Sunday, January 27, 2013


I can always tell when Danny is about to have a growth spurt. Cranky, sleeping, devouring food like he's fearful someone will take it away-I knew the trousers I'd bought in fall wouldn't last through spring.

Have you seen what passes for children's clothing today? After numerous attempts to locate a normal looking denim at department stores, I finally gave up, and took him to The Fort, a local Western wear store. Eight year old boys don't need chains and other crap hanging off the pockets, nor do they need a million pockets down the sides. I'm pleased with the slim-fit, straight leg, not pre-faded jeans we came home with, though I'm slightly disturbed that he wears a size twelve (and they will probably be too short by the end of summer). I held the jeans up to myself-they were long. True, I'm somewhat on the short side, but I don't know too many (any) grade two students that are five feet tall. God, I wish he were coordinated enough to dribble a basketball-we could get the whole university tuition thing sorted now.

Mr. ETB found trousers as well. Danny isn't interested in boots, but he's been envious of his Papa's growing collection of braces-so we bought him a pair. You'd think we just bought him a car or something by the excited reaction. Personally, I think he's relieved he doesn't need to deal with a belt any longer as they are always *just* between the hole that would fit correctly. Braces hold up your trousers without all the fuss.

At home, we looked over the packaging for the braces, and took a look at the website:

These are really well made. I'm not being paid or compensated in any way to promote the company-we bought them, like them, and plan to purchase more. Go look at the website-it will blow your mind.

I've arrived at the conclusion my dad did years ago-if you want durable, well made clothing, shoes, wallets and belts, you need to buy them at a Western store. I used to think he was silly, dragging way out to the suburbs for a belt, or a wallet. I don't say this often, but he was right (about clothing). Mr. ETB stopped buying dress shoes for work, and bought a decent pair of boots that have seen him through interviews and a couple of jobs. I have shirts I purchased there a decade ago that still launder beautifully.  No more screwing around buying Danny's trousers at box retailers-I've been converted. What's more, there's trained salespeople who help (really, they do) and will check the fitting room to see if you need another size (we did).

Now, if I could just get the kid to take an interest in basketball...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Soybutter Layer Cake with Soybutter and Chocolate Frosting

I'm always happy when a well-loved recipe can be converted into a peanut-free version Danny can enjoy. I used a new brand of soybutter for this, and the results were fantastic. Unlike the sunflower butter I use the soybutter is emulsified, which makes using it as a peanut butter replacement in recipes much easier. This is an old recipe, from the days before "natural" style peanut butter crept out of the hippie health food stores, and into the supermarket. We had a great hippie health food store in Chicago, and while I remember really liking soy nuts as a kid, I don't remember seeing soybutter until recently.

I can't remember what I did this morning, but I remember the hippie health food store pretty clearly. After my mother started having heart attacks (yep, that's a plural) she thought natural food might enable her to continue smoking two packets of cigarettes a day, and remaining largely inactive. I mean, faced with the choice of quit smoking, or take exercise she must have felt doomed and figured, "Fuck it, I'm going to buy some soya based products."

The shop was kind of dark, but that didn't stop the women that ran it from cramming dozens of sun-catchers in the tiny storefront window. They had a coffee grinder...a manual coffee grinder that required cranking, and tins of goats milk, grains no one had ever heard of, and every imaginable form of soya bean products. That first jar of "toasted" soyanuts (I'm still not convinced they weren't fried) was the first food I can remember really enjoying (because all the food at Ye Olde House 'O Heart Attacks" was unsalted, overcooked, and "healthy" in the way people thought you ate healthy in the 60's). We couldn't have any sugar, but we could have all the honey we wanted. No candy, but carob covered raisins were OK because they came from the health food store. God, I loved that health food store-no one tried feeding me skinless chicken breasts stewed in V-8 juice. Anyway, none of us lost any weight eating the health food store goods, but damn, I sure did enjoy those soyanuts. Then, I forgot about them, for something like forty years, until I started using the chunky style soynut butter today, and was transported back to the little hippie health food store with the suncatchers and coffee grinder. If I owned any peasant skirts or tie dye, I'd run to put them on-really, I would. I don't think I even own a Grateful Dead record.

So now I'm supposed to have some sort of Proustian moment where I taste a piece of cake, and it reminds me of childhood, and I take to bed and write a seven hundred page memoir or something. Eh? Yeah, I'm not doing that...the memoir part anyway.

Please, try this cake. I know it works well with the soynut butter (and peanut butter if you're lucky enough to be allergy free) and I can't see why it wouldn't with any of the other nut-replacement butters on the market. It is dead easy to bake, the frosting is simple (no cooking involved-hooray!) and if you've just made a batch of fig jam (I did) and want to use it to fill the centre, well then you should just go right ahead and do it (I did). I also think you could do a cream cheese frosting to great effect here, skipping the chocolate completely.

I'm so excited to have a good chunky style nut-butter replacement that I just threatened Mr. ETB with that other wonderful 1960's memory-peanut butter garlic bread. Don't knock it 'till you've tried it.

Original recipe comes from the Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, 1966

You Will Need:

For the Cake:

1/3 cup soft, unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chunky soybutter (or peanut butter)
1 cup milk (yes, you can use skim, but your children will write stories about you on their blogs someday) divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 inch baking pans. Set aside.

Cream the butter until light. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add this to the butter, along with the peanut butter and 2/3 cup of the milk. Beat 2 minutes on medium speed. The cookbook suggests this equals 300 vigourous strokes by hand. Fuck that. Use a hand mixer. Add the remaining milk, the eggs, and vanilla. Beat another two minutes. Pour into pans, bake 25-30 minutes, and cool in pans on rack for 5 minutes before unmoulding. Cool completely then frost with:

Chocolate Soybutter frosting:

1/2 cup soybutter
1/3 cup powdered cocoa
2 2/3 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup cream or undiluted evaporated milk (I used a combination of heavy cream and milk)

Cream together soybutter and cocoa. Add everything else except cream, which you add slowly until it is a spreading consistency. Frost that sucker, and if you're feeling fancy (and why wouldn't you feel fancy-you're baking a goddamned cake) scatter chocolate curls across the top.

And there you are-you just salvaged another favourite recipe from the "contains peanuts" file.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Owl Cookies

I thought these might make a nice treat after an evening of calling to the owl (again). Danny's friend shows up regularly now, but we still can't seem to locate the nest.

 The teapot/cup/caddy were a Christmas gift for Danny. Yes, the photo is terrible. This isn't the sort of cookery blog with pretty photographs. This is the sort of blog with owl jokes:

Two owls are sitting on a line. One owl turns, and asks the other,
"Do you smell fish?"

Moving along to the biscuits...

The recipe comes from an old Pillsbury pamphlet (late 50's early 60's would be my guess) that has provided us with all sorts of adorable treats. I used dried dates for the beaks in place of cashews, which worked fine.

The dough was simple enough to handle, though a bit on the dry side. The cookies bake nicely, though it is somewhat difficult to tell when they are done, as they don't brown much. You'll need to watch them carefully, and remove them when they are just firm-they harden upon cooling.

You Will Need:

2 1/2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar-packed
1 large egg, unbeaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1/4 teaspoon bicarb
Slices of dried dates or apricots (or nuts) for beak, and chocolate chips for eyes

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, cream butter, and slowly add the brown sugar. Beat in the egg, then the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients gradually.

Combine the chocolate and bicarb in a small bowl.

Remove 2/3 of the dough and set aside. To the remaining third, mix in the chocolate/bicarb mixture.

Roll out half of the light dough into a strip 10x4 inches. Shape half of the chocolate dough into a roll 10 inches long. Place atop light dough, then mould sides of light dough around dark. Wrap in cling film, and chill at least two hours. Repeat with remaining dough.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment, or grease lightly. Slice dough 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick (I did mine about 1/2 inch thick). Place together on a baking sheet. Press date between the eyes, and pinch corners of eyes to make ears.

Bake 8-12 minutes. Remove from sheets immediately, and cool on racks. Store between layers of foil in a tightly covered container.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Marmalade With Whisky

In the end, I made the first batch of marmalade with white sugar, and a generous glug of whisky (about 1/3 cup). I can't believe I never tried this before.

Good? Yeah. "Real good" as they say around here. I just had the craziest mental image of Larry The Cable Guy saying, "Made some real good marmalade-git 'er done!" It probably goes well with crisps. Possibly beer. I followed the basic recipe in the blue book, with a few changes.

Here's What I did:

Day before:

Finely sliced peels of orange-2 cups (about 8 large oranges)
Chopped oranges-1 quart (about 8)
1 cup thinly sliced lemon, with peel
1 1/2 quarts of water

Bring to a simmer, then simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and keep somewhere cool (I kept mine on the counter, but our kitchen is cold when no one is cooking) for 12-18 hours.

Next Day:

Sterilise jars. Set up canner, funnels, rubber spatulas, etc.

Cook peels and pulp rapidly until peel is soft. Make sure you have it the way you like it, as it won't soften any more once you add the sugar. Measure your fruit and liquid. Add sugar in a 1:1 ratio. Stir it in slowly. Keep stirring until it dissolves. Cook *Almost* to the gelling point-marmalade can go super-hard quickly, and unless you enjoy bending all your spoons as you attempt prying it from the jar, keep an eye on it. A jam thermometer helps, but mine has to get to 225 F before it looks even close. Most books say 220, or 218 for jelly-so really, use the spoon test to see if it sheets, or do the cold saucer thing, but don't just rely on a thermometer. You want to catch it just before it breaks in a proper sheet.

Remove from heat, stir in the whisky (it will bubble furiously, so you should stand back as being scalded with hot jam is unpleasant).

Pour into 1/2 pint jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove bubbles, wipe threads, and seal. Process 10 minutes (adjusting for altitude) and then let cool in the canner 5 minutes before removing. Let stand 12-24 hours before testing seals. It may take a few days to set, though my overflow batch that wouldn't fit in the canner set quickly in the fridge.

Makes about 10 half pints.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Marmalade Time

I bought a case of oranges today, and the first batch of marmalade is ready to cook in the morning (I do the peels and chopping the day before). That took care of eight oranges-no idea what to do with the other fifty or so, but they sure do look beautiful in glass bowls on my table.

Every year I ask myself why I do it, then finish my last jar of the previous year's preserving at Christmas and...well here we are. What else do I have to do in the dead of January?

I ended up paying around .30 a pound for these-just by asking the produce manager if there was a discount for a case. I find it is always worth asking, and once word gets out that you're an avid preserver, you'll be alerted to special items, sales, and the like. It also helps if you say thank you with a jar of whatever you made, which seems like good manners to me.

These oranges were tart, and delicious for plain old navels. As we can't get Sevilles here, I usually add orange blossom water for the bitterness, and extra lemon for the tartness. This time, two lemon per batch should suffice. I've already made myself ill eating a couple this evening, but I'm certain that won't stop me. Blood oranges are my real downfall, but they've been awful this year (so far). I could eat an entire case of those on my own-not in a single sitting of course, but over a week's time...probably. Those are never .30 cents a pound.

I have the next twelve hours to decide between brown, or white sugar. I'm partial to brown in marmalade as I think it gives it a more interesting flavour, but the oranges are so good this year, I don't think they need to be made more interesting. A dilemma, I tell you!

Also on the list this year:

Spiced Orange Jelly

Creamsicle Jelly (With vanilla)

Orange, Apple, and Honey Fruit Leather

Candied Orange Slices

Candied Orange Peels in Chocolate

Orange Chiffon Pie

Orange Slices in Brandy

Pickled Orange Slices in Malt Vinegar

I'm exhausted just typing it out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Owl Bet We Have A Nest

Each evening, a Great Horned Owl takes up residence on a post along our drive. We're next to a wildlife area, and there's a row of pine trees in the windbreak, so it is understandably an attractive place for an owl. Each night, around 5 PM he starts hooting from the large post. Sometimes, he moves to the top of the nearby tree, and a few evenings ago, we spotted a pair, sharing different branches, and clearly calling each other. This has gone on for weeks. We've seen (and heard) other types of owls here, but we're pretty sure, based on his pattern, that this is the same owl night after night.

Sometimes, Danny can call (he's really good at different owl calls-thanks Nebraska Bird Library!) and get an answer for a bit, before the owl grows tired and flies off. A few nights ago, Mr. ETB took him out to try and watch the owl in the fading light, and they were lucky enough to see him taking off over the adjoining field.

One afternoon, driving home, we stopped to observe a Great Horned sitting on a post along the County Road, only to have it follow us home, sitting at the same post.

Most evenings, as I prepare dinner, I expect Danny to come inside announcing the arrival of the owl(s). While I could do without the hooting all night (I swear, it must sit outside my window after 2 AM) it is really exciting to live in a place where the owls recognise you, and don't immediately fly off when they spot a human.

In other birdwatching news, we've seen Nuthatches, Cardinals, Bluejays, Juncos, Sparrows, Meadowlarks, Cooper's Hawks, Woodpeckers (Hairy and Downy) Black and White Warblers, and the odd Pheasant wandering near the house. The Cooper's Hawk (I suspect) is eying the smaller birds at the feeder. I don't know what Danny will do if he sees it flying off with a House Sparrow, but I doubt he's been hanging around because he likes our yard.

Italian Anisette Cookies

These cookies remind me of Stella D'Oro -something I haven't thought about in at least thirty (possibly more) years. I have no idea if they still exist as a grocery store brand, but were I determined to reproduce them, this would be awfully close.

The recipe claims to be 100 years old (more like 120, as I bought the book ages ago) though I don't know how common electric mixers would have been at the turn of the century-these would be a chore, though not impossible with a hand whisk.

I used much less anise extract than the recipe called for. Had I used a whopping 2 tablespoons, not only would my house smell like a distillery, but I'm convinced the cookies would be inedible. That's my opinion anyway-do what your taste buds tell 'ya.

I shaped them in the recommended "O", "X", and "S" shapes. It is a cookbook from Chicago, so maybe they're supposed to read, "SOX". Might be cute at an Opening Day Party (guess that could work in Boston as well).

The recipe did not call for salt, but I used salted butter, which I think helps. If using sweet butter, add a pinch of salt with the flour.

From, Jewel-Osco 100 Years of Fresh Family Recipes

1/4 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons anise extract (I used 2 teaspoons)
2 1/4 cups plain flour sifted with 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Cream Butter and sugar together until light. Add eggs, beating with a hand mixer on high speed for 1 minute after adding each egg. This is important as the eggs provide most of the body of the cookies. Add extracts. With a wooden spoon, stir in flour and baking powder only until mixed. Take a small amount in your hands (if dough is too sticky, flour your hands lightly) and roll them into letter shapes. Place on a greased cookie sheet, and bake in a preheated 350 degree f. oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on size of the cookies. You'll need to keep an eye on them-the cookies should be very lightly browned on the bottom. They dry out quickly, as the recipe warns, and I discovered on the second batch. Cool on racks, then glaze with:

1/4 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon anise extract (I'd adjust that downward a bit-your call)
3 cups icing sugar

Mix until smooth. Dip the tops of cookies in the icing, then drain on racks. If using jimmies to decorate, do so when the icing is still wet.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Today's Theme: Filled With Something Rotten...

...A black BMW with Massachusetts plates.

OK, your turn. Use the comment thread.

Meatless Empanadas and Tapenade Rolls

Faced with several tins of pumpkin that never did get used over the holidays, and half a packet of "veggie chorizo" I improvised, and came up with these. The family liked them, and I had enough filling to freeze for another time. I used an oil crust recipe that while good in the end, was really difficult to roll out. As I consider myself exceptionally skilled with a rolling pin, I'm not going to recommend something that I only barely succeeded with. Any pie crust recipe will do-use the one you know and like best. You'll need enough for a two crust pie.

Any leftover filling may be frozen, or make extra empanadas and freeze them.

You Will Need:

1  tin of pumpkin (15 oz), drained for an hour to remove excess liquid
1/2 package veggie chorizo-cooked and cooled
1 recipe onion jam (see below).

Combine all (let jam and chorizo cool). Chill before using to fill empanadas. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 425 degrees F. until nicely browned.

Onion Jam:

2 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup buter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup ruby port
1/2 cup dry red wine

In a large heavy pot with a lid, melt the butter and add the onions. Stir to coat, then cook, covered over low heat 10 minutes until onions soften. Remove lid, cook 20-30 minutes until golden. Add sugar, stir, and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, or until a deep brown. Add wine, bring to a boil, and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until thick and syrupy (most of the liquid should be evaporated. Cool before using.

If you still have extra pumpkin puree to use, try this recipe for pumpkin tapenade rolls. I made my own tapenade (olives, capers, garlic, anchovy paste, olive oil, pepper) but store bought is OK too. This would also make a good vehicle for the onion jam above. Here's the dough recipe:

1 cup pumpkin puree, drained
3 teaspoons granulated dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup strong flour
1-2 cups plain flour

Proof the yeast in the warm water with the sugar. After it foams, add the oil, salt, pumpkin, and strong flour. Work in as much of the plain flour as you need to keep it from being too sticky. Knead well, coat a bowl with oil. Place dough in, turning to coat, then cover with clingfilm and let rise until doubled-about 1 hour. Punch dough down, and let rest 10 minutes. With a pin, roll out into a large rectangle about 1 inch thick. Spread the surface with tapenade. Roll up from the long side like a jelly roll. Grease a large pan (or two-round ones look pretty) and cut the dough into rounds like cinnamon rolls. Place a little bit apart in pans. Cover lightly, and let rise about 40 minutes, or until just doubled. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake 15 minutes, rotate pans, and bake another 15-20 longer. Makes about 2 dozen rolls.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sprouted Wheat Bread

I don't typically post recipes involving oddball ingredients, but this is an exception. I'm posting it more for myself, than readers as I will likely want to prepare it again. If you happen to have wheat sprouts, and kefir on hand-this really is a lovely bread, but I wouldn't go out of my way to sprout wheatberries and make kefir just for the sake of a loaf of bread. This bread proved quite popular, as half the loaf is already gone, and I only baked it this morning!

You Will Need:

1/2 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons granulated dry (not instant) yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup kefir at room temperature
4 tablespoons margarine, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup sprouted wheatberries
3 cups strong flour

Proof yeast in warm water with the granulated sugar. Let stand 15 minutes, or until foamy. Stir in kefir, margarine, salt, honey and wholemeal flour. Mix well. Add the wheat berries, and mix well. Add the strong flour slowly-about 1/2 cup at a time until the dough is soft, but not so sticky that you can't handle it. Cover bowl and let rest 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, begin to knead, adding only as much flour as absolutely necessary to keep it from being a sticky mess. The dough will be quite soft. Place in a buttered bowl, and let rise an hour, folding twice in that time. After the final fold, let dough rise until doubled.

Gently de-gas the dough and shape into a large loaf, or two smaller loaves. Place in well-buttered tins. Cover lightly with a towel, and let rise in a warm spot-top of the oven is fine) until nearly doubled-about 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

I brushed mine with beaten egg white beacause I had it, but anything you like would be fine-an egg yolk wash would be attractive as well.

Bake 20 minutes, then rotate pan and bake another 20-30 minutes, or until bread reaches an internal temperature of 200-205 degrees F. Cool on rack.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sour Cherry Cake-Pie Filling From Frozen Cherries

Unless you put up sour cherries in season last summer (I didn't) your choices come January are limited to tinned pie filling (ick) a filling made from tinned cherries (expensive!) or a filling made from frozen cherries. The latter, while still expensive is less so than tinned, and the overall quality of the fruit is better. I spent about eight dollars for two bags which yielded eight cups. Do the maths (go on, this is simple for heaven's sake) and you come out ahead over the six dollar tin of sour cherries in juice of which you would need at least four.

The beauty of this recipe is how wonderfully it freezes. You'll have enough for a generous pie, but if you're using it for an extravagant birthday cake filling (Happy 52nd Mr. ETB) freeze the rest in small plastic freezer bags or jars, and you'll have a perfect pancake topping ready to go some Sunday morning when you don't feel like dealing with breakfast. Or ice cream-you can use it to top ice cream. Or tarts. Well, you get the idea.

You don't need to fully thaw the cherries, which also make it that much easier. The recipe isn't fancy, but it is reliable. When you're assembling a fancy chocolate and whipped cream cake, you don't need unreliable cherry filling, now do you? Of course you don't-that's why you came here. This reliable recipe is from  the ever reliable Ball Blue Book.

You Will Need:

8 cups frozen sour cherries
2 1/2 cups sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch

Mix cornstarch and sugar together. Toss with cherries in a large bowl and let stand about 30 minutes(up to 45 if the cherries are really frozen hard). I give them a gentle toss with a spatula a few times to help distribute the cornstarch/sugar mix as the cherries thaw, but you don't need to.

Cook over medium heat in a large, heavy pot, stirring gently to prevent scorching before the sugar melts. Cook until thickened (I like mine a bit on the looser side, but if you like a thicker filling cook a bit longer). Cool, then pack into freezer containers and freeze. Makes about 4 pints.

How to Make Tofu "Duck"

Now that I've taught you how to roast a duck, here's something to serve the vegetarians. It goes well with the typical side-dishes served with duck (at our house that's noodles and cooked red cabbage with apples) and can be made a day (or two) ahead.

You Will Need:

1 block extra firm tofu
1 cube veggie soup mix, powdered in a grinder (or with a rolling pin if that's all you have)
1 teaspoon dried garlic
1 tablespoon dried onion
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
A generous grinding of pepper
1 tablespoon honey or Golden Syrup
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons cooking oil (I used soybean as it does not have a strong flavour)
Yellow food colour-a few drops(optional, but I'd use it as it really makes the dish more attractive).

Slice the tofu into four equal pieces. Lay flat between kitchen towels, and weight to press(a quart jar filled with water, set on the side should do it) . You may need to do this a few times, about ten minutes each until the towels are no longer getting wet. Mix everything else in a measuring cup, then pour into a baking dish. Place the pieces of tofu in, turning to coat all sides. You can let it sit in the fridge several hours, or bake it straightaway. I've done both, and can't tell the difference-your call.
Bake 30 minutes each side in a 400 degree F. oven.  Store cooled, and tightly wrapped in cling film in the fridge. It is easier to slice thin when cold, so I often slice it before reheating. The microwave works great-about 1-2 minutes in a covered dish should do it.

Makes a terrific cold sandwich the next day.

How to Roast a Duck

A quick search of the internet convinced me I needed to do this post. Sure, there are a number of ways to roast a duck, depending what sort of skin you like, dressing, etc. Still, what I found lacking was a straightforward explanation of the basics. I did run across an absurd post suggesting turning the duck every half hour or so. Don't do that. Really, just don't do that-duck doesn't need a rotisserie, and no matter how good your tongs are, you'll only succeed in mangling the skin, and probably the flesh as well. Don't flip your duck. Really, you don't need to do that.

What you do need is a good roasting pan-the heavier the better. You can use a foil pan, but then you can't deglaze it at the end, denying yourself all the good stuff stuck at the bottom for a sauce.

Next, you'll need a rack-possibly two or more. I find it much easier to drain off the fat if the duck is raised well off the pan. Sometimes I use two racks-last time I used three. If you don't have one (or three) crumple up some foil and place the duck atop it. That'll work, but it may stick a bit at the end.

Fine, now you have a duck. Most likely, if you're buying it from a grocer in the United States, you have a duckling, about six pounds at the most. If you're lucky, it will have a generous flap of extra fatty skin over the neck cavity. Trim this away and save it. DO NOT THROW THIS OUT. You'll render it later, and get a good 1/3 cup of duck fat from it. You will also have extra fat from the bottom of the roasting pan after the first hour, so designate a jar ahead of time, and just keep adding your duck fat to it. The six pound duck I roasted last evening yielded 1/2 pint of duck fat-that's a whole lot of roast potatoes. The fat will last almost forever in the fridge, so really, why wouldn't you save it?

After you've trimmed the fat from the neck, you need to come to terms with the offal truth. If you have plans to make stock, save the neck, heart, etc. The liver can be pan fried, and if you have a dog at home, it will love you forever if you place it as a surprise in the dog dish. That's what we used to do because Mr. ETB is terrified of liver. Me? I'd eat it if I could, vegetarian or not because hey, duck liver is wonderful-but I can't. I have it sitting in a dish in the fridge. I am going cook it, and set it out where I see the farm cats. Someone ought to enjoy it.

The skin should be pricked all over, really well with a skewer or toothpick. Don't neglect the legs and thighs. This helps the fat to drain, which also helps the skin to crisp. I am assuming you want a crisp skin, because what sort of freak doesn't want crisp skin on a roast duck? If you choose to use the sauce packet (or any sauce) it will reduce the crispness of the duck, but you can counter that by serving it on the side, or on the slices of duck, replacing the skin back over it at serving. Another technique is to add it in the last ten minutes, then blast the heat-but that still does away with the crispness a bit. After you prick the skin, score it again lightly with a sharp knife. Then, rub in a generous amount of coarse salt-about 1/8 cup. Don't butter or oil the surface of the duck-enough will come to the surface through the skin. Salt the cavity as well.

Don't baste! You don't need to baste a duck-there's so much fat in it there's virtually no chance of drying it out (unless you cook it for 8 hours or something).

Set your oven to 400 degrees F.  Place the duck in the pan on a rack(s). Place in the oven and leave it alone for 1 hour. After an hour, it should give up enough fat to drain off (a baster works well for this-just don't baste the duck). You can tilt the pan carefully if needed. It may splatter a bit, so wear oven mits, and stand a bit back. Return the duck to the oven and continue roasting another 1-2 hours. A 6 lb. duck takes about 3 hours.

When the duck is just about done, Remove it to a baking sheet carefully.  Remove the rack. At this point, deglaze the pan with wine (I used ruby port). Place the roasting pan directly over high heat on the burner and scrape with a spoon to loosen the stuff on the bottom. Pour this off into a saucepan. Add something for flavour (I had plum conserve and a handful of sour cherries, but red currant jelly works fine as well-or even orange marmalade if you prefer). Reduce to a sauce. Serve this alongside the duck, or over noodles if you've made them-you have made noodles, haven't you?Meanwhile, return the duck on the baking sheet to the oven and blast the heat to 475 degrees F. for about 5 minutes to crisp the skin further.

That's it. Let the duck stand about ten minutes before carving. Remove the legs first, and everything will carve neater.

Congratulations, you've roasted a duck.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Banana Date Muffins

You could almost call these healthy what with the whole wheat, and egg whites but then you would have to pretend you didn't just add a cup of butter to them. The recipe will give you 24 generous muffins, so it is somewhat spread out through the recipe, but a cup of butter is still a cup of butter. Do what your conscience permits. These freeze well (as do most muffins) wrapped tightly in sandwich bags (buy the cheap ones for heaven's sake) and secured with twist ties you saved from purchasing your produce (you do save the twist-ties don't you? Please tell me you save the twist ties.

You Will Need:

2 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons bicarb
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 cup butter, softened at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups mashed banana (about 4 large ones)
4 egg whites plus 1 whole egg (I used large)
1 cup finely chopped dates

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line your tins with paper baking cups, or grease really well with butter. Combine flour, bicarb, and salt. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the banana, then the eggs. Add the dates. Add the flour and mix just until combined. Pour into cups. Top each with coarse sugar if you like. Bake 25 minutes. Rotate pans and continue baking until they test done with a toothpick. Mine took about 40 minutes total. Cool on racks. When completely cool, muffins may be frozen if tightly wrapped. Makes 24 generous muffins.

Banana and Sunflower Butter Ice Cream

The same day that Mr. ETB came home with the bargain oxtails, we also scored some *really* overripe bananas (and bags of lemons, key limes, avocados, and other still acceptable produce). The produce came from the Warehouse Surplus, a place well worth the trip to Wahoo, particularly if you are a baker. I made several batches of banana chips in the dehydrator, and then I turned my attention to breads, muffins, and this ice cream.

I used whole, cream-top milk for this as I had it leftover from something else. Ordinarily, I would use 2% and cream, but due to the weight of the banana, I think this worked out better. I suspect you could achieve excellent results with skim.

I make my ice cream in a metal baking pan in the freezer. Stirring it every 20 minutes with a fork does the trick, but you can of course use an ice cream maker, though that will make a lighter ice cream.

You Will Need:

2 cups whole milk (or milk/cream, skim milk, etc.)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks (I used large eggs)
1/4 cup sunflower seed butter
1 large, ripe banana-mashed well

In a saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat to steaming. Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Whisk the milk slowly into the eggs in a stream (or temper it if you're not confident at this sort of thing). Return to heat, and cook until it is 170 degrees F. Meanwhile, in another heat-proof bowl, combine the mashed banana, and sunflower seed butter. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into the banana/sunflower butter mixture. Whisk until combined. Place in a water bath with ice cubes to cool, then chill several hours in the fridge. When completely chilled, freeze in tray, or use an ice cream maker. Store in a plastic container, and allow to set a few hours before serving.

Makes about 1 pint.

North Dakota Buttermilk Cornbread

This is fussy cornbread. Unfortunately, we all preferred it to my standard cornbread. Why can't they appreciate the stir-and-dump recipes? Really, the only difficulty is whipping egg whites, so don't be frightened off making this. Still, we're talking about cornbread which comes with an expectation of simplicity.

The recipe comes from America Cooks, The General Federation of Women's Clubs Cookbook, 1967 edition.

You Will Need:

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mixed butter and lard (I used all butter)
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon bicarb
1 tablespoon water

Grease a 9 inch square pan. Preheat oven to 400 degrees f.

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter. Mix egg yolks into buttermilk. Add to dry ingredients. Dissolve bicarb in water, and add to mixture. Stir only until everything is moistened. Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Fold into batter. Spread in pan and bake 20-30 minutes.

If you make this, I recommend letting your family know how difficult it was whipping those egg whites, and how exhausted you are from it. With any luck, they'll volunteer to  wash up.

Nebraska Flyswatter-Oxtail Stew

You know, 'caus cattle swat at flies with their tails...right, so I made Mr. ETB some oxtails that he bought from the dramatically reduced freezer chest at the Wahoo Super. Yes, I occasionally shop at a place called the Wahoo Super.

I was..hesitant? Truth be told, they appeared to have been in residence over in that freezer chest for some time, and had I been shopping alone, I'd have probably passed said freezer chest by without a second look. I wasn't shopping alone. I wouldn't have bought the past-their-date potato chips either, but we all have different levels of self loathing.

I did not eat the Nebraska Flyswatter for dinner (being vegetarian, and all) but Mr. ETB enjoyed it. If you see a big guy with a ponytail, wearing braces, and lurking around the freezer chest at the Wahoo Super, it is probably Mr. ETB looking for another bargain package of oxtails. I'll post the recipe in case he finds more, and wants me to reproduce the magic.

You Will Need:

A couple generous knobs of beef suet
2-3 large oxtails(about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 1/4 cups water
2 cups water
1 cup tomato sauce
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 bay leaves
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
1 large onion, quartered
Carrots, potatoes, parsnip, etc. diced
Flour (about 1/4 cup)

Melt the suet in a heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat. Dredge the oxtails in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Brown oxtails in hot suet.

Add 3 cups water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook covered for about 2 hours. You'll want to check it frequently to be certain it isn't boiling. After the initial cooking, mix together the water, tomato sauce, and mustard. Add to the pot. Add the bay leaves, and garlic. Cover and cook 1 hour longer. Remove oxtails to a platter and let cool. Meanwhile, add the vegetables, and cover again. Simmer while the oxtails are cooling. When the oxtails are cool enough to handle, remove the meat. In an ideal world, you could just push them through with your fingers. In my world, you'll need to trim some gristle and fat. When you have removed the meat (you'll be surprised how much you can get from a few oxtails) return it to the pot. Simmer until the vegetables are just becoming tender. Strain, reserving liquid. Return liquid to pan, and whisk in flour, starting with about 4 tablespoons. Turn up the heat, and whisk until it begins to thicken (you may need more flour). You want a thin gravy, as it tends to thicken as it sits, reheats, etc. Don't cook it until you have the texture of custard. Add the meat and vegetables back to the pan, and cook until re-warmed through over very low heat-about 15 minutes.

After the leftovers cool, you can remove whatever fat rises to the top of the liquid. You may hear objections, but trust me on this one-the fat has already done what it was there to do. Feeds about four, or one greedy Scotsman over a couple days.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Candied Mint Leaves

This works best with a dehydrator, but in a dry climate you can leave them to air dry on a rack. Pack the dried leaves loosely in an airtight jar. Use the leaves to decorate cakes, ice cream, or just eat them as they are.

You Will Need:

Large mint leaves, washed and well dried
Egg whites (one or two should do it)
Granulated sugar (you'll need more than you think as it tends to get wet after tossing several leaves in it)

Wash, and dry the mint leaves really well. Beat an egg white lightly in a small bowl. In  another small bowl, pour in about 1 cup of sugar to start. Brush each mint leaf (front and back) lightly with egg white. Toss in bowl with sugar. Knock off excess sugar, and place either on tray in a dehydrator, or on a drying rack. When finished, set dehydrator to around 95 degrees f. Dry several hours until completely dry. Cool. Store in tightly sealed jars.