Saturday, December 24, 2011

English Scones and Raspberry Jam

So for Christmas, Mary and I were brainstorming some books or authors to do on the blog. One of the author's we thought of was good ol' Charles Dickens. I had a hard time finding food quotes among his works, they seem to drink a lot of alcohol though. I did find this one though in a short story of his called "Holiday Romance" I haven't been able to find that much information about it either, but it is a collection of four short stories, written through four different point of views (points of view?). Okay here's the quotation:

"THERE is a country, which I will show you when I get into maps, where the children have everything their own way. It is a most delightful country to live in. The grown-up people are obliged to obey the children, and are never allowed to sit up to supper, except on their birthdays. The children order them to make jam and jelly and marmalade, and tarts and pies and puddings, and all manner of pastry. If they say they won't, they are put in the corner till they do. They are sometimes allowed to have some; but when they have some, they generally have powders given them afterwards." -Charles Dickens

So today, we are making scones and freezer jam. I could make another post with some of the other foods they mentioned, but these ones tickled my fancy the most.

Raspberry Freezer Jam
I hate to just direct you to a how-to page, but they spell everything out that you'd need to know for any type, they also have lots of hints on how to do it too.

The basic ratios for each packet of powdered pectin are:

3 cups mashed fruit
5 cups sugar, and
1 cup water in which to dissolve and boil the pectin.

The process itself is simple:

  • Wash and stem the fruit (and peel it, if applicable).
  • Place it in a wide-bottomed pan and crush with a potato masher to a smooth consistency, leaving some chunks of fruit if you like.
  • Stir in the sugar and let the mixture sit for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • In the meantime, mix together the pectin and water in a small saucepan until the powder is dissolved; bring it to a boil over high heat, and let it boil for a full minute.
  • Pour it into the fruit and stir for a couple of minutes.
  • Pour the jam into your containers, leaving a half-inch of "headspace" at the top.
  • Cover the containers and let them sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • The jam should thicken significantly overnight, but the jelling process can take up to two weeks to complete. If it's too thick, stirring it will soften it up. If it's still too runny after two weeks, pour it into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. It will get thicker as it cools, and you can re-bottle as before.

It'll set up overnight and like it's named it will keep in the freezer or the fridge.

Why can't I untab?

Now, what you've all been waiting for scones!

English Scones

I made 16 little scones, but you can make 8 large scones if you'd like

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
  • 1/2 cup craisins, dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of orange zest
  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Take your craisins, chop them up if you like, and soak them in water, we chose to soak ours in orange juice, just put in enough to cover them.
  3. In a food processor, mix flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Chop butter into smaller pieces and feed in through food processor into flour mixture.
  4. Add sour cream mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form, they will look coarse. Add craisins, save the orange juice if that's what you used.
  5. Pat dough into a plastic wrap lined cake pan and sprinkle with remaining 1 tsp. of sugar. Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 (or 16) triangles; place on a cookie sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper), about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden, about 15 to 17 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.
  6. Orange juice glaze: Mix together 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 Tbsp orange juice, 1 pinch of orange zest (I believe that is about a 1/16th of a tsp). Mix together and drizzle on top of the scones.

pictures to come!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bush Tea and Boiled Pumpkin

My dad recommended a book to me about a year ago.  He said it was about woman in Botswana who runs a private detective agency.  That was enough to get me hooked.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith, is the first in a 12 book series (and still going - #12 came out this year) that has been highly successful.  It has entertaining characters, and is a wonderful slice of life in Botswana.  It’s unique and human, strange and yet so relatable.  It’s the sort of book you can set down for a year and pick up in the middle and immediately enjoy again.  I think the best word to describe it is “charming.”

Plus I liked it because it was written by a Brit (Scotsman, to be specific).  What can I say?  I love all things British.

The cool thing about the series is that it tells so much about African life.  I knew nothing about Botswana before I started reading, and now I know lots about their traditions and attitudes and the food they eat.

That’s right.  It all comes back to the food.

If you have read any of the Precious Ramotswe (the main character in the series) books, you can probably guess what two foods I tried.

1)      Bush Tea
2)      Pumpkin

McCall Smith constantly talks about bush tea throughout the series, because it’s pretty much Mma Ramotswe’s favorite thing in the world.  I always thought it was entertaining, because it combined the very British ideals of constantly drinking tea with the African plant, which comes from the Bush.  And by Bush I don’t mean a shrubbery.

Or the U.S. president.
I mean the wilderness.  Specifically the hot, dry desert of southern Africa where only the Bushmen live.

 If you haven’t seen this movie (The Gods Must Be Crazy), go watch it right now!  Slapstick/cultural clash comedy at its finest.

I assumed I wouldn’t be able to try bush tea, because I don’t drink tea unless it’s herbal tea for religious reasons.  (If you want to know about the Word of Wisdom and why Mormon’s don’t drink tea, click here.)  But it turns out that bush tea is an herbal tea!  That means it’s 100% natural, caffeine free, and therefore not habit-forming/addictive.  So I got to try it!

Bush Tea, otherwise known as Rooibos or Red Bush Tea is a tea made from the rooibos plant, which grows in southern Africa.  The tea is red in color and has a very mild flavor which children tend to like.  It’s also good for settling stomachs and (supposedly) relieving allergies.  

I admit that I don’t usually care for herbal tea unless it’s drowned in sugar and milk/cream.  To me it always tastes like someone plucked some grass or weeds off their lawn and stuck it in a cup of hot water. 

I’d rather drink plain water 95% of the time.  However, I really wanted to try bush tea since it’s such a huge part of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books.  So I went to the nearest organic health foods store and bought the cheapest box I could find (it was sold under “Rooibos tea”).  If you want to learn more about preparing tea, check out Julie's post about it from our English Tea Party.

I can honestly say, as one who is normally biased against herbal teas, that I actually liked bush tea! 

 It was very mild in flavor, and definitely a little earthy (what tea isn’t?), but it didn’t taste watery either.  And I normally don’t buy into the whole “tea calms you/settles your stomach” thing, but this stuff had a strange relaxing quality to it.  I’ll have to try it when my stomach feels a little off.

I tried it plain, with a little honey, and with some lemon juice.  I liked it all of those ways, but I think I liked it plain the best.  Crazy, I know.

Okay, as for the pumpkin – Mma Ramotswe’s favorite food is pumpkin.  She often thinks about it, she often shops for it, and when she’s eating dinner there is always pumpkin served.  I really like pumpkin (as I may have indicated in my previous post about the apple pumpkin soup), so I wanted to try it.  The problem was that I didn’t really know if pumpkin in America was the same as pumpkin in Botswana, and I also had absolutely no clue how to prepare it.  I tried googling it, but it seems that most people didn’t really know much about it either.  As I was reading the books I kept searching for clues until finally I came across something in book #8, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive:

“[Mr J.L.B. Matekoni] and Mm Ramotswe were sitting at the kitchen table in thir house on Zebra Drive.  Behind them, on the stove, a pan of chopped pumpkin was on the boil, filling the air with that familiar chalky smell of the yellow pumpkin flesh.  Inside the oven a small leg of lamb was slowly roasting; it would be a good meal, when it was eventually served in half and hour or so.” (McCall Smith 88)

This clued me in on lots of things: 1) the pumpkin is boiled, 2) it’s supposed to smell chalky, 3) it’s meant to be served with oven-roasted meat (which is mentioned in another book as well), and 4) it's cooked for at least half an hour.  That was something to go on, at least.

Method for Pumpkin

I got a small pie pumpkin, cut it in half, scooped out the stringy pulp and seeds (used a melon baller -- it worked wonders), and then chopped 1 half into chunks.  I then tossed those chunks into boiling water and let them cook about a half an hour, until they were tender (and they indeed smelled chalky).  Then I drained them and let them cool. 

Meanwhile I chopped up some beef strips, which I soaked in a little vinegar to tenderize (I’m too cheap to buy the tender meat), and then fried the strips in butter, along with some salt, pepper, and garlic powder, just until the outsides of the strips were browned.  Then I tossed the strips in the oven (at 350 F) with the pumpkin chunks to finish cooking and allow the pumpkin to get a little bit of a “roasted” flavor.  I pulled it out of the oven about 10 minutes later and served it with butter on top of the pumpkin.

I had trouble finding a good knife to do the job

Is this the way it’s cooked in Botswana?  I don’t know.  I did my best. 

Is the pumpkin good/worth the effort?  Not really.  Perhaps it’s because my pumpkin was not as fresh (I got it at Walmart and waited about a month before I actually cooked it), or perhaps it’s because American pumpkins are not the same as Batswana pumpkins, but the boiled pumpkin was less than stellar.  The butter helped, but I think I should have boiled it with some salt, because it was pretty flavorless.  I only at a few chunks, and then mashed the rest to use in Pull-ApartCinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Bread and some more Apple Pumpkin Soup.

I washed it all down with some bush tea, though, which made it better.  And the meat was good.

The Verdict: Bush tea is delicious.  Boiled pumpkin... not so much.  But it was worth a try.  Now I can better visualize the two No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency staples as I get caught up in the series (I’m on book 9, The Miracle at Speedy Motors). 

If you’re in the mood for a light read full of charm and insight into a new culture, as well as some gems of wisdom, try out The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  It’s the perfect kind of book to curl up on the couch with while enjoying a steaming cup of bush tea.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Recipes You Should Try!

I don't have any food from literature for you today, but I do have some delicious recipe recommendations!  I don't know what got into me this week -- I just randomly decided to make a bunch of cool stuff.

First, I made homemade hot pockets.  I used biscuit dough for the pockets (from this recipe), rolled it out as thin as I could get it, and then cut it into rectangles.  Then I spread some ranch dressing on the squares and added lots of cheddar cheese, turkey pieces, and cooked broccoli.  Then I sealed them up and baked them for 15-20 minutes.  Added some butter on top before serving.  They turned out wonderfully (way better than actual hot pockets)!  They're great to have in the fridge for a lunch on the go.

Then I was bored one night, so I decided to make homemade sprinkles!  Anna sent me a recipe for them, and I thought, "Hey, why not?"  You can check out the sprinkles recipe here.  I attempted to do some chocolate sprinkles, but they failed because the cocoa powder made it too dry and thick to push through a pastry tip.  But I made green ones that worked wonderfully!  And they taste like sprinkles should taste!  It wasn't really worth the effort -- a lot easier and faster and cheaper to just buy some sprinkles -- but it was fun to do once.

And lastly, I made some Apple Pumpkin Soup!  I had all the ingredients, so I just went for it. And it was amazing!  I will totally be making this again!  It was tart, slightly sweet (but not really), and just all around delicious!

I don't have an immersion blender, so it's a little chunky, but I liked it that way.

Be advised, though, that it is never a good idea to let a pan sit on a hot burner for a long duration of time and then add oil.  It starts big scary grease fires.  Luckily I acted quickly and got some baking soda on it, which put it out instantly.  But it was kinda freaky for a second there. In case you don't know this already: NEVER put water on a grease fire.  Never blow on a grease fire.  Never go running around with a flaming pan of grease (that's how two girls at SVU ended up in the hospital with 3rd degree burns that required skin grafts).  A level head and some baking soda are all you need.

The charred remains of my grease fire + baking soda
I also made some stuff we have previously made for this blog:  Shepherd's Pie and Pumpkin Pasties.  I brought the pumpkin pasties to workshop, and they were a huge hit.  (It helped that this time I mixed cinnamon and nutmeg into the pie crust dough, and mixed a little salt in with sugar to sprinkle on top). 

This is why I love fall!  There are so many delicious treats to make.  Baking season is upon us!  Rally your hot pads and taste testers!  This season promises to be delicious!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cherry Tart

Remember that time I told you guys I’d post something to the blog within a week, and then waited over a month instead?


In my defense, I’ve been ridiculously busy.  Grad school is craziness!  Don’t believe me?  Here is a sampling of data from a 27 page project/paper I wrote last week.

Very Difficult 3
Somewhat Difficult 11
Somewhat Easy 4
Very Easy 2

Very Difficult 0
Somewhat Difficult 5
Somewhat Easy 14
Very Easy 2

Yes 10
No 11

Benefits Reader 2
Benefits Writer 6
Limits Reader 9
Limits Writer 4
"Yes, but…" 1 r 1 w

1) Peer Review 2) Instructor Review 3) Final Draft
1 1 2
2 2 3
1 2 2
1 1 2
2 2 2
2 2 3
1 2 2
1 1 2
2 2 2
2 2 2
1 1 2
2 2 3
2 2 3
1 1 2
2 2 3
1 1 2
2 2 3
2 2 2
1 1 1
2 2 2
2 2 1
2 2 3

% Less Helpful
% More Helpful
% Most Helpful

Remember how I’m in grad school for creative writing?!  Yeah…

This project took me FOREVER to do, including a near-sleepless night grading student papers a particular way, and then wanting to crawl in a hole and die when it came time to teach my two composition classes the next day.  The most challenging part was figuring out what to do with all this data, because it included *gulp* math.  I actually did it correctly, which is impressive for me, considering the countless occasions where it takes me at least 30 seconds to add two single digit numbers together.  I wish I was joking.

Point is, I was busy.  Very very very busy.  But I missed the dear ol’ foodie blog, so I’m going to make an effort to be better about posting on here at least twice a month like I promised. 

Of course, for the month of November, I plan to do another project (like the one I referenced above) for the same class, visit my sister in Michigan, do a public reading of one of my stories, finish revising the third draft of my children’s novel, and write another novel in 30 days for NationalNovel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year.  This is on top of teaching my 2 classes and fulfilling the regular course work for my graduate classes that I’m a student in.

I know, I’m insane.  If between now and December 1st you read in the news that a grad student in California spontaneously combusted, you know it was me.

I’m supposed to be writing a story right now that’s due tomorrow, so I’m not going to let much further ado get in the way of you and the second recipe I picked out from Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. 

During one of their mealtimes, J says, “We finished up with tea and cherry tart.  Montmorency [the dog] had a fight with the kettle during tea-time, and came off a poor second” (193).

I wanted to try cherry tart, so I did.

There are lots of different kinds of tarts (you can check out my spiel on them on my post for TreacleTart).  I tried to pick a recipe that most befitted common fruit tarts in Britain, particularly in the late 19th century when this book was written.  I decided to make a cherry custard tart.

My decision to make a cherry tart wasn’t very timely.  Cherries simply aren’t in season in mid September.  So I worked with cherry pie filling.  I think that’s what made this dessert only so-so.  I mean, it was good, but it tasted very store-bought (not a compliment, coming from me).  So if you plan to make this recipe (now that I’ve given it such a rave review), USE FRESH CHERRIES!  You can use any fruit, really.  Just make sure it’s fresh.

Cherry Tart

Shortcrust pastry (This is same recipe I used for Treacle Tart)
Makes 6 oz.
·         125g/4oz (1/2 cup) plain flour
·         pinch of salt
·         55g/2oz (1/4 cup) butter
·         30-45ml/2-3 tbsp cold water

Place cold butter in a medium bowl and add flour and salt.  Using a pastry blender (or 2 forks), cut the butter into the flour/salt until the butter is in small little cubes/chunks.  It will looks crumbly. 
Sprinkle water tablespoons at a time, stirring slightly with a knife after each tablespoon (I used about 2 ½ tbsp).  When you can clench the dough in your fist and it stays in a ball, there is enough water. 

Immediately put in freezer for at least 10 minutes.  When you need the dough, take it out of the freezer and put it on a floured piece of wax paper.  Roll out the dough as thin as you can get it without tearing.

You will need a flan tin about 2.5cm (1 inch) deep, 18cm (7 inches across) with a removable base. (I used my spring form pan)
  • 5 oz shortcrust pastry
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup  milk
  • ½ tsp  Almond extract
  • 3 tbsp  sugar
  • 1/2 can Cherry pie filling (or 3/4 cup fresh cherries, pitted)
  1. Roll out the pastry and line the flan tin. Prick it all over with a fork and bake blind at 400F for 10-15 minutes or until it is very slightly colored.
  2. Beat the eggs lightly with the sugar. Heat the milk and almond extract until it begins to steam and add the egg mixture to it, whisking everything together.
  3. Strain out the liquid from the cherry pie filling and set aside.  Spread cherries on the bottom of the pastry case, evenly.
  4. Pour the custard mixture into the pastry case and bake in the centre of the oven at (425F) for ten minutes and then turn down the heat to 180C (350F) and bake for a further 20-25 minutes until the custard is just set.
I really liked the custard part of this tart.  And the shortcrust pastry was good, like it was for the treacle tart.  I just didn’t let it pre-bake it quite long enough, so it wasn’t quite as flaky as my treacle tart crust.  All in all, it was a good dessert, but… meh.  Not fantastic.

I thought it looked kind of ugly when I pulled it out of the oven (Admit it; you thought so too), with the cherries floating to the surface, but not completely, and the deflated bubbles the reminded me of a really bad sunburn.  I knew it was supposed to look like this, because I googled pictures, but I still didn’t like it, so poured my left-over cherry pie filling liquid onto the top of the tart.  It made it look much more appetizing.  In terms of the flavor… meh. 

Mucho mejor!

I’ve never been a fan of the fake cherry flavor, which is what cherry pie filling tastes like, so that’s probably why I wasn’t over the moon about this dessert.  But I love real cherries.  I think this tart would be really good if you used fresh cherries in the middle, and fresh cherry juice to make a homemade cherry syrup for the top.  Mmmmm…  

Here are some parting words from Mr. Jerome:

“We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach.  Reach not after morality and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach, and diet it with care and judgement [sic].  Then virtue and contentment will come and reign within your heart, unsought by any effort of your own” (133).

P.S. From Julie: "Tell blog world I said hello again!  I'm going to try and collect mange (many) Danish recipes. :)"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Irish Stew

Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite non-children books.  Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) is a book nobody in America seems to have heard of, but everybody should read.  It’s a hilarious story about three Englishmen in the late 1800s, all the best of friends, who decide to take a boat trip down the Thames.  The book is of their adventures while they’re packing and on their trip, as well as a lot of random digressions from the narrator.  The best parts are in relation to food.  For instance, there’s a huge long part about them trying to open a can of pineapple without a can opener, and the injuries to pride and person that result from it.  I reread that part recently, and I was nearly crying from laughter.

I first heard about Three Men in a Boat when I was traveling in England.  While we were visiting Hampton Court Palace, some of us sat next to our tour guide, Ian Godfrey, at lunch.  He asked us if we had gone through the hedge maze on the grounds.

I had, and we talked about people getting lost in there, and the technique for how to get out (I won’t tell you, so that if you’re ever in the Hampton Court Palace maze you can relish in getting lost and figuring it out yourself).  Then he started chuckling to himself.  I asked him what was so funny, and he asked if I had read Three Men in a Boat.  I said I hadn’t.  He continued chuckling to himself as he explained that it was “a very English book,” “a classic,” and “quite silly.”  (I remember during this conversation just relishing in the fact that I was having a conversation with a real Englishman.  His accent was awesome!)  He talked about a particular part of the book, where the characters go into the Hampton Court Palace maze, and get so hopelessly lost that they end up electing a leader and charging about the maze trying to find a way out.  I was totally interested, if only for the cultural aspect – A famous English book that they don’t talk about in America, which has a scene that takes place where I’ve been?  I was all over it.  And the fact that it was supposed to be funny put it at the top of my reading list.  I’ll never forget Ian saying the author of the book, all slow and poetically as only a true Englishman can do: “Jerome K. Jerome.”  He repeated it several times, and I promised I would check it out.

So when I got to Oxford, and I had a tortuous couple of days to wait for the 7th Harry Potter book to come out (how do I manage to sneak Harry Potter into everything?  I astound even myself), I decided to go to Blackwell’s Bookshop and buy Three Men in a Boat

I am forever glad I did.  It’s rich with English humor: ridiculous yet subtle, absurd and yet strangely mundane.  Every bit of it is entertaining – I never got bored reading it.  It's also 100% clean, which is a necessary qualification for me, and very difficult to find.  Plus, I got a kick out of reading parts and thinking, “I’ve been there!”  I loved it so much that I shared it with a bunch of my family members and friends when I got home.  Everyone who read it loved it.  I think it’s now one of my sister Sarah’s favorite books.

I hope that through my ramblings and reminiscences, you get the point: This book is awesome!  And I was delighted, upon rereading it, to realize that it mentions TONS of food!  So I’m going to be posting twice about this delightful, “very English” little book.  Tonight’s feature is Irish stew.

While camping on the bank of the river Thames, the three men – George, Harris, and J (the narrator) – decide that “it would be a splendid opportunity to try a good slap-up supper.  [George] said he would show us what could be done up the river in the way of cooking, and suggested that, with the vegetables and the remains of the cold beef and general odds and ends, we should make an Irish stew” (Jerome 191). 

This would be a wonderful idea, except that none of these men really know how to cook, and George’s understanding of “Irish stew” is shaky at best.  He seems to think that Irish stew is just a bunch of leftovers boiled into a stew.  This doesn’t sound too bad until he starts adding pork pie, cold boiled bacon, and half a tin of potted salmon to the pot.  “He said that was the advantage of Irish stew: you got rid of such a lot of things.  I fished out a couple of eggs that had got cracked, and we put those in.  George said they would thicken the gravy” (192).  They even considered adding a dead water-rat the dog had found.  Fortunately, after some debate, they decided to decline the dog’s offering.

In terms of how the stew actually tasted, J says: “here was a dish with a new flavour, with a taste like nothing else on earth.  And it was nourishing, too….  The peas and potatoes might have been a bit softer, but we all had good teeth, so that did not matter much; and as for the gravy, it was a poem – a little too rich, perhaps, for a weak stomach, but nutritious” (193).

You may be wondering, “Why, Mary, after reading that nasty description, would you ever consider making such a stew?”  Good question.

This whole Irish stew business made me curious.  Clearly George didn’t know what he was doing, so what is a real Irish stew supposed to be like?  I looked it up.  Turns out Irish stew has a pretty set recipe for it’s base – it usually consists of lamb, potatoes, and onion.  Other ingredients vary, but it will commonly also include carrots, cabbage, and parsley.

I decided that didn’t sound nearly as bad as the Three Men in a Boat stew.  I actually wanted to try it.  I figure Jerome K. Jerome wrote so well about the preparation and final product of George’s stew that I could deviate from the literature a bit and make a proper Irish stew (except for the lamb, because I’m cheap).  You can choose for yourself which one you’d like to try.

Irish Stew
Serves 3-4

½ tbsp butter
½ lb beef chuck, cubed in small pieces (1/4 – ½ in)
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ cup onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped in small, thin pieces
2 cups water
1 cup chopped cabbage
1 tsp beef bouillon
2 medium russet potatoes, chopped in small, thin pieces
½ cup frozen peas
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped.

Place butter and meat in pot over medium-high heat.  Add salt and pepper.  Stir the meat until all sides are brown.  Add onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes.  Add water and cabbage, cover, and boil mixture for 30-45 min.  Taste broth, and if it needs more flavoring, add bouillon.  Add potatoes and boil for an additional 25 min, still covered.  Add peas and parsley and boil for a few more minutes uncovered.  When the potatoes are soft and the meat is tender, it’s ready for eating!

Browning the meat
How do you like my gigantic pot and plate-lid? I work with what I've got.
After adding the potatoes

The great thing about this stew is that overcooking the potatoes is okay, because it thickens the broth to the characteristic “stew” consistency.  (Please don’t add eggs to thicken the gravy like George did.  Follow these tips for thickening stew.)

This stew was delicious!  Seriously, it was awesome!  It was simple and easy (although I was hungry, so I didn’t like waiting over an hour for it to cook), and it definitely had a distinctly Irish flavor while not being too cabbagey or parsleyish.  What is it about potatoes, cabbage, and parsley that make you think of green hills, flutes, and Riverdance?  It was a nice way to bring me back to my family roots.  I might make this for St. Patrick’s Day instead of corned beef and cabbage (which is a family tradition and definitely good, but the stew is a better). 

I would like to thank Ian Godfrey – who I’ll never see again, I’m sure – for pointing me toward such an amazing book, which led to many laughs and such a yummy dish.  Next week’s post will feature a dessert from Three Men in a Boat (I cooked it tonight, so I promise I’ll post it soon).  Be sure to come back then and check it out!  In the meantime, go to your local library and check out Three Men in a Boat.  Seriously, you won’t regret it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

If You Give a Pig a Pancake

Yes, I know you've all been waiting on me to post for just about forever, or a month. That whole college thing I'm doing is problematic and takes up all my time. So here goes!
"I ONLY EAT PANCAKES!" Audrey yelled as I tried to feed her anything but pancakes for lunch.

No, this is not an excerpt from a book, but a quick glimpse at my life as a nanny. I share a great love of pancakes like Audrey, but her idea of pancakes is putting M&Ms in them and dyeing it purple.

I actually spent a good hour compiling new and exciting pancake recipes to try, so I had to think of a good book so that I could share some of these new recipes. Because school has already started I don't have time to just sit and puzzle over books I've read that mention pancakes. Inspiration struck when I thought of the If You Give... series, I might just have to write a post for all the books.

I hesitate from quoting the book because it's a continual story, you can't just stop in the middle!

"If you give a pig a pancake, she'll want some syrup to go with it. You'll give her some of your favorite maple syrup. She'll probably get all sticky, so she'll want to take a bath." Numeroff
I would highly recommend reading especially once you get down in that mid-semester rut, go to the children’s section of the library and read some books that you read when you were a kid!
Really Ugly Cinnamon Roll Pancakes (Just ugly was already taken)
Yield: 4 servings (4 pancakes) Prep Time: 25 min Cook Time: 10 min
1 heaping cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten, add a
second egg if your batter isn’t fluffy enough
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
4 Tablespoons butter
2 ounces cream cheese

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Prepare pancake batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk in milk, oil and egg, just until batter is moistened (a few small lumps are fine).

2. In a medium bowl, mix butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Scoop the filling into a small zip baggie and set aside. You don't want it to be really runny. It's best if it becomes a consistency similar to toothpaste, so squeezable. *I think ours was too thick and looked more like poop than toothpaste, see poopy looking cinnamon mixture below.
3. In a medium, microwave-safe bowl- heat butter and cream cheese until melted. Whisk together until smooth; whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla extract; set aside.
4. Heat large skillet over medium-low heat, if it is too high the sugar will burn! Spray with nonstick spray. Scoop about a 1/2 cup batter onto the skillet. Snip the corner of your baggie of filling and squeeze a spiral of the filling onto the top of the pancake. **Our sugar started burning so we added a bit more batter on top of the cinnamon sugar filling to prevent the sugar from burning. When bubbles begin to appear on the surface, flip carefully with a thin spatula, and cook until browned on the underside, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to a baking sheet or platter and keep in a warm oven until ready to serve.

5. When ready to serve, spoon warmed glaze onto the top of each pancake. Eat and then probably lay down for a while because they're super rich!
*Keep the heat low or your pancakes might cook up too quickly. Don't flip them until you see those bubbles starting to pop on top. Flip them with a wide spatula so you can grasp the whole thing without batter and filling dripping all over the place!

*It's best if you pour the batter onto your skillet, wait a minute or so and then swirl the cinnamon onto the batter. That'll give it a chance to set a little before you add the swirl.

*If your baggie of filling begins to get too thick, just pop it in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it up again. On that same note, it shouldn't be too runny. The consistency of soft toothpaste is perfect. If it's melty and runny, it will tend to run all over your pancakes. Once you micro it, let it sit on the counter at room temp for a while until it thickens slightly.
*Between pancakes take a damp paper towel and carefully wipe up your skillet, helpful for those of us who burnt sugar on their skillet.
*You might want to double the recipe, we got about 4.5 pancakes, yes a half pancake just go with it.

For more pancake fun check out some of these recipes:
I think these are absolutely adorable!
Maybe a little too rich for breakfast but, they look really yummy!
I could keep going with the pancakes but I’ll try to stop now.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chicken in Orange Cream Sauce

I finally joined the world of YA (Young Adult) action enthusiasts and read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  I know, I’m a little slow on the uptake, but in my defense, it was waitlisted at the library 25 times over!  I finally broke down and bought my own copy, trusting that the good reviews would reflect my own opinion of the book.  For the first book, at least, they did.  I won’t get into my severe disappointment with Mockingjay or my annoyance with Collins’ use of the present tense.  But for the first book, at least, I enjoyed it just as much as everyone said I would, which was a lot.

The Hunger Games is an exciting story about a world where North America was blown to bits, and what’s left is a nation called Panem, which consists of 12 Districts for gathering raw materials and a 1984-esque controlling city called the Capitol.  Because of a District rebellion 74 years previously, the Capitol chooses to start up a brutal, sadistic way of keeping the Districts in check, which is the Hunger Games.  I won’t reveal exactly what those are, but it’s definitely worth reading to find out.  It’s an action-packed story with romance, intrigue and a lot of gore (Don’t read it if you have a weak stomach).

Anyway, the main character, Katniss Everdeen, grew up on the brink of starvation in District 12, hunting to survive.  So when she finds herself in front of a meal from the Capitol, she is stunned at the extravagance of the food.  She describes what’s before her:

“Chicken and chunks of oranges cooked in a creamy sauce laid on a bed of pearly white grain, tiny green peas and onions….
“I try to imagine assembling this meal myself back home.  Chickens are too expensive, but I could make do with a wild turkey.  I’d need to shoot a second turkey to trade for an orange.  Goat’s milk would have to substitute for cream.  We can grow peas in the garden.  I’d have to get wild onions from the woods.  I don’t recognize the grain, our own tessera ration cooks down to an unattractive brown mush…. Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitution for the Capitol version.”  (Collins 65)

If you are a fan of The Hunger Games, you may be wondering why I didn’t choose to highlight the famous “lamb stew with dried plums” often mentioned in the trilogy.  My answer: too expensive.  Sorry guys, I really want to make it, but lamb is definitely not happening with my budget. 

So I chose this interesting creamy orange chicken instead, which I actually had all of the ingredients for (except the orange).  It seemed like a fascinating dish and I loved reading Collins’ description.  Collins invents lots of interesting foods , and we could probably do a whole week of Hunger Games foods, but as yet, that’s not in the works.  Anna might have something for you, though, since she, too, recently read the series.

I invented this recipe.  I basically made a b├ęchamel sauce with some added flavors, mostly orange, and poured it over baked chicken.  I decided that the pearly white grain Collins describes is probably rice, so that’s what I put in the recipe.  I also added a fancy garnish (easy to do) because that seemed like the sort of thing a Capitol chef would do.  This recipe is geared to serve 4 people (each person with their own chicken breast), but when I made this, I made it just for me, so the baking time might not be quite enough for 4 chicken breasts.  I also forgot to cook rice to go with it, in case you’re wondering why it's not in my pictures.

Chicken in Orange Cream Sauce

Cream Sauce:
Serves 4

2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp butter
¾ cup cream
1 clove garlic
Dash of pepper
1-2 Tbsp chicken broth
1 orange
½ zested
Same ½ peeled & chopped into bite-sized pieces with as little of the albedo (white layer under skin) as possible
3 tbsp orange juice from other half
Peel from unzested half -- carefully set aside

Put butter and flour in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir until butter is melted and the mixture creates a thick paste (this is called a roux).  When the roux starts to bubble, add cream ¼ cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.  When the flour mixture is fully integrated into the cream, add pepper, chicken broth , and garlic.  Heat and stir until the sauce is thickened.  Add orange zest, chunks, and juice.  Set aside.

Making the roux

Adding zest to cream sauce

1-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (bake time is for 1 breast - adjust accordingly)
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F.  Add olive oil to pan and make sure the pan is well coated.  Place the chicken in the saucepan on medium high heat.  Thinly coat in salt and pepper.  Using tongs, rotate the chicken and press all sides to the pan, allowing the outer part of the chicken breasts to cook (This is called searing).  Don't cook the inside of the chicken!  Just the outside, to seal it in (making for moister chicken when it's baked).  When all sides of the chicken are cooked, place chicken in a baking dish with the residual olive oil and put into oven.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove dish from oven and add the cream sauce to the top of the chicken.  Bake for 5 more minutes.  Cut into thickest chicken breast and make sure it is completely cooked.  Continue baking if it is still pink. Once it is completely cooked, place under the broiler for 1 minute more, or until the sauce on top of the chicken is lightly browned and bubbling.  Remove from oven.

searing the chicken

Chicken all seared and ready to bake

Baked with cream on top -- ignore the peas and curls -- those are coming up

Orange Peel Curls (Garnish - Optional):
Orange peel
Bowl of ice water

While you have some down time with the food in the oven, take some of your orange peel that has not been zested.  Using a peeler, peel off as much as you can of the white inside of the peel without damaging the orange exterior.  Then take a knife and cut the peel into long, thin slices.  Curl each long strip of peel around itself into a tight spiral and immerse in the ice water.  Hold the curl in the water for 30 seconds – 1 minute, and then release to do the next curl (keep the curled peel in the water).  When you have the desired amount of orange peel curls, you can remove them from the water to place them on your dish

Curling the orange peel

Bed of Rice:
Serves 4

1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup cooked peas
2 cups cooked rice

Place the chopped onion in a small saucepan with a thin layer of water (just enough to coat the bottom).  Cook on medium heat until the onion turns clear and soft and the water has cooked off.

On each plate, spread ½ cup of rice, then layer on top of the rice with ¼ cup peas and 2 tbsp onions.  Place the chicken on top of the rice bedding, and add any extra sauce over plate. Garnish with orange peel curls.

Bon apetit! (Keep in mind, I made enough sauce for several chicken breasts.  Yours might look a little  different.)
 This dish is unique and delicious!  I love the way the orange flavor blends with the cream, and the garlic compliments it nicely.  I was worried it would be weird because of the orange/garlic combo, but I loved it!  And it actually was pretty easy and fairly quick.  I would totally make it again.