January 6, 2009

Anadama muffins (aka Brown-bread muffins)

The original recipe for these comes from Country Suppers by Ruth Cousineau which is apparently at least marginally still in print:


or anyway available out there in net land.  I think it’s a brilliant book and don’t understand why it hasn’t become a classic.  I don’t think I’ve posted from it before but I certainly will again.

1 c whole-wheat/meal flour

¾ c rye flour

¾ c (fine) cornmeal (not corn flour, just fine-ground cornmeal or polenta, except that polenta is usually coarse ground), preferably yellow.  Blue makes a sort of mahogany-grey in this case and you wonder if it’s anything you want to put in your mouth.  You do, but you may waste a few melting-hot muffin moments wavering

1T baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp tamari/shoyu:  trust me.  It gives a much more interesting faint but discernable depth of flavour than plain old boring salt.  But you want real soy sauce, not the fake stuff.

2T unsulphured blackstrap molasses

¼ c sunflower oil

1 large egg, beaten

1-1 ¼ c apple juice  Note that apples and apple juice are on the top ten foods for likelihood of chemical pollution:  you want organic if you can get it

1/3 c raisins

¼ c sunflower seeds

¼ c pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Put dry floury ingredients in a large bowl and stir.  Put wet ingredients in small bowl and stir.  Mix wet into dry just until dry are moistened:  you know the drill with muffins, right?  Don’t overbeat.  Last stir in the bits:  raisins and seeds.  Spoon into about 12 big muffin cups:  either pre-greased or paper-cup-lined.  Bake about 20 minutes.  Let sit about ten minutes–they’ll be too squishy and won’t split properly if you eat them straight from the oven–and then break ‘em out, add great lollops of butter, burn your fingers and then your mouth.  I feel better already.

Rum Currant Cookies

Robin, in ‘Getting on with the Food, cont’, 20 December 2008

I haven’t done this in years because it gets harder and harder to hack back and nail down time to do it properly, but I used to turn out decorated plates* of Christmas cookies.  It’s a great way to pay back a favour:  someone is a hard case indeed who doesn’t at least melt around the edges a little when you show up on the doorstep with a plate of Christmas cookies.  But to do it right (say I) you need at least four and preferably five different kinds of cookies.  Not all of these you want to be the labour-intensive variety with cookie presses and cutting out and frosting and so on.  At the same time you need the simpler ones to have character so they’ll hold their own against the baroque ones.  This is one of my favourite simple cookies.

Rum Currant Cookies

Now, before half a dozen of you jostle each other out of the way to be the first to post how much you hate rum . . . allow me to let you in on a little secret:  You don’t have to make them. It’s not required!  Your RSS feed will still work!  Your log in will still recognise you!**  Yaay!

I like rum, obviously, and these will furthermore smell of rum, so you don’t have to worry about spoiling the day of another rum-hater who accidentally bites into one.  They won’t.***  But if your day is ruined at the prospect of not making the latest recipe to appear in Days in the Life:  Cointreau works fine, as does Drambuie.†  You could probably pass on soaking the currants in anything, if you’re feeling austere, and have butter currant cookies, although that would rather defeat the point.

¾ c currants.  You really do want currants, not raisins.  If you’re using raisins . . . well, I won’t tell you you have to chop them, because there are few things you can do in a kitchen†† that make you feel more idiotic than chopping raisins, but raisins are too big

¼ rum or whatever you’re using

2/3 c ordinary white sugar

½ c butter

1 egg

1 tsp REAL vanilla

1 ½ – 2 c flour, depending on how much loose rum remains.  These cookies I don’t mess around with:  just best quality white flour

Put the currants in the rum and let soak at least 2 hours.  I usually put ‘em in when I get up in the morning and make cookies in the late afternoon.  You can, if you’re either feeling silly or keep not getting around to making your cookies, just leave them for 2 or 3 days, by which time they’ll have soaked up all the rum (and got dusty, if you didn’t cover the bowl).  They’ll also be inclined to disintegrate, so you’ll end up with Rum Currant Streak cookies.  They’re still good though.  If your currants are really ancient, and are grotty little wizened pebbles, put them and the rum in a little pan and heat it very gently. †††

Cream sugar and butter well.  Add egg, beat, then vanilla, and beat again.  If you rush this, it’ll curdle, but this doesn’t actually matter a whole lot.  Stir in currants and remaining rum.  Add flour half a cup at a time for the first three doses, mixing well after each obviously, and then as necessary of the last half cup to make a dough that will drop-cookie:  so you want it stiffish.  Softish and they’ll spread too much.

Drop little teaspoonfuls on greased or parchment-papered cookie sheets–you want these cookies small and round.  375° about 5-8 minutes, till they’re just beginning to brown at the edges–the bottoms, if you gingerly peel one up, will still be pale.  Don’t peel them up, however, let them cool undisturbed.  This is one of the reasons I like parchment paper:  you can just slide the paper off the cookie sheet onto a rack and load the sheet up with a fresh page of cookies.  This’ll make about 4 dozen little cookies, and if you need more than that for 1/5th of your Christmas-cookie plates . . . well, I admire you.

††† This is excellent therapy for any wizened pebbles you find in the back of your cupboard.  Short of their being actively mouldy, this will recover to your use almost any dried fruit.  Obviously it doesn’t have to be booze, either:  my fall back is usually orange juice.  But I made some sherry-raisin cookies that were pretty spectacular.  It’s also, speaking of superfluous booze, a good way of having a go at using those bottles of port, sherry, Madeira, etc, that tend to accumulate in the back of the drinks cupboard the way wire coathangers do in the closet.^   An average sized bottle will make a lot of cookies, but at least you’re trying.

Killer Eggnog

Robin, in ‘The Grandness of Life’, 21 December 08

6 eggs, separated.  Obviously you want eggs so fresh the hen is still only a few inches away

12T ordinary granulated sugar

1 c heavy cream

1 c light cream

1 c whole/full-fat milk

½ tsp vanilla

Beat yolks very well with 6T sugar in a big enough bowl to hold everything.  Put whites in blender, blend till frothy;  add second 6T sugar gradually, beat till they’re starting to hold their shape.  Add heavy cream and vanilla;  blend again.  Add light cream and milk and blend one last time–but very gently, because the blender is by now very full.  Pour this slowly into the yolks and whisk like mad.  This is the moment to add booze, if you want booze.  I almost never did because I was usually serving it early in the day.  Before people knew what hit them.***  And there would be an awful lot of various booze later.

Shrimp and Asparagus Improv Salad

Black Bear, Recipe thread, 3 January 09

Get a small bunch of thin asparagus spears, and cut ’em up in half inch pieces.

Heat up a pan with a little olive oil.

Take a shallot and mince it up as fine as you can; set aside about a tablespoon of it, and then put the rest of the shallot, the asparagus, and a pinch of salt in the pan and saute them til the shallot’s looking translucent and soft, and the asparagus pieces are tender. Should take about 5-6 minutes.

In the meantime–oh, wait, maybe you shoulda done this first–cut up some cooked shrimp into chunks. If you hate shrimp, no reason you couldn’t do this with some bits of stir-fried chicken, or anything else that’s bitesized (and already cooked.) Toss the meat into the pan and saute for just enough time to warm it up–if you’re using cooked shrimp, they’ll get tough if you cook them too much longer, plus they release a lot of liquid. So just another minute or two really ought to do it.

For the salad dressing, put 3 tbl of olive oil, 2 tsp of your favorite vinegar (i’ve got some with garlic in it, which is nice) and the shallot, plus a little salt and a tablespoon of grainy mustard in a jar, and shake it up til the mustard dissolves.

Get a bowl of your favorite salad greens–I used Boston lettuce last time–and put the shrimp/asparagus shallot mixture over it, then drizzle the dressing over the whole mess. There you go.

Mrs Redboots’ Mother’s Savoury Bites

Mrs Redboots, Recipe thread, 27 December 08

These were new to me – my mother may be 80, but she is still capable of surprising me, on occasion. I haven’t yet made these, but she says they’re dead easy, and is making them every week during the shooting season, as apparently the guns all demand them with their coffee. And since people are probably rather tired of sweet Christmas food:

Equal quantities by weight of bread (any type!), grated cheese (any, but the stronger-flavoured the better), butter and flour.

Possibly a drop of Tabasco sauce, or a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes, or 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder, and maybe a pinch of dried mixed herbs.

Whizz everything together in food processor until breadcrumby. Bring together with the hands into a dough; chill if necessary. Roll out to about 1/4″-1/2″ inch thickness, then stamp out rounds (or Christmassy shapes, if you have Christmassy cookie cutters!).

Bake on greased baking tray at 180 in a fan oven (Mark 5, 375 F) for about 15 minutes.

Crème Brulée

Susan from Athens, Recipe thread, 25 December 08

Originally contributed by Sirio Maccioni to the New York Cook Book by Molly O’Neill. (Wonderful cookbook, great recipe – serves 8, the measures are American not Imperial. The Crème Brulée this makes is thick and creamy but not cloyingly sweet)

4 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise,
pinch of salt
8 large egg yolks
3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
8 tablespoons packed light brown or raw sugar

1. Preheat oven to 300F. Place eight 3/4 cup ramekins in a roasting pan. Heat a kettle full of water.
2. In a saucepan, over low heat, place the cream with the salt. Scrape the vanilla pod and add the seeds to the cream. Warm for 5 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks and the granulated sugar. Gently pour in the hot cream stirring gently to combine. Strain the custard into a pitcher and skim off any bubbles.
4. Pour the custard into the ramekins, filling them up to the rim. Place the roasting pan in the oven and carefully pour the warm water you have heated into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Loosely cover the pan with aluminium foil. Bake until set, 1 1/4 hours.
5. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow to cool. Cover individually and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.
6. When ready to serve decide how you will create the crust. The easiest way is using the broiler (grill) on your cooker, which you should now pre-heat. If you have a blowtorch, now is the time to use it, but you may also have those traditional French cast-iron circle-impressions that you heat up to burning on the gas hob and the press lightly onto the surface of the (sugared) custards. Going with the broiler method:
7. Uncover the ramekins and place on a baking sheet. Top each with 1 tablespoon of brown or raw sugar and using a metal spatula or knife, spread the sugar evenly over the custards. Broil until the sugar caramelizes, 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Spanakotyropitta (or Greek spinach pie with cheese)

Susan from Athens, Recipe thread, 25 December 08

Asking a Greek cook about their spinach pie is like asking for a saga of personal choices in a sea of other people’s failures, because each Greek cook is convinced that their spanakopitta or spanakotyropitta is the best – or their mother’s or grandmother’s version is. And there are as many versions as there are ways of putting together a herb garden. The main ingredients are obviously spinach and in most cases feta cheese, although on Crete that will be a mild cottage-cheese like mizithra or a salty graviera. And there are those who want big thick chunks of cheese and others who want their barely discernible (I belong to the latter category and like my feta very finely chopped indeed and will pulse it in the food processor to get it that way). And it doesn’t end there: you add other greens as well. Plain spinach is OK but it is plain. Everybody adds spring onions (green onions for the Americans) chopped into rounds – some sauté them, others don’t. Then we have myronia and kafkalithres (Caucalis), which are wild greens that add flavour and sweetness. Others add parsley by the handful and dill – which are easy to find. But you can also add maratho (fennel fronds) and even wild carrot greens which offer a variety of flavours. Fresh coriander and spearmint are also good. Lots of people add dried bread crumbs, rice or bulghur to absorb the juices, so the pastry doesn’t get soggy, but that does change the texture.
Adding to the variety you can make it with phyllo pastry (ready made or homemade) or homemade pastries of many varieties. You can put it on a baking dish like a baklava, or roll it up like a strudel or a long cigar-like shape that you roll up like a Danish pastry. You can sprinkle the top with sesame seeds or not (usually with phyllo pastry you don’t). The varieties are endless. Going for simple and internationally available I give you the following recipe. It works for a 10 by 14 inch baking pan or any near enough in size not to stretch the filling too thin or make it bunch up too thick) You will need approximately:

1 1/2; kilo phyllo pastry (A total of 12 sheets and save the good ones that aren’t cracked for the top)
2 kilos spinach washed with roots cut off
salt and pepper
1 cup olive oil or slightly more
4-5 spring onions – chopped medium fine
300 grams feta cheese chopped finely or pulsed in the food processor
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped dill

When making the filling you want to wilt the spinach. You can do this in two ways: (a) by chopping finely, rubbing with salt and allowing to drain for about an hour (which will be high in sodium but very tasty) or (b) by placing it in a large pan with no water over a low heat, covering and leaving it for about six minutes, whereupon the large pile of spinach will have reduced by a lot, into a little mound (this is how I do it).
Either way: place the spinach you have wilted in a colander and press hard to squeeze as much water out of it as possible. Put some elbow grease into this process. Whatever water you do not remove here will end up giving you soggy pastry later on. It is worth the extra effort to squeeze it out well. If you have wilted according to method (b) you should now chop your spinach mound thoroughly and salt to taste (about half to a teaspoon of salt is sufficient).
In a large pan add about half a cup of olive oil, sauté the spring onions lightly – you don’t want them to brown and add the spinach and sauté for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly and add the fresh chopped herbs and the cheese.

Prepare your phyllo dough. If it is frozen or ready-made and paper-dry, lay it out and cover it with a damp dish cloth. After you remove each sheet of pastry replace the cloth, so that it doesn’t dry out entirely. Lay out a bowl with olive oil and one with water and have a pastry brush on hand.
Oil your baking dish and lay down one layer of phyllo pastry. Oil it lightly (i.e. you want a very fine layer of oil over it all but you don’t want oil dripping and pooling). Place your hand in the water bowl and flick very lightly so there are some beads of water on the pastry. In similar fashion layer down six sheets of phyllo pastry with oil and water between each layer (as the pie heats up this water will turn into steam and cause the layers to separate and crisp up). Go up the sides of your tin and don’t worry if the phyllo gets torn or shredded – it won’t show up on the final product. The final layer you brush more liberally with oil.
Next lay out your filling evenly over the whole of the pastry and cover with another six layers of pastry. Trim the corners well and tuck them in (if you don’t cut off a lot of the corner pastry the corner pieces will be very thick with phyllo which some people prefer). Oil well and score through the top 4 layers of pastry with a sharp knife, cutting into 4-5 cm strips from one end of the pan to the other and crosswise into squares or diamond shapes. Brush more oil into the cuts and down the sides and sprinkle the top with water to prevent the pastry sheets from curling upwards. Bake in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven (175 degrees Centigrade) for 40-45 minutes, until golden with the sheets of pastry separating.

Cool slightly and cut the pieces. Serve hot or cold.

Paper Bag Apple Pie

Sun_star_n_moon22, Recipe thread, 25 December 08

This recipe I got from my hairdresser, who swore to the high heavens that it was the best apple pie recipe that ever existed. The thing that makes it different than other apple pie recipes is that you cook it in a brown paper bag. (One from the grocery store works just fine). You would think the brown paper bag would catch on fire in the oven, but my hairdresser swore that it didn’t. And God knows, you don’t argue with your hairdresser. It turns out she was right. So now Im sharing the recipe with you!

I hope you enjoy it!


1 unbaked pie shell
4-5 large apples (2 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the topping:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 butter

Peel and core apples , then slice them thinly. Place apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice in the pie shell. Combine topping ingredients in a bowl and spread evenly over the apple mixture. Slide pie into a heavy brown bag, fold bag and fasten with either staples or paper clips. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 425° F for one hour. Split bag open and remove pie and let cool.

Sausage, Onion and Potato Casserole

AJRL, Recipe thread, 24 December 08

(for 3 – 4 portions)

1 1b of good sausages (pork and herb or pork and leek are good), ie those from a butcher or brand you trust and with at least 80% meat in the filling.

2 lbs potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced (either on a mandolin or with a sharp knife and a keen eye to your fingertips)

1 lb onions, peeled and also sliced very thinly

1 rounded T tomato puree

1 tsp mustard (Dijon is good)

1 pint (US) or 3 / 4 pint (UK) of either milk or good chicken stock, brought to simmering point

2 T butter

Seasoning to taste

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6. Use some of the butter to well-grease a good sized casserole dish. Layer the sliced potatoes and onions thickly in the casserole dish (overall to a depth of around 2 inches), seasoning to taste as you go. Add the tomato puree and mustard to the hot milk/stock and stir to mix well. Pour this mixture over the vegetables in the dish, dot the top with the remaining butter, and put the dish, covered, into the middle of the oven for an hour and a quarter (standing the dish on an oven tray). After the first hour and a quarter, place the sausages, individually, directly on top of the onion/potato and return to oven, uncovered. Cook for about another 30 – 40 minutes, until the sausages are brown and done and the onion/potato layers are nicely soft underneath and crispy on top.

The potato and onion part of this dish is nice with all sorts of other things as well, just remember to give it at least an hour and a half cooking time overall. If making it without the sausages I often add half a tsp of dried sage in with the liquid.