Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 ANNUAL CHRISTMAS UPDATE


2011 BRASS FAMILY ANNUAL UPDATE

So when we left off last year, Jim was very poor and Gwen was stylishly on bed rest.  Jeff was in Walla Walla, Tim had a nice tan, and Jesse was – well, Jesse was busy being Jesse. 

We postponed our Christmas so that Jeff and Danielle could join us.  They arrived on Tuesday night and we pretended it was Christmas Eve.  On Wednesday we awoke to snow so we truly did have a white Christmas.  I highly recommend postponing the holiday until it's convenient for you.  Not only do you get another chance at a white holiday, but there is loads more time for decorating, baking, shopping (and you can take advantage of post Christmas sales if you want to brave the crowds), and you have all that extra time for procrastinating.  It worked out just great for us, so I've declared a new holiday, Brassmas, where you just celebrate whenever you darn well feel like it or get a round tuit. 


I started off the new year with a trip to the cardiologist where I was declared heart-healthy.  Tests showed that I had not had a heart attack and the 'damaged' spot in my heart had healed completely after the angioplasty.  I'm on an impressive array of meds.  It was a sad day when I realized I was taking more pills each day than my mother.  And an even sadder day when I realized my memory was so far gone that I couldn't remember from one moment to the next what I was doing and had to resort to one of those little pill cases with the slots for each day.  I hit rock bottom on a trip to visit my mom and found she had a shirt almost identical to one of mine.  And hers was cuter.

We were only a few weeks into the new year when I slipped and fell down our stairs.  I managed to bruise myself from head to toe inside and out (taking blood thinners makes for some spectacular bruising) and twisted my knee.  This injury allowed me to lie in bed watching tv for several days and further postpone taking down the Christmas decorations.  I gave some thought to just leaving them up all year but in the end started taking them down the last weekend in January.  I managed to drag this out til the end of March, when I decided to get it done so I could put up Easter decorations.  Except for the one tree upstairs which didn't get taken down til September when we had overnight company coming and I was embarrassed for them to see that tree.

In the meantime, I had not even recovered from the twisted knee before being given the news that Jim and I were going to be grandparents. Yes, 2011 was getting off to an exciting start!






Jeff and Danielle spent the year in Walla Walla.  Danielle received her Master's in Sociology in August and went back home to Hawaii.  Jeff stayed in Walla Walla to work a couple months more, which turned into him deciding to stay there a while.  He lives with a bunch of people he works with and enjoys both his friends and his work.  He came home for a visit in early November with his head shaved.  This is the first time since he was two years old that he has had short hair.  Quite a shock!



                                                                               Last known photo of Jeff with long hair.
                                                                                                                   

Tim stayed down in Forest Grove for the summer and worked on campus in their Convention Services department, which was a job that Jeff had done when he was there.  During training, they learned how to make beds properly.  They were given a photo on how not to make beds and as it was passed around, Tim was informed, "This is one of your brother's beds."  I'm sure Tim's beds were meticulous and now they have "do" and "don't" photos from the Brass brothers.  This is Tim's last year at Pacific.  He's majoring in Business Accounting and really likes it.  He works on campus during the school year building sets in the theater department.







Jesse finished up his freshman year at Washington State University and came home for the summer. He worked for a contractor helping with painting and minor construction.  In September he transferred to Seattle Central Community College in order to be closer to home.  He lives in a 6-bedroom house in the Beacon Hill area with 7 other males.  It is surprisingly clean and it doesn't even smell bad.  A lot of kids from his high school class attend the same college, and he's enjoying Seattle a lot.  He just got a part-time job yesterday at a steakhouse, which I'm very excited about!








On Thursday, October 6, Jesse and Justine Coomes welcomed Hayden Alexander into their hearts.  Hayden is adorable (which one would expect from a Brass baby) and so sweet; Justine is a wonderful mom; and Jesse had Hayden's hair combed into a mohawk within the first 24 hours.  Jesse was a really good baby and very easy, and it looks like Hayden is following in dad's footsteps. 

We all have to grow up sometime.  (Except for me, of course.)   Jesse has had maturity handed to him in the form of a sweet little 7 pound 14 ounce, 20 inch package and has taken to being a dad with surprising ease.  There's definitely something to be said for young parents.  

I finally got back to work court reporting this year (although it has been very slow going), and besides working in Washington, I took several trips down to the Bay Area and did some work for firms down there while visiting my family.  After one trip, my friend and traveling companion Thelma Shelley flew down and drove back up with me.   We stopped in Healdsburg on the way home and visited an old high school friend Linda and had a blast.  I fell in love with Healdsburg and can't wait to go back.  Then we drove up 101, had dinner at the Samoa Cookhouse (which did not quite live up to the memories I had of it), and ended up in Brookings, Oregon, where we spent the night at Sue's, another high school friend.  We next headed to the cabin for a night and ended the trip in Walla Wallla where we went wine tasting and out to dinner with Jeff and Danielle.  It was a great trip with lots of wine consumed and purchased.

On another of my trips to the Bay Area, my niece Sawyer and I cooked at a Big Green Egg Eggfest, Eggs by the Bay.  We cooked up a number of things, but our hit of the day was definitely "You Had Me at Marshmallow," cedar-planked Twinkies topped with Nutella, crushed Oreos, mini marshmallows, and crushed Heath bars.














In September 5 friends came to visit me for an extended weekend.  We were quite the international group.  They came from France, Connecticut/New York, Ohio, Texas, and Australia.  Only Catherine from France had been to Seattle before, so we played tourist a bit, consumed lots of wine, and lounged around our house having a great "girls' weekend."  (Jim was banished to the cabin for the duration.)   Notice the cute tablecloth I made for the occasion.  We really did have a lot of laughs and a lot of fun.

When not palling around with friends, I've been a busy little worker bee.  I've been doing some floral work for Farmhouse Flowers, a local florist here in Langley, which I really enjoy; and, of course, I continue to work at The Clyde on Tuesdays in the ticket booth and in the snack bar whenever Mindy goes on vacation.  At the end of November I decided that 5 jobs weren't enough, so I started working for Greenbank Farm.  I'm their facilities rental manager.  Basically I handle all their rentals for events that are held on the property, including a lot of weddings, which should be a blast.  Keeping track of 6 part-time jobs is a full-time job, so I'm pretty busy these days.  But it's all fun and you know what they say – variety is the spice of life.  As reporting picks up for me, I'll be dropping some of the other jobs.  My goal is to get it narrowed down to court reporting, the movie theater, Greenbank Farm, and doing flowers.

Jim continues to enjoy his only (slacker) job at Evergreen Construction in Auburn.  He works from home two days a week and commutes down to Auburn the other three.  Sometimes Buddy goes to work with Jim if I'm not around.  Everyone there loves Buddy, but Buddy is not overly fond of riding in the car and has figured out that if Jim gets up really early and I'm not around, then maybe he should go and hide from Jim in hopes of avoiding the car.  So then Jim has to go in search and there is a lot of coaxing involved when he finally locates Buddy.  On days I work at Farmhouse Flowers or at the bus barn for the school district, I take Buddy with me if Jim isn't working from home that day.  Again, he's not thrilled to go, so he hides from me too.  He's a funny pup.  But we love him to pieces.

We're down to three chickens now, and they have quit laying eggs except for two piddling eggs we got in November.  Which is really a drag because we (Jim) have to take care of them and feed them, all the while going to the store to buy eggs.  It was so much fun just going to the coop to collect the eggs.  I don't care for this new arrangement at all.




We had Jesse, Hayden, Justine, Tim, and our friends Robert and Shelley with us for Thanksgiving and had a great time eating turkey and consuming lots of wine.  So much fun to have a baby in the house again!  Baby smells are even better than turkey and gravy smells.

Yesterday I drove down to Oregon, picked up Tim, and brought him back for the holidays.  Jesse came over from Seattle this afternoon.  Jeff will come home on the 26th and we'll celebrate Brassmas.  Jim and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary on December 27, so it'll be a combined Brassmasversary.   Hayden will be with us on the 25th and 26th when I hope to get more baby nuzzling time in.

Today is the 23rd and I haven't baked a single cookie or even put up a tree.  We might venture outside to see if we can find something in the yard tomorrow.  I went out there looking the other day and they all looked pretty spindly.  I think that's because I hadn't had enough wine yet, so I'll get an early start on that tomorrow and see what I can come up with.



Happy Bralidays to all of you!  We miss you and think of you often.

She's Not Mad at Me Spaghetti Carbonara

My husband is a meat and potatoes kind of guy.  The first time I served him pasta after we were married, he took one look at his dinner and said, "Are you mad at me?  Did I do something wrong?"


For the most part, he'd prefer beef and mashed potatoes over just about any other meal.  Taking their cue from their father, our sons weren't wild about pasta either, although occasionally the youngest would eat it plain.  Imagine my surprise when I found a pasta dish they not only would eat, but eat with enthusiasm.  I have no idea why this pasta dish was such a hit when all others failed; I was just so happy to have finally found something the picky boys would eat.  And it's super easy to make too!














Spaghetti Carbonara

1 pound bacon
1 large onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground peper to taste
1 pound spaghetti or other pasta
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fry the bacon, remove from pan and drain on paper towels.  I cut it into pieces first, but you can fry it in strips or any way you like.
 
 Look at all that bacony goodness!

Sautée sliced onions in bacon fat until onions are golden, 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You can cook the bacon and onions in the same pan at the same time if you want, but you'll have less control over how much the onions cook because you'll need to stop when the bacon is done. So I like to do it in two steps.  When the onions are to your liking, add the bacon back in, add the wine, and simmer for 15  or 20 minutes.  Tonight, I was out of wine so I used tequila instead.  Maybe I should call this Spaghetti Carbonara Olé!  It's better with the wine.  I really couldn't taste any tequila flavor.  Darn!

 Oh how I love the smell and taste of sautéed onions.

A side note on the onions:  Did you know that if you breathe only through your mouth when you chop onions, it will usually keep your eyes from burning and watering?!  It depends on the type of onions and how fresh they are, but it almost always works.  Just be sure you don't breathe through your nose!

Okay, back to the recipe.  But you're gonna thank me for that little tidbit, see if you don't.

Combine the 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions and drain.  I like to put the pasta back into the pan and back onto the burner to get any remaining moisture out.  You need to stir continually while doing this.

Add the Parmesan cheese and parsley mixture to the pasta and toss well.  Then add in the bacon and onion mixture and toss again.  Sprinkle the remaining bit of parsley on top.  Serve immediately on warm plates and pass the extra Parmesan cheese.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Soup for Supper - Italian Chicken Soup



Last night was our annual holiday potluck for one of my gardening groups -- Northwest Perennial Alliance.  We get together for some holiday cheer and make wreaths.  Several of us have wreath-making machines, one of the best birthday gifts I ever talked my husband into giving me!  I've had so much fun with it over the years.  If he had known the amount of greenery I'd strew all over the porch and deck for the entire month of December, I'm sure he never would have bought it.  Or that after every storm, I'd be out there driving around looking for downed branches, which I then bring home and strew all over the porch and deck.  I need a bumper sticker that says, "I brake for pine boughs."  Every year he says, "Can we not have so many branches this year?"  But then I see a little fir tip laying there looking so perfect I just have to pick it up and drag it home.  It's a sickness, I know.  One year a friend and I drove around looking for lichen-covered twigs, which are a particular favorite of mine (and hers).  I'm ashamed to say (ok, not really ashamed at all) that we went onto some private property and cut some.  One of these days my shenanigans are going to land me in the pokey.  I wonder if they'll let me decorate with wreaths during the holidays...


 Anyway, back to the food part of this story, I decided to make soup and eggnog as my contribution to the evening.  I wasn't in the mood for any of my usual soups, so I went in search of something new on the web and found one on Pioneer Woman's site for Italian Chicken Soup.  I had to change up a few things.  One of her ingredients was a can of whole tomatoes.  You are supposed to take the tomatoes and dice them, then return them to their juice.  Helloooo, do they not have diced tomatoes in your neck of the woods, Ree?  Being limited in time this week, I simpified the recipe a teensy bit.  It turned out delicious.

For the eggnog, I had planned on just buying cartons of eggnog, dumping them in the punch bowl and adding booze and grated nutmeg.  Like I said, limited time this week.  I was looking around to see what kind of booze to dump in and how much when I came upon this recipe that seemed easy enough. So I made some of that just to try it out.  It was really good and quite easy.  Definitely a keeper recipe.

Sorry, no photos of the food for this one.  Did I mention I was super swamped?

In-A-Hurry Italian Chicken Soup
1 box Detalini Pasta (very short macaroni-type pasta)
2 T olive oil, divided
1 whole cut up cooked chicken or the equivalent (I cooked up some breasts and used that), shredded
8 cups chicken broth
1 medium onion, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 stealks celery, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 T olive oil
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups heavy cream
EVOO
4 T minced fresh oregano (or the equivalent dried)
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan cheese shavings for garnish

Cook the pasta according the package directions.  The timing on the pasta package is usually very accurate.  Drain it, toss in 1 T olive oil, and set it aside.

In a very large pot (everything has to fit) and using about 1 T olive oil, sautee the onions, green pepper, celery, and jalapenos over medium heat until tender and golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Add in the oregano and cook for just a minute or so more, stirring.

Add in the chicken broth, shredded chicken, and diced tomatoes.  Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Add in the cooked pasta and cream and drizzle with a small amount of EVOO.  Serve with the parmesan on top.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review - The Kitchen Diaries


I check out a lot of cookbooks from our library.  Some of them I even cook from.  That sticky spot on page 26 of Tartine Bread?  Nope, that wasn't me!  At any given time, I have four or five or more in my stack of library books.  This is just to say, I read a lot of cookbooks.  I never really met a cookbook I didn't like.  But I haven't met very many that I really love.  I can't even remember what prompted me to check out The Kitchen Diaries.  It wasn't easy to get.  It had to be ordered on a special Interlibrary Loan because our system doesn't carry it.  (When I return it, I hope to convince them of the error of their ways.)

The Kitchen Diaries, a year in the kitchen with Nigel Slater, written by British cookbook author and columnist Nigel Slater (photographs by Jonathan Lovekin) is the quintessential slow food cookbook.  The first sentence of the book—"Right food, right place, right time"—sums it up perfectly.  Slater goes on to say, "There is something deeply, unshakeably right about eating food in season…Learning to eat with the ebb and flow of the seasons is the single thing that has made my eating more enjoyable."  For me personally, chocolate is the single thing that has made my eating more enjoyable, but I do agree—eating food at its peak of perfection nourishes the soul as well as the body.


As the title implies, the cookbook is laid out in diary form, starting with the obvious January.  He chronicles his year of eating with 15 to 18 entries each month.  Some of them are complete recipes; some are merely descriptions of what he ate and how he fixed it.  All are written in a friendly and inviting manner that makes one want to cozy up and settle in for a long winter's read.

I really love his writing style.  He's so much more than just a cookbook author.  His writing is intimate and works splendidly with the diary format of the book.  He welcomes you into his kitchen and his life, and you feel as if you're sharing the meal with him.  Some of the delicious meals that Nigel and I shared:  A really good spaghetti Bolognese in January; Shrimp and cilantro rolls in March; Clams with ham and sherry in June; An extravagant supper of rare beef, red salad, and cheeses in August; and last, but definitely not least!, poached pears with ice cream and chocolate sauce in November.

The Kitchen Diaries makes the perfect Christmas gift for your favorite slow foodie.  Did I mention I don't have my own copy yet?



Poached Pears with Praline Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce
4 pears
2 T golden caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
200 g fine dark chocolate
Praline ice cream
1 T lemon juice

Pour a litre of water into a deep wide pan, add the sugar, vanilla pod and lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Peel the pears, tug out their stalks, then halve them and scoop out their cores.  Drop them into the sugar syrup and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the pears are translucent and tender.  Leave in the syrup to cool.  During this time they will become silkily soft and soaked through with syrup.

Get the ice cream out of the freezer.  Chop the chocolate. Bring 200ml of water to a boil, then whisk in the chocolate, removing from the heat as soon as it has melted, just a matter of seconds.  Place two pear halves on each of four dishes, add the praline ice cream, one ball per person should be ample, then pour over the warm chocolate sauce.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"I Do" Love Chocolate Apple Cake!

Holidays often revolve around traditions and traditions often revolve around food.  We always went to Aunt Chrissy's house for Christmas while I was growing up.  Lots of family and lots of food.  That's all the tradition I really need.  (Although I do really like family traditions.)

Phone calls ahead of time assured that Dottie's applesauce meatballs and Chrissy's chocolate apple cake would be waiting for me.  So when I got engaged and we set our wedding date for December 27, and when it came time to pick out our wedding cake, I knew exactly what I wanted - chocolate apple cake!


Since this was a bundt cake recipe, and since I wanted a tiered wedding cake, I was a little nervous about how this would be accomplished.  Armed with my recipe, I visited my wedding cake vendor of choice and was delighted to discover she would be happy to adapt the recipe to a tiered wedding cake.  I was even happier to discover that the cost would be less than one of her own cakes because this recipe uses oil rather than butter and she felt that was a cost savings she wanted to pass on.  Oh happy day - how often does something like that happen?!







My sister gave me the little kissing angels on top of the cake.
I still have them and put them out every Christmas.

Without further ado, cuz I know all you want are the photos and the recipe, here you go.

Chocolate Apple Cake...suitable for Christmas, weddings, or just anytime you need a really yummy cake!

Cream together:
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1/2 cup water
1 Tablespoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon orange extract + 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a separate bowl, sift:
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups flour
2 Tablespoons cocoa (unsweetened, powdered)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon allspice

(I'm lazy.  I don't always sift when I should.  I often do not sift this when I make it.  Although I did sift it this time.)

Mix the sifted (or not) ingredients into the creamed mixture.  Then stir in:

1 cup copped English walnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips (sometimes I use a little more!)
2 medium size cored Pippin apples (with peels on), diced

(I leave the nuts out because we don't like nuts in cake here at our house.  And if you can't find Pippins, just use any cooking type of apple.  I used Braeburns this time.  I dice them small, but not too tiny.  But I honestly don't think it matters.  It just depends on if you like big chunks of apple in your cake or teeny ones.)


Mix thoroughly.  Pour into a greased tube pan (springform pan with a hole in the middle).  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or 1 hour or until done.  Sometimes this takes a really long time to bake.  Maybe it depends on the moisture content of the apples.  But I've noticed over the years that the cooking time really varies.  Also, you can make it in any type of pan.  I usually make it in a regular cake pan.  You'll just need to adjust the baking time.

Frost with your favorite cream cheese frosting.

My Favorite Cream Cheese Frosting

Cream together:
4 oz  cream cheese
3 Tablespoons softened butter

Add:
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar (maybe a little more or a little less, in order to get the consistency you like)

Beat until creamy.  Then stir in 1 teaspoon of orange extract and some grated orange rind.  Or, if you're using a fresh orange, you can just add in fresh squeezed orange juice.
 

What, you were expecting an actual cake?  Well, I was planning on an actual cake.  But when I went to get the bundt pan out of the baking cupboard, I saw the cupcake tins.  It was easier to get to them!

And I've never made these as cupcakes before, so I wanted to give it a try.

And it also occurred to me I could eat one, have a few to share with my Tuesday-night-at-The-Clyde co-workers, and freeze the rest for a holiday meal, thereby having a holiday dessert already done and the added bonus of removing all temptation for me to eat an entire chocolate apple cake for breakfast some morning this week.

I baked the cupcakes for about 40 minutes, which I think was about 10 minutes too long.  The Aga is very forgiving.  But these were just a tad dry and I would bake them less next time.  Also, they didn't come out of the tins very neatly, as you can see, so I would try cupcake liners next time.

Come join the fun at the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Chicago Metallic.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nancy Pearl and The Book List

Another entertaining afternoon listening to the always delightful Nancy Pearl review some of her favorite books of the past year.  As always, I race home to be the first to put some of them on hold at the library.  I put 6 on hold, bringing my total holds up to 19.  Fingers crossed they don't all come in at the same time.

And great news - one of Nancy's recommended books I've already checked out.  Never mind that it's overdue.  Our fabulous library system never charges a fine and they don't even put a block on my account until it's more than one week past due.  By my calculations, I'll have 8 more days to read The Tragedy of Arthur before I'm forced to return it and other overdue books. Yay!

If you missed today's event, here's Nancy's list for 2011.

On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry

In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

Erasure by Percival Everett

Next to Love by Elen Feldman

A World on Fire by Amanda Foreman

The Memory of Love by Amanita Forna

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Blind Sight by Med Howrey

The Arrogant Years: One Girl's Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn by Lucette Lagnado

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (young adult novel)

The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen

A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid (children's picture book)

There But For The by Ali Smith

By George by Wesley Stace

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

In the course of her talk, and during the question-and-answer period afterwards, the following were also suggested as being worthy.

The Brothers K by David James Duncan

Must You Go by Antonia Fraser

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto by Joan Reardon

Tempest Tost by Robertson Davies

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Dirt Music by Tim Winton

Divergent by Veronica Roth (young adult novel)

Legend by Marie Lu (young adult novel)

And a personal recommendation Nancy gave me in the lady's room...

Witches on the Road Tonight by Sheri Holman

It always pays to go to the bathroom.

Off to read I go.  Maybe I'll have pizza for dinner and read my book at the table.

So glad I had parents who let me read at the dinner table.  Fond memories...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Near Kitchen Disaster = Pumpkin Bars with Orange Glaze

It all started when I read a post on the BGE forum about roasting pumpkins.  Then I read about Pumpkin Bars with Orange Glaze over on the Boulder Locavore site and decided I needed to make them.  So I got a couple pie pumpkins, cut them in half, sprinkled cinnamon on the cut sides, put them cut side down in a roasting pan, and slid them into a 450 degree oven.  And promptly forgot all about them.  Some two and a half hours later, I remembered and found this waiting for me:



Aaaack!  What a mess.  Don't cha just hate it when that happens?  I couldn't even get a spatula under it to scrape it into the garbage.  So I sat the pan on the counter to cool off and went on my merry way.

Some time later, passing through the  kitchen, I decided to just take a taste of the insides to see what they tasted like.  Lo and behold, I had some seriously sweet pumpkin goop going on!  This wasn't going in the garbage can after all!  Don't cha just love it when that happens? 



So I proceeded to take the skin off--it just lifts right up--fun!--and scraped whatever wasn't completely charred into the Cuisinart to puree it into creamy pumpkiny goodness.
Into the fridge it went until it was time to make my pumpkin bars.  

In the meantime, I had found the same recipe on several other sites.  They all appeared to be pretty much the same and all had one serious flaw:  The recipe didn't make nearly enough!  One small 9x9 pan of pumpkin bars with orange glaze just wasn't going to cut it.  So I doubled the recipe.  I also added salt.  My mom always says that if you don't put in salt, your cookies, cakes, or pumpkin bars will taste 'flat.'  I don't know what the heck that means, but I sure wasn't about to have my pumpkin bars taste 'flat,' so I added salt.  Cautiously. A very small amount.  I also doubled the amount of pumpkin.  I'd like to say I did this because I'm a culinary genius and I knew that adding extra pumpkin would make my recipe superior.  But I cannot tell a lie.  The truth is that I made a mistake.  Aaaack!   Dont cha just hate it when that happens?  But you know what?!  The pumpkin bars turned out great.  And, in fact, I didn't even realize I had doubled the pumpkin until I was typing this up.  And did I mention the pumpkin bars turned out great?  Serendipitily great.  Dont cha just love it when that happens?

Pumpkin Bars with Orange Glaze

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 cups (or less) roasted-just-right pumpkin puree
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon mace
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter; then add in the brown sugar and beat well.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each.  Add in the pumpkin, mixing well.

Measure out your flour, spices, baking soda, and salt and stir together.  Slowly add the dry stuff into the pumpkin mixture, beating until well combined.  Stir in the raisins and pecans.

Grease a very large Pyrex type casserole dish.  Mine is about 16 x 9 or 10 I think.  It's really big.  It's the biggest I've seen.  Scoop the batter into the pan and smooth it out to get it as even as possible.  


Bake for 45 minutes or until lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean.


Just before the bars are due to come out of the oven, prepare the Orange Glaze by whisking together:

2 cups powdered sugar
5 tablespoons orange juice

When the bars are done, drizzle the glaze over them immediately while they're still warm.  It helps to use a silicon pastry brush to distribute the glaze evenly.  A lot of it runs to the edges of the pan, but I just swept it back toward the center until it all looked even.


Allow the bars to cool.  Very important to let them cool completely because like brownies, they're hard to cut if you decide you can't wait.  Using the edge of a spatula gets a cleaner cut than using a knife.  This is especially true if you can't wait til they're cooled off.  (This trick works with brownies too.)  This recipe made 36 very decent-sized bars.  If  you cut them smaller, you'll get quite a few more.

These are super yummy and are perfect for fall and holiday baking.  Everyone I shared these with loved them.  They stayed moist for several days, even when cut. 


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Literary Dinner

I started this post over a year ago. This is actually a party we threw in the spring of 2010.  But I never got around to finishing it and since I can't remember any other details of the evening, I'm just going to post as is!  And try to be better about completing my drafts in the future.

A LITERARY DINNER

Last night we had four other couples over for a 'literary' dinner.  I asked everyone to bring a recent favorite book or an all-time favorite book or any book at all.

Originially I wanted to use iron-on transfers and print food quotes from novels onto some white napkins I never use.  But when I went to get the napkins out, I discovered I didn't have enough.  So I ended up making bookmarks that the guests could take home.


I also made a floral arrangement using pages from an old book wrapped around the vase, as well as leaves made from pages from the same book.


Along with this menu, we also had stuffed mushroom and a roasted red pepper dip with bruchetta that some of the guests brought for appetizers.


All in all, it was a really fun evening.  Recipes below.

Guava-Smoked Meatloaf
In a large bowl, lightly beat 3 eggs.  Add worcestershire sauce, chili sauce, salt, pepper, minced garlic, onions that have been sauteed, and any spices you like.  I typically use thyme, oregano, marjoram, and parsley.  If you're going to make a free form meatloaf and cook it on a pan, continue on to the meat part.  If you're going to put it in meatloaf pans, add 1/3 to 1/2 can beef  consomme.

After all that is mixed together, add 3# ground beef (half of which should be ground chuck) and mix together with your hands.

Pat into 2 or 3 small tinfoil meatloaf pans.  Poke holes in the bottom.  (Or you can just make a big mound and put it on a rack on a pan, if you're going to cook it in the oven.  But if you don't want to use the little tin meatloaf pans, leaf out the consomme because it'll be too wet to hold its shape.)

I cook these on our Big Green Egg bbq indirect (platesetter) at about 300 to 325.  I use guava wood to add a little smoked flavor.  I purchased the guava wood a long time ago from Guava Greg on the BGE forum. I haven't seen him there in a long time.  After one hour, I turn the meatloaf out of the pans onto the grill.  I continue cooking them until they read 155 or just under on my Thermapen thermometer.

Crash Potatoes
There are recipes all over the internet for these potatoes.  I used the one from The Pioneer Woman.

Roasted Broccoli
I just threw some broccoli in the roasting pan, drizzled a little olive oil over it, and roasted til it was starting to turn that nice dark roasty color.

Grilled Asparagus with Pancetta
This one is easy peasy and oh so good.  Peel and trim your asparagus, toss with olive oil and fresh ground pepper.  Then wrap them with pieces of pancetta, and grill on the bbq. Grill over direct heat cooking anywhere between 350 and 400, turning until pancetta is golden brown in spots and the asparagus is crisp-tender.  It doesn't take very long and it needs to be watched so it doesn't burn.

8-Hour Cheesecake
I'm going to save the cheesecake recipe for another post.  I make Maida Heatther's 8-Hour Cheesecake, mainly because it's so easy to do with the Aga, comes out super creamy, does not have to be refrigerated, thus freeing up room in the fridge (although it can be, it just changes the texture), and is crustless, since I'm not a huge fan of graham cracker crusts paired with cheesecake.  If you can't wait for me to post later about this, this recipe can easily be found on the 'net.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Zucchini Relish, Part Deux

Finished up the relish today.  Oh, it's sooooo good!

Here's the recipe for day two:  (See here for day one.)

5 c white sugar
2-1/4 c vinegar
2 t turmeric
2 t celery seed
1 T dry mustard
1 t nutmeg
1/2 c corn starch
1/4 t hot chili pepper (dried)
1green pepper, minced
1 red pepper, minced.

Cook 30 minutes.  Use a large pan, it will boil up.  Add drained zucchini/onion mixture and heat all to a boil. Set clean hot jars in a pan of water and add relish.  Seal with new lids and turn upside down for 5 mins.  Turn back upright.

Between yesterday and today I had emailed back and forth with the woman who gave me this recipe.  I asked her about the pulp thing.  She said don't worry about it, this recipe is very forgiving.  I like forgiving.

As I made this, I wondered about a couple things: 

* Wow, that's a lot of sugar!

* What kind of vinegar? Since it called for a lot, I used white vinegar because I keep large jugs on hand for cleaning purposes.  (Not that I ever actually clean, so it doesn't get much  use.)

* Wow, that's a lot of cornstarch

* Hot chili pepper, dried, what the heck is that?  I used red pepper flakes.

The only changes I made to the above recipe were I used 2 c white vinegar and 1/4 c balsamic vinegar.  And I used 2.5 t celery seed just cuz I really like celery seed.

For you Aga owners:
I cooked the mixture on the BP til it came to a boil and then I put it in the SO for the remainder of the 30 mins.  I didn't do the hot water in a pan and upside down thing.  I put all the jars in the SO for 15 mins and then pulled them out.   I didn't feel there was a big need to process this due to all the sugar and vinegar and I've read you can dry process jams and such in the SO, so I've done that a few times with good results.  The lids all popped after I pulled them out.

I ended up with 11 and a half jars of relish.  Most of the jars were the regular size jars you always see in the grocery store.  One was shorter and stockier and 2 were slightly larger.  So that's a good amount of relish.  I absolutely love Love LOVE the way all the filled jars look after I can something.

I decided to go in search of other zucchini relish recipes on the web to see how they compared to mine.  Wow, they are all over the place in regards to quantities of ingredients.  Most call for pretty much the same as my recipe, altho some leave out a few items.  The most interesting was similar to mine ex it added in 2 cups of chopped red mango.  Now that sounds like some relish!  I'll probably add in mangos next time.

There was a huge difference in the amounts of sugar.  One called for 6 cups, several called for 5 or 5.5, and many called for less.  I will definitely use less next time.  And I'm so tempted to try canning with Splenda.  Has anyone had good results with that?

While some called for 'vinegar' or 'white vinegar,' most called for apple cider vinegar. Duh!  Next time I will use that and save the balsamic for something you can tell the difference in.

Nutmeg was only listed in one or two of the other recipes I checked.  I like nutmeg.  It doesn't seem to really  make a difference in this relish, meaning I can't taste it, but since I like it, I'll keep putting it in!

Corn starch - none of the other recipes came close to this quantity of corn starch.  I haven't decided, but I  may cut back on the amount next time I make this.

All the recipes called for using enamel or earthenware utensils, not aluminum.

Here's the range I found:

10 - 12 c zucchini, minced, diced, or shredded (one called for ultra thin slices)
3-5 c onions, yellow or red
2-4 bell peppers, red, green, or a combination
5 T salt or rock salt  (a couple called for 1/2 c rock salt but the vast majority stuck to 5 T)

Leave for one hour before the drain/rinse/drain or 3 hours or overnight.   Some say to refrigerate it overnight, some don't.


2.5 c to 6 c white sugar or brown sugar
2 c to 5 c vinegar (seems like anything over 2-1/4 would make it too liquidy), white or apple cider or both
3/4 t to 2 t turmeric
1.5 t to 2 t celery seed
1 T dry mustard or 4 T to 1 c (!!!) mustard seeds
1 t nutmeg
1 t to 1/2 c corn starch or arrowroot or flour
1/4 t hot chili pepper (dried) or 1 t coarse black pepper
1 to 2 green pepper, minced
1 to 2 red pepper, minced

Variations as in extra things you could add in:
2 c diced red mango (yum!)
1 c flat leaf parsley
15 T dried dill weed
5 bunches of green onions, chopped
garlic - anywhere from none to a whole lot
3 roasted green chili peppers
1 t grated ginger
1 t wasabi powder
1 t lemon basil or cilantro
hot sauce/tabasco

Cooking time was all over the map.  Some say cook it all, including the zucchini and onions, for 30 mins; some say cook for only 5 or 10 mins.  One called for an hour and a half cooking.  Overkill I say.  Some got complicated about mixing the thickener with water or vinegar and then adding it in.  Not necessary I say.

Some say to process in a water bath for anywhere from 5 to 15 mins.   Some don't mention processing.  One says originally this recipe didn't call for processing but since the new rules came out, it now calls for processing.  As far as I know, no one has ever died from eating unprocessed zucchini relish, but if you're worried about that sort of thing, then process away.  If I planned to give this away as Christmas gifts, I probably would have processed because I like to err on the side of caution when giving food gifts.  I suppose I should be more concerned with my own family!  (Sorry, guys.)

The simplest of the recipes I looked at said to simmer the whole mess for 30 mins, put in hot clean jars, seal, and be done with it.  Now that's easy!

Bottom line - this relish recipe is not only delicious, it's beyond forgiving.  It's completely foolproof and it sounds like you couldn't mess it up if your tried.  You can really go to town and make this your own.  Really my favorite kind of recipe!  And so colorful - using a mixture of yellow and green zucchini, red and yellow onions, and red and green peppers makes for an appealingly colorful relish.















Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Zucchini Relish

Starting my zucchini relish today. I gave away a desk on Freecycle last summer and the woman who came to get it brought me a jar of her zucchini relish. It was eat-out-of-the-jar-with-a-spoon delicious, so I begged the recipe from her. The only thing I'm planning to change is to add in a little bit of balsamic vinegar in place of the regular vinegar. This recipe is a two-dayer. Today:

5 cups finely chopped onions
10 cups finely chopped zucchini, seeds and pulp removed
Sprinkle with 5 T rock salt and leave covered overnight.

Thanks to my handy-dandy food processor, day one was a breeze.  I bought 5 organic onions thinking each would yield about a cup.  Each was about 2 cups, so I only used 3 and now I have about a cup of onions in my freezer for the  next time I need diced onions.  I love that!

Did you know that if you breathe only through your mouth when you chop onions, it won't sting your eyes.  I wore contact lenses from the time I was in high school until about 9 years ago. At several intervals, I used glasses instead of contacts.  Never once in my life did my eyes ever sting from working with onions.  In 2002 I had lasik eye surgery and after boy oh boy, now I know what everyone has talked about!  Isn't it odd that the surgery would change that?! Then I learned the breathe through your mouth trick.  Works like a charm.

I don't really know what zucchini pulp is.  I halved the zucchinis lengthwise and used a little strawberry huller I have to scrape down the center.  I barely took out anything, because the seeds were miniscule to nonexistent, so I  may have more pulp than I'm supposed to.   Guess we'll find out tomorrow!  My zucchinis were in the 270g - 350g size.  I used two green and 3 yellow, all organic.

An interesting fact I recently learned from one of our local farmers (who I bought the zucchini from):  Zucchini should be shiny.  It doesn't matter how big it is as long as it's still shiny.  She also says you can extend the life of zucchini by rubbing oil on it, thus keeping it shiny.  I have no idea if this is true or not.  I couldn't find anything else on the web about  it, altho I did find places where it said to always look for shiny zucchini.

Stay tuned for day 2!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Prom Time


 It's always so much fun to do the prom flowers for all the kids.  Here are some from the past couple years











































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