Sunday, December 30, 2007

Eat local? Like kale!

I bought a mess of kale.

It was in the middle of butter-white flour-sugar season and I felt compelled to do something really healthy for myself and my family. I remembered having a spicy kale dish with peanut butter sauce two autumns ago at a potluck celebrating eating foods grown within 50 miles. Going against that principle, regretfully, I bought a 1-pound plastic bag of prewashed and chopped kale greens. Wouldn't you know, when I got home, I couldn't find my cookbook with the recipe in it? Searching for one like it, I found two recipes for other kinds of dishes that I tried this week and used up the kale. I say "I tried" when I should say "My husband made them." I've been sick with the respiratory crud that seems to have everyone down. No better time than to eat nutrient-rich leafy greens, and in hot soup, too! Thanks for picking up the slack, honey!

A champion of local foods shared the recipes with the newspaper for which I used to work. Susan Sauter is a retired market gardener of USDA-certified organic vegetables, dabbling for a time in cooperative farming. She lives on a farm in my county where her husband raises grass-fed beef. I fear I would disappoint her if I told her I used store-bought kale in her recipes. But I meditated on that while I ate my soup tonight.

I did purchase local Italian link sausage for the soup recipe, but my choice was easy because the store carried that product. Would I have driven out of my way to buy just the sausage because it was local? No. Many times we get eggs from a guy in town. But when he doesn't have enough, such as when his free-range hens are molting, there's nothing wrong with getting a dozen from the grocery store until he is able to supply us again. And there's a potato farmer right out the road from me, where I would purchase many pounds of local-grown spuds if I could store them and use them before they went to waste. Sometimes being a good steward of your resources means cutting corners or letting things slide. 'Tis nobler to burn less gasoline in one trip to a superstore than on several stops for the sake of buying local. 'Tis also nobler to buy 5 pounds of potatoes at a time at the superstore because that is what your family of three will reasonably use than the minimum 50 pounds from your neighboring farmer and throw away more than half of them when they rot before you can eat them. I respect the goal of consuming locally produced goods to support my neighbors and to know the origin of what I put in my body. But I can do only so much. The mantra in any movement, green or not-so-noble, should be "progress not perfection." Sure, strive for perfection, but don't beat yourself up when you make only a small change or two. It all adds up. Do what you can now. Try to do more or better next time.

I recommend these without reservation and with just minor adapting.

2 2/3 cups chicken stock
2 large potatoes, cut into half-inch cubes
1 medium onion, diced
16 ounces any kind of local link sausage (Susan uses hot Italian; I used Demus' mild Italian and it was still pretty hot)
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 cups shredded kale

In a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, saute onions, sausage (cut into 1/2-inch chunks), and pepper. Add the stock, potatoes and kale.
Cook for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are softened. Serves 6.
We ate ours with buttered toasted sourdough bread.

9- to 10-inch pie or tart crust, pre-baked
4 cups coarsely chopped kale (or chard) leaves, the tough rib removed (about 8 ounces)
1 tablespoon olive oil or other vegetable oil (Canola is a weed!)
1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large local eggs (my husband would probably add one more)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese *See note.
1/2 cup half and half

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add kale; cook over high heat until wilted and somewhat tender but still bright green, about three minutes. Drain. Heat the oil in a medium saute pan. Add onions and garlic and saute over medium heat, stirring frequently until turning golden brown, about 6 ninutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl. Add feta, half and half, kale and onion mixture. Stir to mix and pour into the prebaked crust. Bake until the center of the pie is firm, 40-45 minutes. Remove and allow to cool 10-15 minutes.

*Note: I had only 1/3 to 1/2 cup of feta. I made up the difference with some mild-and-melty Havarti and some shredded Parmesan. It was a good blend.

I think this dish would go great with Hunt's Original Recipe Stewed Tomatoes, but we didn't have any.

Adapted from "The Gardeners Community Cookbook"

1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 pound kale or collards, chopped (8 cups)
2-3 tablespoons peanut butter, chunky or smooth
1-2 teaspoons hot water

Pick over the kale, removing its tough ribs. Plunge it into a large pot of boiling water until it is slightly wilted but still bright green. Drain -- a salad spinner works great for this, just watch you don't scald yourself.

In a large saute pan, saute the onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon oil.

Add the spices and cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Add the greens and stir to coat.

Stir together the hot water and peanut butter and add to the pan, stirring to coat.

Slightly adapted from "Simply In Season"

A footnote: Surely a corollary to the green movement is not wasting anything, especially food and, it follows, money. So plan meals every week, paying attention to using up ingredients before they spoil. I knew better than to make a huge pot of stewed kale and try to make my family eat it. Instead, I planned two smaller meals that were different. If they didn't like one or both (and they scarfed both down, almost so fast I nearly didn't get photos for this blog), then I didn't have a lot of leftovers to either choke down or throw away.

The soup used up not only the last of the kale, but our potatoes and an open box of chicken stock. For the pie, I didn't have a whole cup of feta but I didn't go buy another package: I used other cheeses I had on hand. (Incidentally, using up the scrap of Havarti leftover from Christmas morning breakfast rolls. The majority of the feta having been used in Christmas Eve appetizers and a Christmas Day salad.) That's where having experience in the kitchen and at the plate comes in handy. Likewise, I didn't have half and half, nor do I keep regular coffee creamer on hand. I did however have a carton of whipping cream for another recipe. I used ... I mean, I instructed the husband to use, 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and 1/4 cup of 1 percent milk. Don't buy something when you need just a bit of it for one recipe and the rest of it will likely go to waste. Educate yourself (by reading blogs like this one) and substitute. Plan to use it up. Experiment.

Take this job and ... LOVE IT!!

It was not without good reason I neglected my food blog during the biggest food holidays of the year: I was wrapping my full-time commitments to my employer. Now that I am happily self-employed, I resolve to update more regularly.

Here is the blog I have posted elsewhere concerning the major change I made at the end of 2007.

The African impala can jump up to 10 feet in the air, but a wall only 3 feet tall is needed to keep it confined to a wildlife preserve. An impala won't jump when it can't see where its feet will land.

I don't wanna be an impala.

Those of you who know I have struggled to make a life-changing decision this fall are no doubt curious how it turned out.

I resigned my full-time newspaper job effective Dec. 21.

My reasons are personal, financial (specifically rising gasoline prices), spiritual and professional.

I am guilty of getting into a comfortable rut, of having tunnelvision. But since this summer, I've grown up, and I've done a personal inventory. I'm turning my attention to things of eternal importance and consequence: raising my daughter, for one.

Making a living – especially the 30-mile one-way commute – was getting in the way of living my life to the fullest, doing what I really want and need to be doing with my life. Worse, my day-to-day job duties were no longer my passion. I did some writing but a lot more managing, editing, organization, customer service and page production. As far as advancement at that company, I had hit a glass ceiling. I am a literary journalist, (and maybe a closet mystery-writer.) I have ideas for books. I have a feeling there's something more out there for me. To find out, I first have to shed the shackles of full-time commitment to one employer, to the false sense of security that comes from good bennies like fully-paid health insurance.

My friend Marian wrote to me "It isn't what you do in life, it's who you are," quoting Michael Gates Gill, author of "How Starbucks Saved My Life".

I am still a writer. (I'm also looking for work, hint-hint. Though I have two projects waiting for me, including continuing to write my column for the newspaper I'm leaving.) I'm also a mother and a Christian – two jobs that had sorta taken a backseat to my "career."

It can be frightening to face giving up your livelihood and your identity. I had to step out on faith. My friend Karen describes it as walking away from the security of the trunk toward the flimsy tip of the branch to give God the chance to hold me up. Lately, every communication I've been getting from God – whether it's His tangible provisions in my life or a message from my pastor or Sunday school teacher – has reinforced this mantra: Fear not, fear not, fear not, fear not.

I am at great peace with my decision.

The day after I gave notice I felt for the first time what I've heard described as "lightness of being." (My friend Pam joked that it comes in a bottle. Maybe, but do I swallow it or color my hair with it?)

"We walk the way we're pulled," Marian heard Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat Pray Love," tell Oprah.

In October I decided to work through the end of the year because of taxes and impending bad weather. But I've since realized how appropriate it is to make this change during Advent. I can't say it any better than the devotion writer: "Advent, which means 'arrival', marks the breaking in of the holy on the everyday. It is the story of deliverance from what we have brought upon ourselves. It is hope. It is anticipation. It is light tearing through the darkness."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Quick dinner: Beans and cornbread baked as waffles

Tuesdays are dance class nights and my 4-year-old isn't the only one who has to shake a leg. We get home about 7:15 p.m. and I have to make dinner fast under the looming deadline of 8 o'clock bathtime. Soupbeans and cornbread have been in my repertoire of quick meals for years. But I've just found a way to make it even faster.

Some folks might cook their own beans but I haven't tasted any better than Randall's Great Northern Beans in a jar. I use the cornbread recipe on the back of the Quaker corn meal box, but I bet Jiffy mix would work OK, too. The timesaver is in how you bake it.

Use the waffle iron!!!

I can't take credit for that tip -- I read it in Cook's Country magazine. But it works great in a couple of ways: it saves time and eliminates wasted leftovers.

In the past, we've had lots of leftover cornbread that went to waste when the beans ran out. Baking the batter into waffles lets us easily freeze the extras and because of their shape and uniform size, the next time we need cornbread, we just have to set the toaster to "defrost." The batch I made tonight probably yielded enough leftovers for two more meals for our family of three, one more dinner if we had company to share it with. Each waffle takes just a few minutes to bake and, altogether it might take just as long to bake a pan of cornbread, but if you're really in a hurry, your family can eat assembly-line style and get on to what they need to be doing next. And next time, with the frozen extras, it won't take that long at all.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Available for parties -- My creations in cake

The first cake I remember decorating (other than just placing those hard formed sugar disks pressed into letters and shapes) was to celebrate my cousin's Special Olypics gold medal. Roberta competed in the International Games the first year they were held in South Bend, Ind., 1987 I believe. When she was due to visit to show her medal to our grandfather, I baked a cake mix and frosted it with canned icing. Then, using tubes of decorator gel, I drew a gymnast with long dark hair, arms raised in victory and a gold medal around her neck. I figure I wrote something on the cake, too, crooked no doubt, but I can't remember what.

Fifteen years or so later, I would get the urge to create again. For one of my mother-in-law's birthdays I decorated a cake to look like a grill. Simple enough -- just draw evenly spaced lines of dark chocolate frosting crosswise on the cake; slide dried fruits such as apricots, pineapple chunks and prunes, a-HEM DRIED PLUMS, on bamboo skewers; and unwrap full-size peppermint patties to stand in for hamburgers.

A couple of years after that, I took a community class in cake decorating. Susie, the instructor, can do amazing things with buttercream. I'm nowhere near that good. But I like to think I have made some children (and a couple of adults) happy with my efforts.

This was my final class project.

This is a cake I made for a newspapering colleague who got married.

Checkerboard cake with lots of roses for Mother's Day:

Perhaps my most involved/challenging cake:

I can't remember if it was harder to get the frosting flower to stick in her hair or the frosting bra cups to keep from sliding down her body!

I can do more than "star-tip", but that's what I did for this Scooby-Doo cake.

Pay no attention to the Star-Tipper, check out those fingernails! Ah, life pre-children. :)

My adventures in frosting haven't been limited to cake. For Wilton's gingerbread house contest one year, I entered a beach hut.

The hut was constructed of graham crackers and covered in potato sticks (the roofing ones were dyed with green food coloring.) Positioned on a blanket of brown-sugar sand, the hut was surrounded by palm trees made of Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes cookies and spearmint gum-drop slices. Raisins made coconuts. I used a shell tip to make frosting shells for the beach. My husband got into it and made a crab and a starfish out of dried cranberries.

I didn't win but I was on the same wavelength as that year's winner who put Santa in front of his or her beach house.

Easier than it looks... . A cake for a sister-in-law who collects everything "Coke."

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Demolition derbies are big in our town so this was a fun cake to make for a boy's birthday.

My husband had fun the smashing Matchbox cars. I personalized the cake by writing the names of the party guests on the cars, just like folks do on a real derby car.

The Spider-Man toy doubled as a gift for the birthday boy and a cake decoration.

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Never say never ...

I always said I would never try to sell cakes, but I could use the extra cash and it is a marketable skill. I won't do weddings though -- I have neither the equipment nor the patience and confidence to take on such a monumental project.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

No kickbacks from Kraft -- I swear

Food Find: Philadelphia Cracker Spreads
On a late-September shopping trip at the new -- and only -- Wal-mart in my county, I found Kraft's new Philadelphia Cracker Spreads. I chose Parmesan with Garlic & Herb. You see and taste real slivers of Parmesan in the soft cream cheese spread that's dotted with bits of herbs. Cracker Spreads are also available in Asiago and Parmesan, Feta & Spinach, Pepperjack & Jalapeno, and White Cheddar & Red Pepper. Suggested retail price is $2.49. They're good for snacking right from the tub but consider packing a few in a (refrigerated) lunch and definitely look for them at the holidays to easily upscale your hors d'oeuvres offerings at get-togethers.

Apple-sausage pancakes

Apples and sausage, to my mind, are autumn foods. So I was confused when I saw them in a Father's Day breakfast recipe for pancakes this summer. Despite the seasonal incongruity, I made them. My husband says he loves them and, because I reminded him of them when I asked his opinion just now, he's after me to make them again soon. He said they are filling and good on a cold day.

Add maple syrup and finish the trifecta of fall flavors!

2 medium sweet Italian turkey sausages (precooked), each cut into chunks
1 apple, peeled and cored
1 1/4 cups all-purpose or white whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
cooking spray

Place a heat-proof plate or platter in the oven. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

Place the sausages and apple in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer to a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Saute until the sausage is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In another medium bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together the milk, egg and oil. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. The batter should be mostly smooth.

Add the sausage and apple mixture to the batter and mix until evenly distributed through the batter.

Rinse and dry the skillet, then lightly coat it with cooking spray. Return the skillet to the burner over medium heat. When the skillet is hot (a drop of water should immediately sizzle away), spoon about 1/4 cup of batter into the skillet for each pancake. Make 2 or 3 pancakes at a time.

When the edges of the pancakes show bubbles, use a spatula to flip and cook another 1 to 2 minutes, or until lightly browned on both sides. Transfer the finished pancakes to the platter in the oven and repeat with remaining ingredients. Add a light coat of cooking spray to the pan between batches.

Serve pancakes with warm maple syrup.

Credit: Associated Press

Garnishing trick: Cut a not-too-thin slice from an unpeeled orange. Cut through the peel to the center of the slice, but not all the way across. Twist the slice and stand it up on the plate. Tuck a leaf or two of fresh mint beside it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Food Find: Philadelphia Ready-To-Eat Cheesecake Filling

The tub of ready-to-eat cheesecake filling was intriguing and the urge to eat it a spoonful at a time, here and there, actually not that great. I bought it not because I planned to dump it all into a graham-cracker crumb crust and serve it -- it's obvious primary intended use. No, I was thinking about other things I could use it for. Inspired by Bob Evans or IHOP or another of those breakfast-all-day chains, my first application was stuffed french toast.

This recipe is easy enough to make for Sunday breakfast and still get to church; it'll only look and taste like you made a big fuss. Plus it's a simple way to make an everyday day extraordinary.

  • Take one day-old loaf of braided challah (Jewish egg bread...see side note below) and sliced it into pieces at least 1-inch thick. I probably had 8-10 slices.
  • Beat 4 or 5 eggs in a glass pie plate with a splash of milk. Dip the bread slices one at a time in the egg batter and fry them on a hot nonstick griddle.
  • To assemble the stuffed french toast: Put a few tablespoons of ready-to-eat cheesecake filling on one piece of french toast. Top with another slice. Garnish with sliced bananas and strawberries or, like I did, use home-canned strawberry pie filling.
A side note: The artisanal bakery in the town where I work closed this summer -- much to my great sorrow. In preparation, I ordered a couple of loaves of challah every Friday leading up to its last day. I sliced and froze the bread in zipper-lock plastic bags. Thaw the bread on the counter a day or two before making french toast. It needs to get a little stale to better absorb the egg batter.

It got me through as I'm thrilled to report that another artisanal bakery will open soon in the same location with some of the same workers but under new management.

UPDATE: One recent Sunday, I tried a variation on this recipe. I traded the strawberry topping for toasted pecans and caramel sauce. I suppose you could add sliced bananas to this, too, but I may have mentioned how I loathe a banana.

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To toast pecans, put a single layer in a skillet or saute pan and heat over low to medium flame. Shake the pan every minute and watch them carefully so they don't scorch -- yuk! I used Tastefully Simple Caramel Sauce and it was nothing spectacular, beat making my own though. Tastefully Simple, if you've never had the pleasure, sells "gourmet" foods -- mainly mixes for breads (like just add a can of beer) and dips. I think you can order direct from the representative but there are is also a home-party plan component (think Tupperware.) I like some of the company's products but can't say I'd buy the caramel sauce again -- not rich enough or something, kinda bland.

With the holidays approaching, a great use for this ready-made cheesecake product might be as filling in pumpkin rolls. Though I gather that the filling is not the tricky part (I have never tried to make one). I imagine folks might have trouble handling the thin spongy cake that makes the roll.

There is a chocolate variety, too.

Kraft suggests mixing crushed Oreo cookies into a tub of the plain filling and dumping the whole thing in an Oreo pie crust. I was surprised that the company's recommendations for using this versatile new product weren't more diverse. Of the seven recipes on Kraft's site that incorporate the ready-to-eat cheesecake filling, only one deviated from the standard "vanilla" formulations of dump it in a cracker-crumb crust and dress it up with pie filling topping, sprinkles or mix-ins. The quick tropical cheesecake trifle calls for it between layers of fruit and poundcake. Thanks to Kraft, that recipe follows.

Quick Tropical Cheesecake Trifle
Recipe from

1 package (10.75 oz.) frozen pound cake, thawed, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 tub (24.2 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Ready-To-Eat Cheesecake Filling
2 cups cut-up fresh pineapple (1 inch pieces)
2 bananas, sliced
2 kiwi, peeled, chopped
1/4 cup seedless strawberry jam, warmed
1/4 cup BAKER'S ANGEL FLAKE Coconut, toasted
Layer half of the cake cubes in bottom of large straight-sided serving bowl. Top with half of the cheesecake filling and fruit. Repeat layers.
Drizzle with jam; sprinkle with coconut.
Serve immediately. Or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Store any leftovers in refrigerator. Serves 14.

How would you use it?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Don't call them pancakes ... celebrating buckwheat

Sixty-five years ago, a volunteer fire department in the county where I live in West Virginia started holding a fundraising festival celebrating the area's agriculture -- a large part of which was the buckwheat that was harvested and milled into flour. Buckwheat is no longer the "insurance crop" farmers planted back then; a handful of farmers plant it now and a lot of the flour that is milled every fall for the festival starts out as buckwheat that's trucked in from a neighboring state. But a staple of the Preston County Buckwheat Festival remains: buckwheat cakes and fresh-ground whole-hog sausage dinners.

Buckwheat cakes are pancakes (but don't call them that here -- the most my fellow Prestonians have ever let me get away with is "griddle cakes"). Buckwheat flour is flour but it's not from a grain; it's actually a fruit, from the rhubarb family. Doesn't taste like it though.

At festival time there are lots of fund-raising dinners (plus people make them in their homes) serving all-you-can-eat stacks of buckwheat cakes with patties of pork sausage. Most people top them with butter and maple syrup but some use apple butter, applesauce, sausage gravy and even cranberry sauce. Growing up, my mother-in-law put elderberry jelly on them because she liked how it turned them blue. My sister-in-law put peanut butter on hers as a kid but now she just uses butter (margarine) and syrup.

The way I grew up the cakes were thin, like crepes, but last year I had heavier ones at the neighbors' house. There are two mills in the county and my mom always got her flour from the Hazelton mill and it's grittier than the flour from Eglon. I broke with tradition and got the Eglon flour last year because it was the only kind the store had and I think I like it better because it has a finer texture. Aunt Jemima and Hodgson Mill, and I think even Bob's Red Mill, sell buckwheat flour in boxes or plastic pouches but I've never tried it. The boxes at the grocery store always has an inch of dust on them so apparently no one else buys it either. Better to get the locally milled flour in the white paper sack tied with string.

Soon after moving into our house, we started a tradition of having family and friends over on the Sunday before festival begins for a buckwheat cake brunch. I fire up two griddles and just keep baking cakes till everyone's full.

To make them, dissolve yeast in warm water and add salt. Then you stir in enough buckwheat flour to make a stiff batter. It looks like wallpaper paste or putty or something, kinda gray or beige. (Appetizing, no?) You let it sit overnight, covered but not refrigerated. In the morning (or the next night for dinner) you stir in sugar (always more than the recipe on the bag calls for so they'll brown right) and baking soda and more water -- enough till you get the consistency you want. That's the basic recipe but some people use buttermilk and cold coffee and I-don't-want-to-know-what. Then you save a cup of the batter (or whatever's left after you've baked all the cakes you want) as starter for the next batch and just add flour to it, let it sit and repeat everything. That's what makes them sourdough. Ever made friendship bread where you get starter from somebody and add stuff and it sits and ferments? Same idea. (The health department won't let the public dinners make them this way though.)

A word about baking them: The first one poured never turns out right -- something to do with the temperature and "seasoning" of the griddle -- so prepare to throw it away. Usually my second, third and fourth pours either brown unevenly or tear or smear when I flip them so I get huffy, throw down my spatula and my husband takes over the griddle.

Tonight, on my first try, I baked a perfectly browned and formed buckwheat cake. The elements must've been in correct proportion: amount of sugar, consistency of batter, level of outdoor humidity, alignment of planets and stars, because every pour was perfect. Too bad just the husband and daughter were here to see it. But thanks to technology, I can share my buckwheat cakes with you -- yes I'm that big of a dork to take photos.

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I like them best the first day. And I can eat them the second day. And last year I ate them the third. But by the end of the week they're pretty potent. The owner of the newspaper I work for takes everybody to a local buckwheat cake dinner during the festival and treats us. My boss who passed away used to call them "gut bombs" because you're eating and eating and doing fine and all at once you're full. Too full. Uncomfortably full. I can eat maybe two so I avoid the all-you-can-eat places; they make money off of me. Some people store the flour in their freezers to make them year-round. They're an acquired taste. I don't make them more than once a year. The flour is pretty nutritious and you can substitute some of it (like 1/4 cup) for an equal measure of regular flour when you're baking quick breads or cookies or cakes. But don't replace all of the all-purpose flour with buckwheat flour because the end result will be too dry. The buckwheat flour absorbs more water.

This is my daughter eating her first buckwheat cake in 2004.

Here are some recipes that I have collected over the years. Many of them have won the baking-with-buckwheat contest that's part of the festival every year. Get your hands on some buckwheat flour, wherever you are, and enjoy our fall tradition.

For the cookies:
1 cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs, beaten
4 cups white flour
2 cups buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon flavoring such as vanilla
4 tablespoons cold water
For the filling:
2 cups raisins
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup cold water

Cream shortening and sugars and beat. Add eggs and beat. Add other ingredients ending with enough flour to stiffen dough. Chill mixture for an hour or overnight. Roll out dough and cut with round cookie cutter. Place cookies on flat, lightly greased cookie sheet.
Cook raisins, butter and sugar in 2 cups of water until water boils.
Use cornstarch and cold water to thicken. Let this mixture cool.
Roll out top for cookies that are on sheet. Cut small center out.
Place tablespoon of raisin mixture on cookies that are on cookie
sheet. Place cover on cookies. Bake 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

1/2 cup oil
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg, beaten
1 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon chopped nuts

Combine pumpkin, sugar, oil and egg. Mix together flours, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add to pumpkin alternately with soda which has been dissolved in the milk. Add vanilla, nuts and chips. Drop by teaspoonful onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees.

2 cups buckwheat flour
4 ounces butter, softened
6 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt
4 teaspoons vanilla
6 egg yolks
2/3 ounce cocoa powder

Combine buckwheat flour and butter in a bowl, mixing until grainy. Rub mixture quickly through your hands, letting it sift through your
fingers, until it is damp and powdery. (This step is important to
activate buckwheat gluten). Set aside.

Mix sugar and salt in separate bowl. Add egg yolks and vanilla. Beat until white and creamy.
Combine egg mixture with flour mixture. Lightly mix until well blended. Place dough on cutting board and knead into a ball. Divide in half. Mix cocoa powder into one half, kneading until evenly brown. Roll both halves into 1 1/2 inch diameter cylinders. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Remove cylinders from refrigerator. Remove plastic wrap and slice dough into 1/8-inch pieces and place on greased baking pan. Bake in preheated 340 degree F oven for 7-10 minutes of until edges brown.

1 cup softened shortening
2 large eggs
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup hot coffee
4 cups quick oatmeal
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon ginger
3-3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
3 teaspoons soda
Optional: 1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts

Cream together shortening, egg, honey and molassess. Add hot coffee and stir. Mix in oatmeal, sugar, salt and ginger. Sift and add in
flours and soda. After mixing stir in raisins and nuts if desired. Roll to 1/4-inch thickness; cut in desired shapes. Sprinkle with granulated sugar if desired. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 10-12 minutes.

1 1/2 cups raisins
3 cups flour
3 cups buckwheat flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup ground peanuts (optional)
1 1/2 cups lard or shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 cups quick oatmeal
1 cup oat bran
3 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
4 eggs

Soak raisins in warm water. Grind peanuts in grinder. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in pan. Blend lard, add raisins, peanuts, sugar and oatmeal. Mix all together. Dissolve soda in buttermilk. Add molasses and eggs, which are beaten together. Add to flour mixture. Drop on greased pan with vegetable serving spoon. Bake in 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Makes a large batch.

1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup dark molasses
1 egg
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 cup sugar (to roll snaps in)

Cream shortening and brown sugar. Add egg and beat well. Add molasses and stir in sifted dry ingredients. Shape dough into 1/2-inch balls. Press the ball with the bottom of a greased glass that has been dipped in the 1/4 cup sugar. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Note: The tops will crack.

2 1/4 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup margarine
2 3/4 cups buckwheat flour
1/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Blend together brown sugar, margarine, flour and buckwheat flour. Reserve one cup and two tablespoons for topping. Add the remainder of the ingredients, blending well. Pour into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Sprinkle reserved crumbs over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

1/2 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 cup zucchini, grated
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup all-bran cereal
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts

Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat sugar, oil and eggs until well combined. Stir in cereal, orange peel and vanilla. Add flour mixture, zucchini and nuts. Mix well. Spread evenly in a greased 10-by-6-by-2-inch glass baking dish. Bake at 325 for 35 minutes.

1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon margarine, softened
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
milk, if needed

In small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, margarine and orange peel until light. Add 1-2 teaspoons milk if needed.

2 cups white flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups mashed pumpkin or 1 16-ounce can
2/3 cup oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt

In large bowl, mix eggs, oil and pumpkin. Mix all spices and remaining dry ingredients. Add to above mixture and mix thoroughly. Pour in a greased and floured 9-by-13 cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.

1/2 cup chopped nuts (Black Walnuts recommended)
1 cup mashed bananas
1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup thick sour cream or 1/4 cup buttermilk

Grease three pans or cans. Chop nuts. Mash bananas. Combine flour, soda and salt and set aside. Mix butter, sugar, eggs and flavoring.
Scrape bowl. Add banana, cream, nuts and flour mixture. Fill cans about 3/4 full. Bake approximately one hour at 350 degrees. Loosen and remove from can. Cool before cutting.

NOTE: Recipe works better if cans are greased. A small amount of Pam cooking spray can be used. Cooking oil can be substituted for butter
and black walnuts give bread best flavor.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Special dinner

There are simple, inexpensive ways to make every day elegant and special. Candles are a must in my house. Sometimes just doing something different makes the house or the evening feel special. Use the good dishes on a tablecloth with real napkins. Float the blossom of a flower, even fake, in a wineglass of water. Light a couple of inexpensive candles and you've got instant ambience without spending extra money. Same goes for the food if you choose out-of-the-ordinary recipes that can be made with pantry staples.

Weather conditions on Valentine's Day this year were blizzardlike so it was good we hadn't planned to go out. Instead we ate my favorite dinner [right now anyway], spaghetti aglio-olio. And I know I mixed cultures but because I had some Manchego to use up, I made a starter of julienned Granny Smith apples and the Spanish sheep's milk cheese. Chunks of mild, nutty/salty, "crunchy" Manchego are great topped with membrillo aka quince paste, too. I've found quince paste in the fancy deli condiments near the specialty cheese case at Giant Eagle. For dessert, I made chocolate-covered strawberries. I didn't plan this. I bought some strawberries in the course of regular grocery-shopping (I know, too early in the season.) I realized I had a bag of chocolate chunks and thought "Why not?"

Chocolate-covered strawberries

Chocolate-covered strawberries look decadent and someone will think you went to a lot of trouble but they're really quite easy to make. Thoroughly wash and dry the strawberries. The tiniest bit of water left on a berry will cause your chocolate to seize [clump.] Leave the caps/stems in place. Stick a toothpick about halfway in the stem end.

In the top of a double boiler melt chocolate chips or chunks and vegetable shortening. I used half a 10-ounce bag of Nestle Chocolatier 53 percent cacao premium baking chocolate chunks and 1 tablespoon of Crisco because I had slightly less than a pound of strawberries. Don't let the double boiler scare you. If you don't have one, it's nothing more than two saucepans stacked together with some water in the bottom one. It's used [for one thing] to melt chocolate with indirect heat. Take care not to get water in the chocolate. There are also directions on the package for melting chocolate using the microwave.

Once your chocolate is melted and you've incorporated the shortening, turn off the heat. Grasp a toothpick and dip the berry in the chocolate, turning to coat. Let the chocolate drip off a little and then you can either stick the toothpick in a piece of Styrofoam [like florist foam] or put it on wax paper to set. Yes this means when you peel it off that one side will be flat. If it's a casual meal, I don't let this bother me and I drizzle all sides with white chocolate once the dark chocolate has set so that kind of camouflages it anyway. If the chocolate starts to harden while you're coating the berries -- as mine did when I had to stop to perform some toddler triage, just turn the heat back on and stir until everything is smooth again.

To get the white chocolate drizzle, I put maybe a quarter cup of white chocolate chips and a half tablespoon of shortening [just eyeball it] in a zipper-seal bag. Don't seal it. Microwave for 15 seconds at a time until the chocolate melts. Mush the bag up to mix the shortening and chocolate. Snip a tiny piece off one bottom corner and, holding the bag several inches above the berries, gently squeeze while moving your hand back and forth. The farther from the berries the bag is, the thinner the drizzle of chocolate will be. Let dry completely, then carefully turn to do the other side.

Spaghetti con Aglio e Olio
[Slightly modified from Rachael Ray's "365: No Repeats"]
Coarse salt
1 pound spaghetti [I use wholegrain -- it's good!]
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) (about 5 times around the pan)
8 garlic cloves, chopped [give or take :-)]
1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
8-10 flat anchovy fillets or one big gob of anchovy paste
2 fistfuls of fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Salt the water and cook the pasta until al dente, 6-7 minutes or so.

While the pasta cooks, place a large, deep, nonstick heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. When the pan is warm, add the 1/3 cup EVOO, the garlic, red pepper flakes and anchovies.

A word about this: Stir the garlic around. Watch it. You'll want to remove the pan from the heat when the garlic is just soft. It will continue to cook in the hot oil. If you wait till it's browned to take it off the heat, then it will overcook and be bitter. You'll get better at this with practice; listen to your intuition, which I'm still learning to trust. I have had my garlic end up "crispy" and it wasn't bad and after it sits overnight, it's soft again. Still it's better if you don't overcook it.

Finely chop the parsley and set aside.

Drain the spaghetti really well but do not rinse it; rinsing will wash off the starch, and the starch helps the oil stick to the pasta. Pour the hot spaghetti into the skillet. Add the parsley and toss the pasta together with the anchovies, garlic and oil to coat evenly. Season the completed dish liberally with salt and pepper.

4 servings. [Even better the next day as leftovers for lunch at work.]

Apples & Manchego
[From Chef Joe Resick, Harrigan's Cafe & Wine Deck, Johnstown, Pa.]
3 Granny Smith apples
6 ounces Manchego cheese [now available in the specialty cheese case at Kroger and Giant Eagle]
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Julienne apples and cheese, matchstick size. [Here's where it's handy to have a mandoline, a slicing tool with interchangeable blades to help you smoothly and safely and quickly grate, julienne, slice, etc. cheese and vegetables. No need to spend $80 on the one from Pampered Chef. The chef who gave me this recipe said the $30 models from Bed Bath & Beyond -- like I got last Christmas -- will work just fine. When the blades dull, it's cheap enough to replace the whole thing. Hey, if it's good enough for a professional chef, it's good enough for me.]

Toss the apples and cheese in a bowl with the oil, vinegar and seasonings. Marinate 2 hours in the refrigerator. Serve chilled.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Enjoying every bite

I haven't been feeling well lately. I'm not sure what's wrong exactly -- could be the heat or could be I've just been pushing myself too hard. I find few foods appealing and stick with bland, starchy, "safe" foods and peppermint or ginger tea. I feel up to cooking about every three days.

On Friday I went to Panera Bread to get a bagel for lunch. I chose Asiago, Cinnamon Crunch and Blueberry to take home and got myself an Everything. I knew it was risky, dried onion and poppy seeds, but after not wanting anything to eat for so long, I gave into this craving. I suffered no adverse effects, but that's not my point.

I slowly bit into the bagel and chewed the small bites well before swallowing, not daring to eat fast and shock my system. I noticed something for the first time. There are flakes of kosher salt on Panera's Everything bagels. Sometimes I was conscious of my tooth crunching down on one but more often I felt a salty "pop" on my tongue. It was very enjoyable. I've been reflecting on how fast I eat and how well I do or do not taste foods. I "know" what an Everything bagel tastes like, right, so my brain overrode, until now, my tastebuds as I gulped down the meal I "thought" I wanted and I "thought" I was having.

To really enjoy food and life, don't eat on autopilot. Don't work from memory. Taste every bite, and for goodness' sake, if it doesn't taste "good" -- if it doesn't bring you pleasure or satisfaction beyond satiating your hunger, then stop eating it.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Foiling flavor fairies

Every year at this time the swarm descends upon my kitchen and bathrooms, even my office where a lot of my colleagues and I eat lunch at our desks. Gnats, fruit flies, call them what you will -- my colleague Mark prefers "flavor fairies" -- flit within my line of vision seeking something sour: drying towels, anyone?

Last fall my friend Diane Hooie, a bright, well-traveled and adventurous cook, told me how to trap 'em. This really works:

Pour a half inch of apple cider vinegar in a small glass and add two drops of dishwashing liquid. Mix well, sit it out and the flies will be drawn to the cup and gone forever.

I misremembered her instructions and added water to the glass. It doesn't seem to affect the potion's desirability as dozens of gnats have perished in a watery grave.

Summer's last gasp -- cool it

It's cooler now in north-central West Virginia than this time last week when record-setting heat made my clothes feel like they were plastic shrink-wrapped to my body. This summer we discovered some low-calorie fruit slushes I make to keep cool. It's also a good and easy way to get in an extra serving of fruit. I'll be honest -- I use real sugar, cane sugar specifically, instead of Splenda. A little bit of natural sugar beats anything artificial, modified or engineered any day.

Our favorites are the cherry limeade, peach and watermelon lemonade. I love that they're all made with frozen fruits so I don't have to buy and keep fresh fruit onhand worrying if it's going to spoil before we use it up. The most labor-intensive part is de-seeding the watermelon -- don't be fooled, there ARE seeds in seedless watermelon. But one watermelon, once de-seeded and chunked, has lasted me all summer in the freezer. Whipping up the drinks is so easy I can even let 4-year-old Bella help by pouring the ingredients into the blender pitcher as I measure them. One tip: Smack the ice in a plastic bag with a meat mallet so your blender won't have to do so much work and you won't have to keep stopping it to free ice jams around the blade.

Clockwise from left: Cherry Limeade, Mixed Berry Slush and Watermelon Lemonade.

Kathy's Watermelon Lemonade
Serves 1.
Per serving: 52 calories, 14 carb grams, 2 mg sodium, 0.5 fat grams, 0.75 grams of fiber.
3/4 cup seedless watermelon chunks, frozen
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Splenda
1/2 cup ice
8 ounces sparkling water

Combine in a blender and process until smooth.

Kathy's Just Peachy Slush
Serves 1.
Per serving: 56 calories, 15 carb grams, 2.25 grams of fiber, no fat.
3/4 cup frozen peach slices
1/2 cup ice
8 ounces sparkling water

Combine in a blender and process until smooth.

Kathy's Mixed Berry Slush
Serves 1.
Per serving: 43 calories, 10 carb grams, 3 mg sodium, 0.25 fat grams, 2 grams of fiber.
1/4 cup frozen strawberries
1/4 cup frozen raspberries
1/4 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup ice
8 ounces sparkling water
Note: The original recipe doesn't call for sweetener, but my husband says this needs sugar.

Combine in a blender and process until smooth.

This last one is the only one we haven't tried.

Kathy's Cranberry-Raspberry Slush
Serves 1.
Per serving: 45 calories, 12 carb grams, 3 mg sodium, 1 gram fiber, no fat.
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
4 ounces light cranberry juice
1/2 cup ice
6 ounces sparkling water

Combine in a blender and process until smooth.

We found the recipes in The Wichita Eagle.


A longhaul trucker named Melvin gave us his recipe for a refreshing lemonade drink. I dubbed it Melvinade, which left a bad taste in my husband's mouth. But the drink itself is pretty tasty -- an orange offsets the tart lemon and it's sweet but not syrupy. It quenches thirst and finishes light and clean -- no "drag" on the on the palate from too much acid or sugar ... at least the way we made it. We didn't follow Melvin's formula to the letter. All props to truckers 'cause they move America and my uncle [and Melvin's girlfriend's father in fact,] rest his soul, was a trucker -- but we think Melvin's ratios are a little out of whack.

He said he puts the juice of three lemons and one orange and 1 1/2 cups of sugar in a two-quart pitcher and fills it with water. When we made it, to the citrus juice we added 3/4 cup of sugar and could probably have used even less. I measured the water exactly the first time we made it; the second time, my husband just topped off the pitcher and I thought it tasted weak. We decided we'd like to use more lemons and oranges when we make it again.

I went online looking to do better and found these recipes that we're sure to make before the snow flies.

Don't freak out at the amount of sugar vs. water. This is a starter that you'll add more water to before serving.

Lemonade With Fresh Mint
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup fresh mint leaves
juice of 2 oranges
juice of 6 lemons
4 teaspoons grated orange peel
fresh orange or lemon slices and sprigs of mint for garnish

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan; bring to a boil and boil 5 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly.

Place mint leaves in a small bowl; add sugar syrup, orange juice, lemon juice, and grated orange peel. Cover and let steep for 1 hour. Strain into a 1-quart container; cover and keep refrigerated.

To serve, mix 1 part lemon mint mixture with 2 parts water. Serve over ice and garnish with lemon or orange slices and sprigs of mint if desired.

Makes about 1 quart syrup, or 3 quarts of lemonade.

Citrus Cooler
6 lemons
3 limes
6 oranges
3 quarts water
1 1/2 cups sugar, or more, to taste

Squeeze the juice from 5 of the lemons, 3 of the limes and 5 of the oranges; pour into a gallon container. Thinly slice the remaining orange and lemon and set aside. Add water and sugar to juices; mix well. Chill thoroughly and keep in refrigerator. Serve on ice with orange and lemon slices.

Makes about 1 gallon of citrus drink or lemonade.

Both recipes are from Diana Rattray on under Southern U.S. Cuisine.
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