Monday, January 30, 2012

Mystery Cuisine



I love to read. Books are my most favorite possessions, right alongside my Kitchen Aid mixer and gourmet cheese.
 







When I’m not reading a cookbook, food essay, or culinary magazine, I like to escape into the world of cozy mysteries. These are the ones where someone is murdered but the crime is never horrific enough to make the reader afraid to turn out the lights. Most are written as a series of books, and what keeps me coming back are the characters and the settings where their lives unfold. Each new book is like catching up with old friends—who happen to solve the occasional murder.

I started with Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who…series. I read all 29 installments. (And I was sad to learn she passed away in June.) I moved on to Leslie Meier’s Lucy Stone Mystery series, each with their holiday-themed titles, and Sarah Strohmeyer’s Bubbles mysteries (such fun!)

Then I discovered cozy mystery heaven—at least for a food writer: Mysteries that also included recipes within the pages! The first were the Diane Mott Davidson Goldy Schulz mysteries, and now I’m working my way through the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries, Jessica Park's Gourmet Girl series, and the Farmer’s Market Mysteries, plus many, many more. (I have an entire stack of them waiting for my attention.)

My absolute favorite cozy mysteries are Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen Cookie Shop mysteries. I’ve read them all, and kept each one because of all the recipes I would like to try. I even have her latest, Cinnamon Roll Murder, on preorder to ship when it's released at the end of February.




Last fall, Fluke released the Lake Eden Cookbook, with almost all of the recipes from the Hannah Swensen series! The first one I tried was the Wanmansita Casserole, primarily because I thought it would be one my husband might enjoy. He did! This is the perfect dinner casserole for a large gathering on a cold winter’s evening. My only criticism was there didn’t seem to be enough of a sauce in the dish. It was a bit dry. Next time, I plan to add a can or two of tomato sauce to see if that solves the issue. And perhaps a teaspoon more of chili powder.

Let me know what you think!

Wanmansita Casserole
From Joanne Fluke’s Lake Eden Cookbook
Serves 8 to 10 people

2 pounds lean hamburger
2 medium onions, sliced
1 cup diced celery (about 3 stalks)
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 large package of crinkle noodles [I used egg noodles.]
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes with juice
1 can (5 ounces) sliced water chestnuts [I omitted this for my husband.]
1 can (4 ounces) mushroom pieces [I omitted this for my husband, too.]
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees with the rack in the middle position.
 
Start by spraying a 9-inch by 13-inch cake pan, or a half-size disposable steam table pan set on a cookie sheet, with Pam or another nonstick cooking spray.

Pour 6 quarts of water into a big pot and put it on the stove to boil.

Crumble the hamburger and brown it over medium heat in a large frying pan, stirring it around with a metal spatula and breaking it up into pieces as it fries. This should take about 15 or 20 minutes.

When hamburger is nice and brown, put a bowl under a colander so that you can save about 1/3 cup of fat to use with the onions. Dump the hamburger into the colander to drain it.

Put the drained hamburger into the prepared baking pan.

Pour the 1/3 cup of hamburger grease back into the frying pan. Place the onion slices, celery and green bell pepper into the frying pan. Cook over medium heat until they’re tender when pierced with a fork. Drain them in the same colander you used for the hamburger, and then mix them up with the hamburger in your baking pan.

Add some salt to your boiling water on the stove. Then dump in the noodles, stir them around, let the water come back to a boil, and then turn down the heat a bit so the pot doesn’t boil over. Set your timer for whatever it says on the noodle package directions and cook the noodles, stirring every minute or so to make sure they don’t stick together.

Drain the cooked noodles in the same colander you’ve been using all along, add them to your baking pan, and mix them up with everything else.

Add the diced tomatoes, juice and all, to your baking pan. Open and drain the cans of water chestnuts and mushroom pieces and dump them on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle the cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper over the top.

Now it is time to mix it all up. This might not be easy if the baking pan’s too full to stir with a spoon. If that happens, just wash your hands thoroughly and dive in with your fingers to mix everything up. When you’re through, pat the casserole so it’s nice and even on top, and call it a day.

[Since I planed to divide this dish into two smaller casserole pans, I mixed everything together first in a extra-large bowl.]

Cover the baking pan with a single thickness of foil. Bake for 60 minutes, or until you peek under the foil and see that it’s not and bubbling.

Remove the pan from the oven. Remove the foil slowly and carefully to avoid burning yourself with the steam that may roll out. Set the foil on the counter to use again in a few minutes.

Sprinkle the 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese over the top and return the baking pan to the oven. Bake it, uncovered, for another 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts.

Cover the pan again with that foil you saved, and let your casserole sit on a cold burner or rack to set up for at least 10 minutes and then serve and enjoy. [I didn’t do this step—we were hungry!]

Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Fan Page!

There and Back Again now has a new fan page on Facebook! Be sure to connect and click "like" to keep up on the latest!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Overcoming Pie Crust Phobia

I confess.

I have a pie crust phobia.

Yes, I’m a food writer who avoids making pie crusts.

My fear began in my days of middle school home economics class and continued on for years. My crusts were either too thin, too tough, or they would shrink down into the pie pan, leaving an unusable mess. Joyous was the day when I discovered Pillsbury Pie Crust! I vowed to never make another crust again.

Still, I’ve always felt this nagging need to learn to make a perfect pie crust. This week’s selection from the Gourmet Live 50 WomenGame-Changers, which I and a group of my fellow food bloggers post about each Friday, gave me the nudge I needed to try pie crust again.

This week we are honoring Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian, the co-founders of Edible Communities, a company that publishes 70 magazines across North America with a focus on the local foods movement. The recipe I selected is a Jam Tart, which was posted by Tracey Ryder on the Edible Communities blog. I was both encouraged and a bit disheartened by the first line in her recipe introduction: “This tart is one of the easiest desserts you’ll ever make, providing you are able to make a simple pie crust.”


It worked! Well, sort of. The tart was delicious. When cut, a slice can be eaten by hand, kind of like a fancy Pop Tart with its jam filling. But it could easily be dressed up with whipped cream, crème fraiche, or ice cream for an after dinner dessert.







For the filling, I used Tiptree Black Cherry Preserve from Wilkin and Sons in England (purchased at Brits in Lawrence, Kansas, one of my very favorite shops.)








As for the crust, it was flaky and buttery, but far from perfect. I added too much water, and even with lots of flour on the counter as I rolled it out, the dough was still a bit sticky. Moving the dough to the baking sheet was also a challenge—it tore in a couple of places. However, the rustic style of this tart saved me.  




Now I’m a fan of rustic pies. In fact, I may never make any other kind!


Jam Tart
From the Edible Stories Blog

For the crust:
Combine 1 1/2 cups flour and two sticks of butter in the bowl of your food processor [since I used unsalted butter, I also added 1/2 teaspoon salt] and add ice water (up to 1/3 cup) until dough forms and holds together in a ball. Roll out onto floured work surface until approximately 12 – 15 inches across and 1/4 inch thick. Dough does not have to be perfectly round since you will be folding the sides over the tart before baking and a irregular shape looks great.

Place dough onto a sheet of parchment paper that has been placed onto a cookie sheet and is trimmed to fit its dimensions.

For the filling:
Spread a jar of your favorite (preferably, homemade) jam onto the center of the dough, making sure to leave about 3″ border of dough around the edges. Fold edges over the center where the jam has been spread so that the jam doesn’t leak out while baking.

Using a pastry brush, baste top of crust with an egg wash (one egg, beaten with a fork and combined with a Tablespoon of milk or water). [I also sprinkled sugar on top of the egg wash.]

Place tart in a pre-heated 375 degree oven and bake for 25-35 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and center is bubbling.

Optional garnish: if you have extra fresh fruit in the frig that needs to be used, such as raspberries or blackberries, sprinkle those over jam before baking.

Be sure to check out my fellow food bloggers:

Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia -A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets
Katie -Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green
Jeanette - Healthy Living
Linda - Ciao Chow Linda
Nancy - Picadillo
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Claudia – Journey of An Italian Cook
Alyce – More Time at the Table
Amrita – Beetle’s Kitchen Escapades

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In Need of Soup

Ever since the weather turned cold, I have wanted a good bowl of Asian-style soup. The craving started when I got my first head cold of the winter season. Of course, then I didn’t feel well enough to cook anything.

About the same time, I saw Nigella Lawson prepare her Noodle Soup for Needy People on her Nigella Express television show, which is shown in the U.S. on the Cooking Channel. It was just what I wanted!

This week I pulled out her cookbook by the same name and found the recipe. She introduces it by writing: 

“I have to say, to be prescriptive about a noodle soup seems to be against the ethos of what you're actually cooking. When I need a noodle soup, believe me I am in no mood to start weighing and measuring. I heat some broth, of some description or other, and throw in a variety of vegetables that are skulking about in the fridge and the most soothing noodles I can find…But anyway, I throw down a blueprint here. Don't get caught up in it, but follow it if it feels helpful.”

I took Nigella’s words to heart. I could make her Needy People soup with whatever I had on hand!

As I mentioned in my last post, my husband, Michael, doesn’t like Asian-flavored dishes. However, he does like my thrown-together chicken soup. There is no real recipe for this concoction. I just put chopped onions, celery and carrots into a slow cooker, add a couple of whole garlic cloves, slightly crushed, a carton of chicken broth, bay leaves, dried thyme, salt, pepper, and 3 or 4 boneless chicken breasts (usually still frozen.) I turn the temperature to low and cook until everything is done. Then I add some egg noodle at the last minute and let them cook until soft. It’s easy!

This time, I cooked some udon noodles in bowling water until done. For the last couple of minutes of cooking, I added a few snow peas.






 In Michael’s bowl, I only added some of the noodles and then ladled the chicken soup over the top. In my bowl, I added the noodles, snow peas, and some grated fresh ginger. I spooned in the chicken soup, and then added soy sauce until I got the flavor I wanted. Perfect!



Here is Nigella’s recipe for you to try, but don’t be afraid to let inspiration dictate what goes into your soup.  

Noodle Soup for Needy People
From Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson

6 ounces udon noodles (dried, from a packet)
3 cups chicken or vegetable or dashi broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 star anise
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3/4 cup bean sprouts
3/4 cup sugar snaps
3/4 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 heads baby bok choy, finely sliced
2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro leaves

Cook the noodles according to packet instructions and while the water is boiling fill a nearby saucepan with stock, brown sugar, star anise, ginger and soy sauce. (When the noodles are done, just drain them and put half in each bowl.)

When the flavored stock comes to a boil, add the vegetables. They should be cooked before 2 minutes are up.

Pour half into each bowl, over the cooked and drained noodles and sprinkle with cilantro.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

When Foodie Meets Finicky


My husband, Michael, is the love of my life. I know. We’re newlyweds, so I’m suppose to feel that way, right? But he is! Spending time with him is a true joy—we laugh, tease, get serious, etc. He is my best friend.

We also agree on just about everything…except for food. I'm an adventurous eater and will try just about anything. I enjoy all styles of ethic food and flavors—Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, French, etc.

Michael is a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. He tolerates Mexican food, but does not like any of the Asian cuisines. He likes very few vegetables and thrives on good ol’ American cuisine—pot roast, hamburgers, and chicken noodle soup. He prefers spaghetti sauce out of a can instead of my homemade, which nearly broke my heart. I’m still working on a homemade sauce that tastes like the one in the can—I’m getting close! And I wrote in a post last year about his love for ketchup. Plus he’s not big on sweets. Sigh.

When I joined a group of fellow food bloggers posting from the list of the Gourmet Live 50 Women Game-Changers each Friday, I was faced with the challenge of finding a recipe from each week’s selection that would appeal to my finicky husband. I often choose dessert recipes that I can share with friends or co-workers instead to get a second opinion. But I do try to find something that Michael and I can enjoy together.

This week’s selection is Donna Hay, who is the Martha Stewart of Australia. She has written numerous bestselling cookbooks, has her own magazine, television series, and cookware, household, and food lines.

On her website I found this recipe for French Onion Soup—a dish both Michael and I enjoy. And she makes it the way Michael likes it—without the addition of bread, and cheese on top. She suggests serving it with a grilled cheese sandwich, which is how I enjoyed it. Michael had it with a tuna fish sandwich. This dish is easy to make and perfect for a winter meal, either as a starter for a formal dinner or a causal soup and sandwich supper.

Donna Hay’s French Onion Soup

8 brown onions, sliced
30g butter [about 2 tablespoons]
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon thyme leaves [I used 1 teaspoon of dried thyme.]
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 liters beef stock [I used 2 32-ounce cartons, which was just under 2 liters.]
2 cups water
Cheese sandwiches or parmesan toasts, to serve


Place the onions, butter, oil and thyme in a large saucepan over medium heat, cover and cook for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the brandy and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the mustard, stock and water and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with toasted cheese sandwiches or parmesan toasts. Serves 4–6.

Be sure to check out my fellow food bloggers:

Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia -A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets
Katie -Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green
Jeanette - Healthy Living
Linda - Ciao Chow Linda
Nancy - Picadillo
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Claudia – Journey of An Italian Cook
Alyce – More Time at the Table

Friday, January 13, 2012

Christmas is Over? Say it Isn't So!


This year, it's hard to say good-bye to Christmas. Yes, the decorations are all packed away. I’m no longer listening to seasonal music or watching those heart-warming movies that often bring a tear and a smile. But in my heart I just can’t let go.


So I made cranberry walnut bread. I’ve made it every Christmas for—well, so many years I can’t remember how many. I got the recipe from a Woman’s Day magazine I saw in a doctor’s waiting room and quickly copied since I don’t like to rip things out of other people’s magazines. The recipe is actually called Cranberry Cake Wreath, and the photo showed this yummy treat made in a bundt pan and decorated with an icing glaze to look like a snowy Christmas wreath.

However the texture and taste of this “cake” is more like a quick bread or muffin. Instead of icing the top, I just cover it in a snowy shower of confectioner’s sugar. It is my favorite breakfast treat—toasted with a smear of butter. Yum.

Maybe Christmas doesn’t have to end yet after all. Now, where are my Mannheim Steamroller CDs…?




Cranberry Walnut Bread
Makes 2 loaves or 1 Bundt pan

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup orange juice
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts
Powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour bread pans or Bundt pan.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Add eggs, orange juice and butter to the well; stir liquid ingredients just until blended. Add cranberries and walnuts to the well. Stir together liquid and dry ingredients just until combined.

Spread batter into prepared pans. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes depending on the size of pan until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and finish cooling. Dust the top with powdered sugar.

For those of you following the Friday posting of the Gourmet Live list of 50 Women Game-Changers in the food world that I and a number of fellow food bloggers are paying tribute to by posting a recipe from each week, I am taking a break for this week. However, please check in with the others to see their recipe creations. I’ll be back at it next Friday with a tribute to Donna Hay and her French Onion Soup.

Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia -A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets
Katie -Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green
Jeanette - Healthy Living
Linda - Ciao Chow Linda
Nancy - Picadillo
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Claudia – Journey of An Italian Cook

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mamaw’s Recipe Box #4: Spanish Meatballs



Happy New Year! 2012 arrived in a rush of activity with my wedding on Christmas Eve, Christmas itself, my honeymoon to Branson, Missouri (which I will soon write about on my other blog), my birthday, and finally the New Year. Whew!



As life settled back into normal, I turned once again to my grandmother’s recipe box for inspiration. As I mentioned in a past blog, Mamaw was a farmwife who hated to cook but still managed to create wonderful food we all enjoyed. Since January always brings with it a craving for warm, comforting food, I want to share this recipe for Spanish Meatballs.


I grew up eating this dish. Mamaw’s recipe card notes she got the original from her sister, my great-aunt Prebble.

It is so easy to make. Once assembled, all that is left is for the dish to simmer on the stove top for two hours and it’s done. I did try browning the meatballs first this time before adding the rest of the ingredients. I liked the flavor, but the meatballs are so tender it is hard to turn them in the pan. Also I noticed the rice inside some of them didn’t seem to cook all of the way, perhaps because too much liquid was lost in the browning process. They still tasted wonderful. Mamaw’s recipe also said that onion, red pepper, and chili powder are optional, but I would make them mandatory! The ingredients give so much more flavor to the dish. I also used a green pepper, which rounded out the flavor even more.

Spanish Meatballs

1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup uncooked rice
Salt and pepper
1 pint water
1 small can tomatoes [I used some homemade tomato sauce I had on hand, but a can of diced tomatoes would work well, too.]
Onion, red pepper, and chili powder (optional) [Use them! Plus a green pepper. I used 1 tablespoon of chili powder. Next time I will use a bit more.]
 
Mix the beef, pork, egg, milk, rice, and pepper thoroughly and make into balls. In a Dutch oven, heat water, tomatoes, onion, red pepper, salt, and chili powder [and green pepper] to the boiling point. Drop the balls into the hot liquid and boil slowly for 2 hours or until done, with no stirring. [I served the meatballs with boiled potatoes.]

For those of you following the Friday posting of the Gourmet Live list of 50 Women Game-Changers in the food world that I and a number of fellow food bloggers are paying tribute to by posting a recipe from each week, I am taking a break for this week and next as I catch up from the past two weeks of merriment. However, please check in with the others to see what recipes are on tap each week!

Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia -A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets
Katie -Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green
Jeanette - Healthy Living
Linda - Ciao Chow Linda
Nancy - Picadillo
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Claudia – Journey of An Italian Cook