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Archive for June, 2010

If you’ve been to my house for dinner more than a couple times, you’ve had this dish.

The recipe for these scrumptious enchiladas has grown and changed over the years, as a dash of this or an omission of that slowly brought out its best side. I finally froze it in time a few years ago, at its most hungry-crowd-pleasing. A tangy blend of sour cream and salsa hidden inside gives it that little something extra.

2 – 3 chicken breasts, grilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups frozen corn
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 cup salsa, divided in half (Emerald Valley Organic Medium Salsa is a favorite)
1/2 cup sour cream
6 large flour tortillas
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (I’m fanatical about Tillamook medium cheddar)

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large skillet, combine frozen corn, red bell pepper, and onion. Sweat over medium heat, until the vegetables have softened and most of the moisture cooks away, 5 – 10 minutes (this keeps finished enchiladas from being watery).

Near the end of cooking, add cumin, then salt and pepper to taste.

Combine this vegetable mixture with the grilled, cubed chicken and set aside while you prepare the tortillas.

In a small bowl, stir sour cream and 1/2 cup of salsa together until smooth. Line up 6 tortillas and smear the center of each one with the salsa/sour cream mixture.

Drop 2 – 3 heaping spoonfuls of the chicken/vegetable mixture onto each tortilla, then roll tightly, burrito-style to hold in all the yummy filling, and place in a 9X13 baking dish. Repeat until pan is filled.

Spoon salsa over each enchilada and, using your fingers to spread evenly, coat entire exposed surface of each enchilada. This keeps the tortillas from drying out during baking.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until center enchilada is hot. Remove from oven, top with cheddar cheese and return to oven for 5 minutes.

Dish it up, and then watch it disappear.

If you’d like to see step-by-step photographs of this recipe, view the slideshow at the end of my Examiner.com post.

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My new go-to granola

We fall into breakfast ruts easily around here, and then we just stay there.

Michael has eaten oatmeal with brown sugar, followed by a banana, every morning, Monday through Friday, for as far back as I can remember.

Xander, in the cold months, eats the same. But during the warmer months (which in the Pacific Northwest means July and August), my five-year-old prefers wheat toast and a banana chaser. Clare emulates her big brother and usually follows suit.

Me? Thanks to a genetic gift of low cholesterol levels, I usually have a hard-boiled egg or egg over easy on an English muffin, followed by a cup of Earl Grey tea. I don’t need coffee, I don’t even need caffeine, but I do need my ritual of making a cup of tea and sitting down to sip it slowly.

I also do a green smoothie most mornings, sometimes an hour or two after breakfast. Clare happily joins me. Xander does not. The recipe appears in next month’s Better Homes & Gardens magazine. I’ll post something here when it hits newsstands.

On vacation last week we brought along a box of granola from Trader Joe’s. It was good and it was easy, but it tasted a bit too sweet. I wanted to try making my own.

This is what I came up with yesterday. I like that I made it, that I know exactly what’s in it, and that it’s a simple, healthy start to each of our days.

Ingredients:

5 cups of oats (use the good old fashioned kind, not quick-cooking oats)

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup unsalted cashews (broken into small pieces)

1 cup unsalted sunflower seeds

1 cup sliced almonds

3/4 cup 100% maple syrup (please, please don’t use the cheap imitation stuff — it doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing)

pinch of salt

1 cup raisins

1 cup dried cranberries

Combine oats, vanilla, cinnamon, nuts, and maple syrup in a large bowl. Add a pinch of salt (for good luck, and to bring out the other flavors). Mix well.

Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, stirring every so often. Don’t let it burn, but do get it as brown (and therefore crunchy) as you can.

Remove from oven and transfer half of the mixture to a second rimmed baking sheet. Stir in raisins and cranberries and let cool to room temperature. Store in an air-tight container, and then watch how fast it disappears.

Substitute almost any dried fruit you like, and play around with spices; nutmeg would be a fantastic substitute for the cinnamon. Broken-up banana chips? Walnuts? Dried cherries? Sweetened, shredded coconut? The sky’s the limit.

Provision particulars:

I buy the 10-pound bag of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats at Costco. It’s extremely affordable and lasts for ages, even when three out of four people in this house are eating it for a warm breakfast on cold Pacific Northwest mornings.

I also use Costco’s 16-ounce bottle of Kirkland pure vanilla extract.

All nuts and dried fruits are purchased at Fred Meyer or Top Foods, in the bulk sections. Check prices compared to packaged versions and you’ll never look back.

You can’t beat Trader’s Joe’s prices (or taste) on 100% pure maple syrup.

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Pardon me while I climb up on my soapbox for just a minute…

Photo courtesy of foxypar4

It’s become so commonplace, many American consumers barely take note. Food recalls hit the news with alarming frequency — there’s even a website devoted to keeping tabs on which products might haul illness into your home via the grocery bag. (Recalls directly affecting Washington State can be found here.)

So why aren’t more people up in arms about the frequency of food-production problems? Why do so many potentially life-threatening items continue to creep onto our grocery store shelves?

In 2003, mad cow disease hit hard right here in the Pacific Northwest when an infected cow was discovered at a dairy farm in southeast Yakima County. The resulting uproar meant swift action and new regulations intended to reduce the risk of spreading mad cow disease.

And yet, in 2008, the United States experienced its largest ever beef recall, with more than 143 million pounds pulled from market shelves by the United States Food and Drug Administration. It was estimated that more than 150 school districts received shipments of the recalled meat.

Why? Again, even amidst the more stringent laws, the recall occurred after the cattle in question (Westland/Hallmark frozen beef) were not inspected before slaughter and video showed slaughterhouse employees abusing sick and crippled animals.

Even with stricter laws in place, 143 million pounds of meat almost fell through the cracks. Almost. But how many other companies are cutting corners (or worse), creating products that simply don’t stack up to healthful standards? (And really, our country’s standards aren’t all that high, but that’s a different article for another day.)

A study last year by IBM showed that less than 20 percent of consumers trust food producers to create and market safe products. The study also showed that 60 percent of consumers are concerned about the safety of the foods they buy – as well they should be. But only 60 percent? That means 40 percent of U.S. consumers simply don’t realize that (or care if) the food they consume might cause them serious harm, and that’s disheartening, to say the least.

Reality check: In the past week alone, there have been four food recalls:

June 25, 2010: Select packages of Kellogg Company’s Kellogg’s® Corn Pops®, Kellogg’s® Honey Smacks®, Kellogg’s® Froot Loops® and Kellogg’s® Apple Jacks®

June 24, 2010: Fresh spinach sold by Lancaster Foods, LLC under the brand names Krisp-Pak, Lancaster Fresh, Giant or America’s Choice with “best enjoyed by” dates of 19 JUN 10 through 27 JUN 10

June 18, 2010: Rich Products Corporation recalled its Allen Bavarian Crème Filling because of undeclared allergens in the product

June 18, 2010: Portland Shellfish Company, Inc. expanded a previous recall to include its Meat Without Feet two-pound bags of frozen lobster claws and knuckle meat

That’s just for one week. Did you know? Did you care?

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Asparagus season is upon us and the freshest of the fresh can be found at the Olympia Farmers Market. Grab a bundle (or six) and set your sights on any of the myriad of ways you can use this scrumptious green stalk.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Michael and I have eaten grilled asparagus at least three times a week this summer. It’s so simple and satisfying.

Rinse asparagus well and bend each stalk so it gives way at its natural snapping spot. (If you’re in a hurry, simply snap the first one, and then cut the others in the bunch in one fell swoop at the same length.) Brush lightly with olive oil — trust me on this: buy yourself a silicone basting brush and toss all your old, shedding natural bristle brushes; you’ll never look back — and then sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Plunk them on the grill and cook until tender — to each his own. If you glance away from the grill and lose yourself in a nicely chilled glass of chardonnay, don’t despair: blackened spots can actually add lovely flavor.

Pure summer palate perfection.

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When Trader Joe’s finally opened its doors in Olympia last summer, crowds swarmed its beach-themed aisles, excited to peruse the store’s one-of-a-kind items. Some foodies might wrinkle their noses at the array of pre-packaged cuisine, but with just a few fresh additions, anyone, from the beginning cook to the most discerning food snob, can create a quick, healthy, delicious — and affordable — family meal.

From French cheeses and scrumptious salamis to organic produce and preservative-free snacks galore for the kids, Trader Joe’s lives up to the hype. But the first visit can cause consternation for the uninitiated.

But Trader Joe’s isn’t a huge labyrinth like your usual super-store. Just a few aisles – chock full of bags, boxes and jars of items exclusive to the retailer – make it easy to wend your way up and down each one, checking out every offering. Study the store closely and you’ll be rewarded.

For a mere $2.29, you can purchase a 15-ounce jar of Trader Joe’s masala simmer sauce, a flavorful Indian base for chicken or vegetables. Simply cube up a couple chicken breasts and toss them in a skillet with the sauce. Use a bit less water than the jar’s directions call for. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, throw in a pinch of cumin and a handful of fresh peas near the end of the cooking time, pour the sauce over rice, and you have a quick meal with layers of flavor.

Want to sop it all up with a bit of Indian garlic naan bread? Trader Joe’s has packages of that, too –- for less than three dollars.

There are cookbooks and websites devoted to snazzing up nearly everything you can buy at Trader Joe’s. Begin at www.cookingwithtraderjoes.com.

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I’ve recently begun writing about food for Examiner.com. Cooking certainly falls under the heading of things I think about (dwell on) that go on under my roof, so I’m going to add my writings there to this blog here. Okay? Okay!

Just as being a stay-at-home mom involved a steep learning curve for me, so has my experience in the kitchen. For years, I wrote about local restaurants and chefs — and devoured cookbooks like they were steamy novels — but didn’t do a whole lot of actual, you know, cooking. That’s always been Michael’s area of interest and he’s good at it, so I’ve been content with my dozen or so dishes that can wow — oh, who am I kidding? It’s more like a six-dish repertoire. And although they consistently get raves from dinner guests, once I’ve fed you six times, you’re getting nothing but repeats.

So, please bear with me as I get my bearings and rejigger this blog just a touch. I still plan on writing about house stuff, but now I’ll also include things going on in my kitchen specifically (and perhaps throughout Olympia, in general), as well.

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Back to blue

The weekend painting was a huge success. I keep walking into Xander’s room to remind myself of the immense difference a little paint can make. It’s time to make plans for the rest of Beigeland.

Here’s a reminder of what it looked like before:

And here’s what it looks like now:

It’s not the exact shade from Xander’s old room in Bellingham, but it’s awfully close. (Tip: always keep a paint chip from rooms you love; then you can color match it exactly in your next place. I have samples from our old living room, but none of the other spaces.)

We got to work first thing Saturday. Michael did all of the (tedious) prep work, and then I put on the first coat. It always takes the longest, but that meant I also got to indulge in one of my favorite things: painting all by myself while listening to episodes of “This American Life.”

Back when I re-did every room of the West Connecticut Street house, in 2003, I had to time my painting around NPR’s schedule if I wanted to work and listen to Ira Glass at the same time. Now I can load my iPod with podcasts and listen to my heart’s content. It took three programs to finish the first coat.

Xander got to help Michael with the second layer.

He also got to help pull up the tape.

Then Clare “helped” Michael put together Xander’s new bed. I’ve had my eye on this bed at IKEA for ages, and some friends just happened to be getting rid of their son’s. Score.

This room is meant to be Xander’s in-between bedroom: in between a toddler room and a big kid room. I wanted it to be fun. Just fun. Hence the hidey-hole under the bed:

I’d like one for myself now, too.

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