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Posts Tagged ‘food’

As we come to the end of this Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to share a new favorite: pumpkin pie. Not so new to most but, honestly, I’ve never liked pumpkin pie. There is something about the texture and, quite frankly, the taste, that I have never cared for. I do love pumpkin bread and pumpkin cookies, though. This year we received a sugar pumpkin in our CSA share and I had plans to make my favorite pumpkin bread recipe. My oldest saw it and declared a need for pumpkin pie, something I haven’t baked or eaten in nearly ten years.

I’ve been up a lot at night lately. Not really by choice but it is what it is right now. So, I find myself looking up recipes and knitting and sewing patterns … the things I don’t have time to mindlessly look through during the day. I looked up how to bake a sugar pumpkin and then set my sights on finding a vegan pumpkin pie recipe. We used this one. It requires no sugar other than maple syrup, it has few ingredients, and it is well spiced.

I still had one hurdle left and that was actually cutting the pumpkin in half to bake it. Have you ever started cutting a pumpkin or other large squash, sunk your knife in deep, only to have it become stuck? You stand frozen at the counter wondering how many stitches it will take to fix the horrific wound that is about to occur as you extract the knife from said squash. You ponder tossing the squash and the knife only to pretend later that you have no idea what happened to the knife … perhaps you’ll pretend it got left at the last potluck or your neighbor borrowed it and then moved.

This year, though, I had a late night (or early morning) epiphany that was nothing short of a Thanksgiving miracle, or perhaps it was the Great Pumpkin answering my wish. Do you have one of those 50-cent, red-handled pumpkin carvers that looks like it won’t last for more than one Halloween but somehow hangs on year after year … half saw, half knife is how my oldest describes it. Yeah, that thing that kicks around your kitchen drawer for 364 days of the year with seemingly no purpose. It sawed that pumpkin in half in under a minute, faster than an infomercial knife through a soda can.

The de-seeded pumpkin halves baked, covered in foil, for 1.5 hours at 375. You know it is done when it is quite soft, then let it cool and scoop out the insides and discard the shell (skin? peel?). I used my food processor to smooth out the pumpkin only because it was sitting on my counter, but I’m sure a potato masher or ricer would also work. It was not very watery at this point so I was able to just use it in the recipe, substituting 1 ¾ cups of fresh pumpkin for one can of pumpkin. I made a simple Spelt crust printed on the Bob’s Red Mill bag of Spelt flour (my go-to crust recipe as it requires no butter or rolling). I topped it with my easy maple coconut frosting (which is texturally very similar to whipped cream).

We had the leftover pie for breakfast the next morning, which should be an indication of its tastiness.

I hope you all had just the Thanksgiving you were looking for, be it with family or friends or solo!

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This week I learned a big lesson: avoid food poisoning at all costs!! Below are a few tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to avoid food poisoning when cooking at home. What they don’t mention is the paranoia that sets in post-food poisoning as you try to figure out what the offending item was.

Here are steps you can take to prevent food poisoning at home:

  • Wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often. Wash your hands well with warm, soapy water before and after handling or preparing food. Use hot, soapy water to wash the utensils, cutting board and other surfaces you use.
  • Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. When shopping, preparing food or storing food, keep raw meat, poultry, fish and shellfish away from other foods. This prevents cross-contamination.
  • Cook foods to a safe temperature. The best way to tell if foods are cooked to a safe temperature is to use a food thermometer. You can kill harmful organisms in most foods by cooking them to the right temperature. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 F (71.1 C), while steaks and roasts should be cooked to at least 145 F (62.8 C). Pork needs to be cooked to at least 160 F (71.1C), and chicken and turkey need to be cooked to 165 F (73.9 C). Fish is generally well-cooked at 145 F (62.8 C).
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly. Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within two hours of purchasing or preparing them. If the room temperature is above 90 F (32.2 C), refrigerate perishable foods within one hour.
  • Defrost food safely. Do not thaw foods at room temperature. The safest way to thaw foods is to defrost foods in the refrigerator or to microwave the food using the “defrost” or “50 percent power” setting. Running cold water over the food also safely thaws the food.
  • Throw it out when in doubt. If you aren’t sure if a food has been prepared, served or stored safely, discard it. Food left at room temperature too long may contain bacteria or toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking. Don’t taste food that you’re unsure about — just throw it out. Even if it looks and smells fine, it may not be safe to eat.

What important life lessons did you learn?

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Being a stay-at-home mom, as well as the main grocery shopper and cook, my writing and other creative pursuits take a backseat; I fit in writing and knitting whenever I have a few minutes. Lately, I have been trying to really streamline things around the house. I started with meals. I admit that I have never had a set plan for the week’s meals. I usually start the week with a vague idea of what I can make during the week given the ingredients we usually have in the house.

One inspiration for streamlining the meal process (buying the food, meal prep, etc.) is the grocery shopping. Grocery shopping every week with little ones can be fun, watching them help pick things out and learn why we buy some foods and not others, but it is also a challenge to get everyone out the door in the morning, not to mention putting the groceries away when we get home with tired and hungry little ones wanting to try all of the food that we just bought. I thought the answer would be menu planning, so I tried a two-week menu plan. The idea was that you cycle through the same menu every two weeks. I tried to like the plan, I really did, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I was put off by the idea of having the same thing every two weeks. The menu plan was tossed and we went back to me having a general idea of what food was in the house and every day trying to decide what was for dinner.

Then one day I read about a month-long menu plan. I admit it seemed a bit extreme, planning a menu for an entire month. At the same time, we are trying to cut grocery expenses and, frankly, I was tired of going to the grocery store each week. So, I got out my recipes and began writing down 4 weeks worth of meals. I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t really think I would stick to it. I thought on pasta and sauce day I would want rice and beans. Then I went to the grocery store. I shopped for the entire month (aside from produce). We lugged the many bags home, found places for everything, and started using the menu.

My conclusion, after an entire month of using the menu plan, is that 4 weeks is just right. We had a wide variety of favorites, I had to shop only every few weeks (with the occasional pickup at the grocery store for produce, as the farmer’s market was not yet open), and I didn’t have to think about what we were having for dinner each day. There were a few changes when we had enough for leftovers and I hadn’t taken that into account on the menu but, overall, I stuck to it. I also found that we were spending less at the grocery store, which is always a good thing!

What I didn’t realize was how much time I had been spending thinking about meals. Deciding what to have, finding the ingredients, getting everything ready, and actually cooking the meal was taking a good chunk of time that I now have back. Because I know in the morning what we are having for dinner that night, I can do prep work throughout the day. I am also finding that my mind is now free to wander to other topics, like my writing. I was surprised to find myself writing more and in quick little bursts throughout the day. I can now go on autopilot for meals and meal preparation so I am free to fill that time thinking about story ideas and plots and dreaming up characters and settings.

Meal planning begets creativity, at least for me …. who knew?

What little tricks do you use to give yourself time to be creative?

P.S., What-I-Learned Wednesday will return this week. I took last week off (though not from learning) to enjoy a wonderful week with visiting family.

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