Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Marjorie's Sugar Cookies - Christmas Cookies from Tupperware

This year I made our family Christmas cookie -- an unusual cutout sugar cookie -- for the first time in a long time. The recipe was a standby during my childhood and teen years, but I'd gotten out of the habit of making them. They are still, however, my favorite sugar cookie and are one of those tastes that says "Christmas" to me.



My mother spent a few years in the '70s as a Tupperware rep. She had two huge (and I mean huge) cardboard suitcases full of samples, and when she stopped repping, they were integrated into our kitchen. One other thing we had as a result of her Tupperware years was a cookbook. Naturally the recipes always featured using Tupperware products as equipment. Don't laugh -- Tupperware made (and makes) a LOT of products beyond storage bowls. We had Tupperware salt and pepper shakers, popsicle molds, and on and on. 

But I digress. The cookbook had two sugar cookie recipes, and the one titled Marjorie's Sugar Cookies were an instant hit in our household. They became the go-to cookie for Christmas -- cut out, of course, with Tupperware cookie cutters. The Christmas shapes included a Christmas Tree, a Santa Claus, and a Candy Cane. Not only did Mama make the cookies for us to have at home, but often made many batches to provide to our classrooms and to the fire station where Daddy worked. I often helped with the production, and even made them on my own as I got older. 

I'd gotten nostalgic for them and made a batch to share with friends and family. I'm very pleased to share them here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Crackers, Part Two: Thin Wheats

This post highlights the second homemade cracker I made to go with the Thanksgiving Soup Bar. The method is very similar to the Black Pepper Parmesan Cream Crackers, with the added twist of whole wheat flour and no cheese or cream. Thinner and a little less rich, as well as nuttier from the whole grain, these make a great accompaniment to soup or salad or as just a stand-alone snack.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Potato and Corn Chowder

There are many philosophies regarding corn chowder. The same applies to potato chowders without corn. Many recipes include bacon, using that as the source of the fat. Others include red peppers, for color and flavor. I'm a purist, though. While a sprinkle of crispy bacon on a chowder is wonderful, I don't want that smoke throughout the soup. The same with peppers -- great as a garnish on occasion, not something I want dominating this soup.

Still, the different schools of thought show what a great base a dish like this is. If you want to punch it up with other flavors, it can take it. Bacon or peppers, sure, but also a little crushed garlic or curry powder. If you want to make it more substantial by adding some leftover diced chicken or ham, it's cool. In the spring, change it up with leeks instead of onion. If you like a thicker base, increase the amount of flour. You can use whole milk or cream instead of half-and-half. Etc.

Another point about this chowder is that while it was featured in the Thanksgiving Soup Bar, it's something I've been making for years. This is the first time I've written down the recipe, though, because I've always made it by feel, and based on what I had on hand. I don't worry too much about measurements, I just shoot for general proportions. It's all good.


Friday, December 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Crackers, Part One: Black Pepper Parmesan Cream Crackers

This cracker is a recipe that I've made several times, but not in a while. I pulled it out of the file to include as part of the Thanksgiving Soup Bar. Crackers are one of those foods that we tend to take for granted as coming from a store. They are actually quite easy to make at home, though, if you have a reasonable amount of experience working with cookie or pie crust dough. They are lower-pressure though -- for some reason cracker dough isn't as fussy as pie crust can be, and don't have the expectations associated with Good Pie Crust.


Crackers can be simple -- flour, salt, water -- or enriched with fat, or punched up with whole wheat flours or other grain flours, or flavored with an endless variety of herbs and seasonings.

I first ran across this recipe in the fabulous, now retired, Minimalist column from Mark Bittman in The New York Times. Then Deb Perelman posted the recipe with her commentary on her blog Smitten Kitchen, and I had to make this cracker.

Of course you can use the recipe as a jumping off point and add whatever seasonings or seeds you like, either mixed in the dough or as a topping. You can also vary the liquid, switching from cream to half and half or milk (or buttermilk, or yogurt, or sour cream, or ....) Instead of cutting into squares, you can cut out shapes or even bake the sheet whole and just break apart by hand after baking.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Black Bean and Tomato Soup

The next feature from the Thanksgiving Soup Bar is the Black Bean and Tomato Soup. This recipe has been in my repertoire for a couple of years. I'm not a huge fan of legumes, actually, but I try to eat them occasionally because they are cheap and nutritious. I like it best when the beans are pureed, as in hummus or as in this soup. The other thing I like about this recipe is that it has a lot of flavor going on -- it's not just "bean soup." It is so good that I actively like it rather than just tolerate it. That says a lot!

This was another pantry soup -- I had (nearly) everything on hand to make it. I didn't have the chipotle or serrano pepper called for, but I did have an Anaheim chile. That's a larger pepper than the chipotle or serrano, but milder, so I thought the heat level would be roughly equivalent. It worked out fine and I provided minced jalapeno as a garnish for the soup bar for those who might want more heat.

This recipe calls for cooking dried beans without soaking beforehand. Soaking doesn't shorten cooking time that much, so the extra step isn't really worth it. Just be sure that the beans are fresh. Many supermarket beans can be several years old, and old beans can fail to cook. If your beans don't cook up right, or you just don't want to risk it, you can substitute canned beans; see the end of the recipe for details.


Update of an Old Post - Mahogany Glazed Tofu

Today I discovered an old post of mine contained a link to a blog that is now invitation only. Back in the early days of this blog I just linked to recipes on other online sources rather than repeating the recipe here. Luckily some other folks had reblogged the recipe, so I've added it to my post.

I'm not a vegetarian but I do frequently eat meatless meals. I don't go out of my way to use meat substitutes, but the occasional tofu dish or veggie burger will make their way onto my plate. This Mahogany Glazed Tofu, served over rice, is deeply flavorful. It's is actually quite a tasty dish overall, and I plan to make it again soon.  Check it out!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup

The Thanksgiving Soup Bar idea started with the idea of doing a pumpkin soup, but I decided to do a butternut squash soup instead. I liked the idea of warming the soup flavors with curry. I could make a basic soup without a recipe, and I'd added curry powder to soups before. I flipped through cookbooks and web sites, though, to see if I could find a specific recipe. Curry and winter squash is a popular combination, and there were a lot of recipes to sift through. I settled on this one from Williams Sonoma. It appealed to me because it went beyond just adding yellow curry powder to a standard soup, but other than the squash, the ingredients were things I already had in the refrigerator and pantry.

I tweaked the recipe a bit, adding lemongrass to the already Thai-style flavor profile. Fresh lemongrass and ginger are wonderful, and I often have a knob of ginger on hand, but didn't last week. I keep tubes of Garden Gourmet pastes on hand as well, though, and using them here saved me a shopping trip. Because I was traveling for the holiday, I made the majority of the soup ahead. After the squash was cooked, I cooled the mixture and transferred it to a zipper bag for transport in an ice chest. Just before serving I pureed the squash mixture, added the remaining ingredients, and turned it over to my sister to man the strainer while I prepped the other soups. You can skip the straining step if you like - the little bit of remaining texture can give the soup a nice heft.

The soup was a little thin after straining; if I'd had more time I would have simmered it a bit to reduce as I prefer a little thicker soup. It was fine as it was, though. I could also see adding more coconut milk or even cream or half and half to make it a truly creamy soup; the amount of coconut milk here is enough to give it a little lightness, but not enough to make it creamy.

Next time I make this I'll add more than the designated 1 tsp of curry paste. I could barely tell

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar

For the Thanksgiving gathering at my sister's house this year, I volunteered to provide the appetizers. I've done this for many of the family holiday gatherings, typically making any number of a variety of dips, crudites platters, cheese plates, and the like. This year I wanted to do something a little different, and was hit with the inspiration of soup. Providing a single soup morphed into two soups, then three, and it went on from there to include homemade crackers and various garnishes.



I got the idea from an episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats that I saw recently. He used a small cooking pumpkin to create a pumpkin soup. The pumpkin was hollowed out and seasonings, stock, cream, and goat cheese were added and the whole thing was baked. The cooked pumpkin and additions were then blended with a stick blender and the soup was served in the pumpkin shell.

The idea was appealing, but this time of year pumpkins aren't plentiful. I started thinking about butternut squash instead, but obviously cooking inside the vegetable wasn't going to be an option. I'd recently had a curried corn chowder, and thought about doing that instead. Once the Soup Switch had been turned on, I started thinking about other soups I like or have wanted to try.

I ended up with three: A plain corn and potato chowder that I created many years ago; a curried butternut squash soup, and a black bean soup. I settled on these three choices because the star ingredients in each were important New World foods, even if some of the flavors might be borrowed from other parts of the world. 

To accompany the soups I provided yogurt cream, minced jalapenos, chopped cilantro, and lime wedges. I also made two kinds of homemade crackers. I'll be posting the recipes for both crackers and all three soups in the coming week or so. 

One dilemma I was faced with was providing warm soup for leisurely noshing when a busy Thanksgiving kitchen would not have any stove space to spare. I indulged in a last-minute splurge and snapped up a triple slow cooker from Bella. Other manufacturers have triple slow cookers meant for dips, but the crocks in this device hold 1.5 quarts rather than the usual 0.5 quarts. I really only wanted a warmer -- I didn't need an actual slow cooker, but it was inexpensive (less than $30 at Target, although the MSRP is more than double that), and was also surprisingly well-designed and sturdy. I was a little hesitant to spend money on what could turn out to be a specialized, rarely-used device, but the quality for the price made me happy I got it. I can see using it at many future holiday gatherings and other occasions. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake

I wanted cake. No, I really wanted ice cream, but cake or pie or even any sort of gooey pastry would do. And yet, I did not want to leave the house to buy ice cream or anything else. It was a stay-at-home Saturday of chores and hobbies and a bit of rest, and I simply didn't want to leave the house.

"I know how to cook," I thought. "I'll make something!" Even though I wasn't really in the mood to fuss about in the kitchen too much, it seemed like a reasonable activity for a Saturday afternoon. I then remembered that I had no butter. I flirted briefly with the idea of making my fudgesicles as I had all the ingredients, but I wasn't really in the mood for chocolate. No butter, no butter, how could I make a nice rich carby dessert with no butter?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Woodbine Coffee Company -- Tasty, Cool, And In My 'Hood

UPDATE:
On Nov. 25, 2014 Woodbine Coffee Company announced that it was closed until further notice. The space has been emptied of fixtures and furniture, so the assumption is that if it reopens, it will be somewhere else. Although there are various rumors about the cause, I don't have any confirmed details. In any event I am sad to see it go. It was much more appealing than other coffee shops in the area, and the owner and staff were always friendly. I had become a semi-regular for both leisure and working remotely.

--------------------------

In early 2012, one of the storefronts on Nolensville Pike in the Woodbine area was covered with brown paper and had a notice that the Woodbine Coffee Company was Coming Soon! I live nearby, and while this neighborhood has lots of tasty ethnic restaurants and food stores, it has definitely lacked a friendly coffeehouse. I was more than ready for a good coffee-and-snack option near home. Then time passed, and time passed, and ... I assumed the project never got off the ground.

A few months ago, though, word began to circulate that progress was being made. In late May the doors were open; I was very excited. Due to everything else going on in my life, though, it wasn't until July 4 that I finally had the chance to drop by. I'm pleased to report that I've been back several times since, and look forward to my next visit.


The shop itself is quirky and fun, with found-object and reclaimed-material decor. It is spacious and there is plenty of light from the shopfront windows. Seating varies from couch and armchairs to tables arranged in front of church pews with chairs on the opposite side. There are even a few bar-height counters with stools,

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

It's been a while since I've had time or brain space to devote to the blog. Travel for work, travel to help with the work needed to deal with Dad's estate, and general chaos has meant not only little energy left for writing, but little time to cook more than basic "feed myself" sort of fare.

I have occasionally had the opportunity to try some new restaurants in the last few months. I'll be going on a posting blitz with thumbnail sketches of these experiences. Some are of established restaurants that are new to me, many are of places that are recent entrants to the restaurant scene.

In the meantime, here's a link to a favorite from last summer. I haven't had a chance to make them this year, but I hope to soon. If you've never made your own fudgesicles, you are missing out on an easy and incredibly tasty hot weather treat. Once you've made these, you'll never want supermarket fudgesicles again.

Fudgesicles - Frozen Chocolate Treats for Summer

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Eulogy

My father passed a month ago today. This is what I said at his funeral.

Here is a short list of things I got from my father:


1. Blue Eyes.

2. Angiomas.
Tiny red dots on the skin. My sister Kellie has them, too.

3. A dry sense of humor, rich in sarcasm and irony.
We all have it. Ask brother-in-law Leroy.

4. Being a crossword puzzle nerd.
Actually, that’s something that both grandmothers loved, too. So I come by it honestly from multiple directions.

5. A love of Star Trek, Star Wars, and science fiction in general.

We did not ask him to take us to see Star Wars or the first Star Trek movie – he took us with him when *he* went to see them.



6. Baseball.
He took me to my first Braves game soon after they came to town – I seem to remember it was right around my first grade year, so that would have been around 1967 or 1968. I never quite picked up the football/basketball/hockey/whatever bug, but baseball has stuck with me. Go Braves. Go Dores.

7. A love of the past.
It’s no coincidence that I majored in anthropology and considered archaeology as a profession. He enjoyed reading about history, and vacations frequently included prowling old cemeteries.

8. A capacity to work long hours.
Raising four kids on a fireman’s salary wasn’t the easiest task. A lot of you know that until he got to up in rank, he always worked second jobs. The fruit of that was not only having everything we needed (if not everything we wanted), but the freedom to enjoy restaurant meals, vacations, and the like. We ate our share of Spam and even meatless meals at times, but we always had enough.

9. An appreciation of a good paint job.

I did not inherit the ability to DO a good paint job, but thanks to watching him paint a million rooms (ours and other people’s), I know what one is supposed to look like. To this day I marvel at his ability to paint a straight line where ceiling met wall or on window grills without a scrap of protective tape. 


10. A taste for culinary adventure.
We weren’t epicures – we ate basic Southern classics with the usual amount of 70s convenience food sprinkled in. We did, however, eat out a fair amount, and tried new things. One day Dad brought home a “recipe” from a fellow fireman – it was an exotic treat called “nachos.” These were tortilla chips from a box, topped with a chunk of cheddar cheese and a slice of pickled jalapeno, then broiled. This was our introduction to Mexican-American food, long before anyone else we knew had even heard of it. Before long we were making our own tacos from Old El Paso kits and traveling up to Northlake Mall to go to El Chico, because you couldn’t get Mexican food on our side of town. We were quite cutting edge.

11. A generosity of spirit.
I actually fail at this more than I succeed, but I try. He, and Mama, were always doing things for other people, whether it was Mama baking the 9 billionth batch of cupcakes for PTA or the fire station, or them helping an elderly couple when they had trouble doing for themselves. The door to our house was always open to any random whoever we dragged home, and there was always room for another chair at the table. 


12. The idea that girls could do the same things that boys did.
Being raised in the 60s and 70s, I was still subject to lots of cultural norms about what girls should and shouldn’t do. We were supposed to grow up to be secretaries and nurses and teachers, if we had jobs at all. We played with dolls and Easy-Bake Ovens. We didn’t play catch. As late as my 6th grade year, girls’ basketball in Georgia was still played half-court because we delicate girls just weren’t up to the task of running the full length of the court.

If you asked Dad if he was a feminist, he would probably have given you the stink-eye. And yes, I loved my Barbies and my Easy-Bake Oven. But I also loved when we played softball in the yard, or went fishing. He took me along to trim hedges and cut grass on his landscaping jobs. I “caddied” for him when he played golf. He took me to Braves games, and taught me what he was learning in his psychology and algebra classes when he went to Clayton Junior College as an adult.

Dad never treated me like a substitute son, or tried to make me a tomboy. He simply included me in whatever he was doing as a matter of course.

By the same token, he could type, and cook, and did the shopping and housework when he was off and Mama was at work. He was a thoroughly progressive, modern man. This wasn’t something that was ever really discussed, and wasn’t political in the least. It was simply the daily reality of the family getting on with getting on.


I could go on. And, of course, I could make a parallel list of things I got from Mama. But, in many ways, I am my Daddy’s little girl, and this little girl is going to miss her Daddy.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Butterscotch Pudding for My Dad


A couple of years ago, Penzey's spices gave away bumper stickers that said, "Love people. Cook them good food." I think most people who enjoy cooking understand that directive in a deep way. Cooking is such an act of nurturing, whether of other people or just yourself. More than providing sustenance, it can be an act of great love. Trying to please someone else by preparing food you think or know that they will enjoy is one of the best gifts you can give.

Usually this blog, and other food blogs, are about pushing boundaries, trying new things, and even (dare I say it?) showing off. American food culture has come so far in the last several decades that there's a never-ending source of things to cook and taste and write about. A lot of the food I think of as commonplace would have seemed exotic when I was in my teens and twenties, if it was even available. Like most of my peers, I typically steer away from the packaged and processed foods of my youth towards fresh ingredients, not to mention artisan this and organic that. I grew up in a household where scratch cooking was still the order of the day, but so was Cool Whip and Spaghetti-Os. It was the 70s, what can I say?

I've written quite a bit about my family recipes and culinary traditions, but today's post is special. My father has been very ill the last few months. The dreaded C word. Today he went to hospice. He's is alert and not in any pain, just needs care that we can no longer give him at home.

One of the issues we've faced is that he has no appetite, and many foods irritate his mouth. He's been living on Ensure and milk and yogurt and the like. Last weekend I picked up the ingredients for two of his favorite desserts in hopes of tempting him to eat a little more. The day after I arrived I asked him if he'd eat either one if I made it, and he chose one as being a likely candidate.

I measured out the milk into a saucepan, substituting a little half-and-half to boost the calorie content. I dumped in the package of Jell-O butterscotch pudding mix, whisked it in, and set it over the heat. Just like a million times in my childhood, I stirred the mixture as it gradually, gradually heated, making sure it didn't stick or lump up. Stirring a pot of pudding on the stove when you start with cold milk seems like a never-ending chore. I'm not the most patient person in the world, and I always thought that the person who wrote "a watched pot never boils" should have referred to pudding instead.

After what seemed like a year, though suddenly, as always, it started simmering and came to the boil that would cause it to thicken properly. Quickly, quickly, I poured the steaming mixture into four custard cups, leaving them on the counter to cool a bit before popping into the fridge. When they were sufficiently cool, Dad decided he'd try one. A little whipped cream from a can completed the dish.

He'd had some of those plastic cups with various pudding flavors, including butterscotch. But this ... this he ate with as much relish as anything these last few weeks. He even commented that it had a really good flavor, and ate nearly the whole thing -- a major accomplishment.

So yes, I'm a big fan of scratch cooking, and I don't make much from a package these days. Sometimes, though, the packaged stuff is just what the doctor ordered.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Grown-Up Roasted Tomato Balsamic Soup

Since I've been in a bread-making phase this bitter winter, it only seems natural that I also am in a soup and stew phase. This recipe is a long-time favorite. (In fact, I should probably just rename this blog SingleGrrl's Greatest Hits, since I've been blogging more about my old standards than new experiments. But anyway ....) I've been making it, or variations thereof, since it was first published in Cooking Light magazine. Its title in the magazine is Creamy Tomato Balsamic Soup. I consider the "creamy" part optional, though, and I like to emphasize the fact that the tomatoes are roasted. This soup has a deep, robust flavor, and has the added attraction of being healthy and easy to make.


Of course, you'll want to pair this with a grilled cheese sandwich made with slices of Cottage Tea House Bread or 100% Whole Wheat Bread, as you see here. What is more classic than a good homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

More Yeast: 100% Whole Wheat Bread



My favorite white bread recipe was featured on the blog a few weeks ago. (Yeast Bread - Yes You Can!) I have another favorite recipe for yeast bread -- this one is whole wheat. Baking with whole wheat flour presents some special challenges. As noted in my previous post about wheat flours, a good wheat yeast bread made depends on gluten for structure. In general, the higher the protein content in the flour, the more potential for gluten development. When you are working with white flours -- flour where the germ and the bran of the wheat kernel has been removed -- this relationship is pretty straightforward. If you are working with whole wheat flour, however, a number of factors complicate matters. This recipe provides some techniques for getting the most out of a 100% whole wheat loaf.



Saturday, February 1, 2014

Picking the Right Flour for the Job

In most grocery stores you'll see many types of white wheat flours: all-purpose, cake,  bread, self-rising (if you are in the South), and sometimes pastry. Less common are the whole wheat varieties -- you can usually find whole wheat all-purpose flour easily, but whole wheat pastry flour and whole wheat bread flour are harder to come by. When I was growing up, we usually had all-purpose white flour, self-rising white flour, and cake flour on hand. The cake flour was always Swans Down, and the others were nearly always White Lily. I never heard of bread flour or pastry flour until I was grown! So ... what distinguishes these types of flours, and why should you care?

Missing: The bag of unbleached all-purpose white flour I have; it was way in the back of the
flour/cornmeal/sugar cabinet. Yes, I have an entire 2-door cabinet devoted to baking supplies.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Food Blog South 2014

I'm currently taking a little break in my hotel room before going to the after party for this weekend's Food Blog South Conference. It's been a really fun experience. I've met some great people, and it's been nice to be with "my tribe" so to speak.

While this blog is obviously just an occasional hobby for me, I found that I have a lot in common with many of the people here. We all have different angles, personal stories, approaches, and even a fairly wide variety of topics that we tackle in our blogs. Some people here are professionals, either in the food world or the writing world; some are like me - just hobbyists. Many people here are accomplished photographers. As you have no doubt seen from my blog, I am NOT. But we all share an interest and saying something about food or broader lifestyle / entertaining topics. Even the topic of food itself is quite varied. From people who are concerned with cooking, with restaurants, with gardening and farming, with food politics, or even food anthropology, we're all drawn in some way to this topic of sustenance and the craft of creating it.

Although this is a small conference, I've been really impressed with the quality of the speakers and with the level of intellect and passion by my fellow bloggers. It was fun to meet some Nashville bloggers I have not had the chance to meet yet, and there have been all sorts of interesting people from elsewhere in the South and other parts of the country.

I've learned a lot about making this blog better and I hope you'll start to see those results gradually. I also plan to update my blogroll to include some of the wonderful blogs I've learned about here.

Now, time to get ready for the party!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Old-Fashioned Beef Stew

The arctic cold snap we've experienced this week, on top of the holiday season, has put most people in the mood for comfort food. When the weather is seriously cold -- with or without snow and ice -- you tend to want hearty, warm home-cooking. One-pot meals such as soups, stews, chili, and the like spring immediately to mind.

I have a few favorite dishes in this category, and today's post presents one near the top of the list. This Old-Fashioned Beef Stew is adapted from a recipe in my beloved The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. It is one of a dozen or so recipes from that book that I consider a core part of my repertoire. Naturally I've tweaked it a bit over the years, but the central idea is the same: A rich, somewhat thick broth studded with chunks of tender beef, potato, carrot, and onion. The beef is given a long, slow simmer to tenderize and develop the flavor of the broth, while the vegetables are added toward the end of cooking so that they don't get mushy.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Yeast Bread - Yes You Can!

When I was out on my own and expanding my culinary skills beyond the (very good) Southern basics I learned from my mom, I decided to tackle yeast bread for the first time. I had a number of failures, a number of mediocre loaves, but gradually with practice I got better. One day I came across this recipe for an enriched white loaf, and everything finally came together. I've been making this loaf since the mid-80s, and now I'm excited to finally share it.