Friday, September 27, 2013

A Time to Celebrate - Family


Dad making soup
October 1st marks my youngest sister's 50th birthday. She finally made it. I am long past that now and feeling great to have had a wonderful life and still able to learn so much daily. I am truly grateful for my family, and particularly my sisters (all 5 of them). We always have a wonderful time when we get together, with everyone talking, everyone laughing (which puts me in mind of the quip: "I laughed so hard the tears ran down my legs!"), lots of wine and or other drinks, and most of all the foods. We all are excellent cooks. Some of us have stronger skill sets in one area (or maybe just more patience!) than another, but we are all wonderful cooks. This stemmed from Mom, who was a very good cook, and Dad, who loved to experiment when he had time, coming up with some marvelous recipes along the way.



 
Dad loved to experiment, and was not afraid to try new things. I recall when he and Mom collaborated on a recipe for Ham Bone Soup. Dad found a recipe for "Senate Bean Soup" originally, but was not pleased with how the recipe came out, so over the years he and Mom tweaked the recipe until it came out "right." He loved to make Stewed Tomatoes, and played with that recipe right up until the end of his cooking lifetime. When we were young, Dad would sometimes make us French Omelettes, something he learned when in France during the war. Mom made dishes from her Slovakian heritage with a few other staples thrown in, all of which were just marvelous.

I guess what I am trying to say is that all of us sisters learned what good food was since birth, and we all learned to experiment. When we get together for any event there is so much wonderful food; so many wonderful flavors. Standing around eating and savoring the flavors is something my husband described for me: 


"Have you ever had a meal where the visual presentation was stunning, the smells were incredible and the taste was so remarkable that you ate slowly, savoring every bite, wishing that the experience would never end?"

That is what happens when we all get together. Well, maybe not the "eating slowly" part! But it is magical. Laura, the upcoming birthday girl, makes the most wonderful truffles. I have never had the patience. Barb is always busy with job and her own family all getting together, but even as busy as she is, she always makes putting together a meal for kids, grandkids, extended family and their friends - seem easy. It is a gift, to be sure. She makes basic food taste sublime. Her "Friendship Bread" was nearly an addiction for me! I could write a short story about all the wonderful talents my sisters have in the kitchen. Please excuse if I don't get into the wonders each have created. 

 

So this is some background on my family and how we all got the "cooking gene", and I have taken it a step farther by bringing it all online.  I will be gone a week to celebrate Laura's 50th. In running around the house, gathering up things to pack for the trip, my husband came home with some small cukes to make into Bread and Butter Pickles. I had wanted to make them weeks ago and between one thing and another it didn't happen. Then the season for the small pickling cukes was over and I was left without being able to make these. I wanted to put a photo on my website, but had no cukes to can. I did get them made yesterday, finally, and here is a photo of the final product. 

Bread and Butter Pickles

Bread & Butter Pickles


1 quart apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
7 cups sugar
1 - 2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon whole cloves
5 pounds pickling cucumbers
3 pounds onions, sliced and quartered
Canning or Kosher salt, for sprinkling

Slice cucumbers to about ¼-inch thick and layer into a large colander, sprinkling salt all over them, layer upon layer. Set them aside to drain for at least 1 hour. Meanwhile, slice the onions and set aside. In a large nonreactive enamel or stainless pot mix together the vinegar, sugar water, turmeric, mustard and celery seeds.

In a small piece of cheesecloth, place the allspice, cinnamon and cloves and tie together for easy removal later. Place into the pot. Bring the mixture to nearly boiling to dissolve the sugar. Drain the cucumbers well and add them to the pot with the onions and bring just to under a boil. Remove the little bag of whole spices. Pack the pickles and onions into hot, sterilized jars and top with lids and rings. Place the jars into a boiling water bath to cover and process for 10 minutes at 0 - 1,000 feet. Add 5 minutes for 1,000 to 3,000 feet; 5 more minutes for above 3,000 feet.
 
For the next week I will be helping out at my sister Anita's house, making things to share with all of us for the birthday week. Anita has things well in hand already, but it will be a busy few days. Off I go!



My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.    

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Triumph and Failure, Hand in Hand

I have had a desire to make a "Tea Loaf" (like such things as Pumpkin Bread, Zucchini Bread, etc.) for a while now - using Lavender flowers. I had some cookies a few years ago with lavender flowers in them and I just didn't care for them all that much, despite the fact that I love the scent of lavender.

French Lavender Flowers
Regardless, I wanted to try this out and today just seemed to be the day. I sat down and created what appeared to be a workable recipe. There is always the chance that amounts will be off a bit; a little too runny of a batter needs a little more flour or other binding ingredient or if too thick it may need a little more liquid. As I made this recipe, the batter turned out just perfect. Most of these dessert or tea loaves have a fairly stiff batter, though still pliable enough to mix. The batter looked great and tasted heavenly, so I felt this was a huge success straight out of the mixing bowl.

I sprayed my loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray poured in the batter and baked the loaf. It rose beautifully, browned to perfection, got done all the way through. I left it in the pan to cool for 10 minutes as usual. I ran a knife around the edges. I tried to turn it out. . . . .  and the bottom stayed stuck in the pan, with the rest falling into chunks in my hand. The best laid plans, so they say. . . . .

Okay, so I have no lovely photo of this bread to put on the website, or here. I did take a photo of the mess (below) of what seemed to bode so well. The flavor did stand up to my expectations; it is just perfect. The lavender flavor is there, but nicely mild. The nuts give a nice texture. The color of the bread is lovely, despite the decidedly lavender color of the milk the lavender had soaked in. I believe this recipe would also make excellent muffins.

I will be making this recipe again, very soon. I will first spray the loaf pan and then line the pan with parchment and spray it again before pouring in the batter. Hopefully this will help avoid any sticking to the pan. In the meantime, here is the recipe for this wonderfully tasty tea loaf.
Delicious, but messy Lavender Nut Tea Loaf

Lavender Nut Tea Loaf


3 tablespoons lavender flowers
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)

Heat the buttermilk gently with the lavender flowers until it just comes to boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Prepare a medium loaf pan by spraying with cooking spray or grease with butter or shortening. Cut two pieces of parchment to line the pan with a little overhang. Spray or grease the parchment.

Sift or whisk together in a small bowl the flour, baking powder, soda and salt; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the butter into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until well incorporated. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in the vanilla to combine.

Pour in half of the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed to combine. Add in half the milk and lavender and mix well, then add in the other half of the dry ingredients and them the wet, mixing after each addition. Add in the nuts to just distribute evenly. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake the loaf for 45 to 50 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before turning out of pan to cool on a rack.



My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.    

Monday, September 16, 2013

Appetizers and Wine at Tetiana's Open House

Millard's Artichoke Mini-Quiches and 
Rosemary and Pepper Cheese Coins
Yesterday I attended an Open House held by Tetiana Althoff, Broker Associate for Re/Max Preferred Choice Realtors in town. She had asked me to make some appetizers to serve and advise on some wines to have on hand. It is the first of this sort of open house in this area, and Re/Max Preferred Choice hopes to hold many more like this. The idea is to invite people in to see some of the nicer homes and the food and wine help make the experience memorable.


Tetiana Althoff with Open House Attendee


 

We decided on three easy savory appetizer recipes for this event, plus mini chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream icing. The savory appetizers chosen were Millard's Artichoke Mini-Quiches, Flank Steak Rolls with Gorgonzola Walnut Spread and Savory Blue Cheese Coins with Apricot Jam. While making these last, I decided to make a few more than what I had and made a half recipe using all cheddar cheese and adding in chopped fresh rosemary and fresh ground black pepper.  

Millard's Artichoke Mini-Quiches

Millard's Artichoke Mini-Quiches

Makes 6 muffin-sized quiches or 35 mini tart-sized quiches

1 (12 ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 eggs
6 saltine crackers, optional
3 scallions, chopped, optional
Dash of hot sauce, optional
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients. Divide into 6 greased muffin cups or into greased mini-muffin pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden. If using mini tart pans (size as in the photo), bake for 15 to 20 minutes. 



Savory Blue Cheese Coins with Apricot Jam


Savory Blue Cheese Coins with Apricot Jam
Makes about 90 to 100, depending on size

1½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
¾ cup blue cheese crumbles (Gorgonzola, Bleu, etc.)
½ cup walnuts
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold, unsalted butter cut into ½-inch cubes
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons water

½ cup apricot jam (or use fig jam, peach jam.

In a food processor, combine the first 5 ingredients an process briefly to blend. Add in the cold butter cubes and process until the dough resembles coarse crumbs. Combine the egg yolk with the water and mix well, then add to the food processor. Process until the dough forms moist crumbs.

Turn dough out onto a surface, preferably marble or granite. Smear the dough with the hands and use a pastry scraper to bring the dough together, fold it over, turn and repeat: smear, scrape, turn - about 4 times. Divide dough in halves. Roll each half into an 18-inch long log. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 2 or 3 days.

When ready to make the coins, remove the log from its wrapper and slice thinly, about ¼-inch thick or less. Set these little rounds ½-inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Use a ¼-teaspoon measure and make an indentation in the center of each little coin. Insert a tiny 1/8-teaspoon dollop of jam into the well. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from pan immediately, using a thin spatula.
 

The little cupcakes were made with my Chocolate Cake recipe and topped with Chocolate Buttercream Icing.


Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Mini cupcakes with
Chocolate Buttercream Icing

Makes two 8-inch cake layers

2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup water
¾ cup buttermilk
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled to room temperature


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8-inch round pans. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment and grease or spray the parchment as well.

Measure the flour, soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl and whisk to blend; set aside. In a standing electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until creamy, then add in the eggs and vanilla and beat well. Pour in the melted chocolate and mix. Combine the buttermilk and water. Add the dry ingredients, alternately with the liquid ingredients, until completely mixed.

Pour evenly into prepared pans. Tap pans once or twice sharply on counter top, to release air bubbles.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool.

NOTES: If making mini cupcakes, use mini cupcake papers and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Chocolate Buttercream Icing


Will frost top and sides of an 8-inch cake

½ cup shortening
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
pinch salt
1 pound confectioners' sugar
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons vanilla
¼ - ½ cup water or milk

In one bowl sift together the cocoa with one cup of confectioners' sugar and set aside. Into another bowl, sift the rest of the confectioners sugar with the pinch of salt and set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the room temperature butter and shortening. This step can be just until combined, or may be beaten for about 5 or 6 minutes for a lighter and creamier outcome. Add in the confectioners' sugar and on low speed, combine the ingredients. Beat for 3 to 5 minutes to achieve a lighter texture. Add in the vanilla and ¼ cup of water or milk (or see notes for other ideas).

Add in the confectioners' sugar and cocoa mixture and on low speed, combine well. This is where the difference between a dark chocolate color and pale chocolate color is a choice. Longer beating will lighten color. Add in up to ¼ cup more liquid if the buttercream is not of spreading consistency.

NOTES: This icing can be flavored many ways. Use ¼ cup of a liqueur to flavor, such as Chambord for a raspberry flavor or Grand Marnier for orange flavor, as long as it is not meant for children. Add in some espresso for a mocha flavor or almond extract. The choices are almost limitless.


 
Flank Steak Rolls and Savory Blue Cheese Coins

Tetiana wanted some easy-to-drink wines that most people might like, so we settled on Velvet Crush Pinot Noir and Folie-a-Deux Merlot for the reds, and Menage a Trois White blend and Massimo Sauvignon Blanc for the whites. The mini-quiches and the Savory Blue Cheese Coins went exceptionally well with the white wines and the altered version of the blue cheese coins with rosemary and pepper, along with the flank steak rolls went very well with the red wines.

There was a steady stream of attendees for the open house from 2 to 4 PM. Tetiana was kept busy showing the lovely, large home. When the attendees wandered to the kitchen, my husband and I served them wine and appetizers, which were well received. We also handed out wine rating sheets to the guests. This may seem an odd thing to do at a realtor's open house, but as we were serving wines, and since so many people buy wines "by guess and by golly," rating wines for oneself is a marvelous way to become accustomed to the terms associated with a wine that one enjoys. This allows finding other wines with similar attributes at later dates. It becomes easier to understand what it is about any particular wine that really appeals or what does not.


Tetiana Althoff with an Open House attendee
I feel strongly that anyone interested in drinking wine should expand their palate and try new wines, new styles and alternate grape varieties, avoiding falling into the rut of consistently ordering or choosing the same thing over and over, based on being "safe" with one particular type or flavor. There is too much wonderful wine at really affordable prices these days to not take advantage and try them out.

This concept of serving appetizers (with or without wine) for open houses can be a wonderful way for a realtor or homeowner holding open houses to expand a quick run-through for attendees to a more leisurely and pleasurable event. If you are looking for a house or property in the Aberdeen area, check out Re/Max Preferred Choice.



My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Cracker of a Challenge

My painting of a Current Critter on a plate for my Dad
I am a creative person. I realized this long, long ago. My creativity has come out in different areas as my life went along. I drew pictures as a child, and they were pretty good. I was still drawing, going into high school and my one semester of university. When I moved to Guatemala as a young wife, I learned to cook, finally, and this was a logical step in the creativity department. I learned to cook and eat far different foods than I grew up with. I learned to can foods; make jams. Then I learned to do macramé. I always loved plants and had a relatively green thumb. I made the macramé hangers for plants and sold them along with a potted plant to set in them. Later I learned from my friend Elena how to crochet. I made doilies, baby blankets, sweaters for my kids and lots of other things. I learned to knit, though not as well as I could crochet. I learned to work with ceramics and paint lovely pictures, copying the "Current Critters" of the era.


A Cooking Class at the Dacotah Prairie Museum
Through all this, I still did a lot of cooking with 4 young children at home. Then I met my second husband who is into computers in a huge way. We usually have software and hardware that was termed "bleeding edge", rather than just cutting edge, as it was so far out there in the vanguard of what was the norm. He taught me to use computers and my artistic creativity went wild with the advent of graphic art. I have been asked to give cooking classes at or for the local museum. And now, not quite a year ago I started a website, this blog site, a Pinterest site. I wrote about 100 articles which my husband posted onto many, many online 'zine sites. He posted them all to a Tumblr account. Many of the articles were about herbs and spices and I used sections of those to flesh out the section in my website about "Flavors."



And for the first time in my life, as I started my "A Harmony of Flavors" website I realized I didn't need a recipe to make a new food!  This was such a revelation. It shook my little world. I have been making recipes, but changing things about them to my own taste, for as long as I can recall. This first happened in Guatemala. I had a cookbook my Mom gave me, called "Jiffy Cooking". As one might expect, it used time-saving/labor-saving things like cans and boxes. All of which were not available to me in Guatemala, so I had to improvise and make those "time-saving/labor-saving" ingredients from scratch. I mean, what the heck does one do when a recipe calls for cream of celery soup and no such thing exists?

I have been merrily making up my own recipes now for nearly a year. So when Cindy, a new friend with an extremely restrictive diet gave me a challenge to make her some crackers yesterday, my mind went crazy with possibilities. I had a hard time focusing on our conversation after that little challenge was set down. It percolated in my mind all day yesterday, and this morning I got going. Before I even had breakfast, I set some brown rice to cook!

Two kinds of Crackers this morning
Cindy is not on a gluten-free diet, per se, though she is not eating gluten. She cannot eat much of seeds or nuts. Beans of various sorts, brown rice, quinoa and many vegetables are her staples, along with some little meat or fish. Nothing from the nightshade family, no citrus or anything at all with acid. I wrote down those things that she could eat, and with those parameters I came up with two different kinds of crackers for her. As they baked this morning I was so excited. The first batch smelled wonderful while baking, and my only concern was that they be too fragile to hold a topping. This seems not to be a problem after all. I called them: 

Garbanzo Brown Rice Crackers with Herbs and Onion

set on parchment, scored and ready to bake

Makes about 35 to 40 (1½ x 2-inch) crackers

1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (drained, canned beans work just fine)
1 cup cooked brown rice (¼ cup before cooking)
2 tablespoons onion, very finely minced
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced
½ teaspoon fresh thyme, finely minced
½ - 1 teaspoon salt, as needed
¼ cup olive oil

Place in the bowl of a food processor all ingredients except the brown rice. Process , scraping down sides as needed, until a smooth paste has formed. Add in the brown rice and process again, until well combined.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 on Convection Bake). Cut a piece of parchment that will fit on a baking sheet. Pour the cracker dough onto the parchment and smooth with a spatula as much as possible. Cover with another piece of parchment that has been sprayed lightly with cooking spray, sprayed side downwards, onto the dough. With a rolling pin, smooth the dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Peel off the top parchment sheet very gently and discard. Slide the parchment onto the baking sheet. With a pastry cutter or knife, score the dough into whatever size or shape desired, but keeping them relatively small. Bake them for about 35 minutes. Remove from oven and slide the parchment onto a rack to cool.

Once cool enough to handle, carefully peel the crackers off the parchment. Some will be crisp and many will not. If they need more crisping, reduce the oven to 300 degrees (275 on convection bake) and bake them for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until they reach the desired crispness.


I went ahead with a second variety as the first kind came out of the oven. The second variety I named: 

set on parchment, scored and ready to bake

Quinoa Brown Rice Crackers with Bragg's and Garlic


Makes about 35 to 40 (1½ x 2-inch) crackers

1 cup cooked red (or white) quinoa (½ cup before cooking)
1 cup cooked brown rice
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 tablespoon Bragg's Liquid Aminos
2 tablespoons olive oil

Place all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and process until fairly smooth. The quinoa will remain visibly "whole" even though it is cooked. The mixture will look rather like a whole-grain mustard.

Preheat oven to 375 (350 on Convection Bake). Cut a piece of parchment that will fit on a baking sheet. Pour the cracker dough onto the parchment and smooth with a spatula as much as possible. Cover with another piece of parchment that has been sprayed lightly with cooking spray, sprayed side downwards, onto the dough. With a rolling pin, smooth the dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Peel off the top parchment sheet very gently and discard. Slide the parchment onto the baking sheet. With a pastry cutter or knife, score the dough into whatever size or shape desired, but keeping them relatively small. Bake for about 35 minutes. Remove from oven and slide the parchment onto a rack to cool.

Once cool enough to handle, carefully peel the crackers off the parchment. Some will be crisp and many will not. If they need more crisping, reduce the oven to 300 degrees (275 on convection bake) and bake them for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until they reach the desired crispness.
 

Both turned out so very good. Cindy loved them and was so happy with the crunch. I set some out with slices of plain avocado on top and they were excellent. The crackers are highly flavored on their own, so they do not need flavor enhancing and go well with anything not highly flavored.

These crackers are gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, vegan. Simple ingredients, with a most flavorful outcome. I hope that your diet does not need to be so restrictive as Cindy's for you to try these crackers. They are just too good to miss.



My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.  

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