Monday, December 21, 2009

Here we go a wassailing, among the leaves so green...

1 gallon apple cider or apple juice
1/2 gallon pineapple juice
Juice of four oranges
2-4 cinnamon sticks to taste
Honey to sweeten the brew if you have a very sweet tooth
2 more oranges, prepared according to the directions below
More cinnamon sticks to use as straws (kids love this)

Mix the first five ingredients in a large saucepan and warm slowly over low heat until good and hot (but not boiling). Cut the top, bottom, and most of the rind off the remaining oranges, ending up with a roughly hexagonal shape. (In my case, a catastrophe.) Squeeze the oranges very gently over the pot to extract some of the juice, then slice them. Just before serving, float the slices in the wassail as decoration. My sloppy slices didn't qualify as decorative in any sense of the word, but the wassail tasted lovely. If you don't mind a little bitterness from the rind, you might try using thin slices with the rind on. It's much tidier and (if you're a klutz like me) prettier that way.

Wassail the trees, that they may bear
You many a plum and many a pear;
For more or less fruit they will bring,
As you do give them wassailing.
                                 --- Robert Herrick


Mrs. Beeton's very nice plum cake:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Teensy weensy Christmas ornaments

Friday, December 11, 2009

New dog, cherry slice, and the only cats who would let us take their picture.
Here is our new dog:

Isn't he sweet? Jane, the cat, is pissed off and being very unsociable right now. Fortunately, New Dog (no name so far) is a laid back sort of pooch, so I don't think there will be a long term problem. Since Jane isn't available for a photo, here are two more cooperative cats instead:

And now for the recipe, from my grandmother by way of my mother:

Cherry Slice

½ cup soft butter and 1 cup flour.
Mix together. Spread over the bottom of an 8”x8” pan and bake at 400 degrees F. for 15-20 minutes.

2 beaten eggs
1½ cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ pound glace cherries, halved

Mix topping, spread over crust, and bake at 325 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. Let cool overnight if possible before cutting into squares. It's not easy to cut, so next time I'm going to put it in the fridge to get really cold before cutting it.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sweet potato dressing

I like sweet potatoes, but I don't care for the recipes that make them even sweeter - such as the kind where marshmallows are melted on top, or where they're mashed with brown sugar. Just a matter of taste, obviously... Anyway, if you don't want your sweet potatoes too sweet, this recipe is just great. It can be eaten with turkey at Thanksgiving, or as a separate meal if you use enough sausage. Warning: all quantities are approximate, so adjust them according to taste.

2 or 3 large sweet potatoes

Pork or turkey sausage, anything from a half pound to a pound. I usually use breakfast sausage, but I've heard Italian sausage works well. If I can't find the sausage meat in bulk, I squeeze it out of the casings.

Butter or oil

1 onion,  3 or 4 celery stalks, 1 green and 1 red bell pepper, all diced

Parsley, chopped.

Bread crumbs, the coarse kind used for stuffings and dressings, or you can make your own with fresh or stale bread and add salt, pepper, sage and other herbs to taste.

Bake the sweet potatoes until done. Saute the onions and sausage meat, then add and saute the celery and peppers. Add butter or oil as needed. Peel and mash the sweet potatoes and mix in the meat and vegetables. Add bread crumbs to taste (the more bread crumbs, the drier the dressing). Season to taste. Add a little water if needed, or cover with foil. Bake in a 9x13 pan (or whatever size seems right) at 350 degrees (medium oven) for about half an hour.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Butter tarts, not butter pie

Butter pie is on the back burner for now. Not that I've given it up: if the Internet fails me, I may go all the way to Lancashire and a Preston North End football game to find out what butter pie is really supposed to be like.

Butter tarts, now: they're a Canadian specialty. When I was a kid, we always had them at Christmas. I hadn't had them for years, but what made me start thinking about butter tarts again was the Surrey International Writers' Conference, held every fall in Surrey, BC. I went two years in a row. It's a great multi-genre conference, not too big, not too small. I had a great time, but the highlight of the conference both times (for me) was the butter tarts. There were trays of them on the dessert table, and since the American attendees, by and large, didn't know what they were, that left more for those in the know, such as me.

And then, on another trip out west, I found the World's Best Butter Tarts, served at a cool little bakery/café. I don't remember the name of the café, and I think it was in Lillooet, which is a small town north of the famous Whistler ski area, but I can't say for sure.

All of which led to a major case of butter-tart homesickness, so I got a recipe from my sister and tried making them myself. Miracle of miracles, they worked! I gorged myself on them for several days. Here goes:

Pans: My mother used tart pans. I couldn't find any, so I used both mini and medium muffin tins. Both worked fine.

Pastry: You can make your own, or buy pre-made tartlets or pre-rolled pie pastry which you cut to fit the tart or muffin pans. I did the lazy version of make your own. I used a recipe from my old, battered, and very reliable Joy of Cooking. It's called Quick and Easy Pie Crust. You don't have to roll it out – you just pat it into the pans. My butter tarts didn't look all that gorgeous, but they tasted great.

1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix the ingredients together and fill the pastry-lined muffin or tart pans about 2/3 full. Actually, they'll take a bit more than that, but if you over-fill them, the filling bubbles over and may burn. It still tastes good, though.

Bake at 450 degrees for 8 minutes, then at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. The recipe is supposed to make 12 to 15 tarts. I got a dozen minis plus nine mediums.

As my sister advised me – enjoy, but not all of them at once!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cranberry Bread, not Butter Pie

I had great plans for this blog about butter pie. I even had alternate plans in case the butter pie thing didn't fly. No go.

I've wanted to try butter pie for years, ever since Paul McCartney mentioned it in the song "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey." A few years ago, I actually went to Lancashire, England, the home of butter pie, but unfortunately, I forgot about butter pie until we were leaving Lancashire. Dumb, completely dumb, but I was totally absorbed in visiting friends and historic sites and such, and getting to try mushy peas (absolute heaven if you're a pea freak like me). Now I'm writing a historical with a heroine from Lancashire, and there's a kitchen scene where she's baking…

No, not butter pie. When I first posted this blog on the Pink Fuzzies, she was making treacle tart, Harry Potter's fave dessert, because it's not a mealtime scene, and she's a lady and wouldn't be likely to make a meal anyway. She's stretching it being in the kitchen at all. (Afterward I decided she should make the Lancashire specialty, Eccles Cakes -- hence the blog of a few weeks ago -- although when all's said and done she'll probably be making Chorley Cakes, or nothing at all). Anyway. She and various other characters are drinking café-au-lait and discussing the French Revolution, and butter pie just didn't work. Still, my heroine and her pastry reminded me about butter pie, so I thought I'd finally make it myself… maybe mention it in this story or another… post about it on a blog.

Butter pie, as I understand it, is a potato and onion pie and a Lancashire specialty. It was or is commonly eaten on Fridays when Catholics don't eat meat. Well... I'm something of a pastry freak. I'll eat almost anything if it's enclosed in pastry, and since I also love potatoes and butter, and onions go with everything… I thought, perfect!

Recipes for butter pie seem to be few and far between, so I glanced over the only one I could find and altered it to suit my tastes and what I had in my pantry.

It didn't work. It was edible, but not very good. My fault, probably, for altering before trying the original, but I was in a hurry. It needed a lot of Worcestershire Sauce or HP Sauce or ketchup to make it tolerable. A little sauce, I'm fine with. A lot means there's a problem. I'm not posting the recipe today, and I'm going to try again. And again until I get it right, even if I have to go back to Lancashire and find a cook who knows how to make fabulous butter pie. Oh, the sacrifices one has to make!

The backup plan was to make treacle tart, but apparently I need golden syrup, which my local supermarket doesn't carry. I know where to look, but I haven't had time. So scratch that idea, too.

Bottom line: here's a recipe for Cranberry Bread with my usual notes and options:

2 c. whole wheat pastry flour (you can use all-purpose if you want)
1 c. brown sugar (you can use white if you must)
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt (or a little less)
1/2 tsp. soda
1/4 cup soft butter
Rind of an orange, grated. About a teaspoon is right, unless you love the bitter orange flavor. Lemon rind is okay, too. Or you can skip the rind thing entirely.
3/4 cup orange juice. I've also used grape juice or a combo of grape and orange.
1 egg, beaten
1 cup chopped fresh cranberries. I think dried cranberries or raisins would do, but I haven't tried them. You might have to adjust the liquid a little, because fresh cranberries contain some juice.
½ cup chopped walnuts or other nuts

Mix the dry ingredients. Add the butter until blended. Mix the peel/juice/egg together and add to the dry ingredients. Do not over-mix. Add the cranberries and nuts. Bake in a greased loaf pan at 350 degrees for about one hour. It slices better if you let it cool for several hours.

Onward to butter pie!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Homemade Yogurt

Ingredients: 1 quart/liter of milk and one-fourth cup/250 ml. plain yogurt

Quantities in this recipe are approximate. What works depends largely on the potency of the yogurt you use, and you'll only know that by trying it out. I used Chobani Greek Yogurt, but many brands will do as long as they contain active cultures--the one I used has five different kinds of yogurt bacteria--and NO THICKENERS such as starch, gelatin, pectin, guar gum, etc. etc. If there are enough yogurt bacteria doing their job, the yogurt will be reasonably thick on its own. If they've used a thickener, chances are there aren't enough bacteria in there.

Scald the milk -- i.e. heat it up, but take it off the stove just before it climbs the sides of the pan and makes a huge mess.

Pour the milk into a glass or ceramic container with a lid. (Don't put the lid on yet – that's for later.) Cool the milk to around 110-115 degrees F. It helps to use a thermometer the first few times until you can tell the approximate temperature by dipping your finger in. My little finger works best, perhaps because it's less desensitized than the others.

Stir the yogurt into the milk. Cover with the lid, wrap in a blanket (two layers is good), and put it somewhere warm. All I mean by warm is somewhere not cold. In my house in the summer, anyplace will do because I don't have good A/C. In the winter, I'd put it somewhere sheltered in the warmest room of the house.

Open it 24 hours later, and you should have yogurt. If you don't, or if the yogurt is too liquid… hmm. You might want to try adding more yogurt next time, or try a different brand, or keep the container in a warmer place. Once you've unwrapped the yogurt, store it in the fridge.

Next time, use some of your homemade yogurt as a starter. It should work fine, but again, results vary. Over the course of time, your batches may become stronger and more sour, and even develop quite a bite, so if that doesn't appeal to you, you can always start over with a milder yogurt from the store.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Checcles Cakes, or maybe Chorcles Turnovers

The heroine of one of my historical novels is from Lancashire, England, and despite her mother's prohibitions, she loves to bake and learned in secret from their cook whenever her mother wasn't around. The obvious choice was the delectable Lancashire specialty, Eccles Cakes. My heroine only bakes in one scene of the book, but still, I decided to try making them myself, because I wanted to get it right.

I didn't. In fact, I made a major flub. (Fortunately, no one has bought the story yet, so whew! I have plenty of time to fix it.) Eccles Cakes are made with puff pastry, which is not quick or simple to make; in fact, it's quite a lengthy process. My heroine can't merrily roll out the dough and bake Eccles Cakes in an hour or so. But I still wanted to make them - hadn't had any for years and years - so when I found an old package of puff pastry in my freezer, I thought, woo-hoo! Eccles Cakes today!

Here's a recipe for the filling:

6 tablespoons butter
7/8 cup brown sugar
1 cup currants, raisins, or a mixture of the two
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Rind of one orange, grated. Theoretically, this is optional, but I think the orange rind is what makes the filling absolutely superb. I used one of those big, juicy navel oranges with thick, tasty rind. Yum!

Melt the butter and mix in the rest of the ingredients. The filling is so delicious that I kept sneaking spoonfuls.

To make Eccles Cakes, you're supposed to cut rounds from the pastry, put a dollop of filling in the middle of each round, moisten half the edge with milk or water, bring the sides to the middle (i.e. enclosing the filling), and press together to seal; then turn the cake over and roll it ever-so-gently and pat into a round shape. Greedily, I put in too much filling, and then, when the edges kept coming apart, I gave up and dumped the pastries into the pan (greased, by the way). You're supposed to brush them with egg and a little sugar (I'm pretty sure I remember the sugar from my childhood), and cut a few slits in the top of each cake. Which I did, but my cakes had so many holes they didn't need the slits. Bake them at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes.

They tasted great, but they looked awful. The picture (above) makes them look much better than in real life. (Kind of like professional author photos, but that's another story.) I don't know if the puff pastry was too old, or whether it was just my laziness in not following the directions carefully. I'll try again some other day. If I screw up again... Well, they taste wonderful, which is all that really matters.

Back to my heroine, stuck in a scene that didn't work. I decided to have her make Chorley Cakes instead. They're another Lancashire specialty, and they're a lot like Eccles Cakes except that they're made with regular pastry instead. Easy!

Not really. My pastry turned out all right, but again I probably put in too much filling, and I didn't even try rolling the dang things ever-so-carefully into a roundish shape. I just cut the pastry into squares and, using the same filling, made turnovers. I baked them at 350 degrees for longer than the Eccles Cakes. I didn't write down how long they took, but it was probably closer to half an hour. If the pastry looks done, that's good enough.

Bingo! Chorcles Cakes or Checcles Turnovers, scrumptious by whatever name.