Tuesday, December 31, 2013

One last post for 2013

  Looking for a simple elegant dessert for the holidays (or any time) ?  My all time favorite is Creme Brulee.  The very first time I had it was 22 years ago in a lovely restaurant in Northern California called Larrupins. A magnificent little place out in the middle of nowhere on the coast, north of Eureka on Humboldt Bay. Their menu  changed daily with entrees from whatever was available and fresh that day. They had an appetizer board you could get that had several cheeses and roasted garlic and homemade whole grain baguettes, toasted just right. And some kind of fruit...pears maybe or apples.  Ahhhhh...even thinking about that place gives me the goosebumps.  My friend Craig was playing jazz there a few evenings a week, and I went along and we had some dessert there, and he suggested the Brulee, and I had never tasted it before. 

 OH. MY. GOD.  I thought I had died and gone to food heaven. Every bite nearly made me cry with joy. And for a long time, I was sure that the only way you could reproduce that experience was to go to Larrupins and order it from their menu.  lol  That only a true culinary genius could produce that marvel of cream and sugar and whatever other magic was in there.

Not so. I started nosing around when I had bought too much heavy whipping cream one year at Christmas, and to to my delight found tons of recipes.  And they were varying degrees of simple.  The very easiest and one I use mostly came out of a low carb cookbook. They made it with splenda, which I would never do, but it is a really good easy recipe.

 I made it for our little Christmas Eve supper this year, because I knew it would WOW! my guest, but mostly because I wanted some.  lol  We don't eat a lot of dairy, but this is the exception. So--let's go!

 You'll need (for this size recipe) 4  oven safe custard dishes.  I use a Corning 7 oz dish, some recipes call for a smaller shallow ramekin, but we don't mess around when we eat Creme Brulee.  lol  I bought them in a set of 4 and they work great.

 You'll also need:

 2 cups heavy whipping cream
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
Brown sugar to taste

First, put the cream and vanilla in a heavy saucepan and heat until warm. Watch it and don't overheat.

Next, put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and mix well. I use a whisk or a fork.

Then pour this into the saucepan and mix together thoroughly, Use a whisk.  Divide the mixture into the 4 ramekins. Take a 9x13 pan and put about 1 inch of hot water in it, place the filled ramekins in it and put in a preheated 300 degree oven and cook until set.  This will take about 45-50 minutes.

When they're done, you have 2 options.  Personally, I like mine cooled completely, chilled and then topped at the last minute before serving. But you can serve them, right out of the oven too...sprinkle a little brown sugar on top and put under the broiler until the sugar crystallizes. Unless you're me.  Of course, for Christmas one year, Santa brought me a lovely little Brulee torch that runs on butane and I have a ball torching the tops of it, just like Julia Child.

 You could also top it with raspberries or caramel, but I like the purist version of it with just the smidgen of caramelized sugar on top.  And every time I have ever served this, people thought I walked on water...and you KNOW I always like that.  lol  It is incredibly rich and silky and an absolutely beautifully elegant dessert to serve to anyone who is NOT lactose intolerant. 

  Bon Apetit !

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Home Grown, Home Made Tomato Soup

 Mmmmmm...I love tomato soup.  Since I was a little girl it was my favorite, summer winter spring or fall. Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.  When I was a kid (circa 1950's) that meant Campbell's Tomato Soup out of a can, with a grilled Wonder Bread and American cheese sandwich.  Things have changed some since then (my palate, for one) but I still love those two paired up.

 Since I grow and can all manner of tomatoes,  and I love making soup, it stands to reason that I would make my own tomato soup, just like every other soup I eat.  A friend asked me recently if I had a recipe for tomato soup and I said "Sure" without even thinking.  The truth is, I make soup by the seat of my pants (doesn't everyone?)  and don't really have a recipe per se... but like any good con artist, I can come up with a plausible story in the blink of a eye.  LOL

Any soup worth it's salt starts the same way: chopped onions and celery and garlic.  This is the secret of a solid soup base, in my book. I usually "sweat" the onions in the heavy bottomed pan first by themselves.  Then add in a little butter or olive oil and the celery and garlic. Stir them about and let them cook a little while you finely chop a couple of nice carrots. Cook the carrots with the onions and stuff for a dose of magic.  That taste and smell is out of this world. PLUS--carrots tone down the acidity of tomatoes and make them a little easier on your gut.

  For this batch of soup I used a pint jar of tomato sauce, a quart jar of diced tomatoes and a small can of tomato paste (because I wanted to).  I also used a quart of my own canned vegetable stock.  I can stock (chicken, turkey, vegetable) every year.

4 Tbsp butter**2 onions, thinly sliced ** 1 carrot, peeled and chopped** 2 stalks celery, chopped** 6 cloves of garlic (or less) coarsely chopped** 2 -3 quarts canned tomatoes** fresh or dried basil, about 2 tsp.** pinch of sugar** salt and pepper to taste** 4 cups of vegetable or chicken stock** 1/2 tsp Allspice ** 2 cups heavy cream or half and half.
Melt the butter in large pot. Saute the onion, carrot, celery and garlic--about 10-15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Add basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the stock and allspice and simmer for about an hour.
I use my stick blender to then puree everything. Sometimes I add a can of tomato paste. Taste it and see. Then add the cream and adjust seasonings (salt mostly, because I never know how much I put in the canned tomatoes. lol) Heat it through, but do not boil.
That's about it. Oh...and sometimes, instead of half and half or heavy cream, I will melt a half a box of cream cheese into the soup. It makes it so rich your head will spin.


 When I make grilled cheese sandwiches, I use homemade whole grain bread.  2 or 3 kinds of sliced cheeses (my favorites are Havarti and Muenster) .  Butter the bread on one side, lay butter side down. Arrange the cheese on both slices of bread. Thinly slice an onion, a tomato, black olives--put on top of cheese. Close up sandwich and grill to golden brown on both sides.

  Eat with a lovely bowl of that tomato soup and you will be thinking you've died and gone to heaven.

 You'll never buy canned soup again.

Bon Apetit !

Friday, December 6, 2013

Ah...December !!

 The big bad storm that was supposed to be coming through here was a big bad Zero.  This was about the extent of our snow.  lol

 After loosing the chickens this morning and slowly and carefully climbing up the back steps to come in, I noticed this old metal folding chair sitting up against the wall of the house and thought it looked so pretty I had to get a picture of it. I got this set from someone who got them at a yard sale. I admired them so much, she sold them to me for what she paid for them. They are old and painted in bright primary colors--orange, yellow, blue and red. Holes punched in the seat and back in a diamond design--simple, but pretty.

  No snow, but great cold. It has climbed up to 20 degrees finally  (1 PM now) but the WCF still has it at 9 degrees.  I've been out to check the chooks twice since early morning and can testify that it is cold out there. lol

  So, here we are. The frantic rush of planting and harvest is over. The canning/dehydrating/freezing is all finished.  Time to sit back and relax...get some odds and ends done that don't seem to get done if there's ANYTHING else to do. lol   It's not like things come to a standstill, they just change form. I've redone one bathroom, complete with doing a decoupage thing to all the light switch and electrical outlet plates to match the wallpaper border that goes along the ceiling.  Installed a new (to me--c'mon, you know I'm the queen of scrapping and recycling!)  porcelain sink in there too. Painted the walls a nice golden beige color. Bought a new shower curtain and liner.  Scrubbed the bejeezus out of that handicapped shower stall--looks better than new.  That was project number one.
As you can see, the wallpaper border is of sailboats and sky. This was my first attempt at this--it was fun and I learned a lot.  I had looked at decorative switchplates and they want a fortune for them. I had a thought...and googled decoupage projects for the home or something. Voila !  I had leftover border and it was perfect. All it cost me was about 7 dollars for the big bottle of decoupage glue, called ModPodge. I put 3 coats on it, to keep it shiny and waterproof.   

  The next project is the other bathroom.  I had my handyman son come in and tear out the old ookey brown cabinet and sink and replace it with one my neighbors gave me when they remodeled their bathroom. It was a sweet little oak cabinet with a big sink and beautiful hardware.(It's been sitting in the garage for 2 years. lol  But I KNEW I'd use it one day).  Because it was smaller, the boy had to tear out and replace some of the ceramic floor tile, which he did, and the re-grouted the entire floor.  (It needed it...8 years after he originally did that floor).  It's ready for me to paint now, so that's that part of it. I might get to it today...maybe.   :)  I have the paint, all I need is the motivation and time to do it.

  Little winter chores that need doing but are not  an emergency:  Taking things out of the cabinets and wiping down the shelves.  Cleaning the outsides of my cabinet doors thoroughly--after canning season they are a mess.  Cleaning under the sink.  Rearranging the shelves up over my laundry area...things tend to get flung up there a lot.  And then there's the mother of all projects.  One I shudder to think about, but am going to have to get done. One that is on my list every year for the past 4 winters and still remains undone.

ORGANIZING AND PRINTING/REWRITING ALL THE SCRAPS OF PAPER, FOLDED PIECES, HANDWRITTEN OLD...RECIPES.  I have a huge box of recipes and can barely find things any more. I scribble things down and tweak them and try new ones and print them off the internet and have old recipe cards from 45 years ago that are faded and barely readable...

  I contemplate the magnitude of this project and I nearly pass out from the thought of it. 

  I'm not sure how to even start. I think a 3 ring binder and a 3 hole punch is the basic starting point. And I have those.  It will be data entry from there.  lol 

  You might find this funny. I really don't want to lose these recipes, even though I am notorious for not following recipes.  I have hauled some of these things around the country with me since I was about 15 years old.  Many are recipes from women who have died, including a couple that were my mom's...her biscuit recipe, her cheesecake recipe...  When I got married, one of the requirements for the wedding shower was that everyone bring their favorite recipe and at least one of the ingredients to make it. To help the newlywed cook for her husband.  I thought it was hysterical at the time. I remember it fondly now.  And as I look through some of those cards, it makes me a little teary for that young girl perched on the brink of life...so full of high hopes and a sense of adventure.

  Here's a snapshot view of part of what I'm up against:

 (Click to biggify)

  It's not like I have a daughter or anything that might be interested in having my stuff. Or about passing these down.  But I would like to be able to find recipes in my golden years (cough,cough) easily and clearly.  lol

 So, here's to the winter of 2013-14. I have a bit of an agenda as to what needs doing, and we'll see if I can  get any of it done. (Now that it's in writing, it's more of a commitment).

 SO that's that.  In between here, I have vacuumed the carpets and furniture during that little window when the dogs were outside,  used the bread machine to bake a loaf of honey flax oat bread, and dusted the tables. Things are clean enough that the health department won't shut us down (lol) and the house smells like fresh baked bread.  I'm almost in the mood to start my Christmas decorating, if only the stuff was easier to get to. I could still put out some festive scarves and candles, I suppose.  I warned the boy today that it would be soon, lol, as all that stuff is in the storage closet in his bathroom.

  Going to make a simple supper of salmon croquettes with parsleyed potatoes and green beans with garlic and onion.  I made a pumpkin crunch yesterday, so there's dessert.   Yesterdays supper was pinto beans and ham hocks, with cornbread and fresh chopped onion. Hearty simple food for a cold night. There's just something about it being dark so early that makes one dish suppers so good....

Bon Apetit !