Sunday, May 26, 2013

First Comics

Today was Danny's first visit to a comic book store. Until recently, he wasn't terribly interested in comics, and it was only after a chance YouTube viewing of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon (he was searching for birdwatching videos) that he found he enjoyed them-well, Woody anyway.

Woody Woodpecker hasn't been published in a very long time, but we found a store with a sizable stock of vintage issues from the 50's through the 70's. They're not terribly sought after by collectors, so we were able to afford a few issues.  The laughter coming from the back seat as we drove home was worth every penny.

I never really saw myself standing in line outside a comic book store on a Sunday morning waiting for them to open with a group of awkward middle school boys waiting to go inside and play whatever game it is they all play now (Magic? Is that it? I'm not really up on this stuff), but there I was, and I realised I was the oldest person there-by a looooong way. We didn't have a comic book store where I lived as a child, but we had newsstands that sold comics and magazines. The one in my neighbourhood had a couple pinball machines in the back . I spent a lot of time at that newsstand.  There was a bookie next door. Really, there was! I think the giveaway was the decals of horses on the front window. I never bet on ponies, but I did purchase my share of comic books, though I remember being aghast when they went to .20 cents, swearing I'd never purchase another, only to have them jump to .25 cents shortly after. That was a lot of money when you only got .25 cents a week. Sometimes I wanted a pack of gum (Teaberry) which cost a dime. I think this is the point where I'm supposed to scream about you damn kids on my lawn with your long-playing records and funny cigarettes.

Strangely, in the same week Danny discovered Woody Woodpecker, he came across a copy of Dr. Fegg's Encyclopaedia of All World Knowledge, so I've been hearing laughter, giggling, and snorting from the kid for days. I suppose we'll be getting him old Mad Magazines next.

We've been finishing out the school year, preparing to move house, and get the syllabus and paperwork in order for next year's schooling. I won't be around here much over the next month or so (We're eating down the freezer in advance of the move, so I don't anticipate cooking much new and exciting) because nearly all my time will be consumed packing books. Good god, where did they all come from? Like rabbits, you have a couple, and the next thing you know you're overrun. I may pop in from time to time, but I'll use this traditional start of the summer to wish everyone a swell time, and see you come September.

I swear, I have no idea how we ended up with so many books.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Mother's Day Apricots

Every year for Mother's Day, I get a case of apricots to make what has come to be known as, "Mother's Day Apricot Jam." Some years, it is a bit earlier, or later, but most years, I spend Mother's Day weekend peeling, crushing, and cooking apricots-I wouldn't want it any other way!

This year, the produce manager gave me an incredible deal on a case (he pretty much sold it to me for what it cost him) and I promised him some dried/candied apricots from the case. I've been making the most of the food dehydrator, and in addition to the jelly candies and roll-ups, I'll probably experiment with some other recipes as well.

This year, Danny is hell-bent on coming home with a Best of Division ribbon from the fair, so I may supervise, but let him make the Mother's Day Jam for one of his fair submissions. He's managed one really terrific quick bread recipe that I'm confident would get a blue ribbon...but he *really* wants that Best of Division ribbon. To increase that likelihood, he's entering things in several divisions (preserving, baking, crafts, gardening). He wants to do both County, and Sate Fair as well. I should be thankful he isn't raising cattle for 4-H (yet).

I'm of the belief that jam should be kept as simple as possible to let the quality of the fruit shine. My jam recipe is made without pectin, but uses sugar, apricots, and water. I'm fine with experimenting with marmalade, but jam somehow...well, I don't know. I'm open to suggestions if anyone knows a sure-fire-Best-of Division winning recipe for apricot jam.

The garden is plodding along, though it is still too cool to put out any plants. My peppers are flowering in the windowsill, and the lavender is taking over my dining room. And no, I'm not trying lavender in my apricot jam.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Tofu "Shrimp" Salad

I know this isn't anything that would fool someone into believing it was real shrimp, but in a salad it does work well as a seafood-ish type of thing. I had made spinach tortillas, and a killer salsa, so this seemed like the logical direction to go for dinner. It disappeared quickly. Because it is time consuming, you may wish to split the work over two days. The tofu itself can be made well ahead.

For the Tofu:

1 block extra firm tofu sliced in fourths, and pressed dry of moisture
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons corn oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
a few drops of red food colouring if you like

Marinate slices at least two hours, turning once. You can leave it in the fridge overnight as well.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake 30 minutes. Turn slices and bake 30-45 minutes longer until most of the liquid is absorbed, and edges have browned. Remove to a plate, cool. Chill several hours before using.

For the Dressing Base:

1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 cup water
3/4 cup cider vinegar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon butter

Combine dry ingredients in a saucepan. Whisk in water and vinegar. Cook over medium heat, whisking until it comes to a boil and begins to thicken. Cook 1 minute longer. Remove from heat. With a hand mixer, add the eggs one at a time, and the butter. Remove to a bowl, cover lightly with clingfilm, and chill

To Finsih the Salad:

The baked tofu
The dressing base
1-2 tablespoons chili powder
Buttermilk or kefir to thin
Salt and pepper as needed
Scallions to top
Lime wedges

Slice the tofu thinly, then cut thinly again into strips. This is easiest when the tofu is cold. Combine 1 cup of the dressing base (save the extra as a sandwich spread) with the chili powder and buttermilk until you have a consistency that will hold the tofu together without being too runny. You can always add more base if needed. Adjust seasonings, then scatter with scallions. Serve chilled. 

Garlic and Herb Potato Salad

I'll go out on a limb, and guess you probably aren't the sort of person that will peel and trim their new potatoes into perfect ovals before cooking. If you are-you will be rewarded with beautifully shaped, uniform potatoes in your salad, but I won't judge if you don't.

Any extra dressing is just super on a wedge of iceberg.

You Will Need:

1-2 pounds new potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Black pepper
2 large scallions, chopped
1-2 cloves minced garlic
Sprouts or micro greens for a garnish if you have them

I'm not giving exact measurements on the herbs as that is largely a matter of taste. I would go easy on the taragon as it can be overwhelming, but again I can't dictate what you like.

Boil the potatoes taking care not to overcook them. Drain, and let cool before slicing lengthwise into 1/2 inch thickness slices. Combine remaining ingredients except greens, and whisk until smooth. Toss gently with potatoes. Serve chilled.

One Pineapple, Two Pickles

I'm old enough to still think of pineapple as a once-in-a while indulgent purchase. While they no longer come to us from Hawaii, there's still something exotic about the fruit that calls for a special preparation. Unlike the pineapples of my youth, you rarely get a bad one. Today's varieties are almost always fully ripe when they arrive at the store, and much less acidic. I can't remember the last time I had a bad pineapple.

I like that the pickled pepper recipe uses the pineapple rind that would otherwise be discarded. I used very milk poblano peppers for mine,as we're not that adventurous when it comes to hot peppers. You may choose something a bit stronger. I also had the most intense purple garlic I've ever tasted to use. I say that in a good way, but I used much less than the recipe called for because the garlic is really powerful. Feel free to adjust the spices, ingredients, and amounts.

For The Vinagre:

(Based on a recipe by Daisy Martinez)

Peel of a large pineapple (discard the top and bottom) reserve pineapple for the recipe below
1 large, sweet onion, sliced as thin as possible
10 garlic cloves (less if very strong-or more if you have a problem with vampires)
Sliced or chopped peppers of your choice-amount will vary to your tastes)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves (you can be lazy and toss in the stem if you like)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon coarse salt

Place the peels in a large pot, with water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Drain. Fit everything else into a large jar (a quart ought to do it). Pour the hot liquid over to cover. Cool, seal, and store in the fridge. Reserve leftover pineapple liquid for next recipe, but if you forget, just use pineapple juice)

For the Spiced, Pickled Pineapple:

(Adapted from the Ball Blue Book)

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup pineapple liquid from recipe above, or tinned pineapple juice
1 1/2 stick cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon whole allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 fresh pineapple cut into spears or chunks

Tie spices in cheesecloth or a spicebag. In a large pot, combine sugar, vinegar, and juice. Add spicebag. Stir until sugar dissolves, then cover and simmer 20 minutes. Add pineapple to syrup, and simmer until heated through. If preserving, pack into heated jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes, otherwise cool, seal, and store in fridge. Improves with storage. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Lemon Chiffon Cake

Last week, at the library sale (Thursdays, and the first Saturday of each month at the Swanson Branch on Dodge Street) I picked up a copy of Betty Grott's Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook. My husband groaned at the thought of corn mush and beet pickled eggs (though he used to like both) and I scolded him as a traitor to his heritage, his birthplace, and promptly purchased the book. I'm glad I did because this cake is terrific.

If I was going to serve a lemon cake, I knew there would be an expectation of raspberry sauce, so I made a batch of that as well. I think this cake would be excellent with the vanilla omitted, and perhaps anise extract and some grated orange zest instead. It seems like a versatile sort of cake. It was dead easy to make, though I fumbled a bit removing it from the pan. If you look really close, you will notice I replaced the bit that got stuck in the pan, atop the cake. Cover it with icing sugar, and no one will be the wiser.

It really helps when making cakes that require egg whites to have the eggs at room temperature before you begin. I have a copper bowl for beating egg whites (I don't use it for anything else) that I picked up twenty years ago at Marshall's. It was expensive, but the ease with which I am able to whip egg white makes it one of my most-used and treasured kitchen tools. If you bake quite a bit, or favour souffles for dinner, consider investing in a copper bowl-they make quick work of egg whites.

You Will Need:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used corn)
6 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup cold water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Icing sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Set aside a 10 inch tube pan, but do not grease.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well. Add, in the following order: oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla, lemon juice, and rind. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth.

In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until they hold stiff peaks. Pour the batter gently over the egg whites, and gently fold with a rubber spatula. Pour into pan, then use a butter knife to cut through the batter in widening circles starting at the centre to remove air bubbles. Bake 55 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F. and then bake 12 minutes longer. Invert to cool over a funnel. Let cool at least an hour.

Dust with icing sugar before serving.

Lemon Ice Cream


Mr. ETB adores those lemon ice concoctions they sell at Culvers. These are not those-but they are good enough to make him think twice before buying the absurdly expensive treat at the drive-thru. And these are served in scooped-out lemon shells with a maraschino cherry on top. You don't get that at the drive-thru place.

Wrapped tightly in cling film, these keep well-and no dishes to wash (OK a spoon, if you're going to be bourgeois about it). Keep in mind that things need more sweetener as they get colder-so adjust accordingly when you add sugar. At 1 cup, the dessert was still quite tart, but it would still be perfectly edible at 3/4 cup. I wouldn't use less.

You Will Need:

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (I used the pulp)
Grated zest of a lemon
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk (you can use a lower fat if you like, though the texture will be slightly different)
1 cup sugar (more or less to taste)

Combine juice and zest in a large bowl. Heat milk, cream, and sugar over medium heat, whisking just until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, stir into lemon juice, and chill. I made mine in a metal freezer tray, but you could also use an ice cream maker. If you fill hollowed-out lemon halves, use a muffin tin to keep them upright as you work. You can freeze them in the tray, then wrap them tightly in cling film once firm.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Purple Cow


 Mr. ETB brought home some fancy grape juice last week, and as we had seltzer water, and some homemade ice cream, we made Purple Cows. You could do this with grape soda, which I think is the correct way, but since when do I do anything the, "correct" way? That's right. Enjoy your purple cow.

The only instruction I have is to chill the glasses in the freezer first. How long? I dunno, I lost track-maybe the time it took to play four rounds of Boggle? Yeah, don't judge. What do you do on a Monday night between supper and dessert?

I'm going to skip the whole debate over the correctness of adding the soda or the ice cream first.

New Shoes

I'm hard on a pair of shoes. Part of this is down to farm living, and the mud that covers the walkway, my car, etc. but if you look at the heels on a pair of boots, you can see how I drag my right heel along in a way that probably looks like something a chimp would do-whilst knucklewalking. So yeah, I'm not graceful, and I live on a farm which is murder on shoes.

Danny isn't much better, though he tends to outgrow the shoes before they get too terribly disgusting.

Last weekend, I wandered into K-Mart looking for toothpaste, and came home with shoes and boots the most expensive of which were four bucks a pair. Honest. Danny has boots for next winter (yes, I bought them large) that cost $1.50 They aren't strange looking, damaged, or in any way awful-just past season. He likes them, I like them, and I bought my kid boots with the money I could scrape out of the bottom of my purse. The toothpaste cost more than the boots, for heaven's sake.

I don't know what your local K-Mart is like, but it might be worth swinging by to have a look. I came home with some really nice looking shoes for myself, that I'll feel less awful about ruining the first time I step outside my door.

I'm not being compensated in any way by K-Mart, but I do shop there (often!) and any store where I can purchase new boots for $1.50 is my kind of store. You couldn't do that at a thrift store.

Other Uses For Apple Juice Concentrate

Remember last week when I made the reduced apple juice syrup? Remember how delicious it was in caramel sauce, and stirred into a glass of milk? Well yesterday, I found yet another use for that magical stuff-glazing apple fritters.

Me, I'm not an apple fritter person. I'm not really much of a fritter person period, but the boys are. Still, I don't make them often, and to be honest, I always viewed them as a dumping ground for less than perfect apples. Last weekend, I looked at that jar of apple syrup in the fridge, and resolved to fry some fritters for breakfast.

I know they liked the fritters (there were only a few left over) but they glaze was the real star. I used about 1 tablespoon syrup to enough icing sugar for a glaze, then poured it over the still-hot fritters as they drained on a rack. I didn't try the fritters, but I did taste the glaze and well...Oh. My. God.

Really, don't make too much of thi,s as you'll feel obligated to use it all (straight from the spoon is a good way-you save the calories of an apple fritter, and let's be honest, the sugar topping is the best part anyway). I don't know how we ever survived without a jar of apple syrup ready to spruce up anything needing a good tart, sweet shot of flavour-but I can assure you, it will now be a staple item in my kitchen.

That's Going to be a Really Posh Nest

I've been saving my sewing scraps to offer the birds for nesting material. Cut into tiny strips, I packed them into an empty suet feeder, and it wasn't long before a grackle flew off to the garage with a piece of calico in her beak. Others quickly followed suit. We used to leave dog hair for the birds, but as I no longer have a dog, they'll have to make due with dried grasses, fabric, and short bits of string. I laughed to see the birds going for the Moda fabric first. I guess they want the nursery decorated attractively!

We set out the hummingbird feeder yesterday, I really hope we attract some this year.

Spinach Tortillas

You can make tortillas with just about any flavouring you like (tomato, basil, etc.) but I had a pile of fresh spinach staring at me, and these were the result. There's a bit of a learning curve with tortillas, but a bit of practise will have you rolling (or pressing) them like a pro. I prefer to roll them with a heavy pin, and cook them on a hot, cast iron pan-but I'm a firm believer in doing what works best for you. If a tortilla press, and a non-stick griddle are what you have, you should use them. People get so hung-up on being, "authentic" that they suck all the fun out of making something interesting. So no, these tortillas are most certainly not, authentic. They are good though, and not too difficult to manage.

I made chili and lime fish tacos with mine, but I think a batch of these would make a great base for rolled cream cheese pinwheels. 

You Will Need:

3 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons vegetable shortening (you can use as little as 4, but the texture is less pliable)
1 pound fresh spinach, stemmed, steamed, and drained-then pureed.
1/2-1 cup warm water

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the shortening until you have a finely textured flour mixture. At this point, add your spinach puree. As I can't know how well you drained it, I can't say how much water you will need. Work the spinach into the dough, then add the water slowly-about 1 tablespoon at a time until you have a dough that comes together, but is neither too dry (crumbly) or wet (sticky). Divide into either 8 pieces for burrito sized tortillas, or 16 for tacos. Keep the dough covered with a damp (not wet) towel as you work.

Heat your pan. It should be fairly hot. Drop a bit of water on it-if it sizzles and skips across the pan, you're good. You may need to adjust later on as cast iron holds heat better than other materials-at any rate, keep an eye on it.

Roll your tortilla as thin as possible without tearing it (you can patch it). I turn my work surface as I go (a plastic cutting board works great) and I do not add additional flour to the surface. If you find that you must, add flour very sparingly as it will really smoke as you make the tortillas.

Cook about 1 minute or until lightly browned, then do about 30 seconds on the other side. Remove to a plate covered with a towel to keep them from drying out as they cool, and become hard. When cool, store in a plastic bag in the fridge.