Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Peanut Buttery Goodness

Peanut butter is so versatile (and delicious) it can be used in everything from sugary cookies to spicy chicken dishes and everything in between. Here are some ideas I've been drooling over in my bookmarks folder...
Ran out of Peanut Butter? Make your own!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Good, The Bad & The Bruschetta

When you make the decision to stop buying bread and start baking it at home, you have to find ways of using up the failed loaves. Because no matter how many times you make it, there will be failed loaves. It's designed that way so we learn humility.

Croutons are always an option, as are breadcrumbs (and I'll tell you, it's a whole lot easier to grind up a failed loaf for breadcrumbs now, than to demolish a beautiful loaf later because you didn't realize you were out).

A friend of ours sparked an idea that sounded so much better this time: bruschetta. She had been watching Julie & Julia on DVD the other day and called me up to ask if I had the recipe for the bruschetta Julie makes in the beginning of the movie.*  Turns out, you don't really need one.

Bruschetta is one of those wonderful "peasant" foods that are infinitely adaptable to anything and everything you have on hand. I have one cookbook that devoted a whole section to bruschetta and not one of the toppings uses tomatoes!

We wanted the tomato-laden version though, and while it's a little early in the year for fabulous flavorful toms, we were craving that tomato-basil goodness. That, and the bread pan-fried in olive oil! After all, that was the part that made everybody sit up and notice. Rather than a light brushing of olive oil, or at most a "drizzle" prior to toasting or broiling the bread, this was calling for a swimming-and-sizzling kind of approach!

Movie-Night Bruschetta How-To
  1. Dice six of the most fabulous tomatoes you can get your hands on. If they're excessively juicy, throw them into a strainer for a few minutes after dicing. 
  2. Roughly chop a good-sized handful of fresh basil leaves and toss in a bowl with the tomatoes. 
  3. Chop up a handful of your favorite olives, removing any pits along the way. 
  4. Cut half of an onion into a small dice and add it the mix, if you think you'll like that. 
  5. Heat up a skillet over medium heat, adding approximately one tablespoon of olive oil per slice of bread. 
  6. Add bread in a single layer and flip to coat both sides with the oil. Sourdough, a baguette, or any rustic-type loaf (preferably day-old) works really well. Watch bread closely and flip it again once the first side is a nice golden brown. 
  7. When the second side is done, move the toasts to a paper towel to cool slightly. 
  8. Slice a clove of garlic in half and rub the top of the toasts all over with the cut-side of the garlic clove. 
  9. Place the toasts on a platter and top generously with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with ground pepper and sea salt. Be sure to serve it with big napkins... this is no dainty dish!

Notes: We used Roma tomatoes and seeded half of them (cannot wait to use real garden tomatoes!). Our bread was very dense and I knew it would end up being too crunchy and/or chewy if we cut it too thick, so we cut it quite thin. With good bread, slice it to 1/2" or 3/4" even.

Things we learned along the way...
-Kitchen knives in movies are sharper than regular kitchen knives.
-Actors in movies are much neater eaters than my husband and I.
-Bruschetta and a glass of wine makes for a fine dinner... just like in the movies.
-Husbands may mock the gusto with which the movie-husband ate his bruschetta, but in the end, they wind up quoting his lines word for word without even realizing it. 

Some other bruschetta recipes lurking in my bookshelf...
  • Bruschetta and lots of variations: page 265-266, How To Cook Everything, Bittman (1998)
  • Desperate Measures (Kevin Crafts, 1993) has a basic Bruschetta on page 79
  • Wonderful "non-tomato" versions (with wine recommendations) on pages 61-63 of The Perfect Match, St. Pierre (2001)
  • Bruschetta with Tomato, Black Beans and Arugula on page 34 of Gourmet's Quick Kitchen (1996)
*She knew that I had been gifted with the mother-lode of J & J-related stuff this last Christmas. However, in the movie, the bruschetta was prepared prior to Julie's blog project and so, would not be found in Julia's cookbooks.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Marvelous Meyers

Our dwarf Meyer decided to finish it's inaugural year with a "huge crop" (6 lemons) all ripe at the same time. In light of this unexpected bounty, I combed through my bookmarked recipes to find something wonderful to make with them. Now all I have to do is decide...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Bevy Of Betties

The name "Betty" is short for Elizabeth. But then, so is: Liz, Liza, Beth, Bett, Ellie, Lizzie, Eliza, and Betsy... and on and on (I hereby nominate Elizabeth as one of the world's most versatile names). Though all Betties are Elizabeths*, not all Elizabeths... are Betties. Betties are a unique subset. Right at this moment, I can count seven sensational Betties in my house (represented by their books, movies, and music). Among them are a seriously old-fashioned dessert and a workhorse of a teapot, both dating back to around the same time period and sharing the same name - "Brown Betty". Coincidence? Maybe.
  • Betty Mc Donald ...reluctantly had a farm - and wrote about it in "The Egg & I" 
  • Betty White ...the ever hilarious Happy Homemaker is always good as gold
  • Brown Betty ...a classic British tea brewing vessel with historic past
  • Bette Davis ...dramatic actress with a capital D - determined, defiant, daring
  • Betty Crocker ...cookbook "author" and ageless icon of packaged food mixes
  • Apple Brown Betty ...simple, homey, comforting food - easier than pie
  • Betty Hutton ...comedic actress, spunky singer, and all-around fireball
The Brown Betty Teapot is about as British as you can get, she's been made the same way in the same place for the past 250 years, give or take. Plain and sturdy, she'll do the job, do it well, and never complain. At our house, tea is the caffeinated beverage of choice and is consumed by the potful, pretty much on a daily basis. So when our six-year-old thrift store teapot recently made it's last pot of tea, we decided to get a durable, capacious, high-quality English teapot. Enter the Brown Betty. If she lives up to her reputation, we will be making tea together for a long long time.

Apple Brown Betty is an all-American girl and one of our oldest documented desserts.** If the Apple Pie is America in all her blue-jeans glory, then Apple Brown Betty is America in flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers. Today I'm honoring the arrival of our new Brown Betty teapot by making an Apple Brown Betty. It's the perfect thing for welcoming someone to your home. Humble, homey and delicious. It shows guests that you cared enough to make something from scratch, but also that you didn't "go to too much trouble on their account".

Because I have the time, I'm going to make the Apple Brown Betty á la Martha (see link below). It's a little fussy for a Brown Betty, but it's quite pretty and a bit special. I surprised Hubs with this version after dinner one evening last year and he surprised me in turn by saying, "Apple Brown Betty? I LOVE Apple Brown Betty!". Turns out his mom used to make it when he was a kid. Ten years married and this was the first I'd heard of it. So, if my dear MIL is reading this... please send me your recipe! In the meantime, here's the one I made and some other ones I found in my bookshelf...

Apple Brown Betty from page 115 in The Best Of MSL: What To Have For Dinner (1995) makes four individual servings.
    Notes: I used sourdough bread since that is what we had. Forgot that my ramekins are too small for this! There were enough apples to make nearly 8 little Betties, but not enough of the bread-crumb mixture (just like last time). In the colonial spirit, I grabbed a package of crackers and used them instead. It sounded like a good idea, but it didn't fly (we ate them anyway). These will shrink a lot while they bake, so really press them down extra firmly when layering them. A little scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream is the perfect accessory for these itty-bitty-Betties.
    • Skillet Apple Brown Betty: Page 25, Cooks Illustrated, Jan/Feb 2004 issue. This one looks really good and is made in a cast iron pan on the stove top. Love that.
    • The Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (of course) has a Quick Brown Betty and a Blushing Betty (with rhubarb), both on page 220 (1950 edition).
    • How To Cook Everything (1998) has an Apple Brown Betty recipe on page 524. (Couldn't find a link.)
    • On page 174 of The Essential Dessert Cookbook (1998) is a recipe for an Apple Betty using apple purée. (I've never made anything in this book yet, and readily admit that I initially bought it because of the photos)
    * While someone's given name may indeed be Betty (and not Elizabeth), the origin of the name Betty is still Elizabeth.
    ** It is described as dating back to Colonial times. Where did those first colonists come from? Um... England. It begs the question: Which came first, Teapot Brown Betty or Apple Brown Betty? Was one named for the other? Try not to lose any sleep over it. I'm not.
    Trivia Time: If you have 6 minutes to waste, test your knowledge of Famous Betties on
    Some of my other favorite Betties: Betty Lou Perkins, Betty Everett, Atomic Betty, and Betty Lou (the luckiest Betty of them all?)

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    Breakfast Glam Slam

    I've done it... I've made a recipe from one of the gazillion torn-out magazine pages that I've been collecting for too many years (this particular one from Glamour circa 1994). It's a little embarrassing admitting that, but also a little triumphant. All this time I just knew I'd like it, and I did.

    It was easy and delicious and even sort of healthy... even after we poured maple syrup and cream over it. Yes, we did. We just happened to have maple syrup and cream on hand (unusual for us actually), and it seemed like the thing to do.

    It turned out quite similar to the Baked Pear Pancake that we like so much.* The pear pancake had the advantage of going from stove top to oven in the same pan. This recipe uses one additional pan. I can handle that (even in the morning).

    It's not the heartiest of breakfasts if that's what you're looking for, but a little bacon or sausage on the side should fix that right up! It says it serves four, but fearing that it wouldn't reheat well the next day, we polished off the whole thing between the two of us. We didn't feel too guilty though. Check out the ingredient quantities and you'll see why.

    Breakfast Puff
    (adapted from Glamour magazine, May 1994 issue, Gourmet On The Run by Jane Kirby r.d.)**
    Serves: 4 ...(or 2)

    1 Tbsp butter
    3 Granny Smith apples, cut into 1-inch chunks
    4 Tbsp sugar
    1/2 cup flour
    Zest of one lemon
    1/4 tsp salt
    2 Large eggs, lightly beaten
    1 cup milk

    Optional (but recommended) for serving:
    Powdered sugar
    Maple syrup

    Heat oven to 425°F. Grease a 9-inch pie plate and set it on a baking sheet (see note). In a large skillet on medium heat, melt the butter. Add the apples and cook until softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in half of the sugar. Arrange the apples in the prepared pie plate.

    In a medium bowl, combine flour, zest, salt and the rest of the sugar. Using a whisk, blend in the eggs and milk, then pour the mixture over the apples. Put the baking sheet with the pie plate on it into the oven and bake for 30 minutes (or until puffed and golden).

    Let rest for a minute, then cut into quarters and dust with powdered sugar. Serve with cream and/or warm maple syrup drizzled over the top.

    *We do seem to really go for breakfasts that combine cooked fruit baked in a puffed batter. What's up with that? Maybe it reminds us of dessert?
    **The book Gourmet On The Run published in 1987, is out of print. This recipe was published in the magazine in 1994. I do not believe it was included in the book.
    Note: This greatly reduces any accidental sloshing of batter onto the counter (or floor, or oven door), while attempting to carry a pie plate full of batter across the kitchen and then into a hot oven. It will also make it easier to retrieve the blistering hot pie plate out of that same oven when the time comes.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    What To Do With Dried Figs

    I don't have a lot of experience using figs in my cooking or baking but the following recipes make me want to change all that. Of course, baked goods are a pretty easy sell. I haven't met many of those that I didn't like. Fresh figs don't come out until late summer, but dried figs can theoretically be found any time of year.

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Soft And Bittersweet

    The situation in my kitchen early yesterday morning may be the only circumstance where anyone would be upset because their buns were too firm. To paraphrase a favorite movie, "We're going to need considerably softer buns!".* Here's the lowdown: I have two recipes from my mom for hot cross buns. I made one of them last year and it was a smashing success (they were just like mom used to make). This year, I couldn't remember which of the two recipes I had used before.** So I picked one. I may have picked wrong. Or perhaps it was user error and the fault lies in my execution of the recipe in question. We may never know.

    Everything seemed to go like clockwork, without a hitch, every step of the way. Uh, except that the dough didn't rise. These were for brunch on Easter Sunday, and well, with yeast breads as well as with Easter, the rising is the most important part. They tasted fine (we ate them all up), but they were firm and dense when they should have been soft and wonderful. Clearly I'll need to make these again soon in order to figure out what went wrong. Oh darn.

    One thing that went right was the candied orange peel I made to put in the buns. We were fresh out of candied orange peel, but you just can't have hot cross buns without it. We did have a box of oranges though... so I looked up a recipe and gave it a go. A little messy for sure, but it turned out fantastically well. The only thing better would be to dip them in dark chocolate. But then, what wouldn't be improved by that?

    The syrup that the orange peel cooked in, was infused with orange essence and I just couldn't see pouring it down the drain. I used a little of it to sweeten some plain yogurt, then drizzled it over the fruit salad we served. I'll probably try it in my tea next and if it gets warmer out (which I hope will be soon), it would be great in lemonade. It should work pretty much anywhere you would use simple syrup. When all was said and done, the only things I didn't use up were the pith and the membrane from the oranges, and those went into the compost. A little fuss, a little muss, but no packaging, and no waste whatsoever. Sweet.

    Hot Cross Buns page 56, Sunset Cook Book Of Breads, 1975
    Here's a similar recipe, also from Sunset magazine... Orange Hot Cross Buns at

    Notes: Plum out of currants, I used 1/3 cup each of golden raisins and chopped dried cranberries in addition to the chopped candied orange peel that I made (see below). I also put a tsp of dried lavender flowers in the scalded milk as it was cooling. I liked these changes/additions to the flavor, they were subtle but noticeable. And I don't believe they had anything to do with the dough failing to rise. That just may have to remain a mystery.

    Candied Orange Peel, page 679-680, How To Cook Everything, Bittman, 1998

    Notes: Recipe called for a small amount of corn syrup but said it was optional. We were out of corn syrup, so I opted not to buy a bottle of it right now and made the recipe without it. There is a lot of the candied peel left. Maybe I'll try dipping it in dark chocolate after all.

    * The movie was Calendar Girls and it was the scene in which they were in need of "considerably bigger buns" for the sake of modesty (if that made no sense, go rent the movie and it will).
    ** This here is pretty much the reason I started this blog in the first place.