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.

Friday, October 10, 2008

new camera!

I ordered a new camera yesterday. It is a Fuji Finepix S700. I think I will be happy with it. The only real drawback is that I realized too late that this camera did not get good reviews for quality shots in low light which is definitely the lighting situation in my kitchen in the winter time. I guess I can compensate for that somehow.

Actually, this camera was not on my initial list of cameras that I thought I wanted since I feared it was out of my price range. Turns out, it is not.

I cannot wait for it to get here. I am excited. Yes, excited.

I had an email exchange with a friend about my fear that this camera was stolen. I was unsure how someone came into possession of 100 refurbished Fuji Finepix cameras and she (jokingly) suggested that I email him and ask if the cameras were stolen admitting that this could be awkward. So, I (jokingly) typed up that email and sent it to my friend. It went a little something like this...

"Dear Sir,
I realize I am a nutty fool for asking this, but how did you happen to come into possession of 100 refurbished Fuji Finepix S700 cameras? I am not a cop or a fink or anything but I want to make sure that you did not steal them. You see, I obsessively worry about purchasing stolen goods and would hate to buy a camera from you that might be... well, as those young people say "hot"! I am sure you can understand my moral dilemma here because buying a "hot" camera would make me an accomplice or, at the very least, an enabler and well, Jesus hates an enabler!
All best,
A crazy obsessive freak"

Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I did actually cook last week while my sister was visiting but I guess we did not really get any pictures of those items... among other things, I made Chicken Tikka Masala which was fabulous. The recipe is from America's Test Kitchen, the fine folks who bring us Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines. This particular recipe is free on their website but you do have to register to get it. I will start posting again about food very soon. I am going to order a camera today! Yes, today! Although we had pizza for dinner last night at my house. I didn't make the pizza. Heck, I didn't even make the phone call to order the pizza. Anyhoo, my point is that a pizza box wouldn't be a very exciting picture for my blog...

The picture above was taken at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden last week. It is called House 1 from Roy Lichtenstein and is completely amazing. I was a little more than mesmerized by this house as it is an optical illusion and a lesson on perspective and reminder that things are not always what they appear to be.

Here it is again from a different angle. The side shown in the first picture is actually the concave or rather folded side in the picture above. I found a video on Youtube that better illustrates the houses overall effect but really one should see it in person as the video is bumpy and does not or really cannot capture the full effect.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

sacred space

My sister and I visited the Baltimore Basilica last week. The cathedral is majestic without being pretentious and lovely without being precious. I did not post any pictures of the high altar or the stations of the cross, as those are indeed special. One should see them in person. The above mural is the ascension of Christ painted on the small dome over the high altar. To me, it is so perfect in every way. Looking at it, I knew real hope in the promises of God.

I pause when I think how many people pass through and light a candle. Each candle represents someone's prayer - regret for the past or thankfulness for the present or hope for the future. I lit a candle, too.

That is the Papal umbrella on the left there.

The large dome in the center has a carving of the Holy Spirit as a dove. Each little flower there is actually carved, not just painted. Amazing!

Beneath the church is a crypt and a chapel. The brick arches which support the church are visible and although it is only 200 years old, the feeling is much older. Down one shadowy aisle stands this statue of Christ the man. I lack the words to express my thoughts and feelings about this statue and it's placement in the church. The overall effect was rather profound for me. I certainly do not want to plunge right over the deep end on my blog (which is supposed to be about cooking after all!) but I realized looking at that statue that I have indeed been too casual or perhaps cavalier with God. I intend to be more... well, more intentional!

This is a shot looking up the columns on the portico with one of the small domes and the cross atop it visible. What a gorgeous, perfect day!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Longwood Gardens

I had a great visit with my sister. We went to DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia while she was here. We also spent a little time in Chestertown but I guess I take that for granted since I spend most everyday in Chestertown... although that was probably my favorite day.

We went to Longwood Gardens which is about an hour outside of Philadelphia. I do not have words to express how beautiful the gardens there are so here is photographic proof! The picture above is obviously a lovely blanket of fall mums. So soft and pretty.
This guy and his companion guard the entrance to the topiary garden. Look, he's smiling at you. That means he likes you.

All of the flowers in the flower garden are grouped by color and then type. The result is truly stunning.
This shot is looking back over the "large lake" to the gazebo. Very pretty.

Looking up at the sky through the gazebo.

The Italian water garden was one of my favorites. My husband asked if the water was from Italy. Funny guy! Again in the flower garden - purple! These arches are so "Secret Garden" they made me want to cry.
This is the bell tower which really did not have bells in it but those electronic chimes. I guess that is ok.

I am looking forward to taking my husband to Longwood Gardens sometime soon! It is a dreamy place.