Monday, June 28, 2010

The Church of Each Other, Part Two

When our good church friend, Drema, passed away last month, the whole of the church body stationed themselves at the beck and call of her husband and two teenaged daughters. We visited, we baked, we helped throw the party for the graduating daughter.... not because it eased their sadness, but we all felt the need to love them "right" and that's what it seemed like we could do.

Several women (and one man) of the church had, in recent years, contributed to Fill the Freezer events, whereby we all helped one another out with quick, healthful meals - mostly casseroles and one dish meals - that we could pull out of our freezers at home and prepare for our families with very little fuss. Here's how it works: We had a sign up sheet in the lobby where we could sign up if we wanted to be involved. We'd also sign the name of the dish we were planning to prepare, just so that everyone wouldn't make lasagne. If 15 people signed up, then one would make 15 of one's choice of dish, like Tater Tot Casserole, or Chicken and Rice. On the designated day, we'd bring our 15 casseroles (in disposable pans) and everyone would take home one of every kind of casserole for their own freezers, their family's nourishment, and our leisurely meal prep time.

It was suggested that we put together a Fill the Freezer strictly to benefit Drema's family, with the cooks bringing just one meal to the church, all of which would go home with Roy and the girls. The drop off day was this past Sunday and, over the course of the morning, the church freezer spilled over with gestures of love wrapped in tin foil.

The point of this blog entry is threefold, I guess. One is to record how the people of my community can, and do, rally together to care for one another when there is a need. Another point is to record the church's Fill the Freezer days, which has given many of us new dishes to taste, and new recipes to track down. And I finally wanted to share what I've learned about freezer baking...

What the FtF'ers and I have routinely done is put our casseroles in disposable aluminum pans, which come in either 8x8 or 9x13 sizes. Once we've filled them, we cover them in foil, and slide them into zip sealed freezer bags. The 8x8 pans can easily fit into a one gallon freezer bag and the 9x13 pans need the two gallon size. The heating instructions can either be included on paper between the foil and the freezer bag, or written directly on the bag with a permenant marker.

Some of my "Green"-minded friends have suggested alternatives to avoid the disposable/wasteful scene. One could make a soup and freeze it in a glass jar. If you were just making in advance and freezing your own meals yourself, you could just use only your own real casserole dishes. That's what I did this spring, when I made several meals in advance of our crazy-busy Little League season.

Speaking of Little League, our last games were this past Saturday. That means more time at home and less meals from the concession stand.

Above: The walking taco - over-priced, disgusting, and seriously delicious.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Parmesan Chips

The other evening, I served fried potatoes with our meal and Brooks asked, "What are these, Parmesan Chips?" referring to a simple way of serving potatoes which our family likes, but hadn't eaten in a while. Oh yeah, I thought. We love those things, but I'd kind of forgotten about them.

So I made some the next day.

Even though these potatoes are baked and not fried, with all the butter, they're hardly health food. But I definitely have foods that I prepare from time to time which are not made for their nutrition, but for the "Yay!" I hear when I tell the family what's for dinner.

Here is the recipe:

4 medium baking potatoes in 1/4 inch slices
1/4 c. butter, melted
1 T. finely chopped onion
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. pepper
Dash paprika
2 T grated Parmesan cheese

Place potato slices on a greased baking sheet in a single layer.

Combine butter, onion, slat, pepper and paprika. Brush this mixture on tops of potato slices.

Bake, uncovered, at 425 for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden. Remove from oven, sprinkle with cheese, serve immediately.

I still have several potatoes left from my garden last year, so I'm trying to think of ways to make those elderly things appealing. I'm glad I was reminded of this recipe.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ginger-Lime Grilled Shrimp

It was my birthday this week and we were just coming off of FIVE. DAYS. STRAIGHT. at the ball park. Needless to say, no one offered to take me out to dinner. And had he offered, I probably would have said, "No, thank you." What we needed was a family dinner at home followed be a quiet evening of contented ordinary-ness.

I wasn't feeling like the menu should be ordinary, however. After all, this is my last birthday meal in my 30's... I've been really hankering to prepare shrimp at home ever since our trip to South Carolina/Georgia. I'd like to do a proper shrimp boil, but for some reason, that didn't seem exactly what I wanted on that day. I looked at some recipes for grilled shrimp and those seemed closer to my desires, but not quite. I decided to make my own recipe.

While I say I've always been creative in my cooking, others might say I've always been sloppy in my cooking. I offer the following scenarios and you can be the judge: I often don't plan far enough ahead to check the ingredient list against my pantry, so I do a lot of substituting of ingredients. If a recipe doesn't seem large enough for my family of five or I want to stretch the dish to two meals, I'll increase it, not by double, but just by some vague ammount. Also, I just don't measure.

But for this momentous day, I attempted to truly create a marinade for my shrimp, and keep precise track of what I did so that I could recreate it if it turned out well and pass it on to you. I prepared half of our shrimp with this recipe and the other half with the vinegar/Old Bay seasoning. I'm so proud to tell you that it was my recipe we all preferred. Here it is:

DB's Ginger-Lime Grilled Shrimp

1-1/2 lbs. shrimp, uncooked
1/2 c. lime juice
1/4 c. honey
2 T fresh grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced

I mixed all but the first ingredient in a medium bowl until blended. To this, I added the shrimp, covered the dish and put it in the fridge to marinate for about 45 minutes. I left it to Michael to grill it. We'd never grilled shrimp before, so he did some research on the internet before firing up the grill. He determined that they should be grilled over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. We know that overcooked shrimp looks and tastes like your grammar school "Pink Pet" eraser, so we were cautious about that. The result was perfectly done shrimp that was sweet and spicy. Michael said that, but for the lack of some curry, it reminded him of Caribbean food he'd learned to love on several work trips to Barbados.

I will definitely prepare this dish again.... if there are any shrimp left to be had once BP gets its shit together...

... and if we can afford it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Chief

Every region seems to have a favorite locally-owned food shack or drive-through. In our area of Northern Indiana, it is The Chief, a homemade ice cream stand in the downtown, open for business between mid-spring and Labor Day. This year, it opened for late-afternoon/evening business on April 15th. It's run by schoolteachers, so the longer summertime hours can't begin until school is out. Once summer vacation begins, however, they open at noon and close at 9:30 PM, except for Sundays, when they open at 2:00, after they all go to church.

On opening day, my facebook news feed was filled with people bragging about how long they'd stood in line and what flavor they got. I have about fifty friends who "became a fan" of the Chief on FB also. The above picture shows what the line was like on April 15th, and while that's definitely an opening day line, you never walk right up to a window, even in mid-June, when the novelty wears off.

Last week, when the girls and I drove by and saw a line like THIS, we whipped the van into the gravel parking lot to take advantage of the short wait. My older two children were both born in late summer/early fall, so I spent many a summertime month in maternity clothes. I had a hard time resisting the Chief during those summers. I think it's safe to say that I had a dip of lemon in a waffle cone more days than I didn't. In those days, the owners' teenaged son, Josh, was one of the main employees. I'd look for his window, he'd slide it open, grin and say, "Lemon?" Today, the owner himself took a break from filling the ice machine to come over and speak to me while this year's batch of teenagers filled our order. He marveled over the size of my children, remembering the summers before they were born when I stopped in daily. I still only order lemon.

There are places I go, where I only order the same thing over and over again, because I know I'll love it. Do you do that or do you try something different every time? The rest of my family usually gets one of about three tried and true favorites. On this day, Sophia got Mint Chip...

...and Ava got Cookies and Cream.

Brooks usually gets the Peanut Butter ice cream and Michael... If he's really holding back and just getting a cone, he'll get butter pecan. But if he's getting his favorite, it's the Turtle Sundae. Also good is the Coconut Almond Crunch Sundae. They have excellent toasted coconut ice cream. In the sundae, there is some hot fudge involved and topped with an almond cookie. Oh my.

Next time you're in the "Michiana" area, pop in and find your favorite flavor. Anyone in the tri-state area will be able to give you directions.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Tale of Two Dozen Eggs

With the son on a trip to a water park with his peers, the girls were asking me for an afternoon of outings, just us. You lucky devils, I said, we're going to have an agricultural sort of field trip. After lunch, we drove to my father-in-law's farm. Clarification: This isn't where Grandpa lives. When Michael was finishing up college, his father stopped resisting his urge to get back to the farm work he had grown up with. He bought a farm (without telling his wife - he bought her a tennis bracelet first) and now spends his days there, planting and tending crops, and sometimes raising livestock. However, while he grew MORE fond of the lifestyle of the farm as an adult, Michael's mother had also grown up on a farm, but was happy to have it behind her. The compromise is that FIL gets to have the farm, but MIL doesn't have to live there. FIL drives there every day as though to work, and rents out the farmhouse to a lucky family.

Grandpa raises all our beef. He's experimented with pork and poultry. But now he got himself a chicken house and provides all the eggs for the family and half of the people with whom he's ever shaken hands.

There are three roosters, but they get to strut about the farmyard while the ladies stay at home doing all the work. That's all I'm going to say about that.

Grandpa checked the coop for eggs first thing in the morning. We were there around noon and there were five more when Sophia and Ava looked. Usually Grandpa brings several cartons of eggs home to his home with Grandma and stores them in the fridge in their garage. We can help ourselves whenever we have a need for eggs, but there's something pretty nice about getting them from the farm. It's great to know where they come from and how fresh they are.