Monday, February 27, 2012

Vietnamese Cauliflower with Straw Mushrooms

Leeks, cauliflower and straw mushrooms — what an interesting and healthy combination. This is another recipe from the Operation Rice Bowl archives. It may be an atypical medley for most of us but it’s certainly worth considering as an opportunity to step out of our own cultural cooking patterns to try something that our global family members may be eating in Vietnam. And, more importantly, it offers us the chance to connect with them through compassion and understanding. CJK

Vietnamese Cauliflower with Straw Mushrooms
(Operation Rice Bowl)

2 cups cauliflower florets
2 leeks (white part only) 
2 tbsp. soy sauce
4 tbsp. water, divided
1/2 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. oil
1 cup straw mushrooms

4 cups rice, cooked

Cut cauliflower florets into thin lengthwise slices. Slice leeks crosswise into thin slices. Place in separate bowls.

Combine soy sauce, 2 tbsp. water and sugar in a small bowl.

Heat oil in a frying pan over high heat. Put the leeks in the hot oil and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower. Add 2 tbsp. water and cover. Turn heat to medium high and cook for 2 minutes.

Uncover and add straw mushrooms and soy sauce mixture. Cook while stirring for 2 minutes. Serve over rice.

Yield: 4 servings

A note from Carol: If you cannot buy fresh straw mushrooms in your area, look for the canned ones, which are sometimes available in Asian sections of supermarkets. Or, substitute a variety that is more easily obtained. Straw mushrooms are mild in flavor but meaty in texture. You may want to try shiitakes, porcini or cremini in their place. Common white button mushrooms would work just fine, as well.

Can’t find leeks? You can use onions or green onions instead.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Vietnamese Fried Rice

Perhaps you tried the Vietnamese Spring Rolls recipe on Friday. If you did, I hope you enjoyed the zippy, fresh taste of the cilantro or mint combined with the flavorful, healthy veggies. Hopefully, preparing and eating them provided an opportunity for you to relate to the people of Vietnam in thought and prayer.

Vietnam is one of the countries Catholic Relief Services is featuring this year through its Operation Rice Bowl program. Here’s another recipe from the ORB recipe archives. Fried rice is a staple meal in Asian countries — nutritious and easy. Consider giving this meatless, tasty recipe a try during Lent this year, as well. CJK

Vietnamese Fried Rice
(Operation Rice Bowl)

1 cup rice, uncooked (or 3 cups cooked rice)

1-3 tbsp. oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce
1/3 cup peas, cooked
1/3 cup carrots, cooked
1/3 cup shredded cabbage*
2 eggs, beaten**

Cook rice according to instructions.

Heat oil in a frying pan or wok over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic in oil until soft. Add cooked rice and soy sauce and stir-fry for about 5 minutes. Add peas, carrots and cabbage and stir well. Add eggs and stir carefully until the eggs are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Yield: 4 servings

A note from Carol: This is a good basic recipe for fried rice. Any vegetables you have on hand could be added to this elementary dish. *As I mentioned in the spring roll recipe last week, you could substitute coleslaw mix for the cabbage and carrots if you already have it on hand or want to save a little time in the “chopping arena.”

**Another way to add the beaten eggs would be to cook them (like a pancake) first. Cool and then slice in short, thin strips to add to the fried rice at the end.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Vietnamese Vegetable Spring Rolls

In this uncomplicated and inviting meal, fresh herbs and vegetables are rolled in thin rice paper wrappers and served with a tangy garlic and rice wine vinegar dipping sauce. But it’s no ordinary fare — simple as it is, it has the power to initiate abundant change in the world.

It’s one of the recipes shared by Operation Rice Bowl, a Lenten program that offers a tangible way to connect with our brothers and sisters in need around the globe. For more than 35 years, this well-organized, thought-provoking program has encouraged participants to put the money they save from eating modest, meatless meals during Lent into a symbolic “rice bowl” to be donated to Catholic Relief Services.
For the six weeks of Lent, ORB highlights countries where poor communities are being strengthened by the work of the Catholic Church through CRS. An online collection of short videos, personal stories and simple meatless recipes from each country, along with a daily guide, provides reflections and ideas to enhance one’s Lenten experience.  

Stop in again tomorrow to view a short video of The Visitor’s editor, Joe Towalski, creating these delicious spring rolls. CJK

Vietnamese Vegetable Spring Rolls
(Operation Rice Bowl)

Photo by Philip Laubner/CRS
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced and crushed
2 tbsp. sugar

Spring Rolls
1 cup cooked thin rice noodles
1/3 head green cabbage, chopped
5 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup carrots, grated or julienned
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1/4 cup fresh herbs (cilantro, basil or mint), finely chopped
1 pkg. rice paper wrappers (about 8 1/2 inches)

Combine all sauce ingredients in small saucepan and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to thicken. Cool before serving.

Cook rice noodles as described on package. Lightly steam cabbage, green onions and carrots until slightly tender. Toss noodles, steamed vegetables, bean sprouts and herbs in large bowl.

Quickly submerge a rice paper wrapper in warm water and lay on a smooth surface. Place about 2 tablespoons of mix on each wrapper and fold wrapper into shape.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

A note from Carol: As usual, I found myself in a bit of a rush when preparing these tasty spring rolls. My shortcut method includes substituting coleslaw mix for the chopped cabbage and grated carrots. I lightly sautéed it with the chopped green onions rather than steaming the mixture, as suggested. I used canned bean sprouts, which were easier for me to find than fresh ones.

I thought the dipping sauce was pleasantly balanced between sweet and sour and the piquant, distinctive taste of garlic. It tasted great with the spring rolls!

Fresh spring rolls are often served with a peanut-based dipping sauce. Here’s a slightly spicy version that I adapted from a recipe I found on All Recipes.Com.

Whisk together 1/2 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter, the juice of one lime, 1 clove of garlic (minced), 1 tbsp. Siracha Hot Chili Sauce (or another hot sauce), 2 tbsp. hoisin sauce, 2 tbsp. coconut milk, 1 tbsp. soy sauce and 1/4 cup hot water. Add more hot water, if needed to reach desired consistency. (Mix in 1/8 to 1/4 cup finely chopped roasted peanuts, if desired.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Operation Rice Bowl Prayer

Oh loving Lord,
during this Lenten season I lift up my voice to you.
Instill in my heart the desire to hear 
your voice
in the voices of 
the poor,  your people.
May I find in their example the path to 
my conversion.
Bless my prayer,  fasting,  learning and giving
in this season of grace.
May these actions answer the call to transform 
our world.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mardi Gras Cupcakes ‘Fit for a King’

Instead of making the traditional King Cake, a colorful braided brioche with a miniature plastic baby baked inside, I chose a perky, playful approach for my contribution to the Fat Tuesday potluck for diocesan employees at the Pastoral Center tomorrow. I created both chocolate and white cupcakes with a bite of cream cheese and candy morsels filling. Another layer of cream cheese flavor was added through the ambrosial frosting which was sprinkled with the customary purple, green and gold sugars. And, inside one white and one chocolate cupcake there is a plastic baby figurine. I hope the recipients of that tiny trinket feel like a “king or queen for the day.” CJK

Mardi Gras Cupcakes ‘Fit for a King’
 (Recipes adapted from All

Photo by Bill Vossler
1 (15.25 oz.) package Dark Chocolate Cake mix
Ingredients to prepare cake mix

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips*

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Adornment and Surprise**
3 oz. green decorating sugar
3 oz. purple decorating sugar
3 oz. gold decorating sugar
1 (1” plastic baby figurine)

Preheat oven to 350°F (or to the temperature recommended on the cake mix package). Line cupcake tins with paper baking liners.

Prepare the cake mix according to the package directions, but do not bake.

In a separate bowl, cream together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg until well blended, then stir in the chocolate chips.

Place the plastic baby in the bottom of one of the cupcake liners.

Fill each cupcake liner only 1/4 full with cake batter and then top each about 1 1/2 tbsp. of the cream cheese mixture. Follow with another layer of the cake batter — taking care to fill each paper liner only 2/3 full.***

Bake according to package directions for cupcakes.**** Cool on wire racks.

To prepare frosting, beat softened butter and cream cheese until well blended. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until creamy.

Ice cooled cupcakes with frosting and sprinkle with decorating sugars.

Yield: 24 cupcakes

 A note from Carol: *Any flavor of morsels would be pleasing — it’s your choice. I chose to use “swirled milk chocolate and caramel morsels.” (Delicious!)

I had the same problem as some of the reviewers as far as the filling sinking to the bottom. One reason could be that it is heavier than the batter. I decided that with cream cheese frosting on top, cream cheese filling on the bottom and a few nibbles of sweet cake in between I could accept this minor problem.

Photo by Bill Vossler
**I was able to find the green decorating sugar at a grocery store but the gold and purple sugars and the plastic babies came from our local bakery. They had the items on hand as they were preparing to make traditional “king cakes” themselves. 

You might also choose to forgo the sugar and simply divide and color the frosting green, purple and gold. Another diminutive trinket, an orange wedge or dry bean or pea could be substituted for the plastic baby figurine.

*** You could use a small scoop to put the cake batter and cream cheese mixture in the cupcake liners. 

Or, put the mixtures into separate “snap and seal” plastic bags and snip off a small corner of each bag to pour the batters into the paper liners. (Actually, I used a Williams Sonoma Pancake Pen to dispense the cake batter — it made the process so easy!)

****We all know that ovens can vary in “true” temperatures so I don’t want to give too much advice in this area. However, just for the record, one reviewer said she only baked her cupcakes for exactly 18 minutes and they weren’t burned on the bottom (which must have been a problem for others).

And, another reviewer said she removed them when they “still seemed a bit jiggly” to avoid burning and she also mentioned that “the cream cheese filling needs time to cool and set up.” So after reading those comments, I chose to bake mine for only 18 minutes, which also worked perfectly for my oven! (They weren’t “jiggly,” but if they had been, I wouldn’t have worried.)

The second batch of cupcakes that I made for the potluck were created with a French Vanilla cake mix, strawberry cream cheese and classic white chips, as one reviewer of the recipe suggested. (Nice combination!)

It’s important to tell those who will be eating the cupcakes that a baby figurine or other trinket (which could be a choking hazard) is hidden inside one of them. That way all the  “eaters of the sweets” will be on the lookout for it and happy to be named the “special person of the day” if it is hidden inside their cupcake.

A Mardi Gras tradition

Tomorrow is known as Mardi Gras Day or Fat Tuesday. It’s the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent for Christians around the world. It’s considered a day of great celebration for some, especially in New Orleans!

Mardi Gras parties in that Louisiana city are not complete without a King Cake — sweet bread dough filled with cream cheese or fruit, braided into an oval ring to represent a crown. It’s topped with a fondant icing and colored sugar: green for faith, purple for justice and gold for power. A small item is baked inside, usually an itty-bitty plastic baby symbolic of Baby Jesus. 

Over the years various duties or privileges have come with being the one who finds the baby in their piece of decorated bread. Nowadays, at many events, the person who found the baby is regarded as the “King or Queen” of the party. CJK 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Almond Cheesecake

The “Cooking School” Collection 2012

Former Principal Sheila Seelhammer
Sacred Heart Area School
Staples, Minnesota

Cheesecake has gained the reputation of being the “ultimate dessert”! A lot of people endorse that point of view. Oh sure – there are crème brûlée, pot de crème, truffle and baklava devotees — and those, of course, enamored with countless other desserts. (And, honestly, I don’t have an argument with any of them — desserts are good — why banter about this wonderful “food group”?) 

But, let’s say you have to stand up and be counted. What then? OK. I’ll do it — yes, for me, cheesecake is the ultimate dessert.

Sheila Seelhammer is a fellow home economics teacher (a subject now called Family and Consumer Sciences) who later became a principal. She’s sharing an over-the-top recipe as far as I’m concerned — Almond Cheesecake. CJK

Almond Cheesecake
(Sheila Seelhammer)

1 1/4 cup crushed vanilla wafers
3/4 cup finely chopped almonds
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

4 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla

Top layer:
2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

1/8 cup toasted almonds

Mix the ingredients for the crust and press into the bottom of a 10-inch spring form pan.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the ingredients for the filling, adding the eggs one at a time, and pour it over the crust.

Bake cheesecake at 350°F for 55 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it stand for five minutes.

Combine the ingredients for the top layer and spread over the baked cake. Return to the oven for five minutes.

Cool the cheesecake overnight. Sprinkle with toasted almonds just before serving.

Yield: 12 to 16 servings

A note from Sheila: This recipe is one of my all-time favorites! I’ve made it for years and it’s always a hit! For a party this past Christmas season I made it in individual servings starting with mini cupcake liners, placing a vanilla wafer in each. I added a dollop of the cheesecake filling and baked them for about 15 minutes or until the top was set. Then, I crowned them with a spoonful of the top layer mixture and baked for another three to five minutes. Instead of the almonds, I garnished each with a raspberry. They were beautiful and truly delicious!

A note from Carol: Sheila was the principal at Sacred Heart Area School , a pre-kindergarten through 6th grade elementary school, in Staples, Minnesota, for five years before she retired in 2007. (The current principal is Jim Opelia, who has been at the school since 1998 — 10 years as a fourth-grade teacher and four as principal.)

Sheila’s husband, Jim, is a building contractor and owner of Slammer Construction in Deer Creek. Sheila and Jim have four grown sons — all married — and five grandchildren (with another blessing on the way). The Seelhammers are members of St. Edward Parish in Henning.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Dip

The “Cooking School” Collection 2012

Principal Jason Smith
St. Henry’s Area School
Perham, Minnesota

Jason Smith admits he’s not much of a cook. But, this “Buffalo Chicken Dip” is one recipe he does have in his cooking repertoire. He often brings it to gatherings for an appetizer.

“It tastes like buffalo wings so it’s hot and spicy and it’s an easy thing I can throw together in a ‘crockpot’ and go,” Jason explained. “I plug it in when I get there and it’s ready to go in no time. It’s a great recipe for the Super Bowl!” CJK

Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Dip
(Jason Smith)

4 (12.5 oz) cans of chicken breast, shredded
1 (12 oz.) bottle of hot sauce*
2 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
1 (16 oz.) bottle of ranch dressing
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese (or a combination of both)

Spray stoneware crock of slow cooker with no-stick cooking spray.

Combine ingredients in slow cooker. Heat on “low” until bubbling. Serve with celery sticks or other vegetables, tortilla chips or crackers.

Yield: 20 to 30 servings

A note from Jason: **I like to use Louisiana Hot Sauce®.

A note from Carol: A native of Perham, Jason returned after college to teach at St. Henry’s Area School there 12 years ago. He is in his fourth year of serving as principal at the school while continuing to teach fifth and sixth grade language arts as well.

Jason and his wife, Lisa, who teaches kindergarten at Frazee Public School, have three sons: Andrew (8), Morgan (5) and Isaac (3). They are members of St. Henry’s Parish in Perham.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Potluck Peanut Butter Oat Bars

 The “Cooking School” Collection 2012

Principal Paula Becker
Christ the King School
Browerville, Minnesota


These peanut butter oat bars can be “ready in a snap” for potlucks, as their name implies. But, I wouldn’t stop there — they would be most appreciated for any occasion.

Paula Becker has been baking them for events of all kinds for the last 18 years. “This is an ‘old faithful recipe’ for me because I always have the ingredients for it on hand,” she said. “Every time I take them somewhere I get asked for the recipe. It is so easy that it is almost embarrassing. People think the recipe is going to be more complicated than it is.”

I whipped up a batch last week and definitely agree with Paula that they are not only a cinch to make but also very tasty! CJK

Potluck Peanut Butter Oat Bars
(Paula Becker)

(Photos by Bill Vossler)
2/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. vanilla
4 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1/3 cup peanut butter

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a 9 by13-inch pan with no-stick cooking spray.

Combine the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla and oats together in a stand mixer or by hand. Press into prepared pan and bake at 400°F for 12 to 14 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes.

Heat the chocolate and butterscotch chips and peanut butter in the microwave for two minutes and mix until well blended. Spread on top of warm bars. Cool before cutting. 

Yield: 36 bars

A note from Paula: My sons all love these bars — they are a family favorite! Over time I’ve tried both creamy and crunchy peanut butter for the recipe and have found that I like the texture of creamy peanut butter best.

A note from Carol: Paula Becker has been the principal at Christ the King School for eight years. She teaches pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes there as well. She formerly taught at St. Mary of Mount Carmel School in Long Prairie for one year and St. Andrew School in Elk River for four and a half years.

Paula and her husband, Chad, president and CEO of MetaFarms Inc., an agriculture technology company, attend Christ the King Parish in Browerville with their family. They have four sons: Nathan (19), Nicholas (15), Noah (14) and Nye (9). Chad, Nicholas and Noah are all alumni of Christ the King School, where Nye is a fourth-grader. Nathan is an alumnus of St. Andrew School.

The Potluck Peanut Butter Oat Bars are one of the more than 450 recipes featured in the “Christ the King Family Recipes” cookbook, which can be purchased for $12 each (plus postage and handling) from the school. Contact Roxanne Determan, school secretary/bookkeeper, at 320-594-6114 or to buy one.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Grilled Baby-Back Ribs With Birmingham Barbecue Sauce

The “Cooking School” Collection 2012

Assistant Principal Mary Sowada
Mary of Lourdes Elementary and Middle Schools
Little Falls, Minnesota

Yummm!!! Talk about finger lickin’ good! Mary Sowada and her husband, Gary, found this exceptional recipe for pork baby-back ribs in Joe Famularo’s “The Joy of Grilling” cookbook about 15 years ago. It is their all-time family favorite.

“Everybody loves these ribs,” Mary said. “This is our kids’ favorite meal and what they always request for their birthdays or other special occasions! Whenever we’ve made them for friends, they want the recipe.”

These ribs sound so tempting and mouthwatering that I can hardly wait for Minnesota’s snow to melt and our grilling season to return. I’ll be dreaming about trying them until then! CJK

Grilled Baby-Back Ribs 
With Birmingham Barbecue Sauce
(Mary Sowada)

5 to 6 lbs. pork baby-back ribs

3 tbsp. peanut oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, minced
2/3 cup tomato catsup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp. brown sugar

Trim the ribs, including fat and membrane, leaving the rack of ribs whole and at room temperature.

Combine all other ingredients, except the honey and brown sugar, to make a marinade. Lay ribs flat in a glass or ceramic dish and pour marinade over them. Allow ribs to marinate at least four hours. (Or refrigerate overnight to gain maximum flavor. Bring to room temperature before grilling.)

Remove the ribs from marinade. Scrape marinade from ribs with a rubber spatula and reserve. Grill ribs over a slow fire for about 40 minutes, turning every five minutes. (Take care to not let the fire flare up and burn them.)

Place reserved marinade in a saucepan and add sugar and honey. Heat only until the sugar is dissolved. Brush on ribs and continue grilling about 20 minutes more, basting as often as necessary to keep ribs moist.

Slice ribs just before serving.

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

A note from Mary: Gary grills the ribs while I prepare other dishes for the meal. He would tell you to watch them carefully and to keep a spray bottle near the grill to put out any flames. Flare-ups occur and you don’t want to burn the ribs.

My recommendation is to have lots of napkins on hand.

A note from Carol: This is Mary’s first year as assistant principal for Mary of Lourdes Elementary and Middle Schools in Little Falls. (Maria Heymans-Becker is the principal for both schools.)

Mary has taught in a number of locations over the years — a majority of those positions were overseas in international schools or language schools in cities where the couple was living. Gary’s work as a computer programmer for the airlines took them to Belgrade, Yugoslavia; Mexico City, Mexico; Helsinki, Finland; France; and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Mary and Gary are the parents of three children: Sebastian (16), Sophia (12) and Katherine (8). The Sowadas live on the family farm near Little Falls where Gary grew up. They are members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Little Falls.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Principal or principle?

I still recall how a dear teacher, Mrs. (Anna) Rodahl, explained the difference to us, as third graders, between the two like-sounding words “principle” and “principal.” She told us to remember that our school principals would always be our “pals” — our friends — someone we could count on and go to if we had a problem. What a sweet memory (and clever homonym) this wise, seasoned teacher gave me!

In celebration of Catholic Schools Week (January 29 through February 5), four princiPALS from schools in the St. Cloud Diocese share a favorite recipe with FFF readers. Please check back over the next few days for postings on “Grilled Baby-Back Ribs with Birmingham Barbecue Sauce,” “Potluck Peanut Butter Oat Bars,” “Buffalo Chicken Dip” and “Almond Cheesecake.”

At this special time of year, I’d like to recognize the 31 principals, 446 teachers and countless other staff members who keep the 31 schools — elementary, middle and highin the diocese running smoothly through their love for students and their faith.

During the month of February, let’s join together in thanking those that work at a Catholic school for all the good things they are doing — let them know how much you appreciate their unique gifts and the way they share them with young people! CJK