Friday, June 30, 2006

An embarrassment of (summer) riches...

Fruit, glorious, fruit! It's everywhere! We have leftover blueberries, plums, pluots and nectarines from the the fruit tart last weekend, there are leftover strawberries from the jam-making (if you can believe it), and there are peaches because....well, they are in season, and they are darn good this year. Even my dear friend, Rob, in Ohio told me today that he had just made, not one, but THREE strawberry-rhubarb pies! Now you must understand what an amazing feat this is, as Rob's motto is normally, "It's better to know someone who bakes pies than to bake them yourself." I'm not sure if I can claim any credit for this development, but I want to believe that I am spreading the gospel of pie and, in some small way, making the world a better (certainly, sweeter!) place. ;-)

But what to do with all these lingering fruits before they turn on us? King Arthur to the rescue! I don't know if the rest of you are on KA's mailing list, but I just received the most wonderful recipe in their e-mail newsletter for what they're calling Honey Shortcake Biscuits. LORD--EE, are they good! I made them with just AP flour, but you can also try the whole wheat version that I bet would be toothsome and delicious. Also, I thought I'd like my shortcakes a bit sweeter, so I added an extra three tablespoons of granulated sugar to my dough. Of course, I used buttermilk because I am still in my Buttermilk Period. And I baked them on Silpat-lined sheet pans. I did glaze them, and I encourage you to do the same, even if you don't have the Fiori di Sicilia--just use the vanilla by itself or with a little orange extract which will mimic the Creamsicle-like flavor of Fioro de Sicilia, or you could add a few drops of butter-flavored extract or even a little almond extract in combination with the vanilla. And one final tip, eat the shortcakes warm the first day, but try toasting them the next day--YUM! And though Cool Whip will do in a pinch (oh, simmer down, food snobs--it's good, and you know it!), indulge yourself and whip up some real, slightly sweetened cream, and top the sliced biscuits with a generous pillow of soft cream and any of your favorite summer fruits. This recipe is elegant enough to serve for guests, and yet so quick and easy! I made the shortcakes the other day before work to have with dinner that night, and I never have enough time to do anything extra before work! That's how easy they were. And delectable to boot...what's not to like, as Ina would say?

(Source: King Arthur Flour)

2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) whole wheat flour, white or traditional
1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces) bread flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) cold unsalted butter*
3 tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces) honey
1 large egg
3/4 cup (6 ounces) buttermilk

*Reduce salt to 1/2 teaspoon if you use salted butter.

To make biscuits using all-purpose flour: Substitute 3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour for the whole wheat and bread flours. Reduce the buttermilk to 2/3 cup. (I forgot to do this, and they turned out fine...very tender.)

To make biscuits using milk, rather than buttermilk: Increase the baking powder to 1 tablespoon, and eliminate the baking soda.

Glaze (optional...but advisable!):
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons water

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda. With a pastry fork or cutter, or using an electric mixer, cut in the butter until the flour mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, and honey. Add, all at once, to the flour mixture, and blend lightly and quickly with a fork until the mixture is evenly moistened.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface, and fold the dough over on itself three or four times, until it comes together. Pat the dough out (or roll very lightly with a rolling pin) into a 9" square (3/4"-thick). Cut the dough into 16 squares, and transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet.

While this next step is optional, it gives the biscuits a lovely, shiny, tasty crust. In a small microwave-safe bowl, whisk together the glaze ingredients. The Fiori di Sicilia, while optional, will give the biscuits a lovely citrus-vanilla accent. Place the bowl in the microwave, and microwave very briefly (maybe 15 to 20 seconds), until the glaze is very hot and starting to bubble. Remove it from the microwave, give it a stir, and brush it over the biscuits.

Bake the biscuits for 20 to 22 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Remove them from the oven and serve warm, or cool on a rack. Yield: 16 biscuits.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The New Red Queen Says: JAM EVERY DAY!

"It's very good jam," said the Queen.
"Well, I don't want any to-day, at any rate."
"You couldn't have it if you did want it," the Queen said. "The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam to-day."
"It must come sometimes to 'jam to-day,'"Alice objected.
"No it can't," said the Queen. "It's jam every other day; to-day isn't any other day, you know."
"I don't understand you," said Alice. "It's dreadfully confusing."
--Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

Finally...finally...we have reached that gossamer intersection where the rhubarb is not yet done ("I'm not quite dead!") and the strawberries are in their sweet and juicy prime (just like me, tee hee). And in this magical hour, friends, I dare to usurp the Red Queen's throne and decree, JAM EVERY DAY! Indeed, the canning and preserving season has officially begun, and I have completed a mammoth inaugural batch of the most AMAZING ruby/garnet goodness--that is to say, a very fine strawberry-rhubarb jam. And I did something very daring. I decided to meld together two recipes that I was intrigued by and...YIKES...not use any added pectin. (Say it with me: commercial pectin is for sissies!) First, I was mesmerized by the pictures of Zarah Maria's jam in Copenhagen, but she reported that the resulting spread, from a recipe in Sensational Preserves, was overly-tart. So I was also guided by Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures, by way of Jen the Bakerina, and the recipe that introduces an innovative technique and also calls for more sugar. And somehow, though jam and jelly-making are scientific processes that the faint of heart should not toy with, I managed to produce a jam that actually set up without extra pectin and what's more, tastes MARVELOUS. I will explain my process, but it should be noted that every preserving effort is risky and the final result is never guaranteed. But that's half the fun, no?

I started with this:
That happened to amount to almost seven pounds of rhubarb harvested from my own backyard and four and a half pounds of the enchanting Quebecois strawberries in separate plastic bowls. The rhubarb had been washed and cut into half-inch pieces, and the strawberries had been hulled and mostly left whole, except for the largest which I halved. I added equal amounts by weight of sugar to each bowl (which is a SHLOAD of sugar--my roomie wandered into the kitchen, saw the massive sugar mountains atop the fruit, and inquired when I had begun a mining operation!), covered and refrigerated them overnight to soak in their own juices . The next evening, I added the rhubarb and its syrup to a GINORMOUS pot (I actually had to borrow a cauldron from my school's food service to accommodate it all--and stand on a step ladder to be able to see inside and stir!), and also the syrup strained from the strawberries. Ferber's technique is to boil the syrup first, then add the strawberries and rhubarb so that they cook less and retain a fresher flavor. But I was worried that the rhubarb might not be tender enough for my liking if I did it that way. So I started cooking the rhubarb and syrup together along with the juice of three lemons as well as the emptied lemon rinds tied up in a double layer of cheesecloth. I brought this to a boil, skimmed off the foam, and attempted to bring it to 221 degrees, although it stalled at 220 for some reason. After at least five minutes waiting for it to gain that one degree, I gave up, fished out the lemon bag, and added in the strawberries and the juice of another lemon. I brought everything to a boil, skimmed the foam, and brought the jam to the setting point of 221 degrees (inexplicably, it finally managed to acquire that elusive last degree). At this point, I did a spoon test, the results of which were inconclusive. The plate-in-the-freezer test yielded something a bit too soft for my liking, so I attempted to keep it boiling at 221 for another five minutes, though it vaccillated between 221 and 219 of its own accord. After five minutes, I panicked and called it quits for fear of vulcanizing the final product. I jarred the beautiful, delicious stuff up into half-pints and processed them in three batches in a water bath canner for 10 minutes apiece. When I was finally done with the last batch, I turned around, and to my amazement, discovered 27 jars of glorious strawberry-rhubarb jam on my counter! The only thing left to do was wait to see if it would set. And as the modern-day prophet, Tom Petty, said so eloquently, "the wai-ai-ai-ting is the hardest part!" But by morning, it looked promising for the set, and by the time I got home from work, it was JAM!

Now, I would like to pick people's brains on the most desirable consistency for jam? I wouldn't want to turn the jar over and have it run like syrup to the other end, but neither would I want it not to move at all and stay stuck to the top (bottom) of the jar. I think, ideally, it should fall down to the bottom (top) in more or less one plop. But, with or without added pectin, mine usually hesitates, quivers, then breaks a bit and slides down the side. Or most of it falls down mostly in a whole clump in the middle, but with a bit of syrupy-ness on either side. What do other jam-makers out there think? I'd like to hear your opinions. Of course, by the time the jam is refrigerated, it firms up quite a bit, but is never tough or rubbery. So I think all is well.

But I would be remiss if I ended my tale of strawberry-rhubarb glory without a word of thanks to Jen. Pectin-less jam-making is fraught with peril and jangles the nerves, and therefore should not be undertaken without a wise mentor who provides sufficient emotional support, and she did that for me. All hail the Bakerina! And we also praise her for the beloved rice bread recipe, as I have just pulled two loaves of the heavenly stuff from the oven. And the craggy, crispy toast I will make of it shall receive an annointing of tangy red ripe lusciousness come morning! (Sing it again: "the wai-ai-ai-ting is the hardest part!")

UPDATE: Just LOOK at it! It's almost too pretty to eat....well...almost!

Monday, June 26, 2006

I went to a garden party...

Finally...a Sunday afternoon decent enough to have a backyard get-together, and it seemed like every house in the county had the same idea! As for me, I was invited to my friend June's house for a sort of homecoming celebration for one of our former colleagues who was in town for a visit. We had a lovely time just noshing and chatting and drinking margaritas and playing croquet. And since it was a special occasion, I thought I should prepare a couple of nice dishes to take with. The first is an appetizer called Veggie Pizza that is a little on the trashy side, as it is crescent roll-based, but it masquerades as an elegant hors' d'oeuvres and people always love it. Plus, it showcased some of the wonderful fresh vegetables that we got at the farmers' market at St. Chrysostome, incuding the purple spring onions, broccoli, and both the orange and green cauliflowers, not to mention some fresh dill from the herb garden.

And then for a very special touch, I made my best "WOW" factor dessert, a fresh fruit tart. In the past, I have followed Ina Garten's recipe to the letter, but her shortbread crust, while tasty, ends up being a bit tough as a base; your fork has a hard time piercing it, and then the pastry cream oozes out and your fruit might get away from you, too! So this time, I decided to try Gale Gand's sugar cookie recipe for the base, filled with Ina's pastry cream, and then my trusty decorator and roommate, Cyd, made a lovely design on top with various fruits, such as plums, nectarines, kiwi, and the local strawberries and blueberries that we got in Canada. For the finishing touch, I shellacked the top of the tart with some homemade apricot jam that I melted and strained and applied lightly with a pastry brush until it had a glossy shine. Beautiful! I am pleased to report that the tart (and the pizza) got rave reviews at the garden party, as did my wonderful friend, Janice's gorgeous homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie. I'll definitely have to shake her down for that recipe another day. In the meantime, here are the ones for the treats that I took to share. Give them a try at your next backyard (or indoor) affair!

Veggie Pizza

2 cans refrigerated crescent rolls

3/4 cup mayonnaise
2-8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temp.
1 teaspoon dill (or 1 tablespoon of fresh dill, finely chopped)
2 green onions, chopped

your favorite fresh veggies

Unroll the crescent rolls into a rectangular shape and press to seal the perforations. Bake at 375 for approximately 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Mix together (I use a food processor) the mayonnaise, cream cheese, dill and green onions until well-blended and fairly smooth. (I often throw in some other things to this mixture, such as a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of granulated garlic, a teaspoon of celery salt, some cracked black pepper, a pinch of cayenne, or whatever calls to me when I open the spice cupboard. I also sometimes throw in other fresh herbs during the summer when my garden is going strong. Be creative!)

When the crescent roll crusts have cooled, spread half of the cream cheese mixture on both "pizzas" and then top with your favorite fresh vegetables. I like carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, and red pepper myself, but it's your call. Refrigerate until the cream cheese layer firms up, cut into portions, and serve.

Fresh Fruit Tart

Cookie Crust (adapted from Gale Gand):

3/8 cup granulated sugar
6 tablepoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/3 cup vegetable shortening (I like butter-flavored Crisco)
1/2 egg (beat it, then pour approx. half in)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups flour

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer), cream the sugar, butter and shortening until fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and baking powder and mix. Add the flour and mix. Shape the dough into a large flat disk, kneading briefly if necessary to bring the dough together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 1 to 2 hours. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to a 11-inch tart pan. Refrigerate (or freeze) until firm. Place a round of parchment paper over the tart shell and fill with pie weights. Bake blind for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Carefully remove the parchment and weights, prick the shell all over with a fork, and return to the oven, baking the crust until golden brown, another 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Pastry Cream (adapted from Ina Garten):

8 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch

pinch salt
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla (I like vanilla bean paste for this)
2 tablespoons heavy cream

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using an electric hand mixer), beat egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed about 3 minutes, until mixture is light yellow and falls back into bowl in a ribbon. On low speed, beat in cornstarch and salt. In a large saucepan, bring milk to a simmer. Slowly pour milk into egg mixture, whisking steadily, then pour back into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon until mixture is thick, about 4 minutes (or less). Bring to a boil and cook on low heat 2 to 3 more minutes. (Taste to be sure cornstarch is cooked.) Remove from heat; mix in butter, vanilla, and cream. Pour through a strainer into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly onto custard and refrigerate until cold.

Place baked tart shell on a serving plate and spread pastry cream over bottom of shell. Select a variety of your favorite fruits (wash, peel, slice, etc.--and sprinkle cut fruit with lemon juice to keep from browning) and make a casual arrangement. You might consider using any of the following: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, halved strawberries, grapes (in small clusters), sliced mango, sliced papaya, sliced kiwi, sliced bananas, sliced plums, thinly sliced oranges or limes. Place larger fruit first, then fill spaces with berries. Use colorful fruit, such as halved strawberries or a grouping of raspberries, near the center for focus and height.

Glaze the fruit with about a half cup of melted apricot jelly (or strained jam) or honey using a pastry brush. Refrigerate until time to serve...but it is best if you prepare the separate elements and combine them right before serving so that the crust doesn't get soggy!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Summer, summer, summer (it's like a merry-go-round...oh oh oh)!

The herb garden that needed replenishing and the fact that there are STILL no strawberries to be had locally drove me to a culinary pilgrimage across the border along the Circuit du Paysan yesterday. We almost turned back in fear when we arrived at our closest, usually traffic-less border (Hemmingford), and saw that the lines were backed up for days like it often is at the main Champlain border. But since we would have had to wait in the eternal line even if we did a U-turn, we decided just to press on. We were convinced that it had to be increased security due to the recent threat against the Sears Tower. But the nice Canadian border guard said no, that it was just holiday traffic. (I had forgotten that today is the Fete Nationale du Quebec, aka Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day--the national holiday of Quebec, celebrated with much more enthusiasm and fanfare than Canada Day in July.) Once we made it through Checkpoint Charlie (more like Checkpoint Charles, if one pronounced it SHARL), we happily poked into not one, not two, but three different nurseries (all owned by members of the same family, the Dauphinois-es?) and found many delightful plants for the porch, the window boxes, and of course, the herb garden. Then we stopped by our favorite butcher, the Boucherie Viau, and because that damn George Bush still won't let us buy beef (or prescription drugs) in Canada, we acquired two boneless pork roasts and two pounds of their bacon, smoked on the premises. Finally, we arrived at our main destination, the farmers' market at St. Chrysostome, held every Friday and Monday throughout the summer. Well, it was immediately clear that we had lumbered into STRAWBERRY HEAVEN! Each vegetable vendor had flats and flats of the local beauties, and the people were carting them off at an astonishing rate. I quickly muscled my way in among the Quebecois to claim my own flat of gorgeous, fragrant gems. At $10 CDN (that's nine Americanos) for about six quarts, I would have taken another flat, had I not spent most of my Canadian cash at the nurseries. Boo hiss. (I'm feeling a return trip coming on, maybe even on Monday!) As we had run out of money, and I was scheduled to meet friends in town for dinner, we headed back to the Etats-Unis, cleverly taking the Cannon Corners route to Mooers Forks where we were the only car in line when we arrived at the border. And the only thing that gave me more delight was landing in driveway and opening my trunk to see THIS--a veritable farmers' market in my trunk! WOW! Take a moment and soak in the glory of it...and of summer's bounty.

What you are looking at includes many herb plants (curly parsley, flat-leaf parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme (stop that singing!), lemon thyme, dill, Greek oregano, and lemon basil. There is also some rainbow chard and a spaghetti squash plant. There are some pretty pink fibrous begonias and lobelia in shades of purple, blue, and white. You can see the package of pork products (dig that alliteration--and the cute pig in their logo!) There is also a gorgeous, fresh lettuce behind those wonderful strawberries. And in the front row, from left to right, is some cauliflower in both orange and green hues, broccoli, blueberries, a couple of hothouse tomatoes, and some truly stunning purple spring onions. Doesn't it just make you want to weep with joy? (Maybe I'm just weird that way!)

In celebration of our haul of goodies from Quebec, I decided to create a fabulous brunch today based on the recommendation of my beloved friends, John and Keith. Despite the fact that they now live in Oregon, they still cook like Californians, meaning they try to use fresh, seasonal, organic items in everything that they make. And as Keith is mostly vegetarian (just fish), their menus are usually meatless, too (not that even the most passionate carnivore would miss the meat if invited to a meal prepared by Keith and John!). In fact, I believe that I will quote Keith here, with his kind permission--my first guest blogger! I will add my commentary in brackets...

Hello my dear friends. This is only going out to the people who I know love good food. Sad, only 4 people... It is just too delicious and simple to keep it all to ourselves. You may already be doing it, or perhaps you could share a recipe, too.

We use a larger ramekin
[I used two Buffalo china/diner bowls because we wanted three eggs apiece], crack a couple of eggs from the girls [they have chickens, too!], throw in some heavy cream [I maybe used two tablespoons?], sun-dried tomatoes [I used some of the ones that John and Keith gave me on my visit in April!], an herb [I used the newly-replanted lemon thyme], and top it with cheese [I used a jack blend and some parmesan as well], salt and pepper, put it in a water bath and throw it in the oven on 400 while you are getting ready for the day. About 20-30 minutes later [next time, I'll try 25 minutes--as they didn't look done on top at 20 minutes, but the yolks were too firm at 30], yum! yum! It's a kind of clean-out-the-fridge kind of thing, and we make it the night before while cooking dinner and refrigerate it until the morning when the first early bird arises and throws it in the oven (usually John. But hey, I make it). We have been known to throw in the leftover mashed potatoes in the bottom, too. I cannot take full credit for this as I first read a recipe from Michelle Anna Jordan's California Cooking, except we call it "ramekins gone wild". --Keith and Senor Juan.

Not being food bloggers, John and Keith do not photograph their food as often as I do. (They also probably don't have cold meals because they have to be photographed before being eaten! tee hee) I'm sure that their baked/shirred eggs look prettier than mine, but here's a shot of our brunch today. Also featured is the delicious bacon from the butcher in Covey Hill, QC and the yummy herb walnut bread that I made the other day--remember, the one that imploded on top due to overproofing? Tasted great, though! And then the plate was garnished with a few purloined cherry tomatoes that we pocketed at one of the nurseries. ;-) Now, doesn't that look good enough to eat?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Where my dogs at?!

The weather is warming up, and we all need some refreshing treats. I personally have taken to making my nightly Orange Julius-type beverage that I become obsessed with during the warmer months. But as I have already shared that recipe, let me share one for all of my doggie friends to help keep them cool this summer.

There is a a wonderful ice cream stand that we sometimes travel past in the summer after camping trips along the St. Lawrence in southern Ontario. And if the dogs are with us, we always have to get a doggie-sized scoop of beef-flavored ice cream for them. (They sell this doggie ice cream for $0.50 a cup. Not bad, and the dogs adore the stuff!) But this place is 45 minutes from where we live in Malone, NY, so we don't get there too often. Thus, I decided that I needed to come up with my own recipe for frozen doggie treats. Now, if you don't mind taking out a second mortgage for Frosty Paws, then go right ahead and buy those instead and disregard this post. But for the frugal dog-lover out there, may I suggest the following economical substitute...

For a meaty ice cream (and who among us hasn't longed for that?), take a 32-ounce container of plain yogurt, a small container of beefy dog food (I used a package of Cesar's "Beef in Meaty Juices"--yum, yum!), add about a teaspoon of granulated garlic, and blend it well with a stick blender (or in your regular blender or food processor if you prefer). You could freeze this mixture in ice cube trays and then transfer the frozen cubes to a large Ziploc freezer bag to dispense as needed. But I was worried about having the lingering stench of Cesar meatiness on my ice cubes after this project, so I just filled some tiny plastic Solo cups with the yogurt mix. After they are frozen, I simply pop them out of the cups and then throw the frosty treats to my puppies who just love them. This "recipe" made 15 servings, and the cost of ingredients was less than three bucks. So I think at $.20 a treat, that's much more economical than Frosty Paws, plus I know exactly what's in it. (I may market this under the name, Hoggin' Dogz...ha ha!)

You can also do a vegan variety with peanut butter and honey. Use a 32-ounce container of vanilla yogurt, then add about a half a cup of peanut butter, and about a tablespoon of honey. (I haven't tried it yet, but you might also like to throw in a mashed banana for good measure!) Blend this well, and once again, fill little cups of the stuff and freeze it. Without the banana, this yielded 16 Dixie-sized cups, which is about $.18 a treat. And I'm not sure that the dogs don't like this flavor better than the beefy variety! Give these ideas a try, and help your doggie friends stay cool this summer. :-)

Culinary woes abound at Lindsey's Luscious...

Well, gang, I'm in a bit of a food blogging depression. First of all, we are coming on TWO WEEKS without being able to post photos, which would be even more upsetting if I had anything great to post! And believe me, it's not for the lack of trying. As you may have noted, I have been in a bit of a buttermilk place lately. And Anna over at Cookie Madness posted a recipe for a Buttermilk Pecan Pie that sounded awesome. After it's baked, you should end up with a creamy buttermilk layer topped with a crunchy pecan layer...yum! But I got the brilliant idea to throw a half a cup of chocolate chips into the mix. Well, the chocolate bits melted and coagulated with the buttermilk custard so that it didn't separate into different layers. And though the resulting pie tasted good, the filling ended up, at best, an unappetizing grayish color, and at worst, not unlike bits of sewage floating about in a gelatinous, mucus-like goo. As AB would say, definitely NOT good eats! :-(

So I shifted gears and decided to pay heed to my bread-baking resolution and try another recipe that I found for an herb bread from the famous Cincinatti ice cream makers, Graeter's. I made a couple of amendments to the recipe--as you know by now is my way--by including some thyme (my favorite herb) and also some granulated garlic (garlic is always welcome to the party!). Those turned out to be very good decisions. The tragedy came when I accidentally overproofed my loaves. I guess I was still in winter mode where proofing takes twice as long as it should, and as it has been warm and humid lately, my dough basically imploded at the end of the final rise while I was trying to preheat the cantankerous oven. The resulting bread was delicious and still had a very nice texture and crumb. But the tops of the loaves were not gently domed as they should be, but sunken in, like a surfer's thigh that has been gouged by a shark bite or perhaps attacked by a flesh-eating disease of some sort. BOO HISS!

Ah well, cooking--like life--teaches us about both triumphs and disappointments. And we wouldn't appreciate the views from the mountaintops if we hadn't suffered through the valleys now, would we? Ok, ok, enough with the saccharine platitudes. It's back to the drawing board. I will report back. In the meantime, I hope you all are having more luck in the kitchen these days than I am. If so and you want to try these recipes and hopefully succeed where I have failed, here they are:

Buttermilk Pecan Pie

1 1/2 cup whole pecans
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 uncooked pie crust, use a 9 inch deep dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place pecans on a cookie sheet and toast for 8-10 minutes or until aromatic. Let cool, then chop coarsely.Reduce oven heat to 300 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, beat together butter and both sugars. Beat in vanilla and eggs; Stir in flour and salt. Add buttermilk and stir until fully incorporated. Stir in pecans. Pour into pie shell.Place in oven (set on a cookie sheet to catch drips) and bake at 300 for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool completely, then chill.

Miriam's Herb Bread
yield: 1 loaf (I would double this one loaf and freeze the second for future use.)

1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablepsoon dry yeast
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (I used it, of course!)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon dried dillweed
1 t dried minced onion
*I also added 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme and 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
2 1/2 cups bread flour (I used AP for a softer interior)

Combine warm milk and warm water with sugar in large bowl and add yeast, stirring well to dissolve. Let proof. Add butter, salt, herbs and onion. Add half of flour and mix well. Add nuts; mix. Add just enough flour to make dough easy to handle; turn out onto lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes.Grease a clean large bowl and place dough in it, turning dough over to coat top. Cover and let rise in warm place until double in size (about 1 hour). Punch dough down. Roll into 18"x9" rectangle, then roll up, beginning with short side of dough. With heel of hand, press ends to seal. Fold ends under loaf. Place seam side down in greased 9"x5"x3" loaf pan. Cover and let rise till doubled in bulk (time will vary). Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place loaf in lower middle rach of oven. Bake 25-30 minutes or till top sounds hollow when tapped. Turn out of pan and brush top with butter or milk. Cool on wire rack.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Baking takes a backseat this weekend...

I am sad to report that I have done no cooking nor baking of any note this weekend, as we finally had some good weather, and--better late than never--the garden HAD to go in! My back and legs may never be the same, and I am sunburned and bug-bitten to boot, but weather and the Good Lord providing, we will have lots of delicious veggies in a couple-to-few months' time. I am not done yet, as the relatively mild winter (and more to the point, lack of a protective snow cover) proved quite detrimental to my lovely perennial herb garden. So many plants need to be replaced there, but I did manage to get the lion's share of the planting in the vegetable gardens done, including 48 individual varieties of tomatoes (mostly interestingly-colored heirlooms, all grown from seed, as is my passion) and 17 types of both hot and sweet peppers. And I must tell you, that I really scaled back this year! I usually grow about 70 different varieties of tomatoes, but I'm getting old and starting to slack off. ;-) I was also pleasantly surprised to find lots of cucumber and squash volunteers this year that we will let grow and just see what we end up with. And other than some greens and other tidbits here and there, that might just have to do for this year's garden. Below are the tomatoes and peppers that I'm growing for anyone who is interested in such things. And I promise, I will be back to food blogging very soon--stay tuned!

Amish Gold
Aunt Ruby's German Green
Better Boy
Big Rainbow
Black from Tula
Black Plum
Black Prince
Cosmonaut Volkov
Craig's Magnus
Craig's Matchless
Earl of Edgecombe
Farmer's Market #1
Ferris Wheel
Golden Roma
Grandpa's Cock's Plume
Green Zebra
Isis Candy Cherry
Italian Beefsteak
Lemon Boy
Lucky Cross
Mortgage Lifter Bicolor
Mr. Stripey
New Zealand Pink Pear
Paul Robeson
Porter's Dark Cherry
Old German
Old Yellow Candy Stripe
Rio Grande
Rose de Berne
Sasha's Altai
Sun Sugar
Super Marmande
Sweet Cluster
Sweet Olive
Wolford's Wonder
Yellow Bell
Yellow Pear

Antohi Romanian
Big Chile
Golden Cayenne
Golden Greek
Mild Jalapeno
Orange Sunsweet
Purple Jalapeno
Red Beauty
Sweet Chocolate

Friday, June 16, 2006

Et tu, Blogger?

I suppose it’s high time that I posted something. I know I have gone a few days without doing so, but I have been waiting for Blogger to get its act together. However, I might be waiting a LONG time, so I’m just going to trudge ahead. I know Blogger is free, and you get what you pay for, but COME ON! It’s been over a week now that people have been having problems posting photos. It can be done, but it is...involved. You see, you can post photos using Firefox, but not Internet Explorer. But the computer that has Firefox on it is so old (Windows won’t even support it in another month!) that I can’t download from my digital camera. So I must download to one computer, e-mail myself the pictures, download them to the other computer, post the images using Firefox, and did I ever mention that we live out in the boonies and still use dial-up? UGH! But they are labors of love for you, dear readers!

So today, because you have been patient, I will offer two recipes. The first comes from a faaaabulous new website that I stumbled on doing a Google search for, of all things, Hershey’s Dark Cocoa (which we STILL don’t have here in our podunk grocery stores…boo hiss!). It’s called "This Corrosion" and the gal who writes it is HYSTERICAL! Furthermore, she linked me to the funniest site ever called "The Gallery of Regrettable Food." I urge you foodies to check it out, and read ALL the way through it—but I warn you, go to the bathroom first, or you’ll be sorry! ;-) Anyway, this very funny blogger who refers to herself as Mags also posts recipes from time to time, and she offered a great one for a sort of Greek pasta salad. It’s yummy, very pretty, and super-easy, too…well, except that I had to go to FOUR different stores (and then back to the first one—don’t ask) to find the right dressing for it. But it was darn well worth it! Here it is:

Mags’ Greek-Style Pasta Salad

16 oz. cooked whole wheat pasta (I used a whole wheat/semolina blend penne)
1 cup toasted and chopped walnut pieces (don’t be tempted to skip the toasting step!)
1 cup crumbled Feta cheese (I chose a tomato and basil varietal)
1 cup finely chopped red onion (I used a Vidalia because that’s what I had, and I soaked the pieces in some cold water while I worked on the rest of the ingredients, to take some of the bite out of the raw onion)
3 cups chopped baby spinach leaves (I used one package of defrosted chopped spinach, squeezed of excess water because I forgot to buy fresh spinach…oops!)
1/2 cup Girard Champagne Vinaigrette (the one in the triangle bottle--if you can't find it, I also recommend Ken's Steak House Greek dressing)
salt and pepper to taste
*I also took it upon myself to add about a half a can of black olives, quartered, and several smallish Campari tomatoes, chopped. One might also consider some diced cucumber, but I myself did not.

I’m embarrassed to offer the recipe for the next dish. It’s not even a recipe, just a methodology. And it’s SO Sandra Lee, that I’m quite mortified about it. But in my defense, I got home late (after hitting all those stores in search of the champagne vinaigrette!), and dinner had to be done in time for Matt Lauer’s explosive interview with Britney Spears. ;-) This idea actually came from the Cooks' Illustrated message boards. Someone asked for some ideas about what to do with a grocery store rotisserie chicken. And one respondent said that she made chicken enchiladas with it. What a great, go-to meal for a weeknight!

So here’s what I did. I de-skinned and deboned the rotisserie chicken, and chopped up the meat. Then I divided it into ten portions to correspond with the number of tortillas in the package. I used six-inch flour tortillas because my roommate gets grumpy when I use corn tortillas which, truth to tell, I would have preferred for this. I placed some chicken and some shredded Mexican cheese blend that I had leftover from a previous nacho incarnation in each tortilla, rolled them up, and placed them in a glass baking dish (eight in a row, and the last two tucked in along the side) with some enchilada sauce covering the bottom of the dish. I poured the rest of the 28 oz. can of sauce over the top of the enchiladas, and then tossed on about a half pound of crumbled Mexican queso fresco. I baked them uncovered for 30 minutes at 350 F, and then served them garnished with chopped onion and a big old blob of sour cream. I suppose black olives would have been good, too, but I didn’t think of it—despite the fact that I had plenty left over from the pasta salad. Geez! My brain is not working at optimal levels. My roommate started a new job this week (HOORAY!), and the whole household has been awakened by that godless alarm clock at 5:30am (BOO)! And as I am nocturnal, this means that I have had a total of about 12 hours’ sleep in the past three nights. So on that note, I bid you all night-night.

Monday, June 12, 2006

OH, CANADA...We Love Nanaimo Bars!

Again yesterday there was no gardening to be had; it was nasty, cold and windy, though they say that there should be some sun in the next few days. Let's hope so, or I'm not going to have a garden this year! UGH!

Anyway, there was more baking yesterday instead. It's sad when you pull a recipe off of the internet, and you still haven't made it a YEAR later! What does that say about my life? (The date on the bottom of the printout is 6/7/05...GEEZ!). There was a period last summer where I became obsessed with bar cookies/desserts, and being a native of the Pacific Northwest, I had always wanted to try making Nanaimo Bars. Nanaimo Bars are a Canadian dessert, specifically named after Nanaimo, British Columbia. But you can find them all over the PNW where I grew up. The problem was, I made these thick mint brownies first, and even though they were scrumptious, they were so rich, that I couldn't face anything similar for quite some time! Plus, my local gourmet shop was out of Bird's Custard Powder (well, to be accurate, they only had strawberry). So I actually had to take myself across the border into another country to finally acquire some. But if you aren't lucky enough to live six miles from Canada, I feel quite confident that instant vanilla pudding would be a fine substitute. Also, speaking of substitutions, I do not enjoy coconut as a general rule (unless it's fresh, and I'm scraping it off the shell with my teeth!), so I know that this goes against the authentic Nanaimo Bar, but I left out the coconut and increased the Oreo crumbs to two cups and the walnuts to one cup. Finally, for some reason, when I was melting my chocolate, it seized on me (not sure where the invasive moisture came from). So rather than pitch it, I added 1/4 cup of heavy cream and smoothed it out into a lovely ganache, which worked quite well for the topping.

Nanaimo Bars
Yield: 9, though I cut them into 16 pieces myself, as they are VERY rich and sweet!

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs
1 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (almonds are also frequently used)

1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoon custard powder (or instant vanilla pudding mix)
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups icing (powdered) sugar, sifted

8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease bottom and sides of 8-inch square pan with vegetable oil or spray. For base, melt butter and stir in sugar. Sift cocoa powder into mixture and blend well. Whisk together egg and vanilla extract and add. Blend in chocolate cookie crumbs, coconut and chopped walnuts until evenly incorporated. Press into prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then chill for 20 minutes.

For filling, beat butter by hand until smooth and beat in custard powder. Stir in milk and add sifted icing sugar a cup at a time, combining well. Spread over base and chill while preparing topping.

For topping, melt chocolate and butter over a pot of gently simmering water. Pour over vanilla filling and spread to cover evenly. Chill for 30 minutes.

To serve, slice with a hot, dry knife into 1-inch squares. Yield 1 8-inch square pan.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Conversion begins at home...

It's been five months since I've begun my little food blog, and though I have yet to establish an enormous following, I have one small but significant milestone to brag about. My roommate, always a more-than-enthusiastic eater of pie, has finally begun to bake them herself! Her first effort a couple of months ago, which we jokingly referred to as "the homeliest pie in Christendom," was also among the tastiest! She chose the unorthodox but delightful combination of cherry and blueberry, but other than a filling that was too runny (who among us hasn't had that problem?) and its rather unphotogenic character, it was certainly successful, especially for a first attempt. An outside source and our toughest critic of cherry-based pies, June, confirmed that the pie was delicious. Of course, I was very proud of her!

And as we are experiencing some crazy, October-like weather this weekend (dark, stormy, cold, rainy, and horribly windy), and we still could not get outside to get the garden planted, we decided to stay in and make another pie together today. I had a recipe that I wanted to try, a Blueberry Crumble Pie, and anything with a crumbly topping is Cyd's favorite. But instead of straight blueberry, I picked up a bag of mixed berries (blueberry, raspberry and blackberry) at the Sam's Club--don't you love how everyone adds that definite article to the name of the store? THE Sam's Club, THE Wal-Mart, etc. Why do they do it? It's the same with diseases. "She has THE diabetes" or "He has THE sleep apnea." Puzzling...

Anyway...the pie turned out pretty well, though it's definitely a crumb-lover's pie. In fact, the layer of crumbly topping was thicker than the berry layer! Cyd says she likes it that way, but I think it A) needed more fruit in general, and/or B) needed only 2/3 to 3/4 of the crumble on top. Still, it was quite good--particularly served with another batch of buttermilk ice cream that we whipped up--and that's one more notch on the old girl's pie-making belt! (Just don't ask her to calculate pints to cups, whatever you do! ha ha) And that's also one more convert to the Lindsey's Luscious way! So keep baking, grasshoppers (and try to walk with full measuring cups on the parchment paper without tearing it)! ;-)



1 ½ cups flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt

6 cups mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or your preference)
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar

3/8 cup quick-cooking tapioca
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest (or 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
pinch of salt

pinch of freshly ground pepper

In a food processor, pulse the flour and brown sugar until thoroughly combined. Add the butter, and pulse until mixture is crumbly. (Don’t overmix!) This can also be done by hand with a pastry cutter if you’d rather. Refrigerate until ready to use. In a large bowl, gently combine filling ingredients and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Press crust into a pie tin, trim dough and crimp edges as desired. Using a fork, lightly prick all over sides and bottom of dough; refrigerate 20 minutes. Remove pie shell from refrigerator and line with parchment paper. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until crimped edges are firm, 10-15 minutes. Remove the parchment paper and weights, and continue baking until the bottom is firm, about 10 minutes more. Remove the pie shell from the oven. Pour in the berry filling, and top with the reserved crumble. Place pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet; bake pie until crust and crumble are browned and filling starts to bubble, 1 to 1 ¼ hours. (You may have to cover the edges of the pie with foil or a pie shield if it starts to brown too much.) Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Scream Louder: Gelato for the Aztecs

Every time I venture south into the Big City, I always feel frustrated. NYC is such a gastronomical epicenter, that I always feel that there are too many wonderful restaurants and too little time or too few meals in a day! But I have several absolute favorite, must-have items when I am in the Big Apple. The first is pizza from the Sullivan Street Bakery. I don't even know how to describe the wonder that is the pizza made by Jim Lahey. It is very thin, cracker-crisp, and there are five regular varieties and many more seasonal ones. I love the kind with mushrooms, but the most incredible pizza is the one with overlapping wafer-thin slices of potato, with onion, rosemary, and olive oil. Simple, but simply AMAZING! Another wonderful place to pop in for a snack is Pommes Frites, where they serve you authentic, Belgian-style fries with a kabillion different choices of dipping sauces. Yum! And of course, no trip to New York would be complete without a pastrami sandwich from Katz' Deli on the lower east side! But one of my newest discoveries (I should say, addictions!) is gelato from Jimmy's Gelato in Chelsea Market. And the most incredible variety is the chocolate pepper gelato. Amazingly dense and luxurious, with a real kick of heat in the finish--unusual and incomparable!

Unfortunately, the City is 5-6 hours south of me, and I only manage to make it there a few times a year. And yet, I NEED THAT GELATO! So I have made it my culinary quest to produce a reasonable facsimile of the luscious substance at home, and I think I have an excellent initial attempt, thanks in very large part to Melissa at the Traveler's Lunchbox. Happily, she road-tested three different chocolate gelato recipes, and there was a clear victor in her trial. She modified the recipe and then shared it on her wonderful website. I tweaked it just a little bit more by adding some vanilla and, of course, some cayenne pepper. And then you know that I had to use my favorite Ghiradelli cocoa with ground chocolate in it. It turned out VERY well, I think! However, I might try using a bit more chopped chocolate next time and a bit less cocoa just to see how slightly different proportions influence the flavor and texture. I might also use a cup and a half of evaporated milk and just one cup of whole milk, as it annoys me to have a half cup of evaporated milk left hanging around in a can--plus, it adds such a nice caramel note to the gelato. And although my roommate thought the heat level was just about right, I think I will turn it down a few notches next time. It didn't blow my head off or anything, but I just want a distinct warmth in the background, not such a sharp heat. So my advice is, start with a little cayenne, taste the custard, and then add more (slowly, incrementally!) to taste. And my experience is that it tastes milder when warm, and will be more fiery when it's frozen, paradoxically. Fair warning. Oh, and if this Aztec-influenced gelato doesn't float your boat, why not add some cinnamon instead for a Mayan flair or like Mexican hot chocolate? That would be scrumptious, too. Or you could just make plain chocolate, because this recipe yields a result that is anything but plain! And though I am certainly not claiming that this is health food, gelato does have less fat than ice cream, as it is actually made with milk, not heavy cream. But you'd never know it from the rich, velvety texture! But one tip: let it sit out for, oh say, 15 minutes or so before you tuck in. Gelato is traditionally served 15 degrees warmer than ice cream, and it really tastes better when it's a little melty, like in the picture above. But however you eat it, this recipe is a winner...give it a try!

Aztec Chocolate Gelato

Sources: and
Yield: about 1 quart

2 ounces fine-quality bittersweet (or semi-sweet) chocolate
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted (I love Ghiradelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa!)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste--start with 1/2 teaspoon then decide from there )
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt

Coarsely chop chocolate with a serrated knife. In a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, bring milk, evaporated milk, and about half of the sugar just to a simmer, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add cocoa powder and chocolate and cayenne pepper, whisking until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. With an electric mixer, beat egg yolks, the remaining sugar, and salt until thick and pale. Add the hot chocolate mixture in a slow stream, whisking, and then pour it all back into the saucepan. Cook the custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until a thermometer registers 160°F (do not let it boil!). Pour the custard through a sieve into a metal bowl set over another large bowl of ice and cold water and stir the custard until well-chilled. Freeze custard in an ice-cream maker. Transfer the gelato to a large loaf pan lined with plastic wrap or a plastic container with a lid, and let ripen in the freezer for a few hours before serving.

Cuisine de Misère, Part Deux

Still a day away from payday (may it cometh and that right soon!), so what innovation graced the dinner table tonight? Oddly enough, it was another filled delicacy--a chicken and cellophane noodle spring roll creation. Why, you ask? Because I found half a package of dried Vietnamese spring roll wrappers in the pantry, half a package of thin cellophane noodles, and we were down to the last two chicken breasts in the freezer. So the chicken breasts were thawed and marinated in some teriyaki sauce (Yoshida brand lingering in the fridge...stop hatin'!) for a couple of hours. The noodles were soaked in water for five minutes, and then boiled for just two or three more, then drained and set aside. Half of an onion was finely chopped and sautéed for a few minutes before the chicken, having been cut into very small pieces, was added to the sauté pan along with the remaining marinade and a couple of cloves of minced garlic. I cooked the chicken until just a little pink remained, and then added a chopped red pepper (roasted, from another jar in the fridge), chopped mushrooms (one small can--I know, let it go), a tablespoon of hoisin sauce, a teaspoon of garlic chili paste, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon or so of ginger, and quite a few grinds of pepper. I let this cook until the chicken was done. Then I poured off some of the resulting liquid into about a tablespoon of cornstarch and stirred until a slurry formed. I returned this to the pan, and cooked the mixture just until it thickened. I retrieved the cellophane noodles, cut them roughly into two-inch lengths, and tossed them with the chicken mixture. I added a generous tablespoon of parsley and set the filling aside. Next, I soaked each rice paper wrapper in very warm water for a minute or two until sufficiently softened, and then placed a good tablespoon of the chicken filling low down on one side (ok, circles don't have "sides," but the part closest to you), then I folded over the the left and right halves of the circle, and rolled it up away from me, burrito-style. I set each completed roll on a large plate, making sure that they didn't touch each other and accidentally get stuck together. I could have steamed or fried them at this point, but they were quite delicious just as they were (though my roommate called them tasty but "weirdly fleshy"--bah, maybe SHE is!). I wish that I had had something crunchy to add to the filling like water chestnuts or cashews or something, but if wishes were horses, then beggars like myself would ride, wouldn't we? Still and all, I was quite pleased with my Vietnamese-Style Spring Rolls out of odds and ends from the pantry and fridge! Celebrate me!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Creative Cuisine, or Making It to Payday

I find myself being exceedingly resourceful and creative in the kitchen lately because of three main influencing factors. One, we have been doing a lot of spring cleaning, including the fridges, freezers, and pantries. Two, we had a state food safety inspector come recently to check out the kitchen so that I might be able to sell goods at the local farmer's market (obviously, this is related to factor #1). And third and most influential, is an annoying period of poverty before my summer school stipend kicks in! So we have just been buying the bare essentials at the grocery store lately (milk, bread, Diet Pepsi, Breyer's ice know, stuff you'd DIE without!) and making a concerted attempt to use stuff that we already had. And I'm not kidding! I'm talking about using those weird items that are hidden in the dark recesses of your cupboards because you chose them on a whim and never could figure out to do with them. But it has been my little challenge to create new recipes based on these oddball items, making me a sort of Iron Chef de Misère, if you will. I think only my precious John will get that obscure reference, so I will explain. I highly recommend the beautiful memoir, When French Women Cook by Madeleine Kamman. And in it, she honors her grandmother (I believe) who was very talented at what she referred to as "cuisine de misère"--literally, the food of misery, or the art of being able to make something out of nothing when times are tough. Another part of this kind of cuisine that I would add to Kamman's definition is not only making something with the ingredients that you have on hand, but also remaking those dishes into something new the next night--that is, creatively using the leftovers in new and interesting ways so that nothing is wasted.

For example, the other night, I made burritos. They were good, but nothing to blog about. For the filling, I browned some ground beef with a chopped onion and added some dark chili powder and cumin and other south-of-the-border/taco-type seasonings. Then I threw in some corn, and a quintessential cuisine de misere ingredient that I have had for literally years--I think I may have brought it in the move to New York state SIX years ago! It was a little package of a red beans and rice medley. Then, of course, there were the usual condiments like green onions, black olives, jack cheese, sour cream, taco sauce...again, whatever I could find that sounded good. The problem was, even after the roomie and I consumed four large burritos between us, there was still a TON of filling left. So I threw it in some of the lovely green MarthaWare (what's that? you only have TupperWare? poor unfortunates!) and tucked it in the fridge, waiting for new inspiration to strike.

Well, I found my inspiration in the very back of the freezer, a package of Goya empanada wrappers that I probably purchased a year ago or more but have been intimated to actually use. So I thawed them out, rolled them a little thinner, filled them with the leftover burrito mix, sealed them with the help of a little water, a fork and my fingertips, and fried them in some vegetable oil until G B & D! Then I served them with the ubiquitous sour cream and taco sauce, and PRESTO, whole new meal! And they were really great! I will definitely buy more, as they are tasty, really inexpensive (seems like the package of ten may have set me back a buck?), and lovely reddish color to boot! Of course, you could fill them with just about anything that tickles your fancy. Look for them in the frozen foods section of your favorite grocery. And if anyone comes up with a truly fabulous filling, please holla back--I'd love to hear about YOUR creativity!

Monday, June 05, 2006

New Year's Resolution: Redux

Hey! Didn't you vow on January 1st to bake more bread? And when's the last time you made bread or blogged about it, huh?

Ok, ok, back off! I've done it, and I'm about to tell you about it. My dear friend, June (of the cherry pie obsession as previously revealed), was kind enough to share a special recipe from her husband's family. They call it Z Bread, though I have no clue why. I'll make a point to check on that and report back. In any case, I produced two lovely loaves of the Z Bread last night, and the recipe worked so well that I wanted to pass it on. Of course, as is my way, I had to mess with it a bit. Part was willful, as I omitted those wrinkled little abominations that people call raisins by choice. But two substitutions were because I was out of things. I had to swap out honey for the sugar, as I told you that I ran out over the weekend. But I do believe that I would make the same switch in the future, because it was yummy with the honey. (That sounds like a rap song, doesn't it? I think I'd like to hear Kanye do it!) And then I found that I was also out of walnuts, so I replaced them with roasted sunflower seeds. Delish! But I will do June and hubby, Tom, and their extended family the honor of reprinting the heirloom recipe in its original form. If someone makes it by the book, please drop me an e-mail and let me know how it turns out. I'm sure it will be great! Thanks, June!

Followup: Z is for Zoran, June's father-in-law (and it would have been her daughter's name had she been a boy!). See? ;-)

Z Bread

1/2 cup water (I used warm water)
2 tablespoons yeast (I used instant)
2 cups warm milk (I used whole)
1/4 cup sugar (I used honey instead)

Mix the ingredients above and let sit until foamy, about 20 minutes. Then to the yeast mixture, add:

1 tablespoon salt
1/3 cup oil (I used vegetable oil)
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup walnuts (I used sunflower seeds instead)
1 cup raisins (I omitted these as I find them vile)
3 cups white flour

Knead the dough for eight minutes (I did this with a dough hook in my Kitchen Aid, and I didn't add the nuts/seeds until the very end of the kneading process). Let the dough rise for one hour (I transferred the dough to an oiled bowl first and covered it with plastic wrap). Punch down and repeat. After the second rise, divide the dough, shape into two loaves, and let rise for another hour (I pressed the two halves of the dough into two large loaf pans before the final rise and glazed the tops with an egg wash before baking them). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, then turn it down to 350 and bake the loaves for 45 minutes.

Recipes for yeasty ears...

Something horrible has happened, dear friends. I have run out of sugar! This is the result of baking a few too many pound cakes over the past week, in an effort to launch a side business--but more about that some other time. So for today, I offer a non-culinary post and a different kind of recipe, one to kill yeast, not to bake with it!

I'm not sure what the weather and climate are like where you live, but in my part of the world, we get an exceedingly high pollen count in the spring and fall. The consequence of that is allergies all around for both humans and animals alike. Even as I blog, I am suffering with raging ear infections, and my roomie is having trouble with her ears, too. I have had intermittent but chronic ear infections for, I'd say, about a decade now, and it used to be about the only reason that I ever went to the doctor--to get antibiotics and drops. One time, when I was using the drops, I was thinking about how much they smelled like vinegar. And sure enough, one of the main ingredients listed was acetic acid, or vinegar. I discussed this with my doctor, and also with my officemate at work's husband who is a doctor, and they both recommended trying a mixture of rubbing alcohol and plain white vinegar when my ears first start getting itchy and watery. Well, mercy me, it was like a miracle potion! I think the alcohol dries out the ear and kills the bad stuff in there, while the acidic vinegar changes the PH and discourages the growth of those pesty yeasties and bacteria. This is a very common home remedy for swimmers who suffer from "swimmer's ear," too. In any case, it has been a godsend to me when my ears start bothering me. So in case anyone else suffers from the same problem, here's what you do. First, buy yourself a little squeeze bottle. I like the kind used for putting color on your hair, like you can readily find at a beauty supply store. Mix a 50-50 solution of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar and shake well. Fill the affected ear canal with the solution, and lay over on your side for ten minutes before letting the solution drain out into a tissue or cotton ball. Do this morning and night for a few days when your ears are really bad, then decrease to once a day until your ears feel all better. If your sinuses also seem to be involved and exacerbating the problem, use something like Sudafed to loosen up the stuffiness and decrease the pressure. But trust me, the magical alcohol and vinegar potion will do the trick! Start using it as soon as you feel the itchy tingle or wateriness in your ear. Don't wait until it becomes painful!

Next, I also have a wonder solution for Fido's ear problems. I have different breeds of dogs, including a cocker spaniel, a basset hound, and two pbgv's, but they have some similarities. Structurally, I seem to like them long and low and medium-sized. And I also seem to enjoy long ears, but long ears require special care to keep clean and free of extraneous hair. And even with regular attention, my dogs will sometimes get ear infections. And the best stuff that I have found to clear up these infections is a recipe well-known to dog breeders and those in the dog show community, commonly referred to as "the blue stuff," though I think it's purple myself. Whatever you call it, it works wonders when your dog has an ear infection. I also use some on a cotton ball for regular ear cleaning about once a month as a part of their general grooming. And I've been known to use it on hot spots and also on any part of them where they may get irritated and chew themselves, such as with a yeasty skin infection. Of course, it does turn those areas purple for a few days, but it eventually wears (or washes) off. In any case, it is very handy stuff to have around when you have dogs to care for. Here is the recipe and the instructions (from the PBGV Club of America's website).

Blue Power Ear Treatment

(Passed on by Pat Etchells, a cocker breeder, who recommends warming up the solution before putting it in the ear by placing it in a cup of very warm water for about a half hour or so.)

16 oz. Isopropyl Alcohol
4 Tablespoons Boric Acid Powder
16 Drops Gentian Violet Solution 1%

Mix together in alcohol bottle and shake well. You will also need to shake solution every time you use it to disperse the boric acid powder. To use, purchase the "Clairol" type plastic bottle to dispense solution to affected ears. (Gina's Note: I myself only use the squeeze bottle and make a quarter batch at a time, and this lasts me several months!)

TREATMENT: Evaluate condition of ears before treating and if very inflamed and sore, do not attempt to pull hair or clean out ear at all. Wait until inflammation has subsided which will be about two days.

Shake the bottle each time before using. Flood the ear with solution (gently squirt bottle), massage gently to the count of 60, and wipe with a tissue or cotton ball. Flood again on first treatment, wipe with a tissue, and leave alone without massage. The dog will shake out the excess which can be wiped with a tissue, but be careful where you choose to give the treatment, as the Gentian Violet does stain fabrics (and fingers)!

SCHEDULE OF TREATMENT Treat 2x per day for the first week to two weeks depending upon severity of ears. Treat 1x per day for the next 1-2 weeks. Treat 1x per month (or even less frequently, depending on the dog).

All of these ingredients should be available at a pharmacy (or they can special-order them for you). The boric acid powder soothes the ear. The gentian violet solution is an anti-infection agent. The solution appears to work well on any and all ear problems from mites to wax to canker. After the second or third treatment, you can clean out the ear with a tissue or cotton ball. The success rate for this treatment is 95-99%. Those who do not succeed have usually not done the treatment long enough or have not been regular about it.

Dogs on the verge of ear canal surgery have been returned to normal with only the regular follow-up treatment to keep the ear healthy. If an infection seems to be remaining in the treated ear after the above course of treatment, you may also have some pseudomonas bacteria in the site. This can be eradicated by using a gentle flush of raw apple cider vinegar and water (warm). Use two tablespoons of vinegar to one cup of water, 2x per week.

People have also found the Blue Power Solution to be effective for treating fungus-type infections on the feet and elsewhere on the dog, for cuts on dogs or people, and for hot spots. You may find other uses for this simple anti-infective agent. Remember it is for external use only and be careful not to get into the eyes.

Friday, June 02, 2006

We all scream for it...

Unlike where you probably are, the strawberries up the road at Mr. Suprenant’s (the jam-maker) are not quite ready for us to pick yet due to some late, unseasonably cool weather. But we have lots of lovely berries in the markets that we can make do with in the meantime. And since we have now segued into a patch of warm weather (that’s what it’s like here: winter, winter, winter, more winter, late winter, later winter, still more late winter, then INSTANT SUMMER), it’s time to dust off the old ice cream machine and see what we can crank out (pun intended)! The flavor o’ the day is Strawberry Buttermilk as we had a pint of strawberries left from the rhubarb crisp that needed to be used and some leftover buttermilk from the magical Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Pie. Though I have heard of it and seen it on the Food Network and in cooking magazines, I had never tried to make ice cream with a buttermilk base before. I worried that it would be too tangy for my liking. Well, color me happy to be wrong! It is tangy, but delectably so…a perfect counterpoint to the sweet, summery berries. In fact, when I start making more fruit pies this summer, I think I will make some plain buttermilk ice cream as an accompaniment. Yum! In the meantime, I highly recommend that you give this recipe a try—give Breyer’s a run for their money (Lord knows they’ve taken enough of mine)!

Strawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream

1 pint of strawberries, hulled and cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup sugar

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (or preferably the seeds scraped from a vanilla bean or a teaspoon of vanilla paste)
pinch of salt
2 cups cream (for a lower fat option, you can use half-and-half)
1 cup buttermilk

Prepare the strawberries to your preference on the size of the pieces. Add the berries to a small bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice and sugar. Stir gently and stick them in the fridge to macerate while you make the ice cream base.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs for about two minutes by hand until light and frothy. Add the sugar about a quarter cup at a time, and when it's all added, whisk for another minute by hand. Add the vanilla and salt and whisk until blended in. Switch to a spatula or spoon and gently stir in the cream and buttermilk until thoroughly blended together. Pour off the juicy syrup from the berries into the base and stir. (Return berries to the fridge.)

Add the cream base to the frozen canister of an electric ice cream machine (or the ice cream maker of your choice). Churn until the ice cream is about ¾ of the way frozen, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the strawberries from the fridge and add the berries and the rest of the juice to the ice cream. Continue to churn until completely frozen, another 5-10 minutes—until it’s the consistency of soft-serve. Eat immediately, or I prefer to transfer the soft ice cream to a large loaf pan lined with plastic wrap (thank you, Martha), and let it "ripen" for another two hours in the freezer before devouring.