Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blackberry Pie

When your 8 year old daughter announces that you must make a blackberry pie, then you must.  I admit it wasn't an actual hardship to satisfy her command.

Pie made from fresh berries is the easiest thing in the world.  Wash the berries, toss with some sugar and a bit of flour, dump into the crust, top and bake. 

I prefer all butter in my crust, but if you have lard from a good source, go ahead and use it - yum!  But please, please, please, don't use Crisco.  It's not food.  It might have been food at one point, but it's not food now.  Have you ever felt that coating on the roof of your mouth when you eat shortening?  Mmm hmm.  Toss the Crisco, use the butter.

The basic crust recipe for a 9 inch pie (top and bottom crust):

2/3 cup butter (cold)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
5-6 tablespoons icy cold water

Then you just cut the butter into the flour and salt til pea-sized crumbs are formed.  Using a fork, toss in the water until the dough just comes together.  Shape it into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling out.  Easier to work with that way.

BUT, if you like "pie cookies" then you ought to make a two-crust, 10 inch pie amount:

1 cup butter
2 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold water

Then, with all the leftover trimmings and pieces, roll out that crust and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  Bake at the same temp as the pie, but take it out after 15-18 minutes.  Pie cookies!

And now for the blackberry part.

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups fresh blackberries
1 tablespoon butter

Toss all but the butter together in a bowl.  Feel free to mash just slightly to release a bit of juice.  Pour into the pie crust, top, seal and bake at 425 for 40 minutes or so.  I lay a piece of foil over the pie for the first 25 minutes, then remove it for the last 15 mn of baking.  If you are feeling fancy, brush the crust with egg and sprinkle with sugar before baking.

A well-used friend - Betty Crocker, 40th Anniversary.  Blackberry pie is on page 93 :)

Not terribly pretty, but it'll bake ok.

Pie cookie, ready for the oven!

Mmmmmmmm.  Summer!  Where's the vanilla ice cream??

Monday, July 25, 2011

Risotta Milanese

When I first started my blog, I told you to watch the movie "Big Night."  Did you?  Well, you still should.  See it again, even!

There's a funny part toward the beginning where a woman orders the seafood risotto.  Now, risotto takes about 30 minutes to make, start to finish, but requires constant stirring by the cook.  It finally arrives at the woman's table and she looks at it and picks through it and in a very disgusted, rude, New York-y sort of way, wonders where the seafood is, and does it come with a side of spaghetti.

It's a hoot.  Especially when the chef gets irate and refers to her as a "philistine" for not knowing that risotto is a starch and you don't get a side of spaghetti with it.  Duh.  He even glares at her from the kitchen.  Good stuff.

So here's risotto!  It's rice.  Isn't that simple?  Arborio Rice, usually imported from Italy.  Don't panic, it's not expensive!  And every grocery store around probably carries it, so look for it near the rice, or possibly the pasta.

Yes, it does take 30 minutes of stirring.  Which I why I plan to make it on a night when the meat is in the crock pot, or on the grilled (man-tended, please) or just needs reheating.  That way, you can cue up a good play list, pour a glass of something nice, and stand at the stove and stir.  Then again, there's delegation.  My 8 year old daughter took a few turns and did just fine.

It really is a beautiful thing, as the more liquid you gradually add, the more creamy and luscious the whole dish gets.  You will be so glad you made this!

The recipe below serves 4, so I doubled it.  A few 'philistines' here turned up their noses, so there's enough for Eric to have with his lunch tomorrow, and I plan on topping my portion with a fried egg in the morning.

Risotto Milanese

2 cups chicken broth, heated and kept near a simmer in a pan on the stove
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons minced shallots (or onion)
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 pinch saffron (I used a pinch of turmeric, it's only for the pretty yellow color)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt to taste

In a large skillet, on medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the shallots (onions) and stir, cooking until just translucent, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the rice and stir until it is completely coated in the butter.  Add the wine and the saffron (turmeric) and cook, stirring gently until the wine is completely absorbed.  Now, 1/2 cup or so at a time, add the broth to the rice, stirring until it is completely absorbed by the rice before adding the next round.  You will use all of the broth eventually, but please be patient and take your time!  At the end of all the additions, the rice should be VERY creamy and just al dente (a bit of tooth in the middle and soft on the outside of the grain).  IF you've used all the broth and the rice is still too firm, do 1/2 cup water addition and stir as before until absorbed.

Remove from heat and stir in the parmesan cheese and add salt to taste.

Do not serve with a side of spaghetti.

But is lovely with a grinding of black pepper before serving :)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Green Beans Vinaigrette

If you happen to have too many green beans planted in your garden and need a new recipe, or if the beans are looking good at your farmer's market or grocery store and you'd like a fresh summer salad idea, here you go!

You can use any vinaigrette dressing you like - home made is best, store bought is ok.  I really like lemon with beans, so I added lemon juice and lemon thyme to my dressing.  Make what you like!

This made a large bowl of beans to take to a potluck party.  It's worth making a big batch, because they taste even better the next day.  A little color is lost by then, but the flavor improves nicely.

I'm so mad - the memory card was out of my camera when I took the picture - and the beans were so pretty, all green and yellow and glistening with dressing.  Use your imagination.

Green Beans Vinaigrette

2 pounds green beans (or a mixture of green and yellow)
vinaigrette dressing (recipe follows)

Wash and trim the beans, but leave them whole.  Get a large pot of water boiling, and drop in the beans.  After 60 seconds, remove beans and drop into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.  Drain thoroughly.

Pour dressing over beans, tossing well to coat.  Refrigerate, covered, for at least one hour before serving.


1/3 cup lemon juice, or a combination of lemon juice and white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon thyme, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk dressing together, or shake in a jar.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Kids - Lunches and Snacks

My lovely (bossy) friend Melissa told me to post this one as well.

Assuming you are not hitting the drive thru too many times per week, and assuming you make it to the grocery store and are prepared to actually make some lunchy and snacky foods for your kids, here's some ideas from "what we do at our house."


Annie's Mac and Cheese - yes, it's a standby.  They all love it.  Serve with fruit, or veggies and dip.

Frozen Pizza - I like Home Run Inn - no funk, great crust.

Sandwiches - Lunch meat (nitrate free) costs money, but is a treat sometimes.  Natural peanut butter and good jelly is a standard.  Toasted cheese.  Tuna salad. 

Cheese Tortillas - Whole wheat tortillas, grated cheese, melted and rolled up.  We serve with tomato soup or salsa.  Veggies and/or fruit.  Chips, maybe.

Leftovers - This is our "almost all the time" lunch.  I purposefully make too much dinner so we can have leftovers for lunch.  Pasta, soup, chili, casserole, meat, whatever we had the night before.  Heat it up and serve.  If you didn't like it last night, you're going to be hungry again at lunch today :)

Snacky Lunch - The name for whatever suits your fancy.  One day it might be apples, cheese and crackers.  Maybe some nuts or dried fruit.  Buttered toast, fruit and some leftover chicken.  Try to have a grain, a fruit/veggie and a protein.  Protein is KEY for kids!  Apples dipped in nut butter makes a great lunch - just have plenty :)


I give my kids snacks.  It's a planned thing, not an hourly thing.  Because we home educate our tribe, we are all home all day, every day.  We have a snack-break around 10:30 and then again around 3:30.  Here's what we often have (notice, there's usually a protein and a carb):

Cheese and Crackers

Hummus and Veggies or Chips

Fresh Fruit

Dried Fruit and Nuts

Cheese and Apples

Toast with Nut Butter and Honey


Fruit Smoothie (yogurt, banana, berries, ice cubes)

Raw Veggies and Homemade Ranch Dip

Cold Pizza (c'mon, you know you love it)

Healthy Kids - How to Feed Them

Today, my friend Melissa commanded me to write a blog post about feeding kids.  What, how much, when, why.

I can do that.

But before I do, let me just tell you that we really are a typical family.  Aside from the whole six kids deal.  By typical, I mean my kids (and husband) have likes and dislikes.  Some of them are deeply rooted in "I cannot eat that or I'll be sick" mindset.  Not one of my offspring have ever, ever expelled any food at the table.

I'm kind of old school in this area.  There are some modern child experts that say forcing children to eat food they don't like will cause them to have food hangups later on.  Baloney.  Serious baloney.  Ask your grandmother, she'll set you straight.  If mom cooks the food, the family eats the food.  Period.

What does that look like at my house?  It looks like "everyone has to taste a bite of everything, even if you don't like it."  It also means salad is eaten by every child, each time it is served.  It means vegetables are eaten.  Meat, potatoes, the whole deal.  Eat it up, it's good for you, it cost money, dad worked for it, mom bought and prepared it, you can eat it.

Do we have battles?  Nope.  We start very young with introducing lots of different foods.  We've hit a few roadblocks and stalemates, but generally we try to persevere.  A BITE.  Is a bite a big deal?  It really should not be.

As kids develop, we allow for a few dislikes.  A FEW.  Some don't like raw tomatoes.  That's ok.  But an all-out boycott on tomatoes in general?  Nope.  Pizza, pasta, salsa, ketchup.  These are tomato products!  I don't force funky things like eggplant or anchovies on my kids.  However, if they make an appearance at my table, the little people have to taste them ONCE.  After that, they can politely refuse the more extreme food items.

My 15 year old dislikes olives.  Only olives.  He will eat everything else.  My 10 year old dislikes too many things to count.  Too bad, kiddo.  No PBJ alternatives for you.  Eat a bit of the dinner, even if it seems horrid to you.  Before bed, you might get lucky and have a piece of toast or a banana and some milk.  No child has ever starved or been harmed when offered food three times per day by their parents.

So what do we feed our kids to make them healthy?

Everything.  Fruits, vegetables, meats of all breeds and manner, dairy in various forms, oodles of eggs, grains (whole whenever possible, but white won't kill them here and there), fats in the form of butter, olive oil, etc.  Sweets. 

Yes, the Sassy family eats sweets.  Probably more than you'd imagine.  The way I see it is that if you are eating plenty of the good stuff, sweets are just part of the deal.  I don't have any qualms giving my children home made brownies for dessert if they've eaten some chicken, brown rice, veggies and a green salad for dessert.  Life is sweet.  Sweets are a part of it.

What about "junk food?"  What is junk food, anyway?  My opinion is that it is highly processed, full of chemicals, nutritionally worthless food.  Do we eat it?  Here and there.  Do we notice a difference when we do?  Oh yeah.  Behavior, to some degree, is affected by sugars and dyes and preservatives.  Sleep can be altered as well.  Junk is addictive, and when they have a weekend or holiday binge, most kids will beg for more and more.  And, since we're being polite, we won't talk about the whole issue of gas.

Picky Kids

I touched on this concept above, but I'll tell you this one major, blanket-y statement:  PARENTS MAKE PICKY KIDS.  How many times have you heard a mom (or dad) say "My child will only eat peanut butter, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and bananas."??????

Hey mom - who does the shopping?  Who brings that food into the house?  Who lets the child decide what he will and will not eat?

I am not a doctor.  I'm nothing but a mom.  But I will tell you that children eat when they are hungry, and most of the time, they'll eat what's there.  Nip it in the bud, mama.  Every single day, every week, offer a variety of nutritious foods.  VARIETY.  What a child refuses today, if offered again tomorrow, he or she might gobble it up.  Never give up.

My oldest is 15.  When he was 3 I thought for sure he would starve to death.  He hated everything.  Poor kid.  We kept making regular human food and giving it to him at every meal.  Along with kid foods, here and there.  Today,  he is a huge, strapping, starving, eating machine.  This is the boy who doesn't like olives.  Only.

If you make roast and potatoes and carrots, with a salad and some rolls for dinner, but have the mac and cheese or peanut butter jar ready to go, your child will win the game.  It's true!  Like I said, ask your grandmother.

Tomorrow is a new day.  Make some delicious and nutritious food for your family.  Serve it with a smile.  Sit down and eat together as a family.  Talk and laugh and eat and enjoy life together :)

Summer Pasta

How's your garden doing?

Mine's going gangbusters.  We've got the notorious "short growing season" here in Minnesota, but we've had a stretch of hot weather lately that makes the herbs and veggies go bonkers.  I even picked a couple of cherry tomatoes today!

I had this and that in my fridge and freezer, and it seemed to make sense to put it all in a summery pasta dish.  I call it "Summer Pasta" because it is a recipe that can accommodate whatever the heck you have in abundance.  Squash, green beans, scallions.  Throw it in there, you'll be happy.

The chicken?  Grilled.  Sauteed.  Leftover rotisserie.  The corn?  Fresh please.  I had some frozen, so I cooked it up in a skillet with some butter and salt to make it a little sweet and more golden.  The tomatoes?  Cherry is nice.  Whole and quartered work, too.  Roma, Big Boy, Pear.  Herbs?  I have more than I know what to do with - so I used lemon balm and basil.  The cheese?  I adore fresh mozzarella.  But Parmesan would be good, so would diced fontina or asiago, really anything you like.

Go to it.  A pound of pasta, 4 chicken breast halves, and a bunch of other stuff made a full meal for our family of 8, plus lunch leftover for Eric tomorrow and a bit for a couple of us as well.  The key is to have less pasta, more "stuff."  Healthier that way, too.

Here we go, then.

Summer Pasta

1 pound of pasta (rotini tonight), cooked and drained, a cup of the water reserved

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
salt and pepper
4 ears of corn, kernels removed (or 1 cup)
2 cups tomatoes (used grape ones today)
4 chicken breast halves, cooked and cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups diced fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh lemon balm
more olive oil for finishing the dish

In a very large skillet, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic and jalapeno, saute for 5 minutes until softened a bit.  Add tomatoes and cook for a few minutes, shaking the pan.  Add wine to the hot pan, stirring to loosen anything on the bottom.  Add chicken and corn, toss to coat and heat.  Season all with salt and pepper.  Add in the cooked pasta and the reserved cooking water.  Toss it all around to give a good coating.  Stir in the herbs.  At the last minute, toss in the mozzarella and give a final drizzling of olive oil.

Mise En Place
If you're French, it means everything is in place and ready to go.

It's the pasta cooking water that makes it glisten so nicely.

Dessert.  Make some baking powder biscuits.  Macerate some strawberries with sugar for an hour.  Whip up some heavy cream, add a bit of powdered sugar and vanilla, and call the whole deal Strawberry Shortcake.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chile Lime Fish Tacos and Lime Coleslaw


Fresh, bright, summery, tangy perfection.

It's July and you might as well put it in anything near you, right?  Lime zest on watermelon.  Lime wedges in your water, or your white wine, or your lemonade.  Squeeze some on your melon and prosciutto why dontcha?

I got this general recipe out of the Byerly's magazine "Real Food" - their summer edition.  That's my local upscale grocery store.  They have carpet.  They also have terrific food, great sales, and some of the most unique items anyone could want to put in their pantry or refrigerator.  I love their quarterly magazine available for free in the store. 

You can use whatever kind of fish you like for this.  They said salmon, so I used salmon.  A major thrill was using the very first jalapeno pepper out of my garden!  Small things please me.  There's nothing better than picking your own vegetables and herbs right out your door, adding them instantly to your food and realizing what eating local is all about.

The coleslaw can be made early in the day, and definitely should be made at least one hour before serving the meal.  The rub/paste can also be made early and held for a few hours.  The fish should be rubbed with the paste about 30 minutes before grilling.  I skipped the orange juice, didn't have it.

Serve with guacamole or sliced avocado, pickled jalapenos, shredded lettuce, pico or salsa, fresh cilantro, thinly sliced red or yellow onion.  AND the Lime Coleslaw!

This makes 8 servings!

Chile Lime Fish Tacos

3 tablespoons chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 chopped jalapeno, stemmed and seeded
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh lime zest
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds skinned salmon fillets

Corn or flour tortillas, for serving (the small, taco size)

In a food processor, combine chile powder, cumin, jalapeno, salt, lime and orange juice, garlic, lime zest and olive oil.  Pulse to a smooth paste.  Coat both sides of the salmon with the paste, set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat grill to medium-high.

Warm tortillas in the oven.

Grill fish until just done.

Let everyone put their own tacos together, adding whatever they like!

Grill Master

Lime Coleslaw

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
3 cups shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix
salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine the dressing ingredients.  Toss the cabbage until well mixed.  Season with salt and pepper.  Taste.  Add more of whatever might be missing.

It's really, really good!

My personal taco, with grilled salmon, lime coleslaw, and guacamole.