Bad Change, Good Change, No Change at All

September 14, 2010 at 9:07 pm Leave a comment

   “It’s just not the same.” That was the observation of a friend who’d revisited the Minnesota State Fair after having lived in Texas for ten years. “I am exhausted, having spent yesterday afternoon breast-stroking my way through a sea of humanity.” That was my observation to another friend the day after my husband and I participated in that “Great Minnesota Get-Together” following our own long absence from the event. 

I used to love the Fair for its otherwise forbidden deep-fried goodies-on-a-stick, and for the delicious people-watching opportunities and free entertainment. But when you can’t even see past the wall of trudging bodies to note which annual attractions you have just been swept by, and when you can’t even walk side-by-side with your sweetie, but must form a single file human projectile to cut a path through the density, it’s overwhelming enough to drain all the fun out of it. 

I also don’t care much for spending eight bucks for a pork chop on a stick or five dollars for half a sandwich. (It seems that paying a hefty entrance fee at the gate buys you the privilege of paying more hefty fees at every turn, once inside.) “Change” in the form of record-setting attendance figures may have transformed the Fair-going experience, but don’t expect to get any back from that twenty you just handed your thirteen-year-old. 

At least the weather was good for our day’s outing, with enough cloud cover to keep the temperatures in the mid-seventies and the need for a sun-shielding parasol allayed – although it might have come in handy as a defense against those aggressive mommies with their armored strollers. Skinned a few toes in that losing battle. 

Today, however is windy, rainy, and on the cold side; either our thermometer is broken or we’ve taken a 40 degree nose dive from last week’s mid-90s. Writing, reading, or cooking. It’s hard to choose between the three as my pet grey day activity, so I do a little of each. My favorite escape literature is Jan Karon’s Mitford series, and I recently treated myself to her Cookbook and Kitchen Reader – a great gift idea, by the way, for you or someone you like a lot. So here I sit, writing about my reading and cooking adventures of this afternoon. 

Since the cool weather invites us to crank up the oven and leave a large, bubbling pot on a slow simmer all afternoon, my menu for this preview-of-autumn day includes my very own Ham and Crowder Peas with Zucchini and Red Onion; a takeoff on Rick Bayless’ Jicama Salad as a refreshing counterpart; and Iron Skillet Pumpkin Corn Bread – the result of applying a few changes of the positive kind to Puny’s cornbread recipe. You’ll have to explore the Mitford series to get acquainted with the charming character, Puny. 

Meanwhile, try your hand at this cool weather menu and start to like the idea of summer – and over-crowded fairgrounds – being left behind. 

I discovered crowder peas (“What peas?” my husband asks) at my discount grocery, and now I’m hooked. With calcium, iron, and a good dose of fiber, they make a great quick meal combined with garden-fresh zucchini and some nice lean ham cubes. Simply assemble: 

canola oil cooking spray                                    1 small red onion, chopped

2 med zucchini                                                        2 cups cubed lean ham

2-16 oz cans crowder peas                                 ½ tsp Cajun seasoning 

I also discovered Bakers and Chefs Cooking Spray at Sam’s Club a while back – 100% canola oil, with no water or alcohol. If you can find a good quality spray like this, us it to generously coat the bottom of a large nonstick skillet; place the pan over medium low heat, and add the chopped onions (at least ½ cup) to the pan. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally.

Wash but don’t peel the zucchini, then slice it ¼” thick and halve the slices. Add the zucchini to the pan and cook 2-3 minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally. Add the cubed ham, the crowder peas, and the seasoning; mix well, and simmer, covered, for as long as it suits you. I suggest a minimum of 30 minutes, but mine stayed on low for several hours. 

For the crisp, satisfying salad, use: 

1# jicama, peeled                                                1 lge cucumber, peeled

3 seedless oranges, peeled                              6 lge radishes, trimmed/sliced

juice of 1 lime                                                      ½ tsp salt

1 tsp chili powder                                                1/4 C chopped flat leaf parsley 

Thick-slice jicama and cucumbers; cut into largish bite-size pieces and place in a serving bowl. Remove all white pith from the peeled oranges, slice thickly, and cut into bite-size pieces, collecting the orange juices in a bowl.

Add orange pieces to serving bowl along with sliced radishes. Whisk together the lime juice, orange juice, salt, and chili powder and pour over combined fruits and vegetables; sprinkle with parsley. Marinate 20 minutes then serve immediately. 

And for the pumpkin corn bread gather: 

¼ cup canola oil                                                   3 large eggs, beaten

1-1/2 C canned pumpkin                                   1-1/2 C fat-free sour cream

1 C stone ground corn meal                              ½ C white whole wheat flour

2-1/4 tsp baking powder                                    ¾ tsp salt

1 TB sugar 

Preheat oven to 425°. Pour oil into 9” cast iron skillet and heat it in the oven for five minutes. Beat together the eggs, pumpkin, and sour cream. (You can use plain yogurt, in a pinch.) In a separate bowl, whisk together the corn meal, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. 

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry (although I did it backwards, and things turned out just fine) until well combined. Stir the hot oil from the heated skillet into the batter, and then immediately pour the batter into the skillet and place it in the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 375° and bake for 40-45 minutes, checking center of bread with a toothpick after 40 minutes. The pumpkin makes this very moist, so test carefully. Invert baked cornbread onto a plate and serve it warm with either butter and honey (for the reckless) or reduced fat, whipped pumpkin flavored cream cheese. I’ve tried both, and swooned with equal dramatic flourish over each. 

For something sweet, if you still need it, I might lay lightly buttered slabs of banana and fresh pineapple in a heated grill pan to caramelize over medium low while dinner is being consumed. It’s not a Deep Fried Snickers Bar or a S’more on a Stick, but then you won’t have to take an elbow to the eye socket in order to make your way to the dessert platter, either.

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

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