Monday, September 18, 2017

Peaches! Series: Peach Pie & Tarts

Peaches...the beautiful fruit. Bite into one this season, and warm, silky juice runs down your chin. And that flavor -- rich without being too sweet.

Aaahhh.




We love peaches this time of year -- and make do with frozen or canned ones the rest of the time. Every once in a while, I'm seduced by the rosy balls in the grocery store -- but invariably they're green. They look nice for a few days, then start to 'go.' And that's important, when you just brought home more than a dozen boxes of them.

So why not take advantage of today's current peach crop (and lower prices), and make some pie and tarts? They freeze nicely unbaked, and will be a good memory on some cold, windy night when the world seems heartless and cruel.

Or just serve it tonight. 


Try to keep the pie from disappearing!


This recipe yields two pies (one open-faced, one traditional double-crust) and approx. four tarts. Cut it in half, if your peach supply is limited. Leftover dough can be sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, or spread with jam, then baked for 15 min.


PEACH PIE  (and TART VARIATION)

8-10 tablespoons butter   (you can use less, but extra butter makes for a more tender crust)
4 cups flour -- plus 1/2 cup for rolling out
1 teaspoon salt
ice water, as needed
sugar -- about 1/2 cup
nutmeg
7-10 peaches, peeled and sliced thin

Mix the butter, salt and flour together -- the easiest way is with clean, cool fingers, but a fork will do. Add just enough cold water, bit by bit, until the mixture holds together in a loose, damp ball. Divide it in fourths.
    Pie #1 (open-faced, like the photo above):  Take one of the pieces, and press it evenly in place in a tart pan, until the crust extends up on the pan's walls. (Use extra flour on your fingers to keep dough from sticking, and patch thin spots with extra bits of dough.)
    Sprinkle the bottom crust heavily with sugar, then sprinkle with nutmeg.
    Pile in the peaches -- about 2-3 cups worth. Sprinkle again with sugar.

    Pie #2 (traditional two-crust):  Roll another of the pieces out on a floured board until it is slightly larger than your pie pan. Fit into place, pressing as needed with your fingertips. Sprinkle heavily with sugar, then nutmeg, then add peaches for a rounded top. Add a few slices of butter, if you've got them.
     Roll out another of the pieces for a top crust. Fit it on top of the peaches, pressing to seal two crusts together around the pie edge. Use a fork for the final press around the edge -- then prick some holes in the top crust. Sprinkle with sugar.

     Tarts:  Your final piece of dough will yield about four tarts. I use a tart pan, but you can also roll the dough out into freeform circles, and use that instead. Follow Pie #1 instructions to make the tart. (Push the extra dough up and over the fruit after you add it.)

Baking:  425 degrees for 15 min., then 350 degrees for 40-50 min., until crust is lightly brown and fruit is bubbling. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Note: All three may be frozen unbaked -- put them into the freezer in their baking pans, then slide out and bag when they're frozen. OR partially bake them, cool, and do the same. OR freeze them baked. I've had good results all three ways. 


More good peach recipes and storage ideas coming soon.






Friday, September 1, 2017

Really Easy (And Good) Lemon Bars

Ooh, ooh ooh...one of the very best lemon bar recipes I have ever tried -- adapted from Rock Recipes' version for lemon bars. It's quick to make, too, if you have time to allow for the double baking period.
(The whole process reminds me of pecan pie bars  -- guess I'd better give that recipe next!)

LEMON BARS

  • 1 cup cold butter 
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups flour

Next:
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • eggs
  • about 1 cup juice, either from two lemons or from a bottle (I used the latter)                        Limes may be substituted here, with good results

HOW TO MAKE THE BARS:

Using your hands or a fork, mix the first three ingredients together, then press the mixture into a 9x13 baking pan. Bake 20 min. at 350 degrees, or until the bottom is just starting to show a tinge of brown.

Now mix the next set of ingredients together, let sit for 10 minutes -- then mix again and pour on top of the baked base. Bake at 350 degrees for another 20-25 min., until top is slightly browned. 
   Cool and cut into squares. Sprinkle with powdered sugar...or not. Makes about 12 large bars. 




Thursday, August 31, 2017

Doing A Spanish Supper - With Limited Cash (Recipes and How To Do It - By Yourself or with Others)

    We just hosted a Spanish Supper for 97 people, to celebrate The Mama's 80th birthday.

And we did it for about $230. That works out to roughly $2.37 a person! 

Fortunately, I've had plenty of experience hosting large gatherings on a budget. I felt confident that we could do it for under $200 -- and honestly, counting in the leftovers, we came pretty close to that total.

The secrets? 

*Ask people to donate -- even little items, like a container of sour cream, help keep your costs down. Cupcakes were a favorite item to donate, in our case.
*Buy it homegrown, if available. Garden-fresh tomatoes and onions taste better -- and are usually cheaper, as well. This is especially true in summertime, with fruit. Get what's popular -- and in season -- for best prices.
*Buy it pre-shredded. Cheese and lettuce are the main energy-busters here. At food service stores, or wholesale places like Sam's, they'll come that way, to begin with -- and usually at a lower cost.
*Buy items on sale -- or lower-cost, to begin with. This is critical -- you cannot pay full price, and expect to come out ahead. Use Mexican-based brands, whenever possible; they taste more authentic.

Here's one possibility -- and what we used.

*Use paper, plastic or foam items, if at all possible.  Aluminum foil pans help with cleanup, as well. And cleanup, quite frankly, is when you're going to be the most tired.
 *Ask for help. People are generally willing to give you their time for at least an hour. They'll loan you items you would normally have to buy, and they often help out, even when not asked...if they know there's a need.
*Keep non-food costs to a minimum. Use bright colors for decorating. (Items from the dollar store are often cheerful, if short-lived.) Purchase white cups, plates and clear silverware -- and save the colors for the napkins. (Or get them in white, too.) It's much cheaper that way.
        (More ideas here.)

*If you're doing this for free, don't hesitate to put out a can for donations. Some people will -- most won't. But every little bit helps.

Here's what we served at The Mama's Spanish Supper:

The traditional menu:           beef tacos
                                             beef enchiladas
                                             Spanish rice
                                             refried beans
                                             chips & salsa
                                             fruit salad
                                             some kind of punch or lemonade

We added birthday cupcakes, with more than 80 featuring a birthday candle.

Special note: These recipes are done in the style of the Michigan food I grew up with. For Colorado-style dishes, for example, we would add black or Anasazi beans inside the enchiladas, plus chopped green chilies and the white Mexican cheese, queso fresco. Cilantro and a much stronger mix of spices would be in the taco meat -- with chicken as a secondary choice, instead of just beef. We also tend to make our own salsa, usually a version of pico de gallo.


Like this, from AllRecipes.com. Oh my, it's good.


But that's us. This was done in The Mama's style, which is a very mild Tex-Mex version.
      Sort of.

Let's get started. Here's what you'll need to feed 100*:

2 pounds rice (3, if your guests really like rice -- but I've always had a lot leftover)
3 pounds dried beans
40 pounds ground beef
Corn and/or flour tortillas (You'll need enough for at least one enchilada per person, and 1-2 tortillas each for tacos. Fry or heat only as many as needed; the rest can easily be frozen for later.)
10-20 pounds of assorted fruit (a chopped-up mix, which could include a few pounds of sliced strawberries, a few melons, a small watermelon, sliced bananas, peaches, etc. Michigan fruit salads often include a pound of blueberries, as well as an apple or two. Mix gently with 1/4 cup of lemon juice to minimize darkening -- or add a can or two of undrained mandarin oranges for the same effect.)
3-4 large bags of tortilla chips
Lemonade or punch powder or mix -- enough for 100-150 servings. (A liter of sparkling water or clear soda adds flavor interest.)
100-150 cupcakes
       (Try to get Cousin Betty to organize these for you! Barring that, a cake mix will make 12-18 cupcakes. Bite-sized ones are especially good if you've got kids attending.)

Also needed -- 
   *For the dishes:  1 large jar taco spices, 2 cans chopped tomatoes, bacon grease (or 1/2 pound of bacon, fried, with the meat set aside). For extra flavor on the enchiladas, 5 limes, split and juiced onto the pans. (This is a Colorado touch - I couldn't help myself.)
   *For taco fixings:  2-3 large jars salsa, 5-10 pounds grated cheese (we mixed Mexican blend and mozzarella), 3-5 pounds each of onions and tomatoes, 3-5 pounds shredded lettuce, 1-2 containers of sour cream. (Add a bowl of chopped green chilies, or a batch or two of pico de gallo, if you live out West. You'll only need two jars of salsa, then.)
   *Paper/foam plates, cups, tableware, napkins.

**Note: We purchased more ingredients, when we did our Spanish Supper -- these figures have been adapted to minimize leftovers. For example, we made enough enchiladas for approx. 1 1/2 per person -- and ended up giving at least 5 pans away.

Preparation will take the night before, plus one long day -- but can be done over a few days, instead. (Assuming you did the cupcakes and decorating beforehand.)

*Cook the beans overnight -- on low in a crockpot or two.


Pintos are traditional -- but use cranberry, Anasazi or black beans, if your crowd prefers them

*Chop the onions and tomatoes. (In the case of the onions, plan on a good cry.) Set aside a bowl of onions and all the tomatoes. Fill two large bowls of cheese.   (Or what's left, in the case of the cheese, after the enchiladas are finished.These can be done ahead of time, or put in bowls at the last minute.)

*Chop the fruits for salad; gently stir in lemon juice, if needed.  (Best done at the last minute, if possible.)


Peaches are in season for us right now - and a good choice for fruit salad


REFRIED BEANS
Melt at least 1/4 cup or so of bacon grease in a kettle, then drain and gradually add well-cooked beans, mashing gently as you go. (I've seen The Mama add a handful of onions. Extra garlic is good in this, too.) Continue mixing and mashing until the beans form a chunky paste. Pile back into the crockpot, or a roaster, to keep warm.

SPANISH RICE
Add the reserved taco spice and onions, plus the cans of tomatoes, to the rice -- mix with the proper proportions of water. (2 cups of water to each cup of dry rice.)  The lime rinds, leftover from the enchiladas (dump them in, take out before serving), plus an extra tablespoon of garlic, add flavor. (Or just add salt to taste.) Cook for 20-30 min. on low, until the rice is done. Keep warm in the oven, or in a crockpot on low. (This can also be served lukewarm or cool, too.)

TACO MEAT
Brown the ground beef, adding the rest of the onions, plus one jar of taco spice. (Save a handful of onions, plus 3 or so tablespoons of taco spice for the rice.) Put in a roaster, to keep warm. (This can be done earlier, then the meat heated a few hours ahead.) Take out about 20 cups for the enchiladas.


ENCHILADAS
2 #10 cans of chili or enchilada sauce (or one #10 can plus two larger cans)
taco meat
3 pounds grated cheese

Use the process mentioned in the other post to make the enchiladas. (Although The Mama usually fries all the tortillas for this, I generally just heat a batch at 40 seconds in the microwave, making more as needed. We always use corn tortillas.) Sprinkle each pan with the juice from a lime half , as a final touch before covering with foil. For 100 people, you'll need roughly eight 9x13 pans, assuming you can fit 14 enchiladas in a few of the pans.

Surprisingly, you're almost done! You can do the rest by yourself-- but it's easier, with help. 
About an hour before the event is scheduled to begin:

*Put the enchiladas in to bake: 375 degrees for 30-45 min. Keep back a few pans, and put them in 20 min. later, so everyone can have a hot enchilada.

*Put out the plates, napkins and eating utensils, with the cups by the drinks. 

*Mix the lemonade or punch. (Use the largest container you can find -- preferably a 50-serving one. These can often be borrowed or rented from social clubs or churches.) Just before serving, add a bowlful of ice (with more ice in a bowl nearby) and pour in a liter of ginger ale, 7-Up or sparkling water.
    A second container of iced water is always a good idea.

*Put out a large trashcan in plain view. These look ugly, but save the day during cleanup. Put out two cans, if possible. Get your guests to clean up after themselves, and your work will be easier.

*Arrange fixings (one bowl of each, with a second bowl nearby for replenishing) near the roasters or crockpots of meat, beans and rice, as well as pans of enchiladas. Add large bowls of chips. (Put the chips out early, with the salsa and/or pico de gallo, if you sense the troops are getting restless.)
    Don't forget serving spoons. (I always seem to.)

*Leave the cupcakes back for now -- or put them on a separate table, away from the main crush. If you have extra help (or can commandeer some), have kids circulate in the crowd later, holding cupcake platters. Guests love being able to choose from a variety of types and sizes -- and you can include some gluten-free ones this way, as well. (Or put an identifying sign on them.)

*Start frying corn tortillas. (If you have help, have them start doing this while you're mixing the drink and putting out fixings. Or vice versa.) Add a few tablespoons of oil to a hot skillet. When it sizzles, add the tortilla -- if it's fresh, it will heat and puff within 20 seconds. Flip quickly for another 20 seconds, then put in a covered basket lined with paper towels. Continue until you have a good-sized basketful...then put out with the rest of the food. (You'll need to keep cooking and refilling these until everyone has eaten.)

*If you're serving flour tortillas (as well (you should), heat them in the microwave. I generally do a stack of 8 or so for a minute. Put in another covered basket. These will also need to be replenished...though not as often.

Here we go! Call everyone to eat. 

If you must keep frying tortillas, ask someone to keep an eye on the baskets -- and let you know when they need to be replenished. (That person can also put out the second bowl of fixings that you've set aside.) Refill as needed -- but hopefully, you shouldn't have to do that much.

(If you're planning on making coffee or tea, it should be in process now, as well. A 40-cup coffeepot can be started right after you put the enchiladas in to bake. Or make one pot of coffee, then start another one immediately...you'll need at least 3-5 pots, depending on how chilly it is. Send someone around with the coffeepot, packets of sugar and creamer, and a handful of cups -- or make a space on the food table, with cream and sugar nearby. If you've used a 40-cupper, station it by the other drinks.)

Once the tortillas are done, bring the cupcakes out, if you haven't done so yet. 

Check on the food. Replenish as needed. 

Check on the drinks. Refill the water, if needed. (Don't worry about the lemonade/punch. If it's gone, it's gone.) 

Take a deep breath. Look around. Fix yourself a plate...or just grab a cupcake and something to drink. You've got about 20 minutes...

     then it's time to start cleaning up.








Friday, March 17, 2017

Good Bread series: Treacle Tart

Far be it from us not to conclude this series with a good-looking pie...or tart. In honor of the Irish holiday, bake a Irish treacle tart!

This tart is a touch flat, by American standards. It makes up for it, though, with its rich taste. The recipe I found uses golden syrup...but light or dark corn syrup can be substituted

"Treacle," by the way, is molasses -- or sweet syrup leftover from the sugarmaking process. A tablespoon of molasses is considered an excellent tonic. Bake one of these tarts, and you've gotten your spring tonic out of the way! 

Here's my version, adapted from  the original recipe here, courtesy of The Spruce.

TREACLE TART

Pastry:
2 cups flour
5 tablespoons butter
couple shakes of salt
ice water   (about 1/3 cup)

Filling:
1 1/4 cups golden syrup OR light corn syrup
1 tablespoon treacle (or dark molasses)
4 eggs
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
      (or use one fresh lemon or lime, and include the grated zest from the skin, as well)
chopped pecans

Pastry first.  Mix butter into the flour/salt mixture until it resembles little crumbles. (Or grate the butter in -- much faster.) Add ice water, a little at a time, stirring as you go, until the mixture forms a ball. Roll out on a floured board, adding more flour as needed, then line a pie pan with the dough.
     The Spruce recommends keeping this in the refrigerator for at least 30 min., to help firm things up. It's not a bad idea -- but you can keep it in there all day, if need be.

When you're ready to start up again, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Now the Filling. Mix all ingredients together except pecans. Pour into the pie shell, then sprinkle chopped pecans around the edge. Bake for 40-45 min., until the crust and filling are golden brown. Pie will be a little runny at first, but firms up nicely. Serve warm to eight hungry Irishmen (or women).

Another recipe for Treacle Tart is here.

The Nolands' recipe uses 1 cup of syrup, 2 eggs and a lot more breadcrumbs. They also bake the shell first, then add the filling before baking it more.

Obviously, you can adapt ingredients for this, based on what's in your pantry and fridge. The recipe reminds me somewhat of Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch Shoofly pie. 

Marie Claire's version is here.

 I'm now told this is Harry Potter's favorite food. Frankly, I have always found Harry and his cohorts more goofy than interesting. However, many of our friends are fascinated with Hogwarts and its environs.


  Enjoy.


This is how Marie-Claire's recipe turns out...they use less lemon juice, 
and recommend substituting cornflakes for the breadcrumbs

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Being a wee bit Irish meself, not to mention married to a man whose name (Brick) actually means 'badger' in Gaelic...

Well, I enjoy serving Irish dishes during St. Patrick's Day.

We've got all kinds of Irish dishes sprinkled throughout the Holiday Goodies blog, including:

This series, from Kinky Eton Mess to a Dublin Coddle (stew) that will warm your heart any day.

and

This series, including Irish Stew, Colcannon and that all-American Irish dish:  Corned Beef and Cabbage.

Enjoy -- there's more than enough to cook through the weekend!


Erin Go Bragh. Yup, forever.




Good Bread Series: Breadsticks OR 'Messy' Rolls

Homemade pizza is a great way to stretch your budget, as well as use up small bits of this and that.
     Half a slice of green pepper, or a green onion? A handful of ham and a few mushrooms? Leftover chicken breast, or a pork chop? These are perfect, chopped small and scattered over the pizza.
     (I'm teasing you -- I'll post some terrific pizza recipes in the near future.)

But there are other ways to use that versatile pizza dough, including breadsticks and a trick I just discovered by accident a week ago. 
    Here's the basic recipe.

PIZZA DOUGH

1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional, but they really add to the taste)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
few shakes of salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups flour  (either all white, or a fistful of whole wheat flour + white.
                                 Use heaping cupfuls if you're at high altitude)

'Proof' your yeast by mixing everything but the flour, then letting the bowl sit covered in a warm spot for 10-30 min. Mix in the flour, kneading to make a soft dough. Let rise for as little as 30 min., or as long as 8-10 hours. (Punch down, if you're around to do it, every few hours, so it doesn't overflow the bowl. Use a larger bowl, if you're gone for the day.)

Now your dough is ready for:

Garlic Breadsticks

one recipe of pizza dough
1 stick butter
powdered garlic OR garlic salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees; melt butter on the baking pan. Roll out the dough, adding flour on the board and your hands as needed, and cut the dough into strips. Roll the strips in the melted butter and sprinkle heavily with garlic; add salt, too. (Or just use garlic salt, to begin with.)
     Bake approx. 10-15 min., until sticks are golden brown. Makes up to 2 dozen breadsticks. Serve warm with pasta, soup, stew or whatever....they're excellent for stretching a meal for company.

(This recipe is good for breadsticks, too...makes a fluffier breadstick, though. I like mine crunchy.)

They're good with pizza, too.


'Messy' Rolls

I bumbled onto this variation by being in a hurry. I made a double batch of pizza dough BUT only added half the flour, stirring it in. Then we had to go somewhere, so I didn't even knead the dough. When we returned, it was rising beautifully.
    This time, instead of adding more flour, I just scooped up serving spoonfuls of dough and plopped them on the greased cookie sheet. They baked about the same time, but made a soft, tender roll that was crunchy outside. Messy-looking, sure...but delicious.

I tried it both ways -- 'iced' with melted butter, then sprinkled with garlic and salt, and just baked plain. It worked either way.

Try it for yourself -- but only use half the flour in the standard dough. Add a little extra flour if the mixture is too liquid, but keep it on the sticky side. Then cover with a towel and put in a warm place. Bake just before the meal.

This works for a 'messy' loaf, too -- just plop the dough, then gently shape it into an oval. Bake, slice and serve.




I think you'll be pleased.




Friday, March 10, 2017

Good Bread Series: Peach (Or Any Other Fruit) Cobbler

Warm fruit, tender crust, cinnamon meltiness...what's not to like about a fruit cobbler?

Our version tonight will feature a bag of peaches I found in the back of the freezer -- just in time, too. The temperature's dropping, and clouds are moving in. 

TIPS:  
     *Use many different kinds of fruit -- fresh, canned or frozen -- for this country dish. If you're planning on frozen, use it partly-thawed, or it will be mushy. Mix and match, if you like.
     *Make up the cobbler dough earlier in the day, and store in the refrigerator until needed.

     



COUNTRY COBBLER
(adapted from an All Recipes version)

For the fruit:
     2 cups fruit, your choice -- peeled and chopped, if needed
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon and/or nutmeg
               (I don't use any spices, except a bare sprinkle of nutmeg, for blueberries, strawberries -- or any other berry)

For the cobbler:
1 cup flour
6 tablespoons butter, crumbled or grated into the flour
1/4 cup each of white and brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
shake of salt
just enough milk (I used an egg) to moisten the mixture, if needed

Sugar/cinnamon topper:
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons white sugar, mixed into the cinnamon

Start your oven to 425 degrees.
     Mix the cobbler dough. (This will be crumbly, more than doughy. No worries.) Mix the fruit, then pile into a greased 8" square baking dish. Dump the cobbler mixture over, spread out, then sprinkle with the sugar/cinnamon, if you like. (It's also good without, if you're planning on serving with whipped cream or ice cream.)
     Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Makes four warm servings -- unless it's really cold out, and you've had a long day. Then it might only be two.


Ummm...