Friday, June 29, 2012

Clafouti and Thank You, Judith Jones

Food lovers and the literary world owe a debt of gratitude to Judith Jones.

Number eight on the Gourmet Live 50 Women Game-Changers list, Jones is responsible not only for bringing Julia Child to the attention of the world with one of the best-known cookbooks of all time, but she also is gave us Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. She is senior editor and vice president at Alfred A. Knopf, where she helped develop the cookbooks of other well-known chefs, such as Lidia Bastianich, James Beard, Marion Cunningham, Jacques Pepin, Marcella Hazen, and Madhur Jaffrey. Plus, she is an author in her own right, with the books such as her autobiography The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, and cookbooks like The Pleasures of Cooking for One and The Book of New New England Cookery. (Image is from Jones's website.)

For me, I will be forever grateful to Jones for seeing the possibilities in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julia Child is one of my personal heroes, and if Jones hadn’t championed her efforts, we may never have met this dynamic cook.

Thank you, Judith Jones.

In her honor, and because cherries are coming into season, I decided to make Clafouti from Mastering. The aroma of cherries and vanilla filled our apartment as it baked. Though not the prettiest dessert, which may be why the recipe calls for a dusting of powdered sugar over the top, the flavor was wonderful. Its texture is somewhere between custard and a tart. The whole cherries make it a little difficult to cut, but plunge ahead and don’t worry about the look. The taste is worth it! I served it warm as a dessert, but I saw other cooks suggest eating it for breakfast.

Can’t wait for tomorrow morning to get here.

On the other hand, maybe I’ll just have seconds.

(Cherry Flan)
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle.

Serves 6 to 8 people

1 1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour (scooped and leveled)
3 cups pitted black cherries
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Powdered sugar, to decorate the top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 7- to 8-cup baking dish or a Pyrex pie plate that is 1 1/2-inches deep. (I used the pie plate.)

Put into a blender (or large bowl) the milk, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and flour. Blend for 1 minute until smooth. (I used a hand blender for 2 minutes.)

Pour a 1/4-inch layer of batter into the baking dish. Place into the oven a bake until just set, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and add the cherries. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup sugar over the top, and then pour on the rest of the batter. Place the dish back into the oven and bake until the clafouti is buffed and browned, and a knife placed in the center comes out clean. The cookbook says it should take about an hour. Mine took 45 minutes, so keep an eye on it!
Clafouti should be served warm with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summer Burrito Bar

When the weather turns hot, my appetite turns to Mexican food. Many dishes include my favorite fresh ingredients that are abundant and flavorful in the summer, and the spiciness can make me sweat a little, which helps me cool off a bit in the heat.

Burritos make great summer meals. Just put out bowls of ingredients and let everyone help themselves. The Picky Eater and I like my beef and bean filling, with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and taco sauce or salsa, all rolled up in a flour tortilla. Additional choices could include shredded grilled chicken, avocado, sour cream, roasted corn kernels, cilantro leaves, and lime wedges.

A burrito bar makes a quick and easy summer party. Just use colorful table coverings, plates and utensils. I keep the tortillas warm under a damp, warm towel. Margaritas and sangria would go right along with the fun, but I also like ice cold glass of limeade to cool off the spiciness.

Here are my recipes for taco sauce (Try the homemade stuff. It’s great!) and beef-bean burrito filling. Both freeze well, so you can have burritos whenever the craving strikes.

Homemade Taco Sauce

1 15-ounce can tomato sauce (I use Hunts)
1/2 cup water, to rinse out can
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/2 teaspoons salt (optional, depending on the saltiness of the tomato sauce)

In a small sauce pan, add all of the ingredients, stirring well to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Lower the temperature and simmer for 20 minutes.

Beef and Bean Burrito Filling
Serves 4

1 pound hamburger
1/2 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 cup water
1 16-ounce can chili beans
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, brown the hamburger over medium heat. Just before the hamburger is completely brown, add the onion, and continue to saute until the hamburger is brown and the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and saute for one minute. Stir in the remaining seasoning and the water. Add the beans and continue to cook until the water is evaporated. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Danish Cucumbers from The Feast Nearby

I have a dream: To eat foods from local sources as much as possible. After more than a decade of writing about food, I firmly believe in the importance of buying local foods, supporting local growers, and dinning at local restaurants. Not only does it keep my money in the community, but it also contributes to the survival of small farms, restaurants, and businesses.

Plus, the food tastes better! My husband, Michael, The Picky Eater, learned this lesson recently when he bought a few peaches at the grocery store. You guessed it—they were mealy and flavorless. I had him take a bite from one I purchased at Saturday’s farmers market. Now he’s a believer.

To fulfill my dream, I buy my coffee from a local coffee shop and our meat, produce and eggs from the farmers market. I also get our milk and cream from a local dairy. I’m still looking for a local cheese source. The one I had is no longer available.

Recently, I was freshly inspired by the book The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather. A long-time food writer, she lost her position at the Chicago Tribune and her marriage all in one week. So she moved to her small lake house in Michigan and created a life of eating locally by raising chickens, reserving produce from the farmers market and trades with neighbors, and buying as much as possible from local sources, for just $40 a week!

When I visited her website, I was surprised and thrilled to discover she now lives here in Topeka, Kansas and is an editor at Mother Earth News.   

I liked Mather’s realistic approach to local living. Not everything can come from a local source. For those items, she would look for producers as close to home as possible, or make her purchases from locally owned retailers as opposed to national chains. I was also inspired by how much she preserved during the growing season, which was enough to see her through the winter. In this, she was also realistic, advising readers to preserve a few jars each week instead of putting up bushels of produces at one time, to make the process more manageable.

The book is full of recipes that encourage readers to eat seasonably. I was taken with her chapter on eating and cooking during the heat of summer. (Not surprising considering it is 101 degrees as I write this post.) It was all about adjusting the type of food you eat to the weather outside, something we often forget as we go from an air conditioned house to an air conditioned car to an air conditioned office.

That chapter included this recipe for Danish Cucumbers. I remember eating these cool, crisp disks growing up in Missouri. A bowl was on almost every summer dinner table. We didn’t call them Danish. I have a feeling the Germans also enjoyed them as well, since my ancestry is primarily from that nation (along with British.)

These fresh-style pickles need to be refrigerated and eaten within just a few days. I can imagine adding other flavors to the recipe—fresh dill or hot peppers come to mind—along with other produce, such as carrots, cauliflower, green beans, and peppers, much like an Italian giardiniera.

I’m going to have fun playing with this recipe all summer long.  

Danish Cucumbers
Adapted from The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather

2 cucumbers
1 sweet onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar (can also use cider or white vinegar)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarse salt, such as kosher salt

Before slicing the cucumbers, taste one slice to see if the peel is bitter. If so, or if the cucumber has been waxed, peel the cucumber before slicing. I use farmer’s market or organic cucumbers, which are not waxed.

Slice the cucumbers into thin slices and place into a non-reactive container—glass jar or bowl. Add the sliced onion.

In a separate bowl, mix together the vinegar, water, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add ground pepper, to taste. Pour over the cucumbers and stir to combine. Add salt, to taste.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Tastes better the second day. Keep the cucumbers refrigerated and use within a couple of days.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Snickerdoodles and Irma S. Rombauer

In this era of glossy cookbooks full of mouth-watering images and detailed photographs of each recipe step, Joy of Cooking may seem a bit old fashioned and out of date. Between its covers are recipes. Just recipes. Well, and some cooking tips, too. No glossy images and only a few basic illustrations. However, I bet you have a copy in your kitchen cookbook collection. And so did your mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

This week, as I catch up with the Gourmet Live 50 Women Game-Changers, the focus is on number nine: Irma S. Rombauer. In the midst of the Great Depression, she self-published the first edition of Joy of Cooking as a guide for women who, because of hard times, had to start cooking for themselves. The instructions were basic and easy to follow, which is probably why it became THE wedding gift for almost every newlywed wife. (Image is from the website of current publisher Scribner/Simon & Schuster, Inc.)

A native of St. Louis, Rombauer financed that first 1931 edition with the insurance settlement she received after her husband committed suicide. (Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!) Publisher Bobbs-Merrill picked up the book in 1936 and it has been around ever since. Rombauer’s daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, took over and did the revisions of each edition until 1975. Grandson Ethan Becker oversaw the publication of the current edition, which celebrated the book’s 75th anniversary in 2006.

I remember using my mother’s copy many times growing up. I also have memories of Mamaw using her copy from time to time. Mine is the latest edition, often my go-to book when I start to develop a new recipe.

If you are looking for a recipe, it is probably in Joy of Cooking.

This is my favorite.


Adapted from Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker

2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
For coating:
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or spay with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, blend together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
Mix together the sugar and cinnamon for the coating. Shape spoonfuls of the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in the coating mixture. Place the balls on the baking sheet 2 3/4 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Place the cookies on a rack to cool.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Aunt Mabel’s Honey Fruit Salad Dressing

Last weekend, Michael (The Picky Eater) and I went to visit my family in Missouri. Besides having a wonderful Father’s Day weekend with my parents, sister, and nephew, we also picked up some items Mom purchased for us at a recent auction.

My Great-Aunt Mabel moved in with her daughter, Sue, in Alabama more than a year ago. (Maybe it’s two years? I don’t remember exactly.) She left behind her house in Missouri, full of a lifetime of items.

Most of Aunt Mabel’s life was spent in Wichita, Kansas, where my Great-Uncle Bill worked for the railroad and the two of them raised their daughters, Sue and Nancy. I was still in high school the last time I visited their home, and I remember helping her pit cherries from the trees in the back yard.

My Aunt Mabel is a bundle of energy, even now, well into her 90s. She’s a straight-forward, get-things-done type of woman. Think of Grandma Walton but with more style! She’s a kind a loving person.

Mom was able to get a small cabinet for Michael to use for all of his knick-knacks and souvenirs. I got beautiful serving bowls and dishes, and an old coffee grinder!

This bowl was the one that caught my attention. A sticker on the bottom said that Aunt Mabel’s mother bought the hand-painted Royal Austria bowl at an antique shop in Oklahoma, but it doesn’t say when.

I love the violets and lily of the valleys painted around the rim.

My mom remembers Aunt Mabel using the bowl to serve fruit salad. Lucky for me, Sue sent me a collection of her recipes a few years ago. One of them was for a honey fruit salad dressing that noted it was delicious on fresh fruits.

I loved the unusual seasonings added to the honey, sugar, oil, and vinegar mixture. Who would have ever thought of using dry mustard, paprika, celery seed and grated onion on fruit, but it works! Even The Picky Eater liked the taste! I used apples, red grapes, blueberries, bananas, and cherries (of course) in the salad, and to highlight the savory influences in the dressing, added chopped celery and walnuts to the mix. But you could use any mixture of fruit that strikes your fancy.

I’m so happy to have a new summer recipe to enjoy and serve to friends and family. Best of all, I’m thrilled to have such a special bowl in which to serve the salad. It will always bring a smile, and memories of one of my very favorite ladies.

Aunt Mabel’s Honey Fruit Salad Dressing

2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
1 teaspoon grated onion
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup canola oil

Mix together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk well to combine, adding the oil last. Pour over a mixture of fresh fruit and serve.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mrs. Beeton’s Toasted Cheese, or Scotch Rare-bit

Though my fellow bloggers have finished their journey down the list of Gourmet Live’s 50 Women Game-Changers in food, I still have a little ways to go. Since I joined the group at number 11, I’ve decided to continue on with posts featuring 1 through 10, starting backwards and counting down to the top of the list. (Can you guess who that may be? I bet you can!)

In the number 10 spot are English cooks Hannah Glasse, author of the 1747 book The Art of Cookery, and Isabella Beeton, who wrote the famous 1861 book Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Both books laid the groundwork for cookbooks that followed.

Since I own a copy of the Beeton book, I decided to focus on this surprising and talented woman. Her book is perhaps the most famous chronicle of English cooking ever published. This is the first time I’ve tried one of the recipes. I’ve enjoyed reading her snapshot of Victorian life, from the viewpoint of both the Mistress of the house and the staff.

Mrs. Beeton gave advice on how to dress, converse, and manage a clean and organized household. She counseled on how to form friendships (“Friendships should not be hastily formed, nor the heart given, at once, to every new-comer.”), what to pay staff (the housekeeper should make between 20 to 45 British pounds a year when no extra allowance is made for tea, sugar, and beer), and how to give a dinner party. My favorite part: “Good temper should be cultivated by every mistress, as upon it the welfare of the household may be said to turn…Gentleness, not partial and temporary, but universal and regular, should pervade her conduct…” (The photo is from the PBS website.)

I was surprised to discover Mrs. Beeton was not a middle-aged, matronly woman, but instead a young woman who worked as a journalist throughout her marriage, writing articles on food and fashion for magazines printed by her publisher husband. Her first two children died very young, but her other two lived to their 80s. She died at 28 after giving birth to her fourth child.

The recipes in the book are interesting, but not the easiest to follow. I settled on this one for Toasted Cheese, also known as Scotch Rare-bit. Besides the directions in the book, I also did some research on the internet to understand the dish.

Toasted Cheese is just what it is—cheese that is toasted and then spread on buttered toast. In Mrs. Beeton’s day, this was accomplished by using a cheese toaster, with slices of cheese placed inside and set before the fire to brown. Her recipe called for “a few slices of rich cheese, toast, mustard, and pepper.” She also suggested adding a little porter or port wine to the cheese, as well as mixing in a little butter.

My internet research said the dish gets the name Scotch Rare-bit because Scotch whiskey is often added. It was also meant to be an English joke on the Scottish people, insinuating they were too poor to afford meat and had to make due with cheese instead.

I assumed “rich cheese” meant good cheddar. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any. However, I did have a nice gruyere to use. I also didn’t have porter, port wine, or whiskey, but I had a good bottle of white wine in the refrigerator, so I added a dash to the mixture. I melted the cheese and other ingredients on the stove top, and then browned it on a small baking sheet under the broiler of my toaster oven.

As I watched the cheese bubble away and turn brown, I imagined Victorian cooks keeping just as close an eye on their cheese mixture to ensure it didn’t get overly dark.

Frankly, I think the browning step is unnecessary, though it may be better with cheddar. I would prefer to just spread the melted cheese on the toast and enjoy. Or dip toast fingers into the melted cheese, fondue style. Even easier would be just melting the cheese on top of the toast to begin with, though adding additional ingredients would be a problem.

The flavor was lovely: Rich, gooey, and satisfying. It makes a nice lunch, an easy supper, or a simple appetizer that also gives the diner a since of Victorian elegance.

Toasted Cheese
Adapted from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton.
Serves 1

4 ounces grated cheese (gruyere, cheddar, or cheese of choice)
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon wine, porter, port wine, or whiskey
1 teaspoon powdered English mustard
Pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste, depending on the saltiness of the cheese

2 slices of toast, buttered

Grate the cheese and place with the remaining ingredients (except for the toast) in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Over medium heat, stir the mixture until the cheese is melted and the ingredients completely incorporated. Pour the melted cheese into a shallow dish and place under a broiler until brown. Spread onto the toast and serve.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gathering Brownies

Summertime. Just the word conjures up images of hot and steamy days, fresh tomatoes and corn still warm from the garden, children chasing fireflies, and sweat dripping off of an ice cold glass of lemonade.

It is also the time for gatherings—cookouts, picnics, family reunions, Fourth of July celebrations, boat trips, etc. Friends and family coming together for companionship, relaxation, communication and fun!

This brownie recipe is perfect for just such occasions. In fact, I took it to a cookout just last Sunday and it got rave reviews from everyone there.

I found the recipe in the March/April, 2004 edition of Cooks Illustrated magazine. And as perfect as it was, I did make a couple of changes. First, the ingredients included cake flour. I use all-purpose flour because, frankly, I don’t like to have an ingredient in my pantry that I’ll only use maybe once a year, if that. Not to mention cake flour is expensive! The all-purpose variety worked just fine, thank you.

The other change I made was to ignore the step calling for the nuts to be toasted before putting them on top of the brownies to bake. Well, they toast just fine as the brownies bake, so doing it ahead of time isn’t necessary.

I also ignored the directions for lining the baking dish with foil so I could lift the entire slab of brownie out and onto a cutting board. I just coated the pan with non-stick spray and cut the squares in the pan after the brownies cooled. They came out fine, but if you want to do the foil step, feel free.

The brownies have a rich, chocolate flavor. The inside is soft and creamy, while the outside is firm and crispy. I only sprinkled nuts on half since I wasn’t sure if everyone liked them. This recipe tastes delicious just as is, but it would also be a good one to play with, adding candies, chocolate chunks, and flavorings to the batter.

Gathering Brownies
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, March/April 2004.

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped into pieces
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and spay a 9-x 13-inch baking dish with non-stick canola oil spray. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl set over a pan of lightly simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate together, stirring until smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and gradually whisk in the sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined. Whisk in the vanilla.

With a spatula, fold in 1/3 of the flour mixture. Continue to add in the remaining flour by thirds until smooth and no flour shows.
Pour the batter into the baking dish and spread out evenly into the corners. Sprinkle the top with the chopped nuts. Place the dish into the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool on a wire rack. Cut and serve.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

This Week at the Market: Peaches

It’s hot here in Kansas. Okay, so that’s not so unusual. It’s always hot here in the summertime. What is unusual was the 90-degree-plus temp we reached in April. It seems as though a week hasn’t passed since when one or more days reached 90-plus degrees.

Yesterday’s Topeka farmers market was packed with people and vendors. I was thrilled to discover my favorite fruit had arrived—peaches!

Nothing tastes better than a peach so ripe the juice runs down your chin. There were varieties from Georgia available, but I went with the ones from the neighboring state of Missouri. (Also my home state.) Kansas peaches aren’t ready yet, but considering everything seems to be blooming and ripening a month early, it shouldn't be long now.

While searching for a peach recipe to post, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to do anything with these lovely, ripe globes of sweetness. Don’t get me wrong. I love peach cobbler, peach cake, and spiced peaches, but I’ll used canned for those dishes. Fresh, ripe peaches should only be washed and eaten as is, don’t you think?

Then I remembered a dish from the past I thought would work. In the mid-1980s, I worked as a nanny in Alexandria, Virginia. Nannies often find they are not only responsible for child care, but also for cooking and cleaning as well. At this particular job, I made dinner almost every night.

When it was really hot outside, my employer would ask me to make this light fruit dish. It was the perfect way to beat the summer heat, with lovely fresh fruit topped with a creamy cottage cheese mixture, crunchy toasted walnuts, and a drizzle of honey.

Since I had some organic berries left over from my previous post, I decided to dice a fresh peach into the mix. The only change I made to the original recipe was to switch out the sour cream my employer mixed into the cottage cheese with Greek-style yogurt instead. Use the recipe below as a guideline, but feel free to adjust the amounts to fit your appetite.

This dish makes a light, refreshing supper at the end of a hot, sticky day, or a fortifying breakfast to get the day started.

Fresh Fruit Supper
Serves 1

1 cup fresh fruit of choice
1/4 wedge lime
2 teaspoons honey, divided
1/2 cup cottage cheese
2 tablespoons Greek-style yogurt
Chopped toasted walnuts, to taste

Place chopped fruit into a serving dish. Squirt the juice of the lime wedge over the fruit and mix in 1 teaspoon of honey.

In a small bowl, mix together the cottage cheese and yogurt. Spoon on top of the fruit. Sprinkle the walnuts over the top of the cottage cheese mixture, and drizzle on the remaining teaspoon of honey.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ruth Reichl’s Vanilla Cake

Just call this post the Gourmet Live 50 Women Game-Changers, plus one.

Since last summer, I and a group of my fellow bloggers have explored this list of amazing women who greatly impacted the food world. I joined in at number 11, and each week enjoyed exploring the recipes of each one on the list. Some I knew well and enjoyed their recipes, such as Nigella Lawson, Ina Garten, Ree Drummond, Lidia Bastianich, Amanda Hesser, and Rachael Ray. Others were new to me, but now are on the favorites list: Elizabeith David, Clotilde Dusoulier, Donna Hay, Delia Smith, Darian Allen and Patricia Wells come to mind. Plus, I’m now a fan of the Canal House cookbooks and the Edible Communities magazines.

I missed numbers 1 through 10, so the plan is to back track throughout the summer and post about those famous women as well. Many are some of my all-time favorites. Stay tuned.

However, as this quest comes to the end for our group, I thought it was only fitting to add one more lady to the list—Ruth Reichl. After all, she was Gourmet magazine’s Editor in Chief for the 10 years before publication ceased in 2009. (A sad day indeed.) Before then, she was the restaurant critie for The New York Times. She’s written a number of memoirs about her food life, including my favorites Tender to the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. (Learn more about her here. The image is from her website.)

This recipe for Nicky’s Vanilla Cake comes from Garlic and Sapphires. (Nicky is Reichl’s son.) It is a dense Bundt cake that fills the air with a lovely vanilla aroma as it bakes. (The enticing smell woke up my husband, Michael, from a deep sleep. But I’ve noticed that many of my cooking aromas have done that lately.) The key to this recipe is to use really good vanilla extract. Mine is Mexican vanilla purchased at the farmer’s market.

The cake’s intense vanilla flavor is not only delicious, but it also filled me with a sense of comfort and home. I dusted it with confectioner’s sugar and served it with some fresh berries, but the cake also tastes wonderful on its own. (It would make a great base for strawberry shortcake!)

Nicky’s Vanilla Cake
Adapted from Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons best quality vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a Bundt pan with non-stick canola oil spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the flour mixture, and then add the sour cream and vanilla. Beat will until combined. The batter is thick.

Spoon the batter into the Bundt pan. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes. (Mine took 35.)

Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Turn out onto a cooling rack and continue to cool to room temperature.  

Be sure to keep an eye on my fellow bloggers. All of them post some very tasty dishes.

Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed,
Susan - The Spice Garden
Heather - girlichef,
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney,
Amrita - Beetles Kitchen Escapades
Mary - One Perfect Bite,
Sue - The View from Great Island,
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Nancy - Picadillo,
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen,
Annie - Most Lovely Things,
Jeanette - Healthy Living
Claudia - Journey of an Italian Cook,
Alyce - More Time at the Table
Kathy - Bakeaway with Me,
Martha - Simple Nourished Living,
Jill - Saucy Cooks
Sara - Everything in the Kitchen Sink
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Claudia -A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Celebration Spaghetti Sauce

Today I am celebrating two events: The 100th post on this blog, and the second anniversary of its creation.

I want to send my heartfelt thanks to all of you who visit this blog on a regular basis. The number of readers has continued to grow each week, and creating the recipes and posts I share with you is one of life’s great joys.

When I started this blog, I was in the process of leaving New Hampshire, where I had lived for almost two decades, to return to the Midwest so I could be closer to my parents and family.

I was nervous about my food writing career, which had a solid foundation in The Granite State where I was writing almost 20 articles a month for various newspapers and magazines. I knew many of the chefs and food-shop owners in the area, and I knew where to find the good restaurants, food shops, farm stands, etc. I was even a regular guest on a food-themed radio program!

Plus, I was leaving behind some wonderful friends who stood by me through the best of times and the worst of times.

Still, I gathered up my cookbooks, computer, and courage to make my way to Kansas and a new life. I wanted to be within just a few hours driving distance to my parents, who have been my biggest fans and supporters, and my sister and nephews, all of whom I hadn’t seen much since 1992. So off I went to The Sunflower State.

It was the best decision of my life!

Today I have my new husband, Michael, who I adore. He is the love of my life.

My parents, sister, and nephews, plus many more family members, live just a couple of hours away in Missouri.

Plus I have a new city I enjoy exploring. I am constantly discovering some new food place, many beautiful sites, and wonderful people.  And my writing career has continued, both in print and on this blog.

So, why a recipe for spaghetti sauce to celebrate? When I moved to Kansas, I brought with me my homemade spaghetti sauce recipe. Unfortunately, Michael didn’t like it. He preferred spaghetti sauce from a can. (Oh, the horror!)

Turns out, my sauce had too much garlic and Italian seasoning for his tastes. He even said, “It must be a New England sauce.”

I caved in and made spaghetti with his favorite canned variety, all the while trying out one combination after another to come up with a sauce that he would like.

I finally got it right! The key, besides toning down the seasoning, was to use tomato puree so the sauce is thick without chunks of tomato. I’ve made this twice now, and he’s devoured it all, including the leftovers.

That is why I’m giving you this recipe to celebrate my blog’s big milestones. Besides, shouldn’t we always celebrate when we give loved ones something made with our own hands and talents that they enjoy eating?

Celebration Spaghetti Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground sirloin
1/2 large white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (I use McCormick’s Gourmet Collection)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 28-ounce can tomato puree
1 tablespoon butter

Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook until just brown. Add the onion and continue cooking until the onions become translucent. Add the garlic and seasonings and cook for a minute or two. Then add the tomato puree and 1/2 can of water to rinse out the remaining puree.
Allow the mixture to simmer while you boil the spaghetti. Just before serving, add the butter and stir until it is melted and blended into the sauce.