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.

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Onion and Mushroom Pie

Quite a while ago, I saw an onion pie somewhere. Whether it was on a show, in a book, or online, I don’t remember, but I love just about anything in the onion family. So it may be no surprise that I’ve had it on my list of things to make someday. Well, that day has come, and I made a first experiment of it last night. Now, something you should know about onions, is that DH is decidedly not an onion fan. But he is a fan of mushrooms, and what goes better with onions than mushrooms? Thanks to sales and low prices at a few stores, larger amounts than usual of both were on hand, along with the pie crusts. Unfortunately, recipes that will fill an entire pie plate–I like a nice, deep, full pie–and don’t have lots of other ingredients are hard to come by, so I created my own.

I just had some (will get a picture up with I get home, hopefully), and it’s certainly delicious. If anyone does try it, please let me know how it goes.

Ingredients

3 large sweet onions, sliced at 1/16″

2 lbs. button mushrooms, sliced and washed

1-2 Tbsp oil

1 stick of butter

Savory, bay, and marjoram to taste

Salt & pepper to taste

1/4 cup white wine

1 ramen flavoring packet

cornstarch

Method

Heat a very large pan with oil and add onions, herbs, and 2 Tbsp butter, and cook slowly until soft and slightly brown–this took about half an hour. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper, and 2 more Tbsp butter. Cook until mushrooms have significantly reduced in size, but not completely cooked.

Put a pie crust in the bottom of the pan and spoon onion and mushroom  mixture into it with a slotted spoon. Leave as much of the liquid in the pan as possible. Return pan to heat and add 3 Tbsp butter, wine, and flavoring packet. Reduce, then add cornstarch to thickness desired. Pour over vegetables and mix in as possible.

Close up the pie with the top crust and cook for 45 minutes at 400 F

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.

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.

The School of Essential Ingredients

ImageNormally, my mother and I like different reading material. But we both enjoy food and cooking, so when her book group read The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, she recommended it to me. I can’t imagine anyone not liking this book. Even if you’re not a foodie, food appeals to you in some manner, and the way Bauermeister describes both food and cooking is wonderful. Even without that, her writing has a flow which is very inviting and easy to read, and once I started I couldn’t put it down.

To very very very briefly summarize the book, Lillian is a gifted cook who gives cooking classes in her restaurant’s kitchen once a month. She has a gift of healing people with food, and the lives of her students are changed.

While Lillian is certainly a nice character with eccentricity, it is the lives of her students which really shine in the book, and which kept me interested. Each one of them is given a section of the book, and their stories are varied and compelling. This is definitely a warm, fuzzy, feel good kind of book, while still dealing with difficult issues in the various characters lives.

There is also a sequel, entitled The Lost Art of Mixing, which I’m hoping mom will let me borrow when she’s done with it.

As for my thoughts, it would be totally cool to be able to have Lillian’s gift for cooking people out of their funks. But essentially, we’re all comforted by familiar food. A bad meal can ruin one’s day, and a good one will leave us reminiscing for weeks, months, years. Maybe it subconsciously inspired me to do all that cooking this weekend. Nothing fancy, just meals and some squash bread (think zucchini bread). But it filled our apartment with good smells and our stomachs with good food, and the experience of both preparing and partaking a pleasant meal, and what it does for our souls, which is what this book was all about.