Monday, June 30, 2008

The Best Food Shopping in The World

No recipe today dear readers. It wasn't that I was lazy this weekend and didn't cook because I did. Despite the fact that it was 100 degrees on Saturday in June for pity sake. I just couldn't muster up the energy to do anything new or different that would entail turning on the oven.

Today, on this lovely Monday that I have off, my dear friend Gladys and I hit the freeway and went to the Whole Food Market some 30 miles away. Worth every expensive gallon of gas it took to get there. I Love, Love, Love shopping at that store. Around every corner there is a wonderful product to see, prepared take home food to decide over, or a beautiful piece of fruit or vegetable to covet. Unfortunate for those of us in Salem who appreciate the finer things in life that we must drive so far to obtain them.

Whole Foods is one of my guilty pleasures that I must either do alone or go with Gladys. The Husband just cannot see the point of it all and on the few occasions that he has reluctantly agreed to go (read between the lines: was nagged and nagged until he gave in), he did not appreciate all they had to offer and in fact, went up and down the aisles making caustic, rude comments about the prices and the clientele. Well, his passive-aggressiveness paid off as he knew it would and he is no longer included unless he changes his evil ways, baby.

Today's trip was not for anything in particular so we just perused the store, putting lovely things in our baskets, some of which are pictured above. I appreciate that there are so many local offerings, particularly produce, and that it is so well identified. I am trying very hard to purchase things that are grown locally (within a 50 mile radius) if possible.

For the past few years we have purchased our pork from a co-worker who raises his own pigs and our beef from his father who has a few head of cattle, all locally grown and butchered 10 miles from here. We know it is raised humanely, without chemicals or hormones and it helps support the local economy. I also try and buy my eggs from co-workers who have their own hens whenever I can. What a difference these fresh farm eggs are from the store-bought eggs. The yolks are such a vibrant orange compared to the pale yellow of store bought.

During this time of year too, I try to get to one of the local farmers markets on a weekly basis to buy the freshest of produce. This is such a bountiful time with the wonderful strawberries, cherries and other fruits. They just don't have the same quality when you buy them from a big box store and they have been shipped from Argentina and have been sitting in cold storage for a few months.

Back to Whole Foods. I also appreciate the values and philosophy of the store and their obvious awareness of the environment and how they do their part to help, such as no longer using plastic shopping bags, donating money to local causes and the other green strategies they use throughout their store. Their employees are also always totally customer service oriented in my experiences with them. It is always such an enjoyable experience to shop at Whole Foods stores.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Crepes Marie Suzanne

I promise dear readers (all two of you), that I am not going to blog every cookie, cake, or crepe I make, but Sunday's dinner was so unusual that I must discuss.

I have been thinking about making crepes for some time, actually since a couple years ago when I had some delicious Crepe Suzettes at a brunch at a local winery. They seemed a bit daunting, all of that batter and swirling of the pan to get the perfect, impossibly thin pancakes. I felt ready for the challenge though and got my ingredients together to make crepes filled with seafood, a savory instead of sweet option.

The crepes were not difficult at all. They were somewhat labor intensive as you must stand over the stove, one crepe at a time, but the outcome was most satisfying. The beauty of these crepes is that they can be made ahead of time, separated with foil and reheated in a low oven right before serving. I imagine they could be refrigerated or frozen too but we will use the leftovers for dessert another night, perhaps filled with some ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce.

The filling was my own creation utilizing a basic bechamel sauce (white sauce) that I have been using for years. To make it much more healthy, I use skim milk and still get a rich tasting, smooth sauce. In that base, I added medium sized prawns, small scallops, baby spinach leaves, unmarinated artichoke quarters and white cheddar cheese.

This turned out to be a yummy dinner despite the fact that when I took the plated crepes into the "dining room" (actually the TV room where we sit in front of the boob tube stuffing our pie holes) I dropped one of the plates and the contents, where all the unctuous sauce and filling went face down on the carpet. I should have taken a photo to share of that appetizing hot mess!

Crepe Recipe
1 cup sifted all purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp melted butter
Extra melted butter for cooking

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl and break egg into it. Gradually beat milk in to dry ingredients to make a smooth batter, then stir in 1 tbsp. melted butter.

Heat an 8 inch non stick frying pan over medium heat and lightly brush with butter. Add approximately 1/4 cup batter to hot pan, swirling batter to cover bottom of pan. Cook until the underside is golden brown, then flip over and briefly cook the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter to make approximately 8 crepes. Keep crepes separated by a piece of foil or wax paper.

Seafood Filling
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk
3/4 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1/2 lb. raw prawns, peeled and deveined
1/4 lb. small bay scallops
3/4 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
1 cup quartered unmarinated artichoke hearts
2 cups baby spinach leaves

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Take off heat and vigorously stir in flour to make a smooth paste. Slowly add in 2 cups of milk, stirring to remove any lumps. Add salt and pepper and put back on medium high heat. Stir constantly until mixture boils and thickens. Lower heat to medium and add prawns and scallops. Cook until prawns turn pink then add cheese and stir until melted. Add artichoke hearts and spinach and heat until spinach leaves wilt. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper to your liking.

Put a crepe on serving plate and add approximately 1/2 cup of filling in the middle then fold both sides over to close. Put a bit of the sauce over the top and garnish with lemon and parsley or chives. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Strumpet's Crumpets

My love of crumpets goes back many years to childhood and family vacations to British Columbia where my English great aunties Trot and Don lived.

My first actual recollections of crumpets is from a trip to Victoria with my grandparents where we stayed in a motel called the Gorge Motel which had kitchenettes. With five children, I'm sure cooking some meals was a financial necessity for my parents and what treats we had in this "foreign" country.

My mom would purchase wonderful crumpets which were so unusual to me with their many tiny holes and spongy texture; a perfect vehicle for the melting butter and jams or treacle to sink into. Once toasted and topping of choice is applied, you take a bite and the warm butter oozes out along with the sweet topping. Heaven.

While living in downtown Seattle for 11 years, I often would get up bright and early and saunter down the hill to do some weekly shopping at Pike Place Market. I would first stop for breakfast at the Crumpet Shop on First Street. Being a creature of habit, I always ordered a toasted crumpet with a dollop of ricotta cheese and topped with raspberry jam and coffee. I am happy to see that this wonderful little shop has remained open over the years and stop by whenever I am in town to pick up a 6-pack of their fresh crumpets.

Over the years I have attempted to make them a few times. As a teen I remember finding a recipe somewhere and I diligently saved the family's tuna cans to use as molds. Alas, I don't recall the results but since I didn't attempt again for many years, they must not have turned out very well.

Today I found a recipe in a cookbook called English Traditional Recipes - A Heritage of Food and Cooking by Annette Yates. It has very thorough recipes and gorgeous pictures. I became inspired to try out the crumpet recipe and they turned out fantastically, if I do say so myself. I have moved up in the mold department from the tuna cans of yesteryear and actually found these muffin rings at a cooking store here in town. They were very reasonably priced at $4.75 for four. At the price of food right now, four cans of tuna probably would cost more!

(Adapted from English Traditional Recipes by Annette Yates)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp fast action yeast granules
2/3 cups milk
1 cup water
oil for greasing rings and skillet
Combine flour, salt, and soda in a medium bowl and whisk ingredients together to sift. Mix yeast into flour mixture. Warm milk and water together until lukewarm. Pour into flour mixture and whisk vigorously to make a thick, smooth batter. Cover and leave in warm place for 1 hour until mixture has a spongy texture.

Heat a griddle and lightly oil the surface and the inside of each of the metal rings then heat the rings for 1-2 minutes until hot. Spoon the batter into the rings to the depth of approximately 1/2 inch. Cook over medium-high heat for about 6 minutes until the top surface is set and bubbles have burst open to make holes.

When set, carefully lift the rings off, flip the crumpets and cook for another minute or so until lightly browned. This recipe made 9 crumpets.
Lift them off and cool completely on a wire rack. Toast the crumpet until heated through, add the toppings of your choice, eat immediately and think of England!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Banana Muffins Extraordinaire

Posted by PicasaTonight I got the baking bug at 6:15pm after I was already bathed, in my bathrobe and settled in watching Judge Judy (one of my major guilty pleasures).
As I had three nicely ripened bananas on the counter begging to be eaten from last weeks grocery expedition, I decided on banana bread. My intent was to bake something to take to work tomorrow as a treat for the office mates and my banana bread always wins them over. I shook the regular recipe up though and opted for banana muffins instead so everyone can have their own tasty mini-banana bread bites instead of whacking off slices from the communal loaf. I shook the recipe up even more and threw a cup of chocolate chips into the mix for good measure.
I think chocolate and bananas are a delightful combination. Think of the classic combos out there - chocolate covered bananas, the old camp fire standard of banana boats and would a banana split even exist without the chocolate sauce? I think not. So with that said, the recipe is as follows:
Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup white sugar
1 slightly beaten egg
1/3 cup melted butter
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
Preheat oven to 350 deg. Mix the mashed banana, sugar, egg and butter together in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl mix together baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour. Mix wet and dry ingredients together just until well incorporated. Do not overmix or you will get a tough product. Bake in oven for approx. 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes 18 muffins.

Monday, June 16, 2008

If You Can't Stand The Heat, Get Out Of The Kitchen

Today we watched my co-workers at the Fire Department perform a "Burn to Learn", an exercise where a donated house is burned to the ground so new firefighters can gain experience working an actual fire and seasoned firefighters can refresh their skills.

It was exciting and awe inspiring to see, first of all, the seriousness these folks take performing their jobs and secondly, to see the intensity and fierceness of an actual out of control house fire. It has given me a totally new perspective on the skills and knowledge my coworkers must have.

Once home the thought of cooking my usual full blown Sunday dinner was out of the question. A fall back meal was in order and what better thing to serve on a warm (finally -it's only June 15th!) evening than our favorite "Big Salad".

No need to turn on the oven, no need to stand over the stove stirring, just pulled out the grill pan to make Big Croutons to compliment the salad. We first had Big Croutons at some fancy-schmancy restaurant in Seattle once when we ordered a dinner salad for some outrageous price of $7.00 and it came with this big piece of grilled french bread. What a wonderful idea, I thought to myself. So much better than those hard as rock little tasteless nuggets that come out of the box. My Big Croutons consisted of grilling some wonderful, chewy sesame bread slices that had been dabbed with olive oil then rubbing them with half of a garlic clove and a sprinkling of kosher salt to complete.
The Big Salad can be just about any combination that suits one's fancy. For ours yesterday, the ingredients were as follows:

The Big Salad
Big Croutons (as noted above)
Chopped iceberg lettuce
Chopped spinach leaves
Tomato wedges (FDA approved non-salmonella carrying only)
Deli Turkey
Deli Ham
Cheddar Cheese-finely grated
Hard boiled egg
Dressing of your choice
Assemble in large bowls in an appetizing fashion and enjoy the cool, filling meal.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I Smell Hot Buttered Gingerbread

The Husband thinks a grandma lives in our house because occasionally I like to make good, old fashioned desserts. Sunday dinner with Mother-In-Law beckoned for such a dessert so I combined a couple of wonderful flavors together, gingerbread and apples. I usually serve gingerbread with applesauce but today I dug out Julia Child's The Way to Cook cookbook and made her delicious baked apples to compliment the cake.
I must admit, I cheated with the gingerbread and used a boxed variety which couldn't be easier. On occasion I have made a lovely cake called Treacle Cake from an English cookbook I have in my collection which is a much more complex flavored gingerbread than what we make in this country. Alas, no treacle in the cupboard today so I went the lazy route.

1 Box gingerbread mix
1 egg
1 cup water
Preheat oven to 350 deg. In medium bowl mix gingerbread, egg and water just until well moistened. Pour into lightly greased 8x8 pan. Bake for 30-35minutes.

Baked Apples
3 Granny Smith apples peeled and cut into wedges approx 1/2 inch wide
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Mix apples with sugar/cinnamon mixture then pour melted butter over and stir well
Put into baking dish and bake for 35-40 minutes or until apples are tender throughout but not falling apart.
Serve a wedge of gingerbread and the apples and some of the buttery cinnamon sauce drizzled on top with a nice dollop of whipped cream and think of your grandmas!