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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.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rustic Apple Pie for Dwayne

There was not Random Food Friday last week because I was a little busy. (I've got something good for tomorrow.) Last Friday I had what we hoped would be a small surgery, which turned out to be a medium surgery, with a few bumps in the immediate recovery. I'm feeling a lot better now. I should feel even better in the weeks and months ahead.

So far my recovery has consisted almost entirely of watching Food Network, Cooking Network and cruising all the favorite blogs of my favorite bloggers. What a rich world of communication these interwebs offer us! So many thoughtful and talented people who are willing to share their knowledge and ideas. I'm so encouraged by what I have seen and read. I commented, when I started this blog, that I'm not any kind of purist and I probably never will be. But, I appreciate learning from thoughtful people who've spent time researching the facts so they can make considered decisions about food. I also started reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I like his plan - Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Simple enough, right. A few years ago, I figured that my idea of good food meant eating something that had been alive recently. There's a lot of room in that definition. There's plenty of room for treats that can bring some real joy and a celebration of the wonderful generosity of our natural world. Here's a perfect celebratory treat for fall - apple pie.

Dwayne and I went to Apple Hill a couple of weeks ago and we came back with two big bags of Romes. I had thought about making this Apple Slab, but the more I talked with Dwayne, the more I realized that he didn't want the fancy additions, he just wanted the fruit to crust ratio to be in favor of the crust. Ok!

Last Thursday, on the day before my surgery, I took a vacation day and did a frenzy of nesting. I cleaned the whole house, caught up on the laundry and watering and cooked a gigantic mountain of food. I had also received my CSA box earlier in the week and I was determined to cook all that food and have it standing by for my recovery. Our dinner that night started to take on the magnitude of a sort of last meal. I made turkey meatloaf, cream cheese mashed potatoes, crispy crumb kale, green bean salad and this delicious apple pie.

In the first photo, above, you will see some of the tools I've inherited that make pie making easy. These are things I would not have thought to purchase, but were given to me by my wise, pie-making elders. The Foley Pastry Frame was my great grandmother's. I'm surprised these aren't in common use anymore. The frame stretches a sheet of canvas tight. The canvas is printed with the diameter needed for different sizes of pie tins. It also came with the little cotton sleeve you see on Great Grandmother's rolling pin. With these tools and flour, nothing sticks. It's amazing. Then, you just throw it in the wash and put away for another day. The flat whisk is a tool I received from my mother-in-law Pat. She was quite the pie maker in her day. That flat whisk is the perfect tool for cutting in the solid white fat component of your pie dough. The wire grater you see in the bowl was also my great grandmother's. It is perfect for grating chunks of very cold butter into the flour and shortning mix. Leaving the butter in small chunks is what causes flakes to form in the crust. If you want to get down with pie making, I can highly recommend all of these old-fashioned tools.

Here is the finished product. I used what would have been crust for two double crust pies and baked it all on a cookie sheet with 8 cups of sliced apples. The crust came out crisp and flaky and the apples were delicious. There are different schools of thought about pie crust. My hubby's side of the family prefers a very short (high fat) crust that is tender and crumbles almost like a cookie dough. To this end, they use a higher proportion of fat, omit butter and handle the dough as little as possible. I prefer and crust that has more bite and forms crisp and flaky layers. Also, for flavor, butter can't be beat. My experience is that combining a solid white fat, that is well incorporated into the flour, with chunks of suspended butter is the winning combination. When I say, solid white fat, I mean a fat that is solid at room temperature and does not include water and other solids, as butter does. The reason butter works to make those magical layers is that the water in the butter becomes steam as it bakes and causes the layers of flour to separate. I've had good success with shortening (non-hydrogenated please) and extra virgin coconut oil. I imagine lard would be pretty darn good too (our grandmas knew what they were doing). But with such good results already, why go out of my why to buy and use lard?

Rustic Apple Pie
For Crust:
4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
10 tbsp. ice water
cream, sugar and cinnamon for topping

For Filling:
8 cups peeled and sliced apples
3/4 cup sugar
dash of salt
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. butter

Place flour and salt in large mixing bowl. Add shortening and cut it into the flour until is resembles course crumbs. Take very cold better and either grate it into the flour mixture, or cut it into pea sized cubes on a cutting board and then add to the flour. Toss the butter pieces so that the flour coats them and they be come well distributed. Add ice water by sprinkling over the flour and tossing the flour mixture until is starts to hold together. The amount of water you use will depend upon humidity and the dryness of your flour. This day I ended up using 10 tablespoons of ice water. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of ice water first then add the rest one tablespoon at a time until the dough starts to stick together. Begin to press the dough together by hand. It may still appear dry, but as long as the dough sticks to itself, that is enough water. It is OK to do a few folding and kneeing motions, maybe 4 to 6 times. Do not over work. You are just trying to get the layers to form and the dough to form a ball. The butter will remain visible. Once a ball is formed, wrap in plastic wrap and keep cold until the apples are ready.

Peel and slice the apples. I don't think it pays to be too careful here. As long as they are all around the same size they will all be done at the same time. In a large bowl, mix the apples, a dash of salt, 2 tablespoons of flour, the sugar and cinnamon and toss to coat. My apples were quite tart and firm. If yours lack tartness, add a little lemon juice.

Divide dough. Flour the dough and surfaces and roll half of the dough into a rough rectangle that is a little less than 1/4 inch thick. Gently lift the dough over the rolling pin and transfer to a cookie sheet. Pile the apples into a mound in the center of the dough. Dot the apples with the butter. Leave a good inch uncovered by the apples. Brush the uncovered edge of the dough with cold water. Roll out remaining dough and gently lift it and cover the apples and bottom dough. Press the edges together and roll edges then crimp the dough. Brush the crust with cream, half and half or whole milk. Sprinkle generously with sugar and sprinkle with cinnamon. Cut a few slits in the center to allow steam to escape.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 50 minutes. Allow to stand for a couple of hours before serving so the filling can have a chance to set.

Random Food Fridays - Green Bean Salad

I feel very fortunate that I love veggies. I love to bake. I love to jam. And, although I love careful and artful technique, fresh and simple often wins the day. I can tell you that I made just as many yummy noises over this salad as I did over last week's apple pie. This is adapted from a recipe by Terri McKay on I actually like to multiply the dressing by about 8 and keep it on hand. I like using toasted sliced almonds instead of sesame seeds, mostly because I love toasted sliced almonds. They add the perfect crunchy kick and compliment the toasty flavor of the sesame oil. The nuts also add enough protein that I can take this for my lunch without much else. I also love to make this with fresh asparagus.
Green Bean Salad
1 lb. fresh green beans (or asparagus)
1 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. canola oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/4 tsp. salt
freshly cracked pepper to taste
1/4 cup sliced toasted almonds

Clean and steam green beans until tender crisp. Plunge into ice water. Drain well.
Mix dressing ingredients and toss with green beans. This benefits from marinating some time before serving. Sprinkle with toasted sliced almonds just before serving.

Enough dressing to have on hand:
1/2 cup soy sauce
5 tbsp. canola oil
2 tbsp. + 2 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. + 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. + 2 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. salt
freshly cracked pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container in the fridge. This dressing is highly flavorful and salty, so use a light hand when dressing your salad.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Blackberry Jam

A sunny fall morning with toast, jam and coffee. Ahhh. Blackberry jam can be especially satisfying because it can be a long-term labor of love. This batch of jam is the culmination of 3 or 4 berry picking excursions. I've learned to use my insulated lunch box to pick the berries because it will hang over my arm, leaving two hands free for managing the prickly canes.

This recipe is essentially the one in the Sure Jell low or no sugar box. They reccommend mashing some of the berries and leaving some whole. If the seeds in your area are tender enough for that, go for it. In my area the seeds seem to be very hard. I try to get as many out as I can with a food mill. A few always make it through, but I don't want to go so far as to strain it.

A word of warning about blackberries - they stain. Observe my sink. It's two weeks and several scrubbings later and it is starting to fade. The plastic lining of my lunch box also took some time to recover.

Here are my happy little jars at the end of the day. This canning day, I made the cherry vanilla preserves previously featured, this blackberry jam and a mixed berry jam. I was tempted to label the mixed berry jam "Freezer Berry." I had a couple of cups of blackberry pulp left and threw in a frozen bag of blueberries and a frozen bag of cranberries to bring it up to the volume for the pectin box recipe. Both berry jams came out rather stiff. I think that the next time I use seeded berries I will try doing it without pectin. There seems to be plenty of natural pectin in the berries. I've commented before that I'm getting a real eye for determining when things reach the proper jelling consistency. With pectin that control is taken away. You boil for one minute, period. If anyone has used pectin while flouting the rules, I'd like to hear how things came out.

Blackberry Jam
5 cups of prepared blackberry pulp
4 cups sugar
1 box Sure Jell low or no sugar pectin (the pink box)

Prepare jars, rings, lids and boiling water bath.

Place berry pulp in a large pot. Combine 1/4 cup of the sugar and the pectin and stir into the fruit. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil. Quickly stir in remaining sugar. Return to boil and once it reaches a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, boil for one minute. Remove from heat and stir for a minute to distribute any seeds that came through the mill. Ladle into jars. Wipe rims and cover with lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove jars and set them on a towel. Allow them to stand overnight before labeling. Makes 7 half-pint jars.

Random Food Fridays - Regular Old Coleslaw

You may have seen the coleslaw that appeared on my pulled turkey sandwich earlier this week. I decided to share my basic coleslaw with you. The only difference is that tonight I forgot the carrots. It's just for color anyway, unless you add enough for taste, then it's carrot salad.

I like making coleslaw right before eating it. That way everything stays nice and crunchy. What you see below is my V-Slicer. V-slicers are the low-rent cousin of the mandoline. They are really good for getting very thin and even slices or shreds. I have a food processor and use it, but I really prefer the low-tech ways for small jobs - fewer parts to clean and a lot less noise. I was trying to remember how I got this slicer. I remember first seeing one like it at my in-laws house. I honestly can't remember if Pat gave it to me or I saw one at a yard sale later and bought it. I know it didn't buy it new. Pat has given me so much over the last 28 or so years, it's hard to remember everything. Even now she tries to give me things when we visit. It's in her heart to share with her loved ones.


1/4 of a head of cabbage, sliced very thin

very thin slices of red onion, to taste (for me this is about 8 swipes on the slicer)

1/3 cup olive oil mayonaise

1 tbsp. rice vinegar

2 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. celery seed

1/2 tsp. salt

some grinds of black pepper

Toss everything together and serve as a side dish or heaped on a sandwich.

Serves 2 at my house.

The whole thing has 282 calories.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pulled Turkey for Sandwiches

I love my crock pot. Love, Love, Love.

This is a variation of my Jam Sauce recipe, but instead of my own jam, I used whole cranberry sauce with turkey thighs. Turkey thighs are great for the crock pot. They are leaner than pork, but still have enough connective tissue to melt down nice and tender. As with all sandwiches, everyone can build their own. I like this with Tapatio hot sauce and a scoop of coleslaw. Dwayne likes his with a slice of provolone. This recipe makes a lot because I have a seven quart crock pot. Adjust down if your crock pot is smaller.

Pulled Turkey for Sandwiches
6 turkey thighs with the skin removed
1 can of whole berry cranberry sauce
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. dried diced onion
1/2 cup bottled chili sauce

Spray your crock pot with non-stick spray. Season the turkey thighs with salt, pepper and garlic powder. In a medium bowl, mix the cranberry sauce, Worcestershire sauce and dried onions and chili sauce and stir to combine. Place some of the sauce in the bottom of the crock pot and top with one layer of thighs. In my crock pot one layer is two thighs. Continue to layer the sauce and seasoned thighs topping with remaining sauce. Cover with the lid and set to cook on low for 6-8 hours. Just before serving, use tongs to pull out the thigh bones. They should come loose easily. Mash the meat around with the tongs until it is shredded. If you wish, prop the lid with a spoon and let it simmer for another hour or so on high to condense the sauce a bit. Serve on fresh kaiser rolls with the toppings of your choice.

Makes enough to eat leftovers all week or have a pretty big party.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cherry Vanilla Preserves

This was my scrumptious breakfast this morning. Cherry preserves with fragrant vanilla and Greek yogurt. It's been a while since I've been able to get the water bath rolling.

You may have noticed that I didn't have a Random Food Friday this week. I was super busy, didn't get to the store, and my eating just wasn't very interesting. I'm glad to have a preserve to offer this week. Random Food Fridays will likely end up being on random Fridays and not every week.

The cherries for this preserve came from our friends Brian and Rosie. Rosie puts up some mighty fine preserves herself. She's been gracious enough to share some of the bounty of their little orchard with me this year. She's contributed fruit to my orange and grapefruit marmalades, these cherry preserves, and a cobbler to two. Thanks Rosie!

The heady vanilla fragrance comes from this very special little bean. Our friends Vicki and Bob recently took an awesome cruise in the South Seas. She thoughtfully brought back some vanilla beans from Huahine in French Polynesia. She was able to purchase them from the growers and learn about how they grow and are prepared for market. I've very grateful to enjoy such a special treat.

One of the great things about returning to canning after a break is that I realize how much I've learned. This cherry preserve was made without added pectin. I like pectin for some fruits, and it certainly cuts down on the time standing and stirring over a hot pan, but making preserves without pectin offers more freedom. I can use any amount or combination of fruits and any amount of sugar that suits me. I just have to insure proper acidity and use a thermometer and my eyes to tell when it is at just the right stage.

Cherry Vanilla Preserves
3 lbs. plus 9 oz. pitted and halved cherries (ball park it - this just happens to be the amount I had)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean

Wash and prepare 5 half pint jars, lids and rings. Begin to heat the boiling water bath.

Place a few saucers in the freezer.

Split and scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean. Add all the ingredients to a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and boil gently until it reaches about 222 degrees, stirring frequently. (My thermometer may be wonky, but my preserves always start to jell before I reach this temp. Watch closely as you get to about 218 degrees. 222 is the official "jell stage" temperature.) Test the preserve by scooping out a teaspoon and placing it on a frozen saucer. If it bunches up when pushed, it is done. Remove the vanilla pod. Remove the pot from heat and stir gently for a minute. This helps to distribute the fruit.

Carefully pour into prepared jars. Wipe rims and cover with lids and rings. Carefully lift into the boiling water bath. Process for 10 minutes. Carefully remove and place on a tea towel. Let stand overnight before labeling the jars.