Springing Forward

Spring is time for growth and renewal. But the world and the weather have been volatile this past week as we moved into this new season.

Growth is painful. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve been in a funk for the last year. I left one job and took another, my father died, our daughter married, our son moved home to the US, and my house is a complete mess. BUT through all of this turmoil and upheavel, I have continued to cook.

I may print some of my cooking adventures out to cleanse myself, but not all at once. You as the reader won’t appreciate my purging, only I would.

So here’s to spring, new growth, moving on and putting away the Christmas decorations this Easter weekend.

Syrian Semolina and Nut Cake

I am a big fan of The Splendid Table. It is an American Public Media radio broadcast that can also be found on most podcast libraries. Lynn Rosetto Kasper has the best radio voice ever! I could listen to her all day. She is charming to her guests and to us, her listeners. Syrian Semolina and Nut Cake from the author Anissa Helou from her cookbook Sweet Middle East was featured last month. She describes it as a “delectable syrupy sponge cake topped with mixed nuts.”

I was drawn to the nuts as ingredients in the recipe. I have a stash of nuts in the freezer and my husband has been noshing on them lately.  The rest of the ingredients I did not have in my pantry: semolina, baker’s sugar, orange blossom water and rose water. I was not in a mood to go out searching store to store for these ingredients, so I went online.  King Arthur Flour had everything I needed in one location. What a wonderful website and a great reference for baking.

Go to The Splendid Table website for the recipe  and you will see that it is a pretty easy cake to put together. Flour, butter, sugar, yogurt, baking soda and of course NUTS.

The fragrant sugar syrup on the other hand was challenging. The orange blossom and rose water were extremely fragrant and seemed to be competing with each other as flavors. Once they settled down it was better.

Patty’s Points:

1.Timing. The cake has to set for 3 hours before baking, so plan accordingly.

2.Syrup. Even though the author recommends putting the syrup on the cake for it to soak in, I do not recommend doing that. The syrup was overpoweringly sweet and fragrant, just as the author stated. It was so sweet that it took away from the flavor of the cake and the nuts.

It is also quite possible that I overcooked the syrup and it wasn’t the proper consistency to soak into the cake. My husband and I liked the cake, but the syrup made the cake too sweet. I would recommend serving the cake, plain, with the syrup on the side and maybe with some plain or vanilla yogurt as a dollop.

3.Ingredients. Simple to make with complex ingredients. I had never purchased these ingredients before, ever. Semolina flour is used with breads or dough, like pizza, to give them extra crunch. Baker’s sugar is very fine. I used to shrug it off when I saw it in recipes and made my own by processing regular sugar. But this had such a lovely quality of fineness that I’ll think differently about it in the future.

Orange blossom water and rose water.  I’d heard of rose water but never orange blossom water. I actually saw an episode of Good Eats with Alton Brown where he made rose water from chemical-free roses at home. This web post from Pam in the Garden follows the Alton Brown step-by-step process of making rose water. Orange blossom water and rose water I have seen as ingredients for baklava, but I’ve never had them on hand before. The uses for the fragrant waters go beyond food and are beneficial to skin and health enhancers.

4.Nuts. Despite the recipe directions to add the nuts prior to baking, they run the risk of burning. I would recommend adding them halfway through the baking time to prevent the char.

We had a blizzard hit here two days ago and I’ve been sick in bed all week so writing this blog helped me leap out of the doldrums. Thanks for reading. Be fearless and keep cooking.

 

What I did this summer

The summer of 2014 is at an end. In Colorado it was a wet one. The garden did well this year.

I kept up with the produce but I invited neighbors and friends to stop and “shop” as well. Joy said this was better than the grocery store because she could come in her nightgown.

the 2014 garden

The food processor I got for Christmas got plenty of action with chopping and shredding

the food processor

I used this batch for a zucchini chocolate cake with a chocolate cheese frosting.

I forgot to get a picture, but I’ve made the cake for two potlucks.

At Mary Beth’s Labor Day party I got a standing ovation from an admiring crowd stating it was the best chocolate cake ever. Then laughed when they heard I snuck vegetables in a dessert.

shredded zucchini

Our neighborhood is full of rabbits (lack of foxes and presence of coyotes). One and maybe two bunnies made it into our garden although interestingly they haven’t eaten anything that I can see.

the garden bunny

 We grew cilantro this year, it was gorgeous so I tried my hand at some Indian Chutney.

making chutney

This Cilantro Chutney recipe is from The Splendid Table (my favorite website).

I fell in love. I put it on roasted chicken and fried eggs.

cilantro chutney

I joined the spiralizer craze, getting one for my birthday.

the spiralizer

I spiralized carrots, zucchini, potatoes and yams. I loved placing the carrots and the zucchini in a microwave safe bowl, steaming it for about a minute and tossing basil pesto in it. Yummy!

It could also be adapted into a cold salad and tossed with a vinaigrette or dressing.

spiraled carrots

I had a lot of cucumbers this year. This salad was a combo of cucumbers, mint (both from the garden) with black and white quinoa and brown rice

IMG_4961

This next recipe was from Bon Appétit  magazine Watermelon Gazpacho.

Cantaloupe was abundant and inexpensive at the grocery store, so I adapted the recipe.

melon gazpacho ingredients

Patty’s Cantaloupe Gazpacho. Oh it was so good. Sweet and cool eaten as an appetizer on the back porch.

melon gazpacho

 This recipe was also from Bon Appétit  magazine for a Grilled Salad.

I adapted this as well. The romaine lettuce was 99 cents per head. I brushed it with olive oil and my husband grilled each side for about 1-2 minutes. Oh this was wonderful! I adapted this recipe to what produce was available.

grilled salad

And finally, Ginger Marmalade. I was excited to make this recipe since sampling James Keillor and Sons Ginger Marmalade.

I surveyed many recipes on-line, it was a daunting task.

peeled ginger

shredded ginger

Time consuming little recipe!

hand blended ginger

canning the marmalade

Ginger can be a bit HOT. This marmalade was HOT. The ultimate experimenter, I looked at other recipes and found an Orange-Ginger Marmalade. So I mixed my marmalade with regular store-bought orange marmalade and tamed it down a bit.

I also used it as a glaze for roasted chicken and roasted carrots from the garden.

ginger glazed chicken & carrots

I went to Portland in August with nursing colleagues Nancy, Rita and Kathy, for a conference. A manager for a local retailer tipped us off on to Nong’s Khao Man Gai food truck for lunch.  Nong was the named Food Network Chopped Champion just 4 days before we visited.  What a sweet girl who has her own bottled sauce and make the best chicken and rice.

Nong's Food Truck

It was a summer of reflection for me. Autumn will bring some changes. Ready for new challenges.

A Fearless Woman

Culinary Tea Party


Culinary Tea cookbook

The Fearless Cooking Club and friends gathered to celebrate all things tea. We had food steeped from tea in eggs, candy, fruits, vegetables, and salmon. We also drank tea as well. Culinary Tea written by Cynthia Gold, the tea sommelier at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers, was the basis of most of the recipes. Char visited Boston last fall and enjoyed an afternoon tea a the hotel. She delighted us with her cooking skills and beautiful setting to enjoy a culinary tea.

Char and Debbie greeted us at the door with a flute of champagne infused with raspberry truffle tea syrup. Wow!

hostess and greeter

the culinary tea table

Each guest was presented with a card to keep track of types of teas tasted.

place setting

culinary tea card

We started with a flowering tea pod or bud.

pouring the water

After pouring hot water atop, the bud opens into a beautiful flower

flowering tea

Our first course was marbled eggs. They were hard boiled eggs, the shells cracked but left intact then steeped in green tea with brown sugar. After two days of steeping in the refrigerator, the shells were removed and voila marbled eggs.

marbled eggs

The marbled egg was served with rose petal and wine salts and mixed green salad.

marbled egg, flavored salts

Each guest brought a tea pot. We all went around the room telling the story of our teapot and the type of tea we were sampling. This was an opportunity to share our teas with others.

tell us about your tea pot

The main course was salmon en papillote steeped with darjeeling tea and acorn squash with chai cherry walnut tea.

Salmon en papillate with acorn squash

To cleanse our palate before dessert we had a Blackberry tea sorbet. I was surprised it wasn’t made with a blackberry tea. Instead fresh blackberries, sugar and Darjeeling or Assam tea.

blackberry tea sorbet

And for dessert (I was so full by this point), Riesling Poached Pears with Cardamon cream and

White Chocolate chai and Earl Grey Chocolate  truffles

poached pears and truffles

Patty’s Points:

1) Everything was sumptuous and beautiful. Char hit a high mark with her beautiful presentation and culinary tea skills. Her dining room was a beautiful tea room.

2) Char said that if she could change one thing she would’ve put more cracks in the egg shells before steeping them in the tea for 48 hours to add more marbling. I thought they were wonderful. The salts made of rose petals and wine were Mary Beth’s contribution from her trip to Europe this past fall. Thanks Mary Beth, they were a spectacular addition.

2) Everyone had a touching story to tell about their tea pots, given to them by loved ones or special memories of purchasing it. I didn’t have a remarkable story to tell about my tea pot, I had just purchased a new one the day before as I had broken mine. Pictured below is a combination tea pot and cup that belonged to my mother. She purchased it in Ireland (I believe), made in Galway. My father is caring for it at present. I carefully dusted the glass shelving it sits on along with twelve Irish coffee cups. I hope to collect it someday.

Irish teapot and cup

Thank you Char for a wonderful afternoon of all things tea!

The never ending search

The planning for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year has been going on for a month and a half now in the food and crafting blogs. This past week I saw posts on planning, cooking, decorating, and recovering from Thanksgiving. Luckily, I only had to make two side dishes to the Thanksgiving dinner I attended.

This great big world of the internet is kind of funny.  I am sure that you, like me, have been searching for new recipes and looking for old standards to make and share with our loved ones. Dinner, cookie swaps, afternoon teas, potlucks, parties, brunches and cocktail hours.

A new favorite website of mine is Pintrest; my daughter got me hooked on it. I’ve discovered that the pictures are sometimes better than the actual recipe. That is the beauty and the downfall of the internet and blogging.

I recently read a blog post on Blogher.com about Martha Stewart’s comment where she was uncomplimentary to amateur internet food bloggers.  I like Martha Stewart, especially when she was new in the business and was more involved her television show and magazine. She’s been to jail, she’s been humbled, she knitted sweaters; she’s been there and did that. Her humble beginnings are now a big conglomerate. Her brand also has a professional blog , Martha Stewart “Up Close and Personal.”

I started The Fearless Cooking Club and this blog out of admiration for Julia Child. Julia had humble beginnings and was a pioneer in cooking and television. She wasn’t afraid to make mistakes. She lives on with her quotes, philosophy and recipes on PBS.com. The blogging world is a combination of Martha and Julia. There are big blogs and small blogs; there are blog businesses and blog amateurs. I am an amateur with a small blog. There are other small bloggers out there like me.

I’m a self-taught cook and blogger, I’ve learned a few things about recipes. So in the spirit of this blog and the holiday season here are my points on the never ending search for the great recipe.

Patty’s Points:

1. When reading a recipe, look at the ingredients first. I blogged about this back in 2011. I was philosophical back then.

Do you like the ingredients? Are they in your pantry? Will it take time out of your day to get them? Is the ingredient necessary to the recipe? or could a substitution be made?

I make substitutions all the time. I regularly substitute chard for kale. I am still harvesting chard from my garden. To buy kale specifically for a recipe would be wasteful. It is an equal substitute.  Sometimes substitutions just don’t work, like putting Stevia or Splenda to replace sugar in a baking recipe. I tried this with a blueberry pie recipe last year. I’m not sure it tasted very good. It definitely would not work with taking candy to a hard crack like this Pumpkin Brittle.

pumpkin brittle

2. Read the directions. Do they make sense? Are they easy to follow? How much time will it take? Will you need to refrigerate the ingredients over night?

smores picture

homemade marshamallows

I have never made homemade marshmallows –  yet.directions

When I first started cooking and baking I threw everything into a bowl or pot and that was it! Very little technique was involved. I read a hand written recipe that had the ingredients on the card and at the bottom the directions were ‘Cook for 1 1/2 hours.’  If you don’t have any cooking knowledge or memory of how it is made it would be difficult to follow. Many loved recipes my mother wrote on stationery from my dad’s business. I’ll never throw them out because they are priceless piece of my family history. But, I’ll have to draw on my cooking knowledge or memory to make it.

Cooking and baking is about technique. The directions help develop technique and skill. I’ve been reading about how to make croissants off and on for several months. There is a lot of technique to making croissants and some day I may tackle it. In the meantime, I am still reading about it, getting up the courage to make a mess in the kitchen. Croissants take at least two days to accomplish. It wouldn’t be a good idea to start making it then go out of town next week.

3. Have you made a recipe similar to this one before? From your past experience, is there an easier way to make the recipe than the directions?

I made a turkey meatball soup today. I had all but one of the ingredients on hand but it was easy for my husband to pick up while doing errands. It took a day of preparation before I made the soup. I had to thaw the ground turkey overnight and there were a lot of ingredients that needed chopping. I chopped all the ingredients and placed them in a container to refrigerate overnight.

The next morning I was putting the recipe parts together. The meatball recipe looked bland; the cooking technique looked like it might be mushy.  So I referred to two of my basic, stand-by cookbooks. One cookbook  mentioned that if making the meatball with poultry you should refrigerate the balls for one hour before cooking or they would fall apart. The other cookbook advised to put the meatballs in mini muffin tins to keep them firm and round.  Also, one of the ingredients was 1/2 cups brown rice. Was is cooked or un-cooked rice? I couldn’t tell, so I relied on my instincts of making a similar meatball recipe. Everyone has their own way of doing things, but it needs to translate to my kitchen.

meatballs

meatball soup

4. My kitchen, maybe like yours, is the dumping ground for purses, grocery bags, kitchen equipment etc. Sometimes I am spinning around my kitchen looking for the olive oil bottle and still can’t find it because of the clutter.

piles in the kitchen

kitchen clutter

dirty dishes

Before making the recipe: a) clean the kitchen, b) do the dishes, and/or c) clear the clutter. I think in the directions it should say have those as the #1 on the list. You run the risk of starting a fire or dumping ingredients all over. I accidentally dumped cake batter onto my Brighton purse once. That was crazy. Everytime I carry that purse I think of that day! Don’t you wish you would see Ree Drummond or Lidia Bastianach show how they clean the kitchen before and after making their signature dishes?

Good luck out there navigating the internet. Five weeks of the holidays are yet to come. And don’t forget, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner!

Related articles

Julie’s Apple Butter

The cooking club members gathered at Julie’s house this past week to relax and enjoy the beautiful fall we have had this year.

2013 Fall

We had a fall assortment of dishes; tomato bisque, mini pepper appetizers, apples with salted pumpkin caramel sauce, fresh grapes, pumpkin bread, and sweet potato pie. We also got an lesson on how Applejack liqueur is made from fermented apples that freeze in the winter. I mixed my 1/2 shot of Laird’s Applejack with warm apple cider. My legs got a little warm and numb with that 80 proof concoction.

applejack

Afterward, we commenced to making Julie’s family apple butter recipe. She cut the original recipe down for an easy undertaking.  Julie likes using Pink Lady apples.

Julie’s Apple Butter

6 C diced apples (about 6 medium to large apples)

1 2/3 C apple cider

1/4 C apple cider vinegar

1 1/3 C sugar

2/3 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp cloves

1/8 tsp allspice

Peel, core, and dice 6 medium to large sized apples to make 6 cups.

pink lady apples

Place in cooking pan and add the cider and cider vinegar.  Place on high heat until boiling for about 20 minutes, stir occasionally. Reduce to medium heat and add the sugar and spices, mix well and stir occasionally.  After another 20-30 minutes reduce the heat again to medium-low and cook for another 40-45 minutes. The apples will be soft and with a brown syrupy liquid. Remove from heat then mash the apples to eliminate the lumps. Place into jars and either process for canning or place in refrigerator for up to one week (if it lasts that long :))

cooking it down

Patty’s Points:

1.  Since the cooking process is 1 1/2 hours, we had to leave Julie’s house before seeing the final product. I made a batch at home tonight. It was easy to let it cook on the stove while I did other chores around the house.

2. I couldn’t find Pink Lady apples at my local supermarket. I found this website on the best apples for making apple butter. I chose Fuji apples from the list. The apple should be a softer type apple

3. I used my apple corer-slicer-peeler and the process went very quickly in prepping the apples.

apple peeler

4. I used my hand emulsion blender when the apples had cooked through to mash the apples into butter.

emulsion blender

5.  It is a very sweet butter with the sugar and the apple cider combination. You could easily decrease the sugar to one cup or less to your taste. I also substituted the spices listed in the recipe with 1 tsp of apple pie spice. What a yummy, smooth and sweet butter. It was yummy to top on buttered, whole wheat bread.

apple butterI had never made apple butter before this week. I felt my midwestern roots when making this classic recipe. A  flashback to childhood.

Related articles

Fearless Cook Junior Edition

‘I want to learn to cook!’ my chip off the block chirped. Okay, Kate is 22 years old, she’s cooked before. During her college days she ate dorm food, made a few recipes I handed down to her, and tested the Pinterest web recipes.

She wants to feed herself in Veterinary Medicine School for the next four years. Her challenge for the this summer is to improve on cooking techniques,learn basic recipes and try to stay within a budget. My challenge is to give direction on what I’ve learned from trial and error in the kitchen.

See how enthusiastic she is?

Jr Fearless Cook

Here are all the recipes we’ve made individually and together.

Banana Bread

Chocolate chip and Peanut butter chip Banana Bread

omelets and falafels

Omelet with Falafel

beer batter cheese skillet bread

Skillet Beer Batter Cheese Bread from Quick Family Recipes

Nutella Bread

Nutella Swirled Banana Bread

radish, cucumber and apple salad

Red radish salad

Pork chops with the Dean brothers spice rub

Pork Chops with the Dean Brothers Dry spice rub

white chicken pizza

White Chicken pizza

cherry crisp pie

Cherry pie with almond crisp topping

frozen lemon yogurt

 Lemon Frozen Yogurt

Kate’s Komments:

1. Pitting the cherries for the cherry pie crisp was fun. About 10% of the cherries still had the pits inside despite using the cherry pitter.  We found two websites on how to pit cherries without  using a pitter at Our Best Bites and Baking Bites.  The cherries splattered juice everywhere while pitting them. We had just watched Django Unchained the night before and scenes from the movie came back to haunt us!

2. The Skillet Beer Batter Cheese Bread called for Gruyère cheese which was pretty tasty, but a little pricey for someone on a budget. For a similar and cheaper substitute use Swiss Cheese.

3. Her favorite recipe was the Nutella Banana Swirl Bread. Her mistake was that she set the oven for 250 degrees, not 350 degrees. The recipe in turn took longer to complete after she discovered  that the bread was still mushy inside and then adjusted the oven temp. As a taste tester, I thought the bread was delicious and moist. I didn’t know about the temperature error until much later. Gotta check the oven!  There are chocolate hazelnut butter knock-off brands that are cheaper.  They all vary in quality, so test out what brand you like.

4. Kate said she had never eaten a Falafel before and liked them. She also said she is not a fan of radishes, but we had them growing in the garden and we had to make something! She said the radishes were good as long as they were “hidden”.

5. Pizza is always a favorite and economical to make. We made a garlic butter sauce for the base of the crust. It was yummy with mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, halved yellow cherry tomatoes, red onion and grilled chicken thigh strips.

I bought her the America’s Test Kitchen ‘Quick Family Cookbook’ to take with her this fall. She loved leafing through the recipe book. The pictures are great with many step-by-step tips and techniques to master.

My parting wisdom: you can buy the ingredients to make your favorite recipes or you can look up recipes and decide what to make based on the ingredients you already have in your pantry. The key is use your ingredients thoughtfully. Way to go Fearless cook junior!