Catching Up With Spring
How time flies! March arrives, I give my clock a gentle push forward to meet the demands of DST, and the hours break into a run over the peaks and valleys of that unpredictable course called springtime. Ever challenged in the realm of keeping time, I have found myself falling behind and slightly out of sync ever since.
Still, we have weathered a few more transitions at my house in recent weeks. My daughter has moved back to college for another quick quarter and my youngest son is meeting the demands of his spring sports schedule and telling me he is too busy for anything I have in mind for him. Cold winter days spent in the kitchen baking and sipping Hot Chocolate are quickly fading into memories flowing downstream in the river of time. Stepping back from the swift current I think how it seems like just last week my children were small and eager to spend another afternoon in the kitchen with me, baking cookies.
Though I lack company in the kitchen lately there is still a call for cookies if I’ll bake them. I still enjoy the process though the fussy demands of rolling out our favorite Sugar Cookie dough often gives way to the simplicity of dropping easy-to-make Meringue Cookies onto a single baking sheet to pop in the oven and our well-loved recipe for Snickerdoodles, has been replaced by a softer version that is baked in one 9 x 13 pan before being cut into squares.
Another long time family favorite is this recipe for a variation on Chocolate Chip Cookies. Do you remember these? This recipe circulated way back in the 1980’s. I have several different versions. One says it is the secret recipe for Mrs. Field's cookies. Another says it is a recipe they were charged $250 for in the Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus. Both stories are untrue. Still it is a good cookie and the perfect recipe when you want to make a large quantity of cookies that most everyone will like in just one batch. These are dependable as snacks, when feeding a crowd of hungry teenagers or taking something sweet to share at an event. They might also bring a smile of recognition and a memory or two to those who have been baking for decades.
Timeless Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
from various nostalgic sources
2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups flour
5 cups oatmeal (processed to a fine powder)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
24 ounces chocolate chips
1 8-oz Hershey chocolate bar, grated
3 cups chopped nuts
Cream butter and both sugars. Add eggs and vanilla.
Mix together flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add to egg mixture stirring just until combined.
Add chocolate chips, Hershey bar and nuts.
Roll dough into rounded teaspoonfuls or rounded Tablespoonfuls, depending on your favorite sized cookie. Bake in 375 degree oven 8-12 minutes.
After I was married and had left my home the boisterous family of five that had gathered around Aunt Hen’s dinner table every week night for years had dwindled to two. She and Aunt Bet were next door neighbors and still ate together but the big meals she cooked every night including a meaty main course and several vegetable side dishes dwindled to simpler fare or included a lot of leftovers.
Not persuaded to give up cooking, Aunt Hen adapted her routine, cooking fewer dishes and sharing her kitchen creations as often as possible. If she wasn’t able to gather guests around her table she would take what she had cooked to other folks around the neighborhood whenever she was up to getting out and taking a walk.
Often times, in her later years, she would put on a big pot of Beef Barley Soup when she knew we would be stopping by for a visit. Sometimes she would make it a day ahead. It might even be said it is better that way. After we had shared a meal and all had eaten their fill she would put some in another container and invite us to walk with her down the street to take it to a friend who lived alone there.
A Generous Pot of Soup
I face a similar challenge now that my own family of five is moving in new directions. Many evenings there are only one or two to sit down at the table for a weeknight dinner and we eat our share of simple meals and leftovers.
Soup is perfect for those occasions. Having a pot of soup on the stove on a cool day is a warm comfort. This hearty soup, simmered in the afternoon, is there to feed those who are able to gather for dinner and can wait for those who come in later. Leftovers freeze well or are easily appreciated by a friend who is busy or lonely or under the weather. What generous blessings still spring from Aunt Hen’s practical and delicious kitchen wisdom.
Aunt Hen’s Beef Barley Soup
Soup bone (if you have one)
3 pound chuck roast (or other beef roast), cut up
1 cup barley
1 onion, chopped
2 cups cabbage, chopped
salt and pepper
1 package frozen soup vegetables
1 package mixed vegetables
1 can pork and beans
1 can tomato soup (if desired)
beef bouillon, to taste
Place the soup bone (if you have one), cut up beef roast, barley, onion, cabbage, salt and pepper in a large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to boil.
Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour.
Add soup vegetables (if you can't find frozen soup vegetables double the mixed vegetables instead), mixed vegetables, pork and beans and tomato soup (if desired). Return to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer another hour or so, until all is heated through and the flavors begin to meld. Use beef bouillon, a little at a time, to deepen the flavor as needed. Let simmer until ready to serve.
It’s March already, that crazy month when you never know what you will face the next time you step outside, winter or spring. Already we have had a surprise snow day this month when nothing sounded better than a warm mug of Spiced Hot Chocolate. Today, however, the morning fog lifted luminously and the sky shone with streaks of blue and white over the greening lawn. Even if that greening is little more than moss, the changing weather gives me hope.
Now, a full week into March, we are just getting ready to observe Ash Wednesday. It falls on the late side this year, only a day shy of the latest possible Ash Wednesday, adding to my seasonal confusion. Tomorrow we will finally observe Shrove Tuesday by dining on a traditional feast of Pancakes and Sausage.
Even my pancakes appear to be a little conflicted. This year my recipe is fortified with a vegetable I tend to associate with winter holidays; sweet potatoes. But then, they are dressed for the warmth of the Caribbean with coconut milk and bananas. Despite the variety of flavor notes, or quite probably because of them, these pancakes are both quite delicious and delightfully unusual.
While these Sweet Potato Pancakes might evoke memories of a Thanksgiving morning, the tropical topping makes them a perfect breakfast, brunch or even dessert that anticipates the promise of warm breezes over the coming months. They will make a delicious and appropriate late Shrove Tuesday dinner.
Sweet Potato Pancakes
2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 14-ounce can lite coconut milk
½ cup milk
1 cup baked sweet potatoes, mashed
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and ginger.
In a medium mixing bowl combine the lite coconut milk, milk, mashed sweet potatoes, vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla, mixing until smooth.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.
Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat. When hot add a little oil to the pan. Pour pancake batter in 1/3 to ½ cup-sized portions onto the hot griddle. Cook until bubbles form and begin to pop and the edge is dry. (The bottom of the pancake should be golden brown.)
Flip the pancake and cook the other side until golden.
Serve with Banana Topping (recipe follows), maple syrup, or honey.
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 bananas, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup macadamia nuts, chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
Toast coconut in medium skillet over low heat, stirring constantly until golden brown. Transfer the coconut to a small bowl. Set aside.
Put medium skillet back on the stovetop. Place the butter in the skillet and melt over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.
Add the macadamia nuts and bananas to the sugar mixture and stir to coat.
Add the water to the mixture and stir well. Continue cooking for another 2 minutes.
Spoon the Banana Topping over Sweet Potato Pancakes. Sprinkle the toasted coconut over the top, if you like.
Serve and enjoy!
A Taste of History
Following our snow day last Thursday, it got cold. Cold for Portland, that is. The roads cleared and life got back to normal but snow lingered in the back yard and the air stayed fresh and chilly. My craving for Hot Chocolate lingered too.
I have always loved the idea of Hot Chocolate. It's history is rich with intrigue and nuance. Just learning about it's origins is an adventure involving ancient Mayans, Aztec warriors and finally Spanish Conquistadores. It was the Spanish who introduced it to Europe along with intriguing traditions, lore and dedicated vessels gleaned from the Aztecs themselves.
Chocolate was enjoyed as a drink long before it became a popular confection. Throughout its history it has been mixed with exotic ingredients and often prepared with and offered in special serving pieces. Reading about it in Carole Bloom's "All About Chocolate" I was once again drawn into its romantic appeal. I wanted to experience the history first hand and sample a thick rich cup of Hot Chocolate, Spanish style.
A Thicker Hot Chocolate
I've tasted Spiced Hot Chocolate made with cloves, cinnamon and vanilla. What I hoped for this time was to find a recipe for a thicker version of Hot Chocolate that would be satisfying in small portions without being overwhelmingly intense.
With that criteria in mind I looked through recipe after recipe. For some reason I was surprised to find the consistent means of achieving that thick cup of chocolate I had in mind was to add cornstartch. At first I thought, "Ick!" But when I finally conceded that the only other option for achieving a really thick cup of chocolate amounted to drinking a small cup of ganache before it had set, I relented. I would give the cornstarch a try. After sampling this recipe I am converted. Cornstarch, in moderation, can be a good thing.
This Hot Chocolate qualifies as dessert in my book. Sip it slowly over lingering conversation at the conclusion of a special meal. Serve it with small cookies if you like. Or for a family friendly treat try it S'more Style. Serve small cups of Spanish Hot Chocolate topped with mini marshmallows and served with graham crackers for dipping. It makes a wonderful treat on a cold afternoon.
Spanish Hot Chocolate
adapted from a recipe at about.com
Makes about 3 demitasse sized servings. Easily doubled.
1 cup whole milk
½ to 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cornstarch
strip of orange peel, optional
pinch of espresso powder, optional
2 oz good quality chocolate, chopped (or bittersweet chocolate chips)
sweetened whipped cream
pinch of cinnamon or ground chile pepper, for garnish
In a small saucepan, whisk together the milk, brown sugar and cornstarch. Add the orange peel, if desired.
Over low heat bring milk to a simmer stirring constantly.
Remove from heat. Remove orange peel if applicable.
Add espresso powder, if desired. Whisk in chocolate until melted.
Return to heat and bring back to a low boil, stirring constantly.
Pour mixture into espresso cups.
For dessert: top with whipped cream and a pinch of spice. Serve with sliced ripe pear, peaches or raspberries or with an assortment of bite sized cookies
For a family friendly treat: top with miniature marshmallows and serve with graham cracker sections....