Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rich boys

I had the happy accident this week of watching a movie that illuminated a book I had just read. I planned a nice mid-winter goof-off day in which I ate cookies and cashews, drank hot chocolate and watched a Tivo-ed "Sabrina," with Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, and Greg Kinnear. As Ford and Kinnear, the rich brothers, traded barbs about who worked too much and who worked not at all, Dynasties by David Landes, came to life.

Landes wrote about famous-name family businesses (think Rothschilds, Fords, Guggenheims) and how they fared from generation to generation. Truthfully, much of the book was out of my depth as he talked about joint stock capitalization and Vichy France. But I got glimpses of personality here and there:

If Grandpa starts a bank, or invents a car, or strikes oil, who among his sons and grandsons will possess the talent AND the interest to keep the enterprise going? Just like in the movie, plenty of descendants would rather use all that wealth just for playing.

Would be a lovely temptation, no?

Now, when it comes to this installment's recipe, I debated whether to give you something workaday and practical, or something so yummy that you will blame the failure of your New Year's resolution on me. So I decided on both. You've probably already broken your resolutions anyway.

1 lb. ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
1 jar (30 oz.) meatless spaghetti sauce
3 1/2 c. water
1 pkg (16 oz.) frozen mixed vegetables
1 can (10 oz.) diced tomatoes & green chilies
1 c. sliced celery
1 tsp. beef bouillon granules
1 tsp. pepper

In skillet over medium heat, cook beef & onion until meat is no longer pink; drain. Transfer to slow cooler. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until vegetables are tender. YIELD: 12 servings, 160 cals. each.

This was really great to come home to after feeling the nasty, icy wind that blew across the Wal-Mart parking lot this afternoon. We ate the soup with garlic bread from the bread machine.

Now, just so you don't overdose on nutritious stuff, I offer you BYU MINT BROWNIES.
1 c. margarine
1/2 c. cocoa
2 TB honey
4 eggs
2 c. sugar
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Mint Icing (See step #2)
12 oz. chocolate icing (canned)

1. Melt margarine and mix in cocoa. Allow to cool. Add honey, eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well. Pour batter into a greased 9x13-in. baking pan. Bake at 350' for 25 minutes. Cool.
2. Prepare Mint Icing: Soften 5 TB margarine. Add dash of salt, 1 TB light corn syrup, & 2 1/3 c. powdered sugar. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Add 1/2 tsp. mint extract & 1-2 drops green food coloring. Mix. Add 3 TB milk gradually until the consistency is a little thinner than cake frosting.
3. Spread mint icing over brownies. Place brownies in the freezer for a short time to stiffen the icing. Remove from the freezer and carefully add a layer of chocolate icing.
If you cut the finished brownies into 24 pieces, each has 310 calories.

I know, I know, I gave you Peppermint Cream Brownies in the last post. But you really can't have too much of a good thing. Besides those were just gateway mint brownies. These are the hardcore stuff.

I made them for Mercy's baby shower. We needed two pans for the ladies. And of course, what would my husband think if I made these and didn't leave any for him? What would Jim think if I stayed at his house the night before, carrying these lovely treats, and none for him?

Well, Jim made it clear what he would think. So I made a third pan.

In the end, we had so many brownies that, even after I packaged up a nice personal stash of them, I was still giving them away to friends and begging John to take some to bishopric meeting.

The other food at the shower was a great big green and brown cake. (You can sense a color theme here, can't you?) It was a German chocolate cake, frosted with ganache, a smooth icing that hardens into a shell, and embellished with green fondant, rolled and cut out to look like ribbons on a present.

It was a sugar-lover's party, oh yes.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Illegal Food

I just finished Plenty by Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon. The authors, a couple from Vancouver, spent a year eating only foods that came from a 100-mile radius of where they lived.

That would make me illegal by their rules. Am I prepared to do without chocolate chips? Cool Ranch Doritos? Lean Cuisine? Even if the authors claim that your average meal travels 1500 miles to get to your table? Not until I really, really have to. I myself am not about to scour the countryside, finding the local growers of squashes and nuts and honey. I already know some of the tyrannies of agricultural life (and it sure was funny to see the authors discover this. "Hey, James, we've got 160 lbs. of sweet corn here! Um, James, that lady said we have to shuck it, blanch it, cut it off the cob and freeze it tonight or it won't be any good." They stay up until 2 to finish the job. And what does this do to their relationship? Read the book and find out!) and I kind of like the predictability of a life lived closer to sidewalks than pastures.

I agree, there's some screwy things about our food system. Maybe I'll visit my local farmers' market and buy my green peppers there.

The variety of foods produced in lush and moody British Columbia was amazing. About the only illegal item they had to use was salt. Eventually, they learned how to make it: fill a pot with sea water, boil until dry and there's your salt.

It helped that James (or J.B.) was able to whip up stunning meals by looking at whatever food lay within reach and blending it together into something memorable and delicious. The closest I can come to that is what I had to do last week when the snow piled up and I didn't want to dig out and go to the grocery store. I was supposed to feed the missionaries so I had to come up with something filling, using only what was already in the house. Here's what showed up on the table:

6 oz. tube pasta
6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature (like when do I ever have that laying around? But I did last Friday.)
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 to 2 TB dijon mustard
1 cups diced cooked ham or chicken (I used chicken)
1 (16 oz.) package frozen broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower, thawed and drained
1 (4 1/2 oz.) jar sliced mushrooms, drained (oops, didn't have that. So what.)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook tube pasta until just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well.
2. Add cream cheese and milk to pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until cream cheese is melted and well blended with milk. Add pasta and toss to coat.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in mustard, meat, vegetables, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very hot and crisp-tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Serve topped with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4, 495 cals. each. From 365 Easy One-Dish Dinners.

To round out the meal, I made homemade bread. (I had the time, stuck at home and all that.) and Peppermint Cream Brownies: Mix 1 batch of cake-like brownies. Bake in two 9x13 pans that have been lined with wax paper, then greased and floured. Shorten the baking time because these layers are thinner. After the brownies cool, frost one layer with Peppermint Cream Frosting: Mix together 4 TB soft butter, 2 cups confectioner's sugar, 2 TB milk, couples dashes of red food color, 1/4 tsp. peppermint extract, 4 tsp. white corn syrup and a couples dashes of salt. {Place the unfrosted layer on top of the frosting, cut and then try no to eat too many of these. Should yield about 36 pieces at 140 cals ea. From the same disintegrating cookbook that gave us Chocolate Marshmallow Pudding, the founding recipe of this blog.

Next up: Redneck Nation by Michael Graham. The author grew up in South Carolina, hated the Bubba-ness of it all and fled to the North. But what did he find up there? A nation whose favorite sport is NASCAR, who watches reality shows on TV where people eat pig rectums, who is overly race-conscious. Hmmm, said he, sounds way too much like where ah cum frum.

Next up: She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Many cow patties, but I excuse most of them because I could see most of them clearly enough to step around them (except for the language) and because the author of this novel worked it all into the growth of the character. The story follows a girl from age 4 to 40, through her confusing childhood, her grossly obese teen and young adult years and her getting-it-together adulthood. I really enjoyed the journey.

Next up: One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash. This is Rash's first novel and it shows, a little. A murder takes place in up-country Appalachia. The book is firmly divided into sections: the sheriff's story, the husband's, the wife's, the son's etc. I had the sense of covering the same territory four or five times, but from different angles. A more skillful writer could have woven these threads closer together. Which is not to say I didn't like the book. I enjoyed the Appalachian lingo. I felt bad for the hard luck of the characters, whose were going to lose their land anyway when a new reservoir covered it all up.

Well, that's all for now. Talk to you again soon, unless a new grandbaby throws me off my schedule.