Monday, January 30, 2012

Pork Yumminess for a Cold Night

Sometimes things just come together. The plants go in the ground just before a gentle rain falls, followed by warmth and sunshine, so they grow well from the start. A job opens up after months of not much interest when resumes were sent, then housing nearby is easy to find and the move happens just before a big snowfall. Requests for a speaker for an important meeting fall through and then, at the last minute, you get a 'yes' from the speaker you wanted the most. Things like that brighten you day, week or month.

Today things came together on the dinner front. I knew we had some boneless pork that needed to be cooked, I had a yen for polenta, inspection of the produce bin showed that we had both fresh mushrooms and baby spinach. After that it was just a matter of remembering other dishes that were good and borrowing from them. Sautéed onion, mushrooms, celery and garlic can be the base for any number of delicious savory meals. Sage and thyme go so well with pork and with mushrooms.

Julia Child often threw some orange peel into this kind of braised meat dish, so why not this one? Ditto with the red wine and touch of tomato sauce. My mom's stew recipe uses Worcestershire so I added some of that, too, plus a bit of leftover chicken broth to keep the meat submerged in liquid as it braised.

I've always loved polenta with a little Parmesan cheese added and I know that this sort of hearty braised meat goes well with polenta. The spinach? It was the thing that pulled it all together, plus the bright green color is so appealing.

Have fun with this. The wine could be replaced with beer, ale or stout, or even white wine. The fresh mushrooms could be replaced with dried and reconstituted ones. Add more garlic, skip the orange peel, replace the celery with fennel. I'm sure you will still have a wonderful dish that will warm you up on a cold night as it did Sweetie and Elle.

Pork Ragout with Spinach over Polenta

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
4 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/4 lbs boneless pork (I used country rib meat), cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried orange peel or a 1-inch by 2-inch piece of fresh orange peel minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
Polenta for 2 - 4 people
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups baby spinach leaves, rinsed and drained

In a large, heavy bottomed ovenproof pot heat 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil and saute' the onions, mushrooms, celery and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring often.

While vegetables are cooking, heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Blot the meat cubes if necessary. Dry meat browns better than cubes with moisture one them. Brown the pork cubes on all sides, working with about 1/4 of the meat at a time. As the pork finishes browning, transfer to the vegetable pot.

To the vegetables and pork add the sage, thyme, orange peel, salt and pepper, red wine, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and chicken broth. Cover the pot and place over medium heat on the stove top while you preheat the oven.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. When oven is hot remove the pot of pork and vegetables from the heat and put it into the oven, still covered. Cook for 1 hour, checking in the last 15 minutes to make sure there is still enough liquid so that the contents don't burn.

When the pork has about 15 minutes left, prepare polenta according to the package directions. When cooked stir in the Parmesan cheese.

When the polenta is almost done, remove the pot from the oven, stir in the spinach, and set aside, covered for 2-3 minutes to wilt the spinach. Serve the pork and vegetable mixture over the polenta in wide bowls. Garnish with more grated Parmesan if desired. Serves 2- 4

Sunday, January 29, 2012

One for the Cookbook

The Family Food cookbook revision is coming along. I've gotten some additional old favorites thanks to the Wolf's wife, Second Sister Down, and Big Sis. Still hoping for the new rendition of Lane Cake from Mandy. She figured out how to make it almost traditional but with no artificially candied fruits so it would be a great addition.

You many not be blessed with as many siblings as I am but I'll bet you have shared stories and the occasional (or not so occasional) difficulty between siblings. I think that is the way of it. A lot of the books I've been reading recently seem to have stories that hinge, in one way or another, on relationships between siblings. My own relationships with my siblings are mostly warm and friendly but we only communicate now and then with each other...the Internet helps there...but when we are face to face you will see us talking non-stop. This can be puzzling to anyone else, including spouses. It is not the result of bad feelings between us (usually) or not caring about each other, or selfishness or indifference; the root lies in our childhood (now that's different, right?)

One of the reasons we don't just pick up the phone and get some of that talking done when we are apart is that we were raised to only use the phone when absolutely calling a friend for the homework assignment if we were home sick. With each call no matter how short having a cost attached and with 8 children you can see how that became the rule...and is was sensible. Unfortunately even as adults many of us don't feel comfortable just calling someone for no good reason, just to chat. I suspect that this is unusual. What is your experience in this regard dear reader?

So it may take a while before I call around and get the rest of the recipes the cookbook might be missing but in the meantime I want to share our recipe for Fried Oysters. It was passed down by Dad to me as the Friday cook and to other siblings but certainly to the Wolf, who passed them on to sons Captain and Cucumber Spraygun.

I'm going to give Dad's recipe with a few tips from the latter three. I use this recipe but my variation is to use Panko instead of dry bread crumbs. I like the lightness and crunchiness of Panko coated fried oysters.

Raw oysters look so nasty that it is totally amazing that anyone ever tried to eat one. They must have been pretty hungry. Of course once they tasted them and got that briny deliciousness imprinted on their brain it is quite understandable that shell mounds soon followed.

If you have trouble with the idea of eating a raw oyster, do try this fried version. The oysters become creamy and almost light and the crust has some crunch that is a great counterpoint in texture and flavor. I add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice while Sweetie likes Chili sauce with his. Plain ketsup is good with them, too. Just be sure to serve them hot. Don't those look delicious?

Fried Oysters

1 jar oysters for two people
1 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs
1/4 cup water or milk
2 cups fine dry bread crumbs or Panko
Vegetable oil or shortening...enough to come up 1 inch on your frying pan when hot

Drain the oysters in a strainer or colander. Discard the drained liquid or reserve to flavor oyster stew.

Prepare the breading: In one bowl combine the flour and salt and pepper. In another bowl beat the eggs with the water. (Note: the Wolf and sons use milk in their egg wash and make it an eggy wash, not so much liquid.) In a pie pan or similar wide shallow bowl place the fine dry bread crumbs (plain, not seasoned)or Panko crumbs.

Line a sheet pan with waxed paper or parchment paper. Using a fork or spoon, transfer an oyster to the flour bowl and dredge with flour. Transfer to the egg mixture bowl and coat with the egg mixture, then transfer to the bread crumbs or Panko and coat with that. Lift the oyster up to dislodge excess bread crumbs or Panko and place the breaded oyster on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat this process until all of the oyster have been breaded. Chill the oysters for at least 15 minutes, up to 30 minutes to set the breading.

Slowly heat the vegetable oil or shortening in a frying pan to about 1 inch depth (the Wolf and sons might have it deeper, more like 2-3 inches), until oil is very hot, just shy of smoking. When the oil is hot, fry the oysters, about 6 - 8 at a time, turning to the other side when the first side is golden brown. When golden on both sides, remove from the oil with slotted spoon or tongs to a tray lined with absorbent paper. Add the next batch of oysters, then transfer the ones on the absorbent paper to a cookie sheet in a warm oven to keep them warm. Put them in to fry at intervals so you don't cool the oil.

When all are fried, mound on a platter and serve with lemon wedges and ketsup or chili sauce.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cake for Year of the Dragon

One of the excellent things about belonging to a baking group like the Bread Baking Babes is that members sometimes steer you to a blog you might not have noticed. Recently we were told to check out Farine and I'm glad I did. She baked an unusual cake to celebrate the Year of the Dragon...Dragon Blood Cake, using blood oranges.

Blood oranges are similar to naval oranges, but have a dark orange-red juice that resemble blood color. This cake would have benefited from some extra blood orange juice drizzled on after it baked to jazz up the color, but the cake itself was full of flavor with both orange and ginger giving it some fire.

Another unusual thing about it is that it starts with sourdough starter and is without dairy ingredients. The texture more closely resembled pudding when Sweetie and I had some, but then it was still slightly warm. It was enjoyable as a different sort of cake, but I probably won't make it again quite this way. I think I'd like to use some almond flour in it, too, and a little less zest.

Since the lunar New Year started Monday you may want to celebrate the Year of the Dragon (Water Dragon this time) by trying this cake, too.

Farine's Blood of the Dragon Cake

For the starter
• 180 g mature levain (starter)
• 180 g white whole wheat pastry flour
• 180 g cultured buttermilk
• 25 g ginger syrup

For the batter
• 80 g extra-virgin olive oil
• juice and zest of 2 blood oranges
• 100 g unsweetened applesauce
• 50 g bits of crystallized ginger
• pinch of salt
• note: the oranges I used were very sweet and with the crystallized ginger and the bit of syrup in the starter, I didn't need more sugar. You should taste the batter prior to baking (one of the advantages of baking without eggs is that you can actually have a taste) and determine whether or not sugar should be added Elle's note: I added about a tablespoon of honey to sweeten it up a bit)

For the finished cake
• blood oranges
• confectioner's sugar

1. Starter is prepared at least 4 hours before baking: mix all ingredients with wooden spoon, cover tightly and let rise at warm room temperature

2. When the starter has doubled, add other ingredients, mix with wooden spoon and pour in oil-sprayed pan. Bake for 40 minutes in pre-heated 350°F/177°C oven

3. When done (a cake tester comes out clean), turn off the oven and leave the cake inside for another 5 to 10 minutes with oven door ajar. Cool on a rack

4. Dust with confectioner's sugar

5. Serve with freshly sliced blood oranges. Alternatively drench with blood orange juice before serving.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Spirals are fascinating. Think of spiral staircases spinning up and down, the spirals in a shell found on the beach, the curl that can add charm when it escapes the updo and froths around the neck or ear or forehead.

Another spiral that I love is the one created when you roll things up jelly-roll fashion, including jelly rolls themselves. For Christmas I made some amazing spiral swirled cinnamon rolls using a family recipe of a friend. If I get her permission I'll post them. Like the successful after-Christmas-party herb rolls using the same roll-'em-up, cut-'em-off techniques and thawed frozen bread dough, I once tried doing it with cinnamon roll ingredients. Awesome!

You can do this one even if you are unsure of your bread dough skills...the frozen dough makes it easy and your family and friends won't know it isn't totally from scratch if you don't tell them. Just try it and take a bow.

Cinnamon Buns the Easy Way

2 1-lb portions frozen bread dough, thawed
1/4 stick (4 tablespoons) soft butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup raisins or currants, plumped**
Optional icing*

On a large flat clean workspace like a breadboard, granite, marble or melamine counter, dust work surface generously with flour. Place the two thawed portions of dough side by side. Using a floured rolling pin or your hands spread the dough out into a 14 x 16-inch rectangle, pinching the two mounds of dough together where they meet, to create one rectangle. If the dough resists spreading, walk away for a minute or two, then try again.

Spread the rectangle with the softened butter, leaving a 1/2 inch space around the edges free of butter.

In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Once combined sprinkle the mixture evenly over the dough rectangle, keeping it within the buttered part. Over that sprinkle the nuts and raisins or currants (or you could substitute another dried fruit here). Roll up jelly-roll fashion along the long side of the rectangle. Don't roll too tightly. When the end is reached, pinch it to the roll to seal.

Using a sharp knife or dental floss, cut into 16 rolls, about an inch thick. Place half of the rolls in each of two greased 9-inch cake pans, leaving some room between the rolls for rising and expanding. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F while the rolls are rising.

Bake risen rolls 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove pans from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Design Instead of Food

Today, and part of yesterday, plus a day a week ago, I was really glad that I spent the time last fall and winter learning InDesign. Sometimes it comes in handy to know a bit about Illustrator and Photoshop, too.

As I know I've mentioned in the past, I belong to a great group of gals called P.E.O. Chapter AJ. We are part of the larger P.E.O. International organization, which is a philanthropic education organization, meaning a large number of women working together to fund educational opportunities for women. Just this year our Chapter has been part of awarding over $6,000 in scholarships to 7 women. Organization wide we are talking millions of dollars to help women reach for the stars and meet their educational goals. We've been around since January of 1869 in the U.S. and for almost that long in Canada.

So why am I telling you these two things dear reader? Because yesterday and today I spent the time I probably would have used to cook or bake something (which could be posted here) to create an invitation to our Chapter's 100th Birthday party.

We're going to invite all of our Chapter members and some friends to a tea party...and I got to create the invitations graphics and text...and print them...and cut them...and fold them...and stuff the envelopes...and address and stamp them. It's the kind of thing I'm good at and enjoy...and it's for a very round number birthday. You know that I love birthdays!

So tomorrow I'll be back with something yummy I cooked or baked and photos of the same but for today I only have photos of the filled envelopes and the front of the invitation. Wish you were going to be coming.

If you have any questions about P.E.O. send me an e-mail or leave a comment. There are chapters throughout the United States and a womens' college, Cottey college, too ( If you live in California, I know that there are a number of scholarships given at the state level to support many kinds of majors and those can be applied for just by visiting the California P.E.O. website ( and applying. In these difficult financial times when college is so expensive this information might just help a woman you know.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stupendous Milkbar Cookies

It isn't often that I come across a completely new concept in baking. For years and years and years I've browsed cookbook, magazines and (lately) the Internet picking up cooking and baking ideas and techniques from sources old and new.

For example when I had my muffin company I scoured old cookbooks to see what variations there were for muffins...and found more than the way I had grown up making them! Learning to make sponge cakes was such fun when all I had known was cake mixes and then batter cakes that start with creamed butter. Yeast raised waffles are different from ones where the rise comes from baking powder and/or folded in whipped egg whites. You get the idea...I like to understand the process as well as enjoy the product.

So when I picked up a copy of Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook and started looking through it the sensations I felt were excitement and confusion. Who knew that things call Crack Pie and Compost Cookies start with components called crunch, crumb and soil and things like pumpkin ganache and liquid cheesecake? Had to have a copy for my own, so was thrilled to get one thanks to Natasha...yay Christmas! If you love sugar and butter you will come to agree that Christina Tosi is a genius, too.

The first thing that I figured out was that all that crunch, crumb, soil, crust and so on is predicated on making a lot of these desserts. That's fine for a commercial bakery or restaurant but not so great for this homemaker plus hubby...we don't need trays and trays of cookies. A lot of the components freeze which would be fine if I had lots of freezer space, but I don't. I still think it is an awesome book and that the recipes sound amazing, but I think I'll need to save some of it for when I can do a lot of 'baking and giving away the results' at one time.

One recipe that I did figure out how to make without storing components was Compost Cookies. They really sound cool...a buttery cookie dough gets combined with ground coffee, rolled oats, potato chips, pretzels and other goodies like mini chocolate chips. Then the mixture gets chilled, then baked into enormous, gigantic cookies that are so delicious you want to eat every single one of them! This is dangerous people. I might have to make Crack Pie after all.

A key thing to know about this recipe is that it requires patience. You absolutely want to cream the butter and sugar for the full 2-3 minutes and definitely want to beat for the full 7-8 minutes after adding the egg and vanilla. That is about 9 minutes longer than, say, Toll House cookies. After the fun part of just barely mixing in the rest of the ingredients you do want to follow the recipe and chill the portioned dough for at least an hour. Worth the wait, believe me.

I'm going to give you the measurements for the actual amount of Graham Crust that the recipe calls for. If you buy the book you might want to make the whole amount because there are other great recipes that call for that component. I'm also going to give the ingredients by teaspoons and cups because that's what I used to make 'em.

Compost Cookies
from Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook by Christina Tosi (makes 14-20 cookies)

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup tightly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons glucose (couldn't find this so used same amount of Golden Syrup)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips (I used regular since the market was out of the mini ones)
1/2 cup butterscotch chips (instead I used 1/4 cup toffee bits and 1/4 cup white chocolate chips...hay they said to put in the stuff we like...and so can you)
the Graham Crust (recipe follows)
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 1/2 teaspoons ground coffee (whatever you use to brew coffee with...but not the grounds you have already brewed coffee with...nor instant coffee granules either)
2 cups potato chips (I used Ruffles but might try Kettle chips next time)
1 cup mini-pretzels

Combine the butter, sugars, and glucose (golden syrup) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle then add the egg and vanilla and beat for 7 to 8 minutes until light and fluffy.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

Still on low speed, add the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips (or your choice of mix-in snack food), graham crust component, oats, and coffee and mix just until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the potato chips and pretzels and mix, still on low speed, until just incorporated, hardly at all.

Using a 2 3/4 oz ice cream scoop (or a 1/3 cup measure) portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Pat the tops of the cookie dough domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 1 week. Do not bake your cookies from room temperature dough - they will not bake properly.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Arrange the chilled dough a minimum of 4 inches apart on parchment or Silpat lined sheet pans. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle, and spread. After 18minutes they should be very faintly browned on the edges yet still bright yellow in the center. Give them and extra minute or so if that's not the case. Try to avoid watching the State of the Union Address while the cookies are baking as I did...they probably cooked a minute or two longer than they should...but were still addictively good.

Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to a plate or an airtight container for storage. At room temp cookies will keep fresh for 5 days; in the freezer they will keep for 1 month. Good luck with having any left after 1 week much less 1 month!

Graham Crust (enough for 1 batch Compost Cookies)

Toss 6 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs, 1 tablespoon dry milk powder, 1/2 tablespoon sugar and a scant 1/4 teaspoon salt together in a medium bowl to evenly distribute the ingredients.

Whisk together in a small bowl 1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 tablespoon heavy cream.

Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and toss again to evenly distribute. The mixture will resemble small clusters of graham cracker crust. Set aside until needed for the Compost Cookies.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hanging In There

Why on earth did I decide to try to post everyday during the month of January? I must have been feeling New Years euphoria or something. It gets harder as the month passes. All the 'extra' posts that I had photos for have been used up. So have some of the 'things about me you might want to know', although we still may go there. Curiosity about others never seems to wane. I do have something yummy for today and (I think) tomorrow, but we may get to parlor games by the end of the month. Still, as anyone who knows me can testify, I am super stubborn, so now that I've started I'm determined to finish.

Do you have any challenges you set for yourself that you later questioned your own sanity for making?

So, slightly insane, today's goodies are ones that I had been meaning to make before Christmas as a surprise Christmas gift for Sweetie. He always buys the things he wants when he sees them so it is difficult to find a gift he both needs and wants. That leaves unneeded and/or unwanted. Given that we overindulged over the holidays this probably qualifies on both counts, but we each stopped ourselves after a small taste. The rest will probably be given away to some lucky fire fighter, mail person or librarian.

The recipe I adapted this from used additional toppings I didn't have on hand when I finally made this a few days ago. No peanut butter cup candy, not Reese pieces or peanut M&Ms, but honestly it wasn't needed. Since the peanuts I used were unsalted, I did sprinkle on a bit of sea salt and I'm glad I did, but if you use the honey roasted or even salted peanuts you can follow the recipe...or not. It is fun to mix your own combination and if you use good quality chocolate almost anything you like will taste good this way.

Peanut Toffee Bark Candy
Makes about 2 pounds or 30 two-inch pieces
• PREP: 20 minutes
• TOTAL: 50 minutes
Recipe adapted from one of the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen, October 2010


• 1 pound bittersweet chocolate chips
• 3 1.4-ounce Skor or Heath toffee candy bars, cut into irregular 3/4-inch pieces or 10 oz. toffee candy pieces (I used the Heath bar pieces from a bag)
• 8 0.55-ounce peanut butter cups, each cut into 8 wedges
• 1/4 cup honey-roasted or regular roasted peanuts
• 3 ounces high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina), chopped

• Line baking sheet with foil. Stir chocolate chips in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and warm (not hot) to touch. Pour chocolate onto foil; spread to 1/4-inch thickness (about 12x10-inch rectangle). Sprinkle with toffee candy or pieces, peanut butter cups, and nuts, making sure all pieces touch melted chocolate to adhere.

• Put white chocolate in heavy small saucepan. Stir constantly over very low heat until chocolate is melted and warm (not hot) to touch. Remove from heat. Dip spoon into chocolate; wave from side to side over bark, creating zigzag lines. Scatter Reese's Pieces and M&M's over, making sure candy touches melted chocolate.

• Chill bark until firm, 30 minutes. Slide foil with candy onto work surface; peel off foil. Cut bark into irregular pieces.

Elle's note: I only made 6 oz. of chocolate (Scharffenbergers instead of chocolate chips, with a few drops of vegetable oil added) worth of this, scaling down the ingredients to fit. Left out the peanut butter cups, used unsalted peanuts instead of honey roasted, but sprinkled on some sea salt after the peanuts were added.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Bread For and With Tea

One of my Christmas presents was Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads and it is a beauty. Hundreds of breads, both yeasted and not, dozens of new techniques to try, lots and lots of new flavor combinations, too. It was difficult to know where to start.

One recipe that caught my eye was the Tea Brack. Brack comes from the Irish word brac, meaning speckled – you can see that each slice is speckled with dried fruit and candied peel. It makes one loaf and the author plainly states that he loves to drink tea and that this lovely loaf has tea as one of its main ingredients as well as being a great thing to eat while drinking tea. It also has golden raisins and currents and I love both of those dried fruits in baked goods. You do need to start this the day before you bake it so that the fruit has plenty of time to marinate overnight.

I had expected a dense somewhat dry bread but it turned out to be very moist and chewy and fairly light for a bread with such a lot of fruit in it. I love the spiciness and hint of brandy, too. Truthfully, even though I used a good strong Irish Breakfast brew for the tea, you really couldn't taste the tea as such. It does, however, go really well with a cup of hot tea and a good book. Although Sweetie enjoys it so much that there probably won't be any left by day's end, this kind of bread usually lasts quite a while without getting stale because of all the fruit.

Tea Brack
one medium loaf
from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

1 cup white raisins
3/4 cup dried currants
1/4 cup chopped candied peel (I used half lemon and half orange peels)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups cold tea (orange pekoe is fine, I used Irish Breakfast)
1/4 cup rum or brandy (I used brandy)(optional but nice)
2 cups bread or all-purpose flour (I used all-purpose, unbleached)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon EACH ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg and salt
1 egg, room temperature, well beaten

Grease and line sides and bottom with buttered waxed paper - 1 medium (8" x 4") loaf pan. Leave the paper ends sticking out about 1/2 inch so the loaf can be pulled from the pan. Set aside. (You can prepare the pan the next day after the fruit is marinated.)

In a bowl combine the raisins, currants, candied peel, brown sugar and cold tea. Add a dollop of brandy or rum to give it a secret goodness, although this is optional. Cover tightly with plastic wrap so that no moisture escapes and let marinate overnight.

The next day...Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. while making the batter.

In a clean bowl mist together, with your clean fingers, or a spoon, the dry ingredients: 2 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour the dry ingredients into the marinated fruit mixture, stir well to combine, and add the egg. The mixture will be on the thin side. Pour or spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the loaf slowly in the 325 degree oven until a toothpick comes out dry when pierced into the load, about 1 1/2 hours. If using a convection oven, reduce heat; bake at 300 degrees F.

Remove the bread from the oven. Place on a wire rack about 5 minutes to cool, then remove the bread from the pan, discard the paper, and let cool completely before slicing.

Serve with butter or cream cheese...and tea!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chicken and Chard Bundles for a Chilly Sunday

One of the delightful thing about going through old papers as I did recently while cleaning out and moving my office is that you discover buried treasure.

I think that a fine recipe I had clipped out of a magazine in 2005 counts as treasure, and it was absolutely buried in reams of paper and way too many envelopes and address labels. I think that I saved it because I adore chard and it used fresh chard to wrap cheese enhanced chicken breasts. I also love roasted onions and they are part of the base for this dish.

As it turns out the onions are fantastic, but the chard acts in much the same way parchment does when you have parchment wrapped packets; they become browned leaves but the chicken and cheese underneath are moist and yummy. I just pushed the leaves aside and ate the chicken/cheese parts. Next time I'll add more leaves under the chicken packets and a bit of chicken broth, too.

The fragrance of the onions, carrots, garlic and herbs is wonderful when this is baking. I served it with some green beans because the recent freezes had significantly reduced the available Swiss chard in the garden. There was enough for the parcels but not a lot more. Will make these again when there is a lot more chard so I have some for below the chicken. I also cooked some rice in chicken broth since rice could easily soak up the juices I thought would be a lovely part of this dish. As it turned out there was very little liquid under the chicken, so broth will be added next time.

We ate these during the final quarter of the regular playing time of the 49er - Giants game, which was exciting enough, but the overtime was nail bitingly tense so I'm glad we'd finished dinner by then. Great game and disappointing loss for 'our' team but well played and a surprise for those who remember the 49ers from recent years past.

Chard Wrapped Chicken with Roasted Onions and Carrots
adapted from a recipe in Better Homes & Gardens May 2005
Serves 4

1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges
1 cup baby carrots
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground preferred
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons snipped fresh herbs (dill, oregano, sage, thyme)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
4 Swiss chard leaves, washed and stems trimmed off
Snipped herbs for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a large baking dish combine the onions, carrots, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Toss to coat the vegetables in the oil and seasonings. Place the baking dish in the oven, uncovered, and roast 10 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting, combine the 2 tablespoons olive oil, herbs, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper with the feta cheese. Mash mixture together with the back of a spoon to form a paste.

Top each chicken breast with 1/4 of the mixture, pressing firmly. Wrap center portion of the chicken breasts with the chard leaves, leaving ends exposed.

Once the vegetables have roasted 10 minutes remove the baking dish from the oven. Top the veggies with the prepared chicken parcels. Bake, uncovered, for 25 - 30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink (170 degrees F).

Serve the baked chicken and roasted vegetables together. If desired, sprinkle with some extra snipped herbs.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Comfort in a Bowl, Mug or Thermos

Pure comfort is assured, whether you are curling up in front of the fire on a cold, wet, blustery day or spooning it up from a thermos at school or during a football game, or working on enough appetite to get some down while getting over a cold or the flu. Such is the power of chicken noodle soup. Our mothers and grandmothers knew it and the soup manufacturers know it. So do we.

What some don't know is that good chicken noodle soup is fairly quick and easy to make from scratch and then you also know whats in it. Onions and carrots (for this recipe) and sometimes celery and garlic are softened and partially caramelized in some olive oil. Add some broth and diced up chicken breast meat, or chicken thigh if you prefer. Let it simmer while you add freshly ground black pepper, dried thyme and some lemon juice for spark.

Cook some noodles in another pot in chicken broth (to keep a good solid chicken flavor...not water here...and to prevent the noodles from overcooking), then add them and more broth, followed by some frozen peas for color and another flavor burst. That's it. If you have your own homemade chicken stock you are golden, but a good quality canned broth is fine, too. You can skip the peas and it will still be good, but try to add the lemon juice. Think of the blast of Vitamin C in that juice.

If you like you can do what I did and use a head of roasted garlic instead of fresh garlic. I slid each roasted clove out of its skin, then finely diced them all and added them before I added the chicken pieces. The depth of flavor is wonderful this way. I hope that you'll try this before the weather gets warm. We had it yesterday with our friends while the rain came down outside. Just the right kind of weather for chicken noodle soup.

Freshly Made Chicken Noodle Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped or 1 head roasted garlic, cloves peeled and finely chopped
2 cups diced raw or cooked chicken, either breasts, thighs, or a combination
about 42 oz. chicken broth, divided
1/2 lb dry flat noodles (I used the no yolk kind)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
juice of 1 medium lemon, seeds removed
if desired, additional salt to taste
1 cup frozen peas

In a large pot saute' the onions and carrots in the olive oil for 2 minutes, then reduce the heat, cover, and let 'sweat' for 7-8 minutes until soft and lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

Add the garlic or roasted garlic, stir and simmer, covered for 2 minutes.

Add the chicken and 1 cup of the broth, stir, cover and simmer 5 minutes.

While the chicken is simmering in the broth, heat 14 oz. chicken broth in a medium pot until boiling. Add the flat noodles, stir, cover, reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes, until partially cooked.

Add the contents of the noodle pot, the rest of the broth, the pepper, thyme, lemon (salt if using), and peas to the broth and chicken. Stir, cover, and cook over low heat to heat the peas through, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Serve and enjoy. Tastes even better the next day.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Beef for a Blustery Day

One of the nice things about having so many recipes collected on this blog is that I can easily revisit favorites and make some changes on the return visit. I did that last night with a dish that Sweetie particularly enjoys, beef and mushroom potpie.

When I made it before I used puff pastry on top and baked it in individual dishes. This time I cooked the meat part a few days in advance and let it chill to allow the flavors to really mingle. Things that have cooked onions in them often taste better with a day or two of sitting between the initial cooking and the eating. I also substituted refrigerated pie crust dough for the puff pastry because I had some in the fridge.

Instead of individual dishes I used a casserole dish and put the pie crust on top to make it a potpie. This is a hearty dish and makes at least 4 servings. I suspect that the leftovers will be tasty tomorrow, too. This makes a rich, savory, meaty, warm dish with the added delight of shards of crisp pastry from the crust. Some of the crust will be less crisp but delicious because it has soaked up the wonderful meat gravy.

The rain is coming down quite steadily today and there is some wind, too. We had a nice lunch with our friends/relatives from Healdsburg. Could be that a recipe will be posted from that meal in a day or two. I've also been working on the family cookbook revision and reading a new book which arrived today from Powell's bookstore in Portland, Oregon. It's the Momofuku Milk Bar book with lots of unusual dessert recipes. There will undoubtedly be something inspired by that book posted here within a week or so...maybe sooner. Thank you Natasha for the book!
Now, for that wonderful potpie. If you don't have Irish stout, a good dark beer would suit, too.

Beef and Mushroom Potpie with Stout
Adapted from a Gourmet 2004 recipe

2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground (if possible) black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves roasted garlic, mashed
1/4 cup water
1 cup can tomato sauce
1 can beef broth
1 cup Guinness or other Irish stout
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons butter
4 oz. sliced white mushrooms, wiped clean if necessary
4-5 stems Italian parsley

Ready-made, or home-made single pie crust (I used Pillsbury Ready Crust)
1 tablespoon egg white

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place race in center or just below center of oven.

Place flour, salt and pepper in a clean paper bag and shake to combine. Pat beef dry and place 3-4 cubes at a time in the bag and shake to coat. Remove from bag, shaking off the excess flour and place on a plate or piece of waxed paper. Heat the oil in a wide 5 -6 quart ovenproof heavy pot over moderate-high heat until oil is very hot. (I used a large soup pot...that way the grease spatter from the browning meat mostly stayed inside the pot. It is ovenproof and has a tight lid, so I baked the dish in it, too, and it worked perfectly.)

Brown the meat in 3-4 batches, turning at least once, about 5 minutes per batch, transferring the browned beef to a bowl as each batch is done.

Once all beef has been removed to the bowl, add the onion, garlic and water to the pot and cook, scraping up any brown bits from bottom of pan and stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, beef broth, stout, Worcestershire sauce and thyme and bring mixture to a simmer. Stir in beef and any juices from the bowl. Simmer one minute. Cover and simmer until beef is very tender and sauce is thickened, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. If sauce is too thin, thicken with a slurry of 2 tablespoons each flour and water, stirred into the sauce and cooked until sauce thickens.

Chill at least 4 hours or overnight to meld the flavors.

While stew is cooling, melt butter in skillet and sauté' the mushrooms, letting them brown lightly on each side. While they are browning, chop the parsley in a fine mince. Bring stew to room temperature.

Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees F. Place baking dish or dishes onto a shallow baking pan. Divide room temperature stew among the dishes (or put all in one large shallow baking dish). They won't be completely full. Spoon the cooked mushrooms over the stew, dividing evenly among the dishes or spreading over the larger baking dish if using. Sprinkle minced parsley over each dish or over the baking dish of stew.

Roll out pastry dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a circle about 9 inches in diameter and prepare for topping the stew; if using small dishes, cut the pastry into squares, place one on top of each dish of stew. If topping a larger dish of stew, roll up edges toward the center of the dough circle, flute the edges, cut a hole in the center and slash in four places, then use to top the large baking dish of stew. Brush tops of either kind of pastry with the egg white.

Bake pie(s)in preheated oven until pastry is golden brown, about 15 - 20 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees F and bake 5 minutes more to fully cook the dough. Serve right away. Sides that work well include almost anything with potatoes. I like to serve green peas or a green salad, although steamed broccoli works well too.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Spelt and Sourdough

A lot of time when the urge to bake with the sourdough starter hits I just make something pretty simple...flour, water, salt, sourdough starter, maybe some flax seed or whole wheat flour for variety.

Sometimes I get slightly more creative like this last time. I wanted to cook up some Irish steel cut oats and use them in the dough but the tin was almost empty. Looking in the pantry I found the spelt flakes which I add to the muesli when the package seems to have too much in the way of dried fruits and not enough grain. I've never made bread dough with cooked spelt flakes but I know that Astrid, fellow Bread Baking Babe over at Paulchens Foodblog loves spelt and adds it to most of her bread, so that's what I did.

We are finally getting rain after a long dry spell this winter. Winter is usually the season when we get most of our rain for the year, so this is very welcome rain. It does mean that much of the house is chilly, so the bread gets to rise near the new stove in the livingroom.

The rest of the bread beyond the spelt was still pretty simple: bread and whole wheat flour, salt, water, dry yeast and a bit of honey. I made enough dough for two loaves. One was in a smaller pan and it rose higher. I gave that one to Grandma Loyce since she loves freshly baked bread but says she doesn't have the bread making gene. The other has been enjoyed as toast and it does make a fantastic toast!

Spelt and Sourdough Bread

1/4 cup spelt flakes, cooked for 3 minutes in 3/4 cup water in the microwave, then cooled to tepid
1 cup sourdough starter
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon honey
3 cups bread flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt

Whisk the sourdough starter, water, honey and cooled cooked spelt together in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Mix the bread flour, whole wheat flour, yeast and salt together in another bowl.
Using paddle attachment, mix 1 cup of the flour mixture into the wet mixture in the stand mixer bowl. I used a clean hand with my fingers spread, but you could use the paddle attachment or a wooden spoon. Let sit for 10 minutes. Repeat with another cup of the flour mixture. Let sit again for 10 minutes.

Using the dough hook, incorporate two more cups of the flour mixture by 1/2 cups until a soft dough forms. If needed, use more bread flour, a tablespoon at a time, to make a dough that cleans the side of the mixer bowl. Knead with the mixer and/or by hand for 8 - 10 minutes until dough is elastic and somewhat smooth.

Place dough in oiled bowl; turn dough to oil other side. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Punch dough down and turn out onto a floured board. Knead lightly a few times to release trapped air. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a loaf shape and put into a loaf pan. Cover and let rise until almost to the top of the pans, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. about 15 minutes before bread is ready to bake.

Cut slashes in the top of the loaf, if desired, and bake in preheated oven for about an hour, until top of bread is golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when bottom is tapped. Cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes before slicing. Makes 2 loaves.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with Coconut Crust

Oohhhh this is so good! I know it is a terrible choice for healthy eating, but every now and then a treat like this is essential. When I realized that our daughter had arrived a day early and that she was going to be with us for dinner, I decided that the cheesecake would become the only birthday cake we were likely to have with her, even though it is a bit early. She and her fellow loved it and I sent a huge piece along with them for the journey, too. Then Sweetie and I had another piece for breakfast...decadent.

You don't really need Meyer lemons to make this cheesecake. Regular lemons or limes or Key limes all would work just fine. With limes I would use a graham cracker crust and a little cinnamon in the crust instead of vanilla wafers and coconut, but for lemon cheesecake the coconut is sublime. This cake is actually a version of one I made a while back HERE.

I only have the one photo, but hope to add another one tomorrow. Happy Birthday a little early K!

Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with Coconut Crust

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 ½ cups vanilla wafer crumbs
1 cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup melted butter

Rub a little of the butter in the bottom of a 9” spring form pan. Use the rest of the butter to butter the sides of the pan. Line the bottom with a circle cut out of baking parchment paper.

Mix the wafer crumbs, coconut and melted butter together until well mixed. Pour the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan. Spread out with clean fingers, making the layer as even as possible, with some of the mixture pushed up the sides about a half inch to an inch. Using the bottom of a flat bottomed glass, press the mixture down and press the mixture up against the sides. Sides will be uneven in height. Refrigerate the pan 5 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 7 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. When cool, wrap the whole pan, on the outside, in heavy duty foil. Turn oven temperature down to 325.

Have everything at room temperature.
1 ½ lbs cream cheese
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons grated peel of Meyer lemon zest, colored part only
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup sour cream
½ cup Meyer lemon juice (about 4-6 lemons), seeds removed
4 large eggs

Using an electric mixer, on low speed, beat the cream cheese just to soften. Scrape bowl and beaters often throughout the rest of the recipe. Add the sugar in a slow stream, beating on low just until mixed. Add the flour, salt, vanilla, zest and beat on low just to mix. Add the sweetened condensed milk and sour cream. Beat on low just until mixed. With mixer running on low speed, add the lemon juice in a slow stream, beating just until mixed. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing each in before adding the next egg. Beat last egg in just until mixed.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Place the foil-wrapped pan into a large roasting pan. Place pans in oven and fill roasting pan with hot water until water is half way up the cheesecake pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until filling is set, but center is still a bit jiggly.

Remove roasting pan from oven carefully. Remove cheesecake pan from roaster water bath and place on wire rack. Run a sharp small knife around the sides of the pan to loosen and keep the cheesecake from cracking as it cools. Cool at room temperature. When cool, remove foil wrapping, wrap in plastic and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

To serve, remove from refrigerator. Run a sharp knife around the pan sides to loosen the cheesecake. Remove the pan sides. Slide the cheesecake onto a serving plate and bring to room temperature.

If desired, frost the sides of the cake with whipped cream and pat on some toasted coconut. Garnish with whipped cream and thin lemon slices. (No time for this decoration last night.) Serve thin slices of the cheesecake, using a knife which has been run under (or dipped into) hot water, then wiped dry.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bright and Sunshiny Lemon

For years I've loved the sweet lemon flavor of Meyer lemons and how nice they look, too, with their bright yellow skin almost the color of egg yolks. In its native China it was a decorative houseplant. In the early 1900s Frank N. Meyer brought it back to the U.S. as part of his job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

I've been fortunate now and again to have friends with too many Meyer lemons to use themselves who knew that I would gladly accept any they didn't need. I love to make lemon curd with them because they have just a bit of mandarin orange flavor, too and are not as acidic as regular Eureka lemons. Of course the regular lemons have a nice thick skin which means they can be shipped easily, so Meyer lemons which have a thin skin were until recently a treat for locals near where they grew, often being sold at farmers markets.

This year I have my own Meyer lemons! In the spring I purchased a dwarf Meyer lemon tree and planted it in a pot. The good news is that has allowed me to bring the tree under the shelter of our porch for most of the past month when we have had frosty nights. Lemon trees are not big fans of frost. The bad news is that the tree didn't grow as much as it might have if planted in the ground, so fewer lemons. They are also far from picture perfect lemons...I'm still learning how to protect them from their kind of pests.

I decided to use about 1/3 of the lemons the tree produced to make a coconut crusted Meyer lemon cheesecake. It took 6 of the lemons to make enough juice for the recipe and I was also able to use the zest from about half of them.

The cheesecake is in the fridge chilling, so no photo of it yet, but I can show you my lemons!

Do you have a favorite citrus recipe to use when it's citrus season? I'm always on the lookout for recipes using citrus, especially Meyer lemon.

Hopefully I'll add a photo of the cheesecake tomorrow. If I also add the recipe it will be in it's own post. In the meantime, here's some sunny yellow lemons.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bread Baking Babes Bake a Quick One

Have you ever had a time when you wanted fresh hot yeast bread but time was short? Perhaps you had made soup or stew for supper and realized that some bread would be the perfect thing to go with it. Or one morning you were planning to have sandwiches at lunchtime in a few hours but discovered you were out of sandwich bread. Usually it takes 4-5 hours to make a loaf or two of yeast bread from scratch. What to do, what to do?

Try this delightful Cuban Bread from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. It only takes two hours or a bit more. The clever Bread Baking Babes are gathered around the kitchen table of Ilva of Lucullian Delights this month and she discovered this tasty bread and challenged us to bake it. Now to give a serious bread baker a recipe like this is a bit dangerous because I love to bake bread and now I know I can make this one almost on a whim.

This is not a No-Knead bread but you can let a food processor or mixer do most of the kneading if you like. It does used a healthy dose of active dry yeast to speed things up but doesn't taste too yeasty. It has a nice crumb and crust and uses an unusual process where you start baking it in a cold oven! I used sesame seeds on top and put a teaspoon of herbs de Provence in the dry ingredients because I love herby bread.

Hope you will be a Buddy this month and give this one a try. It's quick and easy and you get lovely warm fragrant bread to eat when the two hours are up. To be a Buddy just bake the bread, take a photo and send an e-mail to Ilva with a brief description of how the baking went for you and that photo. Just the photo isn't really enough because we love to know if you enjoyed the bread, if you found the process interesting or difficult or easy and so on. Ilva says, "If you do the Buddie, please bake and send me the link to your blog post about it before midnight Saturday 28th of January to luculliandelights AT gmail DOT com, please write Bread Baking Buddy a the subject so that I don't miss it!"

While you are thinking about this wonderful bread, do check out the loaves made by my fellow Babes. The list with links is to the right.

Thank you (I think) Ilva for asking us to bake Cuban Bread as our first challenge for 2012!

from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

1,2-1,4 litre/ 5-6 cups of bread or AP flour (I used 4 cups bread flour and 2 cups whole wheat flour and had about 1/2 cup left over)
2 packages dry yeast, I used 50 g fresh
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence (optional)
500 ml/ 2 cups hot water
sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

by hand or mixer (15 mins)
Place 4 cups flour in a mixing bowl and add the yeast, salt and sugar. Stir until they are well blended. Pour in the hot water and beat with 100 strong strokes, or three minutes with a mixer flat beater.

Gradually work in the remaining flour (using fingers if necessary), 1/2 cup at a time until the dough takes shape and is no longer sticky.

kneading (8 mins)
Sprinkle the work surface with flour. Work in the flour as you knead, keeping a dusting of it between the dough and the work surface. Knead for 8 minutes by hand or with a dough hook until the dough is smooth, elastic, and feels alive under your hands.

by processor (5 mins)
Attach the short plastic blade.
Place 2 cups flour in the work bowl and add the other ingredients, as above. Pulse several times to thoroughly mix. Remove the cover and add 2 more cups of flour. Replace the cover and pulse to blend.
Add the remaining flour through the feed tube, pulsing after each addition, until the dough begins to form and is carried around the bowl by the force of the blade.

kneading (45 secs)
Turn on the machine to knead for 45 seconds.

rising (15 mins)
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put in a warm (26-37°C/80-100°F) place until double in bulk, about 15 minutes.

shaping (4 mins)
Punch down the dough, turn it out on the work surface, and cut into two pieces. Shape each into a round. Place on the baking sheet. With a sharp knife or razor, slash X on each of the loaves, brush water, and, if desired, sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds.(I did an egg white wash and sprinkled on the sesame seeds before I did the X slash, and I slashed pretty deeply.)

Baking (205°C/400°F; 45-50 mins)
Place the baking sheet on the middle shelf of a cold oven. Place a large pan of hot water on the shelf below, and heat the oven to 205°C/400°F. The bread of course, will continue to rise while the oven is heating. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the loaves are a deep golden brown. Thump on the bottom crusts to test for doneness. If they sound hard and hollow, they are baked.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Shot of Green Sunday

I should be out pruning rose bushes, then spraying them. It's also a good time to do outdoor painting because for some reason we have been having a period of dry and warm weather when it is usually rainy and cool.

Instead Sweetie and I searched yesterday for the break in the invisible fence that needs to be repaired before we can bring a new dog home. I have been missing Xam but also missing the joy of having a dog. Our neighbor was telling us yesterday of his positive experience with GGLRR, a local rescue group. He was grinning like a boy while we were meeting his recently adopted yellow lab. We still have a few things to do before we can go looking but I like the idea of a rescued dog instead of a puppy.

I've also been having a really fine time reading a book called 'As Always, Julia' which is a compilation of some of the letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. Their friendship began when Julia read an article by Mrs. DeVoto's husband where he was a strong supporter of steel knives vs stainless steel ones. The steel ones hold their edge better. Julia sent him some French ones and a nice letter. Avis was helping with his mail and so she sent a return letter and the friendship began that way. They didn't even meet for a long time but found that they had similar interests in cooking and in politics. There were even some mutual friends.

Since I love the topic of cooking and love Julia Child's way with a recipe, plus have been a lover of politics since I was about 10 years old, this book is enthralling for me. It's also of extra interest because the time frame is the 50's when a lot was going on in American politics. I was a history major in college, but our curriculum never covered anything past the Second World War, so I'm learning a lot, even if it is from a certain perspective. Avis' husband Bernard was also influential in conservation issues, particularly Western ones, so that's also of interest. Once I've finished the book I hope to spend time on the Internet following up on some of the footnotes.

The other thing I've been up to is ...surprise!...bread baking. Tomorrow I'll have the perfect recipe for any of you who want the delight of freshly made yeast bread but don't have a lot of time. The next day, hopefully, I'll be able to post a lovely Spelt and Wheat Sourdough Loaf that is currently shaped and rising.

For today I have a suggestion on kitchen decor. Although I love to have a little bouquet on the window sill, right now the only thing in my garden that could be used for that are lavender stalks. I love them but the gray green isn't uplifting. Instead I've found that an inexpensive bunch of Italian parsley brings a nice shot of bright green into the kitchen and is handy for cooking too.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cooking Influences

Many times the people who really like to cook have a special person, often a relative, who taught them the ways of the kitchen. In my case the influences were from both my Mom and Dad, although mostly from Mom. She didn't share her kitchen well, but I don't either. I remember that before she would show me how to make pie crust that I had to read about it. I think it was 3-4 pages in the Fannie Farmer cookbook. Then we talked about what I had read so she knew that I had actually read it and understood at least some of it. Finally we went into the kitchen and made the pie crust right down to measuring out the iced water in tablespoons. I can still make a pretty good pie crust from scratch, although I rarely do. Thanks Mom for all the cooking advice and instruction over the years. Do you, dear reader, have anyone who inspired you in the kitchen?

When my Dad died in 1994 one of the ways that I mourned was by putting together a cookbook with favorite family recipes. By then all of the children had learned to cook (some were more enthused than others) and often had collected recipes from friends and elsewhere that had little in common with the foods we grew up with. I wasn't sure that a collection of those old standards would be of much interest but went ahead anyway because I wanted to have them for myself.

Letters were exchanged with my Mom and interested siblings so that I included the most desired recipes and could include comments from Mom, too. Many hours were spent typing them up and organizing them by season. There was an index but it somehow was left out of the final booklets. When I was finished I made copies and took them to a printer who made up enough copies for Mom and me and the 7 others and they had a black plastic binding so that the book could be laid flat for use. The illustrations were copies from an old cookbook and all the illustrations were of children doing things like finding eggs on nests, tossing salad and eating birthday party ice cream.

Everyone received their copy at our family reunion the summer after Dad died.

Over the years since I've used my copy often and I'm pretty sure that the others have, too. Some of the recipes have shown up on this blog from time to time. When I visited my Mom last spring I found that her copy was in tatters from much use! Unable to find the originals (or the computer files) for the cookbook so that I could just have new copies made, I decided to create a new, updated version. That is one of the reasons that I took the InDesign class last semester. Now I know enough to do a good job with type and layout.

Yesterday I said I was going to have custard for dinner. Actually I had some leftover casserole, but then had custard, of a sort, for dessert...rice pudding. One of the recipes from the original Family Food cookbook is Rice Pudding. The recipe comes from The Boston Cooking School Cook Book and here is what my Mom said about it:
"When we were stationed in Boston during World War II, I bought my first cook book - The Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fanny Farmer. It was my cooking bible for many years and provided the following 2 pudding recipes, Rice Pudding and Bread Pudding."

This rice pudding is the kind made with rice that has already been cooked. It also uses raw egg whites, folded in at the end. With eggs these days sometimes not being as bacteria free as we might like you may want to use a product like Best of the Egg - Whites instead of fresh egg whites. If the pudding were baked at the end there would be no problem to just use the whites from the separated eggs. Will have to try that sometime. In the meantime, here is the recipe for your enjoyment.

Rice Pudding

1 C cooked rice
2 C milk
1/4 t salt
1 or 2 eggs, separated
1/2 C sugar
1/2 t vanilla

Scald the milk with rice. Beat egg yolks with the sugar in the top of a double boiler.

Add the hot mixture slowly to the yolk mixture while stirring. Cook in top part of double boiler over simmering water until thick. Flavor with 1/2 t vanilla. Fold in the egg whites which have been beaten stiff with the salt. Chill.

(Notes: I folded the cooked mixture into the whipped egg whites instead of the other way around because my double boiler top couldn't hold both worked fine since I added the cooked mixture by the cupful and then folded. I also managed to overcook the rice slightly which gave the pudding a bit of a toasted rice flavor. I added three drops of orange oil which worked nicely in tandem with the toasted rice and vanilla flavors.) Serves 4 - 6.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Beef Salad to Mashed Potatoes

It's amazing how much I take for granted, like being able to chew my food with enjoyment. A few days ago I had a wonderful salad for lunch which included lots of field greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, and slices of some left over grilled beef...I think it was boneless short ribs but Sweetie cooked them before I saw the packaging. I used a tablespoon of blue cheese dressing to dress the leaves and veggies, then topped the dressed plated salad with the beef slices. Very tasty indeed.

But what does that have to do with mashed potatoes you may ask? Well, the salad was chewy and, because I can always find something else to do than go to the dentist, some bits of the greens seem to hide out at the back of my jaw, but the truth is that I did the right thing and had a procedure at the dentist yesterday that will help solve that little problem and keep me healthy yadayadayada. Bottom line? today for breakfast I had mashed potatoes with a little sharp cheese melted in because all that being healthy also led to a sore set of gums and sore jaw...and no interest in chewing anything. Tea and coffee and water seem fine, but no orange juice...too acid according to the dentist... and I just decided that today I'll keep my choices to soft ones. It was packaged mashed potatoes, too, because they are truly lumps. I had them on hand for adding to bread doughs. Lunch will be soup and dinner might just be custard. Good nutrition can start tomorrow.

Hope your days are pain free and include lots of enjoyable chewing.

Beef Salad
Per person:

2 cups field greens
1 small or 1/2 of large tomato
1 small or 1/2 of large cucumber
1 small or 1/2 of large carrot
prepared blue cheese dressing to taste
slices of grilled beef that has been seasoned with salt and pepper - to taste

Wash and dry the field greens, wrap in a towel and chill to crisp.

While greens are crisping, cut the tomato into wedges, cut the cucumber into dice after removing the seeds. I used Persian cucumber, so left the peel on. If you are using cucumbers with waxed or tough peel, then peel it before dicing. Also cut the carrot into coins or 1/2 coins.

Remove the crisp greens from the 'fridge and place into a large plastic bag. (I save the bags I bring produce home from the stores in.) Add the dressing and close the bag. Toss the greens until the leaves are coated, then pour from the bag onto your plate. Add the tomato, cucumber and carrot. Arrange slices of the beef over all and serve. This salad goes well with chilled mandarin oranges on the side.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Heavy on the Parmesan

Sweetie returned home from playing racquetball with a sore knee. I suspect that the injury he did last spring weakened the ligaments on that knee so that it is easier to re-injure it. Fortunately he didn't tough it out and keep playing, so once he had taken a shower it was better and then I was able to massage the knee, leg and ankle to help it feel better. He is still going to go easy on it for a few days but at least he isn't limping now.

Unexpected massage sessions like that can throw off the dinner plans a bit so I threw together a baked pasta dish instead of the slow braised dish I was going to make. He liked it so well that he asked me to make sure I wrote it down so that I can make it again. I must admit, it turned out well for a recipe that was made up on the spot. It contains leftover roast chicken, some broccoli and green peas, red and yellow peppers, carrots, green onions, whole grain penne pasta, herbs and a sauce with lots and lots of Parmesan cheese. It would be a fine dish without the Parmesan, but that full flavored cheese takes it to memorable.

Although there is 1/4 cup of fat between the olive oil and the margarine, it serves 4 generously, so that comes out to 1 tablespoon per person. I used non-fat evaporated milk and chicken broth for the liquid and thickened the sauce with all-purpose flour. I think the part I like the best was the mix of vegetables both for taste and because the mix of green, red, orange and yellow was lovely to look at.

You could serve this right from the pot instead of baking it but I find that the contrast between the creamy sauce and the chewy baked cheese is really nice.
Don't save this one for a time when you have less time than you thought to make the meal. It really will be appreciated even if you never twist your knee.

Baked Pasta with Chicken and Parmesan

1/2 lb penne pasta (I used whole wheat penne)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup yellow bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup carrots, chopped
2 green onions, sliced, white part only

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup non-fat evaporated milk
1 cup chicken broth
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

2 cups cubed or chopped cooked chicken
1 cup broccoli florettes
1/2 cup peas (I used frozen peas)
2- 3 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add the penne, stir, and boil until al dente', about 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

While pasta is cooking prepare the sauce: In a saucepan heat the olive oil and butter or margarine over medium-high heat. Add the bell peppers, carrots and green onions and cook, stirring frequently, until onion begins to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the veggies from the oil, keeping as much oil as possible in the pot. Set the veggies aside.

Sprinkle the flour over the oil and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Cook, stirring once or twice, over medium-high heat for 1 minutes to cook the flour a bit.
In a bowl, while the flour is cooking in the pot, stir together the milk and broth. Season with the pepper. With a whisk at hand, pour all of the liquid into the flour mixture and immediately whisk to combine thoroughly. Continue to stir with the whisk while the liquid thickens. Mixture will begin to bubble slightly once it has thickened. Add the 1/2 cup Parmesan and whisk to combine. Stir in the bell pepper/onion/carrot mixture to combine. Taste for seasonings and add more pepper or herbs if needed. With all that Parmesan it is unlikely you will need more salt.

Place plastic wrap directly on the top of the sauce. Set aside.

Heat the broccoli, peas and chicken in the microwave 1 minute, just to warm them.

In the pot you used to cook the pasta mix the penne, chicken, broccoli, peas and sauce. Stir with the wooden spoon to thoroughly combine. If not baking the dish you can serve it now.

If baking it, spread the mixture in a 9 x 13-inch shallow pan and sprinkle with the 2-3 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes with the shelf being toward the top of the oven. If the cheese doesn't brown at all by then, use the broiler briefly to brown some of the cheese. Serve at once.
Serves 4 - 6.