Saturday
Sep242011

Minimoons, Menus, and Making Bread

The quick answer:  For guys who don't cook, the key to good food (and a little dessert) is a happy wife.

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Swing Girls

Sometimes life takes you by surprise and you bump into something that just makes your soul sing.  Like the Swing Girls playing the big band classic, In the Mood.  This is about a dreadful movie, a Japanese comedy, which required a group of high school girls, want-to-be actresses without instrumental training, to play big band music.  The girls were given five months to learn an instrument and the movie was filmed.  End of story, except the girls had fallen in love with the music—in Japan there’s a fascination with American music, past and present.  The girls wanted to prove they really had played, so they put on a single show titled, “Swing Girls’ First & Last Concert.”  You have to love the fresh innocence of these girls, dressed in school uniforms with knee socks, mimicking the hipness of big band musicians, with soloists taking Japanese-style bows after their numbers. See it here. (Yeah, the pianist’s a guy.)   

The French Laundry

Looking back, our best days were when the house was filled with the energy of young children.  Living on a skinny budget, we were fabulously rich with children.  It was tiring, but almost always joyful.  The children are gone now but we're comforted by treasured memories.  From the start the beautiful wife wanted dinnertime to be special and the kids could be a little unruly so for a time we read the book Miss Manners after dinner.  With kids, a lot runs in one ear and out the other, but a few things do stick.  Imagine our pleasure the other day to see a post about dinnertime on the blog “Dinner a Love Story” by one of our daughters.  See it here—she’s improved on what we did.  Mom’s efforts do make a difference; one more way life can make your soul sing.

It’s hard work rearing children.  It works best, they say, if moms get a break, a little R&R, from time to time.  In our busy years we tried to schedule quarterly weekends away from the children, we called them minimoons and it was my job to plan them.  I liked to find the little forgotten corners of history, older towns with romantic B&Bs ensconced in aged mansions.  (Yes, I'll share my list some day.)  We should make this a Healthy Change, that mom can look forward to a scheduled weekend away.  Mom is the cook in most homes, which ties into this week’s subject: cooking

One minimoon we traveled to Yountville, in California’s wine country.  It wasn’t true then, but today Yountville makes this claim:  “More Michelin stars per person than any place on earth.”  Yountville has some great restaurants, like the French Laundry.  The French Laundry is not only the best restaurant in Yountville, it may be the best restaurant in the world (check it out in Wikipedia).   I’ve been reading The Soul of a Chef and the author describes the workings of the French Laundry’s kitchen—it’s so fascinating I rashly promise the beautiful wife I’d take her there if she wants to go.   It’s a crazy thing to promise, you know, but we really don’t eat out much and it’s important to keep the cook happy.  Hope I can get a reservation.

Recipes

The menu at the French Laundry is so off-the-chart fancy that it caused a fresh insight:  What America needs is not more exotic food, but a few super healthy, cook-in-your-own-kitchen dishes to build a new food culture around.  So that’s our goal for the rest of the year, to find those recipes.  We’ve made a good start with these recipes, presented in past posts:

  • Split Pea Soup with Ham Bone; we just took some out of freezer to eat this week.  There’s just two of us so we’ve gotten a half-dozen meals from that ham bone.    
  • Skip’s Scalloped Potatoes; this dish is best on the weekend, as it takes longer to prepare, but it’s good for several days as leftovers.
  • People love Beth's Vegetarian Enchilada recipe; it’s great for cleaning out the vegetables in the refrigerator, you can use about anything.
  • Oven-Roasted Fries were offered when we banned all deep-fried food not cooked in your own oil, including that American icon, French fries.  Some folks use sweet potatoes. 
  • Skip’s Breakfast Compote, our most popular recipe, it’s tasty, cheap, and healthy.  This summer we enjoyed it with fresh peaches, a little granola, and sunflower seeds.
  • Katie’s Granola, we like this so much we sprinkle it on the Breakfast Compote and use it as a snack.
  • Skip’s Homemade Applesauce; I got this recipe from Janet Athey in tiny Midway, Utah and made minor changes, like fresh orange juice.  (Tastes better, plus cheaper, than concentrate.)  Martha Stewart posted the recipe at her site, here.   Try this and you won’t want store-bought anymore. 
  • We created a good recipe for Whole Wheat Bread but I actually like the recipe submitted by Nancy O, a charming woman with much cooking wisdom.  It’s found in the comments here, but I’ll repeat it below for easier access.
  • We’re working on a recipe for healthy mac & cheese.  In the past this meant low-fat but we’re going for whole-grain pasta, healthy fats (not too much), and secret veggies.  For Sunday dinner we’ll use the grandkids as a taste panel.  Who better to judge mac & cheese than kids?

Readers have submitted their favorite recipes and we’re trying out before we share them.  We’ll also respond to the suggestion that we make the recipes easier to find on the blog (starting with this post). 

Whole Wheat Bread (by Nancy O.)

Mix together:
4 1/2 c. warm water (filtered, or R. O. is good)
2 t. yeast (not tablespoons).
1/3 c. vital wheat gluten
¼ t. vitamin C powder – can crush a 500 mg tablet.
6 cups of freshly ground w.w. flour
Let sit for 10 minutes
Then add:
1/3 c. oil (any healthy oil)
1/3 c. honey (agave works as well)
1 rounded T. salt
4 to 6 cups more w.w. flour (not a super-stiff dough)
Beat in mixer for 6 to 8 minutes or by hand for 10 minutes.
Let sit for 10 minutes.
Form into loaves (4), place in greased bread pan, and let rise until double.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.

Note:  This bread works well with little yeast, the most expensive item in most bread recipes.  You can save again by buying yeast in bulk.   To bring out the wheat flavor, I grind the wheat the day before and soak the 6 cups of flour with half the water overnight.

A Weekly Menu

We’ve been a little shy about sharing menus, first because the summer has been busy, but also because it’s a little like exposing one self in public.  Know what I mean?  Another issue is what works for us may not work for others; it’s unlikely there’s a universal diet that’s optimum for all.  We eat simple two- or three-dish meals based on whole foods, mostly with 30-minute recipes.  We plan five meals a week and also use leftovers; Friday and Saturday we improvise and occasionally eat out.   Some weeks the beautiful wife tries a new recipe.

Day 1:  Macaroni & cheese with broccoli salad.  Yes, mac & cheese for Sunday dinner, but we’re testing recipes on the grandkids.

Day 2:  Split pea soup (from the freezer) and watermelon.  This is so easy, you only have to remember to take the soup out of the freezer in the morning.

Day 3:  Dr. Weil’s Roasted Winter Squash and Apple Soup; the beautiful wife wanted to try this recipe.  You have to try a lot of recipes to find one you’ll keep.

Day 4:  BLT on whole wheat, with cantaloupe.  Another simple summer meal, though it seems more like fall now.  Add some cucumber slices and lots of leafy greens and tomato, so this sandwich is more like a salad.

Day 5:  Baked chicken with rice, and spinach salad.  We’re going to try a recipe suggested by a reader. 

Please comment on your favorite recipe, or interesting ideas or books on cooking you’ve discovered. 

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Reader Comments (12)

Marvelous post and thank you for posting these things! I saw your daughter's post on Dinner, A Love story and LOVED it. Now, to teach those lessons here... that's always the tricky part, right?

September 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

Love the idea of minimoons and keeping the cook happy!

Something I love to make is a simple roast chicken (season with s & p, tie the legs together and roast at 375 one hour breast side up then another hour breast side down). I roast it and have it for dinner the first night and then use the leftover meat in another meal and then make simple stock out of the bones for soup another night. Yes, it's a bit more work than boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but since I'm saving so much by using the whole chicken, I can afford to buy an organic chicken (sometimes from Costco, sometimes from a local farmstand).

Another dish we love that is simple (I think it has a real name, not sure what it is) is made by taking a couple of apples, chopped coarsely and throwing them in the food processor with a handful of walnuts and raisins and some cinnamon and pulsing a few times until finely chopped. It makes a delicious accompaniment to whole wheat toast for breakfast or a healthy dessert.

I've also been making whole wheat sourdough products thanks to a generous friend who shared her starter with me. From what I've read, sourdough has many health benefits that regular whole wheat doesn't. It took me a long time to dare to try it (it sounded too hard) but it's actually quite simple and I've found it to be a lot more digestible. Gnowfglins has a good e-course on the subject.

September 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

I mentioned America's Test Kitchen: Healthy Family Cookbook on the last post, but I'll mention it again, because it's awesome. I never thought I'd get my husband to eat a burger other than beef, but he's crazy about the black bean burgers and it's easy to find meals that contain less meat or that are meatless that everyone likes.

Tastespotting is also a great online resource because there are so many options to look through every day. My problem is trying to avoid all of the desserts that show up. I think just looking at them makes it harder to keep my sugar intake down. But there are a lot of unique dishes and it's fun to try a few every once in a while, or just get ideas for a weekly menu.

September 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMcKenzie

Lindsey, in a future menu we'll feature your use of a whole roasted chicken to make several meals, finishing up with stock made from the carcass. We just made chicken stock and have an experiment in progress. Thank you.

September 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

I am very excited about these recipes and all future recipes!

September 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Love this post and all your recipes. One question though, what is vital wheat gluten? And where do I find it?

September 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdenise

I've made this radish top soup several times, and love the results (who knew you could eat the top of the radish as well!) http://allrecipes.com/recipe/radish-top-soup/detail.aspx

I made it tonight for a group potluck gathering, and left the radish tops out because I was worried those present would pass up my soup because adding the tops turns it a very unappealing brown color :). This time I also threw in some tomatoes that were threatening to go rotten, and I loved the brightness that the tomatoes added. This is definitely a staple recipe for me.

September 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

Denise, gluten is a wheat protein and it provides the stretchy texture to bread dough so you get a loaf that doesn't fall apart. Most stores sell it near the flour, usually on the top shelf where the slow moving items sit. As you know, a small percent of people don't tolerate gluten well. Best.

September 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

I had to smile while reading this post. The bread recipe you featured is the same one my grandmother gave me when I got married. How fun to see it here! It really makes an amazing and delicious loaf of bread.

My favorite recipe books are from America's Test Kitchen, and I own several of them. Like McKenzie, I own the healthy Family Cookbook, and I have to say that it's fantastic! I think that I love the ATK cookbooks best because they often explain the science behind using the ingredients in a dish. Because of the knowledge we've gained from watching their show on PBS and from using their cookbooks, both my husband and I are confident experimenting in the kitchen with various ingredients to create new dishes (even if they don't turn out well!) For us, this has made the experience of cooking healthy a lot more fun.

September 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commentervalena

This is my favorite macaroni and cheese recipe.
-Lucinda

Macaroni and Cheese with Cauliflower
12 ounces multigrain macaroni
1 head cauliflower, roughly chopped
4 slices bread, torn
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar (6 ounces)
1 1/2 cups reduced-fat sour cream
1/2 cup 1 percent milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Heat oven to 400° F. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, adding the cauliflower during the last 3 minutes of cooking time; drain.
Meanwhile, pulse the bread in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Add the parsley, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper; pulse to combine.
Return the pasta pot to medium heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the onion, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes.
Mix in the pasta and cauliflower and the cheese, sour cream, milk, and mustard.
Transfer to a shallow 3-quart baking dish, sprinkle with the bread crumbs, and bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

September 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLucinda

I LOVE finding old cookbooks in thrift stores and the like. I also like the magazine cookbooks for 10 bucks near the checkout at the store. I have a bookmark folder full of cooking recipe sites and a whole cupboard in my kitchen full of cookbooks. I pull them all out when it's meal-planning day (thurs) and try at least one new recipe a week so I can find more things to add to my favorite list. I do our meal plan in a simple word doc with the days and I try to keep in mind what's going on that day so I can make a 20 minute meal on busy days or feel free to spend a few hours in the kitchen (I've learned I love cooking) if I want to on a low'n'slow day.

Here's our meal list this week. Don't judge the doughnuts! I only get two and only twice a year. It happens to be that time of year. Since they're my favorite food on earth I think I'm doing good for that. ~_^ And ignore the parenthesis. That's just my reminder what cookbook/website the recipe is from. If anyone wants the recipes for anything listed let me know, most of all this is home made as I'm trying to eliminate processed/convenience stuff.

Saturday: Black Bean Tacos & Burritos
Hot Dogs, Coleslaw, Corn on the Cob
Breakfast Tartlets(HG), Doughnuts, Vegetable Juice

Sunday: Fall Vegetable Chili (Delish.com), Rolls
Bacon, Lettuce, Apple Wraps
Muffins, Vegetable Juice

Monday: Capers & Crooks Chicken(AFK), Garden Salad
Leftover Chili
Granola

Tuesday: Beth’s Vegetarian Enchiladas (WOWL)
Cabbage Stir Fry
Tutti Fruitti Biscuits (HG)

Wednesday: Paprika Shrimp & Green Beans (EW), Sweet Potato Pear Soup(AH)
PB&J, Apple, Salad
French Toast Nuggets(HG), Bacon, Vegetable Juice

Thursday: Chinese Lettuce Parcels (AA)
Leftover Shrimp & Green Beans
Granola

Friday: Broccoli & Cheese Chowder (EW), Rolls
Leftover Lettuce Parcels
Eggs & Toast

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRill

I grew up LOVING my mom's homemade macaroni and cheese, and it is to this day one of my favorite comfort foods. However, we rarely eat dairy anymore so I searched long and hard for a good vegan option and I have tried tons of recipes. This recipe is by far the favorite in our house: http://www.earthbalancenatural.com/#/great-taste/recipe-02/. Tastes rich, creamy and cheesy (thanks to nutritional yeast). And I love that it is cholesterol and animal free.

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

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