Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Banana Gingerbread Loaf

Making banana bread is one of my favorite things to do but I must admit, my standard recipe sometimes gets a little old. I found an interesting version of banana bread recently in a cookbook called U.S.A. Cookbook by Sheila Lukins and thought I would give it a try.

Sheila Lukins is best known for co-owning a shop in New York City in the 70's-80's called The Silver Palate. She also is co-author along with Julee Rosso, of a couple of other fantastic cookbooks that I have in my collection, the most famous of which is The Silver Palate Cookbook. Their recipes were cutting edge in cooking chic in my opinion back then. But on with the recipe at hand. Like all quick breads this was very easy to put together and the end result is a wonderful, moist and very flavorful loaf.

Banana Gingerbread Loaf
(Adapted from USA Today Cookbook by Sheila Lukins)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large ones)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a 9x5x2 inch loaf pan.
Sift dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, molasses and hone with a mixer until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the sour cream and mashed bananas and mix until combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combine. (I did this by hand with a spatula.) Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55-60 minutes. Let sit in pan to cool for 10 minutes then run a knife around pan to loosen loaf and invert onto a rack to cool completely. Makes 1 loaf.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Split Pea Soup

Winter (or nearly Winter) always brings out my need for making big vats of soups and stews. Since it's just The Husband and myself, these cooking adventures always leave lots and lots of leftovers. We don't mind eating the same thing 2-3 nights in a row but that's as far as I go. I can and have put leftovers away in the freezer but what usually happens is that I forget about them and then 2 years later I find some unidentified tubs in there and I have no idea what they are. You see dear readers, when it comes to the skills of homemaking, I'm no Martha Stewart. No labeling and dating things for me. Nope, it's just a big hodgepodge in my freezer.

The crux of this story is that I made a big pot of split pea soup today and I am going to package up a couple of portions to take to my beloved mother-in-law who is recovery from major surgery. So we will have a lovely Sunday dinner of soup and bread and she will have a few meals too and I will not be faced with the leftover dilemma. A win-win situation for all!
Split Pea Soup

1 meaty hamhock (I buy mine from a local butcher and they are the BEST!)
1 lb. split peas
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrot
1 tsp salt (or to taste depending on the saltiness of the hamhock)
1 tsp pepper (or more to taste)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups water

In a large stockpot, saute vegetables in 2 Tbsp oil until onions are translucent. Add split peas and cook for 1 minute. Add spices and stir in. Add chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and add hamhock. Partially cover pan and let simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours or until split peas are mushy. Take out bay leaf and hamhock and shred meat off bone. Return meat to soup pot. Serve with your favorite crusty bread or crackers.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Christmas Cookie Baskets

Well they're done. After 2 months of baking and a dozen different cookies later I finally put together the cookie baskets this morning. As I pulled tin after tin after Tupperware out of the freezer and lugged them upstairs I was a bit astonished at how many cookies there actually were. As I said to The Husband, "I think I overdid it."

The baking of the cookies was far more enjoyable than the assembly of the baskets. As my best friend knows, wrapping things is not my forte. I am not clever. I have no patience for making corners neat or hiding tape or tying ribbons or accessorizing packages in any way, really. One year I had a large number of Christmas presents to wrap and I hadn't begun two days prior to the holiday and my best friend came to my rescue and wrapped everyone of them for me. It's a gesture of kindness I won't ever forget.

Due to a severe snow storm yesterday followed by an ice storm last night my friend was unable to drive here to my rescue so I was left to my own devices, thus the uneven wrapping on the basket, the tape showing all over the place and the less than inspired bows and candy canes.
Hopefully the contents inside will make up for my uninspired presentation. Merry Christmas to everyone.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Versatile Puff Pastry

A recent discovery of mine has been working with puff pastry. Such a variety of recipes can be prepared in a flash if you keep a box of puff pastry in your freezer. It can be used for both savory or sweet dishes. In the savory category, I have used puff pastry as a topping for chicken pot pies and also as a base to serve a creamed seafood medley. Granted, it's a fairly high caloric splurge, what with all the layers of flour and butter, but isn't it worth it to indulge once in awhile?

Included in this entry are two desserts I made over the past couple months. One is a simple turnover and the only trick to this is to make sure the pastry is cut in fairly exact squares, otherwise it is difficult to keep the filling encased. (I learned this the hard way). I filled mine with some wonderful prepared cherry filling. It is important to brush the edges of the turnover with egg wash and press them closed with a fork. Bake 20 minutes or so at 350Degrees or until they are golden and puffed.
The other dessert is an apple tart. This was even easier than the turnover. All that is needed are some nice, tart cooking applies (I used Romes and Granny Smiths) cut into eights. These were placed on top of the squares of puff pastry, sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon, brown sugar and a dollop of butter (because there just isn't enough butter in the pastry!) and baked until the pastry was golden and the apples were soft. So French and so delicious.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Tis the season for hot, soothing libations. We had our first snowfall today and I thought it would be a perfect day to have one of my favorite winter drinks, a hot buttered rum. Luckily for me I picked up the last carton of Harvey's Butter Rum Batter at the local "Pop Shop" (my father's name for the liquor store) yesterday.

A brief history on Harvey's Butter Rum Batter, if you will indulge me. Harvey Hudson was the father of one of my school chums. Jill and I went from kindergarten through college together and I had many happy times at her house. Her mother was our Campfire leader and we were always doing fun and unusual crafts such as learning to decorate cakes, making Christmas decorations, and going on fun field trips to name a few. Her father, Harvey, appeared to be your average business man who worked at our local newspaper. But his second job was the purveyor of this wonderful mix called Harvey's Butter Rum Batter which they made first out of the basement and then later from a small factory in town.
Not being a "drinker" in my youth I had no idea how good this stuff was with some rum mixed in but I did know that it was divine licked by the spoonful right out of the tub. Jill's mother also used to make delightful cookies with it but I'm not sure what they consisted of. Over the years here in Oregon, I have been able to find it every now and then and always grab some when found. When I fix a hot buttered rum, I think of Harvey and his wonderful daughter Jill and the fun youth we experienced growing up in our little town in Washington.
Harvey's Hot Buttered Rum

1 heaping tsp of Harvey's Hot Buttered Rum batter
1 jigger of the liquor of your choice (Rum, brandy, or whiskey work best)
6 oz. boiling water

Put batter in bottom of a mug. Pour a bit of hot water in it and muddle the batter together with the water until combined. Put in liquor then fill rest of mug up with hot water and stir to combine. Careful, these go down very easily!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thumbprint Cookies

We are getting down to the end of our cookie baking for the Christmas baskets. Two more to go after these little gems called Thumbprint Cookies. Here's the deal though. I didn't use the suggested thumb to make them. I used the end of my lemon reamer, dipped in sugar. It worked superbly to make the dent required to be filled with the jam of your choice. My choice was raspberry preserves and I think they turned out very well.
Thumbprint Cookies

2/3 cup butter at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts of choice (I used pecans)
1/3 cup jam of choice (I used raspberry)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mat. In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks, vanilla extract and salt. Gradually stir in flour.
Form dough into 1 inch diameter balls. Dip in lightly beaten egg whites, then roll in nuts. Place 1 inch apart on cookie sheets. Press down center of each cookie with thumb and fill with 1/2 tsp of jam. Bake 16-18 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Favorite Christmas Cookie

We all had our favorite on the Christmas cookie plate and mine, besides my own special angel cutout cookie, were these Orange Slice Cookies. I just loved the slight spice of cinnamon and the brown sugar flavor with the surprise of small pieces of orange slice candy mingled in every bite. I recently asked my mom for the recipe as I have never attempted to bake them before.

They turned out to be a very simple cookie to make, the only exception was the cutting of the orange slice candies. The batter can be made easily without using a mixer and the frosting too can be mixed by hand but I used my portable mixer to ensure the butter was fully incorporated. The orange slice candy does take a few minutes to cut up and it is important to make sure your knife or scissors are dipped in powdered sugar frequently so the candy doesn't stick to them.

Tasting these cookies again let me take a step back into my happy childhood!
Orange Slice Bars

4 eggs well beaten
2 cups brown sugar
1 Tbsp fresh orange juice
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup diced orange slice candies (cut into a sifter of powdered sugar - once all cut, shake off sugar)
1/2 cups nuts (optional)
Orange Frosting

3 Tbsp softened butter
3 Tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tsp grated orange rind
1 1/3 cups sifted powdered sugar

Mix all these ingredients together to make a smooth frosting.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 13x9 inch pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.

Blend together eggs, brown sugar and orange juice. Add flour, salt and cinnamon and mix just until blended. Fold in orange slice candies and nuts.Bake for 45 minutes. Let cool completely. Frost cookies and cut into squares.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Buttermilk Cake Doughnuts

The Husband is a devoted fan of The Simpsons. (Quite frankly, show me a male who isn't...) Like Homer, The Husband is also a devoted fan of doughnuts. As Homer once wisely observed, "Donuts-- is there anything they can't do?"

Since I am a devoted fan of The Husband (Quite frankly, show me a female who isn't...), I thought I would once again try my hand at homemade doughnuts for our Saturday morning coffee/newspaper time together. I had tried a time or two previously, and not had a lot of success. But one must perservere, so I found a new recipe to try. It went fairly well this time but, just like in previous attempts, the dough was extremely soft and I had to add much more flour than what was called for. However, once I got the dough to a workable consistency they cut out nicely and cooked up just as the recipe said they would. Like so many of my odd kitchen gadgets, I found my doughnut cutter at a garage sale somewhere along the way. Certainly not something I've used much but it came in handy today!
Buttermilk Cake Doughnuts

2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup buttermilk
3 Tbsp butter, melted
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground mace
Vegetable oil for frying
Confectioners sugar and cinnamon sugar for dusting doughnuts
(I cut this recipe in half from the quantities listed above as two dozen doughnuts seemed a bit excessive for the two of us. (Though Homer and The Husband would argue this point, it worked fine.)

Whisk the eggs until light and lemony in color. Gradually add the sugar, whisking constantly until mix is thick and ribbony.

Stir in the buttermilk and melted butter. Add the sifted dry ingredients into the egg mixture and stir until combined. IMPORTANT: Do not overwork the dough. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Pour oil to the depth of 2-3 inches into a large heavy pot. Heat it to 375 degrees. While oil is heating roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut doughnuts out with a doughnut cutter or a biscuit cutter. Fry the doughnuts in small batches until golden brown. Turn once after 1 1/2 minutes per side. Use a slotted spoon to take them out and drain on paper towels. Check the oil before putting in new batches to ensure it is at correct temperature. Dust the doughnuts while still warm. Makes approximately 2 dozen doughnuts and doughnut holes.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Snowball cookies, AKA Mexican Wedding Cakes, AKA Russian Teacakes, AKA Dad's Favorites. They have a variety of names and are obviously popular in a number of countries around the world.

A Christmas didn't go by at our house growing up when these delicate little morsels weren't included on the cookie plate. They were my dad's favorites and when I made them I thought of him and felt some melancholy knowing that we would spend Christmas without him. He is always in our hearts.
Snowball Cookies

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped or ground nuts (almonds, pecans or walnuts work well)
1/4 tsp salt
Additional powdered sugar for rolling cookies after they are baked

Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup powdered sugar, butter and vanilla; beat until light and fluffy. Add flour, nuts and salt; mix until dough forms into a ball. Shape into 1 inch balls. Place 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until set but not brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly. Roll in powdered sugar. Let set until completely cool and then reroll in powdered sugar. Makes 5 dozen cookies.