Friday, June 29, 2012

Strawberry Rhubarb Spiced Chai Tea Bread

My grandma, Anna Louise Crawford-Smoke, who passed away from a heart attack when I was in elementary school, loved to collect teapots and teacups.  Her father, my great-grandpa, who was a big game hunter, had traveled to Asia several times, bringing back a few tea sets for her, which she later gave to my mom.  I would have loved to know both of them as an adult, and compare stories about our travels to Asia; I'm sure our experiences, so many years apart, were quite different.

Although I never had the chance to know her well since she died when I was so young, we drove from South Carolina to Pennsylvania many winters to spend Christmas with her at the house where my dad grew up.

She loved dogs, Shelties (Shetland Sheepdogs) in particular, and had an interest in breeding and training them.  There was always a litter of puppies to play with, and one winter she let my brother and sister and I name the litter.  I remember naming one of them "Mr T" - a strange name for a puppy, but we loved watching the 80's TV series The A Team, and were fascinated by all the necklaces that Mr T wore, as well as his Mohawk hairstyle, and decided the name was fitting for one of the puppies - if my memory serves me right, he was the only black puppy in the litter.  Along with the puppies, there were usually at least 5-6 adult dogs running around the house, and a couple of cats.  The dogs would sometimes chase us across the front yard, and we'd pretend to be afraid as we climbed trees to escape them, even though we knew they didn't have a single mean bone in their bodies.

I only remember small details about the house.  A pink, flowered, cardboard set of drawers in the bathroom.  A bowl of hard candy in the corner of the living room that sat collecting dust year after year, their shiny wrappers turned dull.  The antique ornaments on the Christmas tree - I always wanted to help decorate, but my dad was afraid we would break something and so we were usually only allowed to watch.  The dark, cool basement with its shelves of toys from my dad and his three brothers' childhood and stacks of books like The Lone Ranger and the Tarzan series.

That was the house where my sister first saw snow at the age of 2 or 3, and after looking out the window at the white blanket outside, exclaimed, "Honey, someone made a big mess outside!"  In saying honey, she was addressing my parents, imitating the word she heard them often use when talking to each other.  Too cute.

My uncle John, the oldest of the four brothers and the one who lived in the house with my grandma, loved eating waffles with copious amounts of butter and maple syrup for breakfast.  There was always a bowl of sliced strawberries in the refrigerator, dripping with sugar, to scoop onto cereal.  Uncle John often fed the dogs milk over their dog food, and one day found my sister stuffing her face with dog food out of their bowls on the floor, thinking it was cereal.

But my favorite memory is of the fireplace.  It was double-sided so that one side faced the living room and the other the kitchen, and you could look through it to the other room.  There was always warmth in that house during the winter from the crackling fire.

One Christmas, I woke up early in the morning; Laura, Josh and I slept on a mattress on the living room floor, and I saw my grandma through the dancing flames in the fireplace, sitting at the kitchen table in her tattered bathrobe.  Still half asleep, I dragged a blanket into the kitchen and climbed onto her lap where I snuggled up close to her, while she read her Bible and drank weak, milky tea, just the way she liked it.

That's one of the only clear memories I have of her.  After her heart attack, my uncle John found her, already gone but still standing, slumped against the kitchen counter.  We went home from school early that day, and my parents told us the news.  My sister took it the hardest, being the oldest and having known her better, and also, it was her birthday.

We sat for a while in the living room, with its brown braided rug (I had a secret habit of sweeping dirt underneath that rug when given the task of sweeping), and a fire crackling in the black wood stove.  No one said much, and after we all cried for a while, I got up and made hot chocolate for everyone.  Even then, barely 8 years old, I found comfort in comforting others with something sweet to fill their stomachs.

The blue flowered teapot in these photos was one of grandma's, not from Asia, but just one she had collected from somewhere.  It's been sitting on top of my mom's kitchen cabinets for years, along with other teapots, but this one was always my favorite.  And now it's mine.

My parents are moving, after living in Colorado for over 20 years, back to South Carolina.  They're leaving this summer, and when I stopped by their house the other day after work to meet my dad for dinner, my mom told me that she had set this teapot aside to give to me before they finished packing everything up.

And so the next day, I made a pot of Chai tea in my "new" teapot, something that my grandma would certainly not have liked since she didn't care for anything too spicy or flavorful.  Plain, but strong, black or green tea is usually what I prefer, but Chai was what I was wanting on that day.  I brewed a combination of Sweet Thai Coconut Red Chai tea and Marsala Black Chai tea, steeping it in half milk and half water, with a touch of honey to sweeten it up.

While sipping tea and working at my computer, I thought of the rhubarb I'd brought home from Jamie's parents' garden.  I'd chopped and frozen the rhubarb for use throughout the summer, along with some strawberry rhubarb puree that I'd cooked down while making syrup.  I pulled out the puree and the chopped rhubarb to thaw, brewed some more tea in milk, and mixed up a batter for loaf bread.  To enhance the flavor of the tea, I added additional spices, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and ginger.

I hope that someday I have a daughter who loves to cook with me, but even if she doesn't, then I simply hope that she finds something she is passionate about, something that makes her happy.  And I hope that I can give her this teapot to keep in her kitchen, and have her experience the love of a great-grandma she'll never know, through my memories.

Strawberry Rhubarb Spiced Chai Tea Bread
printable recipe
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 chai tea bags
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked strawberry rhubarb puree (recipe below)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups white all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Spray two non-stick loaf pans with baking spray.

Bring the milk to a boil; add the tea bags and steep for 10 minutes.  Squeeze the tea bags to extract as much flavor as possible, then discard the tea bags.

In a large bowl, combine the tea-infused milk, strawberry rhubarb puree, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth.

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.  Gradually add to the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.  Bake at 350 for 50-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 10 minutes on a wire rack, then invert onto the wire rack.  Turn bread right side up on the wire rack and cover lightly with a clean kitchen towel to cool completely before slicing or wrapping.

Yields 2 loaves.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Rhubarb Strawberry Syrup (and puree)
  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 3 cups chopped strawberries
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large stockpot, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, water, lemon juice and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.  Puree using a blender or immersion blender.  Add the cinnamon stick.  Simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.

Pour mixture through a mesh strainer, getting as much liquid out as you can.  Pour the liquid and the cinnamon stick into a clean saucepan and simmer until thick and syrupy, about one more hour.  Stir in the vanilla.  Cool, then store in glass jars in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Drizzle over pancakes or waffles, or use to flavor mixed drinks or cocktails.

Note:  Save the pulpy puree that you strain the liquid out of – this would be fantastic added to the batter of a loaf bread or muffins in place of applesauce or oil.

Yields about 1 1/2 cups of syrup and 1 1/2 cups of puree.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On a sultry, summer day... ice cream for lunch, and egg salad for dinner...

Just once in my life, I would love the satisfaction of dramatically tossing back the last contents of my drink into my mouth and then flinging the glass against the wall, like they do in the movies.  In too many movies.  And yet, I know I never will.  For one, I'm not that dramatic.  But more importantly, isn't the thought of cleaning up all those shards of glass enough to keep a person from intentionally breaking things in their own home?  Not to mention, I like my matching wine glasses.

This really has nothing to do with anything, except that I just watched this scene play out on TV, while watching a movie called The Magic of Belle Isle - one that Jamie wouldn't much care for - but I happen to have an evening to myself.  Taking full advantage of sole control of the remote on such nights is important.

And maybe I'm contemplating ways to vent frustration due to just having spent $450 on car maintenance, and still have a cracked windshield - a crack that is widening by the second in this heat - that has to wait its turn for a few more paychecks, as well as other maintenance issues due from all the mileage I've put on my car from my commute.  The only thought that comforts me is the one I keep repeating to myself:  Coulda been so much worse...  Coulda been so much worse...  Coulda been soooo much worse...

It's been a hot day - too hot - reaching 99 this afternoon.  The thought of cooking, or eating, anything hot or heavy was unthinkable.  So this morning after breakfast, I peered into the fridge, looking for anything that could be turned into ice cream without too much guilt.

Last night, we made sushi at home, a few rolls, some salmon, tuna tartar and crab.  After shopping for sashimi-grade fish from the Asian market, Jamie also brought home a cute little melon, a white Gaya melon or Japanese melon, which was slightly sweet, watery like melons are, but lacking in much flavor.  Not as memorable as something like a cantaloupe.  And a few Asian pears.

I wondered if I could make a custard with the juice of the leftover melon and pear, along with egg yolks and a little sugar.  No milk or cream (as we had neither in the house, anyway, being the end of the week and almost shopping day).  So I liquified the fruit, yolks, sugar and a touch of vanilla in the blender, and then cooked it on the stove like I have other custard-based ice creams.  Soon it thickened, and I strained and cooled down the mixture in an ice bath (so as not to have to wait to make it into ice cream), and then immediately churned the custard in our ice cream maker.

After straddling the back of Jamie's motorcycle for the ride back to the shop to pick up my car and part with $450, we picked up the groceries for the week.  Arriving back home, hot and sweaty, I was pleased to see that the ice cream had firmed up enough to eat.  The flavor of the fruit was subtle, and it was pleasantly eggy, like a custard is, with a hint of vanilla - part sorbet and part custard.  All in all, a guiltless snack.  No different, really, than eating fruit and eggs for breakfast, with a spoonful of sugar in your coffee.  I would be curious to try it with watermelon, or other types of fruit.  I imagine it would be fantastic with a mixture of berries.  I'm excited to try it with bananas.

Later that evening, the house and a bottle of wine to myself, I made a bowl of egg salad.  I don't know what made me think of egg salad - it's not something I've eaten often since I was a kid - but it was something I always loved.  Mounds of creamy eggs, mustard, mayo and celery tucked between slices of soft wheat bread.

It appealed to me on this evening, though, since it wouldn't warm up the kitchen at all to prepare.  My somewhat grownup version includes shallots, sauteed until golden, fresh dill, celery, green onions and lemon juice.  A little Dijon mustard and olive oil-mayonnaise for the creaminess.  Piled on top of slices of a loaf of rustic wheat bread, lightly toasted, and on-the-vine tomatoes, the open-faced sandwich was the perfect cool and refreshing dinner on a hot night.

As it turns out, Jamie just came home early - I suppose I'll have to share the wine now...  which of course I don't mind since I love a night at home with him.  And now he gets to watch the rest of the movie I picked with me...

Melon and Pear Frozen Custard-Sorbet
printable recipe
  • 1 1/2 pounds melon, peeled and chopped
  • 2 pears, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.  Pour into a saucepan.  Cook, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat, until thick enough to coat a spatula.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer, pushing through as much liquid as possible.

Cover and chill overnight (or place the bowl of custard inside a larger bowl filled with ice water and stir until chilled).  Freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions of your ice cream maker, then freeze until firm, 4-6 hours.

Yields 1 quart (about 6 servings)

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Open-faced Egg Salad Sandwiches with Dill, Shallots and Lemon
printable recipe

  • 6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 green onions, green and white parts, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil-mayonnaise
  • coarse salt and cracked black pepper
  • 3 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 small loaf bakery wheat bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick

Cook the eggs, cool, peel, chop, and set aside.  In a skillet, heat the olive oil and butter; add shallot and cook for 5-6 minutes until golden.  Add to the eggs.  Add the celery, green onions, dill, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese, and toss to combine.  Add the mustard and mayonnaise; season with salt and pepper.

Serve open-faced on toasted slices of bread, topped with the tomato, then the egg salad.  Garnish with extra dill and green onions.

Yields about 4 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Savory Muffins with Bacon, Egg, Cheese and Potato

A lot of muffins have made an appearance in my posts this spring, most of them on the sweet side, so I thought it was time to make a savory muffin, incorporating lots of favorite breakfast foods like bacon, eggs, green onions and potatoes.  Cheddar cheese and cornmeal were on my list as well.

I love when a recipe comes together exactly right on the first try; I can't tell you how many times I've made something that just didn't work at all, which means no photos and no recipe to share.  But these muffins were soft and moist, full of flavor, and baked up so light and fluffy.  I loved the chunks of soft potato and crisp bacon sprinkled throughout.

We ate them warm, spread with a bit of softened butter slightly sweetened with honey and cinnamon...

Savory Breakfast Muffins with Potatoes, Bacon, Green Onions and Cheddar Cheese
printable recipe
  • 1 cup diced red potatoes, unpeeled (2-3 small)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups low-fat (2%) buttermilk
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions, green and white parts (1-2 stalks)
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, or other cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray.

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender.  Drain and mash the potatoes, leaving some lumps.  Spread out on a plate to cool quickly.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mashed potatoes, oil, eggs and 1 cup of buttermilk until well combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until moistened.  Stir in the bacon, green onions and cheese, then add the remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk if needed.

Fill 12-14 muffin cups with the batter; they will be full, almost to the top. 

Bake muffins for 18-22 minutes, until golden and puffy and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before serving.  Serve warm, with soft honey cinnamon butter.

Yields 12-14 muffins.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rosemary Parmesan Wheat Crackers with Herbed Ricotta Dip

My family was always a cheese and crackers kind of family.  We would never dream of eating soup or chili for dinner without a stack of crackers on the side to dip or crumble.  Slices of cheese, usually cheddar or pepper jack, and fresh tomato slices were always some of my favorite accompaniments to crackers.  Or even the occasional dollop of jam on a saltine.

I was happy to discover that I could very easily make my own crackers, with only the ingredients I choose.  These crackers contain no butter, and just a little olive oil, and are made from a dough formed primarily from wheat flour and water, with of course some seasoning, cheese and herbs.  I added a little white flour to the wheat flour because I find that the finer texture of white flour helps to bind the dough; in my experience, doughs made from all wheat flour, which is more coarse, don't hold together quite as well.

It's a very versatile recipe, and I've also made it using cheddar cheese and fresh dill.  I would imagine that the amount of cheese could be increased quite a bit for a cracker similar to a Cheese-it, but I haven't tried that yet.  As this recipe is, it reminds me a little bit of a Wheat Thin, although without the buttery flavor.

We ate these with a ricotta herb dip, similar to this one from a blog post last year, along with some fresh veggies for a light, late afternoon lunch one weekend.  I plan to try a lot more variations of these crackers with various herbs, seeds and cheeses.  And a feta or goat cheese dip instead of ricotta would be amazing also.

Rosemary Parmesan Wheat Crackers
printable recipe
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup white all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh Rosemary, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 3/4 - 1 cup water
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Cracked pepper

Preheat the oven to 325, and position two racks in the upper and lower third of the oven.

In a mixing bowl, combine both flours, salt, pepper and rosemary.  Add 3/4 cup water, the Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Mix with your hands until well combined, adding the rest of the water if the mixture is too dry.  The dough should be a little sticky.

Divide dough into 3 equal portions, and shape each portion into a ball, then flatten the balls into disks.

Cut 3 pieces of parchment paper to fit inside 3 baking sheets.  Sprinkle the parchment paper lightly with flour.  Lightly flour a portion of dough, and roll it out to the edges of the parchment paper, very thin, about 1/8 - 1/16 of an inch thick.  Repeat with the remainder of the dough on the other pieces of parchment.  Lift the parchment paper, gently shake off the excess flour, and place the paper with the dough on the baking sheets.

Brush the dough with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, then sprinkle lightly with extra salt, rosemary and cracked pepper.  Use a fork to lightly prick the dough all over.  With a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 1 1/2 inch squares.

Working in batches, if needed, bake the crackers for about 30-40 minutes; watch them carefully during the last 20 minutes of baking so that they don’t burn.  They should be golden brown and crisp, but not burnt.  Remove the crackers around the edges as they brown, since they will brown faster than the ones in the middle.

Use a spatula to transfer the crackers to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.  Store leftovers in an airtight container.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Our Trip through the Dakotas, and the Girl who ate the Worm...

I'd never caught a fish in my life until last summer, when I went fishing for walleye with Jamie and his dad in Jamie's hometown of Center, North Dakota.  It was the biggest fish any of us caught that day, so I was pretty pleased.  Walleye costs $17 a pound when it shows up in our grocery store in Colorado, so we took some of our catch back home with us.

Last week we drove to ND for Jamie's 20th high school reunion.  It rained continuously, for almost the entire drive there, and when we arrived just around sundown, a double rainbow stretched from one end of the skyline to the other, landing right in Center.

The next morning, I took a few photos of the garden in their backyard, and the fish pond full of bright orange goldfish.  Their cat Peaches enjoyed stretching out in the sunshine on the cool, damp grass, and their dog Brittany was too eager for attention to pose for a photo.  I got to bring a big bundle of rhubarb home with me from their rhubarb plant.

That afternoon we went fishing, and it was a perfectly warm and sunny day to be out on the Missouri River.  I reeled in the first catch, but I left the de-hooking, re-baiting and cleaning to Jamie and his dad.  We ended up catching plenty of small walleye and a couple of trout, although nothing very note-worthy in size.  Jamie caught and tossed back the same fish three times before deciding to keep it, since the little guy seemed determined to eat the worm on his hook.

Which reminds me...

My junior year in high school, I was walking from the gym where I'd just finished band practice (yes, I was a band geek, although slightly cooler since I played percussion) back to the school building.  The sidewalk between the two buildings ran along the back of the grounds, next to a field and playground where the elementary kids had recess.  It had recently rained, and there were earthworms crawling all over the sidewalk.

I was walking with a guy, a senior, who for whatever reason, dared me to eat one.  Of course, I dared him back, because that's just how you do things when you're young, stupid and trying to impress.  I have no idea why it even crossed my mind to think I had to eat a worm to impress him - seems pretty weird now - but we both reached down, grabbed a worm, and popped it in our mouths.

By the end of the day, I was a legend at school...  at least with the elementary kids.  A little boy came running up to me and asked, "Are you the girl who ate the worm?"  He was in awe.

My mom was horrified.

After a weekend of reunion parties, street dancing and meeting Jamie's former classmates, we left Center with two days before we needed to be home.  So we took our time, stopping at Devil's Tower in the black hills of Wyoming and driving through the Badlands in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

Wild bison roamed freely through the park, and we passed a single bison, possibly male, grazing by the side of the road.  A few minutes later, we came upon a small herd of female bison with their calves.  They appear tranquil, but can attack and charge if disturbed, so we took pictures safely from the car and moved on.

On the drive up, I missed a turn and we ended up taking a side road which, according to the map, should lead us back to the highway.  What started as a paved road, though, turned into a bumpy, gravel washboard road, forcing us to drive 15 miles an hour.  Thirty minutes later we still had not found the highway, and just when I was starting to think we should backtrack, there it was.  But not before we'd crossed paths with a cow in the road playing chicken and a curious antelope studying us from the side.

The town of Medora, ND is a tourist trap, but I'd never been there before, so we made a point of stopping there for the night so we could see some of the area.  Medora is known for the western musical it puts on every summer in the outdoor amphitheater, but on that night it was 45 degrees and raining, which made for a freezing cold experience!  We bundled up in as many sweaters as we had brought, put on rain parkas and braved the weather.  Popcorn and hot chocolate helped.  I couldn't find the tennis shoes I thought I had packed, so as an alternative to flip flops, I had to put on two pairs of socks and wear Jamie's shoes to keep my feet warm.

My favorite place to visit there was the Chateau de Mores, which was the summer home and hunting cabin of a French aristocrat, the Marquis de Mores, and his family in the 1880s.  After arriving in the Dakota territory and establishing a new town, he named the town after his wife, Medora.

The Marquis operated many business ventures, cattle and sheep raising, a meat-packing plant, refrigerated train cars for shipping the meat and a stagecoach line running from Medora, ND to Deadwood, SD, among other ventures.  Business eventually waned, though, and the family only lived there for three years, until the meat-packing plant burned, leaving nothing but the chimney standing.

Guides are stationed at the house to explain the history in detail, and much (about 80%) of the original furnishings and personal belongings are still in the home.  I loved the old-fashioned enamelware pitchers and bowls in each bedroom for washing.  Only female servants lived in the house, while the male servants were housed in the hotel in town.

In the hunting room, a box was laid out for packing Medora's elegant hairbrush set, a gift from the Marquis, because 6 or 7 hairbrushes are so necessary on a hunting trip!

Down a path below the house were three more buildings for the barn, stable and the coachman's house, the horse corral and a root cellar dug into the grassy side of a hill.  They were closed, so we could only peek inside the windows at the peeling wallpaper and crumbling furniture.

After spending a night in Deadwood, SD, we ended the trip with a drive through the scenic Spearfish Canyon region, stopping at Bridal's Veil Falls.  From the road, you can't even imagine how pretty the falls are, but after climbing down the hill (tricky business in flip flops) and jumping a few rocks to cross a stream, you're standing at the base of the falls, looking up through the lush greenery, speckled with sunlight.

We lingered for a few minutes, then climbed back up the hill to the car.  Jamie looked at me and said, "Well, I think it's the end of our trip.  Are you ready to go home?"