24 February 2018

Chai-spiced Tea Cookies

I keep two cookie recipes tacked inside my spice cabinet door at all times: good old Toll House, and this one. You just might need this recipe taped inside your cabinet, too, because for one thing, these are the fastest cookies ever. It will give you great courage in life to know that a plate of these fragrant little snow bombs is never more than half an hour away. They are pretty and delightfully good!

Pro tip: Measure all the dry ingredients (which is everything but the butter!) into a ziplock. Then when company pops in, it’s all ready to take a quick spin with the butter and then pop right into the oven. By the time the tea is steeped, the cookies are warm and the kitchen smells heavenly!

This makes a small batch, so I always double the recipe. Sometimes I use my Kitchenaid mixer and other times the food processor. Both work fine and super fast, but just a bowl and a spoon would do the trick, too. 

makes about 25 small cookies

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
¾ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

for rolling: ¾ cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. 
Beat butter with granulated sugar in a medium bowl. 
Stir in vanilla, spices, salt, and flour.
Scoop teaspoons of dough and roll with hands into small balls.
Place on baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart.
Bake until lightly golden; about 14-15 minutes.

Place powdered sugar in a pie plate. 
Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar and cool on a baking rack.

27 November 2017

Dark Fruitcake for the Reformation of Fruitcake Haters

I know, I know. You do not like fruitcake. Neither do I, if by fruitcake you mean those mass-produced doorstops smothered in candied nuclear mystery fruit. But it turns out we moderns have all been duped by evil imposters. At least once in your life, you owe it to yourself to try a real-deal, old-fashioned, traditional fruitcake made by hand at home. This is a dense, spicy cake packed with real fruits, a mountain of nuts, and all those spices that fill the house with the scent of Christmas and bring Scrooges to repentance. I have made many fruitcake converts with this recipe! 

This makes four dark loaf cakes which will easily keep a month or more if well-soaked in brandy and kept tightly wrapped. All this chopping and stirring and brandy sniffing is more fun with a buddy, so we always turn on the carols and make it a party. I have it on the calendar to stir these up sometime in November because, like me, they improve with a long nap. 

We like this with hot tea or coffee and a dollop of traditional hard sauce, the kind served with Christmas puddings throughout Britain. I use Martha Stewart’s recipe, which is perfect (of course), quick, and blessedly simple. Recipe below.

Note: You can wiggle a bit on the amounts of individual fruits, as long as you keep your total cups of fruit equal to the recipe totals. For example, if you want to omit the cup of tart cherries (which you don't, honestly), you could add another cup of currants or dried cranberries. Similarly, you can vary the ratio of pecans to walnuts as long as you wind up with 6 cups of nuts total. But don’t go too wild omitting stuff, because it’s the wide variety of flavors and textures which makes an honest-to-goodness fruitcake so compelling. Well, okay, that and the brandy.

1 cup  golden raisins
1 cup currants 

1 cup dried tart cherries
1 cup dried cranberries
2 cups dried apricot halves, chopped
2 cups dried figs, quartered
1 cup prunes, quartered
1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
4 cups walnuts, chopped by hand into large pieces
2 cups pecans, chopped by hand into large pieces
oranges, grated zest only
3 lemons, grated zest only
½ cup candied ginger, chopped
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg or mace
½ tsp ground cloves
1 cup  molasses (I use 2/3 cup molasses and 1/3 cup Golden Eagle syrup)
2 cups  brandy (plus more for soaking cakes later)
½ cup  orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau

For the batter (which you will make a day or two later):

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1½ tsp salt
1 lb butter, room temperature (plus more for greasing pans)
3 cups dark brown sugar
large eggs
1 T vanilla extract 

You will also need: Four loaf pans (9 X 5 X 3), parchment paper, foil, a wire cooling rack, a pastry brush, and a very (and I do mean Very) large mixing bowl.

Combine all dried fruits, ginger, nuts and citrus zest in a large mixing bowl. Add the spices and toss well to mix. Add molasses and liquids and mix well. Cover tightly and allow to macerate overnight (or for a couple of days) at room temperature, stirring occasionally. 

Preheat oven to 275F. Grease four loaf pans (9 X 5 X 3 inches), and then line them with greased parchment paper. (Cut your parchment paper wide enough to ruffle a bit above the long sides of the pan, so you can grab onto it when it is time to lift the baked cakes out of the pans.) Coat the greased parchment paper lightly with flour. 

Sprinkle 1 cup flour over the fruit mixture and stir it in. Combine the remaining 3 cups of flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt, and sift them together onto a sheet of waxed or parchment paper; set aside. Cream the butter and dark brown sugar, and beat well. Add eggs, two at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla. Tip in all the sifted dry ingredients and beat until batter is blended and smooth. Pour batter over the fruit mixture, and mix well until everything is coated with batter. Divide batter among loaf pans, filling to ½ inch below top. Bake for 2 hours. 

The cakes usually crack on top. Embrace this, my dear, like the crow's feet which add to your wise and mysterious beauty.

Cakes are done when a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool a bit in the pans and then carefully lift the cakes out of their pans using the parchment paper, and set on a wire rack to cool. Brush cakes on top and sides with a little brandy. I wrap mine in parchment paper, and then in tight foil, and then place them inside ziplock bags. I store them in the pantry. Every few days, I open the wrappings carefully and brush them again with a little more brandy, or perhaps Grand Marnier.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Martha Stewart’s Hard Sauce

• 1 cup confectioners sugar 
• 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature 
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
• 3 tablespoons brandy or cognac

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and brandy or Cognac; beat until combined. Transfer to a serving dish, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Lynn’s notes: 1) Martha says use a mixer but a food processor or even just a heartily-wielded spoon works here, too. 2) I use Grand Marnier instead of brandy, because the orange flavor really complements the citrus zest in the cake. Either will do nicely.

Bon appetit, and merry Christmas!

10 September 2017

Very Retro Kidney Bean Salad

Here's another truly retro recipe I inherited from my truly retro mother. This one's a throwback to more sensible times when hardworking folk relied on real live nutrients, rather than caffeine and sugar, to get them through the afternoon's work. (Ever see your grandfather hoe those last three bean rows in the hot sun on a grande iced mocha latte? Ah, I didn't think so.) 

So good to have a batch of this chilled and waiting in the fridge. A little bowlful at your desk will power you past the brain slumps. Add a piece of cold leftover chicken and boom, you've got lunch. Handy dandy stuff, I'm telling you.

This stuff was also my trustiest survival tactic for morning sickness. I could always eat this even when I was too green-around-the-gills to choke down much else. The big protein boost made me feel better instantly, and kept my midwife happy with me, too. (And whaddyaknow, now they're saying beans may cure morning sickness!) 

Like any good retro granny dish, it a) uses stuff I usually have on hand, b) sounds too simple on paper to be any good, yet c) somehow works. I love how even the color palette feels vintage, like something a 1940's lady in a smart cotton dress might have carted to the church social in a snazzy picnic basket she scored with S&H Green Stamps. I mean, just a bite or two and I can almost hear my grandmother and her sisters chatting away in the next room. 

Very Retro Kidney Bean Salad

3 T sweet pickle relish
2 T Hellmann's mayonnaise
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 or 3 hard-boiled eggs, diced
1 15 oz can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 - 1/2 tsp kosher salt, to taste
lots of freshly ground black pepper

Optional: a dash of lemon pepper, a few drops of Cholula or Tabasco sauce

Put the eggs in cold water and bring to a boil. Immediately turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let sit for exactly 8 minutes. Drain off hot water and cover the eggs in ice and water to cool them before peeling. Rinse the beans in a colander and leave to drain. Meanwhile, combine the mayonnaise and relish in a medium bowl (I always drip in a little drizzle of the relish brine for extra flavor). Stir in the tomatoes and the celery. Dice the eggs and let them cool on the chopping board for a few minutes, then gently fold them in. Stir in the beans, being careful not to mash them.

Add salt and pepper to taste. And more relish if you like. Maybe an extra can of beans in case company shows up.


19 January 2011

Stovetop Peach Rice Pudding

My pantry is too stinking deep.  Sometimes I get a little paranoid about the dusty food urchins that dwell in those dark recesses.  Like the ridiculous stockpile of canned organic pumpkin which I'm pretty sure I bought not because it was on holiday sale but rather because the labels are so cute and I'm a sucker for pumpkins.  Or the Eagle Brand milk I fetched for the daughter who had her cap set to make lemon meringue pie but then got hopelessly distracted by the love of her life... umm, how many years ago?  Then there's the veritable school of canned salmon; the plethora of exotic salsas and artisan jams nabbed on the cheap at Tuesday Morning; the chickpeas... oh heavens, the chickpeas.  

So Many Chickpeas. 

You get the picture.  Is it like this in your world?

But I am all Januaryish determination: all that stuff is coming forth into the light of Judgment Day, either to be transformed into something yummy or condemned to everlasting disposal.  Yes indeedy, I will wipe those shelves clean before the first daffodils of spring appear.  And I do here vow to greet that day with no chickpeas. 

Thus committed, I see right away that I must begin to come to terms with All This Rice. Golly.  I  must have bought the giant bag at Costco... twice.  Woops.  So... rice, what?  I remembered a huge can of sliced peaches (the Costco biggie-sized can) left over from a church meeting.  And wasn't there a half-gallon of almond milk in the back of the fridge that was within hours of its best-by date?

So, voila... I made up this recipe for peach rice pudding.  Now, I don't just love canned peaches on their own, but their satiny syrupy smoothness works against the toothy texture of the spiced-up rice.  So aromatic, so creamy, so perfect for a cold January day.  This one's a keeper.

One note:  I've been putting Garam Masala in absolutely everything lately and I've yet to wish I hadn't.  But if you don't have it on hand, you could substitute whatever strikes your fancy -- maybe nutmeg or ginger -- or just use the cinnamon and call it good.

Stove-top Peach Rice Pudding

1/2 tsp salt
2 cups rice
1 half gallon carton of almond milk (or whole milk)
1 scant cup sugar or 2/3 cup honey
1 T vanilla extract
1/2 tsp Garam Masala
2 tsp cinnamon
2-3 cans of sliced peaches*, drained (or fresh peaches in season)

Bring four cups of water to a boil in a very large dutch oven (at least 6 quarts) or similar pot with a heavy bottom.  Stir in salt and rice, cover and simmer over low heat about 20 minutes, or until water is almost absorbed.

Add almond milk, sugar or honey, and spices.  Lift peaches from can with a slotted spoon and carefully add to rice mixture, stirring gently.  Increase heat and bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and let simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.  Reduce heat to low, stir in vanilla, and continue stirring frequently until it begins to thicken, about 15 minutes longer.

Makes a lot, which is good because it's dandy to have leftovers for breakfasts and snacks.  Can be eaten warm or cold.

*Note:  I used about half the huge can of peaches.  With the other half, I made Nigella Lawson's Spiced Peaches.  Amazing, and super fast; can't wait to have them with a little goat cheese on crostini.  There was a lot of the spicy syrup left in the pot after I jarred the peaches, which I couldn't bear to throw out, so I quickly made it into syrup for pancakes by straining the syrup through a sieve, then adding enough water to the syrup to bring it to 3 cups liquid and pouring it back into the pot with 3 cups dark brown sugar and a spoonful of maple flavoring.  I let that simmer for about 20 minutes before pouring it hot into a jar.  Keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks.  Deeelicious.

17 October 2010

Plum Crumble

Last September, on a whim, I rescued a gorgeous box of Italian prune plums from Costco for no other reason than I simply had to behold their breath-taking shade of velvety blue-red-purple piled into the emerald green bowl on my island. That is my favorite color combination. I know God likes it, too, because He uses it so often! 

And that is when I began to seriously pursue the perfect plum crumble. Eventually I tinkered my way to this recipe, which is now my favorite thing to do with any kind of summer stone fruit. Well, other than scarf them down over the kitchen sink with their cold nectar dripping off my elbows. 

This, lovies, is tangy, sweet, spicy fruit rolling out from under a topping that is by turns custardy, crunchy, and chewy. I think I've actually dreamed about eating this. Justin says it's his favorite dessert I've ever made! 

A lovely dessert, but we also like it for breakfast. Good cold, room temperature, or warm. Just good good good every which way, really.

Plum Crumble

For the plums:

½ cup lightly packed brown sugar OR ½ cup honey
4 ½ Tbsp. flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
⅔ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
about 30-40 Italian prune plums, halved and pitted*
Juice of 1 fresh lemon

For the topping:

1 ½ cups sugar (I use unbleached organic)
2 cups flour
1 rounded cup old-fashioned oats
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
5 large eggs, beaten well (4 perhaps, if extra large)
1 cup unsalted butter, melted

Position a rack in the center of your oven, and preheat to 375°F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the seasoning for the plums: the brown sugar or honey, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and crystallized ginger. Add this to the plums, and gently stir to coat. Spread the plums evenly in an ungreased 9X13 inch baking dish. (You could also divide it into two smaller baking dishes.)

In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the topping: sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to blend well. Add the beaten eggs. Using your hands, mix thoroughly, pinching handfuls of the mixture to produce moist little particles. (If it still has dry patches, add another beaten egg.) Drop spoonfuls over the plums, then pat and spread with your fingers till it covers.

Spoon the melted butter evenly over the topping.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is browned.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with crème fraîche, ice cream, or unsweetened whipped cream.

Note: Reheat slowly, in an oven set to 300 degrees or less, to avoid over-browning the crumble.

*Roughly equivalent to about 15-20 regular plums. I just use up a whole container from Costco and I never remember to count. Peaches? Eh, maybe a dozen? I'm totally guessing, can you tell? It's more art than science, so just use what you have and it will all be glorious, you'll see.

23 December 2009

Hammin' it up

We Bruce ladies are in the Dallas Morning News today!   For, of all things, an article about ham!

There's Nothing Like Ham For The Holidays

If you scroll down a bit, you'll see our picture and a couple of recipes we contributed -- one for a frittata and another for a wonderful ham & cabbage soup.

The author of the article, Tina Danze, was my former catering partner in an era of shared insanity. We cooked and raised our babies together in our early thirties and then went through breast cancer at the same time in our forties. She's so talented and resourceful; a battery-charger kind of friend. 

I love you madly, Tina, even though I resolutely and justifiably blame you for at least ten of the spare pounds I've been hauling around since 1989.

03 November 2009

Pioneer Woman's Mushrooms Stuffed With Brie

The Pioneer Woman's first cookbook came out last week. I confess I wasn't even tempted to add it to my already abundant collection... until I made these mushrooms tonight.

Oh my stars.

I'm pretty sure I'm now seeing those Disney sparkles in the eyes of my loved ones whenever they gaze upon me. Seriously, Ree wasn't joshin' -- you have to make these. So easy, and yet they taste like you slaved over them half the day.


photo by Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman,
who I hope won't come after me with Marlboro Man's lasso for borrowing it.

PS. I made them with Baby Bellas, and I did use the optional splash of white wine. Which I heartily recommend.

PPS. I cannot imagine serving these without mashed potatoes to soak up the amazing pan juices. In fact, next time I make these, which may well be tomorrow, I will just make a triple recipe and a mess of mashed spuds and call it dinner. And I suspect nobody here will complain.

08 October 2009

Ratatouille and Italian Sausage Potpie with Cornmeal Biscuits

I made this for supper last night and right this minute I'm mighty sorry there weren't any leftovers!  This was a stellar one-pot supper, my favorite kind of recipe for a weeknight.  Healthy, aromatic, and very satisfying.  Dan asked me to be sure to "put it in the regular rotation," which is high praise indeed.

Do try this while there are still some summer vegetables in the stores!  I used basil instead of parsley, and frankly, I can't imagine it with parsley, or without the basil.  I want to make this again before my basil fades away with cooler temperatures!

Posted by Picasa
The recipe is from The New York Times. There are far better pictures of it here, because that blogger was smart and took her pics while the sun was still up.

30 January 2009

Salmwichin Samwiches

By request from my friend Beka Sacran, here's my family's favorite breakfast ever (well, except for breakfast at Cafe Pasqual's in Santa Fe, which trumps any breakfast on the planet). I opted to name it what Caitlin used to call it in her toddler years, which is, naturally, what I still call it in my head. We eat this fabulous stuff with great celebration off and on throughout the year, but we eat it ritually on Christmas Eve, July 4th, and the morning of the annual Scottish Festival. Always and anon, amen.

This is not what you'd call a kindler, gentler breakfast. Nay, me lovies, but this be muckle hearty morning fare! If a bowl of Cheerios is your idea of a slam-bang way to start your day, no offense, but you'll need to either buck up or move on.

We started serving this in bits and slivers to all our kids while they were still in their high chairs, and they all adore the stuff. Now comes our much-beloved new son-in-law who was not similarly weaned, and it looks like he's going to be a tough convert. As yet, he'd rather have the Cheerios. But since it's one of his cousins who requested I post this (and since we've spotted a number of his kinfolk surveying our fridge for any sign of our salmwichin leftovers!), we do yet hold out hope for him!

Salmwichin Samwiches
aka Salmon & Bagels

Smoked Salmon (see my notes, below recipe)
pumpernickel bagels - 1 per person
regular cream cheese
boiled egg, chopped or sliced (1/2 - 1 egg per person)
raw onion, diced
fresh lemon, quartered

strawberry jam
juice - orange or grapefruit is best
fresh hot coffee

(Yes, you'll want those last three items for the full experience. We do not consider them optional.)

At our house, we put everything on the table and everyone builds their own.

Toast the bagels slightly, just enough to warm them and give them a little crunch. Spread with cream cheese. Add 2-3 layers of smoked salmon slices. Squeeze lemon on salmon generously. Sprinkle with diced onion and chopped egg. Dot with capers, making sure to let the brine drain off the edge of the spoon against the inside of the caper jar -- you want capers, not caper juice. Put the top on the bagel, and open wide. YUM.

We like to have a little mound of strawberry jam on the plate to swab onto our bagel scraps every few bites. Kinda like progressive dessert. Oh, it's yummy.

Juice and coffee taste even more amazing than ever with this stuff. Part of the whole palate experience. Must have them. But I already said that, didn't I?

Best served with bagpipes or some Robert Burns ballads playing in the background.

On purchasing smoked salmon: I used to look for Scottish salmon, but over time we noted that we couldn't really detect that much difference among smoked salmons from various source waters. Now we buy the Kirkland Norwegian Smoked Salmon at Costco, which is far and away the best buy we've ever found anywhere -- it costs about a third of what we'd pay somewhere like Whole Foods. The way I figure it, Norway isn't all that far from Scotland. And besides, Salmon are amorous little buggers, famous for swishing off to far off places for courting purposes. So I figure these Norwegian fishies may very well have had a wild weekend at the highland coast at some point, and I'd say that counts for Scottish influence. That's my story, anyway.

Bagels - We like Einstein Bros. Bagels. We've bought the bagels the day before at times, but Dan prefers to scoot out early in the morning to buy the bagels fresh. Bagels are appreciably better the day they're made. Pumpernickel bagels can be hard to find, but there's a predominately Jewish neighborhood near us, so we can usually find them. Hey, call your local bakeries and delis! You never know, they may be willing to make them for you by request.

And one last thing: Lowfat and no-fat cream cheeses leave a tinny, chemical aftertaste on the palate, and have a slimier texture than the real stuff. Not worth it, and definitely not good with smoked salmon. I say use the real stuff and make up for the calories somewhere else!


10 November 2008

Gigi Louise's Cornbread Dressing

Gigi Louise used to mercifully make an extra pan of this dressing for family holiday gatherings because we'd all get so forlorn and overcome with malaise when she had to tell us the leftovers were all gone. So naturally I make extra as well. I like to leave my small cast iron skillet out handy so folks can heat up a little at their whim. Cast iron makes it all crispy golden and eternally inspiring.

Now, I warn you. This is one of those real gen-u-ine granny recipes, the kind where granny assumes you're as intuitive a cook as she is so she doesn't fuss with jotting down the details. You know, piffly trifles like how much broth to use. So when you get stumped you ring granny up for the requisite empirical data and she helpfully drawls, "Well, honey, you know. Just keep tipping more broth in till it looks right fallin' off a spoon." And... that would be roughly how much? Just a ballpark, a clue, anything... "Oh, just stick your hand down in it, honey, and if it runs through your fingers kinda thick-like but not runny exactly, you're about right." Yes, this actually happened to me.

But, oh, is it ever worth navigating the guesswork. Last year,
Claire made our Thanksgiving feast and she managed to get it to fall off the spoon just right on her first try. So hey, muster your courage and give it a go.

When we make it for Thanksgiving here in a few days, I'll try to take some helpful pictures of the kinda-thick-like-but-not-runny-exactly stage to post here for you. But then again that might take all the fun out of it for you.

Gigi Louise's Cornbread Dressing

2 large pans of cornbread
(NOTE: Do not use sweet or cakey cornbread! Optimally, it should be baked in cast iron skillets for good crust. Gigi's cornbread recipe is here. Note that her recipe makes a small pan of cornbread, so for the 2 large pans needed for this dressing you'd need to make two double recipes. You can make the cornbread a couple of days in advance - the dressing is improved by slightly dry, stale bread. You can actually bake the cornbread a month in advance and freeze it.)

2 hamburger buns, toasted (or 4 slices of toasted white bread)

1 big onion, chopped

2 cups chopped celery (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice)

4 beaten eggs

1 T sage*

black pepper to taste (Be very generous! Even more generous than that!)

salt if needed (this depends largely on the amount of salt in your broth)

Broth - Gigi told me she cooked her Thanksgiving turkey with one quart of water in the bottom of the roaster (I assume she used a rack) so she would have a head start on broth, and then she supplemented with canned broth until she had enough to make the dressing "a bit soupy." I usually make the dressing ahead of the turkey, though, so I use all chicken broth. I buy the free range organic broth that comes in aseptic boxes by the case at Costco. Swanson's canned broth is good also.

A large glass Pyrex casserole dish, buttered, will give this a good crunchy crust on the bottom and edges.

Cook at 350 until firm and golden on top -- at least an hour.

*If you're serving nursing mothers, you should warn them about the sage in the dressing, as it can significantly limit breast milk production.

Gigi Louise's Cornbread

I think my bones must be made of cornbread. Wonder how far back up the family tree I would have to go to find a woman who didn't make cornbread? 

My Gigi Louise's cornbread was perfection. It had a substantial, crunchy crust that smelled like hot buttered popcorn. A hearty, toothy texture-- nothing cake-ish about it. Never sweet. No no no. And no need whatsoever for foo-foo. Cheese and/or green chiles, I'm looking at you. (If that's what you're after, I advise enchiladas.) Hot cornbread with a slather of soft butter hath no need of gussying.

I prefer stone ground yellow meal from non-GMO corn, which, thankfully, is getting easier to find. And I want ALL cornmeal. In the foolishness of my youth, I deviated from matriarchal wisdom and experimented with mixing in some flour. I soon straightened up; there's just no need. You can't improve on the toothsome texture of old-time corn-rich batter, cooked right. 

Being the first native of the great southwest on a solidly southern family tree, I have to whip out a batch made from southwestern blue corn every now and then, just for the Dr. Seuss-ish spunk of it. Blue cornbread! Even Gigi Louise thought that was fun.

Gigi said the very best cornbread she ever made was when she could get her hands on some freshly ground corn and make it the same day the corn was ground. I've done that a time or two with my grain mill. Wow. Most salubrious. 

One note: For any beginners out there, it's handy to know there's a difference between 'corn meal' and 'corn meal mix' even though the packages can look very similar. Be sure to read labels!

Gigi Louise's Cornbread

oil and butter for the skillet

1 cup stone ground, medium-grind corn meal
a small handful of coarse grind corn meal (for priming skillet)*
1 T sugar (or less)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

1 large egg
1/2 c buttermilk (plus more to adjust batter thickness)

butter, for serving

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Mix egg and buttermilk and stir into dry ingredients. If the batter seems too stiff or thick, add a little buttermilk. It should be a little thicker than pancake batter, but thinner and lighter than muffin batter.

Prime a 6-8 inch cast iron skillet as per note below. This is KEY. Do not skip!

Pour batter into the primed skillet. Check at 18-20 minutes; cornbread is ready when the top is dark golden yellow. (A double recipe will need a 10 inch skillet and a little more time in the oven.)

*Priming the skillet: Pour a shallow layer of vegetable oil in the bottom of your cast iron skillet and swirl it around so that the oil coats the sides. Use your fingers if necessary. Toss in a tablespoon of butter. Put the pan in the preheated oven for a few minutes to thoroughly heat the oil and melt the butter, then carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and immediately sprinkle a light layer of stone ground corn meal in the hot oil. Put the pan back in the oven for a couple of minutes, until the cornmeal starts to smell like popcorn but before it turns brown. Now carefully pull the hot pan out of the oven, pour in the batter, and return the skillet to the oven. This is an old trick that will give your cornbread that fantastic crisp, aromatic crust.

24 October 2008

Where's That Link? Vol. 1

A few recipes online that I've known and loved and wouldn't want to lose...

Crockpot Mexican Beans/Bean Soup
Serious yum. I always add several cloves of garlic, at least one teaspoon of cumin, and, after the beans are tender, a little salt. My Mema was convinced that a half teaspoon of ginger made beans more sociable, and I've come to suspect she was right. So toss in some ginger. I've tried all sorts of jarred salsas and am rarely impressed, but Herdez Salsa Casera Medium will do just fine. As close to fresh salsa as you're going to get from a jar. A pantry staple.

Martha Stewart's Always Perfect Macaroni and Cheese
Okay, for real, that's not what Martha calls it. But it is. Always Perfect, I mean. This is the only mac & cheese recipe the universe needs. It's a bit of work, but oh baby, it's dinner all by itself. And breakfast the next day. The Beehive kids always want this on Christmas Eve. And does The Mamadah make it for them? Of course she does. Because she loves her children through food, like all good mamas do. NOTE: If you love yourself you will NOT omit the nutmeg or the cayenne. Do you hear me? I mean it. We always have it with Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Cider, which we horde get from Costco. Or baked apples. Oh wow. Oh. Oh. Wow. Okay, I'll stop.

Martha Stewart's Fruit & Nut Refrigerator Cookies
This is the cookie you're looking for. Having a log or two of this dough handy in the freezer when company drops in will completely take care of that ruse you're trying to pull off that your house is always homey and you're just the kind of gal who always has fresh baked cookies coming out of the oven right when people want them. Which is all the time. Terrific cookies. We don't bother to ice them. Beware of slicing them too thin-- they'll burn or get too crunchy. About ¼ inch but not less.

19 October 2008

Cranberry Bread Brody

When I was a little girl, I thought bags of cranberries looked like pretty pretty red beads. I wanted to string them and wear them. A few years ago I found a wagon load of red wooden cranberry garlands on deep sale after Christmas and I bought an embarrassing amount of them. I've thought about wearing those, too, when they come down from the attic to see me every winter.

Cranberries make me happy, see. Pair them with oranges in recipes, and I'm borderline giddy. This Cranberry Bread is like a happy happy treat with pretty pretty red beads in it. Practically glamorous with a nice pot of something like English Breakfast or Earl Grey.

Great Scot is very fond of this stuff, in fact he's been known to say it's his favorite. But I suspect he's never thought of it as glamorous.

If you double this recipe, like I do, you can use up one 12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries. There won't be any left over to play dress-up with, but you'll feel all thrifty using the whole bag like that.

Cranberry Bread Brody
from Jane Brody's Good Food Book

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 to 2/3 cup sugar, to taste
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt, if desired

1-2 small oranges, used thus:
4 tsp grated orange peel (doubled = 2 T + 2 tsp)
3/4 cup orange juice

3 T vegetable oil
1 egg
1 1/3 cups fresh cranberries, sliced in half or coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)

1. In a large bowl, stir together the flours, the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, orange peel, orange juice, and egg. Add this mixture to the flour mixture, stirring the two mixtures just enough to moisten the dry ingredients. Fold in the cranberries and nuts, and pour the batter into a greased 9 X 5 X 3 inch loaf pan.

3. Bake the bread in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour (about 50 minutes if you're using mini loaf pans). Set the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes before turning out the loaf to cool completely. Wrap the bread well, and let it stand overnight before slicing it.

Note: Jane Brody says this bread freezes well, but in my experience it doesn't keep well in the freezer longer than a month -- the texture suffers a little. You can, however, buy fresh cranberries in season during the holidays and freeze them in their original bags for year-round use.

Road Scholars' Carrot Cake-ish

Back when I had two little girls who could still fit all their school books into their pink and purple backpacks, we used to pack up our school and go on road trips with my parents whenever we could. We've done so much school on interstates that my daddy started calling us Road Scholars. (We called him our guest lecturer because he always had interesting stuff to add to our lessons.)

I often took loaves of this carrot cake on those trips, pre-sliced and wrapped in foil, because it keeps everyone satisfied between meal stops and all but eliminates the temptations (and expense!) of junk food at truck stops. Daddy used to start dropping broad hints about how good it was about a week before our departures, and then he'd show up all hopeful with his ancient green thermos full of hot coffee.

Ahh, those were amazing years. When God gives you fleeting chances to do great things, by all means do them.

I'm never sure whether to call this stuff carrot cake or carrot bread. Hence cake-ish. Terrific stuff to have handy, at home or on the road. Stellar with good hot coffee mid-afternoon. If there's any left over next day, we toast it slightly and spread on a little cream cheese for breakfast or teatime. Delightful, that.

Road Scholars' Carrot Cake-ish

3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup raisins
2 cups finely grated carrots (4 medium large)
1 T butter
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/8 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (optionsl)

Combine first 8 ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Cover the pan and let the mixture rest for 12 hours on the stovetop.*

Combine remaining ingredients, and add to the carrot mixture after it has rested for 12 hours. Stir just enough to combine the ingredients and no more!

Divide batter into two oiled loaf pans, about 9 X 5 X 3 inches. Bake in a preheated 275 degree oven for one hour and ten minutes. (I find that it needs the full cooking time.)

Freezes fairly well, but I've never frozen it for longer than a month. Frankly, I can't imagine why you would put off eating it that long.

*Yes, this resting step is rather odd, but it makes a big difference and you don't want to skip it. It infuses the carrots and raisins with incredible flavor and greatly improves their texture. Plus, this quirky little step makes these loaves so easy to make for breakfast for company-- get the dry ingredients together and let the carrot/spice mixture rest overnight, then bake it in the morning. Your guests will wake up to an amazing, spicy, homey aroma wafting through your house!

~adapted from Jane Brody's Good Food Book

14 October 2008

Caitlin's Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

These are happiness on a crisp fall day. By all means, serve them with a pot of hot tea (Earl Grey or Stash Chocolate Hazelnut tea would be my top picks to pair with these muffins). And some happy fallish music. Like Haydn -- maybe the Surprise Symphony. Or maybe James Taylor's October Road. Mmmm perfect. Or Mark O'Connor's The American Seasons. Luscious. Oh, how does one choose?

Caitlin's Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

2 cups flour
1 T baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
dash ground cloves
⅔ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup sour cream*
3 T orange marmalade
⅓ cup oil
1 cup cooked pumpkin (canned is fine)
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients well. Combine wet ingredients and stir into dry mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients disappear-- do not overblend or muffins will be tough.

Line muffin tin with paper cups, and fill. Bake 20-25 minutes.

*I'm obsessed with my new homemade yogurt cheese maker. Why did I not know about this glorious stuff before? So I'm going to try yogurt cheese as a substitute for sour cream next time I make these muffins. I'll let you know how it goes.

Bran Muffins

from The Best Recipe

These muffins are Caitlin's specialty, and they are amazing. I don't know if it's brave or foolish for me to confess that I think they're (gasp) even better than my mother's.

Now then, let me say that Mother's bran muffins are miiighty fine. But they use a lot of All-Bran cereal, which contains a load of sugar in addition to high fructose corn syrup, which I've eliminated from my diet in my post-cancer life. (I would post Mother's recipe except that I think you need to eliminate HFCS from your diet, too. Once you've survived cancer you get to be horsey like that.)

Everyone needs really tasty bran muffins in their life, so I was extremely enthused when Caitlin found this recipe and began to regularly rise up and bless me with them. I guess now that she's all married and everything I'll have to start making them for myself. Sigh.

This is our go-to recipe when we need to use up that last glug of buttermilk lurking in the back of the frig.

Caitlin, I'm wondering here... do you ever substitute plain yogurt for the sour cream? More whole wheat flour and less white? Less brown sugar? Do tell.

Bran Muffins
makes 1 dozen muffins

Wheat bran is available at natural food stores. It is also available in supermarkets in boxes labeled Quaker Unprocessed Bran.

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
7 T unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 T packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 T unsulphured molasses
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup plus 3 T buttermilk
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1 cup raisins

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Cream butter with mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add brown sugar, increase speed to medium-high and beat until combined and fluffy, about 1 minute longer. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly before adding the next. Beat in vanilla, molasses, and sour cream until thoroughly combined and creamy, about 1 minute longer. Reduce speed to low; beat in buttermilk and half the flour mixture until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in remaining flour mixture until incorporated and slightly curdled looking, about 1 minute longer, scraping sides of bowl as necessary. Stir in bran and raisins.

3. Spray 12 cup muffin tin with vegetable cooking spray or coat lightly with butter. Divide batter evenly among cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center withdraws cleanly or with a few moist particles adhering to it; about 25 minutes. Set on wire rack to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and serve warm.

04 October 2008

Couscous Pudding

My beloved friend Tina Danze is a freelance writer and food photo stylist, and a regular contributor to the Dallas Morning News on food related topics. Back when Tina and I were both living in a whirling cloud of very small daughters, we got together every few days so the little angels could rearrange everything inside our property lot lines while we wallowed in the rare chance to have real conversation (whoopee! big words! irony! subordinate clauses!) with another rational being. On one such day, we were being serenaded by a quartet of tiny Belle-wannabes warbling discordantly about life in "a qui-et vil-lage" (of all things) when Tina abruptly levelled her professional gaze at me and all but shouted over the cosmic din, "So, Lynn, do you like couscous?"

Her kids are cute but they're getting to her, I thought.

"Tina," I chided, "did you really just say 'koos-koos'? Surely that's not a real word. It's just a cutesy name your kids came up with, right?" Whereupon she hooted, grabbed a pen, and set about inking my ignorance into the public record. In the opening paragraph. Of the lead article. Of the most popular section of the Wednesday paper.

That's what I get for being pals with the food paparazzi.

So look, there were plenty of perfectly cool people in the early 90's who had never heard of couscous. I'd been busy reproducing and whatnot, okay?

But I'm a good sport, I am, and always curious, so I fetched me some couscous straightaway, I did. And all was forgiven when I pulled the first pan of this Couscous Pudding out of my oven. Reminiscent of rice pudding but faster to make, it has long ranked high on my children's list of comfort foods. Nowadays my girls make it for breakfast or just for an afternoon snack. So yeah, Tina, I like couscous.

This recipe is forgiving, so don't sweat the measurements too much. Want to use up that last egg? Fine, crack it in; an extra will only make the pudding eggier. This is a good thing. And I am intentionally sloshy when measuring out the spices, vanilla, and lemon juice. Life is short, you know. Live it spicy, friends.

Couscous Pudding
(8 servings)

4 cups water
2 cups couscous
2 T butter
1 ½ cups milk or milk substitute
4-5 eggs
⅓ cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp grated lemon rind
1 tsp lemon juice
½ cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325F. Stir couscous into boiling water; turn heat to low, cover the pan and simmer until the water is absorbed (less than five minutes). Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the butter.

Beat together: milk, eggs, sugar, salt, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, lemon juice & rind. Stir into the couscous. Stir in raisins.

Pour into a buttered baking dish and sprinkle with additional cinnamon if desired. Bake at 325F for 30-40 minutes or until the pudding is set (45 minutes for a double recipe). Serve warm or room temperature. Leftovers are good reheated with a little milk.

03 October 2008

Sarah's Chicken Stew with Limas and Okra

This nourishing stew is a family recipe, and it's truly comfort food for me on a chilly day. I like the beautiful color palette it makes in the bowl, the creamy weight of the broth, the homey aroma -- everything. My copy of the recipe is a sight to see -- in my mother's handwriting, a spare and rushed list of just the ingredients, over which I scrawled in the details as she talked me through it. I can see it now, her darting around the kitchen methodically cleaning up the mess while telling me Exactly How The Stew Should Come To Be, and me sitting there simultaneously trying to make my spoon keep up with my mouth and my pen keep up with hers. Below a few splatters on the page she has jotted "Dig up ferns, get 3 books for Brother Douglas, close house vents and attic vent. Kit hot turn off." (I have no idea.) This tells me I got the recipe from her in 1997 in my Gigi Louise's old Tennessee farm kitchen, now gone; Mother was putting in a hard, sad, homesick year there clearing out and shutting down the beloved family homeplace, because my widowed grandmother could not do it and it had to be done.

Mother falls in the straightforward, pragmatic camp when it comes to cooking -- she's a salt-pepper-butter cook all the way. That random tablespoon of ketchup in this recipe tickles me; it's so like her. Fast, no fuss, no muss -- and yet it really does do the trick.

I suspect this stew has never been served without a pan of hot cornbread. Which is as it should be.

Sarah's Chicken Stew with Limas, Creamed Corn and Okra

1 large frying chicken
2 pkgs frozen lima beans
1 T salt

Stew chicken in 4 quarts of water with limas and salt until chicken is tender. Lift chicken out with a strainer, de-bone and shred, and return to pot.

Add to pot:
2 c potatoes, diced small
1 large can tomatoes or 2 cups fresh, chopped
1 onion, diced
1 T ketchup
1/2 cup okra (or more)

Cook till the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

2 pkgs cream style corn (or 1 or 2 cans)
1 pat of butter

Cook on low burner for 20-30 minutes.

02 October 2008

AHA Apple Cake

I rarely bake cakes because we're just not huge cake fans at our house. I'd much rather risk my skirt size on Great Scot's legendary cookies or a big bowl of warm cobbler. But I make an exception for this Apple Cake, probably because it's so swell for teatime or breakfast, which means it actually gets eaten around our house. Plus it's really quick and makes the house smell so cozy.

Easy Apple Cake
adapted from the American Heart Association Cookbook

2 cups diced apples
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten

1 1/2 cups flour, unsifted (whole wheat would do fine)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350. Combine apples and sugar in a mixing bowl and let stand 10 minutes. Blend oil, vanilla and egg with the apples. Combine dry ingredients and mix in well. Stir in the raisins.

Pour into a greased 8-inch square cake pan. Bake at 350F for 35 to 40 minutes. This cake does not rise like light cakes do, so it's okay if it looks a bit flat.

NOTE: It is very good just as it is, when served soon after baking. Any leftover cake would be delicious served with a lemon sauce.

01 October 2008

Gigi Louise's Cucumbers

I always thought this dish had an odd, monochromatic beauty about it when set out to "sweat a while" on Gigi's worn countertop -- a clear glass bowl of sparkly ice cubes holding submerged a bed of ivory discs that bore only the barest memory of having been green just moments before. Once bathed in the sweet vinegar brine, it becomes a shimmery sour sight that makes your mouth do that pickle-y puckery watery thing. I don't know whether to call it a salad or a relish -- it's somewhere in between, I guess -- but whatever it is, it was a hot weather staple on Gigi's table. She served it with everyday meals of fresh vegetables from the garden, big slabs of Granddaddy's organic tomatoes (oooh, how I miss them!), cornbread and iced tea.

My cousin Stephanie, who inherited far more of Grandmother's legendary cooking talents than I did, makes her own variation of this dish, which I've seen her serve chilled on a stifling hot day to happy multitudes at summer camp. Maybe I can persuade her sometime to let me append her version to this one.

Gigi Louise's Cucumbers

Put in a large glass bowl:
a couple of large cucumbers, peeled and sliced (1/4 inch thick or so)
water to cover, with 1 T salt per quart

Cover cucumbers with water/salt solution and 2 trays of ice until bowl sweats, up to an hour. Drain. (This step is vital as it makes the cucumbers crisp and crunchy.)

Mix together 1 cup each sugar and white vinegar, plus 1/2 cup water. Pour over cucumbers to cover.

Sprinkle liberally with black pepper. May stir in sliced rings of white onion if desired (we always do).

Serve cold. Stores well in a wide mouth canning jar in the refrigerator.


Cheese Blogs

Moments after Great Scot polishes off his post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich, he begins dreaming about me making cheese blogs for him for Christmas Day. I make enough for him to share; such a big batch in fact that I have to haul out my punchbowl-sized mixing bowl to mix it up.

You can shape this into two or three semi-squashed balls, which makes it a nice shape to give as gifts and looks quite spiffy on a plate. However, we veteran cheeseblogophiles much prefer it formed into logs about the diameter of its destination -- a Ritz cracker. This way, every slice has a lovely ring of chopped pecans all around the edge. Very hoo hoo.

Which brings me to why we call them blogs. Great Scot kept on calling the logs "cheese balls" out of habit, so our kids coined a new hybrid name for the things... cheese blogs. And of course it stuck.

Lynn's Cheese Blogs

12 oz cream cheese
12 oz sharp cheddar, grated (I like extra sharp white cheddar)
12 oz medium cheddar, grated
1 T + 1 tsp Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 to 1 tsp garlic powder (to taste), or 1-3 cloves minced fresh garlic*
2 tsp paprika
pecans, finely chopped

Note: These cheese amounts are very forgiving -- if you have a little more or less on hand, just go with it. It will still love you. Kraft Cracker Barrel cheeses work beautifully for this, though I usually try to buy the big economical blocks of Tillamook at Costco or Sam's.

If you're using a food processor, first chop the pecans and set aside; wipe out the workbowl with a paper towel. Next, if you're using fresh garlic, drop it down the processor tube and mince fine, then add the cream cheese and Lea & Perrins sauce and blend till smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl (one big enough to hold the big mess of grated cheese you're about to create) -- sort of plop it off to one side because you might want to spoon some of it back into the processor in a few minutes (you'll see). Now fit your processor with a grater disc and grate all the cheddar, transferring the batches to the mixing bowl as you go.

Here you can give yourself a little headstart on all the stirring by spooning the cream cheese mixture back into the processor (put the chopping blade back on first!) with a cup or two of the grated cheese; pulse a few times to mix. After that, I dump it all in the big mixing bowl and get my hands in there and work it till it's thoroughly mixed.

Form the mixture into logs of a length that will fit on your serving platter, and sprinkle them lightly with the paprika -- this is optional but it makes it all so pretty. Roll the blogs in the chopped nuts till thoroughly coated, then wrap them up tight, first in wax paper and then in foil. Then I usually put them in ziplocks to keep out moisture -- overkill perhaps, but hey, good cheese is precious to me. The blogs will keep in the refrigerator for longer than you'll need them to.

*I love fresh garlic, but even I use garlic powder here if the logs aren't going to be polished off within a few days, because raw garlic becomes practically flourescent in these things after three or four days in the frig. Oh, and do NOT use garlic salt!