Sunday, February 27, 2011

Trophy wives and fudge

Last weekend, I was up north skiing and my friend Kathryn and I decided to do a little shopping in Harbor Springs along with all the trophy wives that were also up north skiing with their families and their nannies.    If you've never been to Harbor Springs, Michigan, it is one of my favorite places at located near the top of the mitten that is our state. It's located right on Lake Michigan at the tip of your ring finger.  If you are a trophy wife, your ring will be at least 2 carats.  Harbor Springs is where the rich people vacation, so the shops are full of stuff that we never would buy, but it's fun to look.   We did find a shop in Petoskey that was laden with tons of cooking stuff - evidently the trophy wives like to cook, or at least buy kitchen accoutrement, so we wandered in.  I looked for the kitchen gadget I have been coveting lately - the Jamie Oliver Flavour Shaker.  Yes, I know that the Flavour Shaker looks very suggestive - like some kind of device you might find advertised in the classifieds in back of Cosmo, and yes I know that Jamie is very good looking, but please keep your mind out of the gutter and focus!   I have tried out the shaker and it is a great device to mince garlic - far better and easier to use than a garlic press.  I figured the trophy wives probably would want to buy one because Jamie is so dreamy, but alas, evidently they did not.  No shaker to be found, I moved on to the fudge shop next door.

Evidently, the trophy wives also like fudge, because there are many fudge shops in Harbor Springs and Petoskey. The fudge costs $17/lb, and even I have been known to buy a half pound of fudge on occasion from Kilwins, my favorite fudge purveyor.    I held off buying any last weekend, because we were skiing with our crew of teenagers and they would have easily eaten a pound of fudge in 5 minutes, but it got me thinking I should make fudge at home.    When I was a kid, my mom always made the "Marshmallow Fluff" kind that is super easy, but I wanted to make the real deal.    I had read that fudge was the invention of sorority girls at Vassar in the fact, all of the women's colleges developed their own recipes for it.    When I was in a sorority girl in the 1980s, we often made no bake chocolate oatmeal cookies as a cure for maybe that's what the Vassar, Smith and Wellesley gals were doing in the 1880s.  And maybe that's why fudge shops are doing so well in Harbor Springs - even trophy wives get PMS. 

So I set out to make my own....I followed the recipe in my trusty red plaid BH and G cookbook for old fashioned fudge. The recipe is lower in fat and calories than the sorority girls' ones because it uses whole milk instead of heavy cream.   In fact, one serving (which would supposedly be 1/32nd of the batch, but who could only eat one serving?) of this recipe would be 1 Weight Watchers point, where as the Vassar recipe is closer to 2 points.   Calories be damned, however, when we are talking about PMS cures.   The trophy wives will be sure to work off the calories at the gym before they go out for a salad lunch.   The rest of us should just eat it with wild abandon, as I am sure the Vassar girls did back in the day.   Plus, making fudge at home costs about $2 per lb. vs. the $17 per lb. at Kilwins!  A candy thermometer is key for this recipe - if you don't have one, now is the time to get one.  (if you should find yourself in Petoskey, Cutlers does have plenty of them). 

Old Time Fudge
Makes about 1 lb
(my take on the BH and G recipe)

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
Half bar of Ghirardelli 100% cacao unsweetened chocolate
1 T. light corn syrup
2 T. butter
1 t. vanilla

Line a loaf pan with foil and butter the foil.   Butter the sides of a large saucepan - it helps keep the fudge from crystallizing on the edges which makes for gritty fudge.  Combine milk, sugar, chocolate and corn syrup (another trick to help prevent crystallization is adding corn syrup).   Cook and stir over medium high heat to boiling.  Insert the candy thermometer and cook and stir using a wooden spoon over medium low heat until it reaches 234 F - it will take about 20 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat, remove the wooden spoon, and add the butter and vanilla.  DON'T STIR IT IN.  Stirring might start crystals forming.  Cool, without stirring, until the temperature is 110 F.   This will take almost an hour or so.

Remove the thermometer and using the wooden spoon, beat the fudge until it begins to thicken.  At this point, a 1/2 cup nuts could be added.   I think roasted black walnuts would be heavenly.   Or marshmallows, like the Wellesley girls.   Continue beating until the fudge gets very thick and loses it's gloss....about 10 minutes.  Spread the fudge in the foil lined pan while it is still warm.  Allow to cool and eat.

Friday, February 25, 2011

March Spice Rack Challenge: Cardamom

According to my favorite purveyors of spices, Penzeys, here is some information about this month's spice -Cardamom:

An extremely flavorful and ancient spice native to India, cardamom's use has spread throughout the world, with nearly every culture having its own distinctive use for the flavorful seeds. In India where both green and black cardamom are used, it is an important ingredient in meat and vegetable dishes. In parts of the Middle East the seeds are mixed with green coffee beans before brewing. In Northern Europe (especially Scandinavia) white cardamom is used to season baked goods such as Christmas stollen, cakes, cookies, muffins and buns. Green cardamom is preferred in India and the Middle East. Cardamom is a pod consisting of an outer shell with little flavor, and tiny inner seeds with intense flavor. Fancy white and green pods have no splits or cracks in the shell, so the flavor keeps well. Stored in a glass jar, cardamom pods will stay fresh indefinitely. Shelled or decorticated cardamom seeds are inexpensive and flavorful, but sometimes need to be crushed or ground before use. Ground cardamom has an intensely strong flavor and is easy to use (especially in baking, where the fine powder is desirable). Black cardamom, long a staple in African cooking, was originally used in India as a cheap substitute for green cardamom pods. Black cardamom has a unique smoky flavor and has developed its own following over the years.
As a friendly reminder, your post needs to be published on your blog in the 3rd week of March - no sooner than Mar. 13 and no later than Mar. 18.  Many of you have been posting outside of your posting week and I might miss your post if you do.   I am looking forward to your cooking creativity this month!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February Spice Rack Challenge Round Up:Citrus

Did the groundhog see his shadow this month?  Who knows, because we were freaking out about Snowmageddon.   The snow didn't stop the sun from shining on our spice rack challenge for this month: citrus.  Here is how it all went down:

arctic garden studio:
Nicole has gone wild with citrus this month....check out her lemon ginger madeleines, Meyer lemon and pistachio truffles, Meyer lemon muffins and her advice about what to do with preserved lemons, , how to make your own Grenadine and can your own Mandarin oranges
backyard farms:
More preserved lemon love with a Moroccan inspired chicken

dog hill kitchen:
Dairy Free Citrus Curd sounds fantastic on coconut bread

eating Floyd
Clementine dusted salmon - I can't wait to try to make my own "dust"

fruitcake or nuts
Shayne shakes up her polenta with orange zest - what a great idea!

grow and resist
I am calling this long titled recipe by it's acronym SRGPLP with CP - another extraordinary recipe featuring preserved lemons....or should I call them "PL"? 

intellectual relish
Speaking of preserved lemons, Dean shows us how to make 'em happen here

jonski blogski
Tricia feasts on machbous ala dajaj, using lemon peel instead of the traditional dried limes

just another day on the farm
Citrus dressing on a cabbage salad with citrus vinegar. YUM!

la germaine organisee
Orange cookies plus a bonus citrus - pink grapefruit and shrimp salad

a million grandmas
Mary brings on the vivid Meyer lemon and blood orange marmalade

Orange French toast will cure what ails you on a winter morn

nerd meets kitchen
Cheryl's serving up a double citrus special - black bean and corn salad with Mexican lime vinaigrette and citrus-herb glazed chicken

notes from a country girl living in the city
Oh my darling, Clementine teriyaki sounds like a great way to enjoy the season's finest

oh, briggsy
Our featured spice was inspired by Briggsy...check out the Persian style rice pilaf with veggies and dried lime

prospect:the pantry
Orange parsnip soup with orange marmalade - what a great way to use a favorite root vegetable of mine

round here at Chez hates
Pork and shrimp meatballs, featuring lemon zest....maybe a dipping sauce with orange marmalade and soy would be a great addition?

snowflake kitchen
There's a whole GROVE of lemon recipes in this post.  Check it out and pucker up!

tales of the house on the corner
Lamb and tomato pizza featuring preserved lemons and a little bit more rosemary

thinking out loud
Citrus salad that includes another cold weather treat - fennel. Intriguing taste combination!

Check back here Friday to find out what the March featured herb or spice will be....nominate your ideas for the next feature by leaving a comment here.  Thanks for playing!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Spice Rack Challenge February: Orange French Toast

Yes, citrus is in season right now, but I always have a jar of dried orange peel on my shelf for when it isn't.  For this month's Spice Rack Challenge,  I wanted to share a favorite recipe for orange peel - either dried or fresh, it can be used interchangeably in this recipe.   Challah bread makes the best french toast....and it is a great hot breakfast for a busy weekday morning.

Orange French Toast - serves 1 (multiply for more)

1 T or so vegetable oil
2 slices your favorite bread (I like challah)
1 egg
1 teaspoon orange peel, either dried or freshly grated
1 T. water

In a nonstick pan, heat vegetable oil until hot.  Meanwhile, slice bread, and beat eggs, orange and water in a shallow bowl.  Dip bread slices in egg mixture, and brown on both sides in pan.  Tastes great with pure Michigan maple syrup - I like to buy it at the farmer's market, but one year I tapped a maple and a cottonwood to make my own syrup.   It's a ton of work!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Kitchen gadget love

My fellow food blogger Tricia over at Jonski Blogski proposed that we write about the kitchen gadgets during the month of February.   Given that tomorrow is Valentine's Day, I thought I'd use the occasion to blog about my love affairs with kitchen gadgets.   I have relationships with many gadgets at the same time - I "get around", if you know what I mean.   The thing is, I have trouble picking just one to love....and guess you could say that I am "easy" when it comes to buying gadgets.   I am somewhat of a kitchen gadget "playa" as the gangsters might say.   You know my type - I'll go for just about anything once, but most of the time I break up with a gadget the next morning, and then I don't see them again.   I try to let them down easy as I place them in the kitchen drawer for the seldom used implements (or for the really ugly ones, they go straight to the garage sale box in the storage room downstairs).   I stare at them tenderly and tell them..."It's not you, it's me....I love you but I am not in love with you".  Or sometimes I look to song lyrics for some words to help me break it to them.    How about a little REO Speedwagon?

I just love the hair in this video - the funny thing is that in the 80's, I wanted my hair to look just like their hair.   I was getting perms every couple months and had a hair pick.  Not being a fan of REO, I didn't realize that their lead singer played the guitar.   I remembered him as a piano player.   Evidently, he's pretty talented!   But back to kitchen gadgets.... let's just say I've "had a few".   Here are my top gadgets:

Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer

I hooked up with one at my bridal shower, can you believe it?   Almost 20 years later, there's not a week that goes by that I don't spend some time with him - wink wink, nudge nudge.    He just stands there right on my counter top, waiting until I need him.   And I never get bored with him because he's got plenty of attachments to keep me satisfied.  

Citrus Reamer

This fellow is relatively a newcomer to my kitchen - I found him on the clearance rack with some other kitchen gadgets that were passed over by other cooks.   He looked so sad and forlorn I felt sorry for him, and I brought him home for only a dollar.   I figured I could send him right to the garage sale box if things didn't work out.    However,  I find myself turning to him at least once a week and he is always ready for me to quickly juice a lemon or lime for a recipe without getting the citrus juicer attachment out for the Kitchen Aid.   (shhhh...don't tell KA about this, he'll be jealous).  The best thing about him is that after I have used him, I just rinse him off and throw him back in the drawer.   No one needs to know....

Zyliss Food Chopper

I guess you could say I have a thing for the Swiss...because I have many Zyliss gadgets in my kitchen.   I've got a Zyliss salad spinner, a cheese grater, my aforementioned citrus reamer, etc.   I know some women go for tall dark and handsome Italians, I guess my type is the Swiss.   If I have lots of garlic to chop, or nuts, or cilantro,  I go for the chopper instead of doing it by hand.   It's much quicker.   However, note that when it comes to washing, the Zyliss Food Chopper is a little "high maintenance".  I am onto my 3rd one now because the tend to distort if placed in the bottom rack of the dishwasher.  So, I have to wash him by hand just to be careful.  And these guys aren't cheap either, but still I will reach into my wallet and buy one every time.   He's well worth the money.

Many women rely on battery powered appliances to get their needs met - I am not ashamed to say I am one of them.  Ever since I have found how good things can be with my electric pepper mill, I will never go back to a manual one.   The first one I found was at a garage sale for $2 - it was still in it's gift box from some long ago celebration, and it's owner wasn't even sure how it worked, so I gave it a shot.   LOVED IT!  It's quick and easy and I don't get tired grinding enough fresh pepper for a recipes that call for lots of it.   The first one got used so much I burnt it out.    I have this Trudeau one that is only about $50 (some of these can cost a lot more) and it is working out even better.  Instead of pushing a button to turn it on, all a girl has to do is turn it upside down like a pepper shaker.    And the grind on this one is adjustable - from coarse to very fine.   Now, if there is such a thing as an electric nutmeg grinder....I may have to take that one for a spin. 

So, for now, these guys are what I really go for in the kitchen.   Someday soon, I will write about the gadgets I had to dump.   But for now, happy Valentines Day, and treat yourself to a kitchen gadget to celebrate.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Some thoughts on another year

Today is my 47th birthday.   Last year, on my 46th birthday, I thought of 46 things I wanted to do for the year.  I didn't finish them all - too much stuff going on last year that I hadn't planned on happening.   So instead of setting some goals this year, I thought I would share some birthday memories:

  • When I was a kid, everyone was always sick on my birthday, including me.   There's something about early February and disease that go hand in hand.   I distinctly remember one year, my mother made a box white sheet cake and frosted it with peanut butter because she didn't have anything else in the house and was too sick to go to the store.
  • When I was 6, my mother had a birthday party for me and I got to invite my whole class.   I can still remember the cake - it had a ballerina on it and at that time in my life, I thought I would grow up to be a ballerina or at least in show business.    After all, I knew I was a better singer than Bernadette Peters, who was always a guest on the Carol Burnett show.  Instead, I ended up an engineer.  Hmmmm.....
  • In college, my birthday always fell right around MTU's Winter Carnival and midterms.  That meant it was either a) really festive,  or b) sucked.  For my 21st birthday, I had 2 exams, but I managed to hit the bar at midnight after studying for thermodynamics and mechanics of materials and I ordered my first legal drink of my life.   I can't remember what it was, but I do remember it was at a Houghton bar called "The Lodge" and a band called "Da Yoopers" was probably playing, as they often did.
  • The first year we lived in our house here in Ann Arbor, Andy scheduled an impromptu surprise birthday party for me.  All of our young childless friends showed up and we had a great time.
  • For my 30th birthday, we went up north skiing with a bunch of friends.   On the way back we stopped at Andy's parents house, and my mother-in-law remarked that she spent her 30th birthday smoking a pack of Trues and drinking coffee with her friend Billie and the 8 kids they had between them, running amok. What different lives we led!
  • Somewhere in my late 30s, I hit an all time low. I was supposed to go out for lunch to celebrate my birthday, but I had too many meetings that day at work. Instead, I ate my birthday lunch in the Ford cafeteria, where you get $5 off on your birthday lunch. It was a Thursday, and on every Thursday in our cafeteria, they serve a turkey dinner, complete with cranberry sauce and stuffing. We engineers like predictable rituals, I guess.
  • For my 40th birthday, I was on a business trip and snowbound at the airport in Indianapolis.  My colleagues bought me a margarita at the airport Chi-Chi's to celebrate.   I arrived home around midnight to find my two young cherubs watching for my car in the driveway from the living room window.   They were excited to stay up late and finally be able to eat the Baskin Robbins ice cream cake Dad bought for me.
  • Every year for my birthday, my sister calls me and sings "Happy Birthday" in what we called the "greasy voice", which sounds a lot like Tom Jones singing "It's Not Unusual"
    So here I am on my 47th..... its got some touches of the past, for sure.   My sister is sick with the flu, my brother just called to wish me a happy birthday.  I can remember my 24th birthday when he was 17 and he came up to Houghton to visit me for Winter Carnival and it snowed for 51 straight days that year.   It's snowing outside right now, just like many of the birthdays in my 20s, so instead of driving far, we'll stick close by and maybe go to the Inverness Inn.  Who knows, maybe Da Yoopers will be there?