Cooking Tales, Part 1 – You Win Some…

As I sat here last week finishing up my previous post while eating a homemade (mostly healthy, I swear!) cookie (212 calories, don’t @ me), I was thinking back over the many trials and tribulations I’ve had while teaching myself how to cook. There certainly have been a lot of surprises along the way – when you have no idea what you are doing, the outcome can be different from what you expect. Cooking is like Christmas – sometimes it’s the Golden Dreams Barbie you always wanted, and other times, it’s a whole lotta expectation just to unwrap new underwear that doesn’t fit.

But even when cooking throws you a plot twist, it’s still an adventure trip worth taking.

(I think.)

I mentioned last week that a lot of my recipes were discovered out of this weird drive I have to not waste food. I’d find myself with a surplus of ingredients that, without immediate intervention, were destined for the trash bin, and a deep desire to salvage them – but no clue how to transform them into something I might actually want to eat.

Sometimes, this was due to an unexpected addition to my weekly crop share delivery – I mean, has anyone ever purchase a rutabaga on purpose? (Or spelled it correctly on the first try without that red squiggly line appearing?) Other times, it’s been triggered by some overzealous hoarding supply-stocking by the hubs: he’d find a reasonably nutritious snack item that his sons would eat (that wasn’t a riff on the ubiquitous Kraft mac and cheese), and proceed to snap up the entire national supply in one fell swoop. And, of course, they’d eat two of whatever it was and get bored. (Parents – you feel me?) Often, those items contain wheat, which I don’t can’t eat – but other times, I’m left with a boatload of carrots, or a bunch of celery 18 seconds from wilting, that I have to quickly repurpose.

Since I refuse to throw food away, this requires me to be pretty open-minded about what I should cook. Sometimes, that turns out AWESOME. And other times….

This week, let’s start with some of the winners – some of the recipes that were unexpectedly delightful. Like…COOKIES! Cookies are always winning, right? Especially the ones I made this weekend – Peanut Butter and Hemp Hearts cookies. Why hemp hearts? Mostly, because they sell them at Costco in bulk, and I like to shop there to drain my wallet $9.99 at a time channel my inner hippie. We had a bunch on hand because pre-COVID, the hubs and I were making smoothies every morning, with frozen fruit, Greek yogurt, greens, and hemp hearts for an added nutritional boost. Hemp hearts are really good for you – have a look:

It’s nature’s multivitamin.

Bonus: they pack their nutritional punch without tasting weird (spirulina, anyone? <bleck> – it’s like licking your aquarium clean) or getting stuck in your teeth. (chia seeds, I swear. They’re the infinity food – no matter how hard you try to swallow all of what you’re eating, if it contains chia seeds you can always, ALWAYS find ONE MORE wedged in beside a molar.)

Anyway, COVID and the subsequent shutdown changed our routine, and we got out of the habit of daily smoothies (and daily showers, and wearing pants….) The greens and Greek yogurt were easy to repurpose, but I was left with a substantial supply of frozen fruit and hemp hearts that could easily last me until the next presidential election.

I went to Google to see what I could do with them. Which was frustrating as f*&k because the obvious use for hemp hearts is smoothies, and NO I DO NOT WANT TO THROW THEM INTO A SMOOTHIE, Google. Gahhh. For as good as Facebook is at listening to my conversations and innermost thoughts and providing me ads to things I definitely referenced in a non-Facebook application, Google sure as hell misses the mark. I did, however find a very simple cookie recipe using peanut butter, oats, and hemp hearts. And THEY WERE AMAZING (even though I made them without chocolate chips. <gasp> Go ahead and arrest me.) Not overly sweet, not too dense, and full of peanut butter flavor. (Another plus – this recipe would be easy to cut in half. Not that I ever WILL only make a half-batch of cookies, unless of course that’s the result of eating most of the raw dough.)

Happiness is coffee with your cookies

Another cookie I had some luck with was this (gluten free!) peanut butter apple cookie. I had found myself with a couple of apples that the hubs had purchased, thinking he’d, you know, EAT them. But instead, they sat on the countertop until they were just starting to lean towards being a little mealy. So I shredded them (instead of dicing them. I also didn’t peel them, Princess, but you will eat them and like them anyway) and chucked them in to this recipe. To make them even better (healthier? sure) I replaced the butter (which, if you recall, I do NOT eat <shudder>) with more peanut butter. Delicious. Although I can’t seem to bake this cookie without burning the bottoms, but I found if you buff off the blackened bits with your microplane zester and rinse the evidence down the drain, no one will ever know – you’ll just have (most of) a thick, chewy, rich cookie.

But I suppose if you put enough sugar on something, it’ll taste good. Even – yes – vegetables. I’ve mentioned a couple times that growing up, my mom (and her mom) used to make zucchini crisp (trust me and make it already!), corn fritters, and tomato jelly (OK, that one was a little harder to swallow, but I appreciate what we were going for.) So while I was somewhat familiar with unconventional uses for vegetables, I did hesitate for a moment when I found a recipe for Turnip Cake, which I found after receiving several turnips in my weekly crop share. Like, a dozen. I don’t care how big your family is – no one is going to use a dozen turnips, and I was a little anxious about the sheer abundancy here. (So. Many. Turnips.)

But you know what? It was a very nice spice cake. My son and his then-girlfriend helped me finish it, and they had zero complaints (even though they were teenagers. It’s a freaking miracle.) I made mine with 1/2 teaspoon of ginger instead of cloves, and didn’t bother to add frosting (so I could better justify having it for breakfast.)

I want to mention one other dish that was an absolute smash hit – Spicy Carrot Soup. This one (as I alluded to earlier) arose from the routine that the hubs has gotten into with his boys:

  1. Find a healthy food that they will actually eat.
  2. Buy a metric sh!t-ton of said item
  3. Watch as they quickly tire of it and leave it to rot.

As I mentioned above, one of those items was carrots. I had a full bag in my fridge and they were rapidly appearing less and less excited to see me. (LOL) Now carrots were a bit of a challenge, because I don’t really love them. I’ll eat them, but when I’m working through food that contains them (like soup or stew), the carrots get eaten first so I can get them over with and enjoy the meal. And many of the recipes out there for hiding carrots add a lot of sugar. (Hello, carrot cake, old pal.) Which, in addition to being calories I do not want, the hubs kind of hates when it comes to meat or veggies. He will not, for example, eat pork cooked with apples, or glazed ham. I can’t blame him for the latter – save the jelly for toast. Yuck. So this leaves out things like honey-glazed carrots, most butternut squash soups, and candied yams. (More for me, sucker.)

So when I found this recipe, it looked like it might fit the bill. Small list of ingredients, nothing too weird or unusual, and I could make it in my Instant Pot with my immersion blender. (I love my immersion blender. When I use it, I pretend I am an evil scientist destroying my enemies who I’ve thrown into a pot of acid. I can’t be the only one.) It promised to not be overly sweet – so, having nothing to lose but a can of coconut milk and some geriatric carrots, I gave it a whirl. Hmm, not bad. I doubled the red curry paste, threw in a teaspoon of cayenne for some kick, and added cilantro, sage, and cumin (100% making this up as I go along, ha ha.) Since then, I’ve made this several times, because the hubs is a slow learner when it comes to buying carrots. But try it with a cup or two of leftover shredded chicken stirred in. It goes down like a hug from the inside.

Sometimes, you want to re-create a childhood memory through food – but due to self-imposed limits on calories and fat health reasons, you attempt to slide in some creative substitutes, hoping for just the right hit of nostalgia without the full side order of guilt.

One of those recipes is peanut brittle. My mother has taken to having some around when I visit (along with homemade Chex Mix for my sister – and Mom leaves out the Wheat Chex from some of it so I can share. It wasn’t a family holiday without bowls of Chex Mix on every end table. Mom made it with mixed nuts – we’re fancy like that – and my uncle and I would race around to the bowls to eat the Brazil nuts before the other one got ’em first.)

Anyway. Peanut brittle is pretty calorie-dense, but after carving a pumpkin a while back, I once again found myself with supply trumping demand:

Hella seeds, yo.

My prolific pumpkin gave me an idea – why not try peanut brittle with pumpkin seeds? Apparently, this wasn’t an original thought – many home chefs on the interwebs have already forged this path. But if you’d like to give it a go, I can vouch for this recipe – it was a hit even with my skeptical spouse (who was definitely giving me side-eye when I added the cayenne pepper.) Also, fun fact: pumpkins are just squash with a better marketing team. So save your seeds from their cousins and nephews like acorn squash and butternut – they roast just as nicely.

While these recipes turned out pretty decently, that isn’t always the case. I’ve made some recipes that just did NOT work. (And sadly, I still choked them down, because remember, we don’t waste food in this house. But my mouth was not happy.) Next week – the epic fails. Stay tuned!

What have you made that was a surprise hit? What did your family scarf down when you almost panicked and ordered pizza? Share in the comments!

1 thought on “Cooking Tales, Part 1 – You Win Some…

  1. Pingback: Cooking Tales, Part 2: …And You Lose Some. And Often It’s a Draw. | Carrots in My Carryon

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