Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We Have a Mole Hole

Mole hole in my driveway, December 2011.
I'd never thought much about the difference between moles and gophers until a barely subterranean trail appeared in our driveway and I started to wonder what kind of varmint had made the mysterious dirt trail.  I've heard my father complain about gophers getting at his garden from time to time.  I know they're herbivores and that they'll eat anything in sight.  And then there's the inevitable Caddyshack reference.  But I'd never given moles a second thought.  

We first noticed the trail a few days before the giant winds hit Los Angeles and in the wake of our 18 hours without electricity, the mole hole was far from the front of my mind.  That is, until we started talking to our neighbors while checking out the 30 foot long tree branch that blocked half the road in front of our house.  When our neighbor saw our driveway, he said, "Ah-HA!  I see our mole came to visit you."  He said this in a somewhat delighted tone and it took me a beat to decide if his pleasure was that of a man happy to see his friend the mole or happy to see that a pest had fled his yard for the neighbors' yard.  I made a disgruntled face (not quite knowing why I made it) and he quickly assured me that the mole was our friend.  He said the mole would eat unwanted insects and that we were lucky to have him around.  I think he was trying to make sure we didn't do anything unkind to his mole friend.  

Once I figured out that we had a mole, I did a little research and discovered that moles eat mostly worms and that in spite of my neighbor's kind words for our mole, most people are NOT fans of the mole.  They are considered a pest by most "mole vs. gopher" websites and it seems that most people want to get rid of them.  Moles burrow shallow trenches in grass and "ruin" the lawn.  Luckily for our mole, we don't really care about our lawn.  If he went after our garden, we might have to reconsider.  But for now, we say "live and let live".

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Secret to A Great Pie Crust: Ghee

Jared's delicious pecan pie with ghee crust, 2011.
With the holidays quickly approaching, my friend Jared has been experimenting with pie crust recipes.  He's got a secret ingredient that I've never heard of being used in a pie crust-- ghee, which is the traditional Indian version of clarified butter.  I was surprised by this idea, but it made sense.  I've eaten pies made with butter and they're pretty good, but Jared's version using ghee was really good.  He's made several attempts so far (one with just ghee and one with a combination of ghee and lard) and I've been lucky enough to try them both.
"Pumpkin" pie with ghee crust and molasses, 2011.

The pecan pie was great.  I must admit that pecan pie is one of my favorites and the addition of chocolate chunks made it even better.

Jared's version of "pumpkin" pie, made with his homegrown squash, was special not only because of the homegrown squash filling and ghee crust, but also because of the molasses he drizzled over the pie before topping it with whipped cream.  Jared even invited me over to check out his last giant squash before he picked it, chopped it up, and cooked to make... you guessed it... more pies.  I can't wait to try the next version.
Jared's giant squash, ready for picking, 2011.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Easiest Holiday Candy

My 2 year old who just can't seem to let go of her "hammer", December 2011.
The easiest (and most beloved) Christmas candy we've made this year has been the by-product of the much more rigorous undertaking of making chocolate-covered candied orange peel.  Regular readers of this blog know that I've tried to make chocolate-covered candied orange peel several times this year already.  I'll write more about my latest attempt in a future post, but today I want to share the best candy-making process I've ever tried with the kids-- chocolate-peppermint bark.

My 2 year old daughter and I decided to make chocolate-peppermint bark with the leftover chocolate from the chocolate-covered candied orange peel we'd just finished making.  We had a lot of chocolate melted in the double-boiler and it seemed a shame to waste it.  I looked around the kitchen to see what we could dip in chocolate BESIDES the much labored over candied orange peel.

I considered graham crackers, but rejected them on the grounds that they were too hard to dip down into the bottom of the double-boiler.  And they didn't seem worth the effort.  We tried marshmallows first and in the interest of full-disclosure, I must admit that the girls loved them.  I, however, did not.  They kept dropping down into the chocolate and they were very hard to fish out of the quickly hardening chocolate.

It was at this point that I remembered we had a box of miniature candy canes stashed away in the upper cabinet.  We made white chocolate peppermint bark last year and gave it out to friends as holiday presents.  People either loved it or hated it based on the strength of their sweet tooth.  It takes a real sweets-lover to like white chocolate.

Annabel whacks the candy canes, Dec. 2011.
Dark chocolate is a crowd-pleaser and even my young daughters love it.  I realized we had a match made in heaven-- chocolate plus a reason to let my 2 year old whack candy with a meat tenderizer.  

My daughter had such a good time breaking up the chocolate that I had to stop her just as she was ripping a hole in the plastic bag we used to contain the peppermint shavings.  And by the time we'd finished sprinkling the melted chocolate with peppermint shards, she was still reaching for her beloved "hammer".  I had to hide it in a drawer to keep her from using it on the bananas in the fruit bowl.  Or the fruit bowl.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Stuffing For Breakfast?

Daniel's stuffing on my plate on the day after Thanksgiving, 2011.
Yes, I ate leftover Thanksgiving stuffing for breakfast this morning.  I suspect this is somewhat like eating pizza for breakfast.  There are two schools of thought on the subject and each camp is deeply committed to their own way of thinking.

If you're in the "stuffing for breakfast" camp, you either ate some yourself this morning or you're jealous that I had leftover stuffing to eat for breakfast.  If you're in the "NO WAY!" camp, let me say that this wasn't just any stuffing-- it was my friend Daniel's famous cornbread-sausage stuffing. When you break it down into it's two main components--corn bread and sausage-- you really do have the makings of a great breakfast.

This morning I got up early with my two young daughters while my husband slept in.  I fed the girls their favorite breakfast of cinnamon raisin toast with cream cheese, made myself some coffee, and stood in front of an open refrigerator, trying to find something easy to eat for breakfast.  That's when I spotted the tupperware container of stuffing.  By the time I scooped the stuffing into a bowl and pressed "start" on the microwave, I heard my husband get out of bed.  I instantly froze and waited to make sure he was in the shower before I got the bowl out of the microwave.  When I realized I was safe to eat my cornbread sausage stuffing in peace, I also realized that what I was doing was somewhat crazy.  Why did I care if I was discovered eating stuffing for breakfast?  There were only two possible answers.

Answer #1:  I didn't want my husband to make fun of me for eating stuffing for breakfast.  When I thought this one through, it was clear that this wasn't the reason.  My husband eats far grosser concoctions on a regular basis.  Even if he did think it was gross, the worst he'd do was laugh at me for not wanting to get caught.  Whatever.

Answer #2:  I didn't want to share the stuffing.  It's not a pretty answer, but it's true.

I did NOT want to share my stuffing for breakfast.  I'd carefully divided the last of the stuffing into two breakfast-sized portions and if I shared with  my husband today, I wouldn't be able to enjoy the last of the stuffing tomorrow.  After all, this was the last stuffing I was going to get FOR THE WHOLE YEAR TO COME and I didn't want it to go to someone who didn't appreciate it as much as I did.  This isn't as selfish as it sounds.  Ok, maybe it is, but I didn't care.  I'd gotten this stuffing from my friend Daniel when I went to eat at his house on Friday.  I'd brought my tupperware container of turkey and stuffing home and my family and I ate it for dinner that night.  I'd already shared the stuffing.

As I've already mentioned, this is not just any stuffing.  This was stuffing made from homemade cornbread and sweet Italian sausage and it is my absolute favorite stuffing for several reasons.  First and foremost, it is the most amazing stuffing in the world.  But perhaps more importantly, I have eaten this stuffing on the day after Thanksgiving for the past twenty years.  It's not leftover stuffing either.  It's a special Day-After-Thanksgiving Day meal that Daniel prepares for me and a rotating group of our friends each year.  Sometimes we call this meal "Y-Giving" because although we all have friends and families to visit on Thanksgiving Day, we still want to have a second and equally important meal with our friends from our grad school days on the day after Thanksgiving.

I'm not the only person in the world who places equal value on two entirely separate Thanksgiving meals.  In fact, my husband's cousin Sue said the same thing while she was in the midst of preparing the Thanksgiving Day meal for her entire family-- a family that I am very pleased to call my own.  Sue is a great cook and she always makes an amazing meal for at least 13 people, but she told me that she attends a yearly Thanksgiving meal with her law-school friends the week before Thanksgiving.  She spoke of her pre-Thanksgiving meal tradition with all the fondness and commitment that I feel for my meal with Daniel and our revolving circle of friends-- friends who have been a part of our family of friends for twenty years.  It was nice to hear that someone else could feel equal enthusiasm for two very different meals and families.

I feel justified in wanting to hoard my last bit of Daniel's "Y-Giving" stuffing.  This stuffing has been a part of my Thanksgiving tradition for much longer than my husband has been.  I'm rather fond of my husband and our family and I wouldn't trade our big family Thanksgiving for anything.  But the stuffing is all mine.


Monday, November 21, 2011

The Master Composter- A Guest Post By Tim Evans

Today's blog post is brought to you by my husband Tim, the composting genius of our family.  I'm suppling the photos and a thought that in spite of my family's enthusiasm for collecting our kitchen scraps in a clear plastic container, I myself might have made a less transparent choice.

The Master Composter
by Tim Evans

Kitchen scraps festering on our kitchen windowsill, 2011.
Susan has written here about a fascinating program for becoming a Master Food Preserver -- a newly-revived certification process that not only teaches the arts of canning, dehydrating and preserving, but also spreads the word.


But I may have found a Master program that's even cooler.

Master... of Compost!

Yes, you can be declared not only an expert but an official "Master" of rotting food!

Our family only recently discovered the joys and excitement of composting and while a Master Certificate may not be in my future, I'm enjoying the process of Apprenticeship and look forward to becoming at least a Journeyman in the craft.

It began with the offer of an inexpensive compost device from the County of L.A.  In early summer we learned that we could get a really cheap piece of cool-looking gardening equipment, and all we had to do was show up at Griffith Park.

We drove to the location behind the L.A. Zoo and got an interesting lecture and discussion on Composting for Beginners. There were about 30 people in the crowd, with questions ranging from whether wild animals could get into the compost to whether you could add full baby diapers to your pile ("yes" to the first, "absolutely not" to the second).  We learned the basic concept of "50% Green, 50% Brown" - which is the ratio of vegetable matter to non-vegetable matter - and got tips on aerating.  Then we got in line to purchase the $20 Compost Machine, which looks like a large modified plastic trash can turned upside down.
Our composter ready and waiting for kitchen scraps in our backyard, 2011.

This entire program is run by the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation/Dept of Public Works, and is designed to promote composting and recycling.  In some counties, a similar lecture and the cheap compost machine are all part of the Master Composter program -- and lecturers fulfill their requirements for Mastery by spreading the good word.

Composting has now become a favorite family activity.  We fill up a small, clear plastic bucket with rejected vegetable matter every night.  Our girls originally had covered the clear plastic bucket with crayon artwork, but we eventually decided that the rotting material looked more interesting if we could see it.  Every couple of days the girls and I march the bucket to the corner of the backyard, where our Compost Machine sits.  One girl gets to carry the bucket, the other gets to pour it in.  Once the food is tossed in, the girls gather dry leaves from the yard ( the "50% brown" material) and toss them in.  Then Dad turns the whole thing over with a rake to aerate it.

And it's truly amazing to see the alchemical process that is compost.  We start out seeing the banana peels, the cantaloupe rinds, the salad greens and the sometimes-chewed-then-rejected broccoli in the plastic bucket.  We can see it looking all gross and the girls can give a delighted "Ewwww!" when we dump it in.  But then, over time, as we dump in more and rake it up, that rotting material has somehow mysteriously turned into something rich and dark.  At the bottom of the Compost Machine, a thick, crumbly material begins to grow, and the transformation of trash into earthly treasure takes place.  It will be spring before our compost is truly ready to be spread around, but our 5-year-old daughter has already declared it "the best compost in the neighborhood!"

And I've become increasingly impressed with the idea of a Master Composting Program, and L.A City's compost program.  Simply by offering a cheap and cool piece of equipment, the program has created a bunch of new urban composters.  I knew nothing about compost before getting the Compost Machine... but this city-funded, volunteer-supported program taught me some basics and made me an Apprentice.  My trash is no longer going into a landfill, it's going back into our garden.  Our girls are seeing dinner-table refuse turn into soil... that will create more dinner once we use it in our garden.

If you're interested in a low-cost Compost Machine and instructions in Los Angeles, check out the L.A. City site.

And if you're interested in earning that certificate that declares you to be Master of Composting, regulations and classes will vary from county to county, but one good place to begin is mastercomposter.com.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Heirloom Foods: Making Grape Jelly

Concord grape vines in Virginia, Fall 2011.  All photos courtesy Linda Lutz.
Concord grapes on the stem, 2011.
Each Fall my mother makes amazing homemade grape jelly from grapes she picks from her friend Wendy's grape vines.  This year I convinced my mom to send me her recipe and photographs of the entire process.  She made jelly about a month ago, but I haven't posted her recipe because I got exhausted just looking at the instructions and thirty-one photographs she sent to describe what she does.

Today I decided to buckle down and sort it all out.  I was killing time by organizing photographs while eating toast with grape jelly that my mother brought me the last time she came to visit.  As jelly dripped down my chin, I realized that I had no clue how to make this lovely stuff and if I ever wanted to figure it out I'd better get to work.  Luckily, grapes are gone for this year so I don't actually have to make the stuff-- at least not until the next grape harvest.
Grapes off the vine in my mother's kitchen, 2011.

My mother based this recipe on the amount of grapes she had this year.  When my mom weighed the grapes she had collected, it turned out to be 3 1/2 pounds of grapes taken off the stem equaled 2 quarts of grapes, which yielded about 5 cups of grape juice.

Notes:

  • My mom says it's ok to use some partially ripe grapes to make the juice.  Just make sure that at least three-fourths of your grapes are really ripe.  (Up to one-fourth of the total amount can be slightly green.)
  • Do not double the recipe.  
  • Although my mother does not always use a hot water bath after filling the jars, USDA recommendations suggest that any canned product should always be processed in a hot water bath.  
Finished Grape Jelly, 2011.
Grape Jelly
by Linda Lutz

Yields 8 cups of jelly.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 pounds grapes off the stem (2 quarts), which equals 5 cups of juice
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1.75  ounce pectin (I use Sure-Jell.  If you use another brand of pectin, you should consult package directions.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • 7 cups sugar

Specialized Tools/Equipment:

  • 8- 8 ounce jelly jars with lids and rings
  • 1 large cooking pot (at least 16 quarts)
  • Jelly strainer or a colander covered with several layers of cheese cloth
  • Jar funnel
  • 1 canner (for canning the jelly)
  • 1 or 2 food-safe gloves
Instructions:


  • Remove grapes from stem and place in a large pan of water.
  • Quickly rinse grapes and place in colander to dry.
  • Put 2 cups of grapes in a large stock pot and crush the berries with glove-covered hand.  Keep adding 2 cups at a time until all the berries are crushed.  As my mother says, "there's nothing like good old hands for crushing grapes."
  • Add 1 1/2 cups of water to the stock pot and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Straining crushed grapes, 2011.
  • Pour grapes into dampened jelly strainer (or several layers of dampened cheese cloth).  Be sure to put the jelly strainer over a bowl to collect juice.  Obviously, the bowl needs to be large enough to collect 5 cups of juice.
  • Let sit for several hours or up to half a day.  The longer you let it set, the more juice you'll get out of it, but do not smash grapes or squeeze the bottom of the jelly bag.  
  • Run jelly jars through dishwasher so that they are hot when juice is ready to be used.  If jars cool, place them in a 9x13 inch pan and warm them in a 175 degree oven.  
  • Measure 5 cups of juice in a large sauce pan (at least 6 quarts).
  • Gradually stir in Sure-Jell.
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of butter to reduce foaming.
  • Bring mixture to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.  (A "full rolling boil" is a boil that doesn't stop when you stir it.)
  • Add 7 cups of sugar quickly, stirring to dissolve.  Be sure to measure it first as it is easy to lose count of the number of cups you're measuring.
  • Return mixture to a full rolling-boil and boil hard for exactly one minute, stirring constantly.
  • Remove pan from heat and let sit for several minutes.
  • Skim off foam with a metal spoon.  (The metal spoon will almost act like a magnet.)  Scrape foam all to one side and scoop it out of the stock pot.
Skimming off foam from heated grape juice.
  • To prepare the lids, pour boiling water over lids in a small sauce pan, as recommended by the directions on the box that the lids come in.  (My mother's friend Betty Sheetz always put her lids in the oven with the jars.  My mother always uses the hot water bath instead.)
  • Take the jars out of the oven and prepare to fill jars.
  • Using the funnel and a one-cup measuring cup or ladle, pour jelly into jars, filling to within an 1/8 of an inch of the top.
  • Wipe the jar rim clean with a clean dish cloth or wet paper towel.
  • Take a lid out of the water and place it on top of the jar.  (It's ok if the lid is still wet.)
  • Screw on the metal ring tightly.
Jars of grape jelly in the hot water bath.
  • Process in a hot water bath according to USDA recommendations.  My mother's version is to put water in a canner and put the jars in the boiling water, covered with at least one inch of boiling water.
  • Keep the water boiling and boil for 5 minutes.  Lift jars out with tongs and let cool without touching or bumping them until they're really cool-- at least overnight.
  • After the jars have cooled, be sure that you get a tight seal.  The center of the lid should be slightly indented.  You can check this by pressing the center with your finger.  If the lid pops back up, it isn't sealed.  If jar does not seal properly, keep it in the refrigerator and use within several weeks.
  • Grape jelly is best eaten within a year to keep texture from changing.  Note from Susan:  In our house, it never lasts that long.





Monday, November 14, 2011

Rocket City Redneck's Cat-head Biscuits

Cat-heads Biscuits straight out of the oven, 2011.
The Rocket City Rednecks are going to be on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno this evening and in their honor I'm publishing a biscuit recipe from the matriarch of the "Redneck" family-- Mary Ann Taylor.

I met Mary Ann when she came to LA to do press for the show and we had a great conversation about Southern food.  Turns out, Mary Ann cooks the way I like to eat.  Her food is simple, satisfying, and straight from the South... with a few twists of her own invention.  Mary Ann, like many Southern women, has a mind of her own and her biscuit recipe is a testament to her strength of character.  (I was going to write "stubbornness", but feared the word would not be read with the complimentary tone I intended.)  As strong-minded Southern woman myself, I love Mary Ann's story of how she came up with her recipe for Cat-head Biscuits.
Shortly after Charles and I married, I cooked a pan of biscuits that crumbled when one was picked up. Charles said it wasn’t fit to drag across a plate of Yellow Label Syrup. The next biscuits that I baked were hard, but stayed together when dragged in the syrup.

We got up from the table and Charles said, “come on.”

We went to his Aunt Peggy’s house. The minute we got in the door, Charles said, “Aunt Peggy, teach Mary Ann how to make biscuits.”

Needless to say, I was furious. But I taught myself how to make biscuits. Now everyone loves my biscuits.
When Mary Ann sent me her first batch of recipes, they included this biscuit recipe and one for banana bread.  I started with the banana bread because I had a hard time finding the White Lily Flour that Mary Ann suggested using in her biscuit recipe.  When Mary Ann found out about my problem, she generously offered to ship me a bag of the famous Southern self-rising pastry flour.  I told her it was too much trouble and said I'd keep looking here in Los Angeles.  The next time my husband went to Alabama on a shoot with the Rocket City Rednecks, he returned home with a bag of White Lily Flour in his suitcase, courtesy of Mary Ann.

Cat-head Biscuits
by Mary Ann Taylor

Recipe makes 6 – 8 biscuits

Cutting out Cat-head Biscuits, Los Angeles, 2011.
Utensils:
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Wax paper [counter-top or butcher block may be used] to roll out the dough
  • Fork for mixing
  • Bowl [I like to use a quart glass measuring cup]
  • Biscuit cutter [Any size can be used, but I use a large donut size cutter for cat-head biscuits
  • 11inch x 7 ½ inch baking tin
Ingredients:
  • 4 cups self-rising flour [I use only White Lily flour]
  • 1 tablespoon oil [I use Canola Cooking Oil]
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 stick of BUTTER, melted
  • Non-stick Spray Oil
Instructions:
  • Preheat oven to 500º lightly spray baking tin, set aside.
  • Spread wax paper on the counter. Wax paper makes clean up a breeze. Sprinkle 1 cup of flour on paper, saving 1 cup for kneading dough.
  • Pour 1 tablespoon oil into bottom of bowl, add 2 cups flour, and add buttermilk a little at a time-stirring mixture with a fork. It may or may not take all the buttermilk. The thickness of buttermilk differs with brands. The mixture should be moist and a little lumpy.
  • Dump flour dough onto floured wax paper, sprinkle a little flour over top of dough and knead; adding flour as needed. When mixture is soft but manageable, pat with hands or roll out the dough to desired thickness.
  • Cut out biscuits; knead, roll, and cut biscuits from leftover dough. Place biscuits into pan; spoon drizzle melted butter over top of biscuits.
  • Bake at 500º for 12-15minutes [biscuits cook really fast; check often while baking]
Note from Mary Ann: It has been so long since I measured ingredients for making biscuits…but this will get you started. My mother put a lot of flour in a very large bowl and made a hole in the middle of the dry flour with her hand. She added milk and grease and kneaded until she had a ball of dough; then she pinched off the biscuits with her hands.


Note from Susan:  I'm a little afraid of biscuit-making because I've eaten so many wonderful biscuits in my day.  My own biscuits are usually a little bit disappointing, but Mary Ann's biscuit recipe really delivers.  I baked mine in my grandmother's 12 inch cast iron skillet and it worked great.  My family devoured the biscuits before they even had time to cool.



Thursday, November 10, 2011

Brethren Blueberry Muffins

A few weeks ago I was confronted by a large container of blueberries in my refrigerator that seemed to say to me, "Hey- I know you're sick of eating me, but you CAN'T let me go to waste!"  My youngest daughter and I are the only real blueberry fans in the house and that 2 lb container of deliciously sweet blueberries was just more than we could handle.  I needed an idea to use up a lot of blueberries-- fast.

I don't have a good recipe for blueberry muffins so I decided to reinvigorate My Year of Brethren Food Project and started thumbing through my grandmother's Inglenook Cookbook.  I didn't find a recipe for blueberry muffins, but I came across a recipe for "Breakfast Muffins" and decided to use it as a starting point.  After all, I had lots of blueberries in the fridge and if I messed this up, I had plenty more to try again.

It took two attempts to come up with a blueberry muffin that everyone liked.  In the end, I came up with something that was a cross between what we know as a muffin and a scone.  My Brethern Blueberry Muffins have the texture of a biscuit, but they're much sweeter.  Sounds like a scone, right?  But they're also a little lighter than a traditional scone and less crusty because I bake them in muffin tins.  And I top them with cinnamon sugar so I don't have the heart to call them "scones".  I don't want to get hate mail from Brits who say that my recipe is nothing like a scone.  They are at best somewhat scone-like, but we think they're pretty good.
Brethren Blueberry Muffins cooling on my kitchen counter, 2011.

Brethren Blueberry Muffins
by Susan Lutz

Recipe makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter (melted and cooled)
  • 1/2 cup blueberries (or more to suit your taste up to 3/4 cup)
  • 3 tablespoons turbinado (raw) sugar for topping
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon for topping

Instructions:

  • Melt butter and let cool to room temperature.
  • Lightly beat one egg and add milk and sugar to combine.
  • Sift together salt, baking powder, and flour and place in a medium sized bowl.  Slowly add egg/milk mixture to dry ingredients and stir.
  • Gently add melted butter and blueberries and stir gently until just combined.
  • Add paper muffin liners, also called baking cups, to muffin tins.  (The muffins tend to stick to the muffin tins without them.)
  • Fill paper lined muffin tins three-quarters full of batter.
  • In a small bowl, mix turbinado (raw) sugar and cinnamon until combined.
  • Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mix on top of each muffin.
  • Bake muffins in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.





Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Goats and Gifts at the Institute of Domestic Technology

Pear jam awaiting packaging, Nov. 2011.
I would like to say that I spent my Saturday at the Institute for Domestic Technology crafting food-related presents for the holiday gift-giving season.  The truth is that I spent my Saturday learning to make candied orange peel, pear preserves, limoncella, and host of other treats that I have every intention of keeping for myself.  I may end up using the recipes and techniques I learned to craft food gifts for the holidays, but the dainty little morsels I actually produced on Saturday are all mine.

I originally signed up for the workshop because I wanted to see the Zane Grey Mansion in Altadena and because I was intrigued by the idea of The Institute for Domestic Technology.  The Institute is staffed by a team of instructors who possess a  blend of serious cooking skills and an ironic sense of the Institute as a serious enterprise.  The Zane Grey Mansion was a great reflection of the Institute's general tone-- it provided a historical backdrop (it's on the National Registry of Historic Places) mixed with an urban farm aesthetic.  (Watch out for the goat droppings in the back yard.)

Shuldiner regales students at The Institute.
The head of the Institute is Joseph Shuldiner, a talented graphic designer and author of the upcoming book Pure Vegan from Chronicle Books, Spring 2011. Shuldiner himself is not actually a Vegan, which I found charming, but he seems to embrace many eating styles-- a quality I share and enjoy discovering in others.  During the workshop we prepared his (Vegan) recipe for Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Chai Tea and enjoyed cups of the spice mixture combined with warm goat's milk that came from goats raised on the property.  I'd never had decent goat's milk before, much less goat's milk chai tea, and it was one of many treats of the day.

Shuldiner began our day at the Institute by serving us coffee and scones and giving the group of assembled students a brief pitch for the class.  He told us that the Institute is based on the idea that we can all express ourselves through the things we make and that the holidays are a great time to put this idea into action.  I was hooked.

When Kevin West stepped forward and told us about his background as a Master Food Preserver, I was ready to sign up for the program myself.  (Hopefully, there will be more on this subject in future posts.)  I'd never heard of the Master Food Preserver Program and in spite of it's somewhat odd sounding name, it turns out to be an incredibly exciting program run by the University of California Cooperative Extension program.  According to West, students take a 13 week course, which is rooted in the notion of creating food independence.  It originally started during World War II as part of our country's national Victory Garden campaign and ran continuously in LA County from WWII up until 15 years ago when it closed because of a lack of interest.  Last year, the program was reinstated and is incredibly competitive to get into.  Graduates must complete 30 hours of community service and 15 hours of continued education each year.  This program isn't for the casual canner, but for folks committed to sharing information about food preservation with others.
West stirs pear jam at "Stage Three", Nov. 2011.

West himself clearly falls into this category.  He is the author of the upcoming book Saving the Season: A Handbook to Home Canning, Pickling and Preserving and a blog of the same name.  His enthusiasm for preserving is infectious and his recipe for Pear Jam was proof of his skill.  Several students, myself included, loved it so much that we secretly licked the sides of the almost empty copper pots we'd used to boil the jam.  (We'd already ladled out most of the jam into jars to begin the canning process by this point so it's not as unsanitary as it sounds.)

As delicious as the pear jam was, the most exciting part of the day for me was making candied orange peel.  Regular readers of this blog know that I've been working on a recipe for Chocolate-Covered Candied Orange Peel for some time now and that I haven't been satisfied with the results so far.  After this workshop, I can safely say that my recipe is still a work in progress, but thanks to West, I now have a clear sense of where I went wrong last time and what I need to do differently in future.

Perhaps the best testimonial I can give to the Institute for Domestic Technology is to say that I not only learned a few new recipes and techniques, I was also inspired to continue on my quest to increase my cooking and preserving skills and to share those newfound skills with others.  I also had a very fun day.
The backyard of the Zane Grey Mansion, current host to the Institute of Domestic Technology, Nov. 2011.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Last Roman Beans of the Season

Two different sizes of Roman beans in my colander, November 3, 2011.
My friends Lisa and Louis turned me on to Roman beans accidentally.  I say accidentally because what they really did was serve me homegrown Calabrian beans, which have been grown by Louis' family for generations.  Louis and his family grow these beans each year and save the seeds at the end of the season, but Louis never gives anyone "take-home" beans.  You have to eat as many as you can when you're lucky enough to be invited to his house.  I love the "Bean and Potato" dish that Louis makes so much that I decided I needed to come up with a suitable replacement.  That's when I discovered Roman beans at my farmer's market.

I'll admit that Roman beans aren't nearly as wonderful as Louis' heirloom beans from Calabria, but they are pretty good in their own right.  I try to get them for as long as the supply holds out in the late summer growing season.  Life being what it is sometimes, I missed most of the Roman bean harvest this year and caught only the last few weeks of it at my farmer's market.  Only one vendor sells Roman beans at my market and I always buy several bags each week.  Unfortunately, I was so excited to find them two weeks ago that I cooked them up using my version of Louis' recipe and wolfed them down before I had a chance to take a photograph of them.  

I felt a little embarrassed about my gluttony after the fact and I vowed to remember to take a picture this week after buying another batch of beans at the farmer's market.  Little did I know that this would be my last opportunity of the season.  When I went to the farmer's stall, I was sad to discover only two small bags of Roman beans.  I was even sadder to see that the beans ranged in size from small to smaller.  When I asked why the beans were of such varying degrees of "small", he told me that these were the last Roman beans of the season and that they'd picked the vines clean to get these few bags.  I paid for my treasured beans quickly and shoved them into my orange mesh shopping bag before anyone else could see that I had the last two bags of beans in the entire farmer's market.

When I got home I realized that I would have to sort my beans into two groups-- small and smaller.  I also realized that I'd have to cook some of them longer than others.  It was well worth the effort.  My final batch of Beans and Potatoes was better than any I'd eaten all summer.  Perhaps it was because I knew I wouldn't see my beloved Roman beans for another year, but I suspect it was because I paid extra attention to the cooking process and managed to produce a bowl of Beans and Potatoes that were indeed superior to my previous attempts.  Either way, they were delicious.
My version of Louis Marchesano's recipe for "Beans and Potatoes", Nov. 3, 2011.

Beans and Potatoes
Based on a recipe by Louis Marchesano

Ingredients:
  • 3 medium sized white rose or other waxy potato
  • 4 cups Roman or Calabrian beans
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped or sent through a garlic press
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions:
  • Chop potatoes in half and then into 1/2 inch thick slices (they should look like half moons).
  • Steam potatoes for approximately 7 minutes or until tender to the touch.
  • Add beans and steam for approximately 5 to 6 minutes, depending on size of beans.  When finished steaming, beans should be tender and potatoes should be falling apart.
  • Gently place beans and potatoes into a large bowl and add garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Beans and potatoes may be served warm or cold.  Louis has been known to eat them for breakfast.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Evidence in the Case of the Mystery Fruit Tree

Daniel's Mystery Fruit Tree in Full Bloom, March 2011.
Mystery fruit from my backyard, June 2011.
Regular readers of this blog know that we've been engaged in a botanical mystery for the past year.  My friend Daniel has a tree with a fruit of unknown origin-- a fruit we've been calling The Mystery Fruit.  Several months after discussing Daniel's Mystery Fruit Tree, we discovered that I had my own Mystery Fruit Tree in my backyard and we wondered if it was the same kind of tree.  After careful examination of photographs of the fruit and pits from both trees, I can safely say that they are not the same kind of tree.  The pits from Daniel's tree have a much rougher surface and the fruit from his tree is larger and has a thicker and slightly furrier skin.  The trees also seem to produce fruit at different times of year.  My tree fruited in June.  Daniel's tree is producing fruit now.
Fruit from Daniel's Mystery Fruit Tree, November 2010.

Of course, all of this information just makes us more excited to solve both mysteries and we're hoping readers-- especially our friend Bharati-- can help.  At the end of this missive, I am reprinting the letter that Daniel wrote to Bharati via this blog updating her (and the rest of us) on the fruit situation this season.  If anyone has input or research suggestions for solving our botanical mysteries, we'd love to hear from you.
Mystery Fruit leaves and pits, October 2011.  Photo courtesy Daniel Marlos 2011.

Dear Susan,

Where we last left this story last season, your friend Bharati wanted to see a cross section of what I have been calling a Sliva or a Mystery Fruit.  Today was the first opportunity I had to get a photo in quite some time, and to my dismay, the tree was stripped of fruit.  There were not as many drupes this year and they were not yet ready when I checked two weeks ago.  While I am unable to provide Bharati with a cross section of the fruit, I can provide her with a photo of a pile of pits.  The squirrels sit on this stump and eat the fruits.  If you recall, that was the catalyst for my baking experiments last year.  There were a few pits on the stump and I gathered the others from around the stump.  There is a small branch with leaves from the tree included in the photo.  They appear more like peach pits than plum pits.

Daniel Marlos

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oatmeal Bars: The Lazy Mom's Cookie

I almost hate to admit this, but I'm not a big fan of chocolate desserts.  This may be considered a character flaw by some, but I was grateful when my family's brownie phase was over.  When interest in chocolate desserts seemed to be waning, I used the opportunity to reintroduce my family to the oatmeal cookie.  My girls have always liked oatmeal cookies, but I didn't make them that often.   The last time my mother came to visit, I got her to make several batches of oatmeal cookies and I stashed them in the freezer so we could enjoy cookies long after she'd gone home.  I later realized that this created a demand for oatmeal cookies that I wasn't prepared for.
The last of my mother's oatmeal cookies, 2011.

I'm not much of a baker, which is to say that I don't especially like to bake.  As my Grandma Willie used to say, "I CAN bake, but I CHOOSE not to."  Of course, my Grandma Willie was an amazing baker and never said this about baking (just about other things she didn't like to do).  My grandmother regularly made dozens of cookies that were all exactly the same size and all at the perfect stage of doneness.  My mother also possesses this skill, but I most certainly do not.  I get irritated just thinking about monitoring batch after batch of cookies in the oven.  I have enough trouble monitoring two rambunctious little girls.

Because of my hatred for baking cookies, I have become a devoted fan of THE BAR.  For me, the only good thing about brownies is the fact that you make them in a 9x13 pan and cut them into bars.  I've been working on a number of kinds of bars that fill the cookie niche without the extra work of actually making cookies and this one is the biggest hit so far.
The Busy Mom's Oatmeal Bar, 2011.

The Busy Mom's Oatmeal Bar

Ingredients:
  • 1 stick plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground if you can manage it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup raisins or craisins
Instructions:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until creamy.
  • Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.
  • Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and gently mix until combined.
  • Take out beater and remove bowl from mixing stand.  Add oatmeal and raisins (or craisins) and stir gently with spatula.
  • Place in greased 9x13 metal baking pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.  Be careful not to overbake.  This is the death of the oatmeal bar (or cookie) as far as I'm concerned.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Love New York

When the temperature in Southern California reaches 100 degrees in October, it's time to think about fleeing to New York.  At least temporarily.  Right now, New York has everything I love most about Fall... the changing leaves, people wearing cozy sweaters... and this weekend it also has the EAT ART event at the Brooklyn Museum.

I heard about the event from Tracy Candido, one of the organizers, and it sounds fantastic.  The evening starts with a tour of the Brooklyn Museum and is followed by a dinner inspired by the art on display.  Tracy is an amazing artist and food-lover who heads up the Community Cooking Club, so it's sure to be an exciting event.

Sadly, my frequent flyer miles won't get me to NYC by Saturday, but I'd love to be there.  If you're in New York (or have a larger stash of frequent flyer miles than I do), I hope you'll go.  And that you'll write to me and tell me all about it.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fried Apples and Carol Penn-Romine's "I Hated Caroline Kennedy"

I rarely post links to other people's food writing, but this essay by Carol Penn-Romine really got to me.  Carol is a long-time friend to this blog (check out her ESD questionnaire) and a wonderful food writer who has raised an issue that has been on my mind for some time now.  How can parents convince their kids to eat food they think they hate?  Carol's essay is a good reminder that there are good ways and bad ways to tackle this tricky issue and that some ways that seem productive can end up biting you-- sometimes years later.

I've tried lots of different ways to try to convince my children to try new foods.  Sometimes I struggle to get them to eat foods I made precisely because I'm sure they'll love them.  Fried apples are a great example of this.  I made my girls fried apples because I wanted to share one of my childhood favorites with them.  I was sure they'd be an instant hit because my children eat apples almost every day of their lives.  They'd also recently developed a love of cinnamon thanks to a special culinary craft project spearheaded by my mother.  My youngest daughter did love them, but she'll eat almost anything.  My older daughter is a tougher nut to crack, especially where new foods are concerned.  She looked at them suspiciously, poked them around on her place, and steadfastly refused to eat them.

That is, until I told her the story of how much I'd loved them "when I was her age".  My daughter is still young enough to think I'm cool, or at least interesting, and she likes doing things that I did when I was little.  I know I need to milk this for as long as possible because the sad day will soon come when she'll refuse to do things/eat things/try things simply because I suggest that something is a good idea.

I also told my daughters that my grandmother had made fried apples for my mother (their grandmother) and she loved them.  Years later, my mother had made them for me and I loved them.  I told my girls how excited I was to be able to make fried apples for them and that I hoped they would love them as much as I did.  At this point, my oldest daughter gave in and tried a tiny bite.  She never admitted that she liked them, but I've made them several times since then and she's eaten them without saying a word.  This feels like a triumph.    I know better than to say a single word about it or to tell the story again... at least not yet.  But I do hold out hope that one day my daughters will use the same technique to convince their children to try a new food.  And that they will smile when they recognize the struggle that all mothers share to get their children to eat and eat well.
Fried apples simmering in my Grandma Willie's cast iron skillet, Oct. 10, 2011.

Grandma Willie's Fried Apples
as made for me by my mother Linda Lutz

Ingredients:
  • 4 medium apples or 5 small apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of apples
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Instructions:
  • Place a medium-sized skillet on the stovetop and heat over medium heat.
  • Place butter, water, sugar and cinnamon in the pan and stir until it makes a syrup and turn down the heat to low.
  • Add the apple slices and stir gently to coat the apples.
  • Cover pan with a lid and cook over low heat for approximately 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the variety of apple you use.  You can choose any kind of apple, but the firmness of the apple will change the cooking time.  Ripe Yellow Delicious apples will cook in 15 minutes.  Firmer cooking apples like Jonathans or Staymans will take up to 30 minutes.
  • Check apples for doneness and sweetness.  Add more sugar at this point if necessary.
  • When the apples are soft, but not mushy, take off the lid and turn up the heat to medium.  Continue to cook until water begins to evaporate and remaining liquid becomes syrupy.
  • Cool apples slightly before serving.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Corn Pudding: My Year of Brethren Food

My second attempt at homemade corn pudding, 2011.
It's been a while since I've posted a recipe from the series:  My Year of Brethren Food.  And there's a very good, and very humbling reason for it.  I've discovered that I'm not a good enough cook to make food from my grandmother's Brethren cookbook without a lot of experimentation.  And by experimentation, I mean making mistakes.

Like many old cookbooks, my grandmother's cookbook was written for people, mostly women, who cooked daily and knew how to make most foods without a recipe.  That is to say that there are certain assumptions that these cookbooks expect people to know.  For instance, most cakes bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Often times, cake recipes in old cookbooks simply list the ingredients and assume that you will know to bake it in two cake pans in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  These recipes also assume you know what things should look like when they're done.  They rarely give advice like, "prick cake with a toothpick and if the toothpick comes out clean, your cake is done".  

I admire people who know so much about cooking that they don't need recipes and I admit that I like to cook without recipes myself.  For me, this is less about skill and more about laziness.  Most of the time, I just can't be bothered to find a recipe when I cook dinner.  I stock my refrigerator and pantry with ingredients I know my family likes and when dinnertime rolls around I see what I can find and whip something together.  Even though I now plan a weekly menu to make sure I have the ingredients to make a week's worth of dinners, I usually am thinking in general terms.  Something like, "Monday-- pasta."  Then I check the shelves for penne, check the backyard to take stock of the herb and tomato supply, then decide what I need to buy at the market-- maybe some more tomatoes, garlic, see if we still have parmesan.  I worry

For some time, I'd been pretty worn out by the details of my daily life and not ready to embark on a new food project.  That is, until the corn came in.  This is an expression my grandmother would have used to describe the ripening of corn in her garden and I always think about the arrival of fresh corn at my farmer's market in this way.  We tried to grow some miniature corn in our garden this year without much success and we rely on our farmer's market to supply us with fresh corn throughout the summer.

My girls love to choose their own ears of corn, shuck corn, and eat corn.  I love to see their love of good, fresh food (especially corn) and I'm a sucker for letting them rummage through the giant piles of corn at the farmer's stall.  Unfortunately, allowing my girls to go hog-wild at the farmer's market tends to lead to an overabundance of fresh corn at our house.  This creates a storage problem, as well as a consumption problem.  As much as we all love eating corn on the cob, there's only so much we can eat before it goes starchy in our refrigerator.  I'm a firm believer that fresh corn needs to be eaten as soon as it's picked and I needed to come up with a recipe to use up all our fresh corn while it was still sweet.  

I started using up our corn supply by making the tomato-and-corn soup I prepared for my husband the first time I ever cooked dinner for him.  It was great, but the girls didn't go for it.  Too much tomato, not enough corn.  So I moved on to corn pudding.  I knew the kids loved my mother's version of corn pudding so I figured I could probably come up with a recipe of my own that they'd love just as much.

My mother's version of corn pudding uses canned corn-- one can of creamed corn and one can of whole kernel corn.  When I started looking online for corn pudding recipes to supplement the recipes  from my grandmother's cookbook, I was shocked to find that most recipes I came across used canned corn.  Not that there's anything wrong with this.  I love this kind of corn pudding.  But I wanted to make corn pudding that used all the delicious fresh corn that my children begged me to buy at the farmer's market.  

I started this project, as I often do, by consulting my grandmother's Inglenook Cookbook.  Page 196 has two recipes for corn pudding.  The first recipe called for cornmeal, but no fresh corn.  The second recipe was called "Green Corn Pudding" and seemed like it would be a good starting point.  The recipe had only eight ingredients and was a mere three sentences long.  It was, however, missing three key ingredients that I knew I wanted to include in my corn pudding:  sour cream, corn meal, and nutmeg.

I've been a nut for nutmeg ever since my mother bought me a nutmeg grinder for Christmas several years ago.  I put nutmeg in greens, cookies, and anything else I can think of.  I also knew my recipe needed to contain cornmeal because a box of Jiffy corn muffin mix is the basis my mother's recipe for corn pudding and I was sure I'd miss that bit of crunch and texture that cornmeal provides.  I probably don't need to tell you why I wanted to use the sour cream, but I will.  Sour cream makes everything better.

Annabel stirs the corn pudding, 2011.
I made several versions of corn pudding before I came up with a recipe that my family really loved.  My daughters helped me make the first version, which wasn't a great success.  We ate it, but thought it was a little too dense and too mealy.  (I reduced the amount of cornmeal in the second attempt.)  And it wasn't sweet enough for our taste buds, so I added a bit of sugar to my next version.  I'm proud to say that my second attempt was an instant hit.  I'd made it a few days before my parents showed up for a visit, which was nice because they are real authorities on the subject of corn.  My parents grow rows of sweet corn in their garden and love it more than any people I know, so when my father tried to steal a second scoop of corn pudding away from my daughter, I knew I'd created a winning recipe.

Corn Pudding
by Susan Lutz

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 cup corn meal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of nutmeg (freshly ground, if you can manage it)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup sour cream or Mexican crema
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 4 cups fresh corn, cut from the cob with a sharp knife
Note:  In the Inglenook Cookbook, Sister Nannie H. Strayer from Johnstown, PA suggests that corn for corn pudding "should be fresh plucked and carefully taken from the cob, either by running a sharp knife down the center of the rows or by shaving the tips off and then pressing the pulp out with a blunt knife."  I use the latter technique.

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine.
  • Add wet ingredients and stir until mixture forms a thick batter.
  • Add corn and gently fold into batter.
  • Place mixture in a greased 9 x 11 pan. (I used a cast iron version, but glass or metal baking pans will work just fine.)
  • Bake at 375 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes.  Let cool slightly before serving.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rocket City Redneck Treats

My version of Mary Ann's Bitterballen, Sept. 26, 2011.
Travis Taylor - star of Nat Geo's Rocket City Rednecks - saw my post about his mom's banana bread and immediately emailed to say "Ask her about my favorite recipe: 'Bitter Balling!'  Mary Ann politely gave me the correct term for the recipe: "Bitterballen"  and told me that it IS a favorite of the Taylor family.

You don't often run across German-named delicacies when you discuss traditional Southern cooking of Alabama...  but Mary Ann and Charles Taylor came upon the recipe honestly... through the connection to NASA'a Wernher Von Braun.  Here's how Mary Ann explains it:

Mary Ann’s Bitterballens
My husband Charles and I had the pleasure of tasting this wonderful Dutch recipe back in the ‘60s in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Leon Hollenbeck. Mr. Hollenbeck was Werner von Braun’s activities schedule director, and a friend of Charles’, Daddy on the Rednecks.

Recipes intrigue me, and especially this one. So I researched it, and found an original recipe in a very old cookbook that had recipes from around the world. Over the years, I’ve modified the recipe from Amsterdam, making it my own.


Ingredients:
  • 2 cups cooked meat (ham, chicken, roast beef, or a combination of the three)
  • 3 heaping tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 cups canola oil (approximate measure- enough for frying in your skillet)


Instructions:


Step One- Chop the Meat for the Filling
  • Chop 2 cups cooked meat: ham, chicken, roast beef, or a combination of the three; and set aside.  [My family likes ham the best.]
Step Two- White Sauce/Gravy
  • Melt butter in a sauce pan on medium heat. 
  • Add 3 heaping tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly until mixture is free of lumps. 
  • Stir in 1 cup of milk, a dash each of salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce.
  • Cook until sauce is thick and creamy. 
  • Pour the sauce into a large bowl.
Bitterballen cooling in my freezer, 2011.
Step Three- Cooling
  • Mix chopped meat and gravy. Cool in refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
Step Four- Forming the Balls
  • Fill a small bowl with water, set aside.
  • Remove meat from the refrigerator.
  • In another bowl: beat an egg and add 2 tablespoons of water; beat again to mix water and egg, and set aside.
  • Pour 1 cup of dried unseasoned bread crumbs into another bowl.
  • Line a large cookie sheet with wax paper.
  • Dip fingers into water, then scoop about a teaspoon of meat and gravy mixture, roll into a ball.
  • Dip ball into egg mixture and roll in bread crumbs until coated.
  • Place on wax paper; refrigerate until ready to cook.
  • Bitterballens may be frozen at this stage, and thawed before cooking. 
Bitterballen frying in my cast iron skillet, 2011.
Step Five- Frying the Balls
  • Before cooking: dip balls in a fresh bowl of egg and water mixture and roll in breadcrumbs again
  • Balls maybe deep fried, or fried in a skillet
  • I use a deep skillet, and fill it half full with canola oil. Cook on medium heat. Turn them once to brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve as the main course or as finger food.

It's a long chain of connections... from Wernher Von Braun to Leon Hollenbeck to Mary Ann Taylor to here.  The recipe is a bit of a challenge because the balls (which are a mixture of ham and gravy) need to be dipped in an egg wash and covered with bread crumbs before they're refrigerated.  Then they have to be dipped in a second round of egg wash/bread crumbs before frying them.  It takes a while to make them, but as you can see from the photos, the Alabama Bitter Balls are beautiful and tasty.  When my two year old daughter first tried them, she threw her arms up in the air and screamed, "Yummy!".  And we may just make up a batch to snack on while we're watching the Taylor Family on Rocket City Rednecks on Wednesday, Sept 28, at 9 pm on National Geographic.



Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Doughnut Song

Doughnuts on our kitchen table, surrounded by beauty supplies, Sept. 2011.
With the first day of school approaching, I decided it was time to dig out the doughnut pan I'd stashed away a month ago and try to do something new and exciting in the kitchen with my girls.  I had originally anticipated that making doughnuts would be a fun bonding experience with my two daughters, but that was not to be.   We'd had a busy morning and my youngest daughter was fighting nap time with every bit of crazy two-year energy she could muster.  While my husband managed the nap time rebellion, I took my older daughter into the kitchen and tried to distract her during her sister's meltdown.

I'd never made doughnuts before-- at least not this way.  In the past, I have deep-fried doughnuts (delicious!) and made them in a contraption that looks a lot like a George Foreman grill with little doughnut-shaped teflon-coated cutouts inside.  (This didn't work out so well.)   For my latest attempt, I bought a Wilton Standard Doughnut Pan from Sur La Table and I have to say I was pretty impressed.  These were baked doughnuts, not fried, so they tasted like yummy little cakes, but I suppose they were slightly healthier.  They were certainly easier and less messy than the deep-fried version.

We followed the recipe on the inside of the package label, with a few modifications.  I didn't have cake flour, so we substituted sifted all-purpose flour instead.  (I know there's a gluten issue with this substitution, but it didn't seem to matter.)  We were also out of buttermilk, so I used packaged dry buttermilk instead.  I would normally feel bad about substituting a dry, but rehydrated, pre-packaged ingredient for a wet ingredient, but I once worked on a tv show with the fabulous food chemist Shirley Corriher and she said she loved the stuff!  She was right.  I don't know what they would have tasted like with liquid buttermilk, but these were very good.

I also added a teaspoon of cinnamon to our doughnut batter and topped the doughnuts in several different ways.  The chocolate covered versions were the most popular, but I thought the cinnamon sugar version was the tastiest.

We loved eating the doughnuts over the next few days (the recipe made a dozen doughnuts), but the best part of the experience was the song my daughter sang me while we were waiting for the doughnuts to bake.  My attempt to get my daughter to recreate the song on camera was a complete failure, but she did help me to write down the lyrics once I got her started with the first few lines.  It may not be the most flattering song a mother could hear, but I feel it was sung with the best of intentions.  She followed up her song by giving me a giant hug and saying, "I love you, mommy.  I'm gonna give you a big squeeze!" so I'm pretty sure that she meant it as a compliment.

The Doughnut Song

I love donuts
Oh, yes, oh yes, I do
I love donuts
I love them more than you

Oh I love donuts
Oh yes, oh yes, I do
I love them with chocolate on top
I love them with everything
And I kind of like you a little better
Oh yes, oh yes, I do

Friday, September 2, 2011

Margaret's Chicken (known in our house as "New Baby Chicken")

 Little fingers reach for my version of Margaret's Chicken, 2011.
After making my father-in-law's special sauce I gained a new enthusiasm for my family recipe project, so I decided to tackle another family favorite-- Margaret's Chicken.  My mother-in-law Jane made this chicken from her daughter Margaret's recipe on the day we brought our oldest daughter home from the hospital.  I remember thinking that this was the most delicious chicken I had ever eaten in my LIFE.  And it wasn't just because it was the first "real" food I'd eaten in the three days since giving birth to my daughter.  It really was good and we've eaten it many times in the past five years.

Since then, I've adapted it into a creation of my own making, but I always think of the kindness and stealth of my mother-in-law.  Knowing that I probably wouldn't be up for visitors, but would need a good meal, she dropped off a tupperware container of this chicken on my doorstep on that very special day.  I love watching my daughter eat my version of Margaret's chicken, especially because I've changed the recipe to suit her taste buds.  I happen to think it's pretty delicious in both forms.  Here's mine.

"New Baby" Chicken (or Susan's Version of "Margaret's Chicken")

Ingredients:

  • one whole chicken cut into 10 pieces (I like getting fresh chickens from Chinatown via our local produce market or from the farmer's market.  When I cut the chicken, I cut it up into the usual eight pieces, and then divide each breast into chunks, cut across the grain.)
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 4 teaspoons dried minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper

Instructions:

  • Cut chicken into eight or ten pieces.  The breasts will get drier if you cut them into chunks, but that's the way my girls like it.  You can also remove the skin of the chicken for a lower-fat version.  I usually remove it from the breasts because my children don't like the chicken skin, but do like the crispy coating.  
  • Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.  Note:  it's best to used only dried herbs in this coating.  
  • Dip each piece of chicken in the coating mixture and place on a baking sheet.  (I use a jelly roll pan.)
  • Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and cook for one hour.
  • Let rest for a few minutes before serving.