Thursday, January 28, 2016


What is buttermilk? What does buttermilk have to do with baking? Why is buttermilk made from low-fat milk? What do I do if my recipe calls for buttermilk, but I have none? All these questions are very good and on point for today's post. I'll be talking about buttermilk and its history and place in the culinary world.

Butter resting in buttermilk

Simply put, buttermilk is what is left over after butter is churned. That's it. If you wish to make your own butter, just put 2 cups whole milk and 1/4 teaspoon salt in your food processor or a large jar. Process it or shake it up until the curd separates and you will have butter. However, the buttermilk you get from this will not be the buttermilk it was in the days of old when milk was collected from the cows and churned into butter. 

Old fashion butter churns
The reason is that the milk we get today from the store is homogenized. That means that it has been heated and processed to kill the bacteria needed to make proper buttermilk. Homogenization is done because milk on its own turns bad very quickly. In our modern times, milk has to survive long travels to the grocery store and ultimately to our table. Having said all of that, please know that in some place you can still get raw milk from farmers. For those who do not have access to that, there is the cultured buttermilk in the grocery store. 

Before the age of refrigeration, buttermilk was commonly consumed after butter was churned. Nothing was wasted. This was mostly common with poor farmers and slaves. Those with more financial standing fed the buttermilk to the farm animals. 

Eventually, in the late 1800's, buttermilk found its way into the kitchen for baking. Not so coincidentally, baking soda was being used in place of yeast for some recipes. However, baking soda doesn't work without an acid to help it along. Because of the lactic acid in buttermilk, it was a match made perfect for the kitchen. Scones, cornbread, biscuits, muffins, pancakes, etc. all considered some sort of quick bread, can include buttermilk. If you find a recipe that uses cream of tartar, it is because cream of tartar has its own acidity and helps the baking soda do its job.

So let's say you decide to make something that calls for buttermilk. Maybe you didn't read the recipe through and didn't realize you needed buttermilk. Or maybe you thought you had buttermilk but, in fact, didn't. What to do? What to do? No worries. There's a solution. If you have milk and you have lemons, you have the makings for buttermilk. No lemons? Or maybe you don't want the lemon taste, then you can use vinegar.

Just pour 1 cup whole milk in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to it. Allow it to sit for about 10 minutes. The milk will begin to thicken and even clump a little. You now have buttermilk. Your one cup of buttermilk can be a substitute for regular milk in your recipe. Buttermilk gives your muffins or biscuits and better rise and it also gives it a bit lighter or tender texture. 

I will add that lighter texture to today's recipe.  I made lemon poppy seed bread using homemade buttermilk and fresh lemon juice.

What you need:

3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 cups white sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice and zest (you will need between 2-3 lemons)

What you need to do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare 2 loaf pans or one bunt pan with butter and flour.

In large bowl combine flour, sea salt, baking powder, poppy seeds and sugar.  

In medium bowl combine oil, eggs, buttermilk, lemon juice and zest.  

Pour wet ingredients into dry and gently stir until combined.  DO NOT OVERMIX.  Pour batter evenly into 2 loaf pans.  Bake for 40-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool on rack for 10 minutes and remove bread from pans.  Allow to cool completely.

It is always a really good idea to read through each recipe before you begin preparing the ingredients.  You don't want any surprises.  But in the case of buttermilk you have an option if you don't wish to run to the store.  

No, go out and make something good.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Honey, can you make me a cup of tea?

Do you use honey in your tea? Maybe you use honey in you baking. Honey is one of those ancient foods that we don't always understand. How do those bees do it? They collect pollen and somehow, magically, they bring it home and make it into honey. How does that work?

To begin with, bees originated in Africa and have been around for 100 million years. There is scarcely a culture in the world that doesn't use honey as part of their culinary and medicinal experiences. References to honey can be found in books such as the Talmud, Koran and the Bible, and even in Egyptian hieroglyphics.

And while you may be drinking your tea with honey as you read this, that is the least of all the possible uses of honey. In fact, Hippocrates used honey as a medicine for skin disease and Chinese medicine also includes honey. 

Honey is made from flower nectar. Bees go from flower to flower collecting the nectar and at the same time pollinate the plants. It is a perfect partnership. And bees are an integral part of the food chain. Every plant depends on bees to survive. For example, 80% of cotton plants rely on honeybees. And some plants have a specialized relationship with bees. Squash has bees that only collect from their plant. 

I guess bees have been "busy little bees" for so long, we can hardly imagine. One bee will visit about 1,500 flowers to gather enough nectar to fill her stomach, that's the equivalent in weight of her body. Once she returns to the hive, she will do a dance to indicate to the other bees where she found the flowering plants so others can collect more nectar. A lot of ritual is done as part of the depositing of the nectar. Eventually the nectar is deposited in the honeycomb. Other bees then flap their wings to aid in water evaporation and eventually the honey thickens. Once it is ready, by the bee standard, the honeycomb is sealed with wax. 

The hard working bees literally work themselves to death. Each bee lives about 6 weeks and produces less than one teaspoon of honey. One colony produces about 44 pounds of honey during summer. In order for the colony to survive during the winter, it takes 1 million trips out for nectar. I guess we can easily see that the need for bees is, without question, absolutely necessary. 

The color of honey and its flavor depends completely on where the bees collect the nectar. Each different honey (and in case you were wondering, there are more than 300 types of honey in the US alone) comes from a different source. The color can range from deep brown to almost clear. The flavor can vary from mild to bold; the darker the honey the bolder the taste. And all this depends on what floral plant the bees visit in their hunt for nectar.

Likely the most common honey, even though we may not realize it, is clover honey. But bees done limit their work time to just fields of clover. Plants like eucalyptus, sage, alfalfa, avocado, and blueberry all add their own distinct taste to honey. 

We now know that our hard working bees need the time and environment necessary to play their part in our ecosystem. And once they have made honey for us to enjoy, it falls on us to understand ourselves as consumers. 

I work at the farmers' market all summer and always there is a beekeeper there with honey for sale. And just as often, the jars have a solid looking mass of honey. So what's going on? Why doesn't it look like the honey in the store? Is it bad? NO! It isn't bad. If the honey you keep at home crystallizes, don't panic. It crystallized because honey is made in large part of sucrose and glucose. The more glucose in the honey, the more it tends to crystallize. Over processed honey has been filtered to the point of eliminating all the healthy benefits that are inherent in this tasty addition to our culinary experience. Your best bet is to look for raw, organic honey. That way you will get all the antioxidant and antibacterial benefits you should expect.

Just so you know, honey can be a substitute for sugar in recipes. For example, when I make bread and it calls for maybe 3 tablespoons of sugar, I substitute 1/4 cup of raw honey. Experiment a little and find your own ways to honor the humble honeybee and enhance your culinary experience.

But for today's recipe let's try a simple use of honey to sooth a sore throat. It's that season and you may have everything you already need to make a cup of medicine for your comfort.

What you need:
1 cup hot water
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice **

What you need to do:
Heat your water in a tea pot or microwave. Add honey and lemon juice and stir. Careful! Don't sip it too fast. Allow they honey and lemon to sooth your throat.

** I often include a tea bag of chamomile, which never hurts and is also very soothing.

Make sure you know what you are purchasing next time you go out for honey. And let the beauty of it help you feel good.

Now, go out and make something good.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Vinegar, a good way to brighten your next culinary adventure.

Last week we talked about how vinegar can be such a useful product that should be in every household. It is great for cleaning in every room to keep things fresh. Not to mention the healing benefits of a bit of vinegar as a tonic for colds and flu. Today we will take a closer look at vinegar as an ingredient in cooking. 

Likely we have all heard of white vinegar and apple cider vinegar. Along with red an white wine vinegar, these are the mostly commonly used in everything from pickling cucumbers to making a lovely vinaigrette for your salad.

It turns out there are a number of vinegars that are not so commonly known about but should not be overlooked. Each of these vinegars adds their own special touch to dishes.

We'll look at all of them:

  • White Vinegar is colorless and very sharp. It is distilled from grains. It is great for pickling vegetables and is tasty in pasta salads.
  • Cider Vinegar is brown and is made from apples. It holds up well in a salad made of sturdy greens. It is especially good in marinades.
Cider Vinegar
  • Red and White Wine Vinegar is made from different wines. It is full bodied and great for vinaigrette and stews.
White and Red Wine Vinegar

  • Rice Vinegar is lightly tinted but less pungent than white vinegar. It is made from rice. This is commonly used in Asian dishes. This combines well with sesame oil.
Rice Vinegar
  • Balsamic Vinegar is a dark, sweet vinegar. Don't be shy about using it on salads and in sauces. Drizzled on fruit is wonderful.
Balsamic Vinegar
  • Cane Vinegar is made from fermented sugar cane. It is commonly used in Philippine cooking.
Cane Vinegar
  • Coconut Vinegar is made from the sap of the coconut tree. It is mild and is used in Indian, Thai and Southeast Asian dishes.
Coconut Vinegar
  • Malt Vinegar is made from grain, usually barley, and has a strong taste. Commonly it is sprinkled on chips for the English fish and chips.
Malt Vinegar

  • Sherry Vinegar is made from wine in southwestern Spain. It is smooth and mellow and is commonly found in Spanish recipes especially with poultry, salad and sauces.
Sherry Vinegar
When using vinegar, make sure you know its intensity so as to compliment the dish and not overwhelm it. Vinegar should brighten up a dish not overpower it.

Pam and I have a strong European background. Growing up we ate a lot of German dishes, not the least of which was German Potato Salad. Now, I've tasted a lot of different versions of this dish. Some really good; some not so good. Mostly the not-so-good ones had way too much vinegar or way too much sugar, which made it too tart or sweet and not easy to enjoy.

German potato salad is not like the salad brought to picnics and made with mayonnaise and mustard. So get that idea right out of your head.  This potato salad  is served warm and includes bacon for good measure.

So here we go on our way to make German Potato Salad:

German Potato Salad

What you need.
5 strips of bacon cut in half inch pieces then fried crispy
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper (to taste)
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar**
1 tablespoon sugar **
4 lbs red potatoes, peeled and cubed
dried parsley for garnish

What you need to do:

Fry bacon until very crispy, reserve 2 tablespoons grease.  Drain bacon and set aside.  In large sauce pan add chopped onion to the bacon grease and saute until tender.  Add flour, salt and pepper and gently saute about one minute.  Add water and vinegar and stir until slightly thickened.  If sauce is too thick, add another 1/4 cup water.  Stir in sugar. Cook another 2 minutes.  Set aside.

Cook potatoes until fork tender but don't allow to get mushy.  Drain potatoes and put back in pot.  Pour sauce over potatoes and add bacon.  Gently toss.  Place in serving bowl and garnish with dried parsley.  Serve warm.

** You should have a somewhat tart and a bit sweet finish salad.  Too much of either doesn't work.  So start with less and add more as you like.

Look for all the ways vinegar can be added to your life, whether cooking, healing, or cleaning. It's good for you!  Here's a link with more information.

Now, go out and make something good.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Vinegar, it's not just for canning pickles!

So what can there possibly be to say about vinegar. It's sour, it's good for pickling stuff, and that's about it, right? Wrong! Vinegar is one of those often misunderstood and under used products we need to look at closer.

By definition, vinegar is an alcoholic liquid that has been allowed to sour. The word is derived from the French words vin, which means wine and aigre, which means sour. 

What is little known about vinegar these days is just how versatile it really is. It is a critical part of any kind of pickling done in canning foods. It is used in salad dressings and marinades. Vinegar has long been used as a cleaning agent. And on top of all that, there are real health benefits to consuming vinegar.

Today's post is the first of a two parts. Today I will talk about vinegar's place as a medicine in a healthy lifestyle, as well as its use as a household cleaner. Next week I will talk more about vinegar in foods.

For centuries vinegar has been used as a medicine and a cleaning agent. Let's start with household uses for vinegar. We all know about how expensive it can be to buy cleaning products from the store. There is literally a cleaning product for every type of mess we can make in every room in our home. I use to have a multitude of jugs and bottles and powders and liquids to keep my home clean. I learned through research that all those chemicals don't just disappear when wiped away. They go somewhere and that somewhere is in our environment. For more information, here's a link.

There is a way to clean your home and protect the environment. Now get started cleaning. Here's what to do:

In the home:

· To clean your windows use the water vinegar bottle. Spray the glass and wipe clean. 

· Those pesky price stickers come off with a little vinegar. Moisten sticker and let sit for 10 minutes and remove.

· For an odor that won't go away, place a bowl of vinegar in the room overnight.

· Clean silver, pewter, copper, and brass by dissolving 1 teaspoon salt in one cup vinegar. Add flour to create a past. Apply to the metal and let stand for 15 minutes Rinse with warm water and polish with a soft cloth.

· Wood paneling can be cleaned with a mixture of 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup vinegar and 2 cups warm water. Apply with a soft cloth and dry with a clean cloth.

· Shower heads can be cleaned by soaking in vinegar overnight.

· Add baking soda and vinegar to your toilet bowl and scrub with brush to remove stains.

· Soap build up in the sink can be removed with 1 part salt and 4 parts vinegar.

· Spray walls and shower curtains with vinegar to help prevent mildew.

· For bathtub ring, fill tub with about 3 inches of hot water. Add 1 cup baking soda and 2 cups vinegar and let the two explode. When the water settles, scrub down the walls and bottom of the tub. Let the water drain out and you will be cleaning your pipes as well. Rinse and you have a clean tub.

· Ants don't like vinegar, so spray vinegar along doorways, windowsills, and countertops. 

· If there are odors coming from your sink drain, pour a cup or two of vinegar down and leave for an hour or so.

· If your drain is clog, pour in 1/2 cup baking soda, then pour in 1/2 cup vinegar. When these two products combine there is a great deal of commotion. Once the bubbling stops, pour warm water down the drain.

· You can clean your cutting board by simply wiping it down with vinegar

· Don't hesitate to use vinegar to clean all your kitchen surfaces.

· If your microwave needs cleaning, put 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 cup water in a plastic bowl and microwave until it boils. It will remove odors and also loosen food bits from the walls.

· 1/2 cup vinegar in the rinse cycle with decrease lint in clothes.

· Persistent stains can be removed by rubbing the stain with vinegar before washing.

· If you want your brights to be bright, add 1/2 cup vinegar to the rinse cycle.

· To remove soap residue from the washing machine, run an empty cycle with one cup vinegar.

Did you know that vinegar was the very first medicines? Hippocrates considered the father of medicine, used vinegar to treat his patients. Vinegar is a natural antiseptic, meaning it is a germ killer.

I remember as a kid, when I got a sore throat, my mom would make me gargle with salt water. I hated that, but it actually did work. But there's an even better way to naturally heal a sore throat.

Here's a recipe for you:

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (something you 
should always have in your home and it keeps forever)**
1 teaspoon raw honey
juice from 1/2 of a lemon
pinch of cayenne pepper

Combine the above with 1 cup hot water and sip it slowly. Repeat 4 times a day. All these ingredients are good for you bringing their own specific benefits with them. This remedy will also help with a cough.

For more information on the health benefits of vinegar take a look at this site.

** When selecting your apple cider vinegar, make sure to get organic, unfiltered kind.  There is something called "the mother" in good vinegar and that simply means there are strands of proteins, enzymes and good bacteria, which are goods things for your body.  

We would never want you to skip seeing the doctor when you are feeling ill.  We do want you to consider  simple remedies that you have close at hand when a cold comes your way. Keeping a bottle of vinegar in your cupboard is a wise and healthy thing you can do for yourself.

Now, go out and make something good for your home and yourself.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Sausage and cheese all rolled up!

Happy 2016 to everyone. Hope everyone had a nice holiday season with their friends and family.  2 Prickly Pears wish everyone a joyful and bountiful 2016.

We haven't chatted in a bit but we are back to the cookbook, blogging and sharing whatever we learn with you.

Today's blog will be a simple one.  A friend of mine, Robin, shared her Sausage Bread recipe with me.  I am not sure where I have been but I have never had this wondrous food before. I ate the majority of it when I made it this weekend. I just couldn't help myself.

I found very little on the internet about where it comes from. All I could find was it was an "American Food" and it made up of sausage and cheese on a rectangular piece of pizza crust. And that, my friends, is exactly what I made.

What you need
1/2 pound mild or hot ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped fennel
Garlic to taste
Salt and pepper to taste.
Seasoning salt to taste
2 cups Mozzarella cheese 
Dough for one pizza crust

What you do

  • Brown sausage and beef and drain off fat.
  • Saute onions, fennel and garlic.  
  • Combine veggies and meat
  • Roll out pizza dough into a rectangle
  • Sprinkle cheese on top of the dough.  Get as close to the ends as you can.
  • Sprinkle the meat and veggie mixture on top the cheese
  • Carefully roll into a log.
  • Spray a baking sheet with not stick spray and transfer the roll to the baking sheet.
  • Brush with an egg wash.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 35 - 40 minutes or until golden brown on the top.   Remember it is only the pizza dough you are cooking through.
  • Serve with your favorite marinara or Alfredo sauce.

This dish is not limited to sausage and cheese.
  • Philly cheese and steak.
  • Ham and cheese.
  • Veggies (I would precook the veggies a bit before baking to ensure they are cooked just right.)
  • Apple Cinnamon - nice dessert.
  • Variety of berries with a little sugar
  • Egg, sausage and cheese for a breakfast meal.
  • Leftover turkey from the holiday.  Turkey, cranberry and brie.  Now that sounds tasty!

As you can see the possibilities are endless.

Now go out and make something delicious for yourself or someone you love.