Something from the Oven

Cooking with heartThere was an advertising phrase that went, “Nothing says loving like something from the oven…” however, I think the advertising agency had it backward. It’s the love in the preparation that does this. The oven only helps, as do the ingredients, preferably as clean and fresh as possible. Love helps us to choose them, as well as to guide the utensils used in the preparation. Furthermore, the focus of the mind is an important ingredient as well. If I am angry or upset when I am preparing food, it could affect the way it tastes as well as the way it is digested. Though I can’t prove it, it’s my belief that thoughts and feelings can be powerful in their effect on food.

A study of this potential would make an interesting experiment for a science project, though it could be difficult to set up. I do really enjoy cooking. Though I’ve never had any courses or training for it and am completely self-taught, I get great praise from those who taste my cooking. I remember one person saying, “This must be Tasha’s kitchen because it smells so good.” Another time, I had prepared a tropical entrée made with bananas with other ingredients, baked inside their skins. When I stopped one guest from cutting into his, he said, “Oh, I thought if you had cooked it, I could eat it.” I laughed and thanked him.

One of the most cherished comfort food desserts is bread pudding. According to the internet, sometime in the 11th or 12th centuries, a frugal cook somewhere in Europe needed to use up their stale bread and began thinking up ways to do it. Perhaps instead the cook needed a dessert and had only stale bread, eggs and milk to go with it. Be that as it may, bread pudding has become a staple food. Once called “Poor Man’s Pudding,” it is said to be served in upscale restaurants as well as homes all over the world. Many of the recipes for it call for some form of fat. My recipe omits this ingredient and I don’t think the calories or the taste of it will be missed. Feel free to experiment, I still do. You can butter the bread first if you wish to include it.

The recipe I have evolved from making it often is simple, and we eat it all the time. You do not have to wait until the bread is stale, though of course that is a good use for any you might have. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 1 ½ or 2-quart covered casserole. Put a pan of water the casserole will fit in into in the oven. Begin with 2 cups torn up bread—around 4 to 6 slices. I use a raisin bread and it’s on the small side. Sprinkle on ½ cup sugar and ½ to 1 cup raisins if not using raisin bread. Beat up 2 eggs and 2 cups any kind of milk. Add 1 plus teaspoon vanilla and 1 plus teaspoon cinnamon and beat again. Pour over bread and stir to combine well. Place covered casserole in the oven in the pan prepared with water. Bake 1 hour, remove cover and bake to brown for 15 or so minutes. If you can resist diving into it, the pudding tastes best the next day when flavors have developed.

I have no recollection of having been served bread pudding in my childhood; I have evolved this recipe from following one in a cookbook of recipes based on the Cat Who mystery series by Lillian Jackson Braun, both of which which I highly recommend.

 

Cabbage is a Winter Vegetable

Cabbage                      For the most part, I believe eating with the seasons helps keep us healthy. Like winter squash and root vegetables, cabbage is a winter vegetable, sturdy, healthy, and versatile. Its only negative is that if you overcook it, it does smell bad.  This is due to the Sulfur that is released that way. If it is cooked properly, the Sulfur content helps our bodies to be more efficient. Cabbage is a very useful vegetable. It can be boiled, fried, sautéed or eaten raw in a salad. Inexpensive, it keeps well in the refrigerator, so it is always handy as an ingredient in a quick meal.

According to Wikipedia, China consumes more cabbage than any other country. Much of what is sold in the United States goes into coleslaw. In restaurants, I often choose that over the French fries because it is not only healthier but normally gluten free. In Eastern Europe and in Russia, cabbage has a place in daily consumption in the winter, especially in Poland, where it is a staple ingredient. Pickled, or preserved as sauerkraut—literally sour cabbage, is very popular in sandwiches everywhere. It is the main ingredient in Korean kimchi, a national side dish.

In 1990, I accompanied my mother on a trip to Eastern Europe. Meals were included. Day after day we were served cabbage. While I do like it, I grew very tired of it. One day I asked if they had any spinach. Enthusiastically, my hosts served me a good-sized portion. I was delighted. The next day I asked for more. Sadly, they shook their heads, conveying the information that they had given me all they had. At least I could be grateful for the cabbage. It is fine source of fiber, something that is important when one is traveling.

I like cabbage in all its forms and have happily made it into soup, salad and sauté. Here is a salad I invented using cabbage and sweet onion: to serve two, shred or slice fine a quarter of a large cabbage. Add sweet onion sliced or cut fine, to taste. Mix with mayonnaise and horseradish sauce to taste. Add a pinch of salt, some ground garlic, lemon or regular pepper, and tarragon if you like. Mix well and serve. I have found that cutting the cabbage into fine shreds enhances the taste. Increase amounts to serve 4 or more. I like to cut it myself, which takes longer than using a shredder, but puts more love into the food.

Another simple favorite recipe of mine is cabbage sautéed with sausage or hot dogs. Shred or slice half a medium cabbage—it cooks down, so you need more than when it is raw. Sauté half a large onion chopped in small pieces, in butter and olive oil. Add 2 chicken sausages or organic all beef or other hot dogs, cut or scissored into thin (quarter inch) rounds. Stir and cook until onion is transparent and sausages are sizzling. Add cabbage. Stir over medium heat until it is beginning to cook, then turn to low, cover and cook for 10 or 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve to two, increasing quantities to serve more. This and the above recipe are staple dishes in my repertoire for winter fare, healthy, tasty, and easy to prepare.

Cool Food for Hot Days

A Salad 1

One image I have in my memory of the summer days of my childhood is that of my mother leaning over a hot stove, lifting glass canning jars in and later out of a large pot steaming with boiling water. Regardless of the heat, she never wanted anything to go to waste. When her beans were ready to pick, she would be sure to can whatever we didn’t eat at the time she picked them. She canned corn scraped from the cob, and peaches too.

There were probably lots of other things she prepared that I can no longer remember. We did not have a big freezer. We had a food storage closet in the basement that every summer filled with rows of jars as well as paraffin sealed jellies. There were potatoes stored there too and it was my job to go down there periodically to pick off the sprouts so the potatoes would stay edible.

I am glad I don’t have to do what she did. When the temperature soars, I lose my enthusiasm for cooking. My appetite suffers too, which is one of the reasons I am so fond of fall. As I get older, this condition gets worse, and these hot days I have to work hard to keep Stephen and myself adequately nourished. I’ve never been one for pre-prepared meals. Heat and serve is not normally my friend. Outdoor cooking is not an option where we live, nor a preference for either of us. That leaves salads.

A salad that provides sufficient protein is vital for us both. Again as I get older I need to beware of consuming too many carbohydrates. My small but useful electric indoor grill can provide easily cooked hot dogs and hamburgers, however, I like variety and wouldn’t wish to serve those more than once a week at the most. That’s two out of the fourteen lunches and dinners in a week. The cooked chickens from the supermarket can provide several more meals.

Our favorite protein salads are chicken, egg, and seafood, with occasional tuna. Aside from the  protein source, the basic ingredients for my salads consists of finely chopped scallions or sweet onion, celery, herbs as appropriate, mayonnaise, horseradish sauce and sweet mustard or honey mustard dressing. The herbs nearly always include parsley, sniped with scissors, and either dried or  fresh tarragon, thyme, ground garlic, and lemon pepper. Sometimes I use curry powder instead of herbs. One or the other is good, not both.

For egg salad for the two of us, I hard cook (never boil) four eggs and use parsley, thyme, ground garlic and lemon pepper, mayonnaise and horseradish sauce. Dill is good too. For a chicken salad I cut up around two cups or so of the cooked white meat that Stephen prefers. I use tarragon, parsley, ground garlic, and lemon pepper, mayonnaise, horseradish sauce and sometimes some mustard. A smidgen of salt is good. Thyme instead of tarragon is also good with chicken. My recipe for canned tuna or seafood salad is the same. I use the packaged imitation Crab and find it economical and tasty, as well as nourishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cookies of Christmas

According to Wikipedia, were it not for Alexander the Great,we might not have Christmas cookies. Not really, but in 327 BC he discovered and spread sugar cane that is the source for their basis, first throughout Persia and eventually Europe. The early little cakes or cookies would probably taste strange to us today. They were spiced with whatever was on hand,including cumin, and either shaped by hand or rolled and pressed on wooden boards carved with cut out shapes. The invention of cookie cutters helped form their myriad shapes.

          Their invention is shrouded in mist, however, we have Germany to thank for the Christmas cookie we know today. They also are responsible for gingerbread houses and the shapes that are commonly used as gingerbread men and women. The Pennsylvania Dutch, as the German immigrants were often called brought the tradition of the Christmas cookie to the US. Today there are many kinds of cookie exchanges. Magazines and books carry varieties of recipes for these sweet treats of the Season of Light. As well, families have treasured cookie recipes handed down to them from past generations.

           Many favorites, like Snickerdoodles, bars and brownies, or plain and chocolate meringues mingle with fancier kinds are served for holiday occasions. However,while almost any recipe will do for this time of year, the most traditional ones are decorated with colored sprinkles, are cut into shapes, or have decorations made of icing. I usually bake up several kinds of bars and cookies to give at the holidays to those who have been kind and helpful to Stephen and me. One of my most successful recipes is Disappearing Caramel Brownies. They do vanish quickly, and are very popular whenever I bring them to a potluck. Busy cooks only need one pan to wash.

 Disappearing Caramel Brownies: IMPORTANT follow baking directions or they will end up as rocks and not tasty bars. Preheat oven to 350 or 325 for glass pans. Grease and if possible use parchment paper to line 8″ square pan Ingredients:

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. vanilla

¼ cup butter

¼ cup chopped walnuts (may be omitted but taste good)

1 cup flour

Method:Heat butter, sugar in saucepan.  Stir slowly till sugar is dissolved, then a little longer to have it somewhat liquid. Do not boil.  Cool slightly.  Add beaten egg, salt, vanilla, baking powder,nuts and flour. Stir well to incorporate all the flour.  Spread in 8 or 9 inch pan.  Bake for 20 Minutes to start. Press lightly with finger, If it makes a slight dent, remove, otherwise bake a few more minutes. Rest for 10 minutes then cut into 16 squares cool in pan and remove when ready. These bake up well with alternative or gluten free flours also.

This recipe doubles easily. In which case bake wee bit longer, perhaps 10 minutes more for a 9X12 pan. Remember to test and not to over bake or they will be difficult to cut, let alone chew.

Giving Love at Christmas

Love for Christmas Giving

My mother wasn’t much for cooking, though she considered it her duty to serve us good, nourishing food. I don’t remember her ever baking anything sweet. She didn’t care for desserts; she considered them unnecessary and fattening. When I was old enough for her to trust me in the kitchen, she encouraged me to bake simple items like brownies or other easy recipes. Unlike her I truly enjoyed cooking and was happy to make what she permitted me to.

Once I had a family to bake for I broadened my repertoire and learned to make pies and cakes as well as cookies. However cookies were my favorite to make because they went farther. I used to count and divide up the cookies and each child knew what they could have. Because I was home with the children anyway, it was fun to try different recipes. Eventually I created a small Cookie Cookbook with my favorites that I still use today.

Although my family is grown and I no longer bake cookies regularly, every Christmas I make up several batches and create plates to give people who have been helpful or kind to Stephen and me in the past year. The newspaper delivery people who bring the newspaper to our floor, the ladies of the library where we take advantage of their services all year long, the fine gentlemen of the garage where we take our car for repairs and upkeep, and a few others I want to acknowledge for their kindness.

Favorite cookie recipes I usually make include my Disappearing Caramel Brownies, Jiffy Jam Delights, and Unexpected Company Bars, all reliable and relatively easy to make recipes. This time of year there are cookie recipes everywhere to be found, and while these are my personal favorites for giving, those with more time and energy than yours truly might make cut out cookies to decorate or even more fancy treats. If you want one of my recipes, please let me know which, and I will email it. To my way of thinking however one wishes to express love is valid. Spending time on a gift is one of my favorite ways.

While feeding people is one of the ways I use to express my love, I also appreciate recipes that take less rather than more time, yet still provide delicious tasting healthy food. I also collect recipes from others when they have something unique and special to share. Sometimes they even write them out for me. I have loose leaf notebook where I keep these, along with others. Within its plastic sheeted pages are pressed their treasured, handwritten pieces of paper.

The following recipe wasn’t written out by my late friend because it was so simple. Avocado and Grapefruit salad requires one grapefruit and one avocado per two people, so if you are serving a family you need to double or triple, depending. Think kind thoughts as you peel and section grapefruit, removing membrane and preserving juice. Cut in half, remove seed and section one avocado into slices. Combine all, add a tablespoon or two of a good tasting olive oil, stir well, chill slightly, and serve with love for the holidays or at any time at all.

 

Celebrating Special Days with Special Treats

Cake imageThe joyful birthday of our country on July fourth happens to be right next to and between my husband Stephen’ birthday on the third and our wedding anniversary on the fifth. Over the many years of our life together what a wonderful time we have had with our celebrations. In the past we would share what we used to call our three days of peace and love with friends. They would come from everywhere and stay for the three days, overflowing our large home and even camping in the back yard. The pool and the hot tub were frequently in use. They were joyous occasions.

Today we live more quietly, yet we still celebrate and have friends in to join us, though not so many or for so long. Special recipes are always fun to share for these occasions. One of Stephen’s favorites is a cake made with Almond paste or Marzipan. The main ingredient can be purchased at almost any market. This cake is not the kind to be frosted however you could also decorate it with fruit. In my case if I decide to make it this year I might spell out Happy Birthday Stephen with pieces of strawberry.

Marzipan Cake for Special Occasions

Preheat oven to 325

Grease and flour, or grease and line with parchment an 8″ round cake pan.

Ingredients:

7 or 8 oz almond paste or marzipan

¾ cups butter

2/3 cups sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

¼ teaspoon almond extract

¼ tsp baking powder

1/3 cup all purpose flour

Method: Crumble almond paste into bowl. Add butter. Beat well until blended. Gradually add sugar and beat well until mixture is light in color and texture. Add beaten eggs, continue beating for 3 minutes. Add flavoring. Sprinkle in baking powder by pinches. Fold in flower. Scrape batter into prepared baking pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until firm and browned on top, and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes on a rack. Slide a thin knife around and under the cake to detach from pan. Invert on rack then turn right side up and finish cooling. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

This cake is a wonderful treat, and can easily be made gluten free by using a flour mix from Bob’s Red Mill or another one you might like. It really helps to have a mixer, as it would be very labor intensive to mix it by hand, though it would also be excellent exercise. Whether I make this recipe or another I am fond of, I know I will enjoy celebrating these special days.

Easy, Healthy Spring Recipes

TashasSpiralGardenEven though I love to cook, in the good weather I’m happy not to have to   labor in the kitchen or spend time fussing with complicated recipes when I would rather be doing things out of doors and elsewhere. In addition, local fresh green vegetables are more and more often available as farm stands open and crops are harvested. It is such a treat when local asparagus as well as rhubarb become available. Both are helpful for the bodily cleansing that helps make for a healthful change of season.

This first recipe is win/win in that it goes together quickly, will please just about anyone, and is inexpensive to make. Gluten free or intolerant diners can make and eat it confidently using one of the many good gluten free pastas available in the local supermarkets. Asparagus Pesto and Pasta : Ingredients:1 Lb. Fresh Asparagus (The equivalent of 2 cups) 3 fresh basil leaves or 1 tsp dried—more is fine. ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, ¼ cup chopped pecans, walnuts or cashews, whatever you like is fine; 1 small clove raw garlic, ¼ tsp salt, 3 Tbs olive oil, 8 Oz fine spaghetti or fettuccine.

Method: Cook spaghetti to taste and drain. Add 1 Tbs olive oil and stir well. Place remaining oil, asparagus and all other ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth, pour over spaghetti, stir and serve with a side salad and some fruit for a complete meal. This is also a good recipe to have fun with: try other green vegetables and/or vary the herb as desired. The addition of Parsley would be a natural. Or combine say half a cup of parsley and any green fresh or lightly steamed and still bright green vegetable.

If you have access to rhubarb leaves, you might be tempted to think they are edible. However, they are poisonous for humans, so under no circumstances ought you to consume them. There is a simple recipe for an insecticide on Google so I won’t repeat it. But don’t spray the leaves of your lettuce with it. It’s poisonous and potentially dangerous.Use caution on vegetables, a simple onion garlic spray is better there.

Rhubarb is technically a vegetable and yet we generally serve it as a dessert. There are many ways to prepare it—pies, cakes, puddings and so forth. However, I have always preferred it steamed and eaten plain with honey. To enjoy rhubarb easily, simply purchase fresh, young stems at the market or if you are lucky, pick them from a friend’s rhubarb patch. Snip them into inch or so sections with a pair of sharp scissors. Put them into the top half of a double boiler or a bowl that will fit into a pot with some water in the bottom.

Another interesting thing about rhubarb is that it has so much liquid in it already you really don’t need to add any when you cook it the way I do in a double boiler. Cover and steam for about 45 minutes. Add ½ to ¾ cups honey or sugar, to taste. Stir well and chill. Serve any time of day for a refreshing treat as well as good cleansing for your system. Let your food be your medicine, especially in the spring!