Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sugar Cookies, simple, delicious and a favorite

 The kitchen is open!

I quit eating hydrogenated vegetable fats a long time ago. When I was looking for lard to use as another fat source, it too was hydrogenated. Why? That did not make sense to me, and of course I would not purchase or eat it. I started using coconut oil, a few months ago. I do recall that coconut oil had a bad reputation years ago, yet I have to tell you, it made the best popcorn! When my children were small I worked evenings at a drive in theater during the summer and into the fall. The popped corn holding bed on the commercial popper was such a wonderful smelling place! As it turns out, that reputation was unfounded, so why and how did it start?

I have struggled with the recipes that I use to make, when I used Crisco, they are no longer made in my kitchen. Today when I made up this sugar cookie recipe, I used coconut oil for the shortening listed in the recipe. This cookie is an experiment in more ways than one, in addition to the coconut oil, we are now using the Ultra whole grain flour blend from Costco as our everyday flour. Today's cookies were made using that blended whole grain flour.

I will tell you that these turned out (really !) very good! I thought so when I ate one, and then when Honey come home from work, he confirmed how good they are. He said, "well I can only rate these about a 10". You know he is goofy like that!

A simple sugar cookie
adapted from Dinners for a Year and Beyond!
350 degree oven

1/3 c butter
1/3 c coconut oil
3/4 c sugar

1 egg
1 t vanilla

1 3/4 c flour
1/2 t salt
1 t baking powder

Beat butter, coconut oil and sugar until fluffy,

Add egg and vanilla, beating well. Add flour, salt and baking powder. Combine well.

Drop by 2 T measures or use a 2 T cookie scoop, placing dough onto prepared cookie sheet.

Bake 14-16 minutes, bottoms will be light golden brown.

Let cool on baking sheet 8 - 10 minutes, remove to towel or wire rack to finish cooling. Of course they are good warm also!
Makes 16 cookies.

Recipe rating:  Oh Yes! (will make again)

As always thanks,
for taking a moment to stop and say hello.

This post is shared with Foodie Friday @ Designs by Gollum, and
Fresh Clean and Pure Friday @ la bella vita

Tasty Tuesday @ A Beautiful Mess

Monday, September 27, 2010

Laurie Colwin's Pot Roast and buying stoves

Our home is heated with wood, and has been since moving here a few years ago. I love wood heat, the flickering flame, crackling sounds and the warmth a fire delivers. The additional work of a wood fire,  has its own charms as well. I don't care to clean out the ashes, but I am very partial to the smell of fresh cut wood each time an arm load is brought into the house. 

Last spring changed all that when we bought two stoves. It must have been stove day at Lowe’s, because really, why else would you buy 2 stoves on the same day!? We purchased a new convection range for the kitchen and a pellet stove for heating the rest of the house. The kitchen stove had a ding in the drawer, but it also had a 50% off clearance tag. The ding is long gone, fixing that was an easy fix for Honey, he is real good about stuff like that! The stove and I are fast friends, turning out baked goods, soup and a pot roast or two.

But the pellet stove has suffered a much different story. It has been waiting for its turn to burn, sitting very quiet and cold in the garage since we brought it home. Today Honey is grouting the tiles installed on the hearth. After the grout dries, the stove can be brought out of the garage, thoroughly dusted off and hooked up. The weather is cooling quickly here in Vancouver and heat will be needed sooner than one knows.  

In order to hook up the pellet stove, we had to remove the old wood stove insert from the fireplace. What an interesting task that turned out to be! How (Honey and me)  two people were able to move that big, heavy, dirty thing out of there, without getting soot on the new carpet, or spraining something, is beyond me! But we did, and I am still in awe.It truly was one of those "meant to be" moments, where what needs done, gets done.

After that, the hearth needed some tile repair. Just look at what a couple of hours and a few new tiles look like. Like everything he does, this turned out great. And wouldn’t you know, not one of his worries played out. That list of worries was longer than my weekly grocery list. I reminded him that it was going to be fine, well, yeah more than once actually. Until finally I said while pointing (maybe jabbing would be a better term for my finger movements!), “Honey even if something is not perfect, no one will notice, there is going to be a stove sitting right there!”. 

Beautiful, what a great job, as always.

Now all we need is cold weather, and the stove can be completed. Firing up instructions indicate, first time use should be 3 hours in length. 

Right now the house is cool, but not cold. I don't think this house is ever been cold. It is small and very well insulated. We have been without heat since mid February, by choice. Vancouver had a cold winter, when our firewood ran out, we decided that we would not purchase another cord. A cord of wood, would of been more than we needed and unusable once the new stove was installed, so we simply put on a sweater if we got cold. There was a surprising benefit to that decision. I found that having a chill in the air, was a wonderful time to understand warmth. 

Warmth is very soothing, to the body as well as the soul. Fortunately, warmth is in ample supply and can be found in just about every area of your life.You can find warmth in the work you do, or in the comfort of your home and surroundings, and with the ones you love or spend the most time with. But finding warmth is a task of happiness, as much as comfort, provided to a cold and tired body.

As it turns out, warmth is also a complement or a good thought. Friends and family are often described as having a “warm heart”. When something tickles your senses or funny bone it is often described as a “warm and fuzzy” feeling. And of course my personal favorite “cold hands, warm heart” offered as a compliment, when a handshake surprises the one with the warmer hands! I am pretty sure that one is my favorite, because I usually have very chilly hands.

Another place I find warmth is in a story or book. When I read, I find myself comfortable and cozy, well wrapped up in the story. There must be a break in the universal clock when I read, because time does not tick away, chores do not beckon and sleep will not come. Which is why I do not read in bed, I would never ever get to sleep!

I have just finished reading; HOME COOKING, a writer in the kitchen by Laurie Colwin. It is a bittersweet read, she was so engaged in life and in living her life. Warm is the perfect word to describe her. As I read how she managed life, and loved her family, I am touched deeply and wish for more, much more. 

Laurie was also a great cook and eater. I get the impression that everyone was well fed and loved in her New York kitchen. This quote is about her pot roast, she says: "This meal, which takes some time to prepare, must be eaten slowly. Afterwards it is best to stretch out on the sofa, with a cup of coffee balanced on your stomach". You know, I think friends share those thoughts and talk to each other like that, don't you?
Laurie Colwin's Pot Roast
Adapted from:  HOME COOKING a writer in the kitchen
300 degree oven                 

5 pound chuck roast
olive oil
3 red bell peppers, sliced
2 yellow onions, cut into chunks
1 carrot, peeled and sliced 1 inch thick
6 cloves garlic
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
1 glass red wine
salt and pepper to taste

Tie a string around the outside of the roast to keep it stable. Sprinkle well with paprika.

In a large skillet, sear the meat, turning to brown all sides. Place the roast into a Dutch oven.

In the same skillet, add the peppers and saute in olive oil. Spoon over meat in the dutch oven.

My little corner market was out of red peppers, I picked out the ripest of the green peppers. I also decided to saute all the vegetables including the garlic.

Add the wine and tomato sauce to the skillet, and simmer to cook down slightly, pour over roast.

Season with salt and pepper to preference, then cover.  Cook 3 – 5 hours. When the meat is tender, carefully remove from dutch oven and place on platter, covered loosely with foil or a clean tea towel.

 This is the color of the rich pan stock, this will be reduced and served over slices of the roast.

Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon,  push through a sieve or food mill. Do Not Use a Blender. The end result is to remove any fibers and seeds from the puree.

Add the pureed vegetables to the meat broth and simmer to reduce and thicken slightly.

I choose to thicken the sauce with a bit of golden browned flour I keep in the refrigerator. It was just the right touch to thicken and give the consistency needed for serving over mashed potatoes.

Slice meat and spoon some of the gravy over, serve remaining in a gravy boat to pass at the table.

This is simply delicious! I hope you enjoy this roast as much as we did, and if you should need anything, you will find me on the couch, practicing with my coffee cup.

Recipe rating:  Oh Yes! (will make again)

As always, thanks so very much for stopping for a visit.
I appreciate your visits more than you know!

This post is also shared through Hearth & Soul Blog Hop.  
 And by request at Tuesday Supper Club

Friday, September 24, 2010

Alabama Split Pea Soup

There is no denying it, I have not been very productive this week. Honey has been home on vacation, which is nice, don't get me wrong. But having another around tends to slow things down. He took a couple of days and went to Walla Walla to see some family, and when he is gone, I don't usually cook a meal for myself. I graze upon what is available and use up leftovers. After his return we took one day and went to the beach.

I have done some cooking, I made gingerbread and another batch of roasted tomato (lacto-fermented) salsa. I also rendered a couple of large blocks of bacon "ends and pieces" for cooking fat and ready to use bacon bits.  There was a batch of granola and another of muffins.This lull in cooking was good for me, because it helped to cement in my front lobe, how badly I have been putting meals on the table. Or rather, how badly I have not been putting a meal on the table.

Honey is a (not!) true gourmet. His idea of a 4 course meal is 3 donuts and a quart of chocolate milk, seriously. Au Gratin potatoes, one of his favorites, comes in a box and you add water. Therefore if I don't cook, he does not mind, and sometimes I think he is secretly happy! As for whole wheat, isn't that something you feed to the animals?

But I mind, and need to mind even more. It is easy for me to get complacent and not care as much as I should. And this is an issue, that should be cared about. Having a set plan for meals is a savior for some families, this is not so easy for us. Honey can work up to 3 different shifts in a single week. Having a pre-planned meat loaf dinner with baked potatoes all cooked with no one to eat it, doesn't seem like the best idea for us. We would be in serious leftover mode around here, not to mention a lot of food waste.

Having home cooked, healthy food in the freezer, ready to go is a better option for this household. Personally I am a soup gal, I could eat a soup meal everyday, and not grow tired of it. This won't surprise you, but for Honey, that is not ideal. Substitute eggs however and you have yourself a winner. Where as I  prefer my eggs at dinner time. A good understanding of food preferences and lifestyle parameters is important to keep everyone happy, fed nutritiously and keep food waste to a bare minimum. 

One of the goals that I have kept up with is "a pot of beans a week". I have found by cooking up a pot of beans each week with no particular plan in place, I have a great spur of the moment meal and a second meal in the freezer for those, what are we going to have for dinner? days. Today I am cooking up another split pea soup. I have found it is a good idea to have multiple yet different recipes of each type of soup in the freezer. After all variety is the spice in life!

This soup is brought to you by way of Alabama, through the lovely blog of my friend Rocquie@Sage Trifle. She has been a great source of information and is wonderful to bounce ideas off!

Alabama Split peas soup w/ celery
Adapted from: Sage Trifle

1 pound split peas
2 ham hocks or shank ends
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 bay leaf
2 quarts fresh water
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large dutch oven, simmer 2 - 3 hours. Remove shanks, let cool slightly. Remove meat, dice and return meat to the soup.

Ladle into bowls and pass condiments so each person may dress their soup according to preference,

soy sauce
hot sauce
balsamic vinegar
olive oil.

Yield approximately 3 quarts of soup.

Serve with some crusty bread, a glass of wine and you have a great meal to share or truth be told, enjoy on your own.

Recipe rating:
Oh Yes! Will make again.

As always thanks so much for stopping by,
I love having visitors.

This post will be shared with Foodie Friday @ Designs by Gollam.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Granola and the red apron

I have told this story before, in June of 2008 actually. I wanted to run it again (with a bit of editing, I think I write a wee bit better now!) because it touches my heart, also because my daughter makes wonderful granola and today I am making granola. Then again, I don't think anyone read it in 2008, so it is just like a new story!

The Red Apron-  
I have always been a "get in and get it done" sort of person. If my clothes get dirty along the way, and they usually do, so be it. When done with what ever job I might be doing, I will put on a clean pair of jeans and a fresh shirt. Run a comb through my hair,  and away we go.

Aprons always seemed like a good idea, but I never remembered to put one on. After a few years (like 30 or so) I no longer had aprons. I gave them all away. Then last Christmas, my daughter made me a beautiful red apron. It was a wonderful gift, red just like my kitchen, and from her.

It now had a permanent home, folded neatly next to the big  standing mixer. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter asked me if I used the apron. I had to confess, no I did not. She remarked that no one, she had made aprons for at Christmas, used their gift.

At the time, I did not feel bad about not using the apron, because I knew why. But I did feel sadden by her disappointment. I had not even used the apron, I had folded it neatly and placed it in the kitchen, just like a decoration. You see.............

As a child I had been taught that something "too pretty to use everyday" was saved. The red apron, is certainly that, too pretty to use everyday. And so I did what I had always done, I put it up and saved it!

But saved for what I still do not know, and "it" was never ever explained to me when I was a kid growing up.

Certainly not saved for a rainy day, we have hundreds of them here in Vancouver. Certainly not for a dinner party, I really don't have dinner parties. I do have "company" and when company comes, it is my pleasure to make them feel comfortable. I just never found an apron is required for that.

This morning I threw a pan of rolls into the oven, and before I began the dough, I reached for the apron. I slipped it over my head and began working. It felt comfortable, much like time with my daughter. I completed the pan of dough and placed it into the oven to bake, knowing what I would blog about this morning, wearing my red apron.

My daughter is a fighter. A quiet, but strong fighter. She is tall and beautiful and dedicated. She is fearless. She is accomplished, because she is  always willing to try. She makes me proud. I say all this, without taking credit, because many of the skills she has, were learned on her own.

She will be 30 on her next birthday. I had a long labor with her, 30 hours actually. Our running joke has been she "owed" me a year for each hour of labor. She knows it is a joke, but still I have gotten many a cup of coffee delivered to me, using that as a ploy! But you see, I owe her and  my Son, for it is they who have taught me, how to grow love............

Today I still do not wear the apron when I cook, that is just me and how I roll! The apron however has a new residence, it is folded neatly over the handle of the stove. A very handy spot actually, and when the lovely Jess comes to help in the kitchen, it is right there for her to use.

And now let's make granola. I had asked my daughter for her recipe and she said simply, "it is just granola mom, I like to bake it longer." And that is, the way it is! I loved the flavor of her granola, bold and baked to a deep golden brown, yet wanted to keep the softer crunch of using textured oats.

So what are textured oats? Oats that have had a whirl in your food processor or blender. Having a variety of texture in your granola will give a softer crunch, if you like a super crunchy granola, leave the entire measure of oats whole and proceed with the rest of the steps. I have set up the information on this recipe to be used as a master recipe, which really means, use what you already have in your kitchen or pantry.

Granola, (but not Jessica's recipe!)
by the seat of my pants!
325 degree oven

The base:
2 c regular oats
2 c regular oats - pulsed in the food processor
1/2 c regular oats - ground into oat flour
1/4 c flax seeds - ground

You can see the 3 different textures of the oats: straight out of the box, pulsed until about 1/2 regular size, and coarse oat flour.

Creative interpretation or using what is available:
1/2 c seeds - pumpkin, sunflower, sesame or ?
1 c nut pieces - walnuts, pecans, almonds or ?
1 c something else (or more nut pieces) coconut, millers bran or ?

Place the oats and textured oats into a large bowl, add the seeds and nuts mixing well.

3 T oil
1/2 c sugar
1 t vanilla
dash of salt
1/2 - 1 t sweet spice if desire - cinnamon, nutmeg or ?  

Add the oil to a measuring cup, add water to make a total 1/2 c fluid. Combine the water mixture and the sugar, heat to boiling  stir to dissolve sugar. Add vanilla, salt and sweet spice if using. Stir again. Evenly pour over oat mixture, folding over and over until everything is evenly dampened.

Prepare a jelly roll pan, I have been using coconut oil for this, it works wonderful and the oils is good for you.

Evenly spread on a jelly roll pan.

This granola contain slivered almonds and pumpkin seeds along with cinnamon. The total measure of the nuts and seeds equaled 2 1/2 cups. This is what I had and equals the nuts, seeds and something else.
 Granola is a great way to be frugal and use up those little bits of nuts, seeds and dry fruit. 

Bake 20 minutes, stir corners into center and bottom to top. Smooth into an even layer.

 The change in toasted appearance is subtle, but the house sure smells delicious!

Bake 10 - 20 minutes more, again stir as directed at each 10 minute mark.

Turn oven off, let sit in oven 20 minutes to finish cooking and dry completely.

Sprinkle over the top of the finished granola:
1 c dried fruit - raisins, diced apricots, or cranberries. You could also use some chopped chocolate.

Stir to combine, and let mixture come to room temperature before packaging up.

Recipe rating:  Oh Yes! (will make again)

Makes about 10 cups.

As always thanks for stopping by,
I love having visitors!

This post is being linked to Hearth & Soul blog hop.

This post is being shared at: Potluck Sundays@Mommy's Kitchen.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Oat Bran Muffins, does not explain how delicious these muffins are!

It has been an interesting and fun week, job interviews, cooking, thrifting, a little time out on the water, along  with some good reads and recipes from other blogs. The wonderful thing about reading other food blogs is that the food is tried and true. I had spotted this recipe over at Savory Sweet Life that I wanted to bake up today. A good looking, tasty muffin that will be great to have around for breakfast and snacks. For some reason I have fallen away from the cold cereal and milk routine, and getting tired of just buttered toast for breakfast. But who am I kidding, the best part is that these will be like carrot cake for breakfast. Now tell me, what is not to like?

Years ago I had muffin top pans, and now 30 years later, wanted them again. Muffin top muffins are much easier to eat, especially if you are eating on the run. At that time however, I was not impressed with them and fairly narrow minded as well. I did not realize the potential for other uses. Apparently the muffins I made at the time in those pans were dry, and most likely I made the connection that dry muffins + new pans = don't use those pans. So I got rid of them. Yes, I did behaved like that, but not now thank goodness! I think in those early years of cooking, a failure rides hard on the back of an insecure cook.............

While out thrifting this week I found muffin top pans. Apparently these were used in the same manner as I had used mine. They were tossed into a donation box, having been used only once or twice. I am fairly certain of my assumption, as the original price tags were still glued to the bottom of each pan. There they were in need of a good scrubbing, but otherwise in excellent shape, so into my pile they went. They scrubbed up great, and the original price tag is long gone as well. Today they helped in making these muffins.

The best part of having these pans? First muffins, then a couple of other uses are hamburger/sandwich rolls and individual fruit tarts. I would of never thought of making my own sandwich rolls years ago. And individual fruit tarts, come on please! I was busy with babies, diapers and canning. But then again, I had not run across that easy, delicious recipe for cottage cheese dinner buns that also works so well for sandwich buns. Tender and slightly sweet, the very reason we love store bought, but homemade instead.

Oat bran muffins
adapted from: savory sweet life
350 degree oven

3/4 c flour
3/4 c whole wheat flour
3/4 c ground flax seed
3/4 c oat bran
1 cup brown sugar
2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg

2 eggs
1/2 c milk
1 t vanilla
1/4 c oil
1/2 cup apple sauce
2 cups shredded carrots

3/4 c raisins, chopped
1 heaping c walnuts or pecans, chopped

In a medium size bowl combine dry ingredients, whisk together to combine.

In a large size bowl, add eggs beat well. Add remaining wet ingredients and stir well to combine.

Stir dry ingredients into wet, combine but do not over mix, fold in the chopped raisins and nuts.

Scoop batter into prepared muffin tins until 3/4 full.

I like to simply divide the dough into the muffin cups, but I do not divide evenly. I now prefer to use a 1/2 c ice cream scoop. This works well and I have muffins that cook all in the same amount of time. Which was not the case in previous baking times. 

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until tests done in your oven.

Let cool in pans 10 minutes.

Loosen carefully and remove or cradle in the baking pans to finish cooling.

Hmmm, something tells me that some cream cheese whipped with just a touch of honey would go great with these muffins.

Recipe rating:  Oh Yes! (will make again)

As always thanks so much for stopping to see what is cooking and say hello,
I appreciate your time!

This post is shared with:
Full Plate Thursday @ Miz Helen's Country Cottage

This post is being linked to Simple Lives Thursdays @ GNOWFGLINS 

This post is being linked to Tuesday Twister. at GNOWFGLINS

This post is being linked to One Food Club @ cocina diary

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Split Pea Soup - a process

The summer season has officially ended here in Vancouver, not only has school started, but we are having our first rain shower. Not a drizzle, or a mist, rain, real rain. Now don't laugh, it is nice, and I kind of like rain.  Tonight I am making Split Pea Soup. It just seemed like the right kind of thing to make for the new season.

I don't know about you, but many of the soups I make are more of a process than a hard and fast recipe. They are based upon what might or might not be available. This soup tonight is no exception. We were out of celery, so none was added. If I have celery I do add a couple of ribs, diced small, along with the carrots. But this is important, use bone broth instead of just plain water.

Split Peas Soup Process

1 tray of smoked hocks or similar type of meat
1 pound of split peas
1 large onion
1 pint home canned tomatoes or organic diced.
2 ribs celery diced small
2 large carrots, peeled and diced small
1 or 2 cloves garlic minced
2 bay leaves
1 t salt
2 qt bone based broth, I am using chicken which is delicious with the hocks

Place hocks and split peas in bottom of a large slow cooker. Add diced vegetables and spices.

I like to dice my vegetable small for a soup like this. That way a spoon full of soup will not be a large slice of carrot and not much else!

Add the bone broth, to cover. If a bit short top off with water.

Cook overnight on low. The next morning, remove hocks, let cool, remove and dice meat, return to soup. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. That is it, refrigerate until serving time. Serve with a small scoop of brown rice in the bottom of each bowl or with some delicious corn bread.

Recipe rating:  Oh Yes! (will make again)

Easy, delicious, frugal and the leftovers freeze for a time when you need a helping hand. Serves 8 - 10.

Here are some fun links that might add a new twist to your meals. Many of these links are from local bloggers, maybe even some one you already enjoy reading.

Lets begin,

This corn, green bean and tomato dish, not only looks beautiful but delicious.

I have begun to enjoy radish and butter sandwiches, a simple little sandwich to go with a cup of soup. Here is radish truffle butter.

Dutch babies, this would be fun to have as dinner. A great way to use up those extra eggs also.

Peasant Soup, nothing more to say. Soup like this is always so satisfying.

Tomato Jam, this is on my to do list.

White bean salad, another on my list.

I plan on giving cube steak another try after seeing this post.

Yes, another chicken thigh recipe, now be honest, if I missed this one you would of been disappointed!

As always thanks for taking a moment to stop and say hello. I do appreciate it! This post will be shared on Simple Lives Thursday, and Pennywise Platter Thursday and Prairie Story Recipe Swap.