Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cookie Dough Brownies

     The daisies are just about gone, the leaves on the mountains across the valley are already turning red, and the kids are back in school, but the calendar won't concede summer to autumn for another couple of weeks.  We resist with the swan song to all things summer with a  Labor Day picnic.  Some of us are ready to breathe a deep breath of coolth, (as we like to call it for if there is warmth, can't there be coolth?).  Others of us refuse to put away sandals and shorts until well into November, but there's still time to mix up a batch of brownies to take to a picnic, camping or to make the kids smile for a "welcome back to school" treat when coming home from school.
     This combo is a winner - chocolate cookie dough brownies - the creamy layer is reminiscent of a fingerful of cookie dough scraped from the sides of the mixing bowl while making chocolate chip cookies (or snitched in deliberate handfuls from the dough). The chocolate of the rich, dense brownie and the drizzled chocolate glaze whisper "chocolate chip cookies" to your senses.  A birthday favorite of one of my sisters was raw cookie dough - allowed as a "once-a-year" treat for the celebration.  I always requested cheesecake for my birthday but wasn't averse to joining in the cookie dough gluttony.  
     The quintessential American treat, these brownies are perfect to take with you to a picnic or cookout and admittedly require more labor than a plain, unfussy brownie, thus apropo for "Labor" Day.  Come to think of it, no one ever declared brownies taboo after Labor Day like white pants or dresses or swimming at the beach in Tunisia, so no worries - these delicious sweets are just as much appreciated in cold months as well - unlike daisies, ubiquitously seasonal and enticing throughout the year!

Cookie Dough Brownies:

One recipe plain chocolate brownies  (see below)


          1/2 cup butter,softened
          1/2 cup brown sugar
          1/4 cups sugar  
          2 tab. milk
          1 tsp. vanilla
          1 cup flour
          1/4 tsp. salt

-In a large bowl beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add milk, salt and vanilla. blend well.  Add flour, mix well.  Spread over cool brownies.


          1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
          2 tab. butter
          3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

-Melt chocolate chips and butter in microwave until smooth, about 1 minute on high. Stir until smooth.  Let cool 10 - 15 minutes then spoon glaze over filing, drizzling to cover.  If desired, sprinkle with walnuts, pressing down lightly.  Store in fridge.  Cut when chilled.

Brownie Recipe (dense and moist)

     4 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened baking chocolate
     1 cup butter
     4 eggs
     2 cups sugar
     1/2 tsp. salt
     1 tsp. vanilla
     1 1/4 cups flour
     1/2 tsp.baking powder

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray or grease well with oil.

-Roughly chop the chocolate and place in a bowl with the butter and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between intervals until just melted and smooth.  Let cool about 10 minutes.

-In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla for 2 minutes.  Slowly add chocolate/butter mixture. then flour and mix to combine.  Stir in baking powder and salt.   Spread batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.. Cool completely.

Persnickety P.S.

**You may use your favorite brownie recipe, cakey, fudgy or chewy.  In a hurry, even a favorite box mix will do - especially Ghiradelli's brownie mix.

**Brownies with a topping are so much easier to cut once chilled.  Use a sharp knife, heated in hot water and/or a short metal spatula.

**If desired, increase the filling to make a thicker creamy layer by increasing each ingredient by half.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Israeli Tomato-Eggplant-Pesto Salad

I picked my first large tomato from the garden today - an heirloom beefsteak variety.  My basil is crying out to be harvested and lures me with its fragrance as I pass the herb garden.  I can't say so much for the eggplants - my plants have been stingy and shy to produce this year,  and I have not yet turned my hand to dairy farming so alas, no homemade provolone, but at least for the next couple of months, I will have tomatoes on my mind and on my kitchen counter and fresh salsa on hand.  That's a nice thought.  And at least once or twice I will make this Israeli Tomato Eggplant Salad I first sampled on a balmy evening on a spacious lawn at a diplomatic function in Tel Aviv, the type of reception where I just hung out at the refreshment table and made sure I was engaging in a very important diplomatic responsibility - as my husband puts it, "Eating for my country."

     Could these colors be any more vibrant, oozing their rich and luscious hues?  The salad tastes as succulent as it looks and transports me with a single bite on a magic salad boat back to the Middle East - undulating among the fragrance of jasmine, the salty ambiance of a beach side restaurant serving fish and mixed grill, sauteed in the silkiest of olive oils and baguette with a bit of inelegance that makes the food taste locally unique...... our two young children crawling under the table biting the feet of other diners, the subsequent parental ban of those children from restaurants for a year.....isn't it interesting how fragrances and flavors awaken vivid memories - pleasant or not! This recipe creates a lovely spiral of fresh produce in vibrant red, white, green and caramel, dressed with a nutty, licoricy pesto and will definitely evoke pleasant musings.  Your tomatoes and basil and, if you are more a farmer than I, eggplant, will be truly honored.

Tomato-Eggplant Salad
6 large ripe tomatoes
2 medium sized eggplants
20 slices provolone cheese
2 cups pesto
minced parsley for garnish

-Slice eggplants into ½ inch slices.  Sprinkle salt on both sides of slices and allow to sit for 30 minutes to draw out bitterness.  Rinse with water and pat eggplant slices dry, then fry in ½ inch hot oil in frying pan until brown and golden on each side.  Drain well on paper towels.
-Slice tomatoes in ½ inch slices. Cut provolone cheese rounds in half.
-On large flat platter place a tomato round, spread with spoonful of pesto. Spread an eggplant slice with a spoonful of pesto and place next to the tomato slice. Place a slice of provolone cheese next to the eggplant slice.
-Repeat arrangement of tomato, eggplant slices and cheese to create a round, swirling circle on the platter.
-Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

 Basil Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
3 garlic cloves, finely minced

-Place basil leaves in small batches in food processor and whip until well chopped (process about 3/4 cup at a time). Add about 1/3 of the nuts and garlic, blend again.
-Add about 1/3 of the Parmesan cheese; blend while slowly adding about 1/3 of the olive oil, stopping to scrape down sides of container.
-Process basil pesto until it forms a thick smooth paste. Repeat until all ingredients are used, mixing all batches together well.

-Basil pesto keeps in refrigerator one week, or freeze for a few months.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chocolate Mousse & Salted Caramel Trifle

What do egg yolks, baby pacifiers, butter, salt, and Dr. Spock all have in common - they come and they go - in and out of favor.  What was good for the goose of 1950 is not necessarily good for the gander of 2015 and one thing that the experience of living and eating long does is help you gain a bit of perspective to calmly ride the waves of favor in health, attitudes and cuisine.  That's why I was never too concerned when eggs were called the devil, when butter wore the horns of evil for many years for I knew the trident of "no-no-no' would pass on from those products to others as scientific investigation and experimentation have led us from one fad to another.  The influential "they" will decide eventually, when people just become tired of eating tofu, or pretending to like green slimy shakes that moderation was always a moderate guide anyway.  My hat goes off to those who are committed to a righteous cause, nutritional or otherwise, who exhibit the will power to follow what they consider a just cause....but if your cause is "just cause" and this is one of those moderation times, and this recipe, the extreme that sets the average at moderate, try this dessert and be grateful that fresh cream has had a resurgence.  Lovely, luscious chocolate; creamy, caramel, smooth and silky; layers that ribbon through one another and round about chunks of chocolate cake to glaze the inside of a glass container with whispy promises of the chocolate divine!  Of course this was often one of my daughter's birthday favorites, she being a connoisseur of all things delicious. My Israeli friend's mother made something similar, she called parfait but which I would have called trifle - either way, you will definitely want more than a trifle and it is one dessert that is simply "pairfait" (perfect)!
     Can we now talk about in the salt in butter, as in the salt in doughs and pastries, as in the salt in caramel - can you believe that there was an entire generation committed to the notion of "no salt is good salt"; in fact, my "Better Homes and Gardens" recipe book of the 1980's took all salt out of the baking recipes, and not long after, the word "butter" became taboo and margarine slipped in as the healthier choice in cookbooks of the times.  I tried to care enough to resist using the $.08 a pound butter we could get off the U.S. Navy ships that visited Tunis and regardless of what anyone said I was such a fan of the depth of flavor and richness that salt lends to sweets as well as savories when a friend asked me why the biscuits he made were so bland, I knew the answer. The day my doctor told me I needed more salt in my diet, I readily agreed I could make that sacrifice. So hold on for the ride, keep your moderate perspective, especially as you watch this dessert come and go.  It's a perfect way to go!

Chocolate Caramel Trifle:
1 chocolate cake, broken into small pieces and left to dry out on the counter for several hours.

Chocolate Mousse:
  9 eggs, separated
  2/3 cup sugar
  6 oz. milk chocolate bar
  4 oz semi or bitter sweet chocolate bar
  1 cup whipping cream
  1 tab. vanilla extract

 -Cream egg yolks with sugar by beating on medium high speed      -Melt chocolate in microwave (at 30 second intervals on high speed until melted) or in saucepan over lowest heat. Allow to cool 10 minutes.
 - Stir chocolate into egg yolks with mixer running on low speed with 1 tab. vanilla.
 - In a clean medium mixing bowl, beat egg whites until very     stiff  (about 5 minutes)– set aside.
 -Whip cream in another medium mixing bowl until soft peaks form.
 -Add whipped cream and egg whites to chocolate mixture,  and fold mixture together gently until chocolate is blended in (a few strikes of white may remain).
 - Chill about 30 minutes, until slightly set up.

Caramel Sauce:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 square butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. fleur de sel salt or kosher salt

-Over medium heat, combine butter, sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar,
 and karo syrup, until boiling, stirring frequently.
-Cook, stirring constantly, to softball stage.  Remove from heat and add 1 tsp. vanilla and salt.  Let cool to room temperature.

To Assemble:  In glass trifle dish, crumble half of the cake, to cover the bottom of dish. Spread half the chocolate mousse over the cake crumbs. Drizzle with half the caramel sauce. Repeat layers. Garnish with piped whipped cream and/or chocolate leaves.  Sprinkle top layer of caramel with a pinch of salt, if desired.

Persnickety P.S.:
**  I generally use a prepared chocolate cake mix and whip up my own, but buying already baked brownies or chocolate pound cake "takes the cake" for ease, though these make for a richer, sweeter dessert.  For a lighter dessert, use chocolate angel food or chocolate chiffon cake.

**To add another variety of texture, crush whole oreo cookies and sprinkle the crumbs as another layer on top of the caramel layers.  Zahra's favorite way! 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Greek Salad Supper

Greek Salad - fresh, firm tomatoes, sweet crunchy cucumbers, tangy feta cheese, and puckery olives. The best ones taste so fresh, with crisp vegetables still vibrant with an inherent sweetness "from the vine" and tossed with a vinaigrette just before you eat it so that the vegetables are truly just dressed as opposed to saturated.  One of our memorable family adventures entailed driving from Rotterdam, in the Netherlands to Amman, Jordan, a journey of 2 1/2 weeks and a wonderful way to show our children Europe, so we thought. Several years later, they say it's still too soon to ask but they realize that it should have been an adventure of a lifetime: however, Europe was particularly hot that summer, seven of us shared space in a car that comfortably seats five, everyone was allowed only 2 changes of clothing for the entire trip.....and by the time we made it to Greece, they were just looking for a McDonald's. An iconic picture we have of them sitting in the shadows of the Parthenon, shows them with their chins in their hands, wondering if they were having fun yet.  Eating time seemed to liven them up and the greek salad served alongside gyro and souvlaki helped bring them around.  We discovered the best way to make the decision as to "what's for dinner" while traveling was to assign each family member a day to choose the restaurant or cafe where we would eat, which made everyone happy except for our son who ate only plain rice, (which was a no-go if a garnish of parsley had been added) or pizza with no lumps in the sauce.  Greek Salad did nothing for him (no vegetable passed his lips until he was 18) and it's a miracle he survived that trip.  This recipe takes the basic Greek Salad to new heights resulting in a complete "supper" that is ridiculously abundant and succulent with beautiful colors. Anything and everything that happily teams with the basic salad ingredients is included and is my husband's favorite dinner.  The potato salad is lean, cleanly uncomplicated and enhanced with grilled shrimp (careful on the grill - 2 minutes per side usually does it) This is a beautiful and impressive dish to take to a BBQ dinner, so fresh and light - and doesn't require a 2-week car trip to Greece!

Greek Salad Supper
5 red potatoes
2 tab. each minced parsley and green onion
2 tab. olive oil
1 tab. red wine vinegar
salt and freshly group pepper to taste
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
8 - 10 iceberg lettuce leaves to line serving platter
2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges or 12 - 14 small tomatoes left 
        whole or cut in half
1 avocado, halved, peeled and sliced
1 English cucumber, cut into 1/2 inch spears
1 large green pepper, seeded and sliced into 1/2 inch spears
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/4 pound cheese, cheddar, provolone, or jack, cut into 1/2 inch 
         by 3 inch lengths
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut in wedges
1/4 pound ham, cut into 1/2 inch by 3 inch lengths
fresh lemon wedges
1/2 pound medium raw shrimp, (fresh or frozen)
      peeled and deveined,  marinated in olive oil, garlic 
      and lemon juice for 30 minutes, and then grilled, 
      2 minutes on each side.

-Cook, peel and dice potatoes and while still warm, toss with parsley, green onion, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper: stir in mayonnaise.  Chill until ready to serve.

-Arrange lettuce leaves on large platter.  Mound potatoes in the center, arrange tomato wedges, cucumber, green pepper, onion, ham, cheese, avocado, eggs and black olives on the lettuce bed around potato salad.  Arrange grilled shrimp on top of potato salad and garnish with a dash of paprika. Chill salad until ready to serve.  Serve with dressing and lemon wedges.  Makes 6 servings.

Vinaigrette Dressing:

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper

-Combine ingredients and let sit at room temperature 1 hour.

Serve alongside salad.

Persnickety P.S.:
     **A loaf of crunchy country type bread goes nicely with the salad.
     **Lemon juice may be substituted for the vinegar in the salad dressing - more Greek in nature 
         - but more tart than vinegar.  If using lemon juice start with 3 tablespoons, then dip in a piece
         of lettuce, taste and add more lemon juice if desired.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Peanut-Peanut Butter-Hidden Treasure Chocolate Chip Cookies

We are all intimately acquainted with the chocolate chip cookie (invented 1930) and everyone is entitled to their favorite version for as my mother always said, "in taste there is no dispute":  thick and chewy, thin and crispy, thick and cakey, thin and crunchy, lots of chips, semi-sweet, milk or white, with walnuts, with oatmeal, perhaps raisins.... Our favorite is "hidden treasures" thus named because the chips are coated with batter and hiding in the interior of the cookies, which you discover when biting into the slightly chewy yet crispy texture. This recipe is precisely a treasure and if you are somewhat skeptical and convinced they won't measure up to your high standards, may I plead with you to keep an open mind and try them - (I know, you've heard that one before, as when someone is trying to convince you that rabbit tastes just like chicken - just try it!)  The development of this recipe involved late night empty tummies - perhaps not so much empty as craving - while watching the Barcelona Summer Olympics on T.V. and one too few eggs for the standard chocolate chip cookie recipe and ultimately, a gain of 15 pounds over the course of two weeks of olympic watching - I don't remember if that was on one body or three and am afraid to consider the answer.  Since peanut butter has come on the scene (invented 1895) most of us have been persuaded to consider the combo with chocolate a staple (thank you Reeses).  I added the peanuts and peanut butter to this recipe on an inspired whim. See how you think these cookies measure up and if you can't be swayed to call this recipe a "treasure" or find that the results are not to your preferred texture, don't try to convince me.  My mind's already made up and as Mom said, "to each his own."  I wonder if she would consider this recipe a treasure?

Peanut-Peanut Butter-Hidden Treasure Cookies

1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4  cup whole roasted peanuts
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup raw sugar for dusting, mixed with 1/2 tsp. sel de mer or
         coarse kosher salt

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

-In a large mixing bowl thoroughly cream butter, shortening, peanut butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. 

-Mix in salt, soda, and flour, until well blended.  Stir in peanuts and chocolate chips.

-Roll dough lightly into 1 1/2 inch balls.  Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and gently push down on each cookie.  Sprinkle small amount of raw sugar on the top of each cookie.  Bake for 12 - 15 minutes until golden around the edges and slightly puffy on top, and beginning to crack.  Remove from oven and place cookies to cool on a wire rack.

-Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fatteh - Eggplant & Yogurt Casserole

What did you picture when you heard the name eggplant as a child?  Probably something similar to what I did - and I thought eggs came from chickens!  When I understood that plants and eggs could share the name, I was still hesitant, suspecting that the vegetable tasted of rotten eggs - why would it be purple?  No way I was going to taste it and since it was not served or even mentioned in my home, it wasn't a problem.  As an adult, I was offered aubergine - what a delightful name for a lovely shiny slender vegetable, and before I knew it I had been tricked into love!  An aubergine by any other name would be as delicious.
When returning to Jordan after years away, the first dish I bought from a Lebanese cook we had once frequented, was Fatteh, (fe-tay) not to be pronounced "fatty" as in what you will become if you eat too much of it. In Arabic the work "fatteh" means "crushed" or "crumbs", as in bread crumbs, or croutoned bread. I don't remember when I first had it or who first served it to me - I will admit it doesn't look nearly as appetizing as it tastes - but it is in my top three favorite Arab dishes. As I brought the aluminum container aboard our small tourist bus and was about to partake in this romantic reunion, the aroma bumped about the bus as we did and there were others who wanted to help me eat it.  As hesitant as I was to share - after all we had forgotten to bring spoons - it was wrested from my hands and passed down the bus, as creative tasters devised eating implements of yogurt lids, emory boards and credit cards to scoop out samples of the casserole.  
The very nature of eggplant succumbs silkily to oil when fried and this dish, topped with fried bits of Khoubiz, (pita bread), and pine nuts is succulently smooth and richly velvetized   It has such a depth of flavor; smokey, garlicky, lemony, meaty,  ---all those flavors that make you pause and say, "I want to remember this."  There is also a chickpea, yogurt version that is also very popular though less complex in flavors.  
Thin small eggplants like the variety sold in the Middle East are recommended as they are more tender than larger ones. Few recipes for raw eggplant exist owing to the fact that the toxin solanine, which raw potatoes contain as well, can cause intestinal distress, but once eggplant is cooked it complies beautifully with digestion. The raw product is also cursed with a bitter flavor which can come through in the cooking, though more modern hybrids are said to be less bitter. To avoid the bitterness, salt the eggplant well after slicing or cubing it and let sit for about 30 minutes. The salt causes the flesh to weep and draws out the bitterness.  Rinse well, blot dry with paper towels and use as described in your recipe.  Give this eggplant recipe a try and if you, like me, pictured boiled eggs growing among foul smelling leaves, this dish will wipe away those childish misconceptions!

Fatteh with Eggplant:
1 1/2 pound ground beef or lamb
4 small eggplants
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 1/2 cups beef stock
1 tab. grenadine molasses 
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup plain yogurt
5 cloves crushed garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
2 loaves pita bread
chopped flat-leaf parsley

-Toast pine nuts in dry saute pan until lightly browned; set aside  Cut bread into 1 inch squares and fry in 3 tab. butter until browned; set aside.  Combine sour cream, yogurt, 1 tsp. salt and crushed garlic in bowl; set aside.

-Chop eggplant into 1 inch chunks, place in large bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt and toss.  Let sit for 15 minutes.  Drain and rinse eggplant and fry lightly in 3 tab. oil in large saute pan until golden and starting to soften.  Remove eggplant from pan and set aside.

-In same saute pan, melt 2 tab. butter. Place ground beef and onion in pan with salt and pepper, cinnamon, allspice and fry, stirring frequently until meat is browned. Drain off any extra fat. Stir in beef stock, tomato sauce and molasses then bring mixture to a boil.  Add eggplant and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is tender and sauce is thickened.

-In an oven-proof casserole dish, pour the eggplant/meat sauce on the bottom and then cover with the yogurt sauce.  Place the toasted pita aqures on the top.  Bake in 350 oven until just warmed through, about 15 minutes.

-Garnish with pine nuts, chopped parsley and sprinkle sumac on top.  Serve warm.  Serves 8.

Persnickety P.S.:
**The original recipe has you place the bread squares on the bottom of the casserole dish, then cover with meat sauce and finally the yogurt sauce.  I, however, like my croutons to stay crispy so I place them on top.
**Sumac is used in the Middle Eastern diet to add a lemony pop to soups, salads and meat dishes. It is made from the ground fruit of a species of sumac bush and is a dark red/purple color.  Can be purchased on Amazon or at Middle Eastern groceries.
**Grenadine Molasses:  This molasses used in Middle Eastern and Persian cooking, is a thick syrup made from pomegranate seeds, sugar and lemon, is dark purple in color and adds a tangy, sweet zest to dishes.  It is available in Middle Eastern Groceries.  (To substitute in this recipe use 2 tsp. regular molasses and 1 tsp. lemon juice)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Lemon Drop Bread

On occasion, I have been known to magnanimously do some volunteer pruning, when so inspired - pine branches from a forested area in Jordan for Christmas swags which included a volunteer roving-eyed lizard (doesn't everyone have a Christmas lizard?), rose petals from a ridiculously abundant blooming rose bush next door for the garnish for a 1920's recipe of Chicken a la Rose, and lemons from a lemon tree branch dangling precariously low over a public sidewalk in Israel - someone could have been injured!  (and besides, I was out of lemons). My noble and selfless efforts are only employed that vegetation might thrive.  May the lemon be among them - Live on, oh mighty Lemon! Live long lemons, and prosper! A child's expression the first time they taste them, makes you wonder which ancient Asian child kept tasting them until they discovered this puckery fruit was just waiting to meet sugar to zing into the forefront of culinary taste! The luxurious smell of the blossoms in spring, would make you think that the fruit is as sweet as promised, but the result packs a walloping tart and sour surprise but is yet a dose of the Renaissance itself to flavor and color, little orbs of the sun that give vibrant life to foods that would otherwise be drab as a winter's day without them. And shaped like those little orbs are a candy we call Lemon Drops, created in Britain in the1800's, though they may be harder to find today than Lemon Heads but they pack a punch to this exquisite bread and say, "Pucker up"! (Available at Walgreen's) A delicious variation is the suggested version with blueberries, or bluebs as my family calls them.  Due due to their tendency to sink to the bottom of the batter as they bake - Blue Bottom Lemon Bread it became! 

Lemon-Drop Bread
1/4 cup soft butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
grated rind of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
8 - 10 crushed lemon drops

-In large mixing bowl, cream together shortening, butter and sugar for about 3 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Stir in milk.  Add flour, salt, baking powder, and grated lemon rind.  Mix until just combined.

-Grease or spray with non-stick spray, a regular sized loaf pan.  Pour batter in pan.  Bake at 300 degrees until a knife inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean, about 1 hour.

-Meanwhile, mix lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar and crushed lemon drops in a small bowl.  Set aside.

-Remove the bread from the oven and allow to sit 5 minutes in pan.  Score the bread with a serrated knife to a depth of about 1 inch in 3 lengthwise cuts.  Forcing the slits slightly apart drizzle the glaze into the slits and over the top of the warm bread.  Let cool in the pan for about 30 minutes.  Then run a knife around the edges and gently remove from the pan.  Let cool completely before slicing.  Cut into slices and serve.  Makes 8 - 10 slices.

Persnickety P.S.

**Coarsely mash the lemon drops in a mortar and pestle or place in a plastic bag and mash with a rolling pan or the bottom of a heavy saucepan.

**Grate lemon with a microplane, one of my "can't do without" kitchen implements, a long thin micro-grater that allows you to grate right over whatever it is going into, easily held by a long handle.

**A combo of butter with shortening creates a softer bread than using just butter alone (similar to what the less popular margarine produces.)

**I sometimes make half again as much glaze when I want the bread very moist and popping with lemon flavor.

**When making the Blue Bottom Lemon-Drop Bread,  mix the batter as directed above, pour into the prepared loaf pan and then scatter 3/4 cup fresh blueberries on the top of the batter, patting down gently with a spatula. Bake and glaze as directed.

Let cool completely before slicing or it will crumble apart.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Rice Krispie Spring Nests

Admit it - you love Rice Krispie Treats!!  There are just some universal truths where taste is concerned and foods that make anything taste good - cream cheese frosting, caramel sauce, raspberry puree, melted marshmallows - this elite group of toppings that would make even wood chips delicious.  (Glad that someone was inspired to combine marshmallows with cereal instead of wood chips).  Following is a Spring Nest version that is such fun for the kids to make for an Easter craft and treat!  I would imagine even birds would opt for this medium to build their nests!  The kids can melt the marshmallows, stir in the cereal, add the green food dye and shape the nests - a children's activity that requires just the ingredients and a little supervision!

Rice Krispie Spring Nests:
8 cups Rice Krispies type cereal
1 package (40 large) marshmallows
1/4 cup butter
2 -3 drops green food coloring
extra butter for hands
parchment or waxed paper
large colored jellybeans or Cadbury Mini-Eggs (preferred)

-In large saucepan, over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup butter. Add marshmallows and stir frequently until marshmallows have melted and mixture is smooth.  Stir in food coloring.

-Place Rice Krispies in large mixing bowl.  Pour marshmallow mixture over the cereal and stir until well combined.  Let mixture rest and cool for about 5 minutes.

-Place a sheet of paper on work surface.  Rub a small amount of soft butter on clean hands and take a tangerine-size handful of mixture.  Shape and push into a ball and then flatten onto the paper, making an indentation in the center for the bird "eggs".  Arrange 3 - 5 mini-eggs in each nest.  Let sit and set up for about 20 minutes as children lick off their fingers and what remains in the bowl.  Makes 12 - 14 "nest" treats.

Persnickety P.S.:
-You'll win the "favorite grandma award" when you help the grandchildren make these!!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Chocolate Truffle Mint Cheesecake

Don't you just want to dive into the middle of this, head first, mouth open!  Or roll face first in it, not unlike the mayor in the movie "Chocolat" who is an exemplary citizen of his French village and a devoted Catholic observing Lent, who is tempted beyond endurance by the new chocolate shop window display. As the saying goes, "One bite is too many and a thousand is not enough" and after a chocolate nibble, the Comte de Reynaud finds himself rolling about in the chocolate confections, stuffing them into his mouth as quickly as a space becomes vacant and finally, passes out on an overdose of cacoa and sugar!  ( I always have an urge to make a chocolate dessert like this one after watching that movie.)  And if you, like he, would find it a violation of what you are giving up for Lent, or a serious infraction to your diet restrictions, check back at this recipe in a couple of weeks - but then you aren't forbidden from looking at chocolate!

Chocolate Mint Truffle Cheesecake
2 cups crushed chocolate wafer cookies
3 tab. sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
4 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp. peppermint extract
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate - 60%
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup cream

-Mix crumbs, sugar and butter.  Press into 9 inch springform pan.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.

-  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan melt chocolate in cream over medium heat, stirring until smooth. Set aside for 5 minutes. 

-In mixing bowl, combine and mix until smooth, cream cheese, sugar and mint extract.  Add eggs one at a time to cream cheese mixture and beat just until smooth after each. (Do not overbeat as this can cause cracks to form in your cheesecake as it bakes.)  Stir chocolate/cream into other mixture until blended.  Pour batter into cooled crust.

-Bake at 350 degree fro 20 - 25 minutes or until just set.  Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

1 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa,
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tab. sour cream

-Mix cream , sugar and cocoa in mixing bowl with wire whip until sugar is incorporated.  Chill with beater in the cream for 2 hours.  Remove from fridge and whip in mixer until almost stiff.  Add vanilla and salt.  Continue to beat until very siff, just short of butter consistency.  Stir in sour cream and spread topping on cool pie.  Garnish cheesecake with chocolate curls and mint sprigs. Chill well before serving, at least 2 hours.

Persnickety P.S.:

**Make sure eggs and cream cheese are at room temperature before combining,to prevent little lumps of cream cheese in your final product.  Because this is a truffle cheesecake, it should be absolutely smooth as silk and creamy.  If your cream cheese isn't ready when you are, unwrap from foil wrapper and zap in the microwave for 30 - 45 seconds until softened.  You can also soak eggs in warm water when in a hurry to take the chill off.

**Chocolate wafer cookies are available in most stores under the brand name of Famous Chocolate Wafers, but if you can't find them, use Oreos.  Twist the cookie layers off and with a knife, scrap off the filling into another bowl.  (For some reason children love this job and I always find when they are finished that there aren't as many cream centers in the bowl as there should be.) Then use the chocolate wafers to make the crumbs.

**Bake the cheesecake only for the length of time indicated.  It should be smooth and creamy in the center not set up and cakey-textured as in a New York Style Cheesecake.  The center of a Lindor truffle should come to mind when you bite into it - thus the name "Truffle Mint".

**For the 60% chocolate, Ghiradelli's Bittersweet Bar (America's Test Kitchen taste test winner)  is recommended and is readily available.

**To make chocolate curls,  place a solid square of milk or semi-sweet chocolate in a microwave for 20 - 30 seconds.  With a potato peeler, or sharp paring knife, pull along an edge of the chocolate, letting the chocolate curls drop onto the top of the cheesecake, or onto a piece of parchment paper to use later.  For bigger curls, use a bigger block of chocolate, often available only in specialty grocery stores.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ham and Beans with Potato Parmesan Croquettes

The natural response to a meaty ham bone, left over from the maple-sugared, spiral slices from a family meal is either "doggie dinner" or revamped in a flavorful duet of Ham and Beans with navy beans - the humble, smallish white beans have a way of coaxing the smokey rich flavor from the ham and in their turn when cooked to perfection add a creamy silkiness to the mixture.  This homey stew evokes images of cowboys on the trail gathered round the chuck wagon, summer picnics with the obligatory pork and beans, but for me, an iron hook mortared into the brick inside the fireplace on which hung a perfectly witchy black iron pot.  What is it they say about boys born to the country - that you can't get the country out of them?  My father was such a boy and his penchant for cooking beans and soup over a coal fire in our living room was a symptom of either the "country" in his soul, having lived through the depression or a secret yearning to have been a cowboy.  His concoctions bubbled on for days and often included what we children considered  strange white carrots, that didn't taste right (parsnips). But we were delighted to watch as he added mysterious ingredients to his potion, then with cooing incantations and the sorcery of time, transformed the contents to an edible, if not fantastic soup.
To be blunt, the prepared dish of ham and beans sometimes resembles cow trails on the drive or leavings of the Depression and is humbly lacking in sophistication.  In my effort to prettify the dish, I top each serving with small fried potato-swiss croquettes, breaded with a crispy crust which contrasts in texture with the silky beans.  Swiss cheese with ham is a natural pairing and the potato - a soothing whimsy of superfluous fluff. The fresh bite of the green onions is just the thing to spark the beans up for a night on the trail or in the country and is anything but depressing. No black iron pots or magic required!

Ham & Beans with Potato-Swiss Croquettes
Meaty ham bone (or 1 lb. ham steak, cut into 1 inch cubes) 
bacon, 8 slices, diced and fried crisp (if using ham steak)
2 cups dried white navy beans                      
1 tab. tomato paste
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 cups chicken broth
2 -3 cups water
2 tsp. vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tab. brown sugar
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
salt and black pepper to taste
dash of red pepper

-Rinse navy beans.  Cover with cold water and let sit 4 - 6 hours.  Drain and rinse beans.

-In large dutch oven or soup pot, heat 2 tab. oil and saute onions, celery and carrots for about 5 minutes until softened.  Add garlic and continue to saute 1 minute.  (If using ham steak, cook diced bacon until crispy and stir in with vegetables before adding broth to the vegetables.) Add rinsed beans to pot with chicken broth, water, ham bone, thyme, vinegar, tomato paste, brown sugar, black pepper, and red pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Skim off any froth that may rise to the top.  Cover with a lid and simmer 1 1/2 hours until beans are almost tender. 

- (If using ham steak, add to beans at this point.) Remove lid and continue to simmer another 30 minutes, until broth has reduced and beans are very tender.  Remove ham bone from broth and pick off the meat, shred and return to the beans and broth.  Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Stir in parsley.  

Potato-Swiss Croquettes
2 large potatoes, boiled with skins on 
3 tab. butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp. salt 
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2/3 cups grated swiss cheese
chopped parsley
dash of cayenne
1 tab. paprika
2 eggs slightly beaten
2 tab. milk
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 cups vegetable oil (canola oil recommended)
8 green onions, finely chopped

-Let cooked potatoes cool about 10 minutes.  Peel off skins with paring knife.  Cut potatoes into quarters and place in large mixing bowl and mash potatoes with potato masher until all lumps are gone.  Stir in butter until smooth.  Stir in lightly beaten egg, salt and pepper, cheeses, flour, parlsy cayenne and paprika.  Let mixture cool until able to handle.

-Wet hands and roll mixture into small golfball-sized balls.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.  Prepare 3 wide flat bowls; one with 2 slightly beaten eggs mixed with 2 tab. milk, one with 1 cup flour and one with 1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs mixed with grated parmesan cheese and paprika. Roll each ball in flour, then egg dip and finally in bread crumbs. Chill until ready to fry.

-Bring 2 cups oil in heavy-bottomed medium saucepan to 375 degrees or until a bread cube cooks to a golden brown in 30 seconds.  Carefully lower balls into hot oil and fry until golden brown and crispy, about 5 minutes, turning as necessary. Remove croquettes from oil and drain on paper towels.

To Serve Ham & Beans:
-Place ladle full of  warm ham and beans into individual serving bowls and top with 3 potato croquettes.  Garnish with sprinkle of green onions.

Persnickety P.S.:
**When you don't have a meaty ham bean on hand (or the dog has skulked off with it to bury it in the backyard) use diced or shredded ham from a ham steak or boneless ham.  To obtain the intense rich flavor provided by the ham bone, substitute bacon in recipe.

**Beans:  Great Northern beans are often used in this recipe but I prefer the daintier navy bean, but either white bean is fine.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Alsatian Bretzels

Still drowsy from a long trip sitting on the floor of the cafe car on the TGV (overbooked - another story) and waking up at what seemed to us the middle of the night - or so it was in the U.S.-  we stumbled out into the village square of the Medieval village of Riquewehr, France to find something to eat.  Located in the northeast corner of France, near Strasbourg, "Capitale de Noel" (capital of Christmas) it certainly lived up to the season, and the festive, magical Christmas scenes created on every window sill delighted us almost to the point of forgetting our hunger. But festooned among the pine boughs and sparkling ornaments, giant pretzels hung from the overhangs of the bakery stalls like snowflakes from a darker heaven.  "Savory" sounded like just the right bite to waken our jet-lagged stomachs before visiting the creperies.   We were hungry and in the land of good food, and so assumed that a pretzel by any other name would be as satisfying. (B works just fine in place of the P for this distinctive savory treat - not unlike the B used in place of the P in Arabic, which makes Pepsi, pronounced "bebsi". An interesting diversion?)  Back to the Bretzel.  This Alsatian version of a pizza-like snack is topped with a white, intense Munster cheese, produced in a nearby village in the Alsace region and studded with bits of lardon, a thick local bacon, cut into cubes, and fried crisp. (A pile of these crispy bits placed in front of the children was the culinary hit of this family Christmas trip, that is when a crepe wasn't within reach.) The pretzels themselves are of the large and soft variety, 8 - 10 inches in diameter, with an appropriately chewy, salted skin. This tasty concept lit a memory in my mind of my father's culinary creation, "Byron Broils" which were small squares of toast topped with cheddar and bacon bits, that he made to delight us.  That's why I love Bretzels!  All you need are pretzels, cheese and bacon to make them at home, no jet-lag or dirty train floors required but for the charming French village,
you will have to cook that up in your imagination!

Alsatian Bretzels:
8 large soft pretzels (fresh or frozen)
2 cups sliced or shredded Munster cheese (domestic or 
8 ounces bacon, diced and fried till crisp
1 cup coarsely chopped onion, sauted until caramelized in 
                             2 tab. oil (optional)

-Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Arrange pretzels, 4 per sheet.  Cover each pretzel with Munster cheese and sprinkle with bacon (and onions). Heat in a 375 degree oven until cheese is melted and bubbly - about 10 minutes.  Serve warm.  

Persnickety PS:

-Pretzels:  Homemade pretzels are fun and interesting to make, but tedious. (If you feel so inclined, check out the following video: If you have access to a bakery that makes fresh pretzels, that is a great first choice.  Soft pretzels are also available frozen in most large grocery stores which are convenient and can be transformed into Bretzels right from the freezer, allowing you to thaw just as many as you want to use.

-Munster Cheese is not to be confused with Munster Cheese or Muenster Cheese!  The American variety is a soft white cheese with an orange rind with a mild flavor which melts smoothly. The Freanch version is much stronger - the longer it's aged, the stronger it is - and is considered the "real thing", but unless you're a fan of strong cheese, best stick to the poor American relation.  It's easier to come by and cheaper too.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Creamy Chicken Soup with Mashed Potatoes

The name of this dish should actually be "Triple Carb Chicken Soup, Idaho Style, for When You Have Recovered from Your Cold and Flu with Weak, Good-for-the-Soul Chicken Broth, and Have Graduated to the Feeling-Better for-the-Soul Chicken Soup." Quite a mouthful isn't it - but so is this soup! This is a perfect remedy to a snowy day, when you're stuck inside because it has snowed an inch and everything is cancelled for the day, as where I live.  The kitchen becomes a gloriously warm and aromatic domain in which you can satisfy the stomach and creative itch as the soft world of white outside satisfies your view out the window.  I owe this recipe to a friend, who is a native of potato-growing Idaho and first served me, to my surprise, chicken soup with mashed Idaho spuds on top - or the potatoes on the bottom and the soup on top, like a gravy.  Who would have thought that no one from Idaho had let this marvelous culinary combination out to those of us in Utah just across the border.  But then, we were slow to tell them about Navajo Tacos (earlier blog).  A meal in itself, this soup is now a frequently requested family favorite with several inspired renditions resulting.  The homemade noodles are not necessary but help keep the kitchen warm and humming.  The thicker chew of the homemade noodle, or "noodle-ette" which my daughter created because she was tired of rolling out the stiff dough and so simply rolled small portions of dough into little balls that she plopped into the broth, give you more of a carb high and a textural contrast with the creaminess of the soup base and the velvet of the mashed potato.   It's snowing outside now, in fact a respectable 8 or so inches.  I feel a batch of Creamy Chicken Noodle coming on!  I think I'll make it a big one - we may be snowbound for days and nothing eases a serious bout of cabin-fever like cooking!

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup with Mashed Potatoes
5 tab. butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
6 small carrots, diced
2 chicken thighs
2 chicken breasts bones and skin
4 cups water
2 tsp. chicken bouillon paste
1/3 cup flour
1 bay leaf
5 crushed peppercorns
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of fresh thyme (or dried)
2 cups whole milk
8 ounces wide egg noodles (or home-made - see directions )
2 tab. finely minced parsley
3 large russet potatoes, boiled in skins until fork tender
3 tab. soft butter
3/4 cup buttermilk, slightly warmed
1 cup milk, slightly warmed
salt and pepper to taste

-In medium saucepan, heat 1 tab. oil and saute chicken pieces until slightly browned.  Salt and pepper chicken to taste then pour 4 cups water over the chicken. Add the bay leaf, crushed peppercorns, chicken bouillon paste and the fresh thyme.  Cover with a lid and simmer the chicken over medium-low heat, a gentle boil, for about 20 minutes.  Set aside and keep covered another 30 minutes.  Remove chicken from the broth and allow to cool. Strain the broth and set aside.  When chicken is cool, remove bones and skins and shred the cooked chicken into small mouth-sized pieces.

-In large soup pot, melt 5 tablespoons of butter and add the onion, carrot and celery.  Saute over medium-high heat until vegetables have softened, stirring frequently.  Stir in 1/3 cup flour with the vegetables, with a wire whip cooking over medium heat about 1 minute.  Then slowly stir in the 2 cups milk, mixing with the whip as you do to incorporate the flour. Bring soup to a low boil, stirring frequently, until soup thickens.  

-Carefully pour the chicken broth into the milk base and mix until smooth as you bring it to a slow boil - medium-high heat. 

-Add store prepared noodles or fresh homemade noodles to the soup and cook over medium-high heat, uncovered until the pasta is tender.  Add the shredded chicken to the soup, then check seasoning for salt and pepper.  Stir in parsley.  Let soup cool for 10 - 15 minutes before serving.  Soup will thicken as it sits.

-To prepare potatoes:  bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil over high heat.  Add 1 tab. salt and potatoes to the water.  Cover with a lid and bring the water back to a boil.  Turn heat down to medium-low and continue to cook potatoes until they are fork-tender, about 45 minutes - depending on the potato and your elevation.  Drain off water and let potatoes sit in skins about 10 minutes.  Peel the skins off the potatoes with a paring knife and place the meat of the potatoes into a mixing bowl.  With a potato masher or electric mixer, mash the potatoes until smooth, then add butter and buttermilk and mix again until smooth and all lumps are gone.  Add milk, salt and pepper and whip until potatoes are smooth and fluffy.  Keep covered and warm until ready to serve.

-Mound a serving of mashed potatoes into each serving bowl and ladle soup over the top.  Garnish with a sprinkle of parsley and paprika.

-If making your own on.

Homemade Egg Noodles:
2 cups flour
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon salt
1/3 cup water - more or less

-Place flour in medium mixing bowl.  Make a well in the center and add the lightly beaten eggs and yolks with salt.  With a fork begin to mix the flour into the eggs.
-Add water, a little bit at a time and mix thoroughly after each addition, until dough begins to hold together and you can form it into a ball.
-Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic (5 - 8 minutes). dusting the surface and your hands as needed to keep the dough from sticking.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest 10 minutes.
-Cut the dough into 4 equal parts, then on the well-floured surface, roll out 1 section at a time into a very-thin rectangle.
(Don't worry if the shape isn't a perfect rectangle - noodles that are a bit crooked taste just as great!)  Keep remaining dough covered as you work so it won't dry out.
-With a sharp knife or a wheel pizza cutter, cut the dough into 1/2 - 3/4 inch wide, long strips.  Then cut across the width so that each noodle is about 2 inches long. (Alternatively, roll the pasta up into a long roll, and cut across dough to make strips of pasta. Unroll each strip.)
-Drop fresh noodles into the simmering soup and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until the noodles are tender.


Persnickety P.S.
-If you want to make shorter work of the recipe, store-prepared mashed potatoes are fine.  
-Another shortcut is to mix in 1 can of condensed cream of chicken soup combined with 2 tab. flour, after the vegetables are tender, before adding the milk.  (Reduce 5 tablespoons butter to 2 tab. and 1/3 cup flour to 2 tab. flour)
-You can dry your homemade noodles for future use by tossing lightly with flour and spreading them out on a cookie sheet. Let dry at room temperature for 2 hours of more, then place in a plastic bag for later use.
-If soup becomes too thick, thin it down with the addition of a bit of milk or water.  
-If soup is too thin, place 2 tab. flour in a small mixing bowl. Add 3/4 cup of the hot broth from the soup to  the flour and combine well with a wire whip.  Pour the flour mixture through a fine mesh strainer back into the soup and return the soup to a boil until it thickens to the desired consistency.
-To avoid lumpy potatoes, be sure to mash potatoes well before adding any other ingredients.
-Sour cream can be used instead of buttermilk in the potatoes. A bit of cream cheese as well adds a nice tang to the mashed potatoes.