Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Anzac Biscuits

I'd wish you a Happy ANZAC Day, but the truth of it is, it was last week; I forgot. 

It's not unusual that I would forget because a) I am mighty busy, and b) I'm not from Australia or New Zealand where this holiday is celebrated. But I feel that any holiday that has its own cookie is aces in my book. 

For the uninformed, ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps.  The holiday is celebrated on April 25th, and while it currently honors all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in all wars, originally it served to commemorate the troops who fought at Gallipoli in the Ottoman Empire during WWI. 

These cookies (biscuits) are so named because, supposedly, they were sent by wives to soldiers abroad because the ingredients do not spoil easily and the biscuits traveled well. This is a Martha Stewart recipe, although it looks pretty much like every other recipe for Anzac Biscuits that I found.

These biscuits are insanely easy to make, require no special equipment, and can be stirred together in a single bowl. They are crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and addictingly delicious.

Anzac Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups sugar
1 cup desiccated coconut*
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Lyle's Golden Syrup
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, sugar, and coconut. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter with syrup. Dissolve baking soda in boiling water, and add to butter mixture. Stir to combine. (Be careful; if the butter is hot, it will bubble up considerably.)

Add butter mixture to dry ingredients, and stir to combine. Using a 1 1/2-inch cookie scoop, drop onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart (be sure to pack the scoop tightly so the mixture doesn't crumble). Flatten cookies slightly with the heel of your hand.

Bake until golden brown and firm but not hard, about 15 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

*I did not have desiccated coconut, so just used Baker's.  It worked perfectly.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Peanut Butter Pudding

I have no idea as to the origin of this recipe.  I stumbled upon it, quite by accident, crumpled in the back of my recipe box.  My guess is that it harkens (just hearing harken should tell you it’s old) from the early '80s).  A baseball-watching friend of ours has dinner with us once a week to either praise or bemoan the Cardinals (if you’re a sports fan, you know that we are currently bemoaning).  He loves peanut butter.  He used to bring a peanut butter pie almost weekly until finally we just couldn’t take it anymore.  It’s been a year since we’ve had any sort of peanut butter dessert.  Finding this recipe, I thought, was a stroke of fate, indicating that it was time to try peanut butter again.

This is a very easy pudding to make.  Because of the cornstarch there is absolutely no guesswork involved as far as cooking time is concerned.  I like that in a pudding.  It is nicely peanut buttery without being overly so, and the level of sweetness is just right, not cloying.

Peanut Butter Pudding

1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a saucepan. Stream milk and half-and-half into the saucepan while whisking constantly to dissolve the sugar mixture.

Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring continually, for 2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat; stir peanut butter and vanilla extract into the milk mixture until smooth.

Divide the mixture into 4 small serving dishes and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.

Top with dollops of whipped cream and roasted peanuts.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Handmade Gatherings by Ashley English, a Review

Photo © Jen Altman & Roost Books
 Handmade Gatherings, Recipes & Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations and Potluck Parties, Roost Books (April 8, 2014) by Ashley English is charming from beginning to end. It was easy for me to feel an immediate kinship with this author because I, too, grew up with parents who were always hosting or going to parties. As a young child on the periphery, I was fascinated by all of the preparations involved. I also loved party food (that seemed just perfect for my pudgy little hands), and the engaging way in which it was served -- threaded onto skewers, speared by toothpicks with fancy tops, or presented in its own individual dish that made me feel a willing participant in a doll's tea party. This book was a little bit like reliving that delightful part of my youth.

But there is a deeper lesson to be learned here other than just how to throw a wonderful party with easy-to-make recipes and delightful crafts that are simple enough for anyone to do. It is about living life, realizing that just about anything is worth celebrating, and actually doing something about it. In short, everyone should read this book.

How many times have you felt blissfully happy over something quite simple, say, spotting that first cucumber on the vine, smelling the heady fragrance of the first summer rose, or receiving a long anticipated book in the mail? For English, these are causes for celebration.

Don't slog along through the year waiting for some traditional holiday, do what English does and throw a party to celebrate the emergence of spring and summer, the welcome arrival of bees, the bustle and homegrown goodness of farmer's markets, or the soul satisfying art of canning.  Each party plan is well described and each features recipes, crafts, and table setting ideas, all of which are very doable. The parties are all interactive with guests, both young and old, participating along with the host, learning and teaching, while having fun and nourishing body and soul.

When I saw the section on making up seed packets of pollinators for the party that celebrates bees, I pulled out my instructions for making seed packets, and rubber stamps that I will use to embellish them. My party will celebrate Zinnias in bloom on the deck, and I'll give away packets of seeds that I have harvested myself.

There is also a party that celebrates canning with a craft of making jar tags that are stamped using an inked piece of okra. As an avid jam and jelly maker (both sweet and savory) I'm going to have a canning party as well, and gift attendees with mini jars of my basil jelly and strawberry margarita jam. I will be trying her recipe for quick pickled ramps as well.

The party celebrating stone fruits had my mouth watering, think peach cobbler baked in a cast iron skillet, bourbon iced tea served with mint and peach slices, boozy maraschino cherries, not to mention chocolate cherry hand pies, and plum liquor.
Photo © Jen Altman & Roost Books
The autumn party will have you longing for fall.  Here she teaches how to make mulling spice packets for mulling wine, or cider, assembling jars of soup mix, and making your own homemade root beer. 
Photo © Jen Altman & Roost Books
Photo © Jen Altman & Roost Books
One cannot help but feel enthusiastic while reading this book, salivating over food, decor, and the sheer brilliance of celebrating simplicity. I can hardly wait to get started!

Photo © Jen Altman & Roost Books
Disclosure: I was given a free digital copy of this book by NetGalley, but the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Koulouria (Greek Easter Cookies)

Back when I had my first job, my first real, full time, not-Christmas-help-in-the-cosmetics-department job, I met a Greek man with a wonderful cookie recipe. Each year at Easter, he and his wife would bake up a huge batch of these and distribute them to everyone in the department. Because they looked rather plain, my expectations were low, but overwhelmed by his sincerity, I tasted one.  Proof positive that one cannot judge a book by its cover or a cookie by its rather simple appearance, these cookies were addicting. They are also very special, not just because they came from a friend in whose family they had been a long tradition, but for the way, through delicious food, they can illustrate the true meaning of Easter. The shapes of these cookies, you see, are to represent the crown of thorns and nails used in the crucifixion.  

This recipe makes a huge batch, but it is considered good luck to receive them, so you will want to share them with all of your friends. 

(Greek Easter Cookies)

1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup Crisco
6 eggs
4 cups granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
4 teaspoons baking powder
Dash salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Juice of one orange
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup whole milk
14-15 cups flour

1 egg
1 Tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together butter and Crisco. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until thick and lemon colored. Whisk in vanilla. Combine egg mixture with shortening mixture and beat to blend. Blend in baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. 

Mix baking soda into orange juice and add all at once to above mixture. Add milk and blend together on low speed. With mixer still running on low speed, add flour slowly. Continue adding flour until dough is soft and pliable and doesn't stick to your hands. 

Empty dough onto work surface. To shape, pinch off walnut-size pieces and roll into a rope about 5" long and as big around as your finger. Shape into crowns, thorns, or nails. 

Whisk together egg and water to make egg wash. 

Place shaped cookies onto ungreased cookie sheets and brush with egg wash. Bake about 25-30 minutes or until light golden brown. 

Note: This recipe can easily be halved, or if you are rather clever with math, cut by thirds.  The dough can be made ahead of baking up to two days prior. The dough freezes well if you find yourself overwhelmed with cookie baking.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Simple Bunny Table

 Do you ever outsmart yourself?  I do it all of the time. Take last year, for example.  I shopped at Pier 1 after Easter, and was quite chuffed at coming away with a plethora of amazing things. When I packed them away for this year, so excited at the prospect of a truly smashing table, I told myself to be sure to remember where I had put everything, and creating a table setting would be a breeze. Huh. I wonder where I told myself that was.  This year, all I could find were turkeys and pilgrims. I have no clue where I put the darling bunny basket, or the matching bunnies, the bunny ear napkin rings, or egg cups, or rabbit plates, or anything else. Nothing. Nada. 

So, it was quite a scramble to make use of what I had to come up with something even remotely seasonal. What this proves, of course, is that if I can create an Easter table from nothing, so can you. So get started!
Yes, this is a centerpiece that I use a lot, but that just goes to show how versatile a thing like this is.
The bunny tins I purchased years ago with the idea of filling them with grass, eggs, peeps, and chocolate bunnies, and putting them at each place setting.  ThenI lost them.  Amazingly I did find them this year, but only three, so they will just have to content themselves with peeking out between the spring grasses. 
I went crazy over these cute little cages at Michael’s.  I can picture using them all summer with nests and eggs, baby birds, and butterflies.  I couldn’t resist pressing them into service here with peeps inside. 
As you know, I’m madly in love with these black polka dot plates.  You’ve seen them here and here.  I wasn’t sure whether I liked them with this setting, so went with the Lotus plates. 
The napkin fold is a cinch.  Susan at Between Naps on the Porch has a great tutorial here.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Egg Brunch Casserole

 I make no apologies for liking casseroles.  In fact, I love them, always have.  There is something both homey and mysterious about digging into a piping hot dish of ingredients that I find so soul soothing and satisfying.  The make-ahead aspect is another plus.  Being able to assemble a dish hours prior to baking or, in some cases, the day before, make these okay in my book.  I like main dish casseroles, lunch casseroles, and vegetable casseroles.  This recipe was one that my mother used to make for holiday brunches.  She used to host both Christmas and Easter brunches, the Christmas brunch she hosted for more than fifty years.  Imagine!  She made this recipe with chopped green pepper and crumbled bacon.  I make mine with spicy bulk sausage and roasted red peppers.  That’s the beauty of a casserole.  You can pretty much layer anything that you like, pour an egg mixture on top and bake it, and you have a nice meal.

Egg Brunch Casserole

½ package spicy bulk sausage (I used Bob Evans)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups croutons
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
3 extra-large eggs
1 cup milk
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¼ cup roasted red bell peppers, diced (I used Melissa’s)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Place sausage in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat, breaking up with a fork, until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.

Spray an 8 x 8 square baking dish with vegetable spray. Melt butter in a small dish in the microwave. Place croutons in the bottom of the dish, and drizzle with melted butter. Sprinkle with grated Cheddar cheese.

Crack the eggs into a bowl, whisking to break up the yolks. Continue to whisk while you add the milk, mustard, salt, and pepper. Pour mixture over the croutons and cheese, sprinkle with sausage, and dot with peppers.  Press mixture down into the dish.
At this point it can be covered and refrigerated overnight.  Otherwise, bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

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