Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

I didn't remember my mother making New Years' bread until I stumbled on the word-- vasilopita-- somewhere a few years ago. I immediately got a smell and an image in my head; somewhere in my past I watched either my mother or my yiayia making this sweet bread.

Vasilopita is a sweet yeast bread flavored with mahlepe, ground cherry pits. (Thank goodness for The Spice House, which had this spice, as it was very hard to find.) This bread is made in honor of the patron saint of Greece, St. Basil, on his name day, January 1st; hence the association with the new year. The tradition is to bake a coin or trinket into the bread; the person who gets the slice with the coin has good luck the rest of the year. I used a Chinese coin in honor of the other half of our family heritage.

This recipe is from Adventures in Greek Cookery by Kapulos and Jones.

1 cup milk
2 yeast cakes (or equivalent dry yeast)
3/4 cup + 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter
3 eggs, well-beaten
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon mahlepe
1/3 cup lukewarm water
up to 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 or 2 clean coins

for topping:
3 tablespoons light cream
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sesame seeds

Scald the milk and set aside to cool. Crumble the yeast in a small bowl, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar, and set aside for 10 minutes, or prepare dry yeast per packet directions. Don't put the dry yeast straight into the mixture, however careful you are with temps. It doesn't work as well. *

When milk is cool (I cooled mine in the fridge, to about 100F/38C, or just warm to the touch) combine it with remaining sugar, and the next 5 ingredients (through the mahlepe) in a large bowl. Beat with electric beater for 5 minutes. If using fresh/cake yeast, add the lukewarm water to the yeast, blend until smooth, then stir into the mixture. For dry yeast, simply stir the foamy, activated yeast into the bread. Add the flour and cup at a time and knead the dough until soft and pliable. If you use a dough hook, use it for the first 4 cups of flours, then work in the last 1 or 2 cups by hand, kneading as you go. (I seldom use all 6 cups.)  Thoroughly grease the sides and bottom of a large bowl. Turn the dough into it and rotate until all sides are greased. Cover with a heavy cloth and put in a warm place to rise for two hours. It should at least double in size.

After two hours, turn the dough out on a floured board and knead lightly. Divide into two parts and put a clean coin in the center of each, or for one loaf leave dough in one piece and use one coin. Then knead until the coins are well hidden. Shape the dough to fit into two greased 9 inch round cake pans or one 12-inch round pan. Combine the cream, sugar and cinnamon, brush over the tops of the loaves and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cover with a cloth and put in a warm place to rise for two hours. It will double or more in size again.

Bake at 350F/175C for 50 minutes (check at 45) for 9-inch loaves, or 1 hour for 12-inch loaf. Remove from pan immediately and cool.

The first slice is for the lord (or the goddess, depending on how you roll). The second is for St. Basil. Dole out the remaining slices from the youngest person at the table to the oldest.

* 2 packets of dry yeast

Sunday, December 27, 2009


When I was in college I lived on "leftovers" as a lifestyle. I would make a pot of spaghetti, or soup (pea or chicken, usually), or stew or a pastitio, on Sunday, and then eat it heated up all week. Leftovers nowadays are the province of Bill, who has a tendency to show up dinnerless around 11 p.m. and eat whatever I've made for dinner. Sometimes I leave him a nicely presented plate to heat up, but sometimes it's spooning something out of tupperware, a much more left-over-y thing to do.

Holidays, of course, generate days and days of leftovers, and an entire culture and recipe book based on them. Nowadays in our family there seems to be an unspoken consensus to send all the leftovers home with the starving musician, but I'm still left with a fridge-full of food.

Turkey generates soup, jook, hash, and sandwiches. Looking at that search page for jook, I see that you can also use ham (why not?), and ham is what we had this year. So that's added to the leftovers list this week.

But the major thing that a nice ham yields is that bone. That big juicy ham bone with all the yummy little bits hanging off it. Boil it up, throw in some peas or beans, black, white or red. Campbell's soup got it right. mmm mmm good.

Spicy Black Bean Soup with ham
1 or 2 cans or one-half to one whole bag dried black beans (depending on how much bean-to-soup ratio you like)
ham bone

2-3 jalapeno peppers
large red pepper, diced
large onion, diced
2 ears, nibletted, or 1 small bag frozen corn
1 large carrot, sliced
1-2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 celery stalks, sliced
other vegetables as the spirit moves you

seasoning (premixed "Mexican" or make your own: chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, cayenne, cilantro. That sound you heard was Rick Bayless spinning in his hacienda at the thought of premixed Mexican seasoning.)

If using dried beans, in the morning, boil them in 8 cups of water for 20 minutes, then let them sit at least 6 hours, or until dinnertime. Drain off the liquid and leave the beans in a large pot (at least two quarts; gallon even better). Canned beans should be drained, rinsed if you're particularly fastidious. Don't conserve the liquid; nothing against the taste or nutrition, it will just make the soup look nasty.

Cut as much loose meat off the bone as you can, dice, and set aside. Simmer the ham bone 1 hour in vegetable stock (or make the stock while boiling the bone, by putting in pepper corns, salt, a couple celery stalks, the onion skins and any other vegetable refuse lying about), using enough liquid to cover the bone, about 8 cups. this will reduce to about 6 cups. While the ham bone is simmering, sauté the celery, onion, bell pepper, jalapeno and spices in olive oil (I'm using jalapenos that were preserved in olive oil, so I used that oil, with its spicy overtones).

After an hour, strain the liquid into the beans, and add the sautéed veggies. Bring to a simmer. Adjust the spices. Cut any more meat off the bone and add that and the other conserved meat to the soup. Cook at a very low simmer as long as you can stand smelling it and not eating it.
Since this made about 4 quarts of soup, you can now have leftovers of your leftovers.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas meal, stage two

My mother was Greek, born aboard ship as her mother sailed into New York harbor, according to family legend. I always told this story, but never quite believed it until my aunt unearthed a birth certificate that noted her birth as three days earlier than we had always celebrated. We also have a birth certificate showing the later date. It made me wonder if someone got paid off to alter her official birth date so that she was born on American soil, and thus was a citizen.

Homemade dolmades, or stuffed grapevine leaves, are something I've eaten all my life. I mostly make them for holiday meals, because they're time consuming and use every pot in the house, as does a lot of Greek cooking. They're also great to make just before a manicure because you'll spend about 20 minutes with your fingers immersed in hot olive oil, which makes your skin soft and lovely.

We've always made these vegetarian. I never had meat-filled dolmas until I was an adult. This recipe is from the outstanding Can The Greeks Cook by Venos and Prichard. Their recipe calls for more grapevine leaves (15 oz.) and only half of what I've written for everything else; I've found that the following measures work better. The page for this recipe, the most stained in the book, shows the doubled measure in my mother's handwriting, and my note "Always double this recipe!"

Grapevine Leaves with rice filling

1 jar grapevine leaves (8 or 9 oz)
2 cups of rice
2 cups olive oil
2/3 cup lemon juice
6-10 cups water
1-2 large onions, diced
4 T. tomato paste
4 T. parsley, fresh or 2 1/2 dried (mint is also nice; don't use as much)
1 T sea salt
1 T green peppercorns, ground (black is also fine. Please grind your own)

Soak rice for 30 minutes in 2 cups cold water and 1 teaspoon table salt. Saute onion over medium flame in one cup water until tender, about 15 minutes. Add oil and simmer 5 minutes. Drain rice, add rice and tomato paste to the oil/onion mixture, add salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add parsley and cook 3 minutes. Add half of lemon juice and continue simmering for 5 minutes. Don't short the times! Allow this to sit a few minutes, covered. This will allow the rice to absorb some more moisture, and also to get cool enough to handle.

Spread the grapevine leaves on a large wooden cutting board. Starting from the stem, place about 2 T of rice per leaf; roll a little ways from the stem end, fold in the sides and continue rolling tightly. Arrange in layers in medium compact saucepan. pour remaining lemon juice over rolls, along with one cup of water and any remaining oil in the pan. I'm afraid you'll have to eat any left-over rice now.

Cover and bring to a boil; strong simmer for 5 minutes over high flame. Reduce heat and simmer lightly about 15 minutes. Add another cup of water if the first has been absorbed. Reduce heat to low, and continue cooking for 15 minutes or until rice is tender.

Serve hot or cold. Makes about 30-40 small rolls. Some of them will fall apart. Use those to taste-test.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

If I get an apple corer for Christmas, I'm going to be pissed

My sister-in-law makes a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner every year, although she confessed this year that preparing these meals makes her terribly anxious. Which is amazing, because she is such a rock in my life, and such a wonderful cook (in fact, more or less wonderful at everything).

I rather enjoy conceptualizing, planning and making these big meals. I love to plan them and to execute them, for the full sensory onslaught-- taste, and smell, and sight. I got the idea to do a maple-themed meal from a recipe on that insomniac's savior, the show Cultivating Life. Their recipe for maple scones will be on the menu for Friday.

I have the luxury of spreading out the cooking over several days (plus I cheated and got a ham this year, which means no main dish worries), so I'll be making the meal in stages. Today I started with the things that will keep the best.

Apple sauce
4-12 large Granny Smith apples
1T light brown sugar for each 2 apples
1/4 c. pure maple syrup
1 cup water
small handful to 1/2 c. dried cranberries (depending on how much applesauce you've made)

Peel and core the apples. Cut the apples into smallish chunks, conserve the peels and cores in a pot of cold water (or two pots if you're making a larger batch).

Dissolve the sugar in the water in a small saucepan, and simmer until the water is clear. This will prevent the sugar from burning in the apples. You can also just leave the sugar out entirely, although use a sweeter apple like a Gala, Mac, or Red Delicious if you don't use sugar. The Grannies are quite tart.

Put the sugar syrup, maple syrup and apples in a large pot or dutch oven and bring to a light simmer, stirring constantly. Continue simmer and stirring until the apples are a uniform chunky mush, then blend in the pot using a hand-held immersible blender (my best new toy of 2009).

Simmer the cranberries in a little bit of water just until they plump up, then mix them into the applesauce. Serve warm, cold, or room temp. Delicious no matter what.

Apple-Maple syrup
a TorXani original!

Apple cores and peels
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup maple sugar (or, since it's hideously expensive, 1 cup granulated sugar)
2 cups water, plus water for the apples

Put the conserved apple cores and peels in enough water to completely cover them, and simmer until the skins are soft (about 20 minutes). Since I used 12 apples for the applesauce, I ended up with two 2-quart pots of water and peels.

Combine the sugar, maple syrup, and 2 cups water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Run the apples and their water through the food mill, scraping the pulp into a separate bowl (it's applesauce) and discarded the pips, skins and cores. You should now have an apply juice; pour this into the maple syrup mixture.

Boil the whole thing down to 2 1/2 or 3 cups (3 cups makes a thinner syrup). Strain it through a fine seive and cheesecloth. You can use this as an ice cream or waffle syrup, or add it to club soda for homemade apple soda.

I used the strained pulp as a glaze for a pan-fried catfish. Very nice.

By the way, these recipes are not for the faint of heart:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blessed be

I tried something new for the Winter Solstice, as this day symbolizes newness with the start of the sun's return journey through longer days. It symbolizes renewal in every religion of the world. People have been celebrating the Solstices ever since some genius figured out that it marks the largest variance between day and night, nearly 5,000 years ago. It seemed to me a Solstice meal had to have body, and, here in the frozen north, had to come from the larder, rather than fresh-picked (or modernly preserved).

So, for a blessed Solstice, with a little help (okay, pretty much the entire recipe) from my friends at

Winter squash risotto
large acorn squash (or other winter squash)
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (9 oz)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
5 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/2 oz) or other hard cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons white peppercorns, ground
2/3 cup walnut pieces, lightly crushed and toasted
4 oz arugula, swiss chard, or spinach (6 cups), or broccoli florets, chopped up.

Roast squash:
Halve squash lengthwise and seed, roast slices, skin side down, in a shallow baking pan in middle of oven until tender and golden, about 50 minutes at 350F/175C. Remove from oven and cool until you can handle it, then peel and cut roughly into 1/2-inch pieces. (Peel can be reserved to make more broth).

Toast walnuts by placing on an ungreased baking sheet in the cooling oven. Do not turn the oven back on; the residual heat is plenty.

for the risotto:
Bring broth to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer, covered. Meanwhile, cook onion in butter in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until softened. Add rice, garlic, and cumin and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is creamy-looking but still al dente (it should be the consistency of thick soup), about 18 minutes total. (There will be leftover broth.)
NB: I was completely amazed at the accuracy of this description for adding the broth, by the way. Having never made risotto before, I was a little worried about how to get that wonderful texture.

Stir in squash pieces. These broke down, as the squash was quite soft, giving the mixture a lovely golden color, and distributing the sweet flavor of the squash through the whole thing. Stir in cheese, salt, pepper, walnuts and greens and simmer, stirring, 1 minute. (If necessary, thin risotto with some leftover broth.) You can also add other herbs. Epicurious suggested sage, but I'd go "to taste" here.

Serve risotto immediately. It also tasted great the next day, but had lost the nice texture.

Blessed be is a traditional Wiccan greeting (or as traditional as Wicca gets, anyway), and I just like it as an all-purpose holiday greeting, nice and ecumenical.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A new dish and an old complaint

Coffee with Mealah and Isaac this morning-- lovely. They were amazed at my endless blogging. I often attribute it to either my insomnia or my manic episodes-- you can get a lot done on the happy edge of crazy, but actually I think it's more because the web is such a controllable environment.

On line, I have no boss, or deadline. I can delete the unpleasant comments, and only interact with people who agree with me. I don't care if people don't like me, or object to my pink hair, or think they are better than me. On line, no one is better than me. On line I'm an expert cook, and a master gardener, and a wonderful mom, and who's to say me nay?

Today, an experiment, drawn from the web and then tweaked to be my own. This is essentially pizza casserole

Baked mozzarella

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-4 slices coarse country-style bread
salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 tomatoes, cut into thick slices
13 oz mozzarella cheese, sliced
several slices hard salami, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Pour the oil into a baking dish. Arrange the bread slices in the baking dish so they are slightly overlapping in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover the bread with the tomatoes . Arrange the mozzarella over the toms, then put the salami over all. Sprinkle with the oregano or basil.

For vegetarian, substitute walnuts for the salami.

Bake in a preheated 400 degrees F oven for about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The endless warmth

It's a funny autumn season this year. It's not actually summer-like, and October was perfectly miserable, but the weather feels like it is never going to break. It looks like autumn. The sun is at that autumn angle that makes everything still and golden. Sunset comes at the correct time, and the leaves all turned, and fell.

But the gentle air goes on and on, not really warm, but zephyrous. There hasn't been a day yet where the sun is bright and painful, the winter sun that hits like a shard of glass, or the frozen crystal in your eye that enslaves you to the ice queen.

So for a fall day in this year's endless wait between equinox and solstice, a one-pan autumn meal.

Autumn pan chicken

One cut-up chicken
3-4 pats of butter
2 T flour
one medium onion, sliced
fall vegetables (I used carrots, potatoes, turnips, but you could also do this with squash or pumpkin)
dried sage
2 cups apple cider
black pepper

Melt 2-3 pats of butter in a large saucepan. Heat the cider just short of boiling (about 5 minutes at 80% in the microwave.) Saute the chicken on both sides (to keep the skin from pulling off, wait for it to "release," meaning, when it's properly cooked on the first side, it will be easy to turn. If it resists and sticks to the pan, just wait until it wants to turn). Add the onions and vegetables and saute about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the butter, plus the sage, salt and pepper. When the butter is melted, dredge with flour, turning the chicken a couple of times. Add half the cider and reduce until it barely covers the bottom of the pan, scraping up the brownings. Add the rest of the cider, turn to a light simmer and cover for about 15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Serve with noodles or rice and a fall vegetable like broccoli or brussels sprouts.

Please buy your chicken from a butcher or mercado, not from the chain stores, where it will have been chilled to 33F/1C meaning it will be tough and tasteless.

Friday, November 27, 2009


As our reduced family (two uncles and a daughter couldn't make it this year) sat around dessert yesterday, I vowed I would remember all the family stories that came up so I could include them in this post today. Naturally, when I woke up this morning, they were all gone from my head. There are psychologists that make a case for forgetfulness. There's the problem of the internet, which saves everything. I have thought about this often-- the value of the ephemeral--and applied it in our lives by not documenting every moment of our children's journey, as American parents do.

So meals like yesterday's become important, when everyone brings the stories out and you compare notes and hone the details. As I write I can't even remember the subjects of the stories. Did we talk about Seng Lim's time on the cruise ship? About moving the shop down the street? Did Uncle Lajos come up? I can't remember.

Nga Jee called from England after dinner, and we described the meal to her. Mary  had made the traditional meal, and described its provenance-- a complete Thanksgiving menu published in the late 70s in the old Betty Crocker magazine Sphere. Mary  and I have been making this meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas (and sometimes both) for more than 20 years. I have the old recipes that Mary wrote out for me long before the kids were born, I finally laminated them.

Turkey with apple-raisin stuffing

1 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. butter
1 quart chopped apples (I use Granny Smiths)
1 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. fresh parsley
1 egg
1/4 c. apple cider
1 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Saute onion in butter over medium heat until transparent (about 5 minutes); stir in apples and celery, simmer uncovered over medium heat sitrring occasionally (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat, lightly beat egg and stir in, stir in remaining ingredients. Stuff bird. Oops. Find a recipe/instructions for roasting a stuffed turkey. Do that.

World's Best Cranberry Chutney
1 lb cranberries (these used to come in 16 oz bags, now they've reduced bag size to 12 oz, so just deal)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. golden raisins
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp allspice
1 cup water
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped apple (Granny Smiths)
1/2 c. chopped celery

Simmer cranberries, sugar, raisins and spices in 1 cup water, uncovered, in a saucepan over medium heat, just until the cranberries release their juice (about 15 minutes). Keep heat low, and stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer until it thickens, about 15 minutes. Can be served warm or cold. I think it's best when made the day before and stored in the fridge, then served at room temperature for the actual meal.

Finished up with pumpkin pie, but enough with the pumpkin recipes already.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cranberry sauce

Wonkette : Wonkette’s Actual Awesome Real Cranberry Business

This is how I am going to write all my recipes from now on. (Seriously, this looks delicious)

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Maybe the cold makes me revert to meat

In my northside Chicago neighborhood, we still have an old-fashioned Centrella butcher in a little free-standing, independently owned grocery store. If it's not the last of its kind, it's close. It's the sort of place where the bag boy knows which car is yours, and the butcher/owner remembers your kids' birthdays.

For most of the time my kids were growing up and I was working downtown full time, we seldom went there, because he's only open during working hours-- 9 to 5 and closed Sunday-- so I was never able to make it. A few years after starting to work at home I had a facepalm moment, duh! I don't have to buy the awful industrial meat at Dominick's anymore. So I periodically do a "meat binge" and rack up the protein meals for a while. His chickens have actual dark meat, you can get fresh, never-frozen turkeys the day before Thanksgiving, ground chuck that you'd swear was ground steak (at half the grocery store price), homemade (by him) sausage, and guaranteed tender pork.

Rosemary pork loin roast with roasted potatoes

Small pork loin roast, boned (the butcher will do this for you)

1/4 cup olive oil
2 T dried rosemary
1 T dried sage
green peppercorns, ground, to taste, or about 1/4 teaspoon
sea salt, to taste, or about 1/2 teaspoon
4 large cloves of garlic

1 large russet potato per diner

Blend the herbs, 2 cloves of the garlic, and oil together. Cut about 6 slits in the roast and insert slices of the remaining garlic cloves. Rub the oil mixture on all sides of the roast. Let sit on the counter 1 to 3 hours.

Heat oven to 450F/230C. Roast the meat for 20 minutes. While it is roasting, cut the potatoes into large chunks (peel or not, personal preference), put them in a pot and bring them to a boil, then drain*. Potatoes should have just started cooking (don't let them cook through). Remove the roast from the hot oven and baste it in its own juices, then add the potatoes to the roasting pan and dot with butter. Turn the oven down to 300/150 and continue cooking, basting meat and potatoes occasionally, until thickest part of roast is 170F/75C. (One source I found recommended 145/62. My thermometer has pork at 170-180. If you're not sure, slice into the meat. Pork should have no red in it or it isn't done.)

Pan gravy

When it's done, transfer the roast and the potatoes to a serving dish, and use the drippings to make pan gravy. Simply put the roasting pan on a burner, add a cup of liquid (broth and/or white wine, or water if you have neither). Bring it to a simmer and scrape the browning off the bottom. Add a pat of butter and simmer till it melts, then strain it. For a thicker gravy, add the butter first, with an equal amount of flour, and heat until it forms a thick paste, then add the liquid and mix thoroughly. Don't worry if it looks lumpy, the lumps will come out when you strain it.

*Starting the potatoes in boiling water helps ensure that they actually finish cooking in the oven rather than getting some raw and some cooked, which is what always happens with me. I think it's genetic, because my mother, wonderful cook though she was, also could not roast potatoes to save her life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Still had some cranberries left over

Another original recipe, although there are other similar ones on the web (there's probably a web law for this-- if you can think of it, there's already a website).

Porkchops with cranberry gravy

1 pork chop per diner

1 yellow or Vidalia onion, sliced
1 1/2-2 T butter
6 oz fresh cranberries
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
add'l liquid as needed

Season the porkchops by sprinkling salt, pepper and parsley on each side. Let sit about 10 minutes. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a large saucepan, then sear the pork chops on both sides allowing the pan to brown a bit. Add the onions and sauté until they just start to go translucent. Add the cranberries and heat until they start to release their juice (about 5 minutes). Add the white wine and the sugar and cook the liquid down. When the pan starts to sear again, add the broth.

Continue simmering, turning the chops occasionally, adding liquid (water, broth or more wine) as the gravy reduces. Cook until chops are cooked all the way through, about 15 minutes more or less depending on the thickness of the chops.

Serve over egg noodles or fettucini.

With the cheese bread, this was a beautiful holiday meal. If only there had been someone here to share it with me!

Testing for the holidays

I couldn't make the promised cheese crackers because I realized I don't have a full-sized food processor anymore. My 40 year-old antique finally gave up the ghost last winter. Now I've only got the little 3 cup one.

But I've been jonesing for cheesy things lately, so I didn't want to give up on the cheese, not to mention that I have a fridge full of cheese because I thought I'd be making cheese crackers.

We'll be spending Thanksgiving at my brother- and sister-in-law; I'll be using the last of pumpkin palooza to make some recipes from this site as my contribution. In the meantime, I picked up a couple of bags of cranberries earlier in the week to try a cranberry syrup (it's delicious). Only used one bag for the syrup, so I tried my favorite google search today-- recipe: Random Ingredients.

The Random Ingredients of the day were cranberries and cheese. Yes. There are recipes that use both cranberries and cheese. This one looked like the winner:

Cranberry Cheese Bread
from Baking Bits

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
a 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup fresh orange juice (forgot to get oranges, so I used the cranberry syrup, 3T in a measuring cup, then filled to 3/4 cup total liquid)
2 teaspoons grated orange rind (I used some dried that I had)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 cup chopped cranberries

Sift dry ingredients. Cut in butter until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal.

Combine orange juice (or whatever), rind, and egg and pour into dry ingredients. Mix just to dampen. Fold in cheese, cranberries and nuts. Pour (BakingBits said "pour" but it was more like "glop." Batter is quite thick.) into greased and floured loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 1 hour or until toothpick in center comes out clean. Cool and store overnight before slicing.

I wish I could take a picture of the smell, because it is indescribably delicious. Ditto the taste. Sweet crust, salty cheese, tangy berries.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A visit from the garden glove fairy

Two gardening posts in a row, sorry! I promise a recipe for cheese crackers sometime in the next couple of days.

Just wanted to put up a plug and a thank you for my blogging buddy MrBrown Thumb, font of much gardening wisdom and nexus for all things gardening on the web. He put up a post last summer asking for pictures of gardeners hands, and the prize would be a pair of gardening gloves. Inasmuch as I was the only one who entered (I had just happened to have taken a picture of my hands in my ratty old gloves that day, haha), so I won.

They're gorgeous. They fit like a dream, they feel like high quality driving gloves and not like any gardening gloves I ever had. So a plug for MrBrown Thumb, thank you to Ethel Gloves for asking him to test them (which is I guess why he had this bounty). Sorry for the fuzzy picture. It is very hard to take a photo with one hand.

MBT, thank you so much!

Can't wait for spring!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bloom Day November

I made a lovely cheddar-broccoli soup last night, but no recipe today. Bloom Day is for flowers.

It's early early morning in a November that's been more like late summer than mid fall. I've been out in the garden in shirtsleeves, and my cool weather crops are loving the warm temperatures and short days. The fall flowers are mostly fading on schedule, but the summer ones are thriving.

Inside, the Strepto and the holiday cactus are exploding with color, but I decided to stay outside in the sun. Plenty of winter bloom days ahead for the stay-at-homes.

A volunteer nicotiana, naturalized to a faded, variegated pink. The originals, planted maybe 12 years ago from flats, were white or dark red.

Dwarf iris. Never bloomed outside of June before.

Broccoli, bolted. The flowers, however, are also edible.

More flowers at my flickr page, and don't forget to go over to May Dreams and see everyone's November blooms!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Just close your eyes and eat it

I may have mentioned before the melting pot that is this one family-- we are Chinese-Greek-Turkish-Swedish-Irish-Americans with possibly a little Russian in there somewhere. Throw in my sister-in-law and you add Polish and Hungarian. So we've always been eclectic eaters; my children were the wonder of my friends when they were little, because they'd try anything.

When my father-in-law was alive we used to go to what I called the Tong Dinners every year. These were annual banquets sponsored by the Chin Family Association. Family Associations were formed by overseas Chinese to cope with the new country, to meet the other immigrants in the area and for business, educational and social purposes.

When my son was about 4, the Association dinner that year was a textbook of Weird Chinese Food, all of which the two shiksa daughters-in-law really had to eat. You just didn't not eat what was put in front of you at these things. And at that particular dinner one of the things they served us was oil sludge.

This actually turned out to be pigs feet in greens, so a little off the Middle American track, but not actually inedible. However, for some reason the overhead lights all had amber bulbs in them, which made the cooked greens look like black, viscous sludge. This dinner is still a family legend. And last night I made a version.

My oil sludge soup was actually inspired by this post over at My Folia, and yes, it looks absolutely horrible, but it tastes delicious, and you don't get much healthier than this.

Schi (Russian Greens Soup)
Greens, about 2 quarts. I used Swiss Chard, Turnip Greens, Lovage, and Salad Burnet
Olive Oil
2 quarts broth (beef, chicken or vegetable)
Onions, daikons, and/or leeks, about 1 cup diced

Trim the stems/spines from the leafy greens; strip the herb greens from the stems. Chop roughly, into strips or bite size.

Crumble or dice and sauté the sausage (I peel the casing off, but that's a personal preference), once it starts to brown, add the onions/daikons/leeks and sauté until they are translucent. Add the greens in handfuls and continue sautéing to reduce the greens. Add olive oil as needed (I used a slightly spicy olive oil that had jalapenos in it).

Add the broth and simmer for an hour. Do not skimp on the simmering because you need to make sure the greens are broken down.

You'll want to play around with spices/herbs in this. I used a home-made fennel-based broth which had quite a strong flavor already, and all my broths are made with salt and peppercorns. I didn't want to overwhelm the cucumber-y flavor of the lovage and the burnet, so I didn't add any other herbs or spices, not even salt.

I'm including a picture of the fresh greens and not the finished soup, because it looks perfectly awful, but it tastes absolutely delicious. If you can get a child to eat this soup, you win parenthood forever.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An American Icon

I've always liked to make, myself, whatever I can. I've sewn my own jeans for heaven's sake. I've made a men's suit jacket, and winter coats. I pulp pumpkins. I made ginger ale. So homemade jam is no biggie. It's ridiculously easy. The hardest thing about it is remembering to watch the pot so it doesn't burn.

A few weeks ago I made one of my syrups from grapes. I had some red grapes that were going bad, so I just decided to try homemade grape syrup, and it was so delicious. Tasted like grapes. Which gave me the idea to try it with concord grapes.

A real American flavor, concord grapes are a fairly recent cultivar of a native North American species, and the staple of the grade school diet, of course, in the form of grape jelly. It's such a staple of processed food, in fact, that it's easy to dismiss. The absurd purple crayon color, the sweetness, the one-trick pony usage (PBJ!), all serve to make this a homemade item that's easy to over look.

Two days ago I found concord grapes at the local chain market. So I bought 6 pints, which filled a 2 quart pot, and made grape jam.

Homemade concord grape jam

6-8 pints concord grapes, stems removed (don't try to seed them, you can't)
1 1/2 cups sugar (I used white, but I'm betting this would be intense with maple sugar. Use only 1 cup of maple, as it's sweeter than cane)
1/4 cup water

Put the grapes, water and 1/2 cup of sugar in a 2-quart sauce pan, and bring to a light boil. Simmer until the skins break down, then mash it with a potato masher to loosen the seeds. This won't take more than about 10 minutes; maybe less.

To get rid of the seeds, transfer a couple of cups at a time to a food mill with the medium sieve in it (too large a sieve and the seeds will get through, too small and you'll end up milling the seeds). Run it through, scraping the pulp from bottom of the mill into your catch container. Discard or compost the seeds. Once it's all milled, put it back into the sauce pan, and add the rest of the sugar. You should have about 2/3 to 3/4 the volume you started with at this point.

Bring it back to a light boil and reduce it by half, give or take (less reduction will result in a more liquid jam, more reduction for a denser jam). Pour immediately into sterilized jars*, and put in the fridge.

It really is that purple crayon color.

*an easy way to sterilize jars: open them and place them face down on a cookie sheet. Put them in the oven. Set the oven to 300F/150C. When it reaches the full temp, turn it off, then let the jars cool in the oven (takes a couple hours).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A week's worth of pent-up cooking mojo

After lunch, I started thinking about that big tub of yogurt that I used for my soup garnish, and all those carrots I still have from the garden, and the walnuts that I found. Well, one of the things I've learned is that if you google "recipe: any combination of ingredients", someone has a recipe.

Found this wonderful nutty bread on the Plumpest Peach blog. She credits it to Olive magazine. I've adjusted her metric measures for us diehard avoir-dupois-ists.

Quick carrot and walnut bread

1 1/2 c plain flour
5.8 c whole meal flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2/3 c grated carrots
handful of walnuts toasted
1 1/4 c low-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 c skim milk

Heat oven to 455 F. Mix the flours, salt and baking soda, then stir in the carrot, walnuts and yogurt, followed by enough milk to make a soft, quite sticky dough. Tip onto a floured surface and form a flat ball, put on a baking sheet, slash the top and bake for 30 minutes until risen and cooked. It'll sound hollow when you tap it.

Back from the dark side

The dark side being tv dinners.

I've never been one to avoid fast food, although prepared food has always somewhat stumped me. Canned soup, okay, although soup is so easy to make, but mashed potatoes or stuffing out of a box? This seems bizarre to me. Although my daughter is a big fan of Kraft Mac and Cheese, but there is a kind of American primal response to it.

But up, at last, from my week-long bout with maybe-the-flu I wanted to cook. Last night I combined the best of both worlds making one of those Asia-in-a-box meals, with my own fresh vegetables and pine nuts. This morning I took my giant stash of fresh parsley (grown from seed, yay me) and dried half, then made a pesto with the other half. Parsley is one of those things that for some reason I hate to buy. It seems like cheating somehow.

Moving on to lunch, I recall my brother's amusing comment that there was a spy in my tomatoes, and thought, hmmm. So here's another Xan original.

Tomato-Apple Soup with leeks and chard

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 pounds ripe tomatoes
3 small apples, peeled and chopped fine
1/2 c. leeks, chopped very fine
3 cups loose of chopped chard (about 9 large leaves)

Place the apples and leeks with the stock in a medium saucepan,simmer. Blanche* and seed the tomatoes and conserve the water. Add the tomato meat to the stock. Run the seeds and skins through a food mill to extract every bit of delicious juice, add to pot. Simmer 30 minutes or more, until all vegetables are completely broken down. Puree (easiest way is with a hand held submersible blender, although you can also use a food processor or blender). Blanche the chard in the conserved water, drain and add to the soup just before serving.

Serve plain or garnish with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream.

* This is how you peel tomatoes. Drop each one in boiling water for 15-20 seconds. When it comes out the skin will slip right off, leaving all the meat for eating.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I love the 21st century

I learned my way around the kitchen from my mother, who was a wonderful cook both because of her skill and her adventurousness. I still use most of her pots and utensils, not to mention her spice jars (and in fact I think I still have some of her spices.)

While both my parents embraced the ethnicity-numbing melting pot and post war suburbia, she continued to cook "ethnic" throughout her life. I never even heard of frozen french fries, or knew that real people actually ate green beans baked in canned mushroom soup or put mini marshmallows in salad until I was in college. I remember the day in my junior year when roommate pulled the frozen french fries out of the freezer and spread them on a baking sheet. I asked what they were, and she looked at me like I had two heads (actually, she always looked at me like that, in her safe little suburban worldview I did have two heads.)

Because of this, one of my favorite things to eat as a little girl was tv dinners. The old fashioned Swanson ones in the divided aluminum trays. These were my main experience of "American" food. My mother never made hamburgers-- she made Greek or Swedish meatballs. Forget fried chicken; our chicken was Greek, too, marinated in lemon and oregano. Steaks? Never-- Julia Child's best boeuf bourguignon, but learned, not from Julia, but from her Provençal landlady in Aix after the war. And of course, french fries were, well, fried.

This week, after being sick for several days, I relented on the cooking and told Bill to just buy some canned and frozen meals, and he bought a couple of "tv dinners" multi-culti style. Swanson, move over, this company makes Chicken Tikka-Masala. And it was pretty good.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Roasted root vegetables with swine flu*

Got your attention, didn't it? But I guess that's not halal, so how about Roasted Root Vegetables with Pumpkin krema.

Third day sick in bed with low grade fever bouncing up and down, general malaise, coughy chest, stuffed up head. Thought I might feel better if I got up; at least I wouldn't be so bored, and it worked for a while, unfortunately by the time I was feeling crummy again I had to wait for the vegetables to finish roasting.

*Update: got the test. Doctor's verdict: "It's not swine flu. Unless it is." Test is inconclusive 40% of the time.

However, it was worth the wait. My own invention, inspired by a fridge full of not-goin-to-last-forever harvest and 6 cups of pumpkin puree. This is based on one of my favorite Greek recipes, roasted cauliflower in krema (basically an egg custard). It came out both delicious and one of the most beautiful dishes I've ever made, with deep autumn colors and a wonderful smell.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Pumpkin krema.

2 medium potatoes
1-2 small turnips (1/2 lb. or less total)
4 medium carrots
1/2 cup beets, cut in small chunks
1 cup broccoli florets
1 onion

1/2 cup milk or 1/2 and 1/2
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup pumpkin puree
salt to taste

Prepare a 2 qt casserole (spray with cooking spray or butter lightly)

Scald the milk; while it is heating melt the butter in a medium saucepan, brown the flour in it. Don't let the butter burn. Add the scalded milk and remove from heat. Stir quickly; this should immediately form a thick paste. Beat in the egg and then add the pumpkin puree. Set aside.

Cut the vegetables in large chunks, then boil the potatoes, turnips, and carrots until barely al dente and put in the casserole (they'll finish cooking in the oven). Remove from the water (don't drain-- you'll keep using the same water). Blanche the Broccoli, remove from water, add to the casserole. Boil the beets until barely al dente (don't do the beets with other veggies unless you want everything to be pink). Put in the casserole, toss with the pumpkin sauce.

Cover and bake covered for 40 to 60 minutes in 350F/175C oven. Serve as a side dish, or over wilted greens with nuts as a main dish.

Monday, October 26, 2009

REALLY scratch spaghetti sauce

Despite gloomy forecasts, it was sunny and 60 on Sunday, so I was able to get out into the garden and some of that end-of-year work that’s been nagging. I managed to get a good harvest of leeks (watch this space for cream of leek soup, coming up in a couple of days), broccoli, parsley, and carrots, and mowed the lawn maybe the second to last time for the year. And then I just sat on my stoop and looked at the garden and thought, "this is the feeling that everything I do should give me. This is how good I want to feel about what I do in my life."

Because working in the garden gives me a feeling of utter well being. Better than a pill.

Today's recipe is actually inspired by my bag-ripened tomatoes, and it's time to talk about how to make tomato sauce from the whole fruit.

Tomato sauce or puree from fresh tomatoes
To remove the skin, you need to blanche the tomatoes. Boil water in a 2-quart saucepan. When it's at a rolling boil, dip each tomato in, whole, for a count of 20-30 (or until the skin splits, whichever comes first). Remove it, and take the skin right off (it should just slip right off). Cut the tomato in quarters, and scoop out the seeds, set them aside with the skin (you'll make juice with these). Also core them, then roughly cut the remaining meat and put them in a second sauce pan.

Run the cores, skin and seeds through food mill, or just press them through a sieve if you don't have a food mill (although you should have one). You should end up with a nice red tomato juice, just poor this right back into the sauepan with the tomato chunks. Simmer this down to the desired consistency for either sauce or paste.

You can make about a quart of sauce from 6 large or 10 smallish tomatoes.

Tomato sauce with roasted bell pepper

2 large bell peppers, different colors
1-2 pints of tomato sauce
4 medium garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1/2 large onion, diced
4 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1-2 teaspoons sugar if needed
salt and pepper to taste

To roast the peppers, cut them in half, remove the seeds and stem and roast at 400F/200C for 20 minutes or until the skin starts to brown. Remove from oven, remove the skin (should be easy) and dice.

Saute onion and garlic in a little olive oil, add the tomato sauce and simmer. After about 5 minutes, add peppers, oregano, and bay. Give it a taste and add remaining flavorings. The roasted peppers give this sauce quite a sweet taste; I liked it better with a little sugar added, so that the tomato also leaned to the sweet rather than the acid side. For a really sweet sauce, add a pinch of baking soda.

Serve over your pasta of choice.

Friday, October 23, 2009

'Scuse me while I take some aspirin

Just dropping in for a quick note, to say that I have an MSG headache and only myself to blame. It's one of those scheduling things. I have a list of fantastic things to make with all that fresh food-- cheese casserole, stir fry, barbeque chicken, pumpkin soup-- and just haven't been on top of the schedule.

So I have eaten the last three meals at the mall or MacDonald's.

No wonder all those suburbanites in SUVs are so full of road rage. They've poisoned themselves on industrial food.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Guinea pigs

The cast, crew and staff of Light Opera Works' production of C'est la vie went the extra mile this week and taste-tested two different versions of carrot bread for me, including my first ever attempt at changing key ingredients in a baked goods recipe. You may have noticed that you don't see a lot of baked goods on here; I'm not much of a baker. All that sciencey-stuff. You kind of have to know what you're doing.

But I took a chance at a pumpkin-carrot bread (remember all that pumpkin and carrot in the larder?) made with honey instead of sugar. The verdict seems to be that this Carrot Pear Bread was the winner, but the adapted recipe was also pretty good. (Don't tell them, but I brought them the smaller, drier loaf. What can I say.)

Apparently, I have now spoiled them, as they are asking what I'm bringing next week. This is why I never bake (although I did find a recipe for pumpkin-chocolate swirl brownies...)

Pumpkin-carrot bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 T cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups honey
1 cup homemade or 1 can of pumpkin puree
4 large eggs
3/4 cup nut or vegetable oil
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease and flour two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans.

Put raisins in a microwaveable container, just cover with water, and microwave on high for 1 minute (this will plump them).

Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Set aside.

Combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil in large mixer bowl; beat until just blended. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture; stir just until moistened. Fold in carrot and raisins. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pans.

Bake for 50 minutes, test with an inserted wooden pick (should come out clean). If not done, bake another 6 to 10 minutes and retest. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes 2 loaves

Friday, October 16, 2009

Jenn brings lunch

My friend Jenn came over today to talk about art and skating, and brought bounty with her, a homemade minestrone made from farmstand vegetables, sourdough bread, and chocolate eclairs. I provided the ambience and the homemade cherry soda. A perfect finish to a week of rain and flu.

Minestrone is another "stone soup" type of dish. There are some things you must put in there to call it minestrone-- cabbage, red beans, tomato, carrots, oregano-- but otherwise pretty much anything will do. Jenn threw in some brussels sprouts she had hanging around.


The Broth:
Beef or vegetable broth, homemade or canned
1 can of whole tomatoes, or 3-5 cut up fresh tomatoes
oregano, salt, pepper

The Bulk:
Thinly sliced onion
crushed or pressed garlic* (please fresh cloves only. Dried garlic is an abomination)
Kidney beans
1/2 large or 1 small head cabbage, rough cut
coupla carrots, cut in good sized chunks
something green (broccoli, spinach, green beans, or even brussels sprouts)

If you use dried beans, give yourself enough time to plan ahead. Most packages say soak overnight, but I've found this never gets them soft enough. I've found it works better to boil them for about 20 minutes, then drain and resoak in hot water at least 2 hours. Home-picked beans from a backyard garden also need to be processed this way; they'll behave like dried. But canned beans are fine, just remember to drain them well. I like to use different colored beans, from black to pinto, for the interesting visual sometimes.

Sautee the onions and garlic in some olive oil. When the onion turns translucent, add the broth ingredients, and then pretty much right away the remaining ingredients. Simmer for an hour. More. Less if you're impatient. Make enough to save, because this stuff is better from sitting overnight.

Garnish with grated parmesan or romano cheese; serve with a nice heavy peasant bread.

Thanks Jenn!

* to peel garlic with no mess or fuss, lay each clove on its side, snip off the ends, and gently tap with the flat of a large knife. The paper will fall off easily and you can crush, chop, or put it in the garlic press.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bloom Day October

Gloom Bloom Day October dreary wet cold. If we hadn't just had the coldest mid-October week in 140 years I believe I would have my late-season roses, my reblooming white iris, and possibly my new black iris. The beans that I was leaving on the vine for seeds are a loss-- vines died, so I don't know if the pods will mature enough to have viable seeds. The last pumpkin is not getting any riper, and the broccoli is in a holding pattern. Fingers are crossed for a promised warm-up next week.

In the meantime, still both fall and summer in the garden, fairly typical for this time of year.

Sweet Autumn Clematis, with blooms as beautiful fading as they are when full
More beauty in decline. Sedum with the turning foliage of canterbury bells.

I guess you can't have October Bloom Day without some mums

Head over to May Dreams for everyone's October Bloom Day, and to my flickr page for all my garden photos.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Unfortunately, the music season starts just when the larder is packed with fresh vegetables. Why is this a problem? Because I'm now cooking, essentially, for one. The remaining musician at home, Bill, chows down on the leftovers, but somehow it's not the same making homecooked goodness and then sitting down to eat it by myself. I'd send more of the bounty down to Julian but I'm afraid he won't cook it.

Eating alone, eating alone well, is a leap of faith, a statement of self-esteem. It's very very easy to sit down to Wheel of Fortune and a bag of oreos for dinner, but you just hate yourself afterwards. It's hard to hate yourself after making crab cakes and then inventing your own version of slaw as garnish.

Brussels sprouts slaw
1 1/2 cups fresh brussels sprouts, blanched and sliced
1 cup cabbage, sliced (I had a very tiny head from the garden. Don't use too much or it will overwhelm the flavor of the brussels sprouts)
small onion, sliced very very thin
1/2 small green pepper, sliced thin
2-3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped roughly

3 tablespoons each, lime juice and real mayonnaise
2-3 teaspoons hot or brown mustard
white pepper, salt to taste

Whip the dressing ingredients together (make sure you whip or blend it really well so that the lime juice doesn't separate the mayo. This has to do with emulsion or acid or something. What, you thought I knew what I was doing?) Mix it all up in a bowl, let it sit for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In the larder

Green vegetables. Lots and lots of green vegetables. One quart each of brussels sprouts, broccoli, green beans. 4 quarts of chard still in the ground. Three good sized bell peppers, including one yellow one. Still got a pound of turnips (and more in the ground, along with some beets). About 4 pounds of carrots (and more in the ground, oy). Two quarts of pumpkin pulp, and another pumpkin still, um, in the ground.

On the menu list are:

Pumpkin soup
Broccoli quiche
Some kind of slaw made with brussels sprouts, to go with crab cakes
Carrot bread
Pumpkin bread
Various casseroles

Are you reading this? What else can I make?