Category Archives: Cooking

Bring on the (new) bread machine

Well. We’ve managed to destroy yet another bread machine. Here’s the thing. Some people eat cold cereal for breakfast. Some eat eggs. Some eat nothing. I eat cinnamon raisin bread — NOT the store-bought spongy, flaccid stuff — only homemade.

Somewhere in the mid-80s, we purchased our first bread machine. Made by  DAK, it resembled R2D2 and made round loaves. Our two then-preschool-age daughters watched, mesmerized, as the dough mixed, began to rise, and baked. One day, it became off-kilter mid-cycle and walked right off the counter and crashed to the floor. Thus began a long line of bread machines. I forget how many we’ve had because like our toasters and irons — they have short lives.

DakSo…a few months ago, the most recent machine died. Mid-cycle. This was not pleasant. My attempts at completing the baking process were useless. We ended up with a half-baked lump of dough. Still, I loved that particular machine and set about buying another one. I couldn’t find the same model nearby so settled for another. My first clue that it might be a dud was when I noticed the pan didn’t click into place when I set it in the machine. I was sure it was a dud when nothing happened after filling it with flour, cinnamon, oil, honey, salt, water and yeast.

After a few choice words, which my husband appeared to ignore, I kneaded it by hand, let it rise, and baked it in the oven. And…returned the machine to the store.

I know. I should have ordered a new one right away but decided instead that I’d drag out my 30-year-old Cuisinart, mix up the dough, and bake it. That has worked fine when/if time allows, but I’d become accustomed to baking it on the one-hour cycle while I run — thus, having fresh bread whenever we’re out.

photo(17)image(10)So, okay. I give. The trusty Cuisinart didn’t let me down today — odd, when you consider the number of other appliances we’ve seen come and go. Given my tendency toward pessimism, I know it’s not going to last. And yes, I know I can mix it up by hand and bake it. But not while I’m running.

So…that’s it. I give. Bring on the next bread machine. May you live as long as (shhhh…) the Cuisinart and the 30-plus-year-old clothes dryer.

Baking to beat the cold and stress

In many ways, yesterday was a typical January day in northwest Ohio. Sort of. There was nearly one foot of snow on the ground, and extremely high winds had created large drifts up the sides of houses and parked cars. Icy roads made driving dangerous.

Okay, so if you live in Minnesota or North Dakota, you might be yawning by now. But hey, this is Ohio. We get snow. Some years we get a lot. Some years we get none. This is one of those “a lot” years. Windchills of 40 below didn’t make it any more palatable.

So there we were. Stuck in the house. Even Bluffton University shut down for two days. So…what to do?

One of my favorite rooms in the house is the kitchen. It’s bright. It’s yellow. And it gives me a nice view of the back yard, and the little A-frame that my dad built 20 years ago. He insisted it would probably fall apart after two years.

Backyard
Looking at the A-frame sparked a memory of Dad baking bread on cold winter days. So? I baked bread.
Bread-baked

While that was rising, I figured I could log on to my work desktop and get some work done. But since I’m really good at procrastinating, I shoved that thought to the back of my brain, and instead baked cookies.
Not just any old cookies. It’s January. I hate January. In fact, my stress level rises just thinking about January. So…since whoever decided that dark chocolate and antioxidants are good antidotes to stress, I’ve resorted to the perfect cookie, Anti-Stress Cookies.

Chock full of ingredients like whole wheat flour, olive oil, dark chocolate chips, raisins, dried sour cherries, walnuts, oats, yogurt, brown sugar, butter, and whatever else you feel like adding.  I added 1/4 cup of flax seed this time. You can’t ruin them…unless you leave the room and forget they’re in the oven. Doesn’t matter. Surely, someone in your house likes dark cookies. If not, call my husband.

cookie-plate

Anti-Stress Cookies
1½ c. white flour (or white whole wheat flour)
¾ c. whole wheat flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
¾ teaspoon salt
½ stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 c. olive or canola oil
1 c. packed dark brown sugar (I actually use 3/4 c.)
1 large egg
2 egg whites
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
½ cup oats
1 ¼ cups Monukka raisins
1 ¼ cups dried cranberries or dried cherries
1 ¼ c. DARK chocolate chips (i.e. Ghirardelli)
1 ¼ cups chopped walnuts
Directions
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat the butter, oil and brown sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and egg whites  Add the molasses, yogurt, ginger and lemon zest and beat until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the flour mixture to make a sticky batter (do not overmix). Fold in the oats, raisins, cranberries or cherries, chocolate chips and walnuts.
Chill dough for at least 30 minutes. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of batter onto prepared baking sheets. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bake the cookies until dark golden but still soft, 10 to 12 minutes; cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container for up to one week. May also be frozen (I like my cookies hard!)

By the time I was done with all the baking, I’d warmed up the house, and the frigid temps outside didn’t seem nearly so daunting.

Big families, big turkeys, big memories

Here’s the thing about Thanksgiving. If you grow up with a sizable extended family, you figure it’s just expected to have a huge deal with more food than anyone can eat, lots of kids running underfoot, lots of adults shooing kids outside to play, and too many cooks in the kitchen. You also learn to pretend that you’re busy, because if you’re not, you will quickly be assigned some unwanted job. Like setting the table.

Trust me on this. I grew up in one of those semi-large families, with a set of grandparents, four children and spouses, 20 grandchildren with an age range of at least 20 years. This meant that eventually, the 20 grandchildren expanded to include some significant others.

Thanksgiving rotated between the three homes in our immediate area — my grandparents’ farm, an aunt and uncle’s farm, and our house. But then…as always happens, those 20 kids grow up, get married, and often move out of the vicinity. Sadly, the grandparents die, as do some of the aunts and uncles.

I’d kind of forgotten about this until my husband mentioned something about how many people would be at the Thanksgiving dinner our daughter is attending with her significant other’s family. I felt a momentary pang of sadness for those big childhood gatherings.

That feeling came back briefly today as I drove down the long lane toward my cousin’s farm — the farm on which he grew up and on which still stands the big white two-story house where many of our Thanksgiving dinners took place. photo(9)

 

 

 

 

 

As a kid, I remember my stomach getting that nervous, excited feeling as we turned down that lane….a loooong stretch that seemed to take forever to cover. Excitement at seeing cousins I hadn’t seen in awhile, eagerness to explore rooms in the big house. There was plenty of space to play, to hide from the boys, and the coolest laundry chute. The best smells floated out from the kitchen to the rest of the house, where tables were set up in every available space.

Today when I drove down the lane, there were none of the pigs I remembered. Instead, there were cows and sheep happily grazing on grass.

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And in the red barn at the end of the lane was a much younger version of my cousin — one of his sons — happy to hand me my turkey. At only 10 pounds, it’s tiny in comparison to the ones I remember feeding our big family.

But that’s okay. This turkey technically isn’t for Thanksgiving dinner and there won’t be 30-plus family members to feed. But when it starts roasting and the house begins to absorb that rich, mouth-watering smell, the memories will come roaring back. And that’s okay, too. Because that’s what memories are for.

And this is one time I won’t have to argue over who gets the drumsticks. And the wishbone? That’s mine.

Gordon Lightfoot and a really Wacky Cake

It was 1969 when Gordon Lightfoot wrote “If you could read my mind, love, what a tale my thoughts would tell….” The song may have been about the breakup of his marriage, but the lyrics were solid gold for even the teenyboppin’ crowd. I know this because I was 13 years old and in the 8th grade.

So yesterday when I read in the New York Times that Lightfoot would turn 75 this week, that was the song that immediately came to mind. All through the day as I graded papers, walked the dog, cooked and baked, the song replayed in my head. Over and over.

Maybe it was good luck. Maybe not. Because my success in the kitchen was two for three. The vegetable soup and bread both turned out perfectly.

image (4)Of course, there is no recipe for either one because I pretty much threw both together with whatever was around.

The wacky cake, however, was another story. Actually, the cake itself was perfect as usual. It’s a can’t-miss recipe. But it’s what you decide to do to glitz it up for someone’s birthday that impacts the outcome. Here’s how it looked first:

imagePretty ho hum…unless you can smell it. So just close your eyes and imagine the amazing smell of warm cocoa.

But…it was the hubs’ birthday and I decided to replicate something the girls and I invented long ago. As soon as it comes out of the oven, you cover it with mini-marshmallows and chocolate chips. They quickly melt and you kind of blend them together with a icing spreader. This works well UNLESS, of course, the marshmallows have outlived their shelf life. Apparently, if they’re old and dried out, they won’t melt.

Nothing worked….not putting it back in the warm oven and not a quick zap in the microwave. I was really beginning to feel frustrated. Lucky for me, I don’t have a picky husband. He took one look and knew what I was thinking because he started humming “If you could read my mind, love…”

Just proves at least some of those lyrics can apply to just about every situation.

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Wacky Cake
(Makes one 8X8-in. square cake)

1 c. white sugar
1 1/2 c. flour
3 tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
In the 8X8-in. square pan in which you plan to bake the cake, mix dry ingredients with fork. Make three holes. Pour in 1 tsp. vanilla, 1 tbsp. vinegar, and 6 tbsp. canola oil.
Pour one c. cold water over and mix up with the fork. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Note: This can be eaten as is, dusted with powdered sugar, iced with your favorite icing recipe, topped with marshmallows and chocolate chips, or with the following:

1/3 c. butter, melted
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. nuts
2 tbsp. water
Mix and pour over cake and brown until brown.

Fried Green Tomatoes: Conjuring Fannie Flagg

Tomatoes. At the beginning of the season, when they just start ripening and nothing tastes better than a fresh tomato right off the vine, we can’t get enough of them. Fast forward to October, when the vines are still full of green tomatoes refusing to turn red or yellow. What to do?

A friend dropped off a bag of green tomatoes recently. I asked the Pie Man if he wanted to bake a green tomato pie. He snorted. Really. And then he reminded me of the last time he baked one. It was, he said awful. Might be because Pie Man tries to decrease the sugar in most of his baked goods. That might work in other fruits, but apparently not with green tomatoes.

So…what to do with the tomatoes? Long ago, back in the day when we had a huge garden, I wrapped each green tomato in newspaper, as directed by my grandmother. Maybe I used the wrong newspaper, because it didn’t work. They all rotted. Not pretty.

This time I took the advice of my big brother. I lined them up on a windowsill where they’d get some sun. This is how they looked when they first arrived.photo(8)

 

 

 

 

 

And now….10 days later…one yellow tomato is ready to be eaten, a red one is almost there, and another yellow on the way!

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The rest of the tomatoes? If they don’t ripen soon, we’ll go the route of Ruth, Idgie and the rest of the regulars at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

What would you do with them?

 

The pinch hitter and his Dead Sea Scroll pear/cranberry/blueberry pie

Pies are not on my list of favorites to bake or eat, but I’m pretty sure my husband’s first solid food was pie. So this weekend, I realized it was time to call in my pinch hitter since I’ve been in a no-blogging zone for the past five weeks while teaching.

On Saturday night when I returned from the Country Living Fair in Columbus, there was another Dead Sea Scroll pie cooling on the counter. The pie baker had been busy, so I took a photo and begged him to send me the recipe to share. He did more than that — he expounded. What a guy!

photo (10)Fred’s Dead Sea Scroll
Pear-Cranberry-Blueberry Pie

I call these pies my “Dead Sea Pie Scroll” series. That’s because I use Phyllo dough as crust. It’s frozen and rolls out looking like I think the Dead Sea Scrolls probably looked when they were unrolled after 2,000 years in the desert.

I followed the opinion that it’s very difficult to bake a bad pie.

On Saturday someone placed a bag of Bartlett pears on our back porch. So, I peeled them (about 7). Sliced them and started rummaging through the freezer to see what needed to be dumped.

I found a half bag of cranberries from Christmas and a bag of blueberries. I nuked them for 2 minutes, dumped them into the pear slices and started to think.

What else would go with this? So, in went one-half cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of corn starch and some random spices – ginger and something else that I don’t remember. You can never lose with sugar, but I like to try to limit it – most pie recipes call for lots more sugar than this.

While lemon juice is always good with cranberries, I had none, so I added a slug of OJ.

I wasn’t in the mood to make a crust, but luckily I had Phyllo dough frozen from a previous project. I used that for my pie crust and pie topping. After all, Phyllo sounds like “pie,” so why not use it as a crust substitute? It works.

Poured the fruit-sugar glop into the Pyllo crust, already placed in the deep dish pie plate.

I’d preheated the oven to 350. Placed the pie in the heated over and ignored it for one hour. I added an aluminum sheet on top of the pie so as to not burn the crust after one hour. 

Waited 30 more minutes and took it out of the oven. Didn’t wait to eat.

 

 

Got peaches? Freeze ’em in OJ

Canning summer produce is great if you have the time. It also works well if you enjoy canning. I might have the time but patience is not one of my virtues…at least not when it comes to canning.

I remember the shelves of my parents’ cellar lined with jars and jars of beans, corn, pickles, tomatoes, ketchup, applesauce, pears and peaches. So pretty…and then I remember hours in the kitchen sweating and whining. I’m pretty sure my mom sent us all off to the pool so she could can in silence. And yet, somehow I acquired a canner early in my marriage but every time I looked at it, I shuddered and so it quickly found its way to the garage sale table.

Last week I saw the best peaches at Suter’s farm stand, and couldn’t pass them up. But canning was clearly not an option. So….what to do?image

After my parents bought a giant freezer, they shifted their energy to freezing. One of my favorite foods were my mom’s peaches frozen in orange juice concentrate. Problem was, I had no recipe and by the time I thought to ask her, it was past her bedtime. So….I resorted to the old “by guess and by gosh” method.

Here’s the deal:
Prepare whatever containers you prefer — I used both zip locked bags and glass containers.

Thaw frozen OJ concentrate quickly by soaking it in hot water while you prepare the peaches. Pour the OJ into a container, add a little water (I think I added about 1/2 c. to the large OJ concentrate.image (6)

Peel and cut the peaches into slices or chunks and place in a large bowl. I had about 12 large peaches (I said this was by guess).

Pour about half of the OJ over the peaches and stir well. There is no need for added sugar and the OJ’s citric acid keeps the peaches from turning brown.image (2)

Use a large spoon to scoop the peaches and some OJ into containers and freeze.image (10)

My favorite way to eat these is when they are only slightly thawed. Kind of like a slushee!

Farmer’s market the community hub

It was a pretty typical August Saturday morning in Bluffton, Ohio. The sun was shining and by 9:30 a.m., the local farmer’s market was bustling. As I waited for a vendor to wrap my sunflowers ($3 for 15 stems) in newspaper and twine, the woman next to me asked if the market was always this full of vendors and buyers.  She’d come to town to visit the local quilt store and just happened to see the market.

photo (10)How can you not love a good farmer’s market? It’s not just the food — which is the best around — but the camaraderie, seeing lots of friends, sharing ideas of what to do with unusual produce like the lemon cucumber I picked up today.

It’ll be a week of veggies again — and trying out some new recipes. And while the sunflowers make me smile every time I look at them, my best purchase of the day was an eggplant. Not just any eggplant — this one was just begging for a face. Not sure what this one will become but for now, it’s also making us laugh.

photo (12)So here’s what I picked up today. Brown eggs, cucumbers, squash, cabbage, swiss chard, lettuce, white carrots, red and green sweet peppers, muskmelon, and a loaf of the best hearty, whole wheat bread (saves me from having to bake immediately).

Any suggestions for what we should be cooking?photo (11)

Send me some recipes! I love trying new things.

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 1: The man who cooks in triplicate

Having been raised in a fairly “non-traditional” family — at least for the 50s-60s, my husband learned his way around the kitchen at an early age. His dad often cooked — in fact, his fried potatoes are legendary. Technically, they’re probably called rosti, which is a Swiss concoction made with coarsely grated potato, either cooked or raw.

Pies, on the other hand, were his mom’s specialty. When we first married, I was confused by the fact that these pies always arrived at the table with a very thin sliver missing. And she always delivered them to the table with the same disclaimer: “This is the worst pie I’ve ever made.” Her adult children rolled their eyes and in fact, often spoke the words at the same time or tried to beat her to the punch.

About 10 years ago, the hubs embarked on his own pie project — baking a different kind every Sunday. By this time, our daughters were off at college and since I don’t like pie, he knew he wouldn’t offend anyone if one failed. My mom happily joined him in the tasting/rating process.

A few weeks after the failed attempt at vinegar pie (I’m serious) he said he was completely out of ideas and asked ME to suggest something. I knew we had applesauce so suggested he attempt to create something from that. He was so pleased with the result that he developed a whole new attitude toward baking and, subsequently, cooking. He became Invincible Man in the Kitchen.

Sunday has become baking and cooking day in our house. A few weeks ago, I asked what his plan was. His response was that he “likes to cook in threes.” How could I pass this up? Fortunately, he’s a good sport and went along with the deal.

So….that day began a series of “The man who cooks in triplicate.” Most weeks this includes a variation on granola, which he began making after I raved too many times about my mom and dad’s granola, which they began making in the 70s after reading Francis Moore Lappe’s “Diet for a Small Planet.” Someday, I’ll share his recipe — if and when he actually creates one.

The first day in this series included granolaIMG_0169[1], a simplified version of eggplant Parmesan,IMG_0170[1]                                                       and blueberry pie. Each year we buy a case of blueberries from Michigan and he freezes them in small amounts. The new case was due to arrive so he needed to use up the leftovers from last year. IMG_0168[1]

His explanation is SO much better than anything I could duplicate, so here it is. Understand that he — and sometimes my mom, a daughter, a significant other-in-law, a niece or nephew, or some other lucky guest — are the testers and rarely do his pies see the public eye.

Blueberry Pie
The recipe calls for 2 cups of blueberries. I like pies to be really tall, so I put in about 4 cups. That’s probably why is was runny. Just added 2 tbsp. of corn starch. Plus had had to get rid of the blueberries from 2012 to make room of the 2013 batch.

Basic fruit pie recipe for me is:

Fruit
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup sugar (I don’t like to put too much in)
Sometimes corn starch
Crust (sometimes homemade from whole wheat flour — which is all we have; usually made from oil, not butter or lard; sometimes purchased.) On this day, he got really creative and used phyllo dough which produced a top that resembled corn husks.

Bake at 350 until I’m hungry.  Sometimes the pie is overdone, sometimes underdone, sometimes just right.  Sometimes I add a top if I have enough pie crust left.

Editor’s note: Yep, it looked this strange. Apparently, it was perfect.

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One bad apple didn’t spoil this applesauce

As a kid, I had a love/hate relationship with this tree — or at least one of its predecessors. It’s a transparent apple tree, which stands in the exact same spot it stood when I was a child. If it’s the original, it’s ancient.

Last week, my running partner and I discovered that the tree was full of apples but no one was picking them. We got permission from the owners to pick the apples, so carefully picked our way through the grass which was littered with rotten fruit. Which brings us to the hate part of my relationship with this tree — rotten apples draw bees. Not a summer went by that one of those bees failed to embed its little stinger in one of my feet.
IMG_0142[1]As for the love part…well, my mom made the best applesauce with those apples. They tend toward worminess but she spent hours cutting them up, cooking them, mashing and straining them through the ancient Foley Food Mill before canning or freezing the resulting sauce.

Fast forward to 2013  — the apples still tend toward worminess but we each managed to pick enough to make us both happy.
IMG_0140[1]For a few days, my husband and I avoided the apples, thinking maybe the applesauce fairy would deal with them. But…as luck would have it, a few days later, we lost power so with nothing better to do, we lugged the apples to my mom’s home, where she cheerfully helped us prepare the apples — in exchange for keeping some for herself.
IMG_0148[1]While cooking them, I forgot to add sugar until the sauce had already cooled. Which just proves that sugar is highly overrated — it didn’t even need sweetening!

Since we’d sold our canning equipment long ago — after remembering exactly what we hated about helping our parents can tons of produce every summer — we froze the sauce. A few whirls through the Cuisinart and it was ready for the containers.
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