Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Pudding

I've made Christmas pudding once before, and really liked it, but the recipe makes an awful lot and it's usually only three of us.  Then I saw a comment on some site about making it in mason jars and realized I could do individual portions.

The last time I made it, I went strictly by the Bible's "Steamed Pudding".  This time, I went surfing for other opinions.  What I settled on was pretty close to Jamie Oliver's.  Hey, ask a British guy for a British recipe.  It's pretty much dried fruit stuck together with breadcrumbs.  I made a cake as backup in case my guests didn't like it, but they both finished theirs.  I noticed that his had some odd amounts for some ingredients and started doing the math.  It must have been converted at some point from pounds to metric, making it very easy to convert it back.  My version makes 1.5 quarts, which is slightly smaller than 1.5 liters, but it still serves 8, just slightly less in each serving.  No one is going to notice that they're having one or two fewer bites.

Since I couldn't find Golden Sauce at the last minute, I decided to make Hard Sauce and had to learn what that was.  Spiked frosting.  Really.  It does provide a wonderful creaminess if you hit a clump of ginger like I did halfway through my portion.

1 lb assorted dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, currants, apricots, blueberries, etc)
*3 Tb brandy
3/4 C chopped dates
3 Tb candied ginger, finely chopped
1/2 C butter, frozen, plus more for greasing containers
*zest of 1 orange
1 C flour
3/4 C sugar
3 C fresh breadcrumbs
*1/2 C sliced almonds or other chopped nut
1 egg, beaten
1/2 C milk

1.  If any of the fruits are larger than bite sized, like apricots, chop them smaller.  Grease one 1.5 quart domed bowl or 8 wide-mouthed pint jars with butter.  I found that the Ball brand jars greased better than the Kerr ones.  Not sure why.  Either set up steaming pots or get out a deep roasting pan for oven steaming.
2.  This step is cool.  Take the frozen stick of butter and run it through the large holes on a grater to make shredded butter.  I suppose you could use melted and cooled butter and it would work just the same.  I was just following the recipe.
3.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Stir until everything is evenly distributed and hydrated.  Either pour everything into the one bowl or pack into 8 jars.  This is the one time the metric came in handy, as I used the 200ml mark on the jars.  Cover the openings with parchment paper and screw down jar lids or tie around the rim with string.  The time I made this in a bowl, I used the press-and-seal type of plastic wrap.  That only works for stovetop steaming.  Don't put plastic wrap in the oven.
4.  Set bowl in a deep pot and fill with water almost to the rim.  Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cover.  Steam for 3 hours, checking water level every so often.  Alternately, set oven to 325º.  Set roasting pan on oven shelf, then add jars.  Fill pan with boiling water and bake for the same 3 hours.  Check water level frequently.  Any part of the pudding that is above the water line will come out much darker and almost burnt.
5.  You can "decant" and serve the pudding immediately, or store it in its baking container and reheat when ready to serve.  I steamed them again while we were eating dinner, but the microwave seems to do just as well.  Serve with a dollop of hard sauce on top.

Hard Sauce

1/4 C butter
3/4 C powdered sugar
1 Tb (or a bit more) brandy

1.  Whip butter until soft.  Add powdered sugar gradually and whip until fluffy.  Add brandy and whip to incorporate.  Refrigerate when not using, but allow to come to room temperature to serve.

Serves 8

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Magic Cookie Bars

This is what I used as the basis for my Seven Layer Bars.  My godmother brought the recipe to the cookie party, so I finally have the definitive recipe.  I see why hers are always so much more moist than mine; she puts the condensed milk on the crust, not over the top.  She also gives them more resting time.  It's a process, but she has it down.  It would probably take me two batches to perfect it.  Not today; I still have cookies in the freezer from the party.

1/2 C butter or margarine, melted
1-1/2 C crushed graham cracker crumbs
1 14oz can Sweetened Condensed milk
6 oz semisweet chocolate chips
6 oz butterscotch chips
3 oz flaked coconut
1 C chopped walnuts

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  (325º for a glass pan)

2.  Pour melted butter into a 13" x 9" baking pan.  Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs evenly over butter.  Pour sweetened condensed milk over the crumbs.

3.  Top with chocolate and butterscotch chips and coconut.  Sprinkle walnuts on top of all.

4.  Press down gently with a glass or cup to compact the crust.  Bake for about 30 minutes, until nuts are starting to brown.

5.  Cool thoroughly before cutting.  You can slide a spatula round the sides and cut through the cooled bars but do not lift them out of the pan until they have set for several hours or overnight.  You can even keep them in the fridge until ready to cut.  Place pieces (1" x 2" would be the largest I would recommend) in liners to make them easier to stack on a serving plate or gift box.  If not refrigerated, these last two to three days.  In the fridge, you have about a week.

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Grandmother's Oatmeal Cookies

This was a guest recipe from the cookie party.  The baker said she had a little trouble getting them off the baking sheet, so I'm suggesting the use of a silpat or parchment.  The cookies spread out a lot as they bake from so much sugar, so I don't recommend greasing the pan.

I'm not sure who the "Grandmother" is, but this recipe is not the same as the one I use for my Oatmeal Everything cookies.  These were very soft and chewy.  The raisins were especially soft from being soaked.  Santa would not be disappointed.

3 eggs, well beaten
1 C raisins
1 tsp vanilla
1 C shortening (may be part butter)
1 C brown sugar
1 C granulated sugar
2-1/2 C flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
2 C oatmeal
1/2 C chopped walnuts (optional)

1.  In a medium bowl, combine eggs, raisins, and vanilla.  Let set for one hour.

2.  Cream shortening and sugars until very light and fluffy in a large bowl.

3.  Sift together flour, salt, soda, and cinnamon.  Mix well with creamed mixture.  Blend in egg mixture.  Stir in oatmeal and walnuts; dough will be very stiff.

4.  Preheat oven to 350º and line cookie sheets with parchment or silpat.  Drop dough by the spoonful at least 2" apart.

5.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the middle is almost set.  Let cookies cool on the sheet for 2 min before transferring to cooling racks.

Yield varies by size of cookie, about 4 dz

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, December 14, 2015

Cookie Party!

Instead of a regular Winter Tea, I had a cookie-swapping party.  Every guest was asked to bring a plate of cookies and the recipe.  I had cards handy to make copies to take home and boxes so everyone could take an assortment with them to share with their families.  To balance the sugar a little, there were nuts and cheese out for snacking.

I made peanut butter cookies, with some turned into PB&J and others with a little chocolate ganache between them for Reeses's style.  I have a lot of ganache left over; I can make a cake and use it for the filling.  Shucks, too bad that I have to make a cake.  ;)

I had already made some gingerbread cookies to keep in the freezer, so I defrosted a plateful and put out icing and sprinkles for guests to decorate their own.  Some were precise, while others were just in it for the icing.

Some of the guests didn't quite get the concept and showed up without cookies.  However, I did get two good recipes out of the event.  You'll get those in the next two posts.  We never got around to the cute arts & crafts project with the recipe cards, but after having cookies for dinner, no one really cared.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Oyster Chowder

Oysters were super-cheap the day after Thanksgiving, so I bought a jar to make soup during my vacation.  Just two servings, since most of my lunches are being taken elsewhere.  I was at Olvera Street yesterday at lunchtime.  Somewhere under all that avocado sauce was a tamale and two taquitos. I got lucky that there was very little spice, but I was so hungry after walking halfway across downtown that I would have eaten it anyway and dealt with the asthma for the rest of the day.
My original plan had been to eat at the Grand Central Market.  When I got there, I was disappointed that it was basically an elaborate food court with very long lines.  The one grocer had nice, inexpensive produce.  I wished I needed some.  For that kind of atmosphere and inflated prices, I'd rather go to the Original Farmers' Market.
And my mountain trip was nice until I slipped twice on an icy hiking trail and got pretty bruised up.  I'm staying active so the muscles don't cramp, hence my two-mile walk from 5th Street through Chinatown and down to Olvera.
I did get good photos of the grape vines across the plaza that are almost as old as the city itself.  Oh, and coming down the mountain from my out-of-the-way, avoiding soft targets day trip, I had to pass a dozen police cars racing to the San Bernardino shooting location.  At this point, I'm just going to do what I want and hope for the best.

Where was I?  Oh right, soup.

1 large (1/2 lb) red potato
1/2 C diced onion
1 8oz jar oysters
1 C milk
1 Tb butter
1 Tb flour
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
dash cayenne pepper
*1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce

1.  Dice potato, skin on if desired, into 1/2" pieces.  In a medium saucepan, simmer potato in water until fork-tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain and leave the pieces in the colander for a bit.

2.  Melt butter in the saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and sautée until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add flour to the pan and stir until it soaks up the butter and gets pasty.

3.  Add 1/2 C milk and stir in.  Once it heats, it should thicken into a creamy consistency.  Add the rest of the milk and allow it to thicken as well.

4.  Add drained potatoes, oysters with their water, and spices.  Stir soup and allow it to come up to a simmer.  If it is too thick for your taste, add a bit of water.  Once the oysters are cooked, they are easier to break up into smaller pieces with a spoon.  That's why I didn't have you go through the drama of trying to cut them raw.  It's not as easy as it ought to be.

5.  Serve hot with a side of crackers or bread.

Serves 2

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Vacation vs Staycation Menus

As of this moment, I am on a two-week stay-cation.  I was originally going to have visitors from out of town for the first week, but no one wanted to fly in the current world situation.  Can't blame them.

So these two weeks are all about me getting away from it all, but at home.  I'm going on day trips and doing touristy things locally (avoiding soft-target type spots when possible).  After all, I live in one of the most-visited tourist destinations on the planet.

This is also my chance to get back into proper eating habits.  As this posts, I'm at the grocery store loading up on healthy food and reasonably healthy car snacks.  Most days I'll be out at lunch time, but I can easily control breakfast, dinner, and snacking.  This is going to be like two weeks at a health spa, with long walks, lots of fluids, and a relaxed outlook on life.

This is not how I vacation when I go away.  When I go somewhere, I do get plenty of exercise from walking around attractions, but diet and sleep patterns are at the mercy of where I am.  The reason most of us lose vacation weight quickly is because half of it is water retention from salty foods.  A couple of weeks of normal eating lets the rest of it drop off.

So I'm headed up to the mountains tomorrow to play in the snow.  Probably won't need the snow chains I bought, but I'm sure I will eventually.  Then I won't have to run to the auto store at the last second for some.  I can decide at 5am that a snow day sounds like fun.