Wednesday, May 30, 2012

End of May

What a amazingly full month May has been! Not only did I finish the first version of the Comfort Food cookbook of old family recipes, but I had it published and took it back to my Mom for Mothers' Day. Once I saw how it turned out I started thinking of ways to improve it. You can see that not only can I not leave recipes the way they were written, I have to tweak the cookbook that I wrote. The good news is that this next version is better in a number of ways, including the addition of more family stories about food. This time I'm going to get 20 copies printed up, so one of them might show up in a give away here and I might also have a few for sale. More on that later.

The month also included the final trim on the animal door so we are now ready to look for our newest dog. The actual selection will have to wait for a couple of weeks since we are blessed with a visit from my older sister and a trip to Monterey is also planned. That's it! Once we are back from Monterey we will find our doggie. More on that later, too.

The garden is looking good. Flowers are blooming, zucchini are coming in, chard leaves get large in just a few days, some of the herbs like cilantro are even going to seed. The tomatoes are getting bigger but cooler weather has slowed them a bit. Should be hot for a couple of days so I expect a growth spurt.

Have been doing some healthier eating. Made the lentil salad from a few years ago, and tonight had some of Next Sister Down's Barley Casserole for dinner. Have made sure to have a salad a day for something like two weeks. I do love salads!

Have not been baking as much. I did make some Cocoa Drops for photos for the cookbook and a Warm Buttermilk Vanilla Cake to use for the strawberry shortcake photo. This might be a good time to post that since strawberries are at their seasonal best.

This is based on a recipe that I found online...AllRecipes I think...but I changed it so much that it would be barely recognizable to the person who created the original. I'd never made a warm milk cake before. It makes a great spongy type cake but moister than the classic need for moistening syrups. The juices from the sliced strawberries soaked into the cake nicely and the finished shortcake kept well, too.Somehow we managed to hide it behind pints of fresh strawberries and they were eaten as is before we finished off the cake. It wasn't due to anything being wrong with the cake...look at all that whipped cream and tell me how it could be...but plain freshly picked local sweet juicy strawberries are even better.

Warm Buttermilk Vanilla Cake
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla on high until thick and lemon-colored, about 4 minutes. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add to egg mixture. Beat on low just until combined. Melt butter in a small saucepan until butter melts. Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk. Add to batter; beat thoroughly (the batter will be thin). Pour into a greased 9-in. square baking pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for 20-25 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool 5 minutes in the pan, then turn out on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make a Strawberry Shortcake with this cake, slice the cooled cake in half horizontally. Lay the top layer aside. Spread sliced strawberries (hull and slice them in advance if possible so that the juice can be drawn out. Add a little sugar if they are not sweet enough) over the bottom layer.Top with the top layer of cake and frost the top with whipped cream. Garnish with a few fresh strawberries. Serve at once. If there is some left to store, store, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ways with Chard

The chard I planted earlier in the spring is already producing, so I've made a couple of dishes that benefit from chard's wonderful green, slightly bitter taste. Both use a variety of other veggies, too.

The soup has an Asian flair to it with the use of green onions, soy sauce, ginger and toasted sesame oil. I bought ready-made soba noodles and a slice of already roasted turkey to speed up the preparations. This soup is so colorful and perfect for spring when the evenings are still sometimes chilly.

The quiche is a variation of a crust less one I did about a year ago. It's not much to look at but Sweetie, my meat and potatoes guy, took two helpings.The first little summer squash of the season went into the soup but by the time I was making the veggie pie I had both dark green and yellow zucchini, so they both went into the mix along with the chard, red pepper, garlic, yellow onion, white corn, and mushrooms. Seasonings here included thyme, nutmeg (because it goes so well with mushrooms), dried orange peel to brighten the flavors a bit, and paprika. With and egg-rich custard batter and Parmesan cheese on top it's hard to beat this quiche for a meat-less meal. Guess I'll need to keep going to Cool Fitness to work off some of the calories. I've just reached my one year anniversary of going there and am really glad that I finally have an exercise plan I can live with and, mostly, enjoy.

The garden continues to delight me. I have three colors of California poppies blooming, yellow and white marguerites, blue love-in-a-mist (nigella) in three shades, some sweet wild flowers that I don't know the name of, roses and more roses, johnny-jump-ups, lavendar and geraniums. The veggie plants and herbs are thriving, too. Gardens take some time, but I think it's well worth the trouble and work. When I have fresh from the garden tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, squash and more later in the year I'll have forgotten all the work it took to make it happen. For now, more chard is coming.

Asian Soup with Soba Noodles and Chard
1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil
1 green onion, thinly sliced, both white and green parts
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup diced red pepper
1/3 cup chopped mushrooms
1 small zucchini, sliced or julienned
1 speak asparagus, washed and cut on diagonal
1 cup fresh chard, washed and sliced in strips about 1/2 inch wide
1 can chicken broth (1 3/4 cups) or same amount of fresh chicken stock
(to make this vegetarian or vegan, use veggie stock and leave out the turkey)
1/2 cup water
6 oz. soba noodles
3 oz. roasted turkey, thinly sliced into julienne
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped cilantro

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and sautee' the green onions for 3 minutes, then add the garlic, red pepper and mushrooms and sautee', stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook another 2 minutes, add the asparagus and chard and stir to combine it with the other veggies and to wilt it, about 2 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, water, noodles, turkey, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil to the pot, stir and heat through. Ladle into bowls to serve and garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve at once. Serves 2-3.

Chard Veggie Quiche

1 recipe pie crust for one crust - I use Pillsbury ReadyCrust
1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper (a mix of colors if possible)
1 bunch fresh chard, washed and tough stems removed, then sliced into 1/2 inch slices
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme OR 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1 cup cooked AND COOLED brown rice (you can use cooked white but you lose that wonderful nutty flavor) - I used brown basmati rice
1 3/4 cups milk
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Line a 10 inch pie plate with the pie pastry, rolled so that there is some overlapping the sides of the pan. Fold under the edges and crimp. Set aside.

In a skillet, over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil, then add the chopped onions and bell peppers and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, to lightly brown the vegetables. Turn down the heat if they start to blacken. To the browned onions and peppers, add the chard and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the mixture is heated through. Stir in the corn, nutmeg and thyme. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix together the cooled rice and the cooled veggie mixture. Spread in the prepared pie plate. Set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together the milk, eggs, sour cream or yogurt, salt and pepper to taste. Pour this milk mixture over the veggie-rice mixture in the pie plate. Sprinkle paprika and Parmesan cheese over the top.

When oven is at 350 degrees F, bake the pie for about 35 - 45 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and the middle is almost set. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes on a cooling rack. Serve warm or cooled. Serves 8-10.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Home Again

I love to go places, but it sure is nice to come home, too. The garden was well cared for by friends, and so the tomatoes are looking much bigger and I even have the first summer squash! The lillies grew really high and the cilantro is enormous in the planter on the deck, so that's where I put the red Mothers Day gift from Phil's Kate. It looks just right there. Thanks Kate!

The grass also grew like crazy so Sweetie is out on the tractor mowing the 'back forty' after a stint yesterday (with my help) of mowing around the house with the walk-behind brute mower. Merlin is beginning to forgive us for leaving and eating like a champ to make up for his poor appetite when we were gone. He had Sweetie deprivation sickness I guess. They are quite the pair!

One of the fun things I did at my Mom's was to do some planting one morning with her help. We were able to get a rosemary plant and two basil plants into the ground before a nice soaking rain, then potted up some flower plants for the side yard shady area, too. She told me last night that she finished up potting a hanging Mission Bells plant yesterday, so now she has some colorful flowers to enjoy from the family room.

Grandma L brought us dinner last night. I made some Irish Soda Bread with seeds instead of raisins to go with the meal because I know that she loves freshly made bread. It is based on the recipe from my Aunt May who seemed to be able to throw one together in a jiffy when someone came to visit. The recipe below is a variation of the one in the Comfort Food book that I gave Mom for Mothers Day. Try this recipe yourself! It goes very well with soup or salad and is really excellent toasted and served with a cup of tea. You can see how seedy it is.

Seedy Irish Soda Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup graham flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup mixed seeds (I used King Arthur 'birdseed' mixture called Harvest Grains Blend)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup water

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add the seeds; mix well. Mix together the buttermilk and water. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix just until moist - don’t over-handle. Some dry stuff is OK but the dough should be sticky. Pat into a round or oval on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Cut a cross on top. Bake 45 minutes at 3500 F. Cool slightly before slicing.

Note: Harvest Grains Blend could be mixed together using your own ingredients. Here is what is in it:
Whole oat berries, millet, rye flakes and wheat flakes plus flax, poppy, sesame, and sunflower seeds

Monday, May 14, 2012


For Mothers Day my dad used to make sure that we had a nice Porterhouse steak for Mom, but times have changed and so Sweetie, my sister and brother and I took off on Mothers Day around noon for the fish market in D.C. near Maine Ave. to get a fish or two for Mothers Day dinner.

It was amazingly crowded but everyone seemed to be in a convivial mood and the fish market guys sold fish with none of the throwing around of the fish that you find in Seattle at Pike Street Market.

The choices were daunting, but we finally settled for two lovely large Rock Fish caught in the Chesapeake, almost a local as you can get. They were whole fish and each of us thought that the other knew how to prepare large whole fish. Should have gotten fillets or some clams or shrimp or oysters.

In the end it worked out just fine. My brother lopped off the head and tail on each and made sure they were cleaned. He also took care of preparing them for cooking and cooking them by a combination of baking and steaming that left the fish wonderfully moist and flavorful. I took on the removing of the skin and filleting, plus removal of the backbone. He took care of removing any other bones he saw.

Mom was really pleased with the results and my sister made a fabulous barley casserole to go with it. My sweet sister in law steamed the asparagus with an amazing lemon-butter-soy sauce dressing, and their sons took care of preparing the strawberries and whipping the cream and putting together the strawberry shortcake, a traditional Mothers Day dessert.

Hope you had a great spring day, too. This is the 100th anniversary of Mothers Day in the USA, so if you celebrate it I hope you did your mother proud!

On the way home from the fish market we passed many of the Washington, D.C. monuments, including the one that still towers above them all, the Washington Monument.

Tomorrow we head out towards the mountains, giving my Mom some rest, to Middleton and a visit with Sweetie's sister and partner. Bet I'll have some photos for you then.

Here is the barley casserole recipe we had last night. Worth making!
Barley Casserole

2 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
½ sweet red pepper, chopped
½ lb mushrooms, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon butter or stick margarine
1 1/2 cups uncooked medium pearl barley
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 1/2 cups chicken broth, divided
2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup sliced almonds


1. In a large ovenproof skillet, saute the celery, carrots, red pepper, mushrooms and garlic in butter until tender. Stir in the barley, salt and pepper. Stir in 2-1/2 cups broth. Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

2. Stir in parsley and remaining broth; sprinkle with almonds. Bake, uncovered, 30-40 minutes longer or until liquid is absorbed and barley is tender.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Gunston Hall

Many moons ago I belonged to a college debate club at George Mason College (now University). One year we were invited to have silibub and ginger cookies by the fire in the fairly plain but beautiful family dining room at Gunston Hall, Colonial era home of the champion of the Bill of Rights, George Mason. It is located on Mason Neck on the Potomac River about 5 miles south of the better known Mount Vernon.

 Returned there today and took a tour of the house. Remembered how much I enjoyed that evening with my friends, but enjoyed seeing much more of the house and outbuildings today with Mom and Sweetie. The weather was perfect and the gentleman giving the tour was a delight. Photo above shows part of the kitchen, which is in an outbuilding to the north of the main house. Imagine having to cook over an open fire and then transfer all the food across  to the main house, hopefully keeping it warm enough as you went!

Mom loves the cookbook! She has the one and only First Edition but I hope to have multiple copies printed in about a month.There will also be a PDF version. More details as I know 'em. No recipe today. Creating this post on my Mom's iPad, and adding iPhone photos using regular computer via e-mail. How great is technology?

Finished off with pizza for lunch at Vinny's, an independent pizza place. Very yummy. Mom was good and had a whole wheat wrap with chicken and veggies...and a bite of my pizza and Sweetie's calzone. More fun coming up tomorrow when siblings and nephew arrive.
 XO Elle

Monday, May 07, 2012


Our ancestors, way, way back, were hunters...well the guys were anyway...not sure about the females. There is a whole movement these days called some variation of Paleo which asserts that what we really need as humans is meat. Makes some sense since that was likely a big part of our diet when times were flush in the old, old days. On the other hand there were likely many evenings when the meal had no meat at all and was probably berries, nuts and seeds, wild greens and maybe the odd tuber. When folks settled down there was also grains and other tubers and different vegetables and legumes than one could find in the wild...or at least more of them. I look at all this and see that a wide variety of foods is our heritage as humans. And yet, when we have been having too many fish or vegetarian dinners Sweetie will bring home a slab of beef or a pound of hamburger and dig in...he even says 'MEAT!' to let me know that we have strayed too far away from the Paleo for his taste.

A simple and hearty meat dish is pot roast. You can make it with a less expensive cut of meat since it simmers for quite a while, getting more tender all the time. I like it to have onions and carrots and corn and beans with it, plus some potato dish on the side. They add flavor to the dish and some veggies for those of us who are not as solidly carnivorous as Sweetie is. You can leave the veggies out for a meatier experience.

Pot Roast
3-4 lb beef chuck roast
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence or your favorite herb (I used chopped Italian parsley)
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2-3 carrots, washed and sliced into bite sized chunks
1 cup liquid...either beef broth, beer, or red wine for flavor or water if you prefer
1/2 teaspoon paprika

1-2 cups mixed vegetables...your choice

Pat the beef dry. Heat the oil in a large skillet (cast iron works really well) over medium-high heat. Brown the roast on all sides in the oil. Remove from pan and season to taste with salt, pepper and herbs. Set aside.
Add the onion to the skillet and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent.
Return the beef to the pan, placing it on top of the onions. Add the carrots and the liquid. Sprinkle with the paprika. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 1-2 hours or until meat is tender. During the last 20 minutes add the mixed vegetables, stirring them into the liquid in the pan. Optional: you can stir together a couple tablespoons of flour and add enough water to make a slurry, then stir that in to the liquid. Let cook another 3-5 minutes, stirring often, until sauce thickens. Serve sauce over sliced meat and serve veggies on the side.