Friday, May 31, 2013

Microwave Meal Idea

My lunch today.

It's going on three weeks since I've been without a stove, kitchen sink and dishwasher because of my kitchen remodel and I can honestly say it hasn't been too bad.

With just a microwave and toaster at hand I've discovered that I can still make healthy meals for my family and avoid the top ramen and processed food route. Eating out is also not an option because I want to save money, not spend it - I'm building my kitchen on a tight budget.

Trader Joe's sells pre-cooked brown rice for 1.69 a package and that's been a very helpful ingredient. Microwavable brown rice can also be found at grocery stores.

So here's what I made today, a vegetarian rice bowl with lots of healthy additions like avocado, kale and walnuts. You could also add canned beans and/or precooked chicken sausage for even more protein and heartiness.
A vegetarian brown rice bowl is healthy, satisfying and colorful.

Microwave Vegetarian Brown Rice Bowl
(makes a hearty single serving)
2/3 cup brown rice (buy pre-cooked or microwavable rice)
2/3 cup kale, chopped
2/3 cup collard greens, chopped
1/2 small avacado, diced
4 mini sweet peppers, sliced
6 green olives, sliced
1/8 cup sheep's milk Feta cheese (I like the Valbreso brand)
1/8 cup walnuts
extra virgin olive oil
white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the brown rice in a microwavable bowl in the microwave for 1 minute.  Add the kale and chard on top and microwave for another minute.

Top with the avacado, peppers, olives, feta and walnuts. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and white wine vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Meatloaf And Pork Roast

A plate of meatloaf and rice.
We guessed right that this Wednesday, the last and fifth of the month, would be one of our busiest.

With the holiday weekend, guests weren't able to find food so easily this past Monday when many places were closed. And with it being the end of the month, the 361 guests we served today were extra hungry and as always appreciative.

We served homemade meatloaf made from premium ground beef donated from Phil's Meatmarket and pork roast that we made from pork we purchased at Cash 'n' Carry.

Alongside the meat, we served rice donated from Good Samaritan Hospital that we extended by adding frozen green beans and seasoning. The rice didn't last the whole service so we also served mashed potatoes and pasta.

Salads, soup and dessert were also on the menu.
One of the beautiful salads made by dedicated volunteer Kate.

It was such a busy day that I didn't get a chance to get a photo of the beautiful pork roast after it was cooked. But here's a pre-oven photo. I seasoned the pork with a homemade rub made with chili powder, cumin, oregano, a bit of sugar, salt and pepper.

Seasoned pork roast that's ready for the oven.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wired And Ready For Drywall

The walls of my kitchen are ready for some insulation and drywall now that the electrical boxes are up and strung with wire.

My kitchen was in dire need of more outlets and new circuits. I previously had only one outlet over my counter and the poor thing was seriously overloaded. I could only run one appliance at a time plugged into it or I would blow the fuse. For nearly thirteen years I haven't been able to make toast with the coffeepot on.

There also wasn't enough overhead light so I've added three additonal light boxes. Since the walls are open, now is the the time to dream and do it right. Plus, electrical boxes are cheap - single-gang new work boxes are 76-cents each.

The light boxes cost a whopping $1. 96 each. Granted the 12-gauge and 14-gauge Romex wire isn't cheap due to the rising cost of copper, a 240-foot roll of 14-gauge cost me $42.82, but well worth it.

The drywall is coming soon and that will change everything. Then it's onto the fun decorative stuff like flooring and cabinets.

I'm going to save money (about $10,000) by using Ikea cabinets but I'm going to add touches like Italian mosaic tiling and high end knobs and pulls that hopefully will keep the space from screaming - I'm an Ikea kitchen! At least that's my hope.

Friday, May 24, 2013

More Discoveries

The walls, ceiling and floor are gone from my kitchen and the rebuilding is about to begin.

Gutting the kitchen filled a 20 yard dumpster with 6380 pounds of wood and plaster. Next up is electrical work, insulating the exterior walls and drywall.

While removing the plaster from the ceiling I made a few more discoveries. 

A Scholastic Composition Book From 1934:

Because the book was buried in the ceiling and not exposed to light, it's in pretty great condition.

Beautiful penmanship.

A One Pound Van Duyn's Confection Box:

I couldn't find a date on the box but VanDuyn is a Portland Company that was started in 1927 and is still in business today. When I mentioned to my friend Anne what I had found she said she's had Van Duyn chocolate and it is very good.

All the papers from the candy were still in the box.

A vintage crumb.

Clothes Hanger From Allyn's:

A hanger from Allyn's. I couldn't find any history of the business online but I know it's old because of the phone number - EAST 0123.

Bowerman Meat Company Business Card:

Once again I couldn't find anything about this business online. I'm going to have to ask around.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Another Rainy Day

The pretty green salads we offered today. I love being able to serve fresh produce to our guests.

For the second Wednesday in a row, it was rainy and cold in Portland. Fortunately the dining room at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral was available for use and we were able to go back to serving the Wednesday Community Meal inside and the guests appreciated it and commented on how nice was to get warm.

When the weather is bad guests tend to come early and stay longer so the dining room was constantly busy.

We served 318 meals today during our two hour service and had to change our menu three times.

The first group of guests got oven roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and sauteed greens. Then it was onto pork roast and rice and finally sweet and sour chicken and shimp over rice.
Meal number one - oven roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and sauteed greens.

Our third meal offering of the day - Sweet and sour chicken and shrimp over rice.

We also offered soup, salad and dessert. Hot chocolate, coffee and tea were also popular.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dirty Work And Interesting Finds

Not the most attractive outfit.
Yesterday my super nice and helpful friend Bill helped me tear most of the kitchen down to the studs. It was a dirty, dusty and sweaty day but also exciting because once everything is out I can start rebuilding my new kitchen. It was also exciting because we found some interesting things in the walls.
The kitchen at the end of the day. I still need to take out the floors.

After taking the plaster off the wall on the east side of the kitchen, Bill noticed what appeared to be water dripping down. We were concerned that there might be a leak from the roof so I took off my glove to touch what I thought was water but it was sticky. We couldn't figure out what it was until we noticed what looked like honeycomb on the beam. It was so strange and the honeycomb was still dripping honey after we pulled it down.
Honeycomb in the house.

Here are some of the other artifacts we found.

Columbia Record Roundup Pamphlet:

I know my dad will be interested in seeing this find.

Vintage Meier and Frank Bag with Receipt:

The receipt is for a whopping 80-cents but I can't find a year on it. The date is Dec. 23.
Two Old Newspapers from September 1945.

Both papers had a Stubby Bilgebottom comic strip.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Goodbye Old Kitchen Cabinets

The wood pile that's taken over my patio.
As of today, all of the old kitchen cabinets are out of the house and in a giant pile on my patio. Tomorrow I'm having a dumpster delivered and I'll attack tearing out the floor.

After tearing out a corner cabinet I uncovered some interesting wallpaper. The house was built in 1928 so it most likely has been there for a while.

Hidden wallpaper.

In other news, my kitchen sink and dishwasher have joined my stove in being out of commission for a while but my fridge is still running albeit in another room.

I'm trying to keep the family happy by telling them to think of it like camping at home but even better because we have indoor bathrooms and can take hot showers.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Picnic In The Rain

The line for chili dogs.

After weeks of beautiful weather here in Portland, Oregon of course today, one of the few times during the year that we have to move our Wednesday Community Meal outside, it was chilly and rainy.

An art exhibit was being set up in Kempton Hall where we usually serve the meal so we had no choice but to serve outside picnic style.

Staying positive and doing our best was really all we could do and in the end everything worked out and the guests were satisfied. It also helped that volunteers Cheryl and Dave were prepared and brought tents to set up over the tables.

We served 354 meals of chili dogs made with all beef hot dogs from Costco and homemade chili using pinto beans from The Oregon Food Bank.
We served all beef Costco hot dogs and then offered to jazz them up with toppings.

Practically everyone wanted all the fixings - homemade chili, shredded cheese and chives.

We also served a side of chips, salads made with greens from The Oregon Food Bank and asparagus and red pepper donated by Food Front Cooperative Grocery in Hillsdale.
Beautiful asparagus donated from Food Front Cooperative Grocery in Hillsdale.

Volunteer Kate blanched the asparagus spears and then sliced and tossed them with a vinaigrette. They were very tasty and a nice addition. Also in the salads were shredded cheese, sunflower seeds and olives.
Dave giving Leah more salads to serve. To help keep the food line for chili dogs moving as efficiently as possible, Leah graciously offered to go table to table serving salads.

There was also hot soup, cookies and drinks. With the cool weather, hot coffee was in especially high demand and kept volunteer Steve constantly busy.

Steve serving coffee.
I am so thankful for our team of volunteers. They work hard and have big hearts.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Oven Out Of Commission

I will be without an oven for a bit as my kitchen undergoes a makeover.

It's a busy and exciting time for me especially since I've never had a new kitchen and I have been dreaming about this project since we purchased our house 13 years ago. I am doing the majority of the work myself and hope to accomplish a lot on a very tight budget.

There won't be much baking in my house for a while but in the meantime, I'll blog about my kitchen project as it progresses. And, of course, I'll still be blogging about the Wednesday Community Meal every week. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Macaron Tips

A smooth liftoff!

Macarons are one finicky little cookie to make. Good thing they are cute and delicious or seriously, no one would make them.

Hearing from you, one of the most prevalent macaron frustrations is pulling the cookies cleanly off the parchment after baking. Here are a few tips that I know will help.

1. Bake the macarons long enough.

A macaron should be very firm to the touch and not wobble one bit after baking. And, depending on the humidity, baking time varies so don't count on every batch needing the same amount of baking time. Check each batch carefully before pulling them out of the oven. If the macarons are underbaked, they will be gooey and not release cleanly from the parchment.

2. Use good quality parchment paper.

Not all parchment papers are created equally. I love a bargain but parchment paper from the dollar store isn't worth it. I buy my unbleached parchment in bulk for a good price at a restaurant supply store. You can also find good quality parchment at specialty cooking stores. One readily available brand that I've used and like is Beyond Gourmet Unbleached Parchment.

3. Let the macarons cool completely.

Be sure to let the cookies cool completely before trying to lift them off the parchment. If you try to remove them when they are warm, they'll tear and you'll be frustrated.

4. Use a thin icing spreader to help.

The thin blade of an icing spreader is perfect for sliding under fussy macarons.

If the cookies are still tough to release, slide a thin icing spreader under the cooled cookies before lifting them off. Because of the ground almonds, macarons are not cheap to make so if they are giving you grief, don't try to force them off the parchment without a little help. An icing spreader will do the trick.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cheddar Drop Biscuits

A pile of just out of the oven cheddar biscuits.

These tasty cheddar biscuits were a big hit at yesterday's Wednesday Community Meal.

We decided to add the grated cheddar cheese to the biscuit dough because we didn't have any butter pats to offer to our guests.

I still thought maybe a few guests would ask for butter but I was wrong. These cheesy treats satisfy and because they are made using the drop method, they are quick and easy to make.

Cheddar Drop Biscuits
(makes 1 dozen)

2 cups flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2  teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2/3 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix the vinegar in the milk and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Cut the shortening into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs are formed (I like to use my hands to do this). Add the cheese and mix.

Make a well in the center of the flour/cheese mixture and add the milk/vinegar. Gently mix until a dough forms. Work the dough as little as possible.

Use two large tablespoons or a 1 1/2-inch scoop to drop the dough onto a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Hearty Meal

We served 237 meals today at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral's Wednesday Community Meal and even had some extra food that we packaged up for our guests to take with them.

When I asked one guest if he wanted extra food to go he said, "I'm feeling nice and full but I would like to have extra for later." It was a hearty meal today and I'm not surprised it left guests satisfied.

Here's what we served:

Hot soup garnished with bread and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. The soup was donated to us by Good Samaritan Hospital.

Green salad with apples, grapes, nuts and dried fruit. The apples and grapes came from The Oregon Food Bank.

Chicken, rice pilaf, roasted vegetables and cheddar biscuits. The chicken and rice came from Good Samaritan Hospital. The biscuit mix came from The Oregon Food Bank. Trinity Episcopal Cathedral purchased the cheese that we added to the biscuits. We decided to add the cheese because we didn't have any butter to serve with them. The vegetables came from Food Front Cooperative Grocery in Hillsdale and The Oregon Food Bank.

Strawberry shortcake. Trinity Episcopal Cathedral provided the ingredients to make the homemade dessert.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cherry Almond Cream Cake

This cherry almond cream cake is pretty and elegant which is why it's perfect for my friend Linda's birthday.

The flavors of cherry and almond go so well together and are enhanced even more by the creamy vanilla buttercream.

The buttercream is piped in a rose pattern and is a simple design element that adds lots of texture and interest.  I added the tiniest drop of pink coloring to tint the frosting and and added a few fresh ripe cherries to decorate the top of the cake.

Almond Cake
(makes 3 layers)
3/4 cup butter, unsalted
2 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease, flour and line with parchment paper three round 8 -inch cake pans.
Greasing and flouring the cake pans as well as adding a parchment round to the bottoms will ensure that your cakes won't stick.

Beat the butter with the almond extract. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, milk and yogurt or sour cream.

Add the baking powder and salt and mix. Finally, add the flour and beat until thoroughly combined.

Pour the batter evenly into the three cake pans and bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until done and toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cherry Filling
1 pound (16 ounces) bag frozen cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Heat the frozen cherries, sugar and almond extract in a saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Use a potato masher to smash them and break them apart. Keep a watch over them and periodically give them a stir.

In a small bowl whisk together the cream and cornstarch. When the cherry  mixture is simmering, add the cream mixture and whisk constantly over medium heat for two to three minutes until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and let cool completely before using.

Remove the filling from the heat and let it cool completely before using.

Vanilla Cream Buttercream
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons vanilla
3 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
one tiny drop of pink coloring

*Note: The frosting base can be made a day in advance since it needs to cool to room temperature before the butter is added.

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the milk and half of the sugar until simmering.

In the meantime, in a small bowl combine the cream, the other half of the sugar and cornstarch. Mix well with a whisk.

When the milk is simmering,  pour about half of it into the cream mixture and whisk well. Add it back to the milk in the saucepan and heat, stirring constantly until the mixture becomes very thick.

Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla. Put the mixture into a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the mixture cool completely.

When the buttercream base is cool, transfer it to a mixer and whip until smooth, add the butter a tablespoon at a time and whip until light and fluffy.  Add the tiny drop of pink coloring and whip again.
Just a tiny drop of pink food coloring is all you need.

To Assemble:
Place one cooled cake layer on a cake plate. Top with 1/2 of the cherry filling. Add a layer of buttercream.

Add the second cooled cake layer and top with the remaining cherry filling and another layer of buttercream.

The second layer just needs a coating of buttercream before it's ready for the final cake layer.

Add the final layer and add a thin coat of buttercream to the entire cake to seal in the cherry filling.
This coat is called a crumb coat and won't look pretty, but don't worry. Put the cake in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to firm up before adding more buttercream.

The first layer of buttercream isn't so pretty but it seals in the cherry filling.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and add another thin coat of buttercream to the entire cake to better cover where the cherry filling is showing through.

Looking much better after a second coat of buttercream. Now it's ready for the roses.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a #30 Wilton star tip with buttercream and pipe roses over the entire cake starting at the bottom and working up to the top of the cake. Don't overfill your piping bag. It's better to just refill it a few times.

To form a rose just go around in a circle to form the rose and end in the center. It's surprisingly easy.

Go around the cake and fill in any open spaces with buttercream.
There's a blank spot on the top edge of the cake.

Filled in and looking much better.

Top your cake with a few stemmed fresh cherries.