Saturday, February 28, 2009

Poor Old Doggie

I let our dog out this morning and noticed a trail of blood in the snow. It took me a minute to realise it was his urine, not the results of a scrape with the farm cats. A frantic call to the vet, and difficult navigating of roads had us at his office within the hour.

We still don't know for certain what is going on, but his white cell count was high and he is clearly in pain. The vet gave him an antibiotic shot (lasts two weeks) and some pain medication. There wasn't anywhere to take him for an x-ray on Saturday, and by the time we left the vet he was urinating clear, so with any luck he passed a stone, or has a urinary infection.

We've had Algy for thirteen years, but he was a rescue dog and everyone's best guess is that he's about sixteen or seventeen years old. He's a poodle/terrier mix, and until recently had been pretty active, albeit going blind.

The vet tried to gently remind me that Algy isn't going to live forever, and that if he ends up requiring surgery at this age, that has risks as well. In other words, take your dog home and see if he makes it through the weekend. I promptly lost it.

This past week has been, without exaggeration, one of the most stressful, upsetting weeks I've ever had to endure, and the thought of losing my dog was more than I could deal with at that particular moment. Our vet just had a loss in his family, so we both kind of stood there with the dog reflecting on our pain, comforting Algy, and resolved to try and do what we could until it became obvious it isn't working. Obviously, I'm not going to keep Algy alive suffering if it comes to it, but for now we are treating it as an infection, a very bad infection from which he will hopefully recover. I really thank God we have such a wonderful veterinarian that understands, because believe me, we've had some bad ones in the past. Oh man, do I have "bad vet" stories. Bad, bad vet stories.

I gave Algy a brand new pillow and a well-worn flannel pillowcase to sleep on. He's resting (probably due to the medication) and I keep wanting to go cradle my ten pounds of fluffy white fur, but I know he needs to rest. He's a good little old dog, let's hope he's around a bit longer.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Darn Busted The Oven

The range top still works, but both the broiler and lower heating element are broken. No great loss really, I hated that thing. My luck, it will probably be repairable. GE Hotpoint-Boo Hiss!

Before it broke however, I made some really wonderful refrigerator oatmeal cookies with lemon zest and molasses. So good...they broke the oven. Oh well, I'm under the weather and didn't feel like cooking anyway.

Obviously, I won't be baking a Lenten cake tomorrow. Instead, here are some of the better ones from previous years. The common theme is lack of eggs, butter and sometimes, milk. I will try to get one up each Friday through Lent, provided I have a working oven. This year I might try playing with soy milk and egg replacers-we'll see.

I'll get the cookie recipe up soon-those were really fantastic.

Chocolate Lenten Cake (no good if you gave up chocolate for Lent, obviously)

Lenten Cake With Carrots And Dried Fruit

Pumpkin Ginger Lenten Cake

Vanilla Lenten Cake With Blueberry Sauce-

Orange Raisin Lenten Cake

Cherry Kirsch Lenten Cake

Applesauce Gingerbread Lenten CakeLink
Irish Lenten CakeLink
Lenten Fruitcake

Shoo Fly Lenten Cake

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lamb Pot Pie II

Have a seat, this is going to be a long recipe. I was home all day, and was able to construct this mammoth beast of a pot-pie piece by piece-but it was quite an effort. Most good things are a bit of work.

I had a small package of lamb that I cut from the large leg and froze. I wasn't sure what I'd end up using it for, but it was just the perfect amount for this recipe-slightly over a pound and a half. I also had a massive amount of mashed potatoes from yesterday, as I needed to boil potatoes for a rye bread starter. A cup of barley, a few handful of dried lima beans, and pretty soon I'd gathered odds and ends into something really lovely.

You can view a somewhat simpler (but not really) version of Lamb Pot Pie (a two crust one) that I made a while back HERE. Today's was more of a carbohydrate bomb, as the only vegetable was carrots. Potatoes and barley is probably a bit much. Mr. Eat The Blog loved it, which is a good thing as I'm afraid he's going to be eating it for a while as I don't eat meat.

For The Lima Beans:

I used 2 cups of large, white lima beans which are called Butter Beans in some places. Soak them the night before. The next morning, cook them in a pot of water with a bay leaf and nothing else. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook until tender. Drain, cool and chill until needed.

For the Mashed Potatoes:
You will need about 5 cups of cooked, mashed potatoes. This is best done a day ahead. Prepare them as you like (butter, cream, etc.) but don't make them too wet. Mix the chilled mashed potatoes with 2 cups of grated sharp cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder. Mix well. This is the topping.

For The Lamb:

1-2 pounds lamb cut into hunks (you can use ribs or neck bones, but you will need to remove them later)
4 tablespoons Canola oil (or whatever you prefer)
Flour lightly seasoned with salt and pepper for dredging
1 large onion, sliced
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
A generous grinding of pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large, heavy pot heat the oil over medium high heat. Rinse the lamb, pat it dry and then dredge in the flour. Brown the lamb well on all sides and remove to a plate. Reduce the heat a bit and add the onions and garlic to the pot. Cook for a few minutes until softened. Add the lamb back to the pot and fill with water until just covered. Add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a very slow simmer. Cook, uncovered until fork tender-about 2-3 hours. Strain into another bowl reserving liquid. Pick out the pieces of lamb and let cool. Discard the onions and garlic. Let the liquid cool a bit, then chill until a solid layer of fat rises to the top. Scrape it off and throw it away (yes, you can use it for the pastry if you insist, but it will taste like onions and garlic). Strain the liquid again through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth, and chill again to remove more of the fat. Keep the lamb and liquid in the fridge until you're ready to assemble the pie.

For The Carrots: peel and chop three large carrots. Boil in salted water until soft. Drain and chill until needed.

For The Barley:

1 cup of barley, rinsed and cooked in a large pot of water( the barley will absorb quite a bit, so be sure to really fill the pot). Boil for the first twenty minutes, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the grains have plumped. All told, about half an hour, give or take. Drain, cool and chill until needed.

At this point, you can combine the barley, beans, carrots and lamb in a single bowl. Don't add the liquid.

For the gravy:

Now that you've removed all the fat from your liquid, heat it in a saucepan over medium heat with two tablespoons of flour. Whisk constantly until it begins to boil and thicken. Cook about two minutes longer-still whisking (don't stop or it will scorch). Remove from heat.

Make The Crust:

Use whatever crust recipe you prefer. You'll need a recipe for 2 9 inch pies even though you are just doing the bottom layer. You'll need a very large oven-proof pot or casserole to bake it in. If you have neither, make two smaller ones. Into your pie crust, with the dry ingredients add 1 teaspoon dried thyme and 1 teaspoon dried sage.

Putting It All Together:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Line whatever dish/pot you will be using for baking with the pastry keeping the sides as high as possible. It need not be perfect as it will not be unmoulded. Gently fit a piece of foil inside and fill with beans or weights. Bake 15 minutes. Remove foil and beans, prick lightly with a fork, and bake about ten minutes longer. Remove from oven and cool while you assemble the filling. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Still with me? Great.

In a large bowl, combine the lamb, barley, beans, carrots and gravy. Mix well and taste. Adjust salt and pepper as needed. I tend to go heavy on ground black pepper with lamb, but you could also go crazy and put in a pinch or two of cumin-it works well.

Pour the filling into the crust and then top with the mashed potato/cheese mixture. Place it on a baking sheet (just in case) and bake until the top is beautifully golden and crusty-about 1 hour. You can crank the heat up to 400 in the last five minutes to really brown the top if you like.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Aha! I Knew It!

Swedes DO eat cats.

Accident, sure.

Story in context, HERE.

Set Her Straight

Standing in line at a store with Danny waiting to pay. The cranky woman behind the register says to Danny:
"Oh, you're wearing a conductor's hat."
to which Danny replied, somewhat exasperated:

Lady, This is an engineer's cap. I'm driving the train, lady."

I did my best not to laugh, but it was pretty darn funny. If he did that when he was older, I'd be forced to scold him, but at four, everyone is either a "Lady" or a "Mister" to him. It was just the fact that it came out the way it did.

Engineer's cap is striped-got that, lady?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Coconut Cake With Apricot Glaze Filling And Cream Cheese Frosting

I baked a cake about a year ago that looked exactly like this with a honey frosting. I lack real imagination when decorating cakes. No matter, at least I used enough imagination to find a way to get rid of the extra cup of coconut milk from last night's curry.

I'm afraid I am also lacking the imagination to say much of anything interesting here, so without further ado, here's the recipe:
(I have no idea where this came from originally. I've been using it for a couple years at least, and I should have written that information down, but I didn't. If this is your handiwork, thanks, and let me know so I can give credit where it is due).

You Will Need:

For The Cake:

1 cup coconut milk
6 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted
1 3/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 9 inch pans and line the bottom with parchment. Grease the parchment. Flour the pans.

Combine the milk, eggs, and extract in a bowl and set aside.

Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it is fine grained. Mix in 3/4 of the milk mixture and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down sides, add the rest of the milk and beat another minute.

Pour into pans and bake 30-35 minutes or until it tests done. Cool fifteen minutes in the pan, then remove from pan and cool completely on a rack.

Filling: 1 cup of heated and strained apricot jam. Brush on tops of layers.

8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
Enough confectioner's sugar to make it light
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Milk for thinning if needed

Whip the cream cheese until light. Add the vanilla and beat well. Add the confectioner's sugar a cup at a time until you have a spreadable but not runny frosting. Thin with milk if needed.

Chill well for several hours to set.

Vanilla Challah

I wouldn't wish the last twenty four hours around here on anyone, no matter how cross I might be with them. Some people deal with life by drink, or Prozac-I bake. I bake, and I bake and I fill the freezer with breads because there is no better therapy than slamming dough against a countertop. Baking is one of the few things I can do on a couple hours sleep, which is a good thing because that was about all I got.

When I saw THIS recipe at The Fresh Loaf, I knew I had to try it. I bake a challah every Friday anyway, and what could bet better come Saturday morning than a slice of vanilla scented egg bread slathered with homemade jam? Nothing I can think of.

The funny thing is, it didn't smell all that strongly of vanilla to me, but rather it reminded me of Play Doh. That's not a bad scent, exactly, but not exactly what I was imagining wafting through the house. I had to laugh, because granola gives off the same smell in my oven-maybe it has something to do with the smell of baked Canola oil, as that seems to be the only common ingredient.

No matter, The boys enjoyed the bread just fine and no one thought it smelled like modeling clay. I did think it was less egg-y, and more cake-y than what I associate with challah, but it is always nice to branch out and try a new recipe. It was convenient that it called for oil rather than butter as I used the last of my butter baking a cake and didn't feel like making any with whipped cream (Five minutes with a mixer and I can't be bothered. Really, some days!).

Normally, I wouldn't make a round challah for regular old, non-holiday shabbos(hey, how 'bout that inter-faith family thing. Next week we'll be baking Lenten cakes)but that was how the directions were written and the first time through with a recipe, I like to follow the directions. If I made this again I'd add raisins and braid it. I might even go half bread flour. The one change I made was using vanilla sugar in the glaze because I had it on hand.

I popped one loaf in the freezer, and I will post when we thaw and eat it to report on how it holds up.

I can't say enough things about the Fresh Loaf site. Floyd has really created something special and the people who contribute are so wonderful. Unlike some cooking "communities" (If I lived in communities like those, I'd move) the people are kind, helpful and even the most outright stupid questions( contrary to the assertion that there are "no stupid questions", there actually are. Lots of them) are met with helpful responses that aren't cruel or condescending. So many people learned to bake their first decent loaves of bread there, myself included. I don't participate on the message boards because I'm not really into that, but I do read them and learn quite a bit. If you enjoy bread baking I encourage you to go have a look around-it is a great resource.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Birdie Birdie In The Sky...

...why'd you...

So anyway, I stumbled upon the most wonderful project for feeding the birds as they migrate back North. Why just hang out a bird feeder made from peanut butter on pine cones when you can give them a proper welcome?

You might want to reconsider if you live directly in the path of large migrating birds. We get our share of snow geese the occasional lost crane, and a huge bald eagle we saw swoop down into our neighbour's field (impressive!) but the majority of our birds are small. You don't want this fun project to go all Hitchcock on you.

Jam Sandwiches

Tim Hayward is going on about jam sandwiches as a symbol of oppression in today's Guardian.

Funny, I'd just made Danny a cheese and jam sandwich before sitting down to log on and read. Granted, both bread and jam are homemade. I'd do cheese and Marmite for his lunches but the stuff is now absurdly expensive-close to seven dollars for a small jar. It goes quite a way, but that's too expensive.

I know when I was small, a jam sandwich on real, store-bought white bread (not the "dietetic" crap made from wood pulp for extra fibre that my mother favoured) prepared by my grandmother remains one of my better childhood memories. Granny bought marmalade, and she certainly didn't butter the bread first. Blech. There's a local custom in the American Midwest (Wisconsin and Minnesota, mostly) of buttering sandwich bread regardless of what goes on it. I've eaten more American cheese on buttered white bread than I care to admit. I've never understood buttering toast and then using jam, but that's how Danny prefers it.

Which brings me round to a recipe of sorts. Well, this IS a cooking blog.

Cream Cheese And Jam On Black Bread:

Take two slices of pumpernickel bread, spread with cream cheese. Top with strawberry jam. Press together and cut in half (you must cut your sandwich in half, eating a whole sandwich is vulgar) preferably at an angle to form triangles. Wrap tightly in waxed paper (yes, you must use waxed paper). Eat at room temperature, or leave in your locker all morning at school to "ripen" into authenticity.

Not Kosher


But seriously, I can see making it as a joke, but actually eating one?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pineapple Bavarian Cream With Deformed Madeleines

Well, they're not exactly deformed, but I don't own madeleine pans so I used mini-muffin tins. They were still delicious, and I didn't hear any complaints...because we were all too busy shoving cake in our mouths.

The madeleine recipe is from Dorie Greenspan which means I've made two of her recipes in as many days. That means we have a new category: Come Let Us A-Dorie. Dontcha love blog tags?

The madeleines are a wonderful combination of honey and warm spices. Usually, I like cardamom with pineapple, and I thought about substituting it for the cinnamon, but ultimately I decided to follow the recipe the first time. The results really were excellent.

I served a dinner of red lentil curry, rice with spices, peas and raisins, and various breads and samosas. The pineapple dessert went well.

Have time for a laugh? Mr. Eat The Blog asked if I made any chutney to go with dinner and I just pointed to the second shelf of my canning and suggested he could one of about twenty different jars of chutney. That was amusing, and really the whole reason I am so obsessive with my canning-in the middle of February I had nectarine chutney to serve with dinner.

Anyway, the one part of this recipe that I wasn't pleased with was a reduction of pineapple juice to syrup. I simmered the juice with cinnamon and cloves and then rapidly reduced it to a couple tablespoons-but it was just too sour. I think it could be made to work, but some additional sugar would be in order. Anyway, I don't think the recipe will suffer for lack of sauce.

The madeleine recipe may be found HERE.

For The Bavarian Cream:
(From The Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, 1950 ed. with a few variations of my own)

1 cup pineapple juice (if using tinned fruit packed in juice, just use that)
1 envelope unflavoured gelatin softened in 2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup crushed pineapple
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup whipped cream, beaten stiff

In a saucepan, heat the pineapple juice until hot but not boiling. Stir in the softened gelatin, sugar, and salt. Stir until dissolved. Stir in the crushed pineapple and lemon juice. Remove from heat. Place bowl into a heatproof bowl filled with ice cubes. Stir occasionaly until partially set.

Whip the cream and measure 1 cup.

When gelatin has partially set, beat it for a minute on low with an electric mixer. The cookbook says a rotary mixer and if you have one, God love you, you should use it. Carefully fold in the whipped cream.

Rinse six large ramekins with water and fill with mixture. Cover lightly with plastic and chill several hours before unmoulding.

To unmould:

Run a thin knife around the edge a couple times. Invert on a plate, rap the bottom a couple times and it should plop out with a terrific noise. If you happen to have a four year old nearby you can amuse the child to no end by suggesting the dessert if farting. Or not-you probably don't need parenting advice from someone like me. You definitely don't want etiquette guidance. Hey, my dessert is farting!

This would be lovely served over pineapple rings, or canned, spiced pineapple that you made last summer but (again) forgot to serve.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Double Celery Soup

"Kisses are only for mama."

Or so Danny informed Mr. Eat The Blog.

Actually, he was whispering:
"Please, don't make me eat any more celeriac. You always buy too much. You do it every year when it comes into season."

OK, he wasn't, but he was thinking it.

I am addicted to celeriac. I think it is the rarity of it around here that makes the late-winter arrival so special. Like the blood oranges, I try to get in as much as possible before it is gone. I've always been happy eating it fried in olive oil,or in a gratin with potatoes, or in mustard sauce, but THIS recipe from Dorie Greenspan has brought me around on using it in soup. After that massive onion/mushroom tart from the last couple days, this was really light and nice. I did not enrich it with cream or the like (we've been enriched quite enough around here lately, thanks very much)but it was still smooth and wonderfully decadent tasting.

My cheap-O blender from Walgreen's is still kicking, even after dozens of batches of pesto last summer. I swear, that thing is just amazing, and it handles the soup beautifully. Danny was sure he'd hate it but didn't. He still hates squash though-maybe Dorie has a recipe.

Onion And Mushroom Tart

This was a massive beast, and it fed us for two days. I have some super-sized round cake pans that work well for this, but a baking sheet would be OK too.

You'll be happiest doing this in stages with quite a bit prepared ahead. As I haven't been feeling well, I had no choice but to break up the prep work, but really, there isn't any reason to do this all at once. I also have a crappy Hotpoint stove with one large burner and three small ones, which makes it difficult to cook a frying pan full of mushrooms and a pan full of onions at the same time. Don't even ask what happens if I want to boil a pot of pasta. Hey, we learn to make do, right?

OK, I'll break this up the way I did it and I should mention that the dough will be fine prepared a day ahead and stored in the fridge. Just punch it down if it rises too much, and leave a couple hours for it to return to room temperature before baking.

For The Dough:

2 1/4 teaspoons granulated (not instant) yeast
2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons plain salt
1/4 cup olive oil
4-6 cups bread flour

Dissolve the yeast in a large bowl with the warm water and sugar. Let proof ten minutes. Add the salt, olive oil and bread flour, a cup at a time until you have a dough that is no longer sticky. Knead until smooth. Place in an oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover and let rise 1 hour. Punch down. If storing it for later in the fridge, oil a baggie, place the dough inside and seal. If baking right away, punch down and let rest twenty minutes before fitting in pan. Place dough in pan and fill as directed later in recipe.

For The Onions:

4 large yellow onion, sliced thin
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme

Heat oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add onions, salt and sugar. Cover, and cook 30-40 minutes until carmelised. I'd check it after fifteen minutes and give it a stir. You'll want to reduce the heat as the onions cook down. When finished, stir in the thyme. If not using them right away, get them into the fridge immediately to prevent food borne illness.

For The Mushrooms:

2 pounds mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons dried sage
a generous splash of sherry
Salt and Pepper

Cook the mushrooms in a large frying pan over medium heat with the oil, butter and sage. When they are nearly done, add the sherry, turn up the heat to high and burn off the alcohol and any additional liquid the mushrooms have tossed off. Adjust salt and pepper. Chill immediately if not using straightaway.

For The Cheese:

I used a combination of Swiss and Pepato. If you have Gruyere, I think that would be ideal, but I had Hy-Vee brand swiss in a massive chunk that I paid four bucks for. The pepato was a bargain basement find too, but for a Wisconsin version of a sheep's milk cheese with peppercorns, it isn't bad. Not like the Rustico cheese we used to get in Boston (I still daydream about that cheese)but acceptable.

Put It All Together:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. (if your oven is dirty -hey, I'm not judging-we're all friends here, wipe out any excess char because it will smoke at that temperature). Place one rack at the lowest position and one in the middle.

Lightly oil the pan with olive oil making sure to get the sides.

You've fitted the dough into the pan. Make sure that you don't stretch it too thin because this is going to be heavy and oily-keep a good thickness in the centre of the pie. Let the sides flap over the pan because you will fold them once the topping is on.

I do fillings under the cheese. I understand that it does make the crust a bit soggy underneath, but it also keeps the toppings from getting burned up. You could certainly reverse the order-I'm not one of those obsessed pizza fanatics that insist on a single way of doing things. So pile on your mushrooms and onions and cheese to your liking. Then, fold the edge of the crust over galette style. Or not-again, it is your creation.

Let the filled tart rest another ten minutes before placing in the oven.

Bake five minutes on the lowest rack. Move to the middle, reduce heat to 425 degrees F. and continue baking about another ten minutes or until done. Remove from oven and let rest in pan five minutes.

Here's the part you don't typically see in cookbooks. The tart may actually be swimming in too much butter and oil (I hear you screaming "Impossible!" but believe me, it's true). If this happens, take a turkey baster and remove some. I like to call this step "Lyposuctioning Dinner." If you're my husband, you'll be tempted to just squirt it back into your mouth, but don't-it will still be quite hot and that's not a household accident you want to explain to the emergency room doctor.

"Iuewwanted do eeet deee phaat"-you'll sound ridiculous trying to explain with a scalded tongue. Just squirt in in the dustbin and proceed with making dinner.

If you're good at this sort of thing, go ahead and remove the tart to a rack placed over a pan. Odds are pretty good it will run a bit, do really, if you remove it from the pan, give it a couple minutes on the rack to give up some more fat (DO NOT lick pan. See logic above) before cutting and transferring to a platter.

Of course, you could just take it out of the oven and let it cool without removing the excess oil and no one will be the wiser as it has solidified.

Will serve a crowd, generously. Don't squirt hot fat in your mouth.

Lime Granita With Star Anise And Ginger

I knew I would find a good use for all those ten cent limes. If granita isn't your thing, you could always make marmalade, but I would encourage you to give this recipe a try. It would also make a good base for a spritzer with seltzer water, if you didn't want to freeze it. A scoop of the frozen stuff would probably be incredible in a glass of ginger ale. I think I might need to try that tonight. I wouldn't recommend it as a sorbet however, as the weight of sugar to liquid is so high, it might not freeze hard enough. I once burned out the motor of an ice cream freezer finding that out.
You Will Need:

1 cup of lime juice, strained of pulp
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
2 -3 slices of fresh ginger
3 pieces of star anise

Juice the limes and set aside. I find that running the limes under hot water and then rolling them on the counter before juicing helps them give up more juice.

In a small pot, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to a simmer, add the ginger and star anise and simmer ten minutes. Remove from heat, let cool. Combine with juice and place in a glass or metal dish and let it sit in the freezer for several hours, stirring and scraping with a fork about every half hour. When it is all solid, transfer it to a tightly sealed container and keep frozen.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Power Lunch

I'm the parent that takes my child to Target, lets him play with the display of hairdryers for half an hour, then goes to the dining area to eat the cheese sandwich I brought from home. I know, I'm not helping the economy. In my defense, Target does not sell cheddar cheese sandwiches on struan bread with fig jam, which is going to be better than anything they have to offer-except perhaps the giant Icee drinks flavoured like Jolly Rancher candy.

Anyway, this photograph tickled me because I can imagine him looking exactly like this when he's forty.

The store was nearly empty on a Sunday afternoon (not a good sign) and to be honest, the prices kind of stunk. I was hoping for reduced price Valentine's candy, but two dollars for a bag of Hershey's Kisses isn't my idea of a sale. I did get to watch a jerk on a cell phone block the toothpaste aisle while his child on the other end responded to his choices of characters on toothbrushes. I guess he needed to get approval first, which would have been fine if he didn't glower at everyone else standing and waiting to get past him. In what was an almost comic gesture, he flashed us an angry, frustrated look that suggested we were failing to understand the importance of his toothbrush selecting.

"Hey, Mama? What time do we need to get back to the"

So, what do you do for cheap entertainment with the kids?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chick Pea And Pepper Salad

This makes a complete meal served over rice, or a nice salad served at room temperature.

You Will Need:
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
2 bay leaves
a handful of chopped olives (I used Kalamata)
1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon peel
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
A generous grind of black pepper
About 4 cups cooked chickpeas
Salt to taste (use less if using tinned chickpeas)

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add the garlic, bay leaves, olives, lemon peel, thyme, sage and pepper. Cook until peppers have softened but not lost colour. Add the chickpeas and cook a few minutes more adding additional oil if needed. Adjust salt, and serve either hot over rice, or at room temperature as a side.

The Completed Chocolate Mousse Torte With Honey-Spice Blood Orange Compote

You know, the oranges with a bit of vanilla ice cream would have been plenty, but since I made the torte I guess we'll be forced to eat it ("Ow, ow, twist my arm some more!"). Worth two days of effort? Absolutely.

I'm still learning to use the new camera and as a result, the chocolate bands around the side didn't really show up all that well. That's OK-most of them broke! You'll have to take my word for it-this is impressive looking and when sliced, still holds shape really well.

As a bonus, the dessert leaves you with plenty of extra oranges, reduced syrup, and chocolate ganache for making truffles. You can handle extra chocolate and oranges, right? Yeah, I thought so.

So when I left you yesterday, we'd made the cake and it was chilling overnight in the fridge. Today, let's make the orange compote, chocolate ganache, chocolate bands, and whipped cream. Ready? Let's Go!

For The Orange Compote:
Adapted from the Ball Blue Book

4 large (about 2 1/2 pounds) Moro blood oranges, thinly sliced, cut in half.
Water to cover
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups honey
Juice of 1 lemon
3 sticks cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons whole allspice

Place the oranges in a large pot and cover with cold water. bring to a boil, reduce to a very low simmer and cook until tender. Drain.

In the same pot (why dirty another?) combine the sugar, honey and lemon juice.Bring to a boil. Tie the spices in a piece of cheesecloth and toss it in. Add the oranges and simmer slowly for 40 minutes. Remove spice bag, transfer compote to a bowl and chill. Cover once cooled. At this point, if you have quite a bit of syrup, take some and reduce it by half in a saucepan. This will be nice for drizzling, and useful for affixing the chocolate bands to the side of the cake. You don't need much, but it gels pretty quickly and if nothing else, is excellent stirred into some yoghurt.

For The Chocolate Bands:

While your oranges are cooking, melt about 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate. Cut 4 strips of waxed paper into 2 inch by 12 inch pieces. Lay the strips on a baking sheet and with a knife, spread with the melted chocolate. Set aside to harden. I wouldn't use the fridge (unless you are making these in summer) as you want the strips to remain somewhat pliable.

For The Chocolate Ganache:

2/3 cup heavy cream
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

Heat the cream until it begins to steam.Remove from heat, add chocolate and cover the pot. Let stand 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth.

For The Whipped Cream:

You'll need quite a bit. I used heavy cream, and Whip-It cream stabaliser because this cake will be around for a while. If you're expecting hordes of hungry guests and the cake isn't being made too far ahead, just skip it. You'll need a good four cups of whipped cream, so plan accordingly. Sweeten it to taste. If you have vanilla sugar, this would be a good use for it. Because the cake is rich, but not terribly sweet, you really might want the cream sweeter-but that's purely a matter of taste. The compote is quite sweet.

Assemble The Cake:

Make room in your fridge to accomodate a baking sheet. I always forget to do this, so I'm reminding you to spare you the hassle of finding a home for ten pounds of carrots taking up the bottom shelf. You're welcome.

Remove the chilled cake from the fridge and place carefully on a metal rack over a baking sheet with a rimmed side. Trim the cake to even it out if needed. Yeah, you can nibble the scraps-good, huh?

Pour the slightly cooled ganache over the cake and spread down the sides with a knife. The ganache is a good way to hide imperfections if there are any. Chill for about 30 minutes, still on the rack over the tray. Chill any extra ganache in a bowl and roll it into truffles later. Dusted with cocoa powder they make a nice treat because you probably haven't had enough rich chocolate yet. Hey, I'm only doing this for the antioxidants. My doctor says I need more antioxidants. And butterfat.

So you have thirty minutes to rest. This would be a good time to sit down. Aw, go on-you've just spent two days making a cake.

OK, thirty minutes are up-get your behind out of the chair.

Remove the chilled cake from the fridge and careful transfer it to the plate you intend to serve it on. With a sharp knife, trim the top edge of the chocolate bands into a wave pattern. trim away the extra bits (insert in mouth). Spread the strips generously with the reduced syrup, or some orange jelly (or raspberry, or really whatever you have). Carefully press them to the side of the cake and peel away the waxed paper. Some will break, no big deal. Do this until you have gone around the cake. Return cake to fridge for ten minutes to set. Resume eating scraps of chocolate off of baking sheet.

Make the whipped cream. Now you need to pull out strips of oranges for the topping. Try to take the nicest ones, and let them drain a bit before using. When you apply the whipped cream to the top of the cake, make the sides higher with a well in the centre-this is where you will pile the oranges. When you are satisfied with the way the whipped cream looks, fill it with the oranges. Return immediately to the fridge until serving time. In fact, I wouldn't do the oranges until right before serving.

To plate the dessert, a bit of that reduced syrup would be nice on the plate, or even some extra oranges. Bring it out of the fridge about five minutes before serving, but not too soon as you don't want the whipped cream to collapse (you used stabiliser, right?).

If you can't force yourself to finish the cake after a day or so (it is absurdly rich). Scrape off the whipped cream and store the torte tightly wrapped in the fridge. It should keep well since it is basically an aerated fudge. A week at least.

Twice Baked Potatoes

These made a great lunch after a long morning of playing in the snow. I wasn't playing in the snow-I was inside baking potatoes. I can honestly say these were the best potatoes I've ever eaten, in any form. I guess a cup of sour cream will do that. In fact, they were so good, I don't imagine I'll be making them again anytime soon-too dangerous to the waistline. We ate them as a stand alone lunch because they were so heavy-these truly do make a meal in themselves. Makes aprox. 6 potatoes

You Will Need:

8 Large Potatoes (you can make extra if you like as you never know when you might hit a bad one) Scrubbed
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
Salt to taste

Bake the potatoes in a 425 degree oven until soft. Remove from oven and cool slightly. With a sharp knife, slice off the tops and hollow out the potatoes leaving enough potato to support the sides (about 1/2 inch). Place the hollowed out skins in a baking dish, return to the oven and reduce heat to 400 degrees F.

While they toast (if it takes longer than ten minutes to make the filling, remove the potato skins from the oven) mash the potato filling and insides of extra potatoes. Add the sour cream (using more if needed), onion, parsley and poppy seeds. Adjust salt. Re-spoon carefully into the potato shells and bake another twenty minutes or so, until the tops are nicely browned.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Blueberry Muffins

New camera photo, but taken at 5AM in crappy light. Still can't tell if the camera is an improvement or not. Mr. Eat The Blog thinks it is.

These muffins are so adaptable. You can use fresh or frozen berries, chocolate chips, cinnamon and nutmeg-really just about anything as long as the proportions stay somewhat close. The muffins are quite large, so be sure to grease the tops of the tins so that the mushrooming effect isn't ruined by sticking.

I use butter in these, but I've used shortening in a pinch and it works just fine, in fact they tend to keep longer when made with Crisco. That said, the muffins freeze well if you find a dozen large muffins too much to polish off on the way to work in the morning. Mr. Eat The Blog actually took the time to send me an e-mail saying how good they were. I was glad to hear it, because he might not be getting home until quite late tonight if the snow keeps up. At least I know his caloric intake will withstand shoveling out the car, need be (yes, I sent him to work with a supply of sandwiches too).

The pinch of coarse sugar topping is a hold-over from when I lived in Massachusetts. Kind of a regional thing related to a long-gone department store. It really does add an extra something to the muffins, but they won't suffer too horribly if you omit it.

You Will Need:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder (I just discovered the aluminum -free kind which I love because I could always taste the metallic yuck that everyone else swore was in my mind. Apparently others have noticed it too).
2 large eggs
2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pint blueberries
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Coarse sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. (Not a typo). Grease the tops of baking pans and line with paper cups.

Cream together sugar, butter and salt for three minutes until light. Add baking powder and eggs and mix well. Add flour, milk and vanilla and mix well. Fold in blueberries and zest. Top each muffin with a pinch of coarse sugar, if you like.

Divide evenly into 12 baking cups. Set in oven on middle rack for five minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees F. and bake 30-35 minutes longer. Cool on rack.

Snow Day

As predicted. Hopefully we won't lose power. It looks like quite a bit already and it is just noon. Phooey.

Chocolate Mousse Cake-Day One

Any cake that takes two days to complete had better be really good.

Remember a while back when I went completely nuts buying Bakers Chocolate for .75 cents a box? Oh, sure my husband rolled his eyes and scrunched up his nose wondering what I would ever do with them. This is what I did with them. The cake part of the recipe alone took 16 ounces of bittersweet chocolate and I haven't even dealt with the coating and melted strips for banding the sides. Oh, he mocked me for all those boxes of chocolate. Happy Valentine's Day, honey.

So here is the first part of the recipe, for the basic cake. It was somewhat tricky to manage, and it took considerably longer to beat the eggs until triple their volume than the eight minutes suggested in the recipe, but eventually they gained height and all was well. I skipped the double boiler bit for melting the chocolate and butter because I have a heavy enamel over cast iron pot that distributes heat well and I'm good with a whisk.

Adapted from The Best Of Food And Wine, 1988

The cake part really needs to be baked a day ahead to set before glazing or topping. The cake will keep a couple of weeks, tightly covered.

You Will Need:

16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 sticks unsalted butter cut into tablespoons
6 eggs, lightly beaten
Topping (I'll post that tomorrow)

A pot of simmering water for filling baking pan

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Grease an 8 inch springform pan with butter and line the bottom with a round of parchment. Butter the parchment. Cover the outside of the pan with aluminum foil to prevent leakage.

Combine the chocolate and butter in a large bowl over simmering water and cook until melted, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat.

Also over water, place a bowl with the eggs and heat, not touching and stir for three minutes or until warm to the touch. Remove from heat and beat until eggs have tripled in size. This will take a good twenty minutes. Just keep going. The eggs should mound in soft peaks when the whisk is lifted.

Fold half the eggs into the chocolate mixture and distribute. Add the rest and fold until smooth and no streaks remain. Pour into prepared springform pan and smooth top with spatula. Set into a large roasting pan and fill the pan around the cake 2/3 of the way up the springform pan. Bake five minutes.

Butter a piece of foil and set it over the cake in the oven. Bake ten minutes more.

The cake will still seem unbaked, but remove it from the oven, unwrap the foil (but leave pan intact) and set on a wire rack to cool for 45 minutes. Then, set in the fridge for at least three hours to chill. It really takes a leap of faith to believe the cake will set, but it will.

Carefully run a thin knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a plate that has been covered with cling film. Reinvert the cake back onto a cake plate that has been covered with waxed paper. Cover, and chill several hours (about six) or better, overnight until set.

Tomorrow, we'll dress this baby up for Valentine's Day. Chocolate ganache is easiest, but I think I'll make a batch of Moro blood oranges in honey to use as an additional topping with whipped cream. We'll see.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

60 Degree Days Are Almost Always Followed By A Blizzard

At least, that's how it worked in Chicago and Boston. The worst blizzard I ever witnessed came on the heels of a very warm February day. Sound familiar? My dad was determined to go to work, so he woke us up, handed each of us a shovel and instructed us to dig out the driveway. We opened the front door and saw the snow drifted to the roof (it was a ranch house) and gave up. I think that was the only time weather ever kept him home. I can happily say that I do not share his work ethic and will stay home over a couple inches of snow or the threat of rain.I might feel differently driving a truck, but I still kind of hate driving and will decide against it every opportunity I get. I'm also still pretty sure that I was switched at birth and my real family of lazy, bongo-playing, poetry reading beatniks will ride up on bicycles looking for me some day.We'll all read Naked Lunch, make jokes about buttholes with teeth, and have a joyful reunion.

The current forecast is for a massive storm starting on Friday which means the supermarket will be pandemonium tomorrow as people stock up on milk, bread and cheese doodles. Unfortunately, I will need to go out and buy some dog food and return the movie rentals. I am not looking forward to this. I think the better option is to send Mr. Eat The Blog to work with a small list and let him do the chores on his lunch hour (he can get the movies on the way home).

It isn't like I had plans anytime soon, what with all the recent illness/injuries-but I like having the option to leave should the need arise. Where we live, that can take a while after a major storm. As soon as the snowflakes start falling, I start worrying about losing power and all the other lovely things that can happen when you live in the country.

I really wish I could summon my lazy-beatnik inner child that would just chill-out and enjoy the snow day, but my middle-aged self is too much of a control freak to permit it. Maybe I should make use of that Twitter feed and do a live twittering of a Burroughs novel-180 characters at a time. Sounds like as good an example of his Cut-Up Method as any.

Kid, it was tasty.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

C Is For Cookie, And That's Good Enough For me

I guess all that work with the food mill yesterday took a toll on my messed-up neck disk because bright and early this morning I yawned, felt hot pain into my shoulder blade and that was that. This time it was really bad, and with already being sick I can say I won't be doing much of anything for a while. Mr. Eat The Blog took me to the doctor for a heavy-duty shot of muscle relaxers and a stack of prescriptions. Pain killers, Prednisone, muscle relaxers=puke-a-rama. That's OK, at least I was able to get some rest today. I'm on my own tomorrow, so that means making due with Advil until he gets home from work. I know some people can take pain medication and function-but I am not one of them. As long as I keep somewhat still and don't do too much reaching, I think I'll be OK. If not, he has vacation days and can work from home. At least I shouldn't gain too much weight taking Prednisone because I already can't eat. See, there's always a silver lining.

A few nights ago, I stretched out my leg and heard the most horrible crunching coming from my left knee. The pain was terrible, but it let up after a day or so. I mentioned this to the doctor today who kind of shrugged and reminded me that I'm not a kid anymore and that eventually things wear out. I was reminded of when my mother broke her hip.

We were for years convinced she slipped because she'd had a few too many gin and tonics, but my mother insisted that she simply got out of her friend's car, and was walking to our door when he leg went out from under her. Until I started having pulled muscles reaching up to wash my hair, I couldn't understand how something like that could "just happen." The hip bone was so deteriorated when it broke that the pins they tried holding it together with only lasted a few months and she had to undergo another surgery to replace the whole hip. She was fortunate to live in a major city and was one of the first people to have a total hip replacement done with fancy materials (titanium). Once a year, she'd have to visit the othopaedic surgeon and he'd send in a report on the status of her hip.

I feel somewhat bad that I wasn't more sympathetic to what she was going through. Two hip surgeries, spine surgery (that left her in worse pain for the remainder of her life), heart disease, diabetes, kidney mane it, the poor woman had it. Sometimes I feel a bit foolish complaining about lupus and rheumatoid arthritis because hell, at least most of the time my illnesses are manageable. On days like today, where I'm laid up and medicated out of my head, I wonder how she managed to drag herself out of bed-and put on makeup. Always with the makeup, she was. She'd made me promise that if she ever ended up in a coma I'd come and pluck the stray whiskers off her chin and slap on some lipstick. Anyone care to volunteer for chin-plucking duties? I don't care much for lipstick.

I'm actually in pretty good spirits, considering. I'm thankful too. In many places, if this sort of thing happens to you they don't give you anything stronger than Ibuprofen to treat it. I know I don't exactly give the impression of a drug addict, but in some places it does not matter. I've been in emergency rooms that have pre-printed signs on the wall telling patients they do not prescribe pain medication. I really am fortunate that as inconvenient as this is, at least I can get it treated. A new policy at the clinic has them swiping the magnetic strip on your driver's license as a guard against identity theft. I wonder, if that is also used to track where a person has received pain treatment. It would make sense.

Lent will be here soon, and this year I will be doing Friday Lenten cake recipes again. Those recipes get a fair number of hits from year to year, though most of them tend to come from European countries where the tradition of baking without eggs, butter and milk during the Lenten period is still observed. The recipes are also helpful to people with dairy allergies, and vegetarians. If anyone has a favourite recipe for a Lenten cake they'd like to share, I'd be happy to post it. I'll spend the next week or so doing research for new cakes.

Anyway, I'm really glad I baked a massive batch of chocolate chip cookies yesterday because once the Prednisone kicks in, I'm going to need them.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Pea Soup From Discards

I have a new camera, and I'm using a computer that runs Linux. It will take a while to figure out easier ways of posting than last night's photo which took an hour. Anyway, I figure you can imagine pea soup.

After shelling all those peas for last night's dinner, I was left with a couple pounds of bright green, tender pods. I thought about stir-frying them (you can eat the pods of sugar snap peas) but decided instead to make soup.

You Will Need:
1/2 stick butter or margarine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1 large onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
4 small red potatoes, diced small
1 tablespoon imitation bacon bits
Pods from shelled peas, coarsely chopped
Enough vegetable stock to cover
Salt and Pepper
Cream to finish

In a heavy pot, melt the butter and oil over low heat and cook the onions and potatoes until softened. Add the vermouth to deglaze the bottom of pot and add the peas. Toss and cook for a few minutes and then slowly add the stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook uncovered until pods are quite soft.

Drain, reserving liquid.

Put the solids through a food mill. Add as much strained cooking liquid as needed to get a good consistency (it will thicken as it cools, so I tend to go with a bit more than I think I need if not serving right away). Re-warm and adjust salt and pepper. Swirl with a bit of cream before serving.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Enjoying Susan's Peas And Pasta

This recipe comes from Susan at Food Blogga and I'm not exaggerating when I say Danny devoured it without stopping to rest his spoon. I've never seen him do that-not even for chocolate pudding. We made it without the shrimp, and I used whole milk. It was worth an hour of shelling peas to see a dinner that was so well enjoyed.

The recipe may be found HERE.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Banana Chiffon Cake

Banana bread is easier, but this cake is nicer. It is quite a bit of work, at least it seemed that way to me. Still, if you have a few bananas screaming to be used, this is a different way to make use of them. Of course you're going to use a whole lot of eggs trying to save three bananas so maybe this isn't a cost saver unless you have hens. Still better than banana bread.

From The New York Times heritage Cookbook

You Will Need:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oil
5 egg yolks, unbeaten
1/3 cup cold water
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about three)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup egg whites (about eight)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Glaze of confectioner's sugar and water if you like.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well and add the egg yolks, oil, cold water, bananas and vanilla. Mix well.

Beat the egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and then beat until stiff. Fold egg whites into batter and incorporate gently. Pour into tube pan and place on baking sheet (to catch leaks). Bake 55 minutes, then increase temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake five minutes longer or until tester comes out clean. Invert on a funnel to cool completely.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Finished Quilt

-It only took eight years!

Part of the problem is that a king sized embroidered quilt is just incredibly boring to stitch. So boring. Now that I look at it, I wish I'd gone with a border after all. Or maybe not. I don't know, I just couldn't look at it any longer.

The quilt is entirely hand stitched and embroidered, which is utterly insane given that I don't particularly like quilting. I have matching pillowcases to embroider and enough leftover quilt blocks for a throw, but it might be a good long while before I want to look at this pattern again. I know the photos are lousy, but it is late and the light isn't helping. It looks better in person.

I have a quilt I'm making for Danny (small, very small) that should be interesting to stitch. Anyway, I learned quite a bit making this (I learned that I don't like sewing!) that I wish I'd known when I made the quilt for Frances (rather uneven, I'm afraid). Thankfully, kids just like their blankets and aren't terribly harsh critics which is why it is so much fun to make them things.

I cannot believe it is finished.

Pizza? Torta? Bread?

I have no idea what to call this. I let the pizza dough go through a few rises and then made a deep-dish style pizza with red peppers, onion and olives. And a ton of cheeses. Pretty, but I probably should have used a springform pan instead of a couple 9 inch baking dishes as they were difficult to pry out.

Mr. Eat The Blog was pretty impressed.

That's the thing, really-presentation. This would have been perfectly good as a pan pizza but it looks so much more dramatic like this.

I served the pizza with a salad that really knocked my socks off. Romaine lettuce, slices of blood oranges, and sliced red onion tossed with olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar and salt and pepper. Crazy easy. I saw it on a PBS cooking show when I was laid up and thought it sounded OK. Believe me, it was better than OK. I'd make this all the time if the oranges were available. Speaking of blood oranges-I went overboard (again) and made a batch of blood orange granita again but omitted the lemons and just went for straight intense orange. The colour is amazing and oddly enough, the oranges almost taste like blackberries they are so sweet. I just cannot get enough of those silly oranges-don't know how I'll keep myself distracted once the season is over-it is a long way until the first June strawberries.

Try the orange salad, it really is delicious.

For My Valentine

I did this last year, and since it was such a hit, I made the bitter conversation heart cookies again. I hope the recipients laugh.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Must Be Sunday

Did you hear the one about the suicidal cannibal? He got himself into a real stew.