Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy Holidays- Have a Rumball.

We never had a lot of holiday traditions, and of those, many have slipped away as our children grew older. I don't remember when we started making rum balls, but even when we don't put up a tree or decorate the house, we still make rum balls. This is Chuck's project from start to finish, and he gives them as gifts to neighbors, family, friends and co-workers, all of whom start asking about them in the fall.

Chuck uses the recipe from the Joy of Cooking but modifies and expands it. There is not a single local ingredient in them, but enjoy them anyway. Happy Holidays.

Bourbon Balls
(Joy of Cooking)

About sixty 1-inch balls
Sift together into a medium bowl:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Whisk together in a small bowl until well mixed:
¼ cup bourbon or dark rum
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Stir into the cocoa mixture and set aside. Combine:
2 ½ cups vanilla wafer crumbs
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Stir into the cocoa mixture.
Roll the mixture into balls between your palms (the balls do not have to be even). Roll in:
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
Place in fluted candy cups. Store between layers of wax paper in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

Chuck's Changes to the recipe:
The past couple of years, Chuck has used 151 rum. He has also used Kahlua, and a Godiva chocolate liqueur. I prefer the Kahlua or the Godiva, and I think the 151 is much too strong. But I am not fond of alcohol in general, and he tells me everyone else loves them.

Also, he has been using a 1:1 mixture of ginger snaps and vanilla wafers instead of straight vanilla wafers. One new tradition- EunJee, a foreign student from Korea has been making the rum balls with Chuck for the past 5 or 6 years.

Mixing the "batter".

Rolling the dough into balls

Rolling the balls in powdered sugar.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter Comfort Food

Happy Winter Solstice! Starting tomorrow, the days will get a little longer as we start the long climb back out of the depths of winter into spring. Regardless of that, most of us probably see winter stretching out before us long and dark and very cold.

While I am not overly fond of the cold and dark, I like the foods of winter- I like one-pot meals and dishes with lots of complex carbohydrates. I like the things that are harvested in the fall and store well into the winter- sweet potatoes, apples, winter squash. The inspiration for this wintery side dish came from a wide variety of places; my friend Julia, Iron Chef America and my mother.

I've been reading about the health benefits of barley recently. According to World Healthiest Foods (read about it here) barley is better than oatmeal for lowering cholesterol, is good for intestinal health, terrific for heart health AND it's low glycemic index is perfect for those with Type 2 Diabetes. Breakfasting on barley may help regulate blood sugar spikes. I was trying to figure out a way to breakfast on barley, and came up with the idea of making a sort of granola like substance out of it that I mixed into my morning yogurt. Then my friend Julia mentioned that her husband Robert made excellent barley, "light and fluffy, like good rice" she said. She went on to tell me that they had eaten warmed over barley with a fried egg on top for breakfast. I was entranced- this would never have occurred to me. Usually I am the one eating something that has everyone else peering and commenting. I determined to do something more with barley than put it in soup.

How did Iron Chef America and my mother come into this? Well, the other night I watched Battle Cranberry on Iron Chef, and I dearly love cranberries. And my mother told me that if I put a acorn squash in the microwave for a minute, it would peel more easily. I figured, if it works for an acorn squash, why not a butternut.

This recipe is adapted from one on

Butternut Squash Barley Risotto with cranberries
1 small butternut squash
1/2 cup apple cider
1 onion, chopped
2 TBSP olive oil
2.5 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth is OK too)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp rubbed sage or 1 TBSP chopped fresh sage
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/3 c pearl barley (you can use unhulled barley, but it does not release starch like the pearl barley does and may not be as creamy)
4 oz crumbled goat cheese
2 TBSP dried cranberries

Put the butternut squash in the microwave for 2 minutes. This makes it very easy to peel and chop into 1/2 in chunks.

Pour the apple cider into a skillet, add the squash chunks, cook covered until the squash is not quite fork tender. Remove 1 cup for the recipe, and reserve the rest for another time.*

In a small saucepan, add the broth, the sage and the bay leaf, bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover.

Put oil in a skillet, saute the chpped onion until transparent. Add squash and stir briefly. Add the barley, stir for about 2 minutes.

Pour 1/4 of the broth into the barley and stir until it is absorbed. Be sure the bay leaf stays in the pan with the rest of the broth. Add remaining broth, 1/4 at a time, stirring after each addition until it is absorbed. Cover and cook on low until the barley is tender but not mushy. Stir occasionally and be careful not to burn.

Add the goat cheese crumbles and stir to melt. Dried cranberries may be added now, or may be sprinkled on top as a garnish.

This was relatively sweet. You may prefer to skip the apple cider cooking step, adding the uncooked squash to the onion, cooking until fork tender before adding barley.

*The left over squash can be mashed and used in a pumpkin muffin recipe. Here's a good one. Or try it mashed like potatoes with a little butter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Latkes with Applesauce

My friend Dorothy makes the best latkes. I had them once, more than 12 years ago at a homeschool Channukah celebration, and I still remember how wonderful they were- warm, crispy, with applesauce and sour cream. She generously shared her recipe with me, which was sadly and irrevocably lost in the Great Hard Drive Crash of 2008. But I think she must have had some latke magic that she didn't share with me, because even with her recipe, mine were never as good.

We made 2 batches from the recipe found here. One batch was the traditional kind made with white potatoes, and the other batch was made with sweet potatoes. (All potatoes from our garden, by the way!)

White potato latkes
Sweet potato latkes
Latke "batter"- white potatoes

Despite the recipe statement that we could make "palm-sized" latkes, I think these were too big, certainly too thick. Next time we'll go thinner. We also thought we would reduce the fat content by cooking them on the non-stick griddle- BIG MISTAKE! We had to move them to the cast iron skillet. They really need the oil to make them correctly.

white potato latkes in the cast iron skillet.

Latkes are best served with applesauce and sourcream, as in the top picture. Since my days of eating sour cream and living through the experience are over, I had non-fat plain yogurt. The Greek yogurt is an almost acceptable substitute. (They are also good as leftovers, with applesauce and pepperjack cheese melted on them.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Joy of Apples

Braeburn and GoldRush
I am very fortunate to live in the midst of Pennsylvania's "Fruit Belt". In fact, on my daily drive to and from work for the past year I have watched the beautiful progress of apples, peaches and cherries from the first blush of color in the spring, when the buds begin to swell, through the all-out extravagance of the blossoms into the heavy abundance of the ripening fruit. Even this time of year, empty of leaves, the trees form interesting shapes on the hillsides.

The apples were good this year. We started with a few Gingergolds in August, then Honey Crisp in September. The Jonagolds, from Toigo Orchards, came in October, and were spectacular. Tart with a sweet follow-up, and crisp, I bought bushels to dry for later use*. I also made gallons of applesauce.

*To dry- I used the peeler-corer-slicer for uniformity. I saved the peels and cores in the freezer, and will make apple jam out of it.

When the Jonagolds were gone, I tried Braeburns, good, but not as marvelous as the Jonagolds.

My new favorite, Goldrush- a Yellow Delicious variety, tart, crisp and an excellent keeper, came in November. Toigo is the only place I know that carries them around here. A trip to St. Louis over Thanksgiving gave us an opportunity to buy some Arkansas Blacks- a very late heirloom variety. And finally, Granny Smiths and Romes were a gift from my friends at the Lady Apple Orchard. I had never seen a Granny Smith with a red blush; Jon Lady said that's because they are usually picked green. He left them on until they were riper. They certainly were good, and his explanation may be why I have never cared for Granny Smiths. They are always too tart for me. I like a tart apple, but I want some sweetness.

From top, clockwise- Goldrush, Rome, Arkansas Black, Granny Smith.

I like to use more than one variety of apple in applesauce- it gives it a more complex flavor. I also like the applesauce very chunky. I chop the unpeeled apples coarsely until my 8 cup Pyrex measuring cup is full. Then I add about 1/4 cup sugar and some cinnamon, and put them into the microwave at 50% power for 20 minutes, covered. When it comes out of the microwave, I mash a little bit, and if it is too firm, put it back in for another 5 minutes at full power.

For information about the health benefits of apples, go here

It appears that an apple a day really might keep the Doctor away!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

18 months later....

Well, 18 months ago I wrote that I was blanching asparagus and getting ready for a trip to visit my children. What I didn't write was that I was also waiting for a job change: the organization for which I was working at the time was re-structuring. It was painful and stressful and blogging was the way I handled the stress of not know how my job situation was going to resolve. To my great relief, I was rehired, to do a job I was very pleased and excited about doing: writing curriculum and designing online courses. (Another really good part was that for the first time in our married lives, my husband and I would be making enough money to make ends meet at the end of the month.)

The only downside was a hour long commute at the beginning and end of each day. Adding longer hours due to going from 3/4 time to full time, this meant that for the past 18 months I have barely had time to breathe, much less cook or blog about food.

During that 18 months I loved my work, I did it well, my office-mates were delightful people and, despite not actually having much of a life outside of work, things were good.

Sadly, because of the downturn of the economy as well as other economic factors, the organization has had to make structural changes again. It was decided that an on-staff curriculum and online development person was a luxury, not a neccessity. My job was eliminated, and I have joined the 4.4 million people who are unemployed in this dark and stormy time. Little did I know when I voted for change on November 4, the change I got would be so immediate and so personal!

But here's the upside- For a little while, I will have the time to do the stuff that fell to the side when I was pouring all of my creative energy into my job. I will get to take leisurely walks with my dogs, and chat at the dog park with all of the other dog parents. I will be able to eat meals with my husband.
Best of all? I get to cook, and blog about it!