Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Food For Thought and Something from Nothing #19: Crispy Roasted Garbanzo Beans

As a food blogger and recipe writer, sometimes I feel like I just can't win. There has been a time or two when I feel like the old saying, "You can't  please all of the people all of the time . . . ", was written especially for me. So if you'll please bear with me while I write one more story related to the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest I'd really appreciate it, because it illustrates this point.

When writing my recipe for Pillsbury, I set some parameters for myself. First and foremost I wanted to try and identify who might be making my recipe. My very unscientific train of thought led me to the assumption that a regular middle America family of four, on a budget would be my (and probably Pillsbury's) target audience.

Since I also imagined that my target family would have 2.3 kids in this family and not much time to seek out any special ingredients due to work, soccer games, homework and laundry, I wanted to include ingredients that they might already have in their pantries.

Ok, stay with me, we're almost there!

My recipe for Bacon Corncakes (my play on the words corn cakes and pancakes) was inspired by my love for pancakes and breakfast for dinner as a child. I added some bacon to compliment all that sweetness, and used some sweetened condensed milk to do double duty as an ingredient in my corn cakes and as well as in my sauce when I combined it with maple flavored pancake syrup.

I figured that my imagined family would most likely have a bottle of pancake syrup in their pantry, so when I wrote this recipe, this is what I called for. Pillsbury didn't state "maple flavored syrup" in my recipe, I did, for this reason and this reason alone. I, nor Pillsbury, received any bribes from the High Fructose Corn Syrup Society of America or anyone else, to put this in my recipe.

Ok, finally, here we go. . .

The night before the Bake-Off Contest, after a day full of orientation, mingling, and maybe just a little bit of drinking, tired but keyed up, I returned to my room and turned on my computer to check my e-mails and Facebook messages before falling into bed.

I received so many good luck messages that I was overwhelmed and amazed by how loved and supported I am. Among these well wishes, a friend of mine posted a sweet message on her Facebook wall about my quest to win a million dollars with a link to my recipe in an effort to rally her troops for me. Most of her friends, even those who had no idea who I was, cheered me on, but there was one who wasn't so complimentary.

This friend of my friend, made the comment that she didn't understand why I didn't use real maple syrup for my recipe, and something to the fact that people in New England would be appalled at the idea of using pancake syrup instead of the real stuff. While she is probably right about the New Englanders, I would like to interject that I believe had I called for pure maple syrup, I would have probably been criticized for tainting it with canned sweetened condensed milk.

Anyway, she went on to say more or less that I was the same kind of ignorant (my word, but her insinuation) person that would use margarine instead of real butter. Oh boy, I won't even go there. I wish she would have just said she didn't like it. That, I would have understood.

What really amazed me was that she obviously cared enough to research her point by even checking the list of qualifying ingredients for the contest, concluding that since pancake syrup wasn't on the list, Pillsbury must have had some sinister motives by calling for it in their official recipe.

I left her a message stating that she is of course welcome to use any kind of syrup that she'd like, and that I wrote my recipe so that it is approachable for everyone, even those who were not as lucky as her to have been weaned on Grade B Vermont gold, as she stated in one of her comments. I also went on to congratulate her on being so fortunate.

I won't go on and on about my disappointment in those who judge and forget that not everyone can afford pure maple syrup, organic vegetables and meat, and not everyone is lucky enough to get to cook with $20.00 bottles of wine instead of looking at a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck as an extravagance.  Yes, dear friend of my friend on Facebook, there are people out there that have to look at the price before they can put food in their shopping cart. It is just that simple.

As for me, I am pretty blessed. I shop pretty much where I want, when I want, within reason, but it wasn't always like that. I've had some very lean times in my life that I will never forget and those days remain with me to this day. I still clip coupons, shop the sale racks first and love it when my blogging or contesting provides me with free food to sample, and of course a little cash close to Christmas (thanks again Pillsbury).

When I was a child my family lived in apartment complexes that my mother often managed to offset our rent, while my dad worked long, hard hours X-raying welds on pipe. As children my sister and I often heard the word "no", and it didn't kill us, in fact it made the "yeses" more special. I can only imagine what my parents would have said if we would have asked for Vermont gold for our pancakes.

I really had no intention of climbing on my soapbox and writing about any of this, but shortly after returning from Vegas someone shared a blog post that fellow Coloradan and Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist, Kim Doyle Wille had written for the Huffington Post. I had just met her at the Bake-Off, in fact her recipe for Thai Shrimp Pizza also won her $5000 and the prize for the Jif Innovation Award at the same time I won my prize just a few weeks ago.

In her candid post Kim wrote about her unemployment, her health issues and about her embarrassment in admitting to the fact that she bought the ingredients for her award winning recipe with her SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) benefits. 

She also addressed the impact that government cutbacks and The Sequester have had on benefits like these and therefore on the most vulnerable of our population. At present over 47 million people, most of them the working poor, are receiving some sort of SNAP assistance. For more information about SNAP benefits, the 2009 increase and the 2013 cutbacks, please click here.

It was almost a year ago when I had the pleasure of attending a Cooking Matters class at an area middle school. At these classes qualifying children and their parents are taught how to prepare simple, nutritious and delicious meals on the very slim $35 dollars per person per week (about $1.50 per person per meal) that is the average SNAP benefit. It was an energetic and fun class and I had a blast, and I am ashamed to say that despite my best intentions, I have not been to another.

Shortly after attending this class, I took a mini SNAP challenge and entered a Cooking Matters recipe competition to make a satisfying meal for $1.50 per person. I did my best to make something that was delicious and could be stretched enough to fill the stomach of a growing 17 year old boy like the one I had in my house at the time. It wasn't easy, but in the end I came up with something that I was quite happy with and that my family really enjoyed.

I encourage everyone to take the SNAP Challenge, but I know that dedicating a whole week to it might be really hard this time of year, so maybe think about taking an unofficial mini SNAP Challenge.  Try making just one nutritious and delicious main meal for your family that costs $1.50 per person. Then imagine doing it day after day after day. It was a real eye opener for me.

Thinking about people on a tight budget and inexperienced cooks are two reasons why I started posting my Something From Nothing recipes a little over a year ago. I think we all know what it's like to look around the kitchen and not be able to come up with any ideas, so I thought I'd pass on some of the little dishes I've either discovered or managed to scraped up over the years when I found myself in the same predicament. I know it is really challenging at times, but cooking snacks and main meals when your ingredients are very limited can be done, it just takes a little more imagination.

If any of this inspires you to help, there are many programs in which you can get involved. Volunteers are always needed at food banks, rescue missions and programs like Cooking Matters and Plant a Row to End Hunger. There are also many local programs like Denver's own Yard Harvest, where local gardeners can register their gardens and donate their extra fruit and vegetables to feed the hungry. You won't have to look too far to find programs in your own area, information is usually just a few key strokes away.

Crispy Roasted Garbanzo Beans

This time of year everyone likes to have snacks around to share with friends or family. These toasted garbanzo beans are perfect for people on a tight budget. I found a can of garbanzos on sale at my local Safeway for $.65. I used seasoned salt to flavor mine, but salt and pepper or any favorite seasoning will finish these nicely. I kind of liken the flavor as a cross between a corn nut and a wasabi pea without the wasabi.

1 - 15 ounce can garbanzo beans
Non-stick spray
Salt and Pepper or your favorite seasoning blend

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Drain and rinse garbanzo beans.  Lay beans on a double thickness of paper towels.  Place another double thickness on top and gently press to dry.

Spray a 9 x 13" baking dish lightly with non-stick cooking spray.  Pour dried beans into the prepared baking dish and tilt the dish back and forth to lightly coat the beans.

Place baking dish into the preheated oven. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and swirl the pan around to move the beans around. Place baking dish back into the oven and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. Remove and swirl the pan again. Place the pan back in the oven and at this point you need to watch carefully because they cook quickly from this point on. I like to take the beans out of the oven when they are golden brown and crunchy with a little bit of creaminess in the center. Beans will continue to dry as they cool.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper or seasoned salt and serve.

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