27 December 2011

Ginger Roasted Carrots for Christmas Dinner

I had several days where things just went wrong in the kitchen. J from A Half-Baked Life came down with her family to visit. I had planned soup and rolls for lunch but both failed. The rolls didn't rise as they should have, and the soup was a disaster. I couldn't serve it, so lunch was out instead.

On Christmas day I kept the dinner plans simple, with eggnog and cookies planned for dessert. The red wine gravy for the Beef Wellington failed. (The Beef Wellington itself was lovely, and I'm sure the gravy was my fault.) Both cookie recipes I mixed refused to roll out and cut out properly. Despite my best efforts at tempering the eggs the eggnog curdled. I served a friend's gift of Austrian Christmas Bread and the box of chocolates my mother brought. I used a stick blender to revive the eggnog, and there was enough rum available that folks didn't seem to mind.

I had planned roasted balsamic carrots with Christmas dinner, but I realized far too late that I didn't have balsamic vinegar in the house. So I threw ginger in with the carrots instead. Naturally, the carrots, which I hadn't planned, were the hit of the dinner and my husband asked me to make them again, and I expect he'll be happy to see them often. I'll be happy to make them often as they're quick and easy. Here they are will last night's dinner:

Sausage, Carrots, Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Ginger Carrots.

1 pound carrots
1 inch piece fresh ginger
olive oil
salt to taste


Preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit

Scrub and trim carrots. Slice thinly. Spread the carrots on a baking sheet. Peel and grate the ginger, adding it to the carrots. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat. Roast for 10-15 minutes until carrots begin to soften. Serve and eat.

23 December 2011

Making Christmas

Years ago, when my parents married, my mother asked my father what he would like her to make for Christmas. He asked for Julekake, a Scandinavian Christmas bread. It was common in the bakeries in my father's childhood Chicago, but it was more difficult to find in the small Army towns where my father was posted, so my mother found a recipe, and baked her own.

We ate it with eggs or bacon or sausage every Christmas breakfast of my childhood. My mother baked simple round loaves studded with raisins and candied cherries.

Julekake, 2011

When I grew up I swapped out dried cherries for the candied ones. I baked it in the oven of my boyfriend's apartment before I went to share Christmas with his family, inhaled the scent of them to make it Christmas when the traditions around me were not my own.

I've discovered that the fruit is not mandatory, though I'd never leave it out. A braid is traditional, and I'll make a braided loaf when I have time, though for gift giving I make several simple round loaves, small cousins to the bread of my childhood. Whatever the shape the cardamon scented loaves are Christmas to me.

I bake Julekake on Christmas Eve while I listen to A Christmas Carol on Public Radio. My children are asleep upstairs and my husband is at church singing with the choir. It is quiet in my house, and whatever strain of trying to Make The Holidays is worked away in the kneading of the bread, the sweetness of the fruit, the scent of the cardamom. In the morning, after we've opened presents and put the train back on its tracks underneath the tree (again) we break bread, and my boys are connected to the traditions of my childhood, and the grandfather they never knew.

Christmas Breakfast

A note about scalding the milk. The dairy protein whey contains a protein which has negative effects on the volume and texture of baked goods. Scalding, or bringing the milk to just less than a boil, partially denatures the protein and reduces these effects. You can scald in a small saucepan on the stove top. I use a glass measuring cup in the microwave. I heat the milk one minute at a time until it is steaming.


2 teaspoons active dry yeast (or one packet)
½ cup warm (not hot) water
1 cup milk
¼ cup butter
½ cup cold water
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups dried fruit, mix of raisins, golden raisins and chopped dried cherries
5 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Sprinkle the yeast into the warm water in a small bowl and set aside.
Cut butter into chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Scald the milk and pour over the butter. Stir to melt the butter, then add the cold water. When the milk is lukewarm, stir in the yeast, sugar, salt, cardamom, egg and fruit.

Stir in the flour, one cup at a time until the dough is too stiff to stir. Pour it out onto a floured counter and knead in the remaining flour. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic. About 20 minutes. Return the dough to the mixing bowl and cover. Allow to rise until doubled, 1-2 hours.

Deflate the dough and remove to a lightly floured counter. Divide in two and shape into loaves. Let rise until doubled, 1-2 hours.

Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before slicing.

22 December 2011

Too Good Not to Use

I will be back tomorrow with bread for Christmas breakfast, but I have been muttering to myself all morning and I have to share with you lest the nice people at the craft store have me arrested later today when I start screaming "I mean, what is it all FOR anyway?" in the trim aisle.

I have pretty plates covered in pink flowers.  I inherited them from my grandmother.  I store them in weird plastic pouches which have the appearance of quilting.  Just recently I had the good sense to label the weird plastic pouches so that I don't have to open 10 of them before I find the soup plates.

Because, you see, I sometimes have to find the soup plates.  Sometimes I have people over for dinner, on Christmas, or on random Tuesday night.  Sometimes I have enough of my everyday dishes and I just use those.  Sometimes I need more dishes, or I'm feeling fancy.  Once I pulled out my pretty pink-flowered dessert plates and the spare yellow-flowered dessert plates (that's them, there with no plastic pouch) for a four year old's birthday party, in the park.

Yes, I am that mythical person, the one who uses the nice things.  And you would not believe the grief I catch for it.

"Oh, you don't need to pull out the fine china for me."
"I never registered for china. What's the point?"
"Oh, the fine china, fancy schmancy. [absurd comment about the queen.]"
"I have my [ancestor]'s china but it's too good to use."

Of course I don't need to pull the fine china out for you.  But I have it, and it's pretty, and it makes me happy to use it.  You are my guest, and my friend, and you are important.

The point is that some people like pretty plates.  Other people don't, which is fine.  But I'm sure I could go to your home and point out some object you love that serves no purpose other than that you love it.

I'm an American.  I don't have a queen.  Even if I were an Englishwoman living in London (Because that's the queen they mean.) it's unlikely that I would ever entertain a queen. As it turns out my nice china comes not from the side of my family you would expect, but from the midWesterners who were just a generation or two removed from European immigrants, the "Real Americans" as it were.

What on earth is too good to use?  What good would these plates do me if I left them forever sealed in their weird plastic pouches. Yes, I would preserve them.  They would be safe from children and guests and random acts of the Beagle. But life is not safe. Life is messy and things get broken (though less often than you might think.) Someday I might not have enough plates and won't be able to find replacements that match.  Then I'll have to buy other plates that don't match, and my table will be a riot of pretty plates that get along even though they aren't identical.

That doesn't sound so bad.

21 December 2011

Yeasted Waffles

Waffles have become a Saturday morning tradition at my house. We have waffles, fruit, and sausage or bacon. Normally I make buttermilk waffles which are lovely things.

When you have one really good waffle recipe, do you need another? No, but I don't need another pair of shoes either, and that has never kept me off of Zappos.

The thing about baking bread is that before you know it you've started buying yeast in bulk, and then you've got this big container of yeast in your freezer and you start looking for excuses to use it. I have a friend who swears by his yeasted pancake recipe, and I have every intention of trying it as soon as he actually shares it with me. (I just emailed him about it, in fact.)

I've been playing around with things that you can mix up when things are quiet and then bake when you're ready. Waffles that rise overnight seem like just the thing for busy Saturday mornings. You do most of the work Friday night after you've dealt with the dinner dishes, and then when you get up on Friday morning you plug in the waffle iron, mix a couple of eggs into the batter and you're a breakfast hero. It doesn't hurt that these are crisp on the outside and fantastically fluffy on the inside.  They even do well if you wrap up the extras and run them through the toaster on Monday morning.

Yeasted waffles

Yeasted Waffles


the night before:
2 cups milk
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups white whole wheat flour

the morning of:
2 eggs
½ teaspoon baking soda


The night before, slice butter into chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Heat milk and water until steaming but not boiling in a small saucepan or the microwave safe container. Pour over butter. Stir to melt butter.

When milk is warm to the touch but no longer hot, stir in the yeast and sugar. Add salt. Stir in flour one cup at a time. Cover and allow to sit overnight. (Or, allow to rise for two hours and then store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

On Waffle Day, plug in your waffle iron. Slice fruit. Start sausage. Brew coffee. Beat eggs and baking soda together and then beat into waffle batter. Cook according to your waffle iron's directions.

20 December 2011

No-Knead, Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

I kind of hate pizza delivery. It's never fast enough, it's never very good, and if you're ordering for a crowd it's always about compromise. Have you ever had pizza with someone who wanted exactly what you wanted?

I also prefer baking with whole grains most of the time. Some pizza places will offer a whole grain crust, but they're not serious about it, so it's terrible: more biscuit or cracker than yeasted dough and too sweet. Blech.

This dough makes it easy for me to make pizza at home because it takes just a few minutes to mix up and then it sits in the refrigerator waiting for me. The only downside is that you can't start when the craving hits and have pizza half an hour later. The obvious solution is to eat pizza once a week, and make a new batch of dough while you're cleaning up.

I'm not from New York or Chicago and I do not claim to be a pizza expert. There are plenty of pizza experts out there who will teach you how to stretch a pizza, and how to move your pizza from the peel to the oven.  Just be careful not to  feed the raw dough to your dog accidentally.

One thing I do know: you need your oven as hot as it can get, and you need to turn it on at least half an hour before you want to start baking, even if your oven has a rapid pre-heat setting. Pizza relies on high, even temperatures to get the crust to rise in the oven and be crispy on the outside. Commercial pizza ovens get a lot hotter than your home oven, so there's no need to worry about it being too hot in there.

In the Oven

No-knead, whole wheat pizza dough
makes 4-6 individual pizzas or 2 medium pizzas.

1 ½ cups water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 ½ Tablespoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cups hard whole wheat flour

Choose a large container that will fit inside your refrigerator. Stir together all the ingredients except the flour. Stir in flour one cup at a time. The dough will be quite sticky, just make sure all the flour has been incorporated and try not to worry. 
Cover the container and set aside to rise. It may take anywhere from 4-12 hours to double depending on the temperature.

Once the dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down,then grab an edge of the dough, lift it slightly and pull it in towards the center. Continue all the way around the dough, then flip the dough over in the container. Cover and place in your refrigerator and then don't think about it for a day or two. You can keep the dough in the refrigerator for 2-7 days.

When you're ready to make pizza, take the dough out of the fridge and place it in a warm place.

If you have a pizza stone, put it on the floor or lowest rack of the oven. At least half an hour before you want to start baking, preheat your oven as hot as it gets. Dig through your refrigerator and pantry for toppings. Chop and shred as necessary.

Dust your pizza peel or baking sheet with whole wheat flour or corn meal.

Divide the dough as desired. Take a ball of dough for one pizza and drop into your bag of whole wheat flour. Toss to coat. Stretch the dough and then place gently on the peel or baking sheet. Top as desired.

Move the pizza to the oven, keeping the oven door open for as short a time as possible to retain heat. Now watch. The dough will rise as the air bubbles inside expand in the heat. It's a beautiful thing. How long it takes to bake the pizza depends on how hot your oven is, so keep an eye on it. It's done when the cheese in the middle starts to bubble. Remove the pizza from the oven and try to wait a minute so your cheese cools from “molten lava” down to “Hot! Hothothothot!”  

15 December 2011

Jeff's Ginger Beef

Lunch in the Park, a novel about love and family, is available for sale in multiple electronic formats at Smashwords, for the Kindle at Amazon.com and for the Nook at BN.com Wherever you buy it, it is DRM-free. The delicious recipes that Kate and Jeff cook up are right here on my blog.

I hope you'll read Lunch in the Park, you'll love it, and you'll feel the overwhelming urge to write a review on one or more of the sites above. And of course I'd love to hear from you here on the blog, too.

When my husband read the Dinner chapter of Lunch in the Park his response was “It made me hungry.” He tried to tell me it was because I had written the scene of Jeff cooking so well, but the fact is it doesn't take much skill to use words like “ginger” and “garlic” to make someone hungry. When I announced on Google+ that I was thinking of put Kate and Jeff's recipes here the response was “ooo, ginger beef?” So here is Jeff's ginger beef recipe, a big hit in Jeff's home, and mine.

Ginger Beef and Rice

A note about oyster sauce. You shouldn't be afraid. Oyster sauce is not at all fishy tasting. If you're feeding someone who can't eat shellfish you can look for a vegetarian version or you can substitute plum sauce which will have a different but still delicious flavor.

When you're slicing the beef thinly it's helpful if it's a bit frozen. If you have frozen beef don't thaw it completely, and if you have fresh beef, toss it in the freezer for half an hour or so before you start slicing.

Ginger Beef

3/4 pound flank or sirloin
3/4 pound broccoli florets
1 red bell pepper
2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil (safflower, sunflower or peanut)
2 cloves garlic
1 inch piece fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
a few grinds of black pepper

2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4cup water

Fill a medium sauce pan half full with water and bring to a boil.
While the water is heating, slice the beef and place in a small bowl with the marinade ingredients. Mince the garlic and peel and mince the ginger. Seed and thinly slice the red pepper.

When the water comes to a boil, add the broccoli florets and cook for one minute, then remove from heat and drain.

Set a wok or large frying pan over highest heat.

Mix the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Mix the cornstarch and water and set aside.

When the wok is HOT add the oil and swirl to spread. Add the beef and quickly spread to a single layer. Allow to cook one minute, then flip the beef. Add the garlic, ginger, broccoli and red pepper. 

Add the sauce and stir to coat. Bring sauce to a boil. Add the cornstarch and water. Continue cooking until sauce is thickened.

Serve over rice.

14 December 2011

Kate's Black Bean Soup

Lunch in the Park, a novel about love and family, is available for sale in multiple electronic formats at Smashwords, for the Kindle at Amazon.com and for the Nook at BN.com Wherever you buy it, it is DRM-free. The delicious recipes that Kate and Jeff cook up are right here on my blog.

I hope you'll read Lunch in the Park, you'll love it, and you'll feel the overwhelming urge to write a review on one or more of the sites above. And of course I'd love to hear from you here on the blog, too.
Sometimes I'm here talking about food.  Sometimes I'm chasing my kids around.  Sometimes I'm serving women in labor. If I'm not doing any of those things I might be checking in on the lives of the fictional people who live in my head.

Before you run away, no, I'm not hearing voices.  I've just always have a story or two that I'm writing in my  head.  If I have a few minutes I try to get the story out of my head and onto paper.  Sometimes I find that the people in my head are recalcitrant, and won't go live on the paper.  Sometimes I can transfer them onto paper just fine, but I find that there's nothing more to them than a vignette.  Every once in a while I discover that they have a lot going on, and the more I write, the more I find.  This is the case with Kate and Jeff.  Kate and Jeff have been living in my head for quite some time now, and a while back I decided to start putting them not on paper, but out in the great wide world.  You can read about them on my fiction blog, Lunch in the Park.  A brilliant and beautiful friend of mine declared it better than Dickens. If you go take a look, and  I hope you will, start at the beginning, Picnic.  You can use the navigation buttons at the bottom of each post to keep reading from there. (Sorry, the blog is no longer public. The novel is coming soon.)

One thing that my fictional stories have in common is that someone is always a cook. In this story both Kate and Jeff cook, and I've written scenes about food and cooking.  My husband read one chapter and declared that it made him hungry, and then asked me to make the dish in question.  This is not that dish, which will come later.  Instead I'm offering up Kate's  black bean soup.

Kate has a lot going on in her life, and not a lot of money for eating out.  This soup is hearty, healthful, pantry friendly, cheap and simple. Heck, it's even vegetarian and gluten-free. The real people who live in my house like it, too. Kate makes it a lot in the winter.  She uses her slow cooker, but you can make it without one.

Black Bean Mexican Soup


2 1/2 cups black beans (or 2 15-ounce cans)

6 cups water

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 chipotle pepper canned in adobo sauce 
2 medium potatoes
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

2 Tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream and cilantro for garnish

The night before sort and rinse black beans, then place in slow cooker crock with water and allow to soak overnight.

The next morning, turn the slow cooker on low.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Dice the onions and add them to the hot oil, stirring occasionally.  While the onion cooks, mince the garlic. When the onion begins to soften add the garlic and cumin to the pan.  Stir until fragrant, then remove the pan from the heat and add onion mixture to the crock.  Mince the chipotle pepper and add it to the crock, then clean and dice the potatoes and add them.  Cover the crock and allow to cook at least 6-8 hours on low.

(For a quick version, use canned beans.  Drain and rinse the beans, add to a large soup pot with 4 cups of water.  Add tomatoes, diced potatoe and chipotle and bring to a simmer while you saute the onion, garlic and cumin.  Add onion mixture to the soup.  Simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are soft.  Then continue with the instructions below.)

15 minutes before it's time to eat,chop the cilantro and add it to the soup along with the lime juice.  Stir and taste for seasoning.  Add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro.

03 December 2011

Oatmeal Cookie Granola with Two Variations

I'm almost cheating, because of course granola can taste like oatmeal cookies.  It's already oatmeal, after all.  The rest is just details.  But details matter.  I've often said that the world can be divided into two kinds of people based on what they choose first when faced with both a chocolate chip cookie and an oatmeal raisin cookie.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Granola

Which side are you on?  Do you like the chewy sweetness of raisins in your cookies, or do you think it's not a cookie without some chocolate chips? Cookie love is serious business. Some people even wear shirts declaring their allegiance.  Like the chunky vs. smooth peanut butter battle, this issue can divide households.  

This granola recipe is here to help.  Whether you're a raisin household, a chocolate chip household, or a mixed marriage, this will work for you.  Unless you don't like cookies, in which case I can't help you.

8 cups oatmeal
4 cups walnuts
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 cups raisins OR 2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit

Combine butter, sugars and salt in a medium microwave safe bowl and microwave 1 minute  at a time until butter melted and begins to bubble.

Chop or crush the walnuts.  I like to leave them in fairly large so the sugar can catch in the wrinkles of the nuts and make crunch sweet nuggets.  In your largest bowl combine the oats and walnuts.  Add the butter and sugars and stir to combine.

Distribute the oat mixture over two cookie sheets and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every fifteen minutes.

Chocolate Chip Variation:
Remove granola from the oven. Immediately one cup of chocolate chips over each sheet of granola.  The chips will melt slightly.  Allow to cool thoroughly, then stir to combine.  

Raisin Variation:
Remove granola from the oven and allow to cool.  Return granola to largest bowl and add raisins.  Stir to combine.

If you live in a mixed household you can easily make one pan of chocolate chip and one pan of raisin, and then everyone will be happy.  And if you decide you want chocolate chips and raisins?  Well, it's your granola, you can do what you want.

01 December 2011

Sugar Cookie Granola

Granola is a strange thing.  It's generally fairly high in sugar and fat but it's thought of as health food.  You can pay a lot of money for it even though it doesn't require any exciting ingredients or any skill except stirring.  It lives on the continuum of breakfast foods somewhere between a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal and Cookie Crisp.  It is infinitely flexible and will take on a huge variety of ingredients.   

Sugar-cookie granola

I've been toying with the idea of making a series of cookie inspired granola recipes, and since this is December, the month of cookie madness I decided this was as good a time as any to try it out.  Today's granola is a simple sugar-cookie granola, the only add-in is almonds.  I chose almonds because almond extract is a common flavoring in sugar cookies.  It took me less than 10 minutes to get this in the oven, and yet I have two full cookie sheets of granola that taste like cookies.  What else gives so much for so little effort? 

8 cups rolled oats
4 cups raw almonds
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit.

Put butter and sugar in a microwave proof bowl and microwave on high one minute at a time until butter is melted.

Coarsely chop almonds.

In your largest bowl combine oats, almonds and salt.  

Add vanilla to the butter and sugar and then pour over top of the oats.  Stir to distribute.  

Spread mixture over two cookie sheets and place in oven.  Bake, stirring every 15 minutes.  After 45 minutes remove from oven and allow to cool thoroughly on cookie sheets before storing.  (Or packaging up to give out to friends and neighbors.) 


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