Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Breast Cancer, Blogging and a Coffee Cake

Dealing with breast cancer is a pretty good reason for not blogging, don’t you think?

Actually, I’ve been debating with myself and others for several months about whether I should “go public” about my breast cancer.  Mr. Rosemary and I are both pretty private people when it comes to intimate matters, especially matters of health.

When I posed the question aloud at a small family gathering about whether I should shift the focus of my blog, my brother-in-law Mike, who’s usually pretty reticent, and pretty private himself, said, without missing a beat, “Do what YOU want to do.”

I’ve missed writing here.  And I’ve still managed to cook and try new things.  But my heart hasn’t really been in writing about the food  I’ve made -- or taking respectable photographs -- because my mind’s been so much more on other things.

Why can’t I blend the two?  Of course, I can.

When I started this blog, it was a place for me to write -- about anything.  Since I like to cook and to experiment, and I collect recipes and cookbooks like a fiend, it seemed only natural that my writing drifted towards about food.

My story is not unique. Tens of thousands of women have had to deal with breast cancer. And thousands have experiences far more troubling than mine.  I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

Still, I feel compelled to write about my journey.  But where to begin? I’m well into my treatment and it’s been several months since my first suspicious mammogram. 

I might as well dive right in.

What an education I’m having!

Here are just some of the things I’ve learned (in no particular order of importance):

  • ·         Gratitude
  • ·         Humility
  • ·         The power of music, prayer and a good read
  • ·         The importance of protein and handwashing
  • ·         The value of research
  • ·         The cost of medical care
  • ·         The blessings of distraction
  • ·         The appeal of yoga
  • ·         The agony of waiting
  • ·         Simple pleasures
  • ·         The incredible generosity of friends and strangers
  • ·         It’s okay to cry. It's also okay to get angry.
  • ·         (But you better get over it.) 

 Most importantly, I’m learning what’s important – and what’s not.

It’s pretty scary to “go public” but my hope is that maybe somebody will learn something, especially me. I feel like I'm standing before my sixth grade class making my first speech.  

One important lesson I’ve learned is that there are plenty of silver linings about going through cancer treatment. They're platinum.

One of the best silver linings is the good food people have brought us.  How do I know so many good cooks? From chicken noodle soup to apple pie to ginger chicken to chili. 

This past Mother’s Day, we “hosted” a brunch. I use the word hosting loosely because it was merely at our home. 

Everybody else brought the food.  My sister-in-law Diane brought a scrumptious coffee cake.  It’s a very simple cake, one my non-baking self has made several times since easily.  I want to try making it with a layer of fruit as Diane suggests, but I’m hesitant to mess with my success. 

I did alter the recipe once and added almond extract and almonds to the cake. It was okay, but I'm sticking with the original. (I even took a cake to my cancer center to share with the staff and other patients.)

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
For the cake:
1 cup oleo or butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

For the Filling:
½ cup sugar
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the Batter:  Cream the butter and sugar, then add the sour cream, vanilla and eggs. Mix well. Add the dry the ingredients and mix well.
For the Filling: Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease Bundt pan or springform pan and add half the batter. Top with the filling. Carefully spoon the rest of the batter on top of the filling to cover. Bake 50 – 60 minutes, until lightly golden.

Optional: Place very thinly sliced apples or peaches and place on top of the filling. May need to bake longer if you add the fruit.
Blogger's Note:  If you know someone who's been through or is going through breast cancer treatment, I hope you'll share this blog with them.  Bloggers love comments, too; it's like mother's milk.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

My Brush with Bulgur | Recipes, Please!

A while ago a friend gave me a bag of bulgur. Interesting gift, you say?

I must have looked a little quizzical, maybe even cross-eyed, because she gathered herself up and said, "Well, I know you like to cook and I was at this bulk food store and you said you liked tabbouleh, so I got you some."  (Note to self: Practice poker face, especially when presented with surprise gifts by well-intentioned friends.)

It's true I love tabbouleh -- cucumbers, mint, lemon, tomatoes --  and bulgur.

This pound of bulgur -- minus the two cups I've used in the past year to make said beloved tabbouleh -- is taking up valuable pantry space, though.  I don't love tabbouleh enough to make it every week. (And it's not beloved by Mr. Rosemary, either.)

So, onto to a search for a warm bulgur-based side dish.  Maybe you've become lazy like me, and despite the fact that I have an embarrassingly large cookbook collection, I often end up searching the Internet instead of going to my own library of books, as well as my healthy pile of "gonna try" recipes I've clipped or copied.

I searched my own files and came up dry. Not quite all the ingredients for that one. Or that one either.

In the end, I did go to the Internet and found one that I could use. I had all the ingredients, even the dried mushrooms and a bit of leftover wine.

Started out great:  the comforting aroma of onions and mushrooms sauteing with a bit of garlic, then the wine and broth reducing.

But in the end, it was pretty bland.  To perk up the color, despite the welcome pop of carrot, I added some chopped spinach just until it wilted.

And it looks pretty good, doesn't it?

But it remained merely meh. (Is there reason bulgur rhymes with vulgur?)

So here I am, with a year's worth of bulgur and months til tabbouleh season.

Any tried and true bulgur recipes out there?  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Stracciatella | Egg Drop Soup, Italian-Style

Don't you just love the way Italians name things? Especially pasta? There's orecchiete, for "little ears." Or campanelle, for "little bells" and farffale for "butterflies" -- or what we call bowties.

Or is it just that everything sounds so pretty in Italian? My bucket list includes "Learn Italian" -- but I better get a move on!

Stracciatella is a beautiful Italian word. It comes from the Italian stracciato or "torn apart." I always though that stracciatella was the name for this classic egg drop soup.  But I learned that it's not a noun but an adjective that describes the "little shreds" in not just this soup, but ice cream and cheese!

I love Italian food and Italian culture and have learned a lot from sites like Proud Italian Cook, Ciao Chow Linda, and La Bella Vita Cucina.  A site I recently found, Guido Garrubbo, is dedicated to "the art and science of Italian cooking" -- chockful of helpful information.

This is a very simple soup, but made from scratch, with fresh ingredients, it's more than satisfying. It's nourishing and filling, without overdoing. Just the ticket when you're feeling under the weather -- or the weather is keeping you in.

I made this stracciatella soup with duck eggs, which made it especially rich.  If you've never tried duck eggs, you must.  They're like farm fresh chicken eggs on steroids.  The egg itself is larger than chicken eggs and the yolk is larger, too.    Each duck egg also has about twice the calories of a chicken egg -- 130 versus 70. Their shells are thicker, making them a bit harder to crack, but that also seems to extend their refrigerator life.

                                Eggs, Green, Shells, Duck Eggs, Easter

Some other ducky facts:

  • Duck eggs stay fresher longer, due to their thicker shell.
  • Duck eggs are richer, with more albumen, which makes cakes and other pastries fluffier.
  • Duck eggs have more Omega-3 fatty acids.
And they're just darn tasty! 

I've been lucky enough to have a steady supply of fresh eggs, both chicken and duck.  My neighbor, Dude, raises chickens and daughter Renae raises ducks.  With fresh eggs in the fridge, a simple meal easy to put together anytime, whether it's an egg sandwich (one of Mr. Rosemary's favorites) or a frittata (one of mine) or this soup -- could be a new fave!

guided by Simply Recipes
4 cups chicken stock
1 large egg
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon seasoned bread crumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, cut into 1/4 inch ribbons

Place stock in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer.
In a medium bowl whisk together the egg, Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and black pepper.
Once the stock is simmering, stir in the sliced spinach.
Pour/scrape the cheese egg mixture into the simmering stock but do not stir right away. After a few seconds, stir the egg mixture into the soup and watch them shred!   Cook at a gentle simmer for another minute.

P.S.  I know I had a couple cultures colliding when I took this picture of my lunch.  Off to the side of the soup bowl are tortilla chips topped with my "from scratch" roasted red pepper hummus.  I'm half-Italian American/half Irish American, too!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Apple Praline Pie | A Baker Is Born

I'm no spring chicken . . . . it's taken me the best part of my cooking life to finally make a great pie, repeatedly.

This is despite the fact that my mother had a reputation as one great pie baker.  This is despite the fact that I (I think I) paid attention at her elbow. And despite the fact that I have tried many recipes, many times, and end up wanting to throw the rolling pin through the kitchen window.

It was last fall when I felt I'd mastered the pie crust I always wanted to make, thanks to this recipe. This is the vodka recipe, developed by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, managing culinary director at Serious Eats. He developed the technique while working at America's Test Kitchen, though, so Chris Kimball gets all the credit :(

Still it's a great recipe ~ and it's even better when it envelops this pie.

My sister-in-law Liz gave me this recipe and she got it from a friend's mother.  No credit on the recipe card, but the closest thing I found to it on the Internet is this.

What I found different about this recipe -- and utterly delectable -- is the fact the it's a double-crusted pie, with the the praline topping on top of the second crust. Talk about gilding the lily!

So, if you have no fear of making your own pie crust, give this apple pie a try.  You can also use Pillsbury's crusts.  The friend's mother who shared this recipe quietly confessed that she used refrigerated crusts.  "Didn't used to," she says, "but they've gotten so much better and they're just as good."  Good in a pinch, but not when I can ~ now, anyhow ~ pack a couple disks of this dough in the freezer!

And if you want to learn more about picking just the right kind of apples, read my piece on the Kitchen Journals, a beautiful and informative website.

Praline Apple Pie
For the pie:
Pastry for two crust pie -- your favorite or mine
6 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (I used Northern Spy)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 reaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter

Prepare your pie crust. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl gently toss the apples with the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Spoon into pastry lined pan. Dot with small pieces of the butter. Top with second crust, and cut several slits for venting. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or more, until the apples are tender and crust is golden.  Cover the edges of the crust if it starts to brown too much.  (My SIL advised me that her pie took at least an hour, maybe more. She warned me to "wait til it's bubbling through the slits some." Good advice.)

For the topping:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons half and half
1/2 cup chopped pecans*

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Sir in the brown sugar and half and half. Slowly bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in pecans. Spread over the top of the baked pie. Place pie on a baking sheet to catch any spills. Return the pie to the oven and bake 5 minutes more or until topping bubbles. Cool at least an hour before serving.

* Although I used pecans the first couple times I made this pie, you'll see walnuts in these pictures. Just a little cheating!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Is It Vichyssoise or Potato Leek Soup?

Mr. Rosemary strolled through the kitchen, spied the leeks on the counter and asked, "Whatcha makin'?"

"Potato and leek soup for lunch," I said.

"You mean Vichyssoise?"

The man surprises me all the time. How could someone who confuses broccoli and cauliflower ("What's the white one?") know that potatoes + leeks = Vichyssoise?

Technically, I don't like Vichyssoise because -- technically --Vichyssoise is served cold, and, although I like to drink a cold smoothie, I want to eat my warm soup with a spoon.

I should like Vichyssoise because, according to Mr. Rosemary, if it has any semblance of something "foreign," I'm gonna love it. But Vichyssoise isn't really French; Potage Parmentier is.  Read on.

Vichyssoise was created by a French chef, Louis Diat, while he was working at the Ritz Carlton in New York in the early 20th century.

Apparently, in the days before air conditioning, the Ritz had a Japanese roof garden and Diat was searching for a something that would cool his customers in the blistering summer heat. He remembered the peasant dish, a potato soup, his mother had made when he was a boy. He and his familywould cool the soup by adding milk to it.  So he prepared this same cold soup and called it "creme vichyssoise" after a famous spa near his boyhood home. A welcome treat by his summer patrons, by popular demand he placed it on the menu full-time in 1923.

Although you won't find Vichyssoisse on a French menu, Potage Parmentier, Vichysoisse's cousin, is definitely French, and was popularized in America thanks to Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

This soup is deceptively hearty. And it's definitely adaptable: You can use your immersion blender and make it smooth, even more so, if you strain it. Or you can add cooked bacon or ham to it to satisfy any carnivore predilections.

But I like it a little chunky with the bits of lumps in it, mashing the potatoes a bit.

There's only one problem with this soup and that's working with the leeks. First of all, they're inconvenient. They take up a lot of space and they're pretty dirty. No quick rinse will do -- they need a thorough washing to make sure you get all the bits of sandy dirt from between the layers.

But that bit of effort is worth it. Mais oui?

Potato Leek Soup
Adapted from several sources: 
Once Upon A Chef, The Splendid Table,  Serious Eats
Makes about 6 servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 leeks, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
7 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 thyme sprigs
3 whole bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup half and half

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the leeks and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until soft and wilted, about 10 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary so as not to brown.
Add the potatoes, stock, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper to pot and bring to a boil. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft.
Fish out the thyme sprig and bay leaves, then purée the soup with a hand-held immersion blender until smooth. Or, you can just slightly mash, as I did, with the back of a wooden spoon or a hand-held masher) Add the half and half and bring to a simmer. Taste and add sal t and pepper to your liking. Garnish with some chopped herbs, just to make it pretty.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Pillsbury Bake-Off Mystery Pie :: De-Mystified

I made this mysterious pecan and cream cheese layered pie last week and I can tell you -- unequivocally -- that it's the best dessert I've ever made. No mystery at all.

I really don't have that much of a sweet tooth; it's cheesy, salty things I go for. (And pasta.) 

And, anyhow, I don't bake sweet things at home all that often, because Mr. Rosemary and I try to guard our waistlines. If I make a whole cake or pie, we'll either waste it or eat more than we want should. 

And while I'm a I'm a big fan of cheesecake (just about any cheesecake), and my chocolate chip pie, even my "TV pie" and the "no bake" chocolate chip cookie dough bars, I can easily turn down a dessert, especially while eating out. 

This one, however, I found irresistible.

Especially irresistible to me is the fact that I've finally made the kind of pie crust I've always wanted to -- flaky, tender, as good as the filling itself. For this, I have to thank J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and Serious Eats

Making a good crust has always eluded me. I've only made passable pie crusts, usually depending on graham cracker crusts or Pillsbury. But after studying -- and practicing a bit -- I finally have a good crust down.

My thanks goes, too, to MaryMcClain, who won the 1964 Pillsbury Bake Off with this recipe in 1964. Fifty years later, still absolutely a winner.


Bake-Off® Contest 16, 1964
Mary McClain
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Pastry for one crust pie
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
cup corn syrup
teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans

Place pie crust in 9-inch glass pie pan as directed on box for One-Crust Filled Pie.

Heat oven to 375°F. In small bowl with electric mixer, beat cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, the salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 of the eggs on low speed until smooth and well blended; set aside.

In another small bowl with electric mixer, beat remaining 3 eggs, 1/4 cup sugar, the corn syrup and 1 teaspoon vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Spread cream cheese mixture in bottom of crust-lined pan. Sprinkle with pecans. Gently pour corn syrup mixture over pecans.

Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until center is set. After 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover crust edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning. Cool completely, about 2 hours. Store in refrigerator.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

No-Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars | Say YES! to a No-No

It's embarrassing to admit that at my age, I still prefer eating the raw cookie dough to eating even  warm just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. Isn't that really pretty childish?

I'm supposed to know better! I know that eating stuff with raw eggs in it is just plain bad. You'll end up with a sick tummy. That's what I tell the grandkids!

Still . . . . I just can't resist!

So when I found a "safe" cookie dough recipe, I believed it was made for me. A cookie dough cupcake with cookie dough frosting was the first things I ever made with my young cooking student, 9 year-old Wyatt. (He still talks about it; thinks we should do it again.)

These cookie bars have been quite a hit at my house these past few months. Mr. Rosemary tells me these are his new favorite.  So I guess it's going to be repeated some more.

There's only one problem with these cookies, so minor I shouldn't even mention it, but they do have to be refrigerated.  They can get pretty gooey at a summer picnic. But I think I'll suffer through.

No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars
From The View From Great Island

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 12-ounce bag (about 2 cups) mini chocolate chips
1 12-ounce bag of semi sweet chocolate chips

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar and salt together until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla extract and mix in.
Beat in the condensed milk and the flour, alternately, mixing after each addition.
Mix in the chocolate chips.
Spray a 8x8 square baking pan with cooking spray and line it with parchment paper with long ends so you can lift out the bars for easy cutting later. t
Turn the dough out into the pan and pat down evenly with your hands. (You may want to flour your hands -- the dough is pretty sticky.) Smooth it out evenly.
Cover and refrigerate until firm, (about 4 hours) or even overnight if you like. The texture will be fudge-like.
To make the chocolate topping, put the semi-sweet chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup and microwave for one minute. Stir, and then return to the microwave for short bursts of 15 seconds until the chocolate is totally smooth and melted. Don't over heat.
Let the chocolate cool for about 5 minutes, and then pour onto the dough. Spread out evenly. Return to the refrigerator until the topping is firm. Cut into 16 squares.
Keep the bars in the refrigerator until ready to eat.