal contest going to see how many side dishes I could make, adding one per year for the last seven or so years. Oh, no… I have lost track. A hot flash starts to take over my whole body as I rack my brain counting. It’s no use. Fifteen side dishes is ridiculous. And they never eat my homemade cranberry relish.

Thanksgiving seems to get more and more ignored by the media as a holiday, let alone a time to give thanks, the older I get. Perhaps it’s because of commercialism, but I refuse to let my family be shopping sucker punched into shrinking this fantastic food holiday. Not only is this the holiday of harvest foods – providing a virtual cornucopia of veggies to choose from, which is terrific if you happen to be a vegetarian, but all the fall colors are represented on the table. This is the most, in my opinion, visually beautiful holiday, if we are talking tabletop aesthetics! And then the aesthetics of the meal itself. Think of those brightly colored yams topped with golden brown marshmallows, or those freshly steamed green beans flecked with toasted almonds. How about that snowy mound of mashed potatoes? Let’s not forget the bright yellow corn with bits of red and green peppers and red onion!
If I look to pictures of this holiday from my childhood, I see that I took an interest in what was on the table at a young age. Considering the almost 30 years I spent working as a cook in restaurants, I was not really surprised to find a picture of myself at age one and a half, and again the following year, perched at the Thanksgiving table looking very excited at what was about to happen. Here is a glimpse of little me, almost two decades before my entry into restaurant…how telling!

Me, age 1 1/2

Me, age 2 1/2

I found a nice photo of my mother, from 1952 at age 13, at the Thanksgiving table with family. I thought I would include it as I seem to have a penchant for shots of tables full of holiday food. Funny, my parents wanted me to be a graphic artist, but they should have known I would end up in the food industry by the look on my face. In the two shots above, I clearly know a nicely done table with a good size turkey on it to be the way to go!

Thanksgiving, 1952

Fast forward to present day… or at least last Thanksgiving. Photographs are, of course, in color and taken by a digital camera, not the old Polaroid. Last year, we didn’t want to crowd the table with the turkey platter, side dishes and the like, keeping all that stuff on the serving bar. My daughter’s table is nicely set, wine glasses and tablecloth, all of us sitting around our well-appointed plates. Here is a shot of our family at table, and of course, a picture of my grandson tearing into his turkey leg.

Thanksgiving, 2010

So here I sit, typing my thoughts and memories into this blog post, when I could be fine tuning my menu for a holiday that certainly deserves our attention! Over the next week I will hone the menu, getting the last okay’s from the family members so as not to forget anyone’s favorites. The week before I begin to shop for the non perishables and the turkey, which is frozen solid. By the 19th I will begin to let it thaw in the refrigerator, preparing the brine on the 21st. Bathing in that brine for two days while I prep all the other components for cooking on the 24th will make sure a fantastic feast by 5pm on the big day. I will be sure to give myself time to catch the parade while I dart back and forth to the kitchen. Phew! Only eighteen days to go until we sit down to give thanks, for the food but more importantly, for each other.

 

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Thanksgiving 1959

Thanksgiving 1959

Me, at 2 1/2

I came across this photo in my very, very old photo album, one my mother had put together when I was little. I had to use Photoshop Elements to adjust the contrast and shadows of the shot, it was a bit hard to see details after all these years, 51 1/2 to be exact. It is clear by my facial expression that I was very interested in the holiday table. I might be folding napkins in this shot, I can’t really see what I am doing, or I might have helped my Nana with something to go on the table. I might have been thrilled with the size of the turkey, dry as it was – thank goodness for gravy.  Yes, all the turkeys of my childhood were dreadfully dry. Luckily gravy is always wet. Cranberry sauce also helped. You could also take some mashed potatoes on the fork with some turkey, better even was sweet potatoes.

Holiday tables were objects of my desire as a kid, along with all the special food preparation. My Nana was instrumental in teaching me all sorts of domestic agenda in such a way that fascinated me. She was very excited about holiday meals with all their accoutrement – jello molds in red and green and her famous cheese balls made with cream cheese mixed with chopped olives with their red pimento centers, rolled in chopped walnuts. Christmas meant her ‘Roly Polys’ (rolled pie dough filled with cinnamon sugar, a Pennsylvania Dutch version of Rugelach) and Spritz cookies graced special Christmas platters. Ham was served instead of another dry turkey, for Christmas. It was a canned ham, baked in 7-UP to cut the saltiness, covered in pineapple rings stuck to the ham with spiky dried cloves. It smelled wonderful while it baked, this was the only meat we had for two holidays, we had ham at Easter too.

Nana’s attention to details of dining, parties and holidays was something she passed along to me. One year, my Christmas party was old holiday movie themed. I had a different, old movie playing on small televisions in each designated ‘party’ rooms. Cocktails were indicative of the times, Grasshoppers, Strawberry Daquiris and Kir Royale. I decorated with the mint greens and pale red colors from holidays long gone by. I thank my Nana for inspiring me.  She is my ‘go-to’ gal for all things domestically inclined, Martha Stewart follows as a close second.

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Thanksgiving 1958

Thanksgiving 1958

Little me, age 1 1/2

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Kitchy Casseroles

Most folks from my generation (born in the 1950’s to the early 1960’s) remember some of the foods of our childhood being particularly interesting, sometimes delicious and sometimes inedible or at least, unappetizing. I remember my Nana making recipes she would find in the pamphlets given her at her local supermarket or found in the middle of magazines she subscribed to. Her cookbook is full of clips from these pamphlet booklets as well as a few of the booklets themselves, still intact after more than seventy years of collecting and writing down recipes.

As a child I delighted in spending time with her, helping her with her meal planning, as she prepared three meals each day, along with her daily schedule of homemaking activities. She had a weekly schedule that went something like this: Monday – laundry, Tuesday – ironing, Wednesday – heavy cleaning (refrigerator, oven, windows, outdoors, etc.), Thursday – shopping, Friday – dusting/vacuuming/bathroom and kitchen cleaning for the weekend, Saturday – travel day or leisure day, Sunday – church and a big dinner with family. Whew! To think that in between all of this was meal preparation, baking… and let’s not forget raising children!

Somehow my mother and grandmother still found some pleasure in creating new dishes to enjoy for dinner. I may use the term ‘enjoy’ loosely… I never enjoyed my mother’s Polynesian Chicken Supper, a casserole of white rice, pineapple and cut up chicken breast bits. It was not only visually pale and unappealing to look at, but I seem to remember actually gagging while trying to swallow the warm, mushy pineapple and rice. Not a pleasant memory at all. My nana had a Salmon Loaf that I actually loved. Made in typical meatloaf fashion, but with canned and carefully boned salmon, it had a nice flavor and she made a dilled cream sauce to go with it. The pink salmon color, the cream sauce flecked with fresh, chopped dill, sided with green beans or broccoli, looked inviting. It was one of my favorite dinners, my Pop Pop loved it too.

One of the recipe booklets I found recently as I combed my Nana’s cookbook for pictures of meals I remember was put together by Bird’s Eye, the frozen vegetable company. Each recipe used one of their products – this was a common practice among convenience food purveyors to increase product sales – providing these booklets near their wares in the supermarket. This booklet, entitled ‘Super Bird’s Eye Suppers’ had two recipes for suppers I remember clearly. I have posted a picture of the page below. The Beef Bavarian with Vegetables was more to my liking than the Hawaiian Beef dish was, it seems the addition of pickle relish to give the dish its exotic flavor was off-putting. At least there was no pineapple in it. Feel free to try the recipes!

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Carole’s First Lobster

When my mother , Carole, turned 16 years of age, her parents took her to have her first lobster dinner. As we were a frugal family for many decades, a lobster dinner was something special. Not just because lobster was considered expensive, but also because it was such a production to eat one. So, the evening of her birthday, Carole dressed up just a bit – in something that would look nice even covered by a big plastic lobster bib. Her parents, my Nana and Pop Pop, put her in the car and drove to a seafood restaurant in Philadelphia. No matter who I ask, no one remembers the name of the place. Probably it was called something like Captain Jim’s or perhaps, Lobster Larry’s, no one knows.

I remember always dragging out the old photo albums as a child spending a school vacation at my Nana’s house, a third floor apartment on 63rd Street, in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia. One of my favorite albums was my mother’s – all the pictures of her as a baby, growing up on Spring Garden Street, her birthdays in order with each number cake, through the photos of her at seventeen, just before she got pregnant with me. The pictures of her sixteenth birthday party at the seafood restaurant were especially sweet – my mother in the middle photo holding her lobster claws, bracketed on each side by photos of her parents. These shots were taken at the restaurant, by someone paid to take pictures of customers enjoying their lobsters. My Nana is laughing, facing my mother and my Pop Pop is smiling gracefully for the photographer. Everyone looked so happy in the pictures it was easy for me to imagine their lobster-imbibing scene, full of cracking sounds, buttery dips and lips and the laughter that comes from a birthday celebration with everyone decked out in lobster bibs.

Here are the three shots, which I have cropped and assembled together, nearly the original shots, with more of a focus on their happy faces as they mug for the camera.

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