Friday, December 31, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons

The possibilities are endless.

A few days before Christmas, the Dumbplumber and I were driving around the 'big city' that is closest to us in the Sacramento Valley below our home in our Mountainous Valley Paradise. We were there to do our last minute shopping. Because of the difference in elevation (3400 ft where we are and about 400 ft in the valley) it always feels like we have migrated into another climate, spring like instead of snow and ice....even in December.

On the AM radio, there is a Swap and Sell channel. Very cool. People can call in and describe items they want to buy, items they want to sell, stuff they are giving away for free. One guy was giving away a piano because he was moving. Suddenly, my ears prick up. A quavery little old lady voice says she has fresh lemons from her tree at 50 cents a dozen. 50 CENTS A DOZEN. Just come by her place and take some, put money in the tip jar.

"Did you hear THAT!!" I say. "Do you know where Shady Lane is? OMG we have to get some lemons!!"

"Why can't you buy lemons in the store?" replies The Dumbplumber grumpily, because he is on a man's Christmas shopping mission. Get the stuff and get the hell out of town.

"Yes. 50 cents EACH. Not 50 cents a dozen." Says I.

Soooooo....we go get lemons. I was now on a mission too. And surprise surprise, they are Meyer Lemons. You would think that I had found gold nuggets.

So....when life gives you lemons and not just any old lemons.....COOK....make

Buttery Lemon Squares, Lemon Curd, Lemon Creme Brulee Tart, Candied Lemon Zests.


  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 6 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Make Crust: Cream butter and powdered sugar. Add in 2 cups of flour (reserve the other 1/3 xup) and beat until blended. A food processor works well for this. Pulse on and off to process. Spread and pat firmly into a greased 9 x 13 metal pan. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes until starting to brown at the edges. You are basically making a shortbread crust.

Filling: Meanwhile beat eggs until light. Gradually add the sugar. Beat until thick. Add zest, juice, remaining 1/3 cup flour and baking powder and blend. Pour over baked crust. Cook at 350 for 20 minutes until golden on top.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool completely before cutting into squares.

Should equal about 20 squares.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Snow Day: Time to Bake Yeast Raised Corn Bread

I love snow days!! They present the excuse to do things in the house, to cocoon, to relax and in the spirit of this recipe bake something.

Having been a recipe junkie for years, I have clipped and hoarded recipes. Consequently there is a huge pile of recipies that have have put into the "it might be good, I think I'll try it someday" category. There is a great software program Living Cookbook, that I use to organize and sort recipies and to turn them from scraps of paper into electronic files. This helps to to keep my office from looking like something on the Hoarders television show. If I didn't keep myself organized, my husband says they will someday find my withered body covered in old cook book magazines,craft magazines and clippings....along with a collection of art deco pottery, fiestaware and kitchen wares.

So.....snow day. Time to test out a new recipe on my ever lovin' patient hubby. Who knows how it will turn out, but you won't know until you try. If it is good, the recipe moves from the "it might be good" file into the "my favories" category.

We are using the last of the Thanksgiving ham, bones and meat that was frozen to make bean soup which is usually accompanied by cornbread. Today, something different.

Yeast Raised Corn Bread

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 pkg yeast
  • 4 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 cup forzen corn kernels thawed

1. Mix 2 cups warm water, sugar and yeast in large bowl of heavy duty electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes

2. Add 2 1/2 cups of flour to yeast mixture an beat on low speed until well blended, about 5 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic and clean kitchen towel. Let rise in warm area until doubled in volume. Mixture will be very spongy. About 45 minutes

3. Stir down yeast and flour mixture. Stir in 1 1/4 cups flour and 1 cup cornmeal and salt. Turn dough out onto generously floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour if dough is sticky about 5 minutes. Knead in corn. Lightly oil large bowl. Add dough to bowl and turn to coat in the oil. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

4. Punch down dough. Turn onto floured surface and knead briefly until smooth. Divide dough in half. Roll each piece between palms and work surface into 10 to 11 inch long by 2 1/2 inch wide log.

5. Sprinkle large baking sheet with some cornmeal. Transfer loaves to baking sheet. Using small sharp knife, cut 4 diagonal slashes about 1/2 inch apart. Cover and let rise until almost doubled about 45 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 350. Bake until crust is very crisp and loaves sound hollow when tapped on bottom. About 50 minutes. Cool on racks.

Source: Bon Appetite February 1997

See....told you I was hoarding recipies. 13 year old recipe and today is the first time I'm trying it!! About time, doncha think?

If this works out, I might try to put some cheese in the mix. Romano or Parmesan sounds good.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sweet and Sour Pork

I love a good sweet and sour pork dish. Sweet and sour chicken or even shrimp. Unfortunately, often restaurants will smother the ingredients of the stir fry in a super sweet, sticky, bright red food colored sauce. All you can taste is the sauce which oozes all over the place and covers anything else on your plate with sweet and sour sauce.

The sauce in this recipe is sweet and sour without being gloppy. You don't want to drown the ingredients: just lightly coating them in the sauce is best.

This is a recipe that was given to me about 25 years ago by my Aunt Rachel. Her huband was a Colonel in the Air Force and they spent quite some time stationed in the Orient. Japan, Guam, Phillipines. As the wife of an officer, she had quite some time to be a dillitante. The other bored out of their minds women would take classes to while away the time and to learn new and exciting skills, like silk flower making and arranging (seriously......they did). She also, to my great benefit, spent some time in each location learning the local cuisine. Consequently, I have some awesome and authentic recipies.

Stir frying is not hard as long as you realize that preparation is key.

Slicing the ingredients and sorting into piles according to cooking times. (See below in the instructions)

The meat and sauce are prepared ahead of time.

The final cooking takes place in a very few short minutes in a spectacular fashion when you begin tossing into the sizzling wok the ingredients. Tossing and turning with abandon. This is a great meal for a party because it can almost all be prepared in advance and your cooking technique will impress your guests.


Batter1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 Tbs beaten egg
1/2 cup water

Sweet and Sour Sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup pineapple juice
4 Tbs catsup
4 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp sesame oil

1/2 lb pork, cubed
1 small red pepper, cut in 1" cubes
1 small onion, cut into 1" cubes
1 large carrot, sliced
1 cup pineapple chunks (completely drained if using canned)

1. BATTER for pork: Mix the dry ingredients together and gradually add the water and beaten egg until it reaches the desired thickness. It should be thicker than pancake batter but not as thick as a dough batter. Set aside until ready to fry the pork.

2. SWEET AND SOUR: Add all ingredients together in a small sauce pan and stir constantly over medium heat until the sauce is clear and thick should take approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Keep stirring and be patient the sauce will suddenly become translucent. Set aside in the pan. If you are making the sauce a day ahead: cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate and bring back to a warm temperature before using. You don't want to put cold sauce into your HOT wok.

3. VEGETABLES: Have pre prepared various vegetables cut into approximately equal sizes. This is a very free form type of cooking. You can use many different types of vegetables, but the most common are listed in the ingredients above. You can also use mushrooms halved. Bok Choy, Red Pepper, Green Pepper, Carrots or what ever you would like. The sizes should be the same to ensure even cooking. Segregate the vegetables into piles according to hardness or how quickly they will cook. For instance the mushrooms and the tops of Bok Choy will cook quickly the bottoms of the Bok Choy, onion, etc will take a longer time to stir fry.

4. Heat oil to a depth of 1 inch in a fry pan or wok (preferred). Dip the pork cubes into the batter and deep fry in small batches for 3 to 5 minutes or until the pork is cooked through and the batter is crispy. Turn the cubes over with chopsticks or a fork to make sure they get crispy on all sides. Drain on paper towels. In the same wok, drain most of the oil. Begin stir frying the vegetables beginning with the hardest or longest cooking. When the vegetables are crisp/tender add back the fried pork cubes. Stir fry until they are warm. Add the pineapple and toss briefly. Add the sauce and stir fry and toss until heated through. This should only take a minute or so.

Served with a side of steamed rice. Serves 6 people.

Notes: I don't care for green peppers so I will substitute red peppers. Pretty much any firm types of vegetables you like can be used. Do not use summer squash, they will turn to mush. If you do want to experiment with mushrooms just add them at the very last, with the meat and before adding the sauce. The catsup isn't exactly a traditional Chinese ingredient, but it works well in this sauce.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Finally Fall: Bean Soup

The weather has finally turned from hot to a more normal fall. Crisp cool mornings and evenings with still some lingering warm afternoons. We even had some rain early this morning so I decided to make a meal that my husband has been craving.

Frugal, filling, satisfying and ever so easy. Ham hocks and bean soup with cornbread.

Ham Hocks and Bean Soup

2 cups Great Northern Beans
3 large meaty ham hocks
one large onion
3 stalks of celery (with leaves)
3 stalks of celery
2 carrots
1/2 scant tsp pepper
1/8 tsp or less red pepper flakes
kosher salt

Rinse sort and soak the beans either overnight or quick method. I generally use the quick method. Put the beans in cold water, bring to a boil. Then turn off the heat and let the beans sit for several hours.

Add the ham hocks and add enough water to cover. Cut the onion into large chunks, about 1 inch and toss into the pot. Toss in the whole stalks of celery with leaves. If they are too big to fit into the pot, cut them in half. The celery with leaves can even be old and wilted. They are just to give flavor to the broth and you will remove them later. Crush the garlic cloves and toss into the pot. Season with pepper. Don't salt at this time. The ham hocks may be salty enough.

Bring the soup to a low simmer and cook covered for several hours, adding more water if needed. Check the beans occaisonally for tenderness. You don't want to cook them until they are mush, but you also don't want hard undercooked beans. Remove from the heat. Remove the ham hocks and let cool enough so that you can handle them. Remove the celery stalks.

Separate the meat from the bones and put the meat back into the pot. I often also add back the bones from the hocks to continue to give flavor to the broth.

If you want a more spicy soup, you can add a small amount of hot pepper flakes. Be sparing with this as the longer you cook it the hotter they will get. Simmer until the beans are tender. Keep checking the water level. If it seems that the bean soup is getting dry.....add more water. Taste and if needed add salt. Peel and chop carrots into a rough dice about 1/2 inch. Cut the remaining celery into 1/2 inch chunks. Toss the carrots and celery into the pot. Add some parsely if you feel like it. Simmer until the vegetables are tender.

As you can see....I'm not very precise with my recipes. I tend to wing it with this soup. If I have a left over meaty ham bone I will use that. I like my bean soup a bit more on the soupy side and not cooked to a paste. I also like the vegetables to be on the more crisp side, rather than cooked to a pulp.

Bean soup is a great pantry or survivalist meal, meaning almost all the ingredients can come from your pantry. Dried beans. Dried onions. Canned carrots. Canned ham or spam. Celery salt if you can't get fresh celery.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'm Jammin'....Hope You Like Jammin' Too.

You can feel Fall in the air. The mornings are crisp, cool and clear. Some of the trees have even begun to turn color. The fruit trees are loaded and people who have gardens are desperate to unload their excess onto anyone who will take squash, zucchini or anything else.

After our war with the robins and race to see who would get the cherries from the sour cherry tree....we won by the way.... we have been inundated with wild plums and peaches. Hating to see this bounty go to waste, I've been canning and jammin' (Bob Marley reference here)

Wild plums are something that you have to experience and are hard to explain just how fablulous they are.

Slightly smaller than ping pong balls, they are sour. Pucker your face sour. However, once made into a jam or jelly. They turn from reddish yellow sour balls into the best sweet and tart reddish orange jam. Some years we have a lot. Some years, not so much. It even varies from tree to tree. One tree will bloom and bear fruit, while the tree right next to it will be just a week behind or ahead on the blossom schedule and be barren. Timing is everything.

This year I made two batches of wild plum jam. We gave most of last years batch away as gifts and ate it all up before winter was over.

Peaches Galore

My husband oversees some properties that are owned by absentee landlords. This year one of the peach trees was loaded, almost to the breaking point, with small peaches. Since no one is going to be coming up to use the fruit, we get to harvest it when we can. From the peaches I made Peach Jam, Sour Cherry Peach Jam and Peach Barbeque Sauce. There were so many peaches we gave over half of them away to other ladies (gluttons for punishment) who also like to cook and can.

These are just a few of the jars of the different jams. All in all about 4 dozen jars.

I love the jewel tones they have when the light shines through. Almost like a stained glass window in a church. The miracle of being able to preserve the bounty of summer and fall and enjoy throughout the cold winters.

In the freezer are still more peaches and sour cherries.

As if this all wasn't enough. I have a friend who's husband made a huge and I mean huge over an acre garden. She has loaded me up with green beans. So.....spicy garlic dilled beans.

The recipies for jams are easily made from the pectin package recipies. For the peach and sour cherry jam, I just substituted 2 cups of chopped cherries for two cups of chopped peaches.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Quest for Grandma's Chili Powder

Going through my spices it dawned on me that I was getting low on Grandma's Chili Powder. When we had the deli business we would buy this by the case and to keep it fresh shrink wrapped and froze the extras. It is the best chili powder ever with a wonderful smokey and slightly sweet flavor. Nothing compares.

So.....I toodle off to the store to buy some and find out to my absolute HORROR that they don't make the product any more. OMG!! Now what!!! This is what I get for not buying a replacement supply sooner.

After searching on line I find that Grandma's now deceased chili powder has other fans and desperate foodies looking for a substitute. Lawmama did the heavy lifting and found out what happened to Grandma.

Fortunately she also obtained a recipe that may replicate the spice. Forthwith...I'm sharing as well. I haven't made it yet and hope that it is as good as Grandma's. It looks like fun and I'm looking forward to experimenting with the formula. Time will tell.

Shamelessly copied directly from Texas Cooking

For mildness and flavor:
•4 Ancho chiles (dried poblanos) [see Chile Primer]
•3 Dried New Mexico chiles
For heat:
•3 to 5 Dried Chiles de Arbol or Cayenne
For flavor:
•2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted
•2 tablespoons garlic powder
•2 teaspoons ground oregano (Mexican oregano, if you can get it)

1 Preheat your oven to 300F.

2 Remove stems and seeds from all the chiles. Cut each chile in half with scissors and flatten the pieces. Incidentally, good dried chiles will still have some moisture in them and be fairly pliable. Don't use dried chiles that are so dry and fragile that they shatter when touched. Chile ristras and wreaths are wonderful decorative accents, but the chiles dry out and lose their flavor.

3 Put the chiles in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 4 or 5 minutes. Remove the pan and check the chiles (they cool almost immediately). The smaller chiles will be toasted first, so remove them and set aside. Bake the larger pieces another 4 minutes and check again. The poblanos will be done last, but as portions of them toast, break them off and set aside returning the pan to the oven if necessary.

4 When all chiles are toasted and crispy, break each piece into two or three pieces and place in a blender. Pulse briefly until you have powder.

5 Toast the cumin seeds by placing them in a dry skillet over medium heat. Stir the seeds constantly being very careful not to let them scorch. When they are a few shades darker than the untoasted seeds, they are ready. Grind the toasted seeds with a mortar and pestle or with a rolling pin between two sheets of waxed paper.

6 Add the ground cumin, garlic powder and oregano to the ground chiles in the blender. Pulse a few more times to thoroughly mix the powder, and youre through. You should have about 1 cup of chili powder, depending upon the size of your chiles.

7 You have created your own custom blend of chili powder. If you compare what you have just made with the store-bought variety, you will find it to be much darker in color with a deeper, richer aroma and taste. Naturally, you will want to test your creation, and an excellent recipe for doing so is the Brazos River Chili in Grandmas Cookbook, or any good recipe that relies heavily on chili powder.

8 This recipe makes very good chili powder, but is by no means written in stone. The chiles and other ingredients can be varied according to your taste. To add the smoky heat of chipoltes (smoked jalapeos), for instance, substitute a chipolte for one of the chiles de arbol. Or better yet, toast some chipoltes and make a pure chipolte powder from them. A teaspoon of chipolte powder is the rough equivalent of one chipolte chile.

9 Store your chili powder in a small, airtight container like a glass jar with a lid that can be tightened. If you make more chili powder than you will be using in the immediate future, triple bag it in plastic bags and put it in the freezer.

10 With this knowledge, you are limited only by your imagination and your taste.


Wow. I haven't blogged on my food blog for so long.

Poor neglected blog. Well, I also haven't put much on my other blog either.

What kind of excuses can I make? Lots!!! I'm good at excuses and procrastination.

  • I've been busy with work. No really I have.
  • I've been wasting time on line reading blogs and playing on line games. Yes. Really.
  • I've been spending a lot of frustrating time being involved as a Board member on a Community Services District. Don't ever do it. Thankless and frustrating job.
  • My computer crashed and it took a week to get all of my valuable stuff off of the dead computer to the new computer. Talk about panic. I thought I lost my cookbook program and all of the recipies that I had typed in and have procrastinated about printing out. Told you I was good at that.

So while I am attempting to get my act together, I'll try to put some more recipies on the blog and quit fooling around.