Friday, November 28, 2008

I ate enough for me...and you as well!

We went over to our friends' house yesterday about 2:00. With the exception of a few last minute details, we ate soon after. What a feast that was laid out before us: Roast turkey, baked ham, gravy, stuffing balls, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans, cranberry jello salad, angel biscuits, cornbread bites, mini croissants, home-made noodles, spinach salad, watermelon rind pickles, spiced peaches, and dressed eggs. I really tried to take it all in, but I know I am forgetting some. The highlights were the home-made noodles which were shaped like spaetzle, and al dente swimming in a creamy chicken sauce. If I could just have a bowl of those with a slice of dark meat turkey on top, happy happy. And, Kaela did an excellent job on the macaroni and cheese -- she chopped the onions and didn't even cry. And, crushed the crackers -- all that and she's only 9! The roast turkey was delicious, all of it was moist. Ummm, there were a couple of lowlights as well, and one of them was mine.
The cornbread bites, well, probably should have 'forgotten' them on the counter. Even though the struesel was a good idea, the execution was a bit grainy from the extra cornmeal. Then I decided to use the mini muffin pan instead of the regular muffin pan. Again, good idea, but I overbaked them. They could have been called the "amazing magical growing mini muffins" because when I popped one in my mouth, it kept getting bigger and bigger, and swallowing was next to impossible. On the up side, almost half of them were eaten by unsuspecting diners. Felt a little bad about that. The other lowlight was a plate of dressed eggs (can't call them 'deviled' in the preachers' house!) that one of the daughter-in-laws' mother brought. Apparently, she brings them every year, but because there were several of us that were invited for the first time, Heather parked herself by the back door and warned us 'not to eat the eggs', as we walked in the house. She was so embarrassed by them. Well, as a foodie, I had to do it. I tasted one. Instinctively, the back of my jaws went into lock-down and the corners of my mouth stretched out in a silent eeeewwwwwwww. Wow, were they vinegary.But, still I was intrigued. When I went back of seconds, the egg plate wooed me like a siren on a rock. I reached for one. I felt so bad for the woman, her dressed eggs were still piled high. So, I took another one.
Everyone was heeding Heather's warning except me. I piled on some spinach salad and sat down. Really, with a big mouthful of spinach and a bit of egg, it wasn't so bad. Smothered in my spinach salad, the egg bite was grateful for the extra pizzazz, and rewarded me by not setting my jaw in instantaneous lock-jaw, and for that I was grateful. After another bite, I think I figured it out. If she had put some sugar and salt in the yolks along with the vinegar, they would have tasted similar to pickled eggs -- the ones that are pickled in beet juice. I tried to talk to the woman about her recipe, but she wasn't giving it up. Apparently, she thinks they are fabulous.
After she left, several people commended me on my attempt at emptying the egg plate. Someone said the dressed eggs were like Aunt Bea's pickles -- the kerosene pickles. It really wasn't about trying to be nice, I just wanted to find out what her angle was. It didn't really matter, I was grateful for the entire feast and even more, for the invitation to enjoy it among some of my closest friends who really are like family.
Here is the vinaigrette recipe that was on the spinach salad. Besides, spinach from my garden, I added some kumquats from my little tree, as well as, some pomegranate seeds, and toasted pistachios.

Sizzling Sesame Vinaigrette
enough to toss with 4-5 big handfuls of spinach
1 TB soy sauce
1 TB pomegranate juice
1 TB white vinegar
1 TB canola oil
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp sugar
1 TB black or white sesame seeds
Whisk together soy sauce and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl.
Heat sesame seeds in a small nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often, 3-4 minutes or until toasted and fragrant. Add hot sesame seeds to soy sauce mixture, stirring until blended.
Toss with fresh spinach, lettuce, steamed broccoli, or peas of any kind.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankful for so Much

I hope all have a happy Thanksgiving day.
I have so much to be thankful for. When I think back over the year so much has changed. Last year at this time there were personal issues that I just could not see changing for the better, but they have. All of my family is still here. Our church has lost several anchors this year, but we are still growing and moving forward. Our pets especially the ones who are so sick are still here. So very much to be thankful for.
My life may seem small when laid out for the world to see, but it's a small life lived well.
I am glad that my sisters' family is celebrating Thanksgiving together. I am grateful that my brother and Mother are celebrating together. No one is alone this day.
My husband and I are going over to our friends' house to feast with them. I anticipate a day of good food and much laughter.
So much to be thankful for and yet I wish one wish, that my Oma was still at my table.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

So Much To Do

So I've overslept this morning and am playing catch-up as best as I can.
I've been getting up 6:00-ish to work on a church project in the quiet a.m. before the hubby starts moving or dogs start barking. I took the time last night to make a list of all things that must happen today in order to feel successful. That is the problem with expectations, when you fall short, disappointment is standing there. That is a little lesson I learned years ago in yoga, "Expectations that fall short, always bring disappointment to you". Isn't that so true? In the quest for a richer life, since learning that adage years ago, I really try not to have expectations of situations. It really can be done and even though those expectations do creep in, especially around the holidays, there's always tomorrow to work on eliminating them. Why don't we work on it together?
The weather is going to be 50ish today. To my garden I must go and pick spinach for the salad tomorrow. I will clean it today; put it in the refrigerator. Then tomorrow the leaves will be very crisp and it will take very little time to put together my salad for the Thankgiving feast at my friend Sharon's.
Also, today I must bake not only my baked fruit compote, but a sour cream poundcake. I think I will make 2 -- one for tomorrows' gathering, and the other for my friend, Wanda, who recently lost her husband. I think a poundcake which she really enjoys, and a jar of baked fruit compote would be a warm way to let her know I am thinking of her.
This recipe is one of my oldest ones. In fact, I have lost the actual recipe, I just make it from memory. In fact, any good southern cookbook will have a baked fruit recipe in it. When canned goods started being produced back in the early 20th century, it was a sign of wealth to purchase canned foods. Isn't it funny how times have changed, now every culinary magazine is pushing a home garden, or at the very least, shopping at a farmer's market. Nothing wrong with gardens or farmers markets, but for nostalgia's sake, I buy the canned fruit for this recipe.
Even though I could easily "gourmet-ize" this recipe by cutting up fresh fruit, the canned fruit makes it easy to assemble and it tastes delicious. I buy the fruit that is canned in its' juices except for the dark cherries which I can only find in heavy syrup.

Baked Fruit Compote
Serves: about 20

save all the drained juice:
1 20 oz can pineapple chunks, drained
2 15 oz cans peach slices, drained
2 15 oz cans apricot halves, drained
2 15 oz cans pear slices, drained
2 15.25 oz cans dark cherries (in heavy syrup), drained
1 8 oz can mandarin oranges, drained
4 TB cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cloves
12 slices of fresh ginger
4 cinnamon sticks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly butter or spray with a non-stick spray 2 13 x 9 casserole dishes. Combine drained fruits in a large bowl. Divide the fruit between the casserole dishes.
Measure out 4 cups of the saved fruit juice. Discard the rest (or freeze in ice cube trays for fancy iced tea or lemonade). If there isn't enough juice (and some times that happens depending on the brand) bring it up to 4 cups with apple or orange juice.
Put cornstarch in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the 4 cups of fruit juice. Add vanilla extract and cloves. Whisk until smooth.
Pour over fruit. Divide ginger slices and cinnamon sticks between casserole dishes; nestling spices throughout the fruit.
Place both casserole dishes in the oven. Bake, uncovered, for about 30-45 minutes or until bubbling hot.
Serve hot, or room temperature.
Cover left-overs and store in refrigerator. Left-over compote is delicious for breakfast with yogurt or as a pancake/waffle/french toast topping.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Angel Biscuits, they are Heavenly!

We are going over to our friend's house for Thanksgiving dinner. I volunteered to bring rolls, so I've been mulling over some ideas and have finally settled on the following: Streusel-topped cornbread muffins, angel biscuits, and mini croissants. An assortment of baked goods appeals to a wide audience, and there is a true mix in this family. There are those who only eat what looks familiar, those who only eat meat and starches, and then there are those more like me, who graze on everything. The angel biscuits will appeal to everyone because they look like a biscuit but eat like a yeast roll, and they are cute!

Angel biscuits is an old recipe with a lot of lore associated with it. Some say they are called "angel" because they are light from the yeast. I recently read in "The Glory of Southern Cooking" by James Villas, that they also go by the moniker, "Bridal Biscuits" because even an inexperienced bride can turn out a delicious biscuit with all the leavening in the dough. In my opinion, they are called angel biscuits because they taste heavenly.

And, if there's one thing that's aplenty down south, it is opinions. Again, my opinion, is that an angel biscuit must be cut with a biscuit cutter. There is a rogue recipe out there that drops the angel biscuit from a spoon. What is delicate, light, and ethereal about a glop of dough on a baking sheet? I think those imposters should more appropriately be named "Hell's Angel" biscuits.

Alright, enough with the opinions and on with the recipe. This dough is easy, tasty, and even more importantly, made in advance. I'm going to whip up a batch of dough after this post, and take a picture of it for you to see. I think I can figure out how to upload a picture to this blog.

Refrigerator Angel Biscuits

Makes: 4 dozen 2-1/2" biscuits, or less with a larger cutter, but the bigger the biscuit the less angelic looking, again my opinion!


1 pkg yeast

1/2 cup warm water

5 cups all purpose flour

3 TB white sugar

1 TB baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 cups buttermilk

3/4 cup plus 2 TB shortening


Dissolve yeast in the warm water and let stand 10 minutes. Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Cut in the shortening until pieces are the size of peas.

Stir in buttermilk and dissolved yeast using a dinner fork. Work only until well moistened. Do not overmix. Put dough in a large covered plastic container and refrigerate until ready to use (it will keep for a week).

To Bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Take out only as much dough as you need and place container back in the refrigerator. Carefully roll 1/2" -- 3/4" thick on a well-floured surface. Cut with a 2-1/2" biscuit cutter pushing down and then pulling straight up. Do not twist the cutter.

Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Serve with a flavored butter such honey butter, pumpkin butter, or just plenty of whipped butter.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thankful for Apples and Apple Butter

A few weeks ago I did an apple butter demonstration at church. Have you ever seen an apple butter kettle? Mine is probably 100 years old, made of copper with a stand to keep it above the fire.
The day before I peeled 3 bushels of apples. I use a mix of apples: Macintosh, Winesap, Golden Delicious, and just a bit of Granny Smith. It took about 4 hours using my peeler contraption.
Early Saturday morning, I took everything to church including an axe. What? I had to chop the wood for the fire. I used sassafras, and a little cedar because the smoke is so aromatic.
I started the fire, set the kettle stand over the flame, and then nestled the kettle into the stand.
Apple juice was the first to go in, that is my little secret to keep the apples from sticking. After it warmed a bit, I added a few apples, stirred with the paddle, added a few more apples, and so on until the entire 3 bushels were in the kettle.
By this time some folks from church had arrived and all took turns stirring. The youth minister invented a dance, "Amish Apple Butter Dance". It went like this, left heel back to right butt cheek with a little hop step, then the right heel back to the left butt cheek and a little hop step. All the while, pushing and pulling the apple butter paddle. It was so much fun. We all got the giggles when an Amish buggy drove by and Jeff yelled, "Look at me doing the Amish Apple Butter Dance"! I'm sure they were very impressed.
So after about 1-1/2 hours of stirring and breaking down the apples, I added cinnamon, cloves, white sugar, molasses, and a bit of apple cider vinegar to "tart" it up. Everyone took turns stirring some more. By this time we had some chairs near the kettle and more people had shown up. So, conversations were going, laughter was in the air, and we were getting hungry. Another 1-1/2 hours of stirring flew by.
We popped some buttermilk biscuits in the church's oven, and by the time the biscuits were ready so was the apple butter. We all had a taste and it was sooooo good!
The ladies jarred the apple butter. We all agreed that the jars would be sold at the Ladies Circle Bazaar. What a nice day.
I don't really think that many of you want to make 40 pints of apple butter in a kettle over an open flame. So, I have a slow cooker recipe for apple butter that will fill your house with a wonderful aroma, and then you've something special for your Thanksgiving breakfast! Let me know what you think...

Slow Cooker Apple Butter
Yield: 6 cups
4 pounds apples (use a variety), peeled and sliced about 1/4” thick
1/2 cup good quality apple cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
1 cup sorghum molasses or dark molasses (not blackstrap)
2-3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves


Place sliced apples and vinegar in a 4-quart slow cooker.
Cook, covered, at HIGH 6 hours. Stir occasionally. At the end of 6 hours, break down apples with a potato masher.

Stir in sugar, molasses, cinnamon, and cloves.
Reduce setting to LOW; cook, covered, 4 hours.
Whisk vigorously to further break up apples. I use an immersion blender.
Here is the tricky part: I cook it much longer than 4 hours because I like a thick, mounding,
old-fashioned apple butter. I suggest you check it at the 4 hour mark and go from there.

Cool. Place in containers. Store in refrigerator up to a week.
Freeze: Place apple butter in freezer containers leaving about 1/2” headspace. Put a folded piece of plastic wrap on top of apple butter to help prevent ice crystals. Put on freezer lid. Freeze for up to 4 months.

NOTE: If the apples aren’t very juicy, you may need to add a bit of apple juice/cider from time to time if they seem to be sticking on the bottom or around the edges.