Friday, May 31, 2013

book and cook it; lottie greer's fried potatoes with rock salt and chives

Absalom Greer pushed open a door and the rector stood on the threshold in happy amazement.  Before him was a room with ancient leaded windows gleaming with the last rays of sunlight.  In the center of the room stood a large table laid with a white cloth and a variety of steaming dishes, and on it burned an oil lamp.

In the corner of the room, a fire crackled in the grate, and books lined the walls behind a pair of comfortable reading chairs.  A worn black Bible lay on the table next to one of the chairs, and an orange cat curled peacefully on the deep windowsill.  

He thought he'd never entered a home so peaceable in spirit.

A tall, slender woman moved into the room from the kitchen, wearing an apron... She smiled shyly and extended her hand.  "Father Tim," said Absalom Greer, "Lottie Miller!  My joy and my crown, my earlthy shield and buckler, and my widowed sister...  

Lottie Miller had not spoken, but had passed each dish and platter, it seemed to the rector, at just the right time.  He had a second helping of potatoes that had been sliced and fried with rock salt and chives, and another helping of roasted lamb, which was as fine as any lamb he'd tasted in a very long time.  
(excerpt from At Home in Mitford)

These last few lines immediately caught my eye when reading the first book of the Mitford series for the first time through.  Rock salt?  How neat is that?!?  To say I was excited when I found the actual recipe in the cookbook is an understatement.  I'm telling you, these characters just come to life through the best way possible...  home-cooked, well-loved, ready-to-share-with-others food!  What a simple side dish with a little flair.  And I'm never, ever disappointed when a cast iron skillet is involved.  It's probably my favorite "pan" in my whole collection.

These potatoes would make a great accompaniment to any meat.  Steak on the grill.  A moist pork loin, or as it was enjoyed in Lottie's spread, roasted lamb.  

I encourage you to serve these right in the pan on the table.  It's beautiful!  And the sprinkling of green really brings the outdoors in... especially if you grow chives like we do.  Earthy and a little more onion-y, they are so easy to maintain and worth the effort!

Lottie Greer's Fried Potatoes with Rock Salt and Chives 
  • 2 1/2 pounds (about 7 medium) red potatoes, peeled
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp. salted butter
  • 1 tbsp. rock salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  
~ Cut the potatoes into 1/4-1/2 inch slices.
~ Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy black iron skillet for 3 minutes.
~ Add the potatoes and sauté, stirring every few minutes until they start to brown, about 
    10 minutes.
~ Stir in the butter, cover the skillet, and place in the oven for 30-45 minutes.
~ Remove from the oven and add the rock salt and pepper.  
~ Sprinkle the chives on top and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper before serving.

Tips and Tricks:
  • You can peel and slice the potatoes ahead of time; place them in a bowl of cold water and refrigerate.  When you're ready to use them, drain well and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Yukon gold potatoes may be substituted for the red potatoes.
* Lottie Greer is also Lottie Miller.  A little drama in Mitford gave cause for the multiple
   last names.  
Recipe very slightly adapted from Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader

Monday, May 27, 2013

stars and stripes fruit pizza

Exactly one year ago today, I took this picture and was completely sold on the idea of starting the blog.  I was only taking the picture to send my grandfather as a thank you on that Memorial Day, but I had so much fun, I knew quickly that I didn't want to stop with one snapshot.

I never did post this, as the blog wasn't officially begun until a couple of weeks later, but I thought today was fitting to share.  This is one of my favorite desserts and couldn't be more perfect for a holiday such as this one.  

If you are fortunate enough to still have loved ones who have made tremendous sacrifices, so that across this country we can celebrate today in peace and great fun with friends and family, then hug them tightly and tell them, "Thank you!"  And every day... every day, may we celebrate the blessing of knowing others loved us more than themselves to make it possible. 

Stars and Stripes Fruit Pizza
For the crust
  • 3/4 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
For the glaze
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
For the filling
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. honey
For the topping
  • sliced bananas
  • hulled and sliced strawberries
  • blueberries
~ Mix butter, sugar and flour until thoroughly combined and press into rectangle about 1/4
    inch thick.
~ Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until slightly brown.  Cool.
~ In mixing bowl, cream together cream cheese, brown sugar and honey.  Spread on cooled 
~ Place cut fruit in flag design.
~ Mix 1/4 cup sugar, cornstarch, pineapple and lemon juices together and drizzle over fruit.  
~ Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

strawberry cupcakes with fresh strawberry buttercream icing

With a house full of boys, I probably don't need to tell you there's not much pink around here.  

Actually, none at all.  

That's why when a friend recently found out she was having a baby girl, only after having two of her own boys, and several in our church group were invited to help with a shower, I jumped at the chance to celebrate with pink.  Her shower spread was a great array of sweets, and I contributed with these strawberry cupcakes.  

These came together very easily, and I admittedly took a shortcut with the cake.  I used the newer French Vanilla version from Duncan Hines.  I have had several in-demand cake decorators secretly tell me they swear by using Duncan Hines mixes with a teaspoon of vanilla to stand up to any fully homemade cake.  Hey.  I'm all about shortcuts when they work!

With a stick of butter, 7-up, and diced strawberries mixed in, the cakes turn out incredibly moist and full of flavor!  And I can't tell you how wonderful the kitchen smells after pureeing some of the first strawberries of the season for the icing.  I happened upon a great selection of fully red and ripe cartons full while shopping on Saturday.  Produce this time of year is a joy to browse.  I just love it!

If the good Lord had blessed us with a girl, I would have been thrilled, of course.  The princesses and lace, the tea parties and pink cupcakes, would have been wonderful I'm sure.  But this mom is sure thankful for her two boys.  Baseball games until 10:00 at night... the occasional frog snuck into the house... dirty socks on the kitchen table...  I'm tellin'  ya.  I wouldn't trade it for the world! 

Strawberry Cupcakes - makes about 20 cakes

For the cake
  • 1 white cake mix (Duncan Hines' French Vanilla works very well)
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup 7-up
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • zest of one lemon
  • 6 strawberries, hulled and
~ Heat oven to 325 degrees and line cupcake pans with desired liners.
~ Combine cake mix, butter, 7-up, eggs, and vanilla in large bowl.  Mix well.
~ Add zest and strawberries to batter and stir gently.
~ Fill cups 1/2 to 2/3 full.  I suggest filling one and testing to find out how it bakes.  I found
    that 2/3 was a little too full for my preference.
~ Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden and inserted toothpick comes out clean.
~ Cool completely.

For the icing
  • 3 sticks butter at room temperature
  • 4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup hulled and diced strawberries, pureed
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • strawberries for garnish, if desired
~ In a large mixing bowl, cream butter until fluffy.
~ Add sugar, one cup at a time, mixing between additions, until just combined.  
~ Add strawberries and vanilla, mixing another 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy.
~ Frost cooled cakes as desired.  I used a large Wilton #2D tip.  
~ If garnishing, cut off sides of strawberry being careful to leave the stem intact.  Press into
    icing to secure.

Cake recipe slightly adapted from Ready Set Craft
Icing recipe from Cake 'n' Knife

Saturday, May 18, 2013

book it and cook it; cynthia's lemon squares

On Wednesday evening, [Father Tim] took a shower and dressed, and prepared to visit his new neighbor in her tiny house next door.  Cynthia Coppersmith had done as promised and invited him to dinner.  And the invitation, it seemed to him, was perfectly timed.  

The last of his Rector's Meatloaf was gone, and good riddance.  To his chagrin, he'd used more oatmeal than before, which resulted in the most unsavory concotion he'd tasted in years.  But he had soldiered on and eaten the entire loaf over a period of several days.  He was so ashamed of it, he had hidden it at the back of the refrigerator, where he hoped Puny wouldn't find it.

Every light in the small house glowed warmly through the heavy mist that lay upon the village. "Pleasant!" he said, aloud.  "A small house for a small person."  He lifted the old brass knocker and rapped three times.
(excerpt from At Home in Mitford)

By this point, Father Tim has thoroughly enjoyed the company of his new beast-of-a-dog and scripture-loving Barnabas, but he still longs for companionship of another.  A wife.  One to sit in his study and listen to his readings of Wordsworth and share in the comforts of a good slice of pie.  Hmm... I can't help but wonder if Ms. Coppersmith might be that one.  A petite and creative sort, she just might fit the bill.  

I was an instant fan of her lemon bars, although a bit nervous as they baked the first time I tried them.  The "curd" was so runny for so long - well into the time I set for it to bake - I thought for sure I had messed up the recipe.  But as I frantically searched other recipes to see if something was missing, noting that many other lemon bars call for flour in the curd where as this one doesn't, I took one more hopeful peek in the oven only to find the top layer had suddenly set beautifully.  All that worry for nothing.

To me, lemon bars on a red and white transfer-ware plate are the epitome of Southern and could find their place on a number of table spreads belonging to our well-loved Mitford characters.  With a light dusting of powdered sugar right before serving, you and your guests are sure to love these.  A perfect Spring treat!

Cynthia's Lemon Squares - makes one 9x13 dish
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 2-4 tbsp. confectioners sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp. grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
~ Coat a 9x13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.
~ Place the flour, 1/2 cup of the confectioners' sugar, 1 cup of the butter, the vanilla and 1/4
    tsp. salt in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on medium speed until combined.
~ Pat the batter into the pan and bake for 18 minutes, or until a light gold color.
~ Melt the remaining 2 tbsp. butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Set aside to cool
~ Meanwhile, in a bowl of an electric mixer, combine the granulated sugar and cornstarch.  
~ Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
~ Add the lemon zest, juice, 1/8 tsp. salt, and the melted butter and beat well.
~ Pour the lemon mixture over the crust and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until set.
~ Let cool completely, chill, and cut into squares. 
~ Sift 2-4 tbsp. of confectioners' sugar over the lemon squares.

Recipe from The Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

wednesday wisdom - apple (preservation) juice

Dearest Readers... I realize I could be equally positive or negative in my reflection of the fact that it's been over a week since I've posted.  In my truest form, I'm an optimist, and that side of me wants to say to you, "Wow!  It's been months since I've gone over a week without a post!"  

But the pessimist perspective?  It's a totally different deal.  "I am a poor and wretched blogger to allow so many days to pass with no post" is more of what comes to mind.  I could provide you many great reasons for my absence, but you know what I say?  Excuses are like elbows.  We all have them.  Why talk about them?

So I'll move on to one of the best tips I've recently run across regarding the preservation of freshness and color in cut apples.  I read about this a while back and wondered about its outcome.  I decided to give it a try on a five pound bag of apples I sliced and added to a large fruit tray for a recent event.  I cut them at 5:45 AM and had a handful left at 4:00 PM.  They were only the tiniest bit "yellowed," if that, and still were crispy as could be.  

I encourage you to use today's Wednesday Wisdom tidbit to prolong your apples' appearance and life.  It's a great tip to put to use for this versatile fruit included in anything from lunch boxes to major platter displays.

Happy Soaking!

Apple (Preservation) Juice

  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice (fresh preferred, but bottled will work)  for every one cup of cold water
~ Soak sliced apples in lemon/water mixture for 3-5 minutes.
~ Remove from mixture, dry, and use as desired.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

cooking light, cooking right - the boom-choco-taco

Chocolate.  Ice cream.  Chopped nuts.  

It's not a new concept, I know, but boy is the presentation a unique one.  This has got to be the most fun thing I've ever made!  And if I'm taking time to post it, you can be sure it's delicious.  

When I read the recipe for this incredibly unique dessert, I was leery of the outcome.  Even though the process seemed simple enough to follow, I couldn't imagine successfully lifting the thin layer of baked chocolate easily off the pan only to form into delicate cocoa-rich "taco shells."  But on a most chaotic Sunday, and Cinco de Mayo I might add, I was bound and determined to make these things happen. 

Guess I'm just stubborn that way.    

After celebrating the holiday with a taco bar and all the trimmings, I had lunch cleaned up and seven of these finished in about 45 minutes from beginning to end.  I'm telling you, it wasn't hard at all.  And I even took pictures along the way so you could see it, step-by-step.

Once again, Cooking Light, has not let me down.  At only 233 calories and just shy of 12 grams of fat, The Boom-Choco-Taco is a major score in our household!  Delicioso!

The Boom-Choco-Taco - makes 7-8 tacos
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1.1 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1/4 cup)
  • 3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 tbsp. egg whites
  • 1 tsp. 2% reduced-fat milk
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp. canola oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped roasted, salted, almonds
  • 2 1/2 cups vanilla ice cream
~ Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
~ Combine first five ingredients, stirring well.  Stir in egg whites, milk, and vanilla.
~ Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
~ Spoon one tablespoon batter on sheet and smooth into approximately 5-inch circle using
    the back of the spoon.  Add three more circles to pan, spreading as thin as possible.

~ Bake at 400 degrees for 6 minutes or until edges begin to brown.
~ Loosen edges with a spatula; remove from sheet.
~ Working quickly, gently drape each taco over suspended wooden spoons, gently shaping 
    into a shell; cool completely.  Repeat with second batch.

~ Combine chocolate chips and oil in microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave on HIGH one 
    minute or until chocolate melts, stirring after 30 seconds; stir until smooth.
~ Gently spread layer of chocolate mixture on the top third of the outside of both sides of 
    the cooled shells, and sprinkle with chopped nuts.

~ Spoon 1/3 cup ice cream into each shell.  Drizzle remaining chocolate mixture over ice
    cream and sprinkle evenly with remaining nuts.
~ Freeze for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Recipe barely adapted from Cooking Light

* Calorie and fat totals based on low-fat vanilla ice cream and dry-roasted peanuts.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

book it and cook it - puny's banana bread (a no-sinker!)

It had been a week since Puny Bradshaw had rung [Father Tim's] doorbell at precisely eight o'clock in the morning and started taking over his house... "Don't mind me," she said, seeing that he minded very much.  "My granpaw was a preacher, and I waited on 'im hand and foot for years, so you might say I'm cut out for this job..."  

When he arrived home that afternoon at 5:30, he found a steaming, but spotless, kitchen and a red-cheeked Puny.  "That bushel of tomatoes like to killed me!" she declared.  "After I froze that big load of squash, I found some jars in your garage, sterilized 'em in your soup pot, and canned ever' one in th' bushel.  Looky here," she said, proudly, pointing to fourteen Mason jars containing vermillion tomatoes.  "Puny," he exclaimed with joyful amazement, "this is a sight for sore eyes."
(excerpt from At Home in Mitford)

Endearing, that Puny is.  I appreciate her spunk, her work ethic, and her cooking.  A maid of all trades, if you will, Puny comes into Father Tim's life to help him organize it.  Little does he know the best cookin' and a huge heart of gold comes along with her.  Reading through the pages for the umpteenth time, I feel like I've eaten the very food she's prepared the rector in his warm and cozy parsonage.  It's so fun to actually have real recipes that belong to her.  The compilation of this one, and many others, can be found in the Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader.  

I have not had banana bread in ages.  With a few bananas getting more than slightly brown on my counter, I decided to throw them into this recipe for a sweet treat.  I love this particular one more than any I've tried, because it doesn't sink in the middle.  It's a beautiful loaf with a slightly caramelized edge.  Perfection.

I've taken a couple extra pictures to show you what to look for, so that your end result is as good as it can be.  For about two seconds, I thought about altering the recipe... maybe a few toasted walnuts or less sugar... so thankful I didn't.  For rich and moist, beautiful slices, follow this one just as stated.  Without a doubt, you'll be pleased you did Puny proud!

When baking quick breads or pastries, I usually prefer a lighter colored aluminum pan.  The darker versions tend to brown the outside before the rest is cooked through

For a caramelized "crust," and to ensure doneness, remove from oven once toothpick comes out clean AND the sides have pulled away from the pan.  You can see the slight gap around the edges.    

Puny's Banana Bread - makes one loaf
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 large very ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
  • 1 1/2 cups White Lily all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
~ Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
~ Cream the oil and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and creamy.
~ Beat in the eggs.
~ Add the bananas and mix well.
~ In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt.  
~ Add 1 cup of the flour mixture to the banana mixture, mix well, then add half of the
    buttermilk and mix well. 
~ Add the remaining flour, and then the buttermilk and mix just until blended.
~ Pour the batter into the  pan, smooth the top, and bake for 45 minutes, or until 
    toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the bread.
~ Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then invert onto a wire cooling rack.

Tips and Tricks
Although my bread comes out fairly easily, you could cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of your pan and spray as instructed.  That would take away any chance of the bread breaking as it's releasing from the pan.

My bread is never done at 45 minutes.  I tent the pan with a piece of aluminum foil beginning at 45 minutes to prevent over-browning, and it usually is just right at one hour.  You can check in five-minute intervals.

Recipe from the Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader