Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Busy, Productive and Very Satisfying far....

Today I beat the sun. For some reason unknown to me I woke up at 4:20am and my mind was racing so there was no point in staying in bed. I know that when this happens there is but one solution for "racing mind"...... work! So I got up and headed for my favorite work space, the kitchen, and began thinking of projects to make that would be today's offerings.....

Of course the first thing I thought of was baking! There is nothing like waking up to the aroma of baking in the house. Lol, it's funny I should say this since I wouldn't know what that's like since I'm always the one awake and baking, but having a powerful imagination is enough to convince me of this fact and even though I don't get woken up this way, the warmth and aromas wafting through the house is deeply comforting and satisfying and gives me reason to press on....

On the agenda, for now at least, are scones, one of Rene's favorite "wake up snacks".... looking around all I can find are raisins so "Raisin Scones" will do. I've also though that today could be a vegetarian day and we can give meat proteins a rest, choosing instead other types of nutritional items that are just as satisfying yet give the body a rest from the heavy digestion work needed to process animal protein. All of a sudden I know what I'm making: A lovely cream soup but served in a "bread bowl"...Wow....

Tarita was always into vegetables while Rene was the picky one. When he was small he came up with not eating "anything green" so veggies were ruled out of his diet; I got around this by making cream soups of all kinds and found he loved them all! While this doesn't have any logic to it since they taste the same as the veggies, to this day they hold a special fondness in his heart and are always welcomed. I think I've got some left over broccoli in the fridge and some great sharp Cheddar.... MMmmmm

I can also take advantage of the tomato sale I found at the Mexican Market (10lbs of Roma tomatoes for .99 cents!) and whip up an old friend: "Old English Tomato Marmalade". No, it's not like what you think at all.... this sweet, salty, spicy and altogether lovely jam can do double duty since it's at home with meats, chicken, fish or an English Muffin plus Ricardo can eat it right from a spoon!

I've also got some oranges I got at the same sale that should be used up before too long and one of our favorite jams is "Orange Marmalade", so that could be on today's list as well. I really love orange marmalade with little slivers of the peel in it..... or how about "Habanero Jelly"? You can use orange jelly as a base but add super thin slivers of Habanero Chiles into it for some heat and flavor, it's truly amazing since it gives you the contrasts of sweet, spicy, salty and sour all at once.... Yum!

I'll also give you an idea for a quick and colorful dessert using both Pomegranate and Apply juice that everyone will love, but for now I've got plenty to do and some items I'd like to get done before my family wakes so I'll get to it.

First of all I'll get the scones ready, besides, these are cousins to biscuits so you could make these instead if you wanted to. They're lovely too and when they're just out of the oven is about one of the most comforting things you can have.

Tea Scones.- The origin of this "quickbread" is Scotland where they are also known as "girdle", "bannock" or "dropped" cakes or scones. Our biscuits are actually their scones but can be sweet or savory. Scones have been a part of the "Cream" or "Devonshire Tea" forever and are always a part of an English "High Tea"...... Easy, quick and using basic ingredients, many a British cook can have them ready in a snap on a daily basis in time for afternoon tea.

2 cups flour
3-5 tbl sugar (depending if you want them sweeter)
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
5-8 tbl butter or vegetable shortening
1/2 cup milk
1 egg

Sift the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the butter or shortening and "cut into" the flour with a pastry cutter or a fork (I've used a fork forever) until the mix looks like little pebbles or cornmeal. Just keep pushing the fork into the flour and on the fat so they incorporate until you have no fine loose flour left. You can use less or more fat depending on your taste but about 5-6 tbl will do it unless you still have a lot of flour left.

Once you've got the fat worked in, add the egg, mix and then add most of the milk and mix well so it comes together and you've got a tender dough. It should be a little sticky but once the flour is all incorporated it should get lots better, if not, add a little more flour so you can handle it. Put some flour on the table and lay the dough on top and work the dough about 10-15 times. Don't overwork it and you'll see you won't need too much work since it comes together easily and quickly.

Cut the dough into 2 equal parts and lay one on the side. Take one part and flatten into a disk about 1/2 ich thick or about 8" in diam more or less. With a large knife cut in the middle, then cut this in the middle so you have 4 parts, then cut these in the middle (like a pie shape) so you have 8 wedges. Heat your oven to 425 degrees. In a cookie sheet or pan with some PAM or similar on it, lay the wedges so they don't touch and have some space to expand. Do the same to the other half of the dough. Bake about 10-12 min or until they are slightly golden on top.
NOTE: If you want, before you add the egg and milk you can add 1/2 cup raisins, blueberries, nuts, chocolate chips, etc. and then finish as stated. You can also brush the tops of the wedges with milk before baking if you like.

Bread Bowls.- These lovely "balls" are the perfect item to serve soups or dips in and have become quite popular of late. The presentation is wonderful and you will be able to see how many uses you can give them. It's best to make these in the morning so they have time to rise and get the crispy crust they need.

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
2 tsp yeast
2 tsp salt
2 tbl oil
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, enough to make a smooth, soft dough

Let yeast dissolve in warm water until creamy, about 5 min. Add the rest of the ingredients—by hand, mixer or bread machine— and knead till you've created a smooth dough. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 45 min; it should become puffy. Divide the dough into 5-6 pieces, depending on how large you want your bread bowl to be. Roll each piece into a ball. Place on a lightly greased or parchment covered baking sheet.

Cover the bread bowls with greased plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 4 hours (or up to 24 hours); this step will give the bread bowls extra flavor, and a delightfully crisp-chewy texture. Two or more hours before serving, remove the bread bowls from the refrigerator. Uncover, and let them sit for about one hour while you preheat the oven to 425°F.

Just before baking, slash the top surface of the bowls several times with a sharp razor/knife to allow them to expand. Bake for 22 to 28 min, until the bowls are deep brown, and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. Remove from the oven, and cool on a rack.

To turn into "bowls" cut vertically with a sharp knife all around the top edge and then scoop out the center, be sure to leave about 1/2 inch so the liquid won't seep through and spill. Save the scooped out centers and use as bread crumbs later when they dry in a blender or processor.

Cheddar Broccoli Cream Soup.- As for any cream soup, I prefer not to use any thickener of any kind and let the soup thicken naturally, but if you don't care you can use a "roux" (butter and flour mix) or even some corn starch. Any type of vegetable or cheese can be used and you can have a milk, stock or water base as well.

2 large stalks of broccoli, florets and stalks, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1/2 onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups chicken stock (or water)
salt and pepper to taste
1 can evaporated milk
1 can water
1-2 cups Cheddar cheese (or your choice), shredded

In a large pot, put the broccoli, onion, garlic, stock and salt and pepper to boil over a med-high heat. If the stock doesn't cover the vegetables, add some water. Cook until the broccoli is tender.
Place everything in the blender and do two batches if it doesn't all fit.

Put a little oil in the pot and place the blended soup here while you bring it up to temperature over medium heat. Once you've got it all smooth and hot, add the milk, water and taste so you can adjust the seasonings. If you're not going to serve at once, stop here.

When ready to serve, make sure the soup is hot and doesn't need more liquid. If the soup was waiting for a while it could have gotten thick as it cooled and might need additional liquid, you can add milk or water and get very hot. Add about 1/4-1/2 cup cheese into each of the bowls you will use and pour the soup over it. Serve at once.

Old Fashioned Tomato Marmalade.- Don't forget tomatoes are fruits after all and they deserve to be shown off. This is a lovely way to show them off and you can vary the spices to get it just right. Once you taste this jam, you too will be a fan.

2 lbs Roma Tomatoes, chopped
1 cup sugar (more if you want it sweeter)
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut in thin strips (more if you want more heat)
pinch of ground clove
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/2-1 tsp cumin, ground
1/2-1 coriander, ground
1-2 tbl ginger, chopped fine
1-2 tbl lime juice
1-2 tsp salt or as needed

Put everything into a pan and cook over medium heat for about 1 1/2 hours or until it gets "jammie". Be sure to taste and adjust the seasonings or change them around as you'd like.

Put in a container with a tight fitting lid or make a lot and bottle to share with friends. Keep in the fridge.
NOTE: I've made it with red pepper flakes, Serrano peppers or Habaneros and it was all great. Play with the spices, you have no idea until you try this..... Good with almost anything!

Old Fashioned English Orange Marmalade.- This is the most iconic marmalade ever! Easy to make and fantastic to eat and share. Many times I've used these recipes in gift baskets for family and friends and have even sold them in my restaurants. Everyone loves them! This is the simplest of recipes yet you need a couple of days work but it's worth it.....

4 large seedless oranges
2 lemons
8 cups sugar

Cut the oranges and lemons in half crosswise, then into very thin half-moon slices. (If you have a mandoline, this will be quite fast.) Discard any seeds. Place the sliced fruit and their juices into a stainless-steel pot. Add 8 cups water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Cover and allow to stand overnight at room temperature.

The next day, bring the mixture back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 2 hours. Turn the heat up to medium and boil gently, stirring often, for another 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms on the top. Cook the marmalade until it's thick, if you want to be doubly sure it's ready, place a small amount on a plate and refrigerate it until it's cool but not cold. If it's firm -- neither runny nor too hard -- it's done. It will be a golden orange color. (If the marmalade is runny, continue cooking it and if it's too hard, add more water.)

Pour the marmalade into clean, hot Mason jars; wipe the rims thoroughly with a clean damp paper towel, and seal with the lids. Store in the pantry for up to a year.
NOTE: I like this recipe best of all because it doesn't use any thickener, but you can use pectin of you like too. I use this "basic preparation"' for all types of fruits.

Pomegranate and Apple Jelly Dessert.- Here is an easy and elegant looking dessert you can make which doesn't need a lot of ingredients and is done quickly. Looks pretty great too! You can see that you will be able to change around the flavors too. Follows the old Jello molds during the 70's which seem to have fallen out of favor.....

Pomegranate Jelly:
3 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin
1/3 cup cold water
2 cups unsweetened Pomegranate Juice (or your choice)
1/2-2/3 cup granulated white sugar, or to taste

Apple Jelly:
3 tsp unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup cold water
2 cups unsweetened Apple Juice
1/3-1/2 cup granulated white sugar, or to taste
Garnish: Pomegranate Seeds, Softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Once the pomegranate jelly has set begin the apple jelly, the procedure is the same for both. Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/3 cup of cold water. Let this mixture sit for about five to ten minutes, or until the granules have become swelled and spongy. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the pomegranate/apple juice and sugar until very hot (do not boil), stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Stir the softened gelatin into the hot juice and place this mixture over a low heat and stir constantly until the gelatin has completely dissolved. Do not boil. Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes before pouring equal amounts into six - one cup serving glasses.

Refrigerate for about 2 - 4 hours or until set. Then proceed with the topping jelly, once this one is done, remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes before pouring the apple jelly over the set pomegranate jelly. Refrigerate for about 2 - 4 hours or until set (can be made a day ahead). Garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds and/or softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
NOTE: You'll have two layers of colors, one set before the second one so pick coordinating colors and show them off.

I'm all done and it's the end of the day.... everything was ready throughout the day and came out just perfect! Phew! Lots of work but fun and gave me more than enough to do. Tomorrow will be another day filled with new challenges, especially the same old "what will I make for dinner?" question that seems to stump most people...... but I am always on the hunt for new and exciting recipes or new ways to make old favorites or maybe how to cut some corners to make it easier, faster, cheaper, better, etc. which I can always appreciate.

After my day's work I realize I'm sitting in the same spot as early this morning except that out the window I can see the sunset starting it's performance heralding the end of yet another day. Oh well, tomorrow will be a new day..... Have a great evening.... talk soon!

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