Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Merry Christmas!

May your holiday be merry!

Christmas comes in just a few days. I am letting this blog go quiet until after New Year's. There are other people and other activities that need my attention right now. I may post a few photos along the way, but without words. I'll see you back here in a few weeks.

Friday, December 16, 2016

What's A Dutch Baby?

Dutch Baby

This Dutch baby would be so good on one of the Christmas holiday mornings. You know, one of those magazine mornings where the family is all in cute pajamas and slowly sipping coffee as they sit around the beautifully decorated tree listening to Christmas music from St. Martin In The Fields.

It would also be good if your mornings are of the crazier variety, with everyone dashing around like mad, bumping into each other as they try to wrap the last gifts before it's time to open them while someone rushes to the store because you're out of milk. (This would be more like my house.) This recipe might bring a tiny moment of "ahhhh" to those in your house. It really is easy if you are the one cooking it. And the one in charge of wrapping boxes. It also would be a nice treat day-after-Christmas treat—which might be a more realistic possibility.

Mommy handed me a newspaper when I was there a few weeks ago. She had talked about needing a cast iron skillet and there was a huge article about a cast iron cooking in the paper. (Christmas hint?) The recipe for Dutch Baby was on a sidebar. Dutch Baby is sometimes called a German pancake. It's basically a puffy egg dish, that's somewhere between a pancake and a popover. I've watched these being made on a couple of cooking shows and read about them on blogs and everyone talked about how easy they are to make.

When I got home I dusted off my cast iron skillet (yes, literally had to wash the dust off) and told Daddy-O we were having a treat for breakfast. Fingers crossed that it would be good because I never made one. Or, even eaten one. It was delicious! And yes, it was easy.

I will tell you that I followed the newspaper recipe exactly—and burned the butter. (My oven takes a long, long time to heat up, so that might be why my butter burned.) I carefully wiped the very hot pan out with paper towels and added more butter and kept going. So THIS recipe has been adjusted to avoid that. You just add the butter and let it melt right before you pour the batter in.

The secret to this puffy pancake is having the pan very hot. After we enjoyed our breakfast, I took some time to look up other recipes to see how hot their oven was (after my butter burning issue.) The temperatures varied from 375 to 450. One recipe heated the pan on the stovetop, added the butter and melted it before pouring in the batter and baking it. Some used 2 eggs while others called for 6 eggs. So it sounds like if you mess something up, it will probably still work.

It might be fun to try some of the different versions to see what the difference is. But I know this one is good. It would be a great brunch recipe during your holiday weekends.

BE CAREFUL as you handle the extremely hot heavy pan! I have a gas stove, so the metal grates are fine for the hot pan. Make sure you have a safe place to set it when it comes out of the oven. And NEVER EVER use a damp kitchen towel as a pot holder. You will have a serious steam burn in the blink of an eye. Before you start be sure you have dry pot holders and a trivet or other safe place to set the pan down. Safety first!


4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), cut into pieces
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt

powdered sugar for garnish
maple syrup for serving

Put a 10-inch cast iron skillet into oven on the middle rack and preheat to 425 degrees.

While oven is heating, pour eggs into a blender and blend on high until eggs are light and foamy. Remove the blender lid and add the milk, flour, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg and salt. Blend again until ingredients are completely incorporated.

When oven reaches temp, put the butter pieces into the skillet and let melt. When butter is melted (about a minute,) remove hot pan from oven, pour batter into pan, and return to oven immediately.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden and puffy. When Dutch baby is done, use an offset spatula to lift it onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup.

Serves 4 to 6

This dish is all puffy when it first comes out of the oven, but it quickly collapses. Not to worry. That's what happens. 

Many recipes also include some type of cooked fruit sauce to serve with the Dutch baby. I know that would be delicious. But I didn't have any berries to do that. So we used a little maple syrup. It was so good, I can't imagine doing it another way now. But should I have berries on hand the next time, maybe I'll try that, too.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Making Things, Making Peace

I come from a family of makers. My grandmother painted when she was young. Hanging in my bedroom are the beautiful nature studies that she painted over 100 years ago. My dad loved working with wood and right now there are two rocking horses next to our Christmas tree. My daddy made them when our own girls were little. Now Little Sister and Baby Girl love to jump on them and ride like the wind. And his wooden cars and trucks are scattered throughout the toy basket. He must have made hundreds of wooden toys.

Daughter Jessica is an artist—a graphic designer by profession. Mommy and Big Sister are makers of music. They have lovely voices and will provide the special music at our church on Christmas Eve. I have friends and extended family who are artists and writers and musicians and poets and knitters and photographers and cooks and potters. I value the creative spirits that help us make sense of this world, sometimes letting us see things from a fresh perspective.

Pattern:  A Good Plain Sock, by Stephanie Pearl-McFee
Yarn:  Cascade Heritage Prints "Holidays"
Needles:  Size 1.5

So even when the calendar is full and the to-do list is long, I still make things. Tucked in among the other holiday activities in the last weeks, there has been knitting. Yes, there is love knitted into each project that shows I care about the recipient. But if I'm really honest, that's not why I knit and make things. I do it for me. Even if I'm giving my "handknitted love" away, making gives me time to catch my breath each day. I find that taking a few minutes to sit still and knit (or make music) helps keep me centered in this busy season. I'm not doing gifts on a deadline this year, so that pressure is off. If it gets done, good. If it doesn't get done, that's good, too.

 Pattern:  Project Peace (this is at the halfway point)
Yarn:  Brooks Farm Yarn "Acero"
Needles:  size 4, 32-inch circular

My ongoing December knitting is Project Peace. There are 20,000 knitters around the globe taking part in this project. There is a reading and knitting four rows of the cowl each day for three weeks in December. Sometimes the daily reading includes a simple activity to better help us think about what peace means to us. Here is how the designer and originator of this project explains it:
"I truly believe that peace begins with each and everyone of us. We can't expect to live in a peaceful world if we ourselves are not living a peaceful life. So, my focus is to provide you with simple acts of peace over the next 21 days."

Are you a maker? If you are not a maker of things, that's okay. We all do what works for us. But you can be a maker of peace. Internal peace. Peace in your household. Peace in your community. Let's all be makers of peace in the coming year.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Cheese Souffle

Cheese Souffle

As Christmas rushes full speed toward us, I'm sharing a recipe that we enjoyed at Thanksgiving. (I'm a little behind with posting recipes.) This was delicious and it would certainly fit into a Christmas menu, too.

Jessica brought a friend home for Thanksgiving and since he was away from his own family over the holiday, she asked if his family had a traditional Thanksgiving recipe. His answer was cheese souffle. Since it's not something that has ever turned up on our Thanksgiving table, she asked if he would like to make it for the big family dinner. His family always has cheese souffle like our family always has macaroni and cheese. Having the souffle was a way to make him feel at home.

Well, it was so good on Thanksgiving Day that before they headed back to the city a couple of days later, he made it one more time for us. Where we live, dishes like this souffle and our mac & cheese are served as side dishes. But I also think if I added a salad, this souffle would make a great supper.


3 cups saltine cracker crumbs (a little less than 2 sleeves)
4 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese (Cracker Barrel--with the red wrapper)
3 cups milk
4 extra large eggs
Red cayenne pepper and salt to taste

Put saltines in a ziploc bag and crush with your hand to make crumbs.

Heat milk to tepid and pour over crumbs and cheese.  Mix.

Add beaten eggs and rest of ingredients.  Pour into greased soufflé dish. 

Bake at 350 degrees for almost 1 hour, uncovered. Done when a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

I don't own a true souffle dish, but a round 2-1/2 qt. CorningWare French White baking dish worked just fine. And here's a tip for warming the milk— heat the milk in the microwave, in 30-second bursts, stirring each time, until it's the right temp.

This is beautifully puffed when it comes out of the oven. And then it falls pretty quickly. Know that is normal and does not affect the taste. It is also good to know that the leftovers are delicious. Just warm it a bit in the microwave.

Thanks to Todd (and Todd's mom, I'm sure) for sharing this recipe with our family.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bread, Bread, And More Bread

All photo credits here: Kathy

There are two kinds of cooks—those who have their special recipes, closely guarding that family recipe that everyone wants and those who freely share the recipes. Both approaches are fine. It's perfectly okay to keep your recipe a secret. But I have always been in the "freely share" camp, mostly for selfish reasons. I knew that if I lost a recipe, someone I knew probably had the recipe and I could get it back. 

Clockwise from top left: Rolls; Applesauce & pecan w/glaze; Rosemary, garlic & olive oil; Peppers, onions & green chilies.

But there is a second reason to share that I'll admit I never considered. Sometimes a person can take your recipe and then expand it into new great things. That's what happened when Kathy, a good high school friend of my sister, saw my sourdough bread recipe here on the blog years ago. (It's recipe that my grandchildren call "Mimi bread.")

Here are some of the "conversations" she and I have had over the years on Facebook. Good thing I rarely delete anything! I even dug back through her Facebook photos to find pictures of many of the variations she tried. I love that she labeled her bread "adventures." If you want to experiment, here is how she does her special loaves... 

"Mimi, I really don't have any recipes for the breads except for yours. I just go to my spice cabinet and start pulling out whatever gets my attention and just "dump." I don't roll out the dough; I just add the ingredients and gently knead them into the dough. I should measure and write out a recipe for each variation sometime. So far, each loaf of bread has been well received."
And if you want to make one recipe into three different "flavors"...
"Yes, I have also added the ingredients after I divide the dough; just knead it [herbs, etc] in gently. Either way is fine and the end result is delicious!"

She has made some sweet bread variations, too. I stopped by a farm produce store on my way home from baby sitting last week and bought a loaf of apple bread. I was expecting a quick bread, but when we sliced it, it turned out to be a slightly sweet yeast bread with a glaze on top. Very close to Kathy's version she tells about here...
"I use the "Mimi bread" recipe. I used orange juice instead of the water in the recipe. I just added Craisins and pecans to the mixture before I added the flour. I didn't measure. Just 'til it looked right. Then just did a glaze of powdered sugar and orange juice. It is quite tasty."

So why have I never done rolls? No clue, except that I tend to stick with the basics in most things. Kathy is much more creative than I am. She talks here about making them in a muffin pan, but the photo shows that she's also done them in a cake pan.
"The rolls that I made are wonderful. Using your recipe, I just pinched off a little bit of dough for each section of the muffin pan. Cooked them for 20 minutes. Don't know why I haven't thought of that before."
Left: Knorr vegetable packet.  Right: Spicy tomato juice, Parmesan & Romano cheese.

She really has tried everything. She told me last week when I wrote to ask if I could share all of her suggestions and photos that the most requested "flavor" of all the things she has tried has been the rosemary, garlic and olive oil.

Left: Wheat w/flax seed.  Right: Wheat, flax seed & molasses.
I bake a lot of bread from Thanksgiving to about Valentine's Day and then will forget to feed it about then. It will die and I throw it away. Then I'll make new starter the next fall. But Kathy has a different way to manage her starter when she's done for the season. She freezes it!
"I know all about letting the starter die. I always freeze mine and it has done well until this year."
I didn't ask what she does when she's ready to use it again. I'd guess that she lets it thaw, feeds it, and uses it.

Right this minute, I have bread rising in the pans. Yes, just the plain basic sourdough that we love. These will go in the freezer for Christmas week when we have a full house here. And maybe before they get home, I'll get crazy and try some of Kathy's mix-ins. The only problem? Which one to try first!

Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your bread secrets.

The art of bread making can become an all-consuming hobby,
and no matter how often and how many kinds of bread one has made,
there always seems to be something new to learn. ~~Julia Child

For those of you who might have missed earlier posts with the basic bread recipe, here it is again: 

SOURDOUGH BREAD (also known as "Mimi Bread")

1 cup starter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups warm water
6 or more cups bread flour (use the extra to flour the surface for kneading) 

Mix the bread ingredients. (I use a wire whisk to mix in the first 3 cups, then use a sturdy spoon for the next 3 cups. As you add the last cup of flour, work in about half of that cup and see if you need the rest. If not, save that half-cup for kneading the bread after the first rising.) Place in a large bowl, sprayed with PAM. Lightly spray the dough with PAM. Cover with plastic wrap. Let stand and rise at least 8 hours.

Punch down dough. Knead on floured board about 10 times. Divide into 3 parts. Spray three 8-inch loaf pans with PAM. Shape dough and place in pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let stand and rise until pans are full, about 5 to 6 hours.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until brown and bottom of loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Whole wheat bread: Use 2 cups whole wheat flour and 4 cups bread flour.

To feed starter: Remove 1 cup for baking (or discard) and feed with 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tbsp. instant potato flakes and 1 cup warm water. Mix well and let stand 8-12 hours. Then refrigerate. Store in plastic container with slits cut in lid. Feed every 3-7 days.

To make starter:  Double the feeding recipe. Put in a glass or plastic container, loosely covered. Let set out on counter for 4 days. Then add 1 envelope dry yeast. Let stand another 24 hours. Use 1 cup for first batch of bread or store in refrigerator for up to 7 days.

This bread freezes beautifully. It makes a great gift.

The art of bread making can become a consuming hobby, and no matter how often and how many kinds of bread one has made, there always seems to be something new to learn. Julia Child
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/bread.html
The art of bread making can become a consuming hobby, and no matter how often and how many kinds of bread one has made, there always seems to be something new to learn. Julia Child
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/bread.html

The art of bread making can become a consuming hobby, and no matter how often and how many kinds of bread one has made, there always seems to be something new to learn. Julia Child
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/bread.html
The art of bread making can become a consuming hobby, and no matter how often and how many kinds of bread one has made, there always seems to be something new to learn. Julia Child
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/bread.html
The art of bread making can become a consuming hobby, and no matter how often and how many kinds of bread one has made, there always seems to be something new to learn. Julia Child
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/bread.html

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Lowered Expectations

How are things at your house? The count down to Christmas is getting intense. I know there are some of you who had everything in place for the holiday before Thanksgiving. Or, you wrapped up your preparations over the Thanksgiving weekend. I am not one of you. I imagine there are many of you who, like me, will stumble through Advent and limp into Christmas, getting some things done along the way and leaving other things in the "Well, it was a nice thought" category.

I told someone last night that my secret to "getting it all done" was lowering my expectations. Way lower. And that's okay. If you are like me, the expectations are mostly self-imposed anyway.

The photo-a-day Advent project a couple of years ago was a truly meaningful exercise for me. When it was announced this year, I thought about it. For two seconds. It was meaningful because it required much more thought than I had anticipated. And this year I know I cannot be that focused. Instead I am taking part in Project Peace, a knitting project sponsored by The Healthy Knitter with over 15,000 participants world-wide. It is a simple exercise in mindfulness. With knitting.

I love sending Christmas cards with a family photo. But this year when the grandchildren were here for Thanksgiving, Little Sister was still broken out in hives all over her face from her illness and Baby Girl cried much of that week with an ear infection. So no grandchildren photo happened. My holiday expectations dropped another notch. And that's okay. The list of things-not-done is growing.

Certainly there are many things that will get done. But they will be chosen carefully. We are already opening the doors on our Advent calendar. That means a lot to us. I might not decorate our lamp post. I'm not sure anyone would notice.  Maybe instead of "lowered expectations" I should say we are having a "curated Christmas" Participating in things carefully selected to enhance the season. I am sifting through the events, the recipes, and the traditions and deciding which ones will make us feel better and not feel pressured.

You get the idea. I plan to do what I can, what is meaningful, and truly not worry about the rest. By December 27, no one will remember if there was greenery on the mantle. Or, whether or not I pulled out the Christmas mugs.  We will remember that we were together. We will remember laughter. We will remember that we could feel the love.