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Friday, December 31, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Squash Casserole

You may have noticed a trend in Random Food Fridays. I like squash. A lot. I really like squash enhanced with savory flavors. I grew up with all squashes and sweet potatoes served up super sweet, with brown sugar and cinnamon. I still like those sweet squashes every now and then, mostly in pie. Savory squash dishes, like this one, are the ones that have become regulars at our table.

This recipe is adapted from Butternut Squash Supreme by Marianna King. I found it on Like many of her reviewers, I changed it to suit my tastes. Her instructions include a diced raw onion and cheddar cheese. I substituted one of my favorite flavor combinations - shallots, sage and a blend of Italian cheeses. I've made this with sweet potatoes as well. This week, I baked off the acorn, delicata and sugar pumpkin I had used as a decoration throughout the Fall. I like baking rather than boiling, as Ms. King directs. I like the flavors to concentrate and become more dense. After baking, I scooped out the flesh and pureed in a food processor.

I took this for lunch one day this week. As I sat eating, engrossed in Harry Potter, I kept thinking, "Wow, this is good. This is SO good. I've got to post this. Everyone should eat this. So, so good!" Luckily, all my coworkers heard was "Mmmmm! Mmmmm! Mmmmm!"

Squash Casserole
About 4 cups of cooked and pureed dense orange squash or sweet potatoes
2 tbsp. butter
1 large shallot, diced
2 tbsp. fresh sage leaves, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup whole milk or half and half
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup grated cheese (I like an Italian blend with Asiago, Parmesan, Provolone and Mozzarella)
1/2 tube of Ritz crackers
2 tbsp. melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 inch square baking pan by lining with butter or non-stick spray.

In a small skillet, saute the shallots and sage in the butter over a low flame until the shallots are soft and translucent.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the squash, eggs, milk, salt and pepper and cheese. Stir in the shallots and sage. Pour into prepared bake pan.

Crush the crackers in a food processor or put them in a large Ziploc back and bash them until they become crumbly. Mix in melted butter. Evenly distribute the crumbs over the top of the squash.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serves 6 as a side dish or 4 as a vegetarian main course.
246 calories per side dish serving.
370 calories per main course serving.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Turkey Pot Pie

We had a very pie-centric Christmas. December 23 saw quiche and two pumpkin pies. The 24th saw apple and pumpkin at my folk's house. Then, Christmas day brought us the real reason we roasted a turkey on the 23rd - turkey pot pie!
My fabulous daughter, Madelyn, requested a pie crust lesson. She's a very accomplished cook and makes everything from scratch. I've been lucky enough to inherit many pie-making tools, such as the pastry frame seen above. As she made the crust and I made the filling, we discussed alternative tools for her to use in her little kitchen. For a time, my in-laws, impressed by my pastry frame, used a dedicated white bed sheet to roll out pastry. They folded it many times so that a flexible fabric surface was usable for rolling out dough. Now, my father-in-law has developed his own favorite pie crust recipe which features coconut oil and is pressed into the pie pan. One benefit of a commercial pastry frame is that it has cirlces printed on it for each size of pie plate.

Pie Accomplished!
Pie Happiness!

What's better than pie? Pie cookies and jam tarts!
We used the dough recipe from my Rustic Apple Pie post. This recipe makes three single layers of pie dough, so we had some leftover for pie cookies and jam tarts. Mr. Dwayne loves pie cookies most of all. Simply brush leftover crust with cream or egg wash, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and bake. The jam tarts are the same, but folded over a dollop of jam. Don't forget to poke a steam vent into jam tarts. If you don't, you'll likely have a jam eruption on your cookie sheet. Also, to do not eat jam tarts too soon. I've been told that they can feel like trying to eat liquid hot magma!

Here are our pies. We also had some extra filling and made a little pot pie in a ramekin. Aside from the pastry, this is really not an exact science. Do a lot of tasting while you make the filling. Add the veggies that you like, make sure your gravy is well seasoned and enjoy!

This is all that was left after we three dug in. I can think of no finer use of leftovers than pot pie!
Turkey Pot Pie
pastry for one double crust pie (plus extra for dessert!)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced and thoroughly washed
1/2 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 tbsp. each chopped fresh sage and parsley
2 and 1/2 cups leftover turkey, cubed
2 cups leftover gravy
1 egg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare pastry and line 9-inch pie plate. Make an egg wash by beating the egg with 2 tablespoons water. Brush the prepared bottom crust with the egg wash. (This helps to prevent a soggy bottom.) Set aside.
For the filling, in a large skillet, saute the vegetables and herbs in the olive oil and butter. (If using frozen peas, add them when you add the meat.) When veggies are tender, add the turkey and gravy. Heat through. Taste and adjust seasoning. I think this benefits from a good amount of salt and pepper.
Pour the filling into the pie pan. Do not over fill. Save any extra for another use. Roll out top crust and transfer to pie plate. Trim edges, turn them under and crimp. Cut vents into top of crust. Bake in the preheated oven for about 50 minutes. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving. (If you can wait! This will make slicing easier.) Enjoy!
Serves 4-6.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

Merry Christmas! We're so grateful for the abundance we are able to enjoy and share!

My lovely daughter, Madelyn, and her boyfriend, Robb, came in on Wednesday night. Thursday we had a big roasted turkey dinner before Robb had to head home for work and to continue his celebrations with his family. Christmas eve was a day of traveling. We visited with my in-laws and my parents and grandma. All my life we've celebrated Christmas eve with the grandparents and had Christmas day for relaxing at home. Today's Christmas celebration was really our fourth of the season.

Receiving Pat's kitchen wisdom.

While visiting my in-laws, we got to talking about all the treats of Christmas past. My beloved mother-in-law, Pat, suffers from dementia. Sharing memories of her has become so precious and important. Pat was a fantastic cook and taught me much of what I know. Madelyn and I decided to browse through the family cookbook. I think most houses have something like this - a notebook or bundle of recipes collected over the years. These are precious family artifacts. To my great surprise, Bill gifted me with this one! Because I am interested in recipes and the stories that go with them, I have now been gifted with two of these precious heirlooms. Earlier this year, I received my Pappy's recipe book. (I had two Pappy's - my grandfathers. This one is my maternal grandfather.) His looks much like the one above, but is brown. Like Pat's, it has a combination of handwritten, typed and clipped recipes. My Pappy's notebook also contains notes and recipes from his young adult years when he worked as a chef in a hotel. My Grandma Betty gave it to me when I showed interest in it.
Because I've been part of my husband's family for about 30 years, I have a good idea which of these recipes were repeated family favorites and which were collected for experimentation.

My father-in-law has taken over the cooking duties and has become very proficient. He has several specialties that we all love. When he gave me Pat's book, he told me that his frequent-use recipes are on the pantry door.

Bill's Perfect Soup
Bill's soup is taped up above the other recipes. He makes this soup once a week and it is delicious. It was developed by trial and error and is now Bill's Perfect Soup. (I think I'll let him know that this should be it's official name.) When my daughter grows older and starts a family of her own, won't it be wonderful to have artifacts like this recipe to help tell her children the stories of their great grandparents?

I have so many cookbooks. I've been meaning to share some of them for a while. I have a collection that crosses several generations of my family. My own cooking recollections are taking shape in this blog, but are totally unorganized in my kitchen. There are printouts, scribbles and note papers everywhere! I realize that I don't have a cohesive legacy like these little rubber banded notebooks. So, while I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, it seems that one is shaping up for me - create a non-electronic cooking legacy for my descendants. I hope any cooking folks who read this little blog will consider doing the same. I love to enjoy food wisdom and sharing on the interwebs, but who knows what formats will still be around two or three generations from now. It's time for me to back it all up on files that only require eyes to read.
Heartfelt warm wishes for 2011!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Orange Beets

I love beets. I didn't eat a fresh beet until well into adulthood. It took me several years to discover that I could actually eat those green leaves on top too. I used to make the grocer cut them off! Now beets are a family favorite. This is how I first prepared beets for Dwayne. He was skeptical but ended up really enjoying them. This recipe is adapted from the Better Homes and Garden's Vegetable Cook Book, first published in 1965. This is one of the many cookbooks that belonged to my great grandmother and came to us when we moved into her home. I've only made two changes - I reduced the salt and added orange zest. I don't know how people avoided high blood pressure back in the day if they cooked with all the salt I see throughout this book. This recipe actually calls for a full teaspoon of salt! I use just 1/4 teaspoon and that is plenty.

If the only beets you know are the little pickled ones at the local salad bar, I hope you will give fresh beets a try. Also, if you've never eaten fresh beets before, do not be alarmed by any colorful changes in your digestive habits. One friend of mine took himself to the emergency room after his first helping of fresh beets!

Orange Beets
6 medium beets
3 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. orange zest
1/2 cup orange juice

Wash beets and cut the greens off about 1 inch from the crown of the beet. (This prevents all of the color leaking out while cooking.) Place in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to slow boil. Cook until tender when pierced. This will take 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. When tender, remove them to a plate to cool.

For the sauce, place the sugar, cornstarch, salt and butter in a medium saucepan. Melt the butter over a medium heat, stirring constantly to make a roux. Do not brown. When smooth, pour in the orange juice and zest. Continue to cook and stir until smooth, thick and glossy. Set aside while you slice the beets.

Cut the tops and bottoms off the cooked beets. Cut into quarters lengthwise, then slice. Add beets to the sauce and heat through. Sprinkle with additional orange zest before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Frittata

Eggs to the rescue! Full of nutrients! Delicious! Easy to prepare and enjoy in no time at all. Eggs!

This holiday season has been a little crazy for me. There's so much going on at work, and the evenings are filled with holiday preparations. A quick and nutritious home-cooked meal can feel heaven sent. Frittata's are my go-to egg dish. This is one of those dishes that is easily adapted to your own preferences and refrigerator contents. The frittata pictured above is filled with chopped shallots, diced ham and one leftover baked potato that had been cubed and crisped in butter before adding the eggs. I think eggs and Parmesan cheese are a match made in heaven, but you could use any melting cheese you like to top your frittata.

Here is a simple supper from this summer. This frittata is filled with leftover Swiss chard that was sauteed with shallots and mushrooms. (Notice my yummy iced coffee drink. I'll sing the praises of Medaglia D'oro instant espresso in a different post.)

So, when you are in a hurry and you are thinking about stopping for some fast food, consider stopping at home for frittata instead.


Up to 1/2 cup vegetables and/or cooked meat of your choice (I usually have shallots in there somewhere)

1 tbsp. butter

2 eggs

1 tbsp. half and half

3 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat an 8 inch skillet over a medium heat. Use an oven-safe non-stick skillet or a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Add butter and add any raw vegetables and saute them until tender-crisp. If using leftover potato, add cubed potato with the raw veggies so it has time to crisp a bit. Add any additional cooked vegetables and/or cubed, cooked meat.

Preheat your broiler with the rack on the top shelf of the oven.

Beat the eggs with half and half and 1 tbsp. of grated Parmesan cheese. Distribute the veggies and/or meat in the pan and pour the egg mixture over all. Tilt the pan to make sure egg gets all around the contents of the pan. Reduce heat to low. Use a spatula to gently lift the edge of the frittata and tilt the pan so that the raw egg runs under the frittata. You may have to do this a few times. When the surface of the frittata is just moist, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and pop it under the broiler for 1-2 minutes. Watch it closely and remove as soon as the cheese is melted and the eggs are slightly puffy. Serve immediately with toast and jam.

Serves one. To serve two, increase eggs to 3 or 4 and add a bit more filling ingredients.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Plum and Pineapple Jam

Before I started really learning about canning and writing about my food experiences, I made plum and pineapple jam every year to give at Christmas time. My mom has a tree and we grew up eating this jam. We followed the recipe on the Sure Jell package and didn't bother with a boiling water bath. No one ever suffered from our short cut, but I'm glad that I now know how to make all my products safe. With my Ball Blue Book and litmus strips, I shall be able to give boiling-water-bath preserves with confidence!
The color and flavor of this jam will be strongly impacted by the type of plums you use. Some years I have used blue plums and some years I've used these little golden plums from my mom's tree. I don't think I've ever had to buy plums. Because these golden plums came in at the same time I was trying to throw an anniversary party and my finger was still in a splint, they got thrown into the freezer. I weighed them prior to freezing and they were about 25 lbs. in eight one-gallon Ziploc bags. Yesterday I brought four bags out of the freezer and committed to using them today. If I had processed the plums straight off the tree, I would have had a much brighter color, similar to apricots. The freezing process turned them a little brown. To mitigate the brown color, I used a package of fresh cranberries to add a red color. I'm pleased to say that it turned out with the honey color you see slathered on the French bread above. If you have beautiful plums, omit the cranberries.

Weather you are starting with fresh or frozen fruit, the first step is to cook it. My mom's plums are small, soft and not very pulpy. I cook them whole and run them through a food mill. For larger plums, I pit and chop them before cooking. The recipe I'll give you requires six and a half cups of fruit. You can use 100% plums, but I really like the plum and pineapple combination. This jam is one of my favorite sauce bases. I start with one 20 oz. can of Dole crushed pineapple in juice and bring it up to six and a half cups with the plum pulp. I searched the interwebs and found some discussion that suggests that Dole does not use PBA in their pineapple cans. However, when I emailed them to make sure, I received a computer generated response that was so vague I couldn't really tell if they use it or not. For now, I'm going for it. I knew when I learned about PBA that pineapple would be the most difficult canned food for me to give up. If you want to chop a fresh pineapple, that will work here too.

Once the fruit is mixed, the pineapple provides most of the texture. When the jam is done cooking, it is important to skim the foam and then stir for a couple of minutes to distribute the fruit. This prevents the chunks of fruit from floating.
Today's project started with 12 lbs. of plums and one bag of cranberries cooked down in two different pots with one cup of water each. The resulting pulp was enough to make five batches of jam with one can of pineapple used in each.
Plum and Pineapple Jam
1 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple in 100% pineapple juice
prepared plum pulp to bring the fruit up to 6 1/2 cups
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 1.75 oz package of Sure Jell for no or low sugar recipes (in the pink box)
Prepare a boiling water bath. Wash 5 pint jars,lids and rings. Sterilize jars. Place lids and rings in a sauce pan with water and bring to a simmer. Keep jars hot until ready for use.
Measure the fruit and place in a large sauce pan. Measure the sugar. Mix the pectin with 1/4 cup of the sugar. Whisk into the fruit mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once the fruit and pectin mixture is boiling, add the remaining sugar and continue to stir constantly. Bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil for exactly one minute. Remove from heat. Skim the foam. Stir the fruit gently for a couple of minutes to distribute the fruit. Ladle into clean, hot jars. Wipe the rims with a clean, moist towel. Place lids and rings on jars and gently close. Do not tighten. Carefully lift the jars into the boiling water bath. Boil for 10 minutes. Reduce heat and once boiling has stopped, gently lift out the jars and place them on a towel. Resist the urge to tilt the excess water off the jars. I like to place a towel in a bake pan and place the hot jars on the pan for easy transport. Do not disturb the jars and allow them to sit over night before labeling.
Makes 5 pints.
Goodnight my yummy little jars of goodness. I'll be seeing you for labels tomorrow!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Oatmeal Raisin Muffins

These are currently Mr. Dwayne's favorite breakfast. I puzzled, for a while, about how to get him to eat some oatmeal. He's just not a hot cereal kind of guy. I came across this muffin recipe in Jane Brody's Good Food Book. I've adapted it from her recipe, adding a little more salt and some vanilla to suit our tastes. The amount of oatmeal in them may not offset the cholesterol in the butter, but hey, they're better than white toast! There's lots of fiber and lots of flavor. They really do taste like oatmeal raisin cookies.

Oatmeal Raisin Muffins
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (Jane Brody only calls for 1/4 tsp.)
3 tbsp. wheat germ
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. honey
1 egg

In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, oats and raisins. Allow them to soak while preparing the rest of the ingredients. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and wheat germ. In a third and larger bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, vanilla, honey and egg. Add 1/2 the oat mixture to the creamed mixture, then add 1/2 the dry ingredients, stirring just to combine. Repeat. Do not over stir. Divide the batter into 12 greased muffin cups. (I use a 4 oz. disher to scoop the dough and come out with exactly one dozen every time.) Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Per my calculations, these have 187 calories each.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Tropical Cranberry Sauce

I hope you all have had a happy Thanksgiving day. At its best, Thanksgiving is naturally a time for reflection. It is a day to catalogue blessings instead of complaints. For me, it is a day to consider being thankful even for the difficult things that have propelled me on my journey.

I'm so grateful for my family. We've had our superlative daughter home for the weekend. She is my foodie soul mate. Because she lives in Berkeley, the birthplace of the locavore movement, she often is in a position to educate me about food. She's a fantastic cook and makes everything from scratch, including her own bread and yogurt.

I'm grateful that many members of my family have lived a very long time. Because of this, we often have a blend of traditions from the different branches and different generations. I think it is interesting that many of the food traditions of my mom and prior generations include more packaged and processed foods than what is now customary for my daughter. Because of our multiple generations and family lines, we'll have a total of three Thanksgiving meals with a variety of homemade and factory assisted foods. The meal you see above was Thanksgiving part one, prepared on Wednesday for our own family at home. We had roasted turkey, a cheesy sweet potato casserole, stuffing, peas and homemade cranberry sauce. Thanksgiving part two included my father-in-law's birthday. There we had roasted ham, special ham gravy, mashed sweet potatoes, sauteed candied carrots, onions and green beans, rolls and some leftover turkey and cranberry sauce. We also had my father-in-law's favorite dessert - Bob the Butler's Mile High Boston Creme Pie. (I'll share this in another post. It is extreme!) Thanksgiving part three is at my folk's house today. We're likely having a frozen lasagna and a bag of salad. By T-3, we're all pretty tired and I want to make it as easy as possible. I have to be careful that my mom doesn't fuss and over do it.

For our at-home meal, two items were made the easy-cheater way: frozen peas and Stove Top Stuffing. I know. It's a guilty pleasure. I mix one box of turkey flavor and one of cornbread and it tastes like my childhood holiday meals. I can remember my grandma even making the mashed potatoes from a box of potato buds. My grandma's generation was on the cutting edge of food as science, and my mom came of age in the space age. As my daughter and I venture forth into eating that is healthy for our bodies and the planet, we are doing some reclaiming of tradition, but we are more often boldly going where our foremothers never went before. We are creating new traditions.

One of our new traditions is this scrumptious cranberry sauce. It is adapted from this recipe from I've made it my own by using a dried tropical fruit mix and handling some of the ingredients a little differently. Tropical fruits are one of the main reasons why I can never be a purist about eating locally. I can't go without tropical products like pineapple and mango, not to mention staples like coffee and vanilla.

I obtained some litmus test strips so that I can test the acidity of some of my favorite recipes for water bath canning. This recipe is plenty acidic and it would make a great holiday gift. I've not canned it before because we eat it up so fast. I have stored it in jars, so I know that this recipe makes two pints. If you wish to can it, use the USDA safe canning methods and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Here's to your traditions, old and new. Enjoy.

Tropical Cranberry Sauce
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 12 oz. package fresh cranberries
1 orange
2 apples (one sweet and one tart)
1 7 oz. package mixed dried tropical fruit
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg.

Zest the orange and use one teaspoon for the sauce. Peel and chop the orange and apples so that the pieces are about the same size as the cranberries. Cut up the dried fruit to that size as well. Mix everything in a heavy sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve as a relish, sandwich topping or dessert filling. Makes 2 pints.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Pondering Poultry, Roasting Roots

One of my favorite things about Fall and Winter is getting to use the oven after a summer of abstinence. Roast dinners are so easy and so delicious. All you have to do is become acquainted with your oven and its idiosyncrasies. My oven has a convection roast setting that works wonderfully for external browning and internal tenderness.

Here you see yesterday's dinner - roasted chicken pieces and roasted root vegetables. I really like starting out with a whole chicken. I know many people who only eat boneless, skinless breast meat. I know those breasts are great for lean protein, but you get so much more out of a whole chicken. Breaking down a chicken is easy, if you know how and your knives are sharp. One of these days I'll get one of my photographer friends over to help me document this process.

For this dinner, I cut up the whole chicken and used the breasts, thighs and legs for roasting. I reserved the neck, back and wings for stock. While I get points for cutting up my own chicken, I lose points for being lazy and buying commercial salad dressing. Salad dressing is just about the easiest way to add lots of flavor to chicken. I used Trader Joe's Romano Caesar Dressing. It's perfect for chicken - garlicky and not too acidic. I just marinated the prepared chicken pieces in the fridge for a couple of hours. You could let it marinate over night as well.

When roasting root vegetables and chicken pieces for the same meal, I find that the veggies need a bit of a head start. I used part of my haul from the farmer's market this weekend - carrots, golden beets and turnips. Just wash and trim. No need to remove the skins. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and they are ready to go. We also enjoyed a big bunch of greens from the beet and turnip tops earlier this week.

While dinner was roasting, I started the stock pot. There is another delicious soup in my future!

Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables
5 small turnips
5 small golden beets
2 large carrots
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

For the vegetables:
Trim, wash and dry the vegetables. Reserve greens for another use. Cut larger vegetables in half or into large chunks so that they are all the same size as your smallest root. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in an oiled covered casserole. Roast, covered, in the preheated oven for 15 minutes before placing the chicken in the oven.

For the chicken:
One whole chicken, cut up (reserve back, neck and wings for stock)
3/4 cup Trader Joe's Romano Caesar Dressing

Marinate chicken pieces two hours or overnight. When ready to roast, remove from marinade and place, skin side up, in an oiled glass 9 X 13 inch pan. Dip the pieces in the marinade as they are removed so that they are completely coated. Once the veggies have had their 15 minutes, place the chicken in the oven, uncovered and roast for 40 minutes. This is where knowing your oven comes in. Stir the veggies once or twice during the roasting, always replacing the cover afterward. If the chicken browns unevenly, you may need to rotate the pan once during the cooking time.

Bonus Recipe - Chicken Stock
Neck, back and wings of one chicken
2 large carrots
3 stalks celery
1 large or two small onions
2 cloves garlic
sprigs of fresh parsley, sage and thyme
8 peppercorns

Brown the chicken in the stock pot while preparing the vegetables. Add all the vegetables and herbs and pepper. Add enough water to cover. In my pot, I used 12 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer at least 2 hours. Strain and refrigerate for future use.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Paradise Jelly

When I was a teenager, our family lived on property that had once been a bustling gold-rush era town. One of the legacies of the local history is fruit. My folks still get pears and plums from the old trees. Until very recently, we got persimmons and figs. Over 20 years ago, there were quince bushes. I think most quince we see at the farmer's market comes from large trees and the bushes are usually ornamental. They do have gorgeous melon-pink flowers. We discovered, like everyone else, that quinces cannot be eaten raw. They are just too astringent. My mom made them into a lovely jam. There is a special, fragrant, something extra about quinces. I've been wanting to work with them ever since I started canning last winter.

I first read about Paradise Jelly at Put Up or Shut Up. (Take a look at that vivid pink-red color she got!) After doing some research, I found that it is a traditional jelly made with quince, apple and cranberries. I saw different proportions of fruit in different recipes, but almost all of them required 3/4 cup of sugar per one cup of strained juice. I decided to use just about all the fruit I'd purchased to make the juice and go from there.

I purchased 10 lbs. of quince, 6 lbs. of apples (granny smith) and two bags of fresh cranberries. I prepared the quinces separately from the apples and cranberries, mostly because I didn't have a pot big enough for them all. The quinces must cook significantly longer than the other fruits as well. To prepare the quinces, scoop out the blossom end with a corer or melon baller, then roughly chop. Do not remove seeds or core. Place in a large stock pot and fill with water to top the fruit. I used 16 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a couple of hours - until the fruit is soft and has taken on a pink hue. Leave the lid ajar so that some of the liquid can evaporate while simmering. Drain through cheese cloth.
Next, roughly cut the apples. Do not remove the seeds or cores. Place in a large stock pot. Add the cranberries and add water. I used 12 cups of water. I did have some unexpected results when cooking the apples an cranberries. Somehow the apples expanded while cooking and floated dramatically to the top, forcing the lid off and the cranberries out like so many ruby colored marbles. There are no pictures of this as I was running around trying to rescue everything. Once the simmering settled down, the apples and cranberries cooked down nicely in about 30 minutes. Strain the apples and cranberries through cheesecloth.
The juice was still quite cloudy after having been strained through cheese cloth, so I decided to strain the combined juices through scalded muslin. This took some patience, but produced a crystal clear jelly. With the fruit and water that I had, I ended up with 18 cups of juice, plus a little extra. I processed the jelly in 6 cup increments. This is my first jelly without using commercial pectin. I used a combination of digital thermometer and the frozen saucer test to insure a set. You will have to guage your thermometer through experience. Technically 222 degrees is the jelling point, but per my thermometer, 223 is about right. This jelly bears careful watching as quinces and apples are both high in pectin and the set point will come and go quickly. Also, watch your pot so it doesn't foam over.

I'm very pleased with the result. Won't this make a beautiful holiday gift?
Paradise Jelly
6 cups quince, apple, cranberry juice (see instructions above)
4 1/2 cups sugar

Prepare jars, lids and boiling water bath. Place the juice and sugar in a large pan and bring to a boil. Set up thermometer to monitor temperature. Place a few saucers in your freezer for testing the set. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes, until thermometer reaches 222 or 223. Test the jelly by scooping out a small amount and dropping it on the frozen saucer. Once cool, the jelly should wrinkle slightly when pushed with your finger.
Remove from heat and scim off any foam. Carefully ladle jelly into prepared jars, wipe rims and top with lid and ring. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes for half pints. Carefully remove and allow to stand over night before labeling. Makes 5 half pints.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Some Mistakes are Tastier than Others

I've been having a lot of fun making pizza. Ever since my success with the Butternut Squash Pizza, I've been experimenting and creating new pizza topping combinations. One of my husband's favorites is Trader Joe's chicken sweet Italian sausage, sauteed with mushrooms and onions with sliced sun dried tomatoes added just before the cheese.
This is a great pizza.
I planned to make pizza today and put the dough together around noon. I cooked up the toppings in two different pans. One was the chicken sweet Italian sausage with onions and mushrooms. In the other pan, I sauteed cubed butternut squash, onions and sage leaves to duplicate the butternut squash pizzas I made before. Two deliciously different pizzas were to be on the menu tonight.
Alas, when I went to collect my dough I found that it was not alive. I always proof yeast, but today I was impatient. I thought, "Oh, it will be fine." and dumped it in without waiting for it to show signs of life. The resulting lump was smooth and glossy, but was neither pizza dough nor pasta dough. Sigh. It was a loss.
I called Mr. Dwayne into the kitchen and explained the options.
"We could cook up some pasta."
"We could go to Trader Joe's and get some pizza dough in a bag."
"We could get a Boboli crust."
He chose the pasta (quickest) option.
"Do you want it tossed with spaghetti or baked with a shapey pasta with cheese on top?"
Again, he chose the quickest option - Spaghetti.
So, I cooked the pasta and my two pizza toppings became one pasta sauce. This is a happy-making dish. I interrupted Mr. Dwayne's football viewing with any number of yummy noises. I think if I had intended to make this as a pasta sauce, I would have cooked everything together, but I really enjoyed that the squash remained sweet and infused with sage as opposed to soaking up all the sausage flavor, as the mushrooms did. When I make this sauce in the future, I will make the sauce components in two separate pans again.
Chicken Sausage and Butternut Squash Spaghetti
1 lb. Trader Joe's Chicken Sweet Italian Sausage
1 8 oz. package of sliced mushrooms
1 onion, sliced, divided use
4 cups cubed butternut squash
2 tbsp. chopped fresh sage leaves
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided use
1 lb. spaghetti
grated Parmesan cheese to top
Heat two saute pans. Divide the olive oil, placing 1 tbsp. in the pan that will cook the sausages and 3 tbsp. in the pan that will cook the squash. Add one half of the sliced onion to each pan. Remove the casing from the sausage and crumble it into the pan with less oil. Allow to brown a little before adding the mushrooms. The mushrooms will release a lot of liquid. Let the sausage and mushroom mixture cook down until the moisture evaporates. Drain any excess oil. Set aside.
Add the butternut squash and sage to the second pan. Saute over a medium heat until the squash is soft. Season with plenty of salt and pepper. Set aside.
Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Be sure to add a good tablespoon of salt to the pasta water. Drain the pasta.
Toss the hot pasta, the sausage mixture and the squash mixture together. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.
This makes about 12 cups at 275 calories per cup. Cheese is extra.
PS. Trader Joe's chicken sweet Italian sausage also makes a fabulous addition to soup. I hate to make a soup this delicious a PS. but I thought it related because of the sausage and squash combo. This soup has the sausage, onions, carrots, celery, butternut squash, red potatoes and Swiss chard. All were sauteed with olive oil and simmered in chicken stock. Yum!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Giant Oven Pancake

Good morning! Today I'm sharing another egg-centric dish. Like last week's recipe, this one is from Sunset's Easy Basics for Good Cooking. They call it a Giant Oven Pancake, but I've also heard this called a Dutch Baby. By any name it is delicious and dramatic. This is perfect brunch fair for when you want to present something that looks impressive but is actually quite simple to make. The photo you see above is Sunset's recipe cut in half and baked in a 9 inch enameled cast iron pan. This amount is perfect for two. It can be served very simply with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon, or with maple syrup. My favorite way to serve it is with apple slices that have been a sauteed in a little butter with maple syrup.

Giant Oven Pancake for Two
2 tbsp. butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk + a few drops of vanilla
1/2 cup flour + dash of salt
(salt and vanilla are my additions)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a 9 inch skillet or 9 inch glass pie plate in the oven with the butter.
While the butter is melting and the oven is coming up to temp, place the eggs in a blender or food processor and whirl for 1 minute. With the motor running, slowly pour in the milk, then slowing add in the flour. Continue to whirl for another 30 seconds.
When the butter is melted, pour the prepared batter into the buttered pan. Do not stir. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the pancake is puffy and golden. Serve immediately.
11/14/10 - I probably should have mentioned that if you have a convection oven, turn the convection action off for any dish that needs a significant rise. The hot wind will dry out the outer crust too soon and prevent the dish from puffing up as shown.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Random Food Fridays - Egg Custard

Eggs. Butter. Bacon. Cream for coffee. You could say breakfast is one of the main reasons I will never be a vegan. My near ancestors were farmers. They raised dairy cattle, hogs, beans and fruit. This is spread across both sides of my ancestral lines. I live in the house that my maternal great grandparents moved into when they grew too old to manage their farm in Tracy. The comfort foods I grew up with often came from their generation.

This dish could not be simpler or more delicious. I renewed my acquaintance with this creamy egg dessert through Sunset's Easy Basics for Good Cooking. Like any basic recipe, it is ripe for invention. That being said, I really like the simple elegance of freshly grated nutmeg. Nutmeg is so fragrant and unique, yet somehow this strong flavor perfectly compliments the gentle flavors of milk and eggs.

Egg Custard

2 cups milk (I used a blend of skim milk and half & half because that's what I had around.)

1/4 cup sugar

3 whole eggs or 6 egg yolks (I used whole eggs.)

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Fresh nutmeg to grate on top

My methodology differs slightly from the Sunset method. They advise to scald the milk then stir in the sugar to dissolve. I whisked my eggs and sugar together while the milk was heating. Some tiny bubbles formed on the surface of mine, but I don't mind that. (Am I the only person in the world who likes pudding skin?) I also did not strain my custard because the little twirly bits of egg white don't bother me. If you are making this for a dinner party, or squeamish children, you might want to strain it.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Start heating a kettle of water.

Paraphrased from Sunset - In a medium sauce pan, scald the milk. That means heat it until little bubbles start to show up around the edges and the milk is heated through. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the eggs then stir in the vanilla.

Place ramekins in a baking pan and carefully pour the custard into the ramekins. Top with freshly grated nutmeg. Place the pan with the ramekins into the preheated oven and pour the hot water into the bake pan so that the water comes up to about 1 inch. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Custard should remain jiggly in the center. Remove from oven and remove the ramekins from the hot water and allow to cool.

I like this both warm and cold. According to Sunset, this makes six servings. You gotta be kidding me. Two. Tops.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Vegetable Pancakes ala Mark Bittman

Vegetable pancakes. (Mmmmm. Just a little swoony here.)

Mark Bittman practically guaranteed that this tasty recipe will win over even the most staunch veggie hater, and after tasting them, I'm sure he's right. I bought some beautiful cauliflower at he farmer's market this weekend. I almost bought two. Dwayne cautioned me that I would be the only one eating it. For a few days, I've been contemplating the plating of this cauliflower for Dwayne's enjoyment. I know it can be meltingly delicious. Should I roast it? Mash it? Souffle it? Then I saw this recipe and knew I had hit upon the answer.
Here's the veggie selection: cauliflower, zucchini, carrot, shallot and garlic. I grated them all and mixed them with 1/2 tsp. salt and let them stand and drain for a bit.

I used the cheesecloth to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

I squeezed out about 1/4 cup of liquid. I'm sure this would be a tasty addition to any soup stock.
Vegetable Pancakes
3 cups grated vegetables, salted and drained
1 egg
1/4 cup of flour
Oil for frying
Mix all the veggies, the egg and flour together. Adjust seasoning. I used a 4 oz. disher to drop the pancakes into the hot oil. This made six 4 oz. pancakes at about 120 calories each.
And, yes, Dwayne liked them very much.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Couple of Follow-Ups - Pear Vanilla Vodka Results and the Folk's Party

In a couple of my previous posts, I commented that I would let you know how some things came out. I can tell you that my Pear/Vanilla Vodka is an unmittigated success. When I first strained and bottled it, the vanilla flavor was very forward and I was glad I only used 1/2 of a bean. Now that it has mellowed, it is turning a lovely amber color and the pear flavor is right up front. In fact, when I pop the seal on the bottle, the aroma of fresh pears wafts onto the air. This has been so successful, that I now plan to make a blackberry vodka with a bag of frozen blackberries I found burried in the freezer. I think I will use the same proportion of sugar, but will only use the blackberries as a flavoring agent. I'm sure there will be some pictures of that sometime too.
I also promised to post a few photos of my mom and dad's 50th party. Because I'm extra curteous, I asked them about posting pictures of people and they respectfully declined. So, what you get here is just food and decore. Above is their cake - carrot cake with cream cheese frosting decorated with their original cake topper.

The theme was yellow gingham and daisies. I was thrilled to find this cute relish dish at the Crate & Barrel Outlet in Berkeley. The dills and onion pickles are mine.

Here's the serving table. I made the table cloth and the table runners for the guest's seating. They really did come out cute. We overestimated badly on the amount of food, but lots of people got yummy care packages to take home. You might have noticed that I used quart jars for vases. They really added to the casual feel of the day.

The happy cake couple.

Here is part of the patio decoration. You can't see them in the photo, but we also sprinkled the table runners with little gold 50 confetti.
At the end of the day, my parents had been able to enjoy friends and family from around the country and my dad even said it was one of the best days of his life. I'm glad that I took it easy with the food. It made it a lot easier for me to enjoy and play the hostess. I'll stick to show-off cooking for small dinner parties.

Random Food Fridays - End of Summer Salad

Due to my recuperation and pouring rain, I hadn't shopped the garden for a few weeks. I gathered the last of the red tomatoes. Some of them had split because of the rain, but had not spoiled yet. I also had a final Japanese cucumber. I should continue to have jalapenos and basil for a while.

I decided to make a mild salsa/salad for my lunch. This is a combo of garden foods and pantry foods. Variable as can be. The only thing that was missing that I would have liked is some avocado sliced on top.

End of Summer Salad
1 cucumber, peeled and quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped red onion
big handfull of chopped parsley
big handfull of ribboned basil
2 cups roughly chopped tomatoes
2 cups steamed sweet corn (frozen is OK)
1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette (or your favorite vinaigrette)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Toss it all together and enjoy. Improves if allowed to marinate an hour or more.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Love Letter to Soup, plus Golden Cornbread

Yesterday was a big day for me. I've been feeling better everyday, and reading about food everyday, and I was just itching for some good hearty soup. It's funny, there are some things I only eat when I'm sick. Campbell's chicken soup and jello are two of these items. After four or five days of eating canned soup, jello, toast and tapioca pudding (I heart Kozy Shack!), I was ready for something toothsome. There hasn't been a good shopping around my house for a while, so I really didn't know what I would find or how it would come out. There's my lunch above. I opined on facebook about soup. One friend suggested marital counseling. But, I tell you, the best soup results from commitment, flexibility and communication. A good soup can't always be planned. There are too many surprises. A good soup does not require hard work, so much as it requires sincere engagement.

The challenge with sharing such a soup is that it has grown, like an organic thing, unrestricted by formula and measurement. I won't be giving you a recipe for this soup, but I will describe it. I will also encourage you to make your own soup, which will surely be different from my own soup.

This soup started with olive oil and diced onion, carrot, celery and a big handful of chopped parsley. Rooting through the fridge revealed leftover steamed kale and half of a big baked sweet potato. I added the kale and peeled the skin from the sweet potato and diced it into the pot. Sweet potato and tomato are a natural pairing. I added a box of diced tomatoes. I really wanted some protein. I added some cubed cooked chicken and about 4 cups of chicken broth.

Taste...add lots of black pepper.
Taste...soup asks for basil from the garden. OK! A big handful of basil ribbons.
Taste...soup asks for nutmeg. Freshly grated nutmeg goes into the pot.
Taste...soup says, "I can become chili." I think, no, not chili. You are more delicate than that.
For warmth, what about cinnamon. Yes!
A bit more nutmeg. A bit more cinnamon.
Soup says, "I can have beans without being chili." Yes, of course. Kidney beans.
Simmer 20 minutes while the cornbread bakes and you are the soup of my dreams. The true soup du jour. The soup that has emerged in time and space to nourish and provide soup love to my Beloved Liquid Earth Body right now. It's soup magic.

Fresh nutmeg. Nothing like it.

This is a sweet Northern cornbread. My Southern Grammy would likely have not made this sweet and she would have likely used bacon grease and a cast iron skillet. This is a basic recipe that can be altered to fit your mood or menu needs. This may have started out on the side of a box somewhere, but I've been making it for so long that I don't even know where the recipe came from and I don't get out a recipe to make it. It's simple as can be.

Golden Cornbread
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 cup soft butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare an 8 X 8 inch baking pan with butter or non-stick spray.
Combine cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Add the milk, egg and butter and stir to combine. Some lumps are OK. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a thin knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Makes 9 good sized servings.