Archive for January, 2010

Pear-cardomon butter

I made this last year and fell for it-hard.  I ate it on bagels, with peanut butter, off the spoon…and then I ran out.  And pear season was over.  So here I am, rejoicing in the new batch.  The only thing I did differently this year was to leave the pears somewhat chunky.  Not because I disliked the smooth puree, but because I just wanted to see how I enjoyed the other end of the spectrum.  We had it on french toast New Year’s morning- so yummy!

Pear Cardamom Butter from The Traveler’s Lunchbox

To make a smooth puree, cook the pears until they have completely softened.  Remove the pot from the heat and use a hand-blender to puree until smooth.  Return the pot the the heat and continue to cook to the desired thickness.

  • 6 pounds pears, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
  • 2-1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground cardamon or 1 teaspoon pre-ground cardamon (the fresh stuff is soooo much better!)

Peel, core and roughly dice the pears. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and pears and allow them to macerate for 1-2 hours.

When the mixture has become very juicy, pour it into a large, heavy-bottomed pot.  Add the lemon juice and cardamon.  Bring the mixture up to a simmer and skim any scum that rises to the surface.  Continue to simmer gently, stirring regularly to prevent sticking, for at least one hour, or until thick. (To test for thickness, have a small dish chilled in the freezer.  Place a dollop of hot pear butter on the dish.  It will cool quickly so that you may judge it’s consistency.)

Ladle into sterilized jars and either freeze, or process in a boiling water bath.


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Twice-baked potatoes

So, here I sit, unwilling to eat a great many things.  Many of my previously known “favorites” are sadly neglected, and I’m searching desperately for something that appeals.  It’s rather disconcerting-you know.  I’m a food person, and it seems that I’m not so interested in food, of late.  And the larger problem is this: yesterday’s interests are thoroughly uninteresting today.  Leftovers?  Nope.  I keep trying to pawn them off on Scott.  I try to avoid opening the fridge if I can, because of the refrigerator smell- do you you know what smell I mean?  It never used to be so offensive, but now, now, with my over-sensitive nose, I steer clear of the fridge if I can… “Scott, will you look in the vegetable drawer and see what we have in there?”  “Scott, do we have enough milk for my cereal?”  “Scott, what are you making me for dinner tonight?”  And by the way, thank goodness that guy can cook a great meal!  I’d be lost and starving without him!  (Well, I seem to be starving anyway, but not for lack of eating…)

Last night I found myself cooking dinner for the first time in a month-and-a half.  Start to finish- I did it all!  Perhaps it wasn’t a complete meal, but it tasted good to me and I figure, that counts for a lot right now!

A friend of mine was telling me about his trists with twice-baked potatoes.  “Oooh”  I said, “that sounds really good.  Maybe I’ll do that for dinner tomorrow night”.  And I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I dreamt about it that night and shopped for the ingredients first-thing the next morning.  He said he used triple-cream cheese (one that contains at least 75% butterfat)  in the filling rather than the commonly used sour cream/ chedddar combo.  Mmmm.  I followed his lead and made these really yummy stuffed potatoes.  And you know what?  I made five of them, hoping, hoping, hoping that I’d be interested in the leftovers.  And you know what?   I am!

I had the idea to throw olives into the mix because of the super-delicious twice-baked potatoes of my childhood.  Has anyone ever been to Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola? My best-friend’s parents used to take us on day-drives down to Capitola and Santa Cruz where we’d nibble, browse and play our summer days away.  Those twice-baked potatoes have never left my consciousness, emblematic of “the golden life”- to be sure!

Twice-baked potatoes a great idea from Ken!
yields 5 servings

  • 5 medium russet potatoes
  • 6 ounces triple-cream cheese (I used our locally made Mt. Tam)
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • 15 each medium sized olives, pitted and roughly chopped (anything but the American canned black olive will do!)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • kosher salt to taste
  • a drizzle of pure olive oil or vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Meanwhile, scrub the potatoes and lightly coat them with oil.  Pierce each one with a knife (to prevent explosion in the oven!) and set them on a cookie sheet.  Bake for about 1 hour, or until they are easily peirced with a knife, showing no resistance.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.

When they are just cool enough to handle, slice off the top 1/4 of each potato and set the “hat” aside.  Using a spoon, gently scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl, leaving about a 1/4-inch of “shell” behind.  Lightly scoop the “hats” too, using the same premise.  Lightly sprinkle the shells and hats with salt and put them back in the oven to crisp for about 10 minutes, while you mix the stuffing.

With a large fork, break the potato flesh down and begin to mix in the cheese, scallions, melted butter, olives, salt and lots of pepper.  Remove the shells and hats from the oven and carefully fill each shell with the stuffing.  As for the hats, you can do a couple things…give them a shmear of the stuffing for “potato skins” or throw them in the freezer for a mid-day snack later on!  (I froze mine, and have cheddar cheeze and bacon bits in mind!)

Choose a saute pan or baking dish that can go in the oven.  Drizzle a bit more oil in the bottom of the pan, and place the potatoes on top of the oil (this will help to make their bottoms nice and crispy!).  Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 more minutes, then increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees for 5 more minutes.  They’ll brown lightly on the top and form crispy bits.

I highly recommend letting them cool for about 5 minutes before digging in- they’ll be like molten lava!

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I love perusing old church cookbooks.  I own a few, and between them, there must be over 50 recipes for jello salad.  Complete with pretzels and canned mushroom caps.  Mmmmmm.  Well, I come from a Lutheran family you know.  And I hear that jello salad is served as the vegetable course in some households in North Dakota…(well that’s the rumor I heard, anyway!)  So many of the recipes crack me up.  Like “Chicken Jamboree” and “Fiesta Chicken” (which, by the way, seems to make it’s way into fiesta-land by way of a little cilantro!).  There are cool-whip pies and a million other funny recipes that I’d never go near.  Church cookbooks are kind of like shopping at Ross or TJ Max- you just have to be willing to look.  If you keep paging through, you’re bound to find a couple diamonds in the rough.

My Grama used to belong to a church in Palo Alto that was full of great cooks.  That church cookbook is a gem!  She went through the whole thing and circled the recipes that were contributed by all the great cooks.  My dad owns a copy of that church cookbook too, and all the pages are warped, stained and curled because of how often it’s been used.  About 10 years ago, I decided I needed my own copy, so I called up the church and asked if they happened to have any left.  Nope!  So I took my dad’s version to the local copy center and copied the whole dang thing! (Totally worth it!)

So this bran muffin recipe is from the infamous church cookbook.  Honestly, it didn’t occur to me until I was in high school that most people only eat bran muffins in certain situations.  1) They’re trying to be healthy. 2) They’re having some- um- problems.

When I was growing up, these muffins were standard fare.  We never had blueberry muffins or lemon-poppy seed muffins.  We ate bran muffins.  And I loved them.  (And for the record- for all you doubting people out there- Scott said the other day, “these muffins really are good!“).  So that goes to show you that it’s not just me and my biased opinion!

Church cookbook Bran Muffins
yields approx 2 dozen

I like to mix up the batter and only bake a few at a time.  It keeps well in the fridge for a week and a half.

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup organic  shortening (I keep meaning to try butter instead….let me know how it works if you do!)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups Kellogg’s All Bran cereal
  • 1 cup General Mills Fiber One cereal
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place the baking rack in the center-most position.  Prepare 2 muffin pans by lightly spraying with oil, or lining with paper cups.

Measure the bran cereals into a medium bowl and pour the boiling water over them.  Stir so that everything is equally moistened.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the sugar and shortening.  Add the beaten eggs in two doses, allowing each to become fully absorbed before adding the next.  Mix until thoroughly combined.

In another medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Stir well to mix.  With the mixer on low, add the buttermilk and flour, in 2 alternating doses to the creamed mixture.  Add the brans and mix well.  Add the optional raisins.

Pour a heaping 1/4 cup of batter into each muffin cup, and bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

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Don’t Put off Your Happy Life!

I saw this life-reminder on one of the blogs I love to read and thought that it was definitely in need of sharing.  An important message to remember, me thinks!

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Salty chocolate cookies

Like cookie dough?  Yeah, me too.

So here I am, pregnant (Yes-11 weeks!) and trying to avoid raw eggs.  And I find myself making cookies for Christmas Eve.  And you know what I realized?  I somehow, miraculously, chose two cookie recipes that don’t include raw eggs.  It was a gosh, darn, Christmas miracle!  And so I nibbled away, to my heart’s content, knowing that if anything was going to kill me, it would most certainly be the overload on chocolate!

These are Scott’s favorite Christmas cookies (not that he really has much experience in the whole realm of Christmas).  Oh, and on that note, you should have seen him attempting to put lights on our little 4-foot tree.  It was an ordeal to behold, bless his heart!  Better luck next year, perhaps?

But, back to business.  These cookies are crisp and chocolaty. And lovely.  And delicious.  And chocolaty.

Salty Chocolate Cookies from a generous co-worker who knew her stuff when it came to salty, chocolaty things!
yields about 36 cookies

  • 5-1/2 ounces unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1-1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fleur de sel (flaky sea salt)
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar.

In a separate medium bowl mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, fleur de sel, and bittersweet chocolate.

Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and mix on low speed for about 1 minute.  It will remain crumbly.  Pour the crumbly dough out onto a cookie sheet and divide it into two piles.

Gather each pile together, molding it like clay, into logs about 1-inch thick.  They do not need to be perfectly uniform at this point.

Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes.

Remove the logs from the refrigerator and shape them into uniform logs.  (They will be easier to handle now that they are lightly chilled.)  Your logs can either be round, or square.  To make them square, I pat, rather than roll them, and pinch the edges to make crisper corners.

Refrigerate for at least another 30-60 minutes, or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Using a serrated bread knife, use a gentle sawing motion to slice each log into cookies about 1/4-inch thick.  Place on cookie sheets about 2-inches apart, and if you’d like, sprinkle with a few more flakes of fleur de sel.

Bake for 12-15 minutes.  Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for about 1-minute, then remove to cooling rack.

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