I hope you managed to push away from your Thanksgiving table in a pleasantly overfed state, and that you shared that table with loved ones old and new. It’s a crazy time of year, and every minute of respite is that much more appreciated.
Now that today, the Friday after Thanksgiving, has become the de facto opening bell for the Holiday Rush, I’ve come to appreciate yesterday, and it’s message of “take time to drop everything, recognize and gratefully acknowledge the blessings in your life, and share a long, relaxing meal with friends and family” even more.
It’s especially ironic since Thankgsiving in my household, which we have shared with another couple families for 10+ years now, involves cooking not one but two 15+ pound turkeys, as well as stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce (thank you Mama Stamberg), eight loaves of french bread, and at least two pies, all from scratch, for a gathering of 20+ people, most of whom are under 15 years of age. It’s not, but anyone’s measure, a peaceful, restful day (or week, for that matter). But it is a tradition, and one of the few to which my family holds firmly.
Now that Thanksgiving 2012 is under our belts, so to speak, I’m ready to face the next month with a little more energy.
Don’t look now, but it’s time for...
Feeling the stress? Don’t worry, We like to make things easy around here – after all, that’s what brought Lunchsense into being in the first place – so don’t let the frantic rush of the holiday season get to you. Sit back, relax, help yourself to your favorite beverage, and get a great new lunchbox for everyone on your list. It’s absolutely clever, immensely practical, looks great on anyone, and best of all it’s just a few clicks away.
Good news: All U.S. orders get FREE SHIPPING November 23-26.
Even after the weekend has come and gone, however, do note that all U.S. orders over $80 get free shipping all the time, and everyone who signs up for the mailing list get an additional 10% off, not to mention yet more great deals just for them. Other sweet deals will come ’round over the next month, so check in again.
And don’t forget to share a long, relaxing meal with friends and family, at every opportunity!
Darn near every moment is a “teaching moment” for me and my kids. In fact, my boys will tell you that I’m pretty much teaching them something all day long, except they call it “yelling.” Seriously though, the first time Junior says, “#$@!” and everyone giggles and looks at Dad, we all realize that behavioral modeling is a huge factor in shaping our children’s lives. My sons watch me, and they listen closer when I’m not even talking to them. The see how I work, how I play, how I dress, how I interact with my friends and my wife, how I maintain our household, what my priorities are, and yes—even how I eat.
In a recently published interview on Nourish, Cook for America co-founder, Kate Adamick, suggests we view school cafeteria staff as Lunch Teachers, reminding everyone that “what students are fed at school teaches them how to think about food, what to think of as food, and how to behave while consuming it—all lessons that they will carry with them for the remainder of their lives.”
While not exactly a revelation, Adamick’s statement is still, for many, a necessary prompt. Each meal is an opportunity to show our children how to live. Proper nutrition is a fundamental skill that is essential for enduring health and well-being. The kitchen and the school-cafeteria are classrooms where kids learn (or don’t learn) how to select, prepare and eat the right kinds of food. And yet, as Adamick notes, “frequently, school administrators appear to have forgotten that students don’t stop learning just because it’s lunchtime.”
While a good school-lunch program is imperative and can make a difference for many poorly nourished kids, I believe that I’m in the best position to teach my children the importance of proper eating. Parents are overwhelmed much of the time and can make a habit of depending on schools to cover the gaps and keep their kids well-directed. For the most part, given their limited resources, public educators do a wonderful job, but considering the litany of concerns regarding most school-lunch programs (in the U.S.) this is one subject where Father/Mother probably knows best.
Eating, cooking and even shopping together provides wonderful opportunities for shoulder-to-shoulder activities that can positively shape a child’s development. Health, creativity, earth-consciousness and self-assuredness are just a few of the traits that can be nurtured by sharing good eats.
Preparing home-packed lunches for my boys ensures that they’ll be taking a piece of me along with them to school. It enables me to influence them at a critical (under-supervised) point in their day without even being there. It’s this type of unobtrusive, indirect instruction (modeling really) that makes the biggest impact on my kids, and there’s no “yelling.”
If you’re looking to home-school the “lunch” portion of your kids’ curriculum, Lunchsense provides the perfect platform—pack a lesson plan in every box:
I know, it’s not Tuesday, it’s Friday. ‘Sorry ’bout that, I got busy.
As promised, here’s my favorite cookie from the Advent Cookie Calendar I wrote about last week.
Tuiles (’tweeluhs’, French for ’tile’) are thin, crisp wafer cookies. Popular and versatile, this version is a complete sensory experience: delicate and curved like a roof tile, pale in the center and flecked with brown and green, then golden around the perimeter; scented like a garden in summer; crisp and crumbly at first bite and tenderly chewy towards the center, with a heavenly, buttery, herbal flavor.
Thankfully, they are not only easy to create, they convert to gluten-free with ease. Here’s the recipe:
Lavender Tuiles, as offered by Saveur.com
3/4 C sugar
1/4 t salt (Saveur specifies kosher; I used table salt)
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 C dried lavender (I used fresh, and about half that much, and straight out of the garden, and I chopped it finely. It worked well.)
4 T unsalted butter, melted
3 T flour (converted: I used a gluten-free flour mix, and added 1/4 t xanthan gum.)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl whisk together sugar, salt and egg whites until smooth. Add lavender, butter and flour and mix until evenly combined. If using GF flour, allow the batter to rest a few minutes to allow the xanthan gum to absorb some of the moisture and do its stretchy thing.
Drop tablespoonfuls of batter onto a silicon mat-lined baking sheet, and using the back of the spoon spread batter into very thin 4″ rounds. Bake until golden brown at the edges, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and using an offset spatula or butter knife, gently lift the hot cookies off the baking sheet and drape them over a rolling pin or other curved surface and allow them to cool there.
A few more tips of my own:
- I don’t have a silicone baking mat, so I used parchment paper which worked reasonably well – I had to peel the cookies off very carefully, but they didn’t disintegrate (which is noteworthy for GF cookies).
- It’s slow going, but I suggest cooking only one tray of cookies at a time unless you have an abundance of surfaces onto which you can drape cooling cookies. The upside to this batter is that without a leavening agent it will hold well for quite awhile.
- I hear tell you can also drape the cookies into muffin tins and create bowls that would be heavenly filled with custard, fruit, whipped cream, or other filling.
- They’re wonderful in a lunchbox!
Give them a try, and let me know how they turn out for you!
I was looking for something different for the Christmas season last year.
Inspiration struck in the form of the Cookie Advent Calendar provided to me by Saveur magazine. Yes, it really was just that: 24 days and 24 cookie recipes. And we made every single recipe.*
As if baking a new batch of cookies every day for 3 1/2 weeks (or just HAVING that many cookies in harm’s way) wasn’t foolish enough, I also converted them to gluten-free versions (my husband is gluten intolerant). If you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, no, I don’t have too much time on my hands. I DO have a splendid assistant in the person of my 13 year old daughter-with-aspirations-to-be-a-chef, so between the two of us:
And the effort, while significant, was manageable.
Without a doubt best part – really truly even better than eating them – was the immense pleasure I found in knowing that at some point in the day, every day, we’d be dropping everything…and baking cookies.
Another treat: Each recipe would be posted at midnight, but as the mag is in Eastern Standard Time my girl and I would check every evening at 9 pm here on the West Coast and find our next day’s offering ready and waiting.
All the cookies were good, but there was indeed a range of results that traveled from, “hmm, tasty sand, that one,” to “wow! oh wow! greatgreatgreat!” Many (though not all) were of a European lineage, and they were the most interesting. We all agreed that traditionally American cookies, while good, are by comparison pretty bland, generally being dominated by one flavor: peanut butter, or cinnamon, or chocolate, for example.
The down sides:
We did our best to be true to the original recipe (gluten-free conversions notwithstanding), but at times the ingredients were challenging. Among other things I now have all but a few ounces of a rather expensive, very strong, very weird liqeuer which as far as I can tell will only go for future batches of those specific cookies they’re used in…which is, thankfully, a pretty darn good cookie. If you’re in the Eugene area and want to give them a try, call me. I’ll share. I also bailed out when the recipe called for a cookie mold that I could only find on eBay for $40. THAT crossed deep into “well this is just silly” territory.
There were too dang many versions of shortbread cookies. How may riffs on a theme can there be for butter, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla? Quite a few, we found. On that note, and on the upside…
Converting all the recipes to gluten free might be considered ‘above and beyond the call’ but it wasn’t impossible, and I’d been on the hunt for a really great shortbread cookie that worked in GF flour. I’m pleased to report that I found one! Mention in the comments if you’d like to know how I converted it. It turned out crisp, tasty, and didn’t spread a whit, which had been the recurring issue with all the other GF cookie-cutter cookies I’d tried.
After the best part, above, the next best part was that we always had something to bring to friends’ houses all month long: “What’s that you say? Laura’s having a few people over tonight? Hey, we’ll bring cookies!!” In fact, I think that’s where most of them went, in the final tally.
The last best part: We still have a freezer full of cookies. Only a few remain of each of maybe half the cookie recipes, but it’s enough to know that a sweet treat – not much, but just enough – is only a few steps away.
Stay tuned: Next Tuesday I’ll post the hands-down favorite cookie of the whole season.
*Disclaimer: Okay, fine. There were actually 25 recipes. We didn’t make the last one. It was yet another shortbread cookie, and we didn’t have the right ingredients, and it was CHRISTMAS DAY, for cryin’ out loud. We all agreed that all the Advent Calendars we knew had 24 days, not 25, so we called it a wrap at 9:15pm on Christmas Eve. Mea culpa.
Some days I just can’t do much.
‘Worked all weekend at the Good Earth Show (it was wonderful!) but I’m still trying to get my energy back.
Could it be that my achy, snuffly, feverish daughter has passed her bug over to me? ‘Hope not…time will tell. In the meantime, I need to power down, take it easy, recoup for a few days. But I’ve got the van to unload, inventory to check in, receipts to tally…and a turkey carcass in my fridge to deal with.
The turkey will be the easy part. While I tackle the rest of the post-show chores, I’ll make stock.
If you haven’t tried it before, I’d like to nudge you – gently – to try making your own stock. Really, it’s about as difficult as sorting, washing, drying and folding a load of laundry – you’ve pulled that off a few times, yes? – and the results are so very worth it. It’s the gastronomic equivalent of throwing a blanket over your shoulders, and given the season and our precarious health conditions this week it’s exactly what we all need.
You may ask, “what are you doing with a turkey in the fridge in January?” A fair question. Turkey is a cheap, healthy protein source, and if you have a large enough freezer I highly recommend buying a couple turkeys in November and cooking them up over the winter.
When you cook a turkey, toss the parts that you might not use – neck and giblets – in a container, and freeze them. When you have finished enjoying all the cooked parts of the bird, throw all the remaining stuff – bones, skin, whatever – in the container as well. NOTE WELL that you have raw and cooked pieces in this container. They will all eventually be cooked together, but until they land in the stockpot treat them as raw meat.
I usually wait to make stock until I have at least five or six pounds of parts and pieces. A single big turkey will provide this; if you’d like to make chicken stock this recipe will work nicely, but you may have to collect two or three chickens’ worth of goods to have enough to go to the trouble of making stock. However, if you don’t have a really big stock pot, this will all work fine with just a couple pounds of bird.
1. Weigh the frozen turkey pieces to the nearest pound or so, and put them (still frozen is fine) into the biggest pot in the house. Place the pot on the stove now; once everything is in the pot it will be pretty heavy!
2. For every POUND of parts and pieces, add:
3. Turn on the heat, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, partially cover the pot with a lid, and leave it alone for an hour or two. If you are nosy you can give it a stir occasionally. Your house will smell heavenly.
4. If you wish to add parsley or basil, they are wonderful in stock but only need to be added in the last half hour or so.
5. I usually leave mine to simmer for about 3 hours, but there’s no rocket science to stock. The only guideline I’d offer is that it will need at least an hour.
6. When you think you’re ready to deal with the next step (after 1 to 3 hours of simmering), turn off the heat. Set a colander over the next-largest pot in the house, and place it next to the stockpot. Start moving everything solid – meat, bones, vegetables – with tongs or a large slotted spoon into the colander and let drain for a minute. The stuff in the colander, once it’s drained, can be pitched – I double bag these leftovers before they go in the garbage. It will be hot, messy work, but will make the stock pot a little easier to handle. Keep doing this until you have removed and drained a significant portion of the solids.
7. Now you’re ready to salt the stock. Starting by adding about a 1/2 t salt for every quart of water, stir, and taste the results. Keep going until you’re satisfied, but don’t overdo it – it’s easier to under-salt now and add more when you’re ready to use the stock.
8. Finally, drain the rest of the stock through the colander to remove the last of the solids, working in batches if necessary.
What you will now have is pot full of liquid gold. Divide it into freezer containers, label it, and stash it in the freezer, where it will last for at least 6 months. That which you refrigerate should be used within a week. I freeze pints and quarts, mostly, though some recommend freezing small quantities in ice cube trays to have them handy to chuck into sauces as needed. I’ve just never had occasion to use less than a half a cup at a time, and even then I don’t mind having extra stock in the fridge for a couple days. It makes a perfect rainy-day, low-energy light snack on days…just like today.
‘Ever get the feeling like the dinner-making well has run dry?
I’ve been trying to nudge that afternoon routine out of a rut lately. As the primary cook in the household I try, with all good intentions…
it’s all just tapped me out.
Did I forget to mention that my husband is gluten intolerant too, so I get to do all the above AND convert dishes as necessary to make them wheat, oats, barley and rye-free?
This is where the menu planning service Food on the Table has been a godsend. With some initial setup I can peruse a database of recipes and create menus for the upcoming days. Since Food on the Table uploads the circulars from my local grocery stores I can hone in on recipes that will use sale items. I can also enter my own recipes and family favorites – useful, that. Then Food on the Table generates a shopping list from my selections.
In my case I use the service less for every last detail of a meal and a shopping trip, and more for inspiration and organization. It’s become my palette for thinking through dinners for the week: I see what’s on sale, I recall what I have in the fridge to use up, I hone in on a cuisine category (vegetarian, pasta, etc. – they even let me indicate a gluten free dietary restriction), and without fail, something – and often something I’d never thought of trying – surfaces as the next couple days’ worth of dinner. What’s more, I can throw the leftovers in the lunchboxes the next day!
If inspiration is that missing piece to your meal planning efforts, I have great news: If you buy a lunchbox this weekend either at the website or at the Good Earth Home, Garden and Living Show, you will automatically be entered in a drawing to win A MONTH OF LUNCH. Here’s what you’d get:
The fine print: Contest runs from noon Friday January 20, 2012, and concludes midnight Sunday, January 22, 2012. To be entered in the drawing you must purchase a small, medium, or large complete lunchbox set while the contest is underway from the booth at the Good Earth Show or on the website. One entry per complete lunchbox set purchased. Winner will be drawn and contacted Monday, January 23, 2012.
By “month” we mean “a month of weekdays”, since most packed lunches are carried on weekdays, not weekends. Thus $75 / $3.75 a lunch = 20 lunches, or 4 weeks of 5 days each.
You may get gift certificates to more than one store, as long as the total of all gift certificates is no more than $75. Gift certificates will be mailed to the contest winner, and winner will be notified via email about how to sign up for the Food on the Table subscription.
Did I mention? Lunchsense will be staking out a booth (#1112) at the Good Earth Home, Garden and Living Show this weekend, so if you are in the Eugene area please stop by and say hello! It’s a fun show and a wonderful bunch of exhibitors and presenters, so you’ll be certain to find a new idea or two.
I’ve been following along with the Food Studies posts at Grist lately, and the most recent post “What’s Up with Gluten?” landed near and dear to my heart. Finally! Some sane, sensible, science-based words about gluten! Thanks, Mitchell Mattes. I commented, then mentioned I had a knack for gluten-free pizza crust (my husband was diagnosed celiac about 12 years ago), and a couple people requested it. This seemed like a better place to post it than Grist.
It is, actually, a recipe from “Gluten-Free Gourmet: Living Well without Wheat” by Bette Hagman. Her book was a lifesaver for me back in the dark ages of food allergies. Fast forward to the present, and I’m overwhelmed (and delighted) by all the food producers that include allergen information on their labels. ‘Makes my life much easier.
Anyway, back to the recipe: I’ve made this many, many times and have found a few shortcuts that make assembly easier, as well as additions that (I think) improve the outcome a bit. Besides all that, today’s The Big Game, which is all the excuse I need to make a pizza.
YEAST-RISING THICK PIZZA CRUST adapted from The Gluten-Free Gourmet: Living Well without Wheat, by Bette Hagman, copyright 1990.
This makes dough for two 12-14″ pizzas. The dough freezes nicely, so you can make one pizza now and sleep well knowing you have the makings for another one later.
1. Begin by preparing two pans for pizza. I use the underside of my lasagne pan (or cookie sheets). Why the underside? you ask – In truth, I don’t know why I started doing that. Maybe the heat reaches the pizza better; maybe it’s just because it’s easier to serve pizza off a flat surface. In any event,
I generously coat the the pans with olive oil (tip: if your pans are non-stick, you’ll find the oil doesn’t distribute well; in that case use vegetable shortening), then dust them lightly with cornmeal to give the pizzas that “tavern pizza” finish.
Don’t worry that your pans are rectangles and you think your pizza should be round; go ahead and make a “racetrack” shaped pizza.
2. Throw in a large bowl (a stand mixer if you have one is perfect for this):
2 C rice flour
2 C tapioca flour
2/3 C dry milk powder
3 1/2 t xanthan gum (Essential. Found at many grocery stores these days; try the baking aisle or the health foods aisle)
1 t salt
2 T dry yeast granules I recommend, if you haven’t baked in awhile and you have some dusty old packets of yeast in the back of your cabinet, pitch those and by a jar of the granules. Fresh yeast does make a difference.
1 T sugar
Mix with the bread hook or cookie paddle a few times to combine the dry ingredients.
3. Separate 4 eggs; we’ll use the whites in the pizza. Save the yolks for another day -
you were looking for an excuse to make custard, yes? Or maybe lemon curd?
1 1/2 cups hot water (hot tap water is fine – 125° to 135°)
3 T shortening
Water at that temperature will allow the shortening to melt.
5. Add the water and the egg whites to the dry ingredients (turn the mixer on low if you are using one), and blend at high speed for 4 minutes.
Don’t worry that the water is too hot for the yeast – the act of adding it to the mixed dry ingredients cools it rapidly. As long as you are using fresh yeast don’t worry, either, about proofing the yeast (softening it in warm water+a little sugar before use). This method described above has worked every time for me. Note that the xanthan gum provides the stretch that the gluten-free flours lack, and it needs time to soften and develop in the dough. Finally, you won’t need to let this rise; it will do so while you spread the crust and dress it.
After the mixing, you will have a dough that’s much wetter and stickier than traditional wheat dough. Don’t worry, that’s normal for gluten-free goods.
Divide the goo onto the two prepared pans, then liberally coat your hands in olive oil and gently press and prod the doughs into flat, roundish crusts that are about 1/4″ thick, leaving somewhat thicker edges to hold in sauce and toppings. Re-oil your hands as necessary to minimize sticking; the finished crusts will be shiny but not drippy with oil. I find that the dough is prone to tearing, so be gentle and patient; I also find that the heel of my hands works better than my fingers for spreading crusts. Note that you won’t get a perfect circle and it won’t look “justlike a wheat crust” but it will be fine, and it WILL taste great.
DRESSING THE PIZZA
Have on hand:
Tomato sauce for pizza (about one cup) I use a good quality spaghetti sauce, and it works just fine. If you use that and happen to have a little tomato paste on hand, add it to the sauce to thicken it a bit; if not, that’s fine too. Be careful if the spaghetti sauce is “chunky”, as the pieces, when you try and spread them on the dough, can tear it. Be careful, and take your time.
Shredded mozzarella I use about a pound per pizza. It looks like too much; it isn’t.
Shredded fresh parmesan If you don’t have fresh parmesan, you can omit this, but I highly recommend it.
Toppings as you see fit.
The most common difference between homemade pizza and good restaurant pizza is that homemade pizzas tend to have too much sauce and not enough cheese. Once the crust is spread, apply a modest layer of sauce, then ample shredded mozzarella to within an inch or two of the edge. Add toppings, then finish off the whole affair with a dusting of grated fresh parmesan (about a half cup per pizza).
Apply another coat of olive oil to the outer edge if it looks dry, then
Salt and pepper the whole thing, especially the outer edge – I know, I know, you’re thinking doesn’t the cheese have enough salt already? Ignore your concerns. The results are great. I haven’t tried any seasoned salts, but I bet they’d work well too.
6. Bake the whole affair at 400° for 20 – 25 minutes. Check the pizzas at about 15 – 20 minutes, and rotate the pans if they aren’t browning evenly.
If you’d like to make one pizza now and another later, you can freeze the dough as soon as it’s mixed; OR you can spread the dough, place the cookie sheet in the freezer and harden up the raw, spread crust, then wrap and store it for future thawing, dressing and baking; OR you can “blind bake” the undressed crust for 15 minutes and freeze it for later use. I’ve done all three with good results.
I’ve also mixed the dough and divided it into 8 “mini pizzas”, then blind baked them for future use. It’s more work but a real treat to pull one out for a quick dinner.
Let me know how they turned out!