Thursday, June 16, 2005

Dinner with the Squirrels, Part One

Mama Squirrel has friends, online ones and nearby ones, who eat healthier meals than the Squirrel family does. She has friends who use more thrifty tricks and feed more people for probably less money than she spends to fill up five squirrels. She has friends who actually decant their bulk spices out of their baggies before they get used up, who can tell the difference between real and fake vanilla, who can things, who make their own tortillas and who grow their own potatoes. So she is somewhat diffident about posting a view of the Squirrel world of food (aside from barbecue nights).

However, to her credit, Mama Squirrel is good at a couple of things. One is using up bits and pieces of leftovers–squirrel instincts can make use of just about anything. Another one is rooting out recipes that you can get in the pan before the oven’s finished heating, and ones that are easy to learn off by heart. With her cooking roots going back to some wonderful hard-times-trained homemakers, Mama Squirrel also likes recipes that use very basic groceries in different ways. In the last couple of years, she’s also become better at making some of the squirrels’ favourites a little less carb-heavy (or at least making the carbolicious part optional for those who just want a little).

So with those things in mind, here are a few Squirrel kitchen favourites and food quotes. Most of the recipes were not invented by the Squirrels, so credit is given where possible.

Honey-Mustard Chicken (adapted from the Harrowsmith Cookbook Volume 1)

Spread a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts with the following mixture: 2 tbsp. butter or margarine, 2 tbsp. prepared mustard, 1/4 cup honey, and a little salt and pepper. Bake in a covered casserole for about an hour or as long as it takes your chicken to cook through.

(The original recipe called for twice as much sauce and 10 chicken drumsticks, and suggested dipping the chicken in the mixture before baking. We like our quicker way better, though.)

Sweet Potatoes or Squash

Either cut sweet potatoes (the orange ones, not the real yams) into chunks to fill a casserole (you don’t have to peel them); or slice a butternut squash horizontally (scooping out the seeds) and fill the casserole with those. Drizzle with oil (olive oil preferred), sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add enough water in the bottom of the casserole so that the pieces don’t scorch. Bake covered at about 350 degrees, for about an hour depending on how big your chunks or slices are. (Even easier: scrub sweet potatoes and bake them whole on a greased pan in the oven while you bake something else.) Good with chicken (above) or some barbecued farmer’s sausage.

“Vegetables can be cooked much more precisely by taste and experience than they can by numbers. You know very quickly how full the salad bowl needs to be to serve everyone, which bowl (or combinations of bowls) needs filling in order to make a vegetable dish. Cook more when it’s a dish you and your family just love and can’t get enough of. Cook less when it’s a dish that people aren’t so fond of, or perhaps one that you’re trying out for the first time.”–Edward Espe Brown, Tassajara Cooking

Sausage and Sauerkraut

Take some uncooked farmer’s sausage (or paprika sausage, or honey-garlic, or whatever the butcher is selling that you like). Put it in a casserole on top of some sauerkraut (we like the kind that comes in a glass jar). Bake at 350 degrees, covered, for at least an hour (we usually allow an hour and a half, especially if the sausage is still a little bit frozen). Serve with potatoes, or frozen perogies, or sweet potatoes. If you put some cut-up broccoli in the pot of boiling water with the perogies, then you have your whole meal done.

Macaroni and Cheese, the Real Kind

Works best with already-cooked (yesterday’s) whole wheat macaroni, because then you don’t have to dirty another pot. But in any case, you need enough cooked macaroni to fill up your greased casserole; enough shredded Cheddar cheese to mix in with the macaroni (or you can cheat if you don’t want to get the grater out, and just cut up a piece of cheese into small chunks), and canned evaporated milk (the Squirrels use the 2 per cent kind). Salt and pepper too, and a little prepared mustard if you want. You might not need the whole can of milk if you’re just making it for a few people; see what looks good (soupy is not good). Canned milk is kind of important here, because it makes the sauce creamier. A little margarine on top might help the sauce out too, but it’s optional. Bake it all together until the cheese is pretty much melted; give it a good stir, and then top with bread crumbs (we use dried ones), dot with margarine, and finish baking until the crumbs are toasted. Serve with Canadian gravy (that means ketchup).

It is possible to make this exact same recipe starting with uncooked macaroni–the Squirrels have tried it and found it acceptable although a little chewy. But in that case you have to use enough milk to cook the pasta, allow extra time, and stir it several times during the baking.

Butterscotch Dumplings (from Food that Really Schmecks, by Edna Staebler)

(Edna calls this recipe 20-Minute Dessert.)

Sauce: 1 cup brown sugar, 2 cups boiling water, 2 tbsp. butter or margarine. Stir this all together in a large pot till the sugar has dissolved; simmer while you mix the dumplings.

Dumplings: 1/3 cup sugar, ½ tsp. salt, 1 tbsp. butter, 1 ½ cups flour, 1 tbsp. baking powder, about ½ cup milk. Cream the sugar, salt and butter; add flour mixed with baking powder alternately with enough milk to make a stiff batter. Drop by tablespoonfuls into the boiling sauce; cover and let boil gently (do NOT take the lid off) for about 15 minutes. Serve with vanilla yogurt, milk, or anything else you like.

“Supper is always mostly made from just what we’ve got that needs eating.”–“Bevvy Martin,” quoted in Food that Really Schmecks

Vegan Gingerbread from The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook (the fastest you’ll ever make)

1 cup molasses; ½ cup oil; 2 tsp. ginger; 2 cups flour; 1 tsp. salt; 1 tsp. baking soda in one cup of hot water.

This is the way I mix it: start the kettle boiling for the hot water, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Measure the oil in a one-cup measure, then use the greasy cup to measure the molasses. Beat them together with a whisk. In a small bowl, combine the ginger, flour and salt; and by this time the water is hot so you can put that in the same 1-cup measure and dissolve the soda in that. Add the dry ingredients to the molasses and oil, alternately with the soda water. When it’s all mixed, bake in a greased square pan or small casserole for 35 to 40 minutes or until it tests done.

Now, every time Mama Squirrel has mixed this up, the batter has seemed to need a little something–it seems a little thin. For awhile Mama Squirrel always added some wheat germ to the batter (and sprinkled some on top as well), but lately she has been adding some rolled oats (the 5-minute kind) instead, and using whole-wheat flour, and all the Squirrels seem to prefer it this way. Serve plain or with milk or yogurt. The Squirrels have been known to finish this off for breakfast.

Fruit Crisp from Whole Foods for the Whole Family

Bottom part: canned or cut-up fruit such as chopped apples or pears, or canned peaches, enough to fill a small casserole or square pan (if you have four or five eaters; if you have more, use a bigger pan) Mama Squirrel doesn’t add any sweetener to this part, but sometimes she adds dried fruit or some cranberry sauce (to apples).

Top part: this is the part Mama Squirrel likes because it’s easy to memorize. Half a cup of brown sugar, half a cup of flour, half a cup of wheat germ, half a teaspoon of cinnamon, one cup of rolled oats; mix it all with half a cup of oil. The wheat germ can be omitted or substituted for if you don’t have it; we have just used more rolled oats, or some crushed breakfast cereal (corn flakes are good with peaches). Spread over the fruit and bake it all for about half an hour at 350 degrees or until the topping doesn’t look raw.

“Food is food only if it is eaten, so we make things that the people we are cooking for can relish and enjoy.”–Edward Espe Brown, Tassajara Cooking

1 comment:

Leslie Noelani Laurio said...

These are my kind of recipes -- easy, and healthy! I think my family will love some of these! Thanks!