Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas Fried Scones

I once had a friend, a mom of four kids, tell me that all she wanted for Christmas was for it to be over. I, too, often felt overwhelmed by the season and refused to cook an elegant Christmas dinner. Following my mom's example, I served homemade soups and what we called "scones". Growing up in Utah that was the only kind of scone I was aware of. Over the years I've run into other types of fried bread: sopapillas, fry bread, and beignets. Of course there were always doughnuts and these are similar since we serve them rolled in cinnamon sugar or drizzled with honey.


Christmas Fried Scones 

(or Fry Bread)

Adapted from a recipe I received in the early 80s from Debbie Wade, a friend at K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Michigan. Of course, these can be served any time of year but to me they are distinctly related to Christmas. 

2 c milk
3/4 c butter
3/4 c sugar
2 teas salt

2 pkg yeast (or a rounded 1 1/2 T granulated yeast
1/2 c warm water (just above body temperature, approximately 110F)

2 beaten eggs
7-9 c all purpose flour

Combine the milk, butter, sugar, and salt and scald in a saucepan (you'll see little bubbles where the milk meets the pan). Set aside and allow to cool. If you are in a hurry, scald the milk, sugar, and salt and add the cold butter to cool the mixture.

While this mixture continues to cool, mix the following together and allow to sit until the yeast has started to bubble. Add the yeast mixture to the cool milk mixture. (If you have instant yeast you can add the yeast directly with the flour but don't forget to add the water to the milk mixture.) 

Mix the cool milk/yeast mixture into the eggs and add the flour. The dough should be moist but not sticky. Add more flour if needed. (A good measure of dough texture is taught by teachers of my Turkish cooking class who say dough should have the same "give" as your ear lobe.) Knead for 5 minutes or so. Cover and let rise until double in size.

Heat oil to the depth of 3/4 inches in a skillet over medium heat, testing the heat of the oil by how it spatters when flicked with water. Or test by dropping a tiny bit of dough in the oil and when it rises to the top of the oil and starts to brown, you're ready to go. I find I have to fiddle with the stove top controls often to keep it at an appropriate heat for cooking. If you have an instant-read thermometer use it to test the oil and shoot for 300-350F.

Roll out dough in batches on a floured surface with a rolling pin or pat it with your hands until about a half inch thick.  Cut into rough rectangles about 3 inches in size. Place 3-4 pieces of dough in the hot oil, stretching them a little just before they go in. Allow to cook on one side and turn and allow to cook on the other. You may want to tear open an early finished scone to make sure it isn't doughy inside. Or take its temperature with an instant-read thermometer and look for 190-200F. Cook subsequent scones at a lower heat for a little longer. Or stretch them a bit thinner before cooking.

Keep the "scones" in the oven at 200F to keep them warm until time to serve. Our family has warmed them up in the microwave the following morning but their quality suffers. If you have more dough than you need, it can be refrigerated and fried in the next couple of days.

Serve with butter, jams, cinnamon sugar, Nutella, or honey.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Peppermint Popcorn

I made this often when kids were in high school and college and then it rather faded from memory for some reason and I misplaced it. I am grateful Betsy had it in her files.

Popcorn without optional green food coloring. Just as tasty.


Peppermint Popcorn

Serves: 6 or so

1 c popcorn kernels
1 cube (8 T) unsalted butter
1 c sugar
1/2 teas salt
1/4 c corn syrup
1/2 teas peppermint extract
1/8 teas green food coloring if you want it to be green

Preheat oven to 250F. Pop the popcorn and keep it warm in the oven in a large roasting pan or two 9X13 pans. Another alternative to a roasting pan might be your largest pasta pot, instead; or a canning pot if it fits in your oven.

In a heavy saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sugar, salt, and corn syrup. Stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. If you are at sea level, let it continue boiling for 4-5 minutes without stirring. At 4500-5000 feet above sea level this step may take 7-8 minutes. The syrup will start to turn a light golden color and smell nutty, rather like browned butter--but it shouldn't get really brown.  Remove from heat and add the peppermint extract. Remove popcorn from oven and carefully stir the syrup into popcorn until it is coated. (You'll have to estimate what half the syrup is, if you use two cake pans.)

Place the pan back in the oven and let it cook for an hour stirring 3-4 times. (This is the hardest step because by the time you're at this stage, you're hungry!)


I found when I used a thinner bottomed pan, I had to cook it less time to get to the lightly colored stage.

I like it a little less sweet so I cooked 1 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels. There was enough syrup to coat all the popcorn lightly. It might be harder to fit into two cake pans with extra popcorn, though.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Grandma Betty's Strawberry Pie (or Raspberry or Peach)

My mother was part of the American generation of cooks who fully relied on the convenience offered and marketed in the mid-nineteenth century and most of our family dinners were dishes concocted with a can of soup. Naturally this is how I learned to cook. Strawberry pies started to make frequent appearances in Mom's kitchen when I was in late high school and I came to make strawberry pies almost as often as she did. True to form, this pie relies on a convenience food: jello.

I'm ambivalent about jello so I've tried other recipes for strawberry pie, but history and funny memories attached to this pie keep me returning to the old recipe box. If I load it up with berries, it tastes good, too.


Grandma Betty's Strawberry Pie (or Raspberry or Peach) 

One 9-inch pre-baked pie shell, cooled
1 pkg strawberry jello (American--jello isn't reliably the same outside of this country)
2 T cornstarch
1 c sugar
2 c boiling water
2-3 c sliced strawberries (or more if you like)

Bring the water to a boil in a kettle, small saucepan, or microwave. Mix the dry ingredients together in another small saucepan and pour the water over. Whisk together, place on the burner, and return mixture to a boil. Stir carefully and remove from heat. Let sit on counter until cool enough to place in refrigerator. Let it chill for an hour or more until the mixture has gelled but hasn't set. Stir in berries. (I like more fruit than jello and a thicker pie so I definitely go with the higher amount.) Place fruit mixture in the pie shell and let rest in fridge for several more hours until the mixture has set. Serve with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

This is particularly good with tiny strawberries left whole although these can be hard to lay your hands on.

Raspberries or sliced peaches also make good pies (make sure you use matching flavors of jello, but good luck finding peach).

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Cooking as Solace and Comfort

In the spring we experienced a death in our family that shocked and saddened us. About six weeks later The Washington Post published a commentary by Mireille Grangenois who wrote of providing the meals for her aging father during his final illness. Although our situations couldn't be more different, we feel she articulated something important. Many humans recognize cooking is an act of love as evidenced by the effort expended when loved ones join for meals both celebratory and commemorative. On a smaller scale and more often, we cook as a sign of our love, sometimes every day. Friends and neighbors offer caretakers and the bereaved meals, knowing there is little else one can do when hearts are badly broken. Grangenois, while recognizing the significance of the gifts, sees them also as personal healing acts with mutual comforting benefits. She calls it "self-healing and self-preservation".

Our family members utilized cooking in its necessity but also as we tried to heal. Last spring, during the time of crisis when family joined together, the communal kitchens at a Ronald McDonald House were used to create some of the most luscious meals we've eaten. Soon afterwards one family member most keenly affected by the loss cooked for those who had rallied to be of assistance: chicken and waffles, grilled pizza, and a seafood feast. Still later, others of us traveled long distances to connect with far-flung siblings, parents, and children, and often our focus was on the food we could provide each other.

Included in this recipe repository are a good number of foods that have comforted Betsy and me either as recipients or as cooks (see especially Chocolate Bread Pudding). While we've taken a break from our blog as we've mourned we think we're ready to start again. Even that may be some comfort to us.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Brown-Butter Chocolate Oatmeal

We have needed comfort food lately, as a little person we love has been fighting for her life in a hospital across an ocean. Here's a comforting, warm, chocolately breakfast for chilly mornings, whether a metaphorical chill or otherwise.


Brown-Butter Chocolate Oatmeal

Source: New York Times
Yields 4 servings

2 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 c steel-cut oats
3 T Dutch-process cocoa
1/4 teas salt
2 c milk of any kind
2 1/2 c water
Sugar, honey, or maple syrup to taste
Toppings of your choice (cream, milk, coconut milk, butter, flaky sea salt, sliced bananas, shredded coconut, sliced dates, sliced avocado, or raspberries, alone or in any combination that sounds good)

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook for several minutes until deep golden brown. Add the oats and cook for a few minutes until they start to color a bit on the edges. Place the oats mixture into a bowl.

Add the milk and water to the same saucepan. Bring to a boil and then add cocoa, whisking well to remove lumps. Stir in the oats and butter, then reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the oatmeal is done, turn off the heat and cover the pot. Let it stand for 5 minutes. Then add sweetener to taste; enjoy as is or add toppings.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Lamb Meatballs (Kofte) with Yogurt Sauce and Herbs

For about three years, I've taken Turkish cooking classes at a local Turkish cultural center. Although my teachers haven't yet taught this, my attention was piqued when I saw it in the NYTimes food section recently. This dish has more garnishes than most Americans are accustomed to but they make it beautiful and truly tasty. Use them all or just some of them depending on what you have.


Lamb Meatballs (Kofte) with Yogurt Sauce and Herbs

Adapted from NYTimes Cooking
Serves 6

1 teas ground cumin
1 teas ground coriander
1/4 teas cinnamon 
pinch of ground cayenne
1 1/2 pds ground lamb, not too lean
1/2 c breadcrumbs
2 teas kosher salt, divided use
1/2 teas freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c finely diced red onion
3 eggs, divided use
2 T olive oil
1 c chicken broth
1 c plain, tart yogurt (if you use Greek yogurt, thin with milk and lemon juice)
1 T cornstarch, dissolved in 2 T water
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1/2 teas sumac
crushed red-pepper flakes, to taste
ground turmeric, for garnish, optional
3 T chopped mint
2 T chopped dill
cilantro sprigs

Place the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne in a small skillet and toast over medium heat for a minute or so until they are fragrant. Set aside to cool a bit.

Combine the lamb, breadcrumbs, 1 1/2 teas salt (I used less), pepper, onion, and toasted spice mix with your hands in a large bowl. In a small bowl beat 2 of the eggs and add to the lamb mixture; mix until incorporated. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and as much as 24 hours.

When ready to cook, bring lamb mixture out of fridge and break off even 1-inch pieces. Roll into balls and set on a baking sheet. This will be easier if you dampen the palm of your hand. 

Heat oven to 225F. While preheating oven, brown the meatballs in a large skillet with the  olive oil heated over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs in a single layer until they brown on one side (3 minutes or so). Turn them over and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes.  Do not overcrowd and cook in batches so the balls brown rather than steam. Place on baking sheet or cake pan lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil and set in oven to keep warm while you prepare the sauce.

Pour excess oil from the skillet and turn the heat to medium-high; add the chicken broth. Heat to a simmer. Beat the remaining egg in a bowl or large liquid measuring cup and add the yogurt, 1/2 teas salt, and cornstarch mixture. Stir until well combined. While whisking constantly, gradually pour the yogurt mixture into the hot broth. Turn the heat down a bit and continue whisking until the yogurt is heated through. Try to keep the mixture from boiling since it can break or curdle. 

Pour the sauce over the meatballs. I liked doing this in individual serving bowls but it isn't necessary and probably too much work for a group larger than two. Drop the crumbled feta over the top and sprinkle with the sumac and crushed red pepper, if using. Garnish with pinches of turmeric powder and sprinkle with mint, dill, and cilantro and serve. This is good accompanied by rice, orzo, or pita bread. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Maple Pork Chops and Sweet Potatoes with Bacon

This meal feels seasonal to me; it's substantial and comforting food for those places that are still having some winter weather. 


Maple Pork Chops and Sweet Potatoes with Bacon

Source:  Simple Weeknight Favorites from America's Test Kitchen
Serves 4

1 1/4 pds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
6 slices bacon, chopped
4 (8 oz) bone-in pork rib chops, 1 inch thick, trimmed
salt and pepper
2 teas fresh thyme or 1 teas dried
1/2 c maple syrup
1 T cider vinegar
2 teas Dijon mustard

Place the sweet potatoes a large microwave safe bowl, cover, and cook in the microwave until tender but not falling apart; they'll have some additional cooking time. Meanwhile, in a 12-inch nonstick skillet on medium to medium-high heat cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon and set aside. Pour the bacon fat into a small bowl--you'll use some in the following steps.

To keep the chops from buckling, make shallow slices through the fat on the edges of the pork chops; 2-3 cuts should probably be sufficient. Pat them dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Replace about 1 tablespoon bacon fat into the skillet and heat over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke. Add the chops and allow to cook until browned about 4 minutes each side. According to the USDA the chops should reach an internal temperature of 145F. Remove the chops from the skillet and place on a plate; tent foil loosely over them while you proceed.

Add another tablespoon bacon fat and the sweet potatoes to the skillet; cook and stir occasionally until they are browned. Stir in thyme and reserved bacon and sprinkle with salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if needed. Place in a bowl for serving. Cover to retain the heat.

Reduce the heat to medium. In the empty skillet, add maple syrup, vinegar, and mustard and cook until thickened. Add the chops back to the skillet and pour in accumulated juices. Let the chops simmer while you turn them. When coated by the glaze serve the chops with the sweet potatoes.