Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Concord Grape Juice

For Rebecca (and anyone else who wants it): This is just the standard "Grape Juice II" from the Ball Blue Book. "Grape Juice I" involves crushing, heating, straining, sitting overnight, re-straining, and reheating, so I skipped it!

It doesn't specify Concord grapes for use, but that's what I used with wonderful results. I don't know if other types of grapes would yield as much flavor, but it's always worth at least one shot.

Wash and stem fresh, firm, ripe grapes. Combine 1/2 to 1 cup sugar with 4 cups water (I used 1/2 cup sugar.) Bring sugar and water to a boil; boil 5 minutes. Put 1 cup grapes into a hot quart jar. (I used 1 and 1/2 cups grapes.) Pour hot sugar syrup over grapes, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Adjust caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.

See? Nothing could be easier!

Caramel Peach Muffins

For those of you who prefer the texture of biscuits to the more common, light sponginess of muffins, this recipe might be your ticket. When I was young, my mom would make them as a very rare and special breakfast feast, and, with a jolt, I remembered their goodness this past Father's Day morning and immediately opened one of the dwindling jars of last summer's peaches. Oh, were they good. Eight tablespoons of butter for 12 muffins will do that...

The "muffin" portion is more like a biscuit, almost identical to those used for strawberry shortbread. The caramel topping and the peaches make the biscuit sweet and rich enough for a dessert-like breakfast without being cloyingly so.

One helpful word of warning: these are overturned onto a plate immediately after baking, in a similar fashion to pecan sticky buns, so the muffin tin should be well-greased before being filled and then soaked soon after the muffins are removed for easier cleanup.

8 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
at least 1 cup cooked, canned, sliced peaches (I probably use closer to 2 cups)
1 and 1/2 cups flour
2 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup milk

In a small bowl in the microwave, or a small saucepan on the stovetop, melt 4 tablespoons butter with the brown sugar. Divide evenly among 12 sections of a well-greased muffin tin. Cover with sliced, drained peaches. (The recipe actually calls for only 3/4 cup peaches, but I use enough slices to cover the muffin, usually 2 or 3 slices per muffin depression, and I slice them fairly thick, because I like a lot of peach in my muffin.)

Sift dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the remaining 4 tablespoons cold butter and mix well until crumbs form evenly (about the size of peas or smaller). Make a small well in the center, add the milk, and stir only until moistened. Drop by teaspoonfuls on top of the sliced peaches.

Bake in a 425 degree oven until golden brown, about 18 minutes. Immediately overturn out of pan onto baking sheet or plate and let cool slightly. (If all of the caramel topping and peaches don't easily come out, simply place the peaches on top of the overturned muffin and spoon the caramel over top. I didn't grease my muffin tin well enough and did just that, with no harm done!)

Smothered Chicken Breasts


This is for Valerie, in case it sounds like something that would suit for your feast. (I always recommend roast chicken, too, for ease and yumminess, and if you haven't already searched buildabelly for chicken recipes, you can also look for something more to your liking.) Oh, and I've not tried this yet, but I think it sounds good, even better with added bacon!

I'll add a picture next time that I or John makes this dish, but until then, it's an easy dish that John copied from one we'd eaten in a restaurant two years ago. Juicy, skinless, chicken breasts, smothered with buttery, chopped onion; fresh, diced tomatoes; a mix of shredded cheeses; and crunchy, crumbled bacon.

We usually eat it alongside garlic bread or baked potatoes, as well as a big salad and/or this vegetable medley and/or corn.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
one medium onion, chopped
several tablespoons of butter
1 tomato, diced in small pieces
bacon! (more rather than less- perhaps 1/2 pound?)
cheese, shredded, as much as you'd like melted on the chicken, around 1 cup? (We buy cheese blocks at Aldi, and we shred a mixture of several for this dish. Sharp cheddar is a must, and John adds monterey jack and sometimes a bit of mozzerella.)
garlic powder, if desired

Shred desired cheeses and place in a bowl.
Saute chopped onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until translucent. Set aside.
Dice the tomato in quite small pieces and set aside.
Cook bacon slices until crispy, drain off grease, and then crumble into small pieces. Set aside in small bowl.

Grease an ovenproof dish (John uses a glass 13x9 pan) with butter and drizzle on a tablespoon or two of olive oil; lay the chicken pieces on top. Brush chicken with melted butter; sprinkle with salt, pepper (and garlic powder, if desired), to taste, and then cover dish with tin foil. Cook chicken for about 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven, or until chicken is fully cooked but not dry. Spoon onion over the chicken, then spoon on the diced tomato, sprinkle with shredded cheeses, and top with crumbled bacon. Return to oven and bake until the cheese is melted, about 5-10 minutes.

Especially if this is for a Sunday meal, serve with side dishes that are easily prepared ahead of time. Garlic bread can be spread with butter and seasonings the day before, placed in the fridge, and then broiled right before the meal. A tossed salad is easily prepared ahead of time, as well as dessert. Another quick vegetable accompaniment is corn on the cob, which takes only minutes to cook when boiled in a large pot and makes for an easy and yummy side. Many vegetable side dishes can be made ahead of time and reheated, too, if you just want to enjoy your company instead of scurrying about.

For the chicken, the cheese can be shredded ahead of time (or just use a pre-shredded mix from the store), the onions can be sauteed ahead of time, and the bacon can be cooked and crumbled ahead of time, although the tomato should probably be freshly diced. Simply heat the onions and bacon up in the microwave slightly before sprinkling on the chicken.

A few ideas- you can saute a garlic clove or two in with the chopped onion.
If you want to use sliced mushrooms in addition to (or in place of) the diced tomato, simply saute them with butter for a few minutes after sauteeing the chopped onion and spoon over the onion on the chicken.

Rhubarb Custard Pie

Prepare pastry for a double-crust pie (lattice-topped) and place the bottom crust in pie dish.

In a large bowl, beat 3 eggs together until golden-colored.

In a small bowl, mix together
1 and 1/2 cups sugar,
1/4 cup flour,

1/4 tsp. nutmeg,

and a dash of salt

Add this mixture to the beaten eggs and beat smooth.

Stir in four cups diced rhubarb. Pour over the prepared pie crust. Dot with 2 tablespoons of butter and then place the top crust over the filling in a latticework design. Seal outside edges and bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes.

*** My mom always doubles the recipe for the filling in order to make "one big, fat, 10-inch pie." This is the only way I've eaten it, and the way I'll vouch for it. If you choose to make it this way (yes, do!), you'll need to increase the baking time a bit; just keep an eye on the pie and if the top begins to brown too much before the pie looks done, simply tent it loosely with tin foil for the remainder of the baking time.

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham

I know it's the wrong season to be sharing this stick-to-your-ribs potato recipe-- it's not even potato salad! I also know that this potato dish is unphotogenic, but if you like scalloped potatoes, you really should try this recipe out.

It's the one I grew up eating, and we ate it as a main dish then, just as my family now does. Side trip: when we first were married, John seriously told me that he liked his food "bland and dry." Well, as is evidenced by his great love for all things spicy, his tastes have broadened a bit. Though he still avows that he hates creamy main dishes, he's had a passion for these scalloped potatoes since I made them that first year. He made them for us this past Sunday, and they were the best I've ever had.

Unlike some scalloped potato recipes, this one gets its simple and delicious flavor without the use of cheese, which may be why it slipped past John's Radar of Savory Creaminess.

***For the unsurpassed ones he made this past Sunday, he used whole milk (I usually skimp and use skim), and though he made a double batch, he used a slightly lesser amount of potatoes and a slightly larger amount of the onion mixture.) Here's the recipe for a single batch, but you can increase the onion mixture slightly if you want to copy John.

2 pounds potatoes (@ 6 medium), sliced
: We never peel the potatoes, though the recipe calls for them to be, and we use a food processor to slice them thinly. If you aren't ready to use them right away, either prepare the other parts of the recipe first or put the sliced potatoes in a bowl of water with a bit of salt to prevent them from browning.

one onion, peeled and quartered
, chopped together with
3 tablespoons flour,
1 tsp. salt,
and 1/4 tsp. pepper: We use the processor for this, too, which chops the onions into infinitesimal pieces that permeate the whole dish with flavor.

Add 2 cups of milk (whole, if you want the best) to the onion mixture and mix well. (If you're using a processor, just pulse the milk together with the onion mixture.)

Chopped, cooked ham
, in whatever amount you'd like

Layer half of the sliced potatoes in the bottom of a large, ovenproof bowl.
Layer 1/2 of the milk/onion mixture on top.
Layer on 1/2 of the chopped ham.
Dot with 1-2 tablespoons butter.

Repeat layers and top with a bit of additional chopped ham, if desired.
Cover with tin foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 1- 1 and 1/2 hours, or until the potatoes are tender.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Strawberry Shortcake

I don't know if you all prefer strawberry shortcake or strawberry shortbread or strawberry biscuits. All I know is that I like strawberries stacked with whipped cream and some kind of sweetened bread substance very much, and I won't fuss too much about which kind. This recipe is for a sweet (but not overly so) shortcake that I made for John's departure feast. When next I make strawberry shortbread (more like a lightly sweet biscuit), I'll post that, too. (And thank you, Mildred, for holding the dish towel behind the cake and only asking me once to "hurry and take the picture so that I can have my shortcake.")

Several pints fresh strawberries, hulled, sliced, and tossed with a few tablespoons of sugar
Freshly whipped cream (1/2 to 1 pint, whipped to stiff peaks with a few tablespoons of sugar)


1/4 cup shortening
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk

Cream shortening and sugar. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. Combine dry ingredients; add to the creamed mixture alternately with milk. Spread in a greased 9 in. square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares; split each piece in half horizontally. Spoon whipped cream and strawberries onto bottoms; replace tops. Garnish with more berries and whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Kittencal's Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Bread

I stole this recipe from the Internet. Here's the link if you'd like to read others' reviews. I loved it fresh from the oven, crisp and chewy, and the next day I enjoyed it toasted. I think it would be excellent for sandwiches, but I'm making it next time sans peppers, which would make it, I suppose, "Kittencal's Cheddar Cheese Bread" instead. If you like hot peppers in your bread, leave them in; I think our family just prefers the cheese, and the large chunks of cheese in this bread are perfect.

1 and 1/2 tablespoons dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
4 cups flour (more as needed; I also added a tablespoon of vital wheat gluten)
2 large jalapeno peppers, coarsely chopped, and seeds removed (can use more jalapeno if desired; I used a small can of mild chiles)
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg (room temperature, let egg sit in hot water for about 5-7 minutes to warm)
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (optional)
1 cup milk, warmed
2 and 1/2 cups cheddar cheese (chopped into about 1/4-inch cubes, can make larger if desired; I cut them into 1/2 inch cubes)

1. Prepare a heavy-duty stand mixer with a kneader blade (or just knead with your hands the way bakers have since yeast bread was invented)

2. Proof yeast in water with 1 teaspoon sugar for 8-10 minutes, or until foamy.

3. Heat milk in the microwave for about 50 seconds.

4. In the stainless steel bowl, add in 4 cups flour, chopped jalapenos (or drained chiles), salt, sugar, egg, hot pepper sauce (if using) and warmed milk.

5. After the yeast has proofed, add to the bowl and start kneading, adding in more flour as needed to create a soft smooth semi-sticky dough, keep kneading for about 8-10 minutes.

6. Towards the end of the kneading add in the cubed cheddar cheese, and mix until combined (the dough can be removed from the bowl and you can add/mix in the cheese by hand if desired).

7. After the kneading, let the dough sit out on a board or counter top to rest, covered with a clean tea towel for 8-10 minutes.

8. Gather up dough and knead gently for 30 seconds.

9. Then place the dough in a well greased bowl, and let rise until doubled (about 1-1/2 hours).

10. Punch down dough and slice into two even pieces.

11. Shape into two large balls, and place on a cookie/baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

12. Cover with a clean tea towel and rise again for another 1 hour or more until doubled.

13. Brush tops with an egg white that has been mixed with 1 teaspoon cold water.

14. Sprinkle on grated Parmesan cheese or sesame seeds.

15. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25-35 minutes or until the crust is a dark golden brown.

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

These amounts serve as estimates until I make it next and write down what I actually throw in it. I love this dish and make it fairly frequently. It's super easy to prepare, the blend of spices is delicious, it's economical (especially when made without the chicken), it's healthy, it's filling, and my entire family relishes eating it. That's good enough for me.

1 cup uncooked brown rice (or your preference)
2 and 1/4 cups water or the same amount of chicken broth
Cook rice.

One medium onion
2 cloves garlic minced
olive oil

one (16 oz.) can black beans, (or the equivalent of home-cooked)
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (15 oz.) can stewed tomatoes, cut and drained, or a few fresh diced tomatoes

@ 1 - 1 and 1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 -1 tsp. salt
@ 1/2 tsp. black pepper
@ 1 - 1 and 1/2 tsp. cumin
pinch or two of cayenne pepper; if you like it spicy, add more, to taste
@ 1/2 tablespoon sugar
@ 3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (Just splash it on with frequent tastings until it's right)
a few shakes of garlic powder, if needed

Cooked, cubed, chicken breast, if desired.

Saute onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil. Add black beans, tomato sauce, and tomatoes. Add the cooked rice and stir together over low heat. Add seasonings and vinegar. If using chicken, add to the rice mixture. Cook until heated through or simmer until liquid is reduced to your liking.

**White or cider vinegar may easily be substituted, but you may want to use less because they're more acidic on the tongue than balsamic.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cake

This is much better than its lackluster name implies and stands tall among the best peanut butter chocolate cakes I've eaten. I made it for Mags in honor of her graduation, and at least a few of us ate enough for bellyaches. The recipe calls for it to be made in a 13X9 pan, and it's moist, rich, and delicious that way, but, because I sometimes like excess, I've also made it as a layer cake and added chocolate-peanut butter filling. Above are pictures of it as a sheet cake and as a layer cake with added filling, respectively. Kudos to Becky for sharing a slice and then the original recipe with me!

2 and 1/4 cups flour
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened baking cocoa

1 and 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 and 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 and 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Peanut Butter Batter:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 egg
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Stir in water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla; mix well. Pour into a greased and floured 13x9 pan (or two 8 or 9 inch round pans).
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, peanut butter, 1/3 cup sugar, egg, and salt until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoonfuls over cake batter; cut through batter with a knife to swirl the peanut butter. Sprinkle with pecans, if desired, and the remaining sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean (a coating of melted chocolate chip is fine, though). Cool on a wire rack before cutting. Dust with confectioner's sugar, if desired. Refrigerate leftovers.

If you make it as a layer cake, the baking time will probably be a bit less than 30 minutes. Just keep an eye on it. And may I suggest, for the layer cake, the filling below? It makes this cake a world class citizen.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Filling:
This should fill and top a two-layer cake, without frosting the sides.

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2- 3/4 cup peanut butter (I can't remember how much I added; I think it was probably 3/4 of a cup, but just add to taste. Don't add too much, though, or the filling will be soupy.)
a splash of vanilla extract

Place chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Heat heavy cream in saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Pour over chocolate chips and let sit for one minute. Stir until smooth and silky; stir in peanut butter and a bit of vanilla until smooth. Place in refrigerator for a few hours until it reaches spreading consistency, stirring every 30 minutes or so. Spread in between cake layers and over top. Garnish with confectioner's sugar, peanut butter cups, or whatever your little, peanut-butter-loving self desires.

Then, eat up, with apologies to your hard-working heart...

Flourless Chocolate Cake

It's hard to describe, but it is so, so good. The edges and top are light and crispy, and the center is a mix between chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and a chocolate truffle. This moist and fudgy torte is made without flour, which makes it suitable for those who must eat gluten-free, and it lacks the ground nuts sometimes found in flourless cakes, which makes it economical. One slice is enough for anyone with a normal belly capacity (I can eat more, though. Try me.).

Thank you, Martha Stewart, for the recipe, and thank you, husband-friend, who brought home the magazine in which I found it two years ago.

6 tablespoons butter
1 and 1/2 CUPS semisweet chocolate chips
6 large egg yolks
6 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Place butter and chocolate in large bowl and microwave in 30-second increments, stirring each time, until melted; cool slightly. Whisk in yolks.

In another bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add granulated sugar; beat until stiff and glossy peaks form. Whisk 1/4 of whites into chocolate mixzture; gently fold mixsture into remaining whites. Pour into prepared springform pan; smooth top. Bake until cake pulls away from sides of pan and is just set in center, 45- 50 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Serve dusted with confectioners'[ sugar.