Saturday, December 24, 2016

Bourbon Balls

After getting some snow this December, our Christmas Eve forecast is for rain, which is really depressing.   It is supposed to go into the 50s by the day after Christmas, which should make for lots of gray and mud.   Christmas sort of snuck up on me this year.   I haven't yet made any cookies, but I might try to get some made today.  I'm taking it easy; it seems Christmas never comes out exactly as I think it should be,   So why not just kick back and enjoy it for what it is?

I was inspired by my friend Paula who said she made some bourbon balls that didn't have ground up vanilla wafers in them.   I wondered if they were like ones I tasted a few years ago when I was in Elizabethtown, KY for work that had a more creamy texture at a cute little place called the Back Home Restaurant.    I vowed I'd try to duplicate them, along with their version of Kentucky cream pull candy.  A quick googling found a recipe on allrecipes by someone named "KY Piano Teacher" that looked like it might fit the bill, but when tried to follow the recipe, I found the instructions a little lacking so I modified it a bit.   It's essentially a no cook fondant center.   I was a little nervous because I thought it would melt when I dipped it but it did not.   I coated these with some fancy candy making chocolate that I have, but if you are lacking that, try some Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate bars that you can find in any grocery store.   Learn how to do it here.

Kentucky Bourbon Balls

1 c. chopped pecans, additional whole pecans for topping (optional)
5 T, bourbon (I used Maker's Mark, but a cheaper bourbon is really all that is required)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 lb. confectioners sugar
18 ounces chocolate, for dipping

Put nuts in a canning jar with a lid, and add bourbon, shaking to coat.  Allow to steep overnight.  In a mixing bowl, add butter and sugar and mix on medium speed until crumbly.   Add nuts and bourbon.  Knead the fondant with your hands until a soft dough forms, slightly sticky  Add more powdered sugar if necessary until it can form a soft sticky ball.  Line a tray with parchment, and form fondant into 1 inch balls.    Refrigerate until very firm.  Dip balls in melted chocolate,   You can top with a whole pecan, if desired.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Care Package Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

Do you remember this old TV commercial?

I never understood why 1970s teen heart throb Robby Benson (I'm really wanting to watch the movie Ice Castles right now) was walking around eating peanut butter straight out of the jar when he runs into Donny Most (aka Ralph Malph from Happy Days) and they invented Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.   Whatever.   It's a great combination of flavors!

I was looking for a recipe for cookies to send to my son for a finals week care package.   I hit our monthly library used book sale and found a book I wanted to buy


I love the old Taste of Home magazine, before it started taking advertising in December, 2007.   This is an end of an era.   Some guy from Nebraska submitted a recipe for peanut butter cookies with peanut butter swirled chips.   I am not even  sure if those are made anymore, so I took some liberties and devised this adaption:

Bittersweet Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies 

1 c. butter
1 c. creamy peanut butter
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 t baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2-1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 10 oz. package Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, cream the butter, peanut butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks. Yield: about 4 dozen.

My son ate every single one of these cookies.....not including the ones I sampled prior to sending.   These are really delicious.   Now I am off to find Ice Castles on Netflix....

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Advent Herbs: Pork Tenderloin with Maple and Sage

This advent season, I am trying to channel my inner Adelma Grenier Simmons.....

Adelma was one of the leading herbal figures in America in the 20th century. A legend for her knowledge of herbal lore and history, she was also a prolific author and sparked an interest in herb gardening across the country. Known as "The First Lady of Herbs," she owned and operated Caprilands Herb Farm in Coventry, Connecticut for over 55 years.  Back in the early 1990s, I was really into herbal wreath making.  I love reading Adelma's books, her writing style is such that I can envision her sitting at an antique desk in her drafty library at Caprilands writing out her drafts about herbs in longhand, sipping some chamomile tea she grew herself.   Then, she would haul out a typrewriter and type it up double spaced.  Perhaps she would have a lit candle nearby, and she would be looking out over the snow covered fields of her farm in the blue gray light of Advent.   I don't know if that's what she did as Caprilands is no longer as her 3rd husband seems to have run it into the ground after her death in the 90s,   I love the way she writes about celebrating nature by combining both Druid and Catholic festivals.   I wish I could have met her in person.

Adelma would most certainly be thinking about making an Advent wreath at this time, featuring the herbs of advent:
  • Juniper, cedar and pine protected the Holy Family on their flight from Egypt.
  • Ivy denotes the trinity.
  • Lavender represents purity and virtue, lavender is said to have received its lovely scent when it served as the drying rack for the Baby Jesus' swaddling clothes
  • Sage stands for immortality.
  • Horehound is a wish for good health.
  • Rue is a symbol or virtue and banishes evil.
  • Thyme another manger herb stands for bravery and strength of Christ.
  • Rosemary is for remembrance: its flowers changed from white to blue in Mary’s honor.
  • Bedstraw, is considered a manager herb.
  • Pennyroyal, is supposed to have bloomed at midnight on Christmas Eve in  Christ’s honor.
  • Costmary, also known as Bible leaf and used as a bookmark the fragrance chases insects, was used by Mary Magdalene to make an ointment for the baby Jesus.
  • Tansy is associated with immortality.

I ordered one of Adelma's books on Amazon.....

Until it arrives, I will have to do a little internet research.  I don't have a huge herb farm and I don't even know where I could buy most of this stuff.   Making herbal wreaths went out of style at the end of the 90s and I don't see anyone selling dried herbs like they used to do.   But I will look around and try to cook with some of these herbs.   So today, on the second Sunday of Advent, I will make a recipe that features sage.  I have a pork tenderloin from the hog we bought at the start of fall.    I hope I have enough room in the freezer for the beef quarter that is coming this week!   I found this recipe at Eating Well,,,,,I am modifying it a bit to serve my tastes.    It is suggested to serve with barley, roasted squash and a pinot noir....sounds excellent to me!    I'm going to have to go to the store for some fresh sage.   I didn't grow any in a container on my patio as I usually do.   I must have forgot.  I used to have a sage plant that lasted for years on my is winter hardy.    But it finally died and I haven't remembered to plant another.   I'll need to do it next spring for sure.    I've got some maple syrup that my friend Evelyn made last spring.  Sounds good for a gray day like today!  I am hopeful we are going to get the snow that is forecast for tomorrow.

Pork Tenderloin with Maple and Sage

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed
2 teaspoons canola oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage

Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine 1 tablespoon mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl; rub all over pork. Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and brown on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 160°F.  Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.

To make the pan sauce, place the skillet over medium-high heat (take care, the handle will still be hot), add vinegar, and boil, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon, about 30 seconds. Whisk in maple syrup and the remaining 2 tablespoons mustard; bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes.

Slice the pork. Add any accumulated juices to the sauce along with sage. Serve the pork topped with the sauce.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wheat Berries, Barley and Brown Rice

I love barley, and so I tried this recipe from Good Food From Mrs. Sundberg's Kitchen by Holly Harden, who was Garrison Keillor's editor and writes a great blog The View from Mrs. Sundberg's Window which is very Lake Wobegon in style and tone, which I like.   I do prefer the music on the new Prairie Home Companion with Chris Thiele, but I miss Lake Wobegon.     Her cookbook doesn't have a ton of recipes that I'd be interested in making, but this one caught my eye.   It's pretty simple....and it is something you can make when you are going to be near the kitchen for an hour doing something else.

Wheat Berries, Barley and Brown Rice

1/2 c. wheat berries
1/2 c. barley
1 T. vegetable oil
1 t. salt
1.2 c. brown rice

Boil the wheat and the barley in a bot with the salt and the oil in 4 cups of water for 30 minutes.   Add the brown rice and cook another 30 minutes.   Freeze in ziplock bags.   This is good to use with meat and vegetables and sauces and you don't have a lot of time.   It could also be made into a grain salad.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Husky Cupcakes

My son will turn 19 on Monday, so I decided to try to make cupcakes decorated like husky dogs, because he goes to Michigan Tech and they are the Huskies. My friend Christine came over to help me....we figured we'd make it work out or it would be epic Pinterest fail worthy.

Michigan Tech Mascot
Blizzard T. Husky

I saw these cupcakes first on the Michigan Tech Parents Facebook group, and I decided to give it a try, even though I'm not very skilled yet at cake decorating.   I can decorate cookies pretty well with royal icing, but have only tried to decorate cakes a few times.

Doing a little googling, I quickly determined I needed to get a Wilton grass tip....I ordered 2 so I could have 1 for gray and one for white fur.

I was pretty sure I wasn't going to want to pipe the blue eyes, but luckily I found some blue candy eyes for sale on Amazon.    I baked a dozen chocolate cupcakes using this Martha Stewart recipe, then I had to figure out what kind of icing to use.   I didn't want to use shortening, because I didn't care if my husky fur was a little off white.   Also, I wasn't sure on the consistency for the grass tip.  It seemed to work out better a little stiffer than medium consistency.   Here is how I ended up making the icing....

Buttercream Icing

1 1/2 cup unsalted butter (3 sticks),
6 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
up to 4 tablespoons milk or half and half

Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Add powdered sugar a cup at a time and turn your mixer on the lowest speed, until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time. 

I used mini marshmallows cut in half diagonally for the ears.   I tinted about a 1/4 cup icing pink for the tongue and another 1/4 cup black for the nose and piping, which I did with a Wilton #3 tip.   It might work a little better to make these 2 colors a little thinner for better piping.    I split the rest of the icing in half and tinted one part gray and left the other off white.  

I think they came out pretty good!  The grass tip is very forgiving....thank goodness.

A Pack of Huskies

Can't wait to celebrate his birthday on Monday when he gets home from deer hunting!  Happy birthday Eddie!

Monday, November 14, 2016

I Survived Thanksgiving Drive '85

I am one of the MTU students that survived one of the most harrowing drives back to school in 1985.  Here's my story... it's a long one that gets better every time I tell it. I left Detroit Sunday morning with my friend Pete who was from Chicago. We were juniors. He was in Detroit to buy a used Audi from a friend; it had a stick shift and was really sporty. Pete had also just broken his leg and had a cast. but there was no way he was going to let me drive his new (to him) car. We were also ferrying a tank full of PIRANHAS in the back seat for one of his fraternity brothers aquarium. The blizzard hit about the time we got to Gaylord or so...word was they were going to close the Mackinac Bridge because of the wind, but when we got there, they let us on. It was swaying like one of those pirate ship carnival rides! We made it to the other side and wanted to get out and kiss the ground but we couldn't. We had to press on because of the PIRANHAS....if we stopped, we were afraid they would freeze to death. They are a warm water Amazonian fish; being smart engineers we reckoned they couldn't handle the cold. Ever so brilliant, we pressed on...decided to take the southern US2 route given the weather. It was a slow couldn't see where the road was. Pete's leg was cramping up from all the downshifting, but he didn't want me to drive his car. We slowed down to make the turn at 117 and a car that was behind us plowed into a snow drift to avoid rear ending us. He couldn't see us! Conveniently, as is typical of the U.P. , there was an open bar up ahead. We decided to stop and let Pete stretch his casted leg and and partake in a beverage to "steel ourselves" for the rest of the trip. Of course, we left the car running and the heat on for the PIRANHAS. The bartender told us the state police were closing all the roads and so we better get going if we were going to make it. So off we went again. Eventually, there was no seeing out of the windshield; the wiper blades had long frozen over so I had to roll down the passenger window to watch the tree line (just like a winter road rally) to figure out where the road was. I navigated, he steered. We limped along the Seney Stretch, made it through MQT with no sign of the police so we kept going. The PIRANHAS, after all, etc. When we hit Keweenaw Bay, Superior was washing over the were frozen to the road. (see carsickle picture shown above) We dared not slow down for fear the same would happen to us. We rolled into Houghton about 19 hours after we started (should have been a 10 hour drive). I crawled on my hands and knees up to the front door, the snow was so deep. I was shocked to find that I was the first one back! About an hour later, my sorority sister Jenny arrived in her VW Golf. She and I shoveled a car sized parking spot for her car, you can't leave a car on Houghton streets in winter and we didn't want her to get towed. We watched the sun come up as we shoveled. We were the only ones out of 20 in our house that made it back. Word came that school was canceled, so we we went to the Doghouse to celebrate. In case you were wondering THE PIRANHAS SURVIVED.

My mother had a story of her own regarding Thanksgiving Drive '85. You see, there were no cell phones then and the storm was big news all over the country. (Here's an article in the LA Times about it) She watched the news and then promptly flipped out. She called the Michigan State Police and asked them to find me...she told them her daughter was somewhere enroute from Detroit and Houghton and they needed to track me down. My mother was a force to be reckoned with and would not take no for an answer from anyone. The MSP told her that I would be okay because all of the roads were closed and and the bridge was closed. She wasn't buying it...she wanted them to send a state trooper out to look for me. I think they told her they would (probably just to get her off the phone) send a car out right away. I did call her when I got there finally, even though it was "long distance" and already Monday morning and full rates applied. (In those days I was only allowed to call home on Saturday mornings before 8 am, because the long distance rates were 60% less during non peak hours) She was relieved to know I was safe and I was mortified that she called the cops. If she were still alive right now she'd be having the last laugh on me for sure.

Every MTU student in the 80s has their own story to tell....I wanted to document mine here.

Commemorate T Shirt

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pasty Making 2016

Pasty making is something I almost always get around to doing in November.   Thanks to the United Autoworkers and my generous employer, I get Veteran's Day off.  It used to be moved around to get it closer to the opening of firearm deer season in Michigan (which is November 15)  but now we are celebrating it on Veteran's Day proper, which I think is good.    I got this pasty recipe from my best friend Alison who got it from her ex mother-in-law who was from Hancock.   We often joke that the 3 best things she got out of that marriage were her 2 sons and this pasty recipe.  She and I used to get together and make pasties for the freezer every year on our day off.    Looking over the years, I see that we made 52 pasties in 2008, 79 pasties in 2009 and 80 pasties in 2013.  Sadly, she has moved away and my kids are away at college so we don't do it anymore in November.

Last year, I got together in January to make some pasties with a group of girlfriends that wanted to learn how....and I realize now that I never blogged about it.   Here we are:

I think I only made 8 for myself last year, as it was just for us two.   Even though I still have 3 of those left in my freezer, I decided I needed to make pasties again this Veteran's Day.  It was destiny because last weekend I was at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market wearing an MTU hoodie and I spied a big basket of freshly dug rutabagas that were huge for only $1 each.  I told the farmer that this was a sign from God that I needed to make pasties, and he noticed my sweatshirt and pointed to his hat....he was sporting an MTU ball cap!  He said his daughter was a senior at my alma mater (and home to the Upper Peninsula's finest pasties) and I told him that my son was there and that my husband and I also went there.      I've never had a freshly dug rutabaga before and it was way easier to dice and peel than the wax covered ones I normally buy at the grocery store.

a fresh 'baga

My daughter stopped home in the morning to witness part of  the pasty making, She's taking a class at EMU about food history and was tasked to write about food history and she remembered our annual pasty making affairs.  It's funny what the kids remember from their youth! When she was in middle school, she refused to eat pasties anymore, so I was surprised she wanted to document this effort.  She said she wanted to write about how we learned about pasties as MTU students and it became a food tradition for our family.   Jane is always on different food kicks, she went through the obligatory vegetarian phase every teen goes through, she then was making microwave brownies in a mug, and now her latest is taking in nutrition by drinking some kind of soy product made into a shake.   I asked her if she wanted me to make her some pasties too, and I was surprised when she said "Yes"!  Maybe pasties now sounded good to her after having to drink Soylent for a while.  She said she didn't like them in 6th grade because they didn't have enough seasoning in them but would like to try them again, and suggested adding some curry powder so I did that for a couple, just to see how it would taste.   Why not?

Andy said that my pasties were too small last year, so this year I made 10 giant ones instead of 15 regular sized.   I'll give the curried pasties to Jane for her freezer and I'll send Eddie back up to the Keweenaw with some for  his freezer, too.   I called Alison to let her know I was making pasties and she is going to make some for her new husband and his daughter too,   The tradition lives on!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

My Paris Kitchen

This month, the cookbook club got together to cook from David Lebovitz's book My Paris Kitchen, which is the best kind of cookbook to me, one that is also an interesting read.   What I loved best about this book is that he  accurately describes life in Paris so well.   A couple years ago, I visited Paris with my husband and son, and couldn't help but notice how much it didn't live up to its hype.

Here's a picture of me near the Eiffel Tower.   Doesn't it look fantastic?  What's not shown in the picture is all the panhandlers surrounding me.   I'm from Detroit and used to very aggressive panhandlers, but I've never experienced anything like what happens in Paris.   Between the little sad faced boys trying to get you to buy colored metal Eiffel Tower key chains to the very attractive young woman pawing my husband trying to convince him that she found a ring that she wanted to give to him to the extremely tough looking Nigerian men trying to weave a "friendship" bracelet onto my son's wrist without his consent, you can't go anywhere without being preyed upon.  Rick Steves described all of these and more ahead of time, so I was well prepared to fend them off.   You might wonder what the view is like from the top of the Eiffel Tower? Me too!  On this day, we couldn't go to the top because the workers were mysteriously on strike that day.   This happens often in Paris, the government workers are constantly walking off the job for one reason or another.  Some parts of the Metro might not be working unexpectedly.   Also, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.  Why Tuesdays?   Because it is France, and nothing can ever be easy!    

Here we are, enjoying a meal at a Paris bistro near Notre Dame.   Doesn't it look great?   It actually wasn't all that hot.    Most of the meals I ate in Paris were pretty lackluster. And sitting outside at a Paris restaurant, no matter how nice the weather is, is a huge mistake because everyone smokes like chimneys in Paris.    People often wonder how the French stay so thin and eat such rich food; their secret is that they are all chain smokers.   I learned very quickly that the smoking area is outside in French restaurants and not to sit there.   To me, the great things about Paris is all the history, the beautiful gardens, the ice cream, the fantastic bread that is served everywhere, and the wine.   My son liked it too....he is 15 in this picture, and a Coke cost 3 Euros (about $5) for a dinky little glass served warm with no ice, so we immediately relaxed our no alcohol rule when we were there for him.  At least he got to experiment with some really great wine instead of Boone's Farm like I did at his age!    Also, I'd recommend getting out of  Paris.....I really enjoyed the Alsace region much more.   The food was better, the people were much nicer.   Would I go back to France some day?   Sure, but I've spent enough time in Paris, thanks!

David Lebovitz captures all that is Paris very well in this book....the good and the not so good.   He's pretty frank about the fact at a lot of French food isn't all that great.   He worked for Alice Waters before he moved to Paris on a lark, so he compares American food with France very well, and also humorously highlights the biases that many Parisians have about l'americain.

For our cookbook club, I made the leeks with mustard-bacon vinaigrette and the eggplant caviar.   I didn't think the eggplant dish was worth the effort, although I was surprised that the smell of the blackening eggplant reminded me of the scent of le shit (French slang term for marijuana).   When I make these leeks again, I will slice them.   It was too difficult to eat them whole and they fell apart anyway.    I liked steaming them instead of boiling them, as he described.  I also tweaked a few other things to my liking:

Leeks with Mustard-Bacon Vinaigrette
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish

3 large leeks, cleaned well and sliced

For the vinaigrette
1/2 lb thick cut bacon, cut into lardons
1/4 c. sherry vinegar
3 T olive oil
2 T. dijon mustard
1 t. kosher salt

For the garnish
2 hard boiled eggs, diced
Reserved bacon
3 T. chopped parsley or diced chives

Steam leaks until tender over a pot of boiling water, about 10 minutes.  Put the leaks in a strainer and allow them to cool.  Meanwhile, cook bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels.  In a pint canning jar, add the vinegar, oil, mustard, and salt and shake until emulsified.   Add half the bacon and shake to coat.   Pour over leaks and garnish with eggs and remaining bacon and parsley or chives.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Chicken of the Woods Mushroom Soup with Lemon and Dill

My son found a huge chicken of the woods mushroom near our lakehouse in the Keweenaw, right before MTU Family Weekend, when we came up to visit him.   I have never found this mushroom before; I've been looking for it ever since I got my wild mushroom foraging certification last spring.   The proper name for this mushroom is Laetiporous....the one he found specifically is called Laetiporous cincinnatus.

Isn't it a beauty?   The cool thing about Laetiporous is that it will keep growing back if you just cut the tips off of it.   Much more mushroom to come!

I was searching for a recipe to make with friend Gina suggested a Hungarian mushroom soup she once tasted that she still dreams about.    I didn't have any paprika, so I improvised on a recipe I found for one online, and I came up with this truly delicious soup that was easy to make.   I'm sure it would be great with any kind of mushroom, not just chicken of the woods.  

Mushroom Soup with Lemon and Dill
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 lb pound sliced fresh mushrooms
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dill weed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup whole milk 
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup sour cream
Juice from half a lemon

In a large saucepan, saute onion in butter for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms; cook 4-5 minutes longer or until mushrooms are tender.  Stir in the flour, dill, salt and pepper until blended. Gradually stir in the broth, milk and soy sauce. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Just before serving, stir in sour cream and lemon juice (do not boil). 

Makes 4 servings

Monday, September 05, 2016

Salsa 2016

This year, I looked at my pantry and I had exactly 1 jar left of salsa from last year, and my records indicate that I made exactly 3.78x of my best recipe Salsa #5.   So I decided to make 4x this year.  Sadly, my usual tomato purveyor for the past 10 years Ann Ruhlig is out of business, so I bought tomatoes from Goetz farm at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.   My yield was 31 pints, which is interesting because last year, I got 33 pints.  Oh well...maybe the tomatoes were more meaty this year.   I used a mix of poblanos and jalapenos; my trusty canning buddy Ellen decided to slice some of the jalapenos in rings to make them look even better in the jar.   Ellen and I have been canning together for years, ever since Ann moved away to upstate New York.  

I used my outdoor canning kitchen again which is the best thing ever!  When I am all done, I just have to hose off the driveway.   Plus it's so much cooler outside; in the morning I had to wear a jacket.  A new purchase this year, a flame tamer really helped prevent scorching.

It sits between the fire and the canning kettle to prevent scorching.   Great add to my canning supplies.   I also cleaned out my pantry and got rid of some of the old stuff that never got eaten, like the pickled green tomatoes or the peaches I forgot were there.  

bbq sauce from 2013?

So far, I've made salsa, strawberry and thimbleberry jam so far this year.   Not sure what I want to make next.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Thimbleberry Jam

When I was a student at Michigan Tech, I spent a couple summers in the Keweenaw, and I vowed back then that I would someday make my own thimbleberry jam.    It finally happened!

Thimbleberries...from the watercolor journal of Marilynn Brandenburger
check out her work here

Growing up downstate, I had never heard of thimbleberries, which I'd describe as a floral, tart raspberry with smaller seeds.   They are also much easier to pick than raspberries, because they have no thorns.   They come into season in the beginning to mid August, and so I planned a trip to our place on Lake Superior to hopefully be timed with the ripening of the berries.   All the souvenir shops in the Keweenaw sell thimbleberry jam, but my favorite place to get it is the Jam Pot  a bakery and preserves spot in Eagle River.   I've always been inspired by their preserves...everything from wild gathered chokecherry and bilberries and rose hips to thimbleberry, their most popular.    It's currently selling for $18 a jar.    I noticed American Spoon is selling it for $23 a half pint.   So I put the family, and our friends Ray and Jen who were up visiting, to work picking berries.   

Thanks to the internet, I found that thimbleberries, unlike raspberries, don't need added pectin.   The recipes I found said to use equal volumes of berries and sugar and to bring it to a boil.   I decided to use equal amounts of sugar and berries by weight instead.   Thimbleberries are very fragile -- we collected them in bags and then put them in a bucket.    They turn into a a sludge almost immediately upon picking them  I poured them and their juice onto a cookie sheet to pick out any detritus (twigs, stems, the occasional tick) and them combined it with an equal part by weight of sugar.   I brought the mixture to a boil for 3 minutes, which seemed to be the average out there on the internet.

After 3 minutes of stirring constantly, I put the jam in hot half pint jars with 1/2 inch headspace and processed for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.   

 We picked 7 lbs of berries, which resulted in 22 half pints of jam.....that's about $400 worth of jam!  

Friday, July 08, 2016

Pollinator Garden

Today I planted a pollinator garden to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service and to take my mind and heart off of the horrible violence in the news today.    I'm tired of reading preachy facebook posts from people who think they know all the answers.   I sure know I don't have all the answers, but I got some seeds from the NPS, and planted them in the garden of our lake house, which is on the shore of Lake Superior in the Keweenaw.   Hope they grow!

The seed pack included lupinus perennis aka wild lupine which I see growing all over the Keweenaw. There was also Asclepias tuberosa  which we know as butterfly weed, Rudbeckia hirta or black eyed Susan, Monarda fistulosa, which is wild bergamot and Solidago canadensis or Canadian goldenrod.  Here's my garden located on the map!

To find out more about the project, check out the Pollinator Project.    Also you can get free seeds from the National Park Service.   Find your park!  Hopefully, a year from now I will see some flowers in my garden and remember that even though there is evil in the world, there is also good people and love and flowers.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Strawberry Shortcake with Sweet Cream Biscuits and Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

I got home from a business trip yesterday with strawberries on my mind.  We've had odd weather this spring, and a local berry farm said it was important to pick berries now while we can.  So I took their good advice and stopped there to pick some on my way home from the airport.

I was looking for a recipe like Zingerman's Sweet Cream Biscuits but found an easier recipe on The Kitchn that required just one bowl.   I was tired after all that travel after all, plus I liked that it was a bit lighter with just heavy cream for all the fat.   And I could save some for whipped cream on top.

Cream Biscuits

Makes 8 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (divided)

Place a layer of parchment paper across the bottom and up 2 sides of an 8x8-inch pan. Preheat oven to 425°F.  In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients until combined. Add the cream: Pour in all but 1/4 cup of the cream. Stir until the dough is shaggy, then add the remaining cream and stir to combine. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Knead the dough for about 30 seconds, just until it all comes together. Form the dough: Shape dough into a rectangle, about 12 inches long and 4 inches wide. Cut it in half lengthwise, then cut each piece into 4 pieces horizontally. Place each of the pieces in the prepared pan. Transfer the pan to the oven, and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden.

I still had some berries left, so I tried David Leibovitz's strawberry yogurt.  He's right, this isn't frozen yogurt you can get at the mall.   I can't wait to check out his book The Perfect Scoop.  I made some changes to make it easier and quicker.  

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
makes 1 quart

1 pound strawberries, rinsed and hulled
2/3 cup  sugar
 2 teaspoons vodka
1 cup plain 2 % milk Greek style yogurt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Slice the strawberries into small pieces. Toss in a bowl with the sugar and vodka until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 3o minutes, stirring every so often. Transfer the strawberries and their juice to a blender r. Add the yogurt and fresh lemon juice. Pulse the machine until the mixture is smooth. If you wish, press mixture through a mesh strainer to remove any seeds. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

I love strawberry season!

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Rhubarb Jam with Susan

Rhubarb is one of my very favorite things to eat.   Of course, there is pie....

I made these pies earlier in the season to celebrate the Kentucky Derby and for a woman that won my silent auction donation of "Pie Of The Month" at church.   

Today, I've got a canning project lined up with my friend Susan.   I usually can stewed rhubarb, which I like to eat with yogurt and granola in the morning, but I haven't the past couple years.  I've gotten away from canning things only I will eat around here.  Taking a stroll down memory lane,  I am humored by my rhubarb canning posts from years past.   There's this one, about me trying to can rhubarb in mid May for a farmer's market demo during a bad storm.   And then there was another year when I was doing the same thing  and there was a tornado warning.  That day, a bridge washed out on Maple Rd. in Ann Arbor.   It's only fitting that we got a ton of rain yesterday and we are under a small stream flood advisory in Washtenaw County and the forecast shows more rain for today. Susan and I are going to make rhubarb jam, because she has fond memories of doing the same with her Grandma when she was a little girl.   I am fired up to make jam myself since I spent some time last weekend at the Jam Pot in Eagle River.  Plus, I think the family will eat it.   

I am inspired rhubarb jam inspired by a couple recipes I have seen on the internet and in my canning book collection.   First, I found a recipe in Marissa McClellan's canning blog "Food In Jars".   (if you haven't yet checked out any of her canning cookbooks, you should!).   I liked the combination of vanilla bean and Earl Grey tea, but I don't use commercial pectin.   I looked in another favorite canning cookbook, Linda Ziedrich's Joy of Jams since she and I are of the same mind about commercial pectin and her recipe doesn't have any added, but calls for overnight maceration a la Mes Confitures.   I don't have time for that....I am going to pick rhubarb this morning at my friend Dan and Joe and Lisa's house.   It's always good to have friends with rhubarb!  Some more googling around led me to Leite's Culinaria and another great cookbook in my collection, Urban Pantry  by Amy Pennington.   Her recipe has a lemon added for pectin.  I am not confident rhubarb has enough pectin in it to set on it's own, and I have seen conflicting reports on the internet, Some recipes say you need it, some say you don't.   I can't find any actual pectin content data, so I am going to play it safe and use lemon for good measure.  Plus, I think the flavor will be nice with the Earl Grey tea,   So, here's the recipe I developed for today's canning ventures.....

Rhubarb Earl Grey Jam with Vanilla
makes about 5 half pint jars

4 lb. rhubarb cut into small chunks
4 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. boiling water
2 Earl Grey tea bags
1 vanilla bean, split
1 lemon

Prepare canning jars and water bath canner. Since this recipe has a processing time of 5 minutes, the jars need to be sterilized.   Read here to learn about how to do this.  Combine rhubarb and sugar in a large bowl, mixing until all the rhubarb is covered.    Juice lemon, reserving seeds and rind  Put the seeds in a tea ball or tied in a cheesecloth pouch.   The seeds and peels will provide pectin.  Brew tea in water for a couple minutes.It should be strong.   Combine rhubarb mixture, tea, lemon juice, vanilla beans, lemon rinds, and lemon seeds in a  large pot, and bring to a boil.  Boil for 15 minutes, stirring constantly and skimming the foam.  Check temperature at this point.   The goal is to get to the gel temperature of 220 F.  (+8 F from the boiling point of water at your elevation.  For less than 1000 ft. use 212+8 = 220 F)  Reduce heat to simmer and stirring frequently, simmer until it reaches 220 F.   Remove from heat.   Remove rinds, seeds, and the vanilla beans.  Ladle in prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace, process in boiling water bath fore 5 minutes.

I just looked at the radar....of course there is a big storm coming our way! It's time to can some rhubarb, I guess.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Prom Cookies 2016

Even though I no longer have any kids at Dexter High School (my nest is empty) I was asked to make prom cookies again this year.   I enlisted my friends Julie and Jen to help; both of their sons are seniors this year.  The theme was "Candyland".

I'm not a great designer of cookies, but I do a pretty good job of execution.  I keep a Pinterest board of cookie decorating ideas and when I see something I like, I pin it there to try later.  For these cookies, I adapted an idea I saw for peppermint candy cookies.  Since I got a late start, I didn't have the chance to order a cutter so I just went with round cutters.   A drinking or shot glass could also be used in lieu of a cutter, too.   I tried to capture the prom committee colors as best I could with colors I had on hand.   It's a good time to share a lesson I learned last year when making high school graduation cookies: the purple and maroon colors often are finicky for reasons I don't fully understand.   Our high school colors are maroon and gold, and I found out the hard way that maroon color seems to change the royal icing texture in unexpected ways.   I asked my friend Heather who decorates cookies and cakes professionally at her lovely cake boutique in Ann Arbor Sweet Heather Ann and she told me this is common and so she very often will hesitate to take on requests for purple colored wedding cakes.    She recommended I use Americolor soft gel pastes for best results.  Nothing I have ever tried equals the coloring strength of these amazing colors. They can be found locally here at Baker's Nook in Saline.  

So I was nervous about the purple, but it came out just fine.  We made about 100 cookies this year using this recipe - my tried and true best tasting sugar cookie recipe I've ever found in an old Taste of Home magazine.   The ingredients are relatively inexpensive and it has an excellent texture for rolling out and cutting.  The flavor is superb on its own, or flavor oils can be added.  Last Christmas, I added anise flavor and it was delicious.   We piped out the outline and white lines with Wilton #2 tip and flooded with a ketchup bottle.

I was happy to stay home last night instead of chaperoning the prom; It was 34 degrees F and it snowed this morning.   Insane!  But the cookies looked good in Candyland.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cookbook Club: Pok Pok by Andy Ricker

Last weekend, our cookbook club had a potluck featuring restaurateur Andy Ricker's cookbook Pok Pok.   His Oregon restaurant started out as a food cart....and it's touted as "quintessential Portland".

I got the book out of the library and was immediately put off by the hard to find ingredients and cooking utensils required for each recipe.   I scanned through the book looking for a recipe that I might be able to make from ingredients I could buy at Meijer, to no avail.   The closest I could find was stir fried Yunnan ham with chiles.  The recipe called for a Chinese ham but said "smoky Serrano or country ham" could be substituted.   Oddly, Serrano and country ham aren't typically smoked, but okay, I decided to go for it.   Meijer didn't have the ham, so I trekked to Morgan and York  to purchase the 1 1/2 oz. piece required for the recipe.   I was aghast to discover that this small amount of ham would cost me $8.   This better be good!

I got home to prepare the recipe and it was an odd conglomeration of units....tablespoons, ounces, grams, and cups were all called out.  Really? Exactly what does a "scant tablespoon" mean when in the next line, I am asked to weigh out 7 grams of something else? Furthermore, the recipe said it served "2 to 6 as part of a meal".   That's a pretty big variance.   How much should I make?  I didn't really know for sure. Also, it called for Thai thin soy sauce (not available at Meijer) but it was diluted with water so I just used the soy sauce I had in the pantry.  The recipe was written in a tone that sounded like the author had a strange combination of ADD and OCD.  It careened around in a crazy fashion, requiring many dishes to be dirtied, and then required unnecessary precision, such as cooking something for 45 seconds.   I didn't have my stop watch handy, or the required wok or Thai mortar and pestle, so I decided to wing it.   I was fully expecting to find the recipe to be a complete disappointment, but it surprisingly wasn't.  I'd definitely make this dish again, especially when the summer sweet corn is at the farmer's market.   I'd also make it with regular old smoked ham...the $8 worth of Serrano was totally lost in this dish.   Here's my interpretation of how I'd make it again, no special ingredients or equipment required.

Stir Fried Yunnan Ham with Chiles

1/4 c. water
1 T. soy sauce
1 t. sugar
2 T vegetable oil
1/2 inch slice of smoked ham (a couple slices of fried bacon would be great option, too!) diced
2 large Hungarian wax peppers, seeded and diced
1 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into match sticks
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 ears of sweet corn raw kernels cut off the cob
2 oz. oyster mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, thinly sliced against the grain
2 peeled carrots,sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 bunch green onions, but into 2 inch lengths.

In a measuring cup, measure water and add soy sauce and sugar to make a sauce.  Whisk until dissolved.   Heat oil in large skillet, when it begins to smoke, take it off the heat and add the ham, chiles, ginger and garlic and stir fry for about a minute.   Return to the heat and add all the remaining vegetables, reserving green onion and stiry fry until the carrot is cooked through.  Add the sauce and stir until the sauce is reduced until it's almost gone, a few minutes.   Add green onions and stir.

I was surprised at how tasty everything was....despite it all.   Some folks in the group went out of their way to find the unusual ingredients and they deserve extra credit.  It was a delicious meal!   Despite the poorly written recipes, the cookbook itself was a very interesting read.   Lots of background on Ricker's time in Thailand.  It's also beautifully photographed.   Would I recommend this cookbook?   It depends - do you buy cookbooks to cook from, or do you like to read them?   This is definitely one for the "reader type" that is an ambitious cook that likes the challenge of hunting down odd ingredients.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter Cookies

I wanted to try out making cookies in the shape of Jesus for church things and why not try it out for Easter?  I made these with a gingerbread woman cutter.  I had some spare icing left, so I decorated some butterflies.   I tried a different recipe than I usually use, and it's one I won't use again for cutout cookies.  It was from Maida Heatter's great cookie cookbook Brand New Book of Great Cookies.   It was a tasty cookie but difficult to roll out.    Instead, I'll stick to this tried and true recipe.   Also click on that link to learn more about technique. Happy Easter everyone!  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

To The King's and Queen's Taste

Straight out of these 70s. I found these cookbooks at a book sale.   Everything Elizabethan was big in the 70s; I sang in a madrigal group and loved learning about this era when I was in high school humanities class.   I really love the marvelous black-and-white illustrations throughout from original woodcuts of the period, and an introduction that describes the extravagant preparations involved in a typical medieval feast. The author, Lorna J. Sass, holds a doctorate in medieval literature from Columbia University. She is the author of four historical cookbooks, including these two, plus Dinner with Tom Jones (18th Century), and Christmas Feast from History, which I would also love to have in my collection. I've know her work because she has written the best pressure cooker cookbooks I own....

Can't wait to cook something out of these gems!