Tracy’s Rhubarb Pate de Fruit

The summer that I was 20 I lived at the beach.  With the exception of some underage drinking and a single encounter with Ocean City’s finest law enforcement officers, it was a pretty unremarkable summer.  To be honest, working three jobs left me little time to get into much trouble at all.  Or to develop a decent tan.  But knowing what we do about sun exposure and skin cancer, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

It pains me to realize that my beach summer was twenty years ago.  Instead of mourning my long lost youth, I can use a little kitchen magic to recapture one of my favorite food memories of the summer of 1991…pate de fruit.

One of my three jobs that summer was in a candy shop.  The same place that gave birth to my abhorrence to fudge also allowed me to develop a love for orange slices.  I probably “sampled” more of those than I actually sold.  Even though the statute of limitations is probably long expired on that transgression, let’s just keep this confession between you and me.

The orange slices won me over at the very first bite.  The crunchy sugar exterior gave way to a pleasantly chewy, fruity inside.  It was like Sour Patch Kids, only a million times better.  And without the scrunchy sour face.  I hadn’t had an orange slice since that summer but over the years I had run across recipes for diy versions.  I would look at them dreamily recalling what it felt like to be 20 years old and carefree.  And then I would turn the page, feeling just a wee bit sad.

It wasn’t until my Big Summer Potluck pal Tracy posted a recipe for rhubarb pate de fruit that I decided to just get over myself and try making them.  No, they would not turn back the hands of time.  And that’s ok.  I don’t want to get stuck living in the past.

Orange slices may have been me at 20.  Rhubarb Pate de Fruit is me at 40.

Rhubarb Pate de Fruit

Adapted from Sugarcrafter

BAH Note:  Before I set out to make these beauties, I emailed Sugarcrafter to see if she had any additional guidance to offer on the recipe.  Her only comment to me was to watch the temperature as the mixture cooks.  So don’t get distracted with Angry Birds, email, or wrangling a wayward child and walk away from the stove.  And don’t forget that boiling sugar juice is HOT STUFF that will inflict pain and suffering to those who do not heed its power….so yeah, this isn’t really a child friendly recipe for those of you following along at home.  PS, you’ll also need either a candy thermometer or an instant read thermometer that you can clip on the side of your pot.

  • 1/2 – 3/4 pound rhubarb, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 ounces (1 envelope) liquid pectin
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Line an 8 inch square baking dish with a parchment paper sling (two pieces of parchment, folded to fit, laid across each other in the pan).

Blitz 1/2 pound of rhubarb in a food processor until completely pureed.  Strain the juices through a fine mesh sieve, using a spoon to push the juice out of the pulp.  Measure out 3/4 cup of rhubarb juice and discard the pulp.  If you don’t get enough juice, repeat the process with the remaining 1/4 pound of rhubarb.

Heat the rhubarb juice, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of sugar in a large sauce pan over medium heat until it reaches 113 degrees, stirring occasionally.  Once it reaches 113 degrees, add the remaining sugar, stir and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 238 degrees.  At 238 degrees, add the liquid pectin and boil for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Carefully pour the hot sugar mixture into the prepared baking pan.  Sprinkle the top lightly with sugar and let the pan cool for two hours or until the pate de fruit is completely set.

When cool and set, use the parchment sling to lift the candy out of the baking dish.  Place the candy, still on the parchment sheets on a cutting board.  Use a sharp knife to cut the candy into bite sized pieces, cleaning the blade in hot water between cuts.  Roll the pieces in sugar until they are well coated and store in an airtight container.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Popcorn

The Universe introduced me to Jenna Satterthwaite, and her blog, about a year ago and I have been hounding the woman for a Food Memory ever since.  My persistence finally paid off when she posted about her long term relationship with popcorn.  A few emails later and I had her permission to go ahead with Food Memories – Popcorn.  I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce y’all to Jenna.  She cooks, she sings in a band, she’s been to Ree’s Ranch (lucky girl), and she has an obsession with putting a camera in the face of cute babies.  You can follow her adventures at Jenna’s Everything Blog.

Jenna’s Popcorn

When I first starting blogging almost a year ago, I was in a frenzy of excitement thinking about all the things I could write about. Funny childhood stories, Photoshop learning experiences, cooking, reviews on books I was reading–topics seemed to stretch to the horizon. “You should write about your popcorn pot,” my husband said. “Yeah!” I agreed, and then proceeded not to write about it ever.

Every so often over the next months, when I was having a case of writer’s block or an uninispired stretch, my husband would exclaim “You should write about popcorn and take a picture showing your bowl versus my bowl!” “Uh huh,” I would agree vacantly. And then I would write about something totally different.

Last week wore me out, and as soon as I had recovered some of my energies over the weekend, I went and spent them on my musical endeavors (how dare she!). So when Monday arrived and I faced my computer, I couldn’t seem to bring myself to write about anything. All of a sudden, I wondered if I had simply run out of things to say. I mean, looking at my recent activity on this here blog, it’s all either about cooking, or James. Seriously folks, I’ve been cruising off the 2 days I spent with Heidi and James for far too long–somehow I’ve squeezed 5 blog posts out of that one event, maybe because I feel like material is running in short supply. Maybe I’ve lost my touch, my brain informed me as I sat in my chair, glassy-eyed.

And then, the voice of my husband came back to me. “Wriiiiite abbooooouuuuut paaaaawwwwwpcwwwoooorrrrrrrn,” said the ghostly apparition. So I will write about popcorn.

I love popcorn. My sisters and I grew up eating it during movies, during long study sessions, and on the couch as we immersed ourselves in a good novel. As soon as we were old enough, we started popping our own on the stove, with a goodly amount of olive oil and melted butter poured over top.

My popcorn habit has never stopped. I pop myself a bowl probably about 4 times per week, always in the evening after dinner. To me, it’s like a night cap. It signals: it’s time to relax. Happiness and rest is at hand. Granted, I have stopped using melted butter and am quite happy with a sprinkling of regular salt instead of the flavored kinds I was briefly addicted to, but still–you don’t want to know the amount of calories involved. You just don’t.

Another thing you should know: I like to have my own popcorn bowl. Correction: I need to have my own popcorn bowl. This is a trait my sisters share as well: we must have our own exclusive popcorn space. Upon my marriage six years ago, I soon realized that when my brand-spanking new husband shared my popcorn during a movie, I had to resist the urge to snatch up the bowl and make a run for it. Yes, I was feeling very possessive about my popcorn. You need to learn to share! I moralized myself. But the Little Train that Could, this time, Couldn’t. So I told my wonderful new husband that if he wanted to share my popcorn, he had to get his own bowl. I had to maintain exclusive rights to my stash. I’d share, but the actual vessels of the snack must remain separate.

I’m working on my issues as we speak, because I have a feeling that any children that come into our lives may not respect these boundaries.

Here is my bowl next to his bowl.

Let’s get a closer look at this rather noteworthy discrepancy in bowl size.

And let’s be honest–sometimes he only goes for a little red ramekin-full.

I have long had a metabolism and occupation that could handle this kind of popcorn. Heck, with the stress and physical activity of my previous job, I probably could have eaten three times as much and burnt it all off in a single encounter with my boss. However, changes have occurred in my work-life that have caused a certain bottom and a certain swively chair to become strongly connected. Bosom-buddies, so to speak. Having hit a small growth spurt since coming to Chicago (read: wider not taller; read; I sit in a chair in an office all day; read: I love food; read: I loathe aerobic exercise) one of the areas I’m placing under careful examination is my popcorn habit.

Resolution #1A: instead of liberally pouring popcorn kernels into the pot, I have started measuring out my allotment. I’m currently down from about 1/2 cup of kernels to 1/3 cup, with views on that very modest 1/4 cup. There has been no change in the size of my girth . . . yet.

Resolution #1B: choose to love the girth? (Resolution Still Under Review)

And on the subject of the popcorn pot . . . well, I can’t hide this monstrosity forever.

No, I don’t wash it more than once per month. Okay, fine! More like once per quarter.

Yes, it came from the same set of pots gifted to us for our wedding many years ago. The other pots still look practically new, but this guy . . . I have aged him beyond repair.

Please accompany me on a short journey of rationalization: I figure if there are germs, I’m just making my immune system stronger. I figure if it’s an ugly pot, I’m just teaching myself to look past the surface of things. I figure if the pot looks about 95 years old, it’s just preparing me for being 95 years old and still loving the way I look. I figure it the grease gets so caked on that it will never come off, well, there’s another reason not to bother washing it.

And that, my friends, is all I have to say.

Jenna’s Popcorn

Adapted from Jenna Sattherthwaite

BAH Note: As I commented on Jenna’s post, my memories of popcorn involve the magic of Jiffy Pop.  I loved watching that foil puff up as the kernels popped. Then with the advent of microwave popcorn, the method of making popcorn got so far removed from anything that resembles cooking that I was grateful for Jenna’s primer on the process.  Here’s what she does:

  • Choose a ‘sturdy’ pot (if the pot is made of very thin metal, the popcorn will tend to burn).
  • Pour in any kind of oil (olive, peanut, canola, etc) until the oil completely covers the bottom of the pot.
  • Pour in popcorn kernels until there is a single layer across the bottom of the pot.
  • Turn the flame on medium high and cover the pot.
  • Shake the pot around a couple times during cooking while the kernels are popping (holding the cover firmly so that the popcorn stays contained!).
  • When there is a 2-3 second interval between kernels popping, pour the popcorn into a bowl.
  • Add salt to taste, and if you want to be truly decadent, melted butter (mmmmm).

Yup, it really is THAT easy.  And if you happen to have bought some coconut oil for those Pomme Frites, I can attest that it works beautifully for popping corn.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Grandmother’s Dinner Rolls

I met Jen Schall last year at Big Summer Potluck.  And then we both found ourselves attending the IFBC conference a month or so later.  One thing led to another and before I knew it we were tweeting back and forth and leaving comments on each other’s blogs.  Let me tell you something about Jen, she creates amazing things in the kitchen. Go.  Look.  Here’s the link.  Her talent isn’t limited to the sweets and savories.  That’s only half the story.  Her pictures are sublime.  Knowing that she’s only about 90 minutes away from B’more, I’m tempted to show up on her doorstep one day and request a private tutorial in how she sets up these shots.

I had asked Jen after IFBC if she had a recipe that I could include in my Food Memories Project.  She said she thought she did and then life got busy in the way it often does.  Later we were chatting about my challenges making bread and she mentioned that she had this great dinner roll recipe that she was going to post in her bread baking series.  So imagine my surprise when I read her post about her grandmother’s dinner rolls.  It was as though I had hit the trifecta….grandmother story (and I’m a big sucker for those), food memory, and a flawless roll all in one.

Thanks to Jen and her generosity, I now have perfect dinner rolls in my freezer and a food memory to share with you.

The following appeared on My Kitchen Addiction on 3 May 2011.

Light and Soft Dinner Rolls

If you ask anyone in my family, they will tell you that these are the ultimate dinner rolls. But, I can’t really take credit for them.

These are my grandmother’s famous rolls…  Whenever we would have get togethers with the whole family, she would make a big batch of these rolls. They were a holiday staple for years. My brother and cousins would fight over them, and I’m pretty sure that there were times where they each had more than 10 rolls in one meal. They really are that good.

My grandmother was a great cook and baker. Though she passed away a few years ago, I often think of her when I am in my kitchen. I am fortunate enough to have many of her recipes, and though I can’t prepare them quite the way she did, they always remind me of her.

Until recently, the recipe for her rolls was one of the few recipes that I didn’t have. In December, my mom and I were putting together a book of family recipes for my brother and his new wife.  When we asked around for recipes, one of my cousins happened to have the recipe for the rolls. We put it in the book (especially since my brother was one of the biggest fans of the rolls), and I set out to learn to make them myself.

Perhaps my grandmother is looking down on me, because there’s just something about these rolls that always amazes me.  They really are quite simple to make, and they always turn out beautifully.  They are the lightest, softest dinner rolls I have ever made. They’re also pretty adaptable. I have swapped out the all purpose flour for whole wheat, added flax, used oil in place of the butter, and even made them with herbs and cheese. The rolls also make fantastic buns for hot dogs and hamburgers… You’ll want to keep the recipe on hand this summer!

Light and Soft Dinner Rolls
(Makes 18 dinner rolls or 12 sandwich rolls)

Adapted from Jen Schall

BAH Note: I’ve made these as cloverleaf rolls with success.  After the second rise, portion the dough into 18 rolls. Divide each roll into three equal pieces and roll them into three small balls.  Place the group of three dough balls in the buttered cavity of a muffin tin so that it looks like a pyramid.  Brush the tops with melted butter,  cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise just until it reaches the top of the muffin tin.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes.  I’ve also frozen the cooked rolls and let them thaw at room temperature or warmed them in a 350 degree oven.

  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    (or cut it into small chunks and microwave for about 15 seconds)
  • 3 – 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Begin by combining the milk, sugar, yeast, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk together until the yeast and sugar are mostly dissolved.

Add the butter and egg.  Stir to incorporate and break up the egg.  Add 1 cup of flour and beat vigorously to fully incorporate the flour and any lumps of butter that may have been remaining.

Gradually, add the remaining flour, stirring until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Knead the dough with your hands, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands.  Knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth, but still light and soft.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume (about 1 1/2 hours).  Punch the dough down, reshape into a ball, and let rise a second time until the dough has doubled in volume again (an additional hour).

Preheat the oven to 425°F.  Shape the rolls and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon liner. Let the rolls rise while the oven preheats, until they are a bit puffy.  If desired, brush the tops of the rolls with some egg wash (to make them shiny) and sprinkle with sesame seeds (I usually do this for the hot dog and hamburger buns).  Bake for about 12 – 14 minutes, until the rolls are golden on top.

Let the rolls cool for about 10 minutes on the baking sheet, and then transfer to a wire rack. The rolls are best served warm, but they will keep for a few days in an airtight container, or wrapped in plastic.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Snickerdoodles

I met Colleen last year at the Big Summer Potluck.  I have to tell you, that one day brought so many talented people into my world.  Colleen not only runs Souffle Bombay, she also has a second site, Picture Me Cooking, geared towards cooking with kids.  And it all started with a Food Memory.  Here’s how she describes it:

My friends and family often joke that no one turns down an invitation to our house because they want to come and eat the food, lol!! Cooking is amazing to me, combine a bit of this with a bit of that and look what you get…a party in your mouth! I enjoy cooking for my family, cooking for others, planning party menu’s and I LOVE cooking with my children. From an early age, the kitchen became my happy place.

One day, I had a flash of a memory…it was about first time I remember cooking as a kid, I could see myself walking toward my family, who were all sitting at the table looking at what I had made with anticipation and excitement. I can remember exactly how I felt carrying that cake as I walked toward them.

I though well…THAT one moment was certainly a defining moment for me…and you know what I don’t even have a picture of it…WHY I thought don’t kids cookbooks have a way to capture some photos of what they cook up in the kitchen, who the cook with…after all to many of us some of our most precious memories happened in a kitchen at the knee of someone we love/loved.

So, I sat down and outlined the book and began to write it, then formed a group about a year later with 3 other mom’s and produced the book. I have even been on QVC with it – all that from a memory.

See what I mean about the talented people I had the fortune to meet that day?  Colleen took a memory and turned it into a book.  She’s been on QVC y’all.  I knew about the book but not the QVC…she must have nerves of steel.  I’m going to have to ask her all about that experience when I see her this summer at Big Summer Potluck II.  Until then, we can all enjoy her Snickerdoodles Food Memory.

Snickerdoodles

For me, eating certain foods and hearing certain songs are the most powerful drivers of my memories.

The food memories, for whatever reason are all warm and happy…the music ones take me back to so many different events, some crazy happy some achingly painful and some “what was I thinking”! Anyone with me on this?

Case in point…Snickerdoodles.
I can see in my minds eye my Grammy often making Snickerdoodles, I can see me helping her, sometimes alone, sometimes surrounded by my cousins and siblings.

I can’t recall a Christmas at her house without having eaten as many of them as I possibly could without any adults saying a word! Man, holidays are best!!

But do I have HER recipe…nope. I do make Snicherdoodles often as my children love both baking them up and of course eating them up.

I was intrigued when I saw this recipe for Snickerdoodles from Miss in the Kitchen (a really nice gal who cooks up quick family style dishes). One of the ingredients in her recipe is cream cheese….yes…cream cheese. Never heard of such a thing in a Snickerdoodle, so I wanted to find out how that would change things.

These were good…they were softer than what I am accustomed to and did not last long in my house lol! We even made 1 HUGE cookie that could have fed 4 kids easily, however my two knuckleheads decided to split it to see if they could eat it! My 9 year old son polished off his half…while my 6 year old daughter made a valiant effort!

Cream Cheese Snickerdoodles
Souffle Bombay’s adaptation from Miss in the Kitchen (Blog)

BAH Note:  The only thing I will add is that the cookie dough is very soft.  I refrigerated mine for about 30 minutes before I tried to scoop it.  And then I returned the bowl of dough to the fridge after I had scooped enough for a sheet pan.

  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In your mixing bowl, add cream cheese and butter. Beat with an electric mixer until well combined. Beat in sugar, eggs and vanilla . Add flour and baking soda mixing until all combined. Scoop into 1 1/2 inch balls and roll in sugar and cinnamon mixture. Place 2 inches apart on a greased or lined baking sheet and press gently with tines of a fork in a crisscross pattern. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

 {printable recipe}

Food Memories – Chicken Pot Pie

Today’s Food Memory comes from fellow Big Summer Potluck attendee Jennifer of Bread and Putter.  I had no way of knowing at the time that Jennifer and I would become bff’s on Twitter (@breadandputter).  Don’t tell The Mistah but I think she knows more about me via my twittering than he does after 6 years of marriage.  Is that bad?

Here’s a little of what Jennifer has to say on her About page:

My early cooking adventures were kind of pathetic.  I once cooked a hot dog in a frying pan that was burned on the outside and still frozen in the middle.  I could always bake – I can follow instructions pretty darn well, but cooking always seemed a little more loosey-goosey. There are things about cooking apparently you are just supposed to know instinctively or something, and I didn’t.

Yeah, I can totally understand that.  Maybe she and I are kindred kitchen spirits.

If you still need another reason to skip on over to Bread and Putter and check out what’s going on in Jennifer’s kitchen, I give you this:

I really love cheese and bacon. I hate coffee, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, beets and anything that leaves orange cheese powder on my fingertips. Dark chocolate is the best chocolate but milk chocolate is good too if there’s peanut butter in it.  There’s nothing quite like hot crusty bread fresh out of the oven with some good butter on it.

I’m going to pretend that she didn’t include coffee, brussel sprouts, beets, and cheetos on her list of dont’s.

Chicken Pot Pie

For our second date, my now husband invited me to his house for dinner. I didn’t know what to expect.  I arrived with a bottle of wine in hand but he didn’t have any wine glasses. So, we drank it out of regular glasses but in retrospect, who was I to judge? It was white zinfandel.

When it was time for dinner, I was impressed when his creation came out of the oven – a homemade chicken pot pie! This guy was racking up points fast! For our first date, he had invited me to a play.  Classy, right?  And then he bakes up a pie for me. What wasn’t to like? When he cut open the pie and served me a slice, my excitement waned a bit. In addition to the chicken and gravy, there was a lot of broccoli in the pie. At the time, I really was not a broccoli fan.  And all I could taste in that pie was broccoli. But, I was gracious and I ate up my whole serving and I complimented him on that pie.

I would later learn that the pie dough was from a box and the gravy was from a can, but I still give him lots of credit for that pie.  There was still a lot of measuring, preparation and assembly involved. As the years passed and I confessed my non-love of broccoli, the pie took on other incarnations with carrots and peas replacing the wretched broccoli.

And then a funny thing happened. He was a single father and was doing his best to put food on the table for his two daughters and trying to set a good example. So, in turn, when I was dining with them, I tried to set a good example and not be fussy and eat what I was served. And over time, my palate grew in an unexpected way.  I learned to like, if not tolerate, just about everything. Including broccoli! These days we even grow broccoli, in our garden at our home together.

Here is his original chicken pot pie recipe. These days I usually make my own crust and my own gravy if I am making it, but I promise, it is still pretty darn good with the boxes and the cans.  And if you make it for someone else with love, isn’t that what really counts?

B&P Note: I’ve transcribed this exactly as written. It amuses me.

2 boxes –total of 4 Pillsbury or whatever pre-made pie crusts. Take out 15 mins before using

2 ¼ + lbs boneless breast of chicken, trim crap off – cut up, refrigerate

2 medium potatoes diced

1 bunch + broccoli crowns, trimmed of most of stem

3 or 4 carrots cut up diced

 

Boil veggies till soft (nothing falling apart.) Strain.

Open 2 cans Franco-American chicken gravy – cook till hot.

While cooking gravy, prepare two pie shells in pans.

Throw in chicken & veggies into hot gravy. Mix. Fill pies. Cover pies with remaining pie crusts. Baste with butter. Slit pie crust tops to vent heat before putting in oven. Cook covered in preheated 425 degree oven 20 mins. Remove foil cover & cook 25 mins more. Remove & let sit a minute before cutting.

Mr. Bread and Putter’s Chicken Pot Pie

BAH Note: I have to admit that I didn’t exactly recreate the original incarnation of Mr. B&P’s chicken pot pie. I was short on supplies and had a pie crust that was well past its prime.  My loosey-goosey version went something like this:

  • 1 rolled pie crust (premade)
  • 1 jar chicken gravy
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • frozen peas and carrots
  • diced rotisserie chicken (without the skin)

Heat oven to temperature called for on the back of the box of pie crust.

Combine gravy and cornstarch in a medium saucepan set over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the gravy has thickened.  Add the peas, carrots, and chicken and stir to combine.

Transfer the filling to a 9 inch pie plate.  Top with the pie crust, crimping the edges as you go.  Cut four small slits in the top of the dough for steam to escape.  Place on a sheet pan and bake until the filling is bubbly and the top has browned.

If the edges of the crust are browning too fast, cover them with a ring of aluminum foil.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Puffy Hearts and Rings

Today’s Food Memory comes from Jenny Yu of Use Real Butter.  URB was one of the very first blogs I started reading when I jumped onto these here interwebs, back when I could manage the blogs I read in my browser’s Bookmarks.  While the bookmarks have been replaced by Google Reader, one thing that hasn’t changed is my admiration for Jenny.  She cooks.  She writes.  She takes stunning photos.  And she has a spirit that inspires.

I had the opportunity to meet Jenny last summer at a food blog conference.  It was a thrill to finally be able to meet her in person after being a fan of her blog for so long.  Successful, yet approachable, gracious and encouraging, I consider Jenny to be one of the leaders of this crazy tribe to which I belong.  She understands the power of food and community.

When I read her Puffy Hearts post last month, I knew it was a story that I wanted to include in the Food Memories series.  But what would Jenny say?  I’ve had people say no before but the only way anyone ever says yes is if I get over my fear of rejection and ask.  So I did, thinking that it would make a perfect post for Valentine’s Day.  And I was elated when she said yes.  Evidently, this was the post that The Universe wanted me to share with you on this day of love.

My thanks to Jenny for allowing me to share with you her memory of snow days, special pastries, and Shaun Cassidy.

Puffy Hearts and Rings appeared on Use Real Butter on 10 January 2011.  While I’ve done my best to capture the beauty of the Puffy Heart that came out of my kitchen, you really need to click that link and see them through Jenny’s lens.

Puffy Hearts and Rings

When I was a little kid growing up in Virginia, snow storms would catch me by surprise. The only way I knew anything was in the works was when Kris would stay up late tuning the radio to find out if school would be closed the next day. On those very rare snow days we would stay home playing games, running around the house like maniacs jumping off the stairs, building forts, watching television, lip syncing Shaun Cassidy while standing on top of the coffee table, and sledding down our steep driveway. I have a lot of good memories of Kris.

Living in Colorado, we can get snow as early as September and as late as May. It snows in our mountains in June and July too. Even though it is a common occurrence I still get excited – I just don’t lip sync Shaun Cassidy from the coffee table anymore (I have that very coffee table in our great room). These days I suit up and head out.

After we return from a ski – be it at a resort or in the backcountry – it’s Kaweah’s turn to play in the snow. When she was a wee pup in Ithaca, New York, we’d take her out into the snow and find the deepest drift to drop her in. She’d expend an enormous amount of energy bounding about in the snow and would sleep all night long at home. Yay! Now in her golden years, Kaweah doesn’t wander as far into the snow nor does she handle the cold as well as she did in her crazy years (years 0-10). She sleeps much of the day and all of the night.

As a kid, I never remembered being cold when I played in the snow. Maybe that’s because as kids, we’re crazy people? I would barely recognize myself today, grabbing a warm hat, gloves, boots, jacket, sunnies, chapstick, sunblock… While thinking back on those snow days of my youth, I grew nostalgic for my mom’s baking projects. She wasn’t much of a baker, but she did have a handful of sweets she could make for potlucks and parties. What I loved most were these things called puffy hearts and rings.

Have any of you heard of puffy hearts and rings? I just knew it was an involved process for my mom because I’d watch her patiently shape the dough into hearts and rings with two spoons as I bounced up and down singing “puffy hearts and rings!” in anticipation of my favorite treat. It was a super sticky dough and she only made them once or twice a year – usually around the holidays. I can close my eyes and recall the properties of that dough. I knew the taste and texture of the baked pastry, the icing, the almonds. The flavor was almonds. I am a complete sucker for almonds.

One morning I woke up and said to myself, “It’s cream puff dough.” I pieced together what the puffy hearts and rings were from memory and set about recreating them. Cream puff dough would most certainly be a sticky mess to shape into hearts and rings. I opted to pipe the dough into the desired shapes. Then there was the icing: confectioner’s sugar and milk or cream. Since I’m lactose intolerant, I used water instead. The flavor was most certainly almond extract. Then a little coloring – they were always pink hearts and green rings.

When the puffs were done baking and cooling, I iced each one and sprinkled slivered toasted almonds over the icing while it was still wet to make sure the almonds adhered. I bit into one. This is what I remembered – almond flavor, sweetness, the egginess of the soft dough. I liked it. I had Jeremy try one just to be sure that it wasn’t just me and my nostalgia that thought it tasted good. We have another fan and I have happily brought an old memory back to life.

Puffy Hearts and Rings

BAH Note: I scaled Jenny’s recipe down by half because I thought 2 dozen puffy hearts might be a little much to handle.  In hindsight, I wish I would have made more.  The puffs are tender and light while the frosting is the perfect balance of sugar and almond.  I got six very large hearts out of the dough and The Mistah and I polished them away in just a few hours.  While Jenny’s recipe has you mixing by hand, I entrusted the dough to my stand mixer.  You do what makes the most sense for you.

BAH Tip: If you’re artistically challenged, like I am, trace the outline of hearts in pencil on your parchment.  Then flip the parchment over and pipe the dough into the outlines.  When I went to decorate the hearts, instead of dipping them into the glaze, I filled a small sandwich bag with my frosting, cut one corner off and then piped away.  I started with an outline, let that set up for a few minutes, then went back and filled it in using a toothpick to carefully drag the frosting so that the entire outline was filled.

  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) butter
  • 8 oz (1 cup) water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsps water (or cream/milk)
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • food coloring (optional)
  • almond slivers, toasted (optional)

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Heat oven to 400°F.

Heat one cup of water  and the butter in a medium saucepan over high heat until butter is melted and the liquid is boiling. Remove the pan from heat and add the flour all at once. Stir until the dough forms a ball. Add eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition until the egg is completely incorporated and the dough is smooth and satiny.

Scoop the dough into a piping bag with a medium plain tip (about 1/2 inch in diameter). Pipe rings and hearts on the parchment with enough room for expansion (2 inches of space in between). Bake for about 20 minutes or until the tops are golden in color. Remove from baking sheets and let cool completely on cooling racks.

Mix the powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons of liquid, and almond extract in a medium bowl. Add food coloring as desired. I split mine in two batches and color one pink and the other light green.

When the puffs are cooled, dip them face-down into the icing or drizzle them with icing. While the icing is still wet (it dries very quickly here) sprinkle almond slivers over the icing and gently press them into the icing.

Makes about 2 dozen (depends on how big your puffs are).

{printable recipe}

Alice’s Chicken Coconut Curry Soup

You’ve survived Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s is just around the corner.  If food had a triathalon, it would be these three holidays.  I feel like I do more eating in these five weeks than I do all year.  Or maybe it’s just that I indulge in more of the things that I try and moderate the rest of the year like butter, sugar, flour, and eggs.  But even I get to the point where I’m cupcaked out and looking for some balance.

This bowl of balance comes courtesy of Alice at Savory Sweet Life.  It had been up on her blog all year without me knowing it.  I only discovered it when she posted it over at the PBS Kitchen Explorers blog.  Yes y’all, I get some of my recipes from a site targeting cooking with your kids.  Here’s why, if it’s easy enough to make with a child, it has to be a pretty foolproof recipe.  At the end of the day, I want to get dinner on the table before I run out of steam.  Hence, recipes that are easy enough to make with a child are perfect for my weeknight dinners.  Can you argue with that logic?

Even if you choose to argue the validity of my logic, once you taste Chicken Coconut Curry Soup, you won’t want to.  Curry paste + coconut milk + veg + leftover chicken is a recipe for creamy, spicy success.  Add some fish sauce for a bit of salty balance.  Or not.  It’s completely up to you.

I can’t promise that Chicken Coconut Curry Soup will undo all the cake, cookie, and eggnog damage.  But maybe if you enjoy a nice big bowl of this before heading out to the last Holiday Triathalon event of 2010, you won’t be as inclined to reach for those extra cookies at the New Year’s Eve party.

Chicken Coconut Curry Soup

Adapted from Alice of Savory Sweet Life and PBS Kitchen Explorers

BAH Note: I used light coconut milk but I would bet good money that using regular coconut milk would result in a luscious, rich soup.  Alice adds cooked rice to her soup.  If you happen to have some handy, why not.  I think I used one cooked chicken breast which may or may not have yielded exactly one cup of meat.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 onion,  finely chopped
  • 1 cup cooked chicken meat, shredded or cubed
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 13.5 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 cans chicken broth
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauce pan set over medium heat and cook the onions and carrots for approximately 5 minutes.  Add the curry paste, brown sugar, and fish sauce and cook another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the curry paste is completely incorporated.  Add the chicken, chicken broth, and coconut milk to the pan stir to combine.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Garnish with cilantro and a squirt of lime juice.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Grandma’s Wontons

This summer the Universe brought Lan from Angry Asian Creations into my world.  I forget the exact circumstances but it didn’t take me long to get AAC loaded into my Google Reader and start chatting with Lan via email about getting together in real life.  Having spent time with her, I would like to thank the Universe for using her influence to ever so slyly push me back towards my Bread Bible Studies.  Had we been in school together, I have a feeling that Lan and I would have been thick as thieves.  She tells it like it is and knows how to have a good time.  Check out her Live It List…inspiring.  And for the record Lan, I can totally help you out with #18.

I have a special place in my heart for Grandma’s and stories about how they love on us so when Lan offered me this story for her Food Memory, I jumped on it.  This originally appeared on Angry Asian Creations on 14 September 2009 and I’m glad to have the opportunity to share it with you here.

Comfort In A Bowl – Grandma’s Wonton Soup

did i ever tell you the story of when, at the age of 8, i ate 24 of my grandmother’s wonton dumplings? no? well allow me. 24 may not seem like a lot, or maybe it does, but at the time, i was a scrawny little shit, shorter than most of my classmates and while i never went to bed hungry, i can’t imagine it was cheap keeping me fed. i wasn’t aware of all the details, but i do recall grandmother counting pennies for my lunch money everyday and that is why she holds such prime real estate in my heart.

what i recall of that day is that grandma put a bowl of hot soup in front of me, heaping with wonton dumplings, the wrappers slick but at the same time wrinkly, clinging to the meat filling. and every time i emptied my bowl with a declaration that i wanted more, she would smile and make me more. for awhile, rather than extolling my grades (because back then, i really was a good student) or pimping my dance moves (Michael Jackson had nothing on me), she would tell anybody and everybody that i ate 24 of her wonton dumplings in one sitting. a pat on my head would follow. rather than be embarrassed, i would be comforted. yet another thing grandma was proud of me for, eating an assload of her food, something so easy and so damn good.

so when last weekend i felt like ass warmed over, i wanted comfort food. something to warm my very being, something that could possibly put more spring in my step. i spent all day saturday not only working on my DB challenge and a homemade chili concoction, i made grandma’s wonton dumplings. it is unbelievable and magical to me that despite how much my head and stomach hurt, i was able to stand in my kitchen all day and prepare this comfort food. because let me tell you, wrapping dumplings takes a hot minute! i meant it when i said on twitter that cooking/baking is such a balm for anything, especially when the end result brought such comfort to my sick body.

Grandma’s Wonton Soup
adapted from memory

*again, i don’t have exact measurements, i dumped a lot of stuff in a bowl

  • Wonton wrappers
  • about 1 lb ground pork
  • wood ear fungus, rehydrated in hot water, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • some vermicelli noodles, hydrated in hot water, roughly chopped
  • fish sauce to taste
  • 4oz pate
  • homemade chicken stock (really, you can use any kind of stock you want)

mix ground pork, fungus, onions, garlic, vermicelli, and pate together. add a dollop in the middle of wonton wrapper and make sure that you seal the meat in. i went simple and just folded the wrappers diagonally and sealed with a water/cornstarch mix. store in container covered with damp paper towel until ready to cook.

to cook, add to simmering pot of water (or stock) until wrappers are translucent. it doesn’t take long for the meat to cook thru. to serve, put in bowls and pour hot stock over dumplings. consume as is, or dipped in hoisin/chili sauce.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Alice’s Tuna Casserole

Have I mentioned how much I admire Alice Currah?  Not only is she a wife and mother of three, but she also maintains two blogs (Savory Sweet Life and Everyday Alice) and is now a contributor to PBS’s Kitchen Explorers.  How she finds the time to do all these things, I will never know.  As impressive as those time management feats are, they aren’t why I admire Alice.

I admire Alice for speaking difficult truths, for honoring her own convictions, for owning her opinions, for encouraging others to follow their passions, for being both a vocal critic and an ardent cheerleader, for reminding us to be authentic, and for being one of the warmest, most welcoming people I have ever met. I truly feel lucky to have met her in person and seen the passion she has for what she does and for this community of food bloggers.

When I read her Tuna Casserole post on PBS Kitchen Explorers, I ached to have it as part of the Food Memories project.  She eloquently conveyed how her food memories played a huge role in her life.  I connected with this story in a lot of ways and I really loved how she honored her early experiences with food.  I am honored that Alice is allowing me to share it with you here.

Alice’s Tuna Casserole

Cooking and baking has always been a part of who I am.  My mother and father had to work twelve hour days to put food on the table.  Having six kids was challenging and they did their best to make sure we were clothed, fed, and had a roof over our heads.  The food wasn’t glamorous but it sustained and nourished our bodies.  My mother would often prepare a big one pot dish before leaving for work, which would be waiting for us on the stove top for dinner.  Most of the time these dishes were very basic and accompanied by warmed rice made in a rice cooker.

Although our family certainly qualified for public assistance, the prideful part of my father seemed to always override the need for more food in our cupboards.  Nevertheless we managed, partly because of my resourceful grandmother who would occasionally bring us bags of groceries she received from the local food bank; bags of canned and boxed goods in white labels with black letters.  These canned and boxed government issued foods would become my pantry, which started my love affair with cooking and baking.

I had to be resourceful, creative, and flexible – a philosophy which would apply to every aspect of my life including working in the kitchen.  My mother was not home to teach me to cook, but watching cooking shows on PBS planted seeds in my heart.  Although we never had any of the ingredients on hand to make anything I watched on television, I would experiment with what we did have on hand.  I developed my first recipe at eight years old.  I opened up a few cans of tuna, cooked some packaged pasta, stirred in some frozen peas, and mixed everything in a bath of shredded cheese, milk, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.  To top this casserole off, I crumbled Shredded Wheat cereal over a 9×13 baking dish and dinner was served.  My siblings and I devoured my no recipe-recipe and soon I was known as the cook of the family.

I learned to bake from my neighbor, Alice (I was actually named after her).  She was an elderly lady who never married and we considered her our American grandmother.  Her yard was covered in fruit trees and a vegetable garden we looked forward to eating from every time we visited. Every year she would take us kids to the local strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry farms to pick fresh seasonal fruit.  She then would bake the best pies and pastries in the world for us to enjoy.  Her love of baking and teaching was passed on to me as if I were her granddaughter, for which I will always be indebted.

Today my three beautiful children – Abbi (9), Mimi (7), and Eli (2) – and I cook and bake together all the time.  From the moment each of them was able to hold a spoon I’ve tried to teach them the basics of cooking and baking, and encouraged them to discover their own way.  They’re developing their own creative flare with what they make.  My husband Rob and I love watching them explore their potential in the kitchen, burnt cookies and all.

I’m an avid home cook and baker.  The advice, recipes, and stories I’ll be sharing with you are from everyday moments and experiences – not from culinary training or professional expertise.  I believe in being creative, resourceful, and flexible.  This is the approach I will share with you here and on my personal food blog: Savory Sweet Life.

I’m thrilled to be a weekly food contributor as part of the PBS Parents team along with my partner, Aviva Goldfarb.  I’m most looking forward to hearing your stories, recipes, tips, and ideas of food you love and how you incorporate it into your daily routine.  My hope is that we can become friends- learning and growing from each other.  I don’t have all the answers but I’m more than happy to share with you what I do know.  I also plan on reaching out to the PBS Parents Kitchen Explorers community for your ideas and perhaps even showcase them on one of my weekly posts.  I invite you to become an active participant in our newly launched community.  Together we will laugh, commiserate, and share family-friendly food our families will love and enjoy!

Reminiscent of my childhood, here’s is an updated version of my tuna noodle casserole recipe.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Reprinted with permission of Alice Currah

BAH Note:   I am a sucker for tuna noodle casserole.  It is one of my most comforting  guilty pleasures.  There, I feel much better getting that out in the open.

  • 6 oz dried curly egg noodles
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 8 oz package sliced mushrooms
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 8 oz package shredded medium Cheddar cheese, divided
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • 2 (5-oz) cans solid white albacore tuna in water, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup potato chips, gently crushed into smaller pieces

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cook noodles in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions until al dente.  Drain noodles and set aside.

Sauté onion in butter in a 12″ heavy skillet over medium heat for five minutes.  Add mushrooms, celery, and salt and cook for five minutes longer.  Stir in water and bouillon cubes.

In a small bowl, whisk milk and cornstarch until completely dissolved.  Add the milk mixture and 3/4 cup of cheese to the skillet and stir everything until well incorporated and sauce is nice and thick.

Add noodles, peas and tuna and gently fold them in. Season with pepper and additional salt to taste.  Sprinkle remaining cheese and crushed potato chips evenly on top.

Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown on top.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Butternut Pear Curry Bisque

So the other week when I introduced you to Debra from SmithBites, I didn’t know at the time that she was going to become the very first Food Memory contributor with multiple entries in the project. Here’s how it happened. I badgered her until she agreed to let me use The Professor’s Black Beans and Rice in the hopes that I would move on to harassing someone else. And I did. And then I made an abrupt U turn and headed back to her inbox.

Because when I read her post about Butternut Pear Curry Bisque, it was as though the Universe had taken all the good things about Food Memories and tied them up with a pretty bow. Greedy like I am, I had to have it. Ever gracious, Debra said yes.

I would like to thank her for not changing her email address or running away screaming every time she sees my name in her inbox.  I’d also like to thank her for capturing the very essence of why I believe Food Memories are important and sharing a big bowl of it with us.

Butternut Pear Curry Bisque & Food Memories

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I’m here to tell you that a recipe or a meal is also worth a thousand words.  For some, that dish might be a special birthday cake, cinnamon rolls or bread; to others it might be a meatloaf, pot roast or onions and garlic sauteing in a skillet.  A particular scene in Ratatouille captures this point so well – the hardened, stoic, food critic Anton Ego, takes a bite of Remy’s simple Ratatouille and the audience is immediately transported back to Ego’s childhood home where the boy Anton is served ratatouille while being comforted by his mother.

And for me, this bisque is one of those dishes.  I know it’s officially fall when The Professor breaks out the dutch oven, grabs a butternut squash from our garden and picks an armful of pears from our tree.  The first time he made this bisque, I was in Washington staying with my parents – my dad had been diagnosed with cancer a couple of months prior and I was helping them pack for a move.  I remember The Professor calling very early in the morning to tell me he had found a delicious recipe for a bisque that had pears and butternut squash in it . . . I also remember thinking that the recipe didn’t sound very appealing.  Notice I said I thought – I didn’t say I voiced my opinion – which is shocking I know, but he was cooking for me again, so don’t rock the boat, right?  (Plus, he was making his case for vegetarianism.) But I also remember coming home to this fabulous fall bisque – and The Professor has made it every single year since 2000.

In writing this post, we discovered something new about our relationship – he’s all about the tried and true familiar recipes while I’m all about flipping through my mountain of food magazines and/or cookbooks discovering unique and exciting ones.  He’s always the one to make Black Beans and Rice, grilled cheese sammies with tomato soup, scrambled eggs, grilled pizza, the Thanksgiving smoked turkey breast and this butternut pear curry bisque; he follows the recipe to. a. tee; always measuring exact amounts, never eyeballing an ingredient – meticulous and precise.  I, on the other hand, am racing through the directions, capturing the essence of a recipe and then I’m off doing my own ‘loose’ interpretation; and I have only a handful of recipes I’ve made more than once.

We’re all connected through food in one way or another; and while it would appear that The Professor and I would clash in the kitchen, we actually compliment one another.  There are times when I’m in charge and he’s the sous chef; then he’s in charge and I’m the support.  That is the dance.  That is the magic.  And that is how all of us create our own individual memories and stories.

What favorite food takes you back to a particular memory?

BUTTERNUT PEAR CURRY BISQUE
Cooking Light Magazine, October 2000

BAH Note: I made a few modifications to the recipe that Debra was kind enough to supply.  Since this is Debra’s memory, I’m showing the recipe she used.  But lean in and I’ll tell you what I did different.  First, I used all of pulp I got from a 3 pound squash.  I didn’t measure out exactly how many cups this was but I was happy with the results.  Next, you’ll want to remember to roast your squash cut side down.  I didn’t and had to double the oven time for my butternut.  Also, I changed up the amount of liquids.  I used a 12 ounce can of pear nectar, one can of vegetable broth, and 2 cups water.  Lastly, I didn’t have another pear to use for garnish so I improvised by crisping up some prosciutto and sprinkled it on the top like confetti.

  • 1 butternut squash (about 2 3/4 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups chopped peeled Bartlett pear (about 1 pound)
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onion
  • 2 1/3 cups water
  • 1 cup pear nectar
  • 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans vegetable broth
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 small Bartlett pear, cored and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 375°.

Cut squash in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membrane. Place squash halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet; bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until tender. Cool. Peel squash; mash pulp. Set aside 3 1/2 cups pulp, reserving remaining squash for another use.

Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chopped pear and onion; sauté 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Add squash pulp, water, and next 5 ingredients (water through pepper). Bring to a boil; partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes. Place one-third of squash mixture in a blender; process until smooth. Pour puréed mixture into a large bowl; repeat procedure with remaining squash mixture. Return squash mixture to pan; stir in half-and-half. Cook over low heat 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Ladle soup into bowls, and garnish with pear slices.

{printable recipe}