March 31, 2009

The waffles! Oh the waffles!!!

After weeks of rain and far to cold for my taste weather, we woke up Sunday morning to find the sun shining. Beyond the fact that I had some major much spreading, weed clearing, onion set planting to do, the sun was a welcome treat because our little cooking/dinner group had decided to have brunch this month and Sunday was the day. Evelyn and Briton got to wear new spring outfits picked out by my mother when she visited last week so they looked sparkly and bright and we were bringing Mimosa's which, frankly, are the best way to start of a sunny Sunday.

Steve and Nell had thoughtfully brewed a huge pot of coffee AND made plain waffles for the kids so while they ate, we chatted, woke up with some excellent strong coffee and watched Steve make the most WONDERFUL waffles I've ever had. The other Steve, who arrived on crutches due to a bicycle accident a few days prior (when his bike slammed into the first Steve's car, as a matter of fact, I tell you, this is a SMALL town!) and Stephanie had made a beautiful fruit salad with strawberries, blueberries and kiwi. And can I just say, I love a fruit salad that has loads of the good fruit, you know what I mean. I'm always a little disappointed when a fruit salad has like ONE strawberry cut up into tiny bits and the rest is grapes and banana. Not that I don't like grapes and banana, I love them, but I REALLY love strawberries, blueberries and kiwi, so Stephanie's salad was perfect!

In addition to Mimosas, we also brought along some gin and had Champagne Fizzes from a recipe I found in Will's old Bartenders Bible. I was sorely tempted by a drink called Skip and Go Naked, but it contained a lot of pink things, in fact, I think it was described as coming out hot pink. And while my daughter is a big fan of pink, it just didn't seem like a first thing in the morning kind of drink.

But Back to the waffles. I'm a huge waffle fan. WE had them all the time as a kid and up until this weekend, I had though the best waffles in the world were the street waffles in Paris with their thick, almost yeast like dough. But I think I've moved onto greener pastures. These were seriously good. We ended up with a choice of blueberry, maple and huckleberry syrup but honestly, I think they would have been awesome on their own as well. Steve used a Belgian Waffle Maker but I imagine it would do just as well with a regular one. I hope so, because I plan to try it out when Will's family visits week after next.

Gingerbread Waffles

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 Cups fat free buttermilk
3 T canola oil
3 T molasses
2 tsp finely grated peeled fresh ginger
2 large egg yolks
4 oz applesauce
3 T minced crystallized ginger*
2 large egg whites

Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup and level with a knife. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and stir with a whisk. Combine buttermilk, oil, molasses, fresh ginger, egg yolks and applesauce in a small bowl and then add to dry ingredients. Stir just until combined before adding crystallized ginger

Beat egg whites at high speed until soft peaks form and gently fold into batter

Coat waffle iron with cooking spray and preheat, spoon about 1/3 cup per 4 inch waffle and spread to edges. Cook for 5 minutes or until steaming stops.

*Crystallized ginger is really expensive if you buy it in the spice aisle at the grocery store but is pretty affordable if you buy it in bulk at the health food store. I've also gotten big packets of it in Asian food stores.

Champagne Fizz

3 ounces orange juice
3 ounces champagne
1 ounce gin
1 ounce lemon juice
Serve cold

Really, this is just a mimosa with a ounce each of gin and lemon juice. So I made a pitcher of mimosas and then set out the gin and lemon juice so people could choose.

Also, on the subject of waffles. One of our favorite weekend lunches is waffle sandwiches. We used to go to a great waffle sandwich stand in Portland but since we're here, we have to make do with homemade versions. Our favorite combination is gouda, maple syrup and bacon but we've also done muenster and breakfast sausage, ham and cheddar and peanut butter and jelly which is simply divine.

March 28, 2009

On to the next....generation

A few years from now, I'll be teaching Evelyn how to sew. We'll embark on stitching tiny dolls clothes or making a skirt out of fabric that she choose herself. I'll teach her about buttons and zippers and seam allowences and seam rippers. probably a lot about seam rippers. Like me, she'll choose a pattern with too many tiny pearl buttons and cry with frustration when I wont just do it for her. She'll skip steps and I'll make her go back and rip out seams and iron them before proceeding. I might even make her prewash her fabric, even though I hate doing it myself. I have all that to look forward to.

But I also think it's important for boys to know how to sew. When Will and I were dating, I taught him to sew a Hawaiian Shirt. Other than the sleeves that I had to put in because he was beyond frustrated and the fact that he cut half of the fabric out upside down when I was setting up the machine resulting in the left half of the shirt's palm trees pointing down while the right side pointed up, it turned out OK. And I can rest easy knowing that he knows how to fix a seam, sew on a button and even darn a sock in a pinch. Not that he does anymore, he's more likely to hand it off to me. But at least I know he can. So along those lines, I decided to teach Briton to sew this week. Well, let's say I started to teach him to sew.

Knowing that Cabbage Patch Kids clothes or lacy dresses weren't going to be up his alley, I let boys be boys and we set out to make an, um, interesting, stuffed animal. I let him flip through the book that came in a Plush-O-Rama kit, watched him weigh the benifits of his favorite specimins (he decided to make it for a friend who's birthday was coming up, a girl, so it had to be a little girlie) helped him trace out a pattern and away we went.

The kit is cute (and with the subtitle Curious Creatures for Immature Adults, just had to be tried!) and really does come with almost everything you need to make a creature (Scissors were the only thing we needed that wasn't included) Briton settled on a rabbit like thing made from the yellow fleece that came with the kit. We cut out ears and legs and body and learned how to embroider (well, in a vague sense) and the good old fashioned, all purpose running stitch and after one afternoon of cutting and embroidering and another of sewing and stuffing, had a pretty darn adorable stuffed rabbit. Funky, yes, but still totally cute. And as a bonus, Briton has requested that we raid my scrap bag and make another for him AND one for his sister. Success!

Now I wonder if I could get him to knit....

March 17, 2009


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Well, although we are deep in the midst of potty training we are still managing to do a few special things for St. Paddy's day. Briton requested that we make Top Hats for his class today and took in a book he had from his days in an Irish School, all in totally incomprehensible Gaelic. Wish I could be there to hear the kids trying to sound those words out! Compared to the intricacies of the Irish Language, Tops Hats are a breeze. These little treats appeared at nearly every childhood festivity that we attended in Ireland. It was a particular favorite for birthdays and Briton loves them. Actually, Will loves them too so I had to make extras for him so that Briton didn't show up to school short a few.

Making them couldn't be easier. Melt some chocolate in a double boiler (or the microwave, but then set it over a pot of hot water to keep it nice and melty) drop a generous teaspoon of the chocolate on parchment or a sil-pat mat and then use a large marshmallow to spread it into a circle about 2 inches in diameter then flip the marshmallow over (there will be a thin coat of chocolate on it's top now) and plop it in the center of the chocolate. I like to set the tray in the fridge so they harden before little finger have a chance to taste the gooey chocolate but they will harden on the counter after a while. Once they are hard they peel off easily and are ready for eating.

My other St. Patrick's Day treat is Tea Brack. Brack is a traditional quick bread in Ireland and isn't' that different from our banana bread. It's also fairly healthy and is made from ingredients that most people will have sitting around anyway so it's a great recipe to know.

Tea Brack
makes one large loaf
225 g brown sugar
1 1/2 cup of STRONG tea ( I make it with two bags)
1/4 cup whiskey (run is good too. If you don't have any of this just use a little more tea
400 g raisin (if you have currents or other dried fruits you could throw some in as well but it should be mainly raisins. I do like to add golden raisins with the brown if I have them)
2 eggs
225 g flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice ( you can also just mix cloves and cardamon here or what ever "sweet" baking spices you have, it's fun to play around with the spices a little)

Dissolve the sugar in the tea and whiskey and add to fruit. Leave this as long as you can, overnight it best. The longer you leave it the more tender the bread is but I have made it after just an hour or so of soaking and it's still good. When your ready to bake. Preheat the oven to 335 and grease your loaf pan with butter. Mix eggs, flour, baking powder and spices with the fruit/liquid mixture. It will be pretty runny. Pour into the loaf pan and bake for one hour. Test with a skewer which should come out clean when it's done. Remove it from the pan and let it cool for a few minutes before slicing. Slather with butter and serve with tea.

Have a happy St Paddy's everyone!

March 13, 2009

More good company

I really only like to cook. I LOVE to bake but cooking is just something I enjoy at times and do daily because, well, that's what I do. So imagine my delight when Samantha, one of Will's coworkers and her significant other, Barry, came over last night to cook dinner for us! Ah!!Lovely!!!

Sadly, they are leaving for Cincinnati next week and this is only the first time we've been able to get together outside of work functions, but we had a great GREAT time cooking and eating and chatting with them as the sleet fell outside. They generously allowed me to print the recipe here and I'll also add one for the dessert I made for afters (I forgot to take a photo of the dinner last night so you'll have to make do with the dessert, which I had again for breakfast this morning....hey, it's just eggs and strawberries and milk....and lots of sugar....and ok, whipping cream, not milk, but that still counts...right?)

Chicken Breasts Arrabiata

1 T olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped ( I believe it was a red onion, bnut I could be wrong)
1/4 cup pepperoncini, seeded, rinsed and chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 T balsamic Vinegar
1 T tomato paste
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pepper, onion, pepperoncini, garlic, basil, pepper and salt. Cook, stirring for 4 minutes. Add tomatoes, broth, vinegar and tomato paste, increase the heat and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the chicken, reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook 15 minutes. Serve over pasta.

This was delicious, just the right amount of heat from the peppers and the chicken was very tender and juicy. definitely one to add to the recipe books!

Mini Pavlovas

I used Ina Garten's recipe for Pavlova's here but made individual circles, piped with a pastry bag.

  • 4 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees F.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Draw a 6 four inch circles on the paper, then turn the paper over so the circle is on the reverse side. (This way you won't get a pencil mark on the meringue.)

Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until firm, about 1 minute. With the mixer still on high, slowly add the sugar and beat until it makes firm, shiny peaks, about 2 minutes.

In a small bowl mix the cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla, and fold in lightly with a rubber spatula. Pipe the meringue into the circles, starting in the middle and working out, making the edge slightly higher than the rest. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven, about 1 hour. It will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

I served these with strawberries cut in quarters lengthwise dressed with some sugar and a few drops of good balsamic vinegar. This sat in the fridge for a few hours before serving, then I topped them with slightly sweetened whipped cream. I also made some lemon curd and had mine with lemon and the whipped cream, just because I've been hankering after some lemon curd since I made the Blood Orange Curd Tart.

In Good Company

I have no excuse for writing this almost TWO WEEKS after the fact. All I can say is that the night of this dinner it snowed and kept snowing which made me want to hole up and read and play cribbage and THEN the sun came out, WAY out and gave us almost five days of summer weather and I went outside. The good news is that I got our back yard cleaned up from the winder doldrums and rolled out 400 square feet of sod so we'll have actual grass this summer instead of wispy bits of green in a sea of dirt. The bad news is I haven't been blogging. Well, now it's snowing again. And this time, it's nasty dirty slushy snow not pretty go out and play snow, so I'm writing. Granted, Evelyn is, at this moment sitting it my lap singing "Twinkle Twinkle" and trying to keep my fingers away from the keys so she can play, but I'll give it a go.

So..... A long long time ago (two weeks this Sunday) in a galaxy far away (known as Steve and Stephanie's house up the road) we had the inaugural dinner for our new cooking club. Stephanie and I have been talking about it for months and finally set a date to get us started (thank you Stephanie for making me just DO it!) The idea was that we would get three families together, each family would bring ingredients for one course of a meal and we'd cook while the kids played. For the third family we asked our neighbors Steven and Nell and their daughter Mei Ling. Steve and Nell, besides being excellent cooks (as I know from experience, best moussaka I have EVER had!) are some of the nicest people I know so it was a great group that gathered at Stephanie's that night. Steve and Nell brought fixings for stew which Steve proceeded to cook with that professional flair you see on the food network and I can only dream of. Stephanie and Steve provided salad and bread and wine (and their house!) and Will and I brought ingredients for a blood orange curd tart.

We spent a few hours cooking and chatting and laughing and sipping wine and then sat down to a truly fantastic feast. It was, I think, the most enjoyable dinner party I've ever been to. Eating with friends is fun, cooking with friends is a riot of fun. I cant wait for the next meal!

With Steve's permission I took notes about his stew, hopefully I didn't miss anything in the midst of the wine and conversation!

Beef Stew a la Steve

3 lbs chuck steak, fat trimmed and reserved, cut into cubes
3 boxes beef stock
3.5 pounds of potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cups mixed chopped carrots, onions and celery
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb mushrooms
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 bag of frozen peas
1 cup ketchup

Saute the meat in batches, rendering the fat and then removing the chunks. Steve did this in a frying pan and added the meat to a big stew pot with the stock and potatoes in it as each batch finished. In the same frying pan saute the mirepoix (veg :)) and add to the pot with the bay leaf. De glaze the pan with wine and add the liquid to the pot. stew for a bit then add mushrooms, ketchup and a tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with a little warm water. just a few minutes before serving add the peas and season to taste with salt and pepper.

This was a wonderful stew! Rich without being overly heavy and perfect for a snowing late winter night.

Blood Orange Curd Tart

I got this recipe out of Nigella's How to Eat and overall it was good. I thought the tartness of the orange was a good paring with the stew. BUT If I were to make this again I think I would do half oranges and half lemon and I would use all white sugar because I felt that the brown sugar overwhelmed the flavor of the orange a little bit. Also, I make lemon curd in the microwave rather than a pan as the recipe calls and next time I would follow that procedure because I think it's faster, easier and produces a better result, but for posterity, I'll give you what I made that night. Originally the recipe called for Seville Oranges but, although it was February and theoretically the season for them, I couldn't find them and so substituted blood oranges.

3 whole eggs
2egg yolks
1/2 c white sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
juice and zest of 5 blood oranges
10 T butted cut into cubes
1 pastry shell, blind baked (I used a purchased pie crust that I baked in my tart pan. I've almost given up on making pie crusts, my hands are just too hot to get a good result)

In a sauce pan whisk together the eggs, yolks and sugars until amalgamated (Nigella's word, not mine) Be sure to scrape the sides clean as you stir. Add the juice, zest and butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Do not allow it to boil. Pour into pie crust and chill till ready to serve.

So again, I think I would do all white sugar and maybe 3 blood oranges and 3 lemons. I'm also going to include my grandmothers microwave Lemon Curd which is super easy and great on toast, scones and I would imagine, in this tart.

1/2 cup bitter
2 c sugar (white)
3 yolks
3 eggs
juice and zest of 3 lemons

Melt butter in microwave safe bowl. Stir in juice, zest and sugar until well mixed. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and yolks and slowly add to the butter/sugar mixture. Microwave for about 10 minutes, stopping every thirty seconds to a minute to stir vigorously. It will reach a jelly like consistency. Cover and chill. This looks so pretty in small jars and makes great gifts. You have to store it in the fridge since it's not processed like jam. My notes say that it keeps up to 2 months in the fridge but we generally eat it all long before that!

March 4, 2009

Pot Luck

Potluck dinners are interesting beasts. It's always a challenge to find a recipe that people will eat and not just pass over. It can't be something too boring, it cant be too exotic, there is a balance to strike. Or maybe I just work myself into a tizzy when everyone else is opening a can of beanie weenies. That's probably more likely.

Last night was Briton's Cub Scout "Blue and Gold" dinner and the second potluck we've been two in two weeks. I'll admit that, feeling totally stuffed up and crappy with a killer cold that I'm hoping will not turn into bronchitis and then pneumonia as it often does with me, I seriously considered buying a potato salad from the grocery store. But since I didn't have the energy to haul two four o'clock crazy kids to the store and back, I made creamed corn.

I don't have a go to potluck dish. I wish I did but somehow I always forget what I made last time and if people liked it so I go searching anew. Fortunately, I do have a couple of go-to potluck cookbooks.

Around the time that Will and I got married, my grandma moved out of her house and into a condo. (this is the grandma who taught me all the cooking and sewing and fig drying and now sports the Judi Dench hair and is on Facebook, yes, my grandma is cool!) In the process of downsizing her house, she passed a handful of cookbooks on to me that I often forget about until a potluck rolls around. These are cookbooks made up of family recipes for church fundraisers or family reunions and have recipes with names like "upside down ham loaf" and "Beulah's Hot Dish." and "Pineapple-water chestnut roll-ups" (Honestly, they are all in there!) But despite, or maybe because of the funny names, they are full of great church social, family picnic, school potluck kind of foods. And that's good, because at the rate we're going, I'm going to need lots of potluck dishes in the next few years. Who knew that school aged kids meant so many community suppers...

Creamed Corn

1 bag of frozen yellow corn (I used a bag that I cut off the cob last summer so it was really sweet, fresh corn would be even better)
3 T butter
half and onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup of half and half or cream
1 tsp cornstarch
salt and pepper

Sweat the onion in 2 T of butter till soft then add half the corn and half the milk. Cook a few minutes longer, then puree (I used an immersion blender) add remaining corn and milk. Mix cornstarch with 1 T warm water, add to the pot and stir till slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper and last T of butter.

So how did the potluck go? Well, other than the "Friend's of the Scouts" guy who stood up and asked for donations so that he could make sure there weren't and "perverts" involved in the local scouting community (seriously, he said the word "perverts", in front of like 20 boys aged between 6 and 10, how much you want to bet that becomes the new school yard taunt this week?) It was....interesting. But the fried chicken was good. :)

Now this...

This is a snow day.