Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Letter To My Readers, and Chicken Noodle Soup

Dear Loyal Readers (all 3 of you),

The quintessential culinary holiday is upon us. It's the only holiday I can think of which is centered around all things having to do with food, my favorite subject. I ought to be posting about new and old culinary traditions and giving you all kinds of ideas for the holiday table. Instead, I'm completely out of commission.

I have one of the worst colds in my memory and I'm unable to leave the house. Even worse, I'm unable to just lie in my misery, because my kids have been sick too. There are many great things about motherhood, but being sick while your kids are sick is NOT one of them. It's true, they are getting more independent, but they still need me for many things. And so, as a mom, I need to rally.

Fortunately, I don't have Thanksgiving at my house. My awesome mother-in-law hosts Thanksgiving at her house every year. She is truly an angel who brought me wedding soup yesterday which I had for dinner last night and again for breakfast this morning. (Thank you!)Before I came down with this awful sickness, I volunteered to bring some appetizers for Thursday's celebration. Now I'm not sure I'll make it to the party at all! My dinner on Thursday may be a Benadryl/Motrin cocktail. And if I am better by tomorrow, I can only think of having all the kids underfoot and the long lines at Costco and Giant Eagle because I haven't had the chance to get out there and get some ingredients. Woe is me!

But enough of the self-pity! Here's the list of appetizers I plan to make tomorrow when I am all better...

Sugared and Spiced Pecans
Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Black Bean Salsa and Chips
Crab Salad in Endive Leaves
Assorted cheese, salami, fruit and vegetable tray with crackers
Shrimp Cocktail

It's not a compete list, but here's a few of the things I'm thankful for at the moment:
My kids still need me
This sickness does not include vomiting
My neighbor, friend, and carpool partner (also an angel) who has volunteered to take my driving shifts this week
Chicken Noodle Soup (the method follows)
A warm, dry house while it's snowing heavily outside

This gratitude thing really works! I think I'm feeling better already!

So, be thankful for everything in your life and be thankful for your health! And if you do find yourself or a friend under the weather, whip up some chicken noodle soup, cuddle up under a blanket and know that, in the words of my wise mother, "this too shall pass".

Chicken Noodle Soup

1. Take a whole organic chicken, pour a little olive oil, salt, and pepper on the top and bake at 375 until it registers 165 on a meat thermometer. Slice some of the meat off the breast and have it for dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy.

2. Remove the remaining meat from the bones and refrigerate the meat.

3. Place the chicken bones in a stock pot and cover with cold water. Add a couple of celery sticks, a couple of carrot sticks, a quartered onion or leek, 2 garlic cloves, about 10 peppercorns and a bay leaf, and bring to a simmer over low heat. Continue barely simmering (not at a heavy boil) for 3 hours or so. Strain out the solids and place the stock in a container and refrigerate to separate out the fat.

4. Saute 1/2 cup each of chopped celery and carrots in butter in a soup pot until translucent. Add the chicken stock (solidified fat removed) and simmer until the vegetables are very tender. Add some egg noodles and cook until almost done. Add the chicken and simmer until the chicken is heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley if desired.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gingerbread Biscotti

I'm no fan of cold weather and we've been getting our share of it lately as this picture shows. My way of coping with it is to make a cup of hot tea, light a fragrant vanilla or pumpkin pie spice candle in the kitchen and crank up the oven to make some delicious biscotti (so I can dip it into my tea, of course). Some might call it hibernation. I've had this recipe in my files for a while and have finally gotten around to trying it. I've found that I keep a neater kitchen when I'm baking by gathering my ingredients ahead of time. Below is a photo of my mise-en-place. There are very few ingredients in biscotti - this one has just a few more than normal because of the added molasses and spices.

Don't these just beckoned to be dipped?

So Old Man Winter - bring it on! - because I'm armed and ready (to bake)! Just don't make me step outside!

Gingerbread Biscotti

From Southern Living Christmas 2006

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup almonds

Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter and sugars together in a large bowl. Add eggs, one at time, beating well between additions. Add molasses and mix well. In another bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients except the almonds. Add to the egg mixture and beat just until combined. Stir in almonds. Divide the dough in half. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment or Silpat liner, make two flattened logs approximately 2 inches wide and 1 inch high. Use water-dampened or floured hands if dough is too sticky to form the logs. Bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300. Transfer the logs to a cutting board (don't slice on the Silpat) and slice the logs on a diagonal at 1 inch intervals with a large serrated knife. Place the slices, cut side down, back onto the cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes on each side. The biscotti will become more crispy as they cool. Store in an airtight container.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Homemade Yogurt

Homemade yogurt is delicious, healthy, easy, environmentally friendly (no plastic containers to throw away), versatile, and did I mention delicious??? I make yogurt every few weeks and I keep the recipe inside a cabinet right next to the stove along with other handy tips and conversion charts.
You will need:
1 quart milk
1/4 cup dry milk (optional but helps the yogurt become thick, especially if using skim milk)
an instant-read thermometer
small container of Dannon Plain lowfat yogurt (which is your starter)
a yogurt maker
and some time
First, measure out the milk and place it in a pot over med-low heat. Add the dry milk (this helps the yogurt become thicker) and heat the mixture to 185-190 degrees F. I set the oven timer to go off every 5 minutes so I can stir the mixture (so it doesn't burn on the bottom) and to check the temperature with an instant-read thermometer. This takes a little time. I have found that if I don't set a timer, I'll get distracted by something (I'm a mom after all!) and the milk will boil over.

After the mixture has reached 185 degrees, I pour it into a pyrex bowl and wait for it to cool down to between 110 and 115 degrees. Again, it helps to set a timer for 10-15 minutes and check the temp each time. Skim off and discard any film that forms on top of the milk as it's cooling. Place 2 T of Dannon yogurt (for some reason this brand makes the tastiest yogurt) into a small bowl and stir it to remove any lumps. When the milk reaches 115 degrees, gradually add about 1/2 cup warm milk to the yogurt and stir until smooth. Add the yogurt mixture back into the rest of the milk and stir to combine. Pour the milk into your yogurt maker and come back in 6 hours. Refrigerate the yogurt before eating.
I have two yogurt makers, both of which I love. I double the recipe and use both yogurt makers at once. The Donvier maker has individual reusable cups, great for adding some homemade jam for a grab-and-go breakfast. It also has a timer which is a very nice feature. The Salton yogurt maker has one large container which makes it great for the yogurt you may need in recipes.
I use milk from a local small farm called Brunton's. You can get it at Soergel's or McGinnis Sisters. The glass bottles are returnable for even less waste in your recycling bin (and let's face it, do we really know if all that plastic is really recycled anyway?) The milk is so good, my kids have even commented on how great it tastes! I use 2% milk for yogurt because it sets up better if you use milk with some fat content in it.
To make yogurt-cheese, set the yogurt in a strainer lined with a coffee filter and set the strainer over a bowl. Cover it with plastic and place it in the refrigerator overnight. Use it in place of cream cheese or sour cream in recipes

Bottom line: homemade yogurt takes some time, but the result is definitely worth it!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Scandinavian Apple Cake

As of this afternoon, I am a "secret Santa" to one of my "sisters", we have about a dozen "field trips" to plan, and I am the proud new owner of 5 narcissus bulbs which I hope I can water sufficiently to bloom. I also need to watch 50 First Dates and Legends of the Fall so that I don't continue to feel lame for not watching a movie since before 1996! We shared our individual answers to questions like "what is your favorite food" to "what 3 things would you take if you were going to be stranded on a deserted island". We gave ourselves makeovers and ate Apple Cake. It was a productive and, as always, an enlightening experience. Thanks girlfriends!

Apple Cake
from Country Home March/April 1997

4 cups peeled, cored, and finely chopped cooking apples
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp salt
powdered sugar for top

In a large mixing bowl combine apples, sugar, walnuts, and melted butter. Stir in eggs and vanilla. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, soda, allspice, and salt. Add dry ingredients to apple mixture, stirring just until combined.

Spread the batter into a greased and floured 13X9 pan or a 10-inch fluted tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees F about 30 minutes for 13X9 pan or 50 minutes for tube pan. Sprinkle warm cake with powdered sugar. Serve warm. Makes 12-16 servings.


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