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!