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!