25 January 2009

Yo Ho Ho and a ... Fruitcake?

At Christmas, my mother baked the most delicious fruitcake ever using a recipe from the November/December 2008 issue of Cooking with Paula Deen. The fruitcakes I made two years ago using King Arthur Flour's "Our Favorite Fruitcake" recipe were good, but not phenomenal. My mother's fruitcake, on the other hand, is the fruitcake by which all other fruitcakes will be measured until the end of time.

Or we discover an even better recipe. And the universe implodes.

Anyway, my mother gave me a copy of the article which included the "Traditional Fruitcake" recipe she had used as well as several others -- including "Tropical Fruitcake." Yes, tropical. No candied cherries or dates for this cake! No, instead imagine a rum-soaked cake loaded with candied pineapple, citron, lemon peel, orange peel, and macadamia nuts.

It sounded like a pirate's fantasy of a fruitcake and I had to try it!

Throwing myself on the mercy of the internets, I easily found everything I needed at Nuts Online and King Arthur Flour. Yes, if I had patience, I could probably have found my ingredients more locally than New Jersey and Vermont. I, however, am not patient. I hate hopping from store to store looking for odd ingredients. The time I fritter away searching would be better spent baking, goshdarnit.

Anyway ... this weekend I racked up all my ingredients, read the recipe through three times, and baked me a huge golden fruitcake.

I kid you not, this fruitcake will feed a small army.

Or four people who really like fruitcake.

Overall, this was an easy cake to make. Lots of ingredients, yes, but all used in a straight-forward way. The instructions were very clear and aside from my deep abiding hatred of parchment paper (no matter how I grease it, the evil stuff never lies flat), I really enjoyed making this cake.

I took lots of pictures of the recipe's steps, because these days I am all about mastering my camera and learning the different filter settings (don't want to take bad pictures of Terry Pratchett in September).

Paula Deen's Tropical Fruitcake
(To speed my assembly of this cake, I combined ingredients ahead of time wherever possible).
  1. Assembled raw ingredients.

  2. Combined chopped macadamia nuts, candied pineapple, crystallized ginger mini chips, candied citron, candied orange peel, candied lemon peel, sweetened flaked coconut, and flour.

  3. Combined flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

  4. Six eggs.

  5. Combined Jack Pineapple Coconut Rum, Key lime juice, lime zest, and vanilla.

  6. Beating the rum mixture into the creamed butter and sugar.

  7. Beating in the flour mixture.

  8. Hand-stirring in the dried fruit mixture.

  9. Ready to go into the oven.
Arr! Yo ho ho and a rum-soaked fruitcake for me!

24 January 2009

More Wine is Better

The Husband loves a good chicken marsala, but restaurant dishes of that name can be quite hit or miss. Too often miss, recently. Being a loving wife, I wanted to make him an excellent chicken marsala. I'd been casting around for an acceptable recipe when common sense finally took me in hand and pointed my toward The Masters. Yes, America's Test Kitchen! If they can't do it right, no-one can.

(Well, maybe, Alton Brown ...)

Friday Night w/ America's Test Kitchen

Friday night's supper came straight from the pages of The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (America's Test Kitchen, 2006) and, boy howdy, was it deliciously unhealthy:


~ Chicken Marsala (pg. 287) ~

~ Mashed Potatoes (pg. 140) ~

~ Fast Buttery Peas (pg. 136) ~

~*~

~ Little Penguin¹ Merlot 2004 ~


I admit I tweaked the chicken marsala recipe a bit by halving the amount of chicken (2 breasts instead of 4) and upping the amount of mushrooms (10 ounces instead of 8). Since this dish was for Friday night's supper, I didn't really want leftovers hanging about all weekend -- hence halving the chicken. We really like mushrooms and experience has taught me it is impossible to have too many on a plate -- hence the increased mushrooms.

Aside from those small edits, I prepared the dish exactly the way the excellent chefs at America's Test Kitchen told me to. And a good thing, too, as this was probably the best chicken marsala I have ever eaten. The pancetta, mushrooms, huge amounts of marsala (compared to other recipes), butter, and lemon juice came together to make the richest smoothest pan sauce ever to come out of my kitchen. The chicken was tender and mild -- perfectly evenly cooked even though I didn't pound it cutlet flat.

Yummy.

The potatoes were also quite awesome. I know, I know ... mashed potatoes are old hat. How could they possibly be improved upon? By using an entire stick of melted butter and a cup of half-and-half, that's how! This recipe made smooth, creamy, buttery potatoes which paired perfectly with the mushroom-marsala sauce.

Nothing goes with mashed potatoes quite as well as peas. Especially these peas. While they took a bit longer to cook than the recipe indicated (8 minutes rather than 4), they were well worth the wait. And so simple to make! Sauté minced shallot, garlic, and thyme in melted butter. Dump in the frozen peas and some sugar, cover, and cook until just heated through. Minutes later, you have a fancy-schmancy side dish fit for forking up with those buttery smooth potatoes.

Yes, there was quite a lot of butter in Friday's supper. Thirteen tablespoons, all said. While not a supper to have very often, it well definitely be repeated.

The Husband said there would be no way to improve the meal except to follow it by cake ...

--

¹ Proceeds from the sales² of Little Penguin wines are donated to the Penguin Foundation, which was established to protect and preserve the little penguins of Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia.

² "I'm not drunk, officer! I'm saving penguins!"

19 January 2009

Everyone Poops, Goshdarnit

In May, The Husband and I are participating in the 2009 Take Steps for Crohn's & Colitis walk on the Wesleyan Campus in Middletown. As post-operative survivors of ulcerative colitis, we want to build visibility and awareness. With one in every two hundred people suffering daily with digestive disease, we really need to get rid of our frankly fucked up taboos concerning excretion. No-one should suffer in embarrassed silence or feel ashamed of their illness, because it isn't "nice" to talk about bowel movements.

--

I had ulcerative colitis in 1998. It went undetected for too long, my colon went septic (toxic megacolon is not as fun as it sounds), and I ended up with an ileostomy.

Actually, "undetected" is probably the wrong word -- undiagnosed would be more accurate. I knew there was something seriously wrong with me for quite a while, but being an over-achieving college student who lived in her head much more than her body I ignored my condition or wrote it off as stress, anxiety, hemorrhoids, poor diet, change in environment, and a whole lot of other rubbish.

Mostly, I didn't want to talk about how I did or didn't poop. Too embarrassing. Too hard to explain. So I didn't let myself think too much about how I was feeling and, when I did see a clinician, I underplayed my symptoms. In the end, my reticence probably almost killed me.

If only I'd admitted to myself how sick I was. If only I'd told my parents. If only I'd been more upfront with the doctor at the student clinic. Ififif.

Gah!

I went abroad the summer of '98 to visit my boyfriend (now The Husband) and all my symptoms intensified. I spent the last weeks of my vacation lying in my boyfriend's flat, worried I might be dying, but too sick to articulate how sick I was. Not surprisingly, I went straight into the hospital as soon as I returned to the US. Doctors pumped me full of drugs until I stabilized, and then some very nice surgeons removed my septic colon when it began to crush my lungs.

Almost like magic, I was healthy again.

Three years later, having learned my lesson the hard way, I didn't mess around when The Husband started experiencing gastrointestinal weirdness. Hustled him off to a GI specialist who prescribed manymany drugs. To no avail. The Husband's health steadily worsened until ...

He was supposed to fly out on a business trip. While we were waiting for his plane, he was horribly sick. I remember thinking, when he came out of the restroom, "my husband is going to die." I was absolutely certain that, if he went on that trip, I would not see him again outside a critical care ward.

Needless to say, The Husband did not go on his trip and, not too long after, he also had his colon removed.

And, like magic, he too was healthy again.

So, I am walking in May because we can walk. And, if we raise enough money, maybe someday soon no-one else will have to suffer ulcerative colitis as we did.

If you'd like to donate to our team, click the icon over on the right. If you'd like to walk with us, e-mail me.

--

[So, what is this ulcerative colitis, anyway?

Are you imagining ulcerative colitis is a bit like the worst stomach bug you've ever had? Hah. You are so silly. This isn't "oh, I'll take a day or two off from work and be fine for Thursday's business trip" intestinal distress, dearie. This is your whole life redefined by the whims of your colon.

Ulcerative colitis occurs when your body (for no reason as yet known to science) decides to start rejecting portions of itself. In this case, the immune system attacks the colon. Usually, the early symptoms are constipation with bloody or mucousy stool. Sometimes, you want to have a bowel movement all the damned time, but very little comes out. You experience a lot of noise while trying to have a bowel movement. Mucousy farts and tootling noises. Sounds like those made by nearly empty squeezable ketchup bottles. Murphy's Law being as it is, of course, the harder you try to repress them, the louder they are. Particularly, in quiet restrooms.

At some point, that all becomes old hat and pain will arrive to liven things up. Sometimes it's only mild cramping. Other times, it's so bad that everything else ceases to exist. It's just little old broken you and the pain. Of course, pain doesn't like to travel alone and so brings along it's jolly friends: severe fatigue, weight loss, lack of appetite, and fever.

If you're "lucky," drug therapy makes your case of ulcerative colitis more manageable. You eventually return to a normal life. If you're like The Husband, you get to experiment with all kinds of drugs before it's obvious that nothing short of an ileostomy is going to keep you going. Me, I got to skip all the drugs and go straight to the ileostomy thanks to toxic megacolon and my own inability to talk about my sickness in a useful way.]

15 January 2009

Slow Cooker, Revisited

Aside from a few soups, I've largely ignored my slow cooker since we moved into this house. Surprising, because I had believed that I'd be using my slow cooker all the time once we moved. You know, once I didn't have to troll the internets for 12+ hour recipes ...

No, indeed! I would use all my happyhappy slow cooker cookbooks and make fabulous meals with not much effort!

Alas, that yet to come to pass.

Until this week! I dragged the slow cooker out, dusted it off, and made two recipes this week. I am just all kinds of awesome!

"Beefy Tortilla Casserole" from Pillsbury Doughboy Slow Cooker Recipes (Clarkson Potter, 2003)

I was looking for a recipe that would let me use up some of the leftover corn tortillas in our refrigerator when I found this recipe. Aside from the condensed cream of onion soup, I already owned all the ingredients (or some variation thereof). The cream of onion soup proved impossible to find so I subbed in low-fat low-sodium cream of chicken as I was using ground turkey (from our freezer) instead of beef (I also used my own yoghurt instead of sour cream). Overall, this was an easy recipe to prepare. The night before, I browned the chicken and cut the tortillas into strips. In the morning, I chucked everything into the slow cooker and let it go on Low for eight hours. Just before serving, I add the sour cream, cheese, and green onions. While the cheese melted, I tossed a salad together and microwaved some green beans.

McCormick's "Easy Slow Cooker Tuscan Beef Stew"

This recipe showed up in my inbox last week and the photograph made my mouth water. Delicious as it looked, I was intially a little leery of preparing the recipe as pickling spice seemed like a weird ingredient to put in beef stew. Weird it may be, but it made for a delicious stew. Defintely the best beef stew to ever come out of my slow cooker! The tomatoes, red wine, juices, and spices created a rich tangy broth which made me want to lick out my bowl. The meat was meltingly tender, but the carrots still had a bit of body -- no mushiness or chewiness here. Simply put, this recipe is my new standard for beef stew.

12 January 2009

Baconified Brassica

Stumbled upon a recipe for "Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Potatoes and Bacon" (Fine Cooking, February/March 2005) the other day and was totally chuffed, because I'd been thinking (a lot) about brussels sprouts and bacon. I love me some roast brussels sprouts and bacon, all sweet and smokey, seemed like a natural roasting companion.

But, then, what won't bacon go with?

While I had to make some modifications to the recipe, based on ingredients in my kitchen and taste preferences, it was still a delicious dish well worth repeating the next time The Husband is out of town.
Baconified Brassica

1 lb. brussels sprouts (you may halve them if you want even crunchier sprouts)
1 lb. yukon gold potatoes
½ large red onion
6 slices thick-cut bacon
Fresh ground black pepper
Salt, to taste
Generous splash of port balsamic vinegar

  • Preheat oven to 450.
  • Trim the bottoms of the sprouts and remove any damaged or loose leaves.
  • Trim the potatoes of any bad spots and chop into 1 inch pieces.
  • Slice the onion half into pinkie-thick slices and then cut those slices into 1 inch lengths.
  • Slice the bacon into 1 inch pieces. (May work better if bacon is slightly frozen).
  • Toss bacon, sprouts, potato, and onion together in a lightly greased 13x9 baker. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spritz with a little cooking spray.
  • Roast, uncovered, for about an hour and fifteen minutes, stirring every fifteen minutes.
  • Remove pan from oven, splash with port balsamic, and toss vegetables while the baker sizzles. Let sit about 10 minutes. Eat.
How many does it serve? 3 main dish?

11 January 2009

"Chowder breathes reassurance. It steams consolation."

Yes, indeed, I made me some delicious chowdah this weekend. Used the recipe for "Light New England Clam Chowder" from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (also in The Best Light Recipe), because I had such success with it last time. Not wanting to mess with perfection, I made the chowder exactly as directed -- bought Snow's brand minced clams and juice, used precisely 1 ounce of bacon, and such. When I ladled the finished chowder into my bowl, I was a little worried it would not equal my memories, but it did. Surpassed them, even. This was quite possibly the best clam chowder I have ever eaten. Must. Make. More.

Cook's Illustrated Light New England Clam Chowder

For some reason, I had decided The Husband does not eat chowder and so I had specifically waited until he went away to make this dish. Of course, he does eat chowder -- quite adamant he eats it, actually. This means, of course, I have to save some for him. I have to share. Now, I've already shared some with a co-worker and, if I share with The Husband, there will not be nearly enough for me ...

Maybe I will tell him the cats got into it and I had to throw it away?

If I let them lick the empty bowl, this will not quite be a lie ...

Hmm.

Oh well, I don't have to share the spinach pie! Spinach is something The Husband absolutely positively will not eat and so that scrumptious pie is all mine. Mineminemine.

I'd had a refrigerated pie crust kicking 'round since (cough) Thanksgiving and had been in the mood for something quiche-like when I found the recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Tart on Recipezaar. It sounded so easy and delicious, if not exactly healthy. I've tried to healthify it, but I am not certain of my success:
Healthified Spinach Pie

* 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
* 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well squeezed
* 1 small onion, minced
* 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
* ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 1 dash black pepper
* 1 (15 ounce) carton fat-free ricotta cheese
* 1 cup light cream
* ½ cup parmesan cheese
* ¾ cup liquid egg substitute

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick pie shell (9" pie pan) and prebake in hot oven for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and turn oven down to 350 degrees when pie crust is done.
2. Sauté onion in oil until translucent and sprinkle with nutmeg. Cook, stirring, until nutmeg is very fragrant. Add in spinach and black pepper.
4. In separate bowl, combine Ricotta cheese, cream, Parmesan cheese, and egg substitute.
5. Stir in spinach mixture.
6. Pour into pre-baked pie shell and bake about an hour or until custard is set.

(My filling would not fit into one pie dish so I poured the extra into silicon muffin cups and baked them for about 20 minutes -- making adorable crustless mini-quiches perfect for a party)
And, now, on to the roasting of brussels sprouts!

09 January 2009

"Oh, my greasy lover, bacon."

"Whenever I'm at a brunch buffet and they have that big metal tray filled with the 4000 pieces of bacon, I always think, 'If I was here by myself...I would eat only bacon. I would steal this tray, go lay down, and eat bacon all day.'"

While The Husband's away at FUDCON 11, I've been consoling myself with ... Bacon!!!

04 January 2009

Enchiladas I Got I Got

We had my parents up for dinner, yesterday. Because we were eating at 1 o'clock I didn't want to serve anything so heavy we would all need post-dinner naps, but I still wanted something cheesy and comforting to combat the meteorological ickiness forecast by our intrepid weathermen.

After much back-and-forthing, I made chicken enchiladas from Cook's Illustrated's The Best Make-Ahead (America's Test Kitchen, 2007) and served them with tomato-rice and a big green salad.

As with all Cook's Illustrated recipes I found myself, about half way through prep, thinking the editors were too goshdarn persnickety and that the recipe was too fiddly for my taste. Bring on the canned enchilada sauce, I thought. But, oh, it was good I followed the recipe! The enchiladas I served Saturday afternoon were scrumptious -- cheesy, spicy, filling but not heavy. The corn tortillas remained crisp despite having been assembled the previous evening and the sauce beat any canned enchilada sauce hands down. If, in the past, I've made Kraft's "Creamy Chicken Enchiladas" and been pleased with the results, that was only because I didn't know better.

Basically, I'm saying I'll be making these enchiladas again.

We ate the enchiladas with tomato-rice, which was a dish I cobbled together after browsing too many recipes for "Mexican" or "Spanish" rice and deciding I had neither the time nor ingredients to make those exact dishes. My mother asked for the recipe and The Husband avowed he would eat the rice again, so I must have made a pretty good hack of it:
Tomato Rice

In my dutch oven, I heated a splash of olive oil over medium. Sautéed 1 cup long grain white rice with 1 finely chopped onion and 1 finely chopped green bell pepper until the rice was browned. Stirred in 2 cups of low-sodium low-fat chicken broth and one can of Muir Glen fire-roasted diced tomatoes with chilies. Seasoned with fresh pepper, chili powder, a bit of cumin, and a dash of paprika. Covered and simmered until the liquid was absorbed and the rice was tender (about half an hour).

For dessert, I made up a box of King Arthur Flour's "Lemon Magic Cake Mix" which came out so well that my mother took home the two leftover cakes. I can't blame her -- these were perfect little tart sponges drenched in a sweet-tart sauce that had me scraping my plate clean.

I had made King Arthur Flour's Chocolate Lava Cake Mix over Christmas weekend and those were incredibly good -- darkly, bitterly, sweet and gooey -- but the lemon cakes win.

Yes, it's probably for the best that my parents took the extra cakes home with them or I would be eating lemon cake for breakfast when I'm trying to go back to healthy breakfasts like muesli and yoghurt.

I like muesli and yoghurt, but cake's .... cake is not to be denied.

01 January 2009

First Cake of Ought Nine

Because I strongly believe the new year should begin sweetly, I baked a cake.

First Cake of Ought Nine

While it is, yes, only a simply yellow cake¹ with store bought frosting and leftover holly sprinkles, it is also light and sweet and comforting. And that is all I want from 2009 -- lightness, sweetness, and comfort.

Let 2009 be as simple as this cake.

¹ Used the "Yellow Cake" recipe from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (Meredith Corporation, 1996) .