Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chocolate Chip & Cherry Scones

Most, if not all of my friends know that I am a tea-drinker. I love hot tea, ice tea, black tea, herbal tea . . .  well, you get the idea. There is of course tea, and then there is 'Tea'. The difference? One is a beverage, enjoyable, but simply liquid refreshment. The other is much more, a moment snatched from the grind of every day, full of niceties and quiet reflection. It is magic, this conversation between tea leaf and water, and it is so much a part of me.

Fresh baked goods, like these scones (based on a King Arthur Flour recipe), help to make Tea an event. At various times I have added orange zest and used dried cranberries instead of chocolate chips, and on this occasion added dried cherries and reduced the chocolate chips (use 1-1½ cups of chocolate chips if omitting the cherries). Change them to suit the season, or the tea that you will be drinking.

If you have never had a scone, they are like a sweet biscuit, or puffy, less-sweet cookie. Scones can be eaten as is, buttered, or with a spread.

2½ cups flour
rounded ½ tsp salt
½ cups sugar
2¼ tsp baking powder
6 Tbsp butter
¾ cup cream half & half, heavy, or whipping, or you can use whole milk (optional: add 1-2 Tbsp dried whole milk to the dry ingredients) 
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
¾ cup dried cherries

Preheat oven to 400°F (app. 205°C*)  ~you will reduce the temperature when the scones go in to bake.

Line baking sheets or pie dishes with parchment.

Whisk together flour, salt, sugar & baking powder.

Cut butter in to the dry ingredients.

Add cherries and chips to the flour mixture.

Whisk eggs, cream and vanilla. Reserve 2 Tbsp of this liquid, and add the rest to the dry ingredients to form a moist dough. Mix only as much as needed to incorporate all the dry ingredients.  If the dough seems dry, add a Tbsp or two more of cream to the dough

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface, and pat into a circle app. the size of a pie pan. Brush with the remaining egg mixture and sprinkle with coarse sugar. At this point you can either use a 2" cutter  or cut the dough into wedges* and space them evenly on a prepared baking sheet or dish. Reduce temperature to 375° (app. 190°C*) and bake the scones app. 20 minutes or until golden brown.

These are good warm or cold, reheat nicely if wrapped in parchment or foil, and should be stored in an airtight container. 

*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.

‡ if using a smaller size cutter, shorten time; if cutting into wedges, increase time. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Our budget-friendly counter-top

The previous owner of our house was named Tim. Tim had a unique way of fixing things, and as we have become more familiar with our home, we have spent much time scratching our heads and asking ‘why did he...?'. We have affectionately begun to refer to these things as Timmy-rigged. One such item is (or should I say, ‘was') our kitchen counter-top on the peninsula. Tim had covered the surface of that island-peninsula with the same flooring material he put throughout the main floor of the house, a thin sort of rubber, made-to-look like wood (including faux woodgrain texture). It looked pretty, but besides being of a somewhat dubious food-safe nature, it had the texture and cracks between the ‘planks', which limited the use and made clean-up much more difficult.
The old "Timmy-rigged" counter-top
In frustration, we started looking for something to replace this counter, and we discovered why Tim had done what he did. I may be the only person that didn't know this, but kitchen counters are expensive. This particular space was 3'5"x5'5", and when I started pricing different materials marketed for this application, I was shocked. Silly me, I figured it was one little rectangular, no-frills counter area, ‘how much could it cost?'. I was looking for something that was non-porous, easy to work on and clean up, and I got pretty discouraged until we hit upon an idea. Glass. Hubby's office was replacing a piece of tempered glass, and the glass company was going to be at work the next day. Thinking that perhaps this was kismet, I asked Dear Hubby to get a quote, but braced myself for the possibility that we were going to get a number either out of reach, or one that would require us to set it as a future goal. Reasonable numbers came back, and we were offered a sizable discount if we ordered now, rather than later. When we were bouncing the idea off of Dear In-laws, they approved of the concept and further bolstered the plan with an offer of assistance. They were planning to send us some money for Christmas, and they said they would send it early so that we could make this our Christmas present. They bought the glass and we bough the rest of the materials, and the whole thing came in under $250 in total costs. You can't beat that with a stick. No, seriously, please don't beat it with a stick. It is, after all, a piece of glass, LOL. This was another reason that we decided to keep this holiday season simple, since this would give us a long-term benefit for our everyday lives.

We used rolls of cork to fill in the top because the trim was higher than the center.
The cork was a near-perfect fit.
Our first step was to cover the flooring with cork, to level the surface and provide sound insulation. Then we screwed a piece of plywood to the top of the peninsula. Hubby added ½" trim, and then we added the glass.

Not fancy, but pretty, and so easy to clean up. A few swipes of a bench knife, and a quick wipe-down, and dough is gone.
This is where I stand most of the time when I am prepping food. I get to look out and see our woods. :)
                       And viola! We have a budget-friendly new counter-top.
                                 I guess this has now been Ray/Heidi-rigged. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving the day after tomorrow, my readers may be wondering why I haven't been posting more holiday theme recipes. I did post about the Cranberry Chutney that I made and put up in jars in the fridge, but I debated whether to post about what we will be eating. This year we are keeping it extremely simple. The reason is equally simple, the economy. There are debates about what to call this period in our economic history, but whatever you call it, it has been a tough year. I won't bore you with the details of our story,  I will simply say that the recession is very real to us.

Unfortunately, we are buying food that costs more at a time when there is less in the budget, and this year it simply doesn't make sense to spend money that we don't have on an elaborate meal. The cost of a free-range turkey or humanely raised ham can make you wince at the best of times, not to mention all of the side dishes and desserts. All of this got me thinking. Is it still Thanksgiving if the table isn't full? Will it still be a holiday if we don't have the postcard dinner table? Can we manage to have the holiday spirit without the trappings?

This holiday will still be special, because of the other person that will be at the table with me, my Dear Hubby. We have a lot to be grateful for, and I am thinking of all of the other families that are treading water, and wishing them peace and joy this season. When things pick up, we will all look back to say ‘remember when', and I think we will all appreciate things just a little bit more.

The spirit of Thanksgiving can still burn brightly. I have squash on hand from our co-op, along with sweet potatoes, so I know we will have a hearty pizza and probably a pie. I will light a candle, and Hubby will likely make a fire in the fireplace. We'll make some tea, settle in quietly, and call our families to say hello. Wherever you are, I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and warm, that your stomachs and hearts are full, and I wish us all more prosperous times to come. Happy Thanksgiving.

Cranberry Chutney

Every Autumn I look forward to finding fresh cranberries in the store. I grew up eating slices of that tubular, canned concoction known as cranberry sauce, and I always liked it, until I made my own. Once I made chutney, I haven't looked back, and I recently found a can in the dim recesses of my pantry. I read the ingredients and was surprised to find high fructose corn syrup AND regular corn syrup (along with an expiration date of Mar 07,  if that tells you anything besides the fact that I didn't look very closely when I packed to move into our house in 2008, LOL). I remember that it was a holiday staple, but I don't remember ever reading what was actually in it before. Oh, how times have changed! I don't buy anything without reading the label anymore.

Is there anything prettier than a pot of cranberry chutney?

I hope that you enjoy this recipe as much as we do. When you have it on the stove boiling, don't be surprised to hear popping. The cranberries usually pop while they are cooking.

3 cups fresh, organic cranberries
1+ cups chopped apples (I usually like at least 2 apples)
1 orange peel chopped
2 cups of raw sugar
1 cup of orange juice (preferably freshly squeezed, with pulp)

In a large saucepan, mix the fruit, sugar and juice.
Bring to a boil, and boil for 5 min, or until berries are tender.
Remove from heat, transfer to sterile jars.

Allow to cool.
Since I still don't have all the equipment, I didn't try to can this.  I did vacuum-seal the jars and put the jars in the fridge, but it doesn't last long enough in our house to worry about.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Olive oil tortillas

I recently wrote about the tortilla shells, but accidentally deleted what I wrote. Sometime my computer and I don't see eye to eye, but I'll try this again (saving frequently, LOL).

For some time, we have been trying to eat more organic and all-natural foods. As a result, I set out to learn to make the things that we had always bought in tidy little packages. I read recipes, watched videos, took a deep breath and rolled up my sleeves. It is amazing how much I took for granted before, and how much more planning is involved when you want burritos (this used to be a last-minute staple for us). Now I soak beans (instead of cracking open a can), cook rice, and roll out tortillas.

I didn't have anyone that I knew to ask about the process, but the internet has opened up a brave new world for self-taught cooks like me. Spend some time with a  search engine, and I think you can find instructions on how to make just about anything. Since I roll the tortillas (instead of using a press), they aren't the perfect circles that we used to buy, they also don't contain lard or bleached flour, and they have much more flavor. 

By the way, don't think tortilla shells are just for burritos and quesadillas. These also taste great with peanut butter and jelly. Once, I also had some leftover butter cream icing, and I spread it on one tortilla, put another on top, and sliced it for our dessert. It tasted a little bit like the cream horns that I used to buy in the store, and I could pronounce everything in it.

I wont say that these are easy to make (there is quite a bit of work involved), but they are not complicated, and they are worth it.

Homemade Olive Oil Tortillas

Olive Oil Tortillas

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ tsp sea salt whisked into 1 cup water

Mix oil with fingertips into flour and baking powder until all flour is damp and crumbly
Add water and knead until a ball forms (app. 2 min.)
Cover dough with damp cloth and rest for 20 min.
Cut into 12 balls cover and rest another 20 min.
Roll out thin and use bench flour to keep tortillas from sticking together; as you roll the last few tortillas, begin to preheat a heavy griddle or pan on med heat.
Cook on first side 10 seconds or so, then flip and watch for bubbles to form, pressing with a spatula. When the bottom begins to brown in spots, flip back to first side and brown.
Remove and place under a damp towel. Store in an airtight container with a damp towel or cloth napkin.

Turban squash and caramelized onion puree/pizza sauce

I have been a bit under the weather, and also working on a minor kitchen remodel (details coming soon), so this post took me longer to write than I expected. This isn't the first pizza sauce that I have posted (see Acorn squash puree as pizza sauce and the Tomato topping included with Sweet Potato Pizza Crust), and since I am always playing with pizza, I also doubt that it will be my last. This particular sauce was a combination of turban squash puree and caramelized onion puree.
This was my first experience with turban squash, and I enjoyed it. The seeds that came from this squash were beautifully plump, and roasted nicely to taste quite a bit like pumpkin seeds with a slightly tougher shell (see Roasted Squash Seeds). The seed wasn't the only thing with a tough hull, since I had to just about climb up on the knife and jump up and down to cut it in half, and I believe I briefly considered going for the chainsaw. Once I managed to dismember it and scoop out the insides, I was surprised by the scent of the fruit. It smelled like a combination of cucumber and melon, but when I tasted it, the flavor seemed lacking, especially compared to the acorn squash. Maybe it was just this particular squash, but I felt like the puree needed a companion. After some brainstorming, I decided that caramelized onion was just what this shy fruit needed to bring it out of its oh-so-tough shell.

1 cup turban squash puree (app. amount from 1 squash)
1 cup roughly chopped onion
1 tsp each oregano, basil, thyme
salt to taste

Roast the squash with just a bit of water at 350°F (app. 175°C*), until fork tender. Let cool, then puree. 
Fry onions with a splash of olive oil, until they are a beautiful brown. Let them cool and puree them and add to the turban squash puree in a pot.
Add herbs and salt, and if needed add some water.
Turn on low heat to get the herbs ‘talking' to each other while you made a crust.

I topped the pizza with bacon, finely chopped onions (yes, we like onions, LOL), mushrooms and sliced cherry tomatoes. We liked this sauce, but it still came in behind the others listed above, because of the squash. I'd like to revisit the idea, and add some wine to the sauce, and use acorn squash. I still had to write up the post, since we definitely enjoy the pizza experiments, and I hope you enjoy reading about them. Does anyone have suggestions on what I should try next?

*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.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Roasted Squash Seeds

In the interest of using every last bit and part, I am sure you wont be surprised when I tell you that I roast the seeds from any squash that I happen to cook. I love having the seeds around as a handy snack or garnish, and since these often just get tossed into the trash or compost, I picked this for a Frugal File. If you have a small amount, you can use the toaster oven, but since the weather has turned cooler, I take the opportunity to warm up my kitchen nook with some oven heat.

squash seeds
olive oil (or try another oil, like coconut oil)
salt or seasoning of choice

Preheat oven to 275°F (app. 135°C*) Cut squash of choice in half, scoop out strings and seeds. Separate seeds from the other goo, and rinse thoroughly. Pat the seeds dry, toss them in olive oil and seasoning. Spread them on a parchment lined cookie sheet and roast for 15 min or longer (depending on the size of the seeds), stir app every 5 minutes. Watch for browning and remove at sign of gold.

Don't be afraid to experiment with spices and flavors!

*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.

Pizza Crust

One of the staples in our house is pizza, in many different forms. If I am not making a Sweet Potato Pizza Crust, or experimenting in some other way, then I have an awesome go-to recipe from my KitchenAid stand mixer manual. The recipe ingredients are as the original recipe states, but I have a few tips to make this already easy recipe even easier.

According to the instructions, you should dissolve the yeast in warm water, but I usually follow bread machine rules, meaning that I put all ingredients (minus the last cup of flour) into the bowl of my stand mixer in the following order:
liquids and salt (warm water 105°-115°F/app. 41°-46°C* , salt and oil)
dry ingredients (flour and any herbs you may want to add)
yeast (make a well in the top of the flour for the yeast)
I always have at least one jar of yeast on hand, so one of my favorite gadgets of all time is my yeast measuring spoon from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Catalog . It measures out one packet of yeast (2¼ tsp)  in one easy step. What can I say? Small things make me happy.

The recipe also says to brush the pan with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. I use all-natural vegetable parchment (no silicone added) to line the pan and skip the oil and cornmeal. By the way, I use this same parchment for everything (cakes, cookies, crackers, etc.). It saves time, allows you to cut down on oil, and it is biodegradable (I put mine in my compost pile). 

While the crust rises, I usually put a simple sauce together and set it on to simmer. That way we have a homemade sauce when the crust is ready to roll out. See Sweet Potato Pizza Crust for a simple tomato topping made with roasted Roma tomatoes.

1 package active dry yeast (2¼ tsp)
1 cup warm water (105°-115° F/app. 41°-46°C*)
½ tsp salt
2 tsp olive oil
2½-3½ cups all-purpose flour (you can substitute up to 1½ cups whole wheat)
1 Tbsp cornmeal (not needed if using parchment)

Either dissolve yeast in warm water, then add salt, olive oil, and 2½ cups flour (or follow the instructions listed above).  Mix using a dough hook on speed 2 for a KitchenAid. If you have a different mixer, use the speed recommended by your manufacturer for dough. Continue at same speed and add remaining flour at ½ cup at a time, until the dough starts to clean the side of the bowl.  Knead at same speed for 2 minutes longer.

Remove the ball of dough from the bowl, add a small amount of oil, and return the dough. Turn the dough to coat the surface in oil. Cover (I just put a towel over the bowl) and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, app. 1 hour or until doubled in bulk. Punch down the dough.

Preheat oven to 450°F (app. 230°C*).

At this point, you can decide whether you want a thick or thinner crust pizza. The recipe states this will make a 14" round pizza, but I usually use a sheet pan. I have made 2 thinner crust pizzas from this same dough, and simply reduced the baking time. Roll out the dough, forming a raised edge to contain the toppings. Add sauce, top as desired, and bake for 15-20 mins. (I often check the crust at 13 mins.)

Remove from the oven, allow to cool for just a few minutes. Enjoy! Leftovers heat up very well.

*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.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Brown Rice Pudding

Following up on Oven-baked Brown Rice, I promised a friend that I would post a Brown Rice Pudding recipe. I prefer brown rice for just about everything, and rice pudding is no exception. I like the mild, nutty flavor, and of course, as a whole grain, it is healthier. White and brown rice are the same rice, but white rice has had the bran and germ removed. This removes many health benefits. Read more on this Wikipedia page.
As always, I use this as more of a guide, since this is an easy dish to make. You can make it ahead, and reheat single servings in ramekins (just add more milk since the rice absorbs the liquid). I put a couple dishes to heat in the toaster oven while we make cinnamon and buttered toast, cut the toast into toast points, and we dip them into the hot rice pudding. Add some sliced fruit for a great way to start the day.

2 cups cooked whole grain brown rice
1½ cups milk (I usually end up adding more, especially when I reheat)
1-2 cups dried fruit (raisins are easy, but with Autumn here, dried cranberries would be great, dried cherries would be a hit, use your imagination- you can add different fruit to each ramekin to allow each person to choose.)
1 Tbsp butter
½ cup maple syrup or honey (you can substitute raw sugar, or zest sugar for a hint of citrus)
1 tsp of cinnamon (nutmeg, allspice, I have even added cardamom, or even vanilla)

Most recipes tell you to cook the pudding on the stove top, but I confess that I usually put everything in a covered dish and put it in the oven at 350°F (app. 176°C*), and check it periodically. This is done when this is thick and creamy.  If you prefer, I am including instructions to cook this on the stove.

Stove Instructions:
In a medium saucepan, combine ingredients and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer 20 mins, stirring often
Remove from heat, garnish and serve.

Experiment and find what you really enjoy, try adding cocoa powder and chocolate chips, or try this with coconut milk, steep a chi tea and add it to the pudding, etc.

*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, November 3, 2010

Oven-baked Brown Rice

If you are anything like me, you have had trouble making rice. When I tried to make it on the stove top, it always seemed that it took much longer to cook that the instructions stated, it boiled dry, or it was wet and soupy. I grant you that some of those issues may have stemmed from my cookware issues , but from what I have heard, I am not alone. I finally searched the internet for instructions on how to cook rice in the oven, and found these instructions. This is such a simple process, that I only made slight changes.

1½ cups brown rice
2 1/3 cups water
2 Tbs butter (this is approximate, since I usually just cut off a chunk from a stick of butter
¾ tsp salt

Lower the top oven rack as close to the middle as possible, preheat oven to 375°(app. 175°C*). Pour the rice into a covered baking dish, add salt and butter.
Bring water to a boil (I usually just use a tea kettle and measure the water after it boils) and pour over rice, quickly stir, put on the cover and put the dish into the oven.
Bake for 1 hour and then  fluff with a fork. At this point I often turn off the oven and leave the dish in to keep the rice warm, while I prepare the rest of the meal.  I usually either leave the rice in the dish to store the leftovers, or put it in a canning jar. I reheat a serving with a touch of salt and butter in the toaster oven as a quick side dish, or make rice pudding.

*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.

‡ I received a set of stainless steel pots and pans made by a well-known company and branded by a famous TV chef as a wedding present. I loved them/thought that they were beautiful, until I tried to cook with them. These pans took forever to heat up, then overheated and scorched even on med-low temperatures. They were also a safety issue, as I discovered through my own experience and internet complaints. The bottom of some of the pans delaminated and popped off, several showed signs of melting (even though I followed the instructions not to use them on high heat), but according to the horror stories that I read, I got off lucky. Needless to say, I don't use those pans anymore, and I am gradually buying pieces to replace them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chicken Stock/ Duck Tape

My third Frugal Files entry is about chicken stock. Since the process involves leftover bones, and the results are myriad, I think this safely qualifies. Also, homemade is vastly superior to store bought, in my humble opinion.
I swear by chicken stock.  I believe that chicken soup is the duck tape of the kitchen arsenal. It is a base for so many dishes, and there is a science to chicken soup that really does help heal a cold. Over a decade ago, I began making my own stock, and I have never looked back. I think sometimes people are surprised how many meals I can get out of a chicken (we can eat for days off of one chicken), but I couldn't stretch it nearly as far without the stock.
*added note: If you don't like the taste of boiled chicken, tear it into small pieces, add salt and butter and reheat it in the oven (toaster oven works great for this). This adds that oven-roasted taste. If you don't want it to dry out, make a foil or parchment packet for the chicken.
I am not offering a recipe, as much as a guide to how I make my stock. The reason is that every pot is different, according to what I have on hand. Also, chicken soup is part magic, and as such, I don't think it follows strict rules. Simply put, it is done, when it is done. There is a definite moment when it changes from a pot of chicken, vegetables and herbs in water, to stock, and it wont be rushed.
There are a few things that almost always show up for my stockpot. 
Two chickens, one whole and raw, and the roasted bones and leavings from one roasted chicken.  I usually have the carcass of a roasted chicken on hand, including drippings from the roasting pan, in my freezer, ready to be called into service, or I roast a chicken, remove the meat, and put the bones and drippings directly into the pot. This adds a depth that raw chicken alone cannot. 
At least one onion, usually large and quartered.
A handful of whole peppercorns.
Herbs, usually thyme and basil, in generous amounts, lightly crushed in my mortar and pestle. I often add other herbs and spices,  including carrot tops (dried greens from carrots), parsley, garlic, shallots, etc.
I add kosher or sea salt close to the completion of the stock, and I usually go easy on it, since you can always add more to a bowl of soup later on.
If I have celery on hand, I put in a few stalks.
I do not usually add carrots, since they have a lot of natural sugar, and I prefer that the stock is not sweet.
I fill the pot close to the top with filtered water, and I usually end up adding water during cooking.

I start cooking on medium-high to get the water boiling, then turn down to a good simmer. Put the lid on the pot and just leave a small gap to allow steam to escape. After one hour, remove the raw, whole chicken to a dish to cool so that you can remove the meat. I find that barbecue tongs work quite well to remove that chicken, and I place it in a baking dish that can catch any water while it cools down. Remove any meat that you will eat, then put the bones back into the pot. I then let it cook for hours, stirring periodically, adding water when needed. When I decide it is done, I strain the stock into a giant stainless steel metal bowl (almost as big as my stock pot). Let it cool enough to put in the refrigerator, and chill overnight. The next day, fat has solidified and risen to the top, and it can be scraped off of the top of the jelly. I then freeze stock in canning jars (with sufficient head space to allow stock to freeze without breaking the jar). I use this stock for everything from chicken soup, chicken and rice and chicken & dumplings to pot pie. Also, when we are under the weather, we just heat up a cup or two of stock to sip with toast. The same guidelines can give you turkey or beef stock, so don't toss those bones, freeze them!