Summer’s Picks and Pans

July 14, 2011 at 3:20 am Leave a comment

Welcome to another edition of The Curmudgeon’s Corner, as I furrow my brow in distasteful contemplation of yet another beloved American pastime.  Today I’m talkin’ Fourth of July pyrotechnics:  firecrackers; Roman candles; aerial repeaters; Catherine wheels; flying spinners; fountains; ground spinners; parachutes.  Large-scale or small, I just don’t get fireworks.  All that noise and expense, just for the opportunity to “ooh” and “ahh” over a handful of colorful sparks cascading across the sky, and then fading away into disappointing nothingness. 

Of course, huddling in a corner of the bedroom cradling my petrified pooch as she quakes and shivers through 90 minutes of taxpayer-sponsored pre-blast whines and climactic booms does nothing to help me warm to the notion of explosives as entertainment.  Even on an Independence Day hot enough for closed windows and cranked up air conditioning, my little Papillhuahua is one terrified Pupetta by the time the overhead threat subsides. 

And it has been hot here, at least by Midwest standards.  That wasn’t the case in late June of 2009, according to my journal entry from that date:  “Tuesday, extended-family dinner night on another cool, damp ‘summer’ evening.  A simmering pot of old-fashioned beef stew calls for some giant, hot-from-the-oven whole-wheat Parmesan basil biscuits, and the contrast of a cool, crisp bowl of homemade coleslaw on the side.  Egg custard with a dusting of nutmeg provides a creamy, comforting finish to this traditional fare, while it’s kept healthful by the use of reduced fat milk.  Mmmmm,” I wrote back then.  But with temperatures in the mid-90s, I have no plans to let anything bubble for long on my stove-top or to offer up anything “hot from the oven” this first week of July, 2011. 

On Sunday I decide I can put off mowing the lawn not one day longer, in spite of temps hovering just above 100.  I do pretty well with the heat, since I’m well acclimated by daily, year-round outdoor walks, but our challenging landscape produces consternation at every turn-around.  I huff and puff my way up  45° inclines; wrestle the stubborn, bulky Toro over fifty-year-old tree roots; get mired in huge dusty divots marking the sites of trees long since departed.  Then there are curved brick garden borders to navigate and overgrown pine tree branches to dodge, both tempering my patience for the test of maneuvering around several husband-designed aqueduct projects.  

Earlier this summer we made the responsible decision to save $80.00 a month by not employing our neighbor’s eldest son for this task.  It takes me at least an hour and a half to do awkwardly what he would accomplish in less than 60 minutes, and with apparent ease – and I don’t even mess around with trimming the edges.  By the time I reach the finish line, I’m ready to walk across the street and hand him a twenty anyway, in simple awed recognition of his superior abilities in the arena of lawn care. 

Fortunately, I had my reward waiting for me inside a modest little crock pot on the counter of my blessedly air-cooled kitchen.  Just web-search any list of ingredients along with the word “recipe,” I have found,  and you will invariably come up with the inspiration for turning whatever you happen to have in your freezer and vegetable drawer into a delightful, often novel repast.  I happened to have the makings for Slow Cooker Turkey Legs with Vegetables, and had exercised the uncharacteristic foresight to stash half a dozen White Cornmeal and Chopped Corn Muffins in the freezer.  To my further amazement, I also had on hand a box of Instant Brown Rice – perfect for a day when fifty-minute side dishes aren’t an appealing proposition, or even a practical possibility.  

Finish off the meal with a scoop of frozen vanilla yogurt topped with fresh blueberries and sliced peaches, and now I’m in the mood to go “Mmmmm” again. 

I found the idea for this crock pot turkey legs meal at recipetips.com, but customized it with my own usual slimming-down techniques:  jettison unnecessary fats and add extra vegetables and whole grains.  I admit to an initial wariness over the combination of carrots and mushrooms, but that trepidation was completely dispelled with the first bite.  To make my version, gather together: 

2 turkey legs                            salt and pepper

1 huge onion                           1# fresh mushrooms 

8 med carrots                         4 large celery stalks 

3-4 cloves garlic                         dried herbs

1/3 C Merlot                           1/3 C chicken broth 

Remove skin and any other visible yuck from turkey legs, salt and pepper them to taste and place in the bottom of a crock pot.  Coarse-chop onion; slice mushrooms, carrots, and celery to 1/2” thickness.  Mince garlic and add to crock pot along with vegetables and 1 tsp rosemary or tarragon.  Pour broth and wine over meat and vegetables, cover, and cook on high for three hours, low for six-to-eight hours, or, if you are scrambling to catch up as I usually am, on high for two hours followed by low for two-to-three hours.  Serve over brown rice. 

I had gotten too enthusiastic at the sight of the first fresh sweet corn of the season and cooked more than we could eat, so there was a sealed container of corn on the cob in my freezer waiting for me to retrieve it.  I thawed it in the microwave, cut the kernels from the cob, and chopped them with the dry blade of my Vitamix machine.  You could do the same with frozen corn in the bag from the grocery store, certainly, but these chopped corn muffins turned out to be worth the extra effort, either way.  Next time, I think I’ll cut the sugar back to ¼ C, but you know your audience, so use your best judgment on that: 

1 C flour                                  1 C white cornmeal

1/3 C sugar                             1 TB baking powder

1 tsp salt                                  1-1/2 C finely chopped corn

¼ C fat-free sour cream         2 eggs 

Whisk dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.  In a small bowl, beat eggs lightly and stir in corn and sour cream, then pour into bowl with dry ingredients and stir gently until well mixed.  Coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray, spoon in batter, and cook at 400° for 20 minutes. 

These muffins have a great texture and nutty-sweetness to them from the addition of the chopped, cooked corn.  I’ll probably be taping this original recipe inside my kitchen cabinet door, displacing a former favorite tacked up there now.  In fact, bribe me with a couple of these hearty, golden treats – warmed and smeared with a dab of honey butter, served with a tall glass of iced tea – and I might just offer to mow your lawn for you.  

Happy July, everybody.  I’ll be back at you in a month or so.

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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."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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