Wednesday, March 31, 2010

23. Easter Butter Lamb, Butter vs Margarine

Butter and Margarine have a long and conflicted history. As contradictory as it seems, margarine was invented in France. It took decades for margarine to make it to the United States, however, and when it did the butter industry was very unhappy that this immigrant was allowed to come ashore.

Butter lobbies worked long and  hard to stop the production of margarine. Several state legislatures tried to force it's manufacturers to add pink coloring to make the product look too horrible to eat.

Bootleg margarine became common, and  the manufacturers of margarine would sometimes supply food-coloring capsules so the housewives could knead the yellow color into the margarine before serving it. The fight between these two factions would probably have continued if fate had not intervened.

 During both world wars, the production of butter was very limited and quite expensive; this gave the cheaper and more plentiful margarine producers a definite edge. By the time WWII ended, the margarine lobby was large enough to have real power in Washington and restrictions against it were finally lifted. 

Ironically, today, yellow color is often added to real butter so it will look more like the more common and widely used margarines.

When I was growing up, we used butter very sparingly - this was probably another depression-era money-saving habit my mother observed. The first time I tasted real butter, I thought it had the most wonderful flavor and I loved it on a list of foods like hot bread, artichokes,  lobster and shrimp. The fragrance and taste of melted butter was something no margarine could duplicate.

Because I am aware of the fat and artery-clogging particles in butter, I use a -0- trans-fat brand of margarine for our daily use and save real butter for butter-worthy recipes. The following website from the Mayo Clinic includes health information regarding butter and margarine:
Every Easter I create a real-butter lamb for our dinner table. I could probably make one with sticks of margarine, but historically, these little lambs were made from butter and I feel I should continue the tradition.

Easter Butter Lamb 

 Ingredients: 2 sticks of butter, 2 whole black peppercorns, 2 caraway seeds, a tiny piece of red thread, 2 chive ends and 4 coffee beans or raisins.

Cut one stick of butter in half and place on one end of whole stick as shown. Place on small serving plate. Keep remaining butter in refrigerator.

Use photo to guide shaping process. Shave inward from point of chin to top of forelegs, about 3/4 inches from body. Cut away center between forelegs. Do not be too concerned with carving abilities as most of the structure will be covered with butter 'wool'.

Shape the head, next. Gently shave and smooth corners with you fingers. Add thin shavings to extend out the lamb's face. Again, use your fingers to smooth out angles. The face will be exposed, so it needs to be well formed.

Shape the back and hindquarters and cut away slightly the lamb's undersides to form a belly; you can add some of these shaving to extend the hind legs. Place the lamb and scraps in the refrigerator for 15 min. so they can become cool and firm.

Use reserved 1/2 stick of butter, cut into pieces as well as any scraps to make the wool. Press the butter, a little at a time, through a sieve with a spoon. Scrape the wool off of the screening with a toothpick and place it on the lamb body. I usually start at the back end and work my way forward. Cover all areas except the face and fronts of the forelegs.
If you do not have a sieve, you may make the butter wool by pressing it through a garlic press...this is a more time-consuming method, but it does work.

Add peppercorns for eyes, the caraway seeds for the nostrils, and the red thread for the mouth. Place coffee beans or split raisins at hoof positions. You may use two ends of green onions or chives for the little lamb's horns. Place the green 'horns' in wooly area on top of the head. Refrigerate covered lamb until ready to serve. 

Note: Random placement of toothpicks will help keep the plastic wrap from damaging wool structure. Remove prior to serving.

We had our butter lamb and by the end of Easter Dinner, he had a whole new look! Ha, ha...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

22. Bacon Potato Patties, Seeing Red

The only potatoes my mother ever baked were russets. She saved red potatoes for boiling which would often be peeled, buttered and served as a side dish. At other times, they were cooled and made into potato salad or some other creation. For years, I followed my mother's lead...that is until the day I walked into our local grocery store and found a huge bin of red potatoes in the produce section. The display included cards that told different ways to use red card even suggested baking them...

That eventful day, I went home with a twenty-pound bag of red potatoes...determined to see for myself what baking would do to them.  Eventually, the kitchen was filled with wonderful comforting, baked-potato aroma...and I was ready to be the next great potato critic. Before that day, I liked red potatoes and afterward...I loved them.

Baked red potatoes have a wonderful flavor and a tender, moist texture that is never mealy. Left-over baked red potatoes are versatile and can be used in soups, salads, and added to other main dishes. Besides learning that they can be baked, I find it amazing that it took so long for modern cooks to stop peeling red potatoes!  Not only does the peel add color and flavor, it also increases the food value. By leaving the skin on while cooking a potato, the vitamins and minerals will not leach out. In fact, almost twice as much of the vitamin C content is leached away when a potato is peeled and boiled than if was left unpeeled.

Storage of our favorite tuber has often been unclear...potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark environment and NOT in the refrigerator. Storing them in a paper bag is better than plastic as it lets the potato breathe. Also, if they are exposed to light for a length of time, the skin will become greenish. That green skin is actually a chemical change and is not healthy to eat; cut away any green parts and discard.

Today's recipe, Bacon Potato Patties, is so easy, even college students could make it in their dorm room if they had a microwave and a hot plate. This easy, tasty dish is great for breakfast, lunch or dinner and has been updated with the use of bacon bits to decrease the fat content.

Bacon Potato Patties

2 red potatoes
4 T packaged, crumbled bacon bits
2 green onions, minced
1 egg
1-2 tsp minced cilantro (optional)
Pepper blend (to taste)

Vegetable spray

Serves: 2

Cook potatoes in boiling water until tender. Drain. In a medium bowl, mash well. Add remaining food ingredients and mix well.
Alt.method - microwave potatoes in *quilted 'tater' bag 5-6 min. on HIGH until tender. Remove from bag, and mash well. Add remaining food ingredients and mix well.

*(See post #3 for potato bag picture and directions).

Spray griddle and heat to med-high; drop spoonfuls of potato mixture to form four patties. Flatten patties with spatula and fry both sides until nicely browned. Remove, and place on serving plates. Dot with margarine. Serve immediately.

*Note - the bacon bits have half the fat content of real bacon.

Monday, March 29, 2010

21. Italian Sausage with Tomato and Herbs, A Happy Moment

 I just love to look at recipes and sort out the flavor combinations in my mind...years of experience have helped me recognize a recipe that is poorly constructed. However, even I can be fooled. What really hurts, though, is to actually settle on trying something the ingredients, do all the work and have the dish fail the taste test. If faced with such a situation, a person could try to make some kind of last minute formula adjustment or...throw out the whole mess and pretend it never happened!

Sometimes, however, a great recipe is just too complicated and fussy for my mood or energy level...and that is when I might want to fall back on the old and familiar...the tried and true...and sometimes boring. On the other hand, it could be just the right time to kick up the creativity factor and come up with a recipe that is wonderful!

 Today's recipe came about one day when I just could not resist buying a package of mild Italian sausage. I wanted to smell it cooking and listen to the fat popping in the pan...I wanted to savor the blend of the juicy meat and herbs...I craved SAUSAGE...but, I was also tired and did not want to put much effort into cooking that day.

The flavors of what I wanted to taste ran around in my mind and as I pulled items from my shelves...the recipe just came was a happy moment!

Diane's Italian Sausage with Tomato and Herbs

1 pkg Italian sausage, links (mild)
1 sweet onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
Sliced fresh mushrooms (optional)
Margarine or olive oil
1 T butter
1 large can diced Italian tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
Parsley, basil, oregano, pepper (to taste)

Parmesan cheese

Alternative sauce: Use a jar of marinara such as Emeril's

Spaghetti cooked per pkg directions for 4 servings.

Put sausage in a large pan and add enough water to come up half-way up the sides of the links; simmer on low, covered for 30-45 minutes. Drain off water. Turn up heat to medium. Brown links in a little margarine or olive oil, turning as necessary until wonderfully golden on all sides. Half way through the browning process, add onion and pepper slices along with the butter. Stir the vegetables as needed. Do not let the onions and peppers become overly browned or burned. When vegetables are tender and sausage is browned, add tomatoes, sauce and herbs to taste. Remove links to a cutting board and slice them on the diagonal, 1/2-inch thick. Add meat back to sauce. Turn down heat and simmer, partially covered until the tomato mixture is a thick sauce.

To serve: Place hot, drained spaghetti on plates and divide sausage slices among them. Ladle sauce on top of each serving. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Sides: Leafy, green salad; garlic bread; sliced apple.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Food Memories, Recipe Index 1-20

1. Italian Beef, Follow Your Nose
2. Chicken Artichoke Festiva, Pot Lucky
3. Tuna Potato Patties, Taste Test
4. Soup Au Pistou, Force Fed
5. Danish Potato Bread, Under Your Nose
6. Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner, Cravings
7. White Chocolate Cookies, Cookies Rule
8. Banana Bread, Vanna's Bananas
9. Mussels, Forks on the Left
10. Fruit Slaw, Slaw Laws
11. Oven Barbecue Chicken, Lick Your Lips
12. Carrots in Broth, Plate Confetti
13, Easy Pancake Syrup (2 recipes), Pass the Syrup
14. Chocolate-Pecan Crescent Puffs, The Culinary Wall
15. Sweet Potato Pie, Pride and the Sweet Potato Pie
16. Pie Crust and Pie Crust Secrets, Melt in Your Mouth
17. Fruit Dumplings, The End of the Day
18. Hard Boiled Eggs and Easter Eggs, easy dye method, Cold Water
19. Bunnies on the Lawn, On the Green
20. Crunchy Beef Turnovers, Not a Taco

20. Crunchy Beef Turnovers, Not a Taco

The 60s was an era defined by a generation of youth who had their own private label - Baby Boomers. Promoters geared everything toward the wants and needs of this large buying group and businesses could hardly wait for those kids to get into the work force so everyone could spend, spend, spend. Although many boomers felt special by default, their biggest contribution probably was to the country's economic growth.

The young people who came out of the 60s wanted to experience things and were very aggressive in that pursuit. If they weren’t trying to shock their parents with their style of clothes and long hair, they were bent on changing the music; sound suddenly went from fun times with the Beach Boys to the acid-dropping tones of Janis Joplin. It was an amazing transformation.

With all that groovin' going on, food also took on different flavors. Boomers wanted the new and different -  fries were dripped with ketchup, pizza became deeper and dressed up and food became more hot and spicy. Restaurants with Mexican food on the menu cruised into cities and even small northern, southern and eastern towns. People who had never thought to put meat between anything but slices of bread, ordered tacos, re-fried beans and salsa with gusto.

I ate my first taco at a high school Spanish Club get-to-gether. Our teacher supervised while we fixed the foreign-looking food; it was fun, messy and we all loved it. Tacos have come a long way in fifty years. Today, they can be multi-layered, super grande and artery-clogging.

While definitely not a taco, this updated recipe for Crunchy Beef Turnovers does have some of the essence of tacos.The turnovers have a couple of surprise ingredients which are wonderful when blended with the other flavors.

Diane's Crunchy Beef Turnovers

1 T salad oil
1 med onion, finely chopped
½ pound lean ground beef
1 clove garlic, minced
1 beef bouillon cube, crushed
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin (more if desired)
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large tart  apple, not peeled, cored and chopped (surprise ingredient)
1-2 T  cranraisins (optional surprise ingredient)
1-2 T cilantro, minced (optional)

1 C shredded cheddar cheese (more if desired)

Pastry for a double-crust pie.

 Lime-flavored tortilla chips, crushed to make ¼ cup

Heat oil in med-sized frying pan. Add onion and crumble in beef; cook, stirring, until meat loses pink color. Spoon off and discard fat. Add garlic, bouillon, chili powder and cumin. Stir in bell pepper, cran-raisins, cilantro and apple a; remove from heat. Mix in cheese, then season to taste with salt.

On floured pastry cloth, roll out half the pastry to a 10-inch circle. Sprinkle half the crushed tortilla chips over rolled pastry dough and roll lightly with rolling pin to embed chips in dough; pull up on cloth edge nearest you so pastry rolls over pin and continue to roll pastry until you can pick up the pin with the pastry on it. Next, unroll pastry with chip-side down on ungreased baking sheet. Spoon half the beef mixture over half the circle, spreading to within 1 inch of the edges. Carefully fold the pastry half over the filled half and pinch edges to seal. Repeat with remaining pastry, chips, and beef mixture to make a second turnover. Sprinkle both turnovers evenly with any remaining chips, pressing in lightly. (If there is too much filling, you don't have to use it all...)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake turnovers, uncovered until edges are crisp 25-30 min. Slide both turnovers onto a platter. Cut into wedge, sprinkle with a little extra cilantro and serve on top of shredded lettuce, if desired.

Sides: Fruit, avocado, fresh tomato.
Low fat: substitute ground turkey for the beef and make the pastry dough with New Balance margarine instead of shortening.

 *Hint: Buy sharp cheddar cheese in blocks and hand-grate it.  Not only is this a more economical way to purchase cheese, it will produce bold, fresh pieces of cheese quite unlike in the pre-shredded packaged products sold in stores. .

Thursday, March 25, 2010

19. Bunnies on the Lawn, On the Green

In order to keep my sanity as I watched my kids at the public pool one summer, I brought along an armload of library cookbooks. Always the multi-tasker, I would search for new recipes and keep track of my waterlogged children at the same time.

From all those books, only one recipe has passed the test of time. It is in our family recipe archives and to this day, holds a special place as part of our Easter dinner celebration.

Bunnies on the Lawn is an inexpensive recipe children can help prepare and it is cute enough to be an instant crowd-pleaser at a spring potluck. We have served it on the side as a salad, but it also could be a dessert. I wish I written down the name of the person who had designed this creation. I would love to give credit where it is due. Happy Spring!

Bunnies on the Lawn

6 oz. lime gelatin (2 pkgs)
2 C boiling water
1 ¾ C cold water
Drained pear halves
Sliced almonds
Raisins or chocolate chips
Whipped topping

Dissolve Jello in boiling water. Add cold water and pour into a 9x13 pan. Chill until slightly thickened.

 Place drained pear halves, rounded side up, randomly on the green ‘lawn’.Refrigerate until Jello is firm.

Dab or pipe whipped topping to make fluffy tails on the larger ends of the pear halves.

Use two almond slices for each set of ears; push pointed end of the almond gently into pear about an inch from the small end of the fruit.

For the eyes, place raisin bits in the head space between the ears and the pointed end. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

*Note: The pears used in the picture( above) were a Geisha brand; they had a cut out in the pointed (nose) end. I filled in the space with a few extra pear pieces...I have never seen canned pears processed like this before.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

18. Easy Hard Cooked Eggs, Cold Water (G,V)

     My righth-grade home economics classes was partnered with other short term subjects and only lasted for eight weeks. I could hardly wait for the class to start. When I walked into the home ec. room, I was in my element and I didn't even know what an element was!

     We were taught basic cooking techniques and the lessons were comfortable, and exciting, new and yet, familiar. Many of the instructional concerns focused on how to mix and measure properly, the steps to effectively clean our work areas and how to be careful with potentially dangerous gas appliances. To this day, the smell of a gas oven being lit takes me back to that junior high home-ec room.

     One of the most amazing recipes the teacher taught our group of beginning cooks was baked eggs. I had never even heard of a baked egg. I knew fried, scrambled, poached, hard and soft boiled, deviled eggs and even omelets - but not baked.

     My mother let me make baked eggs for our family. They were little eggs, nested in custard cups  lined with bacon and drizzled with milk. Today, I know this was an amazingly unhealthy concoction. On the plus side, I only made those baked eggs twice - they took too long to cook and my fascination with the recipe wore off quickly. (Baked eggs are also known as shirred eggs).

     So many great recipes call for eggs and today's recipe is for an easy and almost foolproof way to hard boil them. I wish someone had taught this technique to me when I was raising my children as it would have saved so many eggs from being rendered unusable for dying at Easter.

Easy Hard Cooked Eggs

Place desired amount of eggs in a pot and add enough COLD water so it measures an inch above the eggs. Turn heat on HIGH and watch for water to boil...Immediately, remove pot from heat and COVER.

Let eggs stand for 24 minutes, covered. When the time is up, immediately, pour off the hot water and stop the cooking process by running cold water over the eggs.Tap an egg on the counter-top to crack the shell...then, roll the egg around to loosen the shell further and peel. If you hold the egg under running, cold water the shell will be easier to remove.

Note: be sure to cover pot for the standing process...

Coloring Eggs - Easy Method

Hard cook eggs and cool. Fill a custard cup or glass with water and heat in microwave for 1 minute on HIGH. Remove cup and add 1/4 tsp vinegar and a few drops of food coloring. Carefully place egg in water mixture and roll egg around gently. Let egg sit for a few minutes...make sure it colors evenly. Remove from water using tongs and place on a paper towel to dry. Refrigerate eggs.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

17. Fruit Dumplings, The End of The Day

 Nutritional, tasty and interesting food choices were and are the backbone of my cooking philosophy.  As my children grew, I tried to find ways to keep them focused on eating things that were good from them. I liked cooking from scratch which helped control what we actually did eat. Sometimes, though, I felt like I was the guard or kitchen policewoman.

 Most of our meals had to include fresh fruit and vegetables and I often baked our bread products. As more and more information has been revealed concerning the danger of one kind of additive or another in commercial-grade food, I know that my family's health had to have been impacted positively by all that 'home-cookin' and sentry duty.

Looking back on my own childhood, I know my mother cooked for us with care; she included healthy food in our school lunches and kept our family snacking to a minimum. My mother imbued in me a great love for all the texture, color and flavor that vegetables and fruit bring to a meal. She made a point of including two vegetables with almost every dinner. I do the same thing! It is a healthy and palette-pleasing way to eat.

Sometimes, though, all a person wants at the end of the day is a plate of something sweet, satisfying and comforting - made by mom. Today's post, Fruit Dumplings, is an old-fashioned dessert from the Mennonite community. It is not overly sweet and the addition of warm milk makes it especially comforting.

Fruit Dumplings

2-3 C chopped fresh fruit. (apples or peaches)
Lemon juice
Biscuit dough

Prepare one recipe for biscuit dough, (recipe below). Roll dough into a large rectangle on floured board. Chop fruit and mix with  with a few squirts of lemon juice. Cover dough rectangle thickly with fruit. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll up starting at a long side, like a jelly roll, and cut into 12, 1-inch rings. Place in a greased 9x13 baking pan, three across. Space evenly.

Prepare sauce (ingredients below): Mix sauce ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil; pour sauce over dumplings. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve dumplings individually in dessert bowls and pour 1/4 C warm milk over each dumpling. Serves 12.

1 C sugar, 1 T flour, 1 C cold water

Basic Biscuits

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Mix together in a bowl:
2 C flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

Cut in : ¼ C shortening
Add ¾ C milk all at once stirring until soft ball is formed
Turn dough onto floured board, knead lightly 20-25 times. Roll or pat dough ½ “ thick. Cut with floured biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on ungreased baking sheet and bake 10-12 minutes. Serve hot.

Monday, March 22, 2010

16. Pie Crust and Pie Crust Secrets, Melt-in-Your-Mouth

When I was about 14 years old, I begged my mother to let me make an apple pie. Permission was granted, but I was on my own...pies were not her thing. So, with the old family cookbook in hand, I proceeded to create that first pastry wonder. The canned apple filling tasted like it should, but the bottom crust was thick and doughy and the top crust was like cardboard. Afterward, my mother's comments led me to believe that she thought I would never become very good at pie baking.

In spite of her lack of confidence in my future as a pie baker, I kept trying. As I practiced and practiced, I often felt that some sadist had coined the phrase, "Easy as pie."

Pies were not easy...I did not have a problem with the different fillings, but the crust was another story. For years, my creations, while not terrible, were not the melt-in-your-mouth pastry I longed to create. It was not until I prepared to teach a pie class for our church women's group, that I put forth the effort to actually learn all I could about making pie crust.

I watched television chefs and cooks who gave me a whole new perspective on the art of making pie crust. I studied cookbooks and talked to other bakers. All in all, I came away with a wonderful list of does and don'ts for my file. The following pie crust recipe was given to my children's 4-H club by the leader, a home economics' teacher. The recipe makes a wonderful, flaky crust, but don't make it until you have read the secrets that follow below.

Pie Crust
Makes enough for 2 crust pie

2 C flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 C shortening

Measure flour into a bowl, add salt and mix with a fork. Add shortening and cut it in with a fork until the ingredients are broken down into the size of small peas. Add 5-6 T ice water. Mix with a fork until the dough just forms. No over mixing. Gather gently into a ball. Cover dough and refrigerate while preparing filling.

Pie Crust Secrets
1. When adding the ice water, add it one T at a time. Put the first T along the inside edge of the bowl and just mix enough flour with a fork to combine with the cold water; mix gently and stop when the flour will not stick to the little clump easily. The second T of water will be mixed in a second spot with the same procedure…and so on…all the clumps will be separate until the final gentle combining…this lessens the ‘working’ of the dough. The more a pie dough is worked, the tougher it will become.

2. Buy a pastry cloth on which to roll the pie dough. It will lessen the amount of flour that is re-worked back into the dough…which makes for a more tender dough. After using, I shake out my pastry cloth and scrape any stuck on dough. Then, I put the cloth in a plastic zip-lock bag in the freezer. I only wash the cloth by hand as needed, with a little unscented detergent and hot water...rinse until water runs clear and hang cloth to dry. (If you do not keep the floured cloth in the refrigerator or freezer, it will attract little bugs).

3. Use a pastry cloth sleeve for the rolling pin. Same reasons as using the pastry cloth. I shake off loose flour and scrape any dough bits off of the sleeve before storing it with the pastry cloth in the freezer. Wash as needed with the procedure mentioned above.

4. Form each dough piece into a ball and flatten it before rolling out, handling as little as possible. You may refrigerate one dough piece while working with the other one.

5. Roll the dough from the center out in all directions to form a beautiful, thin layer. Some people have asked me how thin this should be...I can only tell by how it feels...experience is the guide.

6. Place rolling pin on dough edge nearest your and lift the pastry cloth edge to make the dough roll up and around the pin. Lift the pin with the dough wrapped around it and place over the far edge of the pie plate and allow the pin to unroll back toward you so the dough to drapes over plate evenly.

7. Let the dough ease down into plate; do not stretch the dough. Dough has a memory and it will try to go back to its original shape...pulling might tear the dough. It is better to let the dough ease itself into the pie plate.

8. Trim edges so they are hanging evenly  over the plate sides. Attach trimmed pieces, dampened with water, where necessary to make edges more uniform. If there are any tears in the bottom crust, push the dough together gently with your fingers. Your may also fill in a tear with a piece of trimmed dough.

9. Fill pie as directed by your recipe. If making a 2-crust pie, roll second crust as the first, lift up as before and unroll across the top of the filled pie. Trim edges if necessary and pull the bottom crust edge up over the top edge and crimp with whatever style you want. The reason to bring the bottom crust up and over the top crust edge, is to lessen the chance of the filling bubbling out during baking.There are many cook books with pretty crusts ideas...they might even inspire a veteran pie maker.

10. If you are making a one crust pie which is to hold a liquid-type filling...fill the crust half-way. Then, pull out the oven rack and place the pie plate on it. Continue with the filling process and gently push rack in and close the oven door.

I don't know how many times I tried to walk an open-faced, filled pie over to the oven, only to have some of the filling slosh out as I was trying to get it into the oven...filling it half-way and finishing it on the rack, eliminates this problem.

11. To clean up bowls and utensils that have been used for making pie crust, use hot water. To clean up bowls and utensils that have been used for making bread dough, use cold water. The hot water helps melt the shortening or fats in the pie dough residue. The cold water keeps the bread dough leavings from becoming a sticky paste.

12. A big secret: by incorporating the shortening with the flour, and keeping it cold and not working it too much, the fat particles are given more chances to burst apart as  they bake. Each burst causes the dough to become light and flaky.

13. Buy a pie crust shield in the housewares department. After pie crust edge is optimally browned, the shield is placed on top of the edges. It will keep them from over-browning. The shield is much easier to use and is more effective than using pieces of foil.

 14. Moist pie fillings, like pumpkin, tend to make the bottom crust  soggy by the time they are served. To help with this problem, a metal pie plate with a perforated bottom. If you cannot find one, poke random holes in an aluminum pie pan with a metal skewer or toothpick.

Friday, March 19, 2010

15. Sweet Potato Pie, Pride and Sweet Potato Pie

Many years ago I was asked to teach a pie-baking class at church. It was a great opportunity for me to learn about pies and then, to share that knowledge. Of course in those days, we did not have computers so, I watched cooking programs that had anything to do with pies, read everything I could find about pies and pie crust and baked, baked, baked. Many of my old ideas about pies and crusts were replaced with better ones and I could hardly wait to pass all this information on.

Finally, PIE day arrived! The tender and beautifully baked creations had been carefully placed on the dining room table; they were the result of all those weeks of study and practice. Front and center was a wonderful sweet potato pie...a pie I had never made nor tasted before. I so wanted this delightful looking pie to be praise-worthy when presented for tasting to my friends. With a prideful eye I took one last look and headed upstairs to get ready for the big night.

 My mind was preoccupied with dozens of pie facts and teaching points as I came back into the dining room to pack up the pies. Suddenly, my whole body felt like I had been zapped with a Taser. The center of the sweet potato pie was missing! My head turned and there on the floor I saw our dog slinking away with guilt and pie on her little toy-poodle face!

My mind was frozen but I managed to process two thoughts, " What should I do?" and, "What could I do?"

 I did the unthinkable...I cut away anything my little dog's lips had touched, sliced the remainder of the pie into pieces and put them on a plate and took them with me to my class. I never said anything about this little mishap and...most important of all...the pie was delicious!

Sweet Potato Pie


3 med sweet potatoes
1 9-inch pie shell
¾ C butter, melted
4 eggs
¾ C evaporated milk
¾ tsp each: nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla
1 C sugar

Bake sweet potatoes until almost fork tender. (Microwave directions below), Cool. Scoop potatoes out of skins and mash...they should measure about 2 cups. Mix potatoes and remaining ingredients, puree until smooth. Pour into pie shell. Bake 350 degrees 40-45 min until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Garnish with whipped cream. (If you shake the pie plate slightly and the filling moves, it is not done. This test will save you from making multiply knife marks on top of the pie).

Hint: Keep this pie away from the dog!

Microwave directions: I discovered a wonderful microwave aid. It is a quilted cloth, fold-top baggie. To bake any potato, first wash and dry the potato, (do not prick skin); surround it with a paper towel, place in bag and fold over the bag top. Place in the microwave and cook on HIGH for 4 minutes. Squeeze-test potato through bag, continue baking at 1 min. intervals, if not soft enough.  Remove will be very hot! This quilted-bag baking method cooks potatoes in a few minutes and they have the texture and taste of oven-baked potatoes.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

14. Chocolate Pecan Puffs, The Culinary Wall

Child-raising years can be hectic...and with four children, I was more than busy. In addition to all that went on with their general care, my husband and I had a business to run; we helped build a house and remodel another. I substitute taught and, for a time, home-schooled my kids. At one point, I had a large garden and orchard and spent hours every summer and fall canning produce. Somehow, I also was a  Mary Kay consultant, churned out craft projects, pursued art classes and media writing...taught Sunday school and was active in the church women's groups. In the midst of life...I maintained my love for cooking and baking and even mastered advanced cake decorating. Today, I look back and think, "Who was that person?"

People who love to cook, as I do, usually offer to bring a requested favorite dish to group or family events. While it is a big ego boost to show up with a signature creation, sometimes...we just run out of time, energy or enthusiasm for the craft.

I remember the day I felt I had mentally hit the culinary wall...I was in the midst of a personal 'soup' war because my  efforts in this area were all over the place in consistency, flavor quality and diversity...and I was losing the battle. I shared these thoughts with a more experienced friend of mine; (okay, okay...this is just a politically correct way of saying she was as old as I am now)...anyway, she was also a great cook and she let me in on a little secret..."There is nothing wrong with getting a little help from prepared foods."

I couldn't believe she had said that...I had avoided using most prepared food in my quest to cook recipes from 'scratch', and thought every great cook did the same...I decided to take her advice, though and my soups improved...and so did my attitude!

Shortly after that, I was asked to provide a dessert for a church dinner. I happily chose a recipe that was very easy to make and... its main ingredient came from a prepared food. I wasn't stressed out...and everyone loved it. Today's recipe is an updated version of that original treat.

Diane's Magic Chocolate-Pecan Crescent Puffs

¼ C sugar
2 T flour
1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 C pecans, chopped finely
Semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 (8 oz) cans refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
Miniature marshmallows
¼ C margarine or butter, melted

½ C powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla
2-3 tsp water

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In small bowl combine first 3 ingredients. Separate dough into 16 triangles. Roll 5 mini-marshmallows per triangle in margarine, lift out and roll with your fingers in sugar mixture. Place coated marshmallows in center of dough triangle. Sprinkle lightly with chopped nuts and place 4 chocolate chips on top of marshmallows. Pull and work the dough so it completely covers the marshmallow mixture; pinch dough shut. Dip the bottom end in remaining margarine. Place margarine side down in ungreased large muffin cup. Repeat with remaining triangles. Bake at 375 for 11-12 minutes or until golden.

Carefully, remove immediately from muffin cups; cool on wire racks. In small bowl, blend powdered sugar, vanilla and enough water for desired consistency to drizzle. Drizzle over warm rolls.
(Recipe may be divided).

Note: The original recipe came from the Pillsbury Bake Off contest and was the 1969 winner... I have updated the filling to include nuts and chocolate.  The marshmallow disappears during the baking process and the chocolate melts slightly; the center becomes a gooey, chocolate-cinnamon-nut  delight. By using miniature marshmallows the center mixture stays contained within the baked biscuit dough... a problem with the original recipe. The puffs taste better the day they are made…but, if there are a few people in the house, they will probably be gobbled up in the first hour!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

13. Pancake Syrup, Pass the Syrup

Pancakes are not much fun to eat without syrup and while there are reasonable syrup choices to be found at grocery stores, shopping on the internet multiplies the possibilities. On a recent search, I found the following: Lo carb, lite, butter-lite, organic, calorie free, maple, butter maple, artificial maple, butter pecan maple, apricot, boysenberry, strawberry, honey creme, maple creme, blueberry, apple cinnamon...and on and on...

If you Google the word syrup, you might even find the video of a man who purees a handful of unsweetened strawberries, heats them in the microwave and calls it each his own...when I think of syrup, I think maple...Real maple syrup can be a wonderful taste experience or it can be a bitter, over-the-top flavor disaster. My experience tells me that the more it costs, the better the real maple syrup tastes.

Growing up, I don't remember ever sweetening my pancakes or waffles with a true maple syrup. Both of my parents grew up during the depression years and, in keeping with their frugal upbringing, they just did not spend 'hard-earned' money on real maple syrup. It was a product I did not actually taste until I left home.

The syrup I remember the most, however, was the hot, sweet maple-flavored kind my mother sometimes made on Saturday mornings...she said that her mother had made it that way...we loved it in spite of its pseudo-mapleness.

Homemade syrup is easy to make, requires few ingredients and is practically foolproof. I do remember that when my dad made breakfast, he occasionally cooked the syrup too long and the sugar would form crystals on the sides of the pot. Don't do that!

 If you want to be more of a gourmet...and are going to use the syrup immediately, throw in some blueberries or cut up strawberries after the sugar has melted; heat the berries through before adding the flavoring.

Bonus: I have also added a second recipe which produces a thicker syrup. I am partial to the Easy Pancake Syrup recipe, though.

Easy Pancake Syrup

2 C sugar
1 C boiling water
½ tsp Maple flavoring

Combine sugar and water. Cook until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add flavoring. Use immediately or refrigerate. Syrup is not as thick as commercial brands. This recipe may be doubled.
Note: Buy the best maple flavoring you can brands taste terrible.

Serving suggestion: 
Ladle syrup on a stack of pancakes/waffles dripping with melting butter.
Peel and slice apples or fresh peaches; sauté and simmer with butter and cinnamon until fruit is tender. Top pancakes/waffles with fruit and then add syrup.

Thick Pancake Syrup

2 T water
1/4 C sugar
1 1/2 C corn syrup
1/2 tsp maple flavoring

Measure and stir to combine all ingredients except flavoring into a small pot, heat until mixture reaches a boil. Continue boiling for 2 minutes, stir occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in flavoring until well blended. This recipe thickens as it cools. Makes 1 pint.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

12. Carrots in Broth, Plate Confetti

Historically, it is known that carrots were eaten by ancient Middle Eastern people and by the 1300s, purple and yellow carrots had spread as far as western Europe and China. For some reason, however, orange became, and still is, the preferred carrot color.

Most spring-garden seed catalogues offer at least a half-dozen varieties of delicious carrots. This well-known vegetable ranges from long and slender to short and blocky. There are hybrids, heirloom, coreless, extra sweet, smoothly tapered and jumbo. Gardeners are also invited to try a rainbow blend of yellow, red and white carrots that are guaranteed "... to be an exciting mix of color and taste."

Today's hybrid carrots are much sweeter than the old standards, (now called heirlooms), I grew up hating. As a child I could not eat those bitter carrots unless they were cooked almost to mush in a stew or soup. Because of plant science, I now enjoy sweet carrots raw or cooked al dente.

Carrots are a high-fiber vegetable - rich in Vitamin A and loaded with beta-carotene. They are also one of the vegetables that tastes better if pared before eating. In addition to the health benefits, they provide a deep orange splash of color to any dish - carrots are almost like confetti for the plate!

Here is an easy, delicious way to fix carrots as a side dish. Who knows, it might even appeal to your

Carrots in Broth

1 lb. carrots
1 can chicken broth
1 large sweet onion
1 stick of butter (8 T)
1T cornstarch

1 lb. carrots, cleaned cut into 3” pieces. Slice pieces lengthwise into fourths and simmer in 1 can chicken broth until tender-crisp.

Slice onion and sauté in butter over low heat until tender. Combine with carrots and broth.

Put 1 T cornstarch in ¼ cup cold water and blend well. Add mixture slowly to carrots and onions. Heat and stir until thickened. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately.

*To make a prettier presentation, cut all carrot ends and pieces on the diagonal.

Monday, March 15, 2010

11. Oven Barbecued Chicken, Lick Your Lips

 Everyone seems to have their favorite grilled food...ribs, chicken, pork, beef, seafood and any combination of vegetables. Just mention barbecue and people lick their lips and begin to salivate!

We used to do our outdoor cooking on a charcoal grill.  It was always an adventure to see if those briquettes would be glowing and hot when we wanted to start the cooking process, or if, upon checking them, we would find stone cold pieces with just a hint of gray ash where they had started to catch fire and just gave up.

With the advent of gas grills, temperamental charcoal became a thing of the past for our home. In spite of having to sacrifice the smoke-flavor, the other benefits were tremendous...we could instantly start the grill and use it for year-round cooking, the timing and temperatures were more precise and we would never  have to clean out ashes again!

One of my favorite memories concerning a grill came about by accident. The night before our school Christmas vacation was to end., we had a tremendous snow storm. We woke up to a very cold house and unresponsive electric appliances. My father headed to the garage and brought out the bag of charcoal he had stored the previous fall. After the coals in the grill were ready, he proceeded to make bacon, eggs and toast. To this day, I think those were the best eggs I have ever eaten. They had a smokey flavor that seemed to make that whole freezing ordeal better. I wish I had told my dad how much I loved those eggs he had cooked for us on the grill...we never had them fixed like that again.

Today's barbecue recipe is actually for indoor  involves chicken and a terrific, old-fashioned
flavored sauce which smothers the chicken while it bakes. You will love this recipe!

Diane's Oven–Barbecued Chicken

1 T oil
1 med onion, chopped

1 C ketchup
¼ C firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ C cider vinegar
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 ½ to 3 pounds whole chicken, skinned and cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small saucepan, heat oil over moderately high heat. Add onion and cook for 5 min. until onion is tender. Stir in ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 min.

Remove and discard chicken skin; cut chicken into pieces. Rinse chicken, drain and pat dry. Arrange pieces  in a lightly greased 13x9x2 baking dish. Spoon sauce over chicken, cover with foil and bake for 20 min. Uncover, and bake 20-25 more minutes more or until chicken is cooked through. Remove pieces to platter and spoon sauce from the pan onto chicken. Serve.

*Chicken is done when the meat is tender and can be pulled easily away from itself or the bone.
**If you do not care for dark meat, substitute chicken breasts for the whole chicken.

Side dishes: Serve with a buttered, baked potato and a steamed vegetable or hot baked beans.

Friday, March 12, 2010

10. Fruit Slaw, Slaw Laws, (V, G)

 The Eck was the place to get a real fish fry dinner when I was a kid.

The fame and popularity of the Eck's fish-fry extended well past its small town borders and patrons took numbers in order to be served on Friday evenings!

 Usually by the time it was our turn to be seated, we were about to faint from hunger, but it didn't matter - we would have waited even longer in order for our waitress to appear with the fish of choice - haddock. I can still picture the plates piled with thick pieces of crispy fish, golden fries, delicious coleslaw and crusty, French bread. If some people gave up meat on Fridays as a sort of penance, this was the way to go!

For me, a fish fry dinner must come with fries and coleslaw, but I wonder where people get their recipes - did the actually taste the creation or did they just throw stuff together???

If a fish fry dinner has to have fries and coleslaw, the slaw has to have certain taste qualities for me to enjoy it. One thing - it can NEVER be made with Miracle Whip! Ugh.

Fruit slaw is an especially refreshing salad with the inclusion of apple and pineapple. The pineapple is wonderful  companioned with the cabbage and the unpeeled apple adds a satisfying, sweet crunch.

 I only use traditional-style, Hellmann's mayonnaise.  I have tried their  variations and do not care for the flavors. I do not consider Miracle Whip a true mayonnaise.


1/2 Med.-sized head of cabbage
1/2 C Hellmann’s mayonnaise
1 T Cider vinegar
3/4 tsp salt
1-2 tsp granulated sugar
1 8 oz can pineapple tidbits, drained
1 crisp red apple, cored, and chopped into chunks (do not peel)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Shred cabbage. Mix mayo, vinegar, salt, sugar; toss with pineapple and shredded cabbage. Toss apple chunks with lemon and add to salad. Blend gently but thoroughly. Refrigerate. Makes 5 servings.
This recipe can be doubled.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

9. Mussels, Forks on the Left

 Even as a small child, I wanted to help with our mealtime plans which also included setting the table. We always had a centerpiece and the knives, forks and spoons were exactly where they should be... as were the napkins. Mother used table cloths or seasonal place mats...we never ate on a bare table. I loved setting the table and would go out of my way to invent creative ways to fold the napkins. Imagine my delight when I actually found a napkin-folding how-to book at the library.

Unfortunately, this table-setting trait did not pass on down to my own children. None of them cared if the tableware was in the correct place...and forget the napkin folding process...if I did not hand out the napkins, I am sure they all would have been just as happy to lick their fingers or wipe their hands on their pants! On the plus side, my cooking was well appreciated and our family dinners together each day more than made up for the lack of table-setting enthusiasm.

As an empty-nester, I no longer care about the fold of my napkins, but do care where my fork is placed; I still love to cook, but have fixed some very strange meals for myself when my husband is out of town. Suffice it to say, it is a lot more fun to plan meals when more than one person is home. On the plus side, however, these solo days give me more chances to fix something only I love to eat. Today's recipe is one of those.

I had forgotten how much I loved mussels until recently when I saw them at a store and, on impulse, bought some. Two vacuum-sealed bags were in the package, but no real directions were included for their preparation. Nothing in my library of cookbooks helped,, I assumed I could go to the internet and Google for directions. I did not find what I wanted and instead, found a lot of opinions about how the only good mussel was a fresh one.

So, there I was with two bags of frozen mussels that I did not know how to pepare and, if I somehow did figure out what to do with them, was guaranteed by those internet folks to hate them.  With nothing to lose, though, I tried what I thought would work...and was easy and they were wonderful. To top it off, all of the shells opened...which is the way to tell if a  mussel is edible. Bags of mussels all for me...yum!

Diane's Simply Mussels

One serving: Remove one bag of mussels from 2-bag package. Cut open the bag and pour the frozen mussels into a glass bowl with a lid. Add 1 1/2 cups of water to the bowl and cover it with a lid. Place the bowl in the microwave and cook on HIGH for 3 minutes. (If your microwave does not have a turntable, rotate the bowl halfway by hand after 90 seconds; replace lid and continue cooking). After 3 minutes, carefully remove lid and gently move mussels around with a spoon. Replace lid and microwave on HIGH for 1 minute more.

Remove the bowl from microwave and lift mussels to a plate with a slotted spoon. 

While mussels are cooking, heat desired amount of butter with pressed garlic until butter melts and garlic is tender and warm. Serve alongside mussels. Pick out each little mussel and dip in butter mixture. Enjoy!

Optional: fresh lemon may also be added to garlic-butter.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

8. Banana Bread (V)

Who knew you could learn a food tip on the Wheel of Fortune program? One night, Vanna White demonstrated an easier way to peel a banana. She turned it upside-down and peeled it from the bottom. The skin near the end is pinched between the thumb and forefinger and pulled out and down. It really is easier. Vanna said all primates except for humans had figured this out a long time ago!

Maybe it is the shape of the fruit or how funny we look as we eat one, but bananas are surrounded by jokes and cartoons. Mother Banana: Why didn’t you go to school today? Little Banana: Because I didn’t peel well. And, who hasn't seen a cartoon of the poor sap who slips on a banana peel, with feet  out of control and the inevitable splat onto the ground?

On the serious side, bananas are a wonderful food with many nutritional properties. They can be picked green and will ripen perfectly. They don't have to be squeezed, rapped, shaken, smelled or tasted to see if they are ripe or sweet enough; the color of the skin tells the story and they always taste just the way they are supposed to.

Most of us know our banana-ripeness tolerance level. My husband can eat very ripe bananas and I cannot. We also have our preferences for how they should be prepared. My husband loves banana cream pie and I don't like it at all.

My daughter recently asked me if I remembered a banana dessert I made when she was little. I had to tell her that I did not remember it - in fact, the memory of it was buried so deeply,  I had to fix it again and taste it for myself before the memories came flooding back! It was like visiting an old, sweet friend.

Bonus recipe: it doesn't even have a name -  Slice 1/2 banana in a small dish and mix in enough whipped topping so all the pieces are coated. Sprinkle chopped nuts on top and add a maraschino cherry with a little of the juice. I think I also used to drop a few chocolate chips on top if I had a partial bag of them on hand. Children love this colorful, quick and inexpensive dessert and could even help make it.

Banana Bread is  today's recipe...and one I have enjoyed for forty years. Even if you have your own favorite recipe, I would encourage you to try this is perfection.

Banana Bread

1 1/3 C flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1/3 C margarine
2 eggs
2/3 C sugar
1 C mashed, very ripe bananas (2)
1/2 C chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a loaf pan and set aside. Combine first 4 ingredients together in a small bowl. In a large bowl, cream margarine; add sugar gradually and beat well with a fork until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. In a third bowl, mash and stir bananas until of uniform consistency. Add some of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture alternately with part of the mashed bananas. Beat after each addition until smooth. (Optional, fold in nuts). Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatuala to mix ingredients well. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle top evenly with sugar. Bake 40 minutes or until top springs back when tested or when a toothpick test comes out clean. Remove bread to a wire rack to cool. This recipe may be doubled to make two loaves.

*Note: If you would like to make smaller loaves, divide batter into 3 small, greased bread pans.
Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick; do not over-bake.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

7. White Chocolate Cookies (G,V)

The original idea for cookie exchanges was to reduce the amount of holiday effort for each participant, yet provide the variety that is the heart of an experienced cook's Christmas baking routine.

My contribution for my first cookie exchange was a festively packaged, holiday cookie. A few of the other exchangers, however, seemed to have missed the whole point of the event. Their cookies lacked imagination  or any holiday flair - chocolate chip, peanut butter and worst of all, Rice Krispies squares.

 It didn't matter if the latter were in the shape of Christmas trees; nor did it matter that they were tinted green; they were a big disappointment.

The worst cookie-exchange 'gift' I can recall contained bacon fat - yikes! What was that all about?

After being, 'burned' a few times by sub-par exchanges, I avoided them until the day I received and invitation to a cookie exchange which also included the following rules:

The theme for this exchange is "Christmas Cookies"
Please bring (  ) dozen total cookies.
Arrange cookies on (  ) holiday paper plates and be creative!
All cookies should be homemade.
RSVP - no duplicate recipes are allowed.

No plain chocolate chip cookies, cookie mixes, no-bakes, meringues or bars.
Mail a copy of your recipe before the party.
A booklet for all recipes will be assembled and distributed.
Christmas attire is encouraged!

I was ecstatic; this was going to be my kind of cookie exchange! The festively decorated home welcomed all and the fragrance of mulled cider wafted about in every room.

All participants adhered to the rules and the plates of cookies were impressive.

Even though the rules for that particular exchange excluded no-bake cookies, today's  much-requested  recipe is of the no-bake variety. At Christmastime I have been known to add a few sprinkles of green or red sugar on top before the ingredients harden. Children will love to help make this cookie and the recipe can easily be doubled or divided. It is a cookie for any time of the year!

White Chocolate Cookies

Melt together in the microwave according to the almond bark package directions:

2 1/2 packages (30 squares) almond bark (white chocolate)
1 C peanut butter

2 C dry roasted, unsalted peanuts
3 C Rice Krispies
2 C mini marshmallows

Mix well. Drop by large teaspoonfuls on wax paper. Allow to harden. Store in a cool, dry place.
Makes 11 dozen.

Monday, March 8, 2010

6. Corned Beef and Cabbage - (G)

Food cravings can be caused by nutritional needs, hormonal changes or stress. For some reason, I also have seasonal or holiday food cravings! As St. Patrick's Day approaches, I crave corned beef and cabbage!

Most grocery stores sell packaged corned beef. While the meat is not inexpensive be cautious about the cut you purchase - it can be loaded with layers of fat. Packages of corned beef usually includes a small packet of seasoning; the cooking directions will be printed on the outside of the packaging. Use the seasoning - ditch the directions - they LIE!

My experience: As a newlywed, I cooked my first corned beef dinner and mistakenly trusted and followed the package directions.  The corned beef dinner fragrances filled the kitchen and my husband and I drooled with the thought of that first bite.

The timer rang and as I lifted the pot lid my mouth dropped open. Where had the large, beautiful piece of meat gone and why had this shrunken thing taken its place? I speared the meat with a fork a realized it was far from tender. In fact, it was tough and inedible!

We did not have corned beef for our first St. Patrick's Day dinner. (See note* below).

Here is what I  know:

First - begin to cook the corned beef 4-5 hours prior to the serving time. It needs to be fork tender and should start to fall apart.

Second - do not cook most of the vegetables in the same water with the meat and seasonings as is suggested by many recipes. Not only will the vegetables become coated with melted fat from the meat, but the seasoning will mask the vegetable flavors.

Third -  it is necessary to purchase twice as much meat as usual for a dinner. When cooked, the high fat content of corned beef causes major shrinkage.  One average-sized package of corned beef will probably produce three or four modest-sized servings with little or no meat left over for those next-day Ruben sandwiches.

*(My first corned beef dinner was not a total waste. I returned the beef to the pot the next day and cooked it until it was fork-tender - a day late, but lesson well-learned).

Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner

1 pkg corned beef brisket or round (if you can find it)
1 head of cabbage
4-5 Carrots, cleaned and cut into chunks
4-5 Red potatoes, washed and cut into chunks
3 Sweet Onions, cleaned and cut into fourths
Butter or margarine

Set the package of meat in the sink and cut open the plastic wrapping; set seasoning packet aside. Lift out meat and rinse under cold water. Transfer meat to a large pot and add enough water to fill the pot; sprinkle in the seasonings from the packet. Cover pot with a lid. Turn on med-low and simmer 4-5 hours. Check for meat tenderness. If the meat is ready to be sliced, you may serve it or turn the heat to low and hold the meat in the broth for up to an hour or so.

An hour before meat is done, cut up desired amount of onions into fourths and add to meat pot.
Twenty minutes or so before serving, add large chunks of red potatoes (skins on) and the carrots to a second pot of salted water. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer vegetables until tender. Drain vegetables, add butter or margarine, combine gently and season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, strip outer leaves of cabbage, wash, core and cut head into wedges. In a third pot, bring 1-2 inches of salted water to boiling. Add cabbage wedges. Cover and bring back to the boil. Cook wedges 10-15 minutes or until tender. Drain well and add butter or margarine. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve this dinner, slice corned beef on the diagonal as desired and layer decoratively in the center of a large platter. Add cooked, buttered vegetables to surround the meat. Don't forget to retrieve the onions from the meat pot and place them on a separate serving dish. Serve this delicious meal with yellow mustard on the side.

Note: cooked corned beef is easy to can with a pressure canner.

Friday, March 5, 2010

5. Danish Potato Bread - Under Your Nose

My mother rarely baked bread. Although she was a creative, gourmet cook, baking was not her forte. Fortunately, we had access to a wonderful bakery in the middle of town. Often, Mother would wait in the car while my brother and I were sent inside. One of us would say, "Four loaves of white, sliced...please."

The clerk would select the tender loaves and drop them one at a time between the jaws of the slicer. I loved watching the machine cut through the was like magic. Next, the loaves were sleeved into waxy, white paper bags and handed over. We each took two bags and one of us would give the clerk a dollar bill, which was the price of four loaves in those days. I loved it when the bread was still warm for then, the ride home was pure heaven with that freshly-baked aroma right under our noses.

Sometimes my mother would come into the bakery with us so she could pick out a coffee cake or hard rolls. My favorite memory, however, was when she bought cinnamon bread from the White Cross was so special; I have never seen bread like it anywhere else. The swirls of cinnamon in each slice were cxceptionally thick and dripping with gooey sweetness; but, the top of the bread was the most amazing for it was coated with a hard, candy-like cinnamon-flavored mouth still waters at the thought of it. 

The White Cross Bakery is long gone... and even though I have been unable to duplicate that special cinnamon bread, I will keep trying.

Today's recipe, while not a cinnamon loaf, is a family favorite called Danish Potato Bread. It is delicious and moist with a velvety texture.This loaf goes well with a hearty soup, like yesterday's Soup Au Pistou. It is also wonderful topped with a slice of meat or chicken salad and eaten open-faced.

Danish Potato Bread

3/4 C warm water, less 3 T
3 T milk
3/4 C mashed potatoes
3 T butter (margarine)
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
3 C flour
3 T sugar or Splenda
3/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 tsp dry yeast

Spray inside of bread pan lightly with vegetable oil.

Add all ingredients in the order suggested by your bread machine manual and process on the DOUGH cycle. Check machine and add more flour as needed to keep dough from being too sticky.

Remove dough after kneading/rising process to a floured board. Roll out into a rectangle slightly larger than the width of a bread pan and twice as long. Beginning at a short end, roll bread tightly into a loaf. Pinch the seam together and tuck the ends under so the dough will fit into the prepared bread pan. Spray loaf lightly with veg. spray and also one side of a sheet of waxed paper. Lay the paper over the pan, sprayed side down. Put loaf in a warm, draft-free place until dough doubles in size. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove waxed paper. Bake loaf for 20 minutes; *check for doneness. Continue baking if necessary. You may need to cover top of bread lightly with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent overbrowning.

Remove pan from oven and gently tip pan so loaf releases to a wire rack. Turn loaf upright to cool. Dust top of loaf lightly with flour, if desired.

*You can tell a loaf is finished baking if you flick the top with your finger and it produces a hollow sound.

Note: You may make this loaf without a bread machine. Mix ingredients - liquids together first. (water should be warm). Add yeast to water and let proof (form bubbles). In a second bowl, mix dry ingredients together well and add one third at a time to liquid mixture. Mix well and transfer to a well-floured board. Knead, adding flour as needed, for 10 minutes until dough is smooth and tender; form into a ball. Grease a large bowl. Put dough in bowl and then turn dough over...the top of the dough will now be greased from the residue inside the bowl. Cover bowl with a dish towel and place in a warm, non-drafty place. Let dough rise until doubled. Remove cloth and punch down dough and proceed from the point in the directions above where dough was removed from the bread machine.

Note: I have sometimes added seeds to this dough after removing it from the machine (sunflower, sesame), with tasty results. Sprinkle the rolled-out rectangle with seeds...roll up dough and re-roll. You can continue this process until you are satisfied with the quantity of seeds incorporated into the dough.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

4.Soup au Pistou - Force-Fed

Once upon a time, a friend came to visit my home and brought along a gift...a plate of just-baked cookies. I sampled one cookie while my friend looked tasted terrible. The polite me, somehow ate the whole cookie and smiled while doing it. After my friend left, and after I dumped the rest of the cookies in the trash, I said to myself, "Why should I have to to eat things I don't like?"

As I thought more about it, I realized that I had, at one time or another, been forced to eat food that I did not care for. As a child, for example, I had always loathed the taste and texture of creamed corn, but had been required to eat it. Brussels sprouts were also a bitter disappointment to my taste buds, but they were part of our Thanksgiving dinner and eating them was not optional. Tapioca pudding, sometimes passed off as a family mealtime dessert, made me cringe with its creepy texture...but, I swallowed it anyway in order to not disappoint my mother.

And so, after that cookie-dumping-day I decided that, as a mature adult,  I would never again eat anything I did not want to eat. I might serve food to my family that they liked and I didn't, but the line had been drawn...I would no longer be force-fed...or so I thought.

Not long after I took this defiant stand, two friends decided to host a spingtime luncheon. I was happy to have been invited to be part of the group and looked forward to spending a lovely afternoon with them. When we were all seated, I noticed two large tureens of soup next to homemade bread and fresh salad. A lot of work had gone into this meal and I was impressed. Each hostess had made her own special soup and I could hardly wait to taste what they had lovingly prepared.

I ladled some of the soup which was closest to me into my bowl and tasted the first spoonful. I could hardly was beyond wonderful. I took another sip and decided I had just tasted one great soup! I told the cook how much I loved her creation, and as I savored the last drop, I knew I had to have another bowlful. I was, however, seated next to the second cook and felt more than obligated to taste her offering.

 As I held the spoonful of soup number two in my mouth, I did not know what to do. As wonderful as the first soup was, this one was the opposite. The flavor was so awful, I did not want to swallow because I was actually afraid of what my body would do with it. So there I sat, unable to swallow or speak while everyone else around me chatted and enjoyed themselves. Finally, I choked the mouthful down, but my thoughts were churning. I looked around and decided that I could not dump the bowlful in a nearby plant nor could I take it out to the kitchen and pour it down the drain; and I certainly could not accidentally spill the whole thing on the floor.There was no way to get rid of this bowl of soup without hurting the cook's feelings. On the other hand, if I said I was no longer hungry, I wouldn't be able  to have a second helping of the first soup. And so, I was forced to eat that horrible soup...spoonful by horrid spoonful. It was worse than eating creamed corn with Brussels sprouts on top of tapioca pudding!

The moral of this story is that I actually did get to have that second helping of the soup I had wanted, but only because I moved the line I had drawn and learned that there are times even adults have to eat something they don’t like!

Soup au Pistou is the name of the recipe for the soup I enjoyed so much. It is a hearty, garlic-lover's delight. I make it once a year and love it all over again. It is even better the second day.

Soup au Pistou

2 (15.8 oz) cans great northern beans – set aside; do not drain

In large soup pot, simmer the following vegetables in 2 qts. water until vegetables are tender:

1 C diced carrots
1 C diced potatoes
1 ½ C diced zucchini
½ C diced green pepper
1 C diced onion
½ C chopped celery and leaves


1 C crumbled stale bread        (partially dry out slices on a rack)
½ C spaghetti, broken             *see note below
2 pinches saffron threads         (I don't know what this does for this robust, I say it is optional)
½ tsp pepper
Add northern beans with liquid. Simmer until pasta is just tender.
*I use about (3) 1-inch diameter bunches of linguini broken into thirds as I like more pasta with thicker consistency.
Mix 8 cloves crushed garlic, 1(8oz) can  tomato paste, fresh chopped or dried crumbled basil to taste.
Whisk in 2/3 C extra virgin olive oil slowly.

Just before serving, dribble several ladlefuls of hot soup into pistou, stir constantly. Gradually add mixture back to the rest of soup and stir well. Top with fresh, chopped parsley (optional). Makes at least 12 cups.

Side dish suggestion: This soup calls for a hearty, tender bread as an accompaniment. Try making your own. Tomorrow's blog will feature the perfect choice...Danish Potato Bread.