Monday, April 21, 2014

Cookbook Review: Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook + Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits Recipe

My mother has gifted me with many things over the years.  Too many to count in fact.  These include a happy, safe, warm, and loving upbringing.  A love of books.  My early cooking lessons, smiling through the badly executed attempts...sorry again about those mile high pancakes Ma.  My first sewing machine.  Recipes.  Cookbooks.  Those latter two factor into today's blog.

Some of my recipe books are well used...falling apart, stained, some with bits of food, others with coffee, etc.  Some of them are generally only used certain times of the year, The Hershey's 1934 cookbook is Evie's birthday cake and treats book, for example.  Some, for one reason or another, was perused when I received/purchased it, but then has just been sitting on the shelf.  It doesn't only happen with books.  Mark and I received a stack of recipe cards with our wedding registry at Williams-Sonoma 9 years ago when we registered...but we used the first recipe about 5 years after that.  Recently, Mark pointed out that we were heading to the internet too often looking for recipes, rather than our ever-growing collection of cookbooks.  Plus, it's one thing to splash tomato sauce on a book, quite another to douse the iPad with same.  In order to make use of these treasures, I sat down with a few to decide on some of my Easter meal and what to do with the leftover ham I knew we'd have at the end of the weekend.  I have this beautiful cookbook, gifted to me by Mom, Jan Karon's Midford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader, Viking Press ©2004.  Based on the copyright date, my guess is she bought it for us for our wedding.  Our wedding was 2005, this is 2014.  I'm embarrassed to admit that this past weekend was the first time I cooked from the book.  However, I went from none to three, so that's something...right?! 

My mother is an avid mystery reader.  She has pointed me in the direction of some great series.  I have not yet read any of Ms. Karon's novels, but after spending time with her cookbook, I believe they're now on my summer reading list (strangely enough, Mom doesn't have Karon's Mitford series in her home library).  Jan Karon writes mystery books that include recipes, whether all of these recipes are in the books, I do not know.  This cookbook includes excerpts from her novels, interspersed with collections of recipes from each story...perhaps inspired by?  The recipes bring to mind comfort food, Southern hospitality, and are mouth watering to read.  They include things like: Company Stew, Deep-Dish Apple Pie, Ham Biscuits, Mustard Horseradish Sauce, Buttermilk Chess Pie, Barbecue Ribs, and Louella's Buttermilk Biscuits (recipe follows for those).  These are not for those watching their weight.  Or gluten.  Or dairy.  The biscuits alone used four cups of flour...and calls for lard.  The book itself is gorgeous with a beautiful cover, and not much other than writing inside.  Usually this bothers me, I want to see pictures of what my food should look like in the end.  However, the pages are lovely with a few illustrations here and there, like a lovely little tea pot, and few pictures of food, like a strawberry shortcake.

The three recipes I used were for glazed ham, deviled eggs, and buttermilk biscuits.  The ham was okay, the glaze ended up too sweet for our taste.  The eggs were good, but I used so much of my own recipe from Mom that I can't really say I used Karon's recipe.  However, I did follow her hard boiled eggs instructions and they turned out better than I've ever done.  Easier to peel too.  The biscuits were amazing.  Better than the old Bisquick drop ones. As I always say too: this biscuit contained only ingredients I put there.  I contented myself with that thought as I ate about four of them during dinner. 

One quick note: since this was part of our larger Easter dinner.  I made the dough, rolled and cut the biscuits and placed them on cookie sheets ahead of time that morning.  Then I covered and put them in the refrigerator until time to bake them for dinner.  I'm not sure if they're meant to be so thin, either the chilling or rolling too thin might have done it, but they're delicious none-the-less. 

Louella's Buttermilk Biscuits

1/2 cup               lard, chilled, more for greasing the pan (I used organic shortening, about 3/4 cup)
4 cups                 all purpose flour
2 tablespoons     Homemade Baking Powder (I used purchased baking powder instead)
1 1/2 teaspoons  salt
1 1/2 cups          buttermilk, chilled
2 tablespoons     unsalted butter, melted and cooled (I used salted, grabbed the wrong stick, wasn't bad)

Preheat the oven to 500°F.  Lightly grease a baking sheet with lard and set aside (I used my silpads).  Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.  Cut in the lard (shortening, room temp for me) with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal.  Stir in the buttermilk and form into a ball.  Gently knead on a lightly floured surface until a dough is formed.  Pat or roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 1/2 inch-thick round.  Cut out biscuits with a 2 1/2- or 3-inch round cookie cutter and arrange on the baking sheet.  Gather any remaining scraps, pat into a round and continue to cut out biscuits.

Bake for 8 minutes, then brush the tops with the melted butter, and bake another 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Green Curry...Sort Of.

I tweeted about a week or so ago about necessity being the mother of invention.  I'd like now share my "invention."  It started with the Rachel Ray Magazine's soup recipes tear-out from the April issue of familiar soups and not-so-familiar versions.  For example, you get a recipe for classic chicken noodle and then four other variations you make with simple add-ins.  The other soups are tomato, potato, black bean, and onion.  For my two soup hounds, these were perfect recipes.

Sunday I roasted two chickens for our post-church big family dinner.  I have fond, albeit vague, memories of big family dinners with my cousins at our Me-me and Pa's house.  To say I am happy about hosting a growing tradition at our home so Evie can play with her cousins is an understatement.  So, after everyone had their fill, Mark and I de-boned the chickens, threw the bones in water with spices and veggies to make stock, and stored the chicken meat.  The next day, Mark took the stock and chicken and made the classic chicken soup.  It was a great Monday evening meal. 

Roasted with Aunt Kathy's famous recipe.  Maybe someday I'll share...

We then set out to choose the variation we wanted for Tuesday.  It should surprise no one that we chose the Thai inspired version.  Mama stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work to grab the additions we needed: coconut milk, jalapenos, basil, peanuts, green curry paste, and rice noodles.  I found everything except the green curry paste.  After checking in with the hubs, we decided I'd wing my own green curry paste.  Which was odd, given neither of us had any idea what went in it...and I had already left the grocery store.

Turns out, at least from cursory research...that green curry paste is like a basil pesto.  Oddly enough, no curry was used in the recipe I adapted mine from, but we like our curry, therefore, in it went.  So, with apologies to purists, and real chefs, here is my version of a green curry.

Green Curry Paste

1 cup fresh basil leaves
2-3 jalapenos, seeded
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp corriander
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp ginger (or, few slices fresh ginger)
2 tbsp brown sugar
4-5 garlic cloves
3 dashes fish sauce (vegans/vegetarians use soy sauce)
2 tsp (or more, to taste) curry powder
1/2 one lime, peeled
4-5 tablespoons coconut milk (enough to reach paste consistency)

Measure out ingredients, add to blender (This is another recipe that makes me thank Mark for my Mother's Day gift of a year ago: the Vitamix).  I'm not going to lie to you, I didn't actually measure anything.  I tried to approximate amounts for this recipe best I could. Whir until blended and smooth.  Taste often, adjust ingredients to your taste as needed.  You now have curry paste!  Here's what we did with it when I tried to recapture the recipe a week later:

Chicken Noodle Curry

Take prepared paste, saute in warmed pan with a little sesame oil until fragrant.  Add cubed chicken, cook through.  Add most of the rest of the coconut milk to the pan, mix.  Add softened or leftover plain rice noodles to the saute, mix until noodles are al dente.  Plate, add slices of lime, chopped peanuts, torn fresh basil, and sliced jalapeno for garnish.  This has now been added to the list of "favorite family meals."  I added a little more plain coconut milk to Evie's portion to tone down the heat, she loved it.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Paper Pregnancy

Mama, Lea - Adoption Worker Extraordinaire, and Papa

That's the message I received from a friend when we announced we were officially signing our contract to adopt: "welcome to your paper pregnancy!"  She is also adopting, and goodness, after our paperwork meeting this week, I completely understand what she meant!  Lea, our International Adoption Worker, met with us and handed over 37 documents or packets of documents.  Some were for reading, most were to be filled out.  They range from check box forms to full on essay questions.  They're all pretty easy to answer though, at least for two people who have spent so much time thinking about this adoption thing...or, at least you'd think so.  I'm now flashing back to primary school: "wait! is this the right answer?!"  Being the child of a psychologist doesn't help either, I've been trained to not only think of an answer, but what that answer might say about me. 

One of the forms I was given a little earlier in the process than normal, only because Evie had her 6 year appointment at the doctor's this week.  Bethany likes to try to save you steps it seems, something I appreciate as the home study process is taxing not only on the pocketbook, but time away from work as well.  At any rate, we took the form to Evie's pediatrician this afternoon.  We've been going to Tan & Garcia since Evie was born, and Dr. Falguni Acharya saw her in the hospital when she was born.  They know our kid, and Dr. Acharya is the perfect blend of knowledge and caring.  She almost made me cry today, in the very best way.  I asked for the form to be filled out in support of our adopting, and she said she wished she could write more in support of us than just one form.  "Evie will be a great big sister and you two are very good parents."  Definitely made this Mama's heart happy to hear this from a medical professional and fellow mother.

I stayed in bed a little longer this morning thinking over all of the things we need to accomplish to move closer to bringing home another child.  I was comparing my early pregnancy with Evie to these early days of paperwork for our yet to be known child.  It really is very similar.  You do not know who you are going to meet at the end, but you will prepare, pray, attend classes, read books, fill out forms, pray some more, and apply to the government for your child's goes on and on.  The difference here is it will be longer, and someone else is caring for my child right now.  Lea asked if she could pray with us before we finished our meeting this week and if there was anything in particular she should pray for for us.  My answer was immediate: please pray for patience for me.  Patience for this process, for the paperwork, for life happening outside of this adoption process...So, friends, I will finish asking the same as always, if you pray, or send good juju, or do happy dances, whatever the case may be, do one for me...this Mama's heart is needing some extra support!  Thank you thank you...Merci.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Annual St. Patty's Day Feast, 2014 Edition: Braised Brussels Sprouts

 Two years ago I received one of my first Cuisine at home magazines.  In just the first few pages there was a set of recipes for "Bringing the Pub Home."  We were all in.  I blogged about that weekend, with a few pictures, in March 2012.  I did not however, share the recipes.  I think I still feel funny about typing up recipes, I'd much rather link you to their sites.  However, as mentioned back then, Cuisine at home is more like a reference cookbook instead of a magazine.  You cannot find their recipes least, I cannot find the ones I'm looking to share.

Every year since that year (so I guess this is our third gathering), we have had a St. Patrick's Day weekend of food and fun.  Lots of cooking, catching up, bringing friends to church with us, and squeezing in hosting the local runner's club Sunday club run.  I love it.  I love having friends pop in and out, catching up with their lives, giggling over stories from the past, and eating until our bellies hurt.   I caught myself smiling this morning (at 7:00 a.m. even mind you) as I chopped vegetables for the braising of the beef...thinking about how my Grandma must have done that every Sunday that we would go over for a big dinner after church.

HARRC Sunday Club Run March 2014

Earlier today I posted two pictures of the beginning stages of their Braised Brussels Sprouts.  I think the response was one of the bigger ones I've received lately on a food post.  Over Brussels Sprouts.  I love my friends.  At any rate, I promised a blog at least one of the recipes we made this weekend, and I think based on that, it will be the one for the sprouts.  True to form, we had two nights (or, days) of recipes.  Day one was fish cakes, rarebit, and a friend made a yummy braised red cabbage with apples and bacon.  It was topped off by her husband's Guinness cupcakes with Jameson and Bailey's icing (they made separate non-boozy treats for the little one, so so thoughtful!).  Day two was our homemade corned beef, mashed potatoes (brilliantly suggested addition by my husband), and the most delicious braised Brussels sprouts ever.  I am contentedly stuffed and now happy to share with you the following recipe.

Braised Brussels Sprouts

Cuisine at home, Issue 92, April 2012

Makes 6 servings
Total time: 40 minutes


4 strips thick-sliced bacon, diced


2 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion


1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice
2 tbs whole-grain mustard
1 Fuji apple, cored and diced

Stir in:

4 tbsp unsalted butter, diced
2 tbsp cider vinegar
   salt and black pepper to taste

Cook bacon in a large saute pan over medium heat until crisp, 7-10 minutes.  Transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate, then increase heat to high.

Add Brussels sprouts and onion to drippings and cook until sprouts begin to brown, about 5 minutes; season with salt

Deglaze pan with apple juice, scraping up any browned bits on bottom.  Add mustard, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook sprouts until nearly fork-tender, 6 minutes.  Add diced apple, cover, and cook until tender, 3 minutes.

Stir in butter, vinegar, and bacon, then season with salt and pepper.

Below are pictures from this year's Sunday Dinner feast.  Not going to lie, pretty pleased with the outcome!  The beef was corning for 84 hours, braised for 3, rested for 2, and I think we ate it in 20 minutes.  Plenty of leftovers for Reuben sandwiches and hash this week though!  

Mom? Are you done taking pictures yet? Can we eat?!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Haitian Flounder

Wait! That's the name of a food! Where is the recipe? What's with the picture of the goofy lady standing outside of the US Post Office you ask?  Well, that's me about to mail our signed adoption contract back to the agency.  For those of you just catching up, we have just begun the process to adopt a child from Haiti.  If you look to the right side of this blog, you will see the link to our fundraising site, where more information is given.  Or, you can check out previous blog posts on the subject.  We decided, since there will be no ultrasound photos, not growing belly shots, etc. for this little one joining our family that we would make a "gotcha" book.  I plan on chronicling everything we can into a photo album. 

We also want to start familiarizing ourselves with the Haitian culture.  Me being me, I went to recipes.  I ordered a cookbook, but while waiting for it to arrive, I happened upon this dish online, and thought I'd give it a try.  I just received a message from a friend who shared our news and plans with a few Haitian children she knows.  I've been challenged to find a banana/spaghetti dish that is "so good it will make you want to smack your mama."  Apparently I've learned a new colloquialism as well.  However, there will be no smacking of this Mama.  :)

Back to the recipe this blog title promised you. 

Haitian Flounder

found 3/11/14 on, flounder quantities changed for our family of three (can't wait to have it be family of four!!) but I did not change the quantities for anything else.

3 flounder fillets 
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño chile, chopped
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup fresh orange juice (I used Florida's Naturals orange juice instead of freshly juiced oranges)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Garnish: chopped fresh parsley
Serve with jasmine rice, Lime wedges

  1. Place flounder fillets in a shallow dish. Sprinkle evenly with lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley.
  2. Melt butter over medium-high heat in a skillet large enough to hold all fillets; add olive oil. Add garlic and next 3 ingredients. Sauté 3 minutes or until soft. Add tomato, orange juice, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper; bring to a boil.
  3. Add fish fillets; reduce heat to medium, and simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork.
  4. Place fish on serving plates; spoon sauce evenly over fillets. Garnish, if desired. Serve with jasmine rice and lime wedges.

This was really tasty.  I seeded the jalapeño, so the meal was not spicy at all.  Mark doctored his dish with some Torchbearers The Rapture sauce because he felt it would be better with some "kick."  He is probably right, and next time we might try a bit more spice.  However, it was flavorful and the fish was excellent.  The little one ate every bite of her fish, all of her bell peppers, and a good amount of the rice.  Since it was dance night, she showered quick before dinner, hence the towel wrapped head and jammies at the table...

...still super cute though.

Happy Eating Everyone!