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Monday, July 14, 2014

Never Too Many Strawberries



June for me always meant strawberry time. When I was young strawberries were sweeter, smaller, and juicier than today.  I made jam in a large gray kettle, inhaled the aroma, scraped the foam from the luscious concoction, and shared it with the children. The finished product was canned in half pint jars and kept in the cellar for winter.

Recently my daughter Becky came to visit and made strawberry jam. It was delicious, took much less time to make and is now stored in the freezer. We don’t have wild berries, but it certainly brings back memories when poured over ice cream, or spread on toast.

A couple of weeks ago we went shopping at Costco and got a huge crate of strawberries. We got creative and made strawberry bread from Heaven’s recipes. (Recipe found on this blog). There were so many berries we didn’t have room to store them in the refrigerator. So I rinsed and froze most of them in two cup portions and thought of ways to use them: smoothies, muffins, jam, and a recipe for a strawberry fruit cake that I invented.

This is a variation of a Mexican fruit cake that I have been making for years. The recipe originally came from my daughter-in-law Stacey. The difference being I substituted a package of frozen strawberries for crushed pineapple. Try this extremely moist cake while strawberries are still available at a reasonable price.

                                                     Strawberry Fruit Cake
 


Ingredients:

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups fresh or frozen (thawed) strawberries
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

  1. Combine eggs, sugar, and chopped strawberries in medium mixing bowl.
  2. In large mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, and baking soda.
  3. Add contents of medium bowl to flour, sugar mixture and combine thoroughly. Then add nuts.
  4. Grease bottom of oblong cake pan and pour batter into pan.
  5. Place into preheated oven at 350 degrees and bake until golden brown about 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  6. Ice with this cream cheese frosting recipe while still hot.
  7. Cool on wire rack and refrigerate until ready to serve.
                                              
                                              Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

8 ounces Neufchatel cheese, softened
1 stick softened butter (no substitute)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

While the cake is baking, cream the softened cheese and butter (no substitute). Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat with mixer until ingredients are well combined. As soon as the cake is removed from the oven pour the icing over the cake. Cool on rack and then refrigerate until ready to serve. This iced cake with the frosting is very rich. Cut it into small pieces and it will serve a large crowd. Let the children help with this project. They love to mix and of course lick the bowl. Have fun cooking with the kids.



Friday, May 30, 2014

Cream Puffs


                                                               
Have you ever eaten homemade cream puffs? I was about 11 years old when I first tasted these delectable tender treats. My older brother and I were taking a walk past the farm where Rachel lived. She was in my brother’s class at school and he was sweet on her. She was cavorting on the lawn and invited us to join her. We wasted no time taking her up on the proposition.  

It was a hot summer day and we soon rested in the shade on the porch to drink a glass of cold lemonade. A wonderful aroma was escaping from the screen door and I could no longer contain my curiosity.

“Rachel, is your mom baking cookies?” I asked.

“No, that’s cream puffs.”

“What’s a cream puff?”

My brother looked at me and frowned. I could read his mind—Mom said it was impolite to ask people for food, but I wasn’t asking.

“It is a pastry made with lots of eggs, butter, and sugar, with pudding inside,” she said.
“Would you like to try one?”

I looked at Buddy then back at Rachel. “Oh, we don’t want to bother y’all.”

“Oh it’s no bother. Mom is a great cook. When she makes cream puffs she makes a lot.”

Buddy interrupted, “We’d love to.”

Before you know it we were in the kitchen, our mouths watering, looking at all the cream puffs sprinkled in powdered sugar—vanilla, chocolate, and butterscotch. I chose the butterscotch and wanted seconds, but my mother taught us manners. I knew that someday I would make cream puffs and I did.

At the age of 19 my first cookbook, by Meta Given, had a recipe for cream puffs.  No time was wasted in gathering the ingredients needed, and, all my guests raved at the production. Try this recipe yourself and see if you get the same reception.


                                           
Pastry ingredients:

1 cup water
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
4 large eggs

Directions:
In a medium sized pot bring water and butter to a boil. Add flour all at once and stir vigorously until smooth and clumped together. Remove from heat and allow dough to cool for 10 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and beat with a wooden spoon until well blended.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease two large cookie sheets. Drop dough by heaping tablespoons full—12 on each pan and bake for 15 minutes. Switch shelves and lower temperature to 300 degrees. Continue baking until 30 to 40 total minutes are reached or until light brown. Cool on wire rack. Slice top from each puff and remove any dough inside that is not baked. Fill with whipping cream, or thick pudding and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Pudding filling for Vanilla Cream Puffs:

1 cup white sugar
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups scalded milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Substitutes for white sugar

Use 1 cup brown sugar and 2 tablespoons butter for butterscotch pudding, or ¼ cup cocoa powder to basic vanilla pudding recipe for chocolate.

Combine all ingredients sugar through milk. Cook and stir at a simmer.
Whip eggs in small bowl and beat until smooth, add to pudding and return to a simmer until thickened. Add vanilla. Cool completely and use to fill each puff. Don’t forget to sprinkle with powdered sugar. The kids will love making these.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Fresh Basil Pesto


Winter has clung to Virginia. Every time we think spring is here, it only lasts a couple of days and then gets cold again. I want fresh herbs, sunshine, and gentle rains. Maybe I should just plant my herbs in a pot or buy them already potted. Have you already planted your herbs?

I’m dreaming of fresh homemade pesto made with basil straight from the garden. Gently rub your herbs and they exude a wonderful fragrance even better than roses.  Now run to the farmers’ market, pick up your fresh basil, and try this recipe for pesto. It’s great in your pasta, on your pizza, in salads, and even on a toasted bagel.  I sometimes make Italian bread and put the pesto in the center. It’s wonderful when eaten warm.

                                            
Ingredients:

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
2/3 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

  1. In a food processor combine olive oil, garlic, and salt until smooth.
  2. Add basil then the nuts, chopped coarsely and blend a little more.
  3. Fold in the Parmesan cheese.
  4. Your pesto is all ready to use in your favorite recipe.

Fresh pesto, kept in the frig, will last for weeks. Pesto is good frozen for at least a year. Freeze it in an ice cube tray by the tablespoon. Remove the frozen cubes and place them in zip lock bags. Just drop a cube in your soup or spaghetti. You won’t have to measure the dry herbs and it is far superior in taste. You’ll love it and so will your family. 



The photo is whole wheat spaghetti with meat sauce, pesto, and fresh Parmesan cheese. The bread is "No Need to Knead Bread" and the recipe can be found right here on my blog.




Sunday, March 23, 2014

Another Russian Dish--Belyashi (Pronounced Belashe)



Natasha, my daughter-in-law’s mother, prepared an unforgettable dish called Belyashi just before she left for Mother Russia. The recipe for Belyashi, a fried meat pie, originally came from Belarus, an area northwest of Moscow.  My husband said it reminded him of food he had eaten at his maternal grandmother’s home when he was a boy—in fact Natasha herself reminded him of his Russian grandmother.

This little meat pie is made with a crust that’s pretty much like pizza dough. So I’m sharing my pizza dough recipe. If you want to use your own pastry dough or buy it at your friendly grocery, that’s fine.

1. Pastry:  First, in a small mixing bowl combine ¼ cup tepid water, 2 teaspoons yeast, and a pinch of sugar. Stir and set aside. Go on to next step

2. In medium mixing bowl combine 4 cups of unbleached flour with 1 teaspoon salt. Spread the dry flour mixture up the sides of the bowl to form a hollow in the center.                                                 

3. Pour 1 cup warm water, yeast mixture, and ¼ cup olive oil into center of flour mixture. Use fork to pull flour into liquid to form stiff dough.  Remove dough from bowl to floured bread board and knead for about 10 minutes or until dough is no longer sticky. Oil the surface of dough and place in clean large bowl. Allow to rise in warm place until double in bulk, about an hour.

4. Filling: While dough rises prepare the meat. Combine ½ pound ground pork, ½ lb. ground beef, 1 teaspoon salt, a pinch of ground black pepper, ½ medium minced onion, and ½ teaspoon crushed garlic. Add a small amount of water to mixture to make filling the consistency of oatmeal.

5. Forming Belyashi: After dough is kneaded pinch into pastry balls the size of biscuits. Role each ball into circles about four inches in diameter. Place a heaping tablespoon of meat mixture on dough. Pull the dough up around the meat to form into a pie with a small circle of filling showing in center. Pinch sides together.

6. Pour about ½ inch of oil in a large skillet and heat to medium temperature. Carefully place pies, two or three at a time, meat side down in the skillet. Fry until golden brown then turn over and complete cooking on other side. Place pies on paper towels to drain fat. Serve Belyashi while hot for a stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal.

Natasha recommends it with a cup of tea or coffee on a snowy day.





Saturday, February 22, 2014

Russian Beef Perogies (Cheburekis)


Have you ever tried Russian Perogies? I hadn’t until my daughter-in-law’s mother came to visit. It was great meeting her and finding out that we not only share a new grandson but also a love of cooking.

I don’t speak Russian and she doesn’t speak English, but that hasn’t stopped us from communicating. We use sign language, a cheat sheet of Russian basic words, and if that doesn’t work we run for Yulia, her daughter, to act as interpreter.

The morning after she arrived, I followed my nose downstairs to the aroma of ground beef, garlic, and onion simmering on the stove.

“What’s cooking?” I asked.
To which she replied, “Cheburekis,” and pointed to the skillet.

And so it began, we looked through the pantry and the refrigerator, smelling contents of jars and spice tins until we found everything she needed. I watched as she kneaded the simple dough, rolled it into circles and filled them with the meat mixture. Then she sealed the dough edges with a fork and dropped them into sizzling oil. My mouth was watering and I couldn’t wait to sample the turnovers.

Hot and juicy; the Cheburekis were delicious. This was a totally new breakfast addition to the menu. I never had ground beef for breakfast before, but it seems in the frozen north lands of Russia, they eat a lot of protein to keep warm. I made a bowl of fresh fruit and a cup of coffee—a perfect Russian breakfast or a camp out meal to never be forgotten. Thank you, Natasha, my new Russian friend.

                                                       Russian Perogies

Ingredients for dough:   

2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
2 cups flour
Extra flour to form stiff dough

Filling:
2 tablespoons cooking oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon crushed garlic
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup water
2 pound hamburger
1 egg
Cooking oil for frying

Instructions:
1. Beat eggs in a medium mixing bowl with salt and water. Add 2 cups of flour and mix with wire whip. Add more flour until stiff dough is formed. Knead dough for about 10 minutes. Cover with a dish towel and let rest until the meat is ready.

2. In a medium skillet, combine 2 tablespoons oil with onion and garlic, saute on medium heat until soft and light brown. Cool slightly and combine with  salt, pepper, water, and egg in medium mixing bowl. Mix in hamburger by hand then set aside.

Finish the dough by cutting it into16 balls about the size of biscuits. One at a time, flatten and roll each into a circle about 6 inches in diameter with a rolling pin. Spread hamburger mixture over dough leaving about ½ inch clear around edge. Fold in half and seal edges with fork tines. Turn each perogie over and seal other side then poke a few holes in it with a fork.

Pour one inch of cooking oil into large skillet on medium heat. Fry two Perogies at a time until brown and done, turning them half way through. Place on paper towels to absorb oil. Serve while warm with ample napkins—they are quite juicy.

Children can help you with this project especially when they get to knead bread. Just make sure an adult does all the work with heat.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Molasses Sugar Cookies

Recently we went to visit two of our grandchildren, ages four and six. Even before we left for our seven hour trip I got a text message from my granddaughter:

Grandma, how about baking cookies?
Cutie Pie

To which I replied:

How about making Molasses Sugar Cookies?
Grandma

Her answer was a happy face!

I smiled as I put my suitcase in the car. While Grandpa drove, I looked at pictures of our grandchildren on my old cell phone— trips we had taken, playing in the park, visiting their favorite museum, playing with friends at birthday parties, and my favorite pictures—food and cooking with my grand kids.

I could hardly wait to get to their house. When we arrived we got hugs and kisses, then Mom had dinner ready and I got to read books and tell stories until bedtime.

At last it was time to make the Molasses cookies. We searched for ingredients and found most of them, but the main ingredient, molasses, was no where to be found. I did however find a box of gingerbread mix and everybody knows it contains molasses. On the side of the box was a cookie recipe that we made into sugar coated molasses cookies.
In no time at all the kids and I had the cookies in the oven. Before we left that afternoon most of the cookies were devoured. We did manage to sneak a few to bring back home.

Our son and his wife ate the cookies and kept asking for more. So a few days ago I found my original Molasses Sugar Cookie recipe that I found on a bottle of molasses, when I was a teenager. I made a big batch—chewy and delicious and already gone. I did make a few changes. The original recipe called for ¾ cup of shortening. I haven’t used that stuff in years. I substituted ½ cup butter and ¼ cup organic coconut oil—much healthier but just as tasty. Try this updated recipe and tell me what you think.

                                             Molasses Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

½ cup butter (1 stick)
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ cup molasses
1 cup sugar, ½ cup extra sugar for coating cookies
1 egg
2 cups flour 
2 teaspoon baking powder
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt

Directions:

1. Melt butter and coconut oil in medium sized saucepan. Remove from heat and add molasses.
2. In medium size mixing bowl put flour, baking powder, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and salt then combine.
3. To contents of pot add 1 cup sugar and egg, stir.
4. Then add flour mixture to pot one cup at a time. When thoroughly combined, set in the refrigerator to cool until the consistency of clay (about 20 minutes). Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
5. Role walnut sized balls of dough in sugar and coat evenly. Place about twelve cookies on an  ungreased cookie sheet and bake about 8-9 minutes. When done remove and cool on dish towel covered with wax paper. Repeat process until all cookies are baked. This recipe makes about 2 ½ dozen.

These cookies smell fabulous while they bake. If you want to sell your home, have an open house while you are baking these. Home, sweet home! Sold!


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Caramel Pecan Cheesecake

My daughter-in-law, Yulia, is pregnant and has some serious cravings. She didn’t ask for any expensive presents for her birthday. All she wanted was a birthday cheesecake—not just any cheesecake, but a caramel pecan cheesecake. Well, it sounded good, but none of my favorite recipe books had that recipe.

I never let a little thing like a recipe get in my way. I looked on the cream cheese carton and found a basic recipe for cheese cake, but it didn’t have a crust. Next I checked the cover of the graham cracker box. There it was.

I headed for the refrigerator hoping my final two ingredients would be there. The pecans, already chopped, were waiting in the crisper. Now if I could just find some caramel syrup. I looked up and down the door where the sauces and dressings were stored but no caramel syrup. Since I didn’t want to go shopping, I would just have to make my own. Why not? I’ve made plenty of sauces in my time. I found the perfect caramel sauce recipe in an old Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. If you can imagine it, you can make it. Let’s get started.

Graham cracker crust:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Place 8 whole graham crackers in a large zip lock bag and crush them with a rolling pin.Pour crumbs into a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and half a stick of melted butter. Stir until combined. Press onto the sides and bottom of a 9 inch ungreased pie plate. Place in preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, but leave the oven heat on.

Cream cheese filling:
In a large bowl combine 2- 8oz. packages soft cream cheese until smooth. Add ½ cup sour cream, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 2 slightly beaten eggs,  Then combine ingredients until creamy. Pour into graham cracker crust and return the cheesecake to the oven. Bake 25-30 minutes, until set. Remove from oven and allow cake to cool completely.

Caramel sauce:
In a heavy saucepan, combine1/2 cup brown sugar and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Add ¼ cup of water, 1/3 cup milk, and 2 tablespoons corn syrup. Cook at medium temperature and stir until it comes to a boil. Lower temperature to simmer and continue to stir for 2 minutes until it begins to thicken. Remove from stove, and add 1 tablespoon butter and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Toast ½ cup chopped pecans, sprinkle on top of cooled cheese cake and drizzle with plenty of caramel sauce. Refrigerate leftovers—if there are any.

This scrumptious cake calmed the cravings of a pregnant woman and was half eaten before we could take a picture.