31 August 2009

Vanilla Chai Cupcakes

A long time ago, I promised a recipe for these cupcakes. For those of you who have been holding your breath, well, sorry . . . I guess you've had to let it out a few times by now. But without further ado . . .

Vanilla Chai Cupcakes
(makes 15 - 17)

1/2 cup milk
1 bag chai tea*
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (because I can't resist)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp each of cinnamon and nutmeg
6 TBSP butter, softened
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla

Heat milk and add chai tea; let steep while you assemble other ingredients. Sift flours (or all white flour, if you prefer), sugars, baking powder, and spices into a medium mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until incorporated. Fill muffin cups (or papers in cups!) 2/3 full of batter. Bake at 325F for 18 - 20 minutes or until done. These cupcakes still look white when they are completely baked, so check with a toothpick if you're unsure. I like to top these cupcakes with a cocoa frosting my sister-in-law gave me the recipe for (see below). A half-recipe made enough frosting for the cupcakes with some left over.

Fisher Family Cocoa Butter Frosting

1/3 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup cocoa
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 TBSP milk (or more as needed for the consistency you like)

With a whisk or fork mix ingredients in a small bowl, drizzling in milk until you have the consistency you like.

*If you don't have spiced tea make your own mix. For this batch I used a heaping teaspoon of black tea with 4 cardamom pods, 4 cloves, 5 peppercorns, and a bay leaf. Use any or all chai spices you like/have on hand. Ginger would have been a good addition.

28 August 2009

Basic Bread

Last year I went on a "basic bread quest". Not limiting myself to cookbooks I owned, I also borrowed from the library and found recipes on the internet that seemed to my liking. I was looking for a basic whole-wheat bread (but not ALL whole wheat) that wasn't too complicated and would give consistent results. Each time I made bread I used a new recipe, trying some a second time if they seemed promising. But for all my searching, it came back to the beginning for me. Esther Shank.

For some of you the name "Esther Shank" is totally meaningless. For others, it is roughly synonymous with a warm, busy kitchen where economy and good-sense reign; nothing is wasted, least of all pounds off the cook's middle. The back of her cookbook (titled, "Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets") effuses with some charming rhyme: "Mennonite homemaker Esther H. Shank . . . has collected and perfected good recipes and food tips for 25 years. In this remarkable collection of more than 1,000 recipes and hundreds of hints for success, she shares her legacy of kitchen know-how". Indeed.

While there are some wonderful standard recipes (most of them marked by tell-tale oil or cocoa stains) that I can personally vouch for--Basic Pancakes, Delicious Chocolate Cake, and Buttermilk Biscuits for example--many of the recipes and ideas in the book seem outdated and unusable. The "Party Foods Recipes" section in particular takes my "Whoa-There!" cake. Besides "Surprise Hamburger Muffin Cups" and "Hot Dog Treats" (okay, so I admitted to liking hot dogs, but they either have to be from the diner downtown or sizzled to perfection over a campfire), there is the inscrutable "Elegant Party Loaf". The idea behind this is to take a loaf of bread, cut it into four horizontal slices, and slather each layer with a highly-mayonnaisized salad, chicken, egg, and ham. The loaf then gets cut so that each slice has layers of bread and salads. Elegant, no? From the first time I laid eyes on this page, I have been puzzled and repulsed.

But despite these occasional culinary ditches, I keep going back to Esther Shank for invaluable advice (on such varied topics as mattress-rotation and egg-poaching) and some of those standard recipes that will never go out of style. My basic bread recipe happens to be one of those. I have actually paper-clipped page 60 so that I can easily find it when the bread-baking urge hits.

My only changes to the recipe have been to use a 1-1 ratio of white to whole wheat flour rather than 2-1, respectively. I also have found that baking my loaves for the recommended 40 minutes results in a dry, crumbly texture rather than soft and moist how I like my bread.

Between the two of us, here's what I end up making (a half-recipe that yields two loaves):

Basic Whole Wheat Bread

1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 TBSP yeast
1 TBSP sugar
3/4 cup hot milk
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 TBSP molasses
2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups water
3 cups white flour (plus enough to gain the proper texture)
3 cups whole wheat flour (I often substitute one cup of another whole grain flour, such as rye tonight)

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water and let sit. In a large-ish bowl dump oil, brown sugar, molasses and salt. Pour milk over all to dissolve. Add 1 1/4 cups cold water. Stir in yeast mixture. Add flours and knead until dough is sticky-smooth. I leave it a little sticky, not kneading too long. I then remove the dough from the pan and dump in about 2 TBSP of oil, returning the dough to the bowl and turning to coat. Cover and let rise until double. Shape loaves (2 9X5) and let rise again until double. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Once the bread comes out I use my mom's old trick to keep the crust soft: cover with towel, then a layer of plastic (a grocery bag usually covers both loaves), then another towel. Let cool. Before it's completely cool, I generally can't resist slicing into one of the loaves to "test" it. With butter and honey. YUM. I think my taste-tester said something like: "That's good, honey".

23 August 2009

Confessions of a Foodie #2

Alright. Tomato sandwiches are great, but their consistency as a menu item around here has left me with very little blogging material. Plus I'm just not up to the picture-uploading thing right now. Plus it's Sunday. Time for a confession.

I like hot dogs. I'm a little ashamed of publishing this. Especially being a person who calls herself a "foodie". My table should only be graced with the most wholesome of foods prepared with fresh, local ingredients and presented in the finest taste. Right? I'm supposed to shun so-called "foods" that contain a long list of obscure and un-pronouncable ingredients such as (hang on, let me find a highly processed food that's lurking about . . .) "thiamin mononitrate" and "sodium aluminosilicate"*.

But the fact is I don't have such a pristine criteria for what I consider "food" or even "good food" for that matter. I suppose I can chalk some of this up to sentimentalism. The family gathered around a crackling campfire. Forest sounds reverberating beyond our circle's cheery glow. A piece of unappetizing processed "meat" sizzles and spits as it cooks over the flames . . . Substitute "A lump of processed sugar substance puffs and goldens over the flames . . ." and I've explained away my craving for a nice toasted marshmallow too. It could be the association with good, family times that sends me into a downward hot-dog-craving spiral.

Or, I'll admit, it could just be plain "poor taste." (har, har). Pass the relish and mustard please.

*Ingredients culled from a (now-empty) "Cheez-It" box and container of "French Vanilla Coffee-mate"

19 August 2009

Salsa, Salsa!

I had a day off this week, so what did I do? Spent the whole day on my feet turning our garden roma tomatoes into salsa. I wished I'd planted some green peppers and onions to go into it. Maybe next year . . .

I started with my mom's salsa recipe and another one I found online, making up my own version as I went. Several hours and loads of sweat later, I ended up with about 16 pints. Yay!!!

Anita's Salsa Picante

Yield: about 16 pints

26 c. chopped roma tomatoes (skins, seeds, and all!)
4 1/2 c. chopped onion
4 c. chopped bell pepper
6 jalepenos, chopped (seeds and all!), plus two dried cayenne peppers, minced
2 TBSP sugar
4 1/2 TBSP salt
2 TBSP cumin
10 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 (10.75 oz.) can of tomato sauce
1 (6 oz.) can of tomato paste
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 bunch cilantro, chopped fine

I basically put everything in a pan and simmered until it was the right consistency and taste. I think I overcooked it, though, because everything got mushy. I added the vinegar, lime juice, and cilantro right at the end, did a quick taste check, and it was ready! Another time, I think I'll cook the "sauce" ingredients (tomato paste and sauce, spices, vinegar) and add to the tomato/onion/peppers mix without further cooking. Once you process them for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath, they'll probably get thoroughly cooked!

It's spicy!!!

13 August 2009

Open Face

Summertime is sandwich-time around here. With big, juicy tomatoes hanging off the vines, what more do you need? A slice of bread, some light mayo and horseradish . . . that's that!

Today for lunch I did a variation on my classic tomato sandwich. Remember the walnut pesto I made two days ago? After all the work that went into it, I felt the individual ingredients got a little lost on the pasta. So I tried spreading some on a slice of toast and throwing it in the toaster oven for a few seconds. Y.U.M. You can see where this is going . . . add a slice or two of tomato . . .

And another open-faced sandwich from this week. Venison sloppy joes with another round of Sweet Zingy Slaw.

Got any great summertime sandwich ideas to share?

11 August 2009

Sweet Zingy Slaw

Quite a supper tonight. After a weekend away (and very little cooking on my part) I was ready to get creative in my kitchen again. Before we'd left for our trip, I preemptively whacked the basil way back to prevent it from flowering while we were gone. They look a little sad. BUT, I've got this mound of basil all bagged up in the fridge, so pesto-something was in order.

We were also gifted recently with some lovely summer squash, and I'd bought a bag of shiitake mushrooms from Mom and Dad. Now how to get all these foods to the table . . .

The pesto was pretty straight forward. I used this recipe (1 cup basil leaves, 1/4 cup walnuts, 2 garlic cloves, olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon), whirring each ingredient separately in my mini-chopper and then stirring them all together with the oil and lemon juice. I added the Parmesan cheese right to the spaghetti when I stirred the pesto into it.

Next, mushrooms. I had some Stilton cheese leftover from a splurge purchase, so I combined that with some oatmeal, ground flax seed, and the mushroom stems (chopped fine) as a stuffing for the caps. Nice flavor, but a little dry.

And finally, the squash. This turned out to be my favorite dish of the meal, so I'm including the recipe (I actually measured all the ingredients this time!). Each bite was initially sweet, followed by the delicious burn of cayenne pepper.

Sweet Zingy Slaw

1 medium-sized summer squash
1 carrot
2 TBSP virgin olive oil
2 TBSP white vinegar
1 TBSP brown sugar
I tsp minced fresh dill
1 cayenne pepper, minced*
salt to taste (a few dashes for me)

Shred the summer squash and carrot into a bowl. Mix the remaining ingredients and pour over the veggies. That's all! The "*" is because this was quite spicy. I threw in the whole pepper, seeds and all. I suggest starting with maybe a 1/2 pepper or discarding the seeds if you don't like that much bite. Alternatively, you could probably leave the pepper out altogether and cut the brown sugar in half for a sweet/tangy vibe.

02 August 2009


A fabulous summer evening meal! Pronounced "pahn banYAHT" (apparently) this sandwich originally comes from the region of Nice, France. You can find all this information on the web (I first encountered it here). Far from its origins, what I made probably should not be called pan-bagnat. Maybe just "Squashed Loaf Sandwich".

Basically, you take a loaf of bread, stuff it with fresh veggies, and then squash it so that the juices soak into the bread. Some instructions say to hollow out the loaf; I left mine intact.

After cutting the loaf, I drizzled both sides with olive oil, then layered on the following veggies: slices of tomato (thanks, Bek!), mushroom slices, green peppers, purple onion, and torn basil leaves. I gave the pile of veggies a good dash of salt and pepper then closed the loaf, wrapped it in saran wrap, and squashed it under an upside-down chair and a planter (see black and white picture below). After about two and a half hours, I unwrapped the deflated sandwich sliced it, and served it up with a bowl of olives and glasses of lemonade. Bon apetit!