Saturday, June 29, 2013

How to survive Zombie, aka Hospital, Food



Zombies are in the news this week.  World War Z with Brad Pitt is in theatres.  Let’s take a moment to reflect on Brad Pitt…or not. Your choice. Look away if you want.
I had my own experience with zombies this week.  I was acting like one. I ended up in the hospital with some scary symptoms and was frightened some more by….dah, dah, DAH, zombie food.  You know zombie food, right?


No, it’s not brains. Zombie food looks like real food, sort of, but is overcooked, dried out, blah. The life is sucked out of it.  That was my experience this week.


To be fair to my local hospital, I have a bunch of allergies so I can only eat fresh food with no additives. You know it's bad when the night nurse says to the day nurse, “She’s allergic to everything.”  Even jello, the hospital staple. Hospitals must work within their budget.  Bland meals are often a necessary evil.  But hospital food has a reputation.  Never mind people are mostly sick when they come to the hospital or scared or confused or must be fed restricted diets for good reason. Those factors can't help their opinion of whatever comes in on their tray. "More hospitality. Less hospital." according to Aladdin Co. who makes designer hospital trays. But it is still a tray in a hospital room.


I asked friends to tell me their best and worst experiences with hospital food. I wanted to be fair and my brain needed some lively support!  Here is what I learned from their contributions:

Anything tastes good to a woman who has just endured hours and hours of labor, even bad sandwiches, apparently hospitals’ “throw something at that starving mother” weapon of choice! Make sure a friend or loved one is on call, no matter the hour, to bring you whatever you crave. It's the last time you are allowed to indulge in pregnancy induced cravings! But that's not only advice for pregnant women. Ask for help with your hunger pangs if you are stuck in the medical center for all sorts of reasons. However, there are also good reasons for not eating something from home. Mind your restrictions.

When in doubt, go with the chocolate pudding, ice cream, BACON (I discovered that was true), or cake. They are hard to mess up. Unless you have allergies to corn or wheat like me. Even when alerted, I still received a majority of items that were on my do-no-eat list because they saw corn the vegetable but didn't restrict corn-based ingredients. Oh well, I lost two pounds in two days.

Most bad hospital food experiences involve what we treasure as comfort or special occasion meals: scrambled eggs (the closest thing to brains for zombies), pizza, steak (there is a reason hospitals don’t give new parents steak dinners anymore). If asked what you want to eat, don’t set yourself up for a failed experience. Do NOT have expectations and you may be pleasantly surprised by a meal. Except for the scrambled eggs. Again, order bacon. Toast is apparently iffy.

Fish often is served at inappropriate times. I can't give the details. Just too nauseating.

For me, it was the collards that put me over the edge.  Yes, I am Southern. Yes, I live in the South. But collards don’t strike me as hospital food for the masses. They are an acquired taste and not for everyone. When  you leave off the ham hocks and vinegar, hospital requirements, well, those collards are doomed to remain on the plate. I didn’t ask for them but they were what I got and they weren't good for the gitten. Sigh. Brains gone bad.

My collards were not this pretty. Think slime. Find a healthy collard recipe here at Allrecipes.com


Now that I am home and the zombie symptoms are receding, I realize the best nourishment I had in the hospital wasn't the food. The prayers and good thoughts of others AND a Kindle kept me going. I'm thankful for those things and thankful for my friends whose contributions made this post so easy to write. 

PS. To be fair, I also found great things hospitals are doing to give their patients a better food experience.  You can read about them here and here and here . And one of our Yankee-Belle contributors is connected to the hospital food service by marriage. I am hoping Jan Drexler will chime in!

So what are your experiences with hospital food, good or bad, or, for that matter, with zombies?







Friday, June 28, 2013

Fun from The Chew

Missy, here. I love watching The Chew (on ABC) when I get a chance. I happened to be watching the other day when they shared a couple of recipes that intrigued me. Click here for the link to the original recipe that inspired me: Zucchini Wrapped Salmon with Warm Radish Salad. (Just don't compare the photo to my photos!)

Now, as usual, here's my take on it -- simplified and using ingredients I had on hand.




I bought tilapia since it was on sale. And look! The kids have been on a mission trip this week, so I'm cooking for two. WOW. Felt very strange. A hint of what's to come with empty nest.

Salmon or other fish
1 bunch of radishes (for 2 people)--washed VERY well (they're gritty) and quartered. Save greens and chop them.
1 lemon (for the zest)
garlic--couple of teaspoons or cloves, chopped
1 shallot chopped
Dijon mustard
olive oil
1 nice sized zucchini (I forgot to photograph it)



First, the radish salad...
Cook garlic and shallot in olive oil until softened.
Add the radishes and greens and stir to sauté. Season with salt.

I over-cooked mine a bit. Got a phone call.

Now start on the fish...
Thinly slice the zucchini lengthwise. I tried using a knife, but they slices were too thick. Then I tried using a potato peeler, but the results were pretty disastrous, too thin. So I suggest you get out your mandolin slicer if you have one to get it just right (sounding like the three bears, isn't it?). You want the slices thin enough to wrap around the fish but not so thin they fall apart. (like this mess below)


Coat fish with olive oil and spread on a thin layer of dijon mustard.
Lay out the zucchini slices beside each other, and then lay one piece of fish across. Wrap zucchini around and place in pan coated with olive oil seam side down.


I had a good bit of zucchini leftover, so I just sliced it and cooked in the skillet beside the fish.

While the fish is cooking, check the radishes. They should be softened. Top with a bit of fresh lemon zest.

Flip fish when cooked halfway through. Don't over-cook it like I did! Serve the radish salad warm. I was rushing around trying to get to a meeting on time and had to leave my husband in charge of turning and finishing the fish. So the only photo I have is of my plate when I got home from the meeting (it was cold). I was too embarrassed to share it. :)

But it was delicious!

And just FYI, today is my wedding anniversary! Twenty-seven years! I took this Wednesday night when hubby indulged me by allowing me to get my fix of Menchie's yogurt.





Thursday, June 27, 2013

Refrigerator Roll Cheese Danish

This amazingly delicious and simple recipe came to us by way of Facebook.

My daughter Beth gave me the original.

I changed it.

Now sometimes when I do that, things BLOW UP!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eujwxh_r43E

But not this time. This time my changes made the recipe better.

Five minute prep time.

REALLY.

And it's uber delish and crazy popular and people will think you're the Kitchen Diva.


Please note that this original picture doesn't have the two egg yolks or two tablespoons of flower I added. The original recipe came out with the cheese too runny in the middle. Adding the eggs and flour gave it a New York Cheesecake type taste and texture... And we LOVE NEW YORK!!!!

Which means:

GRATUITOUS DEREK JETER PIC TIME!!!!



And now we return you to our regularly scheduled food and fun blog!


Cheese Danish

2 cans Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (We tried with a generic brand and it came out much neater and better with the real deal in this particular case!)
2 8 oz. packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla (Lemon extract can be added or mixed, lemon/vanilla is like a citrus creamsicle!)
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Egg Yolks

Preheat oven to 350°. Open first can of rolls and simply unroll them (still attached) into the 13 x 9" pan. Mix all other ingredients until smooth.




Spread on rolls. Open second can of rolls, unroll the crescent rolls and lay on top.

Here is the evidence that I added the two egg yolks... One green egg, one white egg. Because that's how we roll 'round here!


Top with:

1/4 cup butter melted
Very Generous Amount of cinnamon sugar  :)

Brush butter over top of rolls.... generously layer cinnamon sugar over that.


Bake for about 20-30 minutes until golden brown.... You may drizzle with glaze of powdered sugar mixed with small amount of milk, but it's really not necessary. This Danish creation is perfect just like this!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Can this dinner be saved? African sweet potato stew and a hungry family.

Helllooooooo, everybody!! The Fresh Pioneer is back! It's been raining non-stop for a week and a half, and we're all yearning for comfort food.
Like this. Exactly like this.

But what do you do when the oven is broken and all you have is the stove top? I do remember Julie had some microwave version of a chocolate cake, but I could see me spending all day making teeny tiny cakes and there would be no dinner.

So, I must make comfort food that could pass for dinner. (Note: I said PASS. Let's not get all picky.)
This is a yam. This is a yam that was forgotten. This yam was forgotten for many weeks. This yam has decided to seek out other life forms in the hope of becoming more than a yam. I took pity on this yam and used my powers of google (TM, copyright, please-don't-sue-me-I-am-but-a-poor-author).

Apparently, yams can be used for more than sweet potato pie, which is what I wanted to try when I bought it, before the oven issue came up.
Castoldi's Walla Walla Sweet Onions from the farmer's market. You'll need one. (Onion, not farmer's market, although those are useful as well.)
Fresh garlic, minced. Excuse the overexposure. It is my shining halo reflecting on the olive oil in the pan. (Julie, stop laughing.)
Through the power of the blog, we've jumped ahead to adding one diced sweet onion and one tired yam in a skillet on medium. Sautee until onion is softened.
The recipe calls for 4 cups of chicken broth, but all I have is bouillon. So, four cups of water, add the boullon. (Don't make me pull this blog over and give you directions on that, because I will!)
1 Tsp thyme
1/2 tsp cumin

Those savory herbs are really, really, really important to balance out the yam. So, do not skip. I know,  cumin is related to cilantro which is related to feet. We've discussed this.
A few cans of diced tomatoes and some green salsa. (Here's the thing. The recipe calls for tomatoes and hot peppers. See where we're going with this? Hot, sweet, spicy? So, use your own judgment. You can open some canned tomatoes, cut some fresh, dice a jalapeno, or put in a jar of salsa. I don't think it matters much, as long as it's spicy like salsa and not savory like spaghetti sauce.)
A few cans of cannellini beans. It called for garbanzos, but there is not a member of this family who eats garbanzos. Why ruin a good thing, eh?
Everything is simmering quite nicely. Mmmmm. The house smells delicious! This is the point the children crowd around, wondering when it will be done. And because I'm a mean Mama, I have waited for this moment to bring out the secret ingredient.
Several large TBS of peanut butter. MWAHAHAHAHAHA! (That's evil laughter, for those who do not spend much time on facebook and are friends with teens.)
This is my 7 year old's face directly after the peanut butter went in. He's rethinking his need for dinner.
With rice, this is my husband's bowl. MMMMM.
And this is his second helping. Do you see the difference? I spy.... couscous. I made rice AND couscous because I was afraid I had hit that all-important degree know as TOO MANY WEIRD THINGS ON MY PLATE AT ONCE and he wouldn't eat it. But once he had the rice, then he was okay with pairing the stew with the couscous.
 
When I lived in France, my middle school served couscous 4 times a week. (Of course, it didn't look like that because it was cafeteria food and we all know cafeteria food lives on the very edge of edible.)  It's just normal for me. But for him, it's like eating lizard tongues.  So, one step at a time.
sodahead.com
Seriously, this was probably one of the best dishes I've ever made. Definitely going in the keeper file for the next time I forget a large yam or I've been putting off appliance shopping or I feel like scaring my kids. It reminded me a lot of Thai peanut sauce: spicy and sweet and a perfect texture.
 
And just because this was funny, I'll post this little pic of the top Christian romance list on Amazon. Aren't they cute? So different, but they grew up in the same house and have the same mom. Some kids get on the big bus and they pretend they don't know each other, but my babies stick together. Probably eating the cookies out of their lunch boxes before the bus even gets to its destination. Those are my girls! Of course, little sister isn't quite old enough for this trip, but she's only a few steps behind, growing up fast, looking for the day they'll hog the whole row.
 
Ok, until next time, dearies! I hope you all have a wonderful week and I survive my camping trip + traveling with six kids + book release, I'll see you next week!!





 








Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Easy Strawberry-Spinach Salad

Summer is here and you know what that means. Strawberries are in season.
 
I love me some strawberries, but a person can only eat so much strawberry shortcake. Sometimes we gotta mix things up. And when sweet and savory combine...cha-ching! Our taste buds are in for a treat.
 
Last week I talked about my daughter's bridal shower. And because it was a brunch, I wanted something on the menu that was a little more lunch than breakfast. Since it was an all girl event, salad seemed the perfect thing. And it doesn't get much easier than this.

Here's what you'll need:
  • One 10-12 oz package baby spinach
  • Half a small red onion, thin sliced
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • Blue cheese crumbles
  • Sliced fresh strawberries
  • Your favorite red wine vinaigrette
Toss together the spinach, onion, almonds, strawberries, and blue cheese. Add 1/4 cup of dressing and toss again, adding more dressing as desired.

This looks really impressive served in a pretty bowl. And the only thing better than impressive is impressive, easy, and yummy. And this recipe has it all.
 
Well, the countdown is on. Only 4 more days until the wedding. We're scrambling to get everything cleaned, decorated, and just so. All worker bees--aka family--are in position. We have our assignments. Now it's time to execute.
 
Operation Wedding is under way.
 
Will this mother-of-the-bride survive?
 
Will the bride turn into a bridezilla?
 
Stay tuned for the continuing saga of As the Wedding Approaches.


 


Monday, June 24, 2013

Salmon with Garlicky Spinach - another quick lunch!

This makes two weeks in a row that I'm sharing quick lunches! That's what happens when I've been working hard - I need good nutrition and I need it quick so I can get back to playing with my characters...or with a cute puppy :)

Thatcher at 12 weeks


I love salmon. It's easy to get, easy to cook, and sooo good for you! I buy those individually packaged frozen fillets - perfect for one person. I buy the skinless kind because my salmon-loving son prefers it, but this recipe would work for any salmon fillet, fresh or frozen.

Salmon with Garlicky Spinach

Ingredients:

1 salmon fillet per person
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 large handful (or two) baby spinach
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet, saute the garlic in the olive oil until it starts smelling absolutely delicious (about 1 minute). Lay the salmon on the garlic, then flip the fillet immediately to coat both sides. Cook for a couple minutes after flipping.


Turn the fillet over again and pile your spinach on top. Use plenty of spinach - it cooks down A LOT!


Reduce the heat to low, cover your skillet, and let it simmer until the spinach is wilted.


Next, remove the cover and push the spinach over to the side. At this point, check the salmon to make sure it's done (it should flake easily). Stir the spinach around with the pan drippings (the white fat that cooked out of the salmon is where those omega 3's are - stir it right into the spinach along with the garlic pieces). Finish it all off with just enough butter to give your spinach a delectable flavor, salt and pepper to taste, and serve.


Now that's brain food to keep you going all afternoon!




Saturday, June 22, 2013

Chicken Wings and Concrete things



Do you have critters in your yard? I’m not talking birds or bees or foxes or squirrels or, sigh, mosquitoes.  I’m talking little statues.   You may have a little girl on display in your flower garden or a dog placed under a tree marking the spot where your dear pet is buried.  Is there a clay bunny running across the grass or cement chickens like the ones around my mail box?

Our town allows us to raise chickens in city limits now. Maybe I will switch to the real thing.
I confess I am a fan of all sorts of concrete statues, from the religious shrines found along trails in Europe to the wolf mascots for our beloved NC State to the unexpected Yoda.   

The salesman and I had a long conversation about the philosophy of Yoda and the reason for the statue's popularity. 
 Folks may have inherited their statues and love from their grandparents in the country. Some may want to echo the gardens in Italy. Others just plain love kitsch.  I guess for me it is a bit of all the above.  I inherited a garden bench, fox, turtle and Japanese fountain from my mom.  I've seen lovely statues in gardens in France. I have preschool grandchildren I love to see smile. That explains my giant snail right there!

Got this from my mom. The grandchildren love to pat its head.
I created a gravel garden this week from a corner that doesn’t grow anything unless the plant is a survivor of the best kind.  But gravel gardens need more than a few hardy plants. They need focal points. I found a gold mine this week at J and C Garden Statues across from the Farmers Market.  Giraffes, elephants, moose, lions, bison, hippos.  I could create my own zoo for my grandchildren. There were trains, tractors, and trucks. There were also very poignant statues of Jesus and marvelous crosses.  Good sense prevailed.   Good taste, I think, prevailed and I found a couple of pieces for my gravel garden.


But there was one that gave me a good laugh and a craving for Buffalo wings.  Stay with me here.
The butler chicken's sign reads "Eat More Beef!" It was only a matter of time before the chickens rebelled!  

I am sure it wasn’t the butler chicken’s intent. After all, he is carrying a sign that says “eat more beef!” Maybe it was the giant chicken behind him with the giant limbs. But Buffalo wings were all I could think of this week while I worked in my garden! Hot and spicy, eat with your fingers, protein.

Before I share my recipe, I need to get this off my chest: Why didn't one of my friends tell me Buffalo chicken wing sauce is the simplest thing to make? My New York friends, especially. What a relief. Restaurant wing sauce is full of things that are bad for me like corn sweeteners and thickeners. But I love the hot sauce taste, the ritual of licking my fingers and cooling my mouth with blue cheese dressing, celery and carrots.  So like with everything else, I have been on a mission to create something that would taste good and not send me into anaphylactic shock.
I’ve experimented with different recipes of how to prepare the chicken wings and drummettes.  Now, I must admit I bake rather than fry my wings for health reasons but I make the sauce the way it should be made – with butter and Frank's Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce. Love that stuff. It sets your mouth on fire, clears out the sinuses and wakes you up! The NY crowd may know the history of the wings. I am just glad to have discovered Frank's. Simple list of ingredients. No xanthan gum and just the right tang. Mix it with butter, a few of my own spices and voila.  

Be warned. Most baked recipes that say they are healthier than fried have a load of salt in the mix. There is sodium in Frank's so I go light on the salt and focus on a few added spices.  Traditional recipes add cayenne and black pepper but Man O likes to eat without fear of eyes watering. Not manly to cry, ya know. 


Here is the recipe for my Toned Down and Healthied Up Buffalo Chicken Wings:

Two 1lbs drummettes and/or wings, coated in a bit of olive oil and baked at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes. You can also put it on a rack to keep it out of the juices and make the skin crispier.

Take out of the oven and toss in a bowl with the Buffalo sauce you have already made of the following ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/4 cup hot pepper sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground celery seed or celery salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard or squirt yellow mustard
Salt, optional to taste.

(Again, if you like it hot as the middle of summer on an asphalt parking lot in NYC, sub back in the cayenne and black pepper, same amounts.)

Melt butter and mix in other ingredients. Drizzle over wings and drummettes. Serve with celery and carrot sticks accompanied by ranch and bleu cheese dressing.


It is easy, simple, and gives me more time in the garden.  But I'm having nightmares about that giant chicken chasing me down!

   


Friday, June 21, 2013

Perfect Little Sliders

Missy, here. And I only have about 10 minutes until midnight when my post is supposed to go up. So I chose to share a really easy meal.

Hamburgers on the grill. One of my favorite things.

But I decided to make it a little more fun. I decided to make sliders. And I bought some wonderful Martin's Potato Rolls to go with them. They're the softest buns and rolls around. I even bought whole wheat this time, and the kids didn't notice. :)

Photo credit: Potatorolls.com

So I took approximately 1.25 pounds of ground beef (I buy the 93% lean). I mixed in two or three tablespoons of dried minced onions, which make them extra delicious.

photo credit: mccormick.com


Then I patted out 6 small burgers, mashing down in the center to they were almost doughnut like. That way they don't shrink up into round balls!

I grilled till done perfectly. (Don't go cooking ground beef rare or I'll send the food contamination police your way!)

Place on a bun and add a slice of cheese immediately. Then top with your favorite toppings.

Here's my plate:


I hadn't even planned to share this meal with y'all. But I thought they looked like little works of art so grabbed my camera! (Notice the bite already missing.) :)



Close up to see the beauty.


Then my daughter told me I had to share her plate with you. She thought hers was museum worthy as well.


With apologies to our vegetarians, I have to say these were amazing!

Missy Tippens
www.missytippens.com

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cupcake Doll Cake for Showers and Birthdays!

Level:  EASY-PEASY!
Time:  An hour +/-

Using white and chocolate cake mixes, make 28 cupcakes... Feel free to eat any extra!

Arrange cupcakes onto a sturdy form like this:

Once I knew it worked, I transferred the cupcakes onto a foil or paper-covered cookie sheet. I had to make sure I could "SEE" the dress form in the cupcake arrangement. Note that the slight curve of the arrangement makes the shape of the dress. How amazingly simple!


Now I use homemade frosting because I love making frosting! So easy and so much cheaper than anything in a can! And those all taste like chemical waste anyway, and while I love a Slurpee that tastes like chemicals, I want my frosting to be DELICIOSA!!!!

Frosting recipe is below.

Fill frosting bag. Use large star tip. Starting at outside edge of the cupcake, swirl the top with frosting just the same way you see them do it in an ice cream shop. Your swirl should "end" in the middle of the cupcake in a little peak.

Frost each cupcake the same way, letting frosting fill in the tiny spaces between the cakes. (This is a great cake idea to practice on because swirling frosting through the tube is the easiest move of all...)

Once done, we added pearls (From JoAnne's or A.C.Moore or Michaels) and then I did a frosting ribbon at the waist with a rose petal tube, #104.

BUT if making the "sash" seems difficult, you can just use a pretty little fabric ribbon to do the same thing. Here's the "dress" before I put the sash on....


And here it is with the pearls and ribbon around the waist:

This way they had a "breakaway" cupcake cake for the shower and it's a darling look! Colors could be alternated to do a little girl's birthday, a Sweet 16 party or a quinceanera.

Ruthy's Decorator Buttercream Icing:

Beat together:

2 sticks soft butter
2 cups Crisco  

Add in:

7.5 cups of powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
4 teaspoons flavoring (either vanilla, almond or blend of both)

Beat until well mixed, then whip on high speed for 6-8 minutes. Frosting will turn very light and fluffy, perfect for decorating cakes.

I love new cake ideas, so if you guys have any you want to share, give us a shout. Cakes are such a fun experiment in the kitchen!

Because even if you crash and burn, it's no big hardship to eat the remains!