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Bits and bobs…

Posted by Sherri on January 30, 2011 in Cookery, Geekery |

I have lots of blog post ideas kicking around, but since I’m in a hurry tonight, I’ll just share some things that I’ve noted and learned while cooking and baking these last few weeks.

* Going dairy-free (both baking and cooking) isn’t as difficult as I’d previously thought! We’ve been trying out lots of dairy-free recipes as an experiment, not because either of us is actually allergic.

* Going dairy-free, however, isn’t cheaper. Most milk alternatives cost WAY more than their normal counterparts. At some point I hope to try making homemade rice milk (from actual rice!) and see if it becomes more cost-effective, if not more time-effective.

* In the kitchen, math is your friend! If your mini cheesecake recipe calls for a 6-inch diameter springform pan, and you use a 7-inch diameter springform pan…you will not be making a cheesecake, you will be making a cheesePIE. (It will still be delicious though)

* WordPress is lots of fun to learn from a development standpoint, and I’m getting lots of great ideas for how I can improve this blog in future! Not sure when I’ll actually get time to do it.

* Making fresh bread and fresh granola makes the house smell SO good!

* Making jam from fresh picked strawberries is time-consuming, and a pain, and will probably make you swear a blue streak…but it’s ever so worth it when you take it out on a dreary January day and spread fresh strawberry taste on your aforementioned fresh bread or cheesepie! :)

What have you been inspired to cook or bake in wintertime?

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Winter comfort food: Chicken Soup

Posted by Sherri on January 18, 2011 in Cookery, Preserving, Recipe |

As I’m writing this, the snow is floating down past my window in huge fluffy flakes. Looks like we’re expecting another couple of inches on top of the mounds already piled up everywhere! Yesterday, in defiance of the cold weather, my husband made one of our family’s cold-weather favorites: chicken soup!

Chicken soup is one of those meals that reflects a very frugal way of life that I’ve found is fairly common up here in New England, a “waste not, want not” mentality. To make the best chicken soup, you have to save things up for later. Roast a chicken (or get a rotisserie at the grocery store if you’re short on time), then once you’ve eaten most of it, chuck the remaining bones, meat and scraps into a ziploc freezer bag with “For Soup” written on it and freeze. Chopping up carrots, celery or onions for a salad or other recipe? Don’t throw away those carrot tops, celery ends, and the outer skin of the onion! Put those into another freezer bag labelled “Veggies for Soup”! Keep adding to these bags every time you eat chicken or vegetables.

When you have a chicken carcass or three and a full bag of veggie tailings safely in your freezer, (plus hopefully you saved some nice veggies and chicken meat too) you’re ready to make soup. The amounts of these ingredients in this recipe are deliberately vague. Not because we’re protecting our secret family recipe, but because everyone likes their soup a little different! Hate carrots? Leave em out! Have cauliflower instead? Toss it in! Extra chicken? Yes, please!

Chicken Soup

Ingredients

For Broth:

  • 1-3 chicken carcasses, fresh or frozen (1 if you’re making a small pot, 2-3 if a big pot of soup)
  • Vegetable “tailings”: carrot tops, celery ends, onion skins, etc.
  • Bay leaf
  • Water

For Soup:

  • More water
  • Better than Boullion Chicken flavor
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped up vegetables: carrots, onions, celery, cauliflower, etc.
  • Little alphabet or star noodles (optional)
  • Chopped cooked chicken
  • Bell Seasoning

Step one: Making the broth for the soup! Throw the bones, vegetable tailings, and bay leaf in a big pot with a lot of water.

Boil the heck out of it. It should thicken a bit, reduce a bit, and all those flavors will make their way into your broth.

When it looks really good and smells even better (probably an hour or so), pour it through a strainer lined with paper towels (to help strain all the tiny bits) into a big bowl. Discard everything in the strainer (bones, vegetables, etc). Put the broth back into your pot. You may want to skim some fat off the top.

Step two: Top off the broth. After the broth is boiled and strained, there’s much less of it than when you started. Depending on how much soup you want to make, you may want to top off the broth a bit at this point. Don usually adds between 1-4 cups of water to help fill up the pot. He also usually heats the water up in the microwave before adding it, and mixes in 1 teaspoon of Better than Boullion per cup (so that the extra water is more like supplementary broth, and adds a bit more flavor). This topping-off step is really optional, you can leave the broth as-is or just season it a bit with salt and pepper if it’s enough for your needs.

Step three: Transform broth into soup! Put the pot back onto the stove over the heat. First, add your chopped veggies. Cook them a bit so they get tender. If you’re using the alphabet or star noodles, add them in after the veggies, timing it so that the veggies will be getting soft at the same time the noodles are cooked. When the veggies and noodles are all cooked, add the chicken and turn off the heat — the chicken is already cooked, so you don’t want to overcook it and make it tough. Add a pinch of Bell Seasoning and stir it in.

Take a taste, adjust any seasonings as desired, and serve hot with a side of crackers or warm baked bread. Here’s what ours looked like; look at those huge chunks of chicken!

What are your favorite winter comfort foods?

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A tale of two pies…

Posted by Sherri on January 7, 2011 in Baking, Cookery, Experimentation, Kids, Preserving, Recipe |

In summertime, our family stocks up on the bounty of berries that grow at our local Pick Your Own places. Because we know that when the air grows chill and the snowflakes begin to drift lazily downwards, we’ll be craving the tantalizing tangy tastes of summer!

Peeking into the freezer this fall, I saw that we certainly had plenty of raspberries. Normally I make them into smoothies or mix them with blueberries, but this year I wanted to try something out that would let that brash bold flavor shine.

And since my eye’s been set on pies…
Read more…

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The struggle with pie continues…

Posted by Sherri on September 9, 2010 in Baking, Cookery, Experimentation |

Photo by pauladamsmith on Flickr

So like a boomerang, over and over again I keep coming back to pie.

It’s one of the things that I desperately *want* to get right.  It’s one of my favorite desserts!  There are so many different pies you can make!  And yet, I still struggle.

Monday, I missed writing a blog post because I was too busy making a pie (and then later I was too busy socializing with family and eating it).  This year we tried freezing a peach pie filling mixture, thinking that it would be a great way to use fresh peaches later, and hey, save a step in making the pie as well.

The frozen filling came out very well!  That part went great.  The crust, again, not so much.  It was *okay*…but it got soggy from the filling, and it didn’t really make lots of crispy flaky layers like I was hoping.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to make pies my pet project this fall.  Instead of flailing about trying every pie crust recipe known to mankind, I’m going to pick one crust recipe, and I’m going to keep at it until I absolutely nail it.  I want to get so good at making pie crusts that it’s not just knowledge, it’s not just reading a recipe…it’s gonna be *instinct*, man.

I’ve mentioned King Arthur Flour before, but it was only this week that I found out that Susan Reid (the person who puts together their monthly Baking Sheet publication) has some great videos on how2heroes.com.  And one of them…is Pie Crust 101!  I’ve already started taking notes and will definitely be using some of her tips, especially the idea of using a spray mister to get the dough to that perfect state.

Next, off to watch her video on Guaranteed Pumpkin Pie…yum, I can’t wait!  :)

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Linkapalooza: Symphony of Science!

Posted by Sherri on September 3, 2010 in Uncategorized |
Hubble galaxy

This week, I’m gonna go all geeky with my link!  When I need some inspiration, a pick-me-up from feeling blue, I turn to the music and the videos of Symphony of Science.  Normally I’m not a fan of Autotune, but John Boswell masterfully merges the inspiring ideas of scientists like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking with soaring original music.  He even makes great videos to go along with the music, how cool is that?

Maybe I love them so much because I’m a geek…maybe it’s because Carl Sagan and the Cosmos series was my first big eye-opener into how vast and amazing our universe is.  But no matter the reason, I find these songs and videos tremendously inspiring, and am always looking forward to the next installment.

So in case you haven’t seen them, I present to you:  Symphony of Science!  Go forth and be inspired!

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Thinking outside the box of peaches…

Posted by Sherri on September 1, 2010 in Cookery, Experimentation, Locavore, Recipe |

One of my favorite parts of summer is picking fresh local fruit with our family.  This past weekend, we all piled into the car and drove to Lancaster MA to a wonderful orchard called George Hill Orchards, and picked several pounds of huge ripe peaches!

I have many plans for these peaches; I’ve found some tantalizing recipes for peach ice cream, peach bread, and a rustic peach pie.  But the first thing we tried was a little unconventional:  we added some to a fresh garden salsa.  The results were astounding;  everybody, including the 6 year old and the 2 year old, gobbled it down and clamored for more!

When the garden is producing such wonderful fresh tomatoes and peppers, we tend to like a relish or Pico de Gallo-style salsa.  No cooking, no fussing, just chop everything up and mix in a bowl.  Who wants to fire up the stove when it’s this hot out, anyway?  Here’s the recipe that we’ve been enjoying all this week:

Fresh Garden Salsa with Peaches
(adapted from a recipe by the University of Illinois Extension)

Ingredients

  • 1 peach
  • 2 large ripe, red slicing tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 1 small white onion, chopped (we used about half the onion shown in the photo below)
  • 1 green onion, top included, chopped
  • 1 to 3 peppers, finely chopped (we used 1 mild Mariachi pepper from our garden and a small red cascabel pepper)
  • A few sprigs of cilantro leaves, minced
  • Juice of lime
  • teaspoon salt

Sharp eyes may spot a clove of garlic lurking in the photo…originally, we were going to add it, but then decided against it at the last minute. Garlic-philes may add a clove or two if they want!

Directions

Chop all ingredients (that’s what takes the longest!).  IMPORTANT NOTE: wrap your hands in plastic wrap or wear gloves when cutting the peppers!  We mean it!  That oil burns something awful when it gets on your skin, and it just keeps on burning for hours!  OK, safety lesson over, back to the recipe.  :)

In a bowl, toss together the tomatoes, onions, peppers, peach, and cilantro. Squeeze some lime juice over the mixture, then sprinkle on the salt and mix gently.

Allow to rest 30 minutes if you can, though we didn’t bother, to let the salt draw juice out of the tomatoes. Stir again just before serving.  Makes about 2 cups or so of salsa, and it’s even better the second day!

Everyone seems to have their own favorite salsa recipe. Care to share your secrets? Join in the discussion in the comments!  :)

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Summer’s Bounty: Nectarines

Posted by Sherri on August 30, 2010 in Cookery, Locavore, Recipe |

Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay!  We found our missing recipe book!

We didn’t quite have the time to pick fresh nectarines on our recent family trip to pick peaches, but if we had, we would have made Sautéed Nectarines!  The best way to describe it is, “like peach pie without the crust.” Would peaches work in this recipe? I actually don’t think they would; ripe peaches seem more fragile and prone to breaking down under the stirring and sauteeing of this recipe.

Apologies for the lack of photos for this recipe, was too busy chopping and stirring to take photos when we made it to feed the crowd at the beach house. :)

Sautéed Nectarines
adapted from “Seascape Mornings: A Bed & Breakfast Recipe Collection” by Jill Lewis
(makes 4 servings)

Ingredients

  • 4 nectarines
  • 2 tablespoons butter [non-dairy alternative: macadamia nut oil, yum!]
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond or other suitable extract [we used coconut flavoring once, it was great!]
  • Ground cinnamon to taste
  • Whipped cream and mint leaves for garnish

Directions
Slice the nectarines, leaving the skin on. Melt the butter or oil in a large non-stick skillet and sauté the nectarines over medium-high heat until tender, about 5 minutes or so. Stir in the brown sugar, flavor extract, and cinnamon. Cook until the sugar dissolves and nectarines are tender.

Serve immediately topped with whipped cream and mint leaves.

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Linkapalooza Friday: Geek Food!

Posted by Sherri on August 27, 2010 in Cookery, Gaming, Geekery, Linkapalooza |

When I saw this Friday’s Linkapalooza site for the first time, I thought, “What a perfect meshing of my interests!” :)

Scott Johnson is a podcaster extraordinaire; he’s one of the hosts of the hilarious World of Warcraft podcast “The Instance”, a co-host of the iPhone/iPad podcast “AppSlappy”, creator of several great web comics, and so many more that I can’t list them all here.

In short, he’s a talented and funny guy!  Recently, he’s teamed up with his wife and taken on the daunting challenge of creating a *video* podcast series all about geekery and food.  Episode #2 was all about homemade caramel popcorn, and makes me REALLY want to try it…though maybe I’ll cut his recipe down a third or so since we don’t usually feed a crowd!

Anyway, check it out, it’s well worth a peek:

Geek Food

(and a happy ending to my last post:  I found the lost cookbook!  Hopefully I’ll post the promised recipe next Monday for you all.  Stay tuned!)

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Gone with the wind…

Posted by Sherri on August 25, 2010 in Cookery |

Photo by Denis Messié

Today’s post triggered rather a frenzy around the house this morning.  You see, I’d had great plans to post another delicious dessert recipe today, called Sauteed Nectarines. It’s an awesome dessert, and so good in the summertime!  It tastes just like peach pie without the crust.  We got it from a recipe booklet we purchased from the Bed and Breakfast we stayed at on our honeymoon, and we’ve treasured that booklet ever since for its wonderful recipes.

So this morning I went to go get the booklet…and couldn’t find it anywhere!

I searched high, searched low, searched with the other cookbooks, around the kitchen, in our travel bag from the beach house trip…nowhere.

Neither of us has seen it since we got back from the trip, so we’re thinking that we must have inadvertently left it at the beach house by accident.

Unfortunately it’s irreplacable, because the B&B has since changed hands and the original owner (and chef!) isn’t there anymore.  So now we’re stuck.  So many recipes we loved in that booklet!

Have you ever lost a recipe (or, like us, a whole cookbook) that you really loved?

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Take that, food allergies!

Posted by Sherri on August 23, 2010 in Baking, Cookery, Recipe |

My husband’s mom was recently diagnosed with a nasty combo of food allergies:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes

When you think about it, that rules out a whole lot of things you’d normally buy at the grocery store! Milk and eggs hide in many processed foods, but the real kicker is the corn…anything with corn starch or high fructose corn syrup is a definite no-no.  And if you look at labels, those two things are in almost everything processed.

So she’d unhappily resigned herself to giving up many of her favorite treats, like salsa, chips, chocolate cake, ice cream, etc. But it was her *birthday* while they were visiting us at the beach house recently…and I decided that no food allergy was going to stand in the way of a good birthday celebration! Not on my watch!

Enter an old family recipe from the era of the Great Depression:  Wacky Cake.

Wacky cake is a delightfully moist chocolate cake. The “wackiness” of this recipe refers to its ingredients…no milk, no eggs, no butter, no baker’s chocolate! I believe that the recipe originated during wartime or shortages, where these ingredients would have been hard to come by. You probably have all these ingredients in your kitchen right now!

Dry Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 10 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups cold water

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the wet ingredients in another bowl. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix quickly. Pour the mixture into a large cake pan (like a rectangular 13×9 pan, or you could also use 2 smaller round cake pans as I did for the photo). Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

This treat is best enjoyed warm with vanilla ice cream (or in our case, soy ice cream)! Don’t even bother with frosting, it doesn’t need it.

For the science-oriented people in the audience, this cake rises because of the reaction between the vinegar and the baking soda. That’s why you want to mix it quickly, so that you don’t use up the chemical reaction before it starts to bake!

Unlike most cakes, it’s completely safe to give the bowl or spoon to someone to lick afterwards…no eggs are involved!

Mom loved it, and you will too.  Don’t be intimidated by the odd ingredients…give it a try!

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