Friday, December 31, 2010

New blog added to our roll...Cheese and Biscuits

I found this British food blogger via The Guardian (which recently had a great article on buying Scotch whisky); he seems to review mostly London restaurants. I did like the name. Also there's a fun "Cheese of the Month" feature (mmm, Cornish Yarg!), and plenty of yummy photos.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Breakfast has become a comfortable sameness over the last few years. It was hard to find a cold cereal that wasn't loaded with carbs and I experimented with all sorts of other things for that fast-breaking meal.

But the truth of it is I am the kind of person who hits the ground running most mornings and I don't want to waste thought on it. I have more time to think of other meals and snacks but breakfast defeated me until I found My Perfect Breakfast.

(Okay, in the interest of complete disclosure, a Full English is My Perfect Breakfast but since I'm not a farm-worker it simply isn't practical or healthy to have that fatty goodness every day of the world.)

It starts with a half-portion of old-fashioned oats, into which is splashed enough water from the kettle to cover them. I then put the kettle on to boil for tea, usually a cup not a potful. The oats absorb rather a lot of the water and when the kettle has boiled, I turn the burner on simmer and put the pan of oats on it.

I make my cuppa and let it steep.

I slice a half banana into the bopttom of My Favorite Bowl, add a handful of raw nuts (walnuts right now) and a teaspoon of ginger preserves.

The oats are fluffy by this point and a little gooey--they get plopped onto the banana-nut-ginger mess and stirred up.

Add a splash of the milk of your choice, stir it all up and call it breakfast

Milk in the tea, too--at least for me.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Soup of the Evening, Beautiful Soup!

In the last couple of days, we've had almost a foot of snow here in the southern highlands. It has kept an awful lot of people off the roads, including yours truly. As a Pagan, I don't celebrate Christmas but because I'm a Southerner, I often visit family in the area and snack on their spiral-sliced ham and potato salad and such.

This year, I've eaten rather a lot of yoghurt-covered nuts and some bacon.

That's just not right somehow.

So in the spirit of snow and not of Yuletide, I made a pot of soup today. Began by sauteeing onions, garlic, herbs and celery in some olive oil. Then I added a pound of chopped mushrooms. Then a can of diced tomatoes. Then a box of organic chicken broth. There were some over-cooked and subsequently frozen green beans from the garden that went in, too.

Cracked some pepper into it, let it simmer for a while.

Thick, frangrant. We grated some hard parm over each serving and dug in, with sliced baguette on the side.

Winter, snow, soup.

Hope you had some good soup, too.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Oyster Stew

Odd, isn't it? Here in the southern highlands, a family tradition was oyster stew around Christmas-time. My mother would get a little can of frozen oysters, thaw them, saute them in a little butter and then add whole milk to the mix. That was heated gently, pepper was added and the bowls were served with oyster crackers.

Last time I was at the grocery store, I got fresh oysters (already shucked) and made oyster stew for our dinner. I bought Campbell's Oyster Stew as a base, so I did cheat a bit.

I cleaned the oysters, making sure there were no bits of shell--or pearls!--left in them. I sauteed them in olive oil, garlic and unsalted butter. Gently, lightly.

The soup went in then, with some half and half and some 1% milk.


It really was perfect. I flourished the pepper grinder over each bowl and tossed in some very fresh oyster crackers.

Yummy. No lie.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Baking as Therapy

Sometimes I wonder if so many of us bake for Yuletide gifts because it is one of the few things that keeps us same during this season. We are having unseasonably cold weather here in the southern Highlands of old Appalachia--high winds, very cold.

All I can think of is how good it is to have so much baking to do.

I reckon I will be called to do some cookies at some point but for me, for now, it's breads.

I made soda bread yesterday for a workshop that was cancelled because of the weather. That's it in the picture. I also made fruit cake and pumpkin bread. Today the back of my neck is so cold, I'm going to put on a scarf and an apron and make plum cakes.

I will also forage about in the freezer and see what other fruits and nuts may be languishing there. I will add them to flour, sugar, honey, spices, eggs and olive oil, put that in a floured pan and bake whatever the heck it is at 350 until it's ready to cool on the wire rack.

Grease,flour, repeat.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bread broken up and eaten with fingers

I went to a potluck today. Okay, let me be honest. I wasn't sure if it was a potluck or not. It was a ritual with a feast following. I had misplaced my invitation and couldn't remember if we were supposed to bring anything or not. I brought my own feastgear--bowl, spoon, fork, napkin, mason jar for drink.

When in doubt--especially this time of year--why not bring a frozen sweet bread, just in case.

So that's what I did. I pulled a loaf of apple-walnut bread out of the freezer and tucked it away in my bag.

Turns out it was a feast, not a potluck. There were huge pots of delicious soup and fresh bread with butter. I unwrapped the cake but let it on its ziplock bag so everyone could see what it was. But I didn't slice it or anything. When next I saw it, people were breaking chunks off and eating them. At the end of the evening, there weren't even many crumbs.

Let that be a lesson to you--the world is a simpler place when you have a few extra homemade breads frozen for later. Simpler, and more delicious.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Season of Plums...Sugar and otherwise

When I was a child, we had two plum trees on our property. One was a damson plum tree with dark purple, pointed fruits that were generally prolific but not tasty to eat. At least not to a kid in overalls who seemed to have adopted a hunter-gatherer lifestyle very early on. I'd love to have the plunder of that old tree now--what wines and cakes and preserves we could make!

The other tree had fat bright fruits that could be wiped on the sleeve and eaten out-of-hyand, the sweet juice sticky-ing up our hands and chins.

The fruit of that tree would also be most welcome in my adult hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Both alas are long gone--victims of long-neglect and absent property-owners.

We sit now in the season of sugarplums and it makes me think of those old, rangy trees and their dear harvests. I am also reminded of all that long-ago richness by the smells coming from my kitchen this evening.

I am making my mother's prune cake. A not-too-sweet dense cake that is glazed with sugar and butter and buttermilk. She always made it weeks ahead of the holiday season, glaze and all, and froze it. Something about the freezing and thawing process gave it a terrifically moist texture that was perfect with a cup of hot tea of a tot of bourbon (when I was older, of course).

I can almost give you the recipe from memory...
2 cups all purpose flour
1 T each of cinnamon, baking soda, allspice, nutmeg
1T of vanilla extract (I sometimes use spiced rum instead)
1/2 C sugar
1 C buttermilk
1 C oil
3 eggs
1 C dried plums/prunes, stewed

Mix that all together, add 1 cup of English or black walnuts. Pour into a greased and floured pan--a tube pan is good or a couple of loaf pans. Bake at 300 for about an hour. When it is cooked and somewhat cooled, cook up
1 C sugar
1/2 C buttermilk
1/2 t baking soda
2 T white syrup
1/2 C butter

Cook the glaze in a heavy pan for 3-5 minutes, until it is combined, and pour it over the cake.

I'd serve it with Irish whiskey, me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Bleak Midwinter

It is unseasonably cold here in the southern Highlands and that means beans.

In this case, 15 bean soup. It simmered and simmered on the back burner of the stove, reminding me of wood cookstoves of my youth. There's a part of me that would love one of those old cookers--maybe not as my primary cooking tool. Nothing smells quite as good as food cooked on a wood cookstove.

I've been obsessing about beans lately. The fat bags stacked on the grocery store shelves, the rattly bins at the farmers market.

Pinto, lentils of many colors, crowder, field peas, great southern (ha), lima, black-eyed peas.


There comes a point in the simmer, dash of salt, simmer, add more water, simmer, add some olive oil, simmer process that a pone of cornbread must be whipped up and baked in a fast oven.

Then some butter, I reckon.

Some days I would have also added some strong greens, but today it was me and the 15 beans and the cornbread.

And Irish coffee, did I mention that?