Monday, December 14, 2015

With the holidays right around the corner, that means a busy time for many including the 2 Prickly Pears.  We are going to take a little break during the holiday season but before we do we wanted to wish everyone the best during this time and to share one of our more popular blogs for the holiday season.

From our kitchen to yours we wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and Happy New Year.   May 2016 be a joyous year for everyone.

See everyone again in 2016!!!

*************************************************************************************

With Halloween over and the two biggest holidays approaching, we thought we spend a little time talking about the classics of these cooking season.  Let's start with Thanksgiving.  Over the next few weeks we will look into the true history of Thanksgiving and the foods that are so familiar with the traditional turkey dinner.

Fresh Cranberries
Today's post is all about the cranberry.  Can you guess what cranberries have in common with blueberries and concord grapes?  The three are native fruits of North America.  And long before the settlers took over the shores of what we now know as the United States, Natives of the land used cranberries as a food source, medicine and dye.  

It's easy to imagine the first convenient food ever made was a mixture of deer meat and mashed cranberries.  It was called pemmican.  Pemmican kept for long periods of time and was great for long travels.  As for medicine, cranberries were used in poultices that would draw poison from arrow wounds. And the juice of the berry was used to dye blankets, rugs and clothing.  The Delaware Indians of New Jersey used the cranberry as a symbol of peace.

East coast people called the red berries sassamanash.  The Pequot and Leni-Lenape tribes called them ibimi. And the Algonquin tribe of Wisconsin called them atoqua. The versatile berry was introduced to the English settlers in Massachusetts, which helped stave off starvation.  The truth of the matter is that the settlers only survived with the help of the native population.

The English named cranberries after the plant's flower, which resembles the bill of the Sandhill Crane.  Crane-berry morphed into what we recognize today as the cranberry.

Flooded bog
Contrary to popular belief , cranberries do not grow in water.  They do grow in bogs that are made up of mostly of sand and clay.  Once the berries have acquired their family color, the bog is flooded with about 8 - 10 inches of water, making harvesting easier.  But it turns out that this method of harvesting actually adds health benefits to the cranberries.  It is the berries exposure to the sun that develops its nutritional value.  Cranberries are naturally high in antioxidants, as well as vitamins C, A, & E.

Cranberries float as there are chambers in the the berries.


In case you were wondering, Wisconsin is the largest grower of cranberries in the US growing more than half of the berries available, followed by Massachusetts.

More interesting facts about cranberries:
  • Sailors on the days of wooden ships carried cranberries as they were loaded with vitamin C which fought against scurvy.
  • Dennis, Massachusetts was the site of the first cultivation of cranberries in 1816.
  • It takes one ton or more of cranberry vines to plant a bog.
  • Recipes using cranberries date back to the late 1700's.
  • During WWII, American troops required about 1 million pounds of dehydrated cranberries per year.
  • In 1996 200 billion cranberries were harvest, about 40 for every man, woman and child on the planet.  In that same year, growers harvest 4.84 million barrels of fruit.  If the berries were set end to end they would span 1.75 million miles.
  • 440 cranberries make up one pound.
  • It takes 4,400 cranberries to make a gallon of juice, and there are 440,000 cranberries in a 100 lb barrel.
Now that we have a better insight into the make up of cranberries as an industry, let's talk about it's place on the Thanksgiving table. We will talk more about the history of Thanksgiving in coming posts.  For now, sufficed it say, it is safe to speculate that cranberries were cooked up and served at the first Thanksgiving.  And certainly cranberries enjoy a familiar presence on today's table.  But before we get to our recipe, lets have a short talk about canned cranberry sauce.

  
We are all well aware of the smooth, jello-like cranberry sauce that slides out of the can. There is a large population that is completely offended if the canned sauce is not on the table each year.  We respect the need for tradition.  And if canned cranberry sauce is your personal preference, then we bid you enjoy every bite of it.  If, on the other hand, you want to venture out and make your own cranberry sauce, we have a recipe for you that is easy-breezy and can be made up to a week ahead of time.  And if there are left-overs, feel free to freeze your sauce in an air tight container.

Here is the 2 Prickly Cranberry Pear Sauce.  This is also known as chutney.

Cranberry Pear Sauce (Chutney)
What you need:
3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar**
1 pear, peeled and chopped
12 oz bag of of whole cranberries ***
Zest of 1 orange


What you need to do:

In sauce pan combine sugar, water and orange zest.  Heat until sugar is dissolved.  Add cranberries and pear, bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Simmer chutney until the berries burst and the fruit is soft, approximately 15 minutes.  This will actually depend how chunky you like your chutney. Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

** add a bit more if you like your sauce sweeter.
*** if you can't get fresh cranberries, dried berries work just as well.  You'll likely need a bit more water in your recipe.

That's it!!  Easy, tasty, convenient and no can opener.

We know that holiday dinner can be hectic.  We wish yours to be peaceful and filled with good things to serve your family and friends.


Now, go out and make something good.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Holiday Cakes

So far we've talked about cookies and breads for the holidays. It's time to turn our attention to cake. Just like cookies and breads, cake has a long history in so many cultures. Where ever there is flour and sugar, you will find one sort of cake or another. Cakes are great for all kinds of holidays and all kinds of celebrations. What's a birthday without birthday cake; am I right? From the simplest cupcake to the most elaborate wedding cake, we love to give cheer while eating our cake.

As in the past few posts, I will give a short run down of just a few cakes from around the world. And then I will embark on trying to make one of my own. Wish me luck because I've never made this particular cake before. We'll get to that shortly.


For now, though, here are a few cakes that look intriguing (keep in mind, this is by no means an exhaustive list):
Pan de Pascua

Pan de Pascua is a cake believed to evolve from the German stollen and the Italian panttone. The name actually means "Easter Bread." But somehow it is a traditional Christmas cake, much like a fruit cake, that is served in Chile. It was brought to the country by German immigrants and made its way into the countries traditions.

Galette des Rois

Galette des Rois is a flaky caked filled with almond filling and served on the 12th day of Christmas. This cake is enjoyed all over Europe and Latin America. The tradition is that a tiny baby doll is placed in the cake and the recipient is honored for the year with good fortune.

Lekach
Lekach is a honey-sweetened cake. It is significant in the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah and represents the hopes of a sweet New Year.

Jamaican Rom Cake

Rum Cake is a tradition in Jamaica. It is rich with rum, cinnamon, nutmeg and lime.

Makowiec
Makowiec is a traditional Polish cake made from a sweet dough and filled with poppy seed paste.

Bolo Rei
Bolo Rei is from Portugal. It is made in the shape of a crown with candied fruit as the jewels which represents the three kings.

Rosco de Reyes

Rosca de Reyes, similar to Bolo Rei, originated in France and is meant to be eaten from Christmas to until the Day of the Kings.

Christmas Cake
Christmas Cake from the United Kingdom, is a type of fruit cake. It is made two months before Christmas so it can soak in all the brandy called for in the recipe.

Having given you a short list of possible cakes to make for you holiday festivities, I come to the cake that I will make.  This particular cake has a history that goes back, way back to the Iron Age of Europe.  It was the original celebration of the Winter Solstice at the end of December.  Before this cake became a cake it was a log from a tree that was decorated with holly and pine cones.  Wine was used to anoint the log.  The celebration was all about the end of the dark and the welcoming of the light as the daylight hours began to increase.  The ashes of the "yule log" were considered valuable, containing medicinal powers to guard against evil.  

Eventually, the Yule log tradition continued, but on a small scale.  What with smaller hearths, large logs could not be used.  No one knows who made the first yule log into a cake, but it is believed that the 1600's ushered in this holiday cake tradition.  French bakers made the yule log popular in the 19th century, calling it buche de Noel.  Today, the yule log is recognized throughout the world as a Christmas dessert.

So today I make a Yule Log in celebration of the coming Winter Solstice and the holiday season.  Let the adventure begin!

Yule Log

What you need:
For the cake:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup dark chocolate, chopped in small pieces
5 eggs
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water

Cream Cheese filling
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whipped cream.

What you need to do:

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Prepare an 11" x 17" jelly roll pan by spraying it or generously greasing and flour.  Set aside.

Melt butter and chocolate chips and stir until smooth.

In stand mixer, beat eggs on high for 5 minutes, until frothy.  Add sugar gradually until all combines.  Turn mixer to low and mix in chocolate mixture until blended.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt.  Alternately add flour and water, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Mix only until incorporated.  DO NOT OVER MIX.

Spread batter evenly in pan.  Bake for 13-14 minutes or just until done.  Do not over bake.

Spread out a clean dish towel.  Using a small strainer, cover the towel with powdered sugar. Cover the towel completely.

Remove cake from oven and turn it onto the towel.  Very carefully roll the short end of the cake up in the towel.  Let cool completely.

In medium bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Gradually add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.  Add vanilla and mix thoroughly.  Fold in whip cream.

Gently unwrap cake.  Spread filling to cover the cake.  Gently roll the cake up again, placing it seam side down on serving plate.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.

Before serving, sprinkle cake with powdered sugar and decorate as you like.

With so many options for a lovely and deliciously dessert for your holiday table, I'm sure you can find one that is especially right for you.

Now, go out and make something good.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sandwich... the options are endless!

Deli Sandwich
The world loves it sandwiches. They come in all shapes and sizes.  All kinds of combinations of meats, veggie, fruits, cheeses, condiments and bread types. It would be hard find a restaurant that doesn't have one on the menu.   Some restaurants only have sandwiches on the menu.  Restaurants will boast of their signature sandwich. In fact the 2 Prickly Pears are trying to design their own signature sandwich.  It is almost a badge of honor or right of passage to say you have a treasured sandwich that is your own in the culinary world. And are they handy! You can put them in a lunch, eat them in a restaurant, eat them standing, sitting, laying in bed. They are eaten at all hours of the day from breakfast sandwiches to a midnight snacks. They are can be made hot or cold. Open faced or closed. They are sweat and/or savory. Some with no meat like the ever popular and traditional peanut butter and jelly. Right there you can argue what is the best peanut butter and jelly to use
Classic PBJ Sandwich

So where did they come from?  Where did they get their name?  

The names comes from John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.  He claims he is the inventory of this food combination.  But it is thought to date back to an ancient Jewish sage call Hillel the Elder.   it is said he wrapped meat and bitter herbs between two pieces of matzah (flat, unleavened bread) during Passover.

During the Middle Ages in Europe they used thickly slices stale bread as plates, which they called "trenches".  After the meal the bread that was food soaked was fed to the dogs of peasants.   As time went on local taverns would cut thin slices of beef that was hanging from the rafters and served them between two buttered pieces of bread. 

During the 19th century in Spain and England industrial revolution the sandwich became even more popular. For the working class it was a fast, portable and inexpensive meal to carry to work.  At the same time in the United States was becoming an "elaborate" meal of choice.  In the 20th Century bread had become a staple of the US diet.  It was at that time sandwiches were here to stay.  With in the increase of different cultures moving to the US and people traveling outside the US, the sandwich took on a life of its own.

Chicken Salad Sandwich
Fun fact...
In the United States, a court in Boston, Massachusetts ruled that "sandwich" includes at least two slices of bread.[1] and "under this definition, this court finds that the term 'sandwich' is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, which are typically made with a single tortilla and stuffed with a choice filling of meat, rice, and beans." The issue stemmed from the question of whether a restaurant that sold burritos could move into a shopping centre where another restaurant had a no-compete clause in its lease prohibiting other "sandwich" shops. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandwich)

Then there are the classic sandwiches that accompany another dish.  Like the Tomato Soup and Toasted cheese sandwich.




Definition of Sandwich  
  1.  a. Two or more slices of bread with a filling such as meat or cheese placed between them.
       b. A partly split long or round roll containing a filling.
       c. One slice of bread covered with a filling.

       2. Something resembling a sandwich.

tr.v. sand·wiched, sand·wich·ing, sand·wich·es
  1. To insert (one thing) tightly between two other things often of differing character or      quality.
  2. To collide with or crash into (a person, for example) with impacts on opposing sides.
  3.  To make room or time for: sandwiched a vacation between business trips.

Corned Beef - nothing better!
So how do you like your sandwich?  I am a simple sandwich person when I make them for myself.  I always think sandwiches taste better when someone else makes them for me.  But I am on a mission to get a mustard recipe ready for the cookbook so today I made a simple ham, swiss and lettuce with the experimental mustard.  I am almost there with the mustard but not yet.
Ham and Swiss Sandwich

However, my all time favorite sandwich since I have been a child is white bread with butter on with about a 2 inch layer if ice burg lettuce.  I am going to go make one right now!!!

Now go and make yourself a sandwich or for someone you love.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Celebrating the Holidays with Bread

I would be hard pressed to find a country that doesn't grow grain of some kind and inevitable makes bread. From Asia to Africa, from Mexico to Milan, bread is made. It is such a part of our lives and a part of all our cultures, and it is a part of our holiday celebrations. We've talked about bread before and invite you to see that blog as a refresher on how Breaking Bread is so important in every culture.

I like to make bread, but I've never tried one of the recipes I'll be telling you about. It will be an adventure. I hope I can honor the culture of origin.

But before we get to the recipe, let's take a look at some of the bread that can be found from around the world.  You might note that most of these breads contain spices, nuts and/or dried fruit. These additions to the dough add a sweetness, aroma and color that fits with the holiday theme.

Challah
  • Challah: This braided Jewish egg bread is eaten at many religious occasions including Hanukkah (Chanukah). It began in ancient times as a piece of dough set aside for the temple priests. Today the word challah is used to refer to the whole loaf. When baked it is glazed with egg yolk and can be topped with sesame seeds.
Julekake
  • Julekake: This sweet bread is especially popular in Norway and Denmark. Traditionally it is spiced with cardamom filled with mixed candied fruits that give it the colors of the Christmas season. It can be lightly iced. I like it best toasted with butter.
Panettone
  • Panettone: This Italian Christmas bread was created in Milan. You need a special pan to bake the traditional loaf which is round and tall (sort of like a mushroom) and baked with raisins.
Cesnica
  • Cesnica: A traditional Serbian wheat bread that is baked by women according to many rules on Christmas morning. The word "cest" means share. It is baked with an object inside and the loaf is sent counterclockwise around the Christmas table three times before eating.
Krendel
  • Krendel: This Russian Christmas bread is shaped like a pretzel and either dusted with sugar or lightly iced. It is filled with fruit like prunes, apples, apricots, etc.
Kerststol
  • Kerststol: Dutch bread with almond paste and dried fruit.
Gubana
  • Gubana: Originating in Slovenia this traditional bread is shaped like a snail shell and is eaten at various holidays throughout the year. It contains raisins soaked in grappa, pine nuts, grated chocolate, citron and more.
Beigli
  • Beigli: A Hungarian bread that is rolled up with a filling of walnuts and/ or poppy seeds. When cut it provides a lovely spiral design.
Fougasse
  • Fougasse: This is a flat bread (similar to focaccia) is associated with southern France. It is made with orange water, anise seed, olive oil and can be shaped like a leaf.

There are so many possibilities to choose from when it comes of holiday bread.  I decided to go with our own heritage, so I picked Stollen. The 2 Prickly Pears have a measure of German in our lineage. That along with some other European influences sort of makes us mutts: lovable and loyal. With a heavy European background it seems fitting that I would make a hearty holiday bread to enjoy with family.

Stollen is a traditional bread originated in Dresden, Germany.  It has an oblong shape and is filled with dried fruits, or nuts, or both.  I'm not a fan of dried fruit in baked goods, so I'm doing a walnut Stollen with sugar and cinnamon.  Wish me luck on my new adventure!



What you need:
For the dough:
3 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
1/3 cup water (110 degrees)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 - 5 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup golden raisins (optional; I didn't use them this time)

For the filling:
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cup ground walnuts
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons water

For the egg wash:
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon

Plus 2-3 tablespoons sugar

For the icing:
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk


What you need to do:

To make the dough:

In small bowl combine yeast and warm water.  Set aside for 5 minutes.

Heat milk in small sauce pan until hot, remove from heat.  Stir in 1/2 cup butter and salt.

Beat 2 eggs and yolks in your stand mixer using whisk attachment.  Gradually add in 2 tablespoons sugar until thick and lemon colored.  Change attachment to paddle and stir in milk mixture and 2 cups of flour until smooth.  Mix in yeast mixture.  Change attachment to dough hook, and add melted butter, lemon peel, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg and 2 1/2 cups flour.  Add more flour in small increments if dough is sticky.  (If using raisins, add them now.)  Your dough should be smooth and very soft.  Knead for 5 minutes.  Allow dough to rise in a greased bowl for 1 hour or until double in size.

For the nut filling:

Mix all ingredients, except the water, in a medium sauce pan and heat on low.  Stir until all the sugar is dissolved, around 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and mix in the 4 teaspoons water.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  (you can make this the day before and keep it in the refrigerator.  Bring it to room temperature before you get started the next day.)

Once dough has risen, deflate and divide into two balls.  Cover one ball of dough while working with the other.  Roll out the dough to a 10 x 12 rectangle.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  Spread 1/2 of the nut filling over the dough, leaving about an inch all around.

Mix the wash combining the egg and cream.  Brush the border of your dough with the wash. This will help seal it during baking.  Roll up the dough beginning with the long edge.  Make sure the seam is sealed and the ends are tucked in.  Transfer the Stollen, seam side down, to a lined baking sheet, leaving room for the other roll.  Repeat the process with the second ball of dough.

Heat over to 375 degrees.  Bake Stollen for 15 minutes, then brush with egg wash.  Turn down over to 350 and bake another 10 minutes.  Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake for another 15 minutes.  (You can drape the Stollen with aluminum foil during the last baking if it is getting too brown.)  Remove from oven and cook on rack for 30 minutes.

Drizzle Stollen with icing and let cool completely.  It can be kept in the refrigerator if wrapped tightly.  Serve at room temperature.

My Stollen turned out light and nutty and yummy.  I think my Great Great Grandmothers would approve.  What a delightful holiday bread.

Find a lovely bread that you think makes the holiday and enjoy it with family and friends.

Now, go out and make something good.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Mom and Betty... Old Friends!

The holidays are a time of family, friends and traditions.  I always think of my mother during this time when it comes to baking. There were always cookies in the house and my dad always had them in his lunch box. For years my dad had a black lunch box, much like the one shown below.  It was plastic and always smelled like the paper mill, which he worked at for 37 years. No matter what, there were always cookies in it and it always had cookie crumbs at the bottom.  For a time it was my job to clean it and get it ready for his lunch the next day. When he came home the lunchbox was cleaned and went on a shelf at the end of the cupboard and on his days off it went into the cupboard.   But always there were cookies in it.


Then there was the cookie jar.  I cant remember a time when the cookie jar wasn't on the counter.   It never left its place until after my dads passing.   Then it was given to my sister ,Linda.  She was raising her children at the time and it found a new home on her counter.


So where did moms cookie tradition start?   In our home there was one cookbook used for cookies, cake and pies.  AND that was Betty Crocker.   In 1950 Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book was published. I don't know how she did it but mom had one.   Not sure if she saved up the money for it or if dad bought it for her.   Either way it very special for her to have in her possession.  In 1950 my parents were only married for 3 years with 2 children and one on the way.  Dad was working in the paper mill and holding down 2 other jobs.  So a cook book was a luxury for my mother.  It wasn't until many years later I understood how important the book was to her.  

In the days before computers and the internet everything was communicated in letters. Mom wasn't sure how to whip egg white so they formed a peak.  So she wrote Betty. Promptly Betty wrote back in the form of a typed letter explaining how to acheive the desired results.   Good old Betty, she was always there.  65 years later we still have the original typed letter.

 

Over the years Betty was truly loved.  As you can see from the picture above she is a little worn.  All of us girls used it at some points.  But I digress.  The cookies.  This is where they came from.  Chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, cherry winks, sugar cookies and of course my favorite... ice box cookies!   If you flip to anyone of those pages in the book you will find food stains and hand written notes from my mom. Betty was so loved she soon needed paper Hole punch protectors.


I thinks she is still in need of some.

So why am I saying all this.  Well, I saw a chocolate chip cookie on the internet I thought was interesting so I gave it a try.   It reminded me of mom and all the cookies she made.  Besides who needs a reason to have a cookie?  So I made a batch. 


They were good but not moms.  So it got me thinking about mom and good ole Betty.  50 years after the first publication of the Betty Crocker cook book they republished the cook book exactly as it was in 1950.  Why not?  Why fix what isn't broken.  It was a best seller in 1950 and basic cooking has never gone out of style.  So in 2000 mom purchased the cook book for all her kids.  So out came my Betty.


I promptly turned top page 204 for the peanut butter cookies.


Just like mom always made. Well almost.

After the chocolate chip and peanut butter it was time for the ice box cookies, or sometimes called refrigerator cookies.  On to page 184 I headed. There they were. The page looked exactly how I remembered.


Here is how it is written in the cook book...

Page 184 of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book
Refrigerator Cookies (melt in your mouth, rich and crispy)

Mix together thoroughly...
1 cup soft shortening (I used butter)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs

Sift together and stir in...
2 3/4 cup sifted flour
1/2 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
*2 to 3 tsp cinnamon
*Or use 1 1/2 tsp vanilla (add with eggs)

Mix thoroughly.  With hands press and mold into a long smooth roll about 2 1/2" in diameter.   Wrap with wax paper and chill until stiff (several hours of overnight.)  With a thin, sharp knife, cut in thin slices 1/8" to 1/16" thick.   Places slices a little apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake until lightly brown.

Temperature: 400 degrees
Time: Bake 6 - 8 minutes
Amount: About 6 doz. 2 1/2" cookies.

As I made the cookies I remembered being a little girl in the kitchen with mom.  I was too little to see what mom was doing. I would get my step stool so I could see into the stand mixed which was silver. I can still hear mom say how important it was to cream the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla together.  When you think you have done it enough, you cream it some more. I still do that very thing.  I got to add the flour so the creaming seemed to take forever! Mom would always say when it was time for the flour. I was always ready. In a few short minutes the dough was ready to shape in a log.  The cookie logs always sat in the fridge overnight.  No short cuts. NEVER with ice box cookies. I felt like I hit the big time when she finally let me cut them before baking. Still my favorite part of making them. Moms seemed always to be the perfect thickness. I am still working on that part at age 51.

I will admit I am not a cookie connoisseur like my sister, Terry.  Nor am I the baker she is but I can make a mean ice box cookie!  Nothing better then a warm ice box cookie with an ice cold glass of whole milk. I become that little girl that had to use a step stool it see into the mixer every time.

After moms passing it was time for Betty to go to a new home. So she went to live with my sister, Terry, who proudly displays her on her bookshelf in the kitchen area. In time Betty will go to my niece, Anna, who is also an excellent cook. She and her daughter, Sakura, will carrying on the tradition of cookie making that started with a seemingly ordinary act of purchasing a cook book.

Some kitchens had Julia (Childs), some had Joy (the Joy of Cooking) but we had good ole Betty!

Time to make cookies for yourself or someone you love!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Meatballs... Search is Over on How to Cook Them.

I love love love meatballs!  BUT could never figure out how to make them that they weren't hard, dry and tasteless.   I just couldn't get it.   So after many many moons I finally figured it out. It took a bit to put it all together on what I was doing wrong. I had some left over ground chicken.  Instead of making chicken patties I decided to try meatballs. They turned out OK but not quit right.   I found a recipe online.  The flavor was good but they needed work. I was still missing something and didn't know what it was.  

Because I couldn't let it go, I remember the blog I wrote about how to cook a chicken breast that wasn't dry. No More Dry Chicken. Was that it?  Was I over cooking them?  I didn't have any ground chicken but I had a grinder and I had some chicken breast.  Ground the chicken, added seasoning and herbs only this time I got the pan hot with olive oil and dropped the meatballs into the pan and got them nice and brown.   Only this time I did not cook them all the way through.   When I was done browning them, I put them back in the pan with a nice homemade chicken gravy and cooked them slowly.  I HAD IT!!!  Not dry or hard like a hockey puck,  but still needed to work on the seasoning.   I realized it was more in the technique then anything.

Yet, I wasn't so sure about attempting meatballs with ground beef since it is a very different protein.  A friend's favorite meal is meatballs and spaghetti. He said I could do this.  I didn't need help on getting them to taste good because I learned that with the chicken meatballs. It was that texture I had to figure out with the ground beef.   So I hunted the internet for the answer.  And there it was.  HELLO!!!   I knew all the tips they gave me, I just never put them all together.

Here are the tips to a great meatball...
  • You want a good ground beef but not to lean.  The fat in the meat helps keep the protein moist while cooking.
  • I mince my garlic and onions and saute them. You don't want big pieced of onions in your meatball
  • Don't be afraid to use seasoning and herbs.   Added herbs and seasonings to your meat and do a taste test.   Fry up a little of the meat mixture in a pan to make sure the seasoning is right.
  • Every thing you add the to ground beef MUST BE COLD!!!!   When you saute your onions and garlic with your herbs and seasoning, place it in the fridge to cool it off. Regardless of the type of meat you use make sure everything is the same temperature when you combine it.  If you add the onion and spice mixture to the meat when it is hot you will start breaking down the protein in the meat.  You don't want that.
  • Do not over handle the meat.  Chicken is much looser then beef, port or lamb.  It seems like it wont hold its shape but it will.   You really cant over handle the chicken. You can, though, when  you are working with beef, pork and lamb.  You do not want to form the meat into tight perfectly round balls.  Doing that will make them dry and hard.
  • Do not over cook them.  You want to get a nice sear on them but not cooked all the way through.   You want them to finish cooking in your sauce on low.   This will keep them moist.
  • Eggs do not make the meatballs moist.  They are a binding agent.  Adding more will not help.
  • I use oatmeal to help bind everything together.   Like everything else there is a trick. You do not want to use the oats whole.   Put them in a food processor and give them a few spins with the blades.   You don't want them to be powder.   Just break them down a bit.

When you form the ball,  you do not want to over work them.  I use about 2- 3 tablespoons of meat.  You can use any amount you want.  It isn't about the size; it is in the technique.   Loosely form the meat into ball.  DO NOT squeeze the meat. I roll them back and forth between my hands with my fingers. Remember, there is not such thing as a perfectly round meatball except in the freezer section of the grocery store that were made by a machine.  I am suspicious of those things.

Next is cooking the meatball.  Again, you do not want to over cook the meatball.  Get your pan hot, add a little olive oil and add the meatballs.   Don't over crowd them.   Give them room to cook.  Once they are browned on one side start turning them until they are nicely brown all the way around. It doesn't take long to brown them, so keep an eye on them. Many people bake them in the oven but I find I have more control over the cooking process when I cook them in a pan on the stove.

In the recipe I have provided below, you can be used any meat combination.  All the tips above are the same for any meat used.



What is needed...
2 pounds ground beef
1/2 to 1 cup minced onion.   It is a preference thing.
2 - 3 tablespoons minced garlic
3 - 4 tablespoons minced herbs,   I use dill, parsley and basil
2 eggs
3/4 cup oats (before grinding)
Seasoning salt to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Here is what you do...
  • Saute onions and garlic.  Turn down the heat and add the seasoning and herbs to allow them to bloom.  Place in fridge to cool.
  • Grind the oats in the food processor
  • Once the onion mixture has cold and the same temperature as the meat, combine in a bowl with eggs and oats. Remember all the ingredients should be cold.
  • Get pan hot and add meatballs.  Sears on all sides.   Remove from pan.  They should not be cook all the way through.
  • Once all the meatballs have been cooked add them to your sauce to finish cooking through. At this point the cooking process is low and slow.   You do not want to burn your sauce or cook the meatballs too fast.
EAT UP!!!

You can make these ahead of time and freeze.  OR if you make too many, you can freeze them for another meal.  You do not have to finish cooking them before you freeze them. Place them in a zip lock bag.  They will be perfect when you take them out.

Experiment with different combinations of meat.   Growing up we used ground beef but I know many grew up with ground beef and pork.  Some have used veal.  Really is a personal choice.

Now go make something you love for yourself or someone you love.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cookies, Cookies, and more Cookies!!!!

Now that Halloween is over and the kids (and adults) have picked over the best pieces of candy, it's time to turn our thoughts to Thanksgiving and then Christmas. More cooking and baking are done at this time of the year than any other. Everything from cakes to pies, from cookies to breads will be lovingly put together for celebrations and gatherings of all kinds.

In honor of all the bakers out there who are considering their menus for family and friends, I thought it might be good to write about those traditions that are influenced by generations of people from all over the world. It seems to me that every country, every nationality has a cookie, a cake, and a bread that best describes them and their traditions. 

So over the next three weeks, I will bring you a cornucopia of tasty ideas for your holiday table. Maybe you have your own traditions that have been handed down for generations. Or maybe you are just starting out and are beginning your own traditions. Either way, it is fun and interesting to learn what is happening in kitchens all around the world. I know we will find that we have more in common than we might think. 

This week we begin with cookies.  I have been part of many cookie swaps over the years.  I guess you could say I'm one of those "cookies monsters."  You know the type.  "I've never met a cookie I didn't like."






Some of my favorites from childhood are chocolate chip cookies (with walnuts, of course), refrigerator cookies, shortbread, and, oh yes, those lovely pecan balls rolled in powdered sugar!!! (those are also known as Mexican or Italian Wedding Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, Pecan Shortbread Powdered Sugar Cookies, or Pecan Powdered Sugar Drops) 

There are literally hundreds of cookies out there that are part of cultures we may never get to know, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the baking and eating of these wonderful delights. Here's just a short list of cookies from all over that might be intriguing for you to look into:

  • Lebkuchen (German Christmas Cookies) are believed to be invented by monks in Franconia, Germany in the 13th century.
  • Danish Crispies are made with yeast so they are sort of like bread and sort of like cookies.


  • Struffoli are small fried pieces of dough that are coated with honey.  Crunchy and light and delish!




  • Swiss Zimtsterne are star shaped cookies with a lovely cinnamon flavor.


  • Austrian Linzer Cookies give you the pleasure of raspberry and toasted almonds in a beautiful sandwich style cookie.


  • Sicilian Cuccidati are fig cookies.   These beauties are name for Christmas, which is what cuccidati means.


  • Glazed Pfeffernuese cookies bring honey, spices and powdered sugar together in one delicious treat.


And that brings us to today's recipe from my kitchen.  I've always loved the butter, melt-in-your-mouth goodness of these lovelies.  They are easy and take very little time to make.  Be careful, though, as easy as these are to make, they are even easier to eat.  You and your guest will be delighted in the results.  And so we make Russian Tea Cakes:





What you need:
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar (and more for coating)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt


What you need to do:
In a large, deep bowl cream butter, powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth.  Add pecans and mix. Add salt and flour and mix to combine.  The dough will be soft.  Place it in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Shape dough into balls, one inch in diameter.  Place on cookie sheet about 1 inch apart.  Bake for 12-13 minutes, but do not let them brown.  Remove and cool for 1 minute.

Quickly roll warm cookies in powdered sugar.  Allow to cool completely and roll in powdered sugar again. You should get approximately 30 cookies.

Tis the season, everyone.  It's time to make cookies as part of your party and celebration activities. Try something new.

Now, go out and make something good!