Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Danny: Last night, the Guardian said if Romney and Santorum were any closer, they'd have to legalise gay marriage. I don't think they'd like that-they'd have to debate each other every night.

I'll just leave you with the mental image of that cozy domestic scenario. I keep picturing Santorum screaming about the toilet seat being left up.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mouths of Babes, etc.

Last Saturday, we went to the observatory. I usually make hot chocolate when we get home (in the winter, anyway). I asked Danny if he wanted marshmallows in his to which he replied,
"Well, did you think I was going to say, no?"

Yeah, silly me, what was I thinking.

Last evening, I let him stay up and watch a bit of the Oscars as Danny has taken a sudden interest in speeches. We've downloaded numerous historical speeches (Nixon resigning, Ford taking office, etc.) but I thought he might find Oscar acceptance speeches interesting. I was correct-he loved it and tried his best to stay up to the bitter end, but couldn't. As we watched, I had to explain who most of the people were.We enjoyed looking at the silly frocks, and watching the goofy antics of the presenters.
Me: Look Danny, that is Angelina Jolie. She's supposed to be the most beautiful woman in the world.

Danny: What?

Me: People think she's beautiful.

Danny: Well... I mean, she's acceptable.

Potatoes, Sauce, Cheese

This is a reasonably easy way to use up extra boiled potatoes. I can't give you an exact recipe as I don't know how many potatoes you have, but I will give you the recipe for two cups worth of the sauce.

You Will Need:

Boiled potatoes cut into 1 inch dice (or thereabouts)
Dry breadcrumbs
(About) 1 cup of assorted cheese (I had Muenster, Cheddar, and Romano) grated 1/4 cup reserved

Butter dishes generously and coat with dry breadcrumbs knocking out excess. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place potatoes in dishes, add salt/pepper to taste. Place dishes on a heavy baking sheet. Set aside while you make sauce. Set aside cheese.


4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (I had 2%)
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
Salt/Pepper to taste
Reserved cheese

Melt butter in saucepan. Add flour and cook with a wooden spoon over medium heat until it begins to foam. Slowly whisk in the milk. Add the mustard powder. Cook, whisking constantly until sauce thickens. remove from heat, stir in 1/4 cup of reserved cheese. Pour over potatoes in dishes.

Top dishes with remaining 3/4 cup cheese. Place in oven and bake 30-40 minutes or until bubbling and golden.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Things That Piss Me Off

I mean other than the squirrel, which we still haven't caught. This morning someone had defeated the humane trap, but the culprit got away free. I think I heard him in the outside wall later in the day. So yes, the squirrel is still pissing me off, but not enough to resort to firearms. Yet.

No, I mean things that piss me off in a more general, "What sort of a world do we live in?" kind of way. We can excuse the squirrel-he's just doing what squirrels do and doesn't know any better, but what the hell is wrong with:

The person that wrote THIS?
I'd like to go on record pointing out that we aren't exerting some sort of class privilege. We're suffering financially to homeschool, and sooner or later I won't be able to hold my car together with duct tape. The generalisations are so incredibly broad that it is almost comical that the author feels the need to point out she's a product of public education. Furthermore, we still pay taxes for our local schools. People homeschool for a variety of reasons, but reading this trite article, you might come away thinking only religious fanatics and well-to-do liberals who hate public schools homeschool. I guess it is nice for the religious homeschoolers to have someone else get the broad brush treatment for a change. I don't hate public schools. I don't judge people who send their children to public schools, parochial schools, boarding schools, military schools, or wherever they feel is best for their child. I do resent the suggestion that we can't be arsed to bother with curriculum and watch Simpsons re-runs all afternoon. I know many, many homeschoolers of many backgrounds, and I have yet to see the sort of fantasy depicted in the article. Urban legend, perhaps?

Also Pissing Me Off- The Belief That All Adults Are Child Molesters:

Lenore has a case of a teacher who bought a student lunch and is now in deep shit for the kindness. Today, a local school district in Nebraska is talking about implementing a policy prohibiting "friending" your students (or letting them friend you) on Facebook. There's a whole hell of a lot of reasons to avoid letting your children on Facebook, but fear that the classroom teacher is a pervert probably isn't a realistic one. I had a favourite teacher in middle school that used to take me to the film night at the local library because I was interested in old movies. To do that, on unpaid time was really something that I (and my parents) appreciated. I can imagine what that would look like today. If you don't teach kids who is a real threat, or at least what sort of behaviours to be wary of, how are they to be expected to tell the difference? Assuming everyone is a potential child molester/abductor/ax murderer seems like a rather sad way to go through life.

The Use of the "At Risk" Label to Infringe on the Rights of the Poor and Minorities:

I wonder how, "voluntary" this really is. I also wonder how they define child abuse and neglect. Judging from some of the charges we read about in the paper (many of which are tossed once they get to court) it doesn't sound like they have a very defined way of identifying abuse. I'm no legal expert, but I have to think if you let people in your home without a warrant that are looking for something, they're probably going to find something making the trip worth their effort. Whoops-you left dirty dishes in the're living in filth! You get the idea. Again, I'm no lawyer, Constitutional scholar, etc. but personally, I'd make them get a warrant, just on principle.

Just Awful.

If Sticking Your Hands in the Air and Surrendering Isn't Enough, What Is?

Baby Name Regret:
. I've probably told this story college I had a friend whose sister misspelled the baby's name and it read, "Telephone" on the birth certificate. I think she was going for something along the lines of "Telifonie", but got telephone instead. I don't know if she ever changed it, but her sister was outraged by the stupidity. "She named her baby, "Telephone!"

"I Was A Bit Unhinged
Was? The guy in painting with his blood, and carrying a crack pipe in his pocket to a newspaper interview.

Well, it Was a Pretty Neat Game:
This one doesn't piss me off, but I had to link to it. I'm sorry, I really had to.

Anything irritating you guys? Feel free to share.

Using Up Odds and Ends Cake

Egg whites left from making pasta and ice cream, a bag of rhubarb I froze last Spring, the handful of less-than-perfect strawberries at the bottom of the quart, half a package of cream cheese, a few cherries left in a jar-this is more often than not how I decide what to bake. Knowing a few basic recipes can be helpful, particularly when feeling unwell (oh dear god, am I unwell) and faced with an icebox filled with things that need to be used or wasted. I don't care how sick I am, wasting-be it food, energy, egg cartons that can be used for seedlings, drives me absolutely to ranting. As my family prefer not to hear ranting, they humour me, and make sure to keep the compost separate from the rubbish bin. We all have our quirks.

I did not measure to make the strawberry rhubarb filling. I used about 4 cups of fruit and three cups of sugar, with a tablespoon of lemon juice. In a saucepan I brought it to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolved. After that, I increased the heat and cooked it rapidly until it reached the gelling point (more or less) by sheeting off a spoon. I'm less exacting with cake filling than a large batch of jam I plan to preserve. I cooled it at room temperature, then chilled it completely before using it to fill the cake. We still have 1/2 a pint left for toast, pancakes, ice cream or whatever. You can do this sort of thing with most fruit that you are left with a small bit of. I've even used leftover tinned apricots and the syrup it was packed in to make a small bit of apricot jam. If you learn nothing else from my blog, learn how to avoid wasting food.

The cake is from the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, 1950 edition. I made the one called, Delicious White Cake, which it indeed is. I used all butter, but half shortening would be fine as well. I like this recipe as it used us 1/2 a cup of egg whites, which is about what I have left after making pasta. I like meringues as much as the next baker (no, not a cliche-in fact, I probably like them more than the next baker...OK it is still a cliche, but cut me some slack) but you can only make so many and it was raining the day I made this. An angel food cake would require many more egg whites, and I've already made my cherry egg white breakfast loaf bread a few times this winter. Delicious White Cake it was to be.

The frosting was nothing more than equal amounts of softened cream cheese and butter beat with icing sugar and thinned to a spreading consistency with cream. Easy. Really easy.

For a white cake, this has kept really well. You do need to go to the trouble of beating the egg whites to stiff peaks which is a bit more work than white cakes that work on the "dump it all in a bowl" method, but a moist white cake is sort of a rarity, and one that makes use of exactly what you have on hand is even better. I baked this as a layer cake because I had the filling to use, but it would work just as well in a sheet pan, or a tube pan. It really is moist enough that you could forgo the frosting entirely if you had fresh fruit to use, or what have you. I guess you could do fairy cakes if you felt the need, but then you'd be obligated to ice them or everyone would think you were German. Nein! No frosting for you!

You Will Need:

(for two 9 inch layers or a 9x13 sheet)

2/3 cup butter (or half shortening)
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 cups cake flour or 2 2/3 cups plain flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups thin milk (half water) (I took this to mean "if using whole milk" I wouldn't bother with 1 % or skim)
2 teaspoons flavouring (I used vanilla)
4 eggs whites (to total 1/2 cup), stiffly beaten

Grease and flour pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Set rack in the centre.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light. sift together dry ingredients. Add the extract to the milk/water mixture. Add in alternating additions. Beat egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Fold into batter.

Pour into pans and bake 30-35 minutes for layers, 35-40 for sheet. Cool 15 minutes in pans on rack, then remove from pan and cool completely on racks. Frost and fill as desired.

Cranberry Orange Chutney

The recipe for this chutney comes from The Complete Book of Canning published by...Ortho. Yes, that Ortho. It is from 1982, and some of the "people" photographs are priceless. I of course looked far less stupid in 1982. You probably did too...but we weren't featured in an Ortho cookbook, were we now?

I bought a ton of cranberries after Thanksgiving when they were on sale, and had them in the freezer ready for just this sort of use. Oranges were on sale last week-here is the obvious result. This is a lovely chutney, though a bit sweet for my taste (and I like sweets). I substituted very finely shredded fresh ginger for the crystalised which was probably a good thing given the sugar level of this. Do as you like.

6 medium oranges
1 pound cranberries
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped crystalised ginger
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 cinnamon stick
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (I had Madras)
3/4 cup raisins

Remove outer peel from oranges and slice into thin strips to toatl 1/4 cup (I used kitchen shears to make light work of this). From four of the oranges, remove the rind and pith and slice oranges into 1/4 inch thick slices. Cut in quarters. remove any seeds. With remaining oranges, extract juice to total 1/2 cup.

Combine orange peel, and everything else EXCEPT orange segments, in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Cook until cranberries pop. Remove from heat, remove cinnamon stick and garlic clove. Stir in orange segments.

Pack hot chutney into hot, sterilised jars and leave 1/4 inch head space. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims with a damp cloth and cover with a heated lid. Adjust screw bands and process 10 minutes (adjusting for altitude) in a boiling water canner. Kill the heat, remove canner lid and let jars cool down 5 minutes longer before removing to a heat-proof surface. Check for seals after 12-24 hours. Make 6 half pint jars.

Spiced Orange Slices in Honey Syrup

I almost wish I didn't make these, as they are so good it might be difficult to practise good portion control. I suppose you could make them less indulgent by spooning it over good yoghurt, but I think we all know that would be pointless because there is no such thing as good yoghurt. Yoghurt is the devil.

The recipe is simple enough to do, but I will caution you to keep an eye of the slices as they simmer because if they come to a boil, or really anything beyond the gentlest simmer, they will fall apart. You want slices of orange, not peels that used to have orange sections in them. Gentle simmer, OK?

From the Ball Blue Book:

2 1/4 pounds of oranges (about 4 large)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups honey
1 lemon, juiced
3 sticks cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons whole allspice

Sterilize jars. The recipe said it would make three half pint jars, but that sounded wrong based on the volume of oranges. I ended up with five and a half pints! It always pays to prepare some extra jars as you never know how much variation there can be.

Heat (but do not boil) lids. Wash screw bands.

Wash oranges and drain. I scrubbed the hell out of mine, but that's your call. Slice oranges discarding ands and seeds. Cut slices in half. Place in a large pot and cover with water. Simmer gently until tender (about an hour).

Drain slices carefully (don't just dump the pot into a colander, but remove them with a slotted spoon. The slices are delicate at this point). Combine sugar, honey and lemon juice in the large pot. Stir to dissolve sugar and heat over medium. Bring it slowly to a boil, but keep an eye on it as honey is notorious for boiling over suddenly. Lower heat to a simmer, add slices of orange (gently) and tie spices in a spice bag. Add the spice bag to the pot and simmer forty minutes. Gently.

Remove spice bag. Pack hot oranges into hot, sterilised jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rim with a damp cloth and fir with heated lids. Screw bands fingertip tight (you don't need to use all your strength for that) and place in a boiling water canner. Process 10 minutes (adjusting time for your altitude) and after ten minutes kill the heat, remove the lid and let cool down 5 minutes before removing to a heat-proof surface. After 12-24 hours, check for seals.

Pancake Day

Yes, I did get up early to make pancake batter, but I made crepes. For some reason I can't manage the fluffy, American style pancakes, but a crepe is as simple as can be. Extra crepes can be frozen, which makes them all the more attractive to me.

I taught Lent today, and we came across a Shrove Tuesday tradition from Slovakia where a sweet roll is suspended on a string from the ceiling and children bob for it like an apple. Next year. I am doing that next year. I've been finding all this helpful information in a book called, It's Time For Easter by Elizabeth Hough Sechrist and Janette Woolsey, 1961. While they cover most of the basics, there's a good sprinkling of linguistics, cultural traditions, and stuff that would appeal to those outside of the faith. I like that they don't assume the reader is familiar with the holy observances, and make an attempt to explain it without endorsing it. I wouldn't go as far as calling it, "Easter explained for atheists" but it is helpful in a comparative religions sort of way.

The tradition I was less fond of was the once from Finland, (I think) where the children wake their parents early on Shrove Tuesday by beating them with sticks to get out of bed and make pancakes (OK, in Finland it is probably blini, but they are technically pancakes, correct?). I don't think we'll be giving that particular tradition a go next year.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Raisin Crumb Pie

We were divided over this pie-the men loved it, I did not. Admittedly, while I like raisins, raisin pie is not one of my favourites. What I found really remarkable was the thickness of the crumb topping-look at the photograph. That's quite a ratio of fruit to crumb with the topping clearly winning. I found it too much, but again I'm biased. Mr. ETB feels that is the best part of a pie.

I followed the recipe in Marcia Adams, Heartland the Best of the Old and New From Midwestern Kitchens. This is a lovely books (as are all her books) and most of the dishes (like raisin pie) are familiar having lived in Illinois in the 60's and 70's. While some of the recipes are newer, they still reflect regional history and make use of abundant local items.

I did not use the pastry recipe Adams suggests as it relies on vegetable shortening and vinegar. I used to make that sort of a crust before they started messing with the Crisco. It is true that you will get a flaky crust with the old, "no fail" pie pastry recipes, but I get a great dose of heartburn as well. I went with an all butter crust instead. I'd stick to whatever you typically use for a 1 crust pastry, as the star of this shoe is pretty clearly the topping.

You Will Need:

A shallow 9 inch pastry shell
1/2 cup dark raisins
2 1/4 cups water
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter


1 cup plain flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Prick pie crust all over and blind bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a 2 quart saucepan combine raisins, 2 cups of the water (reserve rest), lemon juice,
and salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat stirring occasionally. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and remaining water, beating until smooth. Whisk it into the raisin mixture and boil until bubbling and thick-about 2 minutes. Beat in butter. Remove from pot and cool before filling pie. Meanwhile make the crust.

For the crust: combine flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and soda. Cut in butter until you have crumbs.

Assemble and bake:

Pour filling into pie crust. Top with crumbs and bake 25-30 minutes or until top is golden. Cool, and store in the fridge.

The Best Interview I've Read in Some Time

HERE. Really, just go read it.

Chelsea Buns

They worked! I used the overnight rise in the fridge, then warmed them back to room temperature for an hour before baking.

For the dough, I used a sweet yeast bread dough (I rather like the one in the 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook). I let it rise 2 hours, punched it down and let it rest 20 minutes. I rolled the dough into a large rectangle, spread it generously with 3 tablespoons softened butter and about 1/2 cup of brown sugar. I sprinkled it with a generous amount (about 2 cups) chopped dried apricots, raisins, and cherries. I rolled them, cut them thick and placed them not quite touching in well-buttered pans. At that point, I set them in the fridge overnight.

Next day: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Warm rolls to room temperature (you can hurry things along by placing them atop the preheating oven) for about 1 hour. Bake 25-30 minutes. Remove to a rack over a backing sheet (to catch drips) and pull buns gently apart. Brush generously with honey.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Projects, Ideas, Weekend

* Edited to add the corned venison. Yep, I'm brining it for two weeks and with any luck, I'll have something to serve Mr. ETB on blackbread with sauerkraut. I've obviously done this with beef, but the venison roast was new territory for me. I can't believe I did this whole post and forgot the most interesting part. That's it, I'm taking my sick arse back to bed.

The Great Backyard Bird Count began today. We have been watching in 15 minute increments.

I'm sick. So. Damn. Sick. Coughing, nose-blowing, all manner of misery. I did what any sane person would do-I defrosted a large container matzo-ball soup, made ice cream, and mixed up the dough for a batch of Chelsea buns to rise overnight in the fridge. I'll update with the results of the overnight rise. I do this with cinnamon rolls, so I don't really see why Chelsea buns would be that different. We'll see.

The nasturtiums and pea shoots growing in my sunny window are thriving nicely. I always feel like I'm cheating winter keeping my window box garden, though I have to admit this winter has been pretty mild. The bay laurel is thriving as well. I love being able to go pluck a bay leaf off my tree in the dining room.

Sunday With a Scientist at Morill Hall is snakes this month. I think I could pass on that, particularly with being ill, but I suppose the kid will want to go.

24 February is public viewing night at Behlen Observatory in Mead (weather permitting).

I have been spending evenings and weekends working on a hand-written/illustrated cookbook for Danny. I've been trying to fill it with basics and funny stories from his childhood. I'm using a large bound sketchbook, and so far (I'm about halfway through it) I really like how it is turning out. The internet and blogs are great, but I I thought he might appreciate something a bit more personal. He's already sworn himself to bachelorhood, and feels prepared as he knows how to make a pot of tea and whip up sardines on toast. Just in case he wants to branch out, I'll have something to present him with.

I made a crumb-topped raisin pie today-and I have no idea why. I loathe raisin pie. I must be having some sort of Illinois nostalgia (scratch that-I never feel nostalgic for Illinois) or I was down to dried fruit in the larder (True, that). Maybe the rest of the family will like raisin pie as they lack the childhood associations.

I made a Ploughman's Pickle last week that turned out terrific. Did I write down what I did? No, sadly I did not. It was just odds and ends of apples, carrots, courgettes..damn it, I never think it worth the bother to write these things down as I go and then I end up with the best pickle of my life and I can't recreate it. I'm going to but a dry-erase board for the kitchen lest this ever happen again.

Kiddo eats half an apple each morning with breakfast. He likes a variety, so by the end of the week, I have various apple halves tightly wrapped in cling film. Today, I fried some with onions, thyme and butter. Perfection.

Are you familiar with puffy drop sugar cookies made with sour cream? They have a sugar top and a raisin in the centre. Last week, I made use of some, halved as mini-strawberry shortcakes with sweetened whipped cream. Everyone thought I was a genius. I was just lazy, but shhhhhh don't tell anyone.

I don't know why black history only gets a month, but I figured one of the reasons I homeschool is to cover material I deem relevant. Monday, we start, Soul on Ice. I'm pretty sure that isn't in the local curriculum. After we cover the American history, I'm going to do an in-depth African history course over the summer. I figured I'd take it by region, chronologically. I had Danny run through listing as many African countries as he could, off the top of his head. He only missed two, so I feel pretty confident he'll be able to keep things like the historical Kingdom of Mali from the present day Nation Mali. Or I'll confuse the hell out of him, and then we'll start over. Again, homeschooling gives me that luxury. I've yet to find a decent general overview African history textbook, so I'll probably use a number of texts and primary sources. I remember getting a copy of Facing Mount Kenya when I was about ten and thinking it was pretty interesting.

I have a squirrel problem again. I don't mind them outside. Sometimes I really miss city living. He can't get into the living quarters of the house-but I heard the little fucker in the wall...again. I could really do without a squirrel in my wall. Ideas? Anyone?

Hey! Have a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Old Fashioned Apple Cake

I couldn't be arsed to spend two minutes arranging the apples neatly. Look, I baked a cake-you want it fancy as well?

I'm posting this recipe as the end result was pretty good, but bear in mind the recipe itself left quite a bit to decipher. The cake comes from a small, softbound cookbook, From Williamsburg Kitchens 1993. The recipes are presented as, "Regional" rather than historical, which makes sense as I doubt very much they were making use of hydrogenated vegetable shortening in colonial days.

The "recipe" is little more than a list of ingredients and an oven temperature. I can tell you, it took closer to 45 minutes to bake than the 25 suggested. I am going to go ahead and post what I actually did, though I really felt the cake was somewhat overbaked at the edges and underbaked at the centre. I'm not a fan of Crisco in cakes as it gives me terrible heartburn. Terrible. On the other hand, it does tend to limit how much I'm able to consume. Silver lining, people-I keep telling you to look for the silver lining. Anyway, I'm sure you could make a better apple kuchen, but I'll post this just for regional interest.

You Will need:

1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
Dash of lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt
1 cup Plain flour
Dash of nutmeg (my addition)
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


2 apples, pared and sliced thin
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon (I omitted this)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch cake pan. If I were to do this again, I'd flour it as well-the cake stuck horribly.

Cream the shortening and sugar until light. Beat in egg mixing well. Stir in lemon juice. Sift dry ingredients together. Add vanilla to milk. Add, alternating. Do not over-mix. Pour into prepared pan. Arrange apple slices on top. Dot with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 25 (their suggestion) to 45 (my reality) minutes. Cool in pan on a rack.


This was a dinner of Southwestern flavours with salmon, vegetables, a fresh salsa, and homemade tostadas. What really impressed the family was the black beans. I know, beans. How exciting is that? I'm posting this more as a reminder for myself.

What I did:

Cooked black beans, reserved most of the cooking liquid. In a large pot, put in about 1/4 cup of corn oil, 5 large carrots cut into matchsticks, 1 bunch scallions, chopped, a few cloves of garlic. I cooked this over medium heat until the carrots were soft, then added a spice mix of:
Chili powder
Smoked Salt
Black Pepper
Red Pepper flakes

I cooked this until it evenly covered the vegetables, then I added the drained beans. After a minute or two, I added enough of the bean cooking liquid to cover. When that cooked down, I again added liquid to cover. Unlike refried beans, I didn't mash them, and let the pot bubble away slowly. When it was sufficiently thickened, I removed it from the heat.

Personally, I think it was the smoked salt.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Baking Day

I baked some bread today.

Sourdough semolina with sesame (gah! Too much alliteration!)

(Mine was light and dark rye with blackstrap molasses, cocoa, caraway and coriander (damn! There I go with the alliteration again.)

(Pretty basic flour, water, salt, yeast and malt syrup for colour)

Sourcream sandwich loaf
I brushed the top with heavy cream which gave it a lovely, soft, shiny...oh stop it already.

So, what did you do today? I'll bet you weren't as alliterative as I was.

Happy Valentine's Day. SMOOCH! I love you guys.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chocolate Bavarian Cream, Meringue, and Chocolate Malt Ice Cream

It isn't too late to make something for your Valentine's Day dessert. Someone skilled could have arranged this in a better way, perhaps taken a decent photo. That isn't me. Still, it made a lovely "pre-Valentine's Day" dessert, and the meringues are so light you almost forget about all the fat in the Bavarian. And the ice cream. The meringues are fat-free, so there you go!

For the Ice Cream:

1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup malted milk powder
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder

Scald milk and cream in a saucepan. In a large, heatproof bowl whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until smooth. Slowly beat in the milk mixture in a thin stream. Return combined mixture to pan and cook, whisking gently until it reaches 170 degrees F. Remove from heat, Strain into a heat-proof bowl. Whisk in cocoa and malt powder. Chill before processing either in an ice cream maker, or as I did in a metal tray in the freezer (scrape with a fork every 20 minutes until firm).

For The meringues:

6 egg whites at room temperature
2 cups sugar, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar, divided

Beat egg whites until just firm. Beat in half the sugar slowly, a tablespoon at a time. Beat in 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice, then half the remaining sugar (a tablespoon at a time) and then the remaining vinegar. Add last of sugar a tablespoon at a time beating until meringue holds very stiff peaks and is glossy.

Pipe into squares on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 275 degrees F. for about an hour, or until mostly dry. Turn off oven and let sit several hours until dry.

For The Bavarian Cream:

1 tablespoon gelatine powder
1/4 cup whole milk
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, shaved fine
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk, scalded
1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Soften the gelatine in the 1/4 cup of milk. Combine egg yolks and sugar in a saucepan, whisking well. Add salt. Slowly whisk in the scalded milk and shaved chocolate. Cook over low heat, whisking until mixture reaches 170 degrees F. Remove from heat, whisk in the gelatine and when completely dissolved, strain through a sieve into a clean bowl. Chill until just set. Meanwhile, beat the whipping cream until stiff. Fold whipping cream into the slightly set cream mixture. Pour into an oiled 1 quart mould (or several small ones) and chill several hours before unmoulding.

Valentine Pot Pie

OK, this is just leftover tofu bacon baked in a pie crust with sauce and vegetables-but look! The red food colouring from the tofu made the vegetables pink. Isn't that romantic? No? Well what about the pastry cut-out hearts? That's rather romantic. Really? You don't think so? Fine, I suck at the mushy stuff anyway.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Homemade Tofu "Bacon"

Another fake meat experiment with tofu that turned out really well. You can skip the food colouring of course, though the smoked salt does tend to give the tofu an unattractive grey look without it.

You Will Need:

1 pound extra firm tofu cut into fourths and pressed dry under weights for 30 minutes.
5 tablespoons corn oil
1 teaspoon smoked salt
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Golden Syrup
Red Food Colouring

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place tofu in an 8x8 pan. Pour over remaining ingredients well combined. Turn tofu once to coat. Bake 30 minutes on each side. Tofu should be firm, but not hard with just the slightest char at the edges. Remove to a plate and cool. Store tightly wrapped in fridge. I sliced it thin to use on BLT sandwiches on buttermilk white bread.

And Then the Car Sounded Like an Aircraft Engine...

Thursday, about two miles from home on the County Road, I managed to get stuck in the mud/snow on the shoulder. The great thing about living in the country is that sooner or later, someone you know will drive by in a truck or a tractor and pull you out. Just under two minutes later, the nice young man from the Co-Op drive up. Moments later, another nice man (older) from the Co-Op stopped and between the two of them, they hauled me out of the mud and sent me on my way. I told them I owed them rescues.

It was about that time I realised I wasn't in gear, and had been driving in 3rd. Oops, probably something I should have checked out straightaway. Anyway, onward I went into the city sixty miles away. Coming home, on I-80 (of course, it had to be on i-80 at rush hour) I suddenly hear a huge bang, and my first thought was that I had blown a tyre at 75 mph. "Fantastic!" I thought, "I'm going to be an Interstate fatality", but then I noticed I still had full control of the car and that there was a loud whooshing noise, like air blowing under the car. As I could still control the car, and the dashboard lights hadn't come on indicating my engine was about to blow, I drove it home. I really did. I reckoned it would be worth getting it as near as possible to save on towing, though I admit I figured it would need a tow at some point. As I slowed, the noise...the noise was a scraping, screeching, whooshing sound of what an aircraft engine must sound like when standing beside. I suppose there's a reason people who work as baggage handlers on runways wear protective ear-wear. Anyway, I stuck to the rural back roads after exiting the highway, and made it home. A large piece of metal was hanging down in front. I know what you're thinking, but the guys who pulled me out of the mud towed me from the back of the car-so that wasn't it. I suppose it was just bound to happen at some point, and that was the point. Upon taking it to the mechanic he was able to re-bolt it, but also noticed a monster transmission leak when we brought it in. I have to think it was a good thing that happened, or I probably would be looking at replacing a transmission rather than a hundred bucks to fix a couple things.

Much like poking myself in the eye during a do-it-yourself haircut, I find I am unable to bring myself to purchase a new car. I am driving a fifteen year old car with over 200,000 miles on it. I cannot bring myself to part with it. The engine is replaced. The transmission is replaced. The entire brake line has been replaced-twice. I cannot bring myself to part with this damned car. Even when we purchase the new one, I am not trading this car. Oldsmobiles are no longer built, and I like my car, though I do wonder if I have reached the point where like my home haircuts it has nothing to do with frugality and everything to do with being a stubborn, old lady? Character flaws, I know.

Why can't I just treat the car like a native Nebraskan and put it up on cinder blocks in the front yard?

But I Carried on With the Haircut

Whilst trimming my hair this morning, I managed to poke myself in the eye with my thumb (nail). It watered, feels scratched, and looks terrible, but I can still see and really, I'm just glad I didn't poke my eye with the scissors. I did what any rational person would do-I squinted, and finished the haircut. Given that I was working with one eye impaired, I still gave myself an even, reasonably professional looking cut (well, OK maybe the sort of professional that works at the ten dollar haircut place, but still). This does lead me to wonder, what the hell is wrong with me?

It is bad enough I can't bring myself to pay for a haircut more than once a decade, but the fact that I hack away at the hair falling in my face with a pair of office scissors has to be some sort of character flaw. I regularly have well-meaning people (sometimes strangers) trying to push the falling hair out of my eyes. It drapes down over my right eye, and after fiddling with it for a good five minutes, the woman at the DMV finally gave up, snapped my picture, and gave me a motherly warning about developing a sleepy eye. Thursday at the library, I had someone reach over, mid-conversation to brush my hair aside. I mean, Geez-if my bra was giving me side-boob, would people reach over and adjust that too? I finally gave up and started cutting this morning-that was when I gave myself the thumb. Know what? It still hangs over my eye. If I had any forehead to speak of, I'd just pull the damned hair back in a council facelift and be done with it. Instead, I'm left with a flop of hair falling over my eye.

I'm gonna cut it into super-short bangs like Maimie Eisenhower. That's what I'm going to do.

Cheese Glazed Coffee Cake

This is a difficult cake to describe. Basically, it is a shortbread crust with choux pastry baked atop it, glazed with a cream cheese frosting. Imagine a toad in the hole, meets a cream puff, crossed with glazed orange rolls, and a few generations later you get an underbaked popover. Yep, it is sort of like that.

We can't decide if we like it or not. The pastry is very buttery and rich, but has no sugar. The frosting is really sweet, which more than compensates for it. Maybe it is too sophisticated for us. I can see serving this as part of a larger breakfast, but as the sole meal with coffee, it was a bit lacking as you really can't fill up on it, even if you wanted to as it is so buttery.

(Here's a picture of Saturday's breakfast-potatoes, onions and green bell pepper topped with fried eggs, served with baked beans and a multi-grain sourdough toast. Grapefruit juice, coffee, tea and milk were also offered. Now, that is my idea of a proper breakfast).

*I just tore off a small piece after it had cooled completely-and I like it better. The filling has solidified, and seems less eggy. Who knows? I stuck the remainder in the fridge-we'll see if it ends up being like a cold pudding.

The recipe comes from Sunset Breads, Step by Step Techniques

You Will Need:

1 cup butter or margarine (I used butter)
2 cups Plain flour, divided
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, divided
4 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon almond extract (I used vanilla)
1/2 cup sliced almonds (I substituted a scattering of pearl sugar)

Cream Cheese Glaze:

3 ounces softened cream cheese
3/4 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice

-Beat all until smooth.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a small bowl, cut 1/2 cup of butter into 1 cup of the flour. Add the 2 tablespoons of water and pat into a 10 inch round on an ungreased baking sheet.

In a large pot, heat the remaining water and butter cut into pieces. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and with a wooden spoon, beat all of the flour in at once and beat until all flour is blended. Return pan to heat reduced to medium and beat until dough forms a heavy ball and clears the sides of the pot. Remove from heat and beat in the eggs, one at a time until well incorporated with each addition. Add extract. Spread mixture evenly over pastry.

Bake about 45 minutes or until top is puffed, browned, and looks crisp. Meanwhile, prepare the cream cheese glaze. Let cake cool 10 minutes, then drizzle with glaze and top with almonds or sugar. Cut into wedges and serve. Makes 10 servings.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Danny's Chocolate Sponge Cake

Danny didn't bake this entirely by himself, but he did the bulk of it. I let him select the recipe, decide on decoration, etc. It turned out lovely, and while he's still not ready to take credit for it as he didn't, "Do everything", I'm going to go ahead and consider this Danny's first cake baked more or less without me.

The recipe comes from Chocolate by, Nick Malgieri. So far, I like this cookbook-the recipes are simple enough for a seven year old to manage. The cake was about as perfect as a sponge gets, and the addition of cornstarch (cornflour) makes for a really light, delicate crumb.

The ganache was something I tossed together from a combination of semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolate (I didn't have any bittersweet). That turned out to be a pretty good balance. Danny thought shavings of white chocolate would look nice on top, and I agreed.

For The Cake:

1/3 cup plain flour
1/3 cup cornstarch (cornflour)
1/3 cup dark cocoa powder
4 large eggs, separated at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Grease a 9 inch spring form pan and line the bottom with parchment. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift the dry ingredients together through a fine sieve and keep the sieve handy. Whisk the egg yolks with half the sugar until light, about 4 minutes on medium with a mixer. It should be pale yellow, and fluffy. Set aside.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form, then add the other half of the sugar slowly, beating until stiff peaks for,. Fold the yolk mixture gently into the whites. Sift 1/3 of the flour mixture into the eggs and fold in, just until combined. Repeat two more times.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan (I always put my springform pan on a baking sheet-your call) and bake 30 minutes or until it tests done.

Cool on a rack 10 minutes, then remove from pan, remove parchment, and let cool completely before glazing.

For the Ganache:

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chop chocolate fine and place in a heatproof bowl. In a saucepan, combine cream and corn syrup until steaming. Pour over chocolate and let stand 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Add vanilla. Pour over cold cake on a rack over a baking sheet while ganache is still warm. Remove cake to a plate and chill to set ganache. Scrape any leftover ganache into a bowl and chill. When firm, roll into truffles. I coated mine in red and gold sprinkles for Valentine's Day.

"Dumpkin" Rye Drops

The inspiration for these fritters comes from The Compleat Pumpkin Eater by, Caroline Schollkopf. This was another .25 cent find at the library sale. The cookbook assumes the reader knows how to cook. There wasn't much instruction after, "fry in hot fat" but I did them fairly hot-about 375 degrees F. for a total of five minutes with frequent turning. I also went ahead and added garlic, onion, and a dash of allspice. I served them with butter and full flavour molasses. They were enjoyed (I didn't try any) and I was asked to put the recipe into regular rotation with other favourites.

1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup light rye flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated dried garlic
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
Dash of ground allspice
Fat for frying

Sift dry ingredients together. In a bowl, combine buttermilk, soda, and egg. beat well. Add pumpkin, dried garlic, and dried onion. Pour into dry ingredients. Mix well, but don't overbeat. Drop by spoonfuls into hot fat and fry about 5 minutes or until deeply golden. If not serving right away, keep warm in a 190 degree F. oven.

Serve hot with molasses and butter (or chutney, I could see these being good with chutney).

Monday, February 06, 2012

Phyllo Spinach Pie-Sort Of

The child hates feta cheese. I can understand this, but that doesn't mean I'm pleased about it. I made a version of a spinach pie that he found acceptable, and Mr. ETB didn't even mention missing the feta. That said, I hesitate to call this a spinach pie, but I also haven't a clue what I should call it.

You Will Need:

1/2 package of Phyllo dough (about 20 sheets) thawed and at room temperature
2 blocks frozen spinach, cooked, drained and squeezed dry of moisture in a towel
1 pound cottage cheese, drained and forced through a sieve
1 cup hard cheese, finely grated (I used a sheep's milk cheese because I had it)
Salt/Pepper/Thyme to taste
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dried minced garlic
1 large egg

Combine all.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 9x13 pan. Work quickly with the Phyllo, and keep the remainder covered with a damp towel as you work. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a bowl. Grab a pastry brush. Layer 10 sheets of Phyllo, brushing well between each layer with oil, and tucking the sides down as you go. After 10 sheets, pile in the filling, and smooth to distribute evenly. Layer on all but the last two sheets in the same manner as before. Score the pie in a diamond patter with a sharp knife cutting all the way through. Crumble the last two sheets of Phyllo with your hands and scatter atop the pie. Lightly brush with more oil. Bake 30-40 minutes or until top is deeply golden and filling appears cooked. Let stand at least ten minutes before serving. Serve warm, or at room temperature.

More Croquette than Falafel-and Homemade Tahini (and salad)

Danny's first serious allergic reaction was to tahini paste. He isn't allergic to sesame seeds, so the best we can figure is it was cross contaminated with either almonds or peanuts. I tried making a small batch at home today and it was successful. This has the added advantage of being able to make what I need without buying a large jar that would eventually go rancid on me.
I do not have a blender or a food processor, so I used an electric coffee grinder. In short, I put in sesame seeds, whirred it until it was mush, added a few drops of water, and that was that. To serve, I added garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It was so easy, I couldn't believe it. I'm still kind of stunned that it worked.

The falafel are most certainly not falafel in any guise I'd know. Still, they were enjoyed and made use of stuff I had sitting around at home.

You Will Need:

1 tin chickpeas, skins removed and finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped parsley
4 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon dried garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch ground coriander
Coarse, dry breadcrumbs to coat
Oil to fry

Combine, chill 30 minutes. Remove from fridge and form into balls. Roll in breadcrumbs and return to fridge to chill until you are ready to fry. Drop falafel, a few at a time into very hot oil and fry until deeply browned (about 5 minutes). Makes about 18 medium sized falafel.

The Salad:

1-2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and cut into eighths.
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
2 cucumbers, peeled and finely sliced
4-5 radishes, finely sliced
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, halved
Generously shaved slices of hard cheese (I had a sheep's milks cheese)

Combine in a bowl.

1/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Pour and toss over salad. Chill several hours before serving over a bed of lettuce.

The Malt Loaf Experiment

This is the third version of malt loaf I've made in the past two weeks. This one has white self-rising flour and an extra bit of baking powder. Danny likes it, but I think I prefer the wholemeal version. I also added apricots and figs which isn't typical of any malt loaf I ever met.

As the loaves need to mature for a few days, I'm stuck waiting between loaves wondering if I've hit upon the magical taste of a Soreen without the softness. I rather think a malt loaf ought to be sturdy. This one did have that lovely sticky top that when toasted sticks to your teeth a bit as you bite. That's good. Danny's been having toasted malt loaf (in different versions) with butter, half an apple, a cup of tea, and a glass of milk for breakfast practically every day. I'm not concerned that any of these malt loaves will go to waste. Anyway, sooner or later I will strike gold (I will!) and I'll post the recipe. Until then, this seems to be the kiddo's favourite thus far.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Vegetarian Shisk Kabobs

I was in a retro mood as my family bought me a large box of Twinkies for my birthday. Well, you know, they're going bankrupt and I mentioned that I hadn't had a Twinkie in something like forty thing i know I'm unwrapping an beautifully decorated box of snack cakes. Know what? They weren't as bad as expected. The cake seems less squishy than I recall, and while it was so sweet it actually did that thing to my head where it goes all woo woo from sugar, it wasn't inedible. Logically, it follows that after consuming a Twinkie, I had to make shisk kabob.

I think my mother made this sort of thing quite a bit-with a marinade of Italian dressing. I didn't want that, so I went with the idea of a vegetarian pepper steak on skewers. I know, but stay with me for a minute as it worked better than I ever could have imagined.

The tofu will never fool you into thinking it is round steak, but it did have all the flavourings of a good steak-onion, garlic, imitation beef stock. By marinating the tofu and baking it in that mix I was able to get a decent flavour and texture that while not meat, and not meat substitute, does at least reflect the overall effect of a pepper steak. Sort of. I mean, there are limits to everything.

Danny took charge of assembling the kabobs and did a terrific job (nothing fell off in the broiler). He's quite pleased with the results and I have a feeling many more skewered meals are in our future.

For the Tofu:

1 package extra firm tofu
3 tablespoons corn oil
1/4 cup imitation beef stock
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1/2 tablespoon dried minced garlic
Ground black pepper
Smoked salt to taste
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Slice tofu into fourths. Lay slices on a towel, cover with a second towel and weight with a heavy bottle (or tine, etc.) After ten minutes, change to new towels and repeat. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Combine other ingredients and whisk well. Place tofu slices in a baking pan (an 8x8 ought to do it) and pour over the marinade. Flip the slices once and place in the oven.

Bake 30 minutes. Turn, bake 30 minutes longer. Then prop on sides-do 5 minutes each side. Remove to a plate and cool. Then, chill until needed. Can be made well ahead.

For the vegetables:

2 large green bell peppers, cut into good sized squares
1-2 large tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes if you have them) cut into wedges, obvious seeds removed
1 large red onion, cut into eighths
8 ounces mushrooms, stems removed (don't pitch them, you can use them for something else)

Vegetable marinade:

1/4 cup orange juice (I used blood oranges because I had it)
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon ground ginger (powdered)
1 tablespoon cane syrup (Steens, Golden syrup, honey is also OK)
1 teaspoon dried garlic
Black pepper

Mix well, pour over vegetables. I did this in a plastic bag and left it in the fridge all day.

Assemble the kabobs:

I soaked my wooden skewers for two hours to be safe. I'm told 30 minutes is enough, but these were thick, and I'm paranoid. Do as you see fit.

Cut your slabs of cold tofu into cubes.

Drain the vegetables, reserving the marinade. Place on skewers (I got about ten, but it will vary with how you load them) alternating with tofu.

Place a rack on a large roasting pan if you do not own a broiling pan (I don't). As you make the kabobs, place them on. When all are assembled, brush them generously and place them under a hot broiler for five minutes. I played it safe and kept them far from the element, but if you have a gas range with the broiler on the bottom, you may not have a choice. Turn the pan to ensure it gets equal broiling. After five minutes, flip the kabobs and baste with more marinade. Broil another five minutes. Have a look, if they are dry, add more marinade, if they look done, pull them out. This will require a bit of attention on your part.

If you have any marinade left, heat it to serve with the kabobs over rice.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


I promise, this is the last of the Danny stories for tonight, but he's been dropping these gems of late, and I don't want to forget them years from now.

When I'm working in the kitchen, the radio is almost always on. Danny has learned to structure his day by what is being broadcast (he knows he has to be dressed and have breakfast by the time Marketplace comes on NPR in the morning, etc.) If he hears Kathy Blythe, he knows it is 9 AM as I've switched stations after Morning Edition. Sometimes Kathy has on the self- help people, and then I switch over to various music stations. Noon brings Democracy Now, and afternoons until 3 are spent listening to KZUM's offerings. I never really thought about it, but Danny counts on my radio listening habits being predictable, and when I vary the routine he seems a bit out of sorts.

Monday morning, I wanted to listen to the long awaited return of Dave Wingert to local radio (he was sacked from his previous station in a rather unfair way). I had him on as I was getting the laundry going, when Danny, half asleep stumbled into the kitchen.

Danny: Oh. My. God. What happened to Michael Lyon?! He sounds great! Did something happen to him?

Me: He turned into Dave Wingert.

Danny: (still half asleep and confused) But not like a transplant kind of thing...wait...oh, I get it now, that isn't NPR. Well, that's disappointing. Can I have cinnamon toast for breakfast?

Poor kiddo. Sort of like when my parents stopped having the Daily News delivered, and got the Chicago Tribune instead. I swear, that screwed with my head for months.

Campaign Slogan

When seven year olds start paying attention to political campaigns:

Danny: (singing to no one in particular) What's the damn matter with Ron Paul? What's the damn matter with Ron Paul? La la la la la, What's the damn matter with Ron Paul?

I can't tell if he meant because of his views, or if he intended it as a sort of, "well why not Ron Paul?" I'm a little afraid to ask.

You Can't Take it With You

I finally made it over to our insurance agent to update the beneficiary form on my life insurance policy. The secondary, after Mr. ETB is now deceased, so I thought it made sense to get that changed to Danny.

Danny: So what do I have to do ? I don't understand.

Me: If I die, you don't do anything, but if both mama and papa die (Kenna hora, God forbid a million times) you'll get a payment to cover my burial costs.

Danny: How much money is it?

Me: Danny, it really isn't a windfall, this is a term policy for putting me in the ground.

Danny: OK, but how much is it for?

Me: $15,000. But that isn't as much as it sounds like...

Danny: Well, you didn't want anything really nice did you?