Saturday, December 29, 2012

Danny's Birthday

 The cookies are iced butter cookies and the details are printed with edible marking pens. Great product-I am so happy I didn't need to pipe on the details with royal icing.

The cakes are gold butter cakes that are quite durable as they are baked with butter and egg yolks. Imagine a really sturdy sponge. I like the way it cuts cleanly into shapes when chilled. The cakes were baked in pullman loaves, then trimmed to look like the hotel and house from Monopoly. Funny, after the power was out, stay in a hotel was just what we did. These photos were from the first full day of the blackout, and the light was kinda crappy. Still, cake fro breakfast is cake for breakfast, and Danny seemed to enjoy his Birthday, taking the severe weather in good spirits. Cake for breakfast, 'ya know?

That sweater used to be mine, as was the hat. I thought they don't start raising your clothes until the teenaged years.
 This photo was taken before the blackout-while playing outside in the early part of the storm was still fun. It grew old rather quickly. We still have an unfinished snowman under a plastic bucket in the yard. I don't think it will be going anywhere soon. Damn, with all the mild weather of late, I'd forgotten how cold a Midwestern winter can be. Hey, that's another of my hats! I need to have a talk with this kid.
I ended up re-making the cakes at Christmas, as Danny felt sort of cheated having only eaten a couple slices. We still have most of it, but I'm glad I was able to do it. Baking a good cake once is luck-reproducing it exactly...maybe I ought to go buy a lottery ticket.

So better late than never, this was Danny's 8th birthday in the big storm/blackout of 2012.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cookie Stamps

I'm somewhat, "baked out" from the holidays, but Valentine's will be along soon enough, and my beautiful new cookie stamps can get a trial. Reading about the stamps online, I noticed they can carve custom stamps. Mr. ETB said they probably wouldn't do any I'd think of, for any price. I can't imagine what he had in mind...but what I was thinking was a stamp that read, "Library Volunteers Only." I take a lot of cookies to the library throughout the year. Maybe a picture of a book?

I am however taking a break from the kitchen for a while. As I type, I can smell baked potatoes (is there a better scent?) that Mr. ETB scrubbed, and placed in the oven. See? They can cook! They dug some leftover chili from the fridge as well. Maybe they'll bake me cookies.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Well, that's that. We've been through Chanukah, Danny's Birthday, and Christmas. Danny's Birthday quilt is a few days from complete, and Mr. ETB has off work until 2 January.

The Christmas cake, and steamed pudding were enjoyed. Danny's Birthday cakes were re-made yesterday as he only had the chance to eat a single slice before the power gave out, and felt a little cheated. I think the decorating on the second ones came out better anyway.

In an un-planned happy coincidence, Mr. ETB bought Danny Rock-em-Sock-em Robots, and I bought him boxing gloves, and a punching bag. He likes boxing, my little accordion playing, Classics reading, pugilist. Kids these days. He really wants accordion lessons...and boxing training. I think we can swing that-it has to be better than sitting through football, and piano recitals.

Mr. ETB bought me the most beautiful set of six hand-made terracotta cookie stamps. He also tracked down two of my favourite records from a million years ago that have disappeared from my collection over time (That's the polite way of saying someone took them). Danny made me a beautiful card, we all had a lovely dinner, and tomorrow I am going to force Danny to watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, which I picked up at the library sale for .25 cents.

I gave Mr. ETB pens-two fine point, one fountain. I also purchased some Saskatoon berry (and apple) hard cider. We haven't tried that yet, maybe we'll save that for New Years.

In the end, I managed six fishes for Christmas eve, all tossed into a festive paella. I can't say enough nice things about paella-it is nearly impossible to screw up, provided you use good rice.

So Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and I'll see you in 2013.

Friday, December 21, 2012

At Least I Got A Stay at a Really Posh Hotel Out of the Ordeal

Wednesday evening, the first snow of the season came in with 50 mph winds, and a ton of snow. When the power went out at 7PM I figured it might be the middle of the night before it was restored. Next morning found us still without electricity, so looking out the window at the snow blocking the access road, I figured Danny's Birthday plans were going to be on hold, and around 9AM I served him his Birthday cake for breakfast (I didn't spend days getting the cake and decorated cookies together to lose it all to a power outage). By 4 PM the temperature was really dropping inside the old drafty farmhouse, so we packed up, brought what could be salvaged from the fridge for dinner with us, and checked into a hotel. The last time we stayed in a hotel was four years ago, after the tornado. We're disaster oriented hotel guests. Nothing against the Red Roof Inn, but this time Mr. ETB splashed out on a tony place to stay. I'm not sure how I feel about Danny telling people it was, "Nicer than our house", but he enjoyed his Birthday stay at Omaha's classiest joint, particularly when the nice woman at the front desk sent up a card for a complementary movie, and addressed it to him along with Birthday wishes.

Today, (Friday) our power was restored around 4 PM. Just about everything in the fridge and freezer were lost (a duck, lutefisk, Icelandic Haddock, homemade puff paste, dozens of homemade pierogi, pot stickers, frozen veg from last summer's garden, and on and on). All my Christmas planning? Shot to hell, pretty much. I'm not looking forward to re-stocking my fridge a couple days before Christmas (I don't like the supermarket on a normal weekend) but I'm going to deal with it because really, what else can I do? It was painful tossing out all my hard work (breads, pastry, etc.) that I carefully froze, because the last year has seen my arthritis really progressing, and the thought of doing it all again...I don't know, in some ways it feels crushing. I always try to make extra of whatever I'm doing, "For the freezer" as a hedge against those days when I feel too exhausted to get dinner together. Now...I have two empty freezers. I can replace a duck-homemade puff paste, and a few dozen ravioli are more difficult. OK, enough of that, they both know how to boil a pot of rice, and open a tin of beans-no one is going to starve. We all know I have enough sardines in the larder to survive the end of the world, which didn't happen tonight, so at least we won't need to re-stock those.

As far as Danny is concerned, this was his favourite Birthday (he's 8 now). A fancy hotel, a brand-new weather station that he can monitor remotely from inside (yeah, we skipped installing the wind thingy on the roof in a blizzard-we'll get to that part next week) some birding items, and he got to watch the Dark Shadows movie on a plush sofa at a posh hotel. Oh, and he ate Birthday cake for breakfast. Not bad, power outages aside.

The past couple weeks have been a slew of up-down-up-up-up, down...up? Normal stuff of life, just *all at once*. Anyway, when we returned home, and stopped to check the post there was a lovely, unexpected Christmas card waiting for me. Amazing what a few kind words in a pretty card can do to brighten a day.

I did manage a few Birthday photos (in the still somewhat dark house) Thursday morning, and I'll post them eventually. The Birthday cake(s) were a hotel and house from Monopoly. The cookies were decorated to look like the property title cards. The quilt is still about a week out from being finished, but Danny's been patient about that.

It was a really nice hotel. Could have been on Park Place.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fig Jam

You can make this as a orange/cocoa by adding 2 tablespoons powdered cocoa and using orange juice in place of the water.

You will need:

1 1/2 cups finely chopped dried figs that have first been soaked overnight
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine all, and cook until thick over medium heat (about 5 minutes). Makes about 1 1/2 pints.


I am marking 12/12 y purchasing 12 dozen eggs, which I need for holiday baking anyway.

It is now 12:12 PM on 12/12/12/.

Well, wasn't that fun?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Eve Dinner

Guess what I have in the freezer for Christmas Eve? I'll give you a hint-it came in a plastic pouch with a Viking ship on it.

What? Lutefisk isn't one of the traditional seven fishes? Uh, it is here- where I live, in Sweden on the Plains. I made a batch of lefse today, and figured it would be worth freezing half to enjoy with our lye-bathed cod.

I'm doing cranberries instead of lingonberries as they are easier to find, and less expensive. Really, the difference to my unsophisticated palate is small.

Anyone have any interesting Christmas Eve dinner traditions you'd like to share? If you're local, and want to have some lutefisk  on Christmas Eve, let me know. I have a feeling there will be leftovers.

Pan Dulce and Lucia Buns


Some breads for the holidays-St Lucia on the 13th, and the Virgin of Guadalupe on the 12th. Both breads are simple enough to make (I did them both on the same day in addition to three other loaves of bread) though the streusel for the pan dulce is frankly, a pain in the arse. If you do the spreading on top bit (rather than inside) roll it between sheets of wax paper first-it will save you a good deal of frustration. Both recipes are from Sunset Breads, Step by Step Techniques 1984

Note: These recipes rely on a easy-mix method where the yeast in dissolved along with a small bit of dry ingredients, then beaten on high with a mixer. I use a food service grade yeast that does not work well with that method as the grains are much larger than store bought yeast. To counter this, I dissolved the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water, and just kneaded everything by hand as I typically do. I will give the instructions as printed, but be aware that you can adapt if you don't have a mixer, or buy strange commercial yeast at the surplus store. 

For Pan Dulce:

1 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons butter
2 1/4 teaspoons granulated (not instant yeast)
1 teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
5-6 cups plain flour
2 large eggs
Streusel recipe (below)
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons heavy cream



1/2 cup sugar, 2/3 cup flour, 3 1/2 tablespoons butter, 2 egg yolks. mix dry ingredients, cut in butter. Add egg with a fork until mixed.


Do the same as above, but add 2 tablespoons powdered cocoa, and I added 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon as well. 

In a small pan, heat milk, and butter until very warm. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine yeast, salt, sugar, and 2 cups of flour. Pour in milk mixture and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes scraping as needed. Blend in eggs and 1 cup more flour and beat on high for 2 minutes longer. By hand, stir in enough flour to make a stiff but not dry dough.

Knead dough until smooth, place in a buttered bowl, cover and let rise until doubled.

Meanwhile, make the streusel.

\Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 2 large baking sheets.

Divide dough into 14 balls.

Pat out rounds for the shells, then top with flattened streusel and score carefully with a knife. For horns, roll up like a crescrnt with the filling inside. For ears of corn, make a 4x8 inch oval from the dough. Fill by rolling carefully, and then scoring top.

Let rolls rise until nearly doubled again-about an hour in my cold kitchen. Brush with wash before baking (only filled rolls) and then bake 17-20 minutes or until tops are lightly browned.
 Cool on racks.

For Lucia Buns:

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/16th teaspoon (or a pinch) ground saffron
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 large egg
About 4 cups plain flour
About 1/3 cup raisins
Wash-1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water

In a small pan, melt butter. Remove from heat, stir in cream, sugar, salt, and saffron. Let cool to lukewarm. In a large bowl, mix the yeast and water. Stir to dissolve. Add cooled cream mixture, egg, and 2 cups flour. Beat well with a wooden spoon. Add more flour as needed to make a dough that is smooth, and no longer sticky. Place in a buttered bowl, cover and let rise until doubled.

Divide dough into 24 pieces. Roll each into a ropeabout 9 inches long. Form into S shape by coiling ends in opposite directions. Place a raisin in each swirl. Place about 2 inches apart on a buttered baking sheet. Cover, let rise until doubled-about 35 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Brush rolls with wash, and bake about 15 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned at edges and tops are golden. Cool on racks.


When I visit the north part of Lincoln, Nebraska I can't help notice the many (many, many) billboards that for a lack of a better words seem, bossy.

"Get a mamogram. DO IT NOW!" screams one billboard on 27th street.

"Turn POSITIVE into a positive!" scolds another (that one at least has a strok carrying a diaper to soften the tone a bit).

"STOP elder abuse! It is AGAINST THE LAW!"

"STOP illegal dumping!" (That one cleverly shows the back end of a cow).

And on, and on with lectures about being a parent to your kids (well, fuck I thought I could just ignore them until they turn 18, and then kick 'em out), getting vaccines, and whatever other heavy-handed lectures the people who rent these billboards think people living in the working class part of town need to have in their faces each time they drive down the street. You'd think the economy we've been living with the last few years would have put to rest the idea that the poor must be stupid (or they wouldn't be poor) but no, it is alive and well, at least in Lincoln.

It can't be that expensive to rent a billboard in North Lincoln, can it? What do you guys think of a billboard along Hwy 6 reading: STOP telling me how to live my life on billboards! STOP IT NOW!

When I moved to Nebraska years ago, someone had spray painted, "JUST STOP TRYING" on an abandoned building on O Street. Were I confronted with a finger-wagging lecture each time I left the house, I just might.

Friday, December 07, 2012

How to Fry a Lamb Chop

I haven't eaten a lamb chop in years, but once in a while I make them for Mr. ETB. My mother always broiled hers. I don't care for grease fires, and a kitchen full of smoke, so I fry them.

I season with salt, pepper, and a bit of thyme. I add sage at the end.

Heat a heavy pan over medium heat (I use my cast iron pan for this as it gives a really nice sear). Place the chop in the pan, and leave it alone for at least five minutes. At this point, it will probably give off some fat, so you can carefully adjust it in the pan to take advantage of the added grease. Under no circumstances should you press down on the chop.

After about 8 minutes, it should be nicely coloured, so turn it on the side and cook the fat until it browns-about 3-4 minutes. Flip it over, cook another 5-8 minutes until nearly done. Add about 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan (yeah, that's not Kosher for those of you who care-feel free to use margarine instead). When it is sizzling and bubbly, remove the chop to a plate, stir in about 1/2 teaspoon dried sage, and stir. Turn up the heat, add a good glug (yeah, that's precise) of Port, and reduce until thick. Turn the heat back down to medium, spoon the sauce over the chop, and cook and additional minute or so on each side until it is nicely cooked. These will look beautiful. Let them rest on a plate for a few minutes tented loosely with foil before serving.

Tower of Crepes With Mushrooms, Onion Jam, and Cheeses

This is going to be a long post, so I can wait if you want to go grab a beer or something.
*Taps fingers on desk*
Good, you're back. Comfortable now? Great, here we go.

This dish contains an obscene amount of butter, eggs, and wine. On the positive side, it has onions and mushrooms which probably have some healthy properties that can survive immersion in butter.  This makes a gigantic meal-actually two or three meals, so treat it like a lasagne, and think of it as something eaten sparingly, with a green salad. That said, this is one of the most impressive things I make, and at the holidays when you may find yourself charged with feeding those that don't eat meat, this makes a really lovely main course. If your vegetarians don't eat eggs, butter, and cheese, you'll obviously have to come up with something else. This is more, "meatless" than vegetarian.

The components can all be made up to a couple days ahead (crepes can even be frozen). It is quick enough to assemble once everything in made, and I suggest taking advantage of a spare bit of time here and there to do much of this ahead. I don't like to spend my holidays (or weekends) in the kitchen.

For the Crepes:

(prepare the batter at least two hours before making them as it needs time to rest).

1 cup cold water
1 cup whole milk
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups AP flour
4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled slightly

Whisk together the water, milk, eggs, and salt. Whisk in the flour, then the butter until smooth. I used a hand whisk, but you can use a mixer. Cover and let rest in the fridge at least two hours.

Heat a heavy pan (or a crepe pan if you have one-I use cast iron) over medium heat. When a drop of watter skits across it, it is hot enough. Pour a ladleful of batter into pan, tilt to coat and cook until it looks dry on top. Using your fingers, grab hold of the edge and flip it (you can use a spatula if you're more comfortable) and cook about 1 minute longer. Remove to a plate. Cooled crepes may be stored between sheets of wax paper, or wrapped and frozen for longer storage.

For the Mushrooms:

1 lb. mushrooms (I had Baby Bellas)
4 tablespoons butter (hey, I warned you about all the butter)
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup ruby port

Melt the butter in a heavy pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and spices. Cook until the mushrooms have given up most of their liquid. Turn heat to high, add the port, and cook until nearly all liquid is evaporated. Taste to adjust salt/pepper. Cool until needed.

For the Onion Jam:

2 large yellow onions, sliced thinly
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups ruby port

Melt the butter in a heavy pot. Add the onions, and cook covered on medium-low heat until softened-about ten minutes. Remove lid, cook over low heat until golden-about 30 minutes.

Add sugar, and cook until a dark colour-about 10 minutes. Add port and cook over high heat until it is all reduced to a jam-about 10 minutes. Cool.

Cheese Filling:

1 lb whole milk cottage cheese, drained overnight then forced through a sieve.
1 cup of the cheese mixture below
1 whole egg

Mix together right before using-don't do this one ahead.

Cheese mixture:

You'll need a total of 4 cups finely grated cheese. I used a combination of hard and soft-ish cheese: Swiss, Sheep's milk hard cheese (the label didn't offer much guidance as it was a cheese-end purchase) and some Pecorino Romano. Set aside 1 cup to stir into the cottage cheese mixture, and another cup for topping. Use the remaining 2 cups for the layers.

Put it together:

Grease a heavy baking sheet, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Most of your layers will be onion and mushroom as there is only enough cheese mixture for two layers. Space them accordingly. This will depend how many crepes you got. I had a dozen, but yours may be thicker, resulting in fewer. Stary with a crepe, then spread it with onion jam, and a bit of mushrooms. Scatter a small bit of grated cheese atop it. Add another crepe and do the same. When you get to your first soft cheese layer, be sure to spread it evenly to the edge so you don't build your tower of crepes into a mountain peak. Continue until you reach the top. This should use a small remaining bit of onions and mushrooms, and the remaining cup of shredded cheese. Cover with foil, place in oven and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking until cheese has browned nicely on top. Let stand a few minutes before slicing into wedges. Also works as a cold dish.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Mincemeat screw it, have a pie

You know everyone ends up eating five or six tarts anyway, so why not just make individual pies? A double crust pastry recipe gave me enough for four, which if you're doing the maths is 1/4 of a pie. What the hell, enjoy Christmas. Have some eggnog.

I bought the small, square ceramic dishes at last year's after holiday sales. I think they cost .25 cents. They were cute enough to serve in, but I find unmoulding tarts (or pies, if you will) and cooling on a rack keeps the crust nicer. They could easily be slipped back into the dishes to serve.

Monday, December 03, 2012

I'm Saving You Money, Again

I baked my yearly panettone today, and I thought this might be a good time to remind readers that a perfectly attractive loaf can be made without purchasing a special pan, or paper sleeves that cost more than the ingredients.

You'll need a tall pan, which used to be the sort of thing I solved with coffee tins, but now they tend to have coated linings, or be made of cardboard. I used a soufflĂ© dish that I buttered generously. Then, I lined it with two longs strips of parchment paper (I cut a round for the bottom as well) that extended several inches over the edge of the pan. The butter should help keep it in place. I went ahead and buttered the paper again just to be on the safe side as this is sticky dough.  Then, to increase the stability, I wrapped the outside in a tall layer of heavy-duty foil. The loaf rose and baked beautifully, unmoulded without trouble, and the clean-up was minimal.

If I had any other use for that sort of pan I'd buy one, but a one-a-year kitchen item is one more thing to take up precious storage space.

I've also used a tube pan for baking large panettone, as it solves that whole, "underbaked in the centre" issue. I admit, it isn't as pretty, and you tend to get a wedge of bread rather than a slice, but for the novice baker, it does make for an easier baking. Because the dough is so rich in butter, eggs, and fruit, baking panettone can be tricky-why complicate things with special pans? My loaf was huge, and I kept assuming at some point it would collapse, but this must have been my lucky day as it rose tall, and remained so. That could almost sound dirty, eh? If your loaf remains huge after six hours, you should seek medical advice, put on a pot of coffee, and grab the butter and jam.

Cranberry Mincemeat (meatless)

I have plenty of suet in the freezer, but this style of mincemeat does not require any, making it perfect for a water-bath canner. I didn't bother with mine, as they'll get stored in the freezer and fridge, but if you decide to preserve any thirty minutes in a water-bath canner for quart sized jars ought to do it.

You Will Need:

4 large apples, pared and diced
1 pound fresh cranberries
12 ounces chopped dried apricots
1 lb. dark raisins
1 lb. sultanas
1/2 cup candied ginger peel
1 cup candied orange and lemon slices (or just candied peel if that's what you have)
1/2 lb. dried currants
2 medium oranges, ground (seeds removed)
2 large lemons, ground (seeds removed)
2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 quart apple juice (or cider if you have it)
3/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup apple brandy

Mix everything except the booze in a large stock pot and bring slowly to a  boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook until thick-about 1 hour. Remove from heat, stir in booze, and return to heat. Simmer 30 minutes longer, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Pack into hot, sterilised  quart jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, and adjust caps. If canning, do 30 minuttes in a water bath canner, or store in fridge if planning to use soon. Makes about 3 1/2 quarts.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Aw, Nuts

For the third time this holiday season, we arrived at an event, and had to promptly turn and leave because of on-site nut roasting in close quarters. Today, it was inside a tent housing the Christmas market. I felt terrible for Danny that yet again, we'd have to leave somewhere he'd been excited to visit. I can avoid the nut roasters at the farmer's market as it is outdoors-inside a tent is a little too risky given his level of allergy.

Danny was disappointed, but it is his allergy, and you can't really expect the world to accommodate it. We went somewhere else, he had a good time, and we got through the afternoon without a trip to the hospital or using eppi-pens. Personally, I was relieved I didn't have to go to the damned Christmas market because Danny forbade me making German jokes, (even muttered under my breath) and I wasn't sure I could do it! I mean, if they can't take a joke, they should stop starting World Wars.

On the positive side, the kid got to see Flamenco dancing yesterday, and belly dancing today. He saw captive owls at the Pioneers Park Nature Center (he even got to watch the kestrels being fed baby mice, which is exciting if you're into seeing the food chain in action) a one-winged bald eagle, and some other damned owl that was doing a back and forth call with him.  He also saw pots thrown, glass blown, and all manner of art at the Hot Shops studios open house. I think that more than makes up for missing the Christmas market. Then, in a moment consumed by parental guilt, we plunked down more money than we should have to take him to the opera in February. Mr. ETB got the pricey seats, as he wanted Danny to be able to see his first opera from a reasonable distance. The thought of climbing to third balcony probably put him off as well. The Magic Flute. We're taking him to the Magic Flute-"I am the Birdcatcher", and all that stuff.  Danny says I can't make German jokes about *that* either. Really, if they can't take a joke, they should stop staring World Wars.

I hope they won't be roasting nuts at the opera.