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  1. Five Recipes to Win Friends and Influence People

    December 20, 2011 by faith


    Some foods have a deserved amount of prestige associated with them. They are hard to make; or take time and special rare ingredients. And then there are some foods that are all hype. Everyone oohs and ahs over them, but in reality they are super easy to make. So, if you want to seem like a kitchen diva with none of the drama, try these five not-so-hard things.

    1. Chicken Broth– Buying a whole chicken is a great deal. Per pound it’s usually much cheaper than buying breasts or some other part of the bird by itself. You can easily get three or more meals out of it- beginning with a roast dinner and ending with soups made from your very own broth! All you have to do is after dinner throw the picked over bird carcass (I’m not making this up. This is what the cookbook calls it.) in some water with onions, celery, carrots and spices. Two hours later you’ve got your very own broth to freeze in two cup portions to be used in your homemade soups.

    2. Soufflé– I can remember as a child watching a rerun of the Brady Bunch in which Alice tries to keep the kids from making too much noise and causing her soufflé to fall. This impressed upon me at a young age that soufflés are hard and should only be attempted under perfect non-sitcom conditions. This seems to have been a popular idea, according to the website TV Tropes.  So, when I made a blueberry soufflé the other day, I expected the worse. But it was super easy! No more difficult or precarious than making brownies or cake. So give it a try and impress your friends with a dessert with a fancy name!

    3. Pizza Dough– I’ve already pretty extensively covered this topic in two blog posts (Pizza and Good-bye and It’s All About the Dough) but it bares another mention that pizza dough is very, very easy, particularly if you have a Kitchen Aid to do the mixing for you. No matter how good your local pizza place is, your homemade dough will be better. You can even impress your guests by telling them that you throw it in the air and spin it around like the professionals do.

    4. Hummus– I have a really hard time bringing myself to buy hummus in the store. All it is is chickpeas, garlic, olive oil and tahinni and yet it’s quite pricey. If I used it just as a dainty dip rather than inhaling it, this might not be so much of a problem but I have control issues when it comes to chickpeas. Thankfully, hummus is really easy to make in a blender or food processor. I just use whatever recipe I have laying around and then adjust the amounts of ingredients to make the hummus exactly the consistency and taste I want. One good tip is to reserve the liquid from the canned chickpeas in case you need to thin the hummus a bit. This won’t water down the taste, but it will make it smoother.

    5. Brownies– This is a new thing one for me. I was feeding a group a people and one of them had a soy allergy. The boxed brownie mix I had listed soy as one of the ingredients. So, I pulled out my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and made one of their brownie recipes. It took just a little time to melt some bakers chocolate and measure a few things into a bowl, but was not difficult or too tedious. The brownies came out great and people were very impressed by fact that you can make them without Betty Crocker.

    I’ve spilled my secret easy as pie recipes with you. Now it’s your turn. What impressive culinary creations have you made that turned out super easy?

  2. Changeable Raisins

    October 6, 2011 by faith

    I don’t like change. There, I’ve said it. I like things to be ordered, predictable and to have set rules. When new ideas are proposed, I often have to wait and let their newness wear off a bit before I can tell what I really think about the proposal. “Stick in the mud” seems like an apt description of my general philosophy.

    This desire for a set plan is part of the reason I like cooking and baking so much. You just follow the recipe and food appears on your table! I have a rule that the first time I make a dish I have to follow the written recipe.  After that, I figure can make informed decisions about what I want to modify.  Many people find cooking a creative outlet. I find it a chance to follow the directions.

    There are some changes too big to control, and so I strive to make them exciting and adventurous is some way.  My latest attempt to do this is my purchase of a seasonal vegetarian cookbook.  I bought it last winter and I’ve worked through every recipe in the book for the last three quarters of the year. It feels good to complete something as we move through each season and it’s made me more aware of the beauty of particular time’s tastes and textures. On September 23, we officially entered autumn and I opened the new section of my cookbook, giddy at the possibility of a cooking with different produce and seasonings.

    It was at this point that my desire for good food and good order came into conflict with each other. The first meal I decided to make was a lentil and sweet potato curry with a red cabbage salad. The curry looked pretty run of the mill and understandable, but the recipe for the salad did not sit well with me. It involved the following main ingredients: shallots, red cabbage, tomatoes, red pepper flakes and raisins. Raisin?! Why in the world would you put raisins in this? I really, really wanted to leave them out, but that would break the rule against adjustments to untried recipes. I don’t like change.

    Order won out and the raisins stayed.

    I realize, ironically enough, that my lack of desire to change anything pushed me to try something new. I had never had cabbage, tomatoes and raisins together before. If I had been more comfortable with just modifying the recipe, I would have missed the chance to make something novel and reasonably yummy.

    It makes me wonder, how often to we miss a new experience because we’re too quick to conform a possibility to our expectations? Can we commit ourselves to playing by the rules so that we’re sometimes forced to break out of our box? Will you eat cabbage and raisins?

    Spicy Red Cabbage Salad

    (taken from Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley and Melissa Clark, p. 171)

    2 tbsp unsalted butter

    2 tsp cumin seeds

    2 medium shallots, thinly sliced

    1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

    ½ small head red cabbage, cored and sliced into thin strips (about 3 cups)

    1 14-oz diced tomatoes with juice

    1/3 cup raisins

    ½ tsp salt

    juice of one lemon

    ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

    1. In large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add cumin seeds and saute for 1 minute. Add shallots and red pepper flakes and saute for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

    2. Add the cabbage, tomatoes with their liquid, and raisins. Raise heat and bring to a boil. Add salt, reduce heat to low and simmer covered until cabbage is tender. About 8 to 10 minutes should do it. Stir in lemon juice and cilantro and serve.

  3. It’s All About the Dough

    September 28, 2011 by faith

    After my last post, I had several people ask me about the recipe I use for my pizzas.  So, for the curious, here it is.  Due credit should be given to the lovely Mennonite ladies from More With Less, from which this recipe is drawn.

    Let me reiterate, don’t be scared.  It’s not that hard and it really is worth the little bit of time and planning that it takes to make your own dough.  I use a Kitchen-Aid mixer to kneed my dough, which saves time and my arms.  The dough from the recipe comes out yummy, fluffy and fresh every time- unlike the pies from the place down the street where you have to use a napkin to soak up the little piles of grease.  The wheat flour gives the dough a richer and pleasantly nutty taste, which I now miss when eating white-flour dough.

    Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

    1. Combine in a large bowl: 1 package/tablespoon yeast and 1 cup warm water. (Usually about 30 seconds in the microwave should warm the water sufficiently.  Don’t get it to hot or you’ll kill the poor little yeast when you dump them in.  The water should be pleasantly warm when you stick your figure in, not burning.)


    2. When dissolved, add: 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour.

    3. Beat until smooth. Add: 2 cups additional flour.  You should get a nice stiff dough.  I sometimes add a little bit more water or flour at this point if the dough’s not the right consistency.  It should be not too sticky, but should want to clump together.

    4. Knead until elastic.  The recipe says about 5 minutes, but mine always seems to take a little longer, even with the mixer.

    5. Place in a greased bowl, cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel.  Place in a warm spot (like on top of your fridge) and let rise until double, about 45 minutes.

    6. Form dough into 2 balls and pat and stretch into 2 greased pizza pans.  I usually get some holes in mine during this part, but it’s okay.  Just close them back up and you won’t be able to tell they were there when you bake it.

    7. Let dough sit for 10 minutes.  Add your sauce, cheese and toppings.  Bake at 450 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

  4. Pizza and Good-bye

    September 21, 2011 by faith

    Food marks many of the most important moments in our lives- hellos and good-byes. We get cakes on our birthdays – a hello to ourselves. An ice cream cone on Memorial Day weekend – hello to summer. We have snacks and punch at a baby shower – hello to new life. But for all the happy moments of greeting we mark by eating, there are sad ones of leaving too. The comfort food served at wakes and after memorial services – good-bye to a life. The sandwich eaten standing up in the kitchen after returning from seeing a friend in the hospital- good-bye to life as it was before illness. The catered Greek food at a good-bye meal for a coworker.

    Last week, I said another food-filled good-bye. My brother Jacob had spent the summer living and working at the William Penn House with me. Jacob and I have always enjoyed each others’ company, but being five years older than him, I had gone away to college and then a job in a different city and missed much of the young man he had become. I got to know him as coworker and fellow grown-up this summer, and love the person he is. Even now, I walk through the house and think “Jacob and I should. . .” and then I realize he’s back in Ohio, at school.

    As Jacob’s last day at the William Penn House drew near I asked him what he wanted for his last meal with us and he chose pizza. Pizza has become a bit of a tradition here at the William Penn House. It started with two former interns who instituted a pizza night on Friday nights. There was an open invitation to all. It lapsed after they left, but we’ve recently revived it – with the addition of board games following the meal. All our friends know its a fairly regular thing, and they just let us know when they’re planning on coming by. Some Fridays are just Micah and me and a housemate or two. Sometimes we have a dozen people eat and have fun with us. It’s become a time of welcome and connection that I miss when we don’t have it.

    Before you become to impressed with me and my pizza making skills, I must admit that making pizza is much easier than you think. It just takes a bit of planning if you’re going to make your own dough (which I would greatly encourage). Your homemade pizza (even with store bought dough) is going to taste much better and be much cheaper than anything you can get at a chain pizza place. I usually start making the dough about two hours before we eat. It only takes about fifteen minutes to put together, but then it has to rise unsupervised for about an hour. I only need to start to put together the pizzas in earnest and heat up the oven about an hour before we plan on eating. We usually make a more traditional one with tomato sauce, cheese, veggies and pepperonis and a more experimental one. Jacob asked for a spinach, artichoke and feta pizza for his good-bye dinner. It is a tomato free pie I had made for one of our regulars who’s allergic to tomatoes and is wonderful.

    Most of us like to put as much as possible on our pizzas, but there’s also something to be said for simplicity. Having just three toppings allows you to savor each one. And savor it we did. Our fellow interns and housemates joined us for pizza and a banana cake (that’s a whole ‘nother post) on the night before Jake went. We didn’t rush; we enjoyed each others company and we began to say good-bye. It felt a bit like a ritual of good-bye, a liturgy of leaving. We most pause and eat with each other one last time before we go our separate ways and life resumes.


  5. Tonight is a Good Night for Soup!

    September 7, 2011 by faith

    My husband, Micah, and I returned this afternoon after being away a couple days, and I have to admit that one of the first things that I thought about on our return was what in the world we were going to have for dinner.  I knew we’d be running low on supplies when we got back and our options would be limited. Opening the fridge, I saw that our CSA box had arrived with an assortment of fruits and veggies but besides that, we had next to nothing in the house.  On top of this, it’s been raining for about three days straight and fall seems to be suddenly upon us with cooler temperatures.   So the inspired choice for when it’s wet, chilly and all you have is random vegetables: soup!

    I ended up making a slightly modified version of “Savory Grain and Bean Pot” from the awesome Mennonite cookbook More with Less.  The idea of More with Less is to make great food, but also walk more gently on the earth and share more with our fellow human beings through the choices we make in what we eat.  So, the recipes tend to deemphasize meat, cost less and have fewer calories and sugar.  More with Less first came out in 1976, but it seems even more relevant today as there are now even more of us on the planet to feed and as we see more and more clearly the affects our over-consumption has on our earth.

    I also love that this cookbook and I have a similar food philosophy.  In the introduction Mary Beth Lind, a dietitian, explains that “When we make food an integral part of our lives and our homes, it becomes part of our theology.”  She talks about growing food and cooking slowly and carefully, with thought about our impact on nature and the sacred space created when people share a meal together, as being a way for us to be “co-creators with God and stewards of God’s garden.”  No longer are we an American consumer; we are suddenly transformed into nurturers.

    What a refreshing way to look at food!  It no longer is eating just about shoving the right nutrients into our bodies, but also about our connection to God, the earth and each other.  In a dietary world which leans towards reduction of food into just its component parts of proteins, fats and sugars, we may instead see food in the grand picture of God’s providing hand.

    Our soup meal was very typical of the kind of meal that More with Less urges us, as Christians on a needy planet, to eat.  Not only did we use little meat and processed food, but we also ate bread that was a gift from a friend, chicken broth that was made at home and we sat there for a good while after we were done talking with each other.  We filled our need for food, but we also filled our deeper need for connectedness through conversations, this night about politics (we do live in DC after all) and our trip.

    I am in no way promising that this soup will magically transform your time with whomever you eat this with into some utopian dream.  Just that eating together- thanking our Creator and welcoming what he has provided for us- is a moment of grace in a world full of fast food and too little conversation.

    Bread and Soup

    Faith’s Slightly Modified Savory Grain and Bean Pot

    -Heat in large kettle 2 tbsps. olive oil.

    -Add and sauté: 1 chopped onion and several cups chopped veggies of various sorts (I ended up with wax beans and half a green pepper from last week’s CSA box, mushrooms left over from Friday night’s pizza, broccoli from this week’s CSA box, one carrot and one stick of celery of undetermined age from the bottom of the fridge.)

    -Add: one can of Navy beans; a couple chopped tomatoes; 2-3 peppercorns (I don’t know why, but I just did what the book told me to); pinch cayenne; ¼ tsp. each fresh basil, tarragon, fresh oregano, and celery seed; pinch each thyme, rosemary and sage; 2 tbsps. Braggs liquid aminos; ½ cup brown rice; 1/3 cup bulgar; 8 cups chicken broth.

    -Bring soup to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 1-2 hours until grains are tender.