Thursday, September 27, 2012

Some Thanksgiving Musings

I’m still on vacation, having stocked our freezer with the six minnows and five sardines we caught on our little getaway ... um ... ice fishing (see my post of Sept. 15, 2012). In all honesty, the only “ice” we encountered went into our drinks. My recipes will return Friday, October 12, when I’ll bring you another of my occasional series titled Dinner Party - this one featuring Quail in Balsamic Glaze, Risotto alla Milanese, Layered Jicama-Mango Salad, and two killer Trifle recipes, all with beautiful photos. I’ll also have more Guidelines and Tips to help make any dinner party memorable.

As my thoughts turn to Canadian Thanksgiving in early October, and American Thanksgiving in late November, I want to go on record in saying that I did not write the note below. If I had, I’d be a real Thanksgiving turkey! I did some research into this, learning that although the names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty, the note is a parody of what one fed-up family has actually endured for years.

I hope none of you Dollinks sees yourself in this! I trust that the woman who originally sent out Thanksgiving instructions along these lines has now now determined what part of “Thanks” and “Giving” she doesn’t understand. 

Although this recipe blog is not a political platform, it is impossible to ignore the broader world outside the kitchen. And so I have a special plea, at this time of giving thanks. No matter how opulent or humble your home may be, include a family or individual in your celebration who may not otherwise receive a Thanksgiving invitation or have the means to host such a special meal.

Do it quietly, with no expectation of recognition or reward - but do it, Dollinks. See you in October!   xox   Nicole

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


As I mentioned a few days ago, it’s getting chilly in the Time Zone and at the Latitude Where I Live. Its also time to stock the larder for winter, so - as we do each year - Ron and I are going ice fishing. A fellow ice-fisher captured the scene as we drilled our fishing hole last year:

Fish: Missing in Action. Nicole: Wishing she were MIA

After rubbing two icicles together to start a large bonfire, Ron, myself, and our fellow anglers always enjoy a communal sing-along to which I bring my comb with waxed paper and Ron brings his kazoo. We’re wary of large instruments, ever mindful of the year a stubborn Harry Khalkopf dragged his pipe organ onto the ice. Harry now sleeps with the fishes. Here’s a brief scene from last year’s happy event:

Once home, Ill stash our annual catch in our capacious, walk-in freezer. 

With the merriment on the ice over for another year, I plan to attend cooking classes to give me something to write about when I return - um - to polish my skills. Its never too late to learn something new, and I’m keen to master more recipes as well as other neat stuff like do-it-yourself tattooing. See you in early October, Dollinks!



PS: In the name of honest disclosure, I must also confess that Im retreating awhile to recover from a crushing psychological blow. The fast growth of this website has delighted me, so I recently set out to see which country has been driving the numbers.  To my amazement, it was Russia! 

Wow, I guess the recipe I posted for Russian Cream really excited that audience! But then I looked behind the numbers to learn (how can I put this?) that my blog is being hit upon by Russian porn sites. I kid you not! It isnt my Russian Cream that’s done it (though an argument could be made ...), but more likely all those references to legs, thighs, and breasts each time I write about chicken.

Ive found this most disappointing. Deducting the Russian numbers from my posted readership stats leaves a total of four readers - one of them Ron, two of them my siblings, and one of them you. If you like this blog, tell your friends, Dollinks.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Nanners’ Hamburger Soup

How could Nanners Beef Burgers and Beyond of South Elgin, IL, have closed their doors??? No, no, a thousand times no! What Nanners could do with ground beef was the culinary equivalent of what Mozart could do with music. I’m so sorry this great little restaurant has closed! Even as I speak, four friends are getting cricks in their necks as they roam around Chicago staring up at the skyscrapers. 

If Dal, Iryn, Shelley, and Joe drive the 45 miles from Chicago to South Elgin in search of a really great Hamburger Soup ... well, they may just be out of luck. So I’ll do the next-best thing and give you Nanners’ Hamburger Soup recipe. I’ve modified the quantities to suit a family of four, reduced the amount of salt, and substituted vegetable stock for the water in the original recipe. This excellent soup is packed with nutrition. It’s a meal in a bowl!

Nanners’ Hamburger Soup:

½ lb. (250 g) lean ground beef
1 tbsp. brown sugar
¼ c. teriyaki sauce
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ c. pot barley
8 c. vegetable stock or water
½ c. each chopped onion, carrot, potato, celery, turnip, and fresh parsley

Brown beef with brown sugar in large soup pot. Do not drain fat. Add teriyaki sauce, salt, pepper, barley, and stock. Simmer, covered, 1 hr., placing a toothpick between lid and pot to vent steam. Add prepared vegetables, cooking at a low boil until vegetables and barley are tender, about 20 min. Serves 4-to-6.

Scramble-fry lean ground beef with brown sugar.
Add teriyaki sauce, seasoning, pot barley, and stock

While broth simmers, assemble and prepare vegetables


Sharpen your knife before cutting parsley


Add prepared vegetables to simmering broth; raise heat

Ladle hot soup into bowls

Monday, September 3, 2012

Spicy Pumpkin Loaf with Shiny Glaze

Spicy Pumpkin Loaf ... So good
I always double the recipe!
I’m checking in to grab the mail, pay some bills, and pack a few sandwiches before I go fishing, again. This delicious Spicy Pumpkin Loaf with Shiny Glaze is a reliable standby that I’m tucking into the tackle box … I hope you’ll try it for yourself! As a special treat, I sometimes top this excellent loaf with Buttercream Frosting, as I have in the photo (see my May 4, 2012 post). The Shiny Glaze I normally use to finish it is marvelous over fruit cakes, any quick bread, or yeast buns. 
It’s not pumpkin season in the Time Zone and at the Latitude Where I Live, but canned pumpkin is easily available year-round, as is home-frozen pumpkin. To make this loaf, I reached into my freezer and pulled out a small tub of last year’s pumpkin that I’d steamed, puréed, and frozen for exactly a time such as this. If you’ve never done that, the method is very simple. I’ll tell you how to prepare fresh pumpkin in the quick post that follows this one!
Having frozen or canned pumpkin on hand is very convenient. As pumpkin season approaches, don’t forget Ron’s rendition of Starbucks’ Glazed Pumpkin Scones (see my blog post May 1, 2011), my post for Classic Pumpkin Pie (Nov. 23, 2011), and my purloined recipe (“You’ll never get me alive, Copper!”) for Pumpkin Crème Brûlée (June 5, 2011). And so to begin.
Spicy Pumpkin Loaf with Shiny Glaze:
To Prepare the Loaf:
1-½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
¾ tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. nutmeg
2 eggs
¾ c. granulated sugar
¼ c. golden corn syrup
½ c. canola oil
1 c. pumpkin (canned or prepared at home … see post to follow)
½ c. raisins
½ c. chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. Line bottom of greased 9 x 5-in. loaf pan with parchment paper and set aside. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices; set aside. Beat eggs until light, adding sugar gradually until no grainy texture remains. Scrape down sides of bowl. Continuing to beat, add corn syrup, oil, and pumpkin. In microwave-proof container (I use a Pyrex measuring cup) cold water to raisins, cover lightly, and heat 30 sec. in microwave to “plump” them. Drain, cool, and fold into batter with chopped walnuts. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 1 hr. and 20 min., until skewer inserted into center of loaf comes out clean. Leave loaf in pan 10 min. before turning onto cooling rack. Peel off paper, gently turning topside up on rack. Brush with glaze while still warm. This loaf cuts best when completely cool. Store in an airtight container.
To Prepare Shiny Glaze:
½ c. golden corn syrup
¼ c. water
Bring corn syrup and water just to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, brushing over warm loaf for a shiny finish. Cool thoroughly.
Note: This Pumpkin Loaf is so good that I always, always double the recipe, cutting and keeping one in the freezer, with the slices separated by waxed paper, ready to thaw in an instant.

How to Make Pumpkin Purée

I make this versatile Pumpkin Purée with fresh, orange-fleshed North American pumpkins, but the method easily applies to other varieties such as Queensland Blues, Aussie Dollinks!

Dundee: "That's not a knife. That's a saw."
Cut pumpkin into large chunks. This can be challenging. Unless you have muscles like Popeye, it’s not easy to sever the skin of a hefty pumpkin. That’s why I often use a hand-saw instead of a knife. To quote Crocodile Dundee: “That’s not a knife. That’s a knife!” (To make your little heart flutter, catch the romantic scene below. Somehow, I cannot imagine Dundee saying: “That’s not a knife. That’s a saw!” But a saw is what I use.)

Now you have two choices. Toss the chunks into a food steamer (for a photo of this fabulous small appliance, see my post for Frenzied Fish, Oct. 26, 2011). Steam 20-to-30 min. or until a knife easily pierces the pumpkin flesh. Scrape the flesh from the skin, which will also have softened. Purée in a blender or - better yet - a food processor.

Your second choice is to bake the chunks, uncovered, at 325 deg. F. for about 1 hr. These times will vary with the size and thickness of the pumpkin chunks. Scoop the pumpkin into a food processor and purée until no lumps remain. If the purée has a high water content, you may want to simmer it for a few minutes to let some of the water evaporate.

Cool, package, label, and freeze. That’s all there is to it!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dinner Party Series: End of Summer

Like a party that wraps up too soon, summer always ends too early. The leaves scatter and swirl and the sun slants flat on the horizon, so that everything shimmers with a pale golden light. These crisp days start with cardigans draped over our shoulders and end with an extra blanket on the bed. Yesterday, trudging beside one of the many marshes in the Time Zone and at the Latitude Where I Live, we watched two herons hunker into their downy coats, necks lowered against the chill, beady eyes intent on finding the prey that will now come less often. Each eventually flew off, fighting the wind, their scrawny frames resembling blown-out umbrellas.

In the early evening, we braved the cool breeze on our deck to have one more outdoor dinner party - a small and simple one, to be sure, but still an occasion to enjoy a visit from our youngest grand-daughter and her lovely mother. 

There was really nothing to the meal, which we fixed quite quickly - barbecued chicken, corn on the cob, a no-fuss potato salad, and a few small custard tarts topped with a sprinkle of berries. I’d hoped to make a mixed green salad, but the greens were a little too old and a little too wilted, so I substituted a bowl of cherry tomatoes, instead. 

This is the second of my occasional blogs called Dinner Parties. In it, I’ll tell you how we whipped this meal together so quickly while still having time for a long country walk.

Main Course:

Barbecued Chicken: We almost always have Ron’s BBQ Sauce in the refrigerator; if we don’t, it’s quick and easy to make. You’ll find it in the Index under Sauces. Ron basted skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs a total of 25 min. at about 400 deg. F. Grilling the basted chicken skin-side up for about 10 min., he basted it again, flipping it over for a further 10 minutes’ cooking. When the skin-side down chicken seemed cooked, he basted and turned it over one last time, for about 5 min. Your cooking time will vary with the cut of chicken used and with whether it does or doesn’t have a bone. Of barbecuing, Ron says: “It isn’t scientific. It’s visual. You can tell when something is cooked.” 

Corn on the Cob: If you think you know everything there is to know about corn on the cob, consult the Index for How to Shuck and Cook Corn an easier way! I’m half crazy about “Clean Ears Ken,” who is completely adorable as he demonstrates his nifty little trick for perfect, silk-free corn-shucking. Should you choose to barbecue your corn, the same post will tell you how.

Potato Salad: Because it’s quick and totally scrumptious, I made my recipe for Easy-Does-It Potato Salad, posted below this blog.

Cherry Tomatoes: Honey, if you don’t know how to plop cherry tomatoes into a bowl, you need more help than I can give you. Given extra time, I might have mixed a few tiny, fresh shrimp with a scant pinch of dill and a dab of mayo, sliced the tops off the tomatoes, hollowed out their centers, and stuffed them with the shrimp, but this was a family meal at which I didn’t even offer an appetizer. 


Custard Tarts: Here, I went all-out - with simplicity! Shortly before dinner, I baked a few commercially made tarts I had in the freezer for exactly this kind of quick dinner party. I filled the tarts with a commercially made custard (we’re talking “Bird’s Custard Powder,” available worldwide in the baking aisle of most grocery stores. For use in tarts, chill the prepared custard, Dollinks). I dropped a few blueberries and a couple of raspberries on each tart, et voilà! If you want to get fancy - which I did not - brush a light glaze over the berries (see the Index for Glaze: Fruit).

Guidelines and Tips:

Always keep something on hand for emergency entertaining - whether you’ve made it yourself or bought it. The ice cream, sherbet, and gelato recipes I blogged last week? Tucked away in the freezer, each is a fast and fancy dessert (see the Index for Frozen Treats). Those cans of smoked mussels in the cupboard? Served with crackers, they’re a great emergency appetizer. That brick of cream cheese in the fridge? Pour a little jalapeño jelly or cranberry sauce over it as a quick pre-dinner snack served with crackers.

Speaking of always ... Always have a bunch of fresh parsley and a whipping cream bomb in the fridge. You can fix any presentation problem - savory or sweet - with these. Just don’t mix them up, Dollinks.

Have a rough plan in mind before you start. If you’re missing a vital ingredient or what you’d planned doesn’t look fresh enough, substitute something else. Did you know you can plug whatever you have on hand (Random example: sugar + flour + raisins + ricotta) and the Internet will tell you what you can make with it? 

Know your “cooking personality.” If you work best alone, chase everyone out of the kitchen. If you could use a little help, assertively but kindly ask for it - but be very, very clear on who’s the “chef” and who’s the “sous-chef.” Sometimes Ron’s top banana in the kitchen, and sometimes, I am. Sort that out before you start. If your kitchen is too small for two or more cooks, each of you prepare a dish before making way for the other. 

What? Me worry? A sound philosophy!
Keep it light and keep it fun. Don’t stress yourself! A large sign in my kitchen says RELAX. It reminds me to do just that. Take breaks between the preparation of the dishes on your menu! 

Keep a “cheat sheet” in the kitchen drawer with each recipe’s bottom line: Time, temperature, and (for us forgetful folks) exactly where you’ve stored it - inside the barbecue, on top of the washing machine, on the second shelf at the back of the fridge, and so forth. Be sure to list every item on your menu. That way, you won’t forget that you’ve stashed the dinner rolls in the microwave.

Don’t make more than your fridge or freezer can hold (The meal was great, but the food poisoning wasn…). Likewise, don’t prepare more than your energy level allows. Remember that very young and very old guests tend to eat “less.” Don’t ever - ever! - urge a guest to eat or drink “more.” That can be offensive and embarrassing. 

Advance-prepare. While this meal didnt need it, its generally good advice.

I recently discovered that an electric camping cooler serves perfectly as a “second fridge,” as does a basic cooler with a block of ice. Conversely, I’ve discovered that a plug-in roaster oven can cook several casseroles, bake a cake, and even roast a turkey, effectively giving you a double oven. If you have the storage space and love to entertain, I recommend you buy a cooler and a roaster oven.

If your table is small, use a side table and/or small serving dishes. To compensate for our small deck table, I usually go vertical. Narrow-based, tall serving dishes hold a lot - but occupy very little space on your table. 

Buy the best kitchen equipment you can afford. A quality vegetable peeler that is contoured to the hand will make the job faster and easier! A quality can opener will last and last, whereas a cheap one will fall apart quickly and make can-opening a more difficult chore than it should be. A quality blender … you know where I’m going with all of this. Quality items cost more than the cheapies, but if your budget is small and the price is high, buy them gradually. If you don’t treat yourself, who will? 

Although a nicely set table is important to me, one of the best meals I’ve ever had used newspapers as tablecloths. Considering that we were eating fresh crab served with oven-fried potatoes and crisp white wine, I couldn’t imagine anything more appropriate! Our host provided plenty of paper napkins, finger bowls with hot water and a slice of lemon, and little metal buckets in which to drop the shells. The setting? A picnic table at the beach. She brought the hot water in a Thermos.

As you set your table, mentally walk through the meal and your guests’ needs. Salt and pepper, corn-cob holders, dessert forks or spoons, napkins, water glasses, hot pads for hot items, serving cutlery, a small tray for the milk and sugar needed for tea and coffee at the end of the meal … It’s easy to forget such items unless you consider each course and how you plan to serve it, whether family-style (where everything is passed around), plates dished up in the kitchen, or a buffet at which diners help themselves.

If you’ve got the money, I have three words of advice: Cater, cater, cater! But if you have a special recipe you just love making, satisfy your Inner Martha by preparing that one gorgeous dish on your fanciest plate or in your fanciest casserole. And for heaven’s sake, quietly brag to everyone that you made it yourself! 

If you don’t have the money, you can still have a catered meal. Bring on the home-delivered Chinese food, the pizza, and the Kentucky Fried Chicken! I’ve done that! They were among the most successful parties I’ve ever given!

I’ve done several other blogs on Dinner Party Guidelines and Tips. You'll find them in the Index under that heading.

Introduce a bit of whimsy for a relaxed, fun feel

Summer's light is fading: I used an Eiffel Tower table 
center because the tablecloth came from Provence

Nothing fancy: After 2-1/2-year-old Milla sawed through her
cob of corn, she proudly shouted: "I did it!"

Easy-Does-It Potato Salad: Note the shape of the serving dish

Barbecued Chicken: Ron's BBQ Sauce is superb!

Thumbs up: Milla gives my Custard Tarts her seal of approval 

Easy-Does-It Potato Salad

No fuss: Easy-Does-It Potato Salad
This delicious potato salad has a “Don’t-mess-with-me” taste. Simple to make, it’s perfect as it is! Don’t try to gussy it up with celery, radishes, or anything else. 

Easy-Does-It Potato Salad:

4 c. white nugget potatoes, skin on
1-½ tsp. granulated sugar
1-½ tsp. white vinegar
¾ c. finely chopped onion
2 tsp. celery seed
⅛ tsp. salt
¾-to-1 c. mayonnaise
3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced (see Note)

Wash and scrub potatoes, measuring out 4 cups. Place in medium saucepan, covering with cold water. Bring water just to a boil, immediately lowering heat to simmer. Cook 15 min., removing smallest potatoes sooner, or until a sharp knife easily pierces largest ones. Chill in ice water bath. Blot dry, slicing into irregular chunks. Toss with sugar, vinegar, onion, celery seed, and salt. Add mayonnaise gradually, starting with smaller amount and increasing as needed. Carefully fold in eggs. Refrigerate at least 1 hr. to allow flavors to blend. Serves 4-to-6.

Note: If necessary, see Index for How to Hard-Cook an Egg.

Further Note: As this Potato Salad is mayonnaise-based, dont leave it unrefrigerated in the summer sun. Although it’s excellent served after an hour, I like it even better prepared a day ahead.

Wash, scrub and measure 4 cups white nugget potatoes
Cook 'em until they cry "Uncle!", Dollinks! 

Slice them into irregular chunks

Lightly toss with sugar and white vinegar

Add onions and celery seed ... Both are a must!

Ron jumped in to slice the eggs ... We like lots! 

And mayonnaise! Avoid the temptation to use too much

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Deluxe Banana Cake

Deluxe Banana Cake: We called it meatloaf

As the old saying goes, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” This lie falls into a different category altogether. It’s a whopper. 

When our grandkids recently came for a weekend visit, Ron looked at me and I looked at him, each thinking the same thought: “Trouble, oh we got trouble, Right here in River City! With a capital “T” and that rhymes with “B” and that stands for Banana Cake!” (with apologies to lyricist Meredith Wilson and The Music Man).

We had only two pieces left of the cake I’d made. And two trusting little girls. And the two of us. It was the single best banana cake I’d ever made. Cutting each piece in half would have made the pieces too small. There was only one thing for Ron and I to do - hide on the deck and wolf down the cake in guilty silence. When the children wandered outside to ask what we were eating, we told them it was meatloaf.

This moist cake is the ideal dessert to take to a potluck picnic on this long weekend: It keeps well, serves a crowd inexpensively, and tastes absolutely sensational

Deluxe Banana Cake:

1 c. butter or margarine
2 c. granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-½ c. mashed banana
3 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. sour cream
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ c. brown sugar
1-½ c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Have all ingredients at room temperature. In large bowl, beat together butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and mashed banana, mixing until smooth.

Combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add to banana mixture alternately with sour cream, ending with dry ingredients. Spoon and spread half the batter into greased 13x9-in. baking pan. 

Combine cinnamon and brown sugar. Sprinkle half the mixture over batter in pan. Top with half the chocolate chips. Repeat layers. Bake 40-to-45 minutes, until skewer inserted at the center comes out clean. 

Note: This cake freezes well.