Loaves & Dishes
By Jennie Geisler Erie Times-News staff blogger
Follow Jennie Geisler's kitchen adventures on her Loaves & Dishes blog.   Read more about this blog.
 Phone: 814-870-1885
Archive for July, 2011
Posted: July 29th, 2011

This is the skinny runner girl we honored by stuffing ourselves with yummy food today. Here's hoping she tacks on a few miles for me tonight.

I’ve eaten so much today they’re going to have to roll me out of the office. I’m going to have to move the seat back from the steering wheel and I don’t plan to eat again until late Sunday night.
The problem was that our dear friend and coworker Heather Cass is heading off to a new job (sniff), and, as is our normal course of action in observance of just about anything, we had a food day. Everyone brings a dish and we chow from bagels at 8 a.m. until brownies at 5 p.m.
These soirees make the features department very popular with the rest of the newsroom. Even the most taciturn hard news people make their way over to the trough at some point.
It’s always fun to see which pot-luck dish “sells out” first. This time around it was Fiona Branton’s Chicken Wing Dip. The spicy, cheesy chicken dip is a staple on the office party menu, and several of us make it. It’s won the First Sellout title more than once. This time around, Fiona put in blue cheese dressing instead of the regular ranch and it disappeared in record time. I hope Heather got some.
If you’ve never had Chicken Wing Dip, this is a culinary tragedy that should be remedied as quickly as possible. Even non-spicy-food-lovers are known to nod their heads once or twice on their first bite.
There are a thousand ways to make it, but this was the most recent rendition:
FIONA’S CHICKEN WING DIP
1 (8-ounce) brick cream cheese
1/2 cup Frank’s Red Hot
1 (12-ounce) can chunk chicken, shredded with a fork
1/2 cup blue cheese dressing
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1. Combine the cream cheese and Red Hot in a medium saucepan and stir over medium heat until cream cheese is melted.
2. Stir in chicken, heat through, and add blue cheese. When the concoction is good and hot, stir in the cheddar cheese until melted.
3. Some people bake the dip at this point, to bring the flavors together and serve hot, but it’s fine served fresh out of the saucepan or even cold.
Tostitos Scoops make the best dippers.
Heather has been a joy and inspiration to work with, and her conversational writing style has fans all over the city. If you get a chance, check out her new family-oriented blog at www.atouchofcass.wordpress.com.

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 28th, 2011

My MIL likes to sew simple things for all of us. She just gave me a “potato bag,” which is a large cotton pouch designed to help cook potatoes in the microwave. It also works for corn on the cob. I don’t know much about fabric, but I know it has to be natural fiber like cotton, with no polyester, which would melt. The batting has to be cotton as well, she told me.
I tried it last night with corn on the cob and it worked like a charm. It traps the heat and moisture around the vegetable so it cooks faster without the need for a plate and plastic wrap.
I shucked the corn first, and then read the bag directions, which said not to shuck the corn first. But I just wrapped the ears in paper towels, put them in the bag. Two ears cooked in 4 minutes. Way better than boiling a pot of water on a hot summer day.
If you happen to find yourself at a craft fair this summer, you might want to look for one. Mine is really cute. She made it with a light brown and black Southwestern-style print. It’s washable and folds up and fits in my dish towel basket.
Speaking of corn, early local varieties are ready. I bought some in my little Conneaut grocery and it was almost too sweet. Nothing salt and butter spray couldn’t fix.
Check out my Sweet Corn Salsa recipe Wednesday, Aug. 3.
Until then, if you don’t have a potato bag, you can grill the corn in its husks with this great idea.
If you know your way around a sewing machine, you can make a potato bag yourself.

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 27th, 2011

It’s leftovers night at my house. And then clean-the-fridge night. I’m afraid. Very afraid. I always know it’s time because I’m out of plastic containers. Which means they’re all in the back of the fridge harboring God knows what.
I tell you this in the spirit of decluttering my life, which leads to TWO COOKBOOKS THAT I NEED TO GET OFF MY DESK:

“Ultimate Camp Cooking,” by Mike Faverman and Pat Mac (This is my second copy. I gave the other one away a while back.)
“West Point Market Cookbook,” by Russ Vernon of the West Point Market in Akron, Ohio.

If you want one or both, send an e-mail to jennie.geisler@timesnews.com.
Include your name, your address and which book you want. I’ll wait until Monday and then pick a name at random for each title.

If you’re looking for a recipe, this one looks good to me:
ITALIAN BAKED CHICKEN: SERVES 2
3/4 cup fat-free ranch salad dressing
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine salad dressing and garlic; add the chicken. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a small, shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
4. Drain and discard marinade. Roll chicken in crumb mixture. Place in an 8-inch square baking dish, coated with cooking spray. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until chicken juices run clear.
– Healthy Cooking from Taste of Home, July 2011.

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 26th, 2011

My garden, three weeks ago, before it got all messy looking from my digging around for peas, beans, potatoes, garlic, lettuce. Now it's ugly, but much more exciting.

The Mexican Bean Salad I mentioned yesterday is awesome. I brought a tub of it here to try at lunch and I wish I’d brought more. Even though my co-workers are glad I didn’t.
It’s just the right tart, sweet, tangy, spicy. Perfect. No qualms at all. And I don’t say that very often anymore. I almost always pick at the food I make, complaining about this or that, while John rolls his eyes and chows down. This one is a keeper.
It did take me forever, though. I had to clean and blanch the green and wax beans first, which was part of the problem. But I, also, always forget that the word “salad,” to the cook, often means the words “chopping” and “slicing” and “mincing” and “prepping.”
I’m just glad it was worth it.
By the way, I brought in a heaping basket from the garden last night and got dirt everywhere. There were some vegetables in there, too: garlic, potatoes, beans, peas, lettuce.
Note to self: Rinse dirt off at the hose before entering house.
My friend Pat Cuneo said to leave the garlic bulbs out in the sun for three days and then let them dry in the shade for a few weeks before using them, to let the flavor develop. When you first pick garlic, apparently, the flavor is really mild.
I also dug some potatoes. Some were pretty small, so I left the rest in, even though the tops are brown and droopy. They might grow a little more while they’re in. Pat said I could leave them in for a while either way, unless it gets super wet. That’s not going to be a problem in my sandy soil.
Might have to try that Roasted Garlic Potato Salad again soon.

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 25th, 2011

Mexican Bean Salad has my attention. We'll see tonight if it deserves it.

So I turned over the bean bushes this weekend and found roughly 8 billion green and yellow beans waiting patiently for me to get my butt in gear. So I grabbed my picking basket and stood outside bent over for half an hour. Sweat was rolling off my nose in the humidity, and I started wondering why I planted two 15-foot rows of the darned things. I’ll never use them all. I still have some in the freezer from last summer. My latest mission: find good bean salad recipe.
I’m going to test drive this Mexican Bean Salad tonight before making it for an office pot luck Friday. It doesn’t call for green or wax beans, but I’m going to put them in because the whole point of making bean salad is to use them. I have other recipes that do call for green and wax beans, but they aren’t as intriguing.
The thing with bean salad is the dressing, anyway, and this one got five stars and 733 reviews on Allrecipes. That’s a pretty good reason to try it, beans or no beans.
I’ll put them in instead of the cannellini beans.
If it doesn’t work, I’ll just try another one.

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 22nd, 2011

This year, I hope to get my sugar snap peas into the house before I eat them.

I’m probably a month behind the 8 ball on this, but my sugar snap peas are ready, and I’ll be outside tonight, in 90-degree heat picking. I’ve been waiting years for this crop.
When I was little, my family had a vegetable garden every summer, until my brother and I got too cool to help tend it. I have some great memories of it, including the day I sat down and ate all the sugar snap peas right before my mom came out to pick them for dinner. I just plucked them off the plants and ate them warm from the sun. I think she thought it was funny. I don’t really remember that part. Just the eating.
Several years ago, I dug the smallest little garden you’ve ever seen, and put some snap peas in. Got about three of them before they died of neglect. Last year they didn’t do much better. This year, I put them on the edge of the garden fence, so they could climb, and I’ve been watching them like a hawk, waiting for that first, warm, crisp, sweet bite.
I got it last night, and there are tons of them out there. I can’t wait to get home tonight and get them all. I’m hoping to make either Snap Pea and Cucumber Salad, or Tangy Sugar Snap Peas.
At least I’ll try to get some of them inside to cook for dinner. But I’m not promising anything.

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 21st, 2011

It's a good night for a cold vinaigrette. On cold food. Any food. If you can put vinaigrette on it, it's a salad.

It’s just plain too darned hot to cook tonight. Forget it. I’m not doing it. We’re having salad. Here’s the recipe: Something cold, tossed with something colder.
Normally, I hate salad recipes. Meaning the ones based on lettuce. I hate them not because I hate salad. I love salad. I just don’t like making it. I never know what goes with what and getting, prepping and assembling someone else’s salad idea always seems like a whole mess of hassle to put together food that’ll be served cold.
Other people, however, are more than welcome to make salad for me. I had a great one on July 4. Spinach, grilled chicken, walnuts, cranberries, feta cheese and a sweet and tangy dressing that pulled it all together. I filled my plate twice.
Of course, it all comes down to the dressing. Even after you’ve purchased and stored and chopped and tossed, without the right dressing, it’s just a bowl of plant chunks. I like vinaigrette the most. I like the taste of ranch, but it’s too overpowering on greens. I love blue cheese, but it takes a weighty toll on everything but iceberg. French is good and honey mustard will work, but in the end, the best salad dressing is an combination of:
Extra virgin oil and red wine vinegar
A touch of sugar and
Some green stuff, like oregano and thyme
All shook up with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Give it a try and let me know how it goes. I’ll be in the freezer taking a nap.

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 19th, 2011

Hand me a baseball bat and I'll show you how I feel about self checkout lanes.

A few scraps of supermarket news:
First, Wegmans on Peach Street has revamped their prepared foods area, opening up the middle and letting shoppers see everything from beer to sushi at once. I know the old way, I was very confused about what they had and where to go to pay, etc. Now it seems much more logical, neat and appealing. I want to spend more time perusing and it’s less of a hassle to get in and out.
Some stores, none around here, but nationwide are getting rid of their self-checkout aisles.
I hate those things. I’ve never had a smooth transaction, always needed a clerk to help me get out.
One time I was tempted out of a long line at the live person checkout aisle to the self-checkout. I had a lot of stuff, but I thought it would be easier to do it myself than wait 20 minutes in line.
It was the worst shopping experience of my life. It took 45 minutes to get it all done, the bagging area kept getting full, the machine kept yelling at me and locking up and I couldn’t get anyone to come and help me.
Now I want to take a baseball bat to them every time I see them. Progressive Grocer magazine said some stores are getting rid of them, thinking that they waste an opportunity for customers to interact with store employees.
If you ask me, they just plain don’t work.
Maybe I’m just not smart enough to use them. Let me know how you feel.
OK, I’m off my soap box. If all you came for was a recipe, here you go. Locally grown squash are already available. Here’s what looks like a delicious way to use them.
SQUASH CASSEROLE
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup biscuit/baking mix
1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies, undrained
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
4 cups chopped yellow summer squash or zucchini

1. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, oil and biscuit mix. Stir in the
chili peppers, onion, garlic and half the cheese. Stir in squash.
2. Pour into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes;
sprinkle with reserved cheese. Bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is
melted.
Serves 10 3/4-cup servings
Per servings: 274 calories, 21 grams fat. 109 milligrams cholesterol, 359 milligrams sodium, 10 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 9 grams protein
– Good Neighbor Recipes

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 18th, 2011

Sour cherry pie satisfied my curiosity. For now.

Rhonda Schember’s column Wednesday is all about sour cherries. For some reason, I had sour cherries on the brain this summer, and reading Rhonda’s column Friday was the tipping point. I hit Frank’s Farm Market on Sterrettania on my way home. (ran into a dear friend while I was there, bonus) I didn’t know what I was going to do with them, other than make a pie, or how many I’d need, so I bought four quarts.
When I started pitting them Saturday morning (I have a gadget that does 4 at once) I realized I had more than plenty — enough, it turns out, to get sour cherries out of my system.
My kid helped pit them for about 10 minutes, and then I was on my own. That, combined with the hassle of making pie crust turned the project into a several-hour (on and off) job, so it’ll be a while before I do it again. But it was fun. As usual, I used “Joy of Cooking”‘s cherry pie recipe. I had enough to make two, and used the leftover cherries to make jam with the same instant pectin I talked about last week.
The pie was surprisingly tart (but still delicious), and it occurred to me that I might never have had fresh cherry pie before. Weird, but true. If I have, it was a good long time ago. Incidentally, every source in the world says sour cherries make better pie than Bing, cherries, but “Joy” says you can use either one.
FRESH CHERRY PIE
5 cups pitted sour (or Bing) cherries
1 1/4 cups sugar for sour cherries, 3/4 cup for Bing cherries
3 to 3 1/2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional
2 tablespoons butter, diced small
2 9-inch pie crusts

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Combine cherries, sugar tapioca (or cornstarch), water, lemon juice and almond extract (if using). Let stand 15 minutes.
3. Fit one pie crust into the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan and fill with cherry mixture. Top with second pie crust, crimp edges to seal. Cut several vent holes into the top.
4. Bake 30 minutes. Slip a baking sheet under the pie, reduce the oven heat to 350 and baking 25 minutes more, or until the crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling.
5. Let cool completely before serving.
“Joy of Cooking”

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: July 15th, 2011

If you are, also, a food reading geek, you will, also, love this.

It’s kind of pathetic and a little bit embarrassing, but in my free time, when nobody’s looking, I voraciously consume The New Yorker, Harper’s magazine, the Huffington Post and CNN. If I need to escape the planet, I read Robert Frost or Carl Sandburg or some off-the-wall mystical yoga stuff. Sometimes I read topical nonfiction. I recently finished an anthropological tome “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.” Fascinating.
I don’t usually tell people this because I’m afraid they’ll think I’m a snob. In my defense, I should say I also read The Onion, goof around on Facebook and will look for the most recent issue of People when I’m getting my hair done.
But, in truth, my heart yearns for the ivory tower — well, except for the whole masters-degree-seeking cargo-shorts-wearing tree-hugger lifestyle part. I recycle and like yoga, but I’m pretty attached to my day job.
I say all this because I have a book to give away to a kindred spirit. It’s the summer 2011 issue of Lapham's Quarterly, a digest created by former Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham. The issue contains dozens of short writings on the subject of food. That’s the only criteria. The writings can be funny, sad, exotic, interesting or just plain odd. Lapham chose writings from throughout human history, including one essay written in 2200 B.C. and a Los Angeles Times story published this year.
My point is, if this issue (220 pages, $15 cover price) interests you on some level, send me an e-mail with your name, address and keyword “Lapham.” The address is jennie.geisler@timesnews.com. If anyone enters, I’ll choose one fellow geek to send my extra copy to.
But you can’t have mine. You wouldn’t want it. It’s all dogeared.

Posted in: Uncategorized