Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Broken Refrigerator Soup

 I was so excited when I picked up my weekly bucket and found my blog listed on the weekly newsletter!  Welcome to any Seeds and Spores subscribers who are reading for the first time!  Please, sign up as a follower and leave comments!  I love to see who's reading and following.

Today's adventure- one cranky kid, one broken refrigerator, a ton of frozen produce, and a pot of yummy soup!

When we bought our house in 2008, the previous owner had purchased all new appliances before selling.  Unfortunately, the fridge that came with the house was not designed for a family of four!  After three years of dealing with the world's tiniest fridge, we broke down and bought a brand new refrigerator about a month ago.  I knew this fridge would be just the ticket during summer produce season- french doors, bottom freezer, 3 deep crisper drawers, and all the bells and whistles.  I tell you, I've been loving the new fridge.  No more cramming and shoving.  No more loosing things in the fridge.  Everything has a place- except the Coors Light, which they make in those goofy tall cans, but that's another story. 

But, today my wonderful new fridge went crazy on me.  I went to get a glass of iced tea after lunch and heard clunk, clunk, clunk as I poured it into my glass.  The ice tea was nearly frozen solid!  Now, I can deal with frozen ice tea, but frozen produce?  Not so much.  Now I had a fridge full of produce to use in one day.  What else could I do but make soup!  Here is my recipe for, what I shall call, Broken Refrigerator Soup:

Broken Refrigerator Soup:

This soup can be made with any variety or combination of vegetables.  I just used what was in my poor, frozen fridge.

Cut up and put into a large stock pot:
  • celery
  • green onion (from the bucket)
  • white turnips
  • carrots
  • mushrooms
  • braising mix (see, I found a use for braising mix!)
  • minced garlic
  • zucchini
I also added:
  • one can of precooked organic chicken breast
  • a generous sprinkle of Penzey's Bicentennial Rub (not intended as a soup spice but it gives the soup an amazing peppery flavor!)
  • salt
  • Penzey's Black and Red (I think I use this in everything)
  • Penzey's Bouquet Garni (which is a tasty mix of various herbs)
  • Garlic Salt
Add one large blob of Earth Balance Buttery Spread and saute the veggies until they begin to soften up- and smell delicious! 

Raw Cut up Veggies

Then, add one 32 ounce box of organic chicken broth and bring to a boil.  After the soup has boiled for a while, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit.  I think mine sat for at least 3 or 4 hours.  When I was almost ready to eat, I cooked half a box of whole wheat "gobbetti" pasta.  Normally I'm not a huge fan of whole wheat pasta, but I've discovered a brand called "bionaturae organic" that is really quite good.  It even fools Bryce, my 4 year old pasta aficionado.  You can buy it at the co-op (for the locals).  I cooked the pasta in a separate pot before adding it to the soup.  Otherwise the pasta soaks up too much of the broth.

Bring it all back to a boil, serve, and enjoy!
 The finished product!

We ate our soup with spicy tuna-salad sandwiches.

Spicy Tuna-Salad Sandwiches:
  • 1 pouch of tuna in water
  • 5 green onions, sliced (from the bucket!)
  • reduced fat mayo with olive oil- enough to moisten the tuna
  • Penzey's Black and Red
  • Garlic Salt
  • Salt
  • Penzey's Spicy Oriental Mustard Powder
Mash all of the ingredients together with a fork.  Serve on hamburger buns (I used buns from the Marquette Bakery- seriously the best hamburger buns ever!).  Top with a slice of sharp cheddar and some buckwheat sprouts (from the bucket).  Mmmmmm.

Spicy Tuna-Salad Sandwich

Bailey Liked the Soup!

Picky-boy Bryce is all smiles- although he opted for a salami and cheese sandwich

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A New Take on an Old Favorite- Tomato-Cream Spaghetti and Sweet Potato Meatballs

A tasty recipe from last night!

Tomato-Cream Spaghetti and Sweet Potato Meatballs

The Sauce- it's less of a recipe and more of a process!

The sauce begins as ordinary cream sauce- Earth Balance Buttery Spread and Wondra flour mixed over low heat into a paste.  Slowly add milk (I used a mix of skim and half and half).  Add salt, pepper, and Penzey's Black and Red to taste.  I also added a splash of white wine.  When the sauce began to thicken, I added sliced fresh Parmesan cheese and some Kraft Grated Parmesan when I ran out of the real stuff.  Then, *sneaky alert* I added about a half cup of pureed cauliflower. 

In the magic bullet I chopped together minced garlic, green and purple onions (from the bucket!), and fresh basil and oregano leaves (also from the bucket!).  Then, I pureed about 6 fresh roma tomatoes, skins and all.  All of the pureed goodness went into the cream sauce, turning it into a tomato cream sauce.  Because I like my sauce a bit chunky, I diced up 4 more romas and added them directly into the sauce to give it some texture.  The sauce simmered for about an hour, then I let it sit covered for another hour before I simmered it again (when adding the meatballs)

Sweet Potato Meatballs
  • 1 pound of grass-fed ground beef
  • panko bread crumbs
  • ground flax seed
  • about a 1/2 cup of pureed sweet potato
  • one egg
  • Penzey's dehydrated onions
  • garlic salt, salt, pepper, Penzey's Italian Herbs, Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle, and Fox Point Seasoning
Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together.  I find that the only way to mix it well is by squishing it my hands- gross but effective!  I rolled the mixture into small (bouncy ball sized) meatballs.  The 1 pound of meat yielded about 40 mini meatballs.

I cooked the meatballs by adding them into a pot of boiling vegetable broth (water with vegetable soup base mixed in).  Add the meatballs, cover, and boil until no longer pink.  When the meatballs were fully cooked, I added them directly into the tomato-cream sauce.

I served the meatballs and sauce over a mix of regular and whole wheat spaghetti noodles.  Yum.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Polarity Management

Polarity management?  What?  Isn't this blog about cooking?  Polarity management sounds about as foreign as braising mix, but a lot more boring.

That's what I thought too.  I've spent the last four days attending education graduate classes at the NMU Summer Institute.  I walked into the cavernous lecture hall at Jamrich Hall early this morning with a steaming cup of green tea in my hand.  This was the first room I sat in as a freshman nearly 12 years ago for Biology 101.  This morning's key note topic- Polarity Management.  Well, that sounded only slightly more interesting than the biology of single celled animals.  I settled in, brainstorming strategies to keep my eyes propped open and appear at least semi interested for the hour and half to come.

The topic of polarity management is anything but boring to this self professed analytical over-thinker.  Polarity management is basically looking at a problem or issue as not as something with  a "right" or "wrong" solution, rather something that needs to be weighed and balanced.  Clear as mud? 

This one is for the parents (and or teachers!)- Discipline Style

Many would agree that a tight disciplinarian is best.  The rules are clear.  The limits are set.  The follow through is consistent.  But, the risk of becoming too tight is that it can result in power struggles, confrontation, winner-loser battles, and rebellion.

On the other hand, some might believe that it's better to be loose and flexible.  The benefit is that you respond to individual needs and circumstances.  You are responsive.  You are creative, adaptable, and caring.  But, too much looseness can create a situation where you're being taken advantage of.  You can become inconsistent in your follow-through.  You can become too emotional and your life can become chaotic.

So, why on earth am a writing about this in a cooking blog?  What is the connection?  Don't worry, I'm getting there.

This information led me to rethink the events from last night.  Basic run down- Bryce was disappointed that we had mac-and-cheese when he was expecting garlic noodles.  This led to a huge meltdown.  The strict side of me was thinking- "This place isn't a restaurant.  Eat what's in front of you.  The adults make the decisions here.  This fussing is not ok at the table.  This kind of behavior means absolutely no dessert"  The loose side of me said, "Poor kid, he's really disappointed.  He's had a long week with no naps. I don't want him to go to bed hungry.  He needs to eat something."  There were two voices on my shoulder- only one wasn't a devil and the other wasn't an angel.  They were just two poles pulling at each other and trying to find that balance.

We ended up allowing him to leave the table without eating.  He took a bath and crawled into his pajamas. I had a calm conversation with him, explaining that home is different than a restaurant.  At restaurants you can look at the menu and make a choice.  At home, whatever mom cooks is what we eat.   He then decided, on his own, that he would give his dinner a try.  After cleaning his plate, he was rewarded with a cookie.  Did he deserve a cookie after that melt-down?  Does a kid deserve another chance to get it right?  I say yes.  I could've "stuck it to him" and said no dessert, or I could allow him to have the cookie and thank him for making a better choice.  Now this can't happen every night.  He needs to learn how to deal with his disappointment in a calmer way.  But the poor kid is not even quite four- for now my polarity tips in favor of second chances and chocolate chip cookies.

What would other moms and dads do?

By the way- we went to the Border Grill tonight, so you only get a recipe of my thoughts!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fresh Bucket, Papa Fishie, Macaroni, and Tears

It's Wednesday!  Wednesday is bucket day.  I love taking inventory on bucket day- it inspires new ideas.  This week's bucket included lettuce and turnips, green and purple onions, broccoli, pea shoots (delicious in salad!), spinach, basil, fresh oregano, and something called "braising mix."  I'm going to have to look up what on earth that is.

Anyhow, tonight's menu sounded great to me- fresh Lake Superior whitefish from Thill's Fish Market (which Bryce has dubbed, "Papa Fishy," homemade macaroni and cheese, steamed broccoli, and salad with a variety of lettuces, radishes, and homemade ranch dressing.  Little did I know the drama it would cause.

Bryce's all time favorite thing is garlic.  Strange for a picky kid, I know, but for him the garlicky-er, the better.  The boy loves garlic hummus, garlic bread, and even fresh sliced bulbs of garlic.  But, his favorite garlic dish is pasta with butter, garlic salt, and Parmesan cheese.  He saw me taking noodles from the pantry, and assumed it was a "garlic noodle" night.  When the macaroni and cheese appeared on his plate instead, a meltdown ensued. As the parent I have the battle in my head- let him eat something else or go to bed hungry? 

Bryce carried on for a good while, and the rest of us had enjoyed our dinner and dessert (Bailey getting dessert without him was the icing on the cake).  But, there is a happy ending to the drama.  After a bath and pajamas, Bryce decided to give the macaroni a try.  Guess what?  He liked it.  Silly boy.

Here are the recipes!

Broiled Dill Whitefish- coat the broiler pan with cooking spray and put on the fish fillets.  Top with:
  • a few pats of butter- fish is one of the few things that calls for real butter!
  • Garlic Salt
  • Penzey's Black and Red
  • Dill (last summer I dehydrated dill from my farm bucket and it's still good!)
  • A few sprigs of fresh oregano
Broil for about 10-15 minutes until the fish is done!  

Macaroni and Cheese
  • Cook the pasta in a separate pot- I used whole wheat chicole, which is like a very large elbow macaroni
  • In another pot, melt a few tablespoons of butter substitute ( I love Earth Balance buttery spread!)
  • stir in Wondra flour until it creates a thick paste
  • add milk, salt, and pepper
  • stir constantly until the sauce begins to thicken, add more milk until the thickness is right
  • add shredded cheddar cheese 
  • add a handful of Penzey's dehydrated onions
  • (secret ingredient) about 1/2 cup of pureed cauliflower
When the sauce is finished, drain the pasta, then mix the pasta and sauce together.  Pour the pasta and sauce blend into a casserole dish.  Pop into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.  During the last five minutes of cooking, remove the casserole lid and top with a sprinkling of shredded cheddar, crumbled feta, and panko bread crumbs.

I've had hits and misses with homemade macaroni.   This was honestly the best one ever!  I think that the cauliflower added a wonderful, mild flavor.  Delicious- even for my most stubborn critic!

Ranch Dressing
  • reduced fat mayonnaise with olive oil
  • approx 1 tablespoon of milk
  • a splash of salad vinegar
  • a generous sprinkle of Penzey's Buttermilk Dip and Dressing
Stir well!

Sneaky Mac and Cheese!
Papa Fishy
(Look dad- I can take pictures of meat, too)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Homemade Popsicles

My kids love popsicles!  I like nutritious snacks!  Here's the compromise:

I put the ingredients one at a time into the Magic Bullet (food processor)
  • 2/3 of a fresh pineapple, chopped
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • small bunch of kale (stems removed) mixed with a few ounces of orange juice to help it liquify
  • a half teaspoon of Penzey's Double Strength Vanilla
Liquify all ingredients and put into a popsicle mold.  I bought a cheapo from the grocery store.  This makes about a dozen popsicles.  Best part?  Even Bryce liked them!  I can't wait to try some other fruits.

 The green color made them a hit!

Loaves and Fishes

Last night I had a bit of an impromptu dinner party- as in I discovered that I was feeding 8 people dinner.  Now,  I love feeding people dinner, but it caught me off guard at 5:30 pm...and I only had 1.1 pounds of chicken thawed on the counter.  Hmmmm...8 people, 1 pound of chicken, about 1 hour, this was going to be  a challenge--and I dig a good food challenge!

Having been out of town all weekend, my cupboard rations were sparse.  But, I knew I had quite a few random veggies in the fridge.  Sounds like a stir fry night!

This was the result, and it was delicious if I do say so myself!:

Prepare first in a glass bowl (I use a 4 cup pyrex measuring cup)
  • 2/3 cup of reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup of rice vinegar
  • spoonful of minced garlic (in the glass jar) with some of the liquid
  • a sprinkle of ginger
  • a squirt of Siracha Chili Sauce (depending on how spicy you like it)
  • a small bunch of sliced green onions
Dice the chicken into bite-sized pieces and put into the sauce to marinade

In a separate large bowl chop up your veggies.  I used everything I had in the fridge, but in stir fry you can use whatever veggies you like or have on hand.  Even frozen veggies work great- like broccoli, cauliflower, and pea pods.  Anyhow, I used:
  • 1/3 of a fresh pineapple cut into chunks
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 1 red pepper
  • green onions
  • fresh mushrooms (sliced)
  • kale (finely chopped)
Drizzle some olive oil into the bottom of a wok and add the chicken.  Do not use all of the sauce yet, just the chicken at this point.  Set the sauce aside.  Cook the chicken until it is no longer pink.

Then, turn down the heat and slowly add in all of the veggies.  Pour the rest of the sauce into the wok and give it all a good stir.  Cover the wok and stir every few minutes.  When the veggies are soft, but not mushy, it is done.  Just make sure that the sauce has been brought to a good boil as it was in contact with raw meat when used as a marinade.

I cooked some whole-grain spaghetti noodles in a separate pot and added them into the stir fry at the last minute.  This allows the noodles to soak up some of the delicious sauce.  Serve over rice (I used a combination of long grain white and brown rice in the rice cooker).  Not bad for 1 pound of chicken.  Heck, we even had leftovers!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Stories of Salad

Ah, so I will talk about salad.  What else can I do with 3 bags of fresh lettuce?  After a weekend of beer drinking and junk food (courtesy of my brother's awesome wedding!), I was craving a real meal but lacked the energy to be too creative.  Cue the frozen ravioli and jarred pasta sauce. 

But, I did make a noteworthy salad!  It was clear that I was using farm fresh lettuce as I had to wash away the dirt and pick out the random blades of grass.  I also sliced up a fresh, crisp radish.  I hated radishes, until I discovered farm fresh radishes.  They add such a wonderful touch of color and crunch.  Yum.  But the point here, since this is a cooking blog, is the salad dressing.  I can't technically claim this recipe as my own.  It's an evolved version of my mom's homemade dressing.  It's super simple, healthy, and I always have the ingredients on hand.

2 parts olive oil
1 part Heinz gourmet salad vinegar
roughly a teaspoon of Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle (from Penzeys) per 1/4 cup of dressing
a dash of Fox Point Seasoning (also Penzeys)
a small squirt of mayo- it keeps the oil and vinegar from separating

I make it in a glass jar with a lid.  Screw on the lid.  Give it a vigorous shake.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Week One

Ok, it's week one and I'm already going to cheat.  My farm bucket this week consisted of the typical June harvest in Marquette.  Lettuce, lettuce, more lettuce, and a few hunks of broccoli, green onions, spinach, and radishes thrown in.  I couldn't entertain anybody with stories of salad, so I used some store bought produce to add to my meal today.

Yesterday, I picked up Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious at a used book store.  If you haven't heard of this book, it's basically a book of recipes that look like normal, kid friendly food, but have various vegetable purees hidden inside.  So, this morning I ran out to Target and splurged on a rice cooker (for steaming the veggies) and a Magic Bullet food processor.  She claims in the book that she can make a week's worth of purees in about an hour.  Maybe that's because she has a nanny and a housekeeper- but I digress.  Anyhow, I spent the afternoon whipping up a huge batch of purees based on the ideas in the book.  I made pureed broccoli (who knew you could puree broccoli?) , cauliflower, butternut squash, spinach, sweet potato, and carrot.  It brought me back to my baby food making days <3

I found a recipe in the book for meatball soup.  Hmmmm.  Bryce loves meatballs, but hates soup.  It was a challenge.  Her recipe didn't seem very adult friendly, though, so I spiced it up and created this dish that I'll call meatball chili.

Saute in pan with a dallop of Earth Balance Buttery Spread (for the chunky adult part of the chili!)
  • sliced green onion (from the bucket!)
  • minced garlic
  • one half of a large zucchini, sliced
  • one half a large red pepper sliced
  • a generous sprinkling of chili powder, garlic salt, and Penzey's black and red seasoning
In the magic bullet, puree (for the sneaky factor)-
  • other half of the red pepper
  • other half of the zucchini
  • 1/2 cup of pureed carrot
  • 5 medium sized roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 can of kidney beans
Then, add the liquid pureed mixture into the sauteed vegetables.  Add one large container of reduced sodium natural chicken broth, one can of chili beans, the other half can of kidney beans (not pureed).  Simmer for a while.  The longer you simmer, the more flavorful it becomes.  I simmered mine for about 2 hours, but if you were in a hurry it would probably be ok in about 30 minutes.

When my base was made, I created the meatballs with:
  • one pound of grass fed ground beef
  • chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • sprinkle of dried sage
  • one egg
  • about a cup of panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup of pureed sweet potato
  • handful of miced, dried onion (Penzeys product)
Roll this mixture into small meatballs (about the size of a bouncy ball). When the soup base is boiling, place the raw meatballs and cover.  Boil for about 15 minutes until the meat is cooked.  Meanwhile in a separate pot, cook about 2 cups of pasta.  I used Ronzoni veggie pasta, but any pasta would work.  When the meatballs are cooked, add the cooked pasta and stir in.  Your meatball chili is ready to enjoy!

It was fantastic with a sprinkling of shredded cheddar and a dallop of sour cream.  On a scale of 1-10, I would give this creation a 8.5.  The only change that I would make would be to make the broth even more spicy and add more salt to the meatballs.  Otherwise, it was incredibly good!!  Bryce ate 2 helpings of meatballs and some noodles.  He still avoided the visible veggies, but didn't realize that the meatballs were laced with sweet potato and onion and the broth that cooked the noodles had a large variety of pureed veggie inside.  Bailey chowed it all down and focused on finding all the beans.

We finished our meal with the brownie recipe from Deceptively Delicious- which included a full cup of pureed veggies- spinach (from the bucket!) and carrots.  Both kids chowed the brownies down with a scoop of Breyers Natural Vanilla ice cream.  I think they're a bit weird, but hey dessert is dessert when you're a kid.  I didn't even mind giving them a second piece of brownie, knowing they were packed with veggies.  You can't even accuse me of being sneaky since Bryce helped make the brownies, even stirring in the spinach with a raised eyebrow.

I hope you enjoy!
                                                                    The Finished Product
                                                           Bryce Eating Soup?  Whoa!
                                                                        He approves!
Making sure there's nothing suspicious in there...
                                                                   Happy, full baby!
                                                                    Going in for more
                                                              Good brownie, mom

Some Things to Know

There are two reasons that I wanted to start this blog.  One is that I invent some pretty awesome recipes- well, not exactly recipes...I'll explain later.  I am terrible about writing things down and my memory is not always the sharpest.  I want to have my ideas recorded somewhere.  The other reason is that often I get great ideas from reading others cooking blogs, so I'm hoping that someone will enjoy my ideas.  There are just a few things to know if you want to cook with me:

Spices- If you don't own spices from Penzeys, stop right now and run, don't walk, to the nearest Penzey's store (or go to their website ( and get to buying.  Their spices are amazing.  Really.  Any time I reference a spice, its going to be a Penzey's product. 

Recipes- As mentioned above, I don't do recipes.  I don't even care for baking too much because I dislike following a recipe.  I don't like building furniture, assembling toys, or reading maps either.  Directions aren't my strong point in life.  When I mention portions in my recipes, it's most likely a rough guess.  I don't even own a teaspoon, hee hee.  I talk in handfuls, sprinkles, and pinches.

Food Quality- I'm particular about the quality of ingredients.  I buy mostly local meat.  Grass fed organic beef.  Organic, free range chicken and eggs.  Commercial meat processing scares me.  I watched FoodInc and I can't go back.  I also buy almost all of my fruits and vegetables organic.  I'm not some crazy, yuppy, trendy, hippie.  Promise I'm not.  I just like the way fresh, organic food tastes.  Period.


Welcome to my new blog- Cooking the Bucket.  This will be my second summer receiving a produce subscription from Seeds and Spores farm.  Every Wednesday afternoon, I pick up my bucket of fresh from the farm, local, organic produce.  It’s like Christmas once a week!  My goal is to use as much as possible and waste nothing.  It’s too good and too expensive to let rot in the fridge!

However, I have quite a few challenges before me:

Challenge One: I don’t always know what the vegetables are and what I am supposed to do with them!  What is a garlic scape really?  What can you do with fresh chard?  What is the best use of a pickling cucumber when you don’t have the first clue about how to make pickles?

Challenge Two:  My kids can be picky eaters!  I have two young children.  Bryce will be four very soon and Bailey just turned two.  Bryce is what I would call a spirited child- strong-willed, persistent, energetic, sensitive, frighteningly intelligent, confident, and very, very particular.  He is a challenge to feed.  He would live on chicken quesadillas, garlic noodles, and chocolate if I let him.  Picky is an understatement.  Nothing green will willingly pass this child’s lips.   His food groups are carbs, sweets, and meat.

Challenge Three: Time.  Time is always a challenge.  As an elementary school teacher I am blessed to have the summer months to be at home with my children.  But trying to be a culinary master with two small helpers isn’t always possible.  I have to sneak in my prepping and cooking between diaper changes, nap times, battles over who had what first, all while trying to keep the rest of my house in some semblance of order.

Ready?  Here I go!