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.

Lent 2014: The Leftovers Lent

No, this year’s challenge is not surviving on leftovers for 40 days (though that would be interesting). I started this blog as a way to get myself back in the discipline of writing on a regular basis: just once a week, I told myself, might get me back in the daily groove. Once a week for God, and maybe that would open up enough of a crack in the door for the writing grace to walk back in and spend a little time with me. The good news is that it worked.

The bad news for this blog is that my fiction career, piddling though it may be, is demanding what spare time I have.

But it’s still Lent. I still have to cook, and we’re still going Pre-VII-style meatless. The blogging of it, however, will be extremely limited. This year will be a “best of” with a few new recipes thrown in. For instance, in the event our mint comes back enough before Easter, I really want to make samosas with mint chutney.

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For tonight, however, we’re pulling out a family favorite: Slow Roasted Potato Leek Soup.

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No, that doesn’t look slow roasted to me, either. I had to hurry things along because the slow cooker was otherwise engaged first thing this morning making a batch of veggie stock. So, if you’re in a rush, you, too, can soften your leeks in butter then soften them some more with the diced potatoes in the recipe’s 2 c veggie stock before adding it to your slow cooker.

We’re serving it with our… Homemade Beer Bread

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3 c flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 T salt
1 T sugar
120z bottle of beer
Optional: 1/4 c butter

Grease two loaf pans. Preheat oven to 400F. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and beer together and divide between loaf pans. Slice butter into pats and place on top. Bake at 400F for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool Caribbean Tilapia

Too hot to use the oven? Ran out of propane and propane accessories for the grill? Break out the microwave-safe dish for a dinner of…

Cool Caribbean Tilapia
(or, as Middle Dumpling likes to call it, “Fishy Colada”)

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3 tilapia fillets
Salt & pepper to taste
1 can coconut milk
1/4 c chopped cilantro, divided
1/4 c lime juice, divided

Salt and pepper fish and place in a microwaveable dish. Pour coconut milk over all. Sprinkle with half of the cilantro and half of the lime juice. Microwave covered on high for 8 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Let rest five minutes before serving. Drain and sprinkle fish with remaining cilantro and lime juice.

Then after family rosary, enjoy one of these:

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Lent 2013 Challenge Day 44: Good Friday Krabby Stuffed Potatoes

Outwardly, this seems luxurious for Good Friday: Seafood? Really? With white wine? When seen in the light of using stuff up in the fridge, though, hopefully the indulgence factor drops. I also based this on a family recipe that called for a can of condensed lobster bisque, but we’re aiming for from-scratch per the rules.

I had wanted to have some deep, meaningful reflections for the most solemn day of our faith year… but between choir practices and making sure Mr. M was equipped to manage a loud, squirmy preschooler through collective hours of Triduum doings… stuffed potatoes with salad it as good as it got. Humility can just show up in the form of a recipe without a reflection.

Wait. Did I just give a reflection in spite of the humility? Sheesh, you can’t even dress me up, much less take me out.

Krabby Stuffed Potatoes (prep time: 3 min + 15 minutes)

5 baking potatoes, scrubbed and baked in the slow cooker on low 6-12 hours
1 T butter
1 T flour
1 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
1/4 c white wine or vegetable stock
1 8oz can PLAIN tomato sauce
1/4 c heavy cream
1/2 c shredded sharp cheese
1/2 lb “krab” pollock seafood flakes

As your potatoes are baking in your slow cooker, melt butter over medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk flour with salt and pepper. Sprinkle seasoned flour over butter, then whisk in wine/stock. Let that reduce over medium-high for about 3 minutes, then whisk in tomato sauce and cream. Once that’s all bubbly, fold in cheese and stir until melted and smooth. Fold in “krab” and heat through.

Cut potatoes open on their individual serving plates, then pour “krabby” stuffing inside.

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Speaking of humility, it tasted way better than this picture looks.

And, folks, there you have it: a meatless, cheapo Lent for 5. I shall post our obligatory “I Learned Something Today” reflection sometime soon. Stay tuned, Mackerelsnapper fans. Erm, all three of you.

OH! Gluten-free friends? Corn starch for the flour should work.

 

Lent Challenge 2013 Day 43: Bread Alone?

Ah, the Lent Challenge.  Boy, that takes me back.  All of four days ago, we were still fasting and so busy with the Triduum that it took me until Easter Monday to finish the blogging of it all. Just as our Jewish older sibs get rid of all the chometz (every single crumb of leaven) in the house heading into Passover, we thought it would be kind of meaningful to use up all the bread in our house in anticipation of Good Friday.

It's a pot! It's an oven! It's...

Slow Cooker, you’re my hero!

Slow Cooker “Quiche” (prep time:  10 minutes)

8 c cubes of leftover breads (I say “breads” because we used everything we could:  naan, pita, rolls, leftover French bread, etc.)
2 broccoli crowns
1 onion
1 c chopped celery
1 c shredded mozzarella
1/2 c parmesan cheese
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c milk (if your “quiche” seems dry, add more milk until it is at least malleable)
1 t salt
1/2 t black pepper

 

Chop broccoli stems in your food processor first, then chop the florets, to make sure they’re all chopped evenly. Then go ahead and chop your onion in there, too.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl until well-mixed.  Spray your slow cooker liner with cooking spray.  Pour in “quiche” and cook on low 4-5 hours.

This makes an ENORMOUS batch.  It can be halved easily, but as this was an experiment, I don’t know how that would affect the cooking time.

Lent 2013 Challenge Day 42: Slowcooker Falafel. Seriously.

We had a perfect cucumber for making tzatziki. Oldest kid is a huge falafel fan. Alas, our 20 minute rule could not possibly permit for falafel… or could it? On a whim, I googled “crock pot falafel,” and God bless Stephanie at Crockpot365. She has a recipe for falafel! That was the feature of our meal last night.

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See how golden brown those falafel got, all without deep frying?  I’m not going to kid us both and tell you they’re better than fried:  they’re not.  Seriously, these were just as good as baked and a million times faster.  All kinds of yum.

However, the meal as a whole is best made in installments. Because of the timing, I’m going to start you off with our…

Tzatziki Cous Cous (prep time: 3 min +5 min + 6 min)

1 1/2 c plain yogurt
1 whole seedless/English cucumber, ends trimmed off
juice of 1 lemon
1 T chopped oregano (we were out, so we used cilantro)
1 T chopped mint
1 T minced garlic (as usual, we used more–shocking)
1 t salt
1 1/2 c vegetable stock or water
1 c whole wheat cous cous
1 t butter or oil

Line a strainer with coffee filters and place yogurt over filters. Place strainer over a bowl and then place the whole contraption in a refrigerator, allowing the yogurt to strain for 4-10 hours. (If you have Greek yogurt, use that without straining, but on our budget, we are using just regular American, non-drinking, spoon-only yogurt).

Shortly before serving, cut your cucumber into thumb-length chunks and chop it in a food processor until finely diced. Add lemon juice, herbs, garlic and salt, and pulse to process. Add strained yogurt (discard whey in the bottom bowl).

Just before serving, boil stock/water and oil (in microwave for 5 minutes should do the trick. Add cous cous, stir, then cover immediately. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir in tzatziki.

Top this lovely dish with Crockpot365’s Falafel. And feta crumbles if you have them.  I whipped our falafel together in less than five minutes, using the food processor. Some day, I’ll make these vegan with ground flaxseed as an egg substitute.

I did make what was supposed to be “suddenly pita,” but due to circumstances beyond my control (a. k. a. needy preschooler), I was not able to fit those into the 20 minute time frame, so they weren’t part of our “official” meal and instead became part of lunch earlier in the day.

Y’all know by now that if you’re looking for prayers and reflections on Holy Thursday, you probably need to look elsewhere on the #catholic tag.

If you’ve gotten this far, please pray for several special intentions for several friends and family members of mine, all going through tough, tough times.

Lent 2013 Challenge Day 41: On the Road Again

Yesterday our homeschool field trip club visited a museum in the city where Mr. M works.  Because of our schedule, we would be eating lunch at the museum, and all five of us would be eating dinner in the inevitable traffic jam on the way home.  Thus, I had to make all three meals for the day before leaving the house in the morning.

Breakfast was the usual:  yogurt or Instant Breakfast (depending on the kid), cereal, fresh fruit.

Lunch was hummus wraps with whole-wheat tortillas (hummus was homemade because it’s cheaper and I’m allergic to tahini; tortillas were store-bought because I can only do so much with my time).  We also brought along small Tupperware snack cups of apple sauce,  the last three juice boxes someone gave us, and a large tumbler of water for myself.

Dinner was spiral noodles and peas in cream cheese mushroom alfredo.  It was mushroom alfredo because, surprise, we were out of evaporated milk; I subbed a can of cream of mushroom soup from our emergency stash.  We gave the Tupperware microwave pasta cooker one.  last.  try. The results were passable, though they were a bit gummy and did take longer than the 9 minutes the recipe promised.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that our dinner was still hot by after 7 hours.  I made sure to preheat the Thermoses with boiling water for five minutes, then I heated a rice bag in the microwave (the kind you use for sore muscles) and placed that between all the Thermoses in a bag in our trunk.  So, the meal itself took fewer than 20 minutes to cook, but I may have gone over with the prepping of Thermoses.  Thermi?  Hm.

Lent 2013 Challenge Day 40: It ain’t over ’til the fat lady makes chili.

“Mrs. Mackerelsnapper, didn’t you know that you’re not supposed to count Sundays in the 40 days of Lent?”

I did, actually.

“Then why are you calling today your 40th Day of Lent when Lent isn’t over yet.”

Oh, my dear reader, read more carefully. It’s the 40th day of the Lent 2013 Challenge. We are counting not days of Lent, but days of budgeting meatless meals for a family of five on $90/week. So, I am perfectly comfortable calling this Day 40. Tomorrow will be Day 41. Etcetera.

I do have a seedless English cucumber in the fridge that I had hoped to turn into tzatziki and make some “suddenly pita” along the lines of the recent delicious Suddenly Naan. However, here is it, Monday of Holy Week and we have had snow all day long. Pita and cold food just wasn’t gonna cut it. We need hot comfort food.

Slowcooker Vegan Chili (prep time: 5 minutes)

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1 15oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 c chopped celery
1 onion, finely diced
1/4 c red wine, beer or vegetable stock
2 T minced garlic
2 tsp chili powder (use something spicier for more kick, but we’re feeding kids here)
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
2 bay leaves

Dump it all in your slow cooker, turn to low, then walk away for at least 4 hours, as many as 10. Remove bay leaves before serving with some of these lovelies:

Microwave Vegan Corn Muffins (prep time: 5 mintues; cook time: 10-12 minutes)

1 T ground flaxseed + 3 T water, whisked together and set aside
2/3 c flour
1/2 c cornmeal
2 T white sugar
1 T baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c rice milk
1 T oil

Mix flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Pour milk and oil into the bowl where you’ve premixed your flaxseed and water. Add wet to dry, stirring just until all ingredients are moistened. Spray a microwave-safe muffin pan (ours is silicone) with cooking spray. Fill each muffin cup half full and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a rack IMMEDIATELY (or else you end up with gummy muffins, speaking from experience). Repeat until all batter is used.

This recipe usually makes about 18 muffins. If you only have one micr0-safe muffin pan, you’ll be wiping the cups clean with a dry cloth and re-spraying them between batches. If you’re anti-cooking spray, I don’t know if rubbing the cups with oil will work. Get back to me if it does?

This usually makes about 18 muffins. What we don’t eat I freeze and use with breakfasts.

 

Lent 2013 Challenge Day 38: Breakfast for Anytime

This really only works with the rules if you have a food processor to do your shredding and chopping.  We chopped a whole onion and shredded three potatoes (skins and all).  We mixed all that together and dumped it into our cast iron pan with a good, generous splash of oil.  Stirring it up occasionally, wait until the potatoes really start to brown, then let them sit and glue themselves together a bit.  With a heavy metal spatula…

… flip the whole thing over, in sections if it breaks up (which it will), and let it all get just as brown and crispy on the other side.

Meanwhile, scramble some eggs (or fry them, but since we’re on a time limit, scrambling is faster).  Serve it all up with some sliced fruit.  Just in under the 20 minute wire, and you get a nice picture of Spinal Tap out of it.  Enjoy!

“Waitaminute, Mrs. Mackerelsnapper, OP,” you say.  “Isn’t using a food processor cheating?”  Perhaps.  But remember that our goal is to save up enough money with our fasting to buy kitchen appliances for our local food cupboard to give to families in need?  “Oh, yes,” you reply.  “That’s right.”  Someone REALLY nice even gave us a sizable donation so that we can donate more than the bare minimum.  In about a week, we’ll go shopping and give you an update on what we were able to scrounge.

Lent 2013 Challenge Day 36-37: Nothing to see here, people.

Really, there isn’t.  Late Thursday afternoon I had all the kids out for haircuts, so Mr. M made pizzas for us using the par-baked crusts spoken of in last weekend’s food prep post.

Last night, I had to use up the rest of that monster bag of bargain kale before it went south, so I made sauteed kale with mushrooms (bought on sale last week, also going south) and garlic.  I deglazed the pan with a bit of white wine, having forgotten to take out a container of vegetable stock to thaw.  Meanwhile I had angel hair cooking in our microwave pasta cooker… and I’m starting to give up on that thing.  I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but all but the first two batches of pasta I’ve made in that thing have been just this side of inedible.  They’re gummy and mushy and gross.  So, we had food last night, and it was all by the book, but it wasn’t very tasty.  Alas.  There wasn’t enough Parmesan cheese in the world to save it.