Monday, February 28, 2011

Cabot Cheddar Soda Bread from KAF ~

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...that's King Arthur Flour, of course! And with St. Patrick's Day around the corner, I was drawn to this easy peasy version of an Irish soda bread from the Cabot Creamery (which I also love) and KAF. Being half Irish gives me a connection which many feel is very important, saying that we should eat what our ancestors ate, if we want to be really healthy. My daughter Lisa, picking up on that idea, gave me the lovely  "Irish Traditional Cooking" by Darina Allen. It is a beautiful cookbook with not only pictures of the recipes, but pictures of Ireland as well. I love it and should use it more often. Now I'm thinking that I would enjoy having the cookbook based on Darina's cooking school, but that's for another time. I'll find some recipes closer to St. Patrick's Day and put them on. Nothing too hard, of course. For now, I've taken this recipe off the KAF site and will share it today. This bread has a more biscuit-like texture than the soda bread I've made in the past, but it would be a wonderful addition to soups and stews. KAf says that it's so simple that you can have it ready to eat in less than an hour. Pictures are from the KAF web site.
Tip: I like to give any tips at the beginning, so that you can make adjustments before you get to the end and are forced to scramble. The bread that's shown is baked in a square dish--can be round--but it is too loose to stand alone. If you want a freeform loaf that is round you'll need to make a stiffer dough. Make a stiffer dough by reducing the butttermilk to 1 cup (or use 3/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup milk). Shape the dough into a round, place it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.  

Cabot Cheddar Soda Bread

2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pats
8 ounces Cabot sharp or extra-sharp cheddar, grated; about 2 cups, lightly packed
1 1/4 cups buttermilk or 3/4 cup plain yogurt + 1/2 cup milk
1 large egg


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8" square or 9" round pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Add the butter, working it into the flour until the mixture is crumbly. Toss in the grated cheese.
  4. Mix the buttermilk and egg, and add to the dry ingredients, stirring just until everything is moistened.
  5. Scoop the sticky dough into the pan, using your wet fingers to spread it to the edges of the pan.
  6. Bake the bread for 40 to 45 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. It's internal temperature at the center will be close to 200 degrees F.
  7. Remove the bread from the oven, and loosen the edges with a table knife. Wait 5 minutes, then gently turn it out onto a rack to cool. It's tempting, but wait about 20 minutes before cutting the bread, if you can; it's a bit crumbly when hot.
Yield: 1 loaf, about 12 servings.                                                

You can see all about the making of this bread on the KAF web site. No yeast, so no time for rising is necessary. But being a quick bread, it doesn't have the staying power of a yeasted bread, which is fine for most of us. I'm thinking of making some for my own supper, and it's just me!

P.S. I just made this soda bread and wanted to share a picture with you. So easy! And I've tasted it now. The texture is very much like biscuit dough, but was very good with my soup at lunch.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Inconsistency Reflected In A Greenhouse ~ 2

The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. Matthew 26:41

Good afternoon to everyone! I ended the lesson from Chapter 26 of Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith yesterday promising to tell you how to dismantle the panes of glass that make up the greenhouse. Or, more precisely, dismantling the parts of yourself that are ugly and out of place--"pain by pain" as it were. You don't have to work alone on this project: God himself does the dismantling!

 LaGard says: "Jesus is at work in me, completing what he has already begun. As long as I live, he will continue to work with me so that who I am today is never the person I am yet to be. That which needs dismantling is being torn down. That which needs restoring is being built up." Good news for those who don't know how to dismantle their ugly parts.
In his beautiful chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul speaks of a different kind of glass--a mirror through which we dimly see ourselves. He says: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." And LaGard sums it up by saying that looking at our present lives, we can know that "the person we see today is but a dim figure of the person that God has in mind for us to be." How does the metamorphosis take place?

Mainly it involves spiritual growth. You will quickly realize that spiritual transistion requires spiritual growth, as Paul says, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." Physical growth requires physical nourishment, and spiritual growth requires spiritual nourishment.
Looking down on the greenhouse, the outside is totally out of character with the landscape of the Cotswolds. But inside the greenhouse, tomatoes grow without the soil that we all believe essential to growing food. While the greenhouse remains a blight on the horizon, vegetables are mysteriously growing prolifically--more than they ever could under natural conditions. So what's the equivalent on the spiritual level?

On the spiritual level, the transformation--really a complete metamorphosis from natural to spiritual--happens with the same spirit that mysteriously raised Jesus from the dead! And the source of this power is seen in this passage: "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you."  Amazing! And truly miraculous!

God sees that you and I are out of character with His goodness and looks for ways to nurture us into newness. LaGard explains it this way: "Through His Spirit working in my innermost parts, God transforms my ugliness into beauty. He cultivates within me a transformed life that flourishes bountifully from the spiritual nutrients of His grace and love." Sounds like the vegetables in the greenhouse, doesn't it? Everything has to have the proper nutrients to grow!
And what did we learn about beauty in this parable? We learned that true beauty lies within--greenhouse or person--and not on the outside. God knows that! And letting God accomplish His plans for our lives will mean that we don't have to be a blemish on His spiritual landscape. With God nourishing our lives, there will be an explosion of spiritual growth that will go through the roof!

Blessings on this beautiful Sunday...Mimi




Saturday, February 26, 2011

Inconsistency Reflected In A Greenhouse ~

The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.  Matthew 26:41

This weekend we'll be looking at Chapter 26 in Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith. And if you're wondering what the title means, I'll explain as I go. We've all had the experience which LaGard describes in the beginning of this chapter: you return to a much-loved place, usually a house where you lived years ago that contained happy memories, to find that it isn't the same as you'd remembered. You're disappointed, filled with great loss as the memories were precious to you, and had been so vividly real when you'd recalled them all these years.
And so it was with LaGard as he returned one year to his beloved Buckland in the Cotswolds of England and struck out on a walk to the top of a hill, where he could look out over the beautiful little town and countryside. But this time, instead of looking down on the beautiful village, he was shocked to be looking down on a new greenhouse the size of two city blocks! All the protests by letter and phone from the community had not worked and the greenhouse had been constructed. The massive greenhouse--a sea of glass within the green fields--stole the view from the village. Anger and outrage seemed a mild response to such a vulgar creation--one which "profaned one of the last truly unspoiled pockets of beauty in the English countryside." So what is his point in regard to a parable that we can understand? The greenhouse reflects an inconsistent presence on the landscape, which indeed reflects inconsistency in our obedience to God.
The point is that perhaps God looks down on me and sees how often His glorious plan for my life is profaned. Is God's call to purity blasphemed by my sin? Does it spoil the spiritual landscape? Yes, part of my life is submissive to God's will, but what about that other part? The part that is dark and ugly. Even though I see that it's totally inconsistent with the rest of my character, I accept it as a part of myself--it's just who I am. Like LaGard, I agree with the apostle Paul that saw "another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members." 

How do you want to live your life before God? Are you able to accomplish what you plan? Again, I can speak for myself when I say that I agree with LaGard and with Paul that, "What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do....I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." Hmmm...I wonder if God is angry and outraged at my poor showing. But surely's only one small part of my life that's in rebellion. But am I deceiving myself? Am I justifying myself by thinking that so small a dark spot can be overlooked? I reassure myself with the knowledge that no one is perfect. And I also reassure myself with the knowledge that the grace of God is promised to all of us humans because we are so imperfect. Being inconsistent is in the very make-up of mankind. And I'm definitely inconsistent in how I think and how I act. 

Listen to what Paul said about excuses for sin: "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" Even if I can hide my sin from you, sin is always glaring to God. Saying that my sin is simply "inconsistent" with the other part of my being isn't good enough. It doesn't begin to describe how God sees my rebellion. So why is it so hard for me to see my sin for what it really is? Why can't I see that my sin mars my walk with God...that my sin is reflected like a mirror of glass for everyone to see? Like the greenhouse, my life reflects my beliefs. Shouldn't I be incensed and outraged at my own sin? Like the neighbors of the greenhouse, shouldn't I be protesting and writing letters to change the result? 
But there is another way...perhaps not easier, but more effective. You and I can decide to dismantle that part of ourselves which is ugly and out of place. After allowing this dark and ugly part of our character to remain for so long, it will be quite a project to take on. But it must be done. And as LaGard says, "Pain by pain, if necessary." A thoughtful image. Tomorrow I'll give you more on the dismantling process in which God and Jesus give us help. 

Have a great weekend with Spring peeping through just a little...just enough to tease our spirits. But we'll take it!



Thursday, February 24, 2011

Garlic Mashed Potatoes ~

Good morning to you all! I've just re-worked my last blog on Mashed Potatoes because when I looked at the recipes in the magazine for potatoes cooked in other ways, I didn't think I'd ever make them, so I didn't want to pass them on to you. Rather...I looked up a potato recipe in Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten and came up with this recipe that I think you'll love. Yes, it's a very simple recipe, but those are always my favorites and are recipes that I'll actually use. Somehow I never get around to making many of those complicated dishes, especially since I live alone. I'm thinking of writing a cookbook for myself that would only have the quickest possible meals, but be absolutely delicious. Think that's possible? First, I'll give you Ina's take on her experience in Paris. Then the recipe.

Ina says: "Many of my favorite restaurants in Paris serve the vegetables family style with the main course, and mashed potatoes are always on the menu. They're usually made with lots of cream and butter, which, of course, is perfectly delicious, but sometimes they are made with olive oil, which is lighter and so much better for you. Be sure your oil is light and fruity." Okay, Ina, we're with you on this one.
Now I added this tip from Ina Garten to yesterday's blog, but in case you didn't see it, here it is: A great idea for keeping mashed potatoes warm: put them in a bowl set over simmering water and they'll stay warm for at least half an hour....just note that the longer the vegetable sits over hot water, the more liquid you'll need to add. Carolyn, one of my sisters-in-law, used to put a dollop of butter on top of a bowl of mashed potatoes and put them in a slow oven to keep them warm. It worked beautifully.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Serves 6

1/2 cup garlic cloves, peeled (about 1 head)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream, half and half, or creme fraiche (this is like sour cream, but not so sour)

In a small saucepan, bring the garlic and oil to a boil, then turn the heat to low and cook uncovered for 5 minutes, or until the garlic is lightly browned. Turn off the heat and set aside. The garlic will contine to cook in the oil.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a large pot of salted water, bring to a boil, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender. With a slotted spoon, remove the potatoes from the water, reserving the cooking water, and remove the garlic from the oil, reserving the oil.

Process the potatoes and garlic through a food mill fitted with the medium disc. Add the reserved olive oil, 2 teaspoons of salt, the pepper, cream, and 3/4 cup of the cooking water to the potatoes and mix with a wooden spoon. Add more cooking water, if necessary, until the potatoes are creamy but still firm. Season to taste and serve hot.

To my friend Sherrie in Pennsylvania, I want to say that this is a recipe that sounds good to go with those mini-meatloaves! Of course, if you had that meal last night, it's too late to plan for this dish until another time. Good food and good friends are two of the best things in life! So enjoy your potatoes!


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In Praise of Mashed Potatoes ~

Well, today I'm feeling guilty for putting so many chocolate recipes on here for you, so I'm giving you one of the all-time favorite comfort foods that IS very good for you--potatoes. There are so many different kinds of potatoes, which is a subject I won't go into. But I think these recipes and ideas will give you some ways to change up the potato dish which you serve so often. Americans are lovers of potatoes, but it never hurts to give a little different dash of flavor to an old favorite.

This information is in the February issue of Country Living magazine, which says: "What's not to love about these crowd-pleasing dynamos? They're versatile, delicious--not to mention downright cheap. Try Yukon golds in a cheesy gratin, braise fingerlings on the stovetop, and mash russets with everything from horseradish to prosciutto. Dig in!"

And here is a little tip: "For the fluffiest mashed potatoes, use super-starchy spuds like russets and skip the food processor--an old-fashioned masher or a ricer still works best." Another great tip for keeping mashed potatoes warm comes from Ina Garten: "Put them in a bowl set over simmering water and they'll stay warm for at least half an hour. Just note that the longer the vegetable sits over hot water, the more liquid you'll need to add." If it works for Ina, it'll work for you!

The Ultimate Mashed Potatoes

Makes 6 servings. Working time 10 minutes. Total time 40 minutes.

2 1/2  pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 1/2- inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup half-and-half, heated

  1. In a large pot, cover potatoes with salted water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Then reduce heat to medium-high heat. Then reduce heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 25 minutes.
  2. Drain potatoes thoroughly in a colander and return to the pot. Add melted butter and, using a potato masher, mash potatoes to desired consistency. (For a smoother texture, pass potatoes through a ricer instead.)
  3. Stir in half-and-half and 1 teaspoon salt to combine and until potatoes are creamy. Do not overstir or potatoes will become gluey. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot. To punch up this classic dish with savory add-ins, see below.
Five Scrumptious Mashed-Potato Variations                            

Whip up the Ultimate Mashed Potatoes, then stir in one of these mouthwatering flavor combinations.

  1. Fried Shallots and Creme Fraiche: In a medium skilled over medium-high heat, heat 4 tablespoons oil. Fry 3 large, sliced shallots until browned and golden, 6 to 8 minutes. (Discard any shallots that over-brown.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to a paper-towel-lined plate and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Stir shallots and 1/3 cup creme fraiche (if you can't find creme fraiche, use sour cream) into the mashed potatoes.
  2. Prosciutto, Parmesan, and Parsley:  Stir 3 ounces prosciutto, cooked and chopped; 6 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (which is the very best, but you can use any Parmesan cheese) and 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley into the mashed potatoes.
  3. Horseradish, Sour Cream, and Freshly Ground Pepper:  Stir 1/2 cup finely grated fresh horseradish, 1/2 cup sour cream, and freshly ground pepper to taste into the mashed potatoes.
  4. Roquefort, Toasted Walnuts, and Sage:  Stir 4 ounces Roquefort cheese, crumbled; 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted; and 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage into the mashed potatoes.
  5. Sauteed Shiitake Mushrooms, Sherry, Dry Mustard, Heavy Cream, and Marjoram:  In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter. Saute 1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced, until tender, about 6 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons sweet sherry and cook until liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to low and stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, and 2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram leaves. Cook until cream begins to bubble, 1 to 2 minutes more. Stir mushroom-cream mixture into the mashed potatoes.
This is enough for you to think about today! There are many recipes for delicious potato dishes, and tomorrow I'll share aother mashed potato recipe: Garlic Mashed Potatoes. But for now,  I hope you'll try some of these new ways of adding flavors to one of our favorite foods.

It's the middle of the week, so we're flying along pretty well. So now I hope you'll plan a nice dinner for the family that includes at least one of these delicious potato recipes. It's a whole new world for me, and I bet it's a whole new world for you too!


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Brownies from the Domestic Goddess ~

This is a lovely idea--brownies used for a birthday cake with brightly-burning candles. The idea came from a picture in Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess. Brownies are always easy to make and always delicious, especially with a dollop of ice cream (Remember Ireland's fudge pie?). The introduction is from Nigella herself:
"I don't understand why people don't make brownies all the time--they're so easy and so wonderful. My friend Justine Picardie gave me the idea for setting the brownies so gloriously alight when she asked me to make them for her husband's birthday. Ever since then, I've copied the idea: brownies are much quicker to make than a cake, and they look so wonderful piled up in a rough-and-tumble pyramid spiked with birthday candles. And I'd much rather eat a brownie than a piece of birthday cake any day; I think most people would." So here is the recipe!


1 2/3 cups soft unsalted butter                                             1 teaspoon salt
13 ounces best bittersweet chocolate                                  1 1/3 cups chopped walnuts
6   large eggs                                                                         pan measuring approximately
1 tablespoon vanilla extract                                                  13 X 9 X 2 1/2 inches
1 2/3 cups sugar                                                                     birthday candles and holders,
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour                                                    if appropriate

     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line your brownie pan--I think it's worth lining the sides as well as the base--with foil or parchment.
     Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large heavy-based pan. In a bowl or large wide-mouthed measuring cup, beat the eggs with the vanilla and sugar. Measure the flour into another bowl and add the salt.
     When the chocolate mixture has melted, let it cool a bit before beating in the eggs and sugar, and then nuts and flour. Beat to combine smoothly and then scrape out of the saucepan into the lined pan.
      Bake for about 25 minutes. When it's ready, the top should be dried to a paler brown speckle, but the middle still dark and dense and gooey. And even with such a big batch you do need to keep alert, keep checking: the difference between gungy brownies and dry brownies is only a few minutes; remember that they will continue to cook as they cool.
     Makes a maximum of 48.                                                 


You can really vary brownies as you wish: get rid of the walnuts, or halve them and make up their full weight with dried cherries; or replace them with other nuts--peanuts, brazilnuts, hazelnuts--add shredded coconut or white chocolate chips; try stirring in some Jordan's Original Crunchy cereal. I had high hopes for chic, after-dinner pistachio-studded brownies, but found the nuts get too soft and waxy, when what you need is a little crunchy contrast.

So that's it for today...go forth and have a party with candles on your brownies! Everyone will be surprised and pleased with your efforts.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Gargoyles & Idols ~ 2

A good Sunday morning to you all! The weather is once again cold, but sunny here. There is so much going on in the world that I believe we have to steep our hearts and minds in God's word to find our way. And so today  I'm going to put a finer point on the lesson from Chapter 25 of Meeting God in Quiet Places: the Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith, simply because there are so many good thoughts to be had about worshiping idols. There are gods we don't recognize--money, food, television, sports, politics, or maybe even a religion that doesn't have much to do with God--anything that you put in the place of the one true God.

That has always been the problem. Think of Moses, who had delivered the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt by parting the Red Sea, as he was on the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. The Israelites were down below, worshiping a golden calf! And then there's Isaiah, who talked about a man who worshiped a god, which--like the gargoyles--he had made himself. Here is the scene he portrayed:
Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it he prepares his meal, he roasts
his meat and eats his fill. He also warms
himself and says, "Ah! I am warm; I see
the fire." From the rest he makes a god,
his idol; he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god."

Does this man in Isaiah have something in common with the men who put gargoyles on churches? They don't see that there isn't any security in any god that they have created themselves--that they are trusting in their own weakness! LaGard has something to say about this, and I quote: "Never in our own time have paganism and Christian faith been so muddled together! Never have we as a society been more keen to hedge our spiritual bets, whether through the pluralistic acceptance of all religions, or through worshiping Mammon, the god of shopping malls, or even for literally worshiping ourselves!"
What is the end result? These "faith-substitutes" take us backward to ignorance, superstition, and spiritual darkness. And listen to LaGard's evaluation: "Given their ability to deceive us into thinking that we are secure when we are not, our gargoyles are more grotesque and menacing than we might ever imagine! Worst of all, they drain away our faith, leaving us more alone and fearful than ever before." That isn't a good prospect, is it? We end up trusting in our own fearful emptiness.
  Do you trust other gods or the power that created this?
So where can we put our faith and trust? We can be like the psalmist David, who proclaimed, "I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust'." And when we trust in God alone, there is no terror too great, no illness that we can't face, nothing in this world can happen to us that we can't overcome. Gargoyles in whatever form are empty and powerless and cannot save us. But in sublime contrast, our God is alive and offers security and salvation!

Have a wonderful day, but give some thought to whether you have built up idols in your life. If you have, take time to destroy them and trust in God.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Gargoyles & Idols ~

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. Jonah 2:8
Notre Dame Cathedral
Today we're in Chapter 25 of Meeting God in Quiet Places: the Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith. LaGard is looking at the gargoyles on St. Michael's church in his village and wondering why they're on a Christian church. But whether the gargoyles are on the facade of St. Michael's, Notre Dame or Westminster, they are a grotesque and menacing sight. Why are they there? What do they mean? 

Well, basically the gargoyles on the churches in London and Paris---as well as other places around the world--were put there to resist the evil in the world; each  one a talisman against the devil and his evil works of darkness. Unfortunately, they don't work. What in the world were the architects and churchmen thinking? No one and nothing protects us from evil except God! Why are Christians worshiping in houses with gargoyles on them? Is someone hedging their bets in regard to their security against evil forces?

Remember the old television show that asked: Who do you trust? Have you thought whether you're trusting in God or something else? Maybe you're hedging your bets by adding a cross or some other  idol to your life. The psalmist David had something to say about idols:  
They have mouths but cannot speak,  
eyes, but they cannot see;                                        
they have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths,
those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

We have "In God we trust" on our money, but do we really trust in God? Or have we made an idol of something else? For the Israelites making their exodus from Egypt, it was a golden calf. For fear of vampires, there's a cross. For the pagan Goths, it was gargoyles--and evidently Christians as well. But there are other things we depend on to bring us security--something to fall back on in hard times: job security, credit cards, an insurance policy or pension fund. Or maybe it isn't just something material. It could be dependency on friends--the right friends and associates, of course. A college degree is dependable, isn't it? Support from our spouse is always there to depend on. No matter what you place your faith in, you must decide whether it's genuine security or counterfeit. 

Look at Israel's misplaced trust: they put their trust in horses, chariots, and political alliances and had a rude awakening. All their military strength failed them because "they did not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord." They had their priorities mixed up and they lost. Do you trust in God or in burglar alarms, security patrols and handguns? Handguns are a big item in today's world. I even know a preacher who makes guns one of his identifying marks. What does that say about his faith? 

LaGard says: "The problem with putting our trust in anything other than God is that it shrinks our view of God's infinite power. The specific details may vary, whether it's insurance policies, or handguns, or even relationships. But the real problem is that we worship a god too small." And he continues in the next paragraph, "Whatever is not of God is a gargoyle. Whatever is not of faith is only thinly masked paganism. It might as well be a wooden idol!" Hmmm...something to think about today. I'll add a little more tomorrow.

Have a wonderful day with the family!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Make Your Own Vanilla Extract~

I had a very nice Valentine's Day with Steve & Lisa, Quinlyn & Michael. We got together on Saturday and Monday, so there was plenty of  food and plenty of gifts. And now I want to say that  I was intrigued the first time I saw Martha talking about  making vanilla extract, and I've decided to share the recipe with you. Both Martha Stewart and Ina Garten have something to say on the subject, and I hope it's of interest.

In her magazine, Martha Stewart Living, a reader asks: Can I make vanilla extract at home? And Martha replies: "Yes. And easily. All you need is a vanilla bean, some vodka, and a glass vessel with a tight seal."

"Split the bean lengthwise with a sharp paring knife, and then use its tip to loosen the seeds by gently scraping inside the pod. Pour 1/2 cup of vodka into a clean glass jar with a cork stopper or a screw top lid. Submerge the pod and the seeds, and leave them to soak at room temperature for one to two months."
"During this time, if you make dishes that call for vanilla seeds, add any scraped pods to the jar to further strengthen the taste. Once the extract is ready, discard the beans, and store the jar in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to a year."

And she goes on to say, "Homemade extract has a more delicate, nuanced flavor than its store-bought counterparts (both the imitation variety and the bean-based), so it shines best in recipes that feature vanilla as the main flavor component, such as panna cotta; it's also delicious in whipped cream or meringue. But you can use it in any recipe that requires extract."

Now here's what Ina Garten says about making vanilla extract  in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Ina says:
 "Anna Pump from Loaves and Fishes in Sagaponack showed me how to make my own vanilla extract. Find a tall bottle that will hold at least a dozen vanilla beans. Fill the bottle with vodka. Let the beans marinate in the vodka for at least a month, and then you will have two wonderful ingredients for cooking and baking. First, the vodka will become vanilla extract, but more important, you can snip off one end of a vanilla bean and squeeze out all of the seeds for baking uses. This 'brew' can continue for years by just adding more vanilla beans and more vodka. I've had mine stored on a shelf in the pantry for almost 20 years!"

So it's up to you whether you use one bean or a dozen, and whether you keep it going for a year or 20 years. It seems to me that making this kind of personal gift for Christmas or birthdays would be so much fun and so special. You can add a wonderful homemade touch so easily, if you plan ahead a little. Some of you may shy away from using vodka in any way, and for you this isn't such a good idea. But for some of us, this seems a delightful and delicious way to do something that brings a flavorful aroma into the kitchen and adds a special flavor to our baking, remembering that there is alcohol in all vanilla extract!

I hope that you're all having a good week and that you're planning to have a lovely weekend.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day to All of You!

It's finally here! I gave some good chocolate recipes to you yesterday to celebrate! I wasn't going to add to the chocolate file just now, but I was looking through a Martha Stewart Living this afternoon and saw a recipe for Chocolate Creme Brulee. Creme Brulee is my favorite dessert, and I'll admit that I've never tasted the chocolate version. However, I don't have to be hit over the head with a bat to know that I wouldn't like it, and in this case I know I would love this dessert even though I've never eaten it. So I'm going to put the recipe on here just in case you want to try it today--Valentine's Day.

Martha says: "A brittle crust of caramelized sugar tops a dense pool of chocolate custard in this creme brulee. [Sorry, my computer doesn't do all the diacritical marks.] Though caramel and chocolate are considered sweets, the real secret to their allure is an undercurrent of bitterness, a natural component of cacao and burned sugar." 

Chocolate Creme Brulee

Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Makes 4

This chocolate-centric creme brulee retains the creaminess and caramelized-sugar topping of the classic version.

For the creme brulee:

2 cups heavy cream                                                                     
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
3 ounces (1/2 cup) bittersweet
chocolate, chopped
5 large egg yolks

For assembling:  4 teaspoons sugar

1. Preheat over to 250 degrees. Make the creme brulee:
Heat cream and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan over
medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves and the cream
just begins to simmer. Add chocolate, and whisk until
melted and smooth.

2. Whisk remaining 3 tablespoons sugar with the egg yolks
in a medium bowl. Slowly pour cream mixture into  yolk
mixture, whisking constantly. Strain custard through a fine

3. Pour custard into four 4-ounce ramekins. Transfer ramekins
to a roasting pan, and fill pan with enough boiling water to reach
halfway up the sides of ramekins. Bake until custards are just set,
1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes. Carefully remove from water,
and let custards cool.

4. Assemble the creme brulees: Refrigerate for 1 hour. Top each
with 1 teaspoon sugar. Hold a small handheld kitchen torch at a
90-degree angle 3 to 4 inches from surface of custard. Move back
and forth until surface is caramelized. Alternatively, broil custards
on top rack until caramelized, 1 to 2 minutes.

Note: Make ahead baked creme brulees can be refrigerated overnight.
Caramelize tops before serving.

My own note is that I have heard some people complain that the use
of a torch makes the dish taste like propane, so be careful that you
don't waste your ingredients. I only heard this recently and am not
sure why this happened since many cooks use a kitchen torch. But
I just wanted to make you aware that such a situation is possible. I
hope it doesn't keep you from trying this luscious dessert, since it's a
simple thing to put your creme brulees under the broiler!

Tomorrow or Wednesday I'm going to give you a controversial recipe. Yes! There will be some people who will not like it! But I'm going to be brave and offer it to you anyway.
Have a very Happy Valentine's Day!

Love and Blessings...Mimi

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day ~ Chocolate Snickerdoodles & Rocky Road

In case you haven't made all your plans for something chocolate on Valentine's Day, I am going to share with you two recipes from the domestic goddess herself. In her cookbook, How To Be A Domestic Goddess, Nigella Lawson gives some delicious recipes that I haven't seen before. The Rocky Road is especially easy to make, and the Chocolate Snickerdoodles are a long-loved recipe with a twist. I hope you'll try one or both on Valentine's, or anytime you want to feel happy and loved.

Nigella says: "Ever since I read that brazil nuts are inordinately good for you, containing essential selenium, and that you should probably have three a day, I have chosen to regard these  as health food. What they really are are clumps of brazil nuts and mini-marshmellows bound together by a mantle of chocolate. You can alter the ratio of dark to milk chocolate as you wish, but, as ever, I really do think it's worth using the best chocolate that you can."

Rocky Road

7 ounces milk chocolate
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate
3 ounces brazil nuts
1/3 cup mini-marshmellows
1 baking sheet, lined with wax paper or oiled foil

Melt the chocolates either in the microwave or using a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Roughly chop the brazil nuts, and mix into the chocolate with the mini-marshmellows.

Drop heaping teaspoons onto a lined baking sheet, and leave to cool in a cold place, though not the refrigerator if at all possible; it will take some of the gleam from the chocolate.
Makes 24.

You could chop these up and stir into slightly softened vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

Nigella says: "You can't help wanting to cook a cookie with a name like this. Luckily, these live up to it. They're verging on cakes, but only in the sense that they're neither crisp nor flat; what they taste like, in fact, are oven-baked doughnuts--small, cinnamony, with a drier crumb than the dunkin' sort. I love these as a part of dessert, with a bowl of warm, spicy, poached or stewed plums and a bowl of cold creme fraiche."

Chocodoodles-Chocolate Snickerdoodles
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
Replace 2 tablespoons of the flour
with cocoa for chocolate cookies
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 baking sheets, lined with parchment
or wax paper or greased foil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the flour, nutmeg, baking powder and salt, and set aside for a moment. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the 1/3 cup of sugar until light in texture and pale in color, then beat the egg and vanilla. Now stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth, coherent mixture. Spoon out the remaining sugar and the cinnamon onto a plate. Then, with your fingers, squeeze out pieces of dough and roll between the palms of your hands into walnut-sized balls. Roll each ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and arrange on your prepared sheets.

Bake for about 15 minutes, by which time they should be turning golden brown. Take out of the oven and leave to rest on the baking sheets for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Makes about 32.

I hope you have someone with whom you can share this special day. And I wish you a very happy and loving Valentine's Day!


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Basic Butter Cake for Valentine's Day ~

Can you believe it's already Saturday! I can't...think I lost a day somewhere. I haven't given you a recipe for a while, so I looked through my cookbooks and chose this pound cake--because I love pound cake and because this recipe doesn't have as much butter as most other pound cakes. Before choosing this recipe, I chose a lemon yogurt pound cake, an orange pound cake, and brownies. But I ended up with my favorite recipe after all.

This is my go-to cake recipe for birthdays and all holidays, and I believe I've given it to you before. I have made it in every kind of pan, I think. But for company, I particularly like to double the recipe and bake it in a decorative tube pan like the one in the picture. This recipe also makes wonderful cupcakes, which Quinlyn and Michael love with or without crushed pineapple in them. In fact, Quinlyn's favorite cake is this cake with crushed pineapple in it on her birthday. If I use crushed pineapple, I replace one fourth cup of milk with pineapple juice in the batter. And even though it isn't chocolate, I think it would make a beautiful Valentine's Day cake. 

King Arthur Flour says: "Our basic butter cake contains half as much butter and egg, in relation to the rest of the ingredients, as our pound cake, so it is clearly not as rich. But these cakes are ordinarily served with a frosting which puts them in the same caloric league." 

"In going through our King Arthur Flour archives to gather baking history for our cookbook, we've discovered a number of gems. One of them is a method of combining the ingredients of a basic butter cake that flies in the face of the traditional method most of us grew up with. It makes the whole process almost as easy as a mix, and certainly, in view of the control we have over what goes into the cake, infinitely better." So I'm going to give you the quick method of mixing this cake first."

King Arthur Flour's Basic Butter Cake

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
(or vegetable shortening) at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

The Quick Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into the mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. (A wire whisk will do nicely.)

Add the butter, milk and vanilla directly to the dry ingredients. Stir the whole mixture until it's smooth. (If you're using an electric mixer, mix at slow to medium speed for about a minute and a half.) Add the unbeaten eggs and beat for another 2 minutes. That's all there is to it.

Pour the batter into lightly greased pans , 8 X 8-inch round or square pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake is done when it shrinks slightly from the sides of the pans, springs back when pressed lightly with a finger, or when a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Let it cool for 5 minutes or so before turning it out onto a wire rack. (Frost it after it is thoroughly cool, if you wish.)

The Traditional Method
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

First, cream the butter by mashing it against the side of a mixing bowl with a large, preferably wooden, spoon. When the butter is light and fluffy, slowly add the sugar, creaming it with the butter until the two are soft and light. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating them in thoroughly until the mixture is smooth, light and fluffy. (Today, all of this can be done quickly and easily with an electric mixer, but appreciate our grandmothers who did it by hand.)

In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour the milk into a one-cup measure and add vanilla.

Alternately add the wet and dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture, a third at a time, stirring just enough to blend the ingredients after each addition. Over-beating, once the flour is in, will toughen the cake.

Pour the batter into two lightly greased, 8 X 8 inch and follow directions above for baking.

If you want the cake to be more colorful for Valentine's Day, add some red food coloring to the icing. Or simply add some hearts and flowers around the edge of the cake. In any case, I hope you enjoy your Valentine's Day dessert. I'll look for something chocolate for tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Compassion from Five Black Cows ~ 3

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life.  Psalms 119:50
Straight from the frozen tundra...oh, no, that's not New Mexico! I hate to complain, as we're nowhere close to being bad off here--except for the lack of heat for many PNM customers in the state.  But it's beginning to feel like the ground has decided to stay frozen for a while longer. We didn't get the snow that was expected last night, so that gives me hope for a warmer Valentine's Day weekend. 

This is the third installment for Chapter 24 from Meeting God in Quiet Places: the Cotswold Parables  by F. LaGard Smith. Sometimes the ideas in these chapters have so much of value in them that I don't want to rush through them. The whole idea of five black cows feeling so much compassion that they followed LaGard as he limped his way across their field sounds prepostrous! But remember--they had never even taken notice of him in all the times he had done exactly the same thing. So it was a little odd when LaGard, after having made the decision to see a doctor, had a spontaneous healing of his knee after the cows came running after him. Whether we can make any sense of it or not, the point is that if those cows can feel that something is wrong and they want to help, why can't we believe that our Creator knows how we're feeling and wants to help? 

Moving past that part of the story, I mentioned yesterday that God's comfort is one of those "pass-it-on" things. And that means you are responsible for comforting others. Yes, you! It isn't always easy when the situation is a couple who lost their child. Or when a mate has died too early. Or when an older person is left to fend for themselves because death comes to all. But part of our love for others should, at the very least, include expessions of sympathy during these hard times.

And death isn't the only time our friends need comfort. I've heard that a divorce is worse than death. I'm sure you know people who are divorced and hurting. A disease like cancer is so devastating that it drains life of all happiness long before the person is gone. Just ask my sister-in-law Carolyn. Watching pain and anguish is an excruciating way to go through day after weary day. Words of comfort from you can make a difference. You can't make things all right. You can't change the situation. But you can bring comfort to those who need it.  
If you find words difficult at times like these, just sit in silence and lend your encouragement without them. Give a hug or a kiss to express your understanding that even though they're going through a heartwrenching experience, you are there for are with them. Let them know that they're not going through the pain alone. And remind them that God has sent angels of mercy who are close by. Don't sit around wondering what to say...sit around feeling their pain and sharing their grief. 
And this idea brings up silence from God when we have pain and suffering in our own lives. We may cry out for answers and receive only silence. But that doesn't mean that God doesn't hear and suffer in silence with us. His comfort doesn't always come in the form of healing or even answers. Both the pain and the circumstances may continue. But just knowing that God is there with you in every circumstance is enough. 
LaGard says: "I could be wrong about the five black cows. What cow would ever think, 'Let's walk with the old guy for a while?' But what a comforting thought: God sensing everything that impacts our lives, and walking along with us--no matter how slight the limp, no matter how serious the suffering." Whoo...whoooooo! Do we realize what we've got?

I enjoyed this light-hearted look all the connections between our lives on this planet and the Creator who made us and cares for us in so many ways--even little ways, if we only stop to see them. I hope you were able to gain some strength for your life. And I hope you're warm and happy today!