Monday, December 31, 2007

Oh Look, Apetisers!

The deviled eggs were really good. The little canapes from brioche loaf cut-outs were OK, but not special. I served a variety of cheeses with toasts and jam. I just didn't feel up to an elaborate spread I guess. I did cut out little holes for olive slices in the canapes-that's festive, isn't it? I hope to be in bed by nine.

Happy New Year.

For the Deviled Eggs:

Hard boil eggs. Slice lengthwise and remove yolks to bowl. Add enough mayonnaise to get the consistency you like. Add a bit of chopped, dried onion, dry mustard, salt and pepper. Mix well and pipe into the empty whites. Sprinkle with paprika. Serve well chilled.

For the Caper Spread:

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and chopped

4 tablespoons sharp hard cheese such as Romano

3-4 tablespoons sour cream

Mix together first three ingredients. Add the sour cream a tablespoon at a time until spreading consistency. Spread on soft bread that has been cut in cute shapes and make sandwiches.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


For Christmas I bought my husband a dozen pairs of socks, and he bought me a bread knife. Essentially, we both received what we wanted and were happy. This week, he bought me a Hoover Steam Cleaner and large quantities of meat. I'd better explain that last part.

We were in Mediterranean Foods in Omaha buying spices when my husband noticed a large bag of goat meat in the freezer case. I've never cooked goat. I don't know anyone that has cooked goat. I'm now the proud owner of five pounds of goat meat. You'd think that five pounds of meat your wife has no clue how to cook would have been enough, but it's the holidays and well, my husband is generous. My freezer now also contains a rather large leg of mutton. I heard him talking to the shopkeeper and even though he was calling it "lamb" I knew as soon as the discussion turned to "It doesn't smell like it usually does, this is good lamb" that he was talking sheep. That's OK; in fact mutton is hard to find these days so I was really pretty happy to know it was available. Granted, that's a whole lot of mutton, but I can put it to use in potpies, stews, soups and other freezable meals. Maybe I'll just have "mutton day" and do all the cooking at once. Anyone want to come over? (The shopkeeper says it doesn't smell). I'm sure somewhere my grandmother is rolling in the grave that we paid six bucks a pound for mutton (that used to be the cheap stuff) but it is quite a bit of food.

So that was yesterday. Today, I sent him out on a very simple errand to refill the water bottles (we can't drink our well water-actually, we could, the water is safe, but it tastes and smells gross). Super Saver had water refills for 8 cents a gallon. I guess he was overcome by the savings and it went to his head because he also came home with a fully cooked smoked turkey. Yeah, that was a pretty major WTF? Reaction. I think we've bought turkey (of any variety) maybe three or four times in fourteen years and that was usually a few slices from the deli when my dad used to visit. I don't eat it, and as far as I know neither does my husband. I guess we're going to though, seeing how I have a smoked turkey taking up space in my fridge.

It actually did remind me a bit of my dad. He was in the food distribution business and would often "swap" with the other delivery guys. He'd come home with all sorts of strange sausages that my mother had no clue what to do with. I seem to recall a large tray of smoked salmon (something like 5 lbs) and frozen pierogi. Because these guys dealt with restaurants and food services for hotels and offices, the stuff came in very large quantities. I just had a flashback to something like 100 packets of powdered drink mix in weird flavours like root beer and cinnamon.

I guess I'll call the extension office in the morning to see if you can freeze smoked turkey and if the home economist there has any ideas for canning goat-meat stew. I'm open to suggestions if anyone has any.

Mmm, nothin' says "Happy New Year like goat!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Chocolate Cream Pie

He did it again. My little boy came into the kitchen clutching a recipe card pulled from an old magazine.

"This is a chocolate pie."

Yeah, well hard to argue with the appeal of a chocolate cream pie, and unlike a strawberry Bavarian there isn't really a "season" for chocolate. I looked at the recipe-apparently it won a baking contest in 1999. Once I excluded all the pre-made crust and whipped cream, it sounded like a somewhat interesting recipe-so I went for it.

Instead of a standard piecrust I went for a Pate Brisee. It wasn't my intention to make a free—standing shell, but once I realised it would slide from the pie plate easily, it seemed foolish not to. I don't own flan rings (as I almost never make tarts) though after the success with the pastry, I might need to consider buying some.

You Will Need:

For the Pate Brisee:

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ lb. Unsalted butter cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
5 tablespoons + ice water

Place flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Cut in the butter and shortening taking care not to overwork it or warm it too much in your hands. Don't worry about incorporating every last bit of butter evenly.

Add the water and with your hand, blend and gather together into a ball adding more water if needed. The dough should NOT be sticky.

Grab about two tablespoons of the dough at a time and smear, using your hand against a work surface. When all dough is completed, roll into a ball and wrap tightly in plastic. Chill two hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees FR.

Roll out dough quickly and place in pie pan (or flan ring if you have one). Flute high on the sides to accommodate the filling.

Prick the bottom with a fork generously. Butter a piece of foil and place it atop the crust and press it into the sides as well. Fill the crust with beans to weight it during baking.

Bake for 8-9 minutes until it is set. Remove the foil and beans and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until done. If you feel confident, slip the crust from the pan and cool it on a rack to keep it from getting soggy. Otherwise, cut your losses and cool it in the pan. The crust must be completely cooled before filling.

For the Pie Filling:

½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate either chips or very finely chopped squares.
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
3 oz. Cream cheese, cubed and softened at room temperature
1-½ cups heavy whipping cream
1-teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Slowly whisk in the milk. Add the chocolate and stir until dissolved. Cook over medium heat until mixture boils. Keep whisking to keep it from burning and cook one minute longer until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in the cream cheese and whisk until completely smooth. Transfer to a bowl and cover on surface with plastic wrap. Chill until cool-about 1 hour.

In a large bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Stir in vanilla. Remove 1 cup for topping. Fold the rest of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture taking care to incorporate it evenly. Spoon into prepared crust. Top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Chill at least six hours before serving.

Kasha Kulebiaka

OK, not a traditional kulebiaka, made with salmon, rice and mushrooms-but a kasha, onion and mushroom filled one instead. The beauty of the dish is that the kasha can be made up to a day ahead. You can find the kasha filling recipe HERE.

For the Pastry:

4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 pound unsalted butter cut into small pieces

2 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening

1 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons ice water (plus 3-4 more if needed)

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon cream

Into the flour and salt cut the butter and shortening until you have a fine meal. Quickly add the cold water and any extra needed to bring it together into a ball. Taking a couple tablespoons at a time, smear it against a work surface with the heel of your hand to incorporate the fats. Divide dough into two balls, wrap with plastic and chill 1 hour.

Roll out one ball into a rectangle. Mound filling in the middle leaving a 1 inch border on all sides. Top with other sheet rolled the same. Fold over and seal sides well with a fork, trying to force out as much air as possible as you go (like making ravioli). Crimp well with a fork. Use extra dough to make designs if desired. Cut a hole in the centre for steam to escape. Mix the egg yolk with the cream and brush the entire kulebiaka generously. Return to the refrigerator and chill twenty minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place kulebiaka in oven on centre rack. Bake 1 hour, rotating pan halfway through.

Serve with sour cream (and if you have them, beets).

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Not That Kind Of Vintage

Last month, I stopped into the library in Wahoo, Nebraska shortly after an eye exam. They have an on-going book sale there that often includes old cooking pamphlets and magazines. Inability to read wasn't enough to put me off buying booklets I'd likely never use.

I managed to select some good ones that day, impaired as I was. I've already put a Pillsbury Butter Cookie collection pamphlet to good use as well as the Betty Crocker Plain and Fancy Yeast Breads. Others, well...(trying to think of something nice to say without resorting to the obvious joke of Amy Vanderbilt leaped to her death after being served a plate of shad roe stuffed artichokes) weren't. In fact, some of the booklets were downright creepy. 250 Ways To Prepare Meat, might sound as though it has potential, but let me assure you, it does not. Jellied ham loaf or hashed meat in cabbage leaves probably won't be finding their way to my table anytime soon. Brazil nut jellied veal loaf sounds appetising, don't you think? Wait, I almost forgot the Brain Rissoles!*

So OK, you win some, you lose some. For every Chockolbrod butter cookie, you get a dubious recipe for something called "Canadian Cheese Soup", that calls for a stick of butter, 3 cups of shredded American cheese (well, Canadians are North Americans, so I guess they can use it in a Canadian soup) and a cup of chicken stock. Oh, there's a token carrot and some milk, but good heavens, everyone knows that any cheese soup the Canadians would be willing to lay claim to would probably have cheddar and beer. I'm not going to gross you out further by detailing the tuna and cottage cheese loaf-I think you get the idea.

I suppose the last couple of paragraphs might lead readers to peg me as a food snob. Really, I'm not. Furthermore, unless it contains something I'm allergic to, I make a point of eating food people prepare for me-it's only a meal and really it won't kill you (unless you're allergic) to be polite and gracious as you endure the green bean casserole-which really isn't that awful. I remember being quite ill when I was in college with something or the other and my boyfriend decided he'd make dinner. I can't remember the main course but the meal included one of those packets of flavoured rice with dehydrated cheese. It was delicious. Complete and utter garbage-but delicious.

I also pride myself on being somewhat of an adventurous eater. Relax-I'm not going to go into anthropologist mode and start detailing all the odd things I've eaten (you can read THIS guy's blog for that). The point I'm getting to (ah God, but she does tell long stories, eh?) is that it has to be really frightening to keep me from trying most foods. I mean, it ought to at least sound like it would taste good-so silkworm pupas probably won't be showing up at dinner anytime soon-but within reason, I'm adventurous.

Apparently, in 1974, Red Star Yeast came up with the idea to prepare fruit in their yeast to make a sauce. OK, so I was with them on the idea-I can completely see where that might be interesting. I bought the booklet for "Vintage" fruit sauce thinking it referred to an old-time recipe. Uh, actually it referres to fermented fruit with "vintage" being used in the same sense as wine.Wait, it gets worse.

You're supposed to ferment tinned fruit (like peaches) in the heavy syrup in which they came packed with yeast, sugar, pineapples and maraschino cherries. You stick it in a loose lidded jar and stir it several times the first day, then once a day for two weeks after. OK, at this point I was reading along going "Ick, maybe it gets better with cooking." Except, it never gets cooked. No friends, the starter is then used to make the sauce which calls for more of the same with the starter fruit mixed in. Then, you keep stirring. No cooking, no refrigeration-just good old bacteria that they say can keep for many months if you keep adding fruit and sugar each week. And to think I was worried about canning uncooked mincemeat!

I hear it is delicious with brain rissoles.
*I don't have a problem with eating brains, or any other organ meat, it was just the presentation that struck me as amusing.
**Recipe available upon request, though I make no claims as to the safety of eating it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Green Curry Chicken

This recipe was so easy I almost feel bad that it took me fourteen years to try it. The recipe comes from the November 1993 issue of Gourmet, and it really is simple (particularly now that green curry paste is available everywhere and you don't need to make your own).

Dinner took about ten minutes, plus a few extra to cut-up the chicken. If you really feel like being lazy you can buy already cut-up chicken chunks or strips (I wouldn't, ahem...but it is worth pointing out that such extravagances are available).

As previously noted with similar recipes-it ain't pretty. I can't help thinking it looks reminiscent of that abomination my mother used to prepare in the 60's called, Chicken Ala King. Just which sovereign the dish is named for I cannot say. Thankfully, the resemblance is only cosmetic and really, if you like a mildly spicy curry, this dish is laughably simple to prepare.

You Will Need:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs cut into strips

3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (yes, it stinks and no-you'll never use the bottle in its entirety)

a 13 ounce can of coconut milk

1/2 cup thawed frozen peas

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice

Cooked rice

In a wok or large frying pan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the curry paste and stir-fry for about two minutes. Add the chicken and two tablespoons of the fish sauce. Stir fry until just cooked through (about 3-4 minutes).

Serves Four

Stir in the coconut milk and the peas. Bring to a boil and then stir in the lime juice and remaining tablespoon of fish sauce. Serve over rice.

Strawberry Bavarian Obsession

Thinking about it, I've probably been on my feet, baking since mid-October. What started with black-cat sugar cookies, quickly gave way to steamed cranberry pudding, fruitcakes, stolen, birthday cake and more frosted cookies than anyone should ever bake. I've loved every minute of it (well, except for the near-mishap with the cranberry pudding-that wasn't fun), but have been looking forward to kind of slacking off.

Danny: (looking through cookbook) Will you make this?
Mummy:(looking at photographs he's pointing at) A strawberry Bavarian?
Danny: Yes. (Repeating, thoughtfully) a strawberry Bavarian.
Mummy: I don't think you'd like it.
Danny: Danny would like it.
Mummy: (looking at recipe) It calls for three cups of fresh strawberries-they're awfully expensive this time of year.
Danny: (pouting) Strawberry Bavarian?
Mummy: And six egg yolks, and a cup of heavy cream.
Danny: A strawberry Bavarian is very pink.
Mummy: I don't own a charlotte mould.
Danny: Papa will buy one.

(About two hours later, Danny comes up to me in the kitchen carrying a different cookbook. He plops it on the floor and opens it to a photograph of …you guessed it…a strawberry Bavarian).

Danny: This one only needs one cup of strawberries and cream.
Mummy: Really, well that might be more do-able, let me see….wait a minute, you can't read!

Never underestimate a dessert-obsessed three year old.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

I've enjoyed spending my holiday season with everyone in Blogtopia, and this is as good a time as any to mention how much I appreciate the friendships these blogs foster. I truly hope everyone has a lovely, merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. I look forward to doing this all over again beginning November 2008 (be there, or be square).

Peace On Earth.

Cod Pot Pies And Sweet Potato Bouchons

These recipes are from old issues of Gourmet (the fish from 1994, the potatoes from April of 1973). Both were what I would consider overly fussy in preparation and I've tried to simplify the instructions a bit. The potatoes can be made well ahead, except for the frying and this will make it much more pleasant to cook. While we weren't blown away by the potatoes, they were interesting, and would make a nice accompaniment to most dishes.

The fish "pies" are like glorified cod chowder without corn. As my husband put it, "These are elegant and stuff." Well, they certainly strive to be. The biscuit dough is made entirely with butter and if I were making it again I'd go at least half shortening or lard. They weren't too heavy, but they weren't exactly fluffy either.

The recipe made considerably more than it claimed. I filled seven large ramekins, generously. Fortunately, the biscuit dough leaves plenty of extra, so my advice is to have extra ramekins waiting-just in case. You could do this as a casserole, but as my husband also pointed out:

"That wouldn't be elegant, and stuff." So there you are.

We had plenty of potato mixture leftover for another meal-this seems like a better plan than re-heating fried food, which I've never found to work well.

For The Sweet Potato Bouchons:

3 large baking potatoes

3 large sweet potatoes

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 egg yolk, beaten

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

nutmeg, salt and pepper, to taste

flour for rolling

1 egg, beaten for coating

dry bread crumbs for coating

oil for frying

In a 400 degree oven, bake the potatoes (start the sweets a good 15 minutes ahead of the baking potatoes as they take longer). In a large bowl, cut the butter into small chunks and place in bottom. Using a food-mill over the bowl, put the flesh of the potatoes through.Mix well with the butter. Add the egg and mix again. Add the seasonings and give a good final mash by hand.

Butter a shallow baking dish, and spread the potato mixture in it. Cover with a piece of buttered waxed paper and press down onto potatoes. Cool, or if making ahead, chill at this point.

Heat about 3 inches of oil in a deep frying pan, heavy pot, or deep fryer.

Form the potatoes into cork-shaped pieces, roll in flour. Dip in beaten egg and then in breadcrumbs. Set aside on a plate until all are done.

Fry, a few at a time until deeply browned on both sides. You need to watch the temperature of your oil and at the first sign of smoking or excessive bubbling (likely from the breadcrumbs) lower the heat, lifting off burner if needed. In other words, keep an eye on it and don't try doing anything else while you fry. Keep the lid to the pot nearby as a precaution.

Drain on a rack over a baking sheet, and serve warm.

For the Cod Pot Pies:


4 shallots, finely sliced

1/2 cup finely diced celery

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/4 lbs. skinless, boneless cod cut into 3/4 inch cubes

For Biscuit Dough:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

7 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes plus 1 tablespoon melted butter

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk

1 teaspoon dried dill

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Cook the shallots, carrots, celery and butter in a heavy pot over moderate heat. Cook until soft (about 10 minutes). Add flour and cook 1 minute longer, stirring constantly. Stir in milk, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat (sauce is quite thick).

Make crust:

Whisk together in a bowl the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter until fine. Add the milk slowly, mixing with a fork until it just comes together in a ball. Roll out into an 8 inch square. Cut 6-8 pieces (depending on your ramekin size) with a round cutter or bottom of glass.

Sprinkle cut pieces of cod with remaining salt. Bring sauce back to a simmer and stir in fish. Spoon evenly between the ramekins and top with a biscuit. Brush with melted butter and bake 12-15 minutes or until nicely browned and the sauce is bubbling.

Run Run As Fast As You Can...

You Can't Catch Me, I'm The Gingerbread Man!
I seem to get gingerbread amnesia each Christmas until I begin rolling it out and remember why I hate making gingerbread. That's some really stiff dough to roll once chilled. I made 15 gingerbread boys and girls and still have 1/2 a roll of dough in the fridge. Maybe I'll make gingersnaps to keep on hand for thickening sauces (never tried that? Try it-works great).

Last evening we made our yearly drive to look at Christmas lights in Omaha. The trip also included a stop at Walgreens (for those outside the US, Walgreens is a pharmacy chain that sells just about everything-sort of like Boots, in Britain). Two chocolate Santas, a water globe and Hot Wheels sticker books later, we emerged somewhat dazed by the bustle of last minute shoppers and controlled chaos in the small store.

I'm still having trouble doing much without a great deal of pain (but stubborn enough to put off medical attention until after Christmas) but I am not going to ruin Danny's Christmas with this. Another few days won't make much difference one way or the other. I did need to cut back this year however-I'm making creamed cod for Christmas dinner. Cookie baking is one thing, but I draw the line at obese poultry. Turkey needs more attention than I'm willing to devote to something none of us particularly like.

If I can just get through tonight and tomorrow without my uterus falling out, it'll be like, the best Christmas ever!*

*The best Christmas ever was the year my mother-in-law and sister-in-law made dinner and nearly killed me with some organic dish that contained raw honey and bee pollen! It wasn't deliberate (or so they say...) but it has made for many a Christmas joke ever since.

Friday, December 21, 2007

For Our Postman

Seriously. I couldn't just put the stupid gift-card for gasoline in an envelope and call it a day-no, I baked cookies too. I really loathe gift cards, but the post office frowns on cash and giving him a sausage and cheese box every year seems kind of silly. I mean, sausage and cheese gift boxes are nice-but free gas at the local station is better.

I punched holes where the wreath is and will place festive string through it before wrapping them in cellophane. I'll bet he'll have the most interesting tree in our small town.

Again, I made a template from cardboard and it worked well. I may never buy cookie cutters again. Just imagine the possibilities...all right, on second thought, don't.

I bought Danny a sled today-just one of those round plastic ones for a few dollars. It had better snow, as predicted tonight or I'm going to be hearing about it from a certain kid who is awfully excited at the thought of sledding. We have hats. We have snowpants. We have a sled. Snow, snow, snow, snow, snow! (There is snow on the ground, but it is mostly ice).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Scenes From Danny's Birthday

As you can see, he really loved his tractor and cake. We woke at six AM to someone yelling:

"I want my birthday right now!"

There were a few tears when he realised cake wouldn't be served until later, though I did let him eat cookies for breakfast (it's his birthday-you

get cookies for breakfast on your birthday).

We gave him the tractor early, before his papa left for work, and it was pretty much as I expected-equal time playing with the box it came in. Sigh. He's never going to let me throw that box away.

The tractor cookies provided quite a bit of after-party entertainment to play with at the table.

Happy Birthday Danny (or as he now insists I call him, "Big Dan.")

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Danny Dumpling Is Three

Well, that's done. I felt so lousy tonight I figured I'd better put the cake together-just in case. It isn't what I'd envisioned-probably should have done two layers, though that would have been an awful lot of cake. The photo does not really show just how large this cake is already. The black trim on the tractor cookies bled a bit, but thankfully I made a lot of them and was able to use the best ones for decorating. The cake does look rather Easter-ish for Christmastime, but Danny wanted a tractor cake and this was all I could think of.

I don't know-should I have gone the fondant route? It would have looked more professional, but fondant tastes so icky. I used a decorator's buttercream made of equal parts butter and Crisco with powdered sugar and vanilla. Then I covered that with tinted coconut. Not terribly elegant, but tasty-besides, he's three.

I really hope it is what he had in mind because I'd feel awful if he saw it and started bawling because it wasn't what he wanted. Oh my gosh, I think I'd cry too! At least he'll like the tractor toy-I hope.

I'm so glad I get to be Danny's mummy. I'm not sure how he feels about it, but me? I love being Danny's mummy. Every day. No matter what. Three years, wow that went fast.

Vegetarian Chili

The recipe for this vegetarian chili may be found HERE at the Fork And Bottle blog (hey, who gets to be the bottle anyway?) with a few changes.

I used pinto beans in place of the kidney beans, and I added a few extra spices like epazote (1 tablespoon) and extra tablespoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon thyme, 4 bay leaves, 2 heaping tablespoons of powdered cocoa, I omitted the tomato juice and used a tin of tomato sauce with an equal part water, and finally, I omitted the fresh chillies in favour of twice as much ancho.

I also cooked the daylights out of it (hours) because I have a youngster who will be eating it and doesn't always chew his vegetables as well as he ought to. I probably will run his portion through the food processor briefly, just to be on the safe side. I also really like thick stew-chili, therefore the extra cooking.

I need to make room in the fridge for the birthday cake tomorrow (finally! all that planning! Watch me screw it up!) so I expect to freeze some of this. I'll let you know how it re-heats when I use it again. I have the two loaves of rustic bread for serving (thought about bread bowls, but that seems wasteful) with it and I'm planning to roast some red potatoes with rosemary. Typically, I serve this sort of thing over brown rice, but that just seems like too much of a carbo-bomb, even without potatoes.

Rustic Bread From Fresh Loaf

Aren't these breads adorable? The recipe may be found HERE.

I forgot to slash them (distracted, much?) and I should have let them rise longer (distracted much again, mummy?) but look how beautiful they turned out anyway.

As with most doughs I do, this was pretty sticky, though I didn't need to add much flour beyond the recipe. The first couple of folds were basically dumping the sticky mess back in the bowl, but eventually it firmed up and took shape-again, resist the urge to add flour no matter how disastrously sticky you think it is.


As you can see, my pinwheels aren't perfect. Honestly, I don't believe they ever will be, with any amount of practise (and who wants to eat that many pinwheels?). I like this recipe because it is easily made and stored in the fridge until needed.

We've been very fortunate in needing very little for Danny. Over the years, people have given us hand-me-down clothing, toys, books and honestly just about everything he could need. For new parents with an only child, we really lucked-out with the cast offs of generous friends. One family we know, with three boys have been sending us things that have barely even been played with. I suppose with three kids, they end up with more toys than they need-lucky for us. I didn't need to do any Christmas shopping! I'm serious, he's getting great stuff-cars on tracks and the whole bit. Last year it was a bouncy-car on springs he rode until he got too tall. It may not be new, but looking around our house you certainly wouldn't call Danny deprived. While I'm of the school of thought that knows children are usually more interested in the box than the toy that came in it, sometimes it is really nice to see him excited by something really special. We did splurge on his birthday present (twenty bucks! Oh my God, I never believed I'd spend twenty dollars on a toy tractor-I must be losing my mind) but only because Christmas was taken care of with freebies.

Cookies are a nice way to let people know how much we appreciate their generosity all year. Sure, I send pies and bread throughout the year, but the holidays are special and I like to make the sweets a bit unusual as well. The dough in this recipe is so versatile that by simply changing the flavourings (or omitting the chocolate) you can turn them into lemon cookies (zest and extract), chopped nut cookies, caraway seed cookies, and so on. You can sprinkle them with sugar, glaze them, frost them or whatever you please. The dough is very soft and really must be permitted to chill thoroughly, but after that, all you need is a sharp knife for slicing and you're on the way to the easiest, most delicious sugar-type cookies you've ever baked. Or I have baked, anyway.

Because the dough is so very soft, I really do advise rolling it out between sheets of waxed paper. I have a canvas cover for the rolling pin, but I thought better of it and went with waxed paper. It worked easily and the clean-up was as simple as tossing the paper out.
Adapted from my 1950 edition of The Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook

You Will Need:

1/4 cup soft shortening (I used Crisco)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups sifted all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 oz melted chocolate (unsweetened)

Melt chocolate and set aside to cool.

Cream together the shortening, butter and sugar until light. Add the egg and mix well. Add the vanilla and cream. Mix again. Stir in the dry ingredients that have been sifted together. Mix well. Divide dough in half and work the cooled chocolate into one part. Gather up and wrap in waxed paper separately. Chill very well.

Roll out both flavours to the same size-approximately 9x12. Place the chocolate layer atop the plain layer (using the waxed paper to lift the soft dough). Very gently roll it out until quite thin (you be the judge on how thin is too thin). From the wide side, roll the dough up as best you can (as you can see, mine are never perfectly round) and wrap again in waxed paper. Return to the fridge to chill again until solid.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Either grease two baking sheets or line them with parchment or silicone pads. With a very sharp, thin knife, slice the cookies 1/8 inch thick. Leave about an inch between the cookies on the sheet as they spread a bit when baked.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned on edges. The cookies won't look baked, but they should be just barely set. They will firm as they cool on racks.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chocolate Candied Oranges

Again, I put the Cara Cara oranges to good use. The recipe may be found at Chocolate Shavings, where Jenn makes them look much, much better than anything that ever comes out of my kitchen.

The recipe was very easy to follow, but I still manages to over-cook the oranges slightly. Oh well, they still were a hit after (A very orange-y) dinner. Who wouldn't be impressed seeing a tray of these beauties brought to the table?

OK, so I'm doing an orange theme-now all I need is an Old Fashioned garnished with some of those bourbon soaked orange slices from a few weeks ago and I'm set.

Cara Cara Chicken Thighs

Cara Cara oranges are in season at the moment, and what a delight they are. The pink, juicy insides are just perfect for recipes that require a large amount of juice. I was able to get what I needed for the recipe from four oranges. You could, of course do the recipe with any oranges you like or have on hand, but I do think the Cara Cara gives it a beautiful colour that unfortunately, my crummy camera and bad light does not do justice.

This recipe is a bit of work-probably more than I should have done today, but I did serve it over packaged noodles (oh the horror! She served her family packaged noodles!). Clean-up took a bit longer than usual as there was a rather greasy frying pan to tackle. In other words, this is a bit of work. Not a huge amount of work, but enough that you should be warned.

I used a 3 lb. package of chicken thighs and will have plenty leftover for a couple nights. If you have a large enough frying pan, this is a great way to make meals ahead. I did fry the chicken in batches so as not to crowd it in the pan, but then cooked it all in the same pan after. Again, you'll be making more dishes to wash using plates here and there to hold the chicken aside. This may be less of an issue if you have a dishwasher (or someone that can do dishes without breaking them).

The recipe, with a few changes comes from The New York Times American Heritage Cookbook

You Will Need:

2-3 pounds chicken pieces

4 teaspoons grated orange rind

3/4 cup orange juice

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon rosemary

3/4 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1/2 cup oil or shortening

1/2 cup orange segments for garnish

Place the chicken in a shallow dish. Combine two teaspoons of the rind, the orange juice, one-half teaspoon of the salt, the pepper and rosemary. Pour over chicken. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator 2-3 hours.

Drain chicken and reserve the marinade (if this grosses you out, you'll need to make additional juice and grated zest to use in its place). Combine the rind, remaining salt, flour and paprika in a paper bag. Shake the drained chicken pieces a couple at a time until coated. Reserve remaining flour mixture.

Heat the fat in the large frying pan. Add the chicken pieces a couple at a time and fry until well browned and crisp. Remove to plate as they cook. When all pieces are browned, return to pan, reduce the heat and cover. Cook until chicken is tender-about 30 minutes. Uncover and cook ten minutes more at higher heat to re-crisp.

Remove chicken to a warmed serving platter. Pour off all but about three tablespoons of oil. Add three tablespoons of reserved flour and stir over medium heat for two to three minutes. Add the reserved marinade to make 1 1/2 cups, adding water if needed. Stir in and bring to a boil, cooking until thickened. Pour over chicken and garnish with orange slices. Serve hot over noodles or dumplings.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Flu, Dental Surgery, And Now Possibly A Hysterectomy?

Two down, one to go. It's like I hit the holiday misery trifecta or something. Anyhoo, the Christmas cards should be arriving sometime around Valentine's Day. Most of the gifts have gone out, except one, which is going to be quite late I'm afraid.

"It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year"...

Really, it is.

So I ventured out today (no, no, I'm not foolish enough to drive myself, I recruited my husband and son to chauffeur me about) which was pleasant enough until I remembered (about 45 minutes into it) that I really wasn't feeling my best and gosh, don't they really keep it excessively warm inside these public spaces?

Know what's amusing? The grocery store ten days before Christmas when everyone suddenly decides they're going to bake-including those who don't know which end of a spoon to stir with. It was fun, sort of like Filene's Basement the day after Thanksgiving. All the pushing and shoving and elbows trying to make certain they grab all the confectioner's sugar that can be carried away in their little Christmas sweater adorned arms. I saw some really embellished sweaters/sweatshirts on display today. I always wanted a pair of Christmas earrings that looked like ornaments, or lights but never have gone ahead and bought a pair. I'm probably a few years off from the Christmas sweater/sweatshirt, but I have been known to put my hair in a roller set, or worse, a braid-so who knows, maybe I'm getting older than I think.

Anyway (I do tend to tell very long, pointless stories, don't I?) the baking aisle was madness, and being sort of fragile these days and too much of a pacifist to consider getting into the whole grocery-carriage-derby scene, I pulled over to the side and let the puss drain away. Sorry, that was gross. That's what my husband used to call it when he'd let the first train go by that was overly full and take the second, less crowded. The first one became known as the puss drainer. What was I talking about...oh yeah, the baking aisle at Hy-Vee.

Right. What's remarkable is watching the things people actually buy. Part of me, the mum probably, wants to grab them by their bejewelled sweatshirts and plead with them to not purchase the frosting in the aerosol can. Ditto the pre-melted fake chocolate in a cup for dipping. I want to invite them over for a cup of coffee and a baking lesson. I'm tempted to scribble down a frosting recipe and slip it in their carriages. I want to warn them that it won't work and will just frustrate them worse than making the melted chocolate on the stove top (or the microwave for heaven's sake). I didn't, but good golly, I really wanted to. Pre-made frosting with those awful screw-on tips is sort of the baking equivalent to hair colouring-you don't get professional results buying it in a place that sells alcohol, motor oil and diapers. Drugstore hair colouring keeps colourists in business, and pre-made frosting and royal icing from a tin or tube in the grocer keeps the local bakery thriving. They don't work-at least not the way you want them to. Do you really want your cookies to be the orange roots, or green tinged adventure with Sun-In? I didn't think so.

As I stood aside watching the chaos, a woman who had also stepped aside looked over at me, my cart piled with bags of flour, sugar and yeast.

"Looks like someones doing her Christmas baking." She said cheerfully.
(Somewhat taken by surprise) "No...I finished mine last weekend, this is just the regular baking."

And the, because I didn't already sound like enough of an arrogant food snob, I added:

"Except for the mincemeat, which I stir on Mondays and add another dram of brandy. Otherwise, I'm done."


It's Not What It Looks Like

-He's just standing at a funny angle that looks like he's peeing off the little bridge. Actually, Danny is waiting for the model train to round the corner again. We ended-up getting a membership to Lauretzen Gardens so he could visit the train displays regularly (in the summer it goes outdoors). This trip, Danny wore his engineer's cap.

I stumbled onto a piece of truth today-every guy wants an engineer's cap. They probably want the trains to play with as well, but the whole idea of a uniform seems to spark something in their memories. I can honestly say that we didn't pass a single man that didn't stop and note Danny's cap.

"Hey buddy, are you the engineer?"

Mind you, a bad parent would teach the child some completely disrespectful response but instead I just keep those responses filed away privately in my brain for a chuckle when I need it.

"Thank You. I'm the engineer."

Indeed, if you're seeking a last minute gift for the hard-to-shop for man in your life, it's a pretty safe bet that an engineer's cap will be a big hit-trains optional.

Trust me on this.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Spinach and Feta Roll

I wanted to share the beautiful dinner my husband made. From the improvised dough recipe, he made this and a rather large white bread loaf. I had my doubts as he only used 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast for six cups of flour, but sure enough, it rose (after like, 10 hours).

To make the roll, he rolled the dough out flat after the second rise, spread it with drained spinach, Parmesan,carmelised onions, cottage cheese, olives and feta cheese. A bit of oil to brush it and then rolled. Ad you can see, it has a bit of a swirl visible inside, though with such dark filling it is hard to see.

I'm still pretty out-of-it. I slept pretty much all morning and afternoon (though waking to fresh baked bread was nice). I keep thinking I'm doing better but then realise pretty quickly after about five minutes of sitting up, that I'm not. Was I utterly stupid to have major dental work done in the middle of other illness? I dunno, I suppose if the dental work had gone smoothly I would say no, but since it went disastrously, well then yeah, hindsight would seem to say waiting might have made sense. You know, like the kids say:

Eh, whatever.

*My kid thinks if he keeps sticking bandages on me I'll get better. He's so sweet about it, right down to a "kiss to make mama better." So come on, I have people cooking for me and giving me kisses-how much can I really complain?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Oh, Ewww

Look, I don't care what the Food Standards people say-I'm washing my poultry. Even if the higher heat kills the microbes-which I'm sure it does, have you ever had a look at the crud inside the bird? No, I'm sorry, the poultry is getting washed at our house.

You do however, need to be careful of cross-contamination. Disposable cutting boards are wonderful, as are toss-away towels and bleach water solutions. Use your brain-set aside all the utensils used to prepare poultry and then wash them in very hot soapy water-immediately. Don't simply set them aside or you'll forget what's been used for what. Scour your sink and counter when finished. Really, you ought to do that anyway, as we've recently seen spinach can be as dangerously diseased as a turkey.

Hate to sound like an old fuddy-duddy wagging a finger and lecturing-but use your heads.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Look What Mama Was Up Late Decorating

These cookies are for the birthday cake I'm making for Danny (you only turn three once). Instead of a sheet cake, I'm doing a very (very) large round layer (still had the pan from a tiered cake I made for someones 40th birthday that had to feed the whole office) in a farm scene. Hey, he asked for a "tractor cake" and this was how I interpreted it.

The top will have green tinted flaked coconut for grass, the tractor cookies and ducks and bunnies (the only animal cutters I had). I'll try frosting some graham crackers to construct a barn-but if that fails, I have more than enough tractors to cover the surface. My plan was to stand them ringing the perimeter.

Along the sides of the cake, I made small flower cookies which should brighten it up a bit. I may opt for less is more once I start putting it together but the worst that will happen is we'll have extra cookies. I didn't have a cutter for the tractors and had to resort to making a cardboard template again. How much do you want to bet that my little tractor expert will notice I left some feature off the tractor? Or that the smokestack on a New Holland is different than the smokestack on a Case?

Danny's birthday isn't until next week, by life keeps intruding on my plans around here and I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to get the basics done so that they only need to be assembled. The cake is already in the freezer. Helpful hint-avoid cake recipes that call for eight egg whites stiffly beaten when your stand mixer is broken. I resorted to a copper bowl and a whisk but damn, my shoulder hurts. Eight egg whites is quite a lot of egg whites.

Anyway, I was so excited about these cookies I just had to share pictures ahead of the actual cake. It's OK-Danny doesn't read the blog...that I know of.

French Onion Soup

You can just forget about those small crocks for serving onion soup in-you're going to want a large bowl of this.

If you've never made your own, it might be a surprise just how different homemade French Onion soup is from the heavily salted clear broth with re-constituted onions most Americans are accustomed to. This soup isn't clear as it is thickened slightly with flour and contains a bit of butter.

A good slicer will make the five cups of thinly sliced onions a breeze, but a sharp knife will work as well. The soup needs quite a bit of time to cook-first softening and caramelising the onions and then simmering. I'd suggest saving yourself some effort by preparing the onions ahead of time (just cover them well so your fridge won't stink).

If you use bouillon rather than broth, omit the salt in the recipe. This recipe is based on the one in Mastering The Art Of French Cooking.

You Will Need:

1 1/2 lbs thinly sliced onions (about 5 cups)

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon salt (if not using bouillon)

1/4 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons flour

2 quarts boiling broth (if using bouillon, use 1 quart bouillon (4 cubes) and 1 quart water)

1/2 cup vermouth (white)

salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons cognac

Hard toasted rounds of bread (dry in 325 oven 15 minutes each side on a baking sheet)

1-2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (or Swiss if you prefer)

In a large, heavy pot cook the onions in the butter and oil with the lid on for 15 minutes over low heat.

Uncover and raise heat to moderate. Add salt and sugar. Cook 30-40 minutes, stirring often until deeply browned.

Sprinkle on the flour and cook three minutes (use a wooden spoon-it helps scrape the bottom)

Off heat, add the boiling broth, vermouth and salt and pepper. Return to heat and simmer partly covered for 30-40 minutes, skimming the top occasionally.

Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Ladle the soup over the bread in a bowl and sprinkle with cheese.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gold Cake

I'll say this; at least my really bad colds wait until snow days. This is my second bad cold in as many weeks and it has conveniently hit at its worst on a day when my husband is stuck at home due to weather.

What couldn't wait however, were the seven egg yolks sitting in my fridge leftover from all the batches of cookie frosting that only required whites. I really didn't feel like baking today. Fortunately, the recipe for Gold Cake from my 1950 edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook is pretty straightforward and simple. I used the "creaming" method as opposed to the "double quick" one as I've had a few bad experiences using that technique as they published it in 1950. Creaming butter and sugar just isn't that big of a deal to me-sick or not. I made a few changes like omitting lemon extract and using all vanilla and using skim milk.

The cake is rather plain, but light and fluffy. My husband claims it smelled delicious baking, something I'll have to take his word for as I currently can't smell anything. My plan is to serve it split with whipped cream and tinned peaches for Danny and brandied pears for us. In my present state, I might just go for the brandy syrup the pears are preserved in and skip the cake. I wonder if it would be good in tea? Hmm.

You Will Need:

9x13 pan. If using glass bake at 325 degrees F. Otherwise preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

1/4 cup shortening

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 2/3 cups sugar

3/8 cup egg yolks (about 7)

2 1/3 cups all purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grease and flour A 9X13 pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for glass or dark coated pans).

Cream together until light and fluffy the butter, shortening and sugar. Set aside.

Beat egg yolks until thick and light and they form a ribbon. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Combine milk with vanilla in a measuring cup.

Add the yolks to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix well. Add flour alternating with milk. Mix well but don't overmix.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes. You should really begin checking after about 25 minutes as ovens vary quite a bit. Give it the toothpick test, and let it cool in the pan.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Whisky Truffles

Canadian Living, you suck. Not as bad as Gourmet, but close.

THIS recipe is a good idea with very bad execution. Very bad. It makes me wonder if anyone actually tried it before publishing it (they said they did a demo, but I'm suspicious).

The good news is, it is salvageable.

A few points:

1) "Chop" isn't a good description of what you should do with the chocolate. It really needs to be small-almost shaved. This is basically making ganache that gets poured into cups. If the pieces are too large they will not melt and you will have hard bits in the truffles.

2). Do not try to do this in a 4 cup measure. I have no idea why they suggested this as it will be impossible to properly whisk the chocolate. Just get a medium bowl and scrape the last bits out with a spatula.

3) Wait a couple minutes after pouring on the cream mixture before whisking-again to let the chocolate melt properly. It seems like a major error to suggest whisking right away as it will cool too quickly.

4) Use double the amount of whiskey. 2 tablespoons to 8 oz. chocolate? Come on. If you're making whisky chocolate it's because you actually like the taste of booze. I made it with two as per the instructions and couldn't taste it-disclaimer: I have a cold which might account for stunted taste buds.

5) I did not get 40 cups. I got 24.

6) for the sugar topping, just go ahead and crush up a couple of sugar cubes-you don't need to buy special coarse sugar.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Cars Cookies

I didn't have a cookie cutter for this, so I improvised one from cardboard and then piped on the decoration. Have I mentioned how much my son loves the Cars movie? I refuse to buy it because he'd watch it continually. As we've never permitted TV (we don't watch either) and the thing only gets hooked up for the occasional movie rental, I don't want to immerse him in screen time, even without commercials (though there's plenty of product placement in the movie).

Anyway, he loves the characters from Cars.

What sort of a mother would I be if I didn't make a few of these while putting together the Christmas cookies? I had my doubts that it would work, but I think it is a pretty good likeness of Lightning McQueen, don't you?

Chokalbrod And Frosted Butter Cookies

The chocalbrod is the brown rectangle with the pearl sugar topping. The recipe is easy as can be and really delicious. The original called for almonds but having a nut allergy, I topped mine with parlsocker instead.

The butter cookies are the same cookies I make for every holiday, except this time I frosted them (a request from my sister-in-law). I decided to take my chances with egg white, but you may prefer to make your decorator's frosting with meringue powder (blech).

For the Chocalbrod:

1 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

3/4 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 tablespoon cold water

Parlsocker (pearl sugar) or chopped almonds

Reserve a tablespoon of the egg.

Mix the dry ingredients together and set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the egg. Add the dry ingredients gradually. Roll into a log and wrap in waxed paper. Chill at least 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Divide the dough into four parts lengthwise with a sharp knife. Roll each into a long strip and place four inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. With a fork, flatten to 1/4 inch thickness, leaving a grooved design. Do this with the remaining portions. To the reserved egg add 1 tablespoon water and mix well. Brush the cookies lightly and sprinkle generously with the Parlsocker.

Bake 10-12 minutes until just set (they do not need to brown. Remove from oven and let sit on sheet 1 minute, then carefully cut into pieces. Remove carefully to a rack and cool completely. They crisp well upon cooling.

For The Butter Cookies:

1 cup soft butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

3 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups sifted all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar together until light. Beat in egg. Stir in vanilla. Sift together the flour and baking powder and stir in,mixing well. Roll into a log shape and wrap in waxed paper. Chill at least four hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Roll cookies to desired thickness and cut as desired. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake 5-7 minutes or until slightly brown at the edges. Cool on racks.

For the Decorator's frosting:

2 large egg whites

2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (you may need more)

Beat the egg whites and lemon juice until they begin to foam. Add the sugar and beat just until mixed. Add more sugar (if needed) until you get a consistency that is thin, but not so thin that it drips off the cookie. Add any food colouring at this point and mix well. Use a small butter knife to spread it quickly (as it hardens fast). If piping it in a pastry bag, use enough sugar to make it paste-like and then really work quickly.

Let cookies dry completely before packing. If you're using any jimmies or other decorations, do so quickly while the frosting is still wet-it dries very, very quickly.

I'd Love To Send These To My In-Laws

-Since they think I'm such a Commie pinko.

I made these as a joke for another blog ("Hey Comrade, here comes the Red Star Cookie Brigade") but unfortunately there isn't anyone nearby that appreciates my humour I can share them with. Not the sort of thing you want to leave on a tray in the office break room, you know?

Hard Candy

I made three versions of this recipe: one with cloves, one with anisette and one with kirsch flavouring. The clove I made into giant lollipops which worked well. I didn't have a mould for them so I oiled a baking sheet and poured over the sticks-they came out pretty even, considering.

For the lozenges, I oiled small muffin tins. From the picture you can see how sloppy I was, but that was all easily broken off leaving a smooth disk. I sanded the licorice ones with sugar, but left the kirsch ones plain. You do need to wipe off the oil.

The kirsch flavouring was so-so. It reminded me of Chericol-a cough syrup we used to take as kids. On the other hand, how cool is it to make your own cough drops?

The recipe is so adaptable that with a change of flavouring and food colour the possibilities really are endless. The house smelled so good while I was making these.

I've seen some overly complicated recipes (Gourmet, December 2007) for making hard candy and really, it just isn't necessary. In fact, I looked at that recipe and could see a couple of places where unless you were very fast, it would all go seriously wrong-quickly. This recipe is more forgiving.

You Will Need:

1 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup water

1/4 teaspoon flavouring (if using concentrated oils, go a bit lighter as a few drops is all you need)

Gel food colouring

Prepare moulds or cookie sheets by spraying well with oil.

In a heavy, medium sized pot combine the sugar, corn syrup and water. Mix until dissolved. Over medium heat, cook until it reaches 300 degrees. Once the sugar is dissolved, you don't need to keep stirring.

Remove from heat and stir in the flavourings and food colouring. Stir quickly and pour into moulds using a large soup spoon.

Allow to set and then pry loose with a thin knife. Wipe off excess oil and either sand with sugar or leave plain. Wrap individually.

*About clean-up. Don't try to pry the sugar off the pan and utensils. Let it soak in hot water and it will all come loose (like candy dissolving in your mouth).

Saturday, December 08, 2007


My poor husband has had the misfortune of having shared living space with not one but two extreme haters of cucumbers. Not simply the taste, but smell as well. He likes to tell the story of how his roommate once yelled up the stairs to their apartment from the floor below to ask if he was cutting cucumbers. I'm just as sensitive, I'm afraid.

Suddenly, the people who decide what everything from our dish soap to floor wax should smell like have decided that there's just something fresh and clean and wonderful to the acidic/decomposing smell of cucumber. You know, like a compost heap. No, lavender or rose or even the tried and true pine wasn't enough for these people-now everything has to smell like the inside of the truck my father delivered barrels of pickles in-without the benefit of garlic and dill.

I know what you're thinking-but really my aversion isn't from having grown up around pickles, as I rather like the way pickling spice overwhelms the smell of cucumber. No, don't blame the old man. If anyone should bear blame for my cucumber aversion, it is my mother-and a cold salad dish she called, Farmer's Chop Suey. Not that she'd ever been anywhere near a farm, unless you can count Hickory Farms.

For the uninitiated, Farmer's Chop Suey consists of chopped-up cucumbers, radishes, and scallions mixed with cottage cheese and sour cream. I suppose it could be good made with full-fat cottage cheese and sour cream-but that never happened at our house. Instead, the lower-fat cottage cheese would get watery and the whole thing would begin to separate by the time she plopped it down at the table like some culinary triumph. All that chopping and dicing, and stirring!

OK, so you're thinking, "One serving of that doesn't sound that bad", which is true. Unfortunately, we'd be eating it for days. This salad was usually served alongside her salmon patties which had precious little salmon in them but plenty of dry breadcrumbs and dried parsley. Sometimes the Farmer's Chop Suey worked best to soften the patties up a they could be swallowed.

Still, cucumbers I'm afraid are everywhere, stinking up every public and private space one enters these days. Like the spiced potpourris of the 80's and 90's, the crap is inescapable. It is so bad, that I opened a magazine last week only to be hit by the disgusting (and really, kind of unlikely) combination of lime, vetivier and cucumber coming off of a fragrance advertisement. I ripped the offending insert from the magazine and tossed it, but the scent lingers on the pages still-weeks after. I'll likely need to pitch the magazine.

Cucumber is a useless vegetable anyway, unless you pickle it in brine-and even that's questionable. It doesn't add anything to salads that I can tell and I'm sure I'm not the first person to have their mouth itch and burn after eating it. Why? Why cucumbers? Am I missing something that the whole rest of the world appreciates? Is there any actual good use for them?

I still remember my horror as a teenager after permitting my best friend to place slices of cucumbers on my eyelids to soothe puffiness (and really, at sixteen just how much eye puffiness do you have? Certainly not enough to require the application of raw vegetables to your face). It wasn't "soothing." It burned. Oh my God in heaven, it burned like a burning, burning burning piece of veg burning the delicate (albeit allegedly puffy) skin of my eyelids. People, let me share some wisdom-vegetables are for eating. You don't want to put that stuff of your face, let alone your eyes. Yeah, yeah, "natural" I get it, but in the words of that great American example of the ravages of LSD on a person, Grace Slick:

"Poison oak is a natural plant, why don't you put some in your food? Natural food makes you slow and stupid."
-a thought to which I can only add:
"And it doesn't belong on your eyes, in your dish soap, or floor cleaner.


My house reeks in butter and sugar. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, mind you.

These stollen were time consuming to make, but worth the effort. Besides, you get a house that smells like sugar and butter as a bonus!

This recipe makes three good-sized stollen, but you could easily get four, possibly five from the recipe. As I'm sending them as gifts, I did a powdered-sugar topping, but if you prefer a glaze, omit the final butter wash and caster sugar as it comes out of the oven.

You Will Need:

4 1/2 teaspoons granulated yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1 1/2 cups scalded milk, then cooled to lukewarm

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup shortening

6-7 cups + all purpose flour

1/2 cup sultanas

1/2 cup citron

grated zest of an orange

1/2 cup currants

optional pinch of cardamom and allspice

Caster sugar for dusting

additional butter for brushing (you'll need about 1 cup)

confectioner's sugar

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Scald the milk, then cool to lukewarm. When milk is cooled, combine in a bowl with yeast, sugar, salt, eggs, shortening and three cups of the flour. Slowly knead-in the additional flour. Before you add the last cup or so of flour, flatten out the dough and spread with fruit and spices. Fold over and knead well, adding as much flour as required to make dough elastic and no longer sticky. Place in a greased bowl and let rise until doubled (about two hours).

Punch down dough and divide into 3 or 4 balls. Flatten each into a large round and spread generously with softened butter. Fold over and pinch closed tightly. Place on a greased baking sheet and cover. Let rise until almost doubled (30-45 minutes). Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Before baking, brush tops with melted butter. Place in oven (if using two sheets, rotate halfway through) and bake 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to racks and immediately run a stick of butter over the loaves coating completely. Sprinkle generously with caster sugar to seal. Let cool completely (and I mean completely, or the sugar will gum-up) and dust with confectioner's sugar.

Wrap tightly in foil as the cake will improve with storage.