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Sochi! Olympics! Putin shirtless! O.k., well at least two out of three ain't bad. I cringe after every skater as NBC pans to a stoic Putin in the crowd. Honestly, NBC should just rename themselves the Putin Television Network. There has to be more about Russian than just Putin sitting in a crowd or hanging half naked in a hotel room - his portrait, I mean. That and the stories of uniquely unfinished hotel rooms and bathrooms drove me to think about how I could share more about the culture of Russian to my family instead of the mismanaged hype. 

The Russian people are known for many great things including unique food due in part to their climates and topography. In particular, they are known for pickling certain foods including cucumbers, tomatoes and cabbage. Their pickling brine is almost as holy as soy sauce to some Asian cultures. Almost as holy as vodka! So, I decided we'd celebrate a bit of the culture of Russian outside of the NBC/PTN mockumentary experience by having a bit of pickled foods and a few shots of vodka for the adults with a proper Russian toast of course.

Here are two great quick pickle recipes I developed for the occasion. One recipe is for tomatoes with pepperoncini and the other is for cooked Brussels sprouts. Vashe zrodovye! - To your health! Half naked or not.

Ingredients
TOMATOES
  • 10 medium small vine-ripened tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 6 small jarred pepperoncini
  • 1 clove garlic sliced thin
  • 4 small bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill

BRUSSELS SPROUTS
  • 18-20 Brussels sprouts halved
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 cloves garlic sliced thin

BRINE
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar (you could use red wine vinegar for a different flavor)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Preparation
  1. Bring the brine ingredients of water, vinegar, salt and sugar to boil until dissolved.
  2. Steam the halved Brussels sprouts in a bit of water in the microwave for about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Fill a quart jar with the tomato ingredients.
  4. Fill a pint jar with the Brussels sprouts ingredients.
  5. Pour the brine into each jar. You will probably have a tiny bit of brine left.
  6. Seal jars, cool, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Nutrition
Calories are pretty small, probably about 10 or so for each tomato and 10 for about a quarter of the Brussels sprouts.

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Tips
You can serve the Brussels Sprouts within an hour or so, but I'd wait a day at least for the tomatoes.

This is a refrigerator recipe. Please do not use for long term storage canning.
 
 
Being from the south (if you can call southern Illinois south), my mother loved southern food. One of her favorites was cornbread. She just followed the instructions on the round cornmeal box and baked it in a cast iron skillet. It was always served hot with butter and honey. Yum! 

I loved the way my mom's cornbread tasted. Since I have very few of her successful recipes, I wanted to pass the cornbread tradition on to my kids. However, when I made it for my young children they complained about the "grainy" texture of that method. (One of the things I've learned as a parent is that texture is nearly everything!) 

So, in order to develop something a bit "smoother" but still full of flavor and taste, I came up with these great corn bread muffins sweetened with a bit of honey. Many people would classify them as northern and not southern because they are sweeter than savory, but I don't care what you call them because they are delicious, easy to make and the kids gobble them up. Just spread on the butter because the honey is already built right in! I think my mother would be proud.
Oven
400 Degress F

Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup corn meal
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup one percent milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 stick melted butter
  • 1/4 cup honey

Preparation
  1. Stir the dry ingredients together until well mixed.
  2. Whisk wet ingredients together in a separate bowl.  
  3. Combined the wet and dry ingredients until just mixed. 
  4. Spoon batter into 12 papered muffin cups. 
  5. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

Nutrition

12 Servings
170 calories per serving
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Tips
I have successfully reduced salt to about 3/4 tsp. You could try less if you are on a lower salt diet and use unsalted butter as well.

This is a great first recipe for kids to try. It easy to mix together and relatively fast to prepare and cook.
 
 
One of the most important things I have learned as an at home dad is that children are hungry. Always. You need to be prepared. No, seriously I mean prepared. Like you are preparing for war or you get melt down city and cranky tantrums that threaten to expose your parenting deficiencies post haste. You do not want those stern looks from the mothers at the swim practice because you weren't prepared. Failing all of "man"kind once again!

Nor do you want to drive into another fast food joint and unload your wallet on food that will only last about 20 minutes until the next emotional outburst. I have come to believe that these hungry, emotional responses from kids are what has driven the explosion in fast food, prepackaged sugar snacks and "nutrition bars". None of which is really good for our kids. 

What I do is overcook and carry. Make more food than your family can eat in one meal and carry extra with you whenever possible.  (Get a good portable cooler...sort of a food security blanket.)


The first step is to have extra basic ingredients. One of my favorite quick foods is fried rice, but the important part is that you need cold precooked rice. So, always make extra rice and store it covered in the refrigerator. And I am not talking about keeping extra Chinese take out rice in those nasty card board boxes. You only end up with rock hard, flavorless construction material if you do that. Put that rice in a different sealed container.

Once the kids are hungry, you can have a pretty nutritious meal within a few minutes. Here's my basic recipe.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups cooked and refrigerated rice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tsp soy sauce
2-3 drops fish sauce

Optional Ingredients
1/8 cup precooked diced chicken
1/8 cup precooked vegetables (scallions, carrots, broccoli, celery, onion, peppers are all good options)
1/4 cup finely diced lettuce

Preparation
  1. Heat a cast iron or non stick pan until it is very hot. You could use a wok too.
  2. Add the oil and let it heat a bit.
  3. Add the rice and start to heat. 
  4. Add optional precooked chicken or vegetables finely diced.
  5. While the rice is heating combine the egg, soy sauce and fish sauce and whisk quickly.
  6. Add the egg mixture to the rice and stir quickly until set.
  7. Add optional lettuce and wilt.
  8. Serve.

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Nutrition
2 Servings
Approximately 250 calories per 3/4 cup.
Reduce calorie count if vegetables are added.

Tips
The trophy wife hates the lettuce added at the end. I learned that trick from an old Chinese home style cook book. I love the flavor and the texture. So I only add it to mine!
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Growing up in a small prairie town in the hot summer with not much to do, one tends to remember very specific childhood aha moments. My older brother was a bit of a mystery to me as he was 16 years older and either in college or married ever since I could remember. When he came home, we had loads of fun. Especially when he cheated at playing cards, but that's another story. One day while outside we were eating watermelon and he started to put salt on his. I thought, whoa! Who puts salt on fruit? He said try it, you will really love it. Well, he was right. Salted watermelon was just like putting salt on raw potatoes or tomatoes or cucumbers right from the garden. It helps the flavor dance on your tongue. So I was inspired to combine a few salty ingredients with some watermelon. Perhaps this salad will become your aha dancing tongue summer moment.
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Ingredients
  • 1 Large Cucumbers
  • Salt To Brine Cucumbers
  • 1 Tablespoon Light Mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablepoon Skim Milk
  • 1 Teaspoon Vinegar (Apple Cider Or A Fruit Flavor)
  • 1 Teaspoon Sugar
  • 6 Cups Seedless Watermelon
  • 2 Thin Slices Prosciutto
  • 8 Tablespoons Goat Cheese
  • Salt & Pepper For Seasoning

Preparation
  1. Slice the cucumbers using a mandolin. Salt and set aside in colander to drain. Preferably about an hour.
  2. Place cucumbers on paper towel and dab remaining water off.
  3. Mix  mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, and sugar. Add cucumbers and place in refrigerator. It is best if they sit for another hour, but if needed you could use after about 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Cut the watermelon into rectangles. Really, any shape will do. Stack the slices in a bowl.
  5. Spread cucumber slices on either side of the watermelon. You may have cucumber left over.
  6. Chop the prosciutto and place it around the watermelon and cucumber.
  7. Crumble goat cheese over salad.
  8. Spoon a bit of cucumber dressing over the salad.
  9. Season with salt and pepper.

Servings
4 servings.

Nutrition
About 140 calories per serving.
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On cold mornings at the cabin when I was a boy, my mother used to make a wonderful breakfast cake from mashed potatoes and a little egg and butter. She'd fry it up in a pan and serve it with a side of eggs and bacon. I can still feel the chill and the mist in the air. There seemed like nothing better. After making her potato cakes for years, I thought, what is stopping me from improving it. Well I did and the secret is in the pork fat because as we all know: Pork Fat Rules.

Ingredients
  • 1 Cup Dehydrated Potatoes (Flakes Or Buds)
  • 1 Cup Warm Water
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Butter (More For Topping)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Bacon Grease
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Salt
  • Fresh Ground Pepper
  • Non Stick Spray Or Butter For Frying

Preparation
  1. If you do not have bacon grease saved in the refrigerator, you will need to render some bacon and remove the grease and let it cool so it doesn't cook the egg.
  2. Your water should be warm, but not boiling. Mix the water and the potatoes with the salt.
  3. Add the egg and mix well. Add the butter and the bacon grease.
  4. Divide into four portions and make thick patties.
  5. Fry in non stick pan approximately 4 minutes on each side over medium heat until they are golden brown.
  6. Serve with butter as is or with an egg and bacon side.

Servings
4 servings

Nutrition
About 150 calories per cake.

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Tips
Rendering bacon fat seems to have disappeared from home making practices. My grandmother and mother always used bacon fat. I know we are all up in arms about being healthy with lower fat and sodium, but you don't need very much to add great flavor to a dish. It also makes the best dressing base, especially if you combine it with olive oil. So next time you cook up some bacon, drain off the fat and save a bit in a jar in the refrigerator. It keeps quite a long time.
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