Monday, November 30, 2009

Cookies....for ME!

After all that canning on behalf of others, I needed a little treat for myself! ;-) Of course, I didn't want it to be anything too involved, and ideally, it would help me continue to use up some ingredients that I already had on hand (=less crap I have to move to the new house). Luckily, I came across a recipe on one of my favorite blogs that sounded perfect!

It's one of those "kitchen sink" cookie recipes that I was able to add lots of little bits of things that were hanging around on the counter, like one of the myriad half-used jars of peanut butter that I discovered while cleaning out the pantry! Also, the original recipe called for Cheerios, but I LOATHE them, so I used the remainder of a box of Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds (my FAVE!). Moreover, I omitted the raisins and peanut butter chips--again, hate them both--and swapped out out chocolate chips instead (just personal preference). And I increased the salt level a bit, as I'm crazy for that sweet-salty thang. Finally, I ran across a little bag of sliced blanched almonds plucked out of the kitchen chaos and threw those in, too, for good measure. The resulting cookies were very flavorful and both crispy and toothsome/chewy at the same time. This recipe is easy and delicious--probably not fancy enough for your holiday cookie platter, but workaday wonderful!

Double Oat and Peanut Butter Cookies
(Source: adapted from
Culinary in the Desert/Country)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (I would increase this to 3/4 teaspoon)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup water
3 cups Cheerios cereal (I used Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds)
1/2 cup golden raisins*
1/2 cup peanut butter chips*

*I omitted both the raisins and peanut butter chips for one cup of bittersweet chocolate chips. I also added about a half cup of sliced blanched almonds to the mix.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, oats, baking soda and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and peanut butter until smooth. Add granulated and brown sugar, beating until creamy. Mix in egg, vanilla and water. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Fold in cereal, raisins and peanut butter chips (or chocolate chips and almonds, if using).

Scoop dough using a 1/4 cup measure and drop onto parchment lined baking sheets, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Lightly dampen the palm of your hand and gently flatten the dough.

Place cookies into the oven and bake until the edges are lightly golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cookies cool for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 24 large cookies.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The elves get busy (so to speak)...

Ah, the long Thanksgiving weekend! I should, of course, be packing (I've already postponed my move by two weeks as it is), but dread and procrastination on that front have inspired me to get started on some holiday gifts for co-workers. And nothing pleases me more than preserving in the winter. Thus, I have three recipes to share from my Thanksgiving canning FRENZY!

My first gift in a jar is in honor of my very dear friend, John. I have already shared the story of visiting his family many years ago in rural Missouri and raiding his Grandma Blesi's larder for homemade dill pickles (the event which launched my canning career). But when I was in the pantry grabbing big old jars of dills, Johnny was grabbing smaller jars of something he remembered very fondly from his childhood called "pear honey." It has no actual honey in it, but is a surprising mix of pears and canned pineapple that's cooked down to a tawny, honey-like consistency (hence the name) that, to hear John tell of it, goes perfectly on a hot biscuit. I didn't have Grandma Blesi's recipe (note to self: call John's mom), but I used one from Paula Deen that seemed very traditional. Naturally, I had to zhoozh it up a bit by adding a vanilla bean (definitely not traditional, but vanilla is so YUMMY with both pears and pineapple), and it turned out beautifully. I only made a half batch, and it yielded nine jars--plenty to send a bunch to John and still have some leftover for local gift-giving.

Pear Honey with Vanilla Beans
(Source: adapted from
Paula Deen)

3 lbs. (about nine cups) peeled, cored, and chopped pears
1 8 oz. can (about one cup) crushed pineapple with syrup
5 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, split

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook until pears are tender and mixture thickens, 30-45 minutes. Process jars in a hot water bath, 10 minutes for half-pints and 15 minutes for pints.

Yield: 9 half-pints

That took care of John's Christmas present, but I still needed little gifts for my co-workers. Since cranberries were on sale for Thanksgiving, I wanted to try something called Spicy Cranberry Salsa, which was the perfect holiday red color, and would make a wonderful condiment on a turkey sandwich, or served over a brick of cream cheese with crackers or tortilla chips, or as a zippy substitute for traditional cranberry sauce on a holiday table. Delish!

Spicy Cranberry Salsa
National Center for Home Food Preservation)

6 cups chopped red onion
4 finely chopped large Serrano peppers*
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar (5%)
1 tablespoon canning salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
6 tablespoons clover honey
12 cups (2 3/4 pounds) rinsed, fresh whole cranberries

*Caution: Wear plastic or rubber gloves and do not touch your face while handling or cutting hot peppers. If you do not wear gloves, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face or eyes.

1. Wash and rinse 6 pint (or 12 half-pint) canning jars; keep hot until ready to use. Prepare lids according to manufacturer's directions.
2. Combine all ingredients except cranberries in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat slightly and boil gently for 5 minutes.
3. Add cranberries, reduce heat slightly and simmer mixture for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.
4. Fill the hot mixture into clean, hot pint jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Leave saucepot over low heat while filling jars. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars and apply two-piece metal canning lids.
5. Process in a boiling water canner for ten minutes (half-pints or pints). Let cool, undisturbed, 12-24 hours and check for seals.

Yield: About 6 pint jars (I made half-pints for gift-giving)

Lastly, as I had recently been to Everett Orchards and procured a half peck of GINORMOUS Cortlands, I decided to give friends and co-workers a choice between the cranberry salsa or an apple chutney that I read about on my favorite Harvest Forum from Annie of the legendary Annie's Salsa fame. It turned out lovely, and I believe it would be a perfect pairing with anything porcine--pork roast or pork chops in particular. Yum!

Apple Chutney
GardenWeb's Harvest Forum)

8 cups cored, peeled and chopped apples
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 extra-large sweet red pepper, chopped (or 2 medium)
1 lb. golden raisins
1 lb. black raisins (I used red flame raisins instead)
2 jalapenos, chopped
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
4 cups apple cider vinegar
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 teaspoons canning salt
2 teaspoons allspice (I reduced this to one teaspoon)
2 teaspoons cinnamon (I reduced this to one teaspoon)
2 teaspoons ground cloves (I reduced this to 1/2 teaspoon)
*I added 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all in a large kettle and bring slowly to a boil, stirring often to keep from sticking. Simmer until thick (30-45 minutes?). Pour into hot jars, adjust lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Yield: 12 to 14 half-pints

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I have so much to be grateful for this year. The two main things are my new (to me) house, and the fact that my long-lost roommate, Cyd, has returned after spending over a year working near Minneapolis. YAY! I am so happy to have my friend back, that instead of foregoing Thanksgiving in favor of more packing, which was the original plan, I broke down and cooked a traditional feast. We've just finished gorging ourselves on the turkey and trimmings, and while my prodigal roommate watches her football, I thought I'd get a Thanksgiving blog post in.

I did much of the preparation yesterday. I started by brining the turkey in the Alton Brown fashion, or something close to it. I dissolved a pound and half each of kosher salt and brown sugar in three quarts of hot water, which I let cool for about a half hour, maybe a little longer. I poured this into a big Igloo chest cooler, then I threw in four bay leaves, a bunch of fresh thyme and a couple of big sprigs of sage leaves, both from my herb garden (thank you, global warming!), a sprinkle of black peppercorns and red pepper flakes, and a dozen garlic cloves. Next, I added a seven pound bag of ice and my 15.5 pound turkey. I left this on the porch overnight, brining it a total of about 20 hours, though that was probably overkill. Then today, I lubed up the skin with olive oil and seasoned it with salt, pepper and granulated garlic, roasted it at 450 for about a half hour, then another 2 1/2 to 3 hours at 350. It was perfect--moist, flavorful, and not too salty.

Also yesterday, I made a classic sausage, onion, celery and sage bread stuffing that just needed to be baked off today. I did one thing differently than I usually do--I added a can of cream of celery soup to the mixture, as I recently saw Paula Deen do. It made for a very soft, bread pudding consistency, which is how Cyd prefers it, and it added another layer of flavor. Also, in Cyd's honor, we made real mashed potatoes (I am fine with just stuffing myself). And to kick them up a bit, I added 4 oz. of soft cream cheese, and I browned the butter before adding it (thanks to Elise at Simply Recipes for that fabulous tip!). I also prefer to use evaporated milk in my mashed potatoes, because I like that slightly nutty, cooked flavor, which complemented the brown butter.

The last thing I did yesterday was to make what may now become my de facto pumpkin pie. The recipe came from Anna at Cookie Madness, and it's called Marbled Cream Cheese Pumpkin Pie. (Of course, I'm not a skilled marbler, so my pie ended up with globby cheesecake polka dots inside...oh well!) In any case, for those of you who can't decide between pumpkin pie and pumpkin cheesecake, this is the solution! Cyd prefers a traditional pumpkin pie, but she loved this. And I liked it better than regular pumpkin pie. I enjoyed the lighter texture and the milder flavor, though some people might want to use a heavier hand with the spices. Then again, the only real change I made was, instead of using pecan shortbread cookies for the crust, I used ginger snaps and chopped walnuts. This was a stroke of genius, if I do say so myself, and the ginger snaps bring up the spice level, of course. Just delicious! The only possible downside to this pie may be that you HAVE to make it in advance, as it requires a minimum of four hours of chill time. Or maybe that's a plus because it's a make-ahead item, so that takes some pressure off of cooking so much on the actual Day of Thanks.

All I had to do today was to roast the turkey, bake off the stuffing, reheat the potatoes, and make some ROCKING gravy from the pan drippings deglazed with a half cup of red wine, maybe half or three-quarters cup flour whisked in, and lots of lots of homemade turkey stock. The stock I made by browning the turkey neck, gizzards and heart in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil along with two stalks of celery and two carrots, both cut into chunks, one onion thickly sliced, two sprigs of fresh sage, a handful of peppercorns, two tablespoons of "Better Than Bouillion" (one chicken and one vegetable), and eight cups of water. I brought it to a boil, and then left it on the warm burner the whole time the turkey was roasting. Lastly, Cyd roasted up some brussels sprouts with bacon, and we baked some dinner rolls from La Brea Bakery that my friend, June, turned me onto. You can find them in your grocery's freezer section, and they are really awesome.

I hope all of you had a savory and satisfying day of gratefulness with your friends and family today!

Marbled Cream Cheese Pumpkin Pie
Cookie Madness)

16 pecan sandies cookies, crushed to make 1 1/2 cups crumbs (I used ginger snaps plus about a half cup of hoped walnuts)
3 tablespoons flour (I omitted this)
3 tablespoons melted butter (I needed 6 T)

11 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I doubled this)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or 1/4 each ginger, nutmeg, cloves)
3 large eggs
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Mix together all crust ingredients and press firmly into bottom and sides of an ungreased 9 inch pie plate. Bake for 12 minutes

Beat cream cheese and sugar with electric mixer until smooth; Beat in the vanilla, then add flour and stir or beat on low speed until mixed. Set aside 1/2 cup of the cream cheese mixture, then add all remaining filling ingredients except milk. Beat on medium speed, scraping bowl often, until smooth. Pour into crust*.

Mix the reserved 1/2 cup cream cheese mixture and the milk. Spoon over pumpkin mixture. Cut through cream cheese and pumpkin mixtures to make a marbled pattern.

Cover edges of foil loosely with a strip of foil to prevent the crust from over-browning and bake on center rack for 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean, removing foil for last 15 minutes of baking. Cool to room temperature. Cover loosely and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Store in refrigerator.

*Though I used a deep dish pie plate, I had more filling than would fit in the crust, especially with the cream cheese swirl still to be added. So I saved the extra cup or so of filling, crushed up another four ginger snaps, mixed them with a couple of teaspoons of melted butter, and baked one miniature pie for my next-door neighbor. Cute!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The swine flu has no dominion over homemade soup!

When the world's best tuna casserole was gone, I needed something else to comfort me and help me fight the H1N1 plague, and what would fill the bill better than a big pot of hearty, homemade soup? In my neverending quest to use up existing ingredients, I decided to make cream of tomato soup, as my wonderfully generous friend, Rosanne, sent me an entire CASE of the most amazing San Marzanos in puree from one of her favorite small, family-run companies called Sciabica, who are more famously known for their incredible olive oils.

The recipe I used had a lot of different veggies in it--more of a cream of V-8, if you will. It was terrific with a grilled ham and cheese sammie on the side, and as with most soups, it was even better over the next few days for lunch at work. If you or someone you know is feeling unwell or just needs a warm-up from the inside out, you should make this soup!

Classic Creamy Tomato Soup
(Source: adapted from
The Culinary Review)

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced (I used a red onion)
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 large roasted peppers (from a jar), diced
4 large garlic cloves, minced (I used eight!)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 small can tomato paste
1 28 oz. whole San Marzano tomatoes in puree
4 cups water + 1 tablespoon chicken soup base
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (I prefer a thick, aged one)
1/2 cup half-and-half (I probably used 1 cup)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Sweat the onion, celery, carrots and peppers in the oil and butter. After about 10 minutes, add the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, pepper flakes and tomato paste. Continue to saute for one or two minutes, and then add the tomatoes and the water and soup base (or four cups stock/broth).

Bring to a simmer, and let cook for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves, and blend the soup well (I use a stick blender), then stir in the sugar, balsamic vinegar and half-and-half. Salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I need comfort.

This semester has been ROUGH! Of course, there has been all the exciting but stressful house stuff to deal with, but everything has been so much more overwhelming and exhausting because it seems like I have been sick since the beginning of school. My traditional fall allergies began early this year (in August) and by September, had morphed into an ugly chest cold that took me until mid-October to completely overcome. Then I was well for three weeks at most before the dastardly swine flu struck me down!

I had been telling my students all along that my twenty year college reunion was coming up in early November, and if any of them gave me the H1N1 virus that was running rampant, I would KILL them (if the flu didn't)! A couple of days before I left town, I had a bad headache and a bit of a runny nose, but I didn't think much of it. In fact, I naively believed I had manage to outrun the swine flu up until I boarded the plane for the reunion. The first part of my flight was fine, but when I connected from Detroit to Salt Lake City, it hit me out of nowhere! I became horribly congested, I had terrible chills, body aches, nausea, and I was very dizzy. It was the longest flight of my life, and managing to get off the plane, to baggage claim, to the car rental counter, and finally to the farthest corner of the earth where the car was parked, was enough to make me burst into frantic tears once I got behind the wheel. I don't know how I did it, but I drove from the airport to the closest area west of downtown where there are many modest hotels. I checked into one of them, took a hot shower because I was still so cold, collapsed into bed, and called my SLC friends from my cell phone to tell them that I might be dying and could, therefore, not meet them at the brew pub that night. WAAA!

I slept from 8pm to about 5am, then I got up and drove to the nearest fast food joint for a ginormous orange juice. I came back and slept for a few more hours, and when I got up again, I felt a little more human, so I decided to drive to Nampa, ID as planned to attend my reunion. The fun of seeing old friends and reliving college memories (that along with LOTS and LOTS of drugs!) sustained me through the next couple of days. After the reunion, I drove back to Salt Lake, and continued to rally long enough to attend the premiere of my best friend's Kurt's play (he wrote it!) and to celebrate with some of my dearest friends afterward. I got about two hours of sleep that night, and hopped an early plane back to New York the next morning. I went right back to work the following day, and of course, had to play catch up all week from the time I was away. And even the weekend held no respite, as the dreaded packing awaited me at home. BOO HISS!

Exhausted and still very ill, I was in desperate need of some TLC. And the form that it was to take would turn out to be....wait for it....TUNA CASSEROLE! I know, I know! But don't be hatin', as this was definitely NOT yo mama's tuna noodle casserole! This was damn near elegant, and so incredibly tasty. It completely hit the spot, and I am convinced that it sped the healing. So if you have also been plagued with the flu, this is your panacea, friends.

Of course, I am still playing my little game where I challenge myself to make interesting dishes with ingredients that I already have on hand (so that I have to move less stuff!). Thus, the inspiration for this casserole came from the following items that I found in the pantry and freezer: two cans of imported tuna in olive oil, one can each of cream of mushroom/celery/chicken soup, a bag of Reame's egg noodles, a half bag of panko, and the remains of a box of pretzel crackers.

I started with a couple of tablespoons of both butter and olive oil and sauteed two or three stalks of chopped celery, a large onion, and a pound of fresh mushrooms. Then I added a tablespoon of minced garlic and deglazed the pan with half a cup of white wine. My seasonings of choice were salt and pepper (to taste), a teaspoon each of paprika and thyme, a tablespoon of Old Bay, and a good pinch of cayenne. To this, I added the two cans of tuna (drained), the admittedly low-rent cream o' soups, and probably a cup and a half of half-and-half (up to a pint) until the sauce was the desired consistency.

While that simmered, I cooked a package of Reame's frozen egg noodles (this is the key ingredient, mind you!) in boiling vegetable stock for about 35-40 minutes, then added the drained noodles to the other mixture. Once combined, I dumped it all into a large casserole dish, topped it with a a couple of cups of panko and crumbled pretzel crackers mixed with half a stick of melted butter and a pinch of salt, and baked it at 400 for 10-15 minutes until the top was crispy. was DEE-licious and soul-satisfying! The only thing it may have been missing was some frozen peas tossed in just before baking. Oh time (that I make this casserole, I mean---please Lord, no more respiratory ailments this season!).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My apologies to the pork chop...

Friends, I have a confession to make. I have never been a big fan of the pork chop. Oh, I adore most all other porcine applications, but the pork chop has never been good to me. Or more to the point, I have never been good to IT. I cannot manage to cook a pork chop that isn't raw or bone dry or burned, or somehow all of the above! But I think I've finally had a breakthrough.

In my ongoing quest to use up things from the freezer before my big move, I happened upon a large pork roast. I remember the original purchase was a buy-one-get-one deal, and I also remember the first roast being extremely lean and therefore quite dry, despite cooking it low and slow in the crock pot. So this time, I decided to cut the roast into one-inch pork chops and try frying them.

After cutting the chops, I coated them in a generous amount of my favorite BBQ rub, then dusted them with plain flour. I whisked two whole eggs with a tablespoon or two of milk and dunked the chops in. Finally, I coated them liberally with Japanese panko, a half a bag of which I also encountered in my freezer explorations. I fried the chops three or four at a time in a couple of inches of canola oil until GB&D, and I kept them warm in a 200-degree oven as I cooked successive batches.

I served them with garlic mashed potatoes and a simple salad, and MAN, were they good! They were tender and juicy and flavorful, and the panko made them ridiculously crispy. Finally, I have done right by the humble pork chop!

*My good friend and fellow foodie, Chris, insists that the best way to prepare pork chops that are not dry is with a brine...specifically, a beer brine. He has forwarded me his favorite recipe. I will try it and report back. I think he's onto something!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Halloween Game: Treats, No Tricks

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, everyone! Sadly, I'm not really celebrating or even decorating at my house this year, as I have too many other things going on--namely, the dreaded packing, which has begun. :-( And I've started by cleaning out the fridges, freezers, and pantries. Do y'all listen to "The Splendid Table" with Lynne Rosetto Kasper on NPR? LOVE that show, and one of my favorite things is when people call in and list five things that they have in their fridge, then Lynne has to come up with something wonderful that the person can make for dinner from those ingredients. I find this game very inspirational in trying to use up the odds and ends that I'm unearthing around here. Thus, over the next month, I will be sharing whatever interesting (and hopefully, delicious) mystery meals that I can concoct with just the contents of my current kitchen (dig that crazy alliteration!).

I will begin my new blogging series with a quick and easy pasta dish. As I was cleaning out one of the smaller freezers, I found a bag of baby scallops and a package of imitation krab. I began by thawing the seafood, then in a large skillet with a couple of tablespoons each of olive oil and butter, I browned the scallops on all sides. Then I removed them from the heat and added the krab, about a tablespoon of minced garlic, a good pinch of red pepper flakes, and another couple of tablespoons of butter to the hot pan. Once the fish and garlic had both softened, I added the juice of one large lemon and some salt and pepper. Then I threw in a carton of leftover spaghetti that I found in the fridge and cooked everything until warmed through. I added the scallops back to the mix, along with a tablespoon of dried parsley, and a generous handful of parmigiano-regiano. That was it! Easy-peasy Lemon-Garlic Seafood Pasta, elegant enough to serve in a fine Italian restaurant, all from odds and ends that I found in the fridge and freezer! YUM!

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Ladies and gentlemen, though this announcement comes at least a decade late in my evolution as a grown-up, I have some important news. Despite my very modest salary teaching at a community college, spotty credit issues of the past, and monumental student loan debt, I have, at long last, become a homeowner! Thanks to relaxed qualifications for the no-money-down USDA Rural Housing Loan and the allure of major federal and state tax incentives, I was finally ready to take the plunge! After more than a year of searching listings and viewing properties, three realtors, four mortgage brokers, and a substantive homebuying education program provided by HGTV (Property Virgins, House Hunters, and My First Place), I managed to find a cute little 1900 farmhouse on 1.2 acres--plenty of room for the dogs and for my gardening efforts--that is closer to work and just five minutes from town, yet still in a country setting.

Originally listed for $125K, I used my rigorous HGTV training to negotiate a heck of a deal at $113K with the sellers paying $5000 in closing costs. And the best part of all, though there are many projects to be attended to eventually, the house has a FABULOUS updated eat-in kitchen with adjoining computer desk that is just PERFECT for a food blogger like myself!

I am so excited to make the move over Thanksgiving weekend, though NOT excited to pack up a house where I've lived (and accumulated crap!) for nine years--especially right at the busiest part of the semester. God help me! So as you can imagine, I am more than a bit OVERWHELMED right now, so I am not spending as much quality time in the kitchen. But I do have a couple of quickie recipes to share nevertheless.

The first is an autumnal salad idea that I first sampled at my friend June's fabulous Canadian Thanksgiving celebration over our Columbus Day weekend. It's ridiculously simple, but SO amazing! You'll want some greens of your choice, crumbled blue cheese, sliced apples, candied pecans, and balsamic vinaigrette. SO YUMMY! Speaking of apples, have you tried the new SweeTango variety, an offshoot of the Honeycrisp? Well, you should! For the pecans, I browned them in some butter, then sprinkled them with a couple of tablespoons of maple sugar (though brown sugar would do). And for the vinaigrette, I whisk together a half cup each olive oil and balsamic vinegar, along with a tablespoon of spicy brown mustard, and a little honey to taste. Season with salt and pepper, and if you're feeling adventurous, a pinch of cinnamon. Of course, if you add some sliced, cooked chicken, you would have a terrific entree salad. In any case, you MUST try this salad...simply MUST! You'll thank me...and my friend, June.

Lastly, I have a quick treat for you. Other than the intricate apple pie that I made as a birthday gift last weekend, I haven't been doing any real baking. But the other day, I wanted something sweet to nibble on, and I came across a recipe on Farmgirl Fare for Baby Shortbread Cookies with Mini Chocolate Chips and English Toffee Bits. Not only are these cookies tender and buttery and delicious, but they are CUTE as can be, and can be whipped together and in the oven in no time flat! In fact, this recipe should be earmarked for holiday baking, as it would be a very welcome addition to any festive cookie platter.

Baby Shortbread Cookies with Mini Chocolate Chips and English Toffee Bits
FarmGirl Fare via The Kitchn)

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup English toffee bits, such as Heath (pecans would be a good swap-out, too)

Heat the oven to 350°.

With a electric mixer, cream the butter and powdered sugar until smooth, about one minute. Beat in the vanilla, and then add the flour and salt. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the mini chocolate chips and toffee bits.

With a small scoop, drop cookies onto a heavy duty baking sheet lined with unbleached parchment paper or a Silpat. (Two dozen of these cookies will fit on one sheet, so the whole batch will bake on two trays.)

Bake until the edges are just starting to brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container or freeze.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Prizewinning Pie Prepared for Pal

One of my favorite things to watch on the Food Network each year is the National Pie Championships from Celebration, FL. I also enjoy trying out many of the prizewinning recipes. I'm not sure how I missed it this year, but thankfully, my buddy Anna over at Cookie Madness alerted me to a very special apple pie that won in the professional division from a recipe created by chef, Dawn Viola. It's called Vanilla-Vanilla Bean Roasted Apple Pie, and it has some very interesting and unusual twists to it. In fact, it seems at first glance like an extremely fussy recipe, but I think the resulting pie may be well worth the extra effort! The apples in the filling are roasted and caramelized ahead of time, giving them more depth of flavor, and as an added bonus, by pre-cooking the apples, you don't get the dreaded filling shrinkage that accompanies so many traditional apple pies. But the real star of this pie is the crust. While Ms. Viola actually makes her own butter, any higher-fat European-style or Danish butter can be substituted. The richer, more flavorful butter yields a pastry that is delicate and so shatteringly flaky, that it's almost like eating baked apples inside of a crispy croissant rather than regular pie crust.

Of course, for someone who lives in a very small city with only three proper grocery stores, finding the high-end butter proved...problematic. After searching all of Plattsburgh, including the health food co-op, I realized that I was going to have to cross the border. That's right--I had to go to another COUNTRY to find appropriate butter! And even that was more complicated that I had originally anticipated. I thought I would try the butcher in Covey Hill, but they were already closed the night I went. So then I continued on into Hemmingford proper, but the main grocery store there was closed, too! Frustrated, I decided to pop into the merry little Irish resto-pub called Witsend for some fish and chips to boost my spirits and strengthen my resolve before continuing my quest. Once I'd finished my dinner, I headed east to Lacolle to the IGA, which I knew stayed open later than the places in Hemmingford. Et VOILA! I found a brand of Swiss-style butter called Lactancia. There were a lot of different varieties, including something called "antique" butter (scary thought--but you know I had to buy some to try it!). In the end, I used the one that came in sticks called "My Country," a cultured variety. Man, is that stuff DELICIOUS! It's very dense and rich and has a slight tanginess to it that I knew would be delicious in the crust of the apple pie.

I tried to follow Ms. Viola's directions fairly closely, but I did do a few things differently. First, my freezers are overstuffed, so I did chill the food processor blade and the pie plate, but not the processor bowl or the dry ingredients. Also, I used regular flour and sugar, not organic. And instead of Granny Smiths, I used a combination of Jonagolds and Cortlands. When roasting the apples, I used a couple of tablespoons of maple sugar (instead of granulated) for an added boost of flavor. Because I had read reviews that said the filling was very runny and would not set up, I used two tablespoons of frozen apple juice concentrate in place of the half cup of apple cider, and I only dotted the top of the filling with two tablespoons of the very rich butter, not four! I thought the filling was sweet enough, so I didn't add additional sugar on the top crust. Lastly, I found that it took some extra time for the bottom crust to get golden brown, about one hour total baking time.

Now I made this pie as a birthday treat for my dear friend, Janice, so I didn't get to see it cut. But some of the filling exploded out of one side of the pie, knocking off a couple of pieces of the crust in the process, so I tasted a bit of it, and it was truly YUMMY! Not quite two hours after it came out of the oven, I delivered it, still warm, to the birthday girl and her family. They were coming home from a celebration at their hunting camp in Churubusco, so we met at a halfway point, in the dark, by the side of the road on the Military Turnpike for the hand-off, covert ops-style. (Tee hee.) As soon as they arrived home, I got a text message assuring me that it was amazingly delicious, etc, etc, so I think it turned out well! (The Padulas are a true "foodie" family and fabulous cooks in their own right, so if they say something is good, it must be good!)


Vanilla-Vanilla Bean Roasted Apple Pie
Dawn Viola, National Pie Championships)

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups Organic all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting/rolling
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vanilla powder
3 tablespoons organic sugar
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
2 1/2 sticks unsalted Danish or European-style butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 tablespoon white vinegar, chilled
6 – 8 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:
4 tablespoons Danish or European-style butter
12 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced in large chunks
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup organic sugar*
4 tablespoons organic all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon heavy cream

For the egg wash:
1 egg
1 tablespoon of cream
coarse sugar, optional

Measure out all ingredients and place in the freezer for 15 minutes. Place the food processor blade and bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes. (I just chilled the bade.)

Make the dough:
Place the food processor bowl back on the motor with the blade, as directed by the manufacturer. Combine flour, salt, vanilla powder, sugar and vanilla bean seeds in the food processor; pulse to mix. Add butter cubes and pulse 10 times, or until the mixture begins to resemble coarse meal with pea-sized pieces.

Add the vinegar and pulse to mix. Add one tablespoon of water at a time, pulsing to incorporate, until the mixture begins to clump together. Pinch some of the dough in your hand. If it sticks together, the dough is ready. If the dough does not stick to itself, add another tablespoon of water, pulse, and pinch the dough together again. Repeat until the dough holds together without being overly wet. Dough should be slightly crumbly, but hold together when pinched.

Remove dough from the food processor and transfer to a work surface. Divide the dough into two equal parts and gently shape into two flat round discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Prepare the apples:
Preheat the broiler. Add apples, vanilla bean seeds, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the sugar (I used maple sugar here) to a roasting pan; toss apples to coat. Broil until the tops of the apples begin to brown. Apples can burn easily under the broiler, so don’t walk too far away. Toss apples as soon as you notice browning. Once apples are caramelized but not cooked through (I would say 6-8 minutes total), remove from heat and add the remaining sugar, the flour, vanilla extract (oops--this must be an accidental omission in the recipe, but I added one teaspoon) and salt. Add the apple cider (I used 2 T of frozen apple juice concentrate instead) and cream, stir to incorporate. Taste for seasoning – add additional salt, sugar, vanilla or cinnamon to taste. (At this point, I put the filling in the fridge to chill while I got on with rolling the crusts. You don't want to put hot filling into a cold crust. That defeats your purpose of keeping the pastry very cold.)

Finish the pie:
Place a 9” pie plate into the freezer. Remove one dough disc from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 5 – 10 minutes, or just long enough for it to become easy to roll, but still chilled. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out to a 12” circle. Place in the bottom of the chilled 9” pie plate. Return to the refrigerator to chill.

Remove second dough disc and roll out to a 12” circle on a lightly floured surface. Remove after bottom crust and filling from the fridge and add apples to bottom crust. Place top crust over the apples and pinch the top and bottom dough edges together to enclose the apples. Add decorative edge if desired, and slice 1” air vents around the top of the pie.

Make the egg wash:
Beat the egg in a small dish and mix in cream. Lightly brush the egg wash over the top of the pie and along the edges. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Cover edges with aluminum foil if browning too quickly. Turn the pie in the oven, and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. Continue to cook for 7 minutes, as needed, until the crust is golden brown and flaky. (I covered the edges with a pie shield after a half hour, then covered the top with a sheet of tin foil after 45 minutes, but continued baking for an hour until the bottom of the pie was golden brown.)

Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least two hours before cutting and serving.

Follow-up (11/22/09): I recently remade this pie to celebrate my former roommate's return, and because she's a brown sugar kind of gal, I used half white sugar and half brown in the filling. I also added a pinch of allspice, and instead of heavy cream in the filling, I used a little bit of vanilla latte coffee creamer that we had open. The brown sugar made the filling taste like a CARAMEL apple pie and was about the same, soft consistency. So you might consider that very tasty variation.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Time for One Last BBQ

I know I am SO LATE in offering today's, MONTHS late! But I have a good excuse! I actually first tried these dishes back in July. A friend of mine from school invited a small group of colleagues that had become chummy over the summer via Facebook to his house for a fabulous cookout. Besides starting us off with some killer margaritas, my friend, Chris, served up some very tasty baby back ribs, this AMAZING potato salad, and also some wonderful marinated and grilled chicken skewers called "spiedies," that are apparently a specialty in the chef's hometown of Binghamton, NY. Chris tells me that everyone has his or her own "secret" recipe for spiedies, so I am honored that he'd share his secrets with me...and now you, dear readers! (Though it took me MONTHS of cajoling to wheedle all of these recipes out of him!)

I haven't made the spiedies yet, but today, in celebration of a four-day fall break from school, I tried a version of the ribs (though I made boneless beef ribs in my crock pot) and also the incredible corn and potato salad. As far as I'm concerned, we can close the book on the search for the best potato salad recipe--THIS IS IT! And if you hurry, you just might be able to prepare a batch with the very last of the farm stand produce. (There have been threats of snow here, and dustings in the higher elevations, but by some miracle, we still have local corn!)

Larry's Best Baby Back Ribs

2 racks baby back ribs
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
5 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 cups catsup
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons spicy mustard w/horseradish
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Melt butter in 2 quart pot. Add onions and garlic. Cook over low heat until onions are soft.
Stir in remainder of ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool completely.

Cut each rib rack in half. Place in tins and pour a liberal amount of BBQ sauce over ribs. Cover with tin foil and place in preheated 190°F oven for 9 hours. (Yes, 9 hours!*)

Remove from oven. Discard drippings or save for other use. Transfer ribs to grill or place under broiler for about 10 minutes. May be refrigerated and grilled at later time. Serve with extra BBQ sauce. Enjoy!

*Chris cooks his ribs in the oven for 225 degrees for two hours uncovered then two hours covered. I made mine in the crock pot. I sauteed the onions and garlic in the butter until soft, then added them and all of the other sauce ingredients to the slow cooker. Then I browned the ribs on all sides in the same saute pan and added them to the pot (my ribs were boneless, but if you're using bone-in or baby backs, you'll need to cut them into sections that will fit in the pot). Cook the ribs for 3-4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low, or until exceedingly tender. I also only made half of the sauce and STILL had lots left over (which I saved for future uses)!

Potato and Corn Salad with Bacon, Blue Cheese, and Sherry Vinaigrette
(Source: Bon Appétit, August 2004)

Yield: Makes 8 servings

3 ears fresh corn, unhusked
2 large red bell peppers
2 pounds 1 1/2- to 2-inch-diameter unpeeled red-skinned potatoes (about 24), quartered
4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 cup chopped green onions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

Prepare barbecue (high heat). Grill corn until husks are blackened on all sides, turning occasionally, about 15 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. Remove husks and silk. Cut kernels from cobs.

Cut 1/2 inch from top and bottom of each pepper. Quarter each pepper lengthwise. Trim ribs and seeds from peppers. Flatten pieces, breaking slightly, if necessary. Place peppers on grill, skin side down. Grill without turning until skins are blackened and blistered, about 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Peel peppers; cut into 1/2-inch squares.

Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain; let cool 5 minutes in strainer. Transfer to large bowl.

Sauté bacon in medium skillet over medium heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels.

Whisk oil and vinegar in small bowl to blend. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1/4 cup dressing over potatoes; toss to coat. Add corn, bell peppers, bacon, cheese, onions, oregano, and 3 tablespoons additional dressing; toss to coat. Season salad with salt and pepper. Add remaining dressing by tablespoonfuls to moisten, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Because I can't leave well enough alone, I made the following amendments to this recipe: to the vinaigrette, I added a tablespoon of grainy mustard, a half teaspoon of granulated garlic, and a pinch of cayenne. Also, I shorted the olive oil by a few tablespoons and swapped out some of the bacon drippings. And, I didn't have fresh oregano, so I used fresh thyme leaves instead. YUM!

Chris Ford's Special "Spiedies"

4 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons mint
2 tablespoons chives
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon sage
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 orange (cut up)
1 lime (cut up)

Cut chicken into 1 inch cubes. Mix all other ingredients together in large bowl. Stir up mixture and add chicken. Marinate for 24 hours. Put chicken on metal or wood skewers and grill.

*Traditional way to eat spiedies is to take a piece of Italian bread in your hand, fold it around the skewer, and pull the meat off.

Monday, October 05, 2009

I know, I know...

The only thing you must be more tired of than summer squash recipes is Amish friendship recipes. But too bad! I got one more for ya. And it also includes a type of squash, so all my culinary worlds will now converge. ;-)

My latest Amish loaf is pumpkin walnut, and besides being seasonally appropriate (nay, perfect!), the pumpkin puree adds extra moisture, so I was able to cut the oil by half. Therefore, not only is it nummy, but it's higher in fiber and lower in fat. What further rationale do you need to make some for yourself? (What's that you say? You don't have any of the starter? If you are in the greater Plattsburgh, New York area and want to get on board the Amish friendship wagon, please let me know. I am more than happy to hook you up.)

Amish Pumpkin Walnut Loaves

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 (3 ounce) package instant pumpkin spice pudding mix
1 cup Amish friendship bread starter
1/2 of a 15 oz. can pumpkin puree (about 3/4 cup)*
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

In a large mixing bowl blend together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, and pudding mix. Make a well in the center of the bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the Amish starter, pumpkin, oil, eggs, milk, and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and blend until just combined. Stir in the walnuts. Pour batter into two greased loaf pans (I spray mine with flour-added baking spray.)

Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for one hour. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan and cool completely on the rack.

*You can easily freeze the remaining pumpkin puree for your next batch of pumpkin walnut bread!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Year of Yellow Squash (Continues)

Are you sick of posts related to summer squash? Well, imagine how sick I am of having to think of new things to do with it! For every one squash I use up, three more appear in its place! I thought I would make a significant dent in my supply last weekend when I put up a half dozen pints of my famous zucchini relish (now summer squash relish), but nooooooo! Given the weather of late, it can't be much longer that my garden keeps offering up its plentiful yellow bounty. But until we reach the end, I still have a seemingly endless supply of squashes eyeballin' me on the counter.

So as I often do, I turned to the wise advice of posters from GardenWeb's Harvest Forum and a thread called "101 Things to Make with Zucchini or Summer Squash." Some nice person posted a recipe for something that sounded savory and hearty called "Zucchini and Sausage Stew." I whipped up a batch earlier this afternoon and let it bubble away in the crock pot all day, making the house smell delicious. Most people would serve it over some kind of pasta (tortellini would be especially good!), but I went with rice because, well, I LOVE rice, and serving it over rice also makes it gluten-free (are you reading this, Jen/Spike?). And with all those veggies in there, it's pretty darn healthful, too! Most importantly, it's tasty stuff--very warm and filling--and it will provide lunches for me (and perhaps my work colleagues!) all week.

*Follow-Up: Um....did I say ALL WEEK? I brought a crock pot full of the leftovers to school today (10/5), and it's almost empty! LOL! Oh well...I'm glad my co-workers enjoyed it. (I'll was better the next day.)

Summer Squash and Sausage Stew
(Source: adapted from
GardenWeb's Harvest Forum)

1 pound ground sausage (I used 1 1/2 lbs. garlic Italian links)*
2 cups celery, 1/2-inch pieces (I finely chopped mine)
1 cup onion, chopped
2 green peppers, 1/2-inch pieces (I chopped a variety of chiles*)
2 - 28 oz. cans chopped tomatoes (I used one quart of home-canned and 2 small cans of fire-roasted)
2 lbs. zucchini or yellow squash, 1/2- inch pieces (you may also slice it--I shredded mine)
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon granulated garlic (or 2 t. if not using garlic sausage like I did)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, optional

shredded parmesan or Italian cheese blend to garnish

Brown sausage, drain. Add celery, onion, and peppers and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour mixture into a preheated slow cooker (set to high), then add the tomatoes, squash, and seasonings. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for 3-4 hours on high, or 6-8 hours on low. Taste to correct seasonings. Serve over pasta, tortellini, or rice. Garnish with shredded parmesan/Italian blend cheese.

*I wanted to use the hot peppers that I grew in my garden, so I used a mild Italian sausage. But if you use sweet peppers, you might wish to use hot Italian sausage.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Amish Loaf MADNESS!

As I shared awhile back, I recently converted some of my regular sourdough starter into that sweet and perennial favorite, Amish friendship starter. And now, of course, I am trying to find new and interesting things to make with it. First, I made a decadent chocolate zucchini cake and then some streusel-topped chocolate chip muffins. So this past weekend, I decided to veer away from chocolate (just temporarily!) and go a citrusy route.

The basic recipe for Amish Friendship Bread (CAKE really!) is as follows:

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 - (5.1 oz) box instant vanilla pudding
1 cup Amish friendship starter
1 cup oil (swap out applesauce for half or all of the oil as a lower-fat option)
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup nuts

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl (or large glass measuring cup), mix the wet ingredients until thoroughly combined. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, add the wet mixture, and blend just until you don't see anymore dry flour. Stir in the nuts, pour into two well greased and sugared bread pans. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.

This is the most basic version of this recipe, but of course you could add chocolate chips or dried or fresh fruits. You can include the nuts or omit them or substitute all manner of seeds. You can swap out different flavors of pudding mix such as cheesecake or pistachio, then you could add complementary extract flavors (like a little almond extract with the pistachio). You can substitute other spices for the cinnamon, like cardamom or ground ginger, etc. You could use orange juice in place of the milk and add cranberries for a lovely holiday loaf! In short, the recipe is highly adaptable, and could yield an infinite number of variations.

The one I tried this weekend was a lemon poppyseed version. I made it (almost) as written, except that I added a little lemon oil to up the citrus impact. It turned out really, really good--so very moist and very flavorful! In the future, though, I would perhaps make two changes. I would double the amount of poppyseeds, and I would only use one box of pudding mix. I'm not sure how or why, but some recipes for different versions of the Amish friendship bread have morphed into calling for TWO boxes of pudding, and I think that's probably overkill. The bread is almost TOO moist, if that's possible, and with a texture that flirts with gumminess. I will make these amendments to the recipe below. Still, the resulting bread was delicious, and I definitely recommend it as an option for those of you with extra starter still hanging around, or for those looking for an excuse to develop the starter and begin your own tasty experiments!

Lemon Poppyseed Amish Friendship Loaves
(Source: adapted from Allrecipes)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup poppy seeds (I would double this=1/4 cup)
2 (3 ounce) packages instant lemon pudding mix (I would reduce this to one box)
1 cup Amish Friendship Bread Starter
1 vegetable oil (may swap out out applesauce for some or all of the oil)
2 eggs (if reducing the pudding to one box, I would add one egg=3 total)
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4-1/2 teaspoon lemon oil (or the finely-grated zest of one or two lemons), optional

In a large mixing bowl blend together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, poppy seeds, and lemon pudding mix. Make a well in the center of the bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the Amish starter, oil, eggs, milk, vanilla, and lemon oil or zest. Add to dry ingredients and blend until just combined. Pour batter into two greased loaf pans (I spray mine with flour-added baking spray.)

Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for one hour. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan and cool completely on the rack.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Soup for you!

Open the windows, close the windows. Open the windows, close the windows. Turn on the fan in the bedroom or get a heavy sleeping bag and throw it on top of the duvet to survive the night? And today, the weather man even dared to utter the "s" word, as in "a chance of s___ on Wednesday." ACK! Last month was AUGUST, for cryin' out loud!

The weather may be a bit schizophrenic right at the moment, but I think I have come up with the PERFECT way to transition between the seasons...with a fabulous, stick-to-your-ribs chowder that blends the last of the summer's harvest with first of autumn's. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: PUMPKIN CORN CHOWDER!

LOOK at it! Don't you just want to dive into that golden-orange lusciousness? And I promise you, it is a wonderful combination of flavors that tastes as good as it looks! It starts off like a basic corn chowder, but I've taken it up a notch by stirring in a can of pumpkin puree at the end (sure, sure...roasted fresh pumpkin would be even better). Then it seemed to want for something else, but what? I tried a little cumin, and that was pretty good, but then I went with a pinch of spicy Madras Curry Powder, and it was absolutely PERFECT with the pumpkin. I didn't want so much that it screamed "CURRY SOUP," but just enough to add a little warmth and depth and sweetness. People, this soup is SO GOOD, especially the next such things so often are. And it yields something close to three quarts, so you will be set for your lunches all week! You're welcome.

Pumpkin Corn Chowder

8 slices bacon, browned and crumbled, fat reserved
2-3 large stalks celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
6 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
leaves from a large bunch of thyme (or substitute 1/2 teaspoon of dried)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or 1/4 t. for wimps!)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
6 ears of corn, kernels cut and endosperm scraped from cob (about 6 cups)
8 small to medium red potatoes, cut in one-inch chunks
1 can pumpkin puree (about 1 3/4 cups)
1 cup evaporated milk
handful of fresh parsley, chopped (about 1/4 cup)

In the frying pan used to cook the bacon, saute the celery and onion in 4-6 tablespoons of the reserved fat until tender. Add the stock and stir, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the thyme leaves and bring to a boil.

Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large stock pot, add the curry powder, tumeric, cayenne, salt and pepper, and stir. And the corn kernels and endosperm (the milky stuff scraped from the empty cob with the back of a knife) and the potatoes, and bring back to a boil for about ten minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Stir in the canned pumpkin and the evaporated milk (substitute half and half if you prefer, but I like the flavor of the evaporated). Finally, add the crumbled bacon pieces and the chopped, fresh parsley. Taste to correct seasonings and serve.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fabulous Fall Fare/Fair

Ah, fall! My favorite time of year! We didn't have much of a summer, but all that cool and wet seems to have been setting us up for a most glorious and colorful autumn! Last weekend, I had a nearly perfect day, taking in one of my favorite annual events, the Peru Applefest--a tiny little church fundraiser with carnival games, crafts, baked goods, and live music. On Sunday, the Catholic menfolk do a great BBQ, too. You get a half a chicken, corn on the cob from Rulf's Orchard just down the road, a baked potato, cole slaw, a dinner roll, all the milk you can drink, and ice cream for dessert, all for nine bucks!

I showed up around 1pm, and first cruised through the annex to look at the crafts and bake sale items. I'm sad to report that I was too late for the infamous beer bread, but I did manage to snag a jar of dill pickles that this one young fellow makes every year. (They are ALMOST as good as my own! Tee hee.) Then I headed out back for the BBQ lunch, and when I was done eating, I was going to head down the road to Rulf's, like I typically do, to get apple cider donuts and take a horse-drawn wagon ride through the apple orchards. But as I was walking back to my car, a local band started playing, and I decided to stop and listen for awhile. Two hours later, I was still sitting there! They were pretty good, playing lots of country rock covers and a few originals; but mostly, it was just nice to sit out in the warm sun for what will surely be one of the last few days that one could do so comfortably.

After the Applefest, I skipped my Rulf's visit and headed over to my friend, Lee Ann's. It was her husband's Steve's birthday the day before, and I wanted to drop off some special treats for him. In the past, I have made him lemony things, but I knew that Lee Ann would be making a key lime pie (as requested) for dinner. With the citrus quotient covered, I decided to make something somewhat chocolately. Of course, I am still playing around with my Amish friendship starter, and I found a recipe for some tasty-looking streusel muffins. They are meant to include some sort of fresh or dried fruit, but I thought chocolate chip walnut muffins with the sourdough tang and the sweet, crispy tops would be delish. Plus, they would make a good grab-and-go breakfast item for the family during the school and work week. For my pains, I got invited to stay for a terrific, seasonal dinner (penne with chicken and homemade pesto and tomatoes from the garden), and even better, to play Beatles Rock Band with the birthday boy (it was his present) and daughter, K. Naturally, we rocked, as do these muffins. ;-)

Amish Friendship Muffins
(Source: adapted from

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup Amish friendship bread starter
3/4 cup oil
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup nuts, chopped (I used toasted walnuts)
1 cup raisins or blueberries or chopped apple (optional--I used chocolate chips instead!)

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, slightly softened

Preheat oven to 350. Liberally grease muffin tins if not using liners.

Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt,cinnamon, and sugar. Stir in the starter, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Add nuts. Mix in optional ingredients, if desired. Fill lined or well-greased muffin tins 2/3 full. Sprinkle each muffin with topping and bake for about 20 minutes. Makes about 22 regular muffins.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

All by myse-ee-elf! Don't wanna be...

Everyone who knows me knows what a very social creature I am. I really love people, and in true Myers-Briggs extroverted type, when I am feeling down or tired or frustrated, being around others usually reenergizes me and pulls me out of my funk. So perhaps you can appreciate the gravity of the situation when I tell you that my closest friend and (former) roommate left at the end of August last year for "a month of training" at the home office of her company near Minneapolis, and never came back. I don't blame her, mind you. Two months after she left, they reorganized and eliminated her department back here in Plattsburgh, so she no longer had a job to come back to! And in this economy, a person would be a fool to give up a steady, salaried position. However, that means that I have been living on my own for over a year now. Fall semester (2008) wasn't too bad, as I am always so busy, that I blinked and it was Christmas! But the holidays were tough, and even more so, the long, dark, winter cooped up in the house by myself. And then this past summer, when everyone was out and about, and I am usually taking my little road trips here and there and doing fun things, I had no one to go with me (sniff!).

In short, I am just OVER living alone! I admit, having the big comfy chair and the remote control and/or the computer to myself is nice. And everything is always exactly where I put it, so I can usually find things when I need them. And even though I love cooking, sometimes it's liberating, after a long day at work, to just grab a hodgepodge of odds and ends from the fridge to nibble on (what my friend and officemate, Lee Ann, proclaims "Sampler Night" at her house!) and call that dinner, without feeling the need to prepare a proper meal...or even do the dishes for a day or two (since there aren't that many to pile up)! But using my fabulous new Beatles Rock Band game as a metaphor for life, it can be enjoyable to play by yourself, but it's always more fun to have others play with you in your band!

There are other (culinary) things that are vexing about living alone, too, such as the tiresome redundancy of leftovers in general, and the inability of one person to use an entire loaf of bread before it goes stale in particular. They really should sell half loaves for singletons. I can't tell you how much bread I've thrown out since my roommate moved away! In fact, I buy bread a lot less now, prefering to keep wraps in the fridge for the occasional sandwich. But I was craving toast recently, so I broke down and bought a loaf. Still, I only managed to consume maybe a third of it before it dried out on me. This time, I refused to be wasteful, so I considered what I might make with the leftover bread. Croutons and panzanella (bread salad) were initial contenders, but then I was reminded of an episode of Nigella Feasts where she used a knackered old loaf of bread to make what she called "bread and butter pudding." So that's what I decided to make, bread pudding.

Usually I make a very decadent version with croissants and heavy cream for special occasions, but this was a more workaday version. In fact, so that I didn't end up wasting the leftover bread pudding, I ate it for a few nights for dessert, and then I would split a piece in half and brown it on both sides in a frying pan, eating it like French toast for a few mornings for my breakfast! Clever, eh? It was very tasty, but I made one big mistake. As I usually use croissants or a crusty, hearty loaf of some kind to make bread pudding and not sandwich bread, I ended up cutting the pieces too small, and then I mixed them together with the custard, so that the pieces disintegrated and the pudding compacted too much, with the resulting dessert being tasty, but too dense for my liking (refer to picture at the end of the recipe). I do remember Nigella making hers with alternating half pieces (with every other pointy end sticking up), then pouring the custard over the top, and now I see why. At the very least, I should have toasted the bread a little ahead of time. Oh well, I will correct these problems in the recipe below, and then you folks may learn from my mistakes. I dedicate this bread pudding, as Beyonce' sings (featured prominently on tonight's episode of my new favorite show, "Glee"), to all the single ladies!

Singletons' Bread and Butter Pudding

about 2/3 to 3/4 of a loaf of stale bread, pieces cut in half (you may wish to lightly toast the pieces of bread before cutting if it's a very tender sandwich bread)
1 to 1 1/2 cups sliced almonds, toasted*
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter, cut into very small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, and layer in the pieces of bread, overlapping them to try to eliminate empty spaces. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the bread as evenly as you can.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until light in texture and pale in color. Then whisk in the half-and-half, extracts and salt. Pour the custard evenly over the bread and almonds, and set aside for about ten minutes for the custard to soak in thoroughly. Top the pudding with bits of butter scattered across the top, and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until the pudding is puffed, browned, and just set in the middle. Serve by itself or with a dollop of your favorite jam and/or whipped cream.

*I personally LOATHE those wrinkly little abominations known as raisins, but feel free to swap out raisins for the almonds (or use both!) if you so choose. Though I would nuke the raisins with a little orange juice or rum and let them plump up first before adding them to the pudding. Again, you do as you see fit...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

MORE squash-based desserts? Really??

I know I seem to have a theme going here, but bear with me. I bought one small (four-inch) pot of yellow squash starts to plant in my garden, split it in half to share with my friend, Vicky, and I still have yellow squash coming out of my ears! Vicky must be also be awash in squash, because she brought a loaf of the BEST zucchini bread into work the other day to share with us, her lucky co-workers. Now, as you know, if I am adding squash to baked goods, I prefer the chocolate zucchini cake in all its forms. Regular zucchini bread has never done too much for me. But this was REALLY delicious! So I asked for the recipe, and wouldn't you know, it was from Paula Deen, known for providing us with killer (almost literally) decadent recipes. For my colleagues who tasted the bread that Vicky made and want to make that exact version, here is that recipe (although Vicky omitted the nuts):

Paula's (and Vicky's) Zucchini Bread
(Source: Paula Deen via
Food Network)

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup water
2 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, zucchini and lemon juice. Mix wet ingredients into dry, add nuts and fold in.

Bake in 2 standard loaf pans, sprayed with nonstick spray, for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Alternately, bake in 5 mini loaf pans for about 45 minutes.

When I went to the Food Network's website to retrieve the above recipe, I read almost all of the previous 487 reviews! With the help of the people who had gone before me, I had some pretty good ideas about what I might want to tweak. And I am happy to report that my version yielded two AMAZING loaves! The bread was tender and flavorful with an awesome, slightly crunchy crust. Here's what I did to adapt Paula's recipe:

--Despite reviewer claims of saltiness, I left it at a half tablespoon, because I love the salty-sweet thing. (Those who don't may wish to cut back to 1 teaspoon.)

--I cut the nutmeg to 1/4 teaspoon (freshly grated, which is powerful stuff).

--I added 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (and had no loaf top sinkage as many reviewers reported, and as the picture on the Food Network's web site clearly displays).

--I upped the cinnamon to half a tablespoon.

--As many people found the bread overly-sweet, I reduced the sugar to 2 1/2 cups, and swapped out one cup of brown sugar for the white.

--Many reviewers chose to cut the oil by half and replace it with applesauce to add flavor, preserve moistness, and make it a bit healthier. I might try that next time.

--I omitted the water (which I always consider a flavor diluter), and increased the squash to 3 cups, thus adding more moisture. Also, I used yellow squash instead of zucchini, because as I said, I have a TON of it from my garden!

--I added 2 teaspoons of vanilla because it seems wrong not to.

--I doubled the amount of nuts (2 cups) because I love them so, and toasted the pecans for a few minutes in a dry frying pan beforehand. This is always worth doing when nuts are involved.

--As many reviewers had trouble with the loaves sticking, I sprayed my pans with floured nonstick spray and put parchment just on the bottoms of the pans. The loaves turned out perfectly (after letting them cool in the pans on a rack for 10-15 minutes).

--I used dark, nonstick pans, so I reduced the baking temperature to 325, and they took an hour and five minutes, rotating the loaves about halfway through for even baking.

Taking all of these amendments into account, my version of the recipe goes like this:

Gina's Summer Squash Bread

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated yellow squash
2 cups toasted walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and sugars. In a separate bowl or large glass measuring cup, combine oil, eggs, lemon juice, and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into dry, add squash and nuts and fold in.

Bake in 2 standard loaf pans, sprayed with nonstick spray and lined with parchment, for 1 hour to 1 hour and 5 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Alternately, bake in 5 mini loaf pans for about 45 minutes. Let loaves cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before turning out and allowing to cool completely on the rack.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

More fun with zucchini!

It's that time again...when your garden starts giving you daily baseball bats of zucchini--or if you didn't plant any, your friends and neighbors clutter your stoop with their friendly offerings. Oppressive as the onslaught may be, I still welcome it. I make my zucchini relish for the rest of the year (which I put on darn near everything!), shred and freeze some in two-cup portions for baking during the winter months, and of course, make my very favorite, absolutely-to-die-for chocolate zucchini cake! However, recently, one of my dearest college friends was talking about using an Amish friendship starter in her baking--something I haven't done in more than a decade, because you ultimately end up with swimming pools of the stuff once you feed it a few times, and your friends and colleagues quickly become vexed when you overshare! But it had been a long time since I had baked with the "Amish" starter, plus, I remember reading in the King Arthur cookbook that you could use your regular sourdough starter to convert it to the sweet Amish friendship starter, which I've always wanted to try.

So I took a cup of my regular sourdough starter and put it in a glazed ceramic bowl, then added a cup of milk, a cup of sugar, and a cup of flour, covered it loosely and let it do its thing for about 24 hours on the kitchen counter. Sure enough, the next day, it was all bubbly and puffy and lovely. Now...what to do with it? This is when I got what turned out to be a brilliant idea: AMISH Chocolate Zucchini Cake! I sort of combined King Arthur's recipe for the traditional Amish friendship cake made with the sweet starter and my regular chocolate zucchini cake recipe. For an initial experiment, I think it turned out very well, moist but structurally sound and very flavorful, with that slight sourdough tang from the addition of the starter. And I really took it over the top by adding a terrific maple walnut icing! The only change I would make would be to increase both the sweetness and the cocoa content by a little bit, and I have included those amendments in the recipe below. The great thing about the King Arthur version of the Amish friendship starter is that the leftover cup of starter can be stored in the fridge and fed again again at a later date to bake something else yummy! But let's start with this:

"Amish" Chocolate Zucchini Cake

1/3 cup butter
2 ounces/squares unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup cocoa powder (preferably dark)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups (activated) Amish friendship starter
3 cups zucchini, peeled and shredded
2 cups walnuts, toasted and very coarsely broken up
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray one 12-cup bundt pan and a large loaf pan.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the two squares of unsweetened chocolate with the butter (about two minutes total, stopping and stirring once or twice). Mix in the cocoa powder and set aside to cool a bit.

Beat oil and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until well blended. Slowly add in the chocolate and butter mixture and mix. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients in thirds, alternately with the Amish friendship starter. Mix in grated zucchini, nuts, and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about an hour for the bundt, and 50 minutes for the loaf. Cool cakes for about 15 minutes in their pans before turning out to cool completely on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving, or better yet, coat with maple walnut icing (recipe to follow). This is such a moist cake that it will keep (covered) for up to a week.

*Like most cakes of its kind, it's even better if you let it age for at least 24 hours before cutting and devouring.

Maple Walnut Icing

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup (real, preferably Grade B) maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
pinch of salt
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, and chopped

Cream together the butter and syrup until smooth. Mix in the vanilla and maple extracts and salt. Whisk in the powdered sugar (adding a little extra powdered sugar if too thin or some cream by the teaspoon if too thick). Stir in the chopped walnuts. Pour over the cakes and let it drip down the sides. (You can always zap the icing in the microwave for 15-30 seconds on defrost to make it more pourable if need be, then it will set up nicely as it cools.)

That takes care of dessert, but there's always more zucchini to use up, so we need something savory. There are many, many versions of zucchini bake, casserole, or pie out there, but I have one that I favor that makes use of many goodies from the garden, including fresh herbs and both sweet and hot peppers. It makes a good side dish for dinner with some sort of meat from the grill, or a nice lunch entree, or topped with poached or basted eggs, a terrific breakfast/brunch!

Gina's Zucchini Bake

1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups shredded (unpeeled) zucchini (or yellow squash or a mix of the two)
1/2 large onion, diced or shredded
1 large red pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced or shredded
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced or shredded
4 green onions, root ends removed and sliced thinly (both white and green parts)
4 large eggs, beaten
1 cup Bisquick (or similar baking mix)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon each)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped (or a teaspoon dried)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 8x8 square baking dish or 9-inch Pyrex pie plate with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the shredded squash, onions, and peppers. Cook for about five minutes until veggies start to soften. Set aside to cool for ten minutes or so.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, then mix in the Bisquick, cheeses, parsley and salt and pepper. If the veggie mixture has cooled to warm, stir it all in at once. If it's still very hot, add it a little bit at a time to the egg mixture to temper it slowly (like a custard).

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes until set in the very middle and golden brown on the bottom and edges. You can top with some more shredded cheddar cheese, or some sliced ripe garden tomatoes and/or poached eggs for a breakfast dish. Yum!