Friday, September 24, 2010

Autumn pumpkin bread

I love quick breads, and one of those that I bake fairly regularly, in the Autumn and Winter, is pumpkin bread. A friend of mine declared that she was in a Fall mood and baked pumpkin bread, so that was enough excuse for me, LOL.  This recipe is a modified recipe from an old Betty Crocker cookbook, and makes two 9x5x3" loaves of moist, spicy bread.

2/3 cup butter
2+2/3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 can pumpkin (15 0z-1 lb)
2/3 cup juice, milk or water
3+1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
2/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven 350° (app. 175°C*), grease or line pans with parchment.
Cream butter and sugar, mix in eggs pumpkin and juice, milk, or water. Mix dry ingredients well, then fold into pumpkin mixture. Add raisins and nuts. Bake 60-70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (I monitor closely from approximately 40 min forward. The fastest way to check for me is that I lightly tap the oven rack to check if the center is still liquid. If it shows solid, then I try the toothpick or tester to see if it needs a minute or two.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Blue hoe cakes

Tonight I think we will have breakfast and hoe cakes for dinner. When I think of hoe cakes, they bring back fond memories. Growing up in the military, we moved around a lot. That and the fact that my grandparents died when I was very young, meant that I didn't have many memories of them. When I was twelve or so, my Dad retired from the Army and we moved to a tiny town in middle Tennessee, and next door to two of the greatest people that I have ever had the privilege to know. Douglas and Gertrude were a couple in their eighties, without grandchildren of their own. If they ever minded the fact that I was always following them around, they never let on, and Douglas soon became that one person that seemed to think that I could do no wrong. He taught me the finer points of building a scarecrow, shucking corn, an appreciation for the beauty of glass bottles, and the pleasure of a front porch swing on a summer evening. Gertrude also introduced me to Southern cooking,  snapping beans, crafts, and most especially, hoe cakes.

If you have never had a hoe cake, I strongly recommend that you try them. It is has the good qualities of cornbread, with the added benefit of being fried. This is my recipe, but as I don't usually add sugar to my cornbread, you should definitely adjust for your preferences.

  ¼ cup olive oil
  1 large egg
  2 tsp baking powder
  1 tsp salt
  onion- diced and browned (optional)
  1 cup buttermilk or milk
  2 cups cornmeal

I fried these in an enameled cast iron pan with a light coating of bacon grease. Also, I just recently bought organic blue cornmeal, and I used that in this recipe (do not attempt to adjust your monitor, as a blue color is to be expected, LOL).

* I edited the recipe, because I had mis-typed some of the amounts. 

Orange extract~ Orange you sweet?

Our co-op recently sent us oranges. I was tempted to just eat them, but I also wanted to experiment. I have been reading a lot about making your own extracts, from vanilla to citrus to cinnamon, etc. The idea of having orange extract available to add a little bright citrus note to recipes definitely intrigues me. I always love the taste of oranges, limes, lemons, and grapefruits, and my favorite teas are Earl Grey and orange black, but I just don't have the fruits on hand as often as I would like.  A search of the Internet yields similar recipes repeatedly (and since I have not done this before, I will follow the instructions, mostly).

  ¼ cup filtered water
  ½ cup vodka
  orange zest (peel without white pith)

I had three oranges on hand, so I washed them and peeled the orange off of them (being careful to avoid the pith). I chopped the zest and since I had so much I doubled the water and vodka and split the mix between two 8 oz canning jars. The instructions say to place these in a dark cupboard and shake them once a day for 3-7 days. Of course if you can be patient and leave it to steep it will be a stronger extract. Everything I have read says that this extract is then good for up to a year. I started this last night, and the liquid is already beginning to resemble orange juice. I will post updates when the extract is done.

~On a side note, I decided to juice the oranges fairly aggressively (to get some pulp) and I am planning to use this in a quick bread recipe.


I never make a mistake in the kitchen. Everything I try comes out perfectly. Bunnies and birdies perch nearby to admire everything I do. World famous chefs have me on speed-dial so that they can beg for my assistance (Heidi, PLEASE, you have to tell me how you made that lovely soup!). And if you believe all of this, I have some lovely waterfront property to sell you.
In reality, I am a largely self-taught cook, challenging myself to learn and try new things. Astonishingly often things work out, and I bask in the joy of my friends and family as they enjoy what I cook. But then there are the other times, those times when I wish I could order out, or cry, or both. You know what I mean if you have ever tried to learn anything new, or even if you have done something perfectly nine hundred ninety nine times, only to have the thousandth time flop. I would like nothing better than to enroll my failures in the witness protection program, but then this wouldn’t be a blog, and would instead be a brag.
Today was one of those days when things didn’t go according to plan. I have been baking scratch cakes for a few months, with homemade chocolate butter-cream icing. The cakes have been received with raves, as they are all-natural, moist, etc. Tonight we have a friend coming over for her birthday cake (her Birthday was earlier this week, but this was the night we could get together). I am serving homemade lasagna, home-baked bread/garlic toast, iced tea, and cake. Everything seems to be rolling along, until. I ran out of powdered sugar and was just a bit short for the icing. I panic, breath, then go to my friend the internet. I found and followed the instructions to powder sugar in your blender, and there is where things go a little bit wrong.
Most of what I have in my kitchen fall in to three categories.
1. Spectacular items that we have managed to purchase.
2. Items that are not intended for the uses that they are called upon to fulfill, but somehow we muddle through (I often refer to this as MacGyver-ing).
3. Absolute crap. Something that was supposed to be wonderful, but is not.

My blender falls under that third description. There is no love lost on either side. For one thing it is loud... seriously loud. I literally wear a pair of foam ear plugs and a set of gun range ear protection to use this thing. It also doesn’t really work that well. I have to tilt the entire blender back and forth to get it to actually pull ingredients into the blades. (If anyone ever makes a video of me using this thing, I will probably have to apply for Canadian citizenship, but I am sure it is quite a picture.) Anyway, I gave it a go, and it seemed to be okay. That is of course until I tried the icing. Imagine fine grain beach sand, if that sand could actually melt to taste good. That is this icing. I am hoping that the moisture from the icing will reduce the grainy texture, given enough time. To this end, I am hoping to stall dessert for a while, LOL.
I actually didn’t have to work to stall dessert. The lasagna and fresh bread garlic toast (firsts and seconds) gave the icing some time to improve. It did, but it was still not as smooth as usual. That said, everyone seemed to enjoy it anyway, but my pride still took a small hit. (I am often told that I am my own worst critic, but I always want to give my very best for friends and family.) Ah well, lessons learned:
1. Don’t run out of powdered sugar (or whatever ingredient is needed at the moment).
2. If I do run out, figure out a way to use a small appliance that cooperates more than the blender (or acquire a more cooperative blender).

Roasted Roma Chicken Soup

This is an entry that I wrote September 16th, but I was still setting up the Blog, so here it is:

Last night’s dinner was chicken soup. The base was easy, since I have canning jars of chicken stock in my freezer. I try to always have at least one on hand, and now I am down to just one, so it will be time to make stock again soon. I always think I have a ton when I make it, but it seems to disappear so quickly.
This dish was a repeat of a happy accidental discovery that involved leftover roasted tomatoes. I had enough for one serving and needed two, and offered Ray (Hubby) a choice: He could have soup with a side of reheated Roma tomato, or I could try to combine them. He said both sounded good, but combining them would take the tomato further (He knows I love to make the produce stretch to be more than a single serving).
For the last batch, I used store-bought noodles, since I didn’t have time to make my own. Yesterday I had time to make egg noodles, just my second batch ever. It is pretty hard to roll the dough out thin enough by hand, so I suppose one of these days I will invest in a hand crank pasta machine. Still, these came out nicely, and Hubby was happy. It still makes me smile that I finally got over being scared and attempted to make noodles, and managed to make something recognizably noodle-y.
I roasted Roma tomatoes with bread crumbs, spices, and Parmesan cheese. These are chopped up and added with noodles, and they add so much to the soup with vibrant color for the eyes and bursts of flavor. I am mulling over an idea for a new tomato soup with some variation of these roasted Roma’s in the starring role. Next time I make this, I will take a picture to post.

Lots of herbs and bright pieces of roasted Roma
tomatoes make this one of Hubby's favorites.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I'm a homemaker. It isn't glamorous or fast-paced, or even widely respected work, but I love it. My husband and I have been changing over to all-natural and organic food, personal products, and household items over the past several years, and we recently joined a co-op. I have been posting on facebook for a while and people seem to enjoy my food posts, particularly since we joined, I guess because I have embraced the challenge of planning and cooking a menu decided largely by what is in the weekly shipment from our friends at Nature's Garden Delivered.

If you have never been a member of a co-op, it can be an adjustment. My understanding is that we are particularly blessed with the group that we joined, since they allow us to set up guidelines about what we like and what we don't want to see in our basket. On Saturday we get an email from our co-op telling us what is in this week's shipment. We then have a few days to make up to three changes, and then the delivery arrives on Tuesday morning at Hubby's work (his job is inside the delivery area). We started out as bi-weekly members, but we increased to weekly.

I can't pretend that we made the decision to eat all-natural, from-scratch food because of virtue, at least at the start. For me, sensitivities to food additives required me to read labels and cut out many of the foods that I loved. I also had to stop eating out, since every trip to a restaurant was a game of Russian roulette, with the end result often being hives, difficulty breathing and headaches. But that was just what got us started down this road. Over time, reading labels, researching foods, and the inevitable thoughts and discussion that followed, I began to see food differently. I had always loved cooking, but now it was more than a fun pastime. Now I enjoy the challenge of trying to make my own all-natural versions of foods that I grew up eating, and my loved ones seem to enjoy eating the fruits of my labor.

I hope that you may happen by to read what I write, and if I happen to make you think of something differently, I hope you will let me know. Thanks so much for letting me share my thoughts.