Sunday, December 13, 2009

More Crock Pot Fun!

This isn't really a recipe-- just a tip. Today I made polenta in the crock pot and it was delicious! Before I had been stirring over the stove, but I tried this because Ben wanted to go run some errands. The polenta turned out so creamy and smoothe! I used a small crockpot that doesn't even have a low or high setting; it's just on or off-- and it still worked great. I use my kitchen scale to measure the polenta just because the recipe on the package is in grams. You can use the recipe on your polenta package; I didn't make any changes for the crockpot.

Crockpot Polenta

125 g. polenta
750 mL water
10 g. salt

Place in a small crockpot and turn it on. Ready in 4-5 hours, but you can keep it on until you get home!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Crock-pot "Pulled Pork"

Hi! Wow, I haven't had a chance to write anything for awhile. I have been cooking though! We had a great Thanksgiving. My friend and I prepared the dinner together at a home we rented in Austin. It was fun having all the kids and enjoying everyone under one roof! It's a challenge to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving in an unfamiliar kitchen, but it went fine. Once we all went camping for Thanksgiving, but believe me, that's another story! Still, after preparing Thanksgiving over three campfires, it takes a lot more than a different kitchen to throw us!

Anyway, the other day I was listening to "The Spendid Table" on NPR and there was a guy talking about how you can make decent pulled pork barbecue in a crock-pot. His recipe included liquid smoke, which he explained is actually an all natural product actually made from smoke and wood. However, it upsets some people's stomachs, so I thought I'd try to make it without.

While nothing like the slow smoked, delicious barbecue we get in Texas, this is a very easy, economical way to make pulled pork and it is quite tasty. The best thing is I bought a 4.5lb. pork shoulder for $7.30 at the local market. Even after discarding the bone and fat, there was still about 3lbs. of delicious, tender pork. If you do the math, that's about $2.40/lb-- about 1/3 the price of purchased pulled pork.

Crock Pot "Pulled Pork"

1 4.5-5lb. pork shoulder roast
1 large onion, sliced thickly
3 T. salt
1 T. garlic powder
2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 T. paprika
1 or 2 bay leaves
Your favorite barbecue sauce

Lime wedges (optional)
Mix all the seasonings together except the bay leaves. Rub the pork roast all over with the mixture. Place the onions in the bottom of the crock pot. Place the roast on top and lay the bay leaves on the roast. Pour in about 1/4 c. water down the side of the crock pot. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Take the roast out and let it cool a bit. With two forks, pull the roast apart (this will be easy) and discard the fat and bone. You can shred the meat a lot or a little, whatever you prefer.

Pour the liquid from the crockpot into a big Pyrex measuring cup. Skim off any fat. Put the shredded meat into the empty crockpot and pour about 1 c. of the liquid over it. Stir gently. Pour in the barbecue sauce to taste (some people like a lot, some a little). You can serve more sauce on the side.

You can make sandwiches with this on hamburger buns or just serve the meat as is with a squirt of lime over it (optional-- but I think it's delicious!). You will have a lot of meat. This freezes just fine also.

P.S. I didn't take a photo, but pulled pork isn't that photogenic anyway. However, it is yummy!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Apple Cake--More Heritage Recipes

Another good thing about really old recipes is they give you a lot of ideas for making "something out of nothing". In other words, you can create something quite tasty with small quantities of basic ingredients. It was raining here yesterday (yay!), and I didn't want to get out to the grocery store. I had two large Granny Smith apples that needed attention, but that's not enough for a pie. So, I went to my collection of old cookbooks and found this apple cake recipe dated 1850. Maybe because baking ingredients were not as easy to come by more than a hundred years ago, but I've noticed that with these really old recipes, the amounts of butter and sugar are small. They yield a dish smaller than we're used to, but they say they serve usually 6-10. This is generally good for us now as well: less butter and sugar and smaller portions-- but still yummy! I love the way these recipes allow good, simple things to "speak for themselves". Two large apples were plenty for this 8x8 cake that will easily serve six "2009" portions, or nine "1850" portions. I think back then they would serve this with heavy cream poured over, but now it's great served warm with vanilla ice cream! My dad would have liked to pour condensed milk over this-- straight from the can-- yikes!

Ada's Apple Cake
1 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1.5 Tbl. butter
1 beaten egg
1/3 c. milk
2 large or 3 small apples
2 Tbl. sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (to sprinkle over the top)
1 Tbl. butter
Preheat the oven to 400F. Spray an 8x8 baking dish with Pam (not authentic to 1850-- but easier!). Mix the first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the butter and work into the flour mix with a pastry blender or your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the egg and milk and mix well with a fork. Spread in the baking dish.
Peel and core the apples. Cut into wedges about 1/4-inch thick. Place over the cake dough, pressing them in slightly. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over all and dot with the 1 Tbl. butter.
Bake for 30 min. or until the apples are tender and the top is golden and sugar-glazed.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. You can put slices in the microwave if you've made the dish ahead-- they are just as good!
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Monday, September 21, 2009

Biscuit Journey

Homemade biscuits can be delicious! When they are good, they are the stuff that makes family memories, but guess what? When they are bad they make even more memories! As a child, my mom made biscuits with Bisquick like every other mom I knew. Sometimes she used the canned ones, but we liked the Bisquick ones enough.
When I had a home of my own, I decided one day to try making biscuits. How hard could it be? The recipes are all very simple and they use extremely basic ingredients. As a young married person, I also reasoned that the homemade biscuits could be made for a fraction of the cost of the canned ones. That was the beginning of the longest running joke in our family-- mom's biscuits. At first, Ben was the only one around to make fun of them, poking at them like they were boulders, using the butter knife in an exaggerated sawing motion like he was cutting firewood, pretending to break a tooth-- it was all tooooooo funny and so annoying! After our daughter was born, it didn't take long before she got in on the joke as well. She especially enjoyed seeing her Dad act as though he couldn't lift the biscuit off the plate, moaning and groaning to her complete delight! Everyone's a comedian.
However, I kept at it, much to my family's entertainment. Finally, I figured out that it wasn't the recipe so much, they varied very little-- it was the technique. You have to be careful to not mess around with the biscuit dough much, pat it to the correct thickness, and bake at the correct temperature. Once you have these things in place though, the biscuits are light, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Homemade biscuits have a terrific, clean flavor. And yes, they are very inexpensive to make. As with pancakes and waffles, you can make up a batch of biscuits before you can go to the store to buy the canned ones. They can really make an ordinary weekday type meal special. I served these with the homemade plum jam my daughter and I made in the first post. Now, my family still makes fun of my biscuits because the joke has taken on a life of it's own. However, they do seem to be able to lift these biscuits enough to make it to their mouths!
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/3 c. cold butter
3/4 c. milk
Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a good quality baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir well to mix. Use a pastry blender to combine the butter into the flour. As you work the butter in, you will see smaller and smaller pieces of butter within the flour. Keep going until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Add the milk and stir with a fork just until everything is moistened.
Put some flour on a tea towel or pastry cloth. Push the dough into a flattish ball, then pat gently into a disk about 1/2-inch thick. Cut out the biscuits with a biscuit cutter (metal is best). You can use a glass, but this doesn't cut cleanly and it kind of mashes the biscuit edges so they don't rise as well. Place the biscuits on the baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. You'll get about 9 biscuits from this recipe. Don't work the scraps too much, just press them together enough to reform them, then cut out some more biscuits.
If you want, brush each biscuit with melted butter. This makes them brown really nicely, but some people don't want the extra calories.
Bake the biscuits for about 15 minutes, but watch carefully the first time because ovens vary. Serve at once!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Spanish Stir Fry

I made this up for dinner tonight from the odds and ends I had in the fridge from the weekend. This one's more about cooking without a recipe than trying to ever duplicate it again. There are so many random ingredients it would be a real bother to try to gather these things up from the grocery store. The main idea is to learn what flavors are complimentary and invent! You know way more about flavor combinations than you think. All you have to do is think about what you like to eat based on other dishes you like. For example, in this dish, I had a couple chicken breasts, some chiles, a few olives and some cilantro. It wasn't hard to think Spanish from this collection of ingredients. Then I thought about the way I wanted to cook them. I wanted something healthy, quick, and fresh tasting-- a stir fry! But there's no law that a stir fry has to be Asian, hence the Spanish Stir Fry. From there I wanted to use some zucchini, red onion, tomato and summer squash that had looked good at the Farmer's Market. I always have garlic around-- and there it was, dinner! If this seems like too many ingredients, that's okay; your invention could have far fewer or more, depending on what you have that you want to use up or include. What you don't put in is important though. The difference between a wonderful, freshly prepared dish and "leftovers", is restraint. Don't just empty the refrigerator, heat it up and pronounce it "dinner"! The fun is in finding the friendly combinations! Anyway, here's my "recipe", use it as a guide to making your own luscious, healthy and economical meal.
P.S. I also had an avocado that needed to be used, so I made some guacamole. I served a dab of it on the stir fry. It looked pretty and added even more fresh taste to the dish.

Spanish Stir Fry
2 chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 small yellow squash, sliced
1 small red onion, sliced
2 red or green chiles, sliced
about 1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1 small tomato cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbl. olives, cut up coarsely
1/2 lime
olive oil
salt, pepper
Heat about 2 Tbl. olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the chicken and saute for a few minutes. Add some salt and pepper. Add the squashes, tomato, garlic, chiles and sliced onions. Cook and stir over high heat until the veggies are looking crisp tender-ish. Add the olives and cilantro and continue to cook and stir until the flavors are blended and the chicken is done-- about another 3-4 minutes. Squeeze the lime over all and serve!

Today's Guacamole
1 small avocado mashed up
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped
squirt of lime juice
2 Tbl. chopped fresh cilantro
Mix altogether and serve with the above stir fry or chips.
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Monday, September 7, 2009

Weekend Waffles

Hi! Well I haven't written for awhile. Ironically, I've been busy cooking for one gathering or another and haven't had time for the blog. Anyway, three day weekends are especially nice for leisurely breakfasts and waffles are always popular for that! If you haven't tried making waffles or pancakes from scratch, you should give it a try. While I do think the mixes on the market are generally very good, there are several reasons for making them yourself. Timewise, depending how far your grocery store is, you can prepare the batter for waffles or pancakes faster than it takes to drive to the store and buy a mix (I timed it once and was true at least for our store, which is about 3 miles away.). These recipes require very basic ingredients that you probably have already, so you can whip up a batch whenever the mood strikes you-- no preplanning! Besides that, they are less expensive than good quality mixes, they have no preservatives, and lastly, they taste terrific!
Here are two recipes I really like. Both recipes yield fluffy products, which we prefer at our house. If you like thinner pancakes, you can add a little more milk to the batter, but waffle batter needs to be fairly thick. This is a good waffle recipe because you don't have to beat the egg whites separately to yield a light waffle which a lot of recipes require.

Weekend Waffles

2 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbl. sugar
2 eggs
1.5 cups milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 Tbl. melted butter

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a bowl. Beat the eggs, vanilla and milk together in another smaller bowl. Add them to the dry ingredients along with the melted butter and mix with a wire whisk just until everything is moistened. Don't overmix the batter or the waffles will be tough.
Bake waffles according to the directions for your waffle iron. You can keep them hot and fresh on a rack in a warm (180F) oven if you want to serve them all at once.
Of course, homemade waffles deserve real maple syrup and real butter!

Light and Fluffy Pancakes

2 cups flour
1 Tbl. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1.5 c. milk
1/4 c. melted butter

Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat the eggs, milk and butter together lightly and pour into the dry ingredents. Mix with a wire whisk just until everything is moistened and the large lumps disappear. Make pancakes by pouring small amounts (1/4 cup or so) of batter on a hot griddle (350-375F) or in a large cast iron skillet that has been oiled or sprayed with PAM. Turn the pancakes over when you see the edges looking drier and holes forming in the pancake. Cook them another minute or two until the other side is browned nicely.

Both of these recipes can be "doctored up" by adding chopped pecans, blueberries, etc. People in this family are generally "purists", but I like them with all kinds of stuff in them-- banana, raisins, peanut butter........

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wonderful Gadget!

Hi Everyone! Although I've owned a melon baller for many years, I'd never used it for that purpose before. It is a great gadget for removing the center core of apples, pears, etc. and that's pretty much all I every did with it. Making a bunch of spherically shaped fruits didn't much appeal to me. However, the other day I wanted to make a pretty fruit salad and I got out a very old recipe that required the fruits to be spherical. I got out the melon baller and put it to work on some watermelon and canteloupe. Wow! It was great! Making the little balls is very quick and easy; faster than cutting up the fruit into not so pretty cubes. Plus, they look nice! Use a seedless watermelon to make things easy. I didn't need one half of the watermelon, so I've stored it in the fridge and just scoop out the melon as I've served it during the week, covered it back up with plastic wrap and stored it as it is-- no messy clean-up with the rinds, etc. every time you want to serve it! Anyway, the salad I made had the aforementioned melon balls, green grapes, and strawberries. The sauce that went with it was very tasty, easy and kind of old-fashioned because it uses mint jelly (remember that stuff?!). Here's the recipe for the sauce.
Easy Mint Sauce for a Large Fruit Salad
1 bunch mint
1/4 cup sugar
1- 10oz. jar mint jelly
1/4 c. water

Take the leaves off the mint stems and chop them finely. Place in bowl with the sugar. Allow to stand for 1 hour (if you don't have time to do that, it's okay, the sauce is still good.). Melt all the jelly in the microwave and pour it over the mint sugar mixture. Add the 1/4 c. water and stir well. Refrigerate until ready to use, at least 1 hour (that's necessary to get a nice natural minty taste.).
Right before serving, pour the sauce over the salad and mix well to coat all the fruit. Very refreshing!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hatch Chile Penne Pasta

The markets all have Hatch chile everything now, ie chiles from Hatch, NM. I got some today and made this dish because this morning on "Good Morning America", Dr. Oz said we need to eat more whole grains, veggies and less meat. What's new? But this turned out very tasty!

Hatch Chile Shrimp Penne Pasta
For two people:
2 T. butter (it's not much-- don't panic!)
1 long, Hatch chile, sliced crosswise into thin short strips (mild or hot-- I used mild, but I think hot might have been better)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c. chopped red onion (white is okay, red is just prettier)
1 c. milk (whole or 2%)
1 T. flour
1/2 lb. shrimp (peeled, deveined, tails removed, cut in half)
2 T. flat leaf parsley, minced (Cilantro would be good also, I think. I just didn't have any!)
2 tsp. salt
6 oz. whole wheat penne pasta, cooked according to pkg. directions

1. Saute the chiles, garlic, and onion in the butter. Add 1 tsp. salt. Add the flour and stir it around.
2. Add the shrimp and stir a little, but don't let them cook through.
3. Add the milk. Cook and stir until everything is bubbly and the shrimp are pink.
4. Add the pasta, 1 tsp. salt, pepper, and parsley.
5. Allow everything to cook gently until the pasta has absorbed a little of the sauce. Taste for seasoning and serve!

I think this would also be good with chicken, crab, or just veggies like artichokes and mushrooms.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Flan and Cookies...sort of

Had an all ladies' meeting at my house last night, so I had the idea that a flan with really cute cookies would be a nice thing to serve. I've made this flan recipe many times and it is very reliable. The thing I like about it is it uses whole eggs (not just the yolks--I don't like to have to make something else out of the leftover whites so you don't feel like you're wasteful) and whole milk (not cream), yet it comes out smooth and velvety. It uses simple, basic ingredients to make something really delicious. I like to serve it with softly whipped cream and a seasonal fruit (raspberries looked good this time), but it is tasty all by itself.
Now, about the cookies. I made Spritz Butter Cookies from a super old recipe my mom had. It came with the "cookie gun" that she received as a wedding gift in the early 50's and that I now have. It's fun to use and makes all kinds of different shaped cookies fast. Anyway, so I made heart-shaped butter cookies and painted one side with yummy chocolate. They looked great! I stored them in the fridge so the chocolate would stay nice-- a mistake. During the last part of the meeting I went to the kitchen to serve the dessert. The flan was fine, the meeting adjourned, people went home, and then-- RATS! There were the cookies still in the refrigerator! I had forgotten to serve them! Here's the worst: this is not the first time I've done that. In fact, it happens enough that it is rather a family joke (very funny.). I didn't include a photo of them, but I will later. I'm going to freeze them for the next meeting...........and write myself a note about that!
Here's some tips for making flan:
1. Use a fairly shallow mold with very little decoration. If you use something fancy, like a bundt type pan, the caramel coating isn't nearly as dramatic looking in the final dish and the molded decoration gets somewhat hidden by the caramel. I just use a metal layer cake pan (make sure it holds the proper volume).
2. Melt the sugar in a small, heavy, cast iron pan. Stir constantly as it melts. It will look like a mess at first, but soon the sugar melts into a smooth, brown syrup.
3. Stop heating the syrup while is still a little lighter than you want because it will continue to darken from the heat of the pan.
4. Be very careful when you pour the syrup into the mold. It will get super hot, so hold it with potholders while you're tilting it around to coat the sides.
Simple Ingredients Flan
1 c. sugar
4 c. whole milk
6 eggs
1/2 c. sugar
pinch salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Almost boiling water.

Preheat oven to 325F.
1. Place the 1 c. sugar in a small, cast iron skillet. Stir over medium heat until melted and a deep brown caramel color.
2. Pour the melted sugar carefully into a metal mold or 9-inch cake pan. Hold the mold with pot holders and swirl the syrup around to coat the sides and bottom of the mold.
3. Pour the milk into a microwave safe container and heat until very hot, about 2-3 min. on "high".
3. Beat the rest of the above ingredients, except the water, in a bowl. Beat in the hot milk. Pour into the mold.
4. Set the mold in another metal pan and pour hot water up 1/2-inch around the mold.
5. Bake for 1hr and 15 min. or until a silver knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Refrigerate overnight.
7. To serve: Run a knife around the edge of the mold to loosen the sides. Place a shallow serving dish over the top and invert everything quickly. Shake the mold a little and the flan will slip out with all the yummy caramel to serve as a sauce.
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Friday, August 14, 2009

Heritage Recipe-- Oyster Rolls

One thing I really enjoy is collecting and studying old cookbooks. It's fun to look at the types of dishes that were eaten and what people enjoyed. It is really interesting to make an old recipe-- you get the "feel" of what people were like by what foods they enjoyed eating-- what they thought was yummy!
Anyway, I have a cookbook that has a favorite recipe of John Adams, second President of the United States. It was something called "Oyster Rolls". Ordinarily, I don't buy oysters in August, but they had local, wild, Texas oysters at the market today and they looked good. I had just looked at the oyster roll recipe the previous day, so obviously, I was supposed to make them! I was excited to try a recipe that people enjoyed over 200 years ago, but I thought it would probably be bland (I've noticed people were very conservative about seasoning until very recently.) However, these turned out great! I adapted the recipe a little for modern methods, but kept the ingredients the same.

John Adam's Oyster Rolls
2 small French rolls
1 pt. shucked oysters (save the oyster liquor)
2 T. butter
4 peppercorns (yes, the recipe said "4")
1/4 tsp. mace
dash nutmeg
2 T. minced parsley
fresh lemon, optional

1. Cut the tops off the two rolls and remove some of the bread to make a trench in the rolls.
2. Toast the rolls lightly under the broiler-- watch carefully! Preheat the oven to 375F.
3. Drain the oyster liquor into a small saucepan. Add the peppercorns, mace, and nutmeg.
4. Heat the liquid gently, not to a boil.
5. Add the oysters and the butter. Let them cook very slowly until the edges of the oysters curl.
6. Add the parsley. Taste for seasoning. Make sure there is enough salt.
7. Use a slotted spoon to remove the oysters into the rolls. Heat them in the oven for 3-5 min.
8. Meanwhile, boil the oyster liquid so it can reduce a bit.
9. When the rolls are done, place in a shallow bowl. Spoon the reduced oyster liquid over the rolls. Add a spritz of fresh lemon if you want, although this isn't in the original recipe.
10. You'll need to eat these with a fork because the liquid makes them soft, but they are quite good!
Note: One other thing I learned from this recipe is to cook oysters very slowly. This helps them stay tender. This method also works well when boiling shrimp-- keeps them from getting rubbery.
All his portraits look pretty stern, but maybe John Adams was a fun guy afterall !

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Easy Homemade Creamed Corn

If you've ever eaten real, homemade creamed corn, you know it is NOTHING like the gooey stuff sold in a can (although that stuff is good as an extra ingredient in cornbread, I think). Making it from scratch takes a lot of time and pans if you use the usual recipe to prepare the corn, make the cream sauce, etc. Here's a method I use all the time that's more of the "cooking without a recipe" type. It uses just one pan and a wooden spoon-- yay-- less dishes!

Easy Homemade Creamed Corn
1 10oz. pkg. frozen corn
milk or "half and half" (depends how rich you want it)
salt and pepper
Melt about 2 T. (about 1-inch off the butter stick) over medium-high heat in a frying pan. Add the frozen corn. Stir and cook until it's thawed and almost starting to get golden. You might have to add bit of water to get things going at first. Reduce the heat to low and sprinkle in about 2 T. flour over the corn. Cook and stir the mixture for about a minute (it will look a mess). Turn the heat back to medium-high and pour in some milk to just cover the bottom of the pan. Cook and stir until the mixture is bubbly. If it is too thick for your taste, add more milk. If it's too thin, let it cook a little more over low heat while you're doing something else, stirring now and then. It will continue to thicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper and Tabasco if you want.
Note: Adding chopped poblano peppers (roasted, peeled, seeded) to this dish makes it super good! If you like things really spicy, add the peppers at the end of cooking and serve. If you want the heat to tame a bit, add the peppers when you add the milk and let the creamed corn sit around awhile while you get the rest of dinner ready, then reheat quickly. The protein in the milk breaks down the chemicals that make the chiles hot, so the longer they react with the milk, the milder the taste. You'll find that if you reheat leftovers the next day, there will be very little chile spice, but the good flavor is still there!
You can use this method for just about anything you want to serve "creamed": potatoes, peas, spinach, etc. For fresh potatoes, add a little water to cook them without browning and cut them up smaller so they will cook quickly. Let the water evaporate before adding the flour and milk.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Estate Sale Cookies

A couple weeks ago Ben and I went to an estate sale that was being held in our neighborhood. The home was lovely, and there were many beautiful serving pieces, stemware, etc. that indicated the owner had practiced at least a little hospitality. Anyway, I always look at the cookbooks for sale at these things, and that's where I found IT. IT was a three-ring binder with tabbed dividers, red (they're always red), and duct-taped on the side (another common feature). IT was Mrs. ___'s personal collection of recipes, clipped from newspapers, magazines, and many hand-written on backs of envelopes, etc. Instantly, self-righteous indignation sprang up within me. "What!!!" "A mom's personal collection of treasured family recipes and NONE of her children want it?!!!" "IT's tossed aside to fall into the hands of strangers?!!?" In the words of Mrs. Loman, "Attention must be paid!" Determined to rescue it, I grabbed it up, "You're coming home with me." I comforted, "I'LL appreciate you...." I paid $1 for the book (even getting a "deal" kind of got me mad, "That's it? Her LIFE is worth $1?!")
Once home, I went through each scrap and torn out recipe carefully and respectfully. My heart was full of sentimentality when I came across a guest list. It was evidently for one of Mrs. ____'s parties. Listed there was a person in our neighborhood that I knew quite well. Ben suggested I call her and ask a little about Mrs. ____, so I did, and therein lay my very important lesson.
After explaining the situation, I asked my neighbor what she knew about Mrs. _____. First of all, Mrs. _____ is alive and well and just wanted to get rid of a few things so she could move into a smaller place now that she's elderly and her husband has been deceased for awhile. My friend remembered Mrs. _____ as a real "Auntie Mame" type lady. She described her as one of the most creative, exciting and vivacious women she knows. Mrs. _____ was known for her parties, which were legendary for fun and unpredictability. Then I posed the question, "And evidently Mrs. ___ enjoyed cooking?" My friend replied, "Oh heaven's no!! She was not interested in the least in cooking!" Stricken, I countered, "But she had a cookbook with all hand-written recipes!" My friend said, "Well, perhaps, but I guarantee they weren't in HER handwriting! I'm sure she asked people to write out their recipes, but she had no intention of making them herself!"
So there it was. Mrs. ______ was not a little "Aunt Bea" character that busied herself making homemade biscuits and fried chicken. No. She is a wonderful, glamorous, hospitable lady that drew people into her fabulous life through her creative, fun, outrageous lifestyle. Of course, her children would have no attachment to a worn recipe book of other people's recipes! Perhaps they enjoyed them now and then unknowingly, but that wasn't how they identified "mom". How wrong I was and how silly to fall for the sterotype that being a "good mom" assumes a "good cook". While cooking is surely fun for me, I don't want to forget the FABULOUS! Balance is everything!
Note: There was a cookie recipe in the bunch that I had to try. From the wording, I think they were Mrs. ___'s mother-in-law's recipe. It has the ingredients, but no instructions as most of these passed along recipes do. I made them today, however, and they are absolutely delicious and bake up beautifully!

Estate Sale Cookies
1 cup Crisco (you can buy the kind with no trans-fat now, but this is one time when butter would
not be better!)
1 tsp. salt
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans are suggested, that's what I used)
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. lemon juice
Cream the Crisco, salt, and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, vanilla and lemon juice and beat well. Add the flour and baking soda and stir on low speed until blended. Stir in the nuts. I used a small cookie scooper (1 Tbl. capacity) to portion out the dough and baked them for 12 min. at 350F. This recipe made about 5 doz. cookies of this size.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Julie and Julia

Saw the Julia Child movie last night-- actually this morning. Ben had the fun idea to go to the 12:05am showing Friday! Crazy! Loved the movie, though, and especially enjoyed seeing some of Julia's dishes prepared from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. I. Meryl Streep did a great job with the voice, I thought.
More about cooking without a recipe:
Although Julia's recipes are painstakingly accurate to the 1/4 tsp. of herbs, everyday cooking can be a lot more relaxed. Some flavor combinations and basic ingredients work with so many things and make ordinary dishes seem special. Examples:
French vermouth (not expensive, about $7/bottle and it lasts a long time)-- Add about 1/4 c. to the browned bits left in a pan after browning chicken or pork. Let it cook a bit, scraping up the bits as it cooks. Swirl in a couple pats of butter, salt and pepper, and pour over the chicken or pork.
If you make any casseroles with "cream of something soup" add 1/4 cup-1/3 cup vermouth for part of the milk or whatever else liquid is called for. It makes a real difference!
Garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and any fresh herb makes a terrific marinade for just about any type of meat-- beef, pork, chicken, lamb. Fresh herbs that are good to use for grilling are rosemary, tarragon, or mint. More delicate herbs like parsley, thyme, chervil are better in the oven, I think.
Chinese black bean sauce or hoisin sauce comes bottled and is inexpensive. These are real no-brainers. Just saute whatever you like in the way of veggies and protein (chicken, tofu, etc.). At the end, stir in about 1 T cornstarch and mix around with the sauteed stuff. Add about 1/2 c. broth or even water (a little of the vermouth is good here also!), then add a big spoonful of the Chinese sauce. Taste and add more if you need to. Let everything cook quickly to evaporate enough to glaze everything well. You can get pretty close to "take-out"!
Of course, you can add so much more to these basic tips, but if you're in a hurry on a weekday night, just these ingredients can produce a very yummy dish in no time! Food types always talk about "building layers of flavor" and all that, and for sure, they are right. But you can still have a very tasty home cooked meal without all the "building" all the time!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lake Weekend

Posted by PicasaEnjoyed a lovely weekend at the lake via the gracious invitation of some friends. It was so wonderful to enjoy their special Texas hospitality, their company, and conversation. Against the natural beauty afforded us by His creation, it was an all around splendid time!
I wanted to help provide some special goodies for this occasion because, after all, delicious, diner- friendly eats are a big part of this kind of weekend, right? Also, one family was arriving with three boys enjoying their last summer before embarking on their college adventure, which meant joyous, healthy appetites and a refreshing abandon of the calorie counter. I prepared a brisket, potato salad and a marinated style cole slaw to take, but YaY!, this was an opportunity to take pie!
I've developed a method / recipe for a flakey pastry that's great for what is termed in Texas, "hand pies". Making pie pastry from scratch is a whole write-up in itself and probably requires me to be much more proficient in posting photos. Those pictured were made with scratch pastry, but very decent hand pies can be made with those Pillsbury "All-Ready" pie crusts. A big part of their success is using fresh fruit and making the icing from scratch. We'll deal with pie pastry later, but for now here's a recipe for

Quicker Yummy Fresh Fruit Hand Pies
For 16 little pies (8/crust)
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
1 container of "All Ready" Pie Crusts (2 per container)
2 T. butter
2 c. soft fruit (I used fresh sweet cherries, pitted, but cut up peaches or apricots, or black/blueberries are good)
1-2 T. sugar, depending on how sweet the fruit is
1 T. cornstarch
1. Mix the cornstarch and sugar in a medium bowl.
2. Add the fruit and stir gently to coat evenly.
3. Remove one crust from the package and place on a floured tea towel. Use a rolling pin to flatten it a little thinner, about 1/2 as thick as it was.
4. Dot the surface with tiny bits of 1 T. butter.
5. Fold two opposite sides of the circle to meet in the middle. Fold the top and bottom sides to meet in the middle. This is what makes the pastry extra flakey. Turn the pastry over.
6. Roll out the pastry to a large rectangle, about 1/8-inch thickness. Trim the sides to be even.
7. Cut the pastry with a sharp knife into 8 smaller rectangles (or less if you want bigger pies).
8. Put a small mound of fruit a little off center on a pastry rectangle. Fold the pastry over and seal the edges by pressing all around the three sides with a fork.
Note: When you fold the pastry over, use your fingertips to lift up the lower pastry a little to "meet" the top one. That way they line up a little better so you can seal everything evenly.
9. Put the little pie on the parchment lined baking sheet and continue until you've used both crusts or just stop at one if you only want 8 little pies.
10. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until starting to brown a little at the edges. Filling might escape a little, but not much.
11. Remove the pies to a cooling rack. When they're completely cool, frost with
1 c. powdered sugar
1-2 T. milk (or so)
1/2 tsp. almond extract
Stir together to make a thin frosting. You can add more or less milk to make the kind of glaze you like. Use a pastry brush to paint the tops of the pies. Allow the frosting to dry, then wrap in waxed paper if you want that old-fashioned, homemade look!
These little pies are so cute and again, lend themselves to help in the kitchen. Invite someone to work along side you-- it's fun!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Technical Problems and Tacos

Well, rats, the photo of my stuffed artichokes experienced technical difficulty. Oh, well. There are no retakes with food-- it gets eaten!
Today my friend called me because she had purchased all the ingredients for shrimp tacos then had misplaced the recipe. She asked me to help her re-create the proportions and cooking method and reports that the tacos were quite tasty. She lives in about a 4 hr. drive from me so sorry, no pics here either, but here's the recipe.

Shrimp Tacos
1lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined, cut into about 1/2-inch pieces
1 T. olive oil
1/4 c. chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 chopped jalapeno pepper (seeded)
1 small handful of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/2 lime
about 1 c. grated jack or cheddar cheese (more or less to taste)
flour tortillas (she used multi-grain)

1. Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until softened. Add the jalepeno and saute a minute or two. Add the tomato and allow to cook for about 3 minutes, stirring.
2. Add the shrimp. Add about 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Stir and cook until the shrimp are pink. Add the fresh cilantro and cook very briefly, just until it's slightly wilted.
3. Squeeze the lime juice over all.
4. Place some of the shrimp mixture and cheese on a warmed tortilla.
5. Yummy!
It's hard to say how many tacos this will make because it depends how full you like them. Probably you could make 4-6 "sane" ones!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Something Scrumptious Sunday

Hi! Last Friday there were HUGE, COLLASSAL, GIGANTIC artichokes on sale at the market, 2 for $5. That might not sound terrific, but they were HUGE, COLLASSAL, and GIGANTIC! The problem was Ben, my husband, is not crazy about artichokes! However, he is crazy about sausage, especially Italian sausage, so I had an idea. I made stuffed artichokes and the filing was an Italian sausage mixture with cheese, tomato, and parsley. The filling is nothing complicated, but if you've never worked with fresh artichokes, they can be a challenge at first. This dish turned out to be so terrific though-- a perfect Sunday evening meal. One huge artichoke was a generous serving for one. Ben said it was the best artichoke he'd ever eaten.
This recipe takes some time, but it's very tasty and you learn a lot if you've never prepared artichokes before.

Sausage Stuffed Artichokes

2 large artichokes (mine were a little bigger than a softball)
1/2 lemon
3 bay leaves
2 T. salt
1/2lb bulk Italian sausage (hot or mild, I used mild)
1 c. grated mozzerella cheese
1/2 c. chopped Italian parsley
1 medium tomato, chopped
olive oil for drizzling
1. Get a pot large enough to fit the artichoke and fill with water. Add the lemon, bay leaves and salt and set on the stove to boil.
2. To prepare artichokes: Cut off the stem as close as you can to the base of the artichoke. Cut off about 2 inches off the top of the artichoke. Use kitchen shears to trim the points off all the other leaves.
3. Boil the artichokes about 45 minutes, or until a fork pierces up through the stem end very easily. While the artichokes are cooking, brown the sausage in a small pan. Drain any fat and add the parsley and tomato. Add about 1/2 c. water and allow to simmer while the artichokes cook.
4. There should be a little water left in the pan, but not much when you're ready to use it.
5. Preheat the oven to 350F.
6. When the artichokes are done, remove them from the water and let them cool until you can handle them. Set them upright and use your fingertips to pull out the center leaves (at least all the ones that have a purple cast to them). Then take a spoon and scrape the fuzzy choke off the aritchoke bottom. It should all pull away easily so that you can see what you should scrape off. Don't scrape away the solid artichoke bottom-- that's the best part. When you're done, you should have a hole about 2.5-3 inches across at the base of the artichoke.
7. Add the cheese to the filling. Spoon the most of the filling into the center of the artichokes, but then spread out the outer leaves and put some of the filling between the leaves here and there. It doesn't have to be a certain way.
8. Place the artichokes in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 10 min. until the cheese is melted and the whole thing is warm. Serve one artichoke per person as a main dish.
9. To eat, pull off the leaves and eat the base of them with the sausage filling. Enjoy the yummy artichoke bottom with the filling.
I didn't serve anything else with this dish except beer!

Note: An important thing that makes cooking fun is being able to cook without having to follow a recipe. That way, when you see something in the market that looks good, you can be creative on the spot. As we go, I'll try to talk about some basic tips that might help you. One tip for now is that sausage and cheese is a versatile flavor combination that can be mixed in just about any way, in anything, and in about any proportion and it will be popular. If you see something at the store that looks good, you can think about preparing it by using sausage and cheese as a stuffing. Mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers, chicken breasts-- all these are delicious with a sausage/cheese stuffing. The same mixture can be used over tortilla chips or on a pizza crust. The type of sausage and cheese can help determine the way you want to go with the dish-- Spanish, Italian, German, etc. So, already there are a bunch of dishes you can prepare by knowing about one good flavor combination.
I'll have a photo of this dish up soon!


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Strawberry Sorbet

Last night I went to the grocery store after work and there were beautiful strawberries on a terrific sale! Ben was taking me out to the local hamburger place for dinner, so I had time to make this strawberry sorbet. The recipe is simple and you can use whatever fruits are in season and look scrumptious! This recipe is an adaptation of an old Chez Panisse recipe. I changed the method though because almost all sorbet / ice cream recipes require the mix to chill overnight in the refrigerator and then a good chilling again in the freezer for the finished product. That's a lot of advanced planning in my opinion! This recipe allows you to make the sorbet in one session from start to finish. I had it done and in the freezer by the time we left for the restaurant. Then we could enjoy a refreshing dessert at home afterwards! You can use any fruit to make this so I call it:
"Anything" Sorbet
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
4 c. any kind of fruit
1 Tbl. Kirsch (optional, but very delicious--if you don't use it, use fresh lemon juice)
Put the sugar and water in a microwavable bowl and microwave for 2 min. Stir until dissolved and put in the freezer to cool while you wash and trim up the fruit as necessary. Put the fruit through a food mill or process in a blender or food processer and pour into a *metal bowl. Add the cooled sugar syrup and the Kirsch or lemon juice to the fruit. Place in the freezer for 30min. to cool down well. Freeze in an electric ice cream maker for 25-30 min. Pack into another sealable container and store in the freezer.
*Metals have a low specific heat, which means they conduct and release heat quickly. Using a metal bowl instead of plastic or ceramic allows the mixture to cool faster. I have a background in chemistry, so I think it's fun to transfer that knowledge to making things easier in the kitchen! However, I'm told most people couldn't care less about the specific heat of metals, so feel free to ignore these digressions when necessary!
Notes: If you don't have a food mill, they are terrific kitchen tools. I never had one for a long time and didn't miss it, but now that I have one, I really like it! You can pay a lot (like over $150) for a fancy one, but I bought a plastic mill that had steel inserts for $25 and it works great!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Flat Chicken for Dinner

Hi! We had chicken for dinner tonight. I prepared it in the Italian manner, flattened so that the skin turns our crispy and brown all around, and it is very easy to separate into serving pieces. Usually, these recipes require marinating the chicken and grilling it outside. That is certainly delicious, but not really practical for a weekday meal, at least at our house. Here's my method for a shortcut version that's still delicious! There's also a version if you didn't plan ahead and your chicken is still frozen.

Italian Flattened Chicken
1 3-3.5lb. whole organic / free range chicken
1 Tbl. dried Italian seasoning
3 Tb. olive oil
1 Tbl. salt
1 tsp. pepper
a cast iron pan (to press down the chicken while it cooks)

This chicken takes an hour to cook, but you don't have to stand around while it's cooking. You can go away and do other stuff and just come back to it to turn it. If you have children, be careful that they don't come near the hot cooking chicken though.

Mix the olive oil, seasoning, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
Put some paper towels on your cutting board. This helps it not slide around and is safer. Set the chicken on the board and hold it upright (legs down) with the backbone facing you. Use a sharp French knife to cut down each side of the chicken's backbone. Lay the chicken skin side down on the board. Using a sharp paring knife, cut around the hard part of the breastbone in the center of the chicken and wiggle it out. Be careful the first time you do this, but after you've done it once, it's no big deal. Turn the chicken over and cut off the wing tips. Wipe the chicken with more paper towels. It should be laying pretty flat.
Preheat an electric skillet to 350F. Or use a large regular skillet over medium high heat.
Spread the olive oil seasoning over the skin side of the chicken. Lay it in the skillet skin side down and put a cast iron pan on the chicken to press it down flat to the skillet. If you don't have a cast iron pan, use aluminum foil covered bricks.
Allow the chicken to cook for 20min. Take off the cast iron pan. Spread the other half of the olive oil seasoning over the chicken and turn it over. Place the cast iron pan on the chicken again. Cook another 20min.
Take the pan off the chicken. Turn the chicken over and cook 10 min. Turn and cook another 10 min. Remove the chicken to a plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes.
Separate the chicken into serving pieces. It should cut apart easily.

If your chicken is partially frozen: Put the whole chicken in a deep bowl of cold water that has about 1/3-1/2 cup salt dissolved in it. Allow the chicken to soak for about an hour (if it's still frozen, put the bowl in the fridge and let it complete thawing in there). Salt lowers the freezing point of water, and it will cause the chicken to thaw faster. Also, it serves as a kind of brining, but it's not that effective as such because the chicken is frozen.

I served this chicken with butter and cheese polenta and lima beans (I know, a rather heavy veg, but I like them!). It was yummy!
Note about chicken. It seems like an organic chicken is too expensive, and there is no doubt that it costs more per pound. However, once I measured the amount of waste between a conventionally produced chicken and an organic, free range chicken. The conventionally produced chicken had about three times the amount of waste in the form of fat and extra flabby skin (yuck!) that I had to trim off. After cooking, the organic chicken has firm, flavorful meat with tasty, thin skin. The other type has a more watery, loosely textured meat, with thicker skin that doesn't crisp as well-- it can be quite unappetizing. I've found that I can serve smaller portions of the better quality chicken (as long as there are tasty side dishes) and everyone is still happy. So, from the standpoint of waste, taste, and nutrition the organic chicken might be a better value for you, although it costs more per pound. Still, price is price and if you can't justify the extra according to your budget, this is still a fun way to prepare and eat chicken!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Canning Adventure!

Hi! I had a super fun time cooking with my daughter last week. She was home from Dallas, so we had made plans to make some jams for Christmas presents. We made plum jam with some great organic red plums and hot pepper jelly with local jalepenos that are in season in Texas right now. If you want to try home canning, it is a wonderful, fun experience that lends itself especially well to working with a friend or relative in the kitchen. A few tips for beginners:
1. Your first project should be a type of jam. Jams can be made in water bath canners (don't need pressure canners), are simple recipes, and are made in small batches that are easy to work with.
2. Use a jam recipe that requires sugar and a type of pectin, liquid or powder. There are recipes for sugarless and natural pectin jams, but they require more cooking time and canning skill.
3. Buy the best, most beautiful, peak of perfection, local, organic fruit you can find. Most jam recipes consist of three ingredients: sugar, pectin, and fruit, so the fruit needs to be terrific for the jam to be terrific!
4. Use reliable, recently published recipes from the Ball Canning company or the local agricultural extension agency.
It might seem old fashioned and a lot of trouble when you can just buy something like jam, but there is a lot more to it than the product. I hadn't canned anything since I was a kid working in the kitchen with my mom. Now I was teaching my daughter the same things. Each jar of the season is a memory and a lesson. Plus it tastes good!