Writing Reflection: Feast

Spending hours in the kitchen isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. That’s also true for those of us who may choose it. Any decent meal, afternoon tea, or a meal by a celebrity chef: it’s all sweaty, hard work. Why do we enjoy it? What makes it more than just having to eat? Because clearly, for some of us, we are cooks, hosts, foodies. We enjoy the success of good chemistry when we bake, or if we’ve finally achieved that elusive flavor combination. Most people agree that food is both physical and spiritual, but not all are interested in the processes of its’ making or feel the warmth of seeing a laden table one has labored to prepare.

For some of us, preparing food, although at times tiring, difficult, or frustrating, is as spiritual as the time we spend in fellowship with others consuming it. Helen Prejean has said that “writing is like praying,” and one can argue that any art is a way for the artist to connect to God in the aspect of creativity, listening, and inspiration. Who can argue with the art of preparing that special meal? The one that was labored over, where food was put through different processes to become something special for someone special? But preparing food for one’s family can be the same. We know that our hopes and prayers and well wishes are in mind when we prepare food for friends and family. That people will be nourished. It is a feast for those who eat, but can also be a feast to the soul for those who prepare it.

Tater Tot Casserole

This has long been a favorite dish of many people, including both my husband and me, and I make it a few times a year as a treat. Some ingredients are staple, and some change, such as vegetables. One thing that almost never goes in ours is meat–it’s usually hefty enough without it. I, particularly, like it very creamy.

However, last night we had some ham steak, so I added it, probably the only meat I’d be happy with in this dish. And yuuumm, was it good. The lunch portion leftovers disappeared in about 5 minutes, as well. Sorry, no picture (we were too busy devouring). Recipe, however, is below.

Leave notes in the comments as to how you like yours :).

 

Tater Tot Casserole with Ham

  • 1 bag frozen tater tots
  • 1/2 bag frozen peas
  • 1 large can cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1 ham steak, 1/4 inch thick, diced
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, with 1/3 of it reserved
  • pepper to taste

 

Assemble ingredients except reserved cheese in a large bowl and mix. Half everything and do it twice if you don’t have  large enough bowl for easy mixing. Pour into 9 x 13 pan and bake in oven for 30 minutes at about 400F. Sprinkle reserved cheese on top and bake 15 more minutes. Let sit until cool enough to eat.

A Quick Week Day Recipe

I’m always looking for something to make for dinner during the week. Something quick easy, and yes, most likely modified from a box. Shmancy, from scratch cooking is for weekends only when you get home from work after 6:30 most days. So last night (yes, a Sunday, I know), DH wanted to have the hotdogs he’d gotten on sale, and I was looking at pasta. So he says “What about mac and cheese with the hotdogs in it?” And that sounded good.

Now, DH will eat a hotdog cooked in various fashion, and particularly likes to boil them. I, on the other hand, am much more picky. I like them cooked in a pan with butter. Sometimes water, but always butter. And it turned out so delicious, because I used the real butter. Yum.

I’m having the last of it for lunch right now, and it’s already gone. Definitely want to make this again. Can you tell I’m the type of likes to eat something good until it’s gone? All in a day or two, that’s me. Then I find something else to fixate on. But that’s beside the point. Recipe below.

 

Ingredients

  • 6–8 hot dogs
  • 2 regular boxes of macaroni and cheese, preferably a cheap kind
  • 1/3 cup diced onion
  • 2–3 Tbsp butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1–2 handfuls shredded pizza cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • milk and butter as called for on mac n cheese box

Method

Cook pasta from mac n cheese boxes in water. Meanwhile, sweat onions in some butter in a large pan. Slice hot dogs and add to onions, along with a little more butter. Saute until cooked to desired doneness. When pasta is cooked and drained, add to onions and hotdogs. Add butter, milk, and cheese packets from boxes. Stir to combine. Add sour cream and pizza cheese, and blend in. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Life, Fennel, and a Musical

I haven’t put much on here lately; pictures are mostly what I’ve done and Facebook seems easier for that. And there’s a separate website for my writing stuff (xcheamo.com). I’m not sure, at the moment, what’s going to appear here now, for the most part. Journaling and writing about my life aren’t very interesting to me; that’s what I write for.

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For now, let’s talk about fennel. Mom recently introduced this root vegetable to me, and it’s delicious. The bulb and young, tender stalks are edible, which older stalks grow hard and aren’t good for eating. Raw, it has a strong anise scent and flavor; this mellows a lot when cooked, and it’s great with onions, simple seasoning, butter, and a little white wine. I’ve got a few other recipes to try it with, so we’ll see how that goes.

Otherwise, life seems to be pretty simple right now. Finances are tight, so there’s not much to go out and do or spend money on. DH has tons of seminary homework, and I try to keep up with cooking and the dishes. So we’ll see what happens the next couple months as we try to stay motivated.

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One thing that’s helped me lately is just making plans without DH. He’s only in his second semester, so we’re still figuring things out. But I get out of the house and get to do things with friends, and he has uninterrupted study time. This past Sunday, I got to see My Fair Lady in the theater with a friend, and it was great getting to see all the big numbers and costumes on the big screen. All the closeup shots of flowers–especially peonies–during the overture and intermission I’ve always found quite lovely.

Miso Green Beans

Just a thrown together green bean recipe from yesterday, as they were really good. I would always eat them like this.

1 bag frozen green beans

1 tablespoon bacon grease

1 tablespoon miso paste

1/2 tablespoon crushed garlic

Cook the green beans from frozen and discard water as soon as it’s all melted. Add other ingredients and stir until combined; heat until hot enough to eat.

Leek and Potato Soup

Homemade soup done right is hard to top, and I’ve certainly made my share of soups that we just couldn’t finish, but the soup I made this weekend for a movie night with Mom turned out great. It’s undoubtedly the best leek and potato soup to come out of my kitchen so far. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures, but this recipe was the base. The modified recipe and cooking methods I used follow.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 pounds small Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into pieces
  • .5 pounds regular potatoes, cut into pieces
  • 3 leeks, cleaned and sliced
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups broth
  • 1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
  • 1–2 tsp lemon thyme
  • lemon pepper to taste

Cooking

Put half the butter in a large pot and put the leeks on top with the rest of the butter, salt, and pepper, and sweat until the leeks have reduced significantly in size. Add the potatoes and add broth until everything is just covered. Add some water if necessary. Bring to a very low boil and simmer for a few hours.

When ready, prep a blender and puree everything in batches–have something handy ready to keep the pureed soup in before the pot is empty and you can put it back in. Add parsley, lemon thyme, and lemon pepper to taste, and allow to simmer a while longer to combine the flavors. Serve warm.

The soup will be very thick, especially after refrigeration.

Apple Treats

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Mini Apple Pie

1 pack Pillsbury crescent rolls
1 apple, cut into 8 slices
1 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp sugar

Combine cinnamon and sugar. Lay out 8 dough pieces on and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar. Roll each piece around 1 apple slices and sprinkle the outside with cinnamon sugar. Place on baking sheet and bake at 350*F for 15 minutes.

I got the recipe from a thread on a forum I frequent, but thought it would be an easy treat to make, and it was. Will definitely be making it again, although I’d like to try it with 2 apple slices, and also with melted butter brushed on before the cinnamon sugar applications.

Morning Treats

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I have always loved fruit. It’s tasty and sweet, and good for you. Most of the time, I have struggled with either the expense, or using it before it went bad. Many health conscious people also tell about the benefits of juicing or creating healthy smoothies. While my life isn’t exactly full of healthy foods (as is the case with many less wealthy people–healthy food really does cost more, whether at the store or farmer’s market, unless you’re at a discount store), I have had an interest in exploring smoothies for some time. It just wasn’t something I thought about a lot.

However, a few weeks ago a few coworkers were talking about their smoothie/juicer machines, and that inspired me a bit. While it’s not a makeover of my life and diet, it’s something good that I can do for myself. And after giving it a try, it’s really easy.

There is a very cheap produce place in our town, where you can get large quantities of fruit (no weighing, you have to take whatever’s in the bag, such as the whole 3 lbs of bananas) for a few dollars. So I went out and got bananas and various berries, and promptly froze half, because with smoothies fresh or  frozen doesn’t matter. Then I went to our regular grocer and got a tub of yogurt, and some extra milk. Both of your dairies should be non-or low fat for your smoothies to qualify as “healthy”, btw. Depending on how much fruit you use–a lot!– it should still taste good.

DH, on the other hand, won’t eat most fruits you’d put in a smoothie. He will, however, eat bananas, so I’ve been making banana for him. This week his has blueberry as well, so that’ll give him some extra flavor. I haven’t been making as much for him, he’s not so fond of it. But I’m really enjoying it for now.

So here’s what I do. On Sunday or Monday night, I make a batch of smoothies for the week. I usually thaw any frozen fruits the morning of to give my decrepit old blender a break. For DH, I make a small batch of banana smoothie, and a large batch for myself. It will keep in a jar in the fridge for a week, maybe more. Just keep it refrigerated. Cleanup is also really easy so long as you rinse out your blender right away–everything will rinse right off.

Small Banana Smoothie:

2 bananas, fresh or frozen

1/2 cup low or non-fat yogurt

low or non-fat milk–add a little, and add more if you want it thinner

1 Tbsp honey (optional)

For smaller quantities, you’ll want to keep a spoon or something handy to help move things around so everything gets to the blades at the bottom of the blender. If you’re using vanilla yogurt (it’s often cheaper than plain at my store) you’ll want to skip the honey.

Large Fruit Smoothie

2 cups fruit, fresh or frozen (thawed)

1 cup low or non-fat yogurt

1/2 cup low or non-fat milk

This smoothie tends to be more liquidy, probably because it has a lot more fruit. You can add the honey if you like. I don’t really measure the fruit here, just throw it in the blender. Usually I use 2 bananas, strawberries and/or other berries, and this week I threw in a mango–it made a super yummy smoothie.

So there you have it: a super-easy kitchen project that requires no cooking and few dishes. Be creative and see what you like.