Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Taste Treat

I hope you are not tired of the proliferation of posts on citrus. Those lemons just keep on comin’ and comin’. Like the Energizer bunny, our trees are unstoppable. And I am grateful for this. The flavor of these Meyer lemons is just incredible. Last night, as we sampled the most recent lemon recipe, I was mulling the taste over in my mouth, and it seemed like a fine wine. I could taste that the lemons were from my backyard. Not from a store, not from Mexico, but from nearby soil. They seem to have a distinctive flavor. Call me crazy….

As for the latest taste treat, we were compelled to find a recipe using the lemons that my father could enjoy. Having just spent over a month in the hospital battling esophageal cancer, he is now home and only slowly able to take foods orally, and they must be soft. So instead of his normal treat of lemon bars, we had to come up with something else. My daughter found a very simple recipe for lemon ice cream. Five minutes, pop it in the ice cream maker, then a few hours in the freezer, et voila!

The taste is smooth and creamy, no icy bits, with a strong but even taste of lemon. Served with a biscotti or Madeleine (or some of my treasured shortbread) and an espresso, and you have a wonderfully simple but elegant dessert.

Meyer Lemon Ice Cream

1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 lemon, juiced
2 cups white sugar
4 cups milk

In a medium bowl, stir together lemon juice and zest with sugar until smooth. Stir in milk. Pour into a 9x9 inch dish and place in freezer, stirring once when it begins to harden, until firm, 2 hours. Or pour into the freezer canister of an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturers' directions.

Oh, and to see if we can truly tell our lemons apart from others, my daughter and I decided to conduct a blind test. We are going to make 3 lemon ice creams. One from our own Meyers, one from our own Eurekas, and one from store-bought Meyers. So you know what we will be doing this weekend.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The time has come....

Part of being a mom is teaching your children the skills needed to live life outside the four walls they grew up in. From toilet training to social skills, it seems we work on a daily basis to prepare our offspring to function without us. Some things come more naturally than others, some things have to be forced upon them, and others are just plain necessary. One such item is cooking. I realize that all adult children can open a cereal box, bake a pizza, and microwave a frozen meal. But having them be able to cook well enough to sustain themselves without relying on fast food and macaroni and cheese is an important thing for a person like me.

My daughter is a fairly accomplished cook. She can follow a recipe, modifying and adjusting based on her whereabouts in the world and the ingredients she can procure. She has no fear in the kitchen and she considers baking to be a relaxing activity. My eldest son is a very healthy eater. He grills or poaches his chicken for dinner and for lunch salads. He likes to make pasta and is good on the grill. (Kind of sounds like a dating profile, doesn’t it?) My youngest son just turned 21 and will, in all probability, be moving out within the next year or so. While he is king of the kitchen when it comes to breakfast, he is not very adept at dinner menu items. Hence, I have instituted a new rule. He will cook dinner once a week.

I’m not going to just throw him in the kitchen with some ingredients. I intend to start off slowly, working with him on easy items. Then I am hoping he will delve into the large number of cookbooks I collect and start making some choices for himself. First off this week is a Lebanese lamb pilaf. I started making this about 15 years ago. My father-in-law’s family is Lebanese, and many of the items I have learned to cook over the years are more involved and are not for everyday use. This recipe takes 45 minutes and minimal effort. It is one of my son’s favorite meals, so there is impetus to learn to cook it. Tune in to find out how he does….

Lamb Pilaf

1 lb. ground lamb
1/2 onion, chopped
1 package rice pilaf mix
1 c plain yogurt
1/4 chopped parsley
2 T chopped fresh mint
1 T lemon juice
2 t olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
seasoning salt

Mix yogurt and all seasonings. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Brown ground lamb and onion in 2 Tbs. olive oil, stirring often – about 15 minutes. Discard any fat. Return to heat and add 1/4 water and stir to release brown bits on bottom of pan. Add pilaf mix, including seasoning packet. Add water, in amount specified on package. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until rice is tender and liquid evaporated – 20-25 minutes. Serve with yogurt sauce.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A Little Bit of Heaven

Today in the mail arrived a resupply of Mama’s Special Blend Kathmandu Curry. My faithful Kali slave, Raj Khadka, has kindly honored me with a jar of this treasured spice mixture. Now, this isn’t just any curry. There is something magical and addictive in Mama’s blend. Don’t be deceived by the looks of the packaging—it’s usually in some old unlabeled jar like the ones that Nescafe comes in or a Ziploc baggie. (This time it is in a small Best Foods mayo jar.) And it always has a label – scrawled by Raj himself with a permanent black market, just in case I should forget what it is the sacred container. (As if!)

Rajendra is an old friend, not old like 95, but old as in I have known him for quite some time. He was born in Kathmandu, studied with Jesuits through high school, and then came to the States on scholarship for college. He has lived here most of his life, with the occasional two- or three-year stint back in Nepal. He is now married, to a most wonderful and tolerant woman, and lives in Atlanta, where he toils away at god-knows-what while his wife pursues her Ph.D. at Emory.

Initially, Raj would grace my kitchen and make batches of this golden blend, with me hovering over his shoulder trying to figure it out. (I even have a coffee grinder, permanently marked for curry use only.) While he was living in Nepal, he would send jars to me via any courier who happened to be coming to America. This latest batch was actually made by his mother, when she was last in America for a visit. It is one of my fondest desires to learn how to make this, but upon that request a few weeks ago, I was denied. Although Raj normally subscribes to the adage, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” he told me as long as he is able to provide me with the essence of my dal and fish curry, that there is no need to give me the recipe. While this profoundly saddened me, and my friend Tea, it just means I will have to keep harassing him on a regular basis.

Now, if I can only find the lentils up in my cupboard…..

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Winter Warmth

It’s a cold, blustery day. The perfect day for soup. Digging into my recipe archives, I settle on a family favorite: tomato bisque. A grown-up, tastier version of the old-fashioned tomato soup, it is the perfect comfort food to serve on this winter weekend. And it is incredibly easy to make. Because I have an aversion to tomatoes, I would never have actually made this recipe at first glance. But during a trip to my husband’s family in Colorado back in the early ’90s, my sister-in-law made this delicious soup and introduced me to another side of the nightshade family, one of which I had shied away from. She subsequently sent me a copy of the cookbook as a Christmas gift.

Colorado Cache Cookbook was originally published in 1978, and is now in its 4th edition, with over 25 printings, and almost 1 million copies in print. Who could have known that a labor of love from the Junior League of Denver, originally envisioned as a fundraiser, would be so successful. And surprisingly, there are a fair number of recipes out of this cookbook that get made regularly in my household, like the Rocky Mountain Brisket with Barbecue Sauce, another good winter dish when the outside barbecue is out of commission.

I have adjusted the recipe a bit, as I normally make it in the wintertime when my garden is absent of tomatoes and those in the stores are tasteless and hard. This is easy to prepare and can easily be doubled.

Tomato Bisque

2 – 28 oz. cans diced or crushed tomatoes
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbs butter
2 bay leaves
3 heaping Tbs brown sugar
4 Tbs finely chopped fresh basil (or 1 Tbs dried)
6 whole cloves
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk

Saute onion in butter for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, sugar, basil, cloves, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaves and cloves and puree with hand-held food processor (or puree in blender). Add half-and-half and milk and heat through.

The milk and cream can be adjusted, adding more milk and less cream to obtain a consistency that you prefer.

We had this with grilled cheese sandwiches, made with an earthy sourdough and some mellow havarti. Very nice complement to the soup.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


We had an overnight guest, so Sunday morning breakfast was in order. Nothing too complicated, as our guest had a long drive ahead of her, so I dug around for one of my favorite morning recipes. Once I found it, I decided it was time to immortalize it on the blog. The reason? The recipe itself is on its last legs. I found it more than 10 years ago in the reader recipe section of Sunset. It is dog-eared, completely discolored, and barely hanging together by staples.

The recipe is simple, taking 10 minutes to make, 15 minutes to cook, and the ingredients are normally in everyone’s cupboard. And who wouldn’t love chocolate chip scones? And if you don’t have chocolate chips, no problem…use raisins, currants, dried blueberries, chopped crystallized ginger, nuts. And my secret: make a double batch, because they go quick. And you can make them in wedges, as the recipe calls for, or in squares or circles or hearts. They are great for breakfast, brunch, snack time or tea time.

Chocolate Chip Scones

2 cups flour
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
6 Tbs butter, cut into chunks
1 large egg
about ½ cup milk
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a bowl, mix flour, powdered sugar, and baking powder, Cut butter into flour mixsture with a patry lender or rub with fingers until consistency of fine crumbs. Break the egg into a glass measuring cup and add mild to make 2/3 cup total. Stir with a fork to blend. Add to flour mixture along with chips and stir with fork to blend until fairly evenly moistened. Pat into a ball and knead on a lightly floured board until dough holds together, 6 to 8 turns. Pat dough into a n 8-inch round. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and cut into 8 wedges. Place on greased cookie sheet, spaced well apart. Bake 12-15 minutes until golden brown.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Lemon Frenzy #2

Last December we had a huge crop of Meyer lemons. In addition to giving them away to eager recipients and curing our colds with lots lemon-and-honey tea, we made Limoncello. Lots and lots of Limoncello. Limoncello for gift baskets, Limoncello for the guests at our home on Christmas, and a freezer full of Limoncelllo. Now, just two months later, the bushes in the backyard are again loaded. Meyer lemons, Eureka lemons, small lemons, large lemons, deformed lemons. Two basketfuls of lemons.

Not one to let things go to waste, my daughter and I made plans to spend a weekend with our citrus. We brainstormed and came up with a plan. We will start with a batch of lemon curd. This is something I made several cases of every fall. Initially with lemons from my godparent’s lemon bush, the curd was sold at a Holiday boutique that I participated in annually. It was always a big hit and sold out quickly. Now we have our own lemons, and the boutique is a dim memory. We get to keep all of this for ourselves. This time around we do not can the curd, as we were trying to make several items within the span of 24 hours, but it lasts long enough in the refrigerator, and would not go to waste.

I have, over the years, tried different variations of lemon curd. But the best yet is from Bed and Breakfast Cookbook by Pamela Lanier. It is originally from the Shelburne Inn in Seaview, Washington. It is an easy and simple recipe that yields a great product.

Lemon Curd

1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
7 Tbs lemon zest
1 lb. sugar
1 stick butter
8 eggs, lightly beaten

Combine lemon juice, zest, sugar, and butter in double boiler over simmering water until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts. Whisk the eggs into the lemon mixture and continue stirring until thick (about 20 minutes). Remove from heat, cool, and store in the refrigerator. Yield: approx. 5 cups.

Then we moved on to Meyer lemon marmalade. This recipe is courtesy of
Lemons: Growing, Cooking, Crafting by Kate Chynoweth and Elizabeth Woodson. A bargain find at Barnes & Noble, it has great photography throughout and give me inspiration during lemon frenzy sessions. The only thing about marmalade, is that the preparation takes place over 2 days. While it is relatively simple to make, you do have to plan ahead a bit.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

8 Meyer lemons
5 cups sugar

Clean the lemons well. Using a sharp knife, slice the lemons into paper-thin slices. Remove any seeds and cut the slices into quarters. Place the lemon pieces in a large, nonreactive stockpot or jam pot and cover with 6 cups of water. Cover the pot with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature overnight.
On day 2, bring the lemon mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer. Uncovered, for 1 hour, or until the mixture is reduced to about 6 cups. Stir in the sugar and boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam, until a teaspoon of the mixture dropped on a cold plate gels, abouat 30 to 40 minutes.
Ladle the hot marmalade into sterilized jars and process for 5 minutes. (You can cut out the canning process and just keep the marmalade refrigerated for use.) Yields 4 pints.

Given the enormous wealth of lemons we have, I also decided to make some lemon simple syrup. This is something I keep in the house on a regular basis. We add it to hot tea in the wintertime, ice tea in the summertime. It is regularly stocked in our bar, along with mint simple syrup. We use it to saturate sponge cake to have with berries. It really has unlimited uses and takes little time to make. If all I have is leftover skins or rinds, I throw those in with equal amounts of water and sugar. If I have whole lemons, I cut off the peel and throw that in with lemon juice, water, and sugar. I simmer for about 15 minutes, cool, and put them into those clear sauce/ketchup bottles.

While this simmers on the stove, my daughter makes a basic tart dough. Because it is Super Bowl Sunday and my husband it a long-time Steeler fan, I melt some chocolate and make decorative chocolate footballs and fancy serifed “S” shapes to put on the tarts. Once the shells are baked, we fill them with the lemon curd and top them with fruit or the chocolate shapes. I must have had a premonition (too bad I didn’t make a bet with the local bookie), because I also added a #1 in chocolate for one of the tarts and lo and behold, the Steelers win!

True Suburban Recipe?

I did not grow up with the odor of fresh apple pies, Tollhouse cookies, or cobblers. My mother did not have the time, nor the inclination, for such things. Her sweet-bud repertoire included the occasional grasshopper pie, Harvey Wallbanger cake, or sherry bundt cake. As I write this, I am seeing for the first time the thread here. Now, while my mother was not a lush by any means, she did employ bar goods to enhance her creations. And they weren’t bad, just too few and far between.

To counteract the lack of desserts, I taught myself how to bake. I was always making cupcakes or cookies for school bake sales, after-game treats for the football team, or just to enjoy. Baking is an absolute pleasure for me, and I have whole cupboards dedicated to baking ingredients and single use pans (Madeleine, tartlet, baguette, etc.). It is second nature. But I have come to realize that more of today’s moms are more like mine was than they are like me. They don’t have the time, between work, home, and the children’s myriad activities.

I think I might have found the perfect solution for the problem. When I saw this recipe, I immediately thought of Food TV’s Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee. While I haven’t personally been a big fan of this show, I do realize its place in today’s society, allowing people to cook without starting from scratch and using ordinary items from their kitchen cupboard. Anyway, back to me…

I found a recipe for cookies made from a cake mix. Now, I’m sure that Betty Crocker thought of this back in the ‘50s. But I am slow to catch on, I walk to the beat of a different drummer, and don’t always travel in the right circles. It is a quintessential suburban mom recipe. Utilizing what is on hand, easy to adapt to what’s in the cupboard, quick to make, but turning out like you started from scratch.

The basic recipe calls for a yellow cake mix, eggs and oil. You can add chocolate chips, nuts, coconut, toffee baking chips, dried fruit, just about anything. And you can substitute any kind of cake mix. How about carrot cake mix with some nuts thrown in? German chocolate cake mix with coconut? Strawberry cake mix for pink Valentine’s cookies? I had a triple chocolate cake mix (which already had some chips in it), to which I added additional mini-chocolate chips.

Without telling my family what they were, I asked their opinion on the new recipe I was trying. My husband gave a thumbs up (not as enthusiastic as I would have liked, but he was playing in an online poker tournament at the time). My daughter proclaimed them tasty, a cross between a chocolate muffin and a crisp cookie. And my eldest son ate five, knowing full well we had no milk in the house.

The best thing? Fifteen minutes from start to finish. Who doesn’t have 15 minutes to make hot cookies from scratch? Almost as easy (and slightly better) than the slice-and-bake cookies you buy in the refrigerated section. And really cheap. I stock up on cake mixes when they go on sale. This latest box was 79¢. Add in the cost of the eggs, oil, and ½ cup of chocolate chips and the cost is under $1.50. Certainly cheaper than buying packaged cookies, a cookie mix, or the refrigerated kind. And only 15 minutes.

So come on America. Bake a batch today. Smell the aroma of fresh cookies emanating from your kitchen. This week: cake mix cookies, next week: ??? It might just inspire you to try for something more.

Basic Recipe

1 box (approx. 18 oz.) cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1-2 cups mix-in (chocolate chips, nuts, coconut)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheet.
Pour the cake mix into a bowl, add in eggs and oil and mix thoroughly. Incorporate any additional ingredients. Drop by spoonfuls, or from small ice cream scoop, onto cookie sheet.
Bake 8-11 minutes. Cool on rack.
Makes 2-3 dozen depending on size.

Other cake mix-based cookie recipes can be found at allrecipes.com