Sunday, February 26, 2012

Creative Lent: Cook!

Maybe this could be the Lent where instead of giving up food, you resolved to nourish yourself better.  To that end, here are two recipes for main dishes.  They last (likely for several weeks) in the fridge, and they get better with time, and they're very portable, and the recipes are flexible.  Don't have carrots for the soup?  No big deal.  Have cauliflower but not broccoli?  Substitute.  No chips for the casserole?  Use crackers or tortillas or just get it into your mouth with a spoon.

As you nourish yourself, think about all the ways that God nourishes you.

Bean Casserole

I always make a 9 x13 inch size pan because we eat so much of it and it's cheap. You could always do less. And almost all these ingredients keep for a long time, so you can keep them in your pantry, and you're always prepared when you need a quick meal. Makes a great party dip too (in fact, it's a variation of that old 7 layer dip).

Grease the pan (or spray with Pam).

Spread 2 cans of refried beans (make sure they're fat free if you're watching your fat intake--or experiment with different flavors if you want) across the bottom.

You could cook up some hamburger meat and spread layer of hamburger meat--but it's fine without it. I suspect that cooked chicken would also work well. If you use meat of any kind, you could spice it up however your family likes: chili powder and/or cumin are 2 that come to mind. Or go unspicy.

Spread a layer of salsa on top (I use the kind that I get in the deli--it comes in a 16 oz. container, and I think it tastes fresher. You could also use a jar or go to the canned veggies section and get a can of diced tomatoes--the kind with Mexican flavorings might be good).

Spread a layer of grated cheese over top of that (I like cheddar--the Kraft grated 2% cheddar has less fat and melts well--I often mix it with full fat grated cheddar). Use a half cup or 1 cup--or live it up and add more!

Pop the pan in a 350 oven for 15-45 minutes--you want the cheese to be bubbly and melty and the beans to warm through. I can program my oven to come on when I'm not there, and I often have this for dinner on Friday nights--I make the meatless version of the casserole in advance, leave it in the oven, and anticipate it all day long. If I run a tad late, the stuff can handle overcooking.

When the pan comes out of the oven, you could top with sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips for scooping or serve on top of a salad to boost your veggie content.

Eat until you're full. If you make this without the hamburger, the leftovers will keep 1-2 weeks in the fridge.



And because everyone has the kind of day when they just need some good soup, here's one of my favorites. It's a great way to get both veggies and the comfort of melted cheese. I've never met an adult who didn't love this soup.

Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Soup

Take a bunch of broccoli and chop it into pieces that you’ll later put in the blender or food processor. If you want, you can save some florets, steam them, and add them to the soup later—it gives the soup texture. But if time is short, don’t worry about it. Frozen broccoli would likely work just fine.

Put the broccoli pieces in your soup pot and chop up 3-6 potatoes into chunks. Add these to the pot. By now, you should have about half your pot full. You can also add 3-6 carrots (chopped into chunks), for a nice touch.

Add some fresh (chopped into chunks) or dried onion. Here are other spices that are nice: a few cloves of garlic (or garlic salt), basil, and oregano.

Put enough water in the pot to cover the vegetables. Boil until everything is mushy. Whir it all together in a blender or food processor. It will probably take several batches.

Return the soup to the pot. Add 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese. Taste to see if you want more. I usually use half a pound of grated cheese. Heat gently to melt cheese.

If you want thinner soup, add milk (of any fat level: skim to whole) or cream and heat gently.

You can create any kind of variation. Use a different main vegetable, like cauliflower. Use a different cheese. Use Mexican spices (chili powder and/or cumin) instead of the Italian above.

This soup is a variation of the soups that appear in Molly Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook and The Moosewood Cookbook.


Why not experiment with bread this Lent?  Don't let bread scare you.  Like soups and casseroles, bread dough is easy, flexible, and forgives any number of sins.  I like to knead the dough, but I know that kneading scares people, so here's an easy, no-knead bread.

Epiphany/Mardi Gras Bread

2 pkg (5 ½ tsp.) active dry yeast
¼ c. warm water
2/3 c. milk
½ c. sugar
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ c. butter
3 large eggs
4 c. flour (can be part or all whole wheat)
2 c. candied fruit, and/or raisins, and/or nuts

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with a tsp. of sugar. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the milk, butter, salt, and sugar to a boil. Once it’s cooled a bit, add the milk mixture to the yeast mixture, along with the flour, and blend.

Add the 2 cups of candied fruit, nuts, and/or raisins—or leave them out. I’ve used candied ginger with great success, and I really like dried cranberries and pecans. You can use more gourmet items, like citron. Or use the candied fruits that make an appearance during the holiday baking season.

The dough will be very sticky; fortunately, you don’t knead it. Simply let it rise. Grease 2 tube pans or bundt pans.

When the dough has doubled in size, spoon it into the pans. Let it rise again.

If you want to put prizes in the bread, you can do so before you put the bread in the oven. The traditional prize for Mardi Gras is a baby Jesus (if using plastic, stick him into the bread after baking). For Epiphany/Three Kings Bread, some bread bakers include a coin (wrapped in foil) that indicates good luck for the person who finds it. Some put a china baby into the bread. Other customs include a bean, a clove, a twig, a piece of rag. Some traditions have the person who finds the embedded item doing the clean up, some have the person hosting the next party in February at Candlemas.

Bake at 375 for 25-35 minutes. The dough should be golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

The bread is delicious plain, but it’s also good with powdered sugar frosting or glaze. For Mardi Gras, traditionally you’d sprinkle the icing or glaze with sugar colored purple, green, and/or yellow.

Based on a recipe found in Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Holiday Baking Book

As you watch the yeast work its magic, think about all the times that Jesus likened the Kingdom of God to yeast. How is a Christian like yeast?


And sometimes, we just need sweetness.  I know that usually many of us give up sugar for Lent, but if you haven't taken a vow of abstinence, maybe you should go a different direction:  more sweetness, not less.  God wants us to have sweetness in our lives.  Eat a cookie and think about God's bounty, as represented in a cookie! Take a moment to slow down. Take a bite of sweetness and savor it. Think about the other kinds of sweetness that you'd like to see manifest in your life.

 Here's an easy way to make a sugar cookie dough that you can roll into shapes and decorate:

Sugar Cookies
2 sticks butter
1 C. sugar
2 eggs
¼ C. milk
2tsp. baking powder
4 C. flour
2 tsp. vanilla

Cream butter, sugar, eggs. Add milk and dry ingredients. Roll out to ¼ inch thickness on a floured board and cut with cookie cutters. Sprinkle with colored sugar or leave plain to frost when cool (or to enjoy plain). Bake 10 minutes at 375. Easy frosting: moisten powdered sugar with enough milk to make spreadable and tint with food color.

Or maybe you need chocolate.  The recipe below couldn't be simpler:

Revisiting this recipe, I was surprised that it's relatively healthy for a cookie:  high in protein, high in whole grains because I made it with old-fashioned oats, not the quick cooking oats that would have been in the kitchen of my childhood.  The cocoa has anti-oxidant properties that chocolate chips probably don't.

It's easy, quick, and at the end, you've only got one dirty pot.  It satisfies my chocolate craving, and my spouse, who doesn't usually like the chocolate intense recipes that I do, likes it too.

So, in case your Sunday needs sweetness, here's the recipe:

Boiled Cookies

1 stick of butter
2 C. sugar
½ C. milk
4 T. cocoa

Bring the above to a boil and boil 1 ½ minutes. Remove from heat and add the following:

2 ½ C. quick cooking oats (old-fashioned works, but results in chewier cookie; steel cut will not work)
2 tsp. vanilla
½ C. peanut butter
½ C. chopped nuts (will work without this addition)

Beat until well-blended. Drop onto wax paper and let set.

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