Posts Tagged 'cooking'

Perhaps This is What “Health” Feels Like

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Baking powder biscuits made with cream and butter. Yum.

I’m not sure anymore what “healthy” feels like. Are you allowed to have a little bit of sniffles and still be healthy? This weekend I had more energy than I’ve had in weeks. My sister and her husband were coming to dinner on Saturday. I gave myself the luxury of sleeping late (or as late as BC allowed).  When I got up, I fed the cats, put away the dry clean dishes from the day before, made coffee and made up a batch of biscuits!!! I haven’t really felt like baking in WEEKS!
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Have I mentioned here what I’ve been doing with my coffee these days?  I’ve been adding chili powder and cayenne pepper to the grounds before brewing. I sometimes add cinnamon as well. I find the heat really helps to clear my sinuses and cut through any PND syndrome that is present. I learned that I liked the chili/cayenne/cinnamon combination added to chocolate so I figured that it might work well with coffee as well. I think it was on one of Jinjer’s posts that I ended up in a discussion about those flavors, and the fantastic designer chocolate that introduced me to the combination – Chuao Spicy Maya dark chocolate. I love their website as well. How can you resist the slogan: “For when wine just isn’t cutting it“? They sure have me pegged. 🙂
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Anyway, once I had my coffee, I was a fountain of energy. I had the energy to have a text conversation with my niece, I cleaned all the counters, wiped down the white cabinets, swept the floors, damp mopped the floors, and cleaned off the dining room table. I then took an hour to relax and make sure I hadn’t pushed beyond my reserves. Then I started baking the spice cake for dessert, and preparing the vegetables to go along with my husband’s cornish game hens. He was also making potatoes au gratin. Dinner WAS delicious. Apologies that I did not take a picture of the cooked hens & potatoes – you will have to trust me that not only where they delicious but they were beautiful as well. My brother-in-law made TWO delicious loaves of bread – a grainy bread with pine nuts and seeds. Also fantastic and we’ve been enjoying the bread since then. 🙂 They left BOTH loaves with us.

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GC and WC helped my husband research how to cook the game hens

I did send the spice cake home with them. The menfolk told me that they loved the spice cake (made using Tagatesse and Sukrin Gold sugar substitutes) but neither of them much care for cream cheese frosting (in general – it was not a comment on the frosting recipe, which I found tasty). If I’d known THAT, I’d have skipped it and just served the spice cake with whipped cream. 🙂 I’ll know for next time. I have to agree with them. That spice cake recipe made a tasty moist cake that really doesn’t even need frosting. It would be perfect with coffee in the morning.

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very moist and tasty. sorry for the blur. 🙂

So the thing that is totally frustrating me at this point is that it is becoming impossible to obtain Tagatesse in this country. I don’t even mind paying the outrageous price Amazon demanded – $18/1 pound box. (You do realize that white sugar sells for around $1.50-$1.99 for FOUR pounds???) I need to make friends with someone in Europe (NOT the UK)and/or find someone heading over to Europe. Damhert does not ship to the United States. I only have one more box of Tagatesse. 😦

A Day in the Kitchen

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Rustic Apple Cranberry Tart (from thebakingpan.com)

Saturday was a gray, dull wintery day. I needed an escape. I contemplated driving down to the shore to look at waves, but decided it would be too cold and windy to get out of the car. I thought maybe escaping to the bookstore and finding a good, “real” book would be fun. So I headed to the mall. As I drove I thought that maybe I should have picked pampering instead – maybe I should have gone to the Korean spa and luxuriated in saunas and hot tubs. I was already almost to the mall, though, and didn’t feel like turning back. I remembered that there had been a hair salon for years at the mall. I decided that if it was still there I’d treat myself to having them wash and dry my hair. 🙂 They were indeed still there, and HUGELY busy and bustling. I explained I just wanted a little pampering and they took me right away. Maria trimmed my hair and dried it so that all the waves and curls showed up. She even flipped my part to hide the roots that needed coloring. *grin* I felt ‘human’ enough after that to head over to Sephora and pick up the moisturizers I needed. Fortified with pampering and lotions I headed home to continue indulging myself.

There was a time when the idea of spending a day in the kitchen would have been considered obligation, not indulgence. That was pre-new kitchen. We are still both loving the kitchen. I had 2 recipes I’d wanted to try – one for lentil soup and one for a cranberry apple tart. I’d also been craving more French bread after posting about breads. 🙂 I got home, had a bite to eat and set to baking.

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I started with the French bread. I really like this bread. It’s got substance and is chewy. It’s not all air and crust. I think that a “proper” French bread is SUPPOSED to be airy and crust, but mine does not come out that way and I’m glad. I’m not sure if I’m rolling it too thick, or some other deviation but I don’t care. I like how MY loaves come out. My husband likes them too so this recipe is a keeper for us. I forgot to brush the crusts with egg white before I put it in the oven, so these were not quite as shiny as the last loaves. They still tasted delicious. 🙂

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Next I started on the cranberry apple tart. I’d found this recipe when I was looking for desserts for Thanksgiving dinner. I thought it could easily be switched to be sugar free, even gluten free if it turned out that was necessary. Someone else was bringing pies, however, so I put the recipe aside. I’d picked up some Granny Smith apples at the farmers’ market specifically for this tart. I ended up using 3 of those and one stayman (winesap) apple. I used the Sukrin Gold brown sugar substitute. I was a little impatient while making the crust. I knew I was using more ice water than I do usually but it did come out fine. I chilled it in the freezer instead of the refrigerator because I was not going to have a lot of time to let it chill. The dough was a little sticky when I rolled it out for the pan, but it held together and was tasty. One of the tricks I’ve learned recently is to use a grater to add butter to my crusts and biscuits. In the past I’ve cut tablespoons of butter into the flour, and then used a pastry blender to chop it further. Grating the butter saves me so much time and effort! I love this little hack. I tried it on margerine but it doesn’t work – margerine is simply too soft. Maybe it would work better if I froze the margerine first, but that probably has other consequences.

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Once I had the tart in the oven I started on the lentil soup. I’ve learned to read the comments on online recipes. I’ve gotten some helpful tips from other cooks. The first comment on this recipe was quite long and detailed, about doubling ingredients, adding a few things, but saying that the soup came out great. I decided to make the soup by following those comments (after all, anyone who adds port to the soup is cooking on my track, to mix several metaphors *grin*). Of course I modified it, because that’s the whole point of cooking, is it not??? Since I’ve actually made lentil soup before, this was not going to be a case of follow first and then tinker. I knew where I wanted to end up. I didn’t have port but I did have sherry and used that. I only used 3 carrots, not four. I used 1.5 cups green lentils and 1/2 cup red lentils. I used my immersion blender to break up the chunks of carrots and tomatoes (from the canned diced tomatoes – I did not have crushed tomatoes). After all of that, it still seemed just a tad too tame for me. I took a look at my red lentil soup recipe and added some cumin and chili powder for a little heat. Once I did that I was satisfied with the flavor.

I think I made a successful meal. *smile* The tart was half-gone by bedtime. The soup is nearly all gone today, only a day and a half later. The bread – well, there is one hunk of bread left from the 2 loaves. I guess I need to get back in that kitchen soon and indulge again. 🙂

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mmm mmm good.

On A Winter’s Day

IMG_0273I’m not dreaming of California. I’m dreaming of a warm tropical beach, the sound of waves lapping at the shore, a pile of books by my chaise lounge, the cabana attendant within easy calling distance, no electronic devices, no news feeds and time, time, time to savor the sun, sand, water, sky and books.

The sky is gray, the news is dispiriting, I’m busybusybusy with work, and still not 100% recovered from illness (probably because I pushed too soon and then relapsed. Oops).

Yesterday was Valentine’s day and I offered to cook my valentine one of his favorite casseroles for dinner. Alas, when I went to open the necessary soup cans, I noticed that we were just about 2 years past the expiration date. Even for me that seemed excessive. *grin* Not to fear, I substituted whipping cream and cheese and dried soup and the casserole was yummy.

The days are getting longer, the little bit of snow/slush we got this week is nearly gone, and soon it will be spring.
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Easy Red Lentil Soup

I first made this recipe back in September for my annual “Ladies’ dinner in the Sukkah”. The last 2 years, as it happens, the dinner has been in my dining room because it has been RAINING when we were supposed to be dining outside in the sukkah. Typically I make a dairy meal for this event for a variety of reasons. First, if I’m inviting folks who observe kashrut it’s easier for me to have something they will eat if I stick with dairy. Second, Sukkot is a harvest festival and vegetables and dairy seem much more appropriate. Third, some of my guests are vegetarians and so that pretty much says no meat.

My standard default meal starts with quiche, soup and fresh bread, and then I go from there. I’ve been making the same soup for the last few years – Ash’e Reshte (Persian Noodle Soup). I use the recipe from the “Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride” cookbook. It’s a very simple, quick recipe and tastes delicious. This year one of my guests followed a gluten-free diet so noodle soup did not seem appropriate. img_0016I wasn’t in the mood for a vegetable soup so I began searching for lentil recipes online. I found one that appeared simple, yet tasty – NY Times Red Lentil Soup with Lemon. I read many of the comments (wow, some people really don’t hold back) and took them to heart as well. The ladies seemed to like the soup – it was all gone by the end of the evening, and I knew I’d found a new addition to my cooking repertoire.

This past week the forecast had been for a major weather event of some kind – snow, rain, sleet, ice or all of that at one point or another. I thought that soup and biscuits would be a great Friday night dinner. Alas, my plans were derailed by work. No way I had time to make dinner. Fortunately my husband came home with a grocery store-roasted chicken. 🙂 We agreed that Saturday would be Red Lentil soup with fresh salad and fresh bread. I was out running errands so rather than baking my own bread or biscuits, I stopped into Panera’s and picked up an Asiago Cheese focaccia. img_0017I made the salad in the early afternoon and started on the soup around 5:30 or so, AFTER feeding the cats. There are priorities in this household after all. 🙂

The soup is amazingly simple, wonderfully tasty and was the perfect meal for a cold rainy night. I’ve given you the link to the recipe – I do suggest you read some of the comments. People have very different expectations for a recipe and you will want to find the comments that echo what you like to eat. I made these changes (and I wrote them down so I’d remember from time to time):

1.5 generous cups of lentils
4 curry leaves
3 generous tablespoons of tomato paste
6 cloves of freshly minced garlic

The first time I made it I grated half the carrot and diced the rest. Last night I grated all of the carrot. Neither time did I bother with the immersion blender. The first time I forgot the lemon at the end and this time I remembered – delicious both ways. Neither time did I add cilantro – I’m not really fond of cilantro. This recipe is fast, one pot and delicious!

Green Curry Paste FTW

IMG_9867Last night I wanted something ‘different’ for dinner – not my typical steamed veggies and whatever. As I mentioned earlier, I buy a LOT of produce. This past weekend I brought home green beans, bok choy, asparagus, mushrooms (a blend of oyster, shitake and crimini) and leeks. I was hungry and didn’t feel like spending a LOT of time cooking. I decided to “borrow” another of my husband’s favorite pots – the wok this time. Our stove has its own fitted wok stand for the burners (it can be used on any burner). My husband uses the wok now nearly every time he cooks.

I wok’d up the green beans, some bok choy, garlic, onions and the mushrooms in coconut oil. It looked so beautifully green and healthy.IMG_9864 Last time I was in the Asian market picking up some curry sauce I saw a package for green curry paste. I took that as well and that’s what I used last night. Wow – that was HOT. The package had called for mixing the paste with coconut milk, which I did not have handy. I’d used the coconut oil and added cream for a liquid. I figured that would get me to the coconut milk taste/consistency. It was delicious. There are no leftovers. My husband loved it too.

IMG_9868That has been unusual the last few years. I stuck to my traditional eastern European flavors: salt, pepper, onion, garlic, paprika. I think he was bored by those flavors. With the new kitchen and the easy availability of spices, and the fact that it’s just the 2 of us, I’ve been trying many new flavors and foods. I’ve begun keeping shallots and leeks on hand. Looking at various recipes online for intriguing flavors (which reminds me – I haven’t talked about the red lentil butternut squash soup). I had never cooked squash (or eaten it for that matter) before my adventures last month. It’s working quite well! (And a side note to my son who reads this blog periodically – if you use green curry paste and don’t cut it too much with milk – you can eat just about any vegetable around. *grin* It’s so hot that is the ONLY flavor you will register. Trust me.)

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The Pie Lady

It has happened – we handed over the final payment check. The kitchen ceiling was repaired after the pipe leak (yes, the pipe was repaired also). The floor was pulled up and redone in the doorway and the breakfast room. The kitchen is gorgeous and functional and I love every moment I spend there. I have been cooking and baking and trying out new recipes. I may have done more cooking in the last few weeks than I have done in the last few years. Okay, that WAS an exaggeration, but you understand the emotion there. 🙂

I’m not a vegetarian, I do eat meat, but I eat a lot less meat than I did in years past. That’s partly age/digestion and partly diet/weight. 🙂 Now you know all my secrets. kale pie openAlthough Thanksgiving dinner is not at my house (except for the fun of hosting it last year), I do contribute a vegetable side dish and sugar free desserts. This year I wanted to find something exciting and interesting, something that would ‘represent’ my gorgeous new kitchen. A FB friend posted a link to LiveKindly’s article “12 Meat-Free Mains for the Ultimate Vegan Thanksgiving”. The picture looked so yummy I had to click through. The pictures of the entrees were GORGEOUS and nearly all the dishes sounded delicious. Some of them even looked as if they would not be too difficult to make.

There were still 2 weeks to go before T-day, so I decided to test out some of the recipes and decide which I should make. I got ambitious and made both the Kale Almond Butternut Squash pie and a no-sugar apple pie. I was in a hurry and multi-tasking, so I did not chop the kale as finely as it needs. cooked kale pieMy other take on this recipe, and I thought this while I was making it and after eating it, is that it needs liquid. Next time I will either puree some of the squash before adding it to the pie, or mix in some squash soup. The crust, however, is phenomenal. I’ve not cooked with coconut oil before (I’ve used coconut milk) and the particular brand I used was very solid (I gather some brands are not as thick). I foolishly put the dough for the top crust into the refrigerator while I was working and it was so thick/dry that it was very difficult to work it. That’s on me, however, not the recipe. The crust is delicious. My husband said it was like eating scones. He broke off edge pieces and munched on them. 🙂 I have to agree. Using the coconut oil for the crust added a dimension to the pie I’d never have imagined. Fantastic recipe (but add some liquid).

The apple pie was also an experiment. I used to make my sugar-free apple pie filling by pureeing raisins with some juice. There is a LOT of sugar in raisins. I had 2 ideas for this year. apple pie closeupI used dried apricots, which have a lot less sugar than raisins, pureed with cranberries and cranberry juice (diet). I misjudged that as it was my first time working with the apricots, and I did not have enough liquid there. I layer the apples, then spread some of the pureed mixture, then sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg, and do the layers again. On the top I put fresh orange zest. It tasted fine, but it needed more moisture. It also was not going to be sweet enough for my brother-in-law, who likes things much sweeter than we do (my husband and I). But we had a great dinner that night – pie for dinner and pie for dessert.

I’ll tell you about the other dishes and the apple-pie remake in another post. 🙂 I’m including the obligatory cat photo. I apologize for the horrible quality but I took it with my incredibly old iPad2 (7 years old already). Had I gotten up to get my camera, WC would have moved and I would not have this picture of her. She’s so cute when she is sleeping. Also QUIET. 🙂
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Beauty and Function

My husband will say it’s Function and Beauty. Every time he does something in the kitchen (cooks, cleans, preps) he comes over to me and says “As beautiful as it is, it’s even more functional than it is beautiful.” I always reply “it’s equally beautiful and functional.” It really is. IMG_9479 We are both amazed and delighted each and every time we are in the kitchen. I’m not sure but I think the sink might actually be the best single improvement in the room.

Our contractor did not think we had sufficient cabinets and counters. We kept assuring him that we thought we were okay with the new plan and that for us it was so much more than we’d ever had. He (and most everyone else) told us to think ahead, that just because it was better didn’t mean we’d achieved best. We think we achieved best. I cannot believe how simple it has become to prepare a meal. It’s so easy, and such a pleasure, that I’m cooking again, not just baking. *laughing* Sometimes we both say “I thought I’d make this for dinner tonight” and one of us will give way and let the other have the fun. I love how I can have my measures right at hand along with the compost bin, and my knives within reach if I need a new one. IMG_9474When I work there at the counter the stove is just to my right, easy reach to go from cutting board to pot.

Today we passed the last of the official township inspections: electrical, building (fire), and plumbing (note the Oxford comma). (By the way, every inspector commented on how beautiful they found the new kitchen.) That does NOT mean, however, that we have actually finished this renovation. We still have a final payment reckoning. There were MANY add-ons, and those costs need to be tallied. In addition, the floor is still not right. They are coming on Thursday to try to fix it. I’ve been promised deck lights and we’ve actually agreed on what kind and how many and where. And the kitchen ceiling still needs to be sanded and painted after the plumbing leak. We’re close, but we are NOT there yet.

I WAS going to throw a party in November, a “come see my beautiful new kitchen” party. That is not going to happen, at least not in November. It will happen on New Year’s day. Now that we moved our New Year’s Eve party to New Year’s Day, we’ll invite the world to THAT party to see the gorgeous kitchen. In the meantime we have cooked meals for a few people already. I had the ladies over for Sukkot, we had another friend over for Sukkot, and friends over last weekend for a soup-to-nuts dinner – cocktails through to dessert. IMG_9520My husband and I were able to do that dinner without any bumping into each other, or needing to time counter space or any other “right of way” issues. It was great. I made bread (from scratch, no bread machine), Turkish coffee brownies, salad, yogurt pie, and roasted broccoli & cauliflower. My husband did his wonderful hand-made pasta, and a tagine chicken dish that is sensational. I also had time to make all the accoutrements for the cocktails: allspice dram and a cranberry syrup. It was all so much fun!!!!! The leftovers are pretty yummy also. 🙂


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