Thursday, November 23, 2006

Pumpkin Pie

I only bake pies three times a year. Blueberry, when the blueberries are in season, apple when the Macintoshes are in season and a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. With the exception of the crust, there is nothing special about my pies. They are straight out of my trusty old Betty Crocker cookbook. I can see all of you foodies shuddering in horror! Rest assured that I have received many compliments on my pies over the years.

So much for the fillings. The pastry was another story. I was dissatisfied with Ms. Crocker's pastry. So I asked an elderly relative what made her pie pastry so flaky. She said she used lots of shortening. So I increased the amount of shortening in my own pastry and voila! Magic. Not only are they much better and flakier, they are also much easier to roll.

One other thing to bear in mind when making this pie: use evaporated milk. I've tried other things like Half & Half (when I found myself with no evaporated milk) and it's just not as good.

Verdict: Yum! This one's a keeper!

Pumpkin Pie
(Source: Betty Crocker Cookbook)

OldRoses' Pie Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
3 tablespoons cold water

2 eggs
1 can (1 pound) pumpkin (2 cups)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 2/3 cups evaporated milk

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Measure flour and salt into bowl. Cut in shortening thoroughly. Sprinkle in water and mix until all flour is moistened and dough almost cleans side of bowl (1 to 2 teaspoons water can be added if needed).

Gather dough into ball; shape into flattened round on lightly floured pastry cloth. With floured roling pin, roll dough 2 inches larger than inverted pie pan. Fold pastry into quarters; unfold and ease into pan.

Trim overhanging edge of pastry 1 inch from rim of pan. Fold and roll pastry under, even with pan; flute.

Beat eggs slightly; beat in remaining ingredients. Pour into pastry-lined pie pan. (To prevent spills, place pie pan on oven rack or on open oven door when filling with pumpkin mixture.) Cover edge of pastry with 2- to 3-inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning. Bake 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake 45 minutes longer or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. (Remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.) Cool. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.

Makes one 9" pie.

Recycle: pumpkin can, evaporated milk can

Compost: eggshells

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Minestrone Soup

I'm always on the look out for soup recipes. I only make three kinds of soup regularly: mushroom, onion, and potato. I would love to find a recipe for chicken noodle soup or a good veggie soup. My perusal of my newest cookbook from BHG, turned up an interesting recipe for minestrone. It is a vegetarian ministrone but had beef bouillon in it giving it the taste of beef. I've found vegetarian dishes lacking in "oomph". I guess I am just a carnivore at heart.

I loved all the different kinds of vegetables in this recipe. I did make one mistake while shopping. I got red kidney beans instead of white kidney beans. Since I don't usually cook with beans, I'm not sure if there is a difference in taste or if the point is just to provide color contrast. Once I had all my ingredients assembled, I took a closer look at the recipe. I was shocked to see how short the cooking time was for all those vegetables. When I make stew, I always cook the veggies much longer.

And I was right. The vegetables didn't cook. The soup itself was alright, but the veggies were just plain raw.

Verdict: What were they thinking???

Minestrone Soup

6 cups water
1 28-oz. can tomatoes, undrained, cut up
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup chopped cabbage
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 Tbsp. instant beef bouillon granules
1 Tbsp. dried Italian seasoning, crushed
1 tsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 15-oz. can white kidney beans (cannellini beans) or Great Northern beans
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen lima beans or one 9-oz. pkg. forzen Italian-style green beans
4 oz. dried lingiune or spaghetti, broken
1 small zucchini, halved lenghtwise and sliced
2 to 3 Tbsp. purchased pesto(optional)
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. In a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven, combine the water, undrained tomatoes, tomato sauce, onion, cabbage, carrot, celery, bouillon granules, Italian seasoning, salt, garlic, and pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in undrained white kidney beans, lima beans, linguine, and zucchini. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

2. To serve, ladle into soup bowls. If desired, top each serving with about 1 teaspoon of the pesto and pass Parmesan cheese. Makes 8 servings.

Make-ahead directions: Cool soup. Ladle soup into freezer containers. Seal, label, and freeze for up to 3 months. To serve, in a saucepan, heat soup over low heat until heated through, stirring frequently.

Recycle: tomato and tomato sauce cans, beans can

Compost: onion skins, carrot skins, celery leaves, garlic skins

Friday, November 17, 2006

Florentine Focaccia

I've been hearing a lot about focaccia but never actually tasted it. The few times that I have gone out to dinner, it was not on the menu. Last November, I came across a recipe for it that looked good. Although it was the dreaded multi-step recipe, for bread it quite simple. I especially liked that the time for cooking the bacon is built into the recipe instead of assuming that you just happen to have five strips of cooked bacon hanging around. That would never happen in my house. I don't normally eat bacon. In fact, when shopping for bacon for this recipe, I ended up buying turkey bacon because the pork bacon looked disgustingly fatty. Although raised on fatty meats, I've eaten only lean meats for decades. Fatty meats gross me out now.

I was unable to find Fontina cheese and substituted mozzarella instead. Due to the changing ethnic population in my town, the local grocery store has cut down on its Italian and Chinese ingredients and stocks more Hispanic foods. I can find any Chineses/Japanese ingredients I need at the local Asian market, but I'm having a tough time finding Italian ingredients.

Ten ounces of spinach is way too much. I only used about half the package and as you can see from the picture, that was plenty. The bread dough came together very easily and rose wonderfully. I can understand the need for the olive oil drizzled over the dough before baking, but it made the resulting bread very greasy. I like my bread drier to the touch. The taste was so-so. I'm very curious now to taste focaccia as served in an Italian restaurant and I wouldn't be averse to trying another recipe. I can't recommend this recipe, though.

Verdict: Not bad, but I won't be making this again.

Florentine Focaccia
(Source: Family Circle Magazine November 29, 2005)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 envelope quick-rise yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
4 ounces diced bacon (about 5 slices)
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or coarse salt
1 1/2 cups shredded Fontina cheese

1. Combine 1 cup of the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil, rosemary and 1 cup water in a saucepan until very warm (125 degrees to 130 degrees F). Gradually beat water mixture into flour mixture with a wooden spoon. Beat in 1 1/2 cups of the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to make soft dough.

3. Knead dough on floured surface until smooth and elastic, 10 minutes, owrking in remaining 1/2 cup flour as needed to prevent sticking. shape into ball. Cover; let rest 10 minutes.

4. Saute bacon in skillet over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes until crisp. Add spinach; cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.

5. Roll out dough on a floured surface to 15 x 11-inch rectangle. Fit in greased 15 x 11 x 1-inch jelly roll pan. make indentations all over surface of dough, pressing almost to bottom of pan. Drizzle dough with remaining tablespoon oil. Scatter bacon-spinach mixture and sea salt over top. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm place until almost doubled, 30 minutes.

6. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle cheese evenly over top. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned and cheese is melted. Cut into 12 pieces. Serve warm.

Recycle: olive oil bottle

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Top Secret Recipes version of Starbucks Pumpkin Bread

I don't like Starbucks coffee. And even if I found myself in a Starbucks, I wouldn't purchase any of their baked goods because I prefer to bake my own. So I am at a loss as to why I felt so compelled to try this recipe. I actually had to ask people to taste it and tell me if it did taste like Starbucks' Pumpkin Bread. I didn't care for it, myself. Too bland. If you read the recipe closely, you will see that there are no seasonings in it. Just pumpkin and two kinds of sugar.

I don't have a metal bread pan. I used my clay meatloaf pan which may have contributed to the fact that this loaf did not cook all the way through. It was supposed to bake for 70 minutes but in less than an hour, I could smell it, a sure sign that it was done. Sure enough, when I checked it, the edges were brown and overcooking. I think this needed a lower oven temperature. I'm not even going to bother trying this again at a lower temperature. It's just not that good.

Verdict: What were they thinking???

Starbucks Pumpkin Bread

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cups canned pumpkin
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat eggs, sugars and vanilla together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed for about 30 seconds. Add pumpkin and oil and mix well.

Pour dry ingredients into the wet stuff and mix well with your electric mixer. Pour the batter into a well-greased 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan. Bake for 70 minutes or until the top is dark brown and a toothpick stuck into the center of the bread comes out clean.

When the bread s cool, remove it from the loaf pan and use a bread knife to slice it into 1-inch thick slices.

Makes 8 slices.

Tidbits: This bread freezes perfectly. Simply seal any leftover slices in a zip top bag or wrap them in plastic ahd pop them into the chiller. To serve, microwave one frozen slice on high for about 45 seconds and it'll taste like it just came out of the oven.

Recycle: vanilla bottle, vegetable oil bottle, pumpkin can

Compost: eggshells

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Blueberry Bars

Since I started this blog, I've noticed that all of my cookbooks are old. I haven't bought a new one since I was divorced 14 years ago. Part of the reason was financial. When you are raising a child on a very small income, there is no money for luxuries like books. Probably the biggest reason why I stopped buying cookbooks was that I was cooking for a picky eater.

Cooking for a picky eater is sheer torture. Especially if you are like me and like to experiment with new ingredients and new techniques. Or even just variations on old standbys. With the advent of the internet, I could do a little experimenting for only the cost of the ingredients, my time and aggravation. But I miss leisurely leafing through a cookbook and discovering a great new recipe. So I've begun buying cookbooks again.
One of my recent purchases was from Better Homes and Gardens, their Our Best Recipes book. Silly me, I should have realized that it would just be a rehash of the recipes on their website but it is definitely more fun paging through the book than clicking around a website. Of course, all cookbooks come with "extras" these days. The "extra" with this one was a thin pamphlet called "BHG Favorite Bars & Cookies" again, a rehash of the website. I've actually made a few of these already and reviewed them here!
I had a few problems with this recipe. The first was cutting in the butter. It doesn't say to soften the butter first but I can't imagine trying to cut in cold, hard butter. It was difficult enough trying to cut softened butter into oatmeal! Combining frozen blueberries with anything is problematic. I don't know why they aren't defrosted first. I also didn't want to buy an entire lemon just for a little peel so I used the bottled stuff. It tasted fine. I used blueberry Polaner All-fruit rather than regular preserves. Perhaps that is why it was impossible to spread the blueberry mixture entirely over the crust. And how do you get 25 "bars" out of a 8" pan? Those are bites, not bars! But, in the end, it all came out delicious.
Verdict: Yum! This one's a keeper!
Blueberry Bars
(Source: BHG Favorite Bars & Cookies)

1 1/2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup bleuberry, raspberry, or strawberry preserves
1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel

1. Line an 8x8x2-inch baking pan with foil; set aside. In a medium bow combine rolled oats, flour, and brown sugar. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until pieces are pea-size. Set aside 1 cup of the oat mixture for topping. Press the remaining oat mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

2. For filling, in a small bowl combine the frozen blueberries, preserves, and lemon peel. Carefully spread the filling over crust. Sprinkle with the reserved oat mixture, pressing lightly into blueberry mixture.

3. Bake about 30 minutes more or until the oat topping is golden brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes about 25 bars.

Recycle: preserves bottle