A brief history told in food

Today the topic should have been prunes. I was going to wax poetic about inulin and be cranky about marketers subverting our minds by renaming food products with kinder gentler names (prunes became dried plums) to make us buy their products. There would have been an off color joke or two as well, I’m sure.

Instead, I found myself holding a very special book. I have made it no secret that I own way too many cookbooks, but time and time again, I go reaching for one book. This book. Battered and worn, it started life a blank waiting to be filled. Not a conventional cookbook. This book is magic. It holds a history of food we have made and loved. This book is about me as much as it is about recipes. The truth is, the book is three volumes. The volume we’ll talk about today was written between 1990 to 1995. Book two of the set was written in 1995 to 2004. The third book was never completed because of a little thing called a blog. (So in a way, Delectable Tidbits is volume four).

Some people have recipe cards. Some people keep clippings in a scrapbook. I hand wrote recipes into a composition book. It is now tattered and worn from years of use. Spattered from the days before I owned a cookbook stand with a protective shield. It’s hard to believe twenty years have gone by since I first set a pen to its pages.

In case you can’t read the label on the previous picture, here it is up close. My sense of humor hasn’t changed much, has it?

I wrote the recipes by hand. Making illustrations in the corner of each page. Notes were scribbled at the bottom of the pages as I became a more inventive cook and customized the recipes to my taste. The recipes were taken from magazines or cookbooks, borrowed from friends or the library. My only regret is not writing down the source of the recipes. Now I don’t know where they came from!

The book did not originally come with an index. I had an “index” in my brain that was a combination of remembering when in time I made the recipe and a drawing in the corner of each page that would remind me of what the recipe was as I flipped through the pages. My boyfriend, a more left brained creature than I am, could not understand my inefficient efficiency and insisted on creating an index on the computer for me. I still laugh whenever I see that “beans’ was the first section of my cookbook. I love him so much even though his brain works so differently than mine.

Let’s look at some highlights of the pictograms from the corners of the book:

Page 34 is Cranberry-Prune squares. The picture is a bunch of prunes and dried cranberries dancing. (Square dancing, get it??). I haven’t looked at this recipe in years and I was surprised to see that it fit exactly into the clean eating regimen that we are sticking to now. Just honey for sweetener and whole wheat flour. Stick with me until the end of this post – these are delicious and you’ll want to bake them!

Page 67 was Jolof Rice. I was trying to get back to eating less meat and found this recipe in Vegetarian Times. It was delicious but between the ginger, TWO jalapenos and TWO tsp of cayenne, it nearly burnt us from tongue to tail. I meant to make this again with less spices but never did. Maybe I will now. The pictogram is of an African basket (this was an African inspired dish) and the chilies and eggplant featured in the dish.

Page 77: Strawberry shortcakes, va-va-va-voom!

Page 9: Baked orange roughy with leeks and shitake. Remember when orange roughy was the “in” fish? Now it is endangered. I remember this recipe as being good, but I’ll use some other fish in the future. Do you like the fishy swimming towards the leeks and mushroom?

Page 98: Why a parakeet for Chicken, potato and green bean salad? I had a green and yellow parakeet named green bean. Why else?

Page 16: The recipe was for my boyfriend’s tamari and snow pea omelet tacos. We made these at a time when we could get snow peas every week at what was then a fledgling farmer’s market. We got them from an old lady who we affectionately dubbed “snow pea lady” because that was all she sold.

My boyfriend is going to kill me for including this one. He is way more handsome than that. This was a picture of him first thing in the morning. His hair was cut way too short at the time. It is a rendering of what he looked like first thing out of bed, hair messy, glasses instead of contacts, half asleep, clutching a breakfast taco. If I remember correctly, his reaction to being immortalized that way was “very funny!”.

Page 85: The recipe is Mimi’s enchiladas. Does this look familiar? I’m sporting a funny little sombrero, but I still look pretty much the same, don’t I?

That was fun! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Now back to what we are all here for:  yummy food. These Prune and Cranberry bars are wholesome yet delicious. They have the texture of dense little cakes and are saturated with spices. One change I made to the original recipe is to use dried cranberries which are so much more available year round than fresh or frozen. I simmer them in dessert wine to plump them back up and give them flavor but apple juice would work as well. Enjoy!

Cranberry – Prune Squares

Adapted from a recipe I think I got from Sunset magazine years ago

1 cup dried cranberries

½ cup dessert wine or apple juice

2 large eggs

¾ cup honey

¼ cup salted butter, melted

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

½ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp baking powder

1 cup roasted almonds, chopped

1 cup pitted prunes, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, F.

Butter an 8” square baking pan.

In a small sauce pan, simmer dried cranberries in dessert wine or apple juice for 5 to 10 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Let cool.

Beat together eggs, honey and melted butter. Combine flour, spices and baking powder. Beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture until well combined. Stir in almonds, prunes and cranberries. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes. At about 35 minutes into baking, check to see if the bars are getting too brown. Honey tends to burn in baked goods. If the bars look like they will burn, cover the bars loosely with aluminum foil. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. Mine were done at 40 minutes today.

The demise of Herbert: an animated tale

Last week something awful happened. What you are about to see is as disturbing as it is true. Many small creatures were killed or injured in the unfolding drama you are about to see….

Mimi came into the kitchen one morning last week. She was in a particularly good mood as she walked across the linoleum to the kitchen counter. She was going to check in on her sourdough starter Herbert to see how he was doing and feed him some breakfast. As she walked, her mind was preoccupied with ideas of how Herbert would assist her in the creation of some sort of yummy bread or treat. Should she make baguettes or maybe something decadent like coffee cake?

As she approached the kitchen counter where she had left Herbert for the night, she sensed a strange movement on the counter. Ants! Milling around directionless. Ants! Crawling around in every space. Ants! Teeth bared, tongues licking, investigating everything in sight. Some of them…crawling on Herbert’s jar!

Mimi was furious! She acted quickly. She grabbed a sponge: splat! Splat, splat, splat! She dispatched the ants quickly and mercilessly.

Once the ants were gone, she knew what she needed to do. Nervously, she held her breath and reached for Herbert’s jar. She lifted the lid and looked inside….

…there it was. A lone ant. Dead as a doornail. Floating. Toes pointed to the sky. Who knows how long it had been there contaminating the very medium that led to it’s untimely death.

She loved Herbert and wanted to revive him, but he was contaminated and beyond help. Herbert was buried at sea a few days later. He will be sorely missed.

Addendum:

Mimi thought the ant problem was resolved and tried to create a new starter a few days later. Her name was Nadine. She was a sexy wild yeast starter and she was thriving. Today, Mimi found an ant with an IQ of 10 floating, toes pointed to the sky in Nadine. Nadine was buried at sea later that day.

There will be no more sourdough baking on Delectable Tidbits until all ants have been eradicated from the ugly, drafty little house where Mimi resides. Mimi will be bringing out the big guns soon in her battle against these fiendish interlopers. Please leave a comment with your suggestions and war stories from the front of the ant battlefield. She thinks she knows what to do, but she will gladly take all of the help she can get. Do it for her. Do it for the memory of Herbert.

 

Old treats updated for a healthier palate

Do you remember Rice Krispies treats? Maybe you still make them? I don’t. Not anymore, even though they are such a fond childhood memory of mine. I was crazy for them as a kid. I would have to say they were one of my favorite junk food items. I loved them so much that I didn’t leave it up to the fates to decide if I would be able to have one. Finding a Rice Krispies treat depended on a parent (not related to me, mine preferred to purchase their junk food pre-made) making them for some event and then being in the right place at the right time to have one. (I guess with that statement you’ve figured out that I am old enough to predate the advent of pre-packaged Rice Krispies Treats which are a pale shadow of the homemade kind). In order to guarantee a steady supply of these wonderful treats and make sure I had access to as many as my heart desired, I learned to make them. It turns out they are extremely kid friendly to make if you are a kid who can stand a second degree burn or two in the kitchen. I never had a problem making the actual molten goo required to make them stick together, I usually got into trouble after I mixed the cereal into the molten goo and then attempted to form them into the compact mass that would enable them to be perfect squares of crispy sweet goodness. I somehow managed to get my fingers and hands into the incendiary rice crispy mass.

So, you may wonder why I stopped indulging in something so wonderful? I don’t eat much beef or beef products anymore and when I do I choose grass fed. I don’t eat a lot of sugar anymore. The main ingredient in these treats, marshmallows are loaded with gelatin and sugar. I know they make vegan friendly marshmallows now, but I don’t want to go down that slippery path. Not now that I have been doing so well at moving a lot of the processed junk and refined sugars and grains out of my diet.

Years ago, I tried to make the treats on the box of my favorite brown rice cereal. They were a disaster. I can’t remember what the ingredients were, but they were horribly sweet and would not stick together. The cereal tasted terrible in them. I gave up on the idea of having a healthier version of my childhood favorite treat until I came across a recipe on the Madcap Cupcake blog. This version used brown rice syrup for the sweetener with the addition of nut butter to cut the sweetness. This recipe looked promising so I bookmarked it and as usual forgot about it. You see, brown rice syrup isn’t an ingredient I am familiar with. I know I have eaten it in some of my favorite processed food from the health food store, but I didn’t know that you didn’t have to be a corporation to buy it. (This is why, I, an omnivore, hang out on vegan blogs. Not only are they nice folks but I learn something all the time!). Anyway, a few weeks ago, I remembered I wanted to make this recipe, so I got a box of brown rice cereal and the brown rice syrup. Today, I finally decided to dive in and give the treats a try. Were they the same as a Rice Krispies treat? Not by a long shot, but to my healthy palate, they were quite wonderful. Lightly sweet and nutty with little hidden surprises in each bite.

I really enjoyed the way these treats turned out, but since I used the bare minimum of rice syrup suggested in Marika’s recipe, the bars had structural integrity problems. They fell apart easily. I might make a little more goo in the same one to one ratio of syrup to peanut butter, or, if I keep them this way, I might form them into little balls next time instead of trying to make big thick bars. In the following recipe, I doubled the salt. I have salt free peanut butter so I knew I would need a teeny extra hit of salt. If you are using regular salted peanut butter, use the lesser amount. I also added 1½ cups total of the “add ins” (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, etc). This was a full ½ cup more than suggested, but I just love a good “add in”

Brown rice treats

Adapted from crispy rice squares from Madcap Cupcake

1-10 oz box brown rice cereal (I used Barbara’s brand)

¾ cup brown rice syrup

1/8 – ¼ tsp salt (use more if your peanut butter in unsalted)

¾ cup chunky peanut butter

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup chopped dark chocolate

½ cup toasted almonds, chopped

Olive oil cooking spray.

Spray a 9” x 13” pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the brown rice syrup and salt. Add the peanut butter and stir until melted and well combined.

Empty the box of cereal into the biggest mixing bowl you can find. Pour the peanut butter mixture over the cereal and mix until well combined. Add the cranberries, almonds and chocolate. Mix until the goodies are well distributed. Pour the cereal mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the mixture evenly into the pan, pressing to compact it. Let cool for an hour (I missed that last instruction which would explain why my bars wouldn’t stick together. I’m impatient, I tell ya!)