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How to make an apple pie

pie11 Your dear old Aunty realizes that this might sound a bit silly, but there are people in the world who have never made an apple pie and who dearly would like the experience of making one. And at this time of the year (at least in cooler parts of the world), the availability of apples is pretty much at its height. (more…)

Make dessert a dessert: Chocolate Banana Cream Pie

There are times when right down to the tops of your sneakers, what you want is a dessert that has basically no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I don’t know that anyone can be blamed for that. This is something that frankly, if you know in the morning that you are going to have informal guests that night AND you have the ingredients at hand, you’ve got a great dessert. But be warned: it needs at least 3 hours of time in the fridge to set up properly.

Here is what you will need, besides a pie plate and two ripe bananas (but not mushy – you should be able to smell the banana scent but they will not have reached the ‘OMG – these are only good for banana bread’ stage).
Some sort of pie crust – enough for the bottom of a 9-10″ pie pan. It doesn’t matter if it’s a refrigerated one, graham cracker, something you make yourself or whatever. If it needs baking, bake according to a ‘not filled’ pie for that type of crust and let cool completely.

White Layer: Beat together the following
1, 8 ounce package of some sort of cream cheese - this works equally well with regular ‘high test’ cream cheese, the reduced-fat stuff, the non-dairy tofu-based stuff.
1 tsp. of some sort of flavoring (I used almond for this but vanilla or banana will do – you can even go ‘high society’ and use some sort of fruit-based liquor)
1 cup of confectioner’s sugar

Set that aside – you can put that in the fridge and it won’t harden up.

Chocolate Layer: Stir together in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan
2 packages (the small ones) of ‘cook and serve’ pudding mix. I used dark chocolate, but literally any sort of ‘cook and serve’ pudding will work for this.
1 1/2 cups of milk (again, any sort of milk will do – I’ve even done this with almond milk)
Bring this slowly to a boil, over medium heat, stirring constantly. I use a whisk but a big metal spoon will work also. Once this comes to a boil (and it will have thickened up considerably already), keep stirring until it gets very very thick and you can really feel the resistance against the spoon (that should be about 5 min. but no more – you don’t want this to burn on the bottom of the pan). Take off the heat and set this aside to cool off. You want this to be basically room temperature when you pour it into the shell.

Once everything is cooled, take your cream cheese layer and pour that into the bottom of the pie crust. Then slice the bananas and lay them out, as you see here in the photo, starting at the edge and working your way into the center until the entire surface is covered in sliced bananas. If you want, you can sprinkle cinnamon on top of the bananas and this really perks up the flavor tremendously.

Then, take your chocolate layer and pour that on top. You can also add other dainties on top, such as chocolate mini-chips or toasted coconut. The pudding will support them. The pie will look something like this photo. At this point, put the pie into the coldest part of your fridge and leave it for at least three hours before serving.

Prepare for people to get rude and lick the plates.

Additional notes:
Here’s a great GF crust for this: 2 cups of almond flour, 2 Tablespoons of butter or solid coconut oil, 1/4 cup of cocoa, and one egg. This will have the qualities almost like a wet graham cracker crust. Press this into the pie plate and bake at 350 for 12-15 min. and cool.

Please note: You can also make this into a frozen pie. Here is a photograph of what this pie looks like once it’s frozen. As you can see, the texture is completely different, at least in the chocolate layer. The white layer does not freeze hard – so it’s more ice cream in texture while the chocolate part has definite crystals. I think it changes the dessert into something completely different and actually quite delightful – reminds me of ‘fudgesickles’ (if you are old enough to remember those) in a pie crust, actually.

More good for you beans!

Yes, I know it’s summer and the grills are just hopping out there. Who wants to read about more bean dishes, right?

Well, you can’t eat meat all the time. A couple of vegetarian meals a week is not going to hurt anyone and these garbanzo bean burgers (say that three times fast) are tasty, filled with protein and fiber. You can definitely give yourself the old ‘oh, what a good boy am I’ when you eat them. I served these without any sort of bread, but you can treat them like a burger and serve on a whole-grain bun as well, with condiments, cheese, tomato and whatnot.

Here’s a rundown on garbanzo beans for a one-cup serving:
Protein: 14.5 grams
Folate: A serving has 71% of all the folate you need in a day.
Dietary fiber: 12.5 grams – that’s 50% of what you need in terms of dietary fiber in a day.
Vitamins and Minerals – all sorts, but they are the champs in Manganese.
Glycemic Index: 17
For more detail, go here: Nutritional data on Garbanzo Beans

So, how do you make garbanzo bean burgers? Well, the first thing to remember about working with any bean product to make patties is that the beans by themselves are really rather bland. That is actually good because you can, through the use of other veggies like onions and various spices, zip up the taste.

Here is how I made these burgers:
One can of garbanzos, rinsed well and mushed up a bit (don’t mush them completely because then the burgers don’t have any texture to them. Leave some beans whole or just a little bit mushed).
One small onions, finely chopped
1 Tbsp, dried dill weed
2 large eggs
1/8 cup of olive oil
1/2 tsp. of powdered garam marsala
1/8 tsp. of smoked paprika
1 cup of seasoned bread crumbs

Mix all of this together and form patties – it should make four, good-sized patties.

Then, mix together the yoghurt sauce (if you are going on the Mexican side with your spices, perhaps you’d rather use salsa for this):
1 cup of Greek yoghurt
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 tblsp. finely chopped cilantro

Mix all together and put in a bowl in the fridge and ‘marry’ up the flavors.

While you are waiting, you can cook the patties.
Using a non-stick fry pan, put in a tablespoon of olive oil and put it on medium heat until the oil thins out and runs over the bottom of the pan. Carefully put the patties in and cook, on medium heat for 4-5 min. Keep an eye on them to make sure they do not scorch too much.

Flip with a non-stick spatula and cook the other side for 4 min. until all warmed through.

Serve with the yoghurt sauce and a big salad.
FIBER CITY!!!

One a penny, two a penny..hot cross buns

This is the time of the year when you can find all sorts of seasonal/holiday treats in your local grocery store or bakery (if you have one). My seasonal guilty pleasure are hot cross buns. I have not had them in years but my brain certainly remembers the taste and so..I picked up a package along with the rest of the grocerias. When I got home, I settled myself down with a cup of tea and one of these shiny buns with the sugar cross on the top.

Tasted … just…like…paper towels. For a second, I was wondering if it was me, somehow. I have had a nasty cold for a while, so I tried out one of them on the DH. Ditto. So, I checked the ingredients.

No eggs. No milk. No butter. No wonder…. (more…)

Think Irish? Think Lamb!

Yes, yes, I know, St. Patrick’s Day is coming up fast and the usual thing is corned beef and cabbage. But, let me make the case for something else: lamb.

First, let’s look at this historically.
Anyone in Ireland who ate beef was probably a) rich and b) not Irish. Raising beef takes a lot of land. For the amount of land you need to raise a beef cow, you can raise a small herd of sheep. Which is why lamb and mutton has always been far more available and popular in Ireland than beef because even if you were a crofter and had only a small patch of land to work with, you could raise a bunch of sheep and have not only meat but also wool. So, if you want to be ‘Irish-Irish’, eating lamb is just more Irish than eating beef of any sort to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Second, let’s look at this nutritionally.
Courtesy of our friends at nutrtional data, for a 3-ounce portion (and I think we can all accept that no one actually eats JUST a 3-ounce portion, but at least we are comparing ounce for ounce here.
Cooked Corned Beef…………………………….Roast Leg of Lamb
Calories: 210……………………………….220
Fat: 15 grams……………………………….15 grams
Protein: 15 grams……………………………..22 grams
Sodium: 960 mg……………………………….55 mg.

These last two are the bell-ringers here. Lamb, ounce for ounce, has more protein than beef does, though it does have the same amount of fat, so in terms of ‘protein bang for the buck’, lamb wins here. Secondly, and I think from a health perspective, even MORE importantly, corned beef is a just a huge sodium hit and I realize for a lot of people, that is the entire point of eating meats like corned beef and pastrami: they love the salt. Well, the salt does NOT love us or our hearts or blood pressure. That 3 ounces of corned beef (and again, who eats just a 3-ounce portion – that’s the size of a pack of cards) is way too much and let’s not even discuss anything else that will be eaten with the meal, like potatoes (going to salt those, too, right?). So, roast lamb wins out here too. Just 55 mg. of sodium. That’s one of those ‘pat myself on the back’ meals right there.

So. For those folks out there who have ‘Fear of Lamb’, here is Aunt Toby’s handy dandy so-simple it hurts roast leg of lamb.
You’ll need:
Meat thermometer or probe
Boneless leg of lamb roast – 3-5 pounds, fresh or defrosted, at room temperature
5 cloves of garlic, chopped fine.
Several sprigs of fresh rosemary with the leaves removed; save one for the top of the roast.
Small baking pan
One medium sized onion, sliced up

This is going to take a couple of hours, so don’t plan for this being something you can throw into the oven when you get home from work on Monday night, ok?

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Take your lamb roast. It is probably either trussed up with string or it’s in one of those elastic nets. Take off the net.
Flip it open or unroll it depending on how the butcher did the deed. Take all the garlic and spread it onto the cut surface of the meat. Then sprinkle all the rosemary leaves on top. You should have the same amount of coverage as you see in the photograph here. Then take your black pepper grinder and grind a couple of good strong grinds of pepper on the surface. Then re-roll the roast or flip back the outside on top.

Now, how are you going to make this thing hold together while it’s roasting. If it was trussed with string, use the string you took off to unroll it and wind it around again after you’ve rerolled it. If your meat came with one of those elastic nets on it, here is the way you get it back on again without the whole thing flipping out and ending in a wreck on the kitchen floor.

Put the net over the ends of your hands, as in the photograph and put your hands over the closed end of the roast. Move your hands forward until you have the netting about half-way up the roast. Then take your hands out of the net. Use your fingers to pull the ends of the net over the front and back ends of the roast. Voila!

Take your baking pan and put your sliced onions into the bottom in the center. Put the roast on top of that; this will prevent the roast from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Put the pan into the 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes. At the end of 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 170 degrees F or the lowest setting your oven has. Yes, I know this is sort of scary — but lamb does not take well to high heat. If you have horrific smell memories of Sunday lamb roasts, this is the reason why – the fat was burning in the high heat. Lamb does super well in ‘low and slow’ cooking. Leave your lamb at this low temperature for an hour and stick in the probe or meat thermometer to test the center for temperature. You are looking for 160 degrees F at the center. If it has already gotten to 140+ but you are looking to speed this up, you can raise the oven to 250 degrees F and the roast will not suffer – the outside will get a bit crunchy-er which some people like.

Once you have reached 160 degrees F at the center of the roast, take the pan out, wrap the meat in the foil tent and prepare the other side dishes (I am pushing Brussels Sprouts this week, but to each his own), and serve.

NO MINT JELLY.

Bon appetit!!

Pip, Pip … and all those sorts of disasters

Never, ever let it be said that your dear old Aunty cannot snatch disaster from the jaws of victory. Given enough distractions, 50-odd years of cooking muscle memory can go flying right out the window, taking the recipe with it, straight down into the toilet.

Exhibit A: This morning, before the DH and I left to go to a sort-or local museum (any museum that does not require suiting up for a 4 hour drive qualifies as ‘sort of local’ in my book) for a workshop, I wanted to make cookies. Not just any cookie, mind you, but the sort of cookie that I was able to find in literally every coffee shop, tea counter, railroad commissary, and museum cafe when we were in London, UK. Which was recently (did I forget to tell you that? Well, we WERE). These cookies are basically referred to as ‘chocolate caramel shortbreads’ and range from the blatantly ‘the only connection in these biscuits with real ingredients is in your head’ commercial sort, shrink-wrapped in cellophane, to something which might elicit noises found in that deli scene from “When Harry Met Sally.” So, once we returned, I was determined to recreate them simply so I could get my fix have the memory available.

And luckily, through the agency of Millionaire Shortbread Bars, I thought I’d happened on the recipe version of the ‘slam dunk.’

No such luck. Distracted by the time, a nasty cough, thoughts about the workshop, and snow outside the window, I completely lost it. The recipe for the shortbread part of this affair calls for 3/4 of a cup of butter. No great shakes, I thought at the time, that’s three sticks.

Woops. No wonder once I took the 9×9″ pan out of the oven, that it did not look like shortbread; it looked like shortbread soup. That’s when it hit me: 3/4 of a cup of butter is 1.5 sticks; not 3 – big trouble. But I was not in a mood to throw that in the trash and start again (I didn’t have time, either); I scooped it into a heat-proof bowl, added more sugar and almond flour (frankly, that is what I had at my hand; I could just as easily have used regular all-purpose flour, which is what I used the first time, so this shortbread is half flour/half almond flour). I mixed that up, said a little prayer to the kitchen gods and goddesses and pressed it into a 9×13″ pan and put it back into the 350 degree F. oven for another 20 minutes.

And…it came out like a champ. I thought I was home free.

Not so fast. The caramel layer calls for taking a can of sweetened condensed milk and heating it for 60-90 min. OR, if using the microwave, doing various calisthenics with the zapper.

In a large heat-proof bowl.

Not a large Pyrex(tm) measuring cup. Well, I thought it was large enough until some rather disturbing noises started coming from the microwave — it was boiling over. So, I hauled it out, transferred it to the biggest heat-proof bowl I’ve got and cleaned the rest of what had boiled over onto the glass microwave tray into the bowl too. No, we are NOT going to discuss the fact that someone had been heating up spaghetti sauce and had not cleaned up the tray afterward. I was a desperate woman and what’s a little tomato and basil in the cookies between friends, right? So, I went back to microwaving it, lowering the power and stopping it, stirring it and so on until it turned brown.

With the texture of tile cement, I might add. Tasted fantastic – but spreadable? Nyet. Addition of a little milk, dribs and drabs as we go to restore a bit of “liquification.” Plopped that into the pan of now-cooled shortbread and (not in the recipe, but I figure chopped walnuts cannot ruin anything) added a double handful of walnuts, chopped up pretty well. And it looked like this: Pretty darned good.

Again, I deluded myself into thinking I was ’rounding third’; all I had to do was make the chocolate layer, which called for a teeny bit of butter and chocolate chips. More cement. I added more butter – it looked better but still had all the appeal of chocolate cement. Out came the milk again. This was NOT the nice shiny layer that I was looking for. And time was getting short. So, frankly, I plopped the entire deal on top of the walnuts, pushed it around to cover with a wet rubber spatula and as the DH was honking the horn on the car outside, slid the pan into the fridge to wait for out return.

Final result? What you see in the top photo. The texture of the top layer is just like the ones in London – a bit resistant at first and then you hit the nuts and caramel. The shortbread is mmmmmm. From an appearance standpoint, I need to work on that chocolate layer to get it smooth and shiny (confections are NOT my strong suit – anyone have any ideas?), but other than that, I can recommend these heartily.

Pour a cuppa!!

Last-minute dinner

Sometimes, everything in the day just conspires to prevent you from being super organized and you come home at 5 p.m. to nothing taken out for dinner. This is one of those lessons in having things on the shelf. Not that I would promote this on an ongoing basis, but sometimes, you want something fast and good. This is as fast and good as I’ve got:

Cannellini and Pasta

What you will need from off the shelf:
Pasta such as penne
1 can of cannellini beans
2 cans of diced tomatoes (or home canned, if you’ve got them)
1 big onion, diced
1 can of mushrooms (or fresh, sliced up, if you’ve got them)
Optional: a can of artichoke hearts, rinsed and soaked in cold water, squeezed out and cut in half.

Cook your pasta according to directions, to al dente.
In a large pan (frying or dutch oven), sautee the onion and muchrooms, add the cannellini beans and diced tomatoes and cook up.
Add the pasta and warm through, and add the artichokes and warm through.

Now, if you are scrounging around in the fridge and have something like escarole, chard, or spinach, you can chop that up and throw that into the pan toward the end to cook through and that is a very nice addition. OR, you can serve this with salad.

Very quick, tasty, and vegetarian.
Bon Appetit!

Live blogging a snowstorm

With the best will in the world, there is not much Aunt Toby can do this morning about the weather in the eastern US. I’m frankly hunkered down in a motel room near an airport, lighting candles and hoping for a break in the weather in time for the DH and I to take a plane to London to make the acquaintance of the newest member of the fam. It is uniformly horrific everywhere and I have every belief that our flight will get cancelled again.

Such is the way with climate change and travel.

So, since I have absolutely no tools at my disposal (no can opener, no shovel, no gas grill, nuthin’) to do anything for readers today, I do have access (obviously) to the archives of KCE and I’ve pulled out a couple of hopefully useful and perhaps even a bit entertaining posts which might help someone out there over the next couple of days.

Take care of yourselves out there.
Cooking on an outdoor grill: cooking on the grill in the snow

General Prep and Operations: What to do

Oh yeah – dress warm, ok?

Everything you NEVER wanted to know about ‘magic cookie bars’

When I started thinking about this post, all I figured on discussing was the fact that the socalled ‘magic cookie bar’, which is almost a staple at school and church bake sales and Christmas cookie swaps, is actually an item which is not set in stone because the thing that makes the bar cookie ‘magic’ is the final addition of a product known as ‘sweetened condensed milk.” Once I started looking around for different versions, it was startling to me how much creativity has been thrown at this item, which frankly, I did not discover until well into adulthood. We certainly did not have them when I was a child – the addition of chocolate chips to oatmeal cookies was about as thrilling as it got at our house. (more…)

Bits and Pieces

Sigh.
It’s been one of those weeks (and weekends), my little wombats. So you get odds and ends, bits and pieces, random thoughts, and whatever I’ve cleaned out of the fridge. Lucky you.

If you are from the Southern Hemisphere, them please forgive the following statement which is on the one hand, one of those obvious items but for you folks, it’s rather cruel since you are basically burning up and have dead bats falling out of the skies and kangaroos dropping from heat prostration. My condolences.

But for those in North America, I can safely say, without fear of contradiction, that it has been cold. Brass monkey cold. And here at Chez Siberia, it has been ten days of energy discoveries the likes of which I am sorry to say, have taken us by surprise. The house was not only cold, it was ‘crouching over the oil heater and choosing which side to cook first’ sort of cold.

For those of you who have followed us since we got started here, you’re probably asking yourselves, “Wait a moment there, Aunty — you folks gutted the house and put in massive amounts of insulation in the walls and replaced all the windows and doors and shouted “Halleluiah”. How could you be cold?

This, my little cupcakes, is a reasonable question. And rather timely and a reminder to us all. You will see up at the top a not very artistic picture of one of the ducts which goes from our old fuel oil furnace in the basement to some particular part of the house (probably the livingroom but that is not important here). As you can also see, it is NOT insulated (you can get special batts to wrap ductwork so that you are not spewing (my word for the day) heat into places where you are not. We’d always planned to do this (cue violins) but never got around to doing it in the front basement (versus the back basement which could be rented out as a meat locker even under the best of circumstances, and which we did insulate – not only the ductwork but also underneath the floor joists under the dining area (known in the house as ‘Fairbanks, South’).

Now, here is another, also unartistic shot. which, other than the foam insulation around one of the copper waterlines, shows the underneath of the subfloor for our first floor.

Also, uninsulated and also something we had always planned to insulate.

Now, when we first got all the work done on the house, it made a HUGE difference in warmth and comfort upstairs. It really did. Why is it that now, the first floor feels like a garret? Besides the horrific cold weather we had?

One thing changed, and it was one thing that we did not take into account when we did it.

We stopped using the furnace in the basement (ahhhhhhh). We installed a wood pellet burner in the fireplace in the livingroom. We love it and it puts out tremendous amounts of heat (it also dries out the air in the house like fury so we have to run a humidifier as well but that’s another deal entirely). But, it’s obvious that what happened was that when we ran the furnace in the basement, that was heating the basement and that was heating up the subfloor and regular floor on the first floor, making the first floor much more comfortable. I never thought about that issue.

So now, with no furnace going in the basement, it’s extremely cold down there (I measured it this morning and it’s 45 degrees F. What it was during the “Polar Vortex” when the wind chill factors here were minus 35 degrees F, I don’t know and don’t want to know), so the subfloors are cold, which makes the floors upstairs cold, which makes the house chilly and uncomfortable.

Lesson learned. Next big project: Insulate the subfloors in the basement. Since we have a certain amount of humidity issues down there, we will be using foam insulation and for the moment adding wool sweaters for everyone.

Odd bit number two (and a more pleasant one): Another bit of comfort food. Here’s a dessert I have not made in a very long time but which is just lovely. It can be eaten as/is or dressed up with a bit of whipped cream, vanilla ice cream. It has the added benefit that if you are cooking with little ones, they are amazed that you just dump everything in the baking dish, throw it into the oven and voila.

Denver Chocolate Pudding

You’ll need: Some sort of 2 quart, deep baking dish. I use a Corningware(tm) casserole.

Ingredients:
Sift together:
3/4 c. white sugar
1 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3 T. baking cocoa

Melt: 2 T. butter and throw that into the sifted ingredients along with 1/2 c. of milk and 1 tsp. of vanilla and mix up with a fork.

Spoon into a greased baking dish. Then throw on top:
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
4 T. baking cocoa
1.5 c. cold water (or, if you want to live on the wild side and have it around ‘at hand’ (as my Mum used to say), use cold coffee instead)

Bake, uncovered in a 350 degree F. oven for 40-50 min. The signal that it is done (you don’t want to overdo this) is in the picture above – you will start to see the chocolate sauce stuff coming through the crusty top of the cake.

Serve by spooning up the cake at the top and cover with the chocolate sauce that will be underneath.

Enjoy.

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