Category Archives: Cooking

NPR in everyday life

Iowa Public Radio is the first preset in my car (don’t worry, I’m a sustaining member!) and so shows like All Things Considered and segments like StoryCorps are part of my everyday life.

I went a step further this week: In pursuit of headway on my 30 before 30 list (less than a month to go! totally not going to cross off the majority!), I convinced my dear friend Arin to stay up late after our kiddos had gone to bed and bake a multi-layer cake. I’m not a confident baker, but I do love All Cakes Considered, by NPR producer Melissa Gray. We set out to make Aunt Di’s Bittersweet Chocolate Frosted Layer Cake.

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Once upon a time, in the beginning of my Des Moines life, Arin and Karen (co-owner of the stationery store Ephemera) were the cake queens. They used to bake a weekly cake from scratch and a big group of us used to come over to eat it. Those are some of my favorite memories.

So Monday night, I poured some fake, pregnant lady wine and unpacked armloads of supplies in Arin’s kitchen.  Her children slept through the sounds of our giggling and the amazing aroma. It was lovely. The cake, well, let’s just say it wasn’t going to win any beauty contests. (We frosted it while it was still hot.) But with two cups of freshly whipped cream (a delightful chore on a mint KitchenAid Mixer) in the batter and the frosting calling for enough confectioner’s sugar to swim in, it tasted delish. My coworkers graciously overlooked its ugliness and helped devour it at our Tuesday staff meeting.

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Nailed it. Maybe I should set my sights on the Iowa State Fair ugliest cake contest. I really can’t take myself too seriously.

And over the weekend, when I was home for a wedding, I downloaded the StoryCorps app to my phone.

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I love doing videos and interviews with my grandpa (he just turned 93 last week!) and this is a really great format. We talked about his mom, or at least tried to, in honor of Mother’s Day. The app gives you question prompts and it’s easy to upload the finished interview. Plus, any reason to get these two hangout time:

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We have a family reunion in June and I hope to record a longer StoryCorps about his experience in the Navy during WWII. It takes him a bit to get warmed up, but once he gets going, the stories start to flow. I think it would be fun for us to interview aunts and uncles, too! We don’t get together as much as I would like.

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Christmas memories

I hope you had a lovely holiday season! We were lucky enough to spend this Christmas break making memories with both Joe’s family in Council Bluffs and my family outside Chicago. I love days when you can stay in your pajamas as late as you like. (Because sleeping in isn’t really an option these days, with a toddler who wakes up before dawn.)

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Here are a few favorites from 2015: 

Seeing the stocking I finally sewed for Emmett hanging from the fireplace. I bought the Christmas fabric forever ago (October 2011?) at a shop in Dubuque but didn’t have my DIY act together together in time for his first Christmas. I pieced and quilted it over Thanksgiving with my mom, and used this free pattern and tutorial to base the shape.

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Cooking a Polish family favorite with my father-in-law. Joe’s family feasts typically feature golumpki, a dish of ground beef and pork and onions and rice rolled in a steamed cabbage leaf. This year, Joe’s mom had to work and Joe was hung over resting all morning, so it was up to me and Stevo to fire up the stove. I really enjoyed making these! I didn’t take photos because, well, my hands were covered in raw meat, but you can watch Martha Stewart make them with her mom in this video.

Playing  Suspend at both family parties. My niece Mia got Suspend for Christmas and brought it over in the morning. Such a fun multi-generational family game! You have to figure out how to hang and dangle the metal pieces without them falling. Kind of like Jenga.
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Reading for pleasure. There are few things more relaxing for me than getting lost in a good book. I downloaded Station Eleven, my next book club book on the Kindle app this time, so I could read in the car during the nighttime drives. The interwoven story lines are gripping.
Handmaking gifts is always a favorite, although unfortunately I didn’t do very much this year. (I did sew new pillowcases for my mom using the APQ sewathon roll-up pattern.) Emmett got lucky in this department, though. My brother made him the IKEA-hack learning tower so he can be a kitchen helper. And my mom and aunt made a way-awesome “quiet book” together! I can appreciate the hours and hours they spent on it:

I have a few days off and a to-do list a mile long, so blogging is the perfect procrastination. I’m hoping to put down words about motherhood at 18 months, because everything feels different as we’ve hit new developmental milestones.

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Liking lately

I’m in denial about this whole summer-being-over thing, although once I unpack my sweaters, I’m sure I’ll change my tune.

Here are a few things I’ve been into:

To eat: A few friends hosted “Meatfest” last weekend, a backyard barbecue with insanely good smoked meats and a smorgasbord of sides. Great weather, better people. I asked Joe to make this roasted potato salad with shaved fennel and salsa verde, a killer potluck-pleasing dish he’s mastered. It’s for real.

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To read: I felt compelled to go to the library the other night, and made it to the Forest Avenue branch just before it closed for the evening. I’d never been there before, and the selection isn’t huge (they seem to cater to the ESL population that lives in the area), but this Sticks banner between two big tree sculptures made me smile.

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I picked up “The String Diaries” and raced through it this week. I can’t rave about the prose itself, but it’s a fast-paced thriller that reminded me of Gone Girl in ways. It has elements of the magical, but it uses one of my favorite techniques of bouncing around time periods and intertwining plots.

To make: Truth – I basically showed Joe this project and he made it for me. I have a huge empty wall in my office that’s been aching for artwork these past six months, and when I saw this, I felt like it would be a cool installation piece. Just a big frame, chicken wire, staples, spray paint, spacers and paper strips.

{photo via Sugar & Cloth}

{photo via Sugar & Cloth}

The project is by Sugar & Cloth, but I first saw it linked from Going Home to Roost. I have yet to get the paper and cut strips for it, but I might treat it like a gratitude journal, curling up messages of thanks as a daily meditation. I’ll probably post something to Instagram once it’s up in my office.

 To conquer: Emmett and I ran out first 5K together last week. DMU did a Friday evening run from campus, down around the sculpture park and back. We definitely didn’t PR or anything, but it was my goal to at least jog the whole thing, and I followed through. The kid didn’t even break a sweat.

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Nicole and Everett also ran, and Mollie and her daughter, Kaydin. I’m really starting to feel like part of the DMU community. It’s crazy to believe next week marks six months in my role there.

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Into – In the kitchen

Joe recently stumbled upon “The Mind of a Chef” on Netflix, and we’re obsessed. Season 1 follows Chef David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, on culinary adventures that touch on food science, culture and the craft of creating world-class cuisine.

281010_287943754655346_914595738_oAnthony Bourdain is the show’s executive producer and narrator, and great chefs from around the world make appearances. It’s super fun. There are silly animations, and the passion these chefs have to play and experiment jumps off the screen.

In our own kitchen, we’ve been on a zucchini kick, and have baked several loaves of this Eating Well chocolate zucchini bread. Which we eat while watching “Mind of a Chef,” of course.

What are you watching/eating these days?

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Cinco de Mayo Treat: Sweet fruit tamales

SweetTamales

My dad’s family always used to make tamales on New Year’s Eve, but I was too young to remember being part of that tradition. So when my half-brother Bruce and his wife Donna came for a visit, I asked them to bring the family recipe.

We spent all day making a special tamale feast together from scratch. I heard that the reason lots of tamale places are closed on Tuesdays is because everyone’s arms are so tired from all of the tamale-making that happens on Mondays. I believe it!

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Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, I’m sharing the recipe for sweet  – and adorable – pineapple and golden raisin tamales.

{Bonus: They’re allergen-free} Emmett was a fan.

Sweet Tamales (yields approximately 60)

These fruit tamales are a little quicker to whip up than the meat kind, but it’s still more fun if you have a big group lending a hand. I’d recommend making the masa ahead and then gathering everyone together to fill the tamales. Play a little music and the process turns into a party. (My favorite is The David Wax Museum, a Mexican-inspired folk band with roots in Columbia, MO.)

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 Shopping list:

  • Corn husks (1 package, soaked overnight)
  • Masa (4 cups)
  • Lard (1 cup – yeah, I know!)
  • Sugar (1 cup – could probably be cut down if you use the pineapple juice)
  • Baking Powder (2 tsp)
  • Salt (2 tsp)
  • Pineapple (1 20 oz. can – crushed is best)
  • Golden Raisins (1/2 box)
  • Water (4 cups – cut if you use juice)

1. Start by combining masa, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl.

2. Using an electric mixer, whip the lard until it’s fluffy (a few minutes on a medium-low speed).

DSC_07763. Add the dry mixture to the lard and add water. Use your hands to combine. 

4. Mix in crushed pineapple (we gave the tidbits a few spins in the food processor) and half box of golden raisins.

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Keep mixing by hand. Test a tiny bit of the wet masa mixture by dropping it in a glass of water. If it floats, it’s mixed well enough! I think the trick is to try to rake/fluff it.

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5. Put a dollop of masa in the center of a husk (don’t forget to soak the husks overnight.) Wrap the husk around the masa and tie off with strips of masa, in a candy shape.

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I like to give them a good double-knot and trim the ends so everything looks neater and more compact.

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How cute are these? Come on, now. 20140504_113425

6. When you’ve assembled all of your cute little sweet tamales, it’s time to steam them.

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We fit half a batch at a time in our roaster, with 3 glasses of water poured in the bottom. Steam for about 70 minutes.

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Enjoy your tamales warm, or refrigerate/freeze them and they microwave nicely for a treat later.

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***

One of my favorite childhood memories was when we’d go to La Guadalupana in the Chicago neighborhood Pilsen and stock up on dozens of pork and chicken tamales. We’d eat one hot on the road — always washed down with a naranja Jarritos — and then freeze a few dozen for later. At home, I’d challenge myself to eat a spicy chicken tamale with a big glass of milk close at hand to cut the heat.

In Des Moines, two spots to go for authentic tamales are Tamales Industry and my favorite, La Rosa, which may have just re-opened?

Also, this is not really related, but my brother Bruce also happens to be an award-winning home brewer! He’s featured in this free University of Oklahoma online course on the Chemistry of Beer. It’s really well-done, so if you have any interest in the science of brewing, check it out.

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Pass the pancakes

Call me a weirdo, but watching my kid eat is one of my favorite parts of parenting. Seeing his reaction to different tastes and textures, how he grows more adept at picking up and maneuvering small pieces, his discovering he can attempt to slyly slip the dog a few bites — sometimes different meals feel like milestones. Add allergies to the mix, and constant redirection to make sure he’s not scratching himself silly during dinner and it’s also been pretty stressful. (We’ve found keeping a small toy on his tray also helps keep one of his hands busy so he’s less likely to scratch.)

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We took Emmett to a specialist for testing (scratch test, blood draw) a few weeks ago. It turns out little E is VERY allergic to sesame (something we suspected after his hummus episode), all nuts, chickpeas, soy, wheat, barley, garlic, oat, egg white and dog. He’s also mildly allergic to milk. We now carry Epi pens in the diaper bag.

Those results were pretty overwhelming for us, so we stocked up some books and sought out support from friends. Turns out Jen’s son has a few allergies of his own, and these days the internet abounds with recipe ideas. (Kristen recently went gluten-free!) Right now, it’s pretty manageable because we can continue to feed him his basic “paleo-esque” veggies, fruits and meats diet. When he realizes he’s once again eating sweet potatoes while his parents chow down on homemade pizza, or if he doesn’t grow out of many of these before school starts, it’s going to be a lot harder.

We’re getting creative, though. Everyone in this house, down to Wilbur, is a big fan of pancakes. Seriously, they are Wilbur’s favorite. Check out pancake crazy eye.

20140426_081432We didn’t want Emmett to miss out on a weekend treat. Joe found a Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free, soy-free pancake mix and we used a banana to bind it and watered down the required milk. They stuck a bit to the pan, but in the end tasted like little banana bread cakes!

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We’ve also tried and liked Ancient Grains garden pagodas quinoa pasta (which Joe picked up at Whole Foods) to replace his beloved rotini. Emmett snarfed quite a bit the other night and I liked what I sampled! Dole mixed fruit cups are also a great grab-and-go when we don’t have fresh pears or something on hand. They aren’t packed in syrup and don’t include artificial sweeteners, and I rinse them before serving. I got a pack at Hy-Vee.

Now soliciting ideas for a gluten, egg, soy, nut, oat, etc-free first birthday cake recipe. Thank goodness he’s cleared for chocolate! 🙂

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Sweet little giveaway

To all my friends with a sweet tooth: RUN*, don’t walk to the nearest Barnes & Noble, grocery store or Lowes and snag a copy of the Cuisine At Home “Cookies, Brownies & Bars” Summer 2014 special issue.

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*It will be on stands through late July, but you’re going to want to run in order to burn some calories before you get your buttery hands on this bad boy.

Joe brought home a few samples from test batches for me to try and I have three words for you: Puppy chow bars. Yes! These are a thing. A sweet, sweet thing.

Puppy chow was a staple treat for my high school cross country team. Our friend Carly’s mom made it for almost every meet and we’d be covered in powdered sugar after our races. It may have been 20% of the reason I ran at all.

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I’m giving away a copy of this issue to a reader who leaves her (or his) favorite dessert in the comments. You can just tell me what the dessert is, or get a bonus entry if you share or link to the recipe. Giveaway ends at midnight on Sunday, April 14. I’ll pick someone at random.

Like all Cuisine magazines, there are no ads, just awesome recipes, instructions and photos. (Joe’s job is to art direct photo shoots and design the layout.) His favorite thing in the book were the carrot cake blondies. They also have Thin Mint & Samoa (aka Carmel Delight) hacks as well as some classics and some super interesting ideas like cheddar caramel popcorn bars.

 

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