Thursday, December 18, 2008

cookies and tassies

I really need to go and purchase a chest freezer so I can start making Christmas goodies earlier in the season and freeze them. Instead, I find myself going home from work every night and baking until I am exhausted. I still have some cookies to finish and one little handmade item for my friend to make tonight.

Shall we take a look at the items I have baked already?

These are chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies. So, one way to describe these cookies is really delicious. Another would be pain-in-the-neck! I don't know if it was the fact that my oven decided to despise me and run very hot burning 2 dozen of these cookies in 4 minutes or if it was making the dough but they were just troublesome. Troublesome but very tasty. Worth it all. The recipe is from Martha Stewart and can be found here.

Ok, so much simpler to make and also very tasty are these lovely to look at jam thumprint cookies. Just a basic shortbread with raspberry preserves. Only, I did not have seedless raspberry preserves so I have to strain all the seeds out. Once again, these cookies are worth the trouble. Totally.

My mom introduced me to these pecan toffee tassies last year at Thanksgiving and I was instantly hooked. The recipe is from Paul Dean, who is always a wizard when it comes to baking. They are like mini pecan pies. The recipe calls for a 10 ounce bag of almond brickle chips. I live in the middle of nowhere and sometimes have trouble finding these. Right now at the grocery store in the baking ailse there are toffee pieces that are Heath bar so they are basically brickle with chocolate. I used these this year and they are still amazing. Just amazing.

Even without a big freezer I have amassed a stockpile of cookies and tassies this week. I also made rocky road fudge which is one of the very best inventions ever. I suppose it is for the best that I don't have a freezer, since this way the cookies are all fresh and tasty.

Monday, December 15, 2008

hugs to you!

Big hugs to the person who first thought to make a brownie sundae! These things are so amazingly fabulous. I really didn't need to eat it but I did anyway. I used Tyler Florence's brownie recipe. I did not include the walnuts because my hubs hates them. I thought about using pecans instead but decided to go nut free for these brownies. The brownies took longer to cook that Tyler's recipe states as many people detailed in the comments on I love the user comments feature on cooking websites and blogs! It is usually a good heads up to know that something takes longer or is very, very sweet. There is always one loan voice crying foul against the crowds but I think if 55 cooks agree it is too sweet that one guy saying it's bitter is just trying to cause trouble. Ah, but such is life, no?

So, I am wicked busy and burning the midnight oil to get some last minute items made for my mom and sister. I need to get these items in the mail by Wednesday or pay through the nose for shipping which I do not want to do!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

making dinner with my biggest fan

I don't know why, but from the moment I pulled the turkey bones from the freezer to the moment I finished this turkey noodle pot pie, Pebbles was right under foot. I normally have a lot of K-9 company in my kitchen but even more so on Sunday afternoon! Every time I turned around, there was Pebbles. She wasn't just underfoot, she was intently watching my every move in the kitchen. If I moved in such a way as to block her view, she would lean over to get a better view of carrots being chopped or (her favorite) when I removed all the meat from the boiled turkey bones. I hesitate to say carcass but that is what it was. Carcass just sounds so... terrible.

I can't really blame her. This was a really good dish. Turkey pot pie really but with noodle style dumplings (Anne's brand as pictured) added instead of potatoes. Woof, this was good. These are the times when I cannot imagine not having the dogs nor can I remember how lonely I must have been without a small, tri-colored, sous chef in the kitchen.

I am now ready to have beef for Christmas. Turkey is so cheap; it's hard to pass it up but I don't want turkey again. I want a traditional English Christmas dinner this year with Yorkshire pudding and rib roast! Hold the brussel sprouts... I can just never get into them.

I did reward Pebs for her vigilance and excellent supervisory skills by putting a spoonful of the filling into her and Huck's dinner bowls along with their kibble. Spoiled rotten crazy beagles.

Monday, December 8, 2008

close to being my favorite

I really don't have a favorite anything, you know? I don't have a favorite ice cream flavor, pair of shoes, or tv show. I usually like a thing or not but of the things I like or dislike, I do not rate them beyond that... usually, I said. There are exceptions, obviously,to everything in life. Pink might be my favorite color, Diet Coke my drink of choice and I am pretty sure that beagles are the best dogs in the world.

Having said all that, Scrooged, starring Bill Murray just might be my favorite Christmas movie. I am as shocked by this as anyone else!! I would think my favorite Christmas movie would be something much more traditional and romantic but Scrooged really has it all!

I am looking forward to curling up with my husband and the beagles with a nice cup of homemade hot cocoa and really snuggling in to watch it this coming weekend. Here is the trailer, courtesy of youtube. I am now pondering what life was like before youtube but I'll save those musings for a different day.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

the secret...

to writing good Christmas cards is having really good, homemade hot cocoa or hot chocolate, depending on what you like to call it. Don't forget the marshmallows! Oh, or whipped cream would be good on there, too. With some sprinkles or a candy cane. Yummy!

The most fabulous hot cocoa in the world

1 1/2 cups of dry, instant milk powder
1 cup of confectioners sugar (or Splenda for a more calorie conscience hot cocoa)
3/4 a cup of cocoa powder
3/4 a cup of white chocolate chips
1/4 teaspoon of salt

Whirl all this together in a food processor until the chips are ground finely. I mix about 1/3 a cup of this mix with 1 cup of hot water or even milk for an extra rich treat!

Monday, December 1, 2008

black eyed pea and turkey cassoulet

Last night, when I was making dinner, I was thinking about my former life as a chef. I sometimes miss the work but I never actually miss the job. I fear that perhaps that only makes sense to me.

There is a certain honestly that is found in any sort of hands-on labor that I enjoy immensely. I actually like cleaning my house (when I feel well) and I think that it is the fact that the work is so evident. There is really no subjectivity about it at all -- a thing is dirty, it needs to be cleaned and it's just me and the dirt, you know? No body pushes me around. I either do it or I don't. I feel much the same about cooking. So, I miss cooking professionally but I do not miss being a chef. True, I can cook at home but I lack the full arsenal of truffle oil and beef tenderloin that I had as a professional. My creativity at home is only limited by my grocery budget and that seems to be getting ever tighter!

I was a pretty good chef. My real weakness was making new dishes. My cooking philosophy is truly, there is nothing new under the sun. If the goal was to recreate a classic, (preferably French) dish, I could usually pull that off flawlessly and with little effort. Where I always got tripped up was making things that were called a classical dish name but was not that dish. Like... Osso Bucco made with something other than veal shank like lamb or even chicken! I just never really "got it" when it came to that type of cooking.

So, last night when I made this dish and called it cassoulet, I was feeling a little challenged. The little French chef that lives in my head was screaming (in a heavy, French accent of course), "Cassoulet is made with white beans, duck, pork, and sausage, not black eye peas and turkey!" I made it anyway. It was wonderful. Rich, savory, smoky, and lovely. Sigh.

As usual, I cannot take credit for thinking this up all on my own. Cooking Light ran a story on Reveillon - a 19th century Christmas-meal tradition among French Creoles that is still around in New Orleans. Part of the menu was a duck and black eyed pea cassoulet. I did not use this recipe, really just the inspiration of the black eyed peas standing in for the white beans.

Here is my recipe-

Turkey and black eyed pea cassoulet

4 thick slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 pound of smoked sausage, cut in half and then sliced
1 medium onion, diced
4 stalks of celery, diced
3 medium carrots, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
4 cups of low sodium chicken broth
32 ounces of frozen black eyed peas
2 teaspoons of dried thyme
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
2 cups of shredded left over Thanksgiving turkey meat
1 cup of bread crumbs
3 tablespoons of olive oil

In a dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until it is crispy. Remove the bacon reserving all of the rendered bacon drippings. Add the sausage and cook, stirring often until browned. Remove the sausage again reserving the drippings. Add the carrots, onions, celery, garlic, salt, thyme and 1 tablespoon of the parsley. Cook this, stirring often until it is all tender - about 10 minutes. It should smell really good in your kitchen now!! Add the broth and peas. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes or until the peas are tender and the mixture is quit thick. Using a potato masher or fork, mash some of the peas. Add the sausage and turkey, stirring gently. Bring this to a simmer and cook for another 15 minutes or until the turkey is warmed through and the mixture is really thick. Top with the bread crumbs, the remaining parsley and then drizzle with the olive oil. Place uncovered under a preheated broiler to brown the bread crumbs. Once it is browned, top with the bacon pieces. Let this stand for about 5 minutes and then serve. Serve with a citrus dressed salad, rice with a toasted pecans and bread. I served mine with biscuits since we did not have any good bread, which was really good, too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a very nice Thanksgiving. The husband and I are spending the day with the beagles at home with no guests. I am cooking all the usually Thankgiving Day fare. I brine my turkey, which since I started doing it, I absolutely swear by!

I will probably watch the James Bond marathon on the Sci-Fi channel. Not because I like James Bond movies (I don't) but because there is supposed to be a sneak peak at the new Battlestar Galactica season that starts in January! Actually, we will watch the parades like most folks.

Happy Thanksgiving, ya'll!

Monday, November 24, 2008

dutch baby!!

I always try to make something special on Saturday for breakfast. I prepare breakfast everyday but Sunday in our house. We usually grab something from the golden arches on Sunday morning on the way to church. I don't know why we have fallen into this routine but we have. I think it is because we have to be up and out of the house on Sunday an hour earlier than during the work week.

This past Saturday morning I was awake at about 5:30 and could not get back to sleep. I got up and took the dogs out. It was cold. The beagles were very quick about what they had to do and both of them went back upstairs to sleep. I made a pot of tea and sat down and read a book for awhile. It is always lovely to curl up with a book in my husband's arm chair. I never sit in my chair if his chair is free... it's funny, the chairs are actually a man's larger wing back chair and a smaller, more dainty arm chair that is a ladies' chair. Regardless, I had a great time curled up reading. I live in a funky, old, drafty farm house but I love it anyway!

Ok, so on to the Dutch baby. I had never made this before last Saturday! I love making new food for the first time. It is such a treat. Although, I have made popovers and this is really just a giant popover! It came out of the oven all puffy and golden brown and rather quickly deflated, which I understand is what it is supposed to do. We thoroughly enjoyed this with powdered sugar and lemon. I think I not have something to compete with buttermilk pancakes for my favored weekend breakfast!

Oh, before I forget, this was from Alton Brown's recipe and can be found here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

soup and sandwich

This is butternut squash soup with sage and a kind of croquette monsieur. It's like grown up soup and sandwich. I made this soup for a friend's birthday party lunch last November and it was very well received. My husband and I have long enjoyed it but it was nice to hear from others that it was good. Oh, my delicate ego! It is unlike other butternut squash soups I have had in that it is neither as thick as baby food nor is it bright orange. I don't really like those types of soups. This soup is light and creamy and truly savory. Delightfully savory and an acceptable color for food to be.

butternut squash soup with sage and sausage
4 – 6 servings
1 large butternut squash, about 3 pounds, halved, seeds removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound sweet (this important, don't get the hot or spicy kind) Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped dried sage
1/2 teaspoon chopped dried marjoram
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 teaspoon cider vinegar or lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream, or more to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Lightly coat the squash halves with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Season the inside with salt and pepper and place cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until very tender, about 45 minutes. When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and set aside. Throw the peel away.
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the remaining vegetable oil and, when hot but not smoking, add the sausage. Cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until the onions wilted and starting to caramelize, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, sage and marjoram, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the cooked squash and chicken stock, stir well to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
With a hand-held immersion blender, or in batches in a food processor or blender, puree the soup. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean saucepan. Add the cider vinegar and stir to combine. Add the cream and adjust seasoning, to taste.

The sandwich, as i have already said is a type of croquette monsieur. I know there are so many variations of this sandwich out there on the interwebz but here is mine. When I taught cooking over the summer, this was a big hit with the girls! I was surprised!

Croquette Monsieur
serves 2
4 slices of good white bread
4 ounces of good quality sliced ham
2 ounces of sharp cheese - Gruyere is traditional but baby swiss or even a sharp cheddar would work
3 tablespoons of butter

For the mustard sauce
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of flour
1 tablespoon of dijion mustard
1 tablespoon of whole grain coarse mustard
1/2 cup of milk

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir together to make a roux. Add the milk and then stir in the mustard and some salt and pepper to your taste. No, just assemble the sandwiches with the ham, cheese and then the mustard sauce. Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter over high heat and once it is foamy, carefully add the sandwiches and turn once the first side is golden brown. It's really so good! Maybe less mustard for folks who don't like mustard and I think you could get the same creamy mustard effect by mixing the mustard with some mayonnaise, but you didn't hear that here!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

someone wants to snuggle!

Huckie-may-may, you look so cute snuggled up in your basket!!

Monday, November 17, 2008

a time to stew

So, we had the strangest weather this past weekend. Saturday started out bleak and rainy then it was 77 degrees and sunny. Yesterday was windy and chilly and today is just cold! It's just strange. I think we are expecting snow tonight.

I made beef stew yesterday for dinner. I think I have mentioned this here before, but I love soups and stews. I mostly enjoy very savory soups. Yesterday, I wanted my stew thick (like gravy) and rich without a lot of acidity. I usually put tomatoes (diced or whole) in beef stew but yesterday, I just put a little tomato paste in at the beginning and let it develop into a nice, rich, think, beefy, good time! I usually put peas into my stew as well, but I was not really in the mood for peas yesterday. The husband and I were very happy with this dinner, although my husband confessed he is not crazy in love with pearl onions like I am. We watched the Steelers' game (the husband is a big fan) while we were eating dinner, and I think the fact that the Steelers won made dinner all the better for him!

Beef stew 6 servings
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
2 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried thyme sprigs
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
3 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
10 small red potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut in 1/2
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cups pearl onions, peeled
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Preheat a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat with the oil and butter.
While the pan is heating, arrange the flour on a large dish. Season the cubed beef with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and the paprika and then toss in the flour to coat. Shake off the excess flour and add the beef chunks in a single layer to the hot pan, being careful not to over crowd the pan; you might have to work in batches. Thoroughly brown all of the cubes on all sides. Once all the meat has been browned remove it to a plate and reserve.
Add the stock to the pan and bring up to a simmer while you scrape the bottom of the pan being sure to loosen up all those tasty bits. Once the stock has gotten hot add the browned meat, thyme, minced garlic, ground black pepper and salt, to taste, bay leaves, red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste. Bring the mixture up to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until the liquids start to thicken, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cover and cook on low heat for 1 1/2 hours.
After 1 1/2 hours add halved potatoes, sliced carrots, and pearl onions. Turn the heat up slightly and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes more, until the vegetables and meat are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Obviously, I served mine with cornbread. I love cornbread.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chinese takeout

We had Chinese takeout last night since I was not feeling up to cooking.

This was my fortune.

Call me crazy, but today I would be happy with just the good health!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

chicken kiev

Chicken kiev is one of the first dishes I learned to make when I was about 15 years old. I really enjoy making and eating this dish. I was determined to make this last night for dinner, although my husband had to be at a meeting at 7.I didn't have a lot of time but I did manage to prepare this with roasted garlic potatoes and a vegetable medley in about 45 minutes time. Ok, so the veggies were of the frozen variety in a little microwave steamer pouch. In cooking (just like everything else) you have to pick your battles wisely! I choose to die on the chicken kiev hill last night, not the mixed-veggie hill.

Ok, so it doesn't look like much on the outside but again a cliche' comes to my rescue: it's what's inside that really counts!

Chicken kiev (on the fly)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning chicken
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning chicken
4 ounces of Gruyere or provolone cheese
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 cup of flour
2 large whole eggs, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
2 cups bread crumbs
Olive oil, for frying

Combine butter, parsley, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

Place chicken breasts, 1 at a time, between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Pound to 1/8-inch thickness. Season each piece of chicken with salt and pepper.

Lay 1 chicken breast on a new piece of plastic wrap and place 1/4 of the butter mixture 1 ounce of cheese in the center of each breast. Using the plastic wrap, fold in ends of breast and roll breast into a log; roll very tightly twisting the ends. Place chicken in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Place flour in one pie pan, egg and water mixture in another pie pan and bread crumbs in a third pie pan.

Heat the oil in a large saute' pan.

Dip each breast in the flour, the the egg mixture and then roll in the bread crumbs. Gently place each breast in oil, seam-side down, and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side and then into a 350 oven for another 5 minutes.

I let them rest for a couple of minutes, then slice into 5 or so slices. The butter and cheese are so good and melted. It's like those little chocolate lava cakes that make their own sauce, you know? Yes, chicken kiev makes its own sauce.

Monday, November 10, 2008

fallen leaves with Pebbles

Who knows what Autumn looks like through the eyes of a beagle?

I spent much of last week and this past weekend sick so I didn't cook much of anything. I did manage to take the beagles out yesterday afternoon with my husband and I got this shot of Pebbles looking at the blanket of leaves in our front yard. I was a little shocked when I walked outside to find that the walkway to my front door was not discernible due to the leaves... it was as if the sky snowed leaves on Saturday night!

Anyway, I knelt down to see what it was Pebbles was so dialed in about - ears all perked up and head held so alertly. I could not see or hear anything that was so intriguing but thankfully she held the pose long enough for me to get this picture.

This is the farm where I live. Yesterday was a lovely, brisk, fall day. I don't anticipate we will have too many more of these but I count myself blessed beyond measure to get to experience even one of these days and to share it with my husband.

That is what is known as the concrete barn. My brain is stupid and when I hear someone say, "the concrete barn" I imagine a barn filled with concrete. I think of it as the yellow barn. My house is the blue shingled house just visible across from the yellow concrete barn.

My house numbers and some dried corn hanging on my blue shingled house.

All the corn has been harvested off of the farm now. There is still some hay to be harvested. Soon it will be gone and winter will be here for sure!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

time flies

Wow, Election Day already. I cannot believe how quickly 2008 is disappearing. I did my civic duty this morning and cast my ballot.

"Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society" - Oliver Wendell Holmes said that and it makes me laugh. That quote is actually over the front door to the IRS building in DC. I wonder why it is not really a directly proportional equation, you know? If taxes are what we pay for a civilized society, then the higher taxes the more civilized we should be right?

Anyway, this is a blog that is supposed to be about food. I think I will make clam chowder for dinner tonight and not think about the election until tomorrow when it is all said and done.

Monday, November 3, 2008

more pumpkin

I really did not think my husband would like these cookies but I was so wrong. He really enjoyed them. I had planned that in the event that he did not like them, I thought I would bring them in for my coworkers but Lenny liked them so much he said, "these are my cookies!" Funny man who never learned to share.

Anyway, these are spice and pumpkin cookies with cream cheese icing and they are wicked good if I do say so myself. They are kind of like eating little cakes. Yes, your own little cake. I made about 3 dozen of them. I do not expect them to last the week in my house as the husband and I each have a terrible sweet tooth!

I hope everyone had a safe and fun Halloween. Lenny and I watched old monster movies until we were bleary eyed. That is our Halloween tradition. I cannot watch modern horror movies but give me a monster movie with Boris Karloff or Vincent Price and I am so happy. The Universal pictures are certainly my favorites! There is a certain drama that those movies portray that has been entirely lost in this day of gore and torture.

Friday, October 31, 2008

rock soup

I was thinking about the fable of rock soup when I was making this. Perhaps all the talk about the economy has me fearing I will be forced to eat rock soup but I like to think my thoughts were driven by light-hearted memories of grade school. As a child, I enjoyed the hearing the story so immensely! I found it to be funny and I think that for as much as my eight year old brain could grasp the concept of irony, I kind of got it.

Here's the short version - some travelers (in some versions they are soldiers) come to a village with an empty pot and although the travelers are very hungry, the villagers are not willing to share any of their food. The travelers fill the pot with water and drop a rock in it, and put it over a fire. A villager becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travelers reply that they are making "rock soup", which they say is really wonderful but could be made better by adding some carrots or onions, which the villager shares with them. Again, other villagers ask what they are doing and the travelers say that the rock soup is getting there but would be better with some potatoes, seasonings, etc. Each villager adds something until the travelers finally have an edible and nutritious soup to eat, which they share with the villagers.

I had one ambitious teacher in maybe the third or fourth grade who actually made rock soup with us one day. What a hoot that was for me! I remember telling my father about it when I came home from school and since my dad was as much of a nerd as I was/still am, he really found it amusing. Or at least he pretended to.

This is actually ham and bean soup. I am a big fan of country type soups made with what is normally considered to be trash items such as ham hocks and beans. My husband and I really both enjoyed this soup with some homemade bread. I think I have posted bean soup on this blog before but this is a different recipe. I think. Yes, it is since I was looking to make it less rich and more of a broth based soup. I did not puree any of the beans here and I omitted the pat of butter for serving. Instead, this soup has red wine vinegar stirred in at the end, which gave it a nice acidity that is not overpowering at all.

Ham and bean soup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound diced ham
1 onion,chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs,chopped
6 garlic cloves,minced
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
2 smoked ham hocks
1 pound dried navy beans,soaked overnight in cold water
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Heat the oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking. Add diced ham and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Add onion, carrots, and celery and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Stir in broth, water, hocks, and beans. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until beans are completely tender and soup is slightly thickened, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the hocks from pot. (If desired, let cool 5 minutes, then shred meat and add to soup.) Stir in thyme, pepper, and vinegar. Serve.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

hanging on to autumn by eating cake

The weather around here as changed pretty dramatically and it is somewhat unpleasant. It is as if we went straight from summer to winter and that's no fun. I mean, honestly, snow flurries in October? I know I should not complain since I live in a place that doesn't really get all that cold but I feel like complaining about it right now. Anyway, I am going to try to hold on to autumn for awhile longer by eating all things pumpkin, apple, etc.

Pictured above is a really lousy picture of a really delicious pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting. I am just learning really to use me new camera, so I guess that is my rationalization for the crummy picture. I made this cake shortly after getting the new camera. Regardless of the bad picture, the cake is fabulous. I think the recipe might be from a cooking magazine but as I am not sure I cannot give credit.

Pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting

2 cups AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 (15-ounce) can of 100% real pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie filling but the puree)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter,softened
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese , cut into 8 pieces and softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 13 by 9-inch baking pan. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in bowl. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat eggs, oil, and granulated sugar until thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add pumpkin, and mix until incorporated. Slowly add flour mixture and mix until only a few small lumps of flour remain, about 1 minute. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool cake completely.

2. For the frosting: With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and confectioners' sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese 1 piece at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla and mix until smooth. Frost cake and serve.

The worst part about making this cake is waiting for it to cool enough to frost it!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Swiss(ed) steak

There has been a trend in my house lately of braising meat and serving it with some sort of starchy yumminess - like mashed potatoes, rice, or pasta. What can I say? It's just so very good, especially this time of year when the weather starts to get cooler. The weather was cool and rainy this weekend, so it was perfect for braising meat.

This is Swiss steak. Ok, so it is not really from Switzerland but it's good none-the-less. Swissing refers to the complete torture that the meat is put through in order to make it tender enough to eat. I wonder why beating meat into submission is called "Swissing"? I guess I'll never know. Maybe Alton Brown talked about why it is called that on the episode on which he prepared Swiss steak. I make mine from his recipe which can be found here. I cannot recall if he explained the connection between the action of swissing and the the name Swiss steak. I was lucky to remember what he cooked!

Friday, October 24, 2008

comfort food (again)

I know that it is completely inauthentic Italian food.

I know that as far as culinary skill is concerned, it is just about as easy as it gets.

All that aside, at the end of a particularly bad day, in the middle-ish of a particularly bad week, spaghetti and meatballs just hit the spot.

Don't forget the Parmesan cheese and garlic toast!

I would post my recipe for this, but honestly, I don't have anything new to bring to the spaghetti and meatballs party. It's all been done. I will say my recipe is close to this one by Tyler Florence but I simmer the meatballs in the sauce instead of cooking them in the oven.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

beagles live here

I don't want to forget.

Actually, as long as beagles live with me, they probably won't let me forget!

I think this morning what I want to remember is the importance of the relationship I have with these little creatures and from that reminder, think about the importance of the relationships I have with other creatures!

Like many people, I have a lot of roles in life - wife, daughter, sister, friend, employee, supervisor, parishioner, and yes, dog master. With each role comes a lot of good, great, amazing, scary and wonderful times. With each also comes a lot of responsibility.

Once again, from my lips to God's ears I implore, "Oh please, never let me forget."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I can't make biscuits.

I really cannot. Biscuits are my culinary Achilles' tendon. I have tried several different recipes. Unfortunately, all biscuit recipes yield the same thing in my kitchen: a lump of tasteless, dry, nastiness that is not worth eating.

Biscuits are pretty basic when you think about it. I mean, I can make puff pastry from scratch, but not biscuits? I can make pate' brisee but not biscuits? So, I can only make highfalutin pastry doughs but not down home pastry dough?

It's really sad but I guess life goes on for me, just without homemade biscuits. I guess the reason it is so shameful is that I am from the south and well, ladies from the south who cook should be able to make good homemade biscuits!

Pictured above is my husband's all time favorite breakfast in the whole wide world! Biscuits and sausage gravy! I cheat and use these frozen biscuits from the grocery store. I get the buttermilk ones. I love buttermilk biscuits.

Sausage gravy with biscuits - serves two

3 biscuits - homemade, if you dare!! (I cook 3 because I eat 1 and Mister eats 2)
1/2 lb. of fresh sausage (I use this one)
2 Tablespoons of A/P flour
1 1/2 cups of milk
salt and black pepper to taste

Crumble and cook sausage in large skillet over medium heat until browned. Stir in flour until dissolved. Gradually stir in milk. Cook gravy until it is all thick and bubbly. Then take some of it out - like maybe 1/3 of it and whirl it in the blender or with an imersion blender and then put this whiled up gravy back in with the remaining gravy. This way, there are sausage chunks and a lot sausage flavor in the gravy and it's just heavenly. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot over split open biscuits. My hubby likes it topped with over easy eggs. He's an animal!

Monday, October 20, 2008

the grinch who made banana nut bread

If that old adage of "you are what you eat" is true, I am in big trouble here!

I think the man that lives with me would be happy if there was a endless supply of banana bread in our house. We never eat all the bananas we buy before they turn black and neither of us enjoys overripe bananas. I blame Dr. Seuss and that song from the Grinch Who Stole Christmas for our aversion to mushy bananas. You know, something about a banana with a greasy black peel.

Instead of eating them, I take the black bananas and freeze them with the intention of making banana bread. Trouble is, I usually just end up with frozen black bananas that never seem to become banana bread. I don't really know why this is. I think I have sort of issue with actually taking things back out of my freezer once I put them in there.

So, I am proud to say that I took some frozen black bananas out of the freezer, left them to thaw in the refrigerator and then made banana nut bread from them! Super kudos to me, huh? Yes, my husband is overwhelmed with joy as I made two loaves of banana nut bread! Yes, two loaves!

So, I suppose I should share the recipe, no? I modified a recipe from Posy Gets Cozy which she states is modified from Nigella Lawson, who is my best culinary friend in the whole wide world!

Super frozen black peel banana nut bread
makes 2 lovely loaves

2 1/4 cups AP flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, melted
1 cup of sugar
4 large eggs
4 medium really ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 cup of pecan pieces

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized bowl and combine well. Add the pecan pieces and toss them around in the flour mixture. If you wait and add the pecans after the wet ingredients are added, the pecans may sink to the bottom of the pan and burn there. Yuck! Mix the melted butter and sugar until blended. I use a wire whisk but I guess you could use a mixer. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture. Stir just until mixed. Pour into two 8" x 4" loaf pans liberally coated with cooking spray and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

On a completely different note, my vacuum cleaner had to go to the household appliance retirement home and I purchased a new one. You know how people say they are going to drive their car until the wheels fall off, well I actually drove the wheels off of the vacuum. It started to get very annoying to put one of the wheels back on every 3-5 minutes while vacuuming and then Friday I could not find the wheel. I think that I will probably find it in the dogs' toy basket.

On second completely different note, I think my doctor was right about my foot having tendinitis and not a stress fracture since it feels somewhat better this morning. I did very little this past weekend. Well, very little compared to what I wanted to do this past weekend.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

limping and cooking

I am particularly challenged in the kitchen lately since I am really not supposed to be walking around on my hurt foot. I am usually very stubborn about such things. I think I will die with a feather duster in one hand, a saute' pan in the other, and a sewing project in the other... Oh wait, I don't have three hands!

Regardless of doctor's orders, we do still have to eat at my house and I am growing weary of eating out. Pictured above is a simplified Chicken Cacciatore with soft polenta. I really enjoyed this meal and it only took about 45 minutes from start to finish. I suppose it could be done more quickly, but I do not race around the kitchen even when my feet are healthy and feeling awesome.

Chicken Cacciatore with soft polenta

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped into big chunky pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed and chopped into big chunky pieces
12 ounces quartered cremini mushrooms
2 minced cloves of garlic
1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1/4 cup of chicken stock

Trim chicken of any fatty nastiness, pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to plate.

Add onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms to skillet and cook until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, stock, and browned chicken along with any accumulated juices and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes.

Transfer chicken to serving platter. Add tomato paste and simmer sauce, uncovered, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken. Serve with soft polenta. Soft polenta is an easy side dish that is basically 4 parts liquid to 1 part corn meal plus any flavorings you want in there. I added Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to mine to keep it simple.
I need to start doing a better job proof reading my blog posts when I post them since I went back and read a couple that were just full of mistakes. I hate grammatical mistakes that are just typos. Like, I promise I understand verb subject agreement from singular to plural, I just miss the "s" sometimes on my nouns.

I think all my plans for the weekend (apple picking, chair refinishing, super house cleaning) have been ruined by my foot. Curses!! I guess I will have to sew and other seated activities.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

leftover heaven

We had beef and noodles over the weekend. The weather is so nice and cool that I am enjoying turning the big oven on. We had left over roast beef which means one thing in my house and that one thing is roast beef hash. My husband did not have roast beef hash before he married me and I am proud to say that he now loves it as much as I do. I must confess here that I went through a period in my life (mostly while I was in culinary school) where I eschewed many of the foods that I grew up eating. Southern food items like hash, black eyed peas and rice, and hush puppies (to name just a few) did not measure up to my new found culinary sophistication. What a dumb bunny I was, huh? I happily embrace my food heritage now. I basically just had to rework these food items into my own recipes using fresh ingredients and I am usually pleased with the results.

Ok, so enough of my self important blathering. Above is the hash with the requisite two eggs and at least one piece of toast. This was my husband's plate and he had two slices of toast. He was hungry. I poached the eggs last night since we were both in the mood for that but usually I cook them over easy to go with hash. I recognize that roast beef hash is perhaps not the most photogenic of dishes but I am pleased with the picture, all things considered.

Roast beef hash - serves 4 (or 2 really hungry people who completely lack self control with such items)

1 cup of cooked chuck roast, cut into small pieces
2 russet potatoes, washed and diced small
1/2 of a large Vidalia onion, diced small
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 tablespoons of butter

In a large saute' pan, over medium high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of each butter and oil and add the potatoes and salt. Saute the potatoes until they are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the onion and increase the heat to high. You may need to add a bit more oil or butter, depending on several different factors but if it is not sticking, you probably don't need it. Cook the potatoes and onions until the onions are tender and the potatoes begin to brown about 10 minutes again. Add the roast beef and season liberally with salt and pepper. Continue to saute' for about 10 more minutes or until it looks really good.

As I mentioned before, we eat this with 2 eggs atop it and toast. I also like a glass of milk with my hash.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

new camera, take 2

So, my favorite UPS man brought me my new camera last night. Actually, he is the only UPS man I ever see. I think that might be because I live in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, back to the camera. I was eager to get batteries in it and start taking pictures of just about everything in the world. I very much want to get out on the farm and take some pictures of the hay that is all bailed and the gorgeous colors of the corn, soybeans and fall foliage but unfortunately, I have injured myself somehow. Apparently, I have tendinitis in my right foot so I am limping around everywhere in pain. I was relieved that it is not a stress fracture. Well, hopefully it is tendinitis and not a stress fracture. I really won't know until the end of this week.

Regardless, all that babble above means I am stuck in the house limping around. It's great! I decided to take the new camera for a spin around the house and I chose to shoot some of my favorite things - beagles and Diet Coke! Above is Mr. Huck Finn in his basket. Actually, the beagles share that basket downstairs. It is rather funny to watch them pack themselves in there. I took this picture without the flash but the sun was still up.

There's Pebbles on the bed looking lovely and lady like. She is actually a nasty dog but you would never know it looking at this picture, would you? I took this on the natural light setting and I must say that I like the overall effect. There was only one lamp on in the room behind Pebbles. The lighting is really soft and pretty and it looks warm. My sheets are actually more of a taupe or beige and the coverlet or bedspread is off-white but overall it looks very yellow in this picture.

A Tale of Two Beagles - It was the best of dogs, it was the worst of dogs...

Just kidding, she's not that bad, really. Ok, so this is Huck and Pebbles on the bed together laying like a couple of commas side by side. I love it when they do that. Again, you would never guess how nasty they really are since they look sweet and angelic. Same camera setting (natural light) and only one lamp on in the room behind the beagles.

Oh, Diet Coke, how I love you! You are the very best, calorie free, carbonated soft drink in the world! Ok, so I used the macro setting for this shot without the flash. It was fully dark outside by this time and I had one lamp on to the left of the Diet Coke. I need to play with the aperture a bit to get more focus on the can and less on the window and curtains in the background. I guess I need a little time with my new camera to fully appreciate its functions but I must say, I am pretty happy with it initially.