Remembering

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My mother was a force to be reckoned with. She would be up at the crack of dawn, bustling around the house ticking things off her “to do” list and living the Protestant work ethic she was raised on. She didn’t mind telling you, when you dragged yourself downstairs after a night out on the town, all that she had already accomplished while you were lazily counting sheep. Then she would vroom off to work leaving a cloud of dust and mixed feelings behind.

Among the positives that came from her driven nature was the gift of cooking. She had the chuzpah to host a dinner party for eight and cook a meal of recipes she had never tried before. She went to local farms and picked berries then made jars of jam, crafted pickles from homegrown cucumbers and put together chutneys with local tree fruit. She loved cookies and became, especially in her later years, a biscuit maven extraordinaire.

My mother created a cookie walk as a fundraiser for the adult day care center in her hometown of Basking Ridge, New Jersey. She had experiened this old fashioned event during stays in New England and loved the idea: volunteers donate platters of different kinds of cookies then customers come with their boxes, walk around the laden tables and fill them with the sweet bounty.  A cost per pound was charged at the end.

To get ready for the holiday rush she would begin in October baking tin upon tin of  different types of decorated and delicious cookies then tuck them into the big chest freezer in the cellar. In December, she and an army of volunteers would set up the local church hall with Christmas greenery and holiday clothed tables to hold all the pfefferneuse, Santa cut outs, Kris Kringles and other donated cookies. The event was even written up in one of the local magazines after gaining notoriety within the community.

 

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Mom getting ready for the Cookie Walk in Basking Ridge, New Jersey

She fueled my love for cooking by giving me cookbooks starting at age 7, teaching me baking to begin with then more involved recipes later and fulfilling her own passion for cooking in front of me with every meal she created.

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Mom gave me this very beat up copy of “Joy of Cooking” years ago. We always made the classic Butterscotch Brownie recipe on page 587, a Beeb Jackson stand by because they were quick and easy to make and delicious to eat.

Rest in peace Mom. I will always think of you every time I put my apron on and head into the kitchen.

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BUTTERSCOTCH BROWNIES

This recipe is very versatile and forgiving. You can add chocolate chips, dried fruit (golden raisins and finely diced apricots are a nice combo), any variety of chopped nuts, shredded coconut or a combination of any of these totalling 1/2 cup. It doubles easily in case you are baking for a cookie walk of your own.

1/4 cup butter plus more for the pan

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup AP flour

1 teaspoon  baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8X8 baking pan, line with waxed paper or parchment and butter the paper. Melt the butter over medium heat then stir in the brown sugar until it is dissolved. Cool slightly then beat in the egg and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until incorporated then fold in any of the extras. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Yield: 32 bars

 

 

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Christmas Pudding Reboot

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The view from the farm kitchen window

Last Sunday, November 26, was “Stir Up Sunday” in Britain, a time for family and friends to gather and make the Christmas pudding for the upcoming holiday. I traveled up to Nethergill Farm to cook up puddings with my sister-in-law, Fiona. We were using the recipe of Dorothy Clark, our late mother-in-law, and added a few twists to make it our own.

Dorothy’s recipe used glace cherries and candied citrus peel but we updated these flavors by adding dried cranberries, blueberries and apricots and dried cherries that were soaked in apple juice to keep them plump and moist. We used eggs from Fi’s laying hen ladies; she checks each for freshness by putting it in a cup of water – if they float they are no good.

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The fat traditionally used in Christmas Pudding is beef suet. We opted for the vegetable version but, after reading the ingredients (palm oil) , we still used it this year but decided we would try butter next time.

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The recipe is dead easy to put together, simply measure all ingredients and put in a large bowl then stir until incorporated.

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The mixture gets packed into pudding bowls then greaseproof paper is tied down over the top.

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Followed by foil then a sturdy folded ribbon of foil is added to make “handles”.

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Then it steams for 6 hours, which is a mighty long time.

Now our cooked puddings, with coverings still in place, are stored until Christmas Day when they will get another further steaming.

We can’t find out how they will taste for another month or so but it was a lot of fun reawakening a tradition and making extra puddings to give to family that won’t be with us on the holiday.

Granny’s Christmas Pudding

225 g (8oz) each of sultanas, currants, seedless raisins, fresh breadcrumbs, vegetable suet*, demerara sugar and golden syrup

113 g (4oz) each of dried cranberries and dried blueberries

165 g (6oz) dried apricots cut in fine dice

100 g (4oz) dried cherries

100 g (4oz) blanched almonds, chopped

100 g (4oz) ground almonds

2 carrots, peeled and grated

1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and grated

1/2 teaspoon each of mixed spice and cinnamon

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Grated rind and juice of 1 large lemon and 1 orange

4 eggs beaten

4 tablespoons brandy

140 ml (1/4 pint) brown ale

butter for greasing pudding basins

  1. Measure all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir well to mix.
  2. Generously butter the insides of 3-2 pint pudding basins or 6-1 pint pudding basins. The exact yield may vary a bit from these measurements but have the basins ready to go and you can always alter the final number depending on how far the mixture goes.
  3. Fill the basins a tad over 3/4’s full. Cover with greaseproof paper and tie snugly with string then cover with foil and tie down again with string.
  4. Have ready a saucepan for each pudding and put a trivet or upside down saucer in the bottom of each then top with the puddings. Add enough water to come a couple inches up the sides of the basin.
  5. Cover and bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 6 hours, topping up water as needed.
  6. Store in a cool, dry place until ready to eat – I put mine in the fridge.
  7. When ready to serve, reboil again for 2-3 hours until the middle is piping hot.
  8. Turn out onto a serving platter and serve with brandy butter and cream.
  9. For a dazzling finish, ignite the pudding by pouring warmed brandy over the top and lighting it.

*Vegetable suet: Neither of us liked using this product and we later found out that butter is perfectly acceptable and would likely make the puddings taste better so next year that is what we will use. Our mother-in-law always used beef suet.

 

A Second Life for that Loaf

Recently friends were visiting and came back from a day playing tourist with a gift of a lovely, large baguette.

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We didn’t use it that night or the next day and when I pulled it out of the bread box it was hard as a rock. I hate wasting food so started thinking up ways to use it up.

First, I cut a third of it into cubes using a sharp serrated knife then fried some of them with garlic and oil to make crispy croutons for salad or to top a steaming bowl of soup.

 

The rest of the cubes became the base for a savory mushroom and asparagus bread pudding inspired by a recipe from Georgeanne Brennan.

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The rest were whizzed into crumbs in the blender.

Breadcrumbs are extremely versatile and can be kept in the freezer for months. You can just pull out the amount you need then return them for future recipes. Crumbs can be used for binding meatloaf and meatballs, crisped and used on pasta dishes or as a crunchy topping for vegetables or coating for oven-fried chicken or fish. I made baked apricots and cherries with amaretto crumbs for dessert last night with great results; the dish would also be good at breakfast topped with yogurt.

So hang onto that stale loaf and give it a second life in recipes for just about every meal of the day.

BAKED STONE FRUIT WITH CRUMBS

Now that stone fruits are coming into season you can try different varieties to suit your taste.

4 apricots, halved

6 cherries, pitted

4 tablespoons breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon Amaretto

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 F/200 C. Arrange the apricots and cherries in a single layer in a small baking dish. Combine the remaining ingredients and sprinkle evenly over the surface of the fruit. Bake in a hot oven for 12-15 minutes until fruit is soft and jammy and crumbs are crisp and golden. Serve warm with ice cream or cold with yogurt.

Yield: 2-3 servings

 

Signs of Spring in London

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Since my last post, I picked up stakes and moved from sunny California to London, arriving in mid-October. The city is quite a contrast to my suburban West Coast home with it’s large garden and temperate climes. Here, the constant frigid grayness of January has merged into rainy, chilly February – which had me searching last weekend for signs of spring.

Delicate snow drops are peeking out of just-thawed dirt throughout London’s vacant lots, public parks and gardens. I took this photo at Chelsea Physic Garden last weekend.

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Another sign showed up on the produce shelves at my local Waitrose grocery store. Known as “forced rhubarb”, this typically spring vegetable (that is treated like a fruit) is grown indoors under curious circumstances. Coming from an area known as the rhubarb triangle in Yorkshire, the rhizome is initially started outdoors where it absorbs nutrients from the sun, and is moved indoors after the first frost in November. Once inside the rhubarb shed, it is grown in complete darkness and harvested by candlelight (Image courtesy ChicagoNow) throughout the winter months.

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This treatment creates ruby red, subtly sweet and tender stalks. In 2010 the EU designated the rhubarb triangle a PDO – Protected Designation of Origin status – a recognition bestowed on such lofty products as Stilton for its cheese and Champagne in France.

The cheery crimson sticks make a great compote when cooked up with exotic spices. I used star anise, whole cloves and a cinnamon stick along with orange juice and zest and layered the compote with rich rice pudding in parfait glasses.

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However the mixture would be tasty paired with your morning porridge or yogurt and granola or delicious served alongside sausages, roast pork or duck, turkey and chicken.

Start by cutting the trimmed stalks in 1 inch pieces.

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Then simmer them in a wide saucepan with the sugar, spices and orange until just soft.

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My hope is that this little taste of spring will stay with me until the days get longer, the gray skies clear and London bursts into the blooming, bird singing springtime of my dreams.

Spiced Poached Rhubarb

1 pound rhubarb, washed, trimmed and cut in 1″ pieces

2 whole star anise pods

1 cinnamon stick

2 whole cloves

Juice and zest of 1 large navel orange

6 tablespoons brown, muscovado or coconut sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a wide saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat so mixture is on a gentle simmer and cook until rhubarb is just-tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and serve warm, room temperature or cold.

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups

 

 

 

 

Festive last minute Thanksgiving desserts

If you’re not sure what to make for dessert tomorrow, check out my latest article on Zester Daily with recipes for delicious meal endings using seasonal ingredients:

http://zesterdaily.com/desserts-wrecipe/go-seasonal-4-refreshing-thanksgiving-desserts/

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When life gives you zucchini…..

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Every few days, I find gifts of zucchini on our front porch. My neighbor has a prolific garden that is producing more squash than they can handle so she generously shares some with us. For the ones that are especially big and hard, I bake them into a chocolate cake.

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The food processor makes it really easy to grate the zucchini quickly. For this recipe, you want 4 packed cups, or about two medium or one large zucchini.

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The cake batter is a snap to put together, then the shredded zucchini gets folded in at the end. As the batter bakes, the shredded squash melts into the cake, adding an appealing moistness.

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The recipe makes 2 1/2 dozen cupcakes or 2-8″ cakes for layering and the flavor is deep, dark, choclatey and delicious!

And…it makes having too much zucchini a real bonus!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake with Semi-Sweet Icing

Cake

2 medium zucchini, peeled if hard and tough, grated to equal approximately 4 cups

1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups flour

1/4 cup best quality unsweetened cocoa (I like Guittard brand)

1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup buttermilk

Icing

12 oz bag semi sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup sour cream

For cake: Preheat oven to 325. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Add the oil and mix until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition then mix in the vanilla. Combine all the dry ingredients on a sheet of waxed paper then add alternately with the buttermilk. Divide batter among 2 1/2 dozen paper lined muffin tins or 2 greased 8″ cake tins. Bake for 30-40 minutes for cupcakes of 1 hour and 20 minutes for layers, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

For icing: Melt chocolate chips in microwave on high in 30 second bursts until nearly melted. Remove and stir with a rubber spatula until fully melted then mix in sour cream unit spreading consistency is achieved. Use immediately as the frosting will begin to harden as it gets cooler.

Daily Dose of Digestives

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Since my husband is British, I’ve been introduced to and grown to love many English ingredients and products. One of these is McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits, especially the ones with chocolate. If you aren’t familiar with them, digestives are the English version of a graham cracker, but infinitely more delicious than those cardboard things that Nabisco makes.

Digestives were created by two Scottish doctors in the late 1800’s to aid in digestion. It was thought at the time that the bicarbonate of soda used in the biscuits had a soothing effect on the tummy.

I’ve also read that they were promoted as a good source of fiber to the British public after WW2 – all that rationed white food causing numerous gastro issues.

Recently I ran across a recipe for digestives and had to give it a try. The cookies came out really well, in part, because of a couple key ingredients.

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English brown sugar has a deep, dark caramel flavor that adds a rustic sweetness. Find it in the English section of some grocery stores or on Amazon.com.

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Locally grown and milled wheat flour, Bolero, from Front Porch Farm in Sonoma County added a malty, homespun texture.

The recipe is very easy to make. First put all the dry ingredients and butter into a food processor.

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Pulse until the mixture looks like coarse meal and the butter is evenly distributed.

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Add milk until dough comes together then lay a sheet of waxed paper onto your work surface and dump the dough onto it

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Form the dough into a 3″ wide roll, using the waxed paper to help you shape and smooth the roll. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

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Slice dough into 1/2″ thick rounds and place on a cookie sheet, leaving 1″ between cookies. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.

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Remove from the oven and sprinkle 12 semisweet chocolate chips evenly over the surface of each biscuit then return to the hot oven for about 30 seconds

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Using an offset spatula, spread the chocolate over the top of each digestive then refrigerate until chocolate has firmed. Enjoy with a cup of tea in the afternoon for that Downton Abbey feeling.

British Digestive Biscuits

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup Billington’s dark brown sugar

2/3 cup (11 tablespoons) salted butter, but in 1″ chunks

3 tablespoons milk

12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Put flour, baking soda, salt, brown sugar and butter chunks in the food processor and pulse until incorporated. Add milk through the feed tube with the machine running just until dough comes together. Scrape dough onto a sheet of waxed paper and form into a 3″ wide roll. Chill for one hour. Preheat oven to 350F. Slice dough into 1/2″ thick rounds and space on greased cookie sheets with 1″ between cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies are golden brown and firm, switching tray positions in the oven after 6 minutes. Sprinkle 12 chocolate chips on the top of each biscuit then put back in hot oven for 30 seconds. Remove from oven and, using an offset spatula, spread melted chocolate evenly over the surface of each digestive. Chill in fridge until chocolate is set then store in a cookie jar.

 

Yield: 1 dozen