Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Relishing Dinner

Cooking dinner has become a weekly lesson plan as I've noticed how broad my understanding of food has developed. For instance, my understanding of relish had been restricted to the image of a green, pickled condiment in a squeeze bottle. I've never been an enthusiastic fan, although if offered for hot dogs or Western egg sandwiches I'd most likely add a spoonful.

What do you know--relish is not just pickled green stuff. You can make relish out of a variety of vegetables, fruit, and dressings.

Here is a variety of items you may include in relish:

  • white beans
  • red peppers
  • scallions
  • jalapenos 
  • red onion
  • cilantro
  • parsley
  • green olives
  • spinach
  • blue cheese
  • apple
  • honey
  • white wine vinegar
  • lemon juice
  • mayo
  • mustard
I've discovered a great idea for making dips, salsa, relishes or other sides and condiments--a prep party. Everyone should bring an apron and a few items on the list above and the friend with the biggest kitchen block should host it. 

Everyone shares in the chopping, mixing, and most importantly--the sampling. Have mason jars available so that everyone goes home with a souvenir. Of course for a relish Prep Party you should probably prepare a grill so that you have a platform to try your samples. 

Prep Parties are a creative way to get together with friends and usurp the standard cook-out. The guests and hosts get to share in the work and trade secrets and skills, not to mention everyone gets to go home with something more substantial than leftovers: you can take pride in knowing that the pretty product you carry home has been made with love and community--and you got to help!

If you're hosting a Prep Party, you may keep things very casual or provide favors for your guests in addition to what they'll take home. Several ideas that can supplement your party are as follows:

Using chicken sausage instead of pork or beef sausage cuts the calories in half. Sausage is one of the foods higher in calories so making a lower fat choice is what I recommend, especially since I use FitDay and cringe on the days I have burgers or Mexican food. But if you want to indulge, you can switch it up with kielbasa, andouille, chorizo, or bratwurst. This is an easy dinner that only takes about 15 minutes since all the prep is making the relish and all you have to do is cook the sausage.

Remember to take the casings off--I didn't!

I thought that orange and olives sounded a bit off, but this relish was delightful and simple and because of the oranges it's high in vitamin C and antioxidants because of the olives.

I'd like to give away a set of relish from Cottage Lane Relish out of Orange County, NC. In the tradition of the South, the names of Cottage Lane's two offerings of relish are embellished by their names as much as their ingredients: you can experience Southern heat with "Get Me a Switch" or shake in your fishin' boots with "Cape Fear" which is appropriately named since it goes well with seafood.

The only requirement I have for giveaways is that you subscribe to my blog. You can follow these instructions--it's free and it doesn't take a lot of time to do. This giveaway ends September 6th.

My Woman's Day blog is purposed to share my life, educate others, and most of all, build relationship and community. I always pick random subscribers to share gifts, surprises, and conversation and believe that the best way to grow and experience life is to reach out and share who you are and what you've experienced.

I always end my giveaway blogs with some of my best advice: accept invitations to parties and dinners, challenge yourself to try new things and share your interests with others, and keep your commitments to your family, friends, employer, and others. If you do, you will increase your potential in all areas of life, prevent fear from being your motivation, and increase confidence and recognition in others of your value and influence.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Must Have Mustard

There is some argument on the internet, but I think it's safe to assume that the most popular National Mustard Day arrives on the first Saturday in August. The National Mustard Museum, located in Middleton, WI (because we all appreciate a dollop with cheese--am I right?) celebrates the canary condiment with free hot dogs, games, and mustard sampling.

I have used mustard in everything from smashed potatoes to macaroni and cheese.  For my Woman's Day recipes, I have used just about every kind of mustard there is: spicy brown, whole-grain, Dijon. I never knew there were so many levels of flavors and varieties of many condiments before I started my Woman's Day journey but as you can see, I've acquired quite a collection. The satisfaction of buying speciality foods and being able to use them with such versatility is a blessing to the palate and the wallet as well.

Since we are almost out of a few varieties, I thought it would be fun to explore my options as I am certain I will be using mustard going forward for many recipes, not to mention for the traditional hot dog, hamburger, and corn dog (or brown hound as you Yankees say).

Terrapin Ridge Farms covers the spectrum from spicy to sweet. Honey, you are no longer the only touch of sugar in mustard: welcome beet. Beets have been sweetening an assortment of dishes and beverages, including wine, and it's no exception in Terrapin Ridge Farm products as they offer Sweet Beet and Horseradish mustard--which is their most unique offering as far as I'm concerned.

However, their other mustard varieties range from Caesar Dijon (Dijon mustard is defined by white wine) to Wasabi Lime. Adding these specialty mustard blends to dips, marinades, or soup would be creative and delicious and just a few ounces should last for a considerable amount of time.

For the more daring, Miller's Hot and Spicy Mustard is made with banana peppers! Here is another product that started in someone's own kitchen, sharing with family and friends just for fun. I love businesses that start with just plain fun and passion and these jars are way affordable and make great gifts for the pepper lover in your life. If you're a friend of mine reading this you know that's me.

For an exotic flare, you might overlook the honey mustard for Vermont's Epicurean Brand of mustard--Maple Country Mustard. I have always been a sucker for maple products because I love autumn and always reminds me of Yankee Candle Company's Maple Pancake candles. Yes--they smell absolutely amazing.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Crispy Spaghetti and the Infinite Menus

Part of the absolute joy of following Woman's Day besides the comfort of tradition is their pre-planned meals each month. The advantages have impressed several ares of my life and I would really like to share how it has affected me:

1. The menus being printed out ahead of time and organized into sections per week is so efficient and convenient for someone who had ADHD and struggles with organization and time management, not to mention memory.

2. The menus are planned in such a way that one odd ball ingredient goes into several things. For instance, if you buy Hoisin sauce and use a tablespoon for one recipe, you don't scoot it into the door of your refrigerator and then a year later, pull it out and throw it away when you do your annual scrub (or...is that just me?). In buying those vegetables, condiments, and sauces you actually USE them which brings me to my next several points.

3. You learn how to cook naturally. After using the previously mentioned Hoisin sauce for a recipe, I came home one day needing to make something fast. I decided to make stir fry. Because of the practice you get in making meals even just three or four times a week, you learn what works together, the chemistry of food, and the special touches of chef specialties that make meals a delight. That particular evening was the first time I made a meal that tasted like restaurant food. My stir fry was just like going to a Japanese steak house. I was amazed.

4. Because you are using all your groceries, you are saving money. I buy one or two simple items for breakfast and have enough leftovers and groceries to make simple or complex lunches and snacks. You are wasting less, learning new skills and recipes, and gradually making your own versions of recipes and building a repertoire

5. I'm eating healthy. The meals that are scheduled usually consist of lean meats, vegetables, and natural foods. I always try to buy local to make my meals including my produce, meats, and items like honey or nuts. I get to see how many calories are in a serving and I get to constantly acknowledge what a serving actually looks like. We overeat in the United States and I feel better controlling my portions and not wasting food.

I think the menus could be a problem for large families or working moms who don't have much time to cook. There is a lot of discipline and practice in chopping vegetables ahead of time as well as other prep, and don't even get me started on the dishes. I luckily have a helpful partner who does his share if not more of the housework even though we both work.

Also the menus could be an issue for people who are picky eaters. I don't have that problem, thankfully. We do have food allergies in the household and I am just as equally thankful that we have learned how to make gluten free pizza crusts for all the fabulous Woman's Day pizzas and found fantastic wheat-free pasta options.

This particular night I enjoyed yet another unusual concept that I had never tried--fried spaghetti. We were able to pick up a big package of spaghetti at Sam's Club so I just picked up zucchini, parsley, and Parmesan.

I was a little skeptical at first of the possible results--there is no real sauce and it's very simple if you can get the hang of the frying and the flipping (the recipe suggests a lined baking sheet--I suggest a pizza pan with aluminum foil) but the results were a pleasant surprise.

I enjoyed one serving with a salad and local tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and my mom's garden basil.

It's been a journey to get to a place where you routinely cook, set the table, and (EEK!) wash dishes every night but the peace and enjoyment of the fruits are a reward, just like everything else in life.

May everything we accomplish in life produce leftovers that do not disappoint.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ploughing Through

Ploughman's lunches are as English as blood pudding, shepherd's pie, and afternoon tea. A traditional pub meal, the components central to a Ploughman's Platter are crusty bread, cheese, pickles, and chutney. Although images of hunks of bread and hearty slices of meat may invoke thoughts of farmers with their dented pale or pub patrons gathered around their ale, there isn't a lot of evidence to support that Ploughman's Platters date back much further than the mid-twentieth century when the Milk Marketing Board promoted the meal.

Regardless, bread, cheese, meat, and a medley of condiments make for a delectable lunch and an aesthetically delightful combination.

Choosing the presentation for a wine pairing, picnic, or patio party is as diverse as the platter. There are a variety of options to make serving the meal as enjoyable as eating it.

Selecting the board will accentuate where you are, who you're serving, and what you're serving and direct the ambiance of the meal as efficiently as a compass. Having a game night? These boards from BryanBuildsNC are a perfect accent in handmade, checkerboard maple.

There are literally hundreds of cutting boards on Etsy alone--you can purchase cutting boards in shapes, with engraving, or rustic pieces that appear to be fresh from the forest to the table.

Crusty bread is best with a standard cheese or meat if your additional fare is favoring exotic. My favorite condiments for a Ploughman's Platter are chutney, whole grain mustard, and infused olive oil for dipping. If the cheese and meat are the stars of the show, you may be replacing a cheddar or Havarti with brie or goat cheese alongside anchovies or pâté. If that's the case, keep your other fare simple or light by incorporating more fruits and olives or hummus. 

Woman's Day offered a beet salad recipe, which I had never considered but seems like a refreshing and healthy option. You may also consider a variety of textures like crisp radishes or pickled eggs instead of boiled eggs.

Edward Fitzgerald translated "a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou," obviously in celebration of the Ploughman's Platter, for it is now up to you to decide whether you will enjoy a traditional pub beer with your plate or refine your fancy in favor of wine. If this is a business lunch you may forgo the spirits all together for San Pellegrino sparkling water, sweet tea, or ginger ale. 

For my Ploughman's Platter, I found a lovely little tray for only $3.00 are our local department store, Roses. This was really super easy to carry from our apartment to the patio. We found an olive bread from our local bakery and a sofi aware winning plum chutney from Virginia Chutney Co. Then we added an assortment of cheeses from chipotle Gouda, cheedar, goat cheese, and Havarti and paired it with salami and pepperocini.

It was a pleasure to enjoy with a local Cabernet Sauvignon as it complimented nicely with light pepper and currant notes.

The Orchestration of Life

"Sing a new song to Him; play well and joyfully." --Psalm 33:3

On a recent wine tour, we met a very pleasant couple from Florida. He was a conductor; she was a musician. They confided the pleasures and challenges of their employment in an orchestra as they viscerally enjoy the investment very literally heard in their livelihood, yet endeavor to translate their passion to a seemingly disconnected generation.

"They think it's elitist," she almost whispered, as it was unmistakable that classical music had been an intimate benefactor for many years of her life.

And I felt sad. There are traditions and values we are losing to a outlying generation. As we have adopted bulging schedules, technology, convenience, and overall newness, I reflected upon what we will lose in another 25 or 50 years with an aging generation that often feels irrelevant--convicted and unwavering but irrelevant. Willing and compromising, yet increasingly irrelevant.

The contention for me is how to maintain appreciation for tradition and custom while building onto a foundation?

Many orchestras have conceded to playing contemporary music. Others have started to sway their focus more into the community. They are finding ways to break the image, defuse the massive gulf that seems to lie in economy and demographics.

I am observing that resilience is not only a quality, but a value:

1. We must adjust to realize old and new are both worthwhile.

I have discovered that life is not as much like a box of chocolates for me as it is like macaroni and cheese--you can throw in a powder or something fancy but you always boil elbow macaroni and it's probably gonna remind you of something you love.

Kraft macaroni and cheese is bright orange, cheap, and terribly bad for you but I'm probably not alone in that it reminds me of both childhood and my early twenties. Every Thanksgiving I make my Great-Grandma Tinsley's macaroni and cheese and know that it will live on to garnish the table of my own great-grandchildren. I remember how my own Grandma taught me how to make it every time I'm going over the mental check list of the ingredients. There is no other macaroni and cheese like it.

There are new recipes for macaroni and cheese that I have added to my cook book as I have discovered a passion for cooking and baking. If I would have stopped at Kraft, how would I have ceased to enrich my life?

2. We must learn that not all people have shared life experiences.

I was raised to appreciate classical music. It means something significant to me. I understand the passion. I remember many days doing homework and listening to classic soundtracks. It touched upon an experience--new friends in private school, film that touched my life, feelings of peace and tranquility. These are emotions and feelings that we all share. The disconnect that most people have is they will not realize the same emotion in a different vehicle. If we are reaching out to motivate others to understand our cause or art or inspiration, isn't part of the growing process recognizing what we may be missing in our own lack of experience? We should motivate ourselves to invest in the interests of others with an open mind and heart.

3. We must not compromise the message.

As we "sing a new song" in our lives, we must recall the motivation and the execution are center stage. As we play an instrument, knit a blanket, pioneer a new business, write a book, the profit is often how we are doing and not what we are doing. As you consider a task, hobby, career, entertainment venue, what is your incentive? Is there purpose in your choices? Does the investment of time involve a new skill, a new friendship, a perspective that may challenge and stretch your imagination? Does your execution of learning or applying yourself underscore joy, graciousness, perseverance, humility?

I really internalized one of the definitions of the word "symphony" taken from Webster's Dictionary: harmony of sounds.

May the new and the old join together, to be pursued  in a consistent, orderly, and pleasing arrangement.