More Food

Somehow Friday slipped past me a little too quickly, much like Thursday. I did work a lot, again, putting in another eight hours. I hope the three left to me for today are enough to gather the payroll, do my paperwork, and deliver it all. I guess only time will tell.

Predictably, I am really writing (for the first time in weeks actually dictating) this post on Friday to be ready for an early morning autopost by WordPress. As I spent the afternoon with paperwork and plans for ending our little Census operation here in and around Jackson County, dinner time approaches, so food is on my mind. Thus the title of today’s post.

One Brief Moment for Anniversary Romance…

Today’s post should actually be entitled something dramatically romantic, like “I Love You” or “Happy Anniversary, Honey” or “Twenty-eight Years of Paradise!” The reason for that, of course, is that today is our wedding anniversary, as I had suggested to you earlier. Instead we’ve got food.

And Now Back to the Good Stuff…

For supper yesterday/today, Janet and I enjoyed a casserole dish she introduced me to. So I guess it makes presenting the recipe for that dish vaguely appropriate. Vaguely appropriate, that is, if youʼre a bit off-center and desperate for something to write as I am. I don’t want to write about work (even though I’ve already mentioned it), and I don’t want to mindlessly continue presenting prose I should be polishing for sale. And I don’t have any deep and profound reflections on romance and married life just at the present moment, either (although I should). So it’s food.

I do like this dish, and Janet is the only reason that I am even aware of it, so it really is kind of appropriate for today (although she has other recipes — like her beef stroganoff or mushroom pasta or… — that are more romantic and therefore would have been wiser choices). Iʼll just have to reveal them later. Some day.

The casserole is normally called Chicken and Rice Casserole around here (only just about always without the word “Casserole”), and we like it pretty well. It is also simple and easy to prepare (and like most things I enjoy, capable of addition and improvisation — yeah, John the jazz chef). To make this casserole you need:

  • 1 cup of rice (we prefer brown)
  • 2 cans of cream soup mixed up with two cans of water (I use cream of mushroom and cream of chicken)
  • half a bag of frozen vegetables (Janet refuses to use the brands with lima beans included)
  • shreds or chunks of chicken (tearing up about 1½ to 2 chicken breasts, or less)
  • spices to your taste (I like: garlic powder, onion powder, pepper)
  • other ingredients you enjoy, such as canned or fresh mushrooms, diced onion, chopped spinach…

Preheat your oven to about 375°. In a 9 x 12 baking pan (or cake pan) — which I prepare with a light dose of non-stick cooking spray — scatter your cup of rice across the bottom, then add the frozen vegetables (you could actually use the whole bag) and the chicken bits and whatever other ingredients you wish to include. In a mixing bowl whisk the two cans of soup together with two can-fulls of water, added gradually, and your spices. Pour the soup over the ingredients in the baking pan and stir together evenly.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for almost an hour, at which time you should try to stir the still watery ingredients and then cook for another twenty minutes to half hour. (If you use white rice, it usually only takes about an hour altogether, so stir the dish about halfway through that time.) The dish is done when the rice has cooked and absorbed all the excess liquid. [Total brown rice cooking time — about ninety to a hundred minutes]

Although Janet and I can devour an entire pan of this, sad to report, these amounts should give you 4 to 6 servings.

Last night I only added spices and canned mushrooms to the basic (actual) recipe.

That’s what we ate for dinner Friday, the evening before our big anniversary, and it’s just about time for me to go and prepare it. We’ll see about a more romantic meal sometime this weekend. One thing Janet would like to do is to attend the Dubuque Renaissance Fair, which does look interesting (go on, fainthearts, click that link and see for yourselves). We’ll have to see how that fits in around the payroll delivery, grocery shopping, shopping shopping, and trying just to spend a little time together. (Which means that tomorrow may be the first day this year without a post from me. We’ll see…)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Little Quiches

A luscious (but altogether different) crustless quiche.

Certainly, no real man eats quiche. Popular culture established that one a quarter of a century ago, and then the quiche became nearly universal in our culture (almost approximating the widespread popularity of salsa as Americaʼs favorite condiment). However, quiche has long been appreciated in our home. Our current favorite, frequently on Fridays, is asparagus, chicken and mushroom.

But we also eat a kind of tiny crustless spinach quiche for breakfast, and since I am spending yesterday and today, while not working, in the creation of another six months stockpile of those little breakfast quiches, I thought I would make them the topic of todayʼs blog post.

Janet first discovered these babies during one of our many dietary-restriction phases. She had been reading about the importance of a daily breakfast and by coincidence, more or less, also chanced upon the recipe for tiny little breakfast quiches: low on fat, low on carbohydrates, low on calories, but high on nutritional value — thanks to that spinach content. They sounded perfect for her plans to shape us both up.

This all happened a while back (it seems like a decade now, before the fizzling Y2K, but itʼs probably more recent, actually 21st Century, unless the too-many years of teaching have blended together even more than I thought). And we have been eating little quiches for breakfast for years now (as I noted already, the actual number of years is somewhat unclear to me at present).

More than a couple years ago, I took over the job of making these little eye-openers, as Janetʼs employment required her commuting an hour a day, and she enjoys (word choice?) working out at the Dubuque Y, adding another sixty to ninety minutes of absence from the homefront. And about the time I took over, we had also begun increasing the quantity we produced at a time. Nowadays, I only need to cook these babies about three times a year (and we eat two apiece for breakfast the five working days each week).

So on Monday I got started chopping and dicing, having purchased the necessary ingredients late last week (say, Wednesday or Thursday) and then not having found the time to get to work any sooner. We actually ran out of the last batch this morning, so today (this afternoon and evening), around work, I will be plopping the mixture into muffin tins and baking up twenty-four at a time (which is every twenty-two minutes). The process will probably continue tomorrow.

—Exciting little blog post, isnʼt this?

Ours actually look like this usually, when fresh.

The recipe is quite simple (even as we have expanded upon the original). You need:

  • bell pepper(s) chopped up small (preferably red, orange or yellow — not green, at least in our household),
  • an onion diced small as well,
  • shredded cheese (either fat-free, which doesnʼt really melt, or the half-and-half stuff we used to be able to buy in Maquoketa but not for years — so I mix fat-free and regular shredded cheddar); the quantity is up to your tastes,
  • several boxes (supposedly four to each pepper/onion) of chopped spinach, squeezed and dry as more-than-humanly possible and then separated once again into tiny strands, and
  • eggoid (which is our name for the egg substitute which comes in little cartons), one container for each box of spinach (thus four for the basic recipe).

To that (the basic recipe) we have added:

  • shredded carrot (part of a bag, and you really need to chop at those giant shreds the carrot companies shred carrots into) and
  • chopped up button mushrooms (fresh would be nice, but we usually chop at the sliced and diced ones from the can.
  • Whatever else you think would go well into this quiche-let (we havenʼt added to the basics further than the above items). That broccoli in the picture above looks tasty…

Ziploc makes these. We use the flat square ones.

Mix it all up in a huge bowl or two (or three). Depending on how vast a quantity you are attempting to create.

Put aluminum muffin cups in your muffin pan and spray each lightly with nonstick cooking spray (lightly!).

Carefully place about a quarter of a cup of the eggoid/spinach/et cetera mixture into each cup and cook in a preheated oven at 350˚ for about twenty-two minutes.

Remove, replace the aluminum muffin tins with new ones, spray, load with mixture, and repeat. As the finished batch has cooled (usually about seven minutes later) remove the quiche-let from each cup to store in a plastic container for freezing.

I generally end up using three peppers, two to three onions (this is breakfast, after all), eight boxes of spinach, one or two bags of shredded carrots, and (since we are still experimenting with the addition of mushrooms) a can or two of mushrooms — all mixed with anywhere from eight to a dozen boxes of eggoid (depending on how eggy-ish you want your quiche-lets). I need at least two big bowls (and one of ours is literally huge [and I am using the word literally correctly, unfiguratively] to mix the egg mixture in, and I make up to sixteen containers of twenty-four quiche-lets each. (You do the math to figure out how long the process takes, if each batch cooks for twenty-two minutes — I donʼt want to know…)

I cook two pans at a time, thus creating batches of twenty-four, which fit perfectly into those square plastic storage containers with blue lids that became popular a while back — making a six-day supply in each container (two apiece being four per day).

And this has to be the most throughly boring (although, for me, appetizing) post yet.

Thank you for your attention.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Let’s Give Up Frustration for Lent

So it’s Friday. And it’s Lent. I completely missed Mardi Gras this year. You would think that being at home, having “all the time in the world” to myself, I could enjoy whatever I wanted. But I didn’t. Fat Tuesday wasn’t even a particularly good day for me: it was one of those days when just about everything seemed to go wrong.

our crockpot — note the cookbooks I could have but did not use

Since we had cooked an entire turkey almost two weeks ago and had saved the leftover meat, Janet had used the drippings and the bones to create turkey broth, which on Tuesday I was supposed to turn into soup. Cutting up a dozen carrots and a whole head of celery wasn’t too bad. However, when I had brought the broth from the outdoor “refrigerator”—meaning sitting in the below-freezing garage—on Monday, it was frozen solid. I let it thaw until late in the evening, at which time Janet suggested it should go into the refrigerator downstairs. Then on Tuesday I hauled the container out, only to find the soup was still completely frozen. So I put the large container in the microwave and set it at 30% for a half an hour, but at the end of that time it was still a cold, icy but also gelatinous mass. I tried to put it into the crockpot* anyway. Unfortunately only about three-fourths of it made it into the pot. The rest was wet cold jelly on the counter and floor. This unhappy camper got to clean the mess up. It was probably a good thing I was alone for that: Janet thinks my language at such moments is inappropriate for even the most sophisticated adults. She’s right, of course.

I was also having trouble getting the computer to do anything correctly. It seemed no matter what I typed or said, the words on the screen were far from what I had at first indicated. In an e-mail to Janet the word “Timmerman’s” somehow turned into “chairman’s”—I don’t really know how. And that was typical for everything I tried to do. Not a productive day.

About 4:45 I decided it was time to make supper. Every evening through the week about supper time, I prepare breakfast and Janet’s lunch. Breakfast is pretty simple: during the winter, just halve a grapefruit and cut the sections loose, wrap the two halves in plastic wrap for storage in the refrigerator overnight, and make coffee. I have screwed up by forgetting to put water in the coffee pot; once I even forgot to load the coffee and so we perked water. I’ve also forgotten to set the timer so the coffee would start in the morning. None of those things happened yesterday, but it was the kind of day when any of those options easily could have occurred.

Making Janet’s lunch is even simpler. I tear up a head of Romaine lettuce into one of her bowls, then I add (and it must be in the proper order, as I got instructed severely several years ago) walnuts, dried cranberries, a bit of feta cheese and last three ounces of shredded chicken. Nowadays, worrying about our weight, it has to be a measured three ounces. None of that’s a problem, usually, either. Then, with two meals for the next day taken care of, it’s time to actually make supper for that day.

On Tuesday it was supper that was the problem. I had decided to make a dish for which Janet had a recipe since before we started living together—Crunchy Beef Bake. I had never made it myself before. Here’s the recipe:

Crunchy Beef Bake Casserole

  • 2 cups uncooked corkscrew macaroni (preferably whole wheat)
  • 1 pound hamburger (or ground turkey; or meat substitute—i.e. Boca burger)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 14-1/2 ounce can tomato
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup green pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 3 ounce can onion rings

Put in 2-quart casserole and bake covered at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and topped with onions. Bake five minutes more.

What else? …ground turkey in a tube (there’s the scale to measure food by weight, too)

I got all the ingredients—I thought—together. I found a two-quart casserole dish. I measured out cups of uncooked corkscrew macaroni and put that into the casserole. I removed our well thawed tube of ground turkey from the refrigerator and even browned it a bit. With some difficulty and a little mess (it just wasn’t my day with soups, I guess), I dumped the can of cream of mushroom soup into a bowl and then added the ground turkey, the green pepper and some seasoned salt (which hadn’t been disturbed from its place in the spice cabinet for at least a decade, I believe).

So far so good. I wasn’t sure if all the onion rings went on top, as the recipe suggests, or if some were to go into the mixture. It seemed to me that usually most of the rings were in the mix.

It was still only about five o’clock, so I decided I could just sit my creation in the refrigerator, and when Janet called to tell me she was on her way home, ask her.

On reconsideration, however, realizing I was using the whole wheat macaroni, I decided I’d better let it cook longer than it suggested. I could still add the onion rings when she called.  So I preheated the oven to 350° and went back to work on the computer.

At about 6:15 I placed the casserole in the oven, deciding as I did so to put some onion rings in already. And it cooked.

Janet called at about 6:40 and agreed that most of the onion rings should go into the mix. I obediently added them and let the mixture continue to cook.  She arrived home about 7:10, and all seemed well.  It wasn’t.

Have you figured out the problem?  I hadn’t.

I had no clue that anything was amiss until we removed the casserole from the oven and Janet took a look at it.  She immediately questioned its appearance and wondered what I had done wrong this time. I insisted I done nothing wrong; I was most careful.

But the casserole did look funny. She kept asking questions, however, and in about five minutes we realized what I had forgotten: the tomatoes. We were both unhappy. I offered to add the tomatoes, but she grumpily refused. I tried the creation, however, and it didn’t taste bad, so I took some downstairs to eat, figuring she could make soup or have some of the leftovers in our refrigerator.

When she came down to “enjoy” the Olympic competition (the only sports I ever watch, interestingly), she excitedly offered me some tomatoes she had warmed in the microwave (what a novel notion, I thought—add the tomatoes to the casserole). They did improve the flavor. But nothing was going to improve Janet’s evening: I had screwed up royally and Fat Tuesday was spoiled for her. For me, the evening was still better than dealing with the computer during the day.

And so my Lent began: with frustration for all concerned at our house. Not much of an adventure, but it is what happened. And I still don’t have much accomplished to finish “Mantorville”—even though there is more for you tomorrow.

I tried to do better finishing the turkey soup on Wednesday and adding the noodles. But I am writing this on Ash Wednesday afternoon, so I don’t really know how that’s going to go yet. Right now, I have had enough dealing with the computer for today, so I am going to close. If anything is worth reporting between now and Thursday evening, I’ll add some more. You will know if this is it.

* Nothing in the Wikipedia description of a crockpot’s design matches our ancient model.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Several Short and Sweet

Since yesterday’s post was so massive, I figured I had better keep today’s simple and brief. First, if you read any of yesterday’s long post, thank you. Looking back, I do like my introduction to the post, and I may truly have to develop that week in London into a little narrative. Not only did we have a blast—a wonderful time, we did go through some adventures.  I also still enjoy the actual essay’s introduction. Former students: could you spot the thesis statement and identify where the intro ends? (No, there will be no test, although I do still have some of those Dum-Dums I used as prizes for the last twenty years in class. I am not sure how well a Dum-Dum pop will attach to an e-mail, however.) For the critics, I do admit that the text of the essay is more than just dry. I had apparently been reading far too many art texts (and I was trying to overawe the professor, whom I still have not forgiven for the impossible scope of the actual assignment). And I am just pretty pompous that way (viz. previous commentary)… Am I not?

Anyway, here are some random thoughts on several topics for today.

Waffles!

the last two waffles

My favorite part of yesterday came about noon, when I decided to try out a Christmas present from Janet’s folks (arranged by her, naturally)—a waffle maker (I almost wrote “waffle iron,” as we used to call the devices back in the last century, when evidently description topped purpose in naming things). Janet had purchased some box waffle mix, but I had wanted all along to try making some whole wheat waffles, not because I’m a granola but because I think whole wheat food tastes better than bleached, whitened-wheat products: I like big flavors not mediocrity (whitebread braindead screaming heads at Fox News to the contrary). So I went online, as everyone does these days, and searched “whole wheat waffle recipes.” I acquired of course 198,000 results in 0.26 seconds on Google. I printed out three selected almost at random and then combined/ignored/invented my way to my own recipe. And the waffles were delightful (all of them, which I greedily devoured through the day)!

I hadn’t eaten a waffle for at least a decade. Janet and I are after all getting older and not wanting to get any fatter (thinner would be preferable, however little I find myself running these days). However, staying at a motel over a long weekend in November, I encountered that newest (for me) treat at motel breakfasts: the waffle-batter dispenser and rotating waffle maker. While Janet prudently ate fruit or something equally dull and valid, I tried out the waffles. And loved it. When we stayed at the Oskaloosa Super 8 over Christmas, they had the same system, and I overate waffles for our two breakfasts there. Well, Janet’s no dummy: she had picked up on my excitement in November, and when we arrived in Anamosa on December 26, among my gifts was a small (two-waffle) waffle maker, which I initiated into service about noon yesterday.

My downloaded recipes were pretty similar, which is why I just randomly picked one and got started. One day I will make it as listed here. However, I wasn’t sure we had the applesauce (especially not unsweetened), so it was at that step I started improvising, as suggested by the other two recipes. Here’s what I finally ended up with (the total milk by estimation because I took seriously the recommendation of one to keep adding milk until I achieved the proper batter runniness; and I believed I should make it about like what the machine sproduced in the hotels):

Whole Wheat Waffles

  • 1 and 3/4 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 and 1/2 to 3 cups of skim milk
  • 3 packets of artificial sweetener (go for the sugar if you wish; I may try brown sugar sometime soon)
  • 1+ teaspoon of vanilla extract (we don’t have the real thing so I use a generous supply of the faked stuff)
  • 2-3 teaspoons of canola oil or margarine (or butter, if you wish)

Blend the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix up the eggs, milk, vanilla and oil in a separate small bowl and then dump into the dry stuff. Beat with a whisk until it’s batter. Use in your waffle maker as directed by the manufacturer of your small appliance.

Yield: 12-14 “Belgian waffles”

Enjoy ’em!

Winter Wonderings (or maybe Wanderings)

The snow fell soundlessly through the night, Wednesday to Thursday, and then continued to whiten a gray but somehow not gloomy Thursday. I got up at 5:00 AM yesterday to shovel us out so Janet could get to work. When I actually shovel (as opposed to using the snow blower—hurrah! I am so glad Janet convinced me we needed to buy a new one!), it generally takes me close to ninety minutes. Although the air seemed clear as I started, the snow fell while I worked and the darkness gave way to gray daylight. I was pretty well snow-drenched (or ice-encased) by the time I finished. The city plows came by about 6:15, which was (for once) convenient, as I had already cleared the drive and partially the street in front, so there wasn’t a lot of snow to push away once the plow truck had finished his three passes, and I was able to rescrape the driveway on my way back indoors. We got her lunch packed, breakfast out and eaten, and the lovely wife on her way not much later than usual.

Most of the schools all around were closed, I quickly learned. (A year ago Janet would have fielded the phone call announcing the cancellation and then come to the front door to yell at me—pointlessly, since then, like now, I would have had my iPod blaring in my ears; but I knew what her appearance in the doorway meant.) I think those that had school got out early later on. Overall, I was glad I didn’t have to care (although Thursday evening play practice seemed a kind of school-like threat, considering the winter storm warning). I watched a movie we had rented for the New Year’s weekend and hadn’t gotten to, State of Play with Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck and Helen Mirren (I’ll let you use your own search skills if you want to check out the actors online). Although darkly illuminated and weak on the start, I liked it a lot, being a sucker for political thrillers (and a journalism junkie of sorts after all those years teaching Mass Media). I missed the BBC series it’s based on, and now I kind of want to see that.

With making waffles (and making a start on this blog post), the movie lasted until about 1:00, when the city plow came by again, so I had to return outdoors and shovel again, hoping Janet might be able to get off of work early to drive home in daylight (perhaps before the big winds to blow the snow into blizzardly white-out conditions).

Oops! It Appears to Have Become a Foxhunt Friday (apologies in advance—sort of)

As one of my pedagogical peeves was pupil innocence of the distinction between “wondering” and “wandering,” I amended my title for this section to make it clear there are two separate words, thus the old “I wonder as I wander…” In case the title bemused you or made you wonder.

The picture, by the way, is our unlovely view northwards of our back yard. Please appreciate the scenic loveliness of the Super 8 sign, the embodiment of the neologism gynormous.

(I hope you enjoy the illiteracy of the Urban Dictionary. I get their daily e-mail, and no one there cares about the language, actually.)

At length, why did I want to entitle this portion of today’s post “Wonderings?” Did you dutifully click on the links I have so conscientiously provided? Especially those involved in my apparently irrelevant (and as always irreverent) swipe at Fox (“We decide what to report so you don’t… know… —anything, really”) News? (Yeah, sometimes I love what you get when you search the internet.)

While shoveling yesterday morning, I got to thinking about global warming and climate-change deniers on the radical right (I’ll think about anything other than how all that snow is just flying to the right and left of my shovel, meaning I will absolutely have to go back over where I just shoveled at least two more times to clear it away). It has been a severe winter here and in Europe. I am sure this tough winter will seem to provide grist for their blind-eye-turning mills (that I feel sure some of you probably want to accept). Unfortunately (and I will leave to you to verify my assertion; your favorite search engines are just a browser tab away), I am certain that the computer models used to explore the drastically warming climate (which I learned about fifteen years ago—maybe longer—in Scientific American) include periods of cool summers and wild winters while the global temperature continues to rise until the Midwest dries into a desert (please, not a dessert), as weather patterns wobble, destabilized by the gradually increasing heat and water. Thus the Beck link to Discover magazine above (from even before he joined his pals at Fox).

Waffles sound good about now, don’t they? I guess cold and snow make me grumpy or something… Your comments are welcome.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.