Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rosemary Parmesan Crackers

Adapted from Parmesan Cream Crackers by Mark Bittman
2 cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup packed and grated Parmesan cheese
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup cream
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
1 tsp each: ground pepper, nice flaky salt for sprinkling

Pre-heat oven to 400°. Pulse flour, salt, cheese and butter in a food processor until combined. Add the cream and let machine run; adding more cream if needed, a teaspoon at a time, until mixture holds together but is not sticky. Divide dough in half and roll out on a lightly floured board until 1/8" thick. Carefully transfer rolled out dough to Silpat (or parchment) lined baking sheet. Sprinkle top of dough with sea salt, ground pepper, and chopped rosemary. Pat toppings lightly with hands. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes, rotating pans half way through cooking time. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temp.

My Notes: These are not as crispy as I was hoping for, but they sure taste good and were quite easy.

Pick A Peck Of Pretty Pink Peppers

After reading this article about pink pepper-berries, I couldn't wait to see if there were any growing at my Mom's house when I visited for Christmas. Just off the back yard, there is a huge and graceful Peruvian pepper tree. That's where my tree-house was when the tree and I were much younger, but I don't ever remember there being pink berries on it. Turns out that these trees bear little or no fruit if there are not enough female flowers present. Since I've been away though, there has been a new Brazilian pepper tree growing under and among some other plants by the fence, stretching way up high for a bit of sunlight. And there were pink berries on it. Not a lot, but a few. The scrawny lanky "tree" was a volunteer in the yard, and though I didn't pick a peck* of pepper-berries, I did manage to reach a couple small clusters. Next time we'll need to get the ladder out. With these rosy little foraged berries, homemade crusty bread, and some goat cheese, we'll be all set for New Year's Eve! Now if only I had the thyme...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blackberry Lemon Redemption Cookies

Blackberry Lemon Redemption Cookies
First of all, these treats were named by my Hubs. I had wanted to call them Reincarnation Cookies or Resurrection Cookies, or even Recycled or Repurposed Cookies. Hmm... How 'bout Metamorphosis Cookies? His idea trumped them all for its sweetness, appropriateness, and positive once-bad-now-good swing.

You see these cookies are the final reward for my Blackberry Pâte de Fruit from last summer. I'd saved it, ate one or two sticky globs, but there wasn't much to be said for it. Except that it was a big fat fail. Disastrous, yet still edible. It was thick, gooey and crunchy (the sugar that it was rolled in had been absorbed but not dissolved), beyond jam but not quite candy. But still there was that incredibly intense blackberry flavor that I couldn't turn my back on. So there it sat in an airtight container in the fridge. In limbo.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

(Hazy Shade Of) Winter Cookies

These cookies are the color of my mood. They are mood-cookies. Did you ever have a mood-ring? I did. When I was in elementary school. I quickly figured out its secret. It was sensitive to heat and would change colors as your body temperature fluctuated. I was a skinny little kid though and most of the time my ring only turned dark blue. That's the first color it would go to beyond the default black. If I rubbed my hands together (or put them under warm water), the ring would change to all sorts of lovely teals and amber colors. But it didn't really tell my mood. These cookies though? They are doing just that.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I thank heaven there is no cheaper form of bread than bread.
- Dodie Smith, I Capture The Castle, 1948

Pan co'Sante


My Notes: Did not have bread flour, so I used AP instead. Initial rise was 15 hours in oven overnight with light on. Used the parchment paper method from CI instead of the floured dish-towel method used in the recipe. Did not knead it at all. I slashed the top before baking. Not sure if oven was to temp. Didn't get the rise it should have had. Will try again with a little bit of kneading, and a higher initial temp. Smells and tastes great regardless!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

There Is No P In Granny Smith*

apple crostataIt was time to try making an apple crostata. I don't know why, but today was the perfect day for it. It just was. The rain we were promised (threatened with) earlier in the week finally materialized. And how. We were snug and warm inside though, and there was a round of crostata dough wrapped up in the freezer. I felt an urge to bake. Something new, yet also familiar. Apple crostata. By now, my friends are probably wondering if I know how to make anything else. How many of these have I made in the last 6 months? 10? 12 or more? But apple, I've never tried. Wanted to, but was never sure of the outcome. Apples are generally firmer than peaches, plums and pears*. How would they act within this recipe?

I just finished reading an excellent cookbook/memoir**, and in it the author describes an apple pie like the one I made years ago: piled high with apples going into the oven, coming out with a big space under the top crust where the apples used to be. They had cooked down while the crust stayed in place. Her solution was to sauté the apples first and then pile them into the pastry. Since this was an experimental crostata, I decided to try it both ways: cooked and raw in the same crust. This was my idea of "blind baking"; I had absolutely no idea what would happen. This one wouldn't be leaving my kitchen to be foisted onto unsuspecting friends though, so nobody would be thinking to themselves, "Crostata? Again?". Frankly, most of it wouldn't even live to see the following day. We ate it before AND after dinner, then forced ourselves to wrap it up and save some for the following day. I just know, that with the littlest bit of encouragement, we would have polished off the whole thing. Was it perfect in every way? No. Did it look magazine-cover gorgeous? No. Did it taste really really good? Uh, yep!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Vintage-Look Cordial Labels

Here is a link to some really cute download-able digital labels for your next homemade cordial* project:
*Note to self: Do not attempt to make cranberry cordial again. I know it sounds like it would be really good, but it comes out tasting like cough syrup. Really potent adult cough syrup. Now if that's what you wanted to make in the first place, go for it. Just make sure you label it accordingly!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Veg Stock

Recently empowered by making turkey stock (and desperately needing more space in my freezer), I decided to make some vegetable stock.

I'd been saving up veggie scraps in a big heavy-duty zip-top bag in the freezer for just this purpose: carrot ends, onion ends, chard stems, herb stems, slightly soft squash, potatoes, tomatoes, and wilted greens, among other things. Almost any vegetable scrap is fair game so long as it's not too far gone. The bag was full, so the time was now...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Turkey Veg Soup

Two weeks ago the Hubs & I watched some Jacques Pépin episodes for the first time. It was one of those head-shaking "where have we been all this time?" moments for us. The man is a total rock star! Well, the next day I was out "thrifting" with a friend and she finds a Jacques Pépin cookbook on the rack. Of course I bought it. It was all of a dollar I think. How could I not?

Yesterday I made turkey stock with that big carcass from Thanksgiving, and today I went looking for a turkey soup recipe. Imagine my surprise when I found the perfect one in my new Jacques Pépin book! Coincidence? Maybe... maybe not. Using some of that fantastic turkey stock from yesterday and armed with my rockstar cookbook, I made up a batch of turkey soup, packed with vegetables...

Monday, November 30, 2009

"This meat has surely been used for soup," 
said Miss Bartlett, laying down her fork.
- A Room With A View by E. M. Forster

The Ultimate Leftover

T he other night, we drove home after having spent a wonderful Thanksgiving with our friends. We were fat, happy, warm, and fuzzy... and we were toting the carcass of a 19-pound bird in a plastic bag. It is without a doubt, the ultimate leftover. It is also a very welcome and a generous gift. Wanna know what we did with it? We made turkey stock of course! Lots and lots of gorgeous golden rich turkey stock. It's so good, I may just have to start roasting turkeys... they really are so versatile (and much more flavorful than chickens). In the meantime, I'll just have to rely on the kindness of friends who know how much I value a roasted bird carcass, or to use the more genteel phraseology... a "turkey frame".

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cranberry Orange Sauce

A not-so-very basic cranberry sauce that everybody will like... even people who say they don't really like cranberry sauce. Sections of orange give it some freshness, while the zest lends zip to compliment the zing from the ginger. Make this ahead of time because it'll give the flavors time to get to know one another and more importantly, it'll be one less thing for you to do on turkey-day...


Cranberry Orange Sauce
Adapted from: Page 206, Martha Stewart Living magazine, November 2005

Monday, November 23, 2009

Colors Not Found In Nature

"It's fruitcake weather!" I can't make these cookies without thinking about A Christmas Memory, the short story by Truman Capote. Sweet, wistful, and wonderful; one of those stories that is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. So good when done well. And this one surely is. There is an old television production of it starring Geraldine Page that is excellently done. It used to air every year around the holidays, and hopefully still does. As good as that teleplay is, it's the book that always grabs at my heart the hardest. To read the words is to be rewarded. Rewarded by the elegant writing, tangible descriptions, sweet and tender sentiment... I will read it again this year. Like fruitcake, it's tradition.

My Mom used to make these cookies when I was growing up, but it's a big job these cookies. I started making them the year I got married. I'll never forget it: I bought 6 lbs. of pecans when I needed 6 cups. We put pecans in everything that year. This year I added flour in when it should have been sugar. But it all worked out. It always does, one way or another.

Twelve dozen cookies later and I was finally done. The music on the stereo came to an end and the house was suddenly quiet. I leaned against the counter, closed my eyes and bit into one of the cookies... in that one moment was the Christmas of my childhood. I heard bells chiming. Turns out they really were! There's a church nearby that plays bells every hour. It was five o'clock. My senses and memories converged, just for one perfect moment. Every once and a while that happens. Or maybe it happens all the time and I only notice it every once and a while.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Crazy Good Crock Pot Stuffing

This is what results from having to drive 5 hours away for Thanksgiving dinner with the family, not having a working oven at home, no oven-space available at our destination, and yet... still wanting to bring something homemade towards the meal. Sometimes great things are born of these situations, sometimes disasters. This, thankfully was one of the great things.

I did all the prep the night before we left, bagged it all up according to dry, wet, refrigerated, etc. In the morning we packed it all in the cooler with ice packs, chucked the crockpot in the back of the car and hit the road.

Stuffing saves the day!
As it turned out, we didn't arrive in time to heat the stuffing up before dinner. But before you get all weepy and dejected (like I did at first), there was another stuffing already there (yes, I think they were just humoring me) so our Thanksgiving was not stuffing-less. The important thing to note here though was that there was none of that other stuffing left at the end of the day. (Can you see where this is going yet?)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Orange Oat Raisin Scones

Let's see, where was I? Oh yes, I was telling you about the afternoon tea I had with my friend...

We were treated (among other delights) with freshly baked scones. Since that day I have had scones on the brain, and it has culminated in today's scone-fest. It really should be called "baking therapy". I see that now. I was stressed, so I baked. I was stressed, so I baked two different kinds of scones simultaneously at 4:30 in the afternoon. For no reason. Yes, baking therapy. Rx: Bake two scones and call me in the morning... we'll have tea.

Cornmeal Cranberry Scones


Last weekend a friend took me out to tea. How I love saying that! Took me to tea... maybe it's the alliteration, maybe it's because I love tea so much, maybe it's because it was such a terribly lovely surprise. It's no secret, I do so love tea. Not just the drink itself, but also the preparation of it, the vessels that hold and serve it, and the traditions behind it.

Tea is the perfect thing to drink in solitude and yet is even more enjoyable when shared with someone else. Tea can pick you up when you're down, and calm you down when you're wound up. Beautiful poured into a delicate bone china teacup; comforting drunk from a hand-thrown pottery mug. The nibbles that traditionally accompany tea offer up their own kind of comfort as well, whether dainty or rustic in nature. Some things are just so right together.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pear Crostata

E xperimented on my friends again today. I don't really see them as guinea pigs, and I certainly hope they don't feel that way. Often though, I try things for the first time when asked to bring something for a pot-luck. It's that "sink or swim" method that I, for some weird reason, seem to enjoy. "I sure hope this works, because if it doesn't, there's no time to make something else". Maybe I don't have enough stress in my life. Although, if you really think about the term "pot-luck", maybe I shouldn't feel bad: Pot/dish of food and Luck/element of chance. I'm simply contributing to an ancient and cherished cultural tradition. Think about it, if I only brought dishes that were a "sure thing"... how then is the "luck" aspect to be represented?

Today I made a Pear Crostata based on my favorite Peach/Plum Crostata* recipe. Not exactly flying blind, I'll admit, but still I had no idea how the pears would act, or what proportions of stuff to mix with them, etc. My tendency is to lean on a recipe like a person with a broken leg leans on crutches. I need it to support me and take some pressure off, but eventually find that there are times when I can set it aside and hop around on one foot.

So this is me, doing my part to preserve our rich history... without crutches.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hors d'Oeurves and such

We had a most tasty appetizer at J winery in Dry Creek Valley during the Food And Wine Affair event in November of 2007 (I think)... I may have forgotten the date, but not the flavor combination: endive* with fig, blue cheese, and candied pecans. They paired it with one of their wonderful champagnes. Which one? I don't remember that either. Might be fun to try and figure it out though...

Here are a party's worth of other tasty nibbles and garnishes...
*I never know whether to say en-dive or ahn-deev. Oh well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Time

"But we have to have pumpkin pie! It's Thanksgiving!"*
*Quote attributed to my sister.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Meatballs/Meatloaf

A Meatball Time Line:
  • Newly-married... spaghetti is a big part of our diet. Attempted the meatballs from Betty Crocker Good 'n Easy Cookbook. Unremarkable. I don't bother making them again.
  • Trader Joe's opened nearby and we opted to buy their frozen turkey meatballs.
  • My job got outsourced... shifted over to the fresh meatballs at CostCo. More meatballs for less money (and they were tasty too).
  • CostCo stops carrying the tasty meatballs... we start buying the frozen CostCo meatballs.
  • Had to tighten our belts even more*. We return to the arena of the homemade meatball and attempt to identify the secret ingredient in the CostCo meatballs that we loved**. We think caraway seed is it. Made a big batch of meatballs (>4 doz.) to freeze. We were wrong about the caraway seed. Meatballs were not horrible, but not great either.
  • Research herbs, spices and meatballs online... now believe secret ingredient to be: fennel seed. Still had a couple dozen "meatblahs" to wade through before we could try it out.
  • Time passes...
...And here we are today: We have bought the fennel seed, hit up CostCo for what seemed like a truckload of ground meats, and are ready for our next attempt. So, while my man is out front chopping wood, I am making thousands of meatballs. By evening we will be all set for the coming winter. My soundtrack? The smooth, cool, mellow and haunting double discs of Billie Holiday - Lady In Autumn: Best Of The Verve Years. I am in no hurry. I am a meatball making machine. I am in the zone.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pumpkin Chip Cookies

Pumpkin Chip Cookies
A drizzly gray November day means only one thing: perfect baking weather! I had wanted to make these cookies last week, but assumed that the recipe called for butter, which we were out of. How surprised was I to discover that there's no butter in these cookies? While I do love a crisp buttery cookie, it's nice to know that there are options out there. You know, for those times when your inner-cookie monster comes out and starts getting all demanding on you. These are soft, cakey cookies that are super easy to make and should appease most monsters. They would be a great addition to a Hallowe'en party dessert spread. And while it's a little late for that this year, it is still pumpkin season, so no excuses.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Timeless Cherry Cheesecake

When you need a simple and elegant solution for a potluck or even for your own dinner party but don't have enough time. Gather the following items:
  • 1 Frozen Cheesecake (pre-sliced if possible)
  • Pretty cake plate
  • Pretty pie server
  • 1 can Cherry Pie Filling (the goopy kind)
  • Pretty crystal or ceramic bowl
  • Pretty serving spoon
Y es, I repeatedly specified "pretty" serving pieces. That's an important part of this fake. Store-bought foods always always always look better when taken out of their original packaging. By putting the cheesecake on a pedestal with the cherries in a cut glass bowl next to it, it becomes something that is more than the sum of its parts. This really isn't a cost-cutting idea (cherry pie filling is no bargain), or even a last minute bail-out (due to the frozen-ness), it is primarily a time-saving one. It's best to buy the cheesecake the day before, so it can thaw overnight in the fridge (it's kind of hard to pull off a successful fake when the cheesecake is still frozen in the center).

Do this when you know ahead of time that you'll need a dessert and that you won't have the time to spend in the kitchen preparing one. Will everyone know that it's a fake? Certainly. But just like canned white peaches in champagne, they'll all be too busy enjoying it to care!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ghostess With The Mostess

Spooky & Cute: Little Ghost Meringue Cookies
When I was younger, my Mom used to make meringue cookies. It seemed like she made them for every occasion. She made plain ones, pastel-tinted ones, and even mint chocolate chip ones. I think she must've loved making them as much as I loved eating them. As a youngster, I tried making them by myself and they turned out gooey and chewy. We still ate them. But they didn't have that airy crispness that made hers so wonderful. I always meant to try them again, but with so many other cookies out there that weren't finicky, they never were attempted a second time.

As fate would have it, the other day we found ourselves wanting cookies (needing, really) and there was not a lick of butter in the house. (Everyone knows that the "b" in baking stands for butter). We were dejected for sure. But inspiration struck and I said "Honey, there IS a cookie that doesn't call for butter: meringue cookies! Hot diggety!" And so I planned to make some. But before I did, I realized that it's Hallowe'en and I remembered seeing those same meringue cookies made up like little ghosties with chocolate eyes. How perfect was that?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Kick The Can

We always stock up on cans of black beans when we find a really good sale on them. They're great for adding to quesadillas and burritos, and they're super healthy too. We learned some things the hard way though. The sale/store brand beans had ingredients other than just beans and water (and I don't mean spices). They're canned right? What else do you need in there?

What really got our goat was that after draining the "liquid" from the can, we were left with half a can or less of actual beans. By comparison, the regular/name brand cans of beans had less "ingredients" and more beans. Sometimes, every so often, you do get more when you pay more. More of the good and less of the bad. Of course, good healthy food does seem to cost more on the whole than the unhealthy junk. So that really shouldn't surprise me. But, beans?

Well, we finally finished off the last of those bargain beans the other day and it hit me that instead of buying more cans, I could just buy dried beans and cook them myself. And in the interest of our utility bill, I found that I could cook them in the crock pot for even less. Thanks to the instructions linked-to below, I have pre-measured baggies of cooked black beans in our freezer, and more space in our pantry. Not to mention more coin in our pocket... and that's always a good thing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Banana Bread (Basic)

There were more frozen bananas in our freezer than you could shake a stick at.* Probably enough for four loaves of banana bread. At least. That's kind of a lot. So I thawed 6 of them, got out my favorite recipe and then realized that I don't have any whole wheat flour. I don't even have any white whole wheat flour. Back to the books in search of a basic, but potentially yummy banana bread recipe. I found one that looked promising; the most exotic ingredient was sour cream. This also turned out to be the perfect opportunity to try out the Beater Blade Plus that I got as a birthday gift.** After a couple little adjustments, it was running smooth. Yee Haw! I could just kiss the person who invented this thing! Seriously, but I digress... It's like banana bread central around here sometimes. The funny thing is, I never really made it before this last year. But it's cheap, tasty, filling, sort of healthy, freezes well and tastes great even without butter (not many foods can boast that).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ham Hock Bean Soup

Went chasing after a memory today. All this talk about moms, comfort food and cold weather got me thinking about my mom's navy bean soup. While she's looking through her bazillion cookbooks for the recipe she used, I decided to forge ahead and see what I could come up with. What I found was Ham Hock Bean Soup. It had all the required elements, and it seemed a lot like the one I remember. Not that I've ever made it. Mom made it, we ate it and loved it.

This would be the first soup I've ever made. How bizarre is that? There are so many things like that, basic things, that I've never cooked before. I feel like such a newbie in the kitchen sometimes. But now I can say that I've made soup! The Hubs thought it seemed like a really involved and complicated recipe. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. I don't know... never made soup before! There were lots of different stages to this soup, to be sure, but it was pretty straightforward. And it was pretty delicious too. There were no complaints when all was said and done. The house smelled fabulous all afternoon, and we both had seconds. I'm sure there are shortcuts, but I don't want to know about them.*

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sweet Potato "Fries"

If these taste anything like the ones I've had in local restaurants... yum! Those are probably deep fried however, which increases their delectability tenfold. I'm not about to deep-fry anything though, so these sound like my best bet for making this treat at home...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rat Patootie (Ratatouille)

I
n the movie Ratatouille, one of the characters goes off on a tipsy tangent about the French dish of the same name, saying that the pronunciation sounds like "rat patootie". Terribly cute and one of those little things that stick with you. We loved the movie, but neither of us had ever tasted ratatouille before. Until last weekend. Friends of ours invited us over, and that's what they were preparing for our dinner. Now we know what we've been missing all this time. Why did our Moms never make this for us, like the mom in the movie flashback? She prepared it lovingly for her child in order to soothe him, to make him feel better... it was comfort food. What was up with our moms? Was it simply that they weren't French? I found quite a few recipes for it in my library of cookbooks (results below). There was even an Italian version of ratatouille called Giambotta* that looked to be almost identical to what my friend made us. Alas, our moms are not Italian either. No matter, we've tasted it now and have seen how it's made. There's no going back. Endlessly versatile, hopelessly easy, and amazingly comforting; I know what will be cooking in our kitchen come the next cold snap...

Basic Ratatouille:
  • Page 202 of The Silver Palate Cookbook (anniversary edition)
  • Giambotta, pg. 263 of Moosewood Restaurant: Lowfat Favorites (borrowed)
  • Page 321 of the American Heart Association Cookbook
  • Page 198 of the "Say Ahhh!" cookbook (just don't ask)
Ratatouille Variations:
  • Baked Macaroni & Ratatouille, page 140 of Gourmet's Quick Kitchen
  • Ratatouille Pie with Basil Crust, page 158, Great Recipes For Great Weekends
  • Oven-Baked Ratatouille, page 616 of How To Cook Everything
  • Ratatouille Omelets, page 392 in The Martha Stewart Cookbook
  • Ratatouille Soup With Beans, page 77, BH&G Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes
  • Steak Sandwiches With Ratatouille, pg. 183, BH&G Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes

*I wonder if that's what they called the movie when it was released in Italy?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Simply Smashing White Bean Dip

Simply Smashing White Bean Dip
Made this dip for a party we went to today. It's hard to say whether it was a success or not. Some of it was eaten, certainly, but there was plenty left to take home. Of course, there was a ton of food at this get together. So much that whole sub-sections of party food neglected to make it onto my plate. Assuming that other people had a similar experience, I should take it as a positive sign that a few people did indeed try my dip. There was no real feedback other than from the Hubs; like when I turned around and saw him dipping the extra pieces of bread into the bowl of dip... before we'd left for the party. Uh, yes. He did.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Beans, Beans...

M y sister taught me a charming little poem when we were children*, which I will not repeat (oops, pun!). Unfortunately, it's been stuck in my head as I collected the following recipes. I apologize profusely. Terribly embarrassed and all that. If you don't know the poem, ask a kid (or a big kid). You won't read it here. I am grown up now and am above that type of humor. Really. Where was I... Oh yes... Beans are really good for you in lots of ways, and if you cook them up into something delicious, it's a win-win situation all around. And they're inexpensive too (win-win-win). Here are some raved about recipes and techniques to try...
*Mom doesn't think that I need to use the past tense there.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lentil Sausage Ragout

This looks to be mighty tasty over pasta or polenta, and a nice change from marinara...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One-Bowl Apple Cake

Easy & Delicious One-Bowl Apple Cake
The last of the sad apples have been reincarnated as this easy apple cake. They must've done something right during their little apple lives to have ended up here. The warm cinnamon and apple smells coming from the oven are just so good. Maybe they're not exactly reincarnated, but with so many other obvious metaphors to choose from, this one was as good as any. A few weeks ago these little apples had fallen off of a tree. That's pretty much the end of the road for an apple. These particular windfalls found their way into my kitchen and there they sat. And sat...and sat. Until today. I washed and dried them, cut them up and baked them into this cake (o.k. cakes - I made two), now cooling on my counter top. Those little apples are now fully realized as our breakfast. They're happier now. Tender, moist, nutty and fragrant. It's a good thing I made two.

Warm Apples For Cool Mornings

Some easy ideas for apples in the a.m. (or anytime really)...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mairsy Doats

Here are some other tasty ideas I came across for using steel cut oats...
  • Toasted Oatmeal from MSL (toasting first always improves flavor)
  • Bruléed Irish Oatmeal also from MSL (anytime you can make breakfast more like dessert is fine by me)
  • More ways to prepare this healthy breakfast than you can shake a stick at, direct from the source
  • Breaking News (10/13/09): An American just won the World Porridge Championship in Scotland! Porridge is Scotland's National Food. They're really serious about their love of porridge. I get that. Go to goldenspurtle.com for recipes, nutritional info, and more. If nothing else, you can find out what a spurtle is.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Baked Apples a la Betty

Sad apples were pleading with me from the drawer in the fridge. They felt forgotten. And so they had been. Since there wasn't quite enough leftover oatmeal from yesterday to feed both of us, I had the lovely idea to augment the porridge with baked apples. Oh yum! Then the realization hit me... Crank up the oven to 350° for a whole hour, just to cook 4 apples for breakfast? Holy gas & electric bill, Batman! Not gonna happen. Betty to the rescue!
  • Magic Apples, page 47, Betty Crocker's New Good And Easy Cookbook, 1962
Yes, the home of such delectable dishes as: Asparagus-Dried Beef Savory, Feast-A-Pie, and Pacific Lime Mold* (just to name a few), also provided the time and money-saving fake for our breakfast this morning. Baked apples on the stove top. Who knew? Betty did, that's who.

Notes: Prepare apples according to your favorite baked apple recipe. I core them from the bottom with my trusty melon-baller and stuff them with whatever chopped nuts and dried fruits are on hand, along with brown sugar, cinnamon, and a teensy bit of butter. Place apples in saucepan with 1/2 inch of water and put the lid on it. Cook on medium heat for 10 - 12 minutes or until tender, removing lid for last couple of minutes. Not as good as traditional baked apples but way faster and a whole lot easier on the electric bill!

*All delectable dishes listed are actual recipes found in the above-mentioned cookbook and were chosen randomly, however the weirdest ones were given preference. And let me tell you, it was hard to limit the list to just three!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Overnight Irish Porridge

E-Z Overnight Irish Porridge
Every kid knows that The Three Bears ate porridge. But did you know that when we eat oatmeal for breakfast we're eating porridge too? Porridge is made from cooking cut, crushed, or rolled grains in water or milk until soft and creamy. And totally comforting. Why we refer to the ingredient and the finished preparation as the same thing, I just don't know. If I laid awake at night thinking about it (yep, did that), I would want a hot bowl of porridge the next morning to make me feel better. For my money though, I would want that porridge to be made from steel cut oats.

When I was a kid, my oatmeal generally came from a little packet that was mixed in a bowl with hot water. Healthy, maybe. But kind of lacking in the texture and flavor department. Goldilocks would have pronounced it to be "too boring!" (in that petulant little way that she has).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Brownies

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vegan Chocolate Slime Cake

Vegan Chocolate "Slime" Cake
So maybe that's not the best name for this, but it's the one I like best. The real name is below in the link. But I made this as a Halloween cake and frankly the frosting reminded us of the movie Ghostbusters. More specifically, it reminded us of the ectoplasm or slime that covered Dr. Peter Venkman after his first encounter with the gluttonous hotel ghost (appropriately nicknamed "Slimer").

Perhaps this is not the best cake to take to a potluck, but with various people's allergies and other nutritional restrictions to consider... I thought I'd try it. Besides, it looked like a lot of fun and all I had to buy were avocados which we picked up at a little roadside stand on the way home. My favorite recipes are always the ones I don't have to go shopping for.

We later decorated the top with little rubber bats, rats and black cats, hoping to ensure the interest of the kids present... unnecessary really, with that bright green frosting! I won't repeat what the Hubs told them it was made from, but it was ironic that while they thought it was (insert name of gross stuff here), they ate it without a problem; once the mystery ingredient was revealed to be avocado*, they scraped it off. Kids! As far as I noticed, none of the adults scraped it off, and some even had seconds.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October = Pumpkins

With each change of season I think to myself, "This is the season I love best!". If I were forced to pick a favorite though, it would be autumn, hands down. There are no extremes in the autumn. The days are warm, dry and clear, and the evenings are cool. You can wear your favorite suede shoes all you want. You no longer need to try and keep the house cool, but it's not quite time to worry about heating it either. Hot drinks replace iced ones, and you don't mind a bit. October in particular is synonymous with so many wonderful things: bringing sweaters out of storage, the leaves turning colors, noticeably shorter days, Hallowe'en candy, and the gorgeous golden light coming from the sun. But best of all, it's time to start adding the earthy flavors of fall into our cooking. Starting with pumpkin. Here are a bunch of pumpkin recipes and ideas to get us all in the mood...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Crackers!

There are certain items at Trader Joe's that always go into our basket no matter what. No brainers. Usual Suspects. Regulars. The Roasted Garlic & Rosemary crackers they carry are just such an item. In the interest of making do and recreating things at home, I've found a few recipes to try:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cipollini and Mushroom Tart

The first time I ever had cipollini onions was the year we did a whole MSL Thanksgiving dinner. I was in charge of some of the side dishes and so I was introduced to the lovely little cipollini. Normally, I'm not one to wax poetic about onions. They have their place but they're not a star on their own. These were. Pardon the pun, but they were gobbled up. Every last one of them. This is not that recipe. When I find it again, I'll definitely add it. In the meantime, this dish sounded really really good. It's autumn after all, and my thoughts are turning to onions and mushrooms and other earthy delights.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fettuccine in Cream Of Tomato Sauce

This looked like it might be good... maybe because it has the words "fettuccine" and "cream" in the name.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Roasted Veg & Creamy Polenta

Notes: Made this for a potluck. Twelve people. Tripled the polenta, ended up with a little left over. Used real butter and real cream cheese. The polenta was kind of firm, not so creamy. Maybe too high of heat? Too long of cooking time? Checked other recipes after and they all call for more liquid. That's got to be it. Tasted good though. Def needed the salt to give it any flavor. Next time stir in some Parmesan or other cheese. 

The veg shrunk down quite a bit, but had plenty. Some took longer to cook than others so I made up one pan for the fast cookers and one pan for the slow. Bell peppers took the longest to cook (and were the most expensive! who knew?). Zucchini cooked the fastest. Don't cut the zucchini so thin next time. If they're small, cut in to spears instead of slices. Try sprinkling on a little balsamic at the end for more flavor.

Vegetables I used:

  • 5 sm zucchini (cut into lengthwise strips)
  • 5 slender carrots (cut in half, length and width-wise)
  • 2 sm red onions (cut into eighths)
  • 2 lg red bell peppers (cut into large strips)
  • 2 pkg mushrooms (left whole)
  • green beans (ends trimmed)

Friday, September 18, 2009

DIY: Pimiento Cheese

There is a recipe that my Mom used to make a lot, we all loved it, and it called for pimiento cheese. Evidently it was once available in small tubs, like cream cheese, in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Now, if I see it at all, it's in little glass jars in the cracker aisle. Mysteriously without need of refrigeration... Hmm. Maybe it's one more thing that's better when made fresh at home? Of course, then you wouldn't get the cute little jars.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sourdough (Blueberry) Pancakes

Sourdough Pancakes with Blueberries, page 54, Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library: Breakfasts & Brunches, 1997

Notes: I didn't have any blueberries, and while the recipe does say that you can use bananas, mine are so ripe that they're good only for banana bread (actually they're great for that!). There was a small bag of strawberries in the freezer though, so I thawed them out and used them instead. The recipe says it makes 12 pancakes, I got 10. Close enough. They don't taste as sourdough-y as the other ones I've made recently, and
they cooked up more like regular pancakes as well. These probably don't use as much starter. I can't see going to the extra trouble of making these when they are so much like "regular" pancakes. Will try them again though for confirmation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Whole-Citrus Vinaigrette

The flavors in this salad dressing recipe bring to my mind the words "sunshine" and "summer". Not exactly sure why. Citrus fruits are actually a winter crop, and their bright bursting flavors are the perfect foil for all those earthy winter foods that we tend to prefer during the cold months.

But what about spring and autumn? Citrus flavors are complimentary to the foods we eat at those times also. Indeed, citrus flavors seem to be at home in any season. Perhaps growing up in the southwest (longer growing season, virtually no winter) is what makes me think of citrus as season-less. Now that I live farther north, I am more aware of the seasonality of things (and the cost of buying things out of season). Thankfully, I'm a quick learner and don't require annual snowfall in order to gain this valuable awareness.

As you can imagine, I was delighted to learn that Meyer lemons bear fruit year round. I'd never even heard of a Meyer lemon before I moved here. A lemon was a lemon. A Eureka lemon to be exact. Well, my little dwarf Meyer lemon tree on the patio now has a dozen or so golf ball sized green fruits on it and is still pumping out flowers. The blossoms smell insanely sweet and my mind reels at the thought of thousands of full grown potted citrus trees inside the Orangerie at Versailles* circa 18th century France. It must've been intoxicating. Yep, it's good to be the king (at least until the peasants find out what you've been up too).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Consider the Lillets of the field...

Have you ever tasted the aperitif called Lillet? I have been somewhat intrigued by it lately and am so curious to try it. It's made with a blend of wine, orange liqueurs, and herbs. Lots of recipes have been popping up featuring the white wine or "blanc" version. Most of them are, of course, drink recipes. But not all. Check out the marshmallows...
Pronounced: lee-LAY. Ask for Lillet Blanc or Lillet Rouge, to specify the white or red wine-based version. Lillet Blanc is described as light and refreshing, while the Rouge is flavorful and intense. Both are best served over ice with a splash of soda... and don't forget the twist.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Baked Pear Pancake with Gingered Maple Syrup

I have a love/hate thing going with pears. At their very best, they are juicy, sandy and honey sweet; still the littlest bit firm and yet ever-so-slightly soft at the same time. They are unlike any other fruit. However, identifying their peak perfect point for consumption is something that eludes me. I always seem to get to them too early when they're rock hard; or too late when they've gone soft. Like with a mushy apple, I feel utterly disappointed after biting into one of those. You don't want to go on eating it, but you don't want to waste it either, so you soldier on and are that much more suspicious of the next one you try. Once bitten, twice shy.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Onion & Rosemary Confiturra

This sounds like it would be heavenly with roasted meats or on a simple rustic sandwich...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mini Pistachio Tea Cakes

Sourdough Pancakes

Two weeks of constant attention (after close to six weeks of inattention), and it was time to test my sourdough starter (Edwina). Let's just say she had the Summer off. I'd determined that today would be the most auspicious time to do it, and that sourdough pancakes would be the best method for it. Bread was out of the question. I didn't want to go to all the effort of baking bread just to find that my starter was a non-starter, so to speak. Pancakes on the other hand, if I had to dump a batch of those, I like to think that I could bear the amount of disappointment that would entail.

I should have checked the weather report before fixing on today for pancakes. Should have checked the weather report and our calendar. Not only are we having another ugly heat wave, but I forgot that Hubs had a breakfast meeting this morning. A breakfast meeting with pancakes. I would just have to cook the whole batch and freeze what I don't eat, I guess. Nothing like heating up the kitchen and standing over the stove for an hour making breakfast for one. Oh yeah.

Friday, August 28, 2009

From Pâte de Fruit To Plum Jam


Today I recooked the two big jars full of failed Pâte de Fruit from two weeks ago with half of a split vanilla bean until all the sugar from the outside of the candies dissolved. When it reached temperature I filled pint jars and processed them in the water canner according to directions in the Ball Blue Book Guide.

I ended up with just under two and a helf pints of Plum Vanilla Jam. The vanilla is not super noticeable, but it was only an afterthought after all. The jam is a little on the thick side (due to all that extra time in the cauldrons), but it tastes pretty good, and slathered on a crispy hot piece of buttered toast... you'd never know it was once a botched batch of Pâte de Fruit.

psst... I won't tell if you don't!
  • Plum Jam adapted from Plum-Vanilla Preserves recipe, page 308, Williams-Sonoma Holiday Favorites, 2004.
  • Remake instructions for "soft spreads without added pectin", page 122, The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, 2009.

Fig Preserves

My Mom would LOVE this. Now I just have to find someone with a fig tree... hmm.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chocolate Mousse with Cardamom Seeds

Speaking of cardamom... Does it go with chocolate? Some would argue (and rather persuasively too) that everything does. This dessert from SeriousEats.com may just answer the question...

Fun And Educational

Here is a great idea from Good Wine Under $20 for a mixed case sampler. A case of wine, each bottle a different varietal, all of them grapes that are probably unfamiliar. You could build a decent wine-tasting party around that. Back to school, indeed!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dorie's Dimply Plum Cake

Dorie's Dimply Plum Cake
Cardamom* should be renamed cardayum. Sadly, I won't get my way. Not officially at least. But in my world, it's cardayum. Of course, that's much too dorky of a name for such an intensely exotic spice. Like cinnamon, it is at once warm, sweet, sharp, and heady. But that's where the similarity ends. Invigorating, but in a drowsy, laid-back sort of way. Kind of like the last few weeks of summer. Maybe that's why I put kd lang's Invincible Summer on the stereo while I made this cake. It has the same feel. Late August. Still summer but almost autumn; days are still hot, but now, mornings are getting chilly. Feeling less like iced coffee and more like hot tea. This plum cake would go with either really, but I think it's leaning more toward the pot of tea. Lately, so am I.

Plum Cake Contenders

Plum cake recipes that should work with "regular" plums as well as Italian prune plums. Many of these call for cinnamon or cardamom in the batter. Uh oh, I think I feel autumn approaching...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Nothin' But Plums

Ihave been learning all about plums lately. Which ones are good for baking with (meaty, dry varieties like Italian Prune Plums). Which ones are better for making jams with (small tart varieties like Greengage and Damson). Which ones are best for just eating (probably the ones I bought). You get the picture. It's always a challenge to find just the right recipe, not only for the kind of fruit you have on your counter, but also what you're in the mood for. Just because I have a bunch of raspberries doesn't mean I'm in the mood to make Raspberries Macerated in Wine Mille Feuille with a Lemon Chantilly Cream, or indeed am even in the mood to eat it. O.k., so that was a bad example. (Sorry for the drool).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Peach Pastries

Yesterday I made the last Peach Crostata. I made it as big as I could and crammed in as many leftover peaches as was possible. Would you believe there were still enough left to make one more normal sized crostata? Amazing. I was unable to dredge up enough enthusiasm to make yet another batch of pie dough, but I was also unwilling to throw out the rest of the peaches. Their time had come though (and almost gone). It was now or never, and they knew it too. Then I remembered the puff pastry in the freezer. Yep, a whole box, unopened and not even past its expiration date. That's almost as rare as a lottery win around here. A quick Google search brought up a bunch of recipe options, but since my peaches were already mixed with pie ingredients, I had little choice but to just wing it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blackberry Syrup

I am over my love of real maple syrup. When we needed to take out a loan in order to buy some, I said, "That's it. We're breaking up." Who needs it anyway? (Shush! Me too, I'm just not admitting it.) I don't think I've ever heard of a year when the blackberry crop was set back by a bad winter. Certainly not in California. Heck, have you ever even tried to get rid of a blackberry vine growing in your yard? God love 'em, they just keep coming back, year after year, after year. You know that saying about lemons? Well, it applies here too: If life hands you a ton of free blackberries, maybe think about making syrup with them. Make a big batch of it for all the pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, yogurt and ice cream you'll have in the coming year. And while you're at it, blow "raspberries" at those maple-tapping syrup producers and their high-priced tree sap.*
  • Blackberry Syrup (also Blueberry Syrup and lots of other good canning info to check out)
*Yeah, I know... when prices come down I'll probably be in front of you in line to buy it. But that doesn't diminish in any way the total summer-in-the-middle-of-winter goodness that is homemade blackberry syrup on a stack of hotcakes in January. In fact, while you're at it, throw a vanilla bean in with it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Peach Crostata

Peach CrostataThese crostatas (crostati?) are so stinkin' easy! I may never make a regular pie again. I really don't mind making pie crusts; they just never turn out the way they should, and I never know exactly what I did wrong. This "foolproof" crust is not only a snap to make, but geez, you just fold it over the fruit and you're done. No pressing it into a pan (no pan!), no crimping the edges, no blind-baking (or pre-shrinking as I like to call it), and no disappointments. There's no denying it, I am in love. And it's for real.

After the Plum Crostata went so well last Wednesday, I knew that it would be the perfect thing to serve at our bbq on Sunday. Unfortunately, there were no more Italian prune plums at the store. Word to the wise: when you see them, buy them. I think I've said this before. You won't get a second chance. We took home some lovely peaches and regular plums instead.

The only other snag* was from me trying to be more efficient (save time, cut corners) by attempting to make a triple-batch of the dough. This action sent my nemesis, the food processor, into what can only be described as a culinary coronary. "Spock, where the hell's the power you promised?"** There I was dumping the whole mess into my largest mixing bowl and madly working my vintage pastry cutter into a frenzy (and my shoulder into a flare up). You know, if not for the occasional physical pain, it really is so much simpler to just do things manually sometimes. But then I'm just an old-fashioned girl/techno-phobe at heart.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pâte de Fruit (Part Deux)

While I'm waiting for the Plum Pâte de Fruit (Pâte de Plum?) to cool, I figured that I might as well try making some with the left over blackberry slurry that's sitting in the fridge. It's certainly easier than making jam in this heat, and I'm not sure what else to do with it. I thought about blackberry syrup but the process is the same as for jam (too hot). Or I could make blackberry smoothies every day for three weeks. That would surely be too much of a good thing. One thing I know: I'm not going to waste it. I worked too hard for it! If it had been a nice cool foggy morning when we went a-pickin', I might feel differently. It wasn't. The sun was up early and by the time we got to the shrubs, it was already hot. We were sweaty, tired and stained purple by the time we were done, and my legs were sore for three days where I had leaned against the ladder for so long. Then there was the washing of the really ripe warm berries which was no small feat in itself. Have I mentioned how long it took to put all of it through the food mill? Crank, crank, crank, keep cranking, crank, crank, crank some more... (hint: it's not electric). No sir, I'm not wasting a drop of that blackberry juice.

Pâte de Fail

My beautiful but rapidly ripening Italian prune plums were calling to me. "Use us or lose us!" they pleaded. There was a partial box of prune plums from CostCo and 5 or 6 random homegrown plums that someone gave us. With some difficulty, I pitted all the plums I had (almost 4 lbs.), and made a huge mess in the process. These are definitely not freestone plums (klingon is more like it). Thinking there's got to be an easier way to pit them, I spied my melon-baller* in the dish rack (recently used to core pears with). It worked surprisingly well. I wish I'd thought of it earlier. Less mess.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Oatmeal Ginger Pear Crisp

I had planned on making Pear-Ginger Preserves today, but quickly realized that my bounty of (free) little pears were too soft to stand up to the rigors of canning. The pear preserves would more than likely become pear mush, and I didn't want to go to all the trouble of canning them only to end up with something I didn't want. What I also hadn't reckoned with were the interesting things that you can sometimes find in homegrown fruit. Enough said. It turns out that in the end, I wouldn't have had enough pears for the preserves anyway. So, there I was with a bowlful of peeled, cored, cut up, not-so-firm pears in lemon water. A mad panicky search ensued; tearing through my cookbooks for a recipe that called for thusly prepped pears. Cook's Illustrated came through, as they often do. I had wanted something simple (you may well wonder why I was looking in Cook's Illustrated), and I found the perfect thing: a Pear Crisp. Simplicity itself. It required roughly the same amount of pears that were sitting prepped and waiting, ever so patiently, on my counter. After a little tweaking (because of all the stuff I didn't have), the dessert went together quite fast. I even used the food processor again. Two days in a row... maybe I should just leave it out on the counter next to the toaster? Nah.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Italian Prune Plum Crostata

We were having guests for dinner tonight, so this afternoon I made an Italian Prune Plum Crostata. Why this recipe? The usual reasons: looks easy, sounds tasty, and all the ingredients were on hand. I had always wanted to try one of these rustic free-form pies. Today was the day I finally did it. I even dragged out the dreaded food processor. I have a love/hate thing with that machine, but it does make short work of pie crusts. In my dream kitchen there is a special drawer just for the food processor and all it's many mysterious bits and parts. There is also someone to remember how it goes together, what all those parts are for, and who will wash all of it when I'm through... But I digress. You can make this with almost any fruit: plums, peaches, apples, pears, etc. And should you have any of the Crostata left over, it makes for a lovely breakfast the next morning.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Italian Prune Plums

We must be heading toward the autumn side of summer. I can always tell. Fall colors start to appear on certain shrubs and trees, the days get noticeably shorter, and Italian prune plums make their brief appearance at the market. Mom always made a certain plum cake when these little beauties were available. I haven't mastered her recipe yet, but I keep trying. Here are some other tempting recipes that feature these lovely little plums...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

ER Jam Session

It's 1:30 a.m. and I just finished making a batch of ER jam. Yes, emergency jam. The strawberries we bought just two nights ago needed to be used "stat!" (right away), and the blackberries that we picked this morning were so ripe they were falling apart while we were picking them. Oh, and it was a scorcher today. Surely, the kitchen (and I) would get over-heated during this whole thing, so I waited until late at night to start. The fog never came in, and it never cooled off. Bad weekend for this venture, I'm afraid.

Overall, it went pretty well. Most of the delays and hitches were due to my attempts at coordinating everything this first time out (in other words, my not knowing what to do). Who can you call after midnight with jamming queries? There is no 24-hour jam-support hotline that I know of (unless you have a Mom who is a jam-making night-owl). I just did my best and prayed it would all work out and not end up being a colossal waste of time, money, fruit, water, utilities, and oh yeah, sanity. In the end, the lids all "pinged", signaling a good seal. The next day all the seals passed their test and were holding tight. All was right with the world. Except for this darned heatwave.