Well, this is it. It is the day before I leave for Sicily and I must finally buckle down and get ready. I still have last minute errands to run and some very tricky packing to do (any advice on squeezing clothing for two weeks into a small suitcase, along with guidebooks and a large-ish Italian dictionary and still having some room to bring souvenirs home?).
I am so excited about this trip, but quite unprepared. The trip has been in the works for over a year and a half, but I still feel like it snuck up on me. In preparation for my last trip to Italy I read everything I could get my hands on and studied the language a little on my own. This time my preparation has consisted mostly of dreaming!
I plan to take copious notes and oodles of photos, so I'll have lots to tell you upon my return! For now I leave you with a picture of Bob and Chuck's life-like realization of me, the Greek Theatre in Taormina, and Mount Etna executed in sugar cubes, construction paper and photo snippets. Arrivederci! See you back here on May 14th!!
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Nothing like a little serendipity. When Zarah and I decided to schedule our Dining with the Bloggers themes in advance, we picked a bunch of themes and assigned dates without giving it much thought. As it turned out, the theme for this week - my last Dining with the Bloggers post before leaving for my vacation in Sicily - is Pasta!
I have two pasta recipes to tell you about this week. One is an old favorite and the other was new to me this week, but is destined to become another favorite.
My old favorite is probably the first recipe I ever made from a food blog - well before I started my own. It is Spicy Lentil Sauce from the hungry tiger. Come to think of it, this recipe was probably my introduction to red lentils. They are so cheap, cook so quickly, and taste so good! I've made this recipe several times now and really enjoy it. There are no specific amounts given, so you feel like you're winging it - which is kind of fun! A real advantage of this recipe is that if you keep some red lentils around, you can make it on the spur of the moment. You're likely to find all the other necessary ingredients in your pantry.
My new found favorite, from Rowena at **Rubber Slippers in Italy**, is Spaghetti con Agnello e Cipolle (spaghetti with lamb and onions). Rowena is from Hawaii and is now living in the Lombardia province of Italy. I love reading about her experiences in Italy and enjoy delving into her archives to find posts about a visit to an interesting small town, a wonderful bakery, or a new find at the market. I recently found this spaghetti recipe which sounded easy, and as luck would have it turned out to be a recipe that let me use up a number of things. I cheated a bit and used ground lamb - this made the prep work a little simpler and also allowed me to buy just the amount I needed. Everything else was on hand. I used up that big old red onion I bought for a long forgotten recipe, the tail end of a bottle of white wine, and the ends of two boxes of spaghetti (one regular, one spelt). In addition to the above mentioned ingredients, this dish also has a moderate amount of curry powder in it. All in all, it is a beautiful medley of flavors!
Be sure to pay a visit to Zarah to see what she's cooked up this week. My next Dining with the Bloggers post will be on May 18th, but I believe Zarah will be sharing some interesting finds while I'm away.
Monday, April 25, 2005
Page 50 in the old book / page 83 in the new book
I swear it was an honest mistake. I forgot to give Phil his cookies this week. It had nothing to do with the fact that these were the worst cookies I've ever made from this book - bland and not at all sweet. Nor did I fear the sweetly scathing remarks that the cookies might have provoked. We were only in the office at the same time one day this week and I neglected to tell him about the two cookies I had placed in the freezer for him.
But if I anticipated that Phil would not like these cookies, I should have known that Suzanne would hate them. I had just been tending to something around the corner from Suzanne's office and was headed back to my own office. As I rounded the corner I came upon Suzanne standing outside her office. She had just taken her first bite from a 24-Karat cookie and had such a look on her face! I would describe it as shock mixed with distaste.
I was actually looking forward to these - thinking that they might be like little carrot cakes. They have grated carrots, raisins and walnuts in them. However, the only sweetener is half a cup of honey, which just isn't enough to make the cookies sweet. I don't think I'll be making these again, but if I did I'd be seriously tempted to top them with some cream cheese icing.
So here's the cookie panel with their thoughts ...
Suzanne: "Blah! Blah! Blah! After my initial shock that the cookie was soft and bland, I unsuccessfully tried to pick out the "RAISINS" (boo raisins) to salvage some part of the cookie. It wasn't worth the effort. This isn't Cathy's fault. Cathy is a great baker. It's the recipe. Rating - 0"
Denny: "Well Cathy you finally missed one or more likely the recipe did. It was OK but the nuts were barely detectable and it wasn't sweet enough. I did taste a bit of honey. I'd give it a 3 but will still check back later for any leftovers. Rating - 3"
Laura: "Tastes like carrot cake in a cookie! I especially love the walnuts & raisins/currants. Rating - 4"
Phil: I forgot to give Phil his cookies before he left on vacation - sorry!
Overall rating by the panel - 2.3
Mondays with Maida will be taking a little break, but will be back on May 23rd with Indian Figlets.
Sunday, April 24, 2005
If you're looking for my IMBB entry, sorry - I'm leaving on vacation in a few days and taking a break from IMBB, cookie baking, and the like. (Though I will have a couple more posts before I leave.) I'm using the weekend to get ready for my trip. In theory I'm cleaning the house (ha ha), doing the laundry, running last minute errands, etc. In actuality, I'm still spending an awful lot of time keeping tabs on all my favorite food blogs.
Anyway, my cooking this weekend and for the next few days is centered around using it up, which put me in mind of a story...
One summer many years ago my family spent a leisurely couple of weeks staying in a cottage on a lake. As the end of our stay neared, our supplies dwindled and my parents were naturally trying to use up the things we had left. I believe it was the day before our departure when my Dad for some reason took charge in the preparation of our lunch.
My Dad seldom cooks, though there are a few things he is quite adept at. He was known in our family as the one who cooked the fried rice (though my Mom did all the prep work), he often prepared breakfast, and he was a master at peanut butter pairings (peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches...mmmmmmm...try it!). My Dad is an electrical engineer. He is a logical, practical man. On this particular day, though, I think he checked his culinary common sense at the door.
We were all seated around the table and my Dad set down a platter heaped with sandwiches - salami and relish sandwiches. Grocery store salami (not even Hebrew National) and sweet pickle relish. Yuck. There were lots of them too - I think we were each expected to eat more than one. Even my Mom was whining.
So tell me dear readers, what has "using it up" driven you to do? What's the worst combination of foods you've ever eaten or the most atrocious thing your parents ever made you eat?
Friday, April 22, 2005
Ahhh... Indian Pudding. I love the smell of it baking, its homey taste, its warmth. It is comfort food of the highest order. Why, oh why have I waited all these years to make some for myself?
Indian Pudding, like baked beans, made frequent appearances at the dinner table of my childhood. I have always loved it, though I don't think it is quite so fondly remembered by my siblings. When I mentioned to my brother Bob that I would be making it for the upcoming Sugar High Friday (which, by the way, has a theme of Molasses this time around and is hosted by Derrick of An Obsession with Food) and said that I thought I remembered that I was the only kid in our family that liked it, he remarked, "I remember that I liked the vanilla ice cream on top."
I couldn't find any definitive history of Indian Pudding, but it does seem to be generally accepted that it came to the early New England settlers by way of the native Americans. I learned from this article in Native Peoples Magazine that the Algonquian and Iroquoian tribes traditionally ate their main meal in the morning and that it often included a savory or sweet corn meal porridge. It sounds as though molasses may have been a later addition.
If you're not inclined to make your own Indian Pudding, your best bet might be to try some at Durgin Park next time you're in Boston. I've never eaten there, but I remember my parents speaking of it fondly. Believe it or not, you can also buy Indian Pudding in a can!
My recipe for Indian Pudding was given to my Mom by Auntie Bee. It is simpler and plainer than others I've seen. It has no butter, eggs, or raisins. I made it with skim milk which resulted in a rather thin, but still very tasty, porridge. I believe my mom always made it with whole milk. This keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days and can be reheated in the microwave.
Baked Indian Pudding
1 quart milk
1/3 cup corn meal
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 tsp ginger
a pinch of salt
Mix all ingredients together and pour into a greased baking dish. Cook in a slow oven (275 F) for 2 hours. Stir pudding 3 or 4 times while cooking or until it is well blended. (My note: stir fairly often in the beginning to avoid lumps.)
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
So what was that I was saying last week? Oh yeah, "I'm going to be good". Ha! This is one of those weeks. It started with a cookout at my parents, followed the next night by dinner out with my family to celebrate three birthdays, and then I had to make a cake. Yes, following close on the heels of cheese week, this week our Dining with the Bloggers theme is "A Cake".
Well, I can't complain too much. Any excuse for a cake is good enough for me and you don't have to search too hard among all those food blogs out there to find some mighty tempting cake recipes. Actually, this week I didn't have to search at all as I found this recipe in the course of my regular wanderings several weeks ago. It is Deb's (of In My Kitchen) recipe for Chocolate Gingerbread Cake. I love chocolate anything, but this combination of chocolate and ginger sounded especially appealing to me. The cake is a spicy gingerbread with additions of cocoa and chocolate chips. The cocoa gives the cake a nice undercurrent of chocolate, while a generous amount of ginger and other spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice, pepper, and nutmeg) give it some zing. All this is punctuated with a smattering of chocolate chips - yum! Deb added a cardamom cream cheese icing, but since most of my cake was bound for the freezer, I decided to omit the frosting. The cake is delicious as is, but I'll bet it is stunning with the icing. I've always liked gingerbread, and this is a variation that I know I'll be making again.
Now off you go to Zarah's, where another yummy cake awaits!
Monday, April 18, 2005
Page 49 in the old book / page 82 in the new book
As you may have already guessed from last week, I'm starting to have trouble thinking of something new to say about all these drop cookies. Don't get me wrong... I do like drop cookies, and they are easy to make, it's just they're not that interesting to write about... or so it seems by the time you get around to the 23rd variety of them.
The one thing that I found interesting this week, was that there is sort of a progression from the Praline Wafers, to the Farmer's Wife's Pecan Cookies to these cookies. When I started this project, one thing I was hoping to gain from it was a better understanding of the chemistry of cookies - how different ingredients in various amounts affect the outcome of a cookie recipe. I think it would be fun to spend a day or two experimenting with slight variations on a single recipe, but I'm not sure when or if I'll ever get around to that. In the meantime, though, I can notice the similarities and differences in Maida Heatter's recipes and try to figure out cause and effect. These cookies have more flour, less sugar (and use dark rather than light brown sugar) and have some sour cream, resulting in a not quite chewy and almost cakey cookie, or what Maida Heatter calls semisoft.
I thought these cookies were nice, but nothing special. They're supposed to be topped with a walnut half, but I didn't have any walnut halves or even any attractive pieces, so I omitted them. It also seemed to me that they had plenty of nuts on the inside and didn't really need a piece on top (OK, and I couldn't help but recall Phil's comment about the Farmer's Wife's Pecan Cookies).
The cookie panel had quite a variety of ratings for these...
Suzanne: "Perfect cookie with a cup of coffee. This is a cakey cookie. You can really taste the brown sugar. This along with the walnut pieces inside make this a perfect cookie. This would also be good with vanilla ice cream. Yeah, no raisins!. Rating - 5"
Denny: "Very good Nut-Tree Walnut Jumbles. Rating - 4"
Laura: "Chewy cookie with yummy nutty crunch. Rating - 3"
Phil: "Cathy, quit your day job – perfectly cooked cookies – moist, puffy, and nicely textured. But put your considerable skills to another recipe – too nutty and not sweet enough for this sweet tooth. Rating - 2.8"
Overall rating by the panel - 3.7
Next week – 24-Karat Cookies
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
The theme this week is cheese. I confess that this is my doing - it was a choice made several weeks back and by the time "cheese week" rolled around, I was wishing it was "lettuce week" or some such. I've been indulging a bit too much lately and with my trip to Sicily rapidly approaching, I feel the need to good (so that I can be bad in Sicily, of course).
With cheese I didn't see many options for being good (as in eating healthfully), so I just went for being good (as in delicious). I thought about pizza, but then came across Santos' Tomato Tart. If you take a look, you'll see...this is what pizza wants to be when it grows up.
Santos has a breezy way of describing how she cooks that makes it sound so easy. For the pastry she "...added all these little bits and bobs of cheese i had in the fridge...". She used a combination of parmesan, gruyere, fontina and pecorino. Yum. I looked in my fridge and found parmesan, leerdammer, and jack. Oh dear... do they even go together? I hemmed and hawed about which to use and which to leave out, but finally decided (in the spirit of "bits and bobs") to use them all.
I used cherry tomatoes, cut the pastry recipe in half, and made individual tarts. I had enough pastry for three but stuck one blob in the freezer for later and made just two tarts. They came out beautifully. It was delicious too - the rich cheesy crust and sweet roasted tomatoes were both wonderful. I have one more tart waiting to be reheated tomorrow...then I'm going to be good.
Zarah tried some pretty elegant mac 'n cheese. Oh my gosh that sounds good!
Monday, April 11, 2005
When I first stuck my toe in the pool that is blogdom, I was very concerned about anonymity. As I have gradually acclimated, I've become comfortable with revealing bits of myself here and there. It seems funny to me now that when I started this blog I didn't even want to reveal my first name, so I used my initials (cai) as my "display name" in Blogger. For quite some time now I've been wishing I had just used my first name, so I finally changed it. So when you see comments and posts signed "Cathy" ... it's just me!
Page 48 in the old book / page 81 in the new book
You know, a year or so from now, I'll be wishing for the good old days when all I had to do was mix up some dough and drop it on a cookie sheet. Making cookies every Sunday evening has become my routine since I started Mondays with Maida, and a rather painless one at that. I still have months of "easy" cookies to go - there are 17 more drop cookies - but then the degree of difficulty will start to inch up. There will be many more simple cookies, but multi-layered bar cookies will make occasional appearances amidst the more ordinary brownies, then icebox cookies, and then *biting my knuckles* rolled cookies. Yes, cookies will be taking a bigger bite out of my weekend when I finish up this chapter, so I will give thanks for the drop cookie...in all its simplicity!
Maida Heatter describes these cookies as traditional cookie jar cookies and I would characterize them that way as well. They are mildly spiced cookies that are crunchy on the outside, somewhat cakey on the inside, and loaded with walnuts and raisins. They are not unusual in any way, but they are very good.
And now a word from the cookie panel...
Suzanne: "BOO -- Raisins! The nuts were great and the cookie was crunchy. I'm not a fan of spice/raisin cookies, so I'd rate this one as a 3. I'm showing my age, but I've decided to rate the cookies as the kids did on 'American Bandstand' in the 1950 - 1960's. Rating -
Denny: "The 'Route 7 Raisin Nut Cookies' were very good. Rating - 4"
Laura: "Yummy and crunchy! I love the cinnamon and nutmeg flavors. Rating - 4"
Phil: "Not sure what to expect from a Route 7 cookie. Figured on some variant of road food - ample, stick to your ribs and average. Was pleasantly surprised by this combination of raisins and nuts in a slightly sweet, perfect puffy size cookie (a little more than a bite size but not too big). Rating - 3.5"
Overall rating by the panel -
*** UPDATE *** Late breaking news...I was talking with Suzanne today and asked about the American Bandstand reference in her comments because I didn't really get it. Turns out she had forgotten that I wanted her to provide a rating on a scale from 1 to 5 and was (she thought) providing an unsolicited numerical rating on a scale of 1 to 10, which she explained through her reference to American Bandstand. So, she didn't really mean to give the cookies a 3. On a scale of 1 to 5, she felt they only merited a 1.5, making the revised average for the panel 3.3.
Next week – Nut-Tree Walnut Jumbles
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
So what exactly is the relationship between Mr. R. and Miss A.? Will Mr. R. take Caryn on the upcoming shoot and where will it be? But most of all, who is Mr. R. and is Caryn really his personal chef??? If you don't know what I'm talking about, you haven't had the pleasure of reading Delicious! Delicious!, Caryn's lovely and entertaining food blog. Caryn says that only the food is real, but one can't help but wonder...
I have to thank Barrett for pointing me in the direction of this blog. Although I had noticed the name of it somewhere, it wasn't until Barrett included it in a recent Posts of the Week that I actually visited it. I was immediately hooked. Each post is a brief scene written as a screenplay and includes a gorgeous photograph. Most are also accompanied by a recipe. So if you aren't already up on Caryn's adventures, you must start from the beginning and catch up! This week, the recipe that caught my eye was the one that had brought me there - Bierocks.
Bierocks are rolls filled with a meat and cabbage mixture. For a yeast bread, this was surprisingly quick and easy to make. The dough is mixed and kneaded in the mixer, though I kneaded it a little by hand at the end. The dough was easy to handle and stuffing the rolls was a snap. I used ground pork for the filling and decided to add a pinch of red pepper flakes and some fennel seeds. I ate my first bierock warm from the oven - it was heaven! The bread was fluffy and slightly sweet and combined with the pork and cabbage filling it made a perfectly yummy little sandwich. It wasn't until I reread Caryn's post just now that I noticed the mention of serving these with mustard, so I'll have to try that next time. I have frozen most of them and plan to use them for bag lunches in the near future. I really like this idea of making filled rolls - they're delicious and make such convenient little packages.
Oops, almost forgot to mention - the theme this week is "lunchbox", so stop by Zarah's and see what she has packed for you!
Monday, April 04, 2005
Page 47 in the old book / page 81 in the new book
What a difference a cup or so of flour makes! These cookies have the same ingredients as last week's cookies, but with more flour, less sugar and less butter. While last week's Praline Wafers were thin and candy-like, these are thicker, more traditional cookies that are very crunchy.
These cookies are super easy to make. You melt the butter in a saucepan and mix in the other ingredients right in the pan. Making them was blessedly uneventful - no cookies sticking to foil this week!
I liked the cookies very much; they're quite sweet and VERY crunchy. They are also rather pretty, with a nice sheen and pecan half perched on top.
Here's what the cookie panel thought...
Suzanne: Suzanne was busy taking care of her brand new grandson, so didn't get a chance to try the cookies this week.
Denny: "Farmer's Wife's Pecan Cookies were very good. Rating - 4.22"
Laura: "Deliciously crunchy and incredibly tasty. Rating - 5"
Phil: "Not a soft cookie, crunchy at the edge and more chewy as you approach the middle - crowned with a textured pecan great for cookie aesthetics but not so good for enhancing the tasting experience. A serviceable cookie and if exposure time (time to disappear from the container after staff are advised there are cookies) is any indicator, one of the quickest to disappear. Rating - 3.75"
Overall rating by the panel - 4.3
Next week – Route 7 Raisin-Nut Cookies