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!