Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Getting Your Eggs in a Pickle, Mustard, That Is

Something funny happens to the chickens in winter. They just don’t want to lay eggs as often, as much. Neighbor Dude is lucky to squeeze (no pun intended) a dozen eggs a week from his chickens. I’m thinking maybe they’re just into basketball, maybe hockey, this time of year.

Dude just says, “You’ll have this with chickens.” Like the rest of us in a much-too-long Pennsylvania winter, they don’t like the lack of sunlight. To make up for it, most folks who raise chickens will provide artificial light. Chickens aren’t the brightest crayons in the box; they can be easily fooled.

Dude gives them extra light, too, but there are still fewer eggs. They wander the barn yard free, but they’re still wasn’t enough to scratch at. So he started supplementing their feed a bit -- judiciously – with table scraps. It worked! By the end of the week, I had enough extra eggs to indulge my urge for mustard pickled eggs.

And it was Dude who turned me on to them. My husband is a big fan of pickled eggs but his favorite use pickled beet juice as the brine. Dude had shared with me a recipe he brought back from the Pennsylvania Farm Show and I loved these yellow guys. They’re pickled, all right, but they also have a piquant spiciness, thanks to the mustard and seasonings, that I like.

My husband still prefers the more traditional pickled eggs with beets.  Together, they make a pretty picture. (Just like us. Right, hon?)

Mustard Pickled Eggs
from the Pennsylvania Farm Show 2008

1 ½ cups white vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
½ tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon yellow food coloring (optional)
8 hard-boiled eggs

Mix all ingredients, except eggs, and pour over eggs. Let sit, refrigerated for 3 to 4 days to reach full flavor.
You can speed up the process by heating the pickling mixture before pouring over the eggs.

I did add yellow food coloring this last time I made them. They were a little pale the first time. I got to wondering, though, would a little turmeric yellow them up nicely and add an extra li’l kick, too?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Good Recipe Travels Far: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Just like it’s great to have breakfast for dinner once in a while -- or leftover pizza for breakfast -- muffins, especially jazzed-up versions like these Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins, can be a great dessert. Of course, since they’re “muffins” you’re welcome to have them for breakfast, too.

I learned about these muffins from Elly Says Opa!, who learned them from Annie’s Eats. Who knows where it will go next? Ain’t blogging grand! Elly made a few tweaks from Annie’s recipe, then I changed the topping. Not that the original crumb topping wasn’t good. It’s delectable. But I really was planning these for a dessert, so I made a glaze instead.

Apparently, these are a knock-off of a Starbuck’s muffin. I couldn’t fact-check that one, because the closest Starbuck’s is more than a few miles from here (not that we don’t have some great coffee houses!). But I can tell you they’re scrumptious! If you like pumpkin. (I do.) And warm cinnamony and clovey spices. (I do.) And cream cheese. (I do, I do, I do!)

These aren’t a spontaneous undertaking because you need two hours ahead of baking to cool your sweetened cream cheese logs in the freezer before baking – but it’s worth it.

I first made these for a Christmas brunch and we scarfed them up along with our Naked Fruit Salad, ham and broccoli quiche and mimosas. The muffins were so good I bet we could have just eaten more of them and skipped the quiche – but not the mimosas.

The next time I made them was for a friend’s birthday. Our friend Susie was baking her husband Dick’s favorite cake for his birthday but since there was going to be a crowd, we thought maybe some extra something might be good. So I volunteered to make these. It’s not like me to volunteer to bake, I’m that intimidated by baking. But I was so sure of these babies, I didn’t hesitate a minute – and even got so brave as to change the topping!

Elly added a little vanilla to the cream cheese filling, and changed the spice combination some. Annie’s Eats recipe included pumpkin pie spice, but Elly chose to increase the cinnamon and nutmeg and add ground ginger. She also used canola oil instead of vegetable oil. Since I had a bunch of pumpkin pie spice that won’t get used for anything but this, I followed the first recipe more closely.

Since they were supposed to be a dessert, I thought I’d frost them, but since there was already cream cheese in the middle, a real icing might be too much, so I made a glaze by blending softened cream cheese with confectioner's sugar and thinning it with apple butter and spreading it on the warm muffins.

So here’s my amalgamation of two recipes.  I wonder what the next change will be?

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
from Elly Says Opa!  and from Annie’s Eats
makes 24  muffins
For the filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the muffins:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon  ground cloves
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree
1¼ cups vegetable oil

For the glaze:

1 cup confectioners' sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup apple butter

To make the filling, mix together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract until combined. Shape the mixture into a log (about 1.5″ in diameter), with the aid of plastic wrap, and wrap the log tightly. Reinforce with tin foil or place in a plastic freezer bag and freeze for 2 hours or longer, until firm.

To make the muffins, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line muffin pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking soda; whisk to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree and oil. Mix on medium-low speed until blended. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated.

To assemble the muffins, fill each muffin well with a small amount of batter, just enough to cover the bottom of the liner (1-2 tablespoons). Slice the log of cream cheese filling into 24 equal pieces. Place a slice of the cream cheese mixture into each muffin well. Divide the remaining batter among the muffin cups, placing on top of the cream cheese to cover completely.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. While the muffins bake, make the glaze by blending the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and apple butter until smooth.  Whn muffins are done, transfer to a wire rack. Spread apple butter glaze on muffin tops while still warm. Let cool completely before serving.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Goat's Beard" Soup

As I was making this luscious, velvety smooth and just-rich-enough Cream of Leek and Potato Soup, I was struck at what a pretty color it was: a lovely pastel green with a hint of yellow. It looked familiar and comforting. And it didn’t take me long to figure out why: it’s the color of my kitchen walls!

The paint chip was labeled “Goat’s Beard,” and I never really gave the name a second thought. It was the light shade of green I wanted to blend with the deeper sage green (called “Washed Khaki’) in the adjoining dining room and office/den, and coordinated perfectly with the golden orange (called “Himalayan Paw”) that accented the bulkhead all around. That Martha Stewart can get pretty creative even with paint names.

I merely thought these were unique names. Now I had to look up “goat’s beard.” It’s a perennial plant (aruncus dioicus) and the color of the flower does indeed look like my kitchen walls. (I learned this from my favorite perennial supplier, Bluestone Perennials, who happily shared this picture with me. Bluestone, based in Madison, Ohio, incidentally, ships anywhere at the right time for growing. Great greenhouse.)

I can figure out what Washed Khaki describes, but Himalayan Paw? Has to be a strange big cat, right? Kinda. It’s a popular Persian cat, although not big, but the colors of the pads, or paws, can vary widely. The closest thing I found to the color of my bulkhead was cinnamon-pink. Close enough.

Back to the soup.

I was inspired to make this soup thanks to The Splendid Table, the National Public Radio program hosted by Lynn Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift. I subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that never fails to offer something unique, but doable, for a weeknight. Highly recommend it. They were inspired by Julia Child. Imagine! All these great cooks right alongside me as I whipped up this soup and awed at my own walls!

As you can see, the recipe is not really a recipe, more like a framework, arming one with the right proportions to embellish to one’s heart content. I didn’t get carried away. Chopped chives was it. Next time, who knows.

I’m loving my new immersion blender. Making pureed soups like this is a piece of cake now. No transferring from pot to processor, in portions, and back again to the pot. No chance for spillage. It’s the best little appliance I ever introduced to my little kitchen, which can’t stand one more thing on the counter, or to store in the cupboard. A little rearranging was all it took to keep the new blender handy but hidden.

Master Recipe for Leek and Potato Soup
Adapted by The Splendid Table from Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking, By Julia Child

Makes about 2 quarts, serving 6

3 cups sliced leeks, white and tender green parts
3 cups peeled and roughly chopped “baking” potatoes
6 cups water
11/2 teaspoons salt
½ cup sour cream or crème fraiche, optional

Bring ingredients to the boil in a 3 quart saucepan. Cover partially and simmer, until vegetables are tender. Correct seasoning. Serve as is, or puree and/or top each portion with a dollop of the cream.

Cream of Leek and Potato Soup: After simmering the soup, puree it and whisk in ½ cup heavy cream. Reheat to the simmer again before serving.

Other variations:
  • Substitute onions for leeks
  • Add a bunch of watercress to the base soup for the last few minutes of cooking before pureeing.
  • Add anything else you have on hand, such as cauliflower, broccoli, green peas, spinach, raw or cooked, making it your house soupe du jour. (Actually, I did this, adding broccoli stalks, asparagus stalks, spinach leaves not pretty enough for a salad, etc., and, frankly, the color just couldn’t match my goat’s beard, so I’m sticking with leeks and potatoes!)
Here's my favorite picture hanging on my Goat's Beard kitchen wall.  Thanks, Amy!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cheesecake

There are few things that go together as naturally as peanut butter and chocolate. (Okay, maybe peanut butter and jelly.) When I Googled the words peanut butter and chocolate I got 5.3 million results in less than 22 seconds. That’s simply amazing!

And at the top of the search list? Even more amazing – a blog dedicated to nothing but peanut butter and chocolate recipes!! Kristina from Hoboken, NJ, has been writing about peanut butter and chocolate for over two years and hasn’t run out of steam. (Can you imagine chili with peanut butter? Must try it.)

So when a friend requested “something peanut butter and chocolate” for her birthday celebration, I was secretly delighted because that meant if I was making the treat I got to lick the bowl. And the spoon. And the beaters. And my fingers.

I made a cheesecake, but it’s not a classic cheesecake at all. In fact the texture was more like a soft candy bar. Dense with rich chocolate and creamy peanut butter. I confess I didn’t get the recipe from the cpb gallery. (It was from Better Homes and Gardens.) But I’m definitely going back for the chili recipe!

You won’t be tempted to cut this into any sizes much bigger. The recipe says 16 slices and that’s exactly what it means. To make it easier to slice use a serrated knife dipped in water.

Decadent Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cheesecake

18 chocolate covered graham crackers
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
2 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
¼ cup sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate pieces
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Optional peanuts for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine crackers, melted butter and 2 tablespoons sugar. Press into bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan; set aside. In bowl beat 1 package cream cheese with electric mixer until smooth. Beat in peanut butter and ¼ cup sugar until combined. Fold in 1 lightly beaten egg. Set aside.

In saucepan, stir chocolate over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Cube remaining cheese and add to chocolate. Stir to combine. Stir in milk and vanilla until smooth. Fold in two lightly beaten eggs. Spread half the chocolate mixture into the pan. Carefully spread all the peanut butter mixture over the chocolate layer. Then evenly spread the rest of the chocolate over the peanut butter layer.

Bake 45 minutes until top is set when slightly shaken. The outer two inches of the top will be slightly puffed and dry-looking; center will look darker and wet. Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes. Gently loosen the crust from sides and cool completely on rack. Cover and chill at least 4 hours. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving, to ease cutting. Sprinkle with peanuts if you want. Makes 16 servings. (About 400 calories each, but worth it!)
This is how beautiful the ice we had this week looked!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Simple Bayou Stew, with a Side of Jewelry

I used to work with a graphic artist who did the same thing every time we were discussing a project: He’d draw a triangle -- wherever, on a board, on a piece of paper, a napkin -- and he’d label the corners Good, Fast and Cheap. Then he’d say, “You can have two of these, but you can’t have all three!”

Didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now, especially when it comes to cooking. 

It is possible -- quite possible – to make good food and make it well and quickly. It does take a little planning, a few things in the pantry, some effort, a bit of imagination.

But none of that means a whole lot of money or time. It might take a modicum of skill, but only a modicum. And with a little practice, a little repetition, that skill feeds itself along with the growing knowledge of what complements what.  Fresh ingredients are a big plus, but often, armed simple staples – rice, onion, a pepper, an egg or two, garlic and soy sauce -- one pan and twenty minutes, you can make a great dish like fried rice. And something as simple as keeping a jar of capers or chipotle in adobo sauce on hand can transform simple into exotic.

My step-daughter Krista and her husband Dan are like a lot of young parents who, after a full day of work, would rather spend time with their two pre-school (and lively!) boys or working on a home improvement project than cooking. (Can't blame them; those boys are pretty darn adorable!)

But they still want to eat well – healthily, inexpensively, and without a lot of time in the kitchen, something that everyone (even a sometimes finicky four year-old) -- will eat, and without getting stuck in a rut. Got to hand it to them, they’ve honed some pretty good habits to do that: shopping in bulk, stocking the freezer and pantry, keeping shopping lists, and planning weekly menus they actually post!

On a visit to their house several weeks ago, while Grandpa and I were busy playing with the boys, Krista and Dan slipped into the kitchen and whipped up this simple and very good soup/stew. They served it with some great bread and it was a wonderful lunch!

They told me the recipe came from a cookbook I’d given them some time ago: Cheap, Fast, Good! The authors, Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross, have assembled hundreds of dishes to make great food cheaply, along a whole lot of good advice about getting the most for your dollar. (I hear inflation’s coming!) The recipes are very family friendly, too. You can further healthy-up this recipe by using turkey kielbasa and low-sodium beef broth.

One of the reasons Krista needs all her spare time is so she can work on her hand-made jewelry, available on her site. Classy and elegant stuff. She’s talented and imaginative with her designs.  I love her stuff!  Before taking a look at the recipe, take a look at this sampling; and be sure to visit her Behind the Moon etsy shop and her blog.

Bayou Stew
from Cheap, Fast, Good!

1 cup long grain rice
2/3 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons butter
2 large onions
8 ounces kielbasa sausage
1 medium sized green pepper (about 1 cup chopped)
2 cans (14 oz each) beef broth
2 teaspoons Cajun blend seasoning
2 tablespoons flour

For Rice: Bring 2 cups lightly salted water to boil in a covered saucepan. Add the rice. Stir and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
Melt butter in 4 ½ qt Dutch oven over medium heat. Peel onion and finely chop them, adding to the pot as you chop. Cut the chicken into bite size pieces adding them to the pot as you chop. When all the chicken has been added, raise the heat to medium high. Cook stirring until the chicken is almost cooked through, about 4-5 minutes. Meanwhile cut the sausage in half lengthwise, the slice both halves into roughly ¼ in pieces.
Add broth to the pot, raise the heat to high and add the bell pepper, cover the pot and bring the soup to a boil.  Add Cajun seasoning and cook at a moderate boil until the green pepper is tender, about 3 minutes. (Uncover the pot partially if pot begins to boil over.)

In small jar with lid, mix flour with 3 tablespoons cold tap water. Cover jar and shake well until the mixture is combined and the lumps have disappeared. Gradually add the flour mixture to the soup stirring constantly until the soup has thickened slightly. Remove the pan from the heat. Divide the hot cooked rice among four large soup bowls and ladle soup over the rice and serve at once.  Four generous servings.