Friday, August 31, 2007

Courgettes Fried In Chickpea Flour Batter

From reading blogs I'm getting the sense that this is the time of year (in the Northern hemisphere) when people become inundated with courgettes (zucchini). Mind you, no one has been over here offering to share the bounty (ahem) but I took my puny supermarket courgettes (that I paid for, "ahem" again hint, hint) and came up with what I think is a really excellent batter for frying.

My first thought was to coat them in seasoned breadcrumbs but then I remembered I had chickpea flour on hand (available in Middle Eastern markets and some health-food stores). This recipe will make about two cups of batter which is probably more than you will need for a couple courgettes-so go ahead and try it on some red onion slices and any other vegetables you have laying about. I did not make a dipping sauce but I'd think a plain yoghurt and dill mixture would be complimentary.

You Will Need:

2-3 small courgettes (or of course, if you have it a giant one).
2 large eggs
¾ cup light cream (half and half) possibly more to thin
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons melted butter
¾ cup chickpea flour
Oil for frying

Cut the courgettes and pat dry.

Mix the eggs, cream, cheese, salt, pepper, butter and flour in a measuring cup and then pour into either a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. At this point, let the mixture stand about twenty minutes. It will thicken quite a bit, so you may need to add more cream to thin it until you have a good batter consistency. You want to be able to dip the courgettes and let the excess run off the end-if it is too thick to drip, keep adding cream (or milk).

Heat the oil. Over medium heat, fry the courgettes, turning once when browned. Drain and serve immediately.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Friday Cake Blogging-Lemon Cake With Lemon Curd

Still working my way through the stack of old cooking magazines, today's cake comes from the May 1996 issue of Bon Appetit. The issue is devoted to the cuisine of Ireland and they claim this is a traditional cake (doubtful). Still, it was easy enough to prepare and didn't require any special ingredients save for self-rising flour (I don't know why but the Irish really love their self-rising flour-have a look at an Irish cookbook and you'll see) for which you can substitute (per cup) 1 cup all purpose, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt.

We weren't even in the mood for cake, yet somehow managed to polish-off half of it. It is really very light, deceptively so, that you don't notice "one more sliver of a slice" adding up to half a cake.

You Will Need:

For the cake:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ plus one tablespoon sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 ¼ cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the Curd:

2 large eggs
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons packed grated lemon zest
Powdered sugar

Cake-Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease two 8-inch pans and line bottom with parchment. Butter the parchment as well. In a medium bowl, combine butter and sugar until light. Add eggs one at a time beating thoroughly after each. Add the zest and mix well. Add the flour and lemon juice alternately in two additions. Pour into pans and bake 25-28 minutes or until it begins to pull away from sides and a tester comes out clean. Cool 2 minutes in pans on racks, then on racks. When cool, fill with lemon curd and sprinkle top with powdered sugar.

Curd-Whisk eggs and sugar in the top of a double boiler until blended. Add lemon juice, butter and peel. Set over simmering water (not touching) and whisk until the consistency of thick pudding or temperature of 165 degrees F on a thermometer (the recipe says four minutes but mine took about nine). Remove from water, cool and cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface. Keep chilled until ready to use.

Dolmas (Dolmathakia) With Lamb

Now that I know how simple dolmas are to prepare, I suspect I'll be making them more often. I followed the basic recipe HERE substituting lamb for the beef and pork. The most difficult part is standing for an hour rolling 60 dolmas (for me anyway, rheumatoid arthritis and all) but when I tell you this is easy, I mean it. You don't even need to pre-cook the rice. My husband cautiously bit into the first one and them proceeded to eat a couple platefuls. He insists they are every bit as good as restaurant ones, if not better. He's not the type to lavish flattery, so I'll take him at his word. I have not tried any as I've been a bit on the queasy side lately (yes, I do recognise the irony in maintaining a cooking blog when I am for the most part, unable to eat. Cooking has always been more of a hobby where the enjoyment comes from the doing, rather than the consuming. If it ever began to feel like a labour, I'd stop and let Mr. Goody feed himself, which he's fully capable of doing (and willing-he also enjoys cooking).

A word of warning about the odour of grape leaves-they stink. No more than any other brine-preserved item, I suppose but tossing them in boiling water really wafts the fragrance around the house. It dissipates quickly, but still-brace yourself.

I cooked them in my large enamel overcast iron pot we call "Big Blue" and then transferred them to cool and store in my mother's blue casserole dish we call "Not As Big Blue." What? You mean to tell me you don't name your cookware? What's wrong with you people?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Vichyssoise/Potato Soup

Actually, I'd planned to make watercress soup-unfortunately the cress had gone off and I was forced to improvise. With the weather still being warm, vichyssoise seemed like the perfect dinner with fresh-baked rustic bread and an assortment of fruit and cheese. I was glad I'd made chicken stock last week and had it on hand in the freezer as this recipe takes about five cups. You could easily substitute a vegetable broth, if desired.

The recipe will work as a hot soup as well; simply omit the addition of cream at the end.

You Will Need:

4 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced
3 large leeks OR 2 large mild onions sliced very thin
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ½-5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
¼ -1/2 cup heavy cream
Chopped chives for garnish

In a heavy pot, melt the butter over medium heat and add the leeks. Cover and cook until soft (about 10 minutes) stirring frequently. Add the potatoes and again cover and cook until softened for another 10-15 minutes. Take care that the potatoes do not scorch. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook until everything is very soft (about half an hour). Puree the soup a bit at a time in the food processor. Add more stock if too thick. Chill well. It is also nice to chill the serving bowls. Before serving, stir-in a bit of heavy cream to each serving (about 1 tablespoon per bowl and top with chives.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mandarin Orange Cake-Ugly But Tasty

Consensus is that this was a delicious, albeit ugly cake. It is very moist and gooey-almost impossible to cut with a knife. Torn with two forks is probably the best approach. I would not use a tube pan again. Instead, this cake would be best baked in either two 8-inch layers, or a 9x13 pan. There is an optional glaze for it, which I will include in the recipe though I skipped it as I already felt the cake was bordering on too much sugar (well yes, there actually is such a thing).

You Will Need:

(For the cake)

2 eggs
2 11 oz tins of mandarin oranges, drained
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat eggs. Add oranges and dry ingredients and beat with a hand mixer about four minutes or until the oranges are evenly flaked throughout the cake.

Bake for 35-45 minutes. Cake will be dark, but watch that it does not burn. It should bounce back when pushed with a finger.

Remove cake from oven. If using optional topping, keep cake in pan. Pour on topping and return cake to the oven for 5 minutes more.

Optional topping:
¾ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons butter. Combine and bring to a rolling boil before pouring over cake. Cool in pan.

Shredded Chicken For Tamales, Tacos, Etc.

The recipe I'm providing will work with beef as well as chicken. Having never cooked pork I'm unable to vouch for its performance. This is a time consuming recipe. I chose a day when I'd be home and relatively uninterrupted as I had leftover bones/meat that I then cooked into stock. I'd have rendered the fat from the skins as well but I already have a large amount of rendered goose fat sitting in my fridge taking-up space (time to preserve another goose, I guess) and chicken fat in comparison just doesn't seem quite as special. At any rate, I more than got my money out of an inexpensive 2 lb. Package of chicken thighs.

You'll want to use dark meat for this. The idea is to have shreds of chicken-not tough, stringy bits, which are what you'd get using breast meat. Thighs are often less expensive than drumsticks and easier to cut the meat into hunks, therefore ideal for this sort of a project.

The filling is excellent in tamales, or as we had it this evening, in burritos. This makes quite a bit and will easily make 2-3 dozen tamales. Leftovers are also terrific in omelets.

You Will Need:

1 ½ -2 lbs. dark chicken meat cut into small chunks.
½ onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons salt
10 peppercorns
1-tablespoon ground cumin (or 1 teaspoon seeds)
4 tablespoons ground ancho chilies (or any others you prefer)
4 tablespoons solid shortening (or if you prefer, lard)

Cut meat into chunks and brown in 2 tablespoons of the shortening in a heavy-bottomed pot (enamel over cast iron works well). Add enough water to cover the meat and add onions, salt, garlic and peppercorns. Simmer uncovered until fork tender, or about 2-3 hours.

If you're grinding your own chilies, it works well to toss them on a hot pan until they puff. Carefully slit them open and remove the seeds before grinding. I used to do this, but now that these spices are easily available I put my energies into other things-like cleaning up after a two year old. But hey, you single folks, by all means, feel free to grind your own.

When meat is tender, strain and reserve the broth. Remove the chicken to a bowl and let cool a bit. When you can handle it, use your hands to shred the pieces (if you want to be all bourgeois about it, yes, go ahead and use a couple of forks-though it is much easier with your hands.

Heat the remaining two tablespoons of shortening in a cast iron (or other heavy) frying pan. Add the spices and stir. Add the chicken and fry for 2-3 minutes until the spices are soaked-in. Slowly add the broth. Simmer until almost completely reduced (about an hour). Reheats well at low temperatures-do not use the microwave unless it is already enclosed in a tamale, as the chicken will dry out. A covered casserole in the oven or a bowl of a double boiler works best.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Plum And Wine Sorbet

Still leery of recipes from Gourmet magazine, I braced myself and made the plum and wine sorbet. It isn't horrible. It isn't fantastic, but it isn't horrible.

What hits you first is the strong flavour of pepper (well there are eight peppercorns in the recipe, what did I expect?) though after a few spoonfuls it becomes less pronounced-your palette does adjust to it. I did not taste the plums prominently, which was disappointing as I'm not really wild for dry red wine. The recipe features lemon zest and cinnamon along with the plums and wine which ought to have given it a spiced wine taste-but it did not. I cannot really adequately describe it except to say it was much more wine flavoured than anything else, except perhaps black pepper. I did however really enjoy the chocolate dipped strawberries and prunes. Really, prunes. Think of them as giant rasinettes.

The sorbet recipe is in the current (August) issue of Gourmet.

Like Biblical Plagues Around Here

I'm still alive. We've been having incredibly wild weather lately (ever wonder what 85 mph winds zipping across the prairies looks like? Bad. That's what. Really bad) and I've been powering the computer down as a precaution.

Along with the swarms of insects no one has ever seen around here before, we're getting frogs-everywhere. The fellow in the picture jumped-up to the window by my desk (attracted by the desk lamp, I guess-or the flies attracted to the desk lamp) and I heard a tremendous "thud" against the glass. Needless to say, I didn't realise they could jump quite so high.

Anyone have a good frog's legs recipe?

Yes, of course I'm kidding-I shouldn't have to tell you that.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lamb Curry With Apples or Tastes Better Than It Looks

The weather is hot, humid and miserable-what better time to make lamb curry? Well, it is nice and cool in the house.

I had lamb neck pieces in the freezer and it definitely isn't soup or pot-pie weather, air conditioning or not. This is a good dish to make when you have an afternoon to spend at home. A few hours work pays off in two to three subsequent meals. I also made apricot chutney (see archives) to go with it, which was a decent, pairing.

I wish I'd photographed it when I made it, rather than on re-heating and serving as some of the vibrant red colour faded. Served when made it is a truly beautiful dish (I know you're looking at the photograph and thinking not, but really, it was). Served over jasmine rice this was a pleasant dish, albeit a bit on the heavy side for August in the Midwest. Strangely, no one seemed to mind as plate after plate was devoured.

You Will Need:

3-4 lbs. of lamb necks, ribs, or other inexpensive pieces. If using already boned cubes, you'll want around 1-½ lbs.
Flour for dredging
1 onion, minced
1-garlic cloves
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
1-teaspoon paprika
1/2teaspoon ground ginger
1-tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon sugar
2teaspoons salt
1 6-ounce tin of tomato paste
Water to cover
2 cups chopped granny smith (or other tart) apples
Cooked jasmine rice or rice noodles

Clean and dry lamb pieces. Dredge in flour and heat in the 3 tablespoons of oil in a large dutch oven until browned. Add everything else EXCEPT the apples. Cover with just enough water and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to simmer (very slow). Cook 1 ½ -2 hours or until tender. Remove lamb to a plate to cool. Turn up heat under liquid and cook until reduced by ¼. Remove meat from bones being careful of small bones. Return to pot along with chopped apples. Simmer 15-30 minutes longer. Serve over hot rice with chutney.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I'm Not Really Squeamish But...

Could local readers help me out with a question? Our home has been invaded by tiny brown-reddish insects that are about the size of a sesame seed, but narrower and sometimes fly. They seem to like sinks and air conditioners (water). I've never seen anything quite like them, and I have no clue what to do about them. Anyone?

Baked, Stuffed Fish

This recipe will work with any thin, mild flavoured fish. I realise 1/3 cup of clarified butter is quite a bit, and I doubt the recipe would suffer much if you reduced it to a quarter, or even substituted olive oil. I happen to really love the flavour of buttered breadcrumbs and would cringe at the thought of margarine-yet I recognise some people have dietary restrictions that require going easy on the butter. Thank heavens, I don't.

Also shown are a sautéed medley of courgettes, carrots, and corn in olive oil and herbs and, a moulded wild rice dish with Romano and spices (to be featured in a future post).

If you do the prep-work ahead this fish dish (say that five times fast-"fish dish, fish dish") is quick enough to get in the oven.

You Will Need:

2 lbs. Fish (whitefish, pollack, etc.) filleted
Salt and pepper
2 cups soft breadcrumbs (I used stale Struan bread with the crusts removed and it worked great)
1/3 cup melted clarified butter
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
½ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon lemon rind
3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
Paprika for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place half of the filets in an ovenproof pan (I used glass for easy clean-up). Salt and pepper them to taste. Mix together the breadcrumbs, butter, parsley, celery, thyme, lemon rind and red onion. Spread over the fish. Cover with remaining fish. Add more salt and pepper and dust lightly with paprika for colour. Bake about 25 minutes or until fish flakes easily. Four to six servings depending on your husband's gluttony.

Pulla-Finnish Cardamom Bread

This is the Finnish cardamom braid featured in this month's issue of Gourmet called "Pulla". It wasn't really that much work, but it also wasn't anything special. I found another blogger that made it and really thought it was fantastic, so maybe it's just me (although I typically adore cardamom). Here's where I complain again that Gourmet has "dumbed-down" the magazine. There are better techniques for making bread such as this, and in the near future I will showcase my cardamom bread, which I honestly think is superior. I use currants and about triple the amount of cardamom in the recipe Gourmet featured (1-teaspoon cardamom to 5 cups of flour? Why bother?).

On the other hand, I live in a town full of Scandinavians-so perhaps my standards have come up a bit in the six years I've been here. We are fortunate enough to have a Swedish bakery in our small town, though I honestly don't frequent the place (three miles down the road into town is longer than you realise when all your chores are in the opposite direction) though my husband has. My point is that a cardamom braid, around here at least, is a terribly commonplace bread and I don't know why but I was hoping for something extraordinary even though my recent experience with Gourmet should lead me to expect otherwise

I now have two large loaves of this bread (one in the freezer). Anyone have ideas beyond bread pudding or French toast?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I Need An Understudy

Of late, I've become slightly lime obsessed. Most likely, this intense lime desire is not a taste for lime at all, but for a gin and tonic. Unfortunately, I'm taking medication at the moment that would not go well with alcohol ("No, no" I insisted, "The label specifically indicates that anti-inflammatory drugs are especially good WITH alcohol."). In place of my favourite summer drink (with the bottle of Boodles sitting all by its lonesome in the freezer, untouched) I've been focusing on lime. Yes, I did actually consider a sorbet of lime zest cooked into syrup with juniper berries but then thought better of it. At one point I was tempted to make the horrendous-looking gelatine mould in the Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery with lime Jell-O and blueberries. Again, I thought better of it.

Weeks of lime cravings led me to decide my Friday Cakeblogging feature this week would be an extravagant gateau coloured pink with a reduction of blueberries into syrup and filled with lime curd. Pink and green-a Preppy Cake! Lily Pulitzer, eat your heart out. Wouldn't that look simply mind boggling as a jellyroll? The possibilities are so exciting. I woke up this morning planning to get a head start by making the curd on Thursday and then, as is often the case, my body had other plans.

I'm afraid there isn't going to be a cake tomorrow-at least I don't think there will be. I'm OK, and only really in pain if I try to turn my head too far to the left. I know what you're thinking, but as my mother *once said to me as I was learning to drive;

"Why do you keep looking over your shoulder? The law says if you're hit from behind it isn't your fault. Stop all that turning around and drive."

Ah yes, Mummy. God rest her soul, she had some very strong opinions about things. Anyway, I'm not about to be driving, loaded-up as I am on tablets to relax muscles and other assorted pain relief. My spouse stayed home to tend to our child and will chauffer me anywhere I need to go. Apparently I have some sort of bulge on a disk in my neck that has been there for a couple years. It gets better, flares up, gets better, and so on. As I'm decidedly opposed to surgery, I'm left taking it easy when it acts up. I'm looking at it as a sort of blessing-forced relaxation. I felt absolutely liberated, leaving the beds unmade for what must be the first time in years. You should try it (the day off of housekeeping-not the neck injury. The neck injury is most unpleasant).

Which brings me back to Friday Cakeblogging. I always thought it would be better as a participant event anyway. If anyone is interested in baking a cake, I'll create a link from this blog. Consider that an invitation for future Fridays as well. Here's what to do;
Email me by Thursday morning (or obviously late Friday for this week) with the URL at:

cornmotherne at yahoo dot com

Come on; don't be shy-everyone (save for idiots that believe not eating cake will let them live a year longer-in a nursing home, no doubt) enjoys cake.

Hope to hear from you. And I hope as well to be back to a reasonable range of motion in my neck soon-lest I be forced to drive like my mother.

*No, my mother did not die in an automobile accident, though I suppose it is remarkable in retrospect that she didn't.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Herbed Scones With Olives and Cheese

This is one of the very first recipes I developed entirely alone. Using a basic dough for soda bread, I add dried herbs, olives and grated cheese. Obviously, the herbs you choose and really, whether to use olives, oil-soaked sundried tomatoes, or roasted pepper even, open to a great deal of experimentation. I don't usually have buttermilk on hand, but I do keep dried buttermilk solids, which work perfectly in this recipe. The preparation is quite fast; in fact you will be done preparing them before the oven pre-heats. Unlike most breads, rolls etc. these are best served completely cooled. They do not keep well and should be eaten the day they are made.

You Will Need:

2 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup finely shredded hard cheese) Parmesan or Romano work well
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
1-cup buttermilk (or dry solids and water)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a large baking sheet. In a bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add olives and toss well. Slowly add the buttermilk (you may not need all of it) until you have a soft dough. You do not want to over-handle the dough, so mix just until everything is moistened. Pat out into a rectangle on a floured surface and cut into rough triangles. Brush tops with egg wash and top each with enough cheese to completely cover. Bake in the centre rack for 15-25 minutes (depending on the size you make-I made six and they took 15 minutes). Cool on racks. Serve cold.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Lunchtime With President Chester Alan Arthur

Have I mentioned how unbelievably hot it is here? Well, it is. I've been doing the cooking early in the morning, and even then, trying my best not to light the oven. I served a pasta salad for dinner this evening and no, I'm not going to post a recipe for pasta salad. OK fine, I will mention that tiny cubes of either Romano or Parmesan cheese do well, as they are hard enough to remain solid as they soak-up the marinade. Beyond that though, if you need advice for throwing together a pasta salad perhaps it is time to hang up the apron, and move on to discovering other talents. Oh fine, artichoke hearts and roasted red pepper go really well with olives and capers. But seriously, I'm not going to blather on about how to make a pasta salad, except perhaps to note that cooked, frozen peas work beautifully as does tinned corn. Come now, you don't really expect me to detail the ingredients for something as simple as a marinade for a pasta salad where you use good olive oil and balsamic vinegar-you can't really mean that you need a recipe for that? Really, just use-up all those remnants of frozen vegetables and things rotting in your crisper bins and you'll do fine.

What I do wish to tell you about is my obsession with providing my son a "hot" (as in "not a sandwich") lunch every day. I understand that this is just my way of working out resentment I've been harbouring since the late 1960's for my mother's idea of a suitable lunch. I should note that my sister, ten years my elder was given sardines, crackers and tomato soup pretty routinely and to this day remains traumatised by it. Personally, I'd have taken the soup and sardines in a heartbeat, but then I was looking at "dietetic" cheese (really, I don't think a milk product got within a hundred feet of the factory) "gluten bread", and (I cringe typing these words) dietetic gelatine that was so loaded with saccharine it left your mouth bitter hours after consuming it. Sometimes if she was feeling generous I'd get an apple as well.

Right. So lunch was hardly the best part of my day growing up (and honestly, dinner wasn't a whole hell of a lot better) and I've sort of decided (I mean, I could change my mind, it's not like I made a sacred vow or anything-just a sort of promise to try) that it wasn't going to kill me to prepare a decent lunch for Danny.

Without going into the whole terribly long and detailed story, certain flavourings, preservatives and other highly engineered products that end up in commercially produced food make my son manifest an odour. The first time it happened, I went to the Internet and did a search to see if it was a urinary infection or something and got back a number of terrifying results. Fine, we called the doctor and multiple tests later, the results are still inconclusive. Apparently one of three markers for this particular problem came back elevated, blah, blah, blah and next time it happens we need to rush him over to have blood drawn straightaway, as it is happening. Personally, I think it is something in the food as it has only happened following the consumption of A) a sugar wafer cookie B) a chocolate Easter bunny, and C) a veggie burger. Still, it is serious enough that we can't simply ignore it, and as a result, I try to keep his food as non-manufactured as possible so that we can do a bit of process of elimination stuff. Well now, wasn't that more than you ever wanted to know?

So lunch, on a 100-degree day. Typically Danny has something like rice and beans (at least one meal a day, lunch or dinner) and both a green and orange vegetable. I was not going to bake sweet potatoes today, nor would I be cooking squash. Instead, I went for a dairy based luncheon of a scrambled egg (under 1 minute to prepare) toast with apricot preserves, cottage cheese, a glass of milk and a few cubes of double Gloucester cheese. He looks rather pleased with it, don't you think?

Finally, I must share a few funny things about his placemat with all the presidents on it. Danny memorises presidents (and trivia about them) the way some children obsess over dinosaurs. For whatever reason, he's taken quite a liking to LBJ (well he did some good things, school lunches for the poor and of course the civil rights act) and Rutherford B. Hayes. We sit at the table and Danny plays a mean game of "stump the historian" asking me questions such as "where was he from?" Of course with the presidents that have libraries/museums it is easier to remember where they were from. Everyone knows George Washington lived at Mount Vernon. Everyone knows (or ought to anyway) knows Jefferson lived at Monticello. Really, I thought I was doing quite well until he pointed to Chester Arthur and I sat there dumbfounded, trying to recall anything, anything at all about President Arthur. Blank. Not being one to make things up just to seem competent to my kid, I told him the truth; I don't know a single fact about Chester Arthur. This amuses Danny greatly. He now informs anyone that is willing to listen,
"Mama doesn't know *ANYTHING about Chester Arthur!" I do however; know how to make an excellent scrambled egg.

You Will Need:

½ tablespoon butter
1 egg
1 small, heavy frying pan (I use a stainless pan as I loathe non-stick) and a fork.
Salt and pepper
*Entertaining lunchtime banter/singing optional

Heat the pan on medium high heat and melt butter taking care it does not brown. Crack the egg and quickly begin stirring it in the pan with the fork. It is vital to keep it moving. Before the egg is completely cooked, and still a bit wet, remove it to a plate. A little understood fact is that eggs will continue to cook once removed from the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

*And of course, I now know quite a bit about Chester Arthur, our 21st president, thanks to my friend the Internet (not as much fun as calling the reference librarian, but faster).

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lemon Poundcake

A few weeks ago I purchased a brand-new springform pan with a patterned tube attachment at the thrift shop. I've been eager to use it, but nothing really came to mind. Finally, I found a use for my two-dollar bargain.

I used the zest of two lemons but you could easily substitute lemon extract, lemon oil, or really any flavour. The recipe is simple (you probably have the ingredients on hand) but you must follow the directions and use some sort of electric mixer. You do not want to attempt this cake by hand.

I topped mine with a simple glaze and some pearl sugar. At serving I may drizzle it with lemon liquor (that I made, thank you very much) or the blueberry/lemon syrup from last week (there's just enough left). This is also an excellent cake to cut horizontally in half, hollow out and fill with buttercream, or ice cream, and then frost the outside. It takes to freezing quite well.

You Will Need:

1-cup butter (unsalted)
2 cups caster sugar (dissolves better than granulated, which you want when creaming with butter)
5 eggs (yes, I know-it is indeed a large number of eggs)
2 cups flour, sifted
Grated zest of two lemons

Cream the butter and sugar together until very fluffy. You want the sugar completely incorporated so that it is no longer granular. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the zest. Fold the flour in slowly, in small amounts. Spoon into a greased and floured pan (springform, bundt, tube, etc.). Place in a COLD oven and set to 350 degrees. Bake one hour or until cake tests done.

Sea Salt and Pepper Crackers aka Pie Crust

Another disappointing recipe from the current issue of Gourmet. Cracked Pepper and Sea Salt crackers sound great, until you make them and realise they taste exactly like pie crust. I should have figured; Crisco, cold water, salt and flour-that's my basic recipe.

It did get me wondering if you could make these by brushing prepared crusts with olive oil and doing the salt/pepper bit. There's a contest at the State Fair that requires the use of refrigerated crusts-I'll bet it would work. If any local readers want to steal the idea, go for it. I don't think I'll be leaving the purified/cooled air of my home until the first frost sometime in October.

I'm probably being a bit harsh about the crackers; the boys seemed to enjoy them. Served with a hearty soup, or chili even, they could be a nice soft, flaky addition. I guess the crust is my least favourite part of a pie anyway-something I view more as an edible serving piece, in much the way that I wouldn't eat the bread bowl soup is served in.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

There Were Supposed To Be Egg Rolls Here

My spouse ate this post! Thinking there might be a famine, his inner-Neanderthal decided to eat the last egg-roll (it could be a long time between bison kills, or the wife deep-frying) before I could photograph it. I figured it's OK though-you all know what an egg roll looks like, correct?

Here's how I made them:

For Six Egg Rolls (yes, he really did eat five of them)

Egg roll wrappers
1 egg+1 tablespoon water
2 carrots, peeled and finely matchsticks
1 small red onion
1 tablespoon grated ginger
8 oz mushrooms, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tin of water chestnuts, slivered
oil for sauteing
1 tablespoon sesame oil for flavouring
black-bean garlic paste and hoisan sauce for flavouring OR 1/2 packet of seasoning from ramen noodles (really).

Saute the vegetables until very soft. Place by tablespoon in wrapper, roll-up and seal with egg wash. Fry in hot fat until golden. Drain and serve.

Like an idiot, I fried some tofu earlier in the day intending to cut it up and put it in the egg rolls-until I was distracted. I think they were pretty good anyway, and that's saying a lot as I have a rather intense dislike for deep-fried food, let alone Chinese. The fact that I ate one (and immediately had to eat a peppermint to get the taste of oil out of my mouth, but hey, that's me-not the cooking) indicates that they were probably better than the frozen egg rolls my husband usually buys. At least I think so, I mean he did eat five of them. Oh well, at least the rest of dinner was brown rice and stir-fried vegetables, so it's not as though he'd just downed a platter of General's chicken or something equally bad for you. You know, if you can't practise moderation and feel compelled to eat five egg rolls, at least balance it with something healthy.

Thank goodness I didn't make dessert.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bracing For Bad Weather

We're under a severe weather watch this evening. I took these photographs this evening; the air was dead still and very heavy. My sister used to call it "furry air" when we were kids in Illinois. Having been through one tornado in '92, I tend to get a bit nervous when the sky starts looking like this. It may be a long evening in Southeast Nebraska.

I baked two loaves of bread today and I'm glad-the rest of the week and well into next is expected to be extremely hot and humid. I already feel somewhat trapped in the house as I cannot go outdoors in the sun (hats and sunscreen don't help) but with the extreme heat and (fun trivia fact about the blogger) the fact that I no longer sweat like a normal person (really, I don't and that's more of a problem than you'd imagine) I'll be staying indoors with a bored two year old for the next 7-10 days. Yippee. It's ok, I have a stash of construction paper, glue and empty milk cartons-we'll figure something out. I'm open to suggestions as well.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Summer Dinner of Borscht and Kasha

My Father's parents were from Ukraine and Belarus and the only memorable thing my grandmother ever prepared for me was hot chocolate. It was, exceptional hot chocolate (and she splurged buying Droste cocoa to keep on hand for her grandchildren-no small expense in those days). After my grandfather passed away, she married a man who was German and he would fish for herring which he'd bring home and she'd pickle. Mind you, they did all of this (along with making cherry wine) in a one-bedroom apartment in a high-rise in Chicago. Their apartment always reeked of pickling spice and onions. While I might appreciate it more now, I considered it a sort of ordeal to go over there as a child.

What my grandmother did not do however was make any typically Eastern European food. She never made borscht, or kasha or even pierogi. No, my grandmother considered those foods of her peasant past and instead, when she really wanted to treat us to something special, took us down the block to the fast-food joint for a fish sandwich. They didn't have soft bread in Ukraine, and the squishy bun on a filet-o-fish was to her mind, the high point of civilisation-there just wasn't anywhere you could improve from there.

It wasn't until I married that I began making kasha and borscht, both of which I served this evening. I'm sorry the photograph did not capture the ruby, gem-like quality of the borscht, as it was truly beautiful against the white of the sour cream. I also diced-up some cold, boiled potato in it, which I'm told is traditional.

Borscht may be served hot or cold, but with the awful humid weather we've been having, a cold supper was just the thing.

For the Borscht:

2 large bunches of beets, peeled and cut into small matchsticks. Also use the greens, chopping them fine
2 ½ quarts of water
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 stalks celery, diced
1 tablespoon dried dill (or ½ cup fresh)
2 tablespoons salt
Juice of one lemon
½ cup sugar (adding up to a whole cup depending on the sweetness of the beets. Always better to adjust by adding more later)
Salt and pepper
Boiled potato and sour cream

In a large pot add the beets, water, onion, celery, dill, salt, pepper, lemon juice and half the sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer until the beets are tender (about 45 minutes). Chill and top with potatoes and sour cream.

For the kasha:

8 oz. Mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup kasha, rinsed and drained
2 cups boiling water
2 beef bouillon cubes
3 egg whites
4 tablespoons butter

Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and add the onions and mushrooms. Begin boiling water. When mushrooms and onions are soft, push to one side of the pan and add the other two tablespoons of butter. Toss the kasha with the egg whites and coat well. Pour into pan and stir constantly until dry. Add the boiling water and bouillon cubes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until all the water has been absorbed-about 10 minutes. For Kasha Varnishkas-serve tossed with cooked bow-tie pasta.

Leftover kasha makes a terrific filling for knishes.

A Steak Dinner

I hadn't had a steak in years, until yesterday. My husband enjoyed his; mine is sitting wrapped-up in the icebox where he will probably finish it off as a midnight snack. It looked wonderful, smelled great, and probably tasted good, but I'm just not a steak eater and I couldn't get it down. That's true of many things lately, but especially beef. Yes, I recognise the humour of typing that sentence from my desk by the window looking at cattle but a 100 yards away. I think that's grounds for being asked to leave Nebraska-an inability to consume beef. Sadly, I rather dislike football as well. Um…"Go Big Red" anyway. Now can I stay?

First, let's discuss the rest of that plate in the photograph, as you'll be surprised just how simple it was to prepare.

The potatoes. Want to know the secret to perfect fried potatoes? Use good oil, and don't crowd them in the pan. That's pretty much it. I put them through a first "dip" in the oil at a moderate temperature and then remove them to a rack over a baking sheet to drain. Then, when the first batches are all draining, I increase the heat slightly and give them a second pass through the oil until golden. There you have it-perfect potatoes. Whatever you do, keep them off of paper towels though-that just makes for soggy chips. If you must, take the towel and blot off the excess oil-but never leave them sitting there in a heap to cool.

The tomato salad was also fairly simple. Slice a ripe tomato. Shred, or finely slice some strong hard cheese (I used a sheep's milk Romano) add some chopped basil, salt, pepper a bit of olive and balsamic vinegar. If you like olives (and I do) sliver some on as well. You could make this more substantial with the addition of some fresh mozzarella, or feta.

The green beans. I steamed them, refreshed them under cold running water to keep them green and then buttered them and tossed with salt and pepper. Simple, delicious and very quick.

The steak was prepared in the same pan with the mushrooms and onions making it a time saver when cleaning up. This is also the same technique I use for lamb chops.

For an 11 oz. Steak (or up to 2 lbs of lamb chops)

Salt and pepper
1-tablespoon olive oil
16 ounces mushrooms
2 large shallots, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 tablespoons butter
1-cup beef broth
½ cup dry red wine

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Dredge the steaks in flour, add salt and pepper, and brown over medium/high heat until well browned. Remove to a plate. Add the butter, garlic, shallots, and the mushrooms and cook over medium heat for about four minutes. You may need more butter, but give the mushrooms a chance to throw off some water first, if they still seem too dry, go ahead and add a second tablespoon. Add the beef broth and wine and simmer until reduced by 1/3. Add the steaks and cover. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until tender.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Fuit Salad (no copyright)

A while back, I stumbled on a cooking blog that appeared to be very slickly laid out and well presented. Until I began reading.

I sort of have this un-spoken rule about not calling other bloggers "idiots", or "morons." It isn't nice, and most of the time it's a pointless activity. If you don't like a blog, move on and read something else. Correct? That said I have to tell this story, though I'm not going to identify the person, or provide links to the blog.

Posted everywhere on his precious cooking blog were ads to purchase this or that along with places where readers could donate money to him or purchase gifts. Brain trust apparently thought if he did some programming and made it difficult to print from his page, people would fork over money for his "copyrighted" recipes.

"Wow" I thought, "He must be a really talented and important chef." I mean, why else would you go to such great lengths to protect your copyrights? Curious, I clicked through and found recipes for brownies and one particularly horrendous looking fruit salad. I'm glad he copyrighted his work because I'm positive no one has ever thought of dumping tinned fruit into a bowl with multi-coloured mini-marshmallows. Dear God.

Of course when I stopped laughing I started to feel sort of sorry for the dumb schmuck. Not sorry enough to send him money, or even click on any of the many, many revenue generating ads on the page.

Of course, after that I've always snickered a bit when I've made a fruit salad. "Should we have marshmallows on it, you know, just to violate "Mr. Delusions of Grandeur's" precious copyright? By the way, if you're going to create that sort of abomination in a bowl, you could at least make your own marshmallows-it isn't difficult to do.

My husband, that wonderful man whose sense of humour gives me a reason to get up each morning, suggested we send an email informing him:

"Me and some buddies from MIT are gonna screw you out of your fruit salad copyright. You see, we're SUPER geniuses, and we've figured out a way to get around your printer-scrambling software…it's called a PENCIL AND PAPER. And (evil laugh) hahaha…you can't stop us! I'm tossing mini marshmallows on tinned peaches RIGHT NOW!"

Anyway, I think having a recipe for a fruit salad is sort of nutty in the first place. What I've done is tossed together the ends of what was in the fridge and tossed it with a tin of mandarin oranges. Apricots, strawberries, blueberries. You get the idea.

Feel free to print anything you like, steal my photographs, or whatever. But please, no fruit flavoured mini-marshmallows in the fruit salad, OK?

Grape Nut Pudding

"Hey, my mom used to make junk like this, I think it was Grape Nut Pudding."

Sure, it's an acquired taste. Much like coffee flavoured gelatin. In fact, if you haven't spent a significant amount of time eating in New England diners (or my mother-in-law's kitchen) you probably will take a taste of this (if you can be so coerced) and think the cook has lost his/her mind.

I didn't bother to photograph it as there isn't much that can be done with a brown blob of mush with raisins. It looks like cooked grape nuts with raisins. But oh man, is it ever delicious. Seriously. The Salem Diner's got nothin' on this casserole dish full of cereal goodness (though their egg sandwiches alone are worth a trip to Massachusetts). I really should have made the coffee gelatin to go with it.

You Will Need:

1 tablespoon melted butter
½ cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup raisins
¾ cup grape nuts
1-teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a casserole dish. Combine margarine, sugar, egg yolks, milk, raisins and grape nuts. Pour into a casserole dish and bake 40-45 minutes or until it has browned. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Remove casserole from oven and stir-in vanilla. Fold in the egg whites quickly and then let cool.

Serve with whipped cream (or coffee gelatin if you have it).

Bean and Cornmeal Cakes

I try to buy cookbooks with lovely photographs for Danny to look at like a picture book. Most of the time, the recipes are absurd (I really enjoyed the time he pointed to some sort of trotters in aspic and said; "Make this for Danny?" (Yeah kid, don't hold your breath). For some reason the Goodwill (Q Street in West Omaha, for the local readers) has an amazing selection of cookbooks on a fairly regular basis. At a dollar apiece, I'm willing to add a few oversized coffee table books to our collection. Clearly, looking at the size of some of these tomes, they are not intended to sit on the kitchen counter getting mucked-up with egg yolks and whatnot.

Spirit of the Harvest, North American Indian Cooking, is one such volume. The photographs are truly gorgeous. The overview of each group and the regional foods are interesting as well. The recipes are, well, representative of non-industrialised cultures. That's not as great as it sounds at first. While it is true that you can eat the cattails growing in your algae-infested ditches by the side of the road-would you really want to? I'm a pretty adventurous eater, but I'm also very much a product of my own Western culture-and I need some seasonings here and there. Most of these recipes are, by modern American standards, quite plain. And heavy. Oh, are they heavy. I realise that after a statement like that I ought to surrender my anthropology degree.

I made a number of changes to the recipe for bean cakes and I'm posting my version as I really think plain cornmeal and beans isn't something I'd want to eat. I added chopped parsley, dried onion, ancho peppers, and I used two types of beans rather than one. They're still very, very heavy (serve them immediately after frying or you will be bringing hockey-pucks to the table) but pleasant.

My husband thinks they remind him of something, and I do as well. I think this sort of thing was standard fare in vegetarian restaurants in the 1980's. I wouldn't be surprised if it was something we ate together (honestly, with a couple of exceptions, most vegetarian restaurants seem pretty similar and they all sort of blend into one place in my mind).

Foolishly, I made a cornbread to go with this meal (like 2 cups of cornmeal in the patties wasn't enough). You may prefer a light salad. Cattails and acorns are optional.

You Will Need:

1 tin of red beans, drained and rinsed
1 tin of white beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
Ancho pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 ½-2 cups cornmeal
¾ cup milk
2 eggs
Oil for frying

In a bowl, combine the cornmeal, onion, pepper, salt and milk together. Add the eggs. Fold in the beans. At this point you may need more cornmeal-you should be able to form patties. Go slowly as it absorbs more than you might expect.

Heat 3-4 tablespoons of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Fry about 1 minute on each side until browned. Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Rosewater Cookies With Orange/Blueberry Ice Milk

I added food colouring to the cookies however you may choose to omit it. I'll warn you though-blueberries and oranges make a very grey-ish looking sherbet. A bit of red colouring will do wonders for it.

The cookies are very difficult to work with and if you're not very experienced with a rolling pin, you may wish to skip this until you've developed your skills. You need to work very quickly and immediately move the scraps to the freezer to re-chill as you roll out the next batch. This is where having poor circulation is an asset-my hands are always cold and ready to handle pastry!

If you have candied rose petals on hand, they can be affixed to the top with a bit of decorator's frosting. I couldn't decide between the parlsocker (pearl sugar) or regular sugar lightly dusted-so I made both. The parlsocker shows up better in the photo.

Ice-milk sandwiches just seemed obvious to me, though as you can see by the photograph, I have little patience for making them neat and attractive. Placing a rose on the plate was about as "styled" as my post was going to be today.

Rose water is readily available in Middle Eastern markets and some Indian grocers. It lasts forever if you keep it tightly closed. Some people swear by the stuff for washing their faces, and others insist it is the secret to a good cup of tea. It is surprisingly inexpensive for something that seems so luxurious. I probably don't need to tell you it smells wonderful.

For The Cookies:

1-cup butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons rose water
A drop of red food colouring
2 ¾ cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar until light. Add the egg and rose water. Sift the salt into the flour and add to the butter mixture. Roll into two balls and wrap each in waxed paper. Chill several hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out quickly to ¼ inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Return scraps to freezer to re-chill as you work. Top with sugar and bake 6-8 minutes or until sides are just beginning to brown. Cool on racks.

For the Blueberry/Orange Ice Milk

1 cup orange juice
1-cup blueberries, mashed, strained
1-cup caster sugar
1-cup milk (I used 1% for a very light texture)

Cover the blueberries with sugar in a bowl and let sit 1 hour. Mash well and strain through a sieve. Mix with everything else and process in ice cream maker according to directions.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Blueberry Buckle/Blueberry-Ginger-Lemon Syrup

It's blueberry time! The price finally fell to an acceptable range so I stocked-up. My freezer is filled and I made a batch of blueberry/ginger/lemon syrup for lemonade and ice cream topping. I was torn between a cobbler and pie, and finally settled on a blueberry "buckle." I'm glad I did-it is wonderful. And oh, the luscious smell of blueberries and lemon zest-I wish I could bottle the fragrance.

The recipe is quick and straightforward. The lemon zest is optional, though it really does take the blueberries from good to fantastic. The recipe for blueberry/ginger/lemon syrup follows at the bottom of the page.

For The Buckle:

½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature.
1-cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1-teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
2 cups blueberries, washed and drained
Zest of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Sweetened whipped cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. With an electric mixer, cream together half of the butter and half of the sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Sift one cup of the flour with the baking powder and salt. Starting and ending with flour, alternately add with the milk. Pour into a greased 9-inch square pan. Top with blueberries and lemon zest. Combine remaining sugar and flour. Add spices and cut-in the butter with a pastry cutter. Sprinkle over blueberries. Bake 35-45 minutes. Serve slightly warm (not hot) with whipped cream.

For Blueberry/Ginger/Lemon Syrup:

¼ cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1-cup blueberries
1 cup lemon juice
11/2 cups sugar
1-cup water

Dissolve the sugar in water in a small, heavy pan over medium heat. Add the ginger and blueberries and simmer for about 8 minutes (watch to make sure it does not foam over-you may need to adjust the heat). Remove from heat. Strain through a fine sieve into a clean measuring cup. Add the lemon juice. Strain again into a clean jar and let cool first at room temperature and then completely in the icebox-then close cap. Keeps about two weeks. The syrup is wonderful diluted with water and ice cubes for lemonade, or over seltzer water. I've not tried it with vodka, but I suspect it would make a wonderful cocktail. You can of course spoon it over vanilla ice cream as well. I've made the same syrup with lemon and ginger only and had terrific results as well.

Last Evening's Stir-Fry

The sausages are vegetarian and were really quite flavourful. The vegetables were served on a bed of cous-cous.
The bread is another "no-knead" bread that fermented 18 hours before rising and baking. I'm pleased with the breads I've made this way, though they tend to go stale rather quickly.