Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Holidays mean tradition, especially when you have children. In our house, we had a set menu on Thanksgiving and Christmas. They both included soup, French Onion Soup for Christmas and Cream of Mushroom Soup for Thanksgiving. Both of these are rather strange choices. I normally cook a traditional English Christmas dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with a plum pudding for dessert. Unless you go back as far as the Norman Conquest, adding a French dish is a bit odd. I just like the taste of onions with my beef.

Some adults and most children do not care for mushrooms. My daughter is an exception. She loves them. So much in fact, that I was able to overcome some of her pickiness about food by adding mushrooms to anything new that I cooked. Only then would she consent to try them. Mushroom soup was one of her favorites along with the traditional pumpkin pie that I have made every year for decades.

Like the onion soup, this recipe is straight from my Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook published in 1980. No changes have been made.

Here’s a meal planning tip I’ve discovered. If you are making mashed potatoes, put your potatoes on to boil and then make this soup. When the soup is finished, your potatoes will also be finished. The soup can then be put on the back of the stove to keep warm while you mash the potatoes.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Cream of Mushroom Soup
(source: Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook)

8 ounces mushrooms
4 tablespoons margarine or butter
1 medium onion, chopped
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 can (10 ¾ ounces) condensed chicken broth
1 soup can water
1 cup light cream
Snipped parsley

Slice enough mushrooms to measure 1 cup; chop remaining mushrooms. Cook and stir sliced mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of the margarine in 3-quart saucepan over low heat until golden brown. Remove mushrooms with slotted spoon.

Cook and stir chopped mushrooms and onion in remaining margarine until onion is tender; stir in flour, salt and white pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, about 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in chicken broth and water. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly; boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in light cream and sliced mushrooms. Garnish each serving with parsley.

Donate: Campbell’s soup labels to your local school

Recycle: soup can

Compost: onion skins, parsley stems

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

I was raised on mashed potatoes. Except for those rare occasions when we had pasta in the form of spaghetti or macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes were on our dinner plates every day. It was one of the very few dishes that my mother made well. I grew up watching her make them. She made it seem so easy. Boil the potatoes, then mash them up with butter and milk.

When I moved out on my own, I almost never ate mashed potatoes because I just couldn’t make them. They always came out either soupy or lumpy. There was no happy medium. I gave up and started making baked potatoes instead. Except for the time that I left a couple in the oven too long and they exploded, I never had a problem.

A must have been raised on mashed potatoes too because when I gave her the choice of either baked or mashed for our Wooden Spoon Thanksgiving, she chose mashed. My heart sank. Then I hit the internet. Surely I could find instructions on making mashed potatoes. I happened upon a recipe by Martha Stewart that contained detailed instructions. Another plus was the fact that the recipe called for either milk or cream. Most recipes use milk. I don’t drink milk. But I do use Half ‘n’ Half in my coffee which I felt would be an acceptable substitute for cream.

I’m going to admit right up front that I did everything wrong in making this recipe. I used a potato masher instead of an electric mixer or ricer. I used salted butter instead of unsalted. I didn’t warm the milk. I added the butter and the milk together instead of separately. I mashed the potatoes and the butter and the milk all at once instead of in three steps. I used canned pepper and nutmeg instead of freshly grated. And yet, despite all of those “mistakes”, these were the best mashed potatoes I’ve had since I lived at home.

I was hesitant to add the nutmeg. I wanted my potatoes to taste like potatoes, not nutmeg. But in this case, the nutmeg enhances the flavor rather than overpowers it. Best of all, I can finally have mashed potatoes with my dinners again.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Perfect Mashed Potatoes
(source:Yahoo! Food)

2 pounds russet, Yukon gold, or long white potatoes
1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
1 cup milk, or cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Peel and cut potatoes into 1 1/2 –inch-thick slices. Place in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water; add 1 tablespoon salt, bring to a simmer. If using a potato ricer, fill another saucepan with water; place over low heat. Keep potatoes at a low simmer until a knife slips in and out easily. Drain potatoes in a colander. Place mild in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.

If using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, proceed to last paragraph. If using a potato ricer, place a heat-proof bowl or top of a double boiler over a pan of simmering water. Press hot, drained potatoes through ricer into bowl.

Stir potatoes with a wooden spoon until smooth, about 1 minute. Using a whisk, incorporate butter. Drizzle in hot milk, whisking continuously. Add pepper, nutmeg, and salt to taste; whisk to combine. Serve immediately.

For the electric-mixer method, transfer hot, drained potatoes to bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed, until most lumps have disappeared, about 1 minute. Add butter; mix until blended. On low speed, add hot milk in a slow stream, then add pepper, nutmeg, and salt to taste. Mix to combine.

Compost: potato peels

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Golden Crescents

The first big holiday meal that I ever cooked was Thanksgiving 1980. Most of the dishes I prepared I had already made at some point. This was just the first time that I had ever made them all at once. I had never before spent so many hours in the kitchen. At one point, while the turkey was in the oven and the rolls were rising, I went for a walk. I had to get out of the house!

A quarter of a century later, spending all day in the kitchen preparing a big meal is routine. Now I enjoy the hours of planning, shopping and cooking. I’ve finally mastered the elaborate dance necessary to have everything finish cooking more or less at the same time. No longer do I dissolve into tears when a dish finishes too soon or too late.

But back to that first Thanksgiving. I was so exhausted by the time the meal was ready that I put the rolls into the oven and forgot about them. The meal was well underway when I realized that they were MIA. Fortunately, I was able to save the day with the second batch. I remember that they came out warm and delicious. For some reason, I never made those rolls again. Perhaps because of their association with that trying day.

This year, A and I joined forces for a Wooden Spoon Thanksgiving. It was an opportunity for us to pull out all of the stops and show off our talents. Everything homemade. In honor of the occasion, I dug out the recipe for the Golden Crescents.

The recipe calls for “part soft butter”. I used half butter and half shortening and when the rolls came out of the oven, I brushed them with melted butter. I have yet to figure out a way to successfully to brush anything with soft butter. I was surprised to see that the recipe called for the batter to be beaten, apparently with an electric mixer. I had been taught that using an electric mixer will destroy the yeast. I used my trusty wooden spoon instead and just mixed really, really fast. I was also perplexed that there was no kneading involved. I have to admit I sneaked a few strokes in. Nonetheless, the resulting texture was light as if the dough had been kneaded.

A helpful hint: when cutting the rounds, use a pizza cutter instead of a knife. Perhaps it’s my technique, but whenever I have used a knife to cut dough, the dough stretches rather than cuts.

Memory served me well. The rolls were delicious. This recipe will definitely be made more often!

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Golden Crescents
(source: Betty Crocker Cookbook)

2 packages active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water (105° to 115°)
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
½ cup shortening (part soft butter)
4 cups all-purpose flour
Soft butter or margarine

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in sugar, salt, eggs, shortening and 2 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in remaining flour until smooth. Scrape dough from side of bowl. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 1 ½ hours.

Divide dough in half; roll each half into 12-inch circle. Spread with butter; cut into 16 wedges. Roll up each wedge, beginning at rounded edge. Place rolls, with point under, on greased baking sheet. Cover; let rise until double, about 1 hour.

Heat oven to 400°. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Brush rolls with butter.

32 rolls

Compost: eggshells

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cranberry-Orange Relish

I saw this recipe in the paper a couple of years ago and thought it sounded really good. It is. This is not like the stuff out of a can. This is cranberry relish with a serious kick. Relish with an assertive personality.

Be warned: the full recipe makes a lot. They say a quart, but that's a serious underestimate. I started to make this in my 2 quart saucepan but had to switch to my big Dutch oven. The bowl in the photo below is about 8.5" in diameter at the top, and what you see there is half a recipe.

As usual, I made a few modifications to use what I had on hand. Instead of fresh ginger root, I used 1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger for the full recipe. I thought this was about right, but you might want to reduce this if you think that's a bit much. I also used 2 tsp ground cinnamon instead of the cinnamon stick, and I left out the star anise. I also left out the salt, though that was mainly because I forgot to put it in at the end. For the orange zest, I just added the grated peel of one orange. For a full recipe, I probably should have used at least one more orange.

Oh, the standard-size bag of fresh cranberries is about 3 cups, so I just used 2 bags.

The relish does need to simmer for a couple of hours to cook the berries and thicken. But that's okay, because when it's simmering, the aroma is FABULOUS. Better than any scented candle. Plus, the cranberries pop as they heat, which will amuse the kids. Note that the finished product wasn't nearly as firm as the canned stuff, but who cares?

Verdict: Yum! This one's a keeper!

Cranberry-Orange Relish
(source: USA Weekend, Nov. 13, 2005)

It's best to make the relish one day in advance so the flavors can meld.

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup honey, preferably Acacia
4 cups fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated
1/2 cup chopped fresh orange zest, pith removed
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
6 cups fresh cranberries (or substitute frozen cranberries)
2 tsps. fine sea salt

In a medium-sized, heavy saucepan over low heat, combine the sugar, honey and orange juice. Simmer until completely dissolved. Add ginger, zest, anise and cinnamon; stir to combine. Add the cranberries and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until mixture begins to thicken, about two hours. When thickened, add salt. Chill and serve.

Makes 1 quart. Serves 16.

Per serving: 169 calories, 1g protein, 44g carbohydrates, 0g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 2g fiber, 295mg sodium (nutritional analysis provided by the recipe source).

Recycle: honey jar

Compost: ginger peels, orange peel

Thursday, November 22, 2007

From Our Kitchens to Yours

A Wooden Spoon Thanksgiving


Cream of Mushroom Soup
Turkey with Herbed Stuffing
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
A's Turkey Gravy
Cranberry Orange Relish
Golden Crescents (rolls)
A's Top Secret Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie

This year OldRoses and A teamed up to do a joint Wooden Spoon Thanksgiving dinner. Above is the result (before eating). We decided to make some of our favorite Thanksgiving dishes, take pictures, and then post the recipes. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rosemary Chicken and Vegetables

Microwave ovens are a working woman’s best friend. You can cook delicious meals when you have time and then just quickly nuke them when you get home and feed your family (or yourself!) incredible home-cooked meals. I especially love dishes that are all-in-one like soups and stews.

This recipe is a complete meal in itself. Chicken, potatoes and veggies. You can add dinner rolls if you like bread with your meals but it’s not necessary. I substitute chicken breasts for a whole, cut-up chicken. It’s easier and I prefer white meat. I also use chicken bouillon instead of the chicken broth. It works just as well and is what I have in my kitchen already.

This recipe takes a little time, but it’s worth it to be able to be able to come home on a cold day and heat up a tasty one-dish meal.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Rosemary Chicken and Vegetables

1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 2 ½ to 3 pounds broiler-fryer chicken, cut up and skinned
4 medium red potatoes, quartered
5 medium carrots, cut crosswise into thirds
3 celery stalks, cut crosswise into 2-inch-long pieces
2 medium onion, cut into wedges
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup dry white wine or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon snipped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Fresh rosemary (optional)

In a 4-quart Dutch oven cook garlic in hot oil for 15 seconds. Add chicken pieces. Cook about 10 minutes or until chicken is light brown, turning to brown evenly. Drain off fat. Add potatoes carrots, celery, onions, chicken broth, wine, snipped rosemary, salt, and pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink.

Transfer chicken and vegetables to a serving platter; keep warm. Measure cooking liquid; add water, if necessary, to equal 1 cup total. For sauce, stir together cold water and cornstarch; stir into reserved liquid. Return to Dutch oven. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Season to taste. Serve with chicken. If desired, garnish with rosemary.

Makes 4 to 6 main-dish servings.

Recycle: rosemary container

Compost: celery leaves, garlic, carrot and onion skins

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bonnie Butter Cake with French Silk Frosting

Long, long ago when I was a young woman, the mother of the man I was then dating came to visit him. Not only were we serious enough that he wanted to introduce me to his mother, but since it was also her birthday, he wanted to show off my culinary talents and asked me to bake her a cake. I wanted to impress her but there was no internet back then and I only owned one cookbook, my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook.

I found a recipe in it for a three layer cake. Three layers! French frosting! At that time, I impressed easily. I also was blissfully unaware of the old adage that you should never make a brand new recipe for company. Betty Crocker never lets me down. The cake came out perfectly. Too perfectly.

His mother refused to believe that I had baked it. She accused me of buying a cake at a bakery and trying to pass it off as my own. My then boyfriend tried to defend me. He had witnessed me make it but she was adamant. I was a liar and a cheat. My relationship with her son did not survive very long after she left.

But I still bake that cake! It’s easy and delicious. Two things to bear in mind when you are making it. Don’t skimp on the time beating it or it will be dense and heavy. Go the full five minutes for a light airy texture. And double the frosting recipe. I’m sorry. Betty lies. As you can see from the picture, it does not make enough to fill and frost three 8-inch layers.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Bonnie Butter Cake with French Silk Frosting
(Source: Betty Crocker Cookbook)

Bonnie Butter Cake

⅔ cup butter or margarine, softened
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
3 cups cake flour or 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups milk

Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour baking pan, 13x9x2 inches, or two 9-inch or three 8-inch round layer pans. In large mixer bowl, mix butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Beat 5 minutes on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally. On low speed, mix in flour, baking powder and salt alternately with milk. Pour into pan(s).

Bake oblong 45 to 50 minutes, layers 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool.

French Silk Frosting

2 ⅔ cups confectioners’ sugar
⅔ cup soft butter
2 ounces melted unsweetened chocolate (cool)
¾ teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk

In small mixer bowl, blend sugar, butter, chocolate and vanilla on low speed. Greadully add milk; beat until smooth and fluffy.

Makes enough frosting for two 9-inch layer or three 8-inch layer cakes.

Recycle: vanilla bottle

Compost: eggshells

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Split Pea Soup with Barley

I love split pea soup. I’ve never made it, though because I lack one key ingredient: a ham bone. I live alone. I never have occasion to make a whole ham so that I would have a ham bone available for soup.

When I came across this recipe which uses cooked ham, the proverbial light bulb went off over my head. Ham steaks! My local grocery store often has specials on ham steaks. I buy them and chop them up for use in recipes that call for cooked ham.

I liked the idea of barley in this soup because I thought it would make it more filling. All the veggies also made it attractive. I’m not good about eating veggies unless they are raw, steamed, stir-fried or part of a soup or stew.

I should have picked up on two problems right away. This recipe calls for yellow split peas instead of the usual green ones and also lacks seasonings other than a bay leaf and salt and pepper. I forged ahead.

I made a couple of changes. I used a bouillon cube instead of instant granules because that’s what I have in the house. I also didn’t add any salt to it. I thought that the ham would be salty enough. And mindful of the minestrone soup disaster, I doubled the cooking time for each step.

This soup lacks the usual “pea” taste perhaps because it uses yellow instead of green peas. It also lacks taste although it was tastier the second day than the first. It definitely needs more seasonings. And it’s a good thing that I extended the cooking time. Not only were the veggies tender, but the barley and the peas didn’t really cook through until nearly the end. If I had used their times, I would have had raw veggies and hard peas and barley.

Verdict: What were they thinking???

Split Pea Soup with Barley
(Source: Better Homes and Gardens, November 2007)

10 cups water
1 lb. dry yellow split peas, rinsed and drained (about 2 cups)
½ cup regular barley
2 tbsp. instant chicken bouillon granules
1 bay leaf
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped (1 cup)
1 medium onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
5 ounces cooked ham, chopped (1 cup)
½ tsp. ground black pepper
Salt and ground black pepper

In a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven or pot bring water, split peas, barley, bouillon granules, and bay leaf to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Stir in celery, carrots, and onion; return to boiling. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes more or until vegetables, peas, and barley are tender.

Stir in ham and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook 5 minutes more or until ham is heated through. Remove and discard bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and additional pepper.

Makes 8 (1 ½-cup) servings.

Compost: celery leaves, carrot and onion skins

Saturday, October 20, 2007

OldRoses' Blackened Chicken

My host for the impromptu dinner party is one of those rare people who likes spicy food. I decided to risk making my blackened chicken dish for him. I offered to make something “Cajun style” but after reviewing the recipe, I realized that it also has elements of Mexican cooking making the dish more like fusion cuisine.

The recipe was originally an appetizer. I’ve made changes to it that make it a main dish. I’ll give you the original recipe and also make note of the changes that I’ve mad.

Instead of Pico de Gallo, I use regular Pathmark salsa, medium heat. It’s all natural, no additives or preservatives and very tasty. I mix the chicken into the salsa instead of topping the chicken with the salsa. I use flour tortillas instead of mini taco shells. My personal preference is for the Monterey Jack cheese. I like the contrast of the cool, creamy cheese with the spicy chicken. And I like to top it all off with shredded lettuce and chopped raw onion.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Blackened Chicken Mini Tacos

2 ripe medium tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons snipped fresh cilantro
⅛ teaspoon salt
Dash sugar
4 medium skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound)
4 teaspoons ground black pepper
4 teaspoons paprika
¾ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
24 mini taco shells or scoop-shaped tortilla chips
Finely shredded spinach or lettuce
Shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
Dairy sour cream or guacamole
¾ teaspoon ground red pepper

For Pico de Gallo: combine tomatoes, red onion; cilantro; ⅛ teaspoon salt, and the sugar. Mix well. Cover; chill for several hours or overnight.

Cut chicken breast halves into ¾-inch-wide strips. Combine black pepper, paprika, dry mustard, red pepper, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a plastic bag. Add chicken to the bag, shaking to coat. Arrange coated chicken in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degrees F oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink. Using two forks, pull chicken apart into pieces.

To crisp taco shells, arrange on a baking sheet and bake 5 to 7 minutes or until warm and crisp. Serve chicken in taco shells. Top tacos with Pico de Gallo, spinach or lettuce, cheddar or Monterey Jack Cheese, and sour cream and/or guacamole.

Makes 24

Compost: tomato and onion skins, cilantro stems

Recycle: salsa bottle, seasonings bottles

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Blue Cheese Dressing

I had an opportunity to do something that I haven’t done in years: host a dinner party. Well, almost. Someone else hosted, I cooked. By the way, NEVER EVER cook in someone else’s kitchen, especially someone who is not a cook. Unless of course, you bring all of your own pans and utensils.

Like any dinner party, this one featured a salad. Another hint: NEVER EVER allow someone who doesn’t cook to “chop” the salad. They take those instructions seriously! We ended up with chunky salad. You TEAR the lettuce. You THINLY slice, not chunk, the tomatoes and green pepper.

Luckily, my non-cooking friend likes blue cheese dressing. It gave me a chance to make a recipe that I haven’t made in probably 30 years. Blue cheese dressing is ridiculously easy to make and since it has to be made ahead of time, is a real time saver. Just keep one thing in mind when serving it. Take it out of the refrigerator ahead of time so that it can warm up to room temperature. When refrigerated, it becomes almost solid.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Blue Cheese Dressing
(Source: Betty Crocker Cookbook)

1 package (4 ounces) blue cheese, crumbled
1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
½ cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
⅓ cup light cream (20%)

Reserve ⅓ cup of the crumbled blue cheese. In small mixer bowl, blend remaining blue cheese and the cream cheese on low speed. Add mayonnaise and cream; beat on medium speed until creamy. Stir in reserved blue cheese. Cover; chill at least 3 hours to blend flavors.

About 1 ⅔ cups.

Recycle: mayonnaise or salad dressing bottle

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Blueberry Pie

Fall is late this year. Normally by now the weather has cooled off and I am cooking up a storm. This year the temperatures have stayed in the 80’s and even slipped into the 90’s a few times in September and October. The weather reports keep promising cooler temperatures and much needed rain but Mother Nature has other plans. My annual apple pie has been delayed.

Fortunately, we had a brief cool spell in July so I was able to bake my annual blueberry pie. As I noted on my pumpkin pie recipe, it’s one three pies that I make each year. All of them are straight out of my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook except for the crusts to which I have added extra shortening on the advice of an elderly aunt who made the best pie crusts I have ever tasted.

One important note on this one. The lemon juice is there for a reason. I made the mistake of making this pie once without it. It turned out cloyingly sweet. The lemon juice gives the blueberries a little tang.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Blueberry Pie
(Source: Betty Crocker Cookbook)

OldRoses’ Pie Crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup shortening
5 tablespoons cold water

½ cup sugar
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 cups fresh blueberries

Heat oven to 425°.

Stir together sugar, flour; mix with blueberries. Add lemon juice. Set aside.

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. (For two-crust pie, divide dough in half and shape into 2 flattened rounds). With floured rolling pin, roll dough 2 inches larger than inverted pie pan. Fold pastry into quarters; unfold and ease into pan.

Turn desired filling into pastry-lined pie pan. Trim overhanging edge of pastry ½ inch from rim of pan. Turn blueberry mixture into pastry-lined pie pan. Cover with top crust; seal and flute. Make slits in top crust to let steam escape. Cover edge with 2- to 3-inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning; remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.

Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through slits in crust.

Makes one 9” pie.

Recycle: lemon juice bottle

Compost: spoiled and bruised berries, berry stems

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Marinated Artichoke Hearts

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to a Garden Party. I was delighted to be invited. The gardener who was having the party is renowned for his garden. Everyone was asked to bring a chair and finger food. I don’t own a lawn chair and I don’t cook finger food. I especially don’t cook during the summer months. But I really, really wanted to attend this event.

I learned a memory trick a long time ago. When you are trying to remember something, don’t think about it. Do something else. Your brain continues to search for the memory. Try it. It really works. In this case, I put my brain to work searching for any recipe that I had made in the past that might fill the bill. It took a day or two, but the answer did appear: marinated artichoke hearts.

Many years ago, when I was first learning how to cook, I also learned that I didn’t like cooking just for myself. So whenever I wanted to cook a nice meal, I would invite friends over to share it with me. One of the side dishes that I made fairly regularly was marinated artichoke hearts.

I hadn’t made that recipe in so many years, that I couldn’t remember which cookbook it was in. It didn’t take me long to find it though because at the time, I didn’t own that many cookbooks. I finally found it in a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that I had bought circa 1980.

It requires no cooking and can be made ahead of time, probably why I used to make it so frequently. I made a few minor changes. I made the marinade first and then added the artichoke hearts so that it would be easier to stir the ingredients. I also cut the artichoke hearts in half to make them easier to eat.

I knew I had a hit on my hands when three different people asked me for the recipe!

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Marinated Artichoke Hearts
(source: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook)

2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons salad oil
Dash garlic salt
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
¼ teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
1 15-ounce can (2 cups) artichoke hearts, drained

Combine all ingredients and 2 tablespoons water in a bowl. Cover; chill several hours or overnight. Drain and sprinkle with paprika; serve with picks. Makes 2 cups.

Recycle: Artichoke can, lemon juice bottle, salad oil bottle

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Squash Brownies

As mentioned in my last post, the squash harvest is starting, and I'm trying to figure out what to do with it all. I was intrigued by the recipe for zucchini brownies when I stumbled across it in a magazine. I thought, if it works with zucchini, why not with other summer squash too? Not only that, but this brownie recipe is probably healthier than most, and a good way to sneak veggies into unsuspecting kids, spouses, etc.

Anyone who makes this should be forewarned that this is one of those recipes where the batter is strange. When you mix the sugar with the oil and vanilla, you end up with something that looks sort of like a snow cone. Except of course that it's not cold and melting. Then you stir in the dry ingredients, and end up with something roughly the consistency of pie dough before you add the water. Crumbly, in other words. Don't panic. Just add the grated squash, stir for a minute or two, and voila! - the water from the squash turns it all into brownie batter (albeit rather thick brownie batter).

I didn't use a mixer when I made this, just a large bowl and large spoon. It might have been better if I had used a mixer. It would have been easier to get the ingredients thoroughly mixed, which is difficult in this case because the batter is so thick. It might also have chopped up the squash pieces a little more. I shredded the squash using a grater, and you can see little yellow streaks in the finished product - enough to make people wonder. The unsuspecting kids/spouse/etc. would know that you were Up To Something. I'm guessing this could be helped by peeling the squash first, or by chopping it up more finely using a food processor or blender. This might also make the batter a little thinner.

Oh, by the way, I got 2 cups grated squash from about 3/4 of a pattypan squash roughly 4" in diameter.

The result was, to my mind, perfectly acceptable. The consistency was moist and chewy, almost too moist (the sample I had was on the verge of falling apart, but then I was eating it warm). The flavor was fine, I thought. It could have been a little more chocolately, so maybe I can work on that. But I didn't notice an off-flavor from the squash. I suspect that the walnuts may have helped hide any off-flavor there was. By the way, if you're going to add walnuts, I would put in a little more than the 1/2 cup the recipe calls for.

Usually I don't reach a final verdict until after I've eaten a dish at least twice, but this time I decided to post this after eating only one sample, because I had some free time tonight. So if I change my mind after eating the brownies again, I'll add a comment below.

Verdict: Has serious potential; maybe could be improved a little.

Zucchini Brownies
(source: Garden Plate magazine, August/September 2007)

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded zucchini (or other summer squash)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar and vanilla until well blended. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Fold in the zucchini and walnuts. Spread evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until brownies spring back when gently touched.

Nutrition information (provided by the magazine):
per serving (1/18 of the recipe): 200 calories; 80 calories from fat; 2 g protein; 29 g carbs; 17g sugar; 9g total fat; 1.5g saturated fat; 0mg cholesterol; 1g dietary fiber; 230 mg sodium; 0% Daily Value calcium; 6% Daily Value iron.

Recycle: oil bottle, vanilla bottle

Compost: squash trimmings

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte

I recently harvested my first squash of the season, so made this recipe again. I found it on a few years ago when I was trying to figure out what to do with my squash. I like it because it's easy: no precooking required, just peel, assemble, and bake.

As originally written, the torte was made in two 8" cake pans. I make it in my 2 quart (or is it 3 quart?) round casserole dish, using the same amounts of the ingredients. This time, I used 3 or 4 (sorry, I wasn't counting) medium-sized potatoes and one pattypan squash about 4-5" in diameter. The recipe calls for yellow crookneck squash, but probably any kind of summer squash would work - maybe even zucchini? The squash doesn't need to be peeled if it's still young and tender. If it does need to be peeled, it's probably too tough to eat anyway.

Much of the flavor comes from the Parmesan cheese, so it would best to get some that's fairly good. The numerous Italians around here would probably insist on authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated, but I don't go quite that far. I do buy the kind that comes pregrated in plastic tubs in the deli department.

The pepper is also a major flavor component, and you might want to cut back from what's stated in the recipe, as that amount gives a pretty peppery result.

Verdict: Yum! This one's a keeper!

Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte with Parmesan

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-in-thick rounds
12 ounces squash, cut into 1/8-in-thick slices
3 teaspoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a casserole dish. Toss green onions, cheese, flour, thyme, salt, and pepper in medium bowl to blend.

Layer 1/3 of the potato slices in the bottom of the dish. Layer 1/2 of the squash over the potatoes. Drizzle with 1 tsp oil. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Repeat with 1/3 of the potatoes and 1/2 of the squash and 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Top with the rest of the potatoes. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese mixture and press gently to flatten.

Cover pan with foil. Bake until potatoes are almost tender, about 40 minutes. Remove foil; bake uncovered until cheese begins to brown and potatoes are tender, about 25-35 minutes longer. Cut into wedges and serve.

Recycle: oil bottle

Compost: potato peelings, onion stalks, thyme stalks

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Red Flannel Hash

A couple of months ago I attended a cooking class at a local supermarket. This was one of the recipes we did. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted, given that it contains beets. We never ate beets when I was growing up, except for (rarely) canned ones, which I think are ghastly. I tried this recipe at home yesterday, and was satisfied with the results. I'm not sure where the "flannel" part of the name comes from, but the dish is certainly a cheery red color.

This is probably more of a wintry recipe, given that it includes potatoes, beets, and corned beef. Speaking of corned beef, another ingredient I've never used before: the recipe calls for "fresh cooked" corned beef. Does that mean you're supposed to cook it beforehand? How? I wasn't sure, and I couldn't remember what we'd done in the class that night, so I diced it and heated it through in the pan with the onions.

To reduce the number of dirty pans, I boiled the potatoes and beets in the same pan. The potatoes picked up some of the red color from the beets, so the finished product was even redder.

You're supposed to cook the hash so that it's one large "cake" with a crust on both sides. However, our instructor admitted she had trouble turning it over once it was done on one side. If she couldn't do it, I decided I wasn't going to worry about it. So, after cooking the onions and beef, I added the cooked potatoes and beets, and the other ingredients. I found that their advice to mix the ingredients in a bowl first is good; it was hard to mix everything thoroughly in the skillet, because it was so full. I pressed everything down, let it cook through well, and left it at that. It didn't brown, and probably would have been even tastier if it had.

The original recipe calls for a poached egg to be served over each section of hash, but I've left out that part.

Verdict: This is pretty good - I may well make it again.

Red Flannel Hash
(source: ShopRite Culinary Workshop)

2 tbsp butter
1 cup finely diced white onions
1 lb. fresh cooked corned beef, diced
1 1/2 cups diced cooked potatoes
1 cup diced cooked beets
1/2 cup bias-cut sliced green onions
3 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
pinch thyme
2 tbsp oil

1. Heat butter over medium heat in saute pan until melted; add white onions and cook until soft and translucent. Remove onions to large bowl.

2. Add corned beef, potatoes, beets, green onions, parsley and thyme to bowl with cooked onions; stir carefully until well combined.

3. Heat oil in a cast-iron pan or heavy stainless pan over high heat. Add hash mixture and press it into an even layer; reduce heat to medium.

4. Cook hash until browned crust forms on bottom; turn over and repeat browning process. Remove from heat; cut into wedges and serve.

Recycle: oil bottle

Compost: vegetable peelings and trimmings

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Chicken with Herbed Mustard Butter and Peas

By now, readers of this blog are probably thinking: a) Oldroses and I have both died, and b) I am (or was, if you believe a)) a vegetarian. Nope, wrong on both counts. We have both been really busy with gardening and whatnot, and those of you with gardens know that spring is actually the busiest time of year. But things are finally slowing down with that and some of my other activities, and I may have time to post some of the recipes I've accumulated in the meantime. And no, although I have posted several meatless recipes, I am not a vegetarian, and to prove it I herewith submit a recipe involving chicken.

My garden is producing lots of snow peas at the moment, and I was looking for a recipe that would use them. I found this one at As usual, I made several changes. I used only 4 chicken breasts because that's how many come in a package, and I didn't bother to pound them flat. I also skipped the tarragon vinegar, though I did spring for fresh tarragon. I also left out the green onions and frozen peas, in the latter case mainly because I forgot to put them on my shopping list.

The instructions are as given in the original recipe, but they make it sound more complicated than it really is, especially if you aren't using the vinegar. In that case, all you have to do is sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and dried tarragon leaves, and saute them in the oil and butter. This all by itself gives a tasty result. The herbed butter is a very nice complement to the chicken; the mustard and tarragon flavors blend nicely. I made the full recipe's worth of the butter for 4 chicken breasts, and it wasn't too much, especially after putting some on the peas. This is a quick and easy recipe that turned out very well.

Verdict: Yum! This one's a keeper!

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Herbed Mustard Butter and Duo of Spring Peas

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
2 1/2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

6 skinless boneless chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
2 teaspoons dried tarragon

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

2 1/2 cups fresh snow peas, trimmed
2 cups frozen petite peas
1 1/2 cups 1-inch pieces green onions
Fresh tarragon sprigs

Whisk 4 1/2 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar, fresh tarragon, mustard, and parsley in small bowl.

Arrange chicken in single layer in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Pat chicken dry. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with dried tarragon, salt, and pepper.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sauté until brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to platter. Place rounded teaspoon tarragon butter on each chicken breast. Tent loosely with foil to keep warm.

Add vegetables to boiling water. Cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes; drain. Transfer to bowl. Toss with remaining tarragon butter; season with salt and pepper. Arrange vegetables around chicken, garnish with tarragon sprigs, and serve. Serves 6.

Bon Appétit, April 2004

compost: tarragon and parsley stems, pea and onion trimmings
recycle: mustard jar, oil bottle, vinegar bottle

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Blarney Cheese and Onion Tart

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to make this cheese and onion tart. The recipe was published in the Gardener News about a year ago, and comes from the cooks with the King’s supermarket chain.

I made a couple substitutions: I used regular salt rather than kosher, and margarine rather than butter. And the nutmeg was not, alas, freshly grated. Oh, and instead of beans to weigh down the foil while baking the crust, I just use about a ¼” layer of rice. (If anyone knows why you’re supposed to weigh down the crust while baking, please enlighten me.)

Blarney cheese is available at my usual supermarket. Or at any rate, what I used is Kerrygold brand Blarney Castle cheese, which is an Irish gouda-style cheese. So if you can’t find that brand, a gouda would probably work just as well.

The dough takes awhile to make, but can be prepared in advance. I don’t have a food processor, so just made the dough the way I would make pie dough. Be cautious when you get to the water-adding stage. It says to add 3 tablespoons of water to start, but I found that only one was all that was needed. Maybe because I used margarine rather than butter. Also, I forgot to add the baking powder (the ingredients are out of order in the original recipe), but it didn’t seem to matter.

The directions are very detailed when it comes to preparing the dough, but they neglected to mention my favorite trick, which I learned from Tape a piece of Saran wrap to your counter and roll out the dough on that. Then flip over the dough onto the pan so the wrap is on top. The wrap keeps the dough from breaking apart and makes it easy to get the crust centered in the pan (or on top of a pie). When the crust is placed just right, carefully peel off the Saran wrap.

The filling is fairly thick in consistency – there’s not a lot of liquid there – but there’s not that much of it; it makes a layer only about ½” thick, so you don’t need to run the dough very far up the sides of the pan.

The result is very tasty. The cheese and onions complement each other well. The crust is a bit crunchy, presumably due to the cornmeal. The filling, or at least the eggy part between the onions, has almost a fluffy quality to it (I suppose the whisking helps). It’s also visually attractive (sorry I can’t post a picture; I don’t have a digital camera yet), with the brown onions making swirls against a light golden background.

Verdict: Yum! This one's a keeper!

Blarney Cheese and Onion Tart
(Source: The Gardener News; recipe attributed to Kathleen Hulsey and Deb Barrett)

For the tart dough:
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
pinch baking powder
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
4-6 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound yellow onions, cut in half, and thinly sliced
1 egg
4 ounces Blarney cheese, grated on the large holes of a grater
½ cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the dough:
1. Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to mix and aerate.

2. Add the butter and pulse to break up the pieces. When the butter has been reduced to the size of small peas, stop the processor.

3. Add 3 tablespoons ice water and pulse until incorporated. Add another tablespoon and pulse. Feel the dough. If it holds together when squeezed between two fingers, it is ok. Add another tablespoon of water if it does not. Pulse to combine. Test again, adding water if necessary. The dough should just hold together. Dump the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and gather the ends of the wrap together to enclose the dough. Twist the ends to compact the dough into a disk. Gently flatten the disk, making sure the dough looks cohesive, not crumbly. Place in the refrigerator to rest for at least one hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Adjust an oven rack to the bottom third of the oven. Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before rolling out. This will warm the dough slightly and prevent the edges from cracking while rolling. If you have a pastry cloth and rolling pin sleeve, use that to help roll out the dough. If you don’t have these tools, roll out the dough on a floured work surface to fit a 9 to 10 inch loose bottomed pan. Fit and then trim the dough to the pan. Cover the dough with a piece of buttered or non-stick foil. Add baking beans to cover foil. You do not have to fill the pan to the rim. Bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the foil and the beans. Continue baking for an additional 15 minutes. Remove and cool until ready to use. This can be done in advance.

For the filling:
1. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add the butter and allow to melt. Add the onions and stir to coat with butter. Season with a small amount of kosher salt. Cook the onions until they are golden brown. You may need to add a small amount of water or chicken broth if the onions stick to the pan. This will clean the pan and allow the onions to brown further. Set aside when finished.

2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the egg, heavy cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the onions and cheese. Pour the mixture into the prepared tart shell and smooth the surface. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the filling is set and slightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before unmolding and cutting.

Make-ahead tip: Dough can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator; crust can be baked in advance.

Compost: onion skins, eggshells

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Lentil & Bulgur Pilaf with Squash

Hi, this is A again - Oldroses decided to give me access to her blog so that I could post recipes directly. So here's a recipe I made last weekend. It's pretty easy and has an intriguing mix of flavors and textures. It's also high in fiber. I've made this with both chicken and vegetable broth, and it's just as good both ways. If you make it with vegetable broth, it's vegetarian (vegan, actually). A small can of broth is about 2 cups, so I used 2 cans and added 1/2 cup of water. If you can't find bulgur at the supermarket, try a health food store. Don't leave out the cilantro or the lemon juice (I used the zest from one lemon and its juice) - they are crucial to the flavor. You could, however, substitute one largish squash or zucchini for the two small ones. It's just more colorful if you make it with one zucchini and one yellow squash.

A's verdict: Yum! This one's a keeper.

Lentil & Bulgur Pilaf with Green & Yellow Squash
(source: Eating Well magazine, Fall 2004)

4 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups brown lentils, rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
Pepper to taste
3/4 cup coarse bulgur
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 small yellow squash, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or dill

1. Combine broth, lentils, onion, bay leaf, salt, allspice and pepper in a 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Add bulgur and cook until the lentils and bulgur are tender and the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove the pilaf from the heat, discard the bay leaf and stir in the lemon juice.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, squash, garlic and lemon zest; saute for 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and cilantro or dill. Season with pepper. Stir into the pilaf. Serve hot.

Makes 6 one-cup servings.

Nutrition information, per serving (from the source article): 259 calories; 4 grams fat (1 gram saturated, 2 grams monounsaturated); 3 milligrams cholesterol; 42 grams carbohydrate; 17 grams protein; 17 grams fiber; 189 milligrams sodium.

Nutrition bonus: 67% daily value fiber; 192 micrograms folate (49% DV), 16 milligrams vitamin C (30% DV), 4 milligrams iron (25% DV).

Recycle: broth cans, if any; oil bottle

Compost: bay leaf, vegetable trimmings

Saturday, February 17, 2007

OldRoses' Chicken Stir Fry

I don't know why I suddenly got a craving for chicken stir fry. I haven't made this dish in ages. It's another one of those recipes that I had to play with a lot to get it to where I liked it. The original version was Chinese in name only. I guess because it called for soy sauce, that made it "Chinese". It's even supposed to be cooked in a frying pan!

I use a wok. Admittedly, it's a non-stick wok so it's not terribly authentic. But it is easy to clean. I ditched the veggies that were originally in this recipe and substituted canned baby corn, straw mushrooms and water chestnuts and increased the amount of soy sauce used in the marinade.

Since I am no longer cooking for a fussy eater, I made further substitutions tonight. I eliminated the water chestnuts. I've never been a big fan of water chestnuts. Instead I added bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. I prefer using the whole baby corn and just cutting it in half but I could only find the already cut up baby corn. The pieces are too small for me. I like the taste and crunch of the whole cobs. Ditto the straw mushrooms. I couldn't find my usual brand. The brand I bought had just a few HUGE mushrooms in the can. The brand I usually buy has many smaller mushrooms. I like bite-sized mushrooms.

The recipe calls for chicken breasts. Even though it's more expensive, the chicken tenders are a lot easier to cut up. Be sure to cut up the chicken into small pieces because chicken expands in size when it cooks. I prefer all the ingredients to be bite-sized so the dish could be eaten with chopsticks. Although handy with chopsticks, at home I always use a fork.

Verdict: Yum!! This one's a keeper!

OldRoses' Chicken Stir Fry
(Source: OldRoses)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/4 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 scallions, chopped
1 can baby corn, drained and cut in half
1 can straw mushrooms, drained
1 can water chestnuts, drained

In a medium-sized bowl, combine garlic, 1 tablespoon of the oil, 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce, pepper, and 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch. Add chicken and toss to coat; let stand at least 20 minutes.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add scallions and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add corn, mushrooms and water chestnuts and stir-fry 2 minutes. Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon.

Heat oil remaining in wok. add chicken and stir-fry 3 minutes, until opaque. Mix remaining soy sauce and cornstarch with 1/4 cup cold water. Add to pan.

Return vegetables and cook, stirring, 3 minutes until sauce thickens.

Recycle: soy sauce bottle, vegetable oil bottle, baby corn can, straw mushrooms can, water chestnuts can

Compost: garlic skins, scallion stems

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Orange Pound Cake

"A" has made a couple of the recipes from the January 2007 issue of Family Circle magazine. Now it's my turn. I wanted to try the Orange Pound cake. I like pound cake and I'm always on the lookout for cake recipes that aren't chocolate. Citrus is not one of my favorites, but I can tolerate orange. I won't eat an orange, but I enjoy orange juice, orange sherbet and orange popsicles. Orange Pound cake sounded like another winner.

The recipe calls for a tube pan. This is the second recipe I have tried that called for a tube pan rather than a bundt pan. The other was the Bacardi Rum Cake recipe. Both times I struck out looking for a tube pan. Does no one bake any more? So I crossed my fingers and made this in my bundt pan.

The batter was easy to make and tasted delicious. Just orange-y enough without being overwhelming. The cake baked up beautifully but I had a heck of a time getting it out of the pan. Loosening the sides with a knife was not sufficient. I literally had to pry it out. Fortunately, it came out in one piece. The icing was also easy and only slightly orange-y tasting. I wish I could say the same for the finished cake. It lost a lot of its orange flavor in the baking process. Even the second day when most baked goods have developed their best flavor, there was precious little orange taste to this. And it was greasy, probably from all the butter. I prefer moist cakes over dry ones, but I don't care for greasy. All in all, very disappointing.

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

Orange Pound Cake
(source: Family Circle Magazine, January 2007)

1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
8 eggs
1 teaspoon orange extract
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup fresh orange juice (from 3 oranges)

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice plus 1 teaspoon water

1. Het oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 10-inch tube pan. Tap out excess flour.

2. Beat butter in bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in sugar until fluffy, scraping down bowl. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat in extract and rind.

3. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Gradually beat into butter mixture on medium speed alternating with orange juice. Beat 2 minutes, scraping down bowl occasionally, until thick and creamy. Pour into prepared pan.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Lower heat to 300 degrees. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes; turn cake out on rack; cool completely.

5. Drizzle: In a bowl, whisk confectioners' sugar and thinned juice until smooth. Drizzle over cooled cake. Let dry before slicing and serving.

Recycle: orange extract bottle

Compost: eggshells

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Buttermilk Carrot Cake

Every January, the Steering Committee of the Middlesex County Master Gardeners sponsors a get-together for all of the Master Gardeners. They call it a "Reunion" because one of the purposes is for members to get together with their former classmates. It's also a great time to meet members of other classes and for the new class to get to know those who have gone before. Hey, it's January. There's not a whole lot else to do!

Everyone is asked to bring a dish or dessert for the buffet. I always volunteer to bake. I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to make, but it was still gratifying to be requested to make "those cookies". It took a while to decide which brownies recipe to bake but in the interests of keeping it fairly simple, I went with the Melt in Your Mouth Brownies and the Frosty Snowballs ("those cookies"). This was an excellent chance to try out a new carrot cake recipe. Who doesn't like carrot cake?

This recipe was appealing because it called for buttermilk, coconut, a glaze and could be made into a sheet cake, very handy for a crowd. The first problem I ran into was the cream cheese. You will note that the recipe calls for two 3 ounce packages of cream cheese. Apparently no one bakes any more because despite visiting every grocery store in town, I couldn't find cream cheese in 3 ounce packages. I ended up buying one 8 ounce package and whacking off a guesstimated 2 ounces.

My next problem was the baking time. I left it in for the minimum 40 minutes, but it came out a little overbaked. Not bad, just browner around the edges than I like it and the bottom appeared to be burned or nearly burned. I think 30 to 35 minutes would be more appropriate.

I'm not entirely certain what the purpose of the glaze is in this recipe. It was definitely glaze-y in the pan but soaked into the cake when I poured it on. The frosting, on the other hand, was heavenly. Much, much better than the cream cheese frosting I make with my "regular" carrot cake recipe. The cake part of this recipe is pretty blah considering all of the ingredients that go into it, but the frosting is definitely a keeper!

Verdict: Not bad, but I don't think I'll be making it again.

Buttermilk Carrot Cake


2 cups all-pupose flour

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

4 medium carrots, shredded (2 cups)

¼ cup buttermilk or sour milk

¼ cup cooking oil

1 8-¼ ounce can crushed pineapple, drained

1 cup chopped walnuts

3 eggs

½ cup coconut

1 teaspoon vanilla


½ cup sugar

¼ cup buttermilk or sour milk

¼ cup margarine or butter

2 teaspoons light-colored corn syrup

½ teaspoon vanilla


2 3-ounce packages cream cheese

½ cup margarine or butter, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla

4-1/2 to 4-3/4 cups sifted powdered sugar

½ cup chopped walnuts

Grease and lightly flour two 9x1-1/2-inch round baking pans (or one 13x9x2-inch baking pan); set aside. In a large mixing bowl combine flour, 2 cups sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Add shredded carrot, ¼ cup buttermilk or sour milk, cooking oil, pineapple, nuts, eggs, coconut, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir until combined. Spread batter in prepared pans.

Bake in a 350º F oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until cakes spring back when touched lightly.

Meanwhile, prepare glaze: In a medium saucepan combine ½ cup sugar, the remaining ¼ cup buttermilk or sour milk, ¼ cup margarine or butter, and corn styrup. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cook and stir for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ½ teaspoon vanilla. Pour evenly over tops of cakes. Cool cakes in pans on wire racks for 15 minutes. Remove layer cakes from pans and place on wire racks (do not remove cake from 13x9x2-inch pan). Cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese, ½ cup margarine or butter, and 2 teaspoons vanilla with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add sifted powdered sugar, beating to spreading consistency. Stir in walnuts. Forst cake. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 16 servings.

Make-Ahead Tip: Cover and chill frosted cake up to 48 hours.

Recycle: vanilla bottle, cooking oil bottle, pineapple can, corn syrup bottle

Compost: eggshells, carrot peelings

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Peanut-Sesame Noodles

In addition to the Black & White Brownie Delight, "A" also made the Peanut-Sesame Noodles from the same issue of Family Circle magazine. Here are her thoughts on that recipe:

Okay, up front I must admit that I did make quite a few changes to this recipe. I don't like going out and buying ingredients unless I'm pretty sure I'll use them again. And I do like to use up what I have. In this case, I used whole wheat rotini, thinking it would go well with the peanutty flavor (which it did). I used ordinary vinegar and soy sauce, olive oil instead of sesame oil, and powdered ginger instead of fresh. I also cut out the red pepper flakes (I'm not into high heat) and scallions (I'm not into garnishes), and replaced the chicken broth with water because I wanted a vegetarian dish. Oh, and I cut the recipe in half. And ate it warm instead of cold.

The good thing about this recipe is that it's really fast. You do want to start the pasta cooking first, because it takes longer to cook than the sauce does. The directions say to cook the sauce for about 10 minutes, but for me it didn't take nearly that long. Maybe 5 minutes tops. Even that was probably a little too long, because when it cooled, it thickened to about the consistency of tomato paste.

As for the flavor - all I could detect was peanut, and a hint of garlic. I probably should have put in more ginger - maybe a teaspoon at least - and maybe a little chili powder. Or something. Any ideas?

"A's" Verdict: Has potential, but needs some work.

Peanut-Sesame Noodles
(source: Family Circle magazine, January 2007)

1 pound linguine or lo mein noodles
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup chicken broth plus 1/3 cup water
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Asian dark sesame oil
2 teaspoons peeled ginger, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 scallions, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal

1. Cook linguine in a large pot of lightly salted water following package directions. Drain, and immediately plunge into an ice water bath. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in medium-size saucepan, combine peanut butter, chicken broth and water, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. Whisk until combined. Cook on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat.

3. While sauce simmers, toast sesame seeds in a nonstick skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes, shaking pan to keep seeds from burning.

4. Drain noodles, discarding ice cubes. Toss with half of the dressing (about 3/4 cup), and allow to soak in for a few minutes. Add remaining dressing and toasted sesame seeds to noodles and toss until well combined. Top with sliced scallions and serve cold. Best if served on the day it is made.

Recycle: peanut butter jar, soy sauce bottle, sesame oil bottle

Compost: ginger peels, scallion greens

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Black & White Brownie Delight

This is a guest post written by my good friend "A", a founding member of the Straw Hat Society and fellow cooking enthusiast. We were both intrigued by the cover recipe of the January issue of Family Circle magazine. She tried it and submitted the following review:

My first thought, after reading this recipe, was, "This had better be good. Very good." It looked like a lot of effort, and fairly pricey too (the chocolate mousse mix alone cost $4.00). Because I felt I was spending enough on this recipe as it was, I made a couple substitutions so that I could use things I already had: I used light brown instead of dark brown sugar for the bottom layer, and ordinary chocolate chips instead of chocolate chunks in the garnish. I also used a 10 x 14 pan, since I don't have a 9 x 13 pan. Oh, and instead of nonstick foil, I just used regular foil and sprayed the piece lining the pan with cooking spray. This made things a bit difficult when it came time to spread the bottom layer in the pan. This batter is pretty stiff, so when I tried to spread it out in the pan, not only did it not want to stick to the foil, but the foil kept sliding around. Remembering that the pan was larger than the recipe called for, I finally left the batter as a rectangle somewhat smaller than the pan.

The recipe tells you to put the next two layers into bags and pipe them on. This is not necessary. Both these layers have the consistency of cake batter, i.e. light and fairly thin, so I just poured them onto the middle of the previous layer(s) and spread to the edges with a spatula. This worked just fine.

The magazine claims the prep time is 25 minutes, but it took me about an hour and 45 minutes from the time I started until the time the pan went into the oven. An hour later, when I took the foil tent off, the batter had risen to completely fill the pan, so I was glad I'd used the larger

The finished product is pretty heavy and rich, so you do want to cut them small. 32 pieces from a 9 x 13 pan is definitely reasonable. As for the flavor - I was kinda disappointed. They taste okay, but not special enough, I thought, to justify all the work involved. They're not very chocolate-y; really, you taste the peanuts more than anything else. They're not bad, just not, I thought, very flavorful. However, I took some into work and my coworkers were delighted. My boss kept purring (apparently that's what Rachael Ray does, but I don't have cable so I've never seen her). Since I've only worked there about a month, that's probably a good thing....

"A's" Verdict: Not bad, but I probably won't make them again.

Black & White Brownie Delight
(Source: Family Circle magazine, January 2007)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
½ cup coarsely chopped dry-roasted peanuts

2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
⅔ cup sugar
2 eggs
⅓ cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ⅓ cups sugar
2 eggs
⅔ cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup milk

2 packages (2.8 ounces each) chocolate mousse mix
1 cup milk
⅓ cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts
⅓ cup chopped chocolate chunks
¾ cup prepared caramel topping

1. Heat oven to 350°. Prepare nonstick foil as follows: Fold 24-inch-long sheet of nonstick foil over upside-down pan, crimping it to hold the shape; set aside. Repeat with second sheet of foil; this will be used to line the pan. To ensure even baking, after lined pan is filled with batter, place pre-formed foil “tent” over top of pan – do not let it touch batter. Line 13 x 9-inch baking pan with one of the prepared foil sheets, extending up the long sides and over short ends.

2. Blondie: Mix flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Beat butter, sugar and vanilla in a medium-size bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. On low, beat in flour mixture. Stir in peanuts. Spread into pan; level top.

3. Cheesecake: Beat cream cheese in a medium-size bowl on medium speed untiol smooth. Add sugar, eggs and flour and beat to incorporate. Place mixture in large plastic bag; snip off end. Pipe over blondie layer to cover, gently spreading to smooth top.

4. Brownie: Stir flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium-size bowl. Beat butter and sugar in second bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in peanut butter until well blended. On low speed, beat half flour mixture, then half milk, into butter mixture. Repeat. Place mixture in large plastic bag; snip off end. Pipe over cheesecake layer to cover, gently spreading to smooth top. Place second prepared foil “tent” over top, crimping edges. Do not let foil touch top of batter.

5. Bake at 350°, covered for 1 hour; remove foil and bake 25 to 30 more minutes. Place on rack to cool 30 minutes. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

6. Garnish: Prepare chocolate mousse mixes as packages direct, using only 1 cup milk total. Spread smoothly onto top of bar. Cut into 32 pieces. In a small bowl, combine chopped peanuts and chocolate chunks. Stir in caramel topping. Spoon over individual pieces and serve.

Recycle: vanilla extract bottle, caramel topping bottle

Compost: eggshells

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Crunchy Coffee Cake

Last June, I was intrigued by a recipe for a cake that could be prepared three ways, as a cake, a coffee cake and as cupcakes. I bookmarked the webpage, intending to revisit it when the weather cooled off. I have no air conditioning, so baking is out of the question during the summer months. I finally got around to trying one of the variations this weekend. I opted for the coffee cake because I needed something for breakfast.

When I looked more closely at the recipes, I realized that the cake and the cupcake recipes contained no flavorings beyond the usual vanilla extract. The coffee cake recipe, on the other hand, contained both cinnamon and lemon extract in addition to the vanilla extract, a rather odd combination. My motto is that I will try anything once. Who knows, maybe it could turn out to be one of those truly great combos.

The directions for the cake part were a little confusing, perhaps a typo on someone's part. I just plowed ahead. The cake has to be baked for 20 minutes before adding the topping, again rather odd. Even odder, was the fact that the topping contained 1/2 cup of the cake batter. You are supposed to "sprinkle" the topping over the partially baked cake. I found this impossible because the addition of the cake batter made the topping soupy, rather than crumbly. I poured the topping over the cake. It proceeded to run over the sides of the pan. I placed another pan underneath it in the oven to catch the drips.

When I removed the cake from the oven after a further 15 minutes, it just wasn't cooked. There is something drastically wrong with this recipe. Temperature? Cooking time? Both? The outside of the cake was done enough for me to sample it. The lemon flavor was overpowering. The cinnamon flavor was barely discernable, and as I had thought, did not go well with the lemon.

Verdict: What were they thinking???

Crunchy Coffee Cake
(Source: Country Living at

Coffee Cake
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 cup whole milk

4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly coat an 8-inch cake pan with butter and dust with all-purpose flour.

2. Sift the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl. Beat in the butter one heaping 1/4 teaspoonful at a time, using an electric mixer set on low speed, until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Beat in the sugar a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture resembles fine damp sand. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

3. Add the vanilla, lemon extract, and milk, beat on medium high, just until blended. Do not over beat.

4. Set aside 1/2 cup batter. Bake remaining batter in an 8-inch cake pan at 400 degree F for 20 minutes.

5. Make the topping: Cut the 4 tablespoons of butter with the granulated and light-brown sugars, the cake flour, and the cinnamon, and mix with reserved cake batter. Sprinkle over the baking cake and continue to bake until a skewer tests clean and the topping is bubbling - about 15 more minutes.

Recycle: vanilla extract bottle, lemon extract bottle

Compost: eggshells