Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Biscuits!

Don't you just give a little sigh of relief right about now? The "HOLIDAYS" are over (almost...I mean, New Year's Eve is mostly just fun and usually requires very few relatives). Those millions of last minutes errands are done. Not many things give quite as much relief as taking down all the Christmas decorative clutter. Oh, and I can stop eating mass quantities of butter and sugar (honestly, I was totally force-fed the stuff during the last month).

The ante on my family's holiday season is upped by the fact that my husband has maybe the second worst birthday of the year (the first being Christmas day). The day after Christmas, when everyone is stuffed and sick of the sight of celebration food and sweets, when all of your friends and family can't stomach the idea of yet another hubby is forced to apologize for being born on this particular day.

In fact, for the first many years of his life, he claims to have not even known his precise birthday as his family lumped Christmas, his birthday and his brother's early January birthday all into one. Isn't that sad?

Since we've been married, I have done my best to make a big deal of his big, cake, present not wrapped in Christmas paper, even taking down the tree on some years just to make it less Yuletide-y. Last year was a special number birthday that required a party which we had to push a couple of weeks so that friends would actually come.

This year, we were celebrating with parents and my sister's family (let me just say that my brother-in-law had no problems whatsoever working up another celebration appetite---we can always count on you, thanks!). When asked for the birthday meal of his choice, my husband came up with a few elaborate ideas--dishes that I've never made before. I like to be accommodating, I mean this is his special day. But I begged him for something simpler that can be found in my own repetoire of recipes--I wanted to enjoy his birthday, too.

Thankfully, he is a fan of my food! He wisely chose my special fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and homemade biscuits. Now all I needed was my do-rag, a beer, and some Lipitor. Frying chicken is hot work, so I stripped down to my tank top (or in this case, we can refer to it as my "wife-beater"--what a terrible name, don't you think?).

Donning my cute apron, I drained and dry-rubbed the buttermilk-soaked chicken parts with my special blend spice rub including paprika, cayenne, and garlic powder. Flour dredging came next followed by melted trans-fat free organic shortening (hey, I do what I can for my family's health!).

The mashed Yukon Gold potatoes accepted a generous splash or three of cream from the embarrassingly large half-gallon in my fridge. Perfect.

Now for the biscuits. There are not a lot of things that everyone in my little family will get so excited about, but these biscuits are one of their favorites. We can usually polish off all but one or two and they've been used as leverage in more than a few sentences containing the words, "If you eat all of your _____, you can have another biscuit."

I've tried a few variations including substituting soft white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour or buttermilk for the regular milk, but I would suggest making these biscuits just like the recipe says for best results.


2 c all-purpose flour
1 TB baking powder (non-aluminum and make sure it's fresh!)
1 TB sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 c butter or shortening (I've used both)
3/4 c milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in the butter or shortening and blend using a fork or a pastry blender. The mixture will be lumpy and resemble cornmeal in texture.

Stir in the milk a little at a time, adding just enough so that the dough rounds up and leaves the sides of the bowl (I usually use most of the milk).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a couple of times to bring the dough together. DON'T OVERMIX OR THE BISCUITS WILL BE TOUGH!

Roll out the dough to about 1/2 inch thick and cut with a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter (or canning jar ring or whatever you have). Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until they are golden brown on top.

Serve with butter, honey, jam, or maple syrup. They are also good for egg/sausage sandwiches.

And don't worry, we still had room for some vanilla cake with 16 sweet birthday candles (did I mention my husband was so young??? Love you babe!).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Beefy New Traditions

Just before the Christmas season, our local PBS station was deep into its holiday pledge drive. Sometimes they feature cooking demonstrations during such times. But this time, they were featuring the European travels of Rick Steves, our local PBS tour guide host. And not just any Rick Steves--Rick Steves European Christmas Tour!

The show consisted of Christmas traditions within most of Europe--from hiding the tree until Christmas morning, to an all community reenactment of the Nativity story, to each different version of Santa Claus.

With 3 kids now, we've been at the Christmas tradition thing for a few years. However, we found ourselves drifting through the seasons without much direction. And let me tell you--most traditions take some thought and planning! I sure wish we could have "happened" into some great and meaningful traditions, but that wishful thinking wasn't producing results. Time to be proactive.

First, we decided to plan around the advent calendar. Each Sunday night we lit the candles (unfortunately, Michael's--the stroke inducing craft store--was not carrying advent wreath/candle we made do with a grape vine wreath and a circular candle holder with 5 candles...the extra candle was assigned to Christmas Eve dinner).

In addition to the candles, we drew from a variety of European Christmas ideas and planned an activity for each Sunday night...snowflake making, gingerbread house, cookies, window drawings (very cool Crayola brand window markers). Perhaps most proactive of all...we refrained from setting up the Christmas tree until the very last Sunday before Christmas! I can't tell you how much I loved this part. This must be the first year that I wasn't hating the tree by Christmas day. The anticipation of the tree was really great.

The one aspect of the tree that we saved even longer was its "starring." Christmas Eve was our special night. My family hosted a dinner for my parents and sister's family. Post-dinner, we topped our evergreen with my favorite decoration--the star glittering with thousands of pieces of crushed antique mirror glass. A perfect ending to a fantastic meal.

So let's talk about the meal, because it deserves some text space. When Rick Steves visited a family in France, we witnessed our dinner muse. A brunette French housewife took a beef tenderloin, seared it in foie gras, grated local truffles over the top, and wrapped the whole thing in brioche dough!

Yes, this was the one. My parents graciously contributed the beef tenderloin--an expensive cut of meat to begin with coupled with nearly five pounds of weight. With such a precious hunk of bovine muscle in my refrigerator, I decided I should be a teensy bit more responsible and look up a few recipes just to be safe.

We discovered that this dish is most closely related to a Beef Wellington differing in a few details--butter vs. foie gras, mushroom duxelles filling vs. truffles, and puff pastry vs. brioche.

I fully intended to go to my local Whole Foods for the foie gras and maybe even a truffle (which I've actually never tried yet). However, here in rainy Seattle where it rarely ever snows...we've now been under storm after storm dumping more than a foot of snow. Let's just say that those 8 snow plows that the greater Seattle area owns are not making the grade, especially here on the Eastside. And my super cool mini van lacks snow tires, chains, and 4 wheel drive. We are truly stuck close to home.

So, fancy ingredients were out the window and I wasn't about to attempt puff pastry for the first time! I made some delicious brioche dough (12 yolks!), seared the beef in butter and brandy, and used half of a recipe for the duxelles mushroom filling (we had some mushroom allergies to factor in). Wrap it all up like a present in the brioche...roll out the extra scraps and carved the letters NOEL to decorate the top of the dough...and bake it to tender perfection.

With the addition of my neighbor and her 3 kids (who's father was stuck in Alaska--no flying into Seattle!), we managed to polish off all but one piece of that nearly 5 pound tenderloin. Coupled with creamy risotto, a mandarin orange salad, and my mom's homemade rolls...we were stuffed...with only enough room for a piece of caramely coconutty Laisy Daisy cake!


Preheat oven to 425. Tie a heavy string at several points around a 4-5 pound beef tenderloin. Season very well with salt and pepper. Brush the meat with 2 TB soft butter and 2 TB brandy. Sear it quickly on all sides in a roasting pan, transfer to a rack and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Remove it from the oven, transfer to another rack and cool for about 30 minutes until barely warm to the touch. Remove the string and pat dry with paper towels.

While the beef is cooling, make your Mushroom Duxelles Filling. Finely chop a pound of mushrooms and sprinkle with lemon juice to maintain their color. Melt 4 TB butter in a skillet and add mushrooms, 1/2 c finely chopped scallions, 1/2 c dry sherry (or wine), 1/2 c minced parsley and seasoning. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all the liquid is absorbed (about 10 minutes).

Roll out your puff pastry (about 2 pounds) or brioche to about 3/8 inches thick or about 12 by 18 inches. Spread the duxelles over the pastry pushing it into the dough--leave a 1 inch margin around the outside. Place the meat inside and wrap the pastry around the meat, sealing the edges. Place on an ungreased baking sheet, seam side down.

Roll out leftover pastry and cut out small designs to suit your purposes for decorating the top. Wrap the Wellington in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.


Pull out the Wellington to leave at room temperature for another hour before the final baking.

Preheat the oven to 400. Mix a couple of egg yolks with a couple of tsp of cream or milk and brush your pastry. Bake the Wellington for about 45 minutes (the recipe said 30 minutes, but that wasn't enough time). I stuck a meat thermometer in and took it the meat out when it reached 130 degrees for rare beef. I also covered the brioche with a loose foil tent a few minutes into baking as the dough was browning too fast.

Let the meat rest for 15 minutes or so. Then carve into 3/4 inch slices and serve with your favorite gravy (red wine would be great!). We thought truffles and foie gras would be grand. Next time. Also, maybe a dijon mustard coat on the meat would enhance it further. Don't be shy with the salt and pepper!!!

Whew...a lot of work, but worth it. Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Salsa Verde is a Christmas Color

I got an early Christmas present delivered to me this week from my favorite Mrs. Purl of Austin, Texas. She happens to know that I like cooking and chose her gift accordingly.

With a beautiful butter yellow hard cover and a bold vermillion spine: The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse Restaurant.

It's starting to dawn on me that I'm becoming a sort of food nerd. How do I know? Well, I read cookbooks cover to cover now. I'd say that is a sure sign of culinary nerdiness. What can I say...I guess I've just discovered that there is a lot of good stuff in the text between the recipes!

The book sat staring at me for a few hours while I had to devote my attention to making dinner, getting the kiddos clean and to bed. I suppose I could have flipped through it briefly, but I wanted to begin reading without interruption.

Introduction: organic, local, sustainable, farmer's market, plant a garden, eat together, cook at home, appreciate your food. Check.

Getting Started: Ingredients and the Pantry, Equipment and Getting Started. Oooo, I love pantry lists. I took a few mental notes of some items to stock up on. The list was complete with explanations on how to store different items including their shelf-life expectancy. And equipment! I was happy to note that I possess quite a bit of the equipment suggested...and Christmas is around the corner for some of the items that are missing. I could definitely use an update in the knife department, as well as a new baking sheet (mine pops and warps in a hot oven). Thankfully, Alice Waters is a minimalist in the kitchen and writes her recipes for the barest of electrical equipment--read: no food processor necessary (thank goodness).

What to Cook?: Planning Menus, Everyday Meals and Friends for Dinner, Picnics and Packing a Lunch. I'm already a menu planner, but I did note her advice when planning for guests...KEEP IT SIMPLE! How many times have I planned something complicated and then been unable to enjoy the prep and the company??

Four Essential Sauces: Vinaigrette, Salsa Verde, Aioli, Herb Butter. Finally a good ratio for making vinaigrettes! Salsa Verde caught me by surprise. What I assumed was a Mexican green salsa turn out, in fact, to be "the classic green sauce of Italy." There are no peppers, tomatillos, etc. Instead it consists of:

1/3 c coarsely chopped parsley
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 small garlic clove, pounded into a puree
1 TB Capers, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c olive oil

Let it sit for a while to develop the flavors. I also added some lemon juice. When I first tasted it, Wow--very salty. But, when it was dispersed throughout the fresh fettuccine noodles I just happened to whip up, yum. Just perfect.

She recommends Salsa Verde for roasted meats, vegetables, and fish (Ooooo, doesn't that sound good?). So, there you have it...salsa verde is an Italian sauce. I shouldn't have been so surprised...the languages of Italian and Spanish are quite similar. I remember having most of my high school Spanish replaced by the Italian counterparts when I studied abroad in Florence for a semester in college. (Como se dice vs. Come si dice)

I can't wait to continue my reading...I sense the section on soups will be quite helpful. In fact, I think one of my goals for the next year is to become really proficient at making soups--good soups. Wow, have you ever had orange and olive salad? This is going to be fun.

Thanks Texas Purl!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Holiday Hazelnut Cookies

Tomorrow is the day for one of my favorite holiday events...a cookie exchange! I love seeing everyone's family cookies and traditions. I'm not really sure if my family has one special cookie that says "Christmas". Of course, there are always the cut-out sugar cookies and sometimes those yummy peanut-buttery cookies with the big Hershey's Kiss in the middle (extra tasty if they are still a little warm from the oven).

The one sweet that most sticks out in my mind are the chocolate covered coconut balls (unfortunately known as "Mounds Balls"). I've made them several years now and I just couldn't face another year of rolling those sticky little coconut balls seemingly by the hundreds, dipping them into the chocolate/wax liquid, then letting them harden impaled on a toothpick stuck in some styrofoam. I needed something new this year!

Enter Food & Wine magazine...oooo, holiday cookie recipes! After flipping through the section, I settled on Hazelnut Sandwich Cookies. The others looked great, but I figured the little Russian Tea cookies (or it's many nuanced variations) would probably be making an appearance tomorrow.

Plus, I just plain love anything that combines butter, sugar, chocolate, and nuts!

We were asked to bring 3 dozen cookies (a fairly modest amount by cookie exchange standards--I heard of a 12 dozen party last year!). The recipe says it makes 40 sandwich cookies...perfect, I think.

Now, maybe it's just me, but have you ever actually made the full yield from any recipe? For some reason, I'm always a few short (or a dozen or two--I like big cookies).

I thought I did everything correctly...I chilled the dough, I rolled it to 1/4 inch (I used my ruler to check...boy, I could use some of those roller pin thingys). Lacking a 1 1/2 inch round cookie cutter, I traipsed all over the house with my ruler measuring various potential cookie food jars, canning lids, pencil sharpener cases, water bottle caps. Nothing quite fit, until I checked that cupboard in the laundry room labeled "Various and Sundry".

Hmmm...empty plastic Easter Eggs...those look about right. 1 1/2 inches! There was a tiny hole in the top, so I cut into the egg with my kitchen shears to make a place for my finger to pop out the cookies after I cut them. Who needs expensive cookie cutters?

I swear I cut those cookies as close as possible, rerolling the scraps and cutting out some more. But I was coming up waaaay short! Like 2 dozen short. Okay, I don't think there will be any "sandwiching"...but we can work with that.

I simply dipped those beautiful sandy brown cookies halfway in the chocolate and sprinkled them with some chopped hazelnuts. Beautiful! My son loved being the "sprinkler man" and it was gratifying teaching him how to "move your hand" when you sprinkle so you don't end up with a pile of nuts in one spot. He caught on quickly.

These cookies could become a family tradition...we'll see how everyone feels about them next year.

Chocolate Dipped Hazelnut Crisps


1/2 c plus 2 TB raw hazelnuts (filberts--the nerd of the nut family)
3/4 c sugar
2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice (if you like this one)
Pinch of cloves
1/8 tsp salt
2 sticks plus 6 TB butter, softened
3/4 c (6 oz) chocolate (I used bittersweet, but you can mix and match here)


Preheat the oven to 325. Toast the hazelnuts for 15 minutes until their skins blister. Transfer to a clean towel and rub vigorously to remove their skins. Take 2 TB of the really clean looking nuts and finely chop--these are for the sprinkling. The rest don't have to have all the skins removed.

In a food processor (or a blender on "grind"), finely grind the remaining 1/2 cup of nuts with 2 TB sugar. If you are using a food processor, you can pulse in all the other ingredients through the salt. Then add the 2 sticks of butter to make the dough. I don't have a food processor, so I transferred my nut/sugar mixture to my Kitchenaid and mixed everything in like regular dough.

Since there are no eggs in the recipe, the dough is sandy. Turn it out onto a work surface and knead it together a bit. The warmth from your hands sort of "melts" it together. Pat it into two 8 inch rounds and cover with plastic wrap. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out the rounds on a piece of parchment (cover the dough with plastic wrap to keep the rolling pin from sticking). They should be about 10 inches in diameter and about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out the cookies with a 1 1/2 inch round cookie cutter (or hacked up Easter egg). Arrange on the baking sheet about 1/2 inch apart.

Combine the scraps and chill for another 15 minutes. Repeat cut out procedure. Bake cookies one sheet at a time for about 20 minutes (at 325). Cool on a wire rack.

Melt the chocolate and 6 TB butter over low heat, whisking until smooth. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Dip cookies halfway into chocolate, lay it on the parchment, and let your "sprinkler man" shower some of those chopped hazelnuts on the chocolate for added crunch. Let the chocolate set for about 30 minutes.

These can be stored in an airtight container separated by wax or parchment paper for up to a week! And they are delicious with some hazelnut ice cream drizzled with the remaining chocolate sauce (it gets hard and crunchy on the cold ice cream!).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Organica Deluxe Ginger Cookie

Not many things in December are quite as exciting as the uneven pulse of a diesel engine followed by a little "thump" on your doorstep. A package! What is it? Who sent it? (Oh, please don't just be a ridiculous phone book....was what I was really thinking)

Ooooo...what do we have here? A beautiful turquoise box big enough for a fabulous pair of shoes. I picked it up and it was surprisingly light. Not a pair of shoes, I guess.

Opening the box revealed only a label and packing peanuts (completely biodegradable, water-soluble, cornstarch peanuts according to the label). And the label...Organica Deluxe "Natural, organic, sustainable, fair trade--and always luxury."

My goodness, what do we have here? Dig, dig, dig...swimming in natural packing peanuts...

Oh..cookies. Two of them. Organica Deluxe Ginger Cookies to be exact. That's right, I remember, FoodBuzz asked me if I wanted to review some products! Of course, I said "yes" to free products. But, only two cookies? Honestly, for as much info in the label about post-consumer this and biodegradable that, you'd think they could package these two lonely cookies in a far smaller box...but I digress.

I went to open the cookie package only to discover that both ends of the little plastic package were jaggedly slashed, allowing the cookies to just slide out. Hmmm...should I even eat these? Are they "tainted"? Who have I been mean to lately (accidentally, of course)?

Well, I guess I was a little rude to the school secretary a few weeks back when I couldn't find my kid after school...but she doesn't strike me as the poisoning type. (I'd better apologize, just the same)

I inspected the cookies. looks pretty safe. I mean, poison couldn't be colorless and odorless, could it? (haha) That was my justification, anyhow. The sweet and spicy aroma of ginger, molasses, cloves, and "other natural spices" wafted into my nostrils. The rich brown cookies studded with little sugar crystals really should be tasted. A tiny bite couldn't hurt (I've spent some time building my immunity to anthrax and the lot).

Teeth sinking into the cookie. Mmmm, chewy and spicy, but not too spicy. Delicious molasses. I went in for another taste. What? Where did it go so fast? Ah, well, at least I have another one. This, too, began to disappear quickly until I heard the loud creaking of my son's door being opened from his nap (that stupid door has been repainted so many times and in combination with the noticeable settling of this rental house makes a tremendous amount of noise when it's opened--so needless to say, the baby woke up just after him).

Caught red-handed with half of a cookie, I offered my son a bite. He happens to love ginger molasses cookies and was an immediate fan! I might go as far as to say that they are the best ginger cookies I've eaten! Good job Organica Deluxe--next time send a double order--and try not to suspiciously slash and/or poison the cookies! tongue is starting to feel a little numb. That's weird.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tropical Teacher Appreciation Muffins

A couple of weeks back, I got an email from my daughter's elementary school asking parents to bring in some snacks for the teachers during Conference Week. "This will be great," I thought since I just happen to love cooking.

But what to bring? Surely roasted chicken is not what they had in mind. Nor fancy mashed potatoes or fish. They might have liked my Frankenbread...but I wanted to represent well. This event required something self-contained and semi-healthy (I wanted everyone to feel like they should eat it!)

When I read that they needed breakfast items for one of the mornings, that helped me solve my dilemma. Muffins! A little breadish, a little cakeish, all packaged nicely in its own pretty wrapper (and conveniently enough just right for sticking a toothpick-impaled business card on).

I've been making these Tropical Muffins for a year or so now. And although "tropical" might make one think "summer" at first, I think we Seattleites could all use a little tropical this time of year. The only thing they could use is a little more color--any suggestions other than a nasty pink cherry?

And thank you to all of the teachers at Lakeview Elementary School, especially my daughter's teacher--Meighan Lailey!

Tropical (Low-fat) Muffins


1 1/3 c flour (use soft whole wheat pastry flour for extra nutrition)
1 c regular rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c mashed ripe bananas (about 2)
1 c low-fat buttermilk
1/2 c packed brown sugar
2 TB canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
1/2 c canned crushed pineapple in juice, drained
1/3 c flaked coconut (I use unsweetened)
3 TB finely chopped macadamia nuts (or cashews)


2 TB flaked coconut (again, unsweetened works fine)
1 TB finely chopped macadamia nuts
1 TB sugar
1 TB regular rolled oats


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a muffin pan with muffin papers.

Combine dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine bananas and next ingredients (through egg). Add wet ingredients to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Stir in pineapple, coconut, and nuts.

Spoon batter into paper cups (it should make 12 muffins).

Prepare topping. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of topping over each muffin.

Bake for 18 minutes. Remove from pan and cook on a wire rack.

(Note...if you try to peel the paper off before they are totally cool, it may stick a bit. If you must eat a fresh warm muffin, bite off the extra bits when no one is watching!)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

FoodBuzz 24, 24, 24: Local & Homemade vs. Store Bought & Prepared

When I first became aware of the current "24, 24, 24" topic (Thanksgiving), I thought, " does one reinvent Thanksgiving without taking away the essential Thanksgivingness of the food?" I certainly didn't want to eat beef or sushi or curry for a holiday that has only ever centered around a turkey and all the other fixings.

Even the idea of a homemade Thanksgiving seemed a little stupid--I mean, my family has always made this meal at home. With an extended family bursting at the seams with women who cook, we were never short on homemade fare.

But then I took a deeper look at what I considered to be homemade. Was a frozen, "solution" injected turkey really homemade? How about sweet potatoes with marshmallows? Green bean casserole contained several canned ingredients--to the best of my knowledge, no one ever made the condensed mushroom soup or fried the onions for the topping.

Admittedly, the rolls were nearly always homemade as we have an actual family recipe for them. And mashed potatoes never came from a box--they were the real thing. Occasionally cranberry relish could take the "homemade" title, although I've had my fair share of can shaped gelatinous cranberry sauce. Desserts were generally homemade--at the very least they were mostly home-prepared.

I decided to submit my proposal expanding the meaning of "homemade"--to make everything possible to make--and just to give it an extra challenge, to obtain as many ingredients from local sources as possible. This would be an event to pit the ultimate commercialized ingredients against the ultimate fresh ingredients!

For the past three years, I have hosted Thanksgiving at my home where we smoked a brined turkey and made most of the side dishes. But this year, my sister moved from her teeny cottage house into a beautiful "new" home (made of many recycled materials). She was ready to host a holiday.

I approached her with my idea for a local and homemade Thanksgiving, asking her if it would too much trouble for her to pick up a majority of those ingredients in her Stumptown neighborhood. Her response was something to the effect of, "Julie, this is how I shop all the time (snaaaap!)." Just kidding about the attitude--actually, she was super accommodating assuring me that Portland is the local food mecca of the United States. In fact, she'd already purchased her organic turkey from Abundant Life Farm in nearby Salem, Oregon.

We collaborated for a couple of weeks, gathering recipes to reinvent the traditional classics. In the days before the holiday, she scoured local farmers markets and shops for everything we'd need. Their CSA, Dancing Roots Farm delivered many of the veggies since Thanksgiving is a holiday about the seasonal harvest--pumpkins, onions, spinach. The Portland Farmer's Market, representing various local farms, supplied the green beans, apples, and hazelnuts.

Since our menu included bread products and desserts, we opted for the most local flour source. Wheat is not a very "local" crop, but there is a famous mill in Portland. Ever heard of Bob's Red Mill? Their flour products are everywhere--especially in health food stores. Even the toffee used in the apple pie was made locally. Locally roasted coffee was obviously super easy to come by in the Northwest. We used some decaf Cafe Caramelita.

The side-by-side meals began: one local and homemade, one store bought and prepared (by the way, I was slightly horrified to find that with the exception of the turkey, everything for Thanksgiving can be found boxed or canned in a sort of "industrialized harvest" pyramid at the local grocery store).

To ease oven logistics, I opted to roast the "store bought" turkey at my house the day before we left for Portland--using an onion/apple aromatic combo stuffed into the cavity. Seeing as we've always smoked our turkey, I had to follow some new directions for roasting length and temperature. It was also my day for the school carpool so my husband helped me out by removing the turkey from the oven when the timer went off. Since it had to rest anyways before carving, this seemed like it would work out great. Only, when I finally did carve it like an hour later--it was still quite raw. I decided to finish cutting up the turkey into pieces, threw them back in a roasting dish and cooked them for a while longer. No problem.

In comparison, the local turkey had a good amount of sage butter stuffed under the skin of it's breasts. It was then layered with some thick cut bacon and painted with maple syrup (we joked that next year we could improve on this recipe by stuffing the turkey cavity with pancake batter). Let me just say that syrup-bacon-butter turkey is really good.

My fabulous sister baked her own cornbread from scratch the day before, letting the chunks dry a bit before making them into a sage-cornbread dressing. We went for the best-selling "Stovetop" brand stuffing in contrast.

More than anything else, my 6-year-old daughter was anticipating the mashed potatoes. When it was mealtime, she heaped a mountain of Yukon gold's onto her plate. And with good reason--these were my special Camembert-cheese infused mashed potatoes. Although containing nearly a teaspoon of salt, all the other flavors came through; whereas, the store bought "rehydrated" potato flakes (butter and herb variety) pretty much tasted only of salt.

We replaced the classic marshmallow-topped presweetened canned yams with a hazelnut crusted yam casserole (fresh garnet yams mashed with some maple syrup, milk, and a touch of vanilla).

Only real sweet cream butter for our delicious food--the opposite of which must be "Butterlicious!"

Thanks to the turkey I roasted earlier in the week, even our turkey stock for the gravy was homemade.

Anything that ends up in the shape of the can screams industrial food. For our homemade version, I could have drawn from some family cranberry relishes using walnuts and even pineapple chunks. However, I wanted to keep it a bit more traditional so I opted for fresh local cranberries (lucky we live in a cranberry-producing area!), some freshly squeezed orange juice and zest (unfortunately, no local options exist for the oranges, but California isn't that far away), and a few pinches of various holiday spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

My sister baked a tray full of whole-grain dinner rolls to combat the factory produced "butterflakes"--but I only got a photo of the store bought rolls. So sorry, sis. Yours were great!

Probably no part of the holiday meal is more "canned" than the green bean casserole--canned beans, canned cream of mushroom soup, canned fried onions. Just mix, sprinkle and heat! This is my dad's favorite part of the meal, so we did save him a small dish. But he also enjoyed the fresh version consisting of blanched fresh green beans, sliced mushrooms sauteed in butter with pancetta and garlic. Everything came together with a little sour cream sauce (thank you Tillamook Cheese Factory!)

Our meal was accompanied by a spinach, pear, and hazelnut salad and various locally produced wines (Washington and Oregon only). I threw in a bottle of Martinelli's and a frozen Sara Lee apple pie to finish off the store bought meal.

But then...for the grande finale...not one, but two fantastic desserts. My sister whipped up a luscious pumpkin custard, roasting her own pumpkins and then adding the most local ingredient of all--eggs from her own chickens! After baking, she cut the custard into 2 1/2 inch rounds with a biscuit cutter and topped it with freshly whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon.

The second dessert was my caramel apple toffee struesel pie. While I put together the apples and caramel ingredients, my mom made the pie crust. She's made many more pie crusts than me--I was amazed how easy she made it look to roll out the dough. Then she expertly pinched and fluted the edges of the crust. (I think we need a Julie Jams pie crust class so she can teach us how that's done!)

Ladies and gentlemen, this was a Homemade Thanksgiving meal like none I've ever eaten. It was a tremendous amount of work--we got a little sick of cooking toward the end. But the experience of preparing each dish, laughing and talking in the kitchen with my mom and sister, and sharing the meal with our husbands and children is a memory I will cherish for a very long time. I don't fancy myself a super sentimental kind of girl...but as I watched the video my husband made I felt immensely satisfied (there might have even been a watery eye).
Julie Jams: A Homemade Thanksgiving from Arnold Arnan on Vimeo.

Thanks to FoodBuzz for challenging me to rethink Thanksgiving--the ultimate food holiday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Logo

I'm very pleased to showcase our brand new logo designed by Jason P. Jones Enjoy the new Julie Jams look.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Be on the Lookout

Some exciting news...

Julie Jams was selected for FoodBuzz's 24, 24, 24 for Thanksgiving!

Twenty-four bloggers make 24 different meals and post on their blog within 24 hours. The theme is (naturally) Thanksgiving for this time around. I submitted my idea: Local & Homemade vs. Store Bought & Prepared. We are actually preparing two separate meals for this.

Check it out on Saturday night (Nov. 30)!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Perfect Pancakes, Happy Hotcakes, Gorgeous Griddlecakes

My husband and I both come from commercial pancake mix families. His mother's mix of choice: Krusteaz. My mom's favorite: Snoqualmie Falls Lodge. I grew up thinking that thin pancakes were good; thick cakes were undesirable. Isn't it funny how you latch on to some random adult comment as a child and that becomes your "FACT"?

After we got married, I searched the Southern California grocery stores for Snoqualmie Falls Lodge pancake mix because, to me, there was no other alternative. We also used to top our pancakes with a mix of "pancake syrup" (aka nearly pure high fructose corn syrup!) and berries which we microwaved to warm berry syrup perfection. My husband, who dislikes most berries on account of their pesky seeds, wasn't thrilled. I'm sure he was wondering where his wonderful mother's perfect Krusteaz pancakes adorned with perfect plain Mrs. Butterworth's were hiding. (I'm counting on being my son's bar for culinary talent someday!!)

But, then we found marital bliss in the form of a beautiful compromise--Alton Brown's "Instant Pancakes". These were so delicious that one could hardly call this a compromise; more like a beautiful upgrade.

Now, for those of you out there who, like me until relatively recently, feel like it might actually be impossible to make the magical formula for pancake mix...I come to preach the message of homemade griddle cakes!

First you make a "master mix" from which you can make approximately 3 batches of (12) pancakes over the next few weeks.

In a container with a lid, combine:

6 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 TB baking powder
1 TB kosher salt
2 TB sugar

Put on the lid and shake vigorously. Use within 3 months.

When the weekend rolls around and it's time to eat pancakes:

Heat your electric griddle to 350 degrees and preheat the oven to 200 degrees (to stash the pancakes until you finish cooking all of them).

Gather your ingredients:

2 eggs, separated
2 c buttermilk
4 TB melted butter
2 c "Master Mix" from above

Whisk together the egg whites and the buttermilk. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the melted butter (be careful that the butter is not blasting hot, just melted).

Combine the milk mixture and the butter mixture. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour liquid over the 2 cups of master mix. Whisk lightly until the batter just comes together--don't try to work out all the lumps.

Lightly butter the griddle, wiping off a bit with a paper towel afterwards. Ladle the thick batter onto the griddle (about 1/4 cup). Sometimes I gently "widen" the pancake with the measuring cup since the batter is quite thick.

After bubbles appear, turn and cook 2-3 minutes on the other side. Don't smash it with the spatula! Remove to a towel-covered pan in the oven. Serve within 20-30 minutes.

And if you've never tried real maple syrup, give it a whirl. It's a bit less sweet than Mrs. B's. When you feel like you've got these down, experiment with your favorite fillings--blueberries, bananas, chocolate chips (my kid's favorite, of course).

Trust me, once you have these delicious hot cakes, you'll never go back to your conventional store-bought mix again (unless you're out of buttermilk or master mix or lazy, which is why there is still a big bag of Krusteaz in my cupboard).

Happy weekend breakfasting!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lazy Daisy Cake

Last night I continued our tradition of trying out new recipes on guests--always a risky proposition. But this time it worked out well!

A couple of weeks back, my parents returned from a weekend at my aunt's house. My mom was raving about a cake that my aunt had baked. Apparently, she picked up a cookbook from an estate sale dating back to the early 20th century.

"Lazy Daisy Cake" got it's title from the fact that you pour hot milk over your batter just before baking--and you're so lazy that you don't even stir it into the batter. But, that's really the only thing "lazy" about the cake. It involves a simple batter, the hot milk, and then a caramel coconut topping reminiscent of the german chocolate cake topping sans frosting.

The recipe called for "a cake pan" so I had to assume that meant something like my 9 inch round caked pan. Everything seemed to fit fine. However, I didn't take into account the leavening power of the four eggs or 2 tsp of baking powder!

Just like the Frankenbread of last week, the batter kept rising and rising. I'm thinking, "Uh-oh, a souffle in a cake pan...". It's puffy edges morphed up and over the edge of my pan, which thankfully has a wide-ish rim all the way around it. All the hot milk bubbled dangerously close to the top.

I prepared myself for another disappointment. It certainly wasn't pretty. After 40 minutes, I removed it from the oven and decided that before I put on the topping, I would invert the cake onto a parchment lined baking sheet so that the ugly side wouldn't show.

Ha ha ha, the joke was on was ugly underneath too! Now flipped, the center was totally concave. Nuts! I spread on the ooey-gooey coconut caramel and stuck it under the broiler for a few minutes until it was browned and bubbly like a brulee.

The result was not too pretty, so I garnished it with some really thin apple slices.

But what should I call this cake?

A flan, a brulee, a cake? Well, one thing was for sure...we can definitely call it "Delicious"!

It has a moist chewy quality from the milk and caramel. I think I remarked that it was like eating a large piece of german chocolate cake topping. Mmm, good.

"Lazy Daisy Cake"


4 eggs
2 c sugar
2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 c milk
2 TB butter
1 tsp vanilla
(I think it also needs a pinch of salt, but the recipe did not call for it)

Heat milk and butter together over low heat until hot, but not boiling.

Beat eggs until light. Add in the sugar and beat again. Add in the flour and baking powder. Beat until fully incorporated and then add the vanilla.

Line a 9 inch cake pan with parchment paper and butter the sides well. Pour in the batter (it is very thick and a little grainy from the sugar). Then carefully pour the milk/butter over the cake.

Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn on the broiler. I inverted my cake onto a baking sheet lined with parchment because it was ugly and because I was afraid the topping would spill out of the pan.

Topping ingredients:

1/4 c heavy cream
1/2 c plus 2 TB brown sugar
4 TB butter
1 c coconut flakes

Combine the cream, sugar, and butter in a saucepan until it starts to bubble. Remove from heat and stir in the coconut. Spread the topping over the hot cake and put the cake under the broiler for a few minutes.

Watch it carefully! The sugar will bubble and turn a nice caramel brown. Remove the cake and let it cool. Garnish with something pretty and serve it with some good coffee!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stolen Video Camera - Donations Anyone?

Arnold (the other half of Julie Jams) writing you today,
I was horrified to discover that my beloved video camera, maker of such of films as Julie Jams Roast Chicken and Julie Jams Pasta was stolen out of my car. I know I know, what am I doing leaving an expensive piece of equipment in an unlocked car. My bad. In any rate, to speed up the process of buying a new camera, so we can continue making Julie Jam Videos, I'm taking donations via the button below. If you feel like donating anything that would be great! No pressure though. Thanks again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

And I Shall Call it "Frankenbread"

Maybe I should call this "Julie is Human, Part 2" because this seems to be one of those weeks where even tried and true things are going wrong.

Like I said yesterday, I've been baking my own bread lately from a really great recipe in "Feeding the Whole Family" by Cynthia Lair. Yesterday I got the starter dough ready and today I baked the loaves. Honestly, I've had such poor luck with yeasted items in the past that now I put in a little extra yeast just to make sure they rise. But today my kitchen must have been warmer than usual or something because the usual 1-2 hour rising time flew by in about 45 minutes.

I punched down my dough and separated it, shaping into loaves to rise again in the pan. The dough raced to the top of the pans in only about 15 minutes! Wow...I'd better get those babies into the oven to stop the balloon of dough...

So in they went for about 45 minutes. After 10 minutes, I noticed how enormous they were getting. Good thing the oven would be killing off the rising action of the yeast any minute now.

But, no, they just kept rising and rising. The slit I had cut into the top to prevent an ugly split on the side metamorphosed into a giant canyon. They ended up looking like they'd grown giant tumors. (I know, not very appetizing, sorry)

Disappointment threatened...until I tasted the fantastic bread I had created. Ugly though it may be, it was light and soft and sweet! I shaved off the offending bulges with my knife, spread on a little butter and ate bread for lunch.

Here's a photo of a couple of loaves I made the other day...notice how nicely shaped these were!

Homemade Whole Grain Bread

Ingredients (Starter Dough):

2 cups cooked whole grains (anything from brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oats, millet, etc.)
2 cups water
1/2 cup cold-pressed vegetable oil (I use olive)
1 TB sea salt
1 TB dry yeast (I use 3-4 packages just to be safe)
1 cup whole wheat flour

Blend grains and water in a blender until creamy; pour into a large bowl. Mix in oil, salt, and yeast. Add the flour and stir. Cover the bowl and leave for 12-24 hours at room temperature. Once the dough is fermented, it can be refrigerated for up to a week before using for the bread if necessary.

To Make the Bread:

1/4 cup sweetener (barley malt, maple syrup, honey, molasses, brown rice syrup, etc.)
2 cups whole wheat flour
3-4 cups unbleached white bread flour

After the 12-24 hours, add sweetener to starter dough and stir. Add whole wheat flour and stir. As you add the white flour, the mixture will be too difficult to stir. Knead it by hand in the bowl. When it is less sticky, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead 10-15 minutes more until it is soft and springy. Wash and dry bowl; oil it. Place dough in bowl, cover and let rise until doubled (1-2 hours).

To Make the Loaves:

Lightly oil 2 loaf pans. Divide dough in half. Punch down. Flatten the dough into a square, pressing all the air out by slapping it vigorously. Fold the dough into a triangle and press it down again. Fold 2 corners into the center and press again. Fold the top point into the body of the dough and press again.

Pick up the dough with both hands and begin rolling it into itself. Seal the seam by flattening it with the heel of your hand. Shape it into a nice loaf and place in the pan, seam side down. Repeat with other half of dough.

Cover and let rise until doubled in size (45-60 minutes). Coat the top of each loaf with this mixture...

1 tsp water
1 tsp sweetener
1 tsp oil
1/4 tsp sea salt

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes. Let cook 5 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a wire wrack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before cutting into it!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Julie Is Human After All

I'm sure none of you were actually under the illusion that I am invincible in the kitchen. But, maybe, just maybe, I've become a tiny bit overconfident about my cooking skills. Today had some definite failures.

If you're one of those people that enjoy reading about the shortcomings of others (haha, feeling guilty yet?), you'll probably enjoy this post.

We are to those few days before payday once again and while I have quite a bit of chicken in the freezer thanks to the recent Cooking Class, we are running short on bread. Recently, I've begun baking my own yummy and healthy loaves. But due to a recent hostess gift, I found our supplies low.

The bread recipe I've been using is from "Feeding the Whole Family" by Cynthia Lair. It calls for a starter dough using any of a number of whole grains. So I got some steel-cut oats going for a change to the quinoa/brown rice combo I've used lately. Things were going well until I tried multi-tasking...

Hey! There's that half-gallon of whole milk in the fridge (the weekly delivery of nonfat milk was piling up, so I asked for a whole milk to make some bread pudding or ricotta). And, I'd had the foresight to buy a little carton of heavy cream...ricotta, here I come!

As I remembered from the handy-dandy video we produced on making ricotta cheese, it contained only 4 ingredients. I didn't actually need to go look up the video. I never forget stuff (haha!)--I can make ricotta with my eyes closed, or so I thought.

Pour in the milk and cream. Heat until steaming. Check. Get 3 TB of vinegar ready. Oh, and salt--I'm sure it was 1 TB I needed. The original recipe had me pour in the vinegar, stir for 30 seconds, then pour in the salt and stir for another 30 seconds. That's silly, I thought! Why not combine them and kill two birds with one stone?

See, I'm the kind of person that needs a specific, "Do not do this or that because this or that will happen" kind of person. Otherwise, I'm sure to find the most seemingly efficient way to do something.

So, in go the vinegar and salt together. Stir, stir, stir...stir stir stir. Hmmm...nothing's happening. This milk was supposed to start curdling right away. Well, maybe some more go another TB, then two. Nothing is happening! What the heck? More and more vinegar--now I'm a little mad and I know it's not going to work out, so I keep dumping in vinegar to see how much it will take. To no avail!

Nuts! I was looking forward to some creamy ricotta lasagna this week and now I wasted a half gallon of whole milk and a carton of cream. Tonight I discovered the importance of at least glancing at a recipe--this one only called for 1/2 tsp of salt--not the whole TB I put in. I'm no chemist, but apparently all that salt seems to have affected the curdle power of the vinegar. Or maybe it was the combining of salt and vinegar, instead of stirring in separately. I may never know.

Well, hopefully, the bread will turn out tomorrow and I can put the ricotta failure behind me. Tomorrow night I'd love to write of my glowing success accompanied by a photo of two golden loaves of bread and my new favorite bread recipe. Keep your fingers crossed!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Magic Chicken: A Cooking Class

A couple of months back, my mom brought to my attention a couple of mutual friends who were looking to learn some cooking skills. We tossed around the idea of a cooking class hosted and taught by us. But what to teach? Where do you begin? What skills are basic enough for a beginner but interesting enough for those with some experience?

I sent out an email to all of my acquaintances, chef and novice alike, to garner a bit of interest. As it turns out, a lot of women are interested in hanging out in the kitchen, getting some new recipes, and building new friendships!

Last Saturday night, Julie Jams presented the very first cooking class entitled: "The Magic Chicken". What's more basic than a chicken? Especially as food prices go up, it is always helpful to know how to handle, dismantle, and prepare a whole (and cheap) chicken.

We covered a variety of topics starting with "How to Cut Up a Chicken".

"It was very informative and fun - from the first sniff of a bay leaf, to the sound of dislocating the hip bone of a chicken...", said my friend Karyn.

Yeah, I thought the very best way for anyone to learn how to cut up a chicken was to roll up their sleeves, plunge their hand into a chicken cavity to remove the organs (i.e. naughty bit), and pop some hip joints. (Actually, it is sooo much easier to cut off those leg quarters with that joint popped out!)

My 6 year old daughter excitedly told her daddy later, "Daddy, I almost touched a chicken heart--it was so disgusting!" Let it be known, though, that she was ecstatic about cutting up the chicken and, I think, about being included in a grown-up girl event.

We then demonstrated a couple of different cooking techniques including poaching chicken breasts (for shredding into some enchiladas)
and braising legs and thighs (using my mother-in-law's Filipino Adobo recipe).

My mom demonstrated her delicious creamy chicken enchiladas using a poached shredded chicken breast, softening corn tortillas in oil, dipping flour tortillas in cream. Mmmm...

Instruction was also provided for how to make your own chicken stock. I must not have expounded on the tastiness or uses for homemade chicken stock enough because many of the women gave me their chicken's carcass and neck for my own stock pot (but I'm not complaining--you should see the stock that all those chickens made--pure gold!).

The end of the class was all about tasting. Creamy chicken enchiladas, Filipino adobo, Cheesy tortilla soup.

My husband printed up some really beautiful little booklets containing all the info plus 6 recipes and even some cookbook recommendations in the back, available to you all thanks to Google documents.

This was really a fun event. I can't wait to do another. We brainstormed some topics to engage a wide variety of interests: Soups and Stews, Sauces, Cookies, Breads, Various Ethnic Cuisines, and more. My mom said, "It was fun to hear ideas from the other participants."

Considering the popularity of this idea, I think I will announce the next class here on my blog--we'd love to meet some new people here on the Eastside interested in cooking! From my friend Julia, "Thanks for the "magic" last night!" (she was, of course, referring to the chicken class...)


Note: all photos were taken by my talented friend Piper. Check out her photo blog. Thanks Piper!

Friday, October 31, 2008

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