Wee Cook Wednesday: Quickie Lenten Lunch Idea

smart-chiliLet me start by saying I’m a born-and-bred meat lover. Meatless Fridays in Lent … especially one or two of those Fridays … I seriously have to REMEMBER to be good and eat tuna fish.

So the other day while wandering around the grocery store and spied these little bags of “Smart Chili” goodness on the produce shelf, I though. “Hmmm… looks like chili with beans. But does it TASTE like chili with beans?!”

The carnivore in me does not die quietly.

I tried it. And I LIKED IT!!!  Nuke it 2.5 minutes, toss a little reduced-fat cheddar on top and zap it again a minute or so, then serve with corn chips. Yum.

My new favorite meatless Friday lunch. Try it! (Don’t let the “veggie protein” label scare you.)  Now … if I can just find a good family-size recipe for it … Any ideas?


Wee Cook Wednesday: Bethany Baked Oatmeal

baked-oatmealRecently I’ve been thinking about the fact that each decade of my life has had a particular theme and/or formative experience. My twenties (the 80s) were the “Bethany Days,” when I attended Bethany College of Missions, an Evangelical missionary training center in Bloomington, MN. (I became Catholic when I was thirty … as it turns out, so did at least five other classmates. Four of us appeared on “The Abundant Life” late in the 90s.)

Bethany Fellowship International, which was also the center for Bethany House Publishers and Bethany Campers and Lefse Grills,  has evolved significantly since I graduated  in 1987 (I left in 1989 after a two-year internshp at BHP). And yet it remains a faith-filled Christian community that takes seriously the Lord’s call to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

The communal dining room at Bethany is the site of some of my favorite memories of the place. So recently, when I developed a hankering for some Baked Oatmeal, I hopped on Facebook and begged the recipe from a couple of friends who used to work there … thanks, Laurie and Diane!

This great stick-to-the-ribs brunch recipe is great for Lent. A hunk of the stuff (with maybe a handful of pecans or walnuts, and a drizzle of half-and-half) should keep you going most of the day!  And as you can see, this recipe will feed even the largest family. (I’ve cut the recipe down to manageable size in parenthesis, enough to feed 6-8.)

Bethany Baked Oatmeal (for a crowd of 50 or so)
applesauce – 3 C (1/2 C)
honey – 4 C (2/3 C)
eggs – 20 (3)
oats – 2 gallons (5-1/2 C)
baking powder – 6 Tbls (1 Tbls)
salt – 4 tsp (3/4 tsp)
milk – 10 C (1-2/3 C)
vanilla – 1 Tbls (1 tsp)
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Spray 2 large, shallow baking pans (1 9×13) with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients and stir 4 minutes. Bake 300 degrees for 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. (Should spring back when pressed gently in the center.) Serve with nuts and milk or half and half.

Photo credit: http://Gingerlemongirl.blogspot.com   (Hers is much prettier than mine!)

Wee Cook Wednesday: Pokemon Cake

pikachuNow,  I realize this isn’t an actual recipe … more of a technique. And I also realize that NO ONE would mistake my labor of love for a bakery cake; it has an unabashedly homespun look. But I gotta say … my son was tickled pink!

Since I was making this for a crowd, I baked one vanilla cake mix (according to package directions) and one chocolate cake mix (ditto) in a cookie sheet. If you want to make the cake half-and-half (so guests can choose chocolate or vanilla), just split the cakes in half and double them up. Otherwise you can stack on on top of the other (with a layer of frosting in between), or if you’re feeling REALLY creative, pile them on top of each other (with a layer of frosting in between) then cut the cake in 2″ sections, flipping every other one to create a checkerboard look.

Next,  smear frosting generously all over the cake. Here’s the frosting recipe I use:

2/3 C butter, softened
6 C powdered sugar
1 Tbls vanilla
3-4 Tbls milk (you can also use lemon juice, if you’re serving all vanilla cake)
8 drops yellow food color

Beat butter until fluffy, gradually add powdered sugar, keep beating as you add vanilla and just enough milk to make it “spreadable.” When it’s just the right consistency, add food color and blend until combined.

Now … the Pokemon/Picachu part. Because the colors needed to be really bright, I used Wilton’s Sparkle Gel instead of frosting. (One tube each yellow, red, and royal blue or black for outlining and the tips of the ears. Chris says black is best, but he says blue looks good, too.)

And here’s the result! (Yes, I know … I ran out of room and left off the tail when I made the cake! But Christopher liked it anyway. I told him it was “shy Picachu”):



Wee Cook Wednesday: Quickie Chickie with Peppers

canned-chicken1Every mom has an “emergency pantry shelf” where she stocks foods that can be pulled together in various combinations to create dinner in a hurry.

Tonight was an “emergency” night, and I had been hankering for Chinese food all day … so I reached in and pulled out a can of chicken, a can of pineapple chunks, and a box of Minute Rice (I recently discovered their instant brown rice, and while I don’t know that the nutritional value of the “quick” stuff is as good as the slow-cooking, I decided to try it). 

In the veggie bin were three green peppers that were about to turn. So I put it all together, tossed in a shot of ginger and soy sauce, and … voila! Quickie Chickie.

Quickie Chickie with Peppers (serves 4)

3 bell peppers (any color), seeded and coarsely chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 can (13 oz) canned chicken, drained
1 can (20 oz) pineapple chunks, drained and juice reserved
1 tsp ginger
1 Tbls soy sauce
1 Tbls corn starch
1 tsp honey (optional)
coarse ground pepper

hot rice

Chop peppers and onions, set aside. In skillet heat 2 tsp oil (olive or canola) and saute veggies 3-4 minutes, so they are still crisp. Add chicken, ginger, soy sauce, and pineapple chunks. Heat through, breaking up chicken with a spoon. Stir corn starch and honey into pineapple juice until dissolved; add to skillet and stir until thickened. Serve over rice.

Wee Cook Wednesdays: Comfort Cookies

comfort-cookiesI just got back from the post office, having mailed out a couple of Raising Up Mommy to conference participants … and a “Comfort Box” to a friend.

In case you’re not familiar with the custom, “Comfort Boxes” are care packages that you send to someone who has just experienced a great loss. The box can be plan or flowery (like the kind you get in craft stores), depending on whether you mail it or deliver it in person. What’s important is what’s inside:

* A box of “Comfort Cookies” (recipe below)
* A box of really good herbal tea (for late-night sipping)
* A pretty china teacup (representing the fragility and beauty of life)
* A really good book or CD, appropriate to the situation (for the death of a pet, a copy of Life with Marley; the death of a mother of a large family might be Cheaper by the Dozen or The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio; the death of a spouse might be A Severe Mercy. Another favorite is the audio version of Anthony Destefano’s A Travel Guide to Heaven).
* Optional items, suited to that particular need: A pretty journal or box of notecards, a gift card for a favorite restaurant (for a night cooking is too great a challenge after the casseroles stop coming), a small box of chocolates, an aromatic candle. Anything that will pamper, soothe … and add a touch of beauty.

Comfort Boxes are a tangible reminder of love and concern, best sent after the initial flurry of the funeral. Anniversaries or other significant dates (birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s or Father’s Day) that first year can be especially hard, and a time when this expression of friendship can be greatly appreciated.

Now … for those cookies! Comfort Cookies are a little hard, a little bittersweet (kind of like memories), and their spicy aroma fills the senses (especially when warm, or dunked in tea). One recipe makes at least 5 dozen, so they are great for bringing to funeral lunches, too. (Sometimes I dunk one edge in chocolate as a decorative touch.)

Comfort Cookies

1-1/2 C shortening
2 C granulated sugar (plus a small bag for coating)
2 eggs
1/2 C dark molasses
4 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ginger
pinch of allspice

Combine dry ingredients (stir lightly with whisk). Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy, then beat in eggs. Add molasses and sifted ingredients. Chill 30 minutes, then roll in 1″ balls; roll in sugar. Place on cookie sheet 2″ apart. Bake 375 degrees 10-12 minutes, until set. (If you like them chewy, take them out while still soft in the center — let them cool on the sheet for a few minutes.) Makes about 5 dozen.

For small children, make “cookie lollipops” by inserting a popsicle stick before baking.