I thought I didn’t like clam chowder.

It turns out I just don’t like canned clam chowder. We have two Lenten birthdays in the Mackerelsnapper household. No matter what we do, those birthdays will always be in Lent. One year when we were dating, Mr. M’s birthday fell on a Friday, so I invited him over to my apartment to make him dinner. I was just starting my cooking career, and it was so long ago that I couldn’t go to the internet to find recipes, because it was mostly AOL chat rooms and X-Files fanfic and whatnot. Anyway, I went to my trusty Betty Crocker Cookbook to find a dinner that would be easy yet elegant, romantic but not overbearing, and special enough for the agnostic steak-lover but meatless enough for me to eat alongside him.

“What is this?” he asked as I served him his dinner.

“Salmon mousse in puff pastry,” I replied, waiting for him to voice his admiration.

Salmon mousse?”  He bust out laughing. “Are you trying to kill me?”

“Kill you? What are you–? Oh! Oh no!”

::facepalm:: I never made him salmon mousse again.

Anyway, many years later, and this was another year in which his birthday fell on a Friday, only this time around he and all of our brood are Catholic. There are three ways that practicing Catholics may approach a Lenten Friday birthday.

  1. Say, “I’m sure God won’t mind if we celebrate such a special day!” and make steak.
  2. Say, “It’s Lent, and you’ll have another birthday another year. Bread and water for us sinners.”
  3. Say, “It’s Lent, but it is your birthday. Let’s break out something that is meatless but slightly luxurious.”

We went with #3. We made bread bowls directly from this recipe,though we did skip the cornmeal and egg wash bits. We also halved the recipe and shaped them into five bowls instead of four. They held up well to the hollowing-and-filling process. We filled them with clam chowder. We used this recipe as a starting off point but made a few changes, even beyond the leaving out of the bacon slices.

Clam Chowder

2 T olive oil
5 T butter, divided
2 onions, finely diced
1 8oz bottle of clam juice or 1 c clam broth (you can make that by treating clam shells like the vegetable trash in veggie stock)
2 10oz cans of minced clams, drained, juices reserved
4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 c half and half, divided
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 T flour

In a large stock pot, soften onions in olive oil and 2 T butter over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes (you want them translucent but not quite brown). Add bottled clam juice and the juice from one of the cans of clams, then add potatoes and salt. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes or until potatoes are nice and soft.

Meanwhile, pour 1/2 c of half and half into a shaker bottle and add flour and black pepper. Shake until blended and smooth.

Once potatoes are ready, add half and half, clams, remaining clam juice, and remaining butter. Heat over medium, but don’t allow it to boil. Once heated through (butter has melted), add reserved half and half/flour/pepper liquid, and stir over medium heat until thickened, reducing heat as needed to avoid boiling. Serve immediately.

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Adding the black pepper to the thickening flour & cream may just be a quirk of mine. I find that the pepper helps to break up the flour and makes for a smoother thickener, with fewer lumps to be worked out in the final product.

I made clam chowder for the Birthday Honoree, because Mr. M loves clam chowder, but I am not a fan. Or, at least I thought I wasn’t. I am, however, a fan of this stuff for sure. Next time his birthday falls on a Friday, I have even more reason not to think about making salmon mousse.

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Lent 2013 Challenge Day 34: Inaugural Feast

Yesterday was the inauguration of Pope Francis, on the Feast of St. Joseph, which is my husband’s feast day as well. We usually have some sort of meat on St. Joseph’s Day, because traditionally in our diocese, the bishops lift the Lenten restrictions so we, especially our area’s large Italian community, can feast instead of fast. I had a moment of thinking we’d be justified in breaking the rules on this very special day and getting some actual steak. I mean, Pope Francis is from Argentina, the Land of Beef. What better way to celebrate, right? However, given that the man asked his countrypeople to stay home and give the money they would’ve spent on plane tickets to the poor, buying a steak didn’t really fit the spirit of the day.

So, vegetarian recipes from a country of cattle farmers? We made baked cheese empanadas to go with a slow cooker of pasta fagioli.

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Slow Cooker Pasta Fagioli (prep time: 10 minutes; cook time 4-8 hours)

1 small onion, finely diced
3 c chopped kale (I’ve seen recipes calling for swiss chard or baby spinach in place of the kale)
2 t olive oil
1/4 c red wine
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
2 c vegetable stock
1 15oz can cannellini beans, drained
3/4 c small pasta (we used orzo, but ditalini is traditional)
1 generous tablespoon of minced garlic
1 tsp each of dried parsley, orgeano, basil and thyme leaves
1/4 t ground black pepper
2 bay leaves

Sautee onion and kale in olive oil over medium-high heat until onions just start to brown and kale turns bright green. Add red wine to pan, cover and reduce heat to medium-low for 3-5 minutes. Add pan contents plus remaining ingredients to your slow cooker and cook on high 4 hours, low 8 hours. Top with Parmesan cheese, reminding us of the sawdust on the floor of St. Joseph’s carpentry shop.

Baked Cheese Empanadas (time: 20 minutes)

1 package of prepared pie crust, just below room temperature
Parmesan and shredded cheddar cheese

Roll out the crust and cut into triangular quarters. Place about a tablespoon of cheese in the center of each triangle. With a finger dipped in water, trace around the outside of each triangle, then fold in half to seal. Crimp edges with a fork as shown and pierce the top of each empanada with a knife 2-5 times to avoid explosion. Bake at 425F for 12 minutes or until golden brown.

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Many thanks to the older member of First Shift for doing the hand modeling.

Strictly speaking, the empanada recipe breaks the time limit rule as well as the “no processed foods” rule, but it was to educate the kids on Pope Francis’ home country as well as his vow of poverty.

Lent 2013 Challenge Day 33: Curried Rice by the Dashboard Light

Last night’s adventures included a visit to a homeschoolers’ used curriculum sale. It was early enough in the evening that I could not have made it if I had waited until Mr. M’s train returned him home. Thus, we had to pick up Mr. M at a train station along the way and go to the sale as a family. That ended up being a good thing, because the rest of the family found better goodies than I could have done on my own. Had we not been playing by the Lent 2013 Rules, however, we would’ve just picked up something for dinner along the way. That was not an option last night.

Instead I made Chickpea Curry In A Hurry, a nutritious one-dish meal. Erm, one Thermos meal. We packed this up in our Thermoses and threw in a few tall, lidded cups of lemonade. It wasn’t paradise, but it was certainly satisfying.

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So here we go!

Chickpea Curry in a Hurry (prep time: 20 minutes as long as you’ve made your rice ahead of time)

1 15oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 sm onion, finely diced
1 tsp salt, divided
2 T oil, divided
1 1/2 c plain yogurt
1/2 c mayonnaise
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ginger powder
1 1/2 c cauliflower florets, chopped
1 medium yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 c vegetable stock
1 c prepared rice

In a small bowl, toss chickpeas with paprika and black pepper and set aside (this will help the flavors and colors get all melded and pretty).

Sautee onion and 1/2 tsp salt in 1 T oil over medium-high heat until golden brown. Combine browned onion with yogurt, mayonnaise, curry and ginger (again with the melding and the pretty). Set aside.

In the same skillet, sautee seasoned chickpeas, diced pepper and cauliflower over medium-high heat for about 3-5 minutes. Pour remaining 1/2 tsp salt and vegetable stock over all. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover, simmering for 3-5 minutes. Remove lid and stir in yogurt sauce and rice.

Don’t let the long list of ingredients scare you. This is one of the easiest recipes ever. We usually make this with chicken or eggplant, but it’s just as awesome with chickpeas. If yours is another busy family that can’t seem to find a way to avoid picking up fast food on your way to choir practice or soccer games or contortionist class, Thermoses are a really good investment.

 

Lent 2013 Challenge Day 30-31: Kale-o-rama! And I may be turning into a pizza crust.

Not a whole pizza, mind you. Just the crust.

Yesterday our Little Flowers Girls Club, in lieu of having a meeting, celebrated the birthday of one of our original members. I helped out the hosting family by making par-baked pizza crusts. In other words, I made one double-batch of dough cut into sixteen equal pieces, baked for 10 min at 425F then stored in an empty bread bag. When it was party time, we let the kids top their crusts as they like and bake 8-10 min at 425F or until browned to your liking.

While I was with First Shift at said party, Mr. Mackerelsnapper made us a pan of kale with onions and garlic (pretty much the link there but without the sweet potatoes), served with some bread on the side. Because only three of us were eating, as First Shift had been fed at the party, we had about two servings left over. What to do, what to do…

Well, today is Saturday: Lenten Food Prep Day. So far I’ve emptied the stock bag and made a pot of rice, which is an activity that takes more than 20 minutes, thus breaking the Lent 2013 Challenge Rules. All of that work totaled up to about 45 minutes. That still gives me an hour and fifteen minutes. With any luck I’ll make either some bagels or some pita.

With the rest of my time I made ANOTHER double-batch of pizza dough, separated those into a total of four crusts, and par-baked them as above. While those were baking, I used this awesome find from the produce bargain bin…

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…and made another batch of kale with onions and garlic, this time without adding beans. When the pizza crusts were finished their first bake, I set two aside to cool and be frozen for use next week. The other two I topped with last night’s kale leftovers and today’s newly cooked batch. I sprinkled some mozzarella (frozen in bulk, of course) on those and baked them the rest of the way (10 more minutes at 425F). Voila—lunch!

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(Somebody took us out to dinner tonight, so dinner wasn’t our “by the rules” meal for the day.) Vegans:  skip the cheese.  Gluten-free?  Use one of those fancy cauliflower crusts, which, btw, I’ve been meaning to try.  Any reviews?

Two weeks of Lent remain. Usually Easter means ham… but this year, I could really use a big, thick steak….

 

 

Lenten Challenge 2013 Day 23: The “..it Just Got Real” Post

I was wondering when this would happen: when the food would run out, now that we no longer have the budget to stockpile. It happened today. Corn oil and olive oil: all gone. Cous cous: one serving left. Potatoes? Gone. Instant brown rice? Thin pasta that cooks quickly? Fresh vegetables? Gone, gone and gone. Well, we still had enough rice to make a decent dinner… but we didn’t have enough time.

Here’s what we did to stretch out what we have left:

  1. Placed our last three sweet potatoes, scrubbed and pierced, into the slow cooker. As I was making the rest of the dinner, scooped out the insides and let the preschooler mash in some butter and cinnamon sugar.
  2. Found two thin tilapia fillets in the freezer. Took them out to thaw this morning. Sprinkled them with salt, pepper and curry powder, then steamed these in the microwave over one cup of vegetable stock and about half a cup of mead we had in the fridge, waiting for a reason to be gone from this earthly plane. (6 min on high power)
  3. Took the remaining half of a bag of frozen broccoli and the handful of carrot sticks leftover from lunch. Chopped up the carrots and mixed them with the broccoli in a microwave-safe bowl. Took the remaining cup of vegetable stock, poured that into the nearly dead jar of minced garlic. Swished it all around and then poured it all on top of the veggies. Covered and microwaved on high for 8 minutes.
  4. Spread some freezer-burnt bread with butter and garlic powder and pan-toasted it.

Was it luxurious? Was it clever? Was it creative? No. Was it food? Yes. It was also an opportunity to talk to the kids about how many families in our own town have to eat like this all the time, and not by choice: no leftovers, and the grown-ups gave much of their tilapia to the kids.

I was able to get groceries after dinner, so that’s a relief (yay cous cous!), but it was a real eye-opening dinner.

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Lenten Challenge 2013 Day 22: “Mommy’s Fennel Delight”

It’s going to be really hard to write this one down. First of all, tomorrow is grocery shopping day, so I had some leftover stuff to use up; this means that your version of this recipe may will vary. Then there’s the other issue: this was ready in about, well, let’s say 22 minutes, so by the strictest terms, it was a failure under the Lent 2013 Challenge Rules. However, the family had opportunity to eat well before 20 minutes were up. More on that during the recipe itself.

Don’t you love the title, by the way? First Shift picked it.

Mommy’s Fennel Delight (prep time: just over 20 minutes)

1 c pasta shells
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 T each of olive oil and butter
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin (put your fennel tops in your stock bag)
3 carrots, sliced as thin as you can get them (I peel mine because we don’t buy organic; also, save some carrot nubs for the kids to gnaw while you cook)
1 onion, chopped
1 T minced garlic
1 T crushed dried sage leaves (more or less to taste)
Sea salt & black pepper to taste
1 c leftover rice (we had instant brown rice leftover from Vegetable Fried Rice)
Grated Parmesan or bleu cheese crumbles to taste

Heat a large (not stock pot size, but the next size down) pot of water to boiling, add some salt, and boil pasta and potatoes 7-9 minutes or until desired tenderness. Meanwhile, heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add fennel, carrots and onion, stirring frequently. When vegetables are crisp-tender, add garlic, sage and salt, and keep stirring. Add leftover rice. When pasta/potatoes are ready to drain, spoon about 1/2 cup of the pasta/potato water into the skillet; reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Finish draining pasta/potatoes (over a sink this time) and add pasta/potatoes to skillet. Serve immediately. Top with cheeses to your liking.

I’ve only recently started using the pasta water. Growing up, I’d heard that you’re “supposed” to use the pasta/potato water, but for what? A friend lent me a copy of Ginny’s Gems recently, and there was a bit in there about thickening sauces with your pasta water. Oh, so that’s it! Now I know. Knowing is half the battle. What’s the other half? I don’t know.

Gluten-free folks could probably just boil up more potatoes in lieu of any pasta.

Vegans could take a note from Cutting the Cheese, who recommended to me elsewhere to try this recipe here but with cannellini beans. I’m a recent convert to cannellinis, as youse all saw with kale-stuffed sweet potatoes, but I’m inclined to agree that cannellinis would be great in Fennel Delight.

Ahem. Mommy’s Fennel Delight.

 

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Lent 2013 Challenge Day 17: Teeny Tiny Tacos

We just made these, with the addition of a diced cucumber that would not have survived another day of not being eaten.  We splurged for a bag of “scoops” corn chips with which to eat them. The only problem was that Mr. Mackerelsnapper came home late and the children had already eaten his dinner!