Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Marble Man's Cure-All;

Several people have asked for the recipe for Marble Man's "special tea". OK, confession time: this is not something he came up with. I told him how to make it for me and he did a bang-up job. He comes from a long line of tee-totalers (but it was remarkably easy to corrupt him!). When I feel cruddy from a cold, and don't want to take Nyquil during the day, I make this tea remedy and it really helps:

1.5 ounces bourbon, whiskey, or brandy
2 tsp honey
neutral-flavored tea (Lipton's or Twining's English Breakfast are best for this)

Add hot water, steep, and drink it up while it's hot. Repeat until you can no longer sit up straight :-) Guaranteed, you'll get some good naps in!

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's Beginning to Smell A Lot Like Christmas

I've been in a baking frenzy these past few days, which is crazy 'cuz it's just Marble Man and me this time around. Still, the cookies are flying out of the oven, the fruitcakes are beckoning, and the gingerbread houses are ready for habitation. Soon to come: Julekake (Norwegian Christmas Bread)... and even MORE cookies! Mmmmmm.

The fruitcakes I make are not the running jokes being passed from house to house, year after year.

My recipe came from an old family friend, a lovely Frenchwoman named Idalette Baker. I remember being a small child, hanging about in her Country French-styled kitchen while she prepared the 7 course meals she'd serve guests for dinner. Although she didn't have children at that point in her life, she treated me as though I had something valuable to contribute at the tender age of seven. She taught me subtle lessons in the kitchen that I observed as pure fun at the time, and still use today.

One night, she served her wonderful fruitcake and, after tasting it, I begged for the recipe (which she had to convert from metric for me). She happily shared it and I treasure it, as now she's gone. It's so darned rich with butter and sugar (and the only rum in it comes from soaking the raisins before it all goes together) that I make it rarely. But when I do, boy do we enjoy it!

Our favorite Christmas cookies also require a heap of butter (God, I feel my butt growing wider as I type this post!). I asked Marble Man to tell me his two top faves, and I picked my two. His: Checkerboard Cookies, and Chocolate Crinkles; and mine: Walnut Crescents and Peanut Butter. So far, I've made one for each of us.

MM got his Chocolate Crinkles

and my (unbelievable - no flour!) Peanut Butter cookies are in the freezer so I can take out one per day.

The Peanut Butter Cookies are truly amazing - and would be great for anyone with wheat and gluten allergies. (Nut allergies? Sorry, can't help you there.) They require just four ingredients: peanut butter, egg, sugar and vanilla - that's it!

After mixing the batter, I rolled them into spheres

and flattened them with some beautiful cookie stamps

If you don't have stamps, you can oil the bottom of a glass and use that instead, or use the bottom of the PB jar - then you get that nice recycling symbol on the cookie tops! :-) . They are light, delicious, and anyone tasting one would never believe the absence of flour.

I think the ones with the thistle design taste the best - it's my favorite stamp.


Unfortunately, a few of the Ya'ya's got sick this week (guilty as charged), so we postponed the holiday party with the planned gingerbread hi-jinx. By this afternoon, I was feeling a little better, and tackled the gingerbread house project on my own. I'd already told our neighbors that I'd be making the houses, so they're expecting them. I can't disappoint small children at Christmastime! Luckily, the kits I bought had the house components already made - all I needed to do was make the royal icing and stick on the candies. Oh yeah, and melt the Jolly Ranchers to make windows and ponds.

They came out pretty well for a first-time project. We'll take them over tomorrow morning and present them to the kiddles.

Then, it's back to the sweatshop, uh, I mean, the kitchen.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Blueberry Corn Muffins

Blueberry Corn Muffins:

Makes 12
Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1-1/3 C all-purpose white flour
2/3 C yellow cornmeal
1 T baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 C blueberries, washed and stemmed
1 egg
2/3 C skim milk
1/2 C honey
3 T vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar

Spray muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray.

In large bowl, stir or whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the blueberries and toss to coat with flour mixture.

In smaller bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add the milk, honey, and oil, whisking until well combined.

Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring until just combined. Do NOT over-mix!

Divide the batter equally between the 12 muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full. Sprinkle the tops with sugar.

Bake 18-22 minutes, until risen and golden. Turn onto a baking rack to cool.

169 calories
4 grams fat
143 mg sodium
18 mgs cholesterol

Note: If using frozen blueberries, don't thaw them. Just rinse off ice crystals and pat dry. Toss separately with 3 T of the flour and stir in after liquid is added.

**These muffins go stale very quickly, but then taste fabulous cut in half, toasted, and spread with some sweet butter.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Incredible Lightness of Being (Bread)

I'm pleased to report The Great Sourdough Debacle is at an end. I went back to the directions that came with the starter, and found I'd been skipping an important step during the feeding process. I'd been giving the starter it's weekly rations of flour and water, then popping it right back into the fridge. I forgot the step of leaving it out for a couple of hours to get good and bubbly. After it has a good burp, then I'm supposed to park it back in the fridge. I fed it several times this week to build it back up again, and... Voila! A couple of gorgeous, light, well-risen loaves. They're baking as I type (Hurry up, hurry up, HURRY UP!). This weekend: sourdough pancakes. How many do you want?

As I made the bread today, I took the time to really enjoy the zen of the process. I made the sponge last night so it could do it's thing. When I woke up, I peeked under the towel and felt thrilled by how much it had grown, and the smell! God, the smell. Pure heaven. Now for the fun part: As I mix in the final ingredients, I watch my new KitchenAid mixer do all that muscle work I used to resent. Technology working for me. Yay! Then, I turn the dough out onto the floured counter and get down to kneading. I love the feel of the dough, silky and elastic, as I turn and press. I know it's alive under my hands - I can see bubbles coming to the surface with each turn. After it's risen and been divided, I pop it into the oven and the exquisite torture of smelling freshly baking bread sets in.

I don't take the time to enjoy getting from Point A to Point B very often. So many things in life are on autopilot these days. I need to remember to find roses on each of life's paths and take the time to smell them. Especially if they smell like bread.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Bread or Doorstop?

For Christmas, MarbleMan gave me a bit of sourdough starter from a 250 year-old batch he'd found through a catalog. Mmmmmmmm. The first several batches of bread were fantastic! Great crumb, easy recipe (found on-line), and it made wonderful French toast when a few days old. But lately, something's gone awry. I can't figure it out. The starter bubbles nicely when fed, the sponge is very light and bubbly, but after kneading, these last two batches of loaves refused to rise, and they came out so dense they were actually hard to slice. Now today, I'm baking another batch and I think they'll make fabulous doorstops. This week I'll try feeding it a few times to strengthen the starter. Then I think it's time to go back to basics to see what happens when I make a plain recipe - no whole wheat, no raisins, olives, or any other additives.

The good news is that since I'm on a perpetual diet, no sourdough in the house will help me out a lot. Bread is my nemesis - I can never have just one slice. And it calls my name at 3 in the morning, whispering "Yoooo-hoooooo. I taste really good toasted and spread with butter and honey". Or maybe that's MarbleMan calling... :)