Friday, April 29, 2011

Julie & Julia and Rebecca & Ruth

I loved the book/movie "Julie & Julia."  If you haven't seen the movie, it's about a blogger who decided to make one of chef Julia Child's recipes each day for a whole year.  Basically, she cooked her way through the entire cookbook and then blogged about it.  I thought that was a really neat premise, and I do own Julia Child's first cookbook, but I don't like a lot of the recipes in the cookbook.  We don't eat fish and some of the stuff was realllllly weird.  Plus, obviously, it's already been done.  But, it still lurks there in the back of my mind sometimes and today, it just decided to pop out.  You see, I come from a great family of cooks--my Grandma Sammon, both of my grandparents McGann, and my dad.  But, when I married Hubs, I "inherited" some more great cooks--both of my mother-in-laws and Todd's grandmother, Ruth. 

When we first got married, I wanted to make sure that I could cook Toddy some of his favorites.  So, I pumped all three ladies for information and got some great recipes, most of which we still use today.  I loved how Todd's Grandma loved collecting, exchanging and trying new recipes.  She always had something different and unique to try.  I really admired that about her.  Like I've said before, everyone in the family knows how much I love to cook, so it was a real honor for me to receive Ruth's recipe boxes and some of her cookbooks when she passed away.  One of the three boxes (the biggest) belonged to Ruth, one was from Ruth's mother, and the third was from Ruth's grandmother.

I admit that I kind of neglected the recipe boxes in favor of the cookbooks (I admit it, I am a recipe snob--I usually only like recipes with a photo!) for awhile, but I rediscovered during the kitchen renovation and really started thumbing through them.  It was an eye-opening revelation for sure.  Half of the recipes I had never heard of and the other half seemed to be given to her by other people.  I realized that the entire set of boxes was like a time capsule of recipes spanning from the late 1800s to the late 1980s-early '90s.  Some of them are really simple, some are slightly complicated, and some sound reallly calorific. 

Once again, I started thinking about "Julie & Julia," and thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be fun to cook all of the recipes in these boxes?"  So, that's what I'm going to do!  Of course, I would not even dare to try to cook a recipe a day like the blogger did in the movie (procrastinator alert!) but I do think it would be neat to do a couple a week/month and then share the results of these forgotten family favorites.  (Note to self:  good title, don't forget it!)

So, look for some unique recipes to come on here soon.  It will be an interesting journey.  By, the way, check out the size of this recipe box (Ruth's):

Each recipe card is either typed on a typewriter, or written out long-hand.  A lot of work!

As you can see, this might take me awhile!!!  Plus, there are still two other "normal" sized recipe boxes from Ruth's mother and grandmother.

Here's the first recipe we are going to try tonight:

Rhubarb Pudding Cake

4 C. diced rhubarb
1 C. sugar
3/4 C. water
1/4 C. shortening
1/2 C. sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 C. sifted flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 C. milk

Cook rhubarb, sugar & water until tender.  Keep hot!  Cream shortening & sugar; beat in egg and vanilla.  Sift dry ingredients together, add alternatively with milk into creamed mixture.  Pour batter into greased 9" square baking pan.  Spoon hot rhubarb sauce over batter.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.  Serve warm with whipped cream.  A hand-written note says, "Great cold also!"  9 servings.

Now, here's a little anecdote about me & rhubarb.  If you're from New England like me, you are most likely familiar with rhubarb.  It grows well there and people can't get enough of the stuff.  People covet their rhubarb plants and very reluctantly share the plants' location.  When I lived in Nebraska, they referred to it as "Pie Plant."  Whatever.  I can't stand the stuff, and along with strawberries, I'm also allergic to it.  (Rash kind, not deathly, can't breathe, where's the EPI pen kind).

So, what do you think is my Hubs favorite dessert?  Of course--strawberry rhubarb pie.  Me, being the kind Homesteader's Wife that I am, gallantly donned rubber gloves (2 sets) and bravely picked 20 lbs. of strawberries last May and made 20 pint jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam.  Funny thing is, that was the first time I've ever made something but never tasted it.  Hubs & son must like it as they've been eating it all year.  (I only have a few jars left!)  I also occasionally make Toddy a strawberry-rhubarb pie, using his grandmother Ruth's recipe.  

When we visit Vermont, we usually have strawberry-rhubarb pie when we are at Todd's dad's house.  Shirley always makes one for Todd because she knows it's his favorite.  Last summer, she even taught him how to make one himself and he even learned how to weave a pie crust for the top.  Inevitably, while eating strawberry rhubarb pie, the Vermonters usually turn to a discussion of rhubarb and their favorite rhubarb recipes.  My brother-in-law Doug recalled eating a rhubarb cake that Todd's Grandma had made but nobody could seem to find the recipe.  I'm wondering if this is the recipe that is the Holy Grail of Rhubarb so that's why I'm going to try it out.  I'll let you know what Toddy says about it...I sure won't be eating any of it!

Til next time,

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Accidental Delight

Everyone who knows me knows how much I love to cook.  I love trying out new recipes or putting a twist on old ones.  Well, last night, I accidentally created a delicious soup.  I've got a ton of canned beans at my house due to an awesome sale at the Commissary last month.  Basically, with the coupons they were giving out, I ended up getting each can of beans for only 30 cents a piece.  I, of course, bought 20 cans one day, then 20 the next, then...well, you can see where this is going.  So, being as it's close to pay day, I was running out of fresh veggies and decided to make a soup instead. 

I had some stew beef on hand and thought I'd try making a cassoullet/pasta e fagioli type of soup.  I started with my typical base for my soups:  onion, carrots, celery and garlic.  After I diced them all up, I sauteed them in olive oil.  Then, I added the beef and browned it.  I added a can of red kidney beans (undrained) and white cannellini beans (also undrained) and a can of diced tomates (undrained).  I decided to use a packet of Lipton onion soup to serve as a type of "soup starter" and so I poured that into the pan.  To my surprise, it wasn't onion soup at all but rather a packet of Lipton VEGETABLE soup mix instead.  I totally forgot that my niece reorganized my pantry for me (she likes to do that!) and had taken the packets out of their boxes and put them in my plastic organizer I use for sauces and gravy.  In my haste, I just saw "Lipton" and grabbed it without reading the label. 

I was really disappointed as I'd been eager to try the onion soup but me being me, I moved on.  I added some cracked rosemary, some salt and pepper and let the pot simmer for about 2 hours.  The result:  delicious accidental delight!  Everyone in the family loved it and it was so good, I took again for lunch today and it tasted even better.  I think this would be just as good if you used ground chuck, pork, kielbasa or italian sausages.  Probably more of a fall/winter dish, but it worked out great for using up the last of my veggies before they went bad.  Here's the recipe:

1 lb. stew beef (or sausages, pork, ground chuck, etc.)
3 medium sized carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced (only because I have a picky husband who doesn't like celery)
1 medium onion, finely diced (only because I have a picky son who hates onions)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can dark red kidney beans (don't drain)
1 can white cannellini beans (don't drain)
1 can diced tomatoes (don't drain)
1 packet Lipton vegetable soup mix
1 tsp. cracked rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's All About the Bees...

A few folks have asked some questions about our bees so I thought I'd take a moment to pass on some "edu-macation" as my grandfather used to say.  Our bees are quintesential beekeeper's bee--basically the bee species that most beekeepers, er, keep.  Italian bees are generally yellow with brown or black stripes. Drones and queens have large, golden abdomens.  The picture below shows an example of what our bees look like.  Cute, huh? :)

I copied this from an online beekeeping page:
The 3 Kinds of Bees in the Hive
  1. Queen - her primary duty is to lay eggs, up to 1500 a day (possibly more). She also secretes pheremones that keep the workers happy. Queen bees can live for 3-7 years.
  2. Drone - the drones only duty is to fly out and find a virgin queen from another hive to mate with. Once mated, the drone dies.
  3. Workers - as the name implies, the workers do all of the work. They are non-fertile female bees and they have a very structured life from the moment they emerge from their cocoons. Throughout their life they will be nursery bees, construction bees, storage bees, guard bees and foraging bees. They live, on average, only 20-30 days from the time they emerge from cocoon.
Italian bees (Apis mellifera ligustica)

Italian bees are by far the most common bee raised in the world. Having evolved on the moderate to semitropical Italian peninsula, Italian bees adapted to long summers and relatively mild winters. They begin their season’s brood rearing in late winter and continue producing brood until the beginning of winter or later.
Italian bees never really stop producing young, but they do slow during the shortest days of the year.

Beekeepers living in southern climates are faced with few management problems. There are nectar and pollen plants available during almost all of the bee’s active months. But Italian honey bees kept in moderate and cool regions are challenged by a shorter growing season to make and store enough food to last through the long winters.

Package producers prefer Italian honeybees because they can star the rearing process early and raise lots of bees to sell. Beekeepers who pollinate crops for a living also like this trait because they can produce populous colonies in time to pollinate early season crops. And Italian honeybees produce and store lots of honey when there is ample forage and good flying weather.

Italian honeybees are also attractive to beekeepers because they are not markedly protective of their hive. Italians are quiet on the comb when you remove and examine frames, they do not swarm excessively, and they do not produce great amounts of propolis. Italians are yellow and dark brown or black in color and have distinct yellow and dark brown or black stripes on their abdomens. The drones are mostly gold, with large golden abdomens that lack stripes. The queens are easily identified because they have a very large, orange - gold abdomen that is strikingly different from all the other bees in the colony.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Here's a link to our YouTube channel for videos of our bees

Current State of the Homestead

Well, time for an update on the state of the ol' homestead.  The bees arrived last Saturday (a week ago) and Toddy successfully installed them in their new home.  The kids were on hand to help and luckily, the only one who got stung was Todd.  The whole process took about 20 minutes and due to the frigid, rainy weather, the bees were so cold that they simply didn't have the energy to be agressive about someone manhandling them! 

We took advantage of another rainy day, this past Saturday to open the hive and check on the bees and the queen.  Todd had been putting sugar water (1 part sugar to 1 part water) in the feeder of the hive all week and so he wanted to make sure they had enough food.  The feeder is essentially a wooden tray with one end screened off to keep the bees from crawling into the sugar water and drowning.  They can suck the sugar water through the screen. 

Due to the cold weather, the bees were all in the hive and were pretty placid about our disturbing them.  Todd was able to gently scrape them off of the plastic frames to see what their progress was on building up the hive.  Basically, a frame is a flat plastic rectangle that the bees use as a foundation to build their honeycomb on. To our delighted surprise, we found that yes, the bees are actually building honeycomb and you can see a little bit of honey in some of the honeycomb cells!  Todd wasn't able to locate the queen but we didn't want to rile up the bees too much by pulling out each frame to check.  He's pretty confident that the queen is alive in there as the bees are working to build their home and not trying to make a new queen.  We will probably check again on the weekend. 

I love watching the hive on a sunny day.  Yesterday was absolutely gorgeous at 80 degrees.  I walked down and sat on a log that is about 2 feet from the hive.  It is fascinating to watch the bees fly in and out of the hive--it reminds me of watching takeoffs & landings at a busy airport!  What's interesting is that they don't simply fly in and out of the hive, but rather they land on the platform where the "door" is and walk around for a few moments before walking into the hive.  It's almost like there's an occupancy limit in there or something as usually the same amount bees come out as the same amount of bees going into the hive.  On top of that, I love listening to all the buzzing going on in there.  It really does "hum" on a hot day.

On a side note, a bee happened to fly into our son's room.  His friend who was visiting suggested using a flyswatter to get rid of the bee.  Our son cried out, "No, stop!  That could be one of my Dad's bees so I don't want to hurt it."  He then proceeded to gently coax the bee out the window with a piece of paper.  Gotta start 'em young!

Our froggies are going to be parents soon!  We have two species of frogs in our little pond--peepers and leopard frogs.  We're not sure which ones laid the ropes of tadpole eggs but I guess we'll find out eventually.  It is very nice listening to them through our bedroom window at night.  My sister, however, disagrees with me on this point.  To me, it reminds me of listening to the frogs who resided in the stone walls of my grandparents' swimming pool in New England. 

Our garden is finally starting to come together.  I planted all my lettuces and onions in two raised beds and I'm now in the process of hunting down the type of staples that go in my Japanese staple gun so I can tack down the netting I put over my two raised beds to keep it from becoming a kitty potty spot.  The netting has so far discouraged them from getting into the boxes but I want to make it a permanent solution.  I believe in organic gardening but not THAT organic, if you know what I mean...

Todd was able to double our rows over the past week so we now have double the planting space.  So far, we've planted potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peas, carrots, spinach, three types of lettuce, arugala, collards, cabbages, okra, peppers, watercress, and of course, rice.  Toddy has visions of turning the swampy part of our yard into a rice paddy.  We'll see...

Hubs also got proactive about trying to screen our backyard further from the neighbors who live across the brook behind the house.  They are not close enough to hear them but their house/deck is visible from our house/deck.  He dug up some bamboo from the Christmas tree farm where he deer hunts and transplanted it down by the brook.  His hope is that it grows/spreads enough to eventually screen their house from us.

I finally finished putting the final touches on my front yard herb garden and should have seedlings popping up any day.  I've always wanted to have a "cutting" garden right outside my door and now I have one.  If everything goes well, I'll be able to go out there with a pair of scissors and harvest the herbs I need for a recipe.

Inside the house, the kitchen cabinets are in and level and have almost all of their handles put on.  We had another case of sticker shock last week when we got a call from Lowe's (they are doing the countertops) saying that they had miscalculated some measurements and it would be an additional $94 to complete the job.  I paid it of course, but I was really irritated about having to do so as the same thing happened with the floors.  The flooring job was originally estimated to be $1,040 but when the installers came out, they found that the sub flooring wasn't level so they had to level it before installing the new floor.  That made it go up to $1,340.  Since our pay came in weird due to the whole government shutdown mess, I didn't have the entire amount on hand so we've had to put it off for a little bit.  Gotta love Uncle Sam~

I'm in the process of trying to put the dining room and the office back together after the Great Kitchen Cabinet Installation.  It's amazing how much crap I had in that tiny little kitchen.  I'm being very careful about what I'm allowing to go back in there, so there's a lot of stuff that I need to find a home for elsewhere.  But, at least we don't look like an episode of "Hoarders" anymore.  The countertops and new sink should be finished and installed sometime in the next two weeks.  Because it's a Corian-type of material, the sink is molded directly to the countertop so it takes a while to make it.  I can't wait until it's in and I can make a sandwich without having to balance a cutting board on top of the contents of my silverware drawer...

And finally, we had a wonderful time attending the wedding of Todd's bro Shand and his new wife, Lexi.  The ceremony was held at the historic Vandiver Inn in Havre de Grace and the setting was absolutely gorgeous.  Both the bride and groom looked dazzling in their wedding attire and the whole family seemed to be wearing various shades of purple and green to match the beautiful bridal flowers.  Toddy somehow didn't get the memo and was wearing a burgundy tie, but it was all good.  Todd's folks, Mom & Bill, were there, as well as Todd's sis Krista and her boyfriend John, who came all the way from Seattle.  It was an intimate affair, enjoyed by all and will provide lovely memories for years to come.

Friday, April 15, 2011

WWII Recipes & Tips

While I was looking through my recipes for my favorite bread recipes, I stumbled upon these while looking through Todd's grandmother Ruth's recipe box.  Since I'm on a tight budget myself, I thought some of these "Wartime Recipes" could be useful.  They are all from Woman's Day magazine articles from 1944.

Wartime French Dressing
Costs 16 cents, makes 1 pint

2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. mustard
1/4 tsp. pepper
dash of cayenne (guess you could substitute with a dash of tabasco sauce)
1 C. vinegar
1 C. vegetable oil

Put in a quart jar, pour in seasonings first, then vinegar, then oil.  Put lid on jar and shake vigorously before putting on salad.

Cooked Salad Dressing (eggless)
Costs 5 cents, about 1 C.

1 TBSP. margarine (I would use butter)
2 TBSP. flour
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. paprika
dash of cayenne
2 TBSP. vinegar
1/2 C. water
1/2 C. milk
Melt margarine in a double boiler.  Stir in flour, seasonings and vinegar.  Add water slowly, stirring constantly.  Cook until mixture thickens; add milk and cook only long enough to heat mixture through, chill before serving.

Creamy dressing
Costs 12 cents, makes 1 1/4 cups

3/4 C. mayonnaise
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. grated onion
dash of cayenne
1/2 C. milk

Combine all ingredients except milk.  Add milk slowly, mixing well.  Add to shredded vegetables (I'm assuming cabbage or something like that).

Hot Eggless Bacon Dressing
costs 4 cents, makes 1 1/3 cups

3 TBSP. bacon fat
2 TBSP. flour
1 TBSP. minced onion
1 C. water
2 TBSP. vinegar
3/4 tsp. dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 pepper

Melt fat in skillet.  Stir in flour.  Add onion and cook slowly 1 minute.  Add remaining ingredients.  Cook until thick, stirring constantly.  Pour immediately over fresh spinach, toss and serve.

Vinegar Dressing
costs 5 cents, makes 1 cup

1 C. vinegar
1 TBSP. sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Put ingredients in a jar and store in ice box.  Make at least 2 hours before using for first time.  Add to lettuce salad just before serving.

Economy Mayonnaise
Costs 16 cents, makes 1 3/4 cups

1/4 C. cornstarch
1 C. water
1 unbeaten egg
1 1/2 tsp. mustard
2 tsp. salt
dash of cayenne
1/4 C. vinegar
3/4 C. vegetable oil

Combine cornstarch and water and cook until very thick, stirring frequently.  Put remaining ingredients in deep mixing bowl, add the hot paste and beat hard with mixer until the dressing is very smooth.

Bread Recipes that I Love Baking

One of my friends recently asked me for one of my bread recipes.  I promised to email it to her but things being as busy as they are, I forgot all about getting back to her.  So, I'm posting it now along with a few other recipes that I love.  Some are from family, some from friends and others from cookbooks that turned out really well.  Enjoy!

Garlic & Rosemary Country Bread
Makes 1 large loaf

6 C. unbleached flour
2 TBSP. butter, softened
2 tsp. salt
1/4 of a yeast package
1 3/4 cups (450 ml) lukewarm water
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. cracked rosemary
olive oil for greasing the pan in the bread machine

Put the ingredients into your bread machine in the following order:  water, butter, garlic, flour, salt, rosemary then yeast on top.  Set your machine for white bread, medium crust.  Great with Italian meals!

Whole Grain Wheat Bread
1/3 C. plus 1 TBSP brown sugar, divided
2 C. warm water
2 pkgs. yeast
5 to 6 whole wheat flour
3/4 C. powdered milk
2 tsp. salt
1/3 C. vegetable oil

I use my KitchenAid mixer for this one.  Dissolve 1 TBSP. brown sugar and yeast in warm water in a small bowl and let it stand.  Put 4 C. flour, powdered milk, 1/3 C. brown sugar, and salt in mixer bowl.  Attach bowl and dough hook to mixer.  Turn to speed 2 and mix about 15 seconds.  Continuing on speed 2, gradually add yeast/sugar/water mixture and oil to flour mixture and mix about 1 1/2 minutes longer.  Stop and scrape bowl.

Continuing on speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 C. at a time, and mix until dough clings to hook and cleans sides of bowl, about 2 minutes.  Knead on speed 2 about 2 minutes longer.

Place dough in greased bowl, turning to grease top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place (I use my oven) about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Punch dough down and divide it in half, shape each loaf into a loaf pan or onto a cookie sheet.  I put cornmeal down before putting the dough down on a cookie sheet but it's not necessary.  Cover and let rise about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake 30 minutes longer.  Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks. 

This one came from my grandmother-in-law Ruth's recipe box which I received after she passed away.  It's a little lighter than pumpernickel and a little darker than rye.  Great for making a pastrami sandwich!

Black Bread
1 C. rye flour
2 TBSP. vinegar
2 TBSP. dark molasses
1/2 square unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 TBSP. butter
3/4 C. water
1 pkg. yeast
2 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 C. bran cereal
2 tsp. caraway seeds
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. instant coffee
1/2 tsp. onion powder

I do this one in the bread machine, too.  You just put all the liquids in first, then add the dry ingredients, then the yeast last.  I like to mix it on the dough cycle, then I take it out, shape into loaves and let rise in my oven for about an hour.  Then bake it at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.  You could also make this conventionally but you'd have to dissolve the yeast in the warm water and then melt the chocolate in the molasses.  Mix the dry ingredients together then mix in the 2 liquids slowly, using a KitchenAid mixer or hand mixer.  Then you'd have to let it rise for an hour, then shape into loaves and let rise again.

Boston Brown Bread
Being from Massachusetts, we often had cans of B&M brown bread with our beanie weenies.  I loved how moist and sweet the bread was.  When we moved overseas to Puerto Rico, I wasn't able to buy my bread in a can at the commissary so I had to improvise.  After a few "oopsies," I managed to perfect a recipe that tastes almost like B&M bread.  It's also a fun recipe for kids to help out with--Jeremy loved the idea of "cooking" bread on the stove.

2 C. butter milk (If you can't find buttermilk, you can sour the milk by adding 2 TBSP. plain vinegar to it and letting it curdle for a few minutes).
3/4 C. dark molasses
1 C. whole wheat flour
1 C. rye flour
1 C. cornmeal
1 TBSP. brown sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix buttermilk and molasses in a large bowl.  In another bowl, combine whole wheat flour, rye flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Blend into liquid mixture, a little at a time until well blended (I do mine in the KitchenAid).  Pour batter into two well-greased coffee cans (the smaller ones, about 5"x 3") and cover the cans tightly with tinfoil.  Place on a rack or trivet and place in a large pan or dutch oven.  Pour boiling water to a depth of 1" in the bottom of the pan or dutch oven.  Place lid on pan or dutch oven and simmer on low heat for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, adding more boiling water if needed.  Let cool in cans for about 15 minutes, then run a butter knife around the edge of each can and turn over to get bread out.  You may need to tap the bottom of the can to get the loaves out.  We serve it in round slices about 1/2 inch thick with hot dogs & beans (aka beanie weenies).  We use B&M brand baked beans.  I get two cans (about 14 oz) and put them in a baking dish.  I add 1 tsp. ketchup, 1 tsp. dijon mustard, and 2 TBSP. molasses.  Stir together in the beans and then level the beans to make a flat surface.  Gently place 1 package of hot dogs (we prefer the Ball Park beef hot dogs :) on top of the beans.  Then I take the ketchup bottle and squiggle lines of ketchup on each hot dog.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.