Friday, April 4, 2014

Snobby food made easy

It's been awhile.  I've had a few new things on my plate since January, so I've spent more time consuming than producing on the internet.  If you're a fan, I'm sorry.  If not, well, then, I'm sorry I'm back

Anyway, I found a NYTimes recipe for beet casserole recently, and vowed to make it come hell or high water.  The major downsides are that there were lots of steps, beets are kind of messy, and I wanted a shortcut or two.  The problem with shortcuts, though, is that folks tend to think adding a can of MSG-laden soup is the way to go, and food snobs cannot tolerate that at all. In fact, there is no way any food snob has ever enjoyed a Veg-All and canned soup casserole with her food-snobbing mother for Thanksgiving. Yup, no way in hell that happened last year.

Moving on. I made different substitutions and solemnly swear there is no soup to be found here.

Thank you, Costco, for having organic, precooked beets ready to go.  They're cute, albeit still a bit messy, and if you look at the package after a drink or two, you might laugh like a 13 year old at all the red balls in the fridge.

The recipe also calls for beet greens, but I decided on this bag of other greens, including kale, chard, and spinach.  I'm actually not a huge kale fan, but baby kale is not unpleasantly chewy like elderly kale can be.

The final change I made could be considered sacrilege.  The original recipe calls for a hazelnut oat topping that seemed fussy, although I'm sure it's fantastic.  So I pulled out an old favorite for casserole topping: Ritz crackers.  

I know!  It's just wrong for food snobs to eat such things.  I should've at least gone to Trader Joe's for the "healthier" version, but that's 20 minutes away, while I could get the Ritz goodness at the Price Chopper mere blocks away.  And I made the crackers a better choice for our hearts by adding a super food: melted butter (grass-fed!!!). 

Wait, another change: I also didn't use "cloth bound" cheddar, opting for this Cheddar Colby mix that I had 10 pounds of.

Ahem.  I swear it's still an adequate copycat of the original. How could it not be!  There are at least three superfoods in there (beets, kale, and butter) as well as CHEESE.  You'll be superman after eating it.

Other notes: If I were to make this again tomorrow, I'd make this ONE thin layer.  But that's because I love crunchy food.  I put chips on almost all my sandwiches and love toppings more than the next guy.  I managed to fit 2 layers in my gratin dish and any more than that would've made the bottom too far away from the crackers on top.  The original recipe claims to make 3-4 layers.

Before I finally get to the recipe, let me tell you that it's not labor free. You will be making a béchamel sauce, which sounds fancier than it is.  I recommend you have all the ingredients for that ready.  And call it all "mise en place" because that solidifies your food snob status.

Puttin' on the Ritz Casserole 
(adapted from the NYTimes recipe linked above)
1 lb cooked beets, sliced 
1.25 lb of greens (that's most of the bag I pictured)
5 T butter plus more for buttery crackers
2/3 c flour
2 c milk
2 c Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 T ground mustard (or more to taste)
A few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce if you wish
One sleeve of Ritz crackers, crushed

1. In a large pot, boil a lot of water.  Cook the greens in the water for 2 minutes. I had to do it in two batches.  Drop the greens into a colander that's sitting in an ice water bath. I do that in the sink.  Drain this very well once cooled, and consider squeezing the water out of the greens.  It'll keep the casserole from being runny.

2. (Béchamel Sauce) Melt 5 T of butter in a large pan.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two. Watch the color--it shouldn't brown.  Carefully whisk in the milk.  It'll thicken pretty quickly.  At this point, turn off the heat, stir in the cheese until combined and then add the mustard, the Worcestershire, and the hot sauce.  Add salt and pepper if necessary.  If the sauce seems too thick, you can add a bit more milk until it's runnier.

3. Melt some more butter in the microwave (your choice on how much. My mother might have used 1 or 2 sticks on her casserole last year, and we didn't complain. I used half a stick).  Add in the crushed crackers and stir.

4. Assemble the casserole.  Pour some béchamel into the bottom of your casserole.  Place a layer of beets and then a layer of greens.  Season this with salt and pepper.  Repeat layers until you run out. Top with buttered crackers. Bake for 45 minutes at 350.  If you feel that's too long for the crackers, cover the casserole with foil for the first 20 minutes or so and then take it off for the remaining time.

When you take this to your next potluck, if anyone asks whether it has cream of mushroom soup in it...just consider your audience. If it's Aunt Hilda who pours the stuff on her morning cereal, say YES.  If it's your hipster friend in the skinny jeans and cruelty-free sunglasses, look back in horror and say BECHAMEL YOU FOOL! And those crackers? Home-crushed of course.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Our New Master Bedroom

A few months ago, we switched bedrooms with the girls.  We didn't need 500+ square feet, and I was tired of toys being everywhere in the house, so they've been enjoying loads of space upstairs while we have the tiny bedroom.   I wanted our new bedroom to be calm and dark, helpful in inducing sleep, something that we needs loads of.

Without further ado, here it is:

You see, the bed isn't on the floor anymore!  We bought a short mattress platform since we have relatively low ceilings in this house.

I found these matching bedside dressers at the vintage markets in West Bottoms.  They're kitschy but not overly so.  And Ryan likes the nod to cars.  Since we have a tiny closet in this room, the dressers provide a little extra space for clothing.

We finally have a place for the huge mirror I bought four years ago.  The dresser my Mother-in-law gave us a few years ago looks great in that space.

Hasn't this room come a long way?

What's next?  I'd like larger, more interesting lamps on the bedside dressers, and maybe something on the wall on both sides.  And we need window coverings that aren't roller shades (which I removed for this photograph).  But this room is close enough to finished that I don't feel much urgency.

I'm loving the dark color, which is Glidden Duo in Martha Stewart's "Anvil" found at Home Depot.  It's a dark grey blue, and it helps keep us asleep in the morning.  Sometimes, that ain't good, but I'm not complaining. Upstairs we were awakened by the sun at 545 in the summers, so our love cave is such a nice departure from that.

This is my favorite room in the house.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2014: Why Not!?

Shall there be resolutions for this new year?  Of course!  And they shall be meaningful, specific, and totally unattainable (in most cases).  At the end of the year, I'll hope no one remembers my lofty goals, that no one notices my pants are *tighter* rather than looser, that my eyebrows are still blond and invisible and therefore alien-like.

Thinking of really good resolutions.  
So here goes.  What I've turned my third eye toward for 2014:

1)  I've always been good at asking WHY NOT.  I've moved all over the country, going where the wind blew me, forever hurting my earning power but helping me become the very round person I am today. I mean, well-rounded.  I'm turning it up a notch, though, this year because asking WHY NOT is harder when you have a husband and three children.  Some people forget what that phrase even means after they have kids and turn from the life of the party into the plainest vanilla in the room.  I won't be that gal!

Thankfully, I've already started on this goal. I took a class, for credit, at our excellent local community college just for fun.  We painted our family mottos on the living room wall.  I bought really big weird glasses that are purple in the sunshine.  I slurped down raw oysters for the first time, one of the few foods I had been afraid of.  I started using butter on everything.  Maybe that last one doesn't count.  But I shall stop asking WHY and starting declaring WHY NOT!  I will say YES more.  I will care even less if someone thinks what I'm doing is weird. In fact, the weirder, the awesomer!

2) Speaking of awesome, I'm going to start a motorcycle club.  Ryan and I have been watching Sons of Anarchy, and I realized, in the fashion of WHY NOT, I needed to head up a group of motorcycle gangsters. What will my group of badasses look like? I do know there will be leather.  Oh yes, leather. I'm thinking chaps, low-cut t-shirts, tattoos everywhere.  Some brawls in the backyard, a few prospects to torment (wax my floors, pond scum!), and wild raucous parties that end in a happy naked pile.  I will tell you what there won't be: motorcycles. I hate the things. But I feel I can't be a gangster without calling my club a motorcycle gang.  Maybe I'll put a few photos of motorcycles up on the wall of our "chapel", which will be in the kids' playhouse out back.

The name?  Bitches that Read.  I really wanted it to be Bitches That Read, Write, and Cook in a Generally Awesome Way, but that doesn't roll off the tongue too well.  I'm not sure when or if we'll ever meet, but know that I'm an official BTR badass and that you had better pay me the respect I (think I) deserve.   In fact, if you ever see me, you'd better run up and bump my belly with yours. I've always wanted to greet people that way, and now that I have a motorcycle club, I can do it!

If you wanna join, send me 500 words on whether I should ever tell my kids that rather than prepare for an essay exam on Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse in high school, I watched a Green Acres marathon, showed up to class without having read one word of it (and no Cliffsnotes either), read half of it during the exam, and managed to eek out a B.  I mean, that's pretty much the most badass thing I've ever done, and I gotta show my kids I'm more than just a really hot mom. I'm a GANGSTER, dammit!

3) I'm going to practice the art of brevity.

I'm out, y'all.  I gotta go shine my van and oil the stand mixer.  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Our 2013 Christmas Letter

Dear friends, enemies, and borderline apathetic observers,

It's Christmas time again, so let's take a look at the past year.  Be prepared for loads of humble bragging and inappropriately intimate confessions, especially concerning our digestive health.

First, I'd like to let you in on a free secret, mainly because I read that offering something free will someday lead to you paying me and I only do things on here for money.  Next time you make meatloaf, consider eliminating the ketchup and putting in parmesan cheese and finely chopped nuts (I've use walnuts, pecans, or almonds).  Damn, it's good.

We're starting to like jewelry around here.
But let's get to the meaty stuff, none of which you've heard before, I promise.  Ryan started a new job as well as grad school, Katie began kindergarten at the "poor, scary school", Winslow has begun indoctrination at preschool, Drew still hates school, and I took a chemistry class for no good reason.  We got new windows and siding thanks to a HUD program, gave the girls our big bedroom, made the bathroom better than terrible, painted the kitchen cabinets, resurfaced our driveway, and upgraded our electrical panel for the second time in 2 years. The basement flooded, the pipes froze, the main breaker overheated several times, and a big branch dented our van's hood.  Speaking of trees, we cut down five more trees and harvested 6 whole Rainier cherries.

Look, I got paper for Christmas!
We binge-viewed The West Wing, Fringe, Sherlock, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black, among other shows, and Ryan's netbook finally gave up.  The kids spent over 4 weeks in Georgia, some with me, some without, we all made it down to New Orleans, and Ryan and I had a great vacation to the Caribbean. We grew loads of tomatoes and even a few watermelons.  And to top that off, the cat did his job and recently caught a mouse.

We're still pretty broke (see: tree removal), I still have a book I wrote sitting in a drawer (possibly for eternity), and Ryan still doesn't trim his beard often enough, but I'd say it's been a pretty good year.  Low expectations, people, make all the difference!

Merry Christmas and everything else so you're not offended,

The Kiefers

P.S. And here's a bonus!  Because I love you!

Have you always wanted to know how to eat Brussels sprouts with gagging?  Well, have I got a recipe for you.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Slice the sprouts in half and toss in olive oil and lots of salt.  Roast for 15-20 minutes depending on your taste for brown goodness.  If you really want a religious experience, brown some butter on the stove, add a little balsamic, and then pour the mixture over the roasted sprouts.  Eat them all.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Cold Remedies

It's cold around here these days. Unseasonably cold, actually.  And I don't know about you, but my insides are screaming two things: 1) Warm me up and 2) Please feed me vegetable matter. No, not that ice cream, which is a vegetable in your little fantasy world, but real, fiber-laden vegetables.

So I gathered all the vegetables in the house and got to work.

I had three shades of bell pepper (although not green, thankfully), onions, carrots, and kale.  I sauteed them with salt and pepper until soft. I threw in some leftover homemade salsa and some canned tomato sauce (crushed tomatoes would've been great, as would fresh).  Lots of chili powder and some paprika.  This whole process took 45 minutes, although most of that was unsupervised time while I cracked open a bottle of sparkling wine.

I poured the mixture into a 9x13 casserole and made 6 divots in the sauce with a spoon.  I cracked an egg into each divot, sprinkled Parmesan as well as cheddar cheese over the eggs, and popped the dish into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.  You could do more or less depending on your oven and your taste for runny yolks.

Served with Kansas City's Farm to Market Sesame Seed Bread (that's slathered in butter), this dish is delicious and soul-satisfying.

Other variations: 1) use Cumin, skip the peppers, and serve with feta 2) plop dollops of ricotta into each divot before cracking the eggs* 3) Eat your fiber rich cereal and regret it later with some serious toots

That dinner gave us the energy to put up the tree.  All three chirrens helped this year, so the ornament placement is...interesting, but I prefer interesting to uniform and boring!

Hope y'all are staying warm.

*If you want a more precise recipe, start with this one from Bon Appetit.  Or this Middle Eastern version.  We love both.
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