LoveFeast Coffee Cake

The ladies of LoveFeast Table, Kristin and Chris Ann, know the importance of creating community around the table.  They also value the notion of giving back and paying it forward.  Last year they launched an initiative to raise $24,000 to provide 100,000 meals for Feed My Starving Children, a non-profit that works to provide nutritious meals to the world’s malnourished children.

No, that’s not a typo.  Do the math.  $24,000 for 100,000 meals.  That’s .24 per meal.

It absolutely boggles my mind to think about how many meals could be funded out of a tank of gas, a month’s worth of morning visits to the coffee shop, or even my weekly grocery budget.

How can you help?  I’m glad you asked.  The ladies of LoveFeast are offering a new coffee cake in their shop and will donate $3.00 from the sale of every LoveFeast Coffee Cake to the project.  Each LoveFeast Coffee Cake sold represents 12 meals for Feed My Starving Children.

So that’s the pitch.  No pressure; no hard sell tactics.  You can find the LoveFeast Coffee Cake here.

Disclaimer:  I have no affiliation with either LFT or Feed My Starving Children.  And I  haven’t sampled the coffee cake so I can’t describe it to you.  But I know how hard Kristin and Chris Ann work to secure quality products and value for the LeaveFeast Table.

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Flashback Friday – In The Bag

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 4/6/09 at Exit 51.

In The Bag

I am one of THOSE people.  You know what I mean, the ones who bring their own bags to the store.  I have a stash of them in my trunk; my favorites would have to be the old Trader Joe’s bags.  They hold an incredible amount of stuff.  And not only is my handmade market bag from B-More Bags great for produce, but it’s also terribly fashionable.  Who said that utility has to be ugly?

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blue avacado's gro-pak

I will admit that I remember when plastic bags became fashionable.  And I was thankful.  I remember lugging in brown bags full of groceries as a kid.  Of course, without those brown bags, my school books would have gone naked.  But I could never carry more than two of them in a single trip.  I think that’s what I hated most, all those trips up and down the steps on grocery day.  So when blue bags took the world by storm, I rejoiced.  I could now load myself up with as many bags as I could carry.  And if I distributed the weight between my forearms and hands just right, I could make it in one trip.  I probably looked ridiculous shuffling up the walk, and getting the front door unlocked was a challenge, but I only made one trip for a week’s worth of supplies.

Then blue bags became the enemy.  Their versatility to hold just about anything and everything couldn’t make up for their environmental impact.  So people started to look for reusable alternatives.  I recall that those brown bags from my childhood were also reused.  As soon as the groceries were unloaded, the bags would be folded and put in the pantry for the next trip.  My grandparents were thrifty like that;  it had nothing to do with the environment.

Thankfully, the awareness of ‘byob’ has increased. When I first started to carry my own bags, people did not quite understand what they were for.  The bags would ride up the belt and the cashier would promptly move them aside and start putting scanned items into their plastic bags.  Or they would try and ring them up as though they were part of my purchase.  Most stores finally get it.  I still get funny looks when I bring my own bags some places – yeah, that would be you Target and Macy’s – but I figure they that eventually will figure it out.

In my mind, all of this begs the question ‘how much is too much’?  How many bags does one person need?  I would say that I have nearly one dozen reusable bags.  They are all different shapes and sizes and some serve specialized purposes.  Like that cute little bag with cubbies for bottles of wine…genius.  But specialty items like that aside, am I obsessed with shopping bags?  Maybe.

Because despite knowing that I do not have a need for another single grocery bag, I am really finding it hard not to order one of these gro-pak kits from blue avacado. I love the all in one system they designed so that everything breaks down for easy storage.  Some even look small enough to fit easily in a purse.  Because  really, nothing is more frustrating than getting to the checkout and realizing that I forgot to bring in a bag.

Now, if only the cashiers would understand that just because the bags are sturdier it doesn’t make them less heavy when they put every single canned good into a single bag.  I will never understand that.  Is there some unwritten rule among cashiers to make the bags as heavy as possible?  So if you happen to be in line behind me at Harris Teeter, don’t be surprised if I ask for some bags to be repacked.  I’m just that kind of a person.

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father of the bride, 2004

Today is your birthday.  Right now I am thinking back to one year ago when I flew down to make you birthday dinner.  I can’t recall what I made, except for the cupcakes…you know the ones I mean…the ones that were devoured in a span of only two or three days.

I remember we stopped off for supper on the way back from the airport.  You ordered your steak to be so charred beyond recognition that it could have been considered a crime against decency.  I suppose you could have said the same about my bleedingly rare cut of beef.  Over your scotch on the rocks and my diet coke we managed to joke about the challenge of finding a birthday card for you.  I never imagined anything as innocent as that could be so awkward…or so funny.

Those visits last year have all kind of melted together in my memory.  But I clearly remember that when I went to leave that weekend, I told you that we should do this again next year.  Despite knowing what I knew, I had a hope that today I would be in your kitchen filling the house with the smells of freshly baked rolls, hearty meat sauce, and, of course, those magic cupcakes.

So today is sad for me because I’m not there and neither are you.

I can’t get used to referring to you in the past tense. Over the last four months I’ve found myself looking for you…looking for signs of you.  Sometimes I find you in the turn of a phrase.  Sometimes you are in the clock on the microwave, or my cell phone, turning off without warning.  And sometimes you are in the smell of freshly ground coffee beans in my kitchen, when there is no coffee to be found.  Thank you for popping up in these “moments” and giving me a fleeting hello.

So today, on your birthday, I will fill my kitchen with the smell of those magical cupcakes.  And maybe, just maybe, there will be a “moment” when you’re there too.

Amber’s Caramel Corn

There is totally a method to the madness here at BAH.  Remember when I told you that you should spend a ridiculous amount of money on a jar of coconut oil?  Ok, I didn’t tell you that you might experience sticker shock when you saw how much the grocery store charges for coconut oil, but I strongly suggested that you go out and get yourself a jar of the stuff.  That was because in addition to being the perfect oil for those delightful Pomme Frites, I knew that we’d be talking popcorn soon thereafter.  And if you’re going to fire up the stove and pop some kernels, as opposed to using an air popper or throwing them into the microwave in a paper bag, coconut oil is going to be your friend.

A mere tablespoon or two (depending on the size of your pot) of the stuff helps to transfer the heat of the stove into the kernel where the internal moisture heats up until the whole thing explodes into a beautiful bite of tender fluffiness.  Although you shouldn’t be cooking your popcorn over super high heat, the coconut oil can take what you throw at it and leave your popped kernels without any residual greasiness.  And don’t worry about your popcorn having a coconutty flavor.  It won’t.  But it will provide you the perfect palate on which to load up some easy caramel sauce for Amber’s Caramel Corn.

Amber’s Caramel Corn

Adapted from Bluebonnets & Brownies

BAH Note: I’ve asked the oracle of google what purpose the baking soda serves in the caramel sauce.  The best explanation I could find is that it is supposed to help the caramel set up soft. My real world data suggests that the caramel coating sets up rather hard and brittle on the popcorn.  Not that it’s a bad thing.  It just isn’t the soft caramel corn that you might get at the beach or county fair.  It’s more like what I remember Cracker Jacks to have been like.  And I won’t lie, it’s a huge pain to scrub out of your pot and bowl.  Be sure to use a nonstick pot to cook up the caramel and fill your work bowl with hot water for a bit before you attempt to scrub it clean.

  • 1/4 cup uncooked popcorn kernels
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Heat the coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the popcorn kernels, cover, and cook until the kernels have popped (for a refresher on cooking popcorn on the stove, please refer to Jenna’s method).  Transfer the popcorn to a bowl large enough to let you stir in the caramel.  You may need to divide the popcorn into multiple bowls.

Line a half sheet pan or a few cookie sheets with aluminum foil.

In a large, nonstick pot or saucepan, heat the sugar, butter, vanilla extract and salt over medium heat, stirring often.  Continue to cook and stir until the sugar melts and the sauce takes on a caramel color.  Be careful not to overcook the sauce or it will burn.

Turn off the heat and add the baking soda to the saucepan.  As you stir in the baking soda, the sauce will bubble up and double in volume.  Be careful here, hot sugar is rocket hot and burns are no fun.

Carefully pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn.  If your popcorn is in more than one bowl, divide the sauce among all the bowls you are using.

Working quickly, and carefully, use a silicone spatula to combine the popcorn and caramel sauce.  Not each piece will be completely coated but there should be some caramel on each popped kernel.  Transfer the coated popcorn to the foil lined sheets and let it cool completely before grabbing handfuls of it and shoving it in your mouth.

Should you find you have leftovers, store it in an airtight container such as a zip top plastic bag with as much of the air removed as possible.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Popcorn

The Universe introduced me to Jenna Satterthwaite, and her blog, about a year ago and I have been hounding the woman for a Food Memory ever since.  My persistence finally paid off when she posted about her long term relationship with popcorn.  A few emails later and I had her permission to go ahead with Food Memories – Popcorn.  I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce y’all to Jenna.  She cooks, she sings in a band, she’s been to Ree’s Ranch (lucky girl), and she has an obsession with putting a camera in the face of cute babies.  You can follow her adventures at Jenna’s Everything Blog.

Jenna’s Popcorn

When I first starting blogging almost a year ago, I was in a frenzy of excitement thinking about all the things I could write about. Funny childhood stories, Photoshop learning experiences, cooking, reviews on books I was reading–topics seemed to stretch to the horizon. “You should write about your popcorn pot,” my husband said. “Yeah!” I agreed, and then proceeded not to write about it ever.

Every so often over the next months, when I was having a case of writer’s block or an uninispired stretch, my husband would exclaim “You should write about popcorn and take a picture showing your bowl versus my bowl!” “Uh huh,” I would agree vacantly. And then I would write about something totally different.

Last week wore me out, and as soon as I had recovered some of my energies over the weekend, I went and spent them on my musical endeavors (how dare she!). So when Monday arrived and I faced my computer, I couldn’t seem to bring myself to write about anything. All of a sudden, I wondered if I had simply run out of things to say. I mean, looking at my recent activity on this here blog, it’s all either about cooking, or James. Seriously folks, I’ve been cruising off the 2 days I spent with Heidi and James for far too long–somehow I’ve squeezed 5 blog posts out of that one event, maybe because I feel like material is running in short supply. Maybe I’ve lost my touch, my brain informed me as I sat in my chair, glassy-eyed.

And then, the voice of my husband came back to me. “Wriiiiite abbooooouuuuut paaaaawwwwwpcwwwoooorrrrrrrn,” said the ghostly apparition. So I will write about popcorn.

I love popcorn. My sisters and I grew up eating it during movies, during long study sessions, and on the couch as we immersed ourselves in a good novel. As soon as we were old enough, we started popping our own on the stove, with a goodly amount of olive oil and melted butter poured over top.

My popcorn habit has never stopped. I pop myself a bowl probably about 4 times per week, always in the evening after dinner. To me, it’s like a night cap. It signals: it’s time to relax. Happiness and rest is at hand. Granted, I have stopped using melted butter and am quite happy with a sprinkling of regular salt instead of the flavored kinds I was briefly addicted to, but still–you don’t want to know the amount of calories involved. You just don’t.

Another thing you should know: I like to have my own popcorn bowl. Correction: I need to have my own popcorn bowl. This is a trait my sisters share as well: we must have our own exclusive popcorn space. Upon my marriage six years ago, I soon realized that when my brand-spanking new husband shared my popcorn during a movie, I had to resist the urge to snatch up the bowl and make a run for it. Yes, I was feeling very possessive about my popcorn. You need to learn to share! I moralized myself. But the Little Train that Could, this time, Couldn’t. So I told my wonderful new husband that if he wanted to share my popcorn, he had to get his own bowl. I had to maintain exclusive rights to my stash. I’d share, but the actual vessels of the snack must remain separate.

I’m working on my issues as we speak, because I have a feeling that any children that come into our lives may not respect these boundaries.

Here is my bowl next to his bowl.

Let’s get a closer look at this rather noteworthy discrepancy in bowl size.

And let’s be honest–sometimes he only goes for a little red ramekin-full.

I have long had a metabolism and occupation that could handle this kind of popcorn. Heck, with the stress and physical activity of my previous job, I probably could have eaten three times as much and burnt it all off in a single encounter with my boss. However, changes have occurred in my work-life that have caused a certain bottom and a certain swively chair to become strongly connected. Bosom-buddies, so to speak. Having hit a small growth spurt since coming to Chicago (read: wider not taller; read; I sit in a chair in an office all day; read: I love food; read: I loathe aerobic exercise) one of the areas I’m placing under careful examination is my popcorn habit.

Resolution #1A: instead of liberally pouring popcorn kernels into the pot, I have started measuring out my allotment. I’m currently down from about 1/2 cup of kernels to 1/3 cup, with views on that very modest 1/4 cup. There has been no change in the size of my girth . . . yet.

Resolution #1B: choose to love the girth? (Resolution Still Under Review)

And on the subject of the popcorn pot . . . well, I can’t hide this monstrosity forever.

No, I don’t wash it more than once per month. Okay, fine! More like once per quarter.

Yes, it came from the same set of pots gifted to us for our wedding many years ago. The other pots still look practically new, but this guy . . . I have aged him beyond repair.

Please accompany me on a short journey of rationalization: I figure if there are germs, I’m just making my immune system stronger. I figure if it’s an ugly pot, I’m just teaching myself to look past the surface of things. I figure if the pot looks about 95 years old, it’s just preparing me for being 95 years old and still loving the way I look. I figure it the grease gets so caked on that it will never come off, well, there’s another reason not to bother washing it.

And that, my friends, is all I have to say.

Jenna’s Popcorn

Adapted from Jenna Sattherthwaite

BAH Note: As I commented on Jenna’s post, my memories of popcorn involve the magic of Jiffy Pop.  I loved watching that foil puff up as the kernels popped. Then with the advent of microwave popcorn, the method of making popcorn got so far removed from anything that resembles cooking that I was grateful for Jenna’s primer on the process.  Here’s what she does:

  • Choose a ‘sturdy’ pot (if the pot is made of very thin metal, the popcorn will tend to burn).
  • Pour in any kind of oil (olive, peanut, canola, etc) until the oil completely covers the bottom of the pot.
  • Pour in popcorn kernels until there is a single layer across the bottom of the pot.
  • Turn the flame on medium high and cover the pot.
  • Shake the pot around a couple times during cooking while the kernels are popping (holding the cover firmly so that the popcorn stays contained!).
  • When there is a 2-3 second interval between kernels popping, pour the popcorn into a bowl.
  • Add salt to taste, and if you want to be truly decadent, melted butter (mmmmm).

Yup, it really is THAT easy.  And if you happen to have bought some coconut oil for those Pomme Frites, I can attest that it works beautifully for popping corn.

{printable recipe}

Flashback Friday – Happy April Food Day

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 4/1/09 at Exit 51.

Happy April Food Day

No, that is not a typo.  I really want to wish everyone a Happy April Food Day.  Because many of us are fortunate enough not to have to be worried about where our next meal will come from.

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However, I can still remember days when grocery shopping was an exercise in creativity.  It would usually happen towards the end of the month.  Always the end of the freaking month.  No matter how many generic substitutions we made, it seemed there was never enough money for everything on the list.  And that was shopping at the sketchy grocery store, the one where there were no brand names and all the canned goods were dented.  This manner of trying to make ends meet has resulted in some dishes being permanently banned from my adult life.  Yes, that’s why BBQ Chicken, Tuna Melts, and Tacos are never served at our house.  Even if you ask nicely, the answer will still be no.

For many, the economic turmoil has turned everyday into the end of the freaking month…there’s not enough food or money to go around.  The safety nets that used to act as the main line of support have been overwhelmed by need and number.  Here in Maryland, 54,013 people lost their jobs in 2008.  Our unemployment rate sits at 6.2% according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.  And we’re a small state.  What happens when places like California, Texas, and New York post 6%, 7%, or even 10% unemployment?

It may not have been ideal that I got to know exactly why government cheese had a bad name.  But at least we had that block of processed cheese food to complain about.  What do you do when even ghetto Velveeta is a luxury? Like missing the forest for the trees, the irony of going from shopping on food stamps to shopping at Whole Foods or Wegman’s is just now coming into focus.

Easy & Elegant Life and Pigtown Design have dubbed April 1st as April Food Day to raise awareness of the need facing our food banks across the country.  If you are able, even a small donation to either your local food bank or Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest), can have an impact.  For what I spend in one average trip to Wegmans, a food bank can provide 450 meals. For real, that is a Happy Food Day.

Please, contribute if you can.  And spread the word so that others may have a  Happy Food Day as well.

Applesauce

I’ve been doing a fair amount of canning since I first dipped my toes into the boiling water bath last year.  I jumped on this bandwagon too late in 2010 to hit apple season.  So there’s been this little voice in my head all year since then reminding me not to miss out on the fresh, local apples.  And then of course, life gets turned upside down, the calendar fills with all sorts of dates and appointments, and before I know it the glorious days of fall apples are coming to an end.  All before I’ve even cooked up a single batch of applesauce.

There would be no pick your own apples for me.  I had missed them by weeks.  Instead, I was left picking through the last of the season’s offerings that were rescued from the orchard before Mother Nature told the apple trees that it was time to rest for a while.

They weren’t the prettiest of apples.  But since my plan of attack included a long, low cook in the crock pot followed by a quick dip in the canner, I didn’t much care what they looked like.  I just wanted to transform those late bloomers into applesauce.

When I’m canning, my stove is a three ring circus.  I’ve got the 16 quart stock pot on one burner.  I’m gently warming lids and rings on another.  A third burner is usually occupied by the dutch oven of hot preserves.  And I cram a fourth pot on the last burner to warm the empty jars.  It is always a struggle to get everything to fit.

When I’m feeling especially savvy, and what it’s not in use, I put the rings and lids in my crock pot, fill it with water, and set it to high in order to free up a burner.  But I never had a way to keep all of my jars warmed and ready to be filled and processed.  The pot that sort of fits the back burner can never keep more than three jars warm at a time.

While I was launching Operation Applesauce, I got to thinking that maybe I could use the Advantium to alleviate the crowding on the stove and keep all of my waiting jars warm.  So I gave it a shot.  I installed the wire shelf and placed the metal tray in the bottom of the unit.  I placed the washed jars upside down on a wire rack set inside a sheet pan and carefully set it on the wire shelf.  Then I scrolled through the Cooking Options menu, selected Warm (Moist), and hoped for the best.

Let me tell you, seeing all my jars lined up inside the Advantium was a thing of beauty.  It kept the empty jars perfectly warm….not so hot that I couldn’t grab them with my bare hand but warm enough to prevent thermal shock in the canner.  And unlike my old way of having a burner going the whole time to warm jars in a small pot of water, I didn’t have to run the Advantium the entire time I was canning.  That thing holds onto some heat.  So I’d run it for twenty or thirty minutes then turn it off until I could tell that the jars were cooling off.  Then I’d put it back onto Warm.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.  Never in a million years would I have thought that I’d find a way to use the Advantium to make my home canning easier. And yet, it was the perfect solution for my need.

Applesauce

Adapted from Sugarcrafter

BAH Note: I fancied my applesauce up with some of that lovely cardamom spiced sugar.  It gave the finished applesauce a depth and sophistication that you just can’t get from the grocery store.

  • 6 pounds apples (pick the ones that you like best)
  • 3/4 cup apple cider
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups sugar (optional)

Peel, core, and roughly chop the apples.  Some I cut into quarters, others I only cut in half.  They’re going to cook down in the crock pot so don’t stress over this step.

Place the apples, cinnamon stick, and cider into the crock pot, cover, and cook on low approximately 8 to 10 hours.  I let mine go overnight.  Use a wooden spoon to smash the softened apples into sauce.  Turn the crock pot to high and cook, uncovered, until the applesauce has thickened to the consistency you want.  Add the lemon juice and any sugar (if using) and stir to combine.  Turn off the crock pot but replace the cover to keep the applesauce warm.

Ladle the jam into heated jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space, and process for 20 minutes.  Let the jars cool for 24 hours before checking the seal and storing the jars. Any jars that have not sealed should be refrigerated or immediately reprocessed using new lids.

{printable recipe}

Disclaimer:  As part of my partnership with GE, I received an Advantium oven.  All opinions posted about my Advantium experience are my own.