Friday, December 31, 2010

Icebox Cake - Still a little confused

Garnish with dried cranberries
Looking for a super simple, show-stopping dessert to make for a party tonight? This festive Lemon- Raspberry Icebox Cake is also an opportunity to take pleasure in eating spoonfuls of whipped cream straight-up! I prepared this beautiful dessert from the December issue of Relish Magazine for a Christmas party.

The prep was effortless and almost therapeutic. After whipping the cream and folding in Dickinson’s delicious jarred lemon cream, just smear raspberry jam atop graham crackers and assemble layers within a springform pan. Start now, it has to chill 5 hours.

One note: (And if I could make this “NOTE” enormous and flashing red, I would) You will still have plastic wrap adorning your serving platter – unless you can determine how to remove it. I could not! I read the recipe instructions numerous times: “Gently lift cake by the plastic wrap to remove it from pan bottom and peel away plastic wrap.” How? How do you remove the plastic wrap from beneath the pie without the disassembling the dessert into a messy heap? I found myself wishing I could do that trick you see in cartoons where the guy pulls the tablecloth out from beneath the plates and silverware and leaves the table settings undisturbed! But after reading the many comments about troublesome plastic wrap by Relish’s recipe reviewers, you may become enlightened with a solution. One suggests: Use parchment paper on bottom and spray the sides of the springform pan with cooking spray.  Had read this before making the dessert I would've tried it.

Despite the plastic wrap malfunction, the Christmas party guests somehow managed to enjoy eating sweet-tart lemony whipped cream straight-up almost as much as me.

A few bites of leftovers

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Magical 3rd birthday and Red Velvet Cake

Birthdays are magical. But I do believe that the third birthday is the most magical of all. At three, you awake from beneath your lavender sparkle quilt – just like you do any other day – but this day, you get special birthday smiley-faced pancakes with Wisconsin maple syrup and peanut butter. And for the rest of an entire day, things get better and better! And since you don’t really have any frame of reference for this wonderful day (because you don't really remember your second birthday), it’s like your third birthday just happens on day by magic!

I’ve been concerned that my little ‘Christmas’ baby born three years ago would be slightly traumatized by having a birthday amongst all the bustle of this season. Her birthday might feel forgotten. But this year, as we drove out of town to cut down our Christmas tree on my little girl’s birthday, we saw house after house covered with twinkling lights. If that’s not magical, then it’s got to make her feel festive at the very least.

As you may know, I put a fair amount of thought into my kids’ birthday cakes. I’ve never made a Red Velvet cake, but have always wanted to recreate my Grandmother’s recipe. Just this year she dictated it to me over the phone from Montana where she is a spry 92. I ended up combining Grandma’s recipe and this one that I found for Red Raspberry Velvet Cake from Cooking Light. The Cooking Light recipe notes that Red Velvet cake is said to have originated at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in the 1950’s.

So now I picture my little three-year-old dressed in a mid-twentieth century period frilly dress, white gloves, her golden curls just peeking out from beneath her proper hat...she's having tea and Red Velvet Cake with me in the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria all decorated for Christmas. Magic!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Party Decorations- $6, Festive Taco Bar Party- Priceless

I’m still finding salt in every corner of our home. Thus is the result of our Make-Your-Own-Margarita and Taco Bar party over the weekend. It’s my new favorite party theme; talk about simple!

All I did was set out a little buffet of:  1)  Taco meat- Sauté some hamburger with lots of cumin, chili powder, Mrs. Dash Extra Spicy and a little salt. 2) Black beans- My friend Rebekah gave me the following set-it-and-forget-it Slow Cooker Black Beans recipe. (I’ll be cooking garbanzo, pinto, and all my beans this way from now on.)   3)Condiments in festive little bowls: Chopped cilantro, sliced green onions, crumbled Queso Fresco cheese, a jar of nopalitos (spicy cactus pickles,) chopped lettuce and salsa from a can with the addition of fresh cilantro and tomatoes and frozen corn.

The margaritas were a breeze: Sauza makes a great pre-mixed variety that comes in an easy-pour box; we also put out a bottle of Sauza Tequila Silver (it has a clean, fresh, lovely fruit flavor/aroma), ice, lots of lime wedges and for dipping the rims of glasses, a wet paper towel on a plate with another plate of kosher salt. While this was probably not the most authentic Make-Your-Own-Margarita set-up, guests were happy to mix in tequila and limes to their liking. And most folks would rather chat than stand at the bar trying to remember the correct proportion of Triple Sec to tequila and lime juice.

But I was most happy with my $6.00 decorations. They were all edible! I filled an old straw hat (that looked rather sombrero-ish) with produce from our local Hispanic grocery store: Cactus paddles (nopales), prickly pears, chayote squash and peppers of every color and shape.  (Emeril's Cactus Salad is delicious!)

Slow Cooker Black Beans (adapted from Rebekah)

3 c. dried black beans

1 red onion quartered

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, chopped

2 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon cumin

¾ teaspoon black pepper

9 cups water

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours.

Pumpkin and Chayote squash

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Real Popcorn

Popcorn with Baby's pumpkin hat!
Of course all pop corn is a real whole grain.  In fact pop corn is one of the easiest ways to get more whole grains into your diet.  Even smothered in salt and butter, it's still a whole grain with about 2 grams of fiber per cup.  And who eats just 1 cup.  So before you've finished a bowl, you've consumed A LOT of fiber. 

According Jolly Time there are two types of kernel shapes: Mushroom and butterfly.  Interesting.

Unpopped cob in front of popped corn
It was rather difficult to discern if the kernals on these cobs from the Farmers Market were mushrooms or butterflies.  But I can tell you that popping them was absolutely the most exciting two minutes of kitchen fun the girls and I have had!  We just threw the cob into a glass bowl and covered with plastic wrap, venting 1/2 inch.  Then we all watched the show through the microwave door as the kernals shot in rapid fire off the corn cob blowing and stretching the plastic wrap like a balloon!  (The dear farmers forgot to give us cooking directions - so it was an experiment!). 

The taste was so fresh and sweet!  It didn't even need salt. 

To find your own fresh pop corn fun, try Whole Foods or this Big Red Popcorn:  I can't personally vouch for either, but I've heard both are good.
It was fun to pull some of the remaining corn right off the cob

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ultimate Comfort Food

Today was one of those days I just never got a chance to sit down to enjoy any sort of satisfying meal. So tonight after the kids were in bed, I still felt really hungry. Another Pumpkin Cupcake would be tasty, but not very filling. And there’s no way I was going to cook or clean up another dish. Solution: Eggs and avocados. While this recipe will probably not win the Amazing Avocado Recipe contest which ends tomorrow, it will become your new ultimate comfort food.  (If you have a favorite avocado recipe, submit it and you could win a $100 grocery card!)

The rush began early in a mad dash to get the house straightened/decorated for our morning Halloween party. My cereal was eaten while standing and frosting cupcakes.                                                   

The Halloween party was a success. Then again, when does dressing up as a duck and eating Pumpkin Cupcakes before noon (and drinking mulled wine if you’re a mom) not guarantee success?

The afternoon was filled with feeding kids lunch, cleaning costumes and feeding the cereal to the baby (a long ordeal since he’s still learning.) Bites of lunch were taken while cleaning up and searching for the piles of mail, etcetera, I’d stashed in drawers to clear clutter. I prepared dinner and ate a few spoonfuls of it while again trying to aim the baby’s spoon into his mouth.

But a few minutes ago, I finished a very satisfying bowl of Eggs & Avocados. Yum! This is the fastest, easiest and tastiest way you’ll ever cook eggs. They come out smooth and custardy because they’re cooked on low microwave power; and the mixing dish is also the baking dish that’s popped into the dishwasher. The creamy avocados on top make the egg seem even richer. (But because I’m I dietitian, I know the entire dish is only about 140 calories!)

Eggs & Avocados for One

1 egg
Splash of milk or water or cream
¼ avocado, diced

In a glass custard cup, mix together egg and milk until thoroughly combined. Top loosely with a paper towel and cook on 50% or 60% power in the microwave for 1 minute. Stir. Cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute on 50% or 60% until eggs are set. Top with avocado and a dash of kosher/sea salt and ground pepper.

Eggs&Avocados for One

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Perfect Persimmons

Wild persimmons growing among yellow leaves

Bright orange Persimmons grow wild in southern Illinois! Who knew? I knew autumn was persimmon season and I usually buy one a year, taking a gamble that the fruit won’t be too bitterly tannic to enjoy. The trick is to let the fruit ripen until so mushy it feels rotten.  I’m impatient. So I usually cut into it too early. The result: It's so bitter it makes your teeth hurt!

The fruit is about 1 1/2" in diameter

On our camping trip over the weekend to the Shawnee National Forest, we discovered tall persimmon trees dotted through parts of the forest. But they were hard to spot as the orange fruit blended in with the gorgeous orange foliage of other trees. When we did find a persimmon tree, the best part was that Mother Nature had already done the ripening for us! The most delicious persimmons were mushy and so ripe that they turned a blue-ish hue, that’s right, blue!

Biting into the soft fruit was heaven; they were rich and super sweet with a heady honey aroma and flavor. The girls and I ate a lot of them; many right off the ground. This year we enjoyed more than our one-a-year persimmon – foraged not from the supermarket, but from the surprisingly rich bounty of Land of Lincoln.

Hiking in Shawnee Nat. Forest

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thanks Martha

I’ve been cherishing these days of 80-degree weather; I love summer and it’s given me a chance to make it to the bottom of my summer To-Make-Recipes pile. (Although I've been itching to try all the autumn pumpkin recipes I've been stumbling upon, like Pumpkin Creme Pies.) “What’s at the bottom of the pile?” you may ask. Martha Stewart. Often, I’m less than lucky with Martha Stewart recipes; in their attempts for brevity, I find important details are left out. But tonight, Martha's FOOD magazine came through for me. And how! It was especially glorious that this recipe used the last of the bounty of tomatoes still ripening on my vines.
The squishy crust that bakes toasty

At first, I was intrigued by the crust of this Tomato-Ricotta Tart. It’s just fresh breadcrumbs mixed with olive oil and squished into a tart pan. I adapted it to use whole grain soft sandwich bread, and that worked very well because it was very squish-able. This simple crust may work for other quiche-like dishes.

The basil plant is all dried out, so I used my fresh mint and it brightened the dish. And I grated a deliciously aged Vella Dry Jack cheese instead of Parmesan. 

Here’s my version of a super supper dish that goes together quickly. The girls loved hearing we were having tart for dinner and they liked eating it too.

Tomato-Ricotta Tart

2 cups course fresh whole wheat bread crumbs

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup whole-milk ricotta

½ cup Vella Dry Jack cheese (or Parmesan), finely grated

2 eggs

3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

1 ½ pounds thinly sliced beefsteak tomatoes (about 2-3)

Preheat oven to 400°. In 9-inch springform pan, toss breadcrumbs and oil; press evenly into bottom.

Whisk together ricotta, grated cheese, eggs, mint and season with salt and pepper. Spread over top of crust; arrange tomatoes on top.

Bake until tomatoes are almost dry, about 35 minutes. (The edges will get dark and crispy.) Cool. Unmold and serve warm or at room temp.

Friday, October 8, 2010

If they shuck them, they will eat them

Aren’t these beautiful beans?! Dark purple. Deep green. Mottled green and purple. They’re fresh lima beans and purple pole beans from the farmers market. The girls helped me shuck them; and they really were a big help. Even the two-year-old was able to sweep her fingers down the pod to slide out the beans. The tricks were to give them each their own container; also, I cracked open the pods for my younger daughter. Her big sister snapped and shucked like a champ. 

We tossed them into this infinitely versatile recipe from the infinitely versitile Meal Makeover Moms cookbook.  (Their new cookbook is due out any day and I'll be ordering a case of books for my friends!) The original recipe calls for broccoli and corn.  But I always swap in the veggies I have.  My cupboards were also bare of hoisan sauce; I substituted chili sauce, lime juice and fish sauce. So here’s my version of a kid-friendly dish with real Asian flavor:

Mixed-Up Tofu (adapted from The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers)
6 oz angel hair pasta
One 14-oz pkg extra-firm tofu, drained, and cubed on a paper towel covered cutting board (or a couple hot dogs, sliced, if your fresh tofu is fermented when opened!)
2 tablespoons lite soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sriracha chili sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon Asian fish sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup shucked purple pole beans
1/2 cup shucked fresh lima beans
1 puple pepper, sliced in thin strips
2 teaspoons garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh, peeled ginger, chopped 
1/3 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts

1.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.
2.  Whisk together the soy sauce, chili sauce, juice, fish sauce and corn starch.  Set aside.
3.  Heat oil in large non-stick skillet high heat.  Add tofu (or hot dogs,) vegetables, garlic, ginger and stir fry for about 2 minutes.  Add 2/3 cup water, cover and steam until veggies are tender.  Stir occasionally.
4.  Give the soy sauce mixture a stir and add to skillet, cook until liquid thickens about 2 minutes.
5.  Serve in individual bowls over pasta, top with nuts.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Boozy Lollicakes

Cakes brought home for my kids
My cousin Jessica is hip. Yesterday’s blog from New York blogger Small Bites chronicles the recent trendiness of boozy desserts.  (Thanks for the reTweet TspBasil!).  And what dessert generally gets the instant attention of lots (over 150) hungry guests? Wedding cake. Over the weekend, I attended Jessica’s wedding in Denver and her wedding cake hit the trendiness meter on two points:  Boozy cake and a cake of individual portions, i.e., the small plate thing that makes a diner/guest feel special.

Inside of a strawberry Lollicake
 Here’s what she served: Lollicakes!  Specifically, they were Guiness stout doused dark chocolate cake with Bailey's cream cheese frosting.  How's that for boozy?!

Individual Lollicakes are fresh cake crumbs mixed with creamy frosting all inside an adorable candy shell. The best part:  The Lollicakes were the classy centerpiece of dining tables. So we all got to indulge in them before dinner. And that makes a dinner occasion just a little more special...when adults get to eat dessert before dinner just like the kids!

By the way, my cousin also chose a Mexican fiesta theme for her wedding feast! The delicious buffet included cheese empanadas, beef and bean burritos, make-your-own-tacos and lots of pickled jalapenos!  Maybe she's ahead of another trend!

My niece eating dessert before dinner

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Pixy Stix Fountain of Youth

Chocolate-covered Caramel Corn
 Yesterday we discovered the Fountain of Youth. It’s in the next town over, in Riverside, it’s…(drum roll, please)…Aunt Diana’s Candy Makers.

We know it’s the source of a food that will help you live ‘forever’ because we took the kids to sing ‘Happy 90th Birthday’ to a sweet elderly lady from church yesterday. And she told us she’s eaten Aunt Diana’s chocolates regularly for the last 37 years of her life. (It was established in 1973.) If fact, while she was pontificating about being 90, we were interrupted by her friend who brought over her favorite Aunt Diana’s peanut butter fudge.

Chocolate Fangs
Upon leaving, we sped to Aunt Diana’s. We emerged from the cozy, Halloween-decorated shop with chocolate-covered caramel corn (salty, sweetness enrobed in rich milk chocolate), chocolate vampire fangs, a gum cigar and Pixy Stix.  Soon, I’ll be returning to the old fashioned candy counter for chocolate- covered peanut butter pretzels, chocolate-covered apricots and homemade butter toffee topped with chocolate – all in the name of lengthening my life expectancy, of course. 
Eating a Pixy Stix is tricky

The Pixy Stix were for our little girls. My husband and I were curious to see how they’d like a quirky candy we loved as children. Plus, small 6-inch straws of powdered artificial flavor seemed the appropriate amount of sugar for a 2 year old right before lunch.

Pixy Stix & PB Sandwich
But, neither my 5-year old, nor the 2-year old got it…the whole sprinkle-powder-on-your-tongue- thing was too complex.   Then, my husband remembered the Pixie Stick sandwich scene in the movie The Breakfast Club.  We set the girls up with bread and peanut butter and they had great fun sprinkling the powder over their peanut butter sandwiches – really not a bad lunch if you wash it all down with milk.  But if you remember, Ally Sheedy had a Pixy Stix AND Cap’n Crunch sandwich, washed down with Coke.  We didn’t tell the girls about the cereal/Coke part of the lunch.  However, if you care to try it, I found a legit YumSugar recipe.  And here's the clip to make all moms who pack lunches shudder:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

This last week was the second week of kindergarten for my 5 year-old.  Whew!  We made it!  I think it was crazier than the first week of school.  Thus I've been remiss in providing the requested Chocolate Zucchini Cake recipe to a reader.  Let's hope you still have lots of zucchini hanging around.  I do.  And this recipe from dear old cook I once knew is worth making again and again.  It freezes beautifully; just refrigerate it first and then lay plastic wrap directly on the frosting top and freeze in any container for no more than about 6 weeks.  (Laying plastic wrap on it keeps it from getting freezer burned.) 

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Cream together:
1/2 c butter
1/2 c oil
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
In a separate bowl, whisk together:
2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cloves
4 Tbsp cocoa powder
Combine liquid and dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
Fold in:
2 c grated zucchini
1/2 c buttermilk
Pour into 9x13' pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Bring to a boil:
1/2 c butter
2 Tbsp cocoa
3 Tbsp milk
Stir in:
1/3 - 1/2 pound powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Pour onto cake immediately.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pear Caramel Surprise

The flavor combo of pear and caramel is glorious. In fact I was just talking to my mom on the phone about it last night. She’s on vacation in Washington and stumbled upon a small little chocolate shop and was offered a sample taste of a rich pear caramel sauce. Upon swooning when she tasted it, she told the owner of the shop that it reminded her of a sauce made near her home in Montana, King’s Cupboard Pear Cinnamon Caramel Sauce from Red Lodge. The owners response surprised Mom, the sauce was in fact the same sauce from King’s Cupboard that the Washington chocolate shop found to be so delicious and high-quality that they bottled it and sold it under their own label!

Similarly, today in my own kitchen, I was surprised to discover a swooningly delicious pear caramel sauce from a rather astonishing source.

You may remember that I mentioned a Pear Grumble in my list of to-make pear recipes. I was fascinated by the name “grumble”; I’ve heard of fruit slumps and bettys and of course, cobblers and crisps. I was also intrigued by the recipe directions which described mixing up a cobbler-like dough and then folding in the pears, followed by pouring boiling water and melted butter and brown sugar over the whole grumble. Amazingly, I found the recipe in a children’s fairy tale book that I happened to pick up for my five-year-old. She loves fairy tales from around the world and she enjoys cooking. The book combined both her loves: Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers & Eaters; tales retold by Jane Yolena and recipes by Heidi E.Y. Stemple. Recipes accompany each of the delightful stories in the book. The grumble story was The Magic Pear Tree tells the story of a wandering poor Chinese priest who asks for a simple pear from a miserly farmer. The farmer refuses, but the priest is finally given a pear by a town guard. The priest eats the pear and then with the seeds proceeds to grow a magical pear tree and then distributes the fruit to townspeople. The greedy farmer is left with nothing.

She refused to wear a shirt today
My two-year old did an amazing job of dicing the pears with her kid’s knife after I peeled, cored and sliced them. While she took eons to dice, I mixed up the recipe which I adapted to include nutty whole wheat flour, more pears and spice, and less sugar and butter.

The recipe is actually entitled “Magic Pear Grumble.” And not only does it magically produce golden brown bready tufts atop thick syrupy spiced pears (thanks to the ‘magic’ ingredient of the hot water poured on top before baking,) but the amazing buttery pear caramel produced around the edges of this Grumble is cause enough alone to run to your kitchen and start creating some fairy tale magic. (Make certain YOU get an edge piece!)

Magic Pear Grumble (Adapted from recipe by Heidi E.Y. Stemple)
2/3 c white flour
1/3 c whole wheat flour                                
2/3 c sugar (scant)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 c milk (fat-free is fine)
6 ripe pears, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 c packed light brown sugar
3 1/2 tblsp butter, cut in chunks
3/4 c boiling water
1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  In large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.
3.  Add milk and whisk until smooth.  Batter will be thick.
4.  Fold in pears.
5.  Pour batter into ungreased baking dish.
6.  Place brown sugar and butter in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over; stir until melted.
7.  Pour hot water mixture over batter in baking dish.  Do not mix.
8.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Do not overbake, grumble will be syrupy.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Good Housekeeping Not-Approved

I love to try out new recipes. When I cook for my family, I retrieve recipes from a variety of sources: Favorites include Cooking Light magazine or Meal Makeover Moms for their healthy but yummy and fun-to-try selections; and for especially seasonal cooking in the summer and fall from our weekly farmer’s market bounty, I go to Relish Magazine. When I entertain, I also have favorite recipe receptacles – but I match the source to the character of the guests. For foodie friends, I go to: Epicurious or Food52 for trendy, conversation-starting fare; for relatives from the Michigan or Montana country: Tried-and-true Mark Bittman or Betty Crocker or the spiral-bound community/church cookbooks fit the bill; and for new friends (or for folks yet-unknown whom my husband invites over after church,) I have a stack of recipes-to-try that are a little modern but “triple-tested with the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.” I assume they have mass-appeal and they are from Good Housekeeping magazine. Well, unfortunately, today, Good Housekeeping failed me.

Leftovers- actually quite delicious!
My husband invited four fresh young undergrad students home for lunch after church today. (He met them on Wednesday but forgot to tell me they were coming over for lunch today until last night.) No worries – I’d planned to make Chilled Corn & Bacon Soup for dinner tonight anyway, so I just rushed around before church to prepare it a couple hours early. We had lots of fresh corn in the house and we always have bacon.

So around noon, as the young scholars were sitting in the other room chatting with my husband and daughters, I was struck with a bit of horror while dishing up the soup. I had known that “chilled” soup was possibly a stretch for college students – but it was a Good Housekeeping recipe – tested to appeal to the masses, right? However, the appearance of the cold soup may have escaped the Good Housekeeping testers. You see, there are two sorts of guests for whom you should probably not serve any soup with the look of, well, throw-up: College students and mothers of preschoolers. (This was especially top of mind since my 2 ½ year-old threw up on her dress not FIVE minutes before we were supposed to walk out the door to church this morning. In true inexplicable two-year-old fashion, she was fine 10 minutes after her mishap. We were late for church.)

Well, as the poor co-eds sat down to our table, I announced the menu: Warm sourdough bread with our own Ginger Pear Preserves, lettuce salad with red peppers and chick peas and home-made basil vinaigrette, and Chilled Corn & Bacon Soup. Silence.

In the end, I surmised that two of the dear guests liked it (seriously!) One guy was just really hungry and ate the soup and lots of bread. And one poor invitee choked down as much as was polite to do in the home of a strangers. My own little girl was familiar with her mother’s cooking style and her mother’s fondness for chilled soups this past summer; she asked for a second helping. Her father promptly emptied his soup into her bowl. (By the way, here is a recent success in the cold soup department, with my families' own seal of approval: Chilled Thai Squash Soup.)

I feel badly for the person who finds themself in a situation in which they feel obligated to eat something they detest, especially when the detested item came from my kitchen. So luckily, I served large pieces of dense chocolate cake for dessert. I did not tell my guests it was Chocolate Zucchini Cake. They ate every bite.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sweet Ginger Pear Preserves

The other day, I invited myself over to the friend of a friend of a friend’s house (actually the son of our neighbor) to pick pears off their tree. They were happy to have us use the fruit. The tree was nothing short of majestic. It was heavily loaded with green and golden D’Anjou pears and it was gigantic, as a result of the rich compost pile at its base. This bumpy compost pile, however, made stabilizing a ladder very tricky. Still, the girls had fun climbing up and down the ladder and plucking pears off the tree.

In the end, we had about 3 bushels! How glorious to be able to have copious amounts of pears to cook and eat. On my list of To-Make Recipes: Pear Cake, Pear Slump, Pear Chutney. And we’ve just finished canning Ginger Pear Preserves.

My 2 ½ year old daughter was most interested in helping with this preserving project. I didn’t plan to peel the pears – only core them – but my little girl was eager to help, so I handed her a fairly blunt peeler. I figured she couldn’t hurt herself too much; no more than riding her sister’s Razor scooter in bare feet, which she also insists on doing daily. Sometimes there are tears, but they never last. She’s tough. Case-in-point: The good amount of blood she drew from her finger after handling the peeler and a pear for about five minutes. She was fine after kisses and a Hello Kitty band-aid.

Eventually…the Ginger Pear Preserves turned out perfect; thick and rich, caramely and gingery – but not overpowering with sweet limey ginger. Disappointingly, the recipe made only about 3 cups, instead of the specified 7!  I even padded the amount of pears and started with about 6 1/2 cups. (I may have boiled/reduced it too long - yet I turned the heat off when it reached the specified gel stage.) Since I didn’t peel the pears, I used the immersion blender just a little at the end of cooking to avoid big chunks of skin. The result was just right: Smooth with just a few chunks of fruit for texture. MMmmm, can’t wait to slather the preserves on my toast this winter! By then, my two-year old will be three and probably past her sweet klutzy stage. Sigh.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Intriguing Tomatoes

Tomato cobbler. I was intrigued too. Cobbler is made with fruit. But I guess tomatoes really are a fruit…so it should all work out right? Would it be sorta tomato-saucy? Or maybe the ‘fruit’ would turn sweet. The recipe has been on the very top of my To-Make-Recipes pile ever since it received all the Tweets from others who were also intrigued by the thought of Mark Bittman’s Tomato Cobbler.

Before baking
So here’s my report on the version with the herb topping which came together super fast once I dragged out the food processor: It was AMAZING! The fruit got juicy and rich and unami (yes, seriously.) The cornmeal baked up toasty to give the biscuit topping a buttery crunch. The tomato juices got wonderfully thick, thanks to just the right amount of cornstarch. And the herbs in the topping added just the right amount of sparkle – without the little kicks of herbal flavor from chives, basil and mint that I used, the dish may have been a little flat.

Golden baked
The dish would be perfect along a nice piece of lemon baked fish. (I just learned from The Splendid Table that lemon is a flavor that complements tomato nicely.) Tomato Cobbler would also be lovely topped with a rich scoop of crème fraiche and served with lemon vinaigrette-dressed salad and corn on the cob. (Corn and tomatoes are also a favorite combo.) But here’s our reality: We had it for dessert topped with plain yogurt. See, my girls had been playing hard all afternoon and were starved. So I whipped the recipe together but knew they couldn’t wait the 50 minutes (on the dot) for it to bake. So I served them deer sausage sandwiches and told them we had cobbler for dessert. Now granted, they were not quite as excited about Tomato Cobbler with herbs for dessert (sans ice cream that usually accompanies cobbler in our house) as they would’ve been by Blueberry Cobbler (with ice cream!) But they did eat every bite of my new favorite cobbler.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Before kids, my husband and I traveled to South Africa; on one of our safaris, a tardy British couple had to run after our large ATV in order to keep from being left behind. Once onboard, we all chatted quietly, while keeping our eyes peeled for wildebeests, wild dogs and elephants. Since the couple had only just arrived in South Africa and we’d been in the country for longer, the very proper British elderly lady questioned us on various issues in her high pitched tone of voice. Finally she asked about the mosquito situation. (Prior to traveling abroad, we’d had to get painful preventative malaria shots and were repeatedly warned to bring potent DEET insect repellant.) So in response to the woman’s question, my husband responded, “We’ve been in Africa for two whole weeks and haven’t seen a single mosquito!” The woman responded with relieved laughter and then screeched, “Brilliant, simply BRILLIANT!”

Eight years after our trip, my husband and I can still make each other smile by uttering the phrase, “Brilliant, simply BRILLIANT!” (Yes, you had to be there, but just imagine those words being uttered at soprano pitch in the middle of an African jungle.)
Last night I did a few things that were “Brilliant, simply BRILLIANT!”

We’ve been eating a lot of farmers market corn on the cob lately. And while doing so, 2-year-olds and 5-year-olds make gigantic messes of corn all over the kitchen floor. So last night, we ate outside on the deck! The whole mess went on the floor of our deck…and then I just swept it between the cracks! Why didn’t I think of that earlier? Brilliant!

Secondly, I needed something super quick to go with the corn. Checking the pantry, I found some Trader Joes canned trout fillets in olive oil. I lifted the fillets out of the oil and flaked it, added some of our fresh chives and then scraped in a few kernels of the sweet corn; after a twist of ground pepper, it was served on slices of French bread. The sweet corn and herbal chives made the trout tasted even sweeter.  
Beautiful, irregular rind
And the oil from the fish provided just enough moisture to keep the salad from tumbling off bread. The girls ate it up along with their corn on the cob and the sweetest, musky canteloupe from the farmers' market. Simple, tasty and “Brilliant!” 
Lastly, I just learned this trick from my frugal neighbor: Once you finish the last pickle in the jar, stuff the jar with fresh cucumber or zucchini slices and refrigerate for a couple hours. Voila, the easiest pickles ever. And they were delicious with our Sweet Corn and Trout Crostini! “Brilliant!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mom, did you blow up my dinner?

The word is ‘on’ instead of ‘up.’ But when you’re two years old, all that matters is that there are pancakes on your plate and you’re worried about scalding your mouth.

Tonight we made Zucchini Pancakes from one of our favorite old Molly Katzen recipes. A couple highlights to share:
• When we grated 3 large zucchinis in about 1 minute flat using the food processor, the same two-year-old shouted excitedly, “Mommy, it’s zucchini spaghetti!” as she watched the shreds shoot out of the whizzing grater.
• My girls ate four pancakes each before I even got the sour cream or applesauce on the table. (I was still back at the stove flipping hot cakes.)
• Since we were out of feta cheese, we found that cottage cheese works great – maybe even better than the recipe-called for feta. The cakes are lighter and really moist; and if they’re really hot when you cut into them, you sometimes get a string of melty cheese all the way to your mouth.
• A flavor profile: The pancakes have crispy edges and insides that are light and fluffy; the salty cottage cheese brings out the sweet mint flavor which is all mellowed by the earthy onions. Yum!

Here’s my adaption to the Zucchini Pancakes recipe:

4 large eggs
Dash of salt
Lots of ground black pepper
4 cups (packed) grated zucchini
1/2 cup finely minced scallions (I used fresh white baby onions from the garden)
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped (I used more since it grows like a weed)
1 cup cottage cheese; drained for a couple minutes through a colander (or 1 cup feta cheese)
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Oil for cast iron skillet
My favorite Toppings:
Sour cream

1. Separate eggs and whip up the whites until stiff.
2. Combine egg yolks, salt, pepper, zucchini, scallions, mint, cottage cheese and flour in a medium-sized bowl.
3. Fold in egg whites.
4. Place a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. After 1 ½ minutes, swirl in oil to coat the bottom. When hot, use a 2 tablespoon scooper to scoop batter onto the hot pan, and fry for 4 to 6 minutes on each side, or until golden and crisp.
5. Serve hot – plain is best – but you could slather on sour cream and applesauce for those folks wary of anything zucchini.