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Category Archives: cooking

in lieu of real snow, may i introduce frosty the pancake

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One of our advent activities this year was to make snowman pancakes with daddy. Most of the advent activities I plan go over like lead balloons (make an ornament for our new neighbor? no. make a present for grandma? sigh. put out treats for the birds? blah.) so when one is actually embraced with enthusiasm I get really excited. As was the case with the snowman pancakes that Jim cooked and Pia and her friend decorated.

After dusting their snoman-cakes with powdered sugar the girls decorated them with chocolate chips (regular and mini) and tiny carrot noses. Oddly, the one thing Pia kept eating wasn’t the chocolate chips but the carrot noses. I think I ended up cutting three dozen noses before they made it onto the snowmen. Kids are funny.

Of course, eating pancakes for dinner is always a treat, so maybe that was part of the allure. As for the perennial favorite of the advent activities? Hands down, the candy cane hunt.

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krumkake was made, and no one was hurt

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Of all the Christmas traditions we have my favorite is the making of the krumkake. This is odd as I really don’t like to cook and try to only go into the kitchen to retrieve a cup of coffee or pour a bowl of cereal. But krumkake is different. Perhaps because it is so ceremonious. First I put on Tracks, disc 1, by Bruce Springsteen and skip ahead to Bishop Danced. Then I clean the kitchen counters and make a lovely working environment for myself. I may even don in apron. I definitely pour a glass of wine. Then I pull out the krumkake iron, a splurge of a purchase made in the early months of our marriage when spending $50 on something as unnecessary as a griddle that you use but once a year was unheard of. I like to say that I’m Norwegian, and technically I am 50%, but really the only Norwegian thing I do is make krumkake. Once a year.

This year Pia wanted to help. I was on the fence about this as a) it is a wicked hot iron, and b) I tend to need a bubble of space around me when I cook, a 10 foot bubble preferably.  But, realizing that my favorite Christmas tradition was one where I was alone (with Bruce) seemed a bit out of sync with the Christmas spirit. So I said yes. And we had a ball. And none of her fingers, hands, elbows or hair got scorched. A Christmas miracle indeed.

Yes, that is my hand in the picture, ready to yank her arm out of the way in case her hand got too close to the iron. A bit overprotective? Perhaps. But there is no faster way to ruin a good Christmas tradition than with a burn injury, no?

Stained glass candy, 2011 edition

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Following 51 years of family tradition, we cooked up some stained glass candy this weekend.  And following my own inadvertent tradition of blogging about it on odd-numbered years (20092007), here’s a post.

This is the first year that Tea was able to help cut the candy into bite-sized pieces using scissors.  This is a rite of passage in my family, and he was very proud.  I have vivid memories of cutting candy in my grandmother’s basement (I feel honored that the candy supplies live at my house now).  At Tea’s age, I’d manage to cut just enough to stick in my mouth before darting off to play with my cousins.  But Tea took it very seriously and I think he helped with nearly all 16 pans we made.

It wasn’t all work for Tea, though.  We discovered that he was squirreling away exactly one piece from each batch we made into the pocket of his apron.  He tried the different flavors over the course of the day and there was only one he didn’t like: “It was red or blue or green.  I don’t remember.”

Not surprisingly, Pea was in on the action, too.  Not old enough to touch it yet, but interested enough to cart his chair between cutting locations to watch.  He also had the pleasure of making mischief with his cousin, just like we used to do.

My grandma kept us on our toes, sending pans from the stove sometimes faster than we would’ve liked.  And don’t you dare try to make the flavors out of their traditional order, or you’ll (I’ll) get scolded.  I can say this because she doesn’t read my blog and because she loves it when I tease her.  😉

Making candy is one of my favorite things to do during the holidays – it’s a great excuse to get together with family.

“Thank you for this messy idea”

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We spent today playing outside with friends.  It was such a perfect morning, we postponed breaking for lunch until late.  That meant that none of us were very hungry once we finally got home and dinner time rolled around.  I knew there was one lone chocolate bar I’d hidden in the back of the freezer, so I talked Kyle into an ultra-healthy dinner of s’mores.

Tea, who has been requesting a campfire for months, was beyond thrilled.  He spent an hour carrying more wood than we could burn in a month over to the fire.   Tea knows I don’t generally choose supremely sticky activities.  Between bites of marshmallow that threatened to glue his mouth shut, he said, “Thank you for this messy idea!”

Kyle's roasting technique is a little rusty

One of the best things about an autumn campfire is that the boys thought they were getting the treat of a late bedtime because they were enjoying the fire in the dark.  I’m not in a huge hurry to teach them to tell time – they were still tucked into bed by7pm, smelling smokey, sticky smiles on their faces.

Just a tasty dinner

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Chana masala is my favorite Indian dish.  Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for it is out of this world.

I cooked up two pots at once so I could add lots of spicy pepper to the adult portion.  Yum.  Tastes like fall.

A state of tomato emergency

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The tomato vines are now well on their way down the other side of the 9′ arbor.   Kyle is worried about the amount of weight on the arbor and that it could catch the wind and take flight in a storm.  I am worried that we will be burried alive in tomatoes.

So far this season we’ve harvested 61 large tomatoes and 344 cherry tomatoes.  (Yes I know it is geeky to count them.  I am geeky.  My family should be happy I’m content with a tally on the fridge whiteboard instead of a day-by-day excel spreadsheet.  Maybe next year.)  We harvested more than 50 cherry tomatoes a day for a few frightening days.

This has taught me an important lesson – I do not have enough local friends.

Poor Pea doesn’t like the taste of tomatoes, although he’ll nibble a few bites here and there.  The rest of us have been doing our best to eat our body weights in tomatoes each week.

I’m not complaining – they are delicious and a lack of fresh, plentiful produce in the backyard is going to be a painful shock at the end of the season.  We have a few favorite recipes for serving up the tomatoes, basil, garlic, and zucchini of the summer.  I thought I’d share them in case anyone else has a happy garden.

Bountiful Garden Zucchini Enchiladas – These babies are filling.  We add a can of rinsed black beans to the filling for extra protein.  I don’t even notice I’m eating zucchini, and yet one dissapears from the counter every time we make them.  Perfect!

Mozarella and tomato salad – I’m sure everyone already knows about this heavenly combination.  My Belgian AFS family introduced me to it and since then it has been one of the things I look to most about the end of summer.  We had it with a zucchini frittata tonight.

Gazpacho – Kyle tried not to look worried when I told him we were having cold tomato soup for dinner.  It was amazing.  I don’t know if he liked it enough to eat the leftovers because I hid them for myself.

Salsa, of course, but I always wing it so it’s hit or miss.  Does anyone have the perfect recipe?

Roasted summer veggie tarts: From Jack Bishop’s Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen.  Roast chunks of tomato, shallot, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, corn (and whatever else you like) at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, toss veggies in olive oil, salt and your favorite herb, and pile veggies on squares of rolled out puff pastry.  Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes.

Pan roasted garlic and cherry tomatoes on pasta – our absolute favorite summer dish, from Jack Bishop’s YIAVK.  This is roughly the recipe:

  • Roast 12 unpeeled garlic cloves in a covered skillet on the stove over low heat until soft, approximately 30 minutes.  (Shake every 5-10 minutes.)  Peel and mash in a bowl with a fork with 1/4 tsp salt and 1t olive oil.  Set aside.
  • Bring large pot of water to boil and cook 1lb pasta.  Drain and put back in pot.
  • While cooking pasta, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and add 14 ounces whole cherry tomatoes.  When the tomato skins start to split, mash them against the side of the pan with a spoon.  When all are mashed, simmer for a couple of minutes, then turn off the heat and add the garlic puree mixture and 1/2 t red pepper flakes.  Salt to taste.
  • Pour the tomato sauce over the pasta and add 3T chopped basil.  Enjoy with crusty bread.
What are your favorite tomato recipes?  I’d love to add to my list.

Sweet corn rules

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Sweet corn does, in fact, “rule”, but this post is the rules according to Robin for sweet corn.  I admit that I’m a bit of a corn snob.  Kyle would say I’m a major corn snob.  I don’t feel this passionate about any other vegetables and now that I think of it, perhaps it’s strange that I’m fanatical about this one particular food.  But sweet corn season is short, and it has the potential to be soooo delicious, so why waste time eating less than awesome corn?  Good corn is sweet and so crisp that it pops and sounds like fire crackers in your mouth as it bursts off the cob.

I grew up in a house where sweet corn season was taken very seriously.  The protocol was strict and now, any other way of eating corn makes me cringe.  My dad had a long commute down country roads, and I remember the excitement when he’d hit the jackpot and find a stand where the farmer was bringing the corn in fresh from the fields as he drove home.  If memory serves me right, we’d polish off several dozen ears between the four of us at dinner.  On the rare occasion we couldn’t finish it all, my mom would make the most incredible corn fritters the next night for dinner which we’d drizzle with maple syrup.  I don’t think I’ll ever attempt to make fritters because nothing could beat my memory of them.

Here are the rules for sweet corn in my house.  Kyle kindly humors me but he’s admitted he can’t taste the difference.

  1. The corn.  The corn has to come from a farm stand and should preferably have been picked within several hours.  We ate some for lunch yesterday that was still wet with the morning dew and I thought I’d gone to heaven.  Small kernels are often sweeter (and less starchy) than big ones.
  2. Cooking.  After husking the corn, I put about an inch of water in my biggest pot and bring it to a boil.  I pop the ears into the pot and cover it with a lid.  I let the water boil and the corn steam for 7 minutes.
  3. Kitchen to table transportation.  This step is critical.  Remove the cooked corn from the pot with tongs and stack them as quickly as possible on a plate.  Immediately cover the ears with a clean kitchen towel to trap the heat in and keep the corn piping hot.  Rush the plate to the table –  everyone had better be sitting and ready.  If your crowd appreciates good corn, this should not be a problem.
  4. Table preparation.  Sneak an ear out from under the towel without letting any steam escape.  Push corn picks into each end and roll the ear in butter.  Put one end on the plate and spin the ear as you sprinkle salt.  At this point in the preparation, my parents split into two very different camps, and each one lobbies for their own method every time they eat corn.  My dad would say the corn is complete with just butter and salt.  My mom also adds freshly ground black pepper.  I side with my mom.  Kyle is a purist and eats the corn “as nature intended” – totally plain with no butter, no salt, no pepper.  Preparation should be done quickly.
  5. Eating.  The corn should still be so hot that the kernels burn your mouth and the steam is rising up into your face.  If you’re not sweating form the heat rolling off that first ear of corn, it’s too cold.
When I was young, my dad would start at one end of the ear and speed-eat down a row of corn, splutter a “ding” (with a mouth full of corn), and move the ear back to his starting point, imitating a typewriter.  My sister and I thought he was hysterical, and we were never able to replicate it because our mouths weren’t big enough to hold a row of kernels.  Now that I’m a mom, I got to test out the typewriter trick on my boys.  They also thought it was hysterical, but have no idea what a typewriter is or that I was imitating anything other than a lunatic.  Their laughter escalated as they started to rub their corn cobs all over their faces and scream out “ding!”  I got the look from Kyle for riling them up at the table, but it’s all part of my grand scheme to make my kids as passionate about corn as I am.
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How do you dress your corn?  Are you pro pepper?  Is there a vegetable you are inexplicably zealous about?