Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Kitchen Keeper Original - Gougères

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...These light and tender morsels are in danger of extinction. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help keep this recipe relevant and make sure that these silky, egg rich pastries remain on our tables for years to come. Please understand, I have nothing against salsa or chips and dips and pesto. I've been known to down a beer or two and confess that beer nuts are not safe in my presence. There are, however, times when I want something a bit more classic, something with culinary chops and a history that commends its presence on my table. The French gougères has much to recommend it. These savory cheese puffs are made with the same pate a choux dough that is used to prepare cream puffs and eclairs, but the addition of cheese or other savories make them a wonderful appetizer or hors d'oeuvres to serve with wine or champagne. They are very easy to make and I also  serve them with more pedestrian meals of soup or stew. I must warn you that they are additive and the puffs should come with a "once bitten" warning attached to them. I've just finished making a gazillion of these to share with friends tomorrow. I know they will love them and I suspect you will too. These are best served directly from the oven, but I understand that that is not always possible, so I have a few tips to share with you. The dough can be refrigerated for a day before it is formed and baked. Once baked, the puffs can be frozen until needed. Frozen puffs should be thawed and reheated in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes before serving. If you plan to bake them ahead of time, make a slit in the bottom of each puff and turn them upside down to let moisture escape.  I make it a point to reheat the gougères before serving them. Five minutes in a 350 degree oven does the trick. While I prefer to use Gruyere cheese, cheddar or blue cheese can be substituted and, if you wish, a filling can be piped into the puffs. I bake my trays of gougère on the lowest rack of the oven and I only bake one tray at a time. It may be my imagination, but I think the puffs get better lift that way. I really hope you will give this recipe a try. I like to share my addictions with others. Here's how these simple cheese puffs are made.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Musings

Bob's Christmas pudding has started to jiggle and while that bubbles to new heights of deliciousness, I've got my feet up and have been watching the antics of a robin who has come home too soon. I enjoy the morning quiet and this time alone. I've been thinking about Christmas celebrations, old and new, and a couple of memories surfaced and left me with a smile. You might enjoy them, too.

When our children were young, we attended what many consider a mission parish. It was a faith community established to serve newly landed immigrants from Haiti and Korea. Tucked among them were some establishment families seeking cultural diversity for their children. The congregation was small, so those of us who could were asked to teach and serve the community in ways we never imagined. That's how I came to write a the greatest Christmas pageant ever. I tend towards the dramatic and in "my" pageant there was a moment when the church went dark and the tape recorded cry of a newborn could be heard. As the baby began to cry, borrowed flood lights, focused only on the manger, came on and washed it a sea of light as a deep, sonorous voice boomed, "This is my beloved son." It was a lovely moment, but right after those words were spoken our tiny Mary stood up, grabbed her crotch and ran down the aisle squealing, "I gotta pee". With that, the pageant joined the ranks of memories my children have never let me forget.

Going hand in hand with the search for cultural diversity, was a determination to make Christmas a less secular affair. The recollection of the pageant brought memories of our Baby Jesus Cake into play. Starting at a young age, the children had a party for the baby Jesus, complete with a cake on Christmas Eve. Heavily based on the Three Kings Cake served in other countries, our cake held a hidden clove that was meant to represent the gifts of the Magi. Here's the part were religion gets a little tangled with magical thinking and for that I ask your forbearance. Our cake contained a magical clove that would bring good luck to the person who found it. We still honor that tradition. Some years I'd make  a pound cake, others it might be angel food. To my great shame, there were years when time, which has always been my enemy, trumped intent and the birthday cake came from a mix into which a clove was stuck. This year, I have two cupcakes, one for Bob and one for me. Only one of them contains the clove. It's grossly unfair, but unless he picks his quickly,  I can anticipate a year of good fortune because I know which one holds the clove. I've been blessed to see the tradition of the cake continued in the Christmas celebrations of my adult children. My grandsons now search for that illusive clove on Christmas Eve. Memory is a lovely place to visit. I hope you and those you love have a wonderful holiday, one that's complete with recollections of your Christmases past. Merry Christmas to you all. "God bless us everyone."

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Holiday Kitchen Keeper - Norwegian Christmas Bread

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...I made 12 loaves of this bread today using a "remembered" recipe from my childhood. The bread is plainer than most of the Norwegian Christmas Breads I've seen on other blogs, but it is a favorite for a reason. I first had it in the kitchen of a neighbor when I was about four years old. Long time readers of my blog know that I grew up in a duplex complex surrounded by wonderful cooks. This bread was made by Mrs. P, and while her background was Swedish, she claimed all of Scandinavia as her own. This bread was a favorite of hers, and, truth be told, it was known to appear on her table at times other than Christmas. While her bread contained the requisite candied peels and cardamom, she never used the glacéd cherries usually found in Scandinavian Christmas loaves. She had heated discussions with Hannie, a German neighbor and her arch baking rival, who insisted they should be used in Christmas breads. They'd go back and forth as to the merits of glacéd cherries, but Mrs P insisted you'd never find them in Finnish or Norwegian farm kitchens.She may have had a point. She candied her own lemon and lime peel, but cherries in the quantity needed for holiday baking were hard to come by. I never dared ask how lemons and limes made it to remote areas of Scandinavia and that was probably just as well. When it comes to vintage recipes some things must be accepted on faith. While memory may have clouded my judgment, I like the bread well enough to share it with my friends. That includes you. Here's how the bread is made.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mid-Week Musings

In my freshman year of high school, I was standing in line when a teacher motioned for me to come her way. I'd been queued with friends and had just repeated a story I'd been told. She'd overheard what I'd said and asked why I thought the story was mine to tell. While I hemmed and hawed and insisted what I'd shared was true, she reiterated that, true or not, the story was not mine to tell. Her words stayed with me and over the years there've been occasions when I've had to stop and ask myself if the story I'm about to share is actually mine to tell.

When you travel with a group you hear lots of stories. Some are told by lonely people seeking affirmation. Others are told when tongues are loosed by too much wine. These are the stories that must be rewoven before they can be told. And sometimes, as they are reworked you realize that there isn't much to tell. Many stories were shared on our long coach rides in Costa Rica, but, on examination, they belong to others and are not mine to tell. I can, however, share with you impressions, two in particular, that were garnered on our trip.

A bit of backstory is necessary here. In 1948, Costa Rica abolished all branches of its military and diverted the money used to support a standing army to education. As a result, the country has a literacy rate of 98%, but its educated citizens no longer want to do the hard physical work its coffee, sugar and banana plantations require. Migrant workers, approximately 1,000,000 of them from neighboring Nicaragua, are brought into the country to handle the planting and harvest of export crops. It is hard, back breaking work and men, women and children all participate. On coffee plantations they are paid by the canasta, which looks much like a small laundry basket. Because the canasta is tied around the waist, it's not uncommon to see mothers with small children in the fields. A full canasta weighs about 25 pounds and each basket is worth about $2.00. Costa Rica takes care of its citizens, but, despite protestations, life in the migrant camps is rough. We spent the better part of a day on a coffee plantation following the beans from their planting to a coffee cup. Our tour ended as workers were coming in from the fields. My final observation was that of an obviously weary, nursing mother carrying a baby in a makeshift sling along with a toddler at her side. She probably made $2.00 that day.

On a more upbeat note, we were able to meet the wife and the young daughter of our tour guide. Family size in Costa Rica has dramatically decreased over the past 40 years and homes with 1 or 2 children are now the norm. Children, while doted on, are not spoiled and these small families are closely knit. Diego's family met us for lunch halfway through the tour. He travels a lot and when he got off the bus his daughter hurled herself at him and darn near knocked him off his feet. They had a private lunch and when it was time to leave she did something that I've seen only once before in our travels. There was, of course, the big kiss and hug, but she then made the sign of the cross on his body rather than her on. No tears, just a blessing for safe travel. Her spirit is as beautiful as the country in which she lives, but only parts of her story are mine to tell.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Kitchen Keeper Original - Maple Walnut Chiffon Cake

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...There's a place on memory lane where retro recipes are safely stored. They're carefully filed away, waiting for another generation to "discover" them. Today's recipe, an outstanding chiffon cake, is one of them. The chiffon cake has quite a history. It became an overnight phenomena in the late 1940's. It had been created prior to the great depression by Harry Baker, an insurance agent who became a caterer. He kept the secret of his remarkably airy cake for two decades before selling the formula to General Mills. His secret recipe used vegetable oil instead of conventional shortening. General Mills released the recipe for chiffon cake to Better Homes and Gardens magazine where it was advertised as the first really new cake in a hundred years. The magazine sponsored on-going contests that caused the mania for chiffon cake to last for at least two decades. Chiffon cakes were a wonder to home bakers. They combined the richness of butter cakes with the light spring of an angel food or sponge cakes. The cakes were unusually moist, but they were not that all easy to make. Not everyone mastered the beating of egg whites that was required to produce the towering cake. As the bundt cake became popular, fascination with the chiffon cake waned and most busy women turned to desserts that were easier to prepare. I continued to make them because one of my children loved chiffon cakes, and, for years, this maple-nut masterpiece was the one he requested for his birthday. This weekend, I decided to pull the recipe for the cake from storage to see if it still passed muster, and I must admit I had forgotten just how good it actually is. I know you'll love this one. I hope you'll be able to make it for your family and friends. Here is how it's done.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

We Are Off - Again

Wheels are up and another adventure is about to begin. I really should make you guess what our final destination will be, but I don't think the photo will get you to the right continent, much less the right country. The time has come for me to check the zip-line off my bucket list, so, to that end, the Silver Fox and I are off to explore Costa Rica and look at some property while we are there. For most of the trip I'll have no internet access, so this will most likely be my last post until just before the Christmas holiday. The dish in the photo is Casado, or Comida Tipica, and I'm told it is the most popular dish in Costa Rica. It consists of beans, rice with finely diced mixture of red bell peppers and onions, fried plantains, a cabbage salad with tomato and carrot, plus your pick of grilled chicken, fish, pork, or steak with grilled onions. Some places also serve it with French fries and sliced avocados. It is served throughout the country in small restaurants that are called "sodas." The word casado means "married man," and probably alludes to the mating of rice and beans in the dish. You can tell at a glance that it is much like the rice bowls of other countries. It may not be pretty, but we are told it's tasty, so, dig in and enjoy it. Instructions for assembly can be found here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A (Borrowed) Kitchen Keeper Original - Mustard and Rosemary Roasted Turkey with Pepper and Port Wine Gravy

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...I couldn't share this recipe before the holiday because I had not yet tested it. I rarely make a dish for company unless I've tried it at least once, but I made an exception this Thanksgiving. I found the recipe for the turkey in Food and Wine magazine and I've had such good luck with their recipes that I didn't hesitate to serve it fresh off the chopping block on Turkey Day. I guess that means I'm less afraid of my friends judgement than I am yours. This is an exceptionally easy recipe, and now that it's been tested I can tell you it makes a great turkey for a small group of adventurous eaters. Please note, the rub is applied to the bird the day before it goes into the oven and once that is done the turkey is oven ready and can be forgotten. I do hope that those of you who serve turkey on Christmas Day will give some thought to this recipe. You won't be sorry. While I served it with garlic mashed potatoes, the next time I make it I think I'll serve it with a potato gratin. I love the port and pepper gravy, but I think it's better on the turkey than it is on potatoes. Here is how the turkey and gravy are made. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Using Holiday Leftovers Creatively

Photo Courtesy of Support Imagination

Normally, I'd post menus for the week today, but the Silver Fox and I are up to ankles in alligators preparing for our Costa Rican adventure. There will be no menus in our house this week, but I thought some of you might find these recipes, all of which use holiday leftovers, useful.

                 Turkey Fried Rice                                                                     Turkey Bolognese

                 Turkey and Corn Quesadillas                                                Turkey Noodle Casserole

                 Cranberry Crumb Cake                                                     Cranberry Kolaches

           Turkey Soup with Herb Dumplings                                              Portuguese Turkey Soup

                 Turkey Stuffed Shells                                                     Asian-Style Turkey Soup

                 Turkey Sloppy Joes                                                     Turkey Stroganoff Turkey Soup
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