Marinating in Liturgy

Sometimes I don’t have a recipe. I have an idea of what I want, but I don’t want to go find a recipe that both ticks the boxes of what I want and also meets my requirement of I-have-all-the-ingredients/substitutes. This happens to me a lot when it comes to marinades. I don’t buy bottled mixes (I don’t plan that well and they are expensive) and, as we have discussed previously, I’m not that great at following recipes. So sometimes, I’m making up a marinade.

The beauty of a marinade is that it is basically a chemical formula that can be customized to fit your flavor profile: you need an acid to break down the tough fibers of the meat (eg vinegar, citrus juice), a fat to absorb into the meat and to bind the flavors to the protein (eg oil) and whatever other flavors you wish to incorporate. So = 1 part acid, 2 parts fat, 1 part everything else. And voila! A marinade to make your food yummy! So for an easy Asian marinade, I went with the below combination:

Asian Marinade

For 2-3 pounds of meat

chili-sauce-908355_1920
Ingredients
1/4 c rice vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 c soy sauce
2 c oil
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs ground ginger (fresh minced is even better)
1 tsp red pepper flakes

  1. Whisk together all ingredients and pour over meat. Refrigerate in a non-corrosive container (eg. ziploc bag, stainless steel, glass or ceramic) for at least two hours, overnight is ideal.

To me, growing up with kitchen chemistry is much like having grown up in church. I mean that somewhat literally– my mom is the daughter of a food chemist and my dad is a Presbyterian minister and has been since before he even met my mother. Following God’s call for my father’s ministry, we moved around a number of times, starting from scratch each time. While that process was sometimes challenging, just like beginning to cook without a recipe, I started to learn that we were never truly starting from scratch. God was preparing a congregation to meet us and preparing us to become a part of that new congregation.

Our congregations were fairly similar to one another– midsize family churches with some young families and just as many shut-ins, with traditional, liturgical worship services with remarkable organists and always a Church Martha. And even after I moved out on my own and started choosing my own churches, I chose the same sort of church. In many ways, I am a creature of habit.

What I’ve realized is that whenever I became a part of a new church, I didn’t have to start from scratch in figuring out what I wanted and needed. There is a basic formula which has flexibility in the flavors, but not in the chemical makeup (fat and acid). The flavor of my church was variable (the music, style, chairs vs pews) but the core was not (theology). I have found that the liturgy somehow seems to combine these two in just the right way for me. Continue reading

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Christmas Cookies & Ebenezers

Christmas cookies are quintessential of Christmas, more than any other dish, I would guess. Everyone has their own recipes and beliefs about what makes something a “Christmas” cookie. You will never be able to convince me that a chocolate chip cookie is a Christmas cookie. I don’t care what you say, it isn’t and never will be. But that’s part of how I was raised– Christmas cookies were cookies that you only had at Christmastime and they were special in that way. Many had nuts and lots of spices, not chocolate or peanut butter or even raisins.

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Even though December 25th has passed, today I am sharing with you our family’s recipe for Walnut Crescents, my mother’s answer to her mother’s Mexican Wedding Cookies. My husband earned huge points with Mom when he announced that they were his favorite of my cookies (they are also her favorite and frequently the last to disappear). I’m sharing these particular cookies with you for a specific reason– these cookies are a memorial, a celebration. They became a part of our Christmas tradition in order to remember Christmases past and the mother that made them worth remembering. In a way, they are a lasting ebenezer for our Christmas season.

Walnut CrescentsIMG_0975 (2)

Ingredients

3 3/4 c flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 c margarine
3/4 c light corn syrup
1 Tbs vanilla
2 1/4 c ground walnuts
1 1/2 c powdered sugar

  1. Beat together margarine, corn syrup and vanilla. Stir in flour, cinnamon and walnuts.
  2. Cover and chill for about 3 hours.
  3. By the teaspoonful, shape dough into 2″ long rolls, shaping into crescents and arrange on baking sheet . (These cookies spread very little.)
  4. Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes.
  5. Allow to cool, then roll in powdered sugar.

You probably just read that sentence and got lost. Let me explain.

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Is Dinner Ready Yet?

But really though, is it? When will it be ready? I thought you were supposed to be done by now? When can we eat? It looks good already, can we just eat it now?

Don’t pretend you haven’t heard these questions before. Probably, you’ve even asked them before, perhaps even to yourself about your own cooking! A meal is taking a bit longer than you expected, you’re really hungry and that stew really does look pretty good. Why not just eat it now?

More often than not, we need to practice patience in our lives. Sometimes it is just waiting for dinner to be ready, sometimes it is waiting for results from your new diet plan, sometimes it is waiting for God to answer prayer. Our prayers come in many forms and are never answered in the same way. Almost never are they answered on our timeline or in ways that we understand. Because God’s time is not our own time, we frequently find ourselves asking, “When? Weren’t we already done with this? Isn’t this taken care of already?”

So here’s a stew recipe that asks you to wait, even though it looks like it is ready.

It's even Whole30 compliant!Hatch Green Chili and Pork Stew

Ingredients

2 lbs lean pork, cubed
2 Tbs fat (I use olive oil)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c tapioca starch (you can use flour or cornstarch if not observing a such a diet)
1 can diced tomatoes (14 oz)
6-8 roasted green chilies, chopped*
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 c chicken stock

  1. Heat the fat over medium heat in a small dutch oven or stock pot. Add the pork and lightly brown (don’t worry about it being cooked through, it will cook later).
  2. Once the pork has browned, add the onion and garlic until translucent.
  3. Stir in the starch to coat the pork, so that everything is sticky (this is your thickening agent).
  4. Add the tomatoes (you can drain them if you like, but I prefer them undrained), green chilies, jalapenos, salt and pepper. Incorporate thoroughly and allow to simmer briefly. Then add the stock, bring to a rolling simmer.
  5. Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover and simmer for at least an hour, best at least two hours.

*You can typically get these roasted in-store, but if you live in a place like I do, where they only roast one, maybe two, Saturdays out of the season, I just roast them on my own. This is easy– line a baking sheet with foil, line out the peppers and roast at 400* for 20 minutes. Then turn the peppers and return to the oven for another 20 minutes. Then allow to cool, remove the stem, skin (should be papery) and seeds.

About halfway there, you could easily fall into the trap of ‘isn’t it ready yet?’ It looks right and everything seems cooked. Why wait?

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Spiritual Spoon-Feeding

Thanks to the military, my husband’s schedule is never a sure thing. Aside from long nights and phone calls at 4 am to confirm the paperwork he signed or to call him in to evacuate planes, there’s the constant change in shifts. After nearly a year on the midnight shift (similar to the traditional third shift), he spent about six weeks on days (the traditional first shift) and was recently moved to swing shift (basically second shift) for a few weeks. Once those weeks end, he will be some sporadic days of work and appointments, then some leave and then off to deployment in the desert for four months. Life married to the Air Force, even in our ‘easy’ corner of the world, stateside with minimal danger and longer station assignments, is hardly predictable or consistent.

All that is to say that the last few weeks while he has been on swing shift have been challenging. Our time together is minimal because I’m usually in bed by the time he gets home and he is still asleep when I get up in the morning. We usually have about half an hour together before I go to work. And then he is gone when I get home. It should be no surprise that I highly value the time spent around a dinner table and this schedule makes this impossible. It has put quite the damper on my cooking spirit! When I was single, I still cooked for myself quite a bit, but now that I’ve got someone that I get to cook for, lacking that is such a bummer!

So tonight I insisted on cooking (a bit) and putting together some of my favorite flavors to make:

Barbeque Chicken with Cornmeal Mush

(fancy people call it polenta)Barbeque Chicken with Cornmeal Mush (Polenta)
Ingredients
1 c yellow cornmeal*
3 c beef or chicken broth (water also works)
2 c cooked, shredded chicken**
1/4 c barbeque sauce (recipe below, or your favorite bottled sauce)

Toppings of your choice, such as:
pickle slices
pickled jalapeños
sliced raw onions
cole slaw/raw cabbage

  1. Bring the broth or water to a boil in a shallow saucepan. Once at a boil, whisk in the cornmeal bit by bit, whisking rapidly until smooth. Stir quickly and regularly to avoid clumps. Allow to cook over medium-high heat for at least 10 minutes, up to 30 minutes, depending how thick you’d like it. Add a dollop of butter or margarine, if you like it a bit creamier.
  2. Toss the chicken with the barbeque sauce (below) and spoon over the cornmeal mush. Allow each person to top with pickles, peppers, cole slaw, etc as they prefer their own barbeque. The cornmeal mush is like the cornbread!

Kansas City-style Barbeque Sauce (adapted from Food Network)
Yields 1 quart
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c ketchup
3 Tbs brown sugar
1/4 c molasses
3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs corn starch (+ 3 Tbs water, whisked into a cornstarch slurry)
2 tsp garlic powder
salt
2 tsp liquid smoke

  1. Bring the oil to temperature in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Before it bubbles, add the onions and garlic, cook until transparent.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients except for the cornstarch slurry and liquid smoke. Add a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Add the liquid smoke, then slowly incorporate the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. Allow to cook for a few more minutes, longer if you like it thicker (it will thicken as it cools, as well).
  4. Strain, if desired.

*polenta works, too, but it is effectively the exact same thing, just a little more finely ground and about three or four times more expensive
**I use shredded chicken quarters that I boiled to make chicken stock a few days ago (quarters are pretty much the cheapest cut of chicken and have lots of dark meat flavor!)

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I Just Read the Recipes

I’ve got a number of cookbooks to my name, about a dozen, plus about another dozen cooking magazines (e.g. Quick Cooking, now sadly defunct). Then there’s my recipe box, which grows fuller and fuller. And let’s not even start talking about my Pinterest boards (let’s just pretend I haven’t pinned over 1k recipes…).

But how many of those recipes have I actually made? A very small fraction, truth be told. I love to read the recipes, look at the pictures, admire the methods and fantasize about the produce. And then I put the book away, close the Pinterest window, shut the magazine. And walk away. Maybe I’ll eventually make it. But probably not.

In that spirit, I’m going to share a recipe with you that you probably won’t ever make:

Homemade Ravioli with Brown Butter Asparagus and WalnutsHomemade Ravioli with Brown Butter Asparagus and Walnuts

Ingredients – Ravioli

2 c all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp olive oil

1 c cottage cheese (the poor man’s ricotta– higher fat is better), strained (you want mostly curds, not whey)
1 egg
1/2 c sun-dried tomatoes (I make my own using this method– I also add some Italian seasonings for umph)
salt & pepper
(1/4 c freshly grated parmesean is a really nice addition, but I didn’t have any this time)

Ingredients – Asparagus

1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into ~3″ pieces
4 Tbs butter (do not substitute margarine or oil here– for a brown butter sauce to work, it really does need to be butter)
1 lemon
1/2 c chopped walnuts
handful of chopped parsley (I used dried this time, but fresh really is much better)
pepper

  1. Prepare your pasta dough by mixing together the flour, salt, oil and eggs. This video will help you learn the traditional ‘well’ method. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
  2. While the dough is resting, prepare your filling. Simply mix together the cottage cheese, egg, tomatoes, salt and pepper and optional parmeasan and set aside.
  3. Cut the dough into hunks and roll out into thin sheets. If you’ve got a pasta press, lucky you! I just use a rolling pin and lots of elbow grease!
  4. Once your dough is rolled out nice and thin (if they are too thick, they can end up too bready when you cook them), spoon out rows of scant tablespoons on half of the sheet. Then fold over the sheet to cover the filling lumps and press the dough around the filling to help seal the pockets. Then you can either cut between the ravioli pockets (make sure they are very sealed!) or use a ravioli stamp, like I did.
  5. You can either freeze these ravioli, refrigerate for a few days or go ahead and cook them now.
  6. Bring your water to a boil and melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the asparagus, stir to coat and cook for about 5 minutes.
  7. Once the water is boiling, add the ravioli to the pot (I use a slotted spoon to add and remove them) and cook. They should take 4-5 minutes. I also prefer to do this in multiple batches to avoid overcrowding the pot. They need to be able to move around freely in the boiling water. Once cooked, remove to a serving dish or individual plates.
  8. Remove the asparagus from the saute pan and add to the ravioli. Juice the lemon and add the juice to the butter left in the pan. Stir in the pepper (freshly ground is best– about ten twists), then the walnuts, then the parsley. Toss to coat, then pour over the asparagus and ravioli. Top with grated parmesean and additional parsley, if desired.

So let’s be real. You’re not going to make that tomorrow night. You’re not going to make that Saturday night. You’re going to look at the picture, think about how delicious it must be with the bite of the lemon juice and the nuttiness of the asparagus complemented by the walnuts. But that’s all.

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Rejoice, A New Creation!

This week was a very blessed week for my family as my husband and I became members of the church we have been attending since this summer, which has welcomed us with open arms. But even more important than that, my husband made his faith formal and public by taking the sacrament of baptism! For some, the significance of that moment may be less obvious than to others, but it is terribly significant to Christ. It is an act of acceptance and obedience to Christ’s calling and an act of submission to His plan for your life, “an outward sign of inward grace,” symbolic of the washing away of sins and the death of the old man and birth of the new man (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Lobster BisqueBecause of the significance of the occasion, I treated him to one of his favorite meals (and, coincidentally, the most expensive meal I’ve ever made): Lobster Bisque. He’s lucky I love him 😛

A special meal is one of those ways that I like to celebrate significant moments in life because, particularly when you make it yourself, it actively responds to the importance of the occasion. So, here are the reasons I chose to cook him this meal and why to cook something special at all.

  1. It’s his favorite. It’s not my favorite (although it certainly is delicious), but his favorite, and something he doesn’t ever get at home.
  2. It’s expensive. If not today, on what is one of the most important days of his life, then when? He certainly isn’t going to get it ‘just because’ on a Wednesday night! But more significantly, this event deserves an expensive meal. It is a sacrifice to serve such a luxurious meal and, in the same way as the Israelites of the Old Testament would offer burnt sacrifices for spiritual commitment and renewal, I can give this meal to God as much as to my husband, as a thanks offering to His faithfulness and goodness.
  3. It’s not the easiest. I can acknowledge and celebrate the significance of the occasion by putting in a little more effort than I typically would when putting together dinner.

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Obedience & Following the Recipe

I have a confession to make: I’m not really great at following recipes. I’m trying to think of the last time I cooked from a recipe and actually followed it truly. Honestly it has been, probably, about two years, and as we know, I cook a lot. I also try lots and lots of new recipes. Probably half of the cooking I do is trying out something new. So why don’t I follow directions? Almost always it is because I don’t have all the ingredients the recipe calls for and either those ingredients are too expensive for me to justify purchasing or I simply didn’t have time or desire to go to the grocery store.

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 Some would say the ability to substitute is a gift, a skill, a talent. I would not disagree. After all, this is one of the distinguishing characteristics between someone that ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ cook. I’m thankful for my ability to adjust recipes to what I have in my pantry at any given moment. Take, for example, what I made for dinner last night: Cauliflower and Potato Curry…which I based very, very loosely on a recipe for “Coconut Curried Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas.”

Cauliflower & Potato CurryCauliflower & Potato Curry

Ingredients
1 Tbs vegetable oil (or ghee, if you’re going authentic)
1  yellow onion, slivered
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3-5 dried red chilies, chopped (or red pepper flakes will work, too)
1/2 head of cauliflower, separated into florets
3-4  red potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 Anaheim pepper, chopped (or any kind of fresh, mild pepper, really)
1 (13.5 oz) can of coconut milk
1 (13.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes
Cinnamon, Turmeric, Curry Powder, Cumin, Coriander, Cloves

  1. Heat the oil over med-high heat and, once hot, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Then add the garlic and red pepper (omit if you don’t like spicy) until fragrant.
  2. Throw in the cauliflower, potatoes and fresh pepper and let those cook for a few minutes. On top of the vegetables, add a generous shake of each of the spices. Everything should be yellow from the curry powder and turmeric, and you should be able to smell the cinnamon. (If you are very concrete, go with 2 teaspoons of each and adjust from there.)
  3. Add the tomatoes and coconut milk, stir and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 30-60 minutes. The longer you let it simmer, the deeper the flavor will grow. It’s good to check in on it every 15 minutes or so, give it a stir, make sure it isn’t burning or sticking and test the flavor. After about 30 minutes, you can add more spices to suit your tastes.
  4. Serve over rice and/or with fresh naan.

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