12 December 2011


A Christmas tradition in our home three years in the making is to listen to Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" (by Focus on the Family's radio theater programming) while baking cookies. This year it was just peppernuts. Apparently, there are about as many varieties of peppernuts as there are people who make them. I think at David's family Christmas last year there were no less than four different kinds of peppernuts in attendance. For this year, I made the lighter, crisper ones seen in the back of the photo above, while David made the more assertive dark peppernuts in the front of the photo. They both have wonderful flavor which is only supposed to improve with age. Yes, like a fine wine or cheese, these little cookies can and should be aged. But they're so stinkin' cute and tasty, that it's truly hard to just let them be!

Anyone else baking a holiday cookie must-have?

Fall Fare

Quick, before winter officially begins!

I made this a few weeks (okay, probably two months) ago and it was an absolutely delicious fall meal! Mashed potatoes (and turnips--could've done without those, actually) with spicy sausage and tatsoi. I sauteed onions, then browned the sausage and seasoned it with cayenne pepper, sage, and hickory smoked salt. Just before serving, I added some chopped tatsoi cabbage and cooked it just until it wilted a bit but hadn't lost its color.

Yum, yum!

09 November 2011

Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

Wow. Brown butter takes frosting to a new level! It gives a caramel-y punch that really means less icing for a LOT of flavor impact. Paired with pumpkin . . . you gotta do this!

The brown butter frosting is taken directly from Martha Stewart's website (find it here). I think I just added more powdered sugar to make it a little stiffer. I also used whipping cream (because I had it on hand) which made the frosting fluffier than it would have been with just milk.

The pumpkin cake recipe I found on allrecipes.com. I did scale it down to 11 servings instead of 14 for the two nine-inch rounds you see in the picture. For the sake of ease, I'll link to the recipe and also write out the measurements I used below:

Pumpkin Cake

1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. applesauce (or another 1/2 c. vegetable oil)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c. pumpkin (I used a mix of pumpkin and butternut squash)
3 eggs
1 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. each of ground ginger, cloves, and nutmeg

Instructions: Beat sugar, oil, and applesauce together. Blend in cooked pumpkin (I never pureed mine, just scooped it out of the shell and dumped it into the batter!), vanilla, and eggs. Sift the remaining ingredients into the bowl and stir until smooth. Bake in two nine-inch greased and floured cake pans for 30 minutes at 350F (you'll have to adjust the baking time if you use a 9 X 13, bundt, or do cupcakes). And don't forget a light frosting of that brown butter icing!

Cran-Cayenne Jam

After an early snow and frost, I had to salvage what hot peppers I could quickly. Their texture was no longer good for canning as rings in sauce, so I came up with this sweet, tart, spicy jam instead. YUM! And the color is absolutely stunning. Now it sits in the fridge, just waiting to be processed in cute little jars (for Christmas presents?) . . .

Cran-Cayenne Jam

2 pkg. fresh, whole cranberries (24 oz.)--sorted and washed
1/2 c. lemon juice
1/4 c. vinegar
3 c. (1/2 lb.) fresh, whole cayenne peppers
3 c. sugar
1 pkg. (1.75 oz.) powdered pectin
water (as desired to achieve the consistency you like)

In a food processor, chop (or grind as fine as you like--I personally like a little texture to my jam) the cranberries and peppers. Combine in a large stock pot with the remaining ingredients and cook until the mixture thickens to the consistency you like (it will cook another 15 minutes later if you process it by boiling water method). Taste and correct sugar/lemon juice/water according to your taste. That's it! Not sure of the yield as I've used a good bit already and haven't canned the remainder yet.

Cook's Word: This is spicy!!! by itself, but less so on bread. In the picture above I served it with bread and cream cheese, placed under a broiler until slightly toasted before adding the jam. I briefly thought about adding some apples to the jam too for more sweetness without using more sugar, but I liked how peppery it was, so I let it be in the end.

14 October 2011

Way Back When

Way back when I was cooking and baking . . .

I made this for a combination birthday party/baby shower a few months ago. Two yummy chocolate cake rounds layered with a mint frosting with additional melted chocolate on top! I think I ate a piece of this every day until it was all gone!

Since giving birth to my son at the beginning of September, I honestly haven't cooked much--the food has been rolling in from so many generous friends and family members. But the last meal arrives tomorrow, so it's back to the kitchen for me!

10 September 2011

Ethiopian Plate

Wow. I com-PLETE-ly missed August! Not like I was getting ready for a baby, spending as much time as possible with ALL my sisters, and attending (plus helping with) two awesome weddings!

Somehow, I did find time to cook too, just not time to blog. And, honestly, I should be in bed now--preparing my body to give birth--not squeezing one blog post in first. *sigh*

But just to tease you . . .

I had a short Ethiopian food craze last month. Two meals (since I'd made tons of injera the first meal). Homemade injera (wish I could get it nice and tangy!); red beet and lentil salad; potatoes and green beans in tomato sauce; and spicy lentils. Definitely a meal I could repeat any day (besides all the work it takes).

The injera recipe came from a cookbook I have--they were surprisingly easy and fun to make, although I think I need to work on my technique a little to get them to be a more uniform thickness. It was like making crepes (that don't stick to a dry pan). Let me know if you have a kicker recipe!

22 July 2011

German Chocolate Cheesecake

For a friend's birthday recently, I got together with two other women to create this concoction. We combined a few recipes: one for the dark chocolate cheesecake (just the filling), and another for the crust (I think) and German chocolate cake topping. Viola! The best of both cheesecake and German chocolate cake. And it was GOOD! Smooth (a food processor makes all the difference in my opinion), chocolate-y, and just plain yumminess in that topping of coconut and pecans.

You really gotta try this, especially with the help of two other friends. Makes the process so much more fun. The only thing I would do different is make MORE of the topping so it could kinda drizzle down the side. Mmmmmm . . .

13 July 2011

Pit Pics

So, there you have it! Only a month later (it would have been just 3 weeks later if Blogger wasn't taking such a long time loading pictures--grrrr).

We (that is, David) started by digging a hole in the ground, maybe three feet by two feet and a couple feet deep. This was lined with rocks that we all participated in gathering from public property on the way home from church (it was all legit, promise.)

Once the hole was dug and lined with rock, we (that is, David again) started a fire in it and let the fire burn down to a nice bed of coals. In the meantime, Mom and I were prepping the food--a pork loin rubbed with herbs and some baking potatoes. Once the coals were ready, we lined them with banana leaves and placed the banana-leaf wrapped pork and the foil-wrapped potatoes in the middle of the hole. This was all covered with the remaining banana leaves we had and a wet sheet (to keep dirt from getting in the food packets). Then it was all smothered with dirt, and we went off to distract ourselves with other pursuits for three hours. Below is a picture of us uncovering the food. It was an anxious moment . . .

The pork was succulent and juicy, perfectly done through to the center. But surprisingly, the potatoes weren't yet soft through! I would have thought the potatoes would cook before the meat. Never mind. We finished them up in the microwave and enjoyed our meal splendidly. Complete with fresh mango chutney (for the pork), corn and lima succotash, and fresh pieces of coconut! Yum.

30 May 2011

Pit Cook

We are in the wilds of Pennsylvania for the weekend and taking the opportunity to fulfill a dream of MIL. Dig a pit. Line with rocks. Light fire. When the fire burns down to coals, we layer in banana leaves and food wrapped in banana leaves (and some in foil too), cover it all up and leave to cook for three hours. That's where we are now. With one hour down, and two to go, it looks like it'll be a pretty late lunch! Pictures to follow.

Enjoy your holiday!

20 May 2011

Pumpkin Pasta

So I had this pumpkin around since last September. It came in our CSA box, and we had so many pumpkins around that I never used this one. A few weeks ago, I suddenly got tired of looking at it, and took a knife to it. I made pumpkin and chickpea chili. I made a pumpkin curry. And I made this pasta sauce.

The sauce involved sauteeing onions and garlic in some oil, adding the pumpkin, and then cooking it down until it was mash-able. I added a can of apricots and some sausage too! Spices included: cumin, cayenne pepper, and fresh sage and green onions. I think I finished it with a little milk to make it creamy. It was pretty good--savory and a little sweet with a cayenne zing!

And now I'm ready for fresh spring produce!

18 April 2011

Birthday Baklava

A few months before I turned 30, I made a list of "30 Things I Want to Do Before I Turn 30". I numbered to 30 down the page, carefully circling each number. I wrote a first entry: "Make Baklava".

I never wrote anything else on the list.

Dawn my 30th birthday. I haven't made baklava yet. I do have a recipe. And phyllo dough. What I don't have is pistachios and enough butter. I make a run to the store. I know I'm not going to get the baklava in the oven before 11:27 am (the time I was born). When I get home my husband is fiddling with the microwave--he's turned the clock back a few hours to give me more time to meet my goal. Sweet.

Another delay. I could only get pistachios in the shell. We spend about 10 minutes shelling 1 pound of nuts.

Yet another delay. No food processor to crush them in. I painstakingly clean out our coffee grinder and process the pistachios in miniscule batches until they're all chopped nicely. I add 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon, and set them aside.

I melt a stick of butter with 1/4 cup canola oil.

Assembly time! The first five layers of phyllo dough get just butter brushed in between them. Then I start layering them with butter and nuts until I've used all but the last five layers. I don't trim the sheets, just alternate which side of the pan I fold the excess over on. The top five layers get just butter again.

Next I score the baklava into diamonds (and triangles at the edges), and sprinkle a little nut dust in the middle of each piece. As I'm doing this, I realize that the nuts will probably burn while baking and I should wait until after the syrup is poured on, but it's too late now.

The pan goes into the oven at 325F for one hour. While it bakes I prepare the syrup: 1/2 cup water with one cup sugar. Bring this mixture to a boil and boil, stirring, for 5 minutes. Let cool.

When the baklava finally comes out, the cooled syrup gets poured over it. I dust with some fresh pistachios. Viola! Birthday Baklava! Too bad I have to let it cool before tasting.

Cook's Word: This was actually fairly simple and fun to make. I might skip the pistachio shelling next time and just use walnuts, but for such a special occasion, I'm glad I chose the better nut. =) If you like a more syrup-y baklava, just increase the amount of syrup. The friend I got my recipe from prefers to use the proportions I've used here, and I think that's a good idea.

16 April 2011

Pi Day Remembered

I was at work on March 14 (3.14) when my co-worker comes in with a, "Happy Pi Day!" Mild panic. I'd forgotten all about Pi Day! I had no plans for a pi day dinner! Luckily my husband and I, along with Mom and sister had just canned cherry pie filling about a week prior. So. Cherry pie was definitely on the menu. I saw a friend and invited him to come share it with us later that evening. "Give me a call to confirm".

When I got home, I decided to do it up well, and have a main-course pie too. I scoured recipes and decided on a fish pie with mashed potato topping. Our friend called to confirm that he would come for pie, and I said he might as well join us for dinner too. As I closed the phone, I suddenly had a sneaking suspicion that I might already have other plans for the evening. I checked my calendar. Yikes! In less than an hour I was supposed to meet my sister-in-law for an outing. I reconciled myself to missing the dinner I was creating and went into high-gear production mode.

I called my husband to make sure he would be home in time to meet our friend and get the pies out of the oven. And I made him promise to leave me some leftovers.

I threw together the pies, got them in the oven, heated up some leftover chili for myself, and just had time to clean the table, brush my teeth, and say "hi" and "bye" to David before I had to go. Some Pi Day celebration! I guess the guys enjoyed dinner (David invited a third friend) because a lot of the food was gone when I got home (including 1/2 a carton of vanilla ice cream!).

Before turning in for the night, I had a bedtime snack of cherry pie.

Lavender Vanilla Soda

I was craving some soda a few weeks ago while doing some regular grocery shopping. Having agreed not to purchase items with high-fructose corn syrup in them, I was at a bit of a loss as to how to satisfy this craving. Then it came to me. Dry soda. We sell it at the restaurant I work at--a product developed by a pregnant lady to be able to enjoy a good tasting dinner beverage without feeding baby lots of sugar. I bought a bottle of club soda and determined to make my own.

I started with lavender, steeping 2 tsp. of the flowers in a cup of hot water.

When it had steeped for 10 minutes, I added 2 tsp. sugar, a pinch of salt, and a 1/4 tsp. of vanilla flavoring. Into the freezer for about 15 minutes to cool.

After chilling, I mixed the syrup with an equal amount of club soda, and that was it!

It could have been sweeter, less lavender-y and more vanilla-y. But overall I found it refreshing and simple to make. I tried adding whipped cream to make it like a cream soda, but found I didn't care for the effect.

Other flavor ideas: plain vanilla, orange, ginger, cherry . . . Got any to share?

St. Pat

A nod to our St. Patrick's Day feast this year. I did make a lovely Irish venison stew (with carrots, turnips, and potatoes) which stewed all day, cooled, and stewed again the next day. Loved the fresh rosemary! Served it up with some hot Irish soda bread and shamrock butter cookies (many of which I burnt--*sad face*).

23 March 2011

Angel Food

This is a story about faith. About waiting and trusting that an un-seen, hoped-for result (as in the picture above) will take place. Like waiting for crocus to bloom in my yard after it seems everyone else's are up. And my all-too-often lack of such faith.

Armed with some brief instruction and a hand-written recipe on a slip of pink paper, I set out to make--for my younger brother and sister's joint birthday party--my first-ever Angel Food Cake. From scratch. I had deliberated about this, as it seemed like a complicated, unpredictable thing to make an angel food cake from scratch and the box mix costs just a few dollars. However, the list of un-pronouncable ingredients on the back of said box (along with some I can pronounce but prefer not to ingest), a little love of adventure, and not a little bit of pride helped to convince me to bake the scenic route (like that line?).

So to make angel food cake the "scenic route", you take a ton of egg whites, beat them into a heavenly frenzy with some sugar, vanilla (and almond, if you like) flavoring, and then--so as not to distress the airy batter--fold in some softly sifted flour/salt mixture, and bake it! Simple.

Let me tell you. If any part of this is going to cause you to have a nervous breakdown, sigh and moan frequently, and give in to a few curses, it will be the egg whites. Not that I know this from experience.

I whipped. And beat. And beat. And beat. Sugar. Beat. Beat. Beat. For about 30 minutes. This is not an exaggeration. I may be a wimp, but my arms hurt. And I was using an electric hand mixer! Whoever invented this recipe (if it was before the age of electric kitchen appliances) got a devilish delight out of calling it anything that refers to the heavenly realm!

Finally! It seemed I had achieved "medium peaks". And if they weren't medium, I didn't care!

Next, gently stir in the flour . . . a little . . . bit . . . at a time . . .

I had to test the consistency a lot.

Then--also gently--spoon the batter into the pan. No grease or that cake won't cling to the pan and rise properly!

You can see the lack of faith on my face, mingled with anxious hope.

I put it in the oven, turned on the timer, and left the kitchen. I'm not sure how I passed the time, but I did get up once to check on the cake. I made an audible exclamation which caused my husband to wonder if in distress or relief. It was a miracle! The cake was rising! Hooray!

Once it was done baking, the cake came out of the oven and was turned upside-down on the counter to cool. If cooled with the pan upright the cake can fall back down and ruin the effect.

To dress it up for the party, I bought a tub of whipped cream and some frozen blueberries to make blueberry sauce. Isn't it pretty?!?

And it tasted good too. Relief! Since I used raw sugar (whizzed to a fine powder in my food processor) it looked a little darker than a normal angel food cake.

Would I do this again? Maybe. But probably only for a special occasion!

16 March 2011


Just because I didn't post at all in February doesn't mean I haven't been cooking. I did have a little dip in my interest-level in food, but now that the feel-good trimester has hit, I'm back to normal--ooohing and aaahing over this or that food . . . getting super-excited about the next meal I'm going to make . . . exclaiming, "this is going to be SOOOOO good!" as I stir a pot of Irish Stew . . .

Which brings us to the present moment. I'm sitting here in my living room enveloped in the warm, tantalizing smell of a slow-simmering Irish Stew. Venison chunks, onion, garlic, carrots, potatoes, turnip, red wine, broth . . . wow. I can't wait for tomorrow!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

31 January 2011


Like my search for the perfect basic bread recipe, I have been trying, discarding, and tweaking granola recipes for the past year or so. Until finally. I have it the way I like it. Each time I make it, I give a little away, and I've had enough positive feedback that it's time to post a recipe. I honestly have no idea the path this recipe has taken (I typically like to cite my sources), so I can only report on the final product.

Granola di Anita
(sorry, just feeling a bit Italian at the moment!)
Yield: about 8 cups (I usually make a double batch)

4 c. rolled oats (I sometimes use 1/2 barley flakes if I have them)
1/4 c. each wheat bran and ground flax*
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup nuts (I always include raw cashews if I have them)

3 TBSP butter
3 TBSP vegetable oil
1/4 c. honey
2 TBSP molasses
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp each vanilla and maple flavoring
2 TBSP water

1 c. flake coconut
1 c. dried fruit (figs, apricots, cranberries, currants, raisins, etc.--mix and match!)

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 325F. Mix the DRY ingredients together in a big bowl. Next, mix WET ingredients by melting butter (or just use all veg. oil if you like) and then adding the other ingredients, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and stir to coat. WAIT to add the coconut and fruit (they will burn if you bake them in from the beginning. I know.) Spread granola on baking sheets (one 11 x 14 for a single batch) and bake for 10 minutes. Stir granola and rotate trays (if you are using more than one), then bake another 10 minutes and stir again. NOW add your coconut and dried fruit. Bake another 10 minutes. Finally, let cool . . . undisturbed! Your granola will have a mental breakdown and literally crumble if you stir it while cooling. So if you want it to chunk together, DO NOT TOUCH (okay, you can snitch a taste or two while it cools if you must). When completely cool, package in plastic containers or ziplock bags to store. Will keep for weeks (if it lasts that long!).

*Just leave out the wheat bran for gluten-free granola. You can substitute oat bran if you like.

Fish Soup

I found a recipe in a Mediterranean cookbook I have for fish baked in a tomato-olive sauce that looked really good. Great way to finish off those two last fillets in the freezer. Um. Make that one fillet in the freezer. No problem. I turned the "sauce" into broth and when the fish was cooked, I flaked it into pieces for a fish soup! I loved the combination of flavors! The broth consisted of sauteed onions, tomato paste, pepper paste, and water. After the fish was cooked, I added chopped black olives, fresh cilantro, and salt & pepper to taste. Just writing about it is making me hungry! And now that I've bought more fish . . . could be anytime!

28 January 2011

Holiday Eating

This is Christmas Eve . . . Pozole and Tamales

When I was shopping at the local Asian/Latino grocery store before Christmas, my friend who works there asked, "So, are you making anything special for Christmas? Tamales?" Well, I hadn't been planning on it . . . but why not?! I had just seen tamal-making in operation at work and I was at the place where I could buy all the supplies. I went for it, and it was so much fun!

I made two different sauces--a mole ("mol-ay", which is a Mexican chili-chocolate sauce) and a tomatillo-jalapeno sauce. We used chicken and prunes with the mole and ground venison with the green sauce. I went ahead and cooked the meats so I wouldn't have to worry about them cooking inside the tamales. I found a masa recipe online that didn't call for lard, and bought banana leaves to wrap them in. Then we went to work! After wrapping them up, they were placed over water in a steamer basket (one of those fold-out kind) in my big stockpot and steamed for about an hour.

While the steaming was going on, I had plenty of time to make pozole--a chicken, hominy soup in a mildly tomato-y broth. While the soup itself is a little bland you get to have fun adding all the fresh toppings--cilantro, diced tomatoes, green onions, and lime juice!

My sister-in-law and her husband were coming down from Pennsylvania to have lunch with us, and I regret to say the tamales kept us waiting . . . I hadn't planned on the appropriate amount of time to let them steam. But, when all was "said and done" we had a mighty feast and enjoyed it to!

Later in the day, we went Asian with fresh spring rolls for a dinner with my family. I wasn't quite as happy with these results as with the tamales and pozole. I undercooked the rice noodles a tad, and I think we made the rolls a bit too fat. But with all those fresh herbs, flavor itself was salvaged! Better luck next time.

Cook's Word: Tamales and pozole: could definitely become a tradition. Spring rolls? The jury is out.