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.

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…


…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!


(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….



Lent 2013 Challenge Day 11-12: Getting saucy

1:49:25. That, my friends, is the amount of time we devoted to food prep this weekend. Scary? Be not afraid! In the time above, I made two batches of bagels, a double batch of sauce, did the dishes, made and ate breakfast, and did my hair and makeup.

I made the bagels using this recipe, only making them 12 to a batch, rather than 8. My sauce, however, has been perfected recently, and I’m happy to share the results here.

Mrs. Mackerelsnapper’s Tomato Sauce (total prep time: 20 minutes)

2 onions, chopped
2 medium green peppers, chopped
2 T olive oil
1 c red wine
1 T minced garlic
1 tsp each salt, oregano, basil, parsley, and thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 large (48oz? 36? sorry, I forgot!) cans of tomato puree, sauce, or crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves

In a large, heavy skillet, cook onions and greed peppers in olive oil over medium-high heat until tender and just starting to brown. Add wine, garlic, and seasonings to pan and let simmer about 3 minutes. Pour into a slow cooker and stir in tomato. Add bay leaves. Heat on low 4-5 hours (more if you need to be out of the house longer). Remove bay leaves. If you have a stick blender, blend until smooth. Pour into containers and refrigerate until needed.

Or, make bagel pizzas:

Picture courtesy of Nada

A Festival of Firegrilled Flatbread

Here’s another one so easy that I can barely call it a recipe.

  1. Heat up the grill.
  2. Make a batch of quick thin-crust pizza dough (we were very hungry after a day of creek trekking, so I made a batch and a half).
  3. Stretch out dough into 2-4 circles.  Brush with olive oil.  Grill 3-4 minutes/side.
  4. Cut flatbreads into wedges.
  5. Serve with toppings, such as:
  • Shredded cheese
  • Goat cheese crumbles
  • Teeny Tiny Taco Topping
  • Flavored cream cheese
  • Mushrooms in olive oil and thyme
  • Obatzda
  • Hummus
  • Black bean spread
  • Tomato salad, aka chopped tomatoes with olive oil, minced garlic and fresh basil.  I made a batch of this while the dough was resting; my kids dug into it, and then I had to make more while the pizza was on its first side; my kids dug into it, and then I had to make more while the pizza was on its other side; then I put the tomato salad on top of the refrigerator and told the children to go away until dinner was actually served.
  • Whatever bits of vegetable and meatless protein you have on hand.  This is a great way to use up leftovers.


This is so easy, I’m not even sure I can call it a recipe and still respect myself.

Remember thin crust pizza dough?

Remember Teeny Tiny Taco Topping?

Wanna know a really quick meatless Friday dinner that won’t heat up your kitchen?

  1. Have a stash of Teeny Tiny Taco Topping in your fridge.
  2. Mix up a batch of thin crust pizza dough.
  3. Heat your grill as hot as you can get it (we are spoiled brats who have a gas grill–sorry, charcoal folks).
  4. Throw your pizza crust onto your grill and wait five minutes.
  5. Flip the crust over and wait another five minutes.
  6. Bring flame-kissed crust inside and sprinkle it with cheddar cheese while it’s still warm (vegans–skip this step).
  7. Cut crust into squares and top with Teeny Tiny Taco Topping.  So quick, so easy, so not draining the cool out of your kitchen on a ninety-something day.

A Word on Lunches

Some ideas for peanut-free lunches for kids who won’t eat cheese sandwiches:

  • Hazelnut spread sandwiches (only one of ours likes this, alas)
  • Leftovers in a thermos
  • Spaghettios (this is our default Friday lunch for the schoolgoers)
  • Cream cheese with chives, basil, minced garlic, chopped veggies, etc., sky’s the limit
  • Egg salad (schoolgoing kids won’t eat it, but Second Shift and I like it, especially with Ceasar dressing)
  • Mini-bagel pizzas (we got a bulk pack of these from a grocery outlet–yummy, easy and cheap)
  • Portable pizzas: make calzones with the sauce inside
  • Hummus, veggies and crackers
  • Hummus sandwiches (pita or bread)
  • …and, admittedly, that’s all I have. Any suggestions? The major allergy around here is peanuts. The kids won’t eat nut butters (with the exception of the hazelnut spread). Only one eats string cheese. I’m trying to think of more thermos-free lunches that they’ll eat, but First Shift of Kids doesn’t make it easy.


Calzone Catechesis for the Feast of St. Joseph

This is less of a recipe and more of a “how-to,” but feel free to use our recipe for the pizza dough. 

You will need:

1 batch of pizza dough
Shredded pizza cheese
Parmesan cheese (the sprinkle-from-a-can kind.  Yes, it matters.)
A little bit of water
Tomato sauce

Preheat your oven to 425F.  With your kids, divide the dough into eight separate pieces and stretch each piece into a circle.  Say, “This is bread dough, which reminds us that Jesus is the Bread of Life.  But just like we’re forming the dough into circle shapes, St. Joseph, as the foster father of Jesus, had to form Jesus into the good man he was called to be.”

Now ask the kids to think of ways that parents “form” their children:  protect them, teach them prayers, feed them, give them clothes, take care of them when they’re sick… and then discuss how St. Joseph did all of these things for Jesus.  And just like the circles of dough will break if we’re too rough with them, St. Joseph had to be gentle with Jesus.  Then ask your kids, “What are some ways you think St. Joseph was gentle with Jesus?” 

Then say, “One of the things St. Joseph did for Jesus was teach Him how to be a carpenter.  So both St. Joseph and Jesus had wood shavings in their clothes and in their hair.”  Now sprinkle the shredded pizza cheese on the center of each circle.  Then as you sprinkle the centers of the circles with parmesan cheese, say, “They also had sawdust all over the place!” 

Now have the children moisten the edges of each circle with fingers dipped in water.  Say, “Now, we can tell from the Bible that St. Joseph must have died before Jesus began His public ministry.  So Jesus had to take care of His sick daddy and then watch him die, knowing that heaven wasn’t open to him yet, knowing that the Sacrament of Baptism hadn’t been established yet.  How do you think that made Jesus feel?  How do you think Jesus then felt about going to His death on the cross?”

Pierce each calzone with a sharp knife and talk about how much it must have broken Jesus’ heart to see his gentle, earthly father die, knowing He would have to wait to see St. Joseph again.  Then, as you fold each circle in half and pinch the edges together, talk about how St. Joseph would have been wrapped in a shroud just like Jesus was after His death, and both were placed in tombs.  [At this point, put your calzones on a baking sheet and bake at 425F for 20 minutes or until golden brown and they sound hollow when tapped.]  Allow them to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. 

Serve with tomato sauce for dipping.  This next part might gross you out, so feel free to  skip it, but my kids figured it out on their own without any prompting from me.  Anyway, feel free to remind the kids of how the blood of Jesus covers all our sins, even the sins of St. Joseph–who was a holy guy but still an imperfect one.  You can also talk about how St. Joseph is highly revered in Italy, especially Sicily, where his intercession is credited from saving the people from famine. 

Speaking of famine and fasting, traditionally, in our archdiocese, the Lenten fasting rules are suspended for the Feast of St. Joseph in recognition of his special status among the Italian people of our area.  Since we’re holding our Lenten challenge to those standards, we really could have had a meat meal for dinner, but much to my surprise, I didn’t really see the point.  When we first started the PreVII Lenten challenge, I honestly didn’t think we could do it the whole Lent.  How could I feed this picky family without all that meat?  Would we give up by the third week in and run to McDonald’s for burgers and nuggets?  But we’re past the Laetare Sunday midpoint of Lent, and it’s only gotten easier.  I went into this thinking, “Oh, I could never do that,” and here we are, thinking that keeping this up during the rest of the year wouldn’t really be all that hard. 

Some things, you just never know unless you try.

T-minus 5 days: The Lent 2012 Schedule

I’m getting ready to go shopping for my first (well, partial) week of the Lent 2012 Challenge. I’m posting this here for two reasons (that I can think of). One: it’s going to help me get my head together for this wholly unfamiliar way of grocery shopping. For instance, out here in the far eastern branch of the Bible Belt, the week leading up to Ash Wednesday is the week of the THREE DAY MEAT SALE EXTRAVAGANZA!!!!! So I have to reset the brain to turn down that bulk pack of 99cent/pound chicken breasts (ouch!) and instead pick up vital wheat gluten, eggs and so on. Two: What I’m hoping to do is regularly update this post with links to each recipe, so if you want to try this at home, but not on the same schedule, you can just click the link and get the recipe you need.

This “schedule” is by no means written in stone. Expect changes. I’m telling you that as much as I’m telling myself

Also, here’s the thing about Wednesday “Just Desserts.” For those of you just joining us, our family can’t have dinner together on Wednesday nights because First Shift of Kids has choir practice around the time Mr. Mackerelsnapper gets home from work. So we usually eat dinner separately and then share dessert (the “real” most important meal of the day). Much to my surprise, First Shift of Kids really wants to keep to the PreVII rules, to the point that they have volunteered to skip snack time at school. So we put our heads together and came up with “Wednesday Just Desserts.” Each Wednesday, we will still eat our dinners separately, but after choir, instead of eating dessert together, we will work on a family service project focusing on one of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy.

  • Saturday, February 18: Last Hurrah Weekend Challah Donut Breakfast!
  • “Fat” Tuesday, February 21: Bread Machine King Cake Dessert
  • ASH WEDNESDAY, February 22: Seitan Parmesan & Spaghetti
    Wednesday Just Dessert: Feeding the Hungry
  • Thursday, February 23: Eggplant Curry Couscous
  • Friday, February 24: Stromboli bake-n-take (with our Little Flowers Girls Club)
  • Saturday, February 25: Pretzels & Cheese
  • Sunday, February 26: MEATFEAST TBD
  • Monday, February 27: Breadbowl Thing
  • Tuesday, February 28: Falafel & Pita
  • Wednesday, February 29: Good Friday Soup
    Wednesday Just Dessert: Give Drink to the Thirsty
  • Thursday, March 1: Tuna Alfredo
  • Friday, March 2: Shrimp Risotto
  • Saturday, March 3: Potato-Cheese Bake
  • Sunday, March 4: MEATFEAST TBD
  • Monday, March 4: Eggplant Parmesan
  • Tuesday, March 6: Mediterranean Garlic Shrimp
  • Wednesday, March 7: Baja Fish Tacos
    Wednesday Just Dessert: Clothe the Naked
  • Thursday, March 8: Roasted Veggie Penne
  • Friday, March 9: Fisherman’s Catch Slowcooker Chowder
  • Saturday, March 10: Leek & Mushroom Quiche
  • Sunday, March 11: MEATFEAST TBD
  • Monday, March 12: Pancakes
  • Tuesday, March 13: Calzones
  • Wednesday, March 14: Wild Mushroom Soup
    Wednesday Just Dessert: House the Homeless
  • Thursday, March 15: Ratatouille
  • Friday, March 16: Grilled Salmon
  • Saturday, March 17: Feast ofSt.Patrick! McMeatfeast TBD
  • Sunday, March 18: MEATFEAST TBD
  • Monday, March 19: Feast ofSt. Joseph! Meatfeast TBD
  • Tuesday, March 20: Linguine & Clams
  • Wednesday, March 21: Black Tie Taco Beans
    Wednesday Just Dessert: Visit the Sick
  • Thursday, March 22: Pizzas
  • Friday, March 23: Obatzda
  • Saturday, March 24: Omelets
  • Sunday, March 25: MEATFEAST TBD
  • Monday, March 26: Vegetable Lasagna
  • Tuesday, March 27: Crumb Salmon
  • Wednesday, March 28: Alfredo Pizza
    Wednesday Just Dessert: Visit the Imprisoned
  • Thursday, March 29: Shrimp-n-Grits
  • Friday, March 30: Fish’n’chips
  • Saturday, March 31: Seitan Burgers
  • Palm Sunday, April 1: MEATFEAST TBD
  • Monday of Holy Week: Chickpea Rice Pilaf
  • Tuesday of Holy Week: Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup (finally, right?)
  • Wednesday of Holy Week: White Pizza
    Wednesday Jus Dessert: Bury the Dead
  • Holy Thursday: Stuffed Shells
  • Good Friday: Tuna Noodle Casserole
  • Holy Saturday: Popcorn Shrimp
  • EASTER SUNDAY, ALLELUIA!!!! (Ham, ham, and yet more ham)

So… who’s with me? Even for some of it? What’s the point of a meatless Lent, anyway?

“Pizza. The answer is always PIZZA.”

As mentioned in my very first post on lemon balm pesto pizza, I am a spoiled brat when it comes to pizza. I grew up in a town that was very heavily influenced by Italian immigrants, and by “heavily influenced,” I’m not talking early 1900s immigration. I’m saying most of my classmates had an Italian-speaking grandmother who lived in the basement and emerged only to cook, to babysit neglectfully, or to yell at her daughter/son-in-law in Italian. So, my idea of good pizza is unattainably high. The cheese has to be the right blend. The sauce can’t be too peppery, too sweet, or too oregonized. And the crust MUST be the perfect balance of crunchy to chewy, not too yeasty, but not too crackery. If it’s not any of those things… meh. I’ll eat it, but I won’t like it.

Now that I live out where chow-chow is easier to come by than a good pizza, usually we got our pizza dough out of the bread machine, which works fine but produces yet another “meh.” Then one day I did a random search using the term “quick pizza dough instant yeast” (because that’s what we have on hand–sorry yeast-snobs). After a bit of experimenting? JACKPOT. We now have a crust recipe that is crisp yet chewy, sweet but not cloying, and it makes a pizza or four in less time than it takes to have one delivered out here to the cornfields. And the price comparison? I’m tempted to say “fugeddaboutit,” but I’m holding back. Self-respect and all.

Quick Pizza Crust (can be doubled or halved)

1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 c lukewarm water (bathwater-temp)
1 T olive oil
2 1/2-3 c bread flour
1 tsp salt
sauce & toppings to your liking

Preheat oven to 425F. Place sugar and yeast in the bowl of a food processor fitted with dough blade, and pour water over all. Let yeast bloom for five minutes, then add olive oil, 2 1/2c flour and salt. Process until the dough comes together in a smooth ball that rotates around the bowl. Touch the dough; if it’s sticky, add another 1/2 c flour and process until smooth and just slightly tacky to the touch. Remove dough ball from food processor bowl, and let rest 5 minutes. Then stretch dough to fit a greased 12″ pizza pan or large cookie sheet, or divide into smaller balls and stretch to fit smaller pans. If you like a higher crust around the border, “dock” the dough by piercing with a fork at 1″ intervals, leaving a 1″ edge undocked. Now, here’s a little Mackerelsnapper secret on how we like to keep pizza toppings from browning too much: bake the crust UNTOPPED at 425F for 10 minutes. Then remove the parbaked crust from the oven, top as desired, and return to oven for 10 more minutes. Let it cool enough that mouths don’t burn, and nosh away.

If you want to skip the parbaking step but don’t want burnt cheese… freeze your cheese. Seriously! Shred cheese, put it in the freezer, then sprinkle the shreds on top of your pizza before baking. You’ll thank me. And I’ll say “you’re welcome.” One of my favorite, non-classic ways to top this crust is with olive oil, goat cheese crumbles, sliced crimini mushrooms and thyme leaves. So good.

Thursday I asked facebook friends if we should make pizza or McIndian food, and my friend and fellow papist Mary answered with the quote I used for this entry’s title. So this was last night’s dinner:   

Half plain, half mushroom, baked on a stoneware pan

Just mushroom, baked on a round cast iron griddle

Lemon balm pesto alfredo pizza, baked on a “personal” pan, at the request of the oldest two saints-in-training

Anyway, I still haven’t found the perfect sauce or been able to mimic the cheese blend from back home, but what we have is so good that I’m not sure I’ll put too much effort into the rest. In the meantime, I hope you’re still enjoying Christmas. Yes, Christmas. Yes, still.

Tonight: Afredo Veggie Pizza

I’d been musing about all these deep, theological issues I could use to preface my very first recipe posting as Mrs. Mackerelsnapper… but then I realized the cold, harsh reality: if I don’t just get out here & post the recipe, I’ll be trapped in procrastination. So, no fish sticks & tatertots here, no tuna noodle casserole, no grilled cheese & tomato soup. It’s time for….

Alfredo Veggie Pizza

First you’ll need: a pizza crust. I grew up in a town run by the mob.  An unforseen side effect of that is that I’m horribly picky when it comes to pizza crust. So when I find a crust recipe I REALLY like, I’ll share it here. In the meantime, use your favorite crust recipe.  Share it here if you like!  I throw my crust ingredients in the bread machine while the first shift of children is eating breakfast and put it on delay start so it’s ready to use about an hour before dinnertime.

Next you’ll need some pesto. Why? We’re getting to that. We make our own pine nut-free lemon balm pesto, and it is luscious. Take 2 c lemon balm (regular basil works to), washed and patted dry, and whir it in the food processor with 2 t minced garlic (or more–we do), 1/2 t Kosher salt, 2 T lemon juice, and 2 T olive oil. Process until it’s a nice consistency, not too gritty. We usualy make the largest batch of this we can, doubling and taste-testing until we’re happy, then freeze it in ice cube trays. We pop out the cubes, put them in baggies, then use whenever I need something to put on pasta… or in alfredo sauce. So, let’s pretend you have some of that pesto hanging around in your freezer and go from there.

Then you’ll need alfredo sauce. Even my picky, sensory-challenged older two will eat Lemon Pesto Alfredo
–8oz cream cheese
–1/4 c butter
–2 tsp garlic powder
–2c milk
Plop all that into a mini-slow cooker (the size used for warm dips) and walk away for a few hours. If you only have the full-sized kind, just make sure you put it on low or even warm, depending on how soon you can get back to it.  In at least 2 hours, add 1/2 c parmesan cheese, 1 pinch black pepper, % 2 T of your favorite pesto (we pop one of the aforementioned frozen pesto cubes in there). Walk away for another hour or two.

Now it’s time to prep your crust. Stretch it to fit whatever pan you’re using, and par-bake it at 350F for ten minutes. Why? This will keep your toppings from burning while your crust is still raw. Another trick on that in a bit. Remove the par-baked crust and while it cools just enough to handle, heat the oven to 425F.

Now stir 1 package (small square kind) of spinach, thawed and drained, into your alfredo sauce–use another heat-resistant bowl if need be. The lemon balm will disguise the spinach from your kids both visually and taste-wise (but don’t worry–if they ask me if there’s spinach in it, I tell them the truth). Now spread the completed alfredo on your crust out to the edges.

We then top ours with frozen shredded mozzarella (pre-freezing keeps it from getting too brown in the oven), sliced tomatoes, black olives & mushrooms if we have them. Shredded carrots also add some nice color.

Bake at 425F for about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Slice & serve with a salad if the lemon balm, spinach, tomatoes & carrots don’t cut it for you veggie-wise.  Around here, I’m just happy I can get anything green into them, so I admit I don’t push my luck. 

There! Now you are participating in a tradition that is seven days older than the first Good Friday: remembering the sacrifice that God made in the shedding of his own blood for us on a Friday by not eating anything from which the blood first must be drained.  There are others who write more eloquently than I about that subject and the value of fasting or abstaning from foods as opposed to just giving alms out of your food budget.  So, if you’d like more info on that, Google is your friend. 

Next week is a Little Flowers week, which means our meatless Friday will come out of the slow-cooker.  Look for Into the Deep Chowder a week from today!

UPDATE:  Change of plans!  Mr. Mackerelsnapper’s train was disabled, and I had to wait for the school-bound offspring to return home, then drive us all out to pick him up, at which point we were stuck eating sushi and cheese pizza at a grocery store cafe!  However, we did have a party to attend the following day, so I threw the ingredients together Saturday morning and served the beast to both friends and family.  There were only 3-4 squares of a very large pizza remaining by the time we had to leave.  I take that as a good sign.