Thursday, February 28, 2008

Confused Christmas Cactus

My Christmas Cactus is seriously confused. Here it is, perhaps believing that it's a Lenten Cactus:
At least it's a spot of color against the white of outdoors. Icicles are hanging off my garage, shimmering in the sun like Swavorsky crystal, but at 15 degrees it's too damn cold to go outside and take a picture.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chicken With Peaches

For a decidedly different meal, this is quite good. This recipe is from Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbook; I made some minor changes in how the sauce was made. I served it over a bed of rice, because I felt that it should have a nice, bland background. Served with a green salad, this was a perfect meal for a cold winter's night!


1 Chicken, cut into pieces (I just bought pieces)
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste.

Melt butter; add paprika, salt, pepper & lime juice, and pour over chicken in a roasting pan. Put the chicken in the oven at 375 for about 30 to 45 minutes, or until nearly done (depending upon the size of your pieces). Then, prepare the sauce:

1/4 cup butter
1 minced onion
1 pound peach slices (fresh or frozen)
3 tbsp lemon muice
1 tbsp lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup flour

Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Saute onion until golden. Scoop out of the butter, and into a separate dish. Pour 1 tbsp. lemon juice over the onion and set aside. Add the peaches to the butter, and saute until lightly browned. Add the onion back to the pan, and stir in the lime and balance of the lemon juice. Strain the pan drippings from the chicken, and skim off the fat. Add to the peaches, heat to a low boil, and add the water & flour whisked together. Stir together until thickened, pour over the chicken, and return to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the chicken is done. Serve over a bed of rice.

I used frozen peaches, since they aren't in season in the dead of winter. Actually, I've noticed that while frozen fruit has poor flavor and texture, when it's cooked, the flavor is greatly enhanced. While I'm not a fan of instant foods, I like to use frozen foods. I have 2 big freezers, and it's a darn sight better than having to race off to the store every day for some fresh thing or other (and since I'm rarely out, I can't just "stop by" on my way home). And after snow, rain and ice yesterday, which was better than the foot of snow a business acquaintance in Rochester, NY got, I was ready for a taste of warm weather; fruit and chicken filled that bill nicely.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


6" of snow yesterday. Sunshine and 30 degrees. Boys and dog playing in the snow. It doesn't get much prettier than that!

Friday, February 22, 2008

George Washington's Birthday

Happy Birthday, George Washington!

OK, so I never knew George personally. Sorry to disappoint my kids, but even I am not quite that ancient. Actually, his birthday was originally February 11, but after he was born, the calendar was adjusted to reflect 2000 years' worth of no leap days (or something like that), so his adjusted birthday became February 22. Hey, if it was OK with George, it's alright with me.

To celebrate George Washington's birthday, we're having a Virginia ham tonight, with as yet undetermined accompaniments. We will also be observing George Washington's personal code of conduct, or specifically, the part wherein he states, "Fault not the food...:

Happy birthday, als
o, to my grandfather. He'd be 97 now, not quite as old as George....My grandfather was from San Antonio, and never let anyone forget he was a Texan. He taught me to read before I was 5, and told be I should be a school teacher so I'd be perpetually employable. He also had his first stroke before I was born, so I never knew him to be in good health. Nonetheless, he was a great looking, high spirited man - probably more fun than old G.W.

Isn't this a great photo? My grandmother made this rock garden in their back yard, and I never saw my grandfather, in person or in photos, not wearing a sport coat. I really do miss the days of people dressing up (even though I was never there).

Happy birthday to two of my favorite historical people!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Beef Stroganoff

Another delightful Pierre Franey creation, with only minimal changes to his recipe. Again, because I cook for so many people, I don't use the skillet, preferring instead to use the broiler.

2 pounds steak, cut into strips
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp paprika
1/2 cup white wine
1-1/2 cup sour cream

Melt the butter in the bottom only of the broiler pan; add the onion and cook until golden. Add the steak, and flip to coat both sides with butter & onion. Broil for 3 minutes, turn strips and broil for 2 minutes. Pour pan juices into a saucepan, and add the wine. Boil until reduced by half. Reduce the heat, add the sour cream and heat. (I preheated the sour cream in the microwave for a minute or 2 to shorten this time). Pour the sauce over the steak in the broiler pan, return to the broiler and reheat for a minute. I served these with what my daughter calls "heart attack potatoes" and broccoli; everyone wanted me to make this again soon. (Note that this is my "small family" adaptation - 5 people)

Heart Attack Potatoes:

Slice red skinned potatoes 3/16" to 1/4" thick; boil until tender (I use 2 pounds when not everyone's home, and 5 pounds when they are) with salt to taste. Drain the potatoes. Put 1/2 to 3/4 stick butter per pound of potatoes (good quality margarine can be substituted for half the butter) in the pan to melt. Grind in a goodly amount of black pepper, and add 1 tbsp chopped parsley per pound of potatoes. Add the potatoes back to the pan, stir well, and enjoy.

Lunar Eclipse

In 6th grade Calvert School, we've been studying the solar system. A couple of days ago, the boys laid out this scale representation of the solar system. Note that the sun is the yellow ball back next to Ryan, and Pluto is the little blue ping pong ball closest to the camera. It's 600cm from the sun to Pluto, and Earth was only about 15cm away from the sun, so that's a huge distance. Now, I know that scientists declared Pluto not to be a planet any longer, but being an old fashioned girl, I have to continue to believe in Pluto as something other than a Disney dog. (And, yes, I know Pluto was originally a Roman god, but that's a rare useage of the name.)

Last night there was a lunar eclipse. It was truly spectacular in my front yard (aside from the fact that I damn near froze to death). It was 15 degrees outside, and very few clouds. Ryan went out and found the moon at about 8:30, then we started journeying outside every 10 minutes until about midnight. I have a great shot of the moon about 30 minutes into the eclipse, and one that's blurred at the peak of it. It truly was a deep reddish orange, and I'm sad that I couldn't get a better picture. But, for anyone who missed it (or cares even vaguely), here's a little bit of the lunar eclipse:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Rolly Steak

I know, I really should get some better title writers. However, whenever the kids like something, they call it by a description, rather than a proper name. Being rather sentimental, I let these silly names hang on for years, preferring to have daily reminders of when they were little embedded in our lives. Like I said, silly, but it's nice when the 17 year old says, "Hey, Mom, can we have rolly meat? I'll go get some spinach!"


3 steaks, pounded to about 1/2" thick
olive oil
1 pound frozen spinach, microwaved without salt for 4 minutes
1/2 onion, minced
garlic powder, salt & pepper
1 cup beef broth
1/4 cup water whisked with 2T flour

Pound the steaks down to between 3/8" & 1/2" thick. Sprinkle the meat with garlic powder, freshly ground pepper and a very minor amount of salt (less than usual). Stir the onion into the spinach, and spread the spinach evenly between the three steaks, holding it back 1" from the sides; top with the cheese of your choice. I usually use Swiss cheese, but mozarella is also nice. Fold the steak over so the spinach and cheese are inside, then hold in place with toothpicks. Lay on its side in a small amount of olive oil in the bottom of the broiler pan, and broil for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. For the gravy, heat the beef broth, whisk the water/flour combination in, then add pan drippings. Diced tomatoes can be added for extra flavor. I serve this with this pasta:

1 lb. penne, cooked according to package directions
1 cup diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1 tbsp parsley
1/4 cup olive oil
ground fresh pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Mix all ingredients together. Nice side dish; flavors hold up well with beef. Best of all, this meal is colorful, which is one of my big "things": I'm certain everything tastes better if it looks better, and color is the best way to make things look appealing (picture a meal of pork chops, whole wheat bread, carrots and applesauce - not very pretty, now is it?).

Monday, February 18, 2008

"What's Wrong With This Picture?"

Over Thanksgiving weekend, one of my sons took my camera, and came back with this picture, asking, "What's wrong with this picture?"
Nothing. Looks great to me.
"Too damn many sewing machines."
No Such Thing!

To be fair, the ones to the left of the lamp belong to 2 of my daughters. They move them to another table in the same room when we're all sewing together. To the right are my serger and two machines of mine. The one in the back is my relatively new (3 year old) Singer, which replaced the Brother I bought in 1989, and had finally given up the ghost. In the front is a used Janome, all metal, very sturdy machine. When my Singer and serger went in for repair, my husband spotted this Janome for $35 and brought it home for me. I didn't need it, but he wanted me to have it. That's why he never has to buy me Valentines, birthday, anniversary, or any other kind of present: because he buys me anything he thinks I might want, whenever he sees it. While this present was cheap, often they aren't, but he says his girl is worth it. (I still have the Singer he bought me while we were dating, way back in 1979, but I couldn't resist the blind hemmer in the Brother a decade later, and he thought it was worth any price for me to be happy.)

For the most part, however, I think the "old stuff" is better than new. When I was 14, I found an ancient iron at a neighbor's garage sale for $2. It must be '50s vintage. It's light pink, with a fabric cord, and outrageously heavy. My daughter dropped (Dropped!!!) it about 2 summers ago, and chipped the pointy tip of it, and cracked the housing where the handle is. Unbelievable! You know Mom went ballistic. So, my sons couldn't think of Christmas presents for me, and three of them got together, summoned up all of their courage, and went to Macy's housewares
department. They found "an older lady" and asked her for her heaviest iron for their mother. She grabbed this Rowenta, and sold it to them. I would never have allowed them to spend this much on me, but I'm touched that they think that much of their old mom. I am truly fortunate.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Crevettes Newburg

This is, of course, the French title for Shrimp Newburg. Pierre Franey provided a perfect Valentine's Day dinner; since I only had a bit over a pound of shrimp, I also broiled a steak (preferred by the kids anyway). With a side of rice and salad, this was great stuff!


2 tbsp. butter
1-1/2 lbs. shrimp
salt & pepper to taste

1 tsp paprika
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sherry
2 egg yolks

Melt the butter in a skillet, and add the shrimp. Add spices and shallots (I only had chives, so I used them). Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, then remove to a serving dish. Boil off half the pan juices, and add the cream. Heat through, then add sherry and bring almost to a boil. Whisk the egg yolks with another 1/4 cup cream, then whisk into the sauce. Stir until it thickens. Return the shrimp to the pan to warm them, and serve over a bed of rice.

My poor, long suffering husband loves shellfish. A few years back, he began having allergic reactions to garlic. So I stopped making Shrimp Scampi, and found other ways to prepare shrimp. Well, guess what happened to the poor dear? Yes, I must have added too many chives, because he broke out in hives. Our daughter saw him beginning to itch, and smacked her Daddy's hands to the table, while I raced off for antihistimines and witch hazel (a fabulous topical anti-itch remedy). Since we often eat scallops, and occasionally shrimp, cooked with neither garlic nor chives, I have to conclude that it's a sensitivity to things in the onion family. (sigh) And I did so want him to have a great dinner. He kept eating cheerfully, itching notwithsta
nding, saying that great food like this could not be let go to waste.

Of course, he got his reward an hour or so later with this pretty heart shaped cake. Because there are often so many of us, I always have 5 pound boxes of General Mills yellow cake mix on hand to whip up a cake, cupcakes or whatever is needed. Anyway, last night I decided to use my springform pan to make a heart shaped yellow cake. Being out of oil, I used 1-1/2 cups of cake mix with 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 egg and 1/2 cup water. It took a good 40 minutes to bake, but it was really rich. I topped it with freshly sliced strawberries, a liberal helping of whipped cream and more sliced strawberries. Everyone loved it, and my dearly beloved "helped me out" this morning by finishing the cake between breakfast and lunch.

Tomorrow, perhaps a picture of my new valentine's day dress, and an example of why it matters not at all that I'm the only person in this house to put forth effort for Valentine's Day (which my father-in-law called a "Hallmark Holiday", most appropriately!).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

To the 2 or 3 of you who drop by sometimes, Happy Valentine's Day, and thanks for visiting.
(You can tell I have little kids, right?)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Abe Lincoln's Birthday

Yes, I know it's silly of me to celebrate Abe Lincoln's birthday. But (a) he was instrumental in keeping our nation united, (b) I think it's sad that kids are taught little or nothing about two of our most important presidents, Washington and Lincoln, and (c) It's February! What else is there to do in February?

With that in mind, the boys reread the story of Abraham Lincoln in Calvert School's 52 Famous Americans book (from their 3rd grade curriculum), and Mark made miniature Lincolnesque stovepipe hats for himself and Ryan. Fun fact: Lincoln's father bought his 300-plus acre farm in Ketucky for $200 plus assumption of debt. That was a lot of scratch in 1800. Anyway, Happy 199th Birthday, Abe!

I thought for a long time about what appropriate food I could cook for Lincoln's birthday. I concluded that they most likely would have eaten venison or bird, such as chicken or pheasant, and chicken was the easiest to find (in my freezer, of course; did anyone think I was out hunting in the snow and ice storm for food?), and further that Mrs. Lincoln would mos
t likely have boiled that bird. So, Pierre Franey to the rescue with a delightful poached chicken recipe (which the boys are certain he adapted from Nancy Lincoln's personal repertoire). We did have "Smiling Hill Farm Bread" with it, which is likely enough, but had rice instead of potatoes. This is a great meal, and I recommend it highly.


4 to 6 pounds of chicken pieces, bone in
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 onion stuck with 6 cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 carrot cut in half the long way
3 pieces celery, each about 6" long

1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp salt, or to taste
2 tbsp. lemon juice

Place all in large stock pot; bring to a boil and simmer until the chicken is nearly done, probably about 45 minutes. Strain off 4 cups of the broth and return the pot to the heat.

2 cups rice
4 cups chicken broth

Combine in a pan, and cook 20 minutes, until done. You can add more salt if desired.

Strain off another 2 cups broth, and return the chicken pot to low heat.


2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
dash cayenne powder
1/4 cup lemon juice

Melt butter in saucepan; whisk in flour. Heat until smooth and bubbling. Whisk in strained chicken broth, then heavy cream and sour cream. Cook about 10 minutes. Add nutmeg and cayenne powder. Whisk lemon juice in just before serving. Remove the chicken to a serving platter, and serve with the rice and sauce. Note that this will leave you about 2 cups of chicken stock for soup or other recipes.

Note that Mr. Franey called for "2 allspice" instead of the teaspoon of allspice, and he didn't use the lemon juice in his chicken broth. He also used 1 small trussed whole chicken, and only 5 cups water. The heavy cream was his ingredient; I added the sour cream for extra "tang". I think he designs his recipes for 2 to 3 people; I just multiply them.

When Mark was about 3, he wanted to know why Abraham Lincoln was not still president. We replied that he was dead. " What did he die of?"
"He was shot."
" Who shot him?"
"John Wilkes Booth, an actor."
"And what happened to John Wilkes Booth?"
"The army hunted him down and shot him."
"Good. He deserved it. What's an actor?"
This question led to a long explanation which ended with the statement that the Wiggles are actors. Of course, my little genius then wanted to know which Wiggle John Wilkes Booth had been. I replied that he wasn't any of the wiggles that we saw on TV. "So, maybe he was the orange Wiggle, Mommy?"
To this day, in our house, the orange Wiggle shot poor Abe Lincoln.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Canada can have its air mass back, now

5 degrees last night. High of 12 today. Snow squalls yesterday caused a 68 car pileup 40 miles from me. Yep, they're saying we're stuck under a Canadian air mass. Canada, we're done with your cold air. Could you call it home now?

(I actually stuck my camera out the door to take this picture yesterday, before wind kicked up.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Egg Drop Soup and Grinders

Where we come from, a long sandwich on a roll, such as those sold at Subway, are Grinders. Here, they call them "Hoagies". I don't even know what that means, or had no clue, until I watched something on either the History Channel or PBS about the Erie Canal through New York state. There I learned that local boys were hired to guide the canal boats through given sections, and these boys were called hoagies. I've since comforted myself that this is the origin of this odd name for grinders. Yes, I'm odd like that, everything must have an origin.

Thus, the origin for "my" recipe for Egg Drop Soup. We had a Chinese attorney about a quarter century ago. He may have been born here, but his mother, Dolly, was definitely China-born, as was his wife. We went to their house for dinner several times, and once they served Egg Drop Soup. It is simple and delicious. I asked them for the recipe, and they gave me a story instead. The best known Chinese soups are chicken broth based, so you have to start with a pan of good chicken broth, they said. Get it to a good boil, then put an egg or two in a measuring cup with a few drops of water. Whip the egg up very well with a fork, then start the chicken broth to spinning in the pan with a wooden spoon. Drizzle the egg into the spinning chicken broth, which will create those egg shreds, and keep stirring for no more than one minute. Serve immediately. Dolly ran a restaurant in NYC; we went there once with our first three red haired sons, then 2, 1 and newborn. I cannot tell you how many people came to see those children, and Dolly took the 2 year old around to visit many of her patrons, who were also friends. They babbled at him in Chinese, and he babbled right back in babyese. She was delightful, her food was astonishing, and her Egg Drop Soup is splendid.


1-1/2 cups water
6 tsp yeast
4 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil

Mix all ingredients together. Form into 3 foot long rolls or 6 half sized rolls. Brush the tops with egg yolk mixed with a few drops of water, let rise, and bake at 375 for 16 to 18 minutes. The oil makes them softer; omit it if you like chewier bread.

Friday, February 8, 2008

King Cake

Yes, I know I'm late for Mardi Gras. And, I also know that I'm not French, or even Catholic. That being said, having had 3 sick kids around here for the last couple of weeks, I decided they needed a very minor Mardi Gras party. Having seen an article in the paper the week previous about Mardi Gras, which mentioned King Cake, I went in search of recipes. This one was superb, so much so that I made a second cake on Wednesday, and sent it via UPS overnight to my son in college for his birthday (well, a regular birthday cake wouldn't have survived the beating, now would it?).

This is, sadly, too big to be made in a bread machine. Thank goodness for my stand mixer!


1 cup milk, warmed to about 110 degrees
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup warm water
9 tsp yeast
1/2 cup sugar
6 cups flour
2 eggs

1-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Put milk in the mixer bowl, and add yeast. Pour in water and sugar, then add stir in flour, butter, eggs, salt and nutmeg. The flour may have to be added in stages, although my mixer will take it all at once. Knead in the mixer for 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth. Then, remove it from the mixer, place on the counter, and roll out to about 8"wide by about 20" to 24" long. Let it sit while making the filling:

1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
2/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup flour

Mix all filling ingredients together, then spread in the middle of the cake dough. fold the sides in carefully to cover the filling, then pick the roll up and put it into a bundt pan. Let the cake rise for 45 mintues to an hour, then bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes. Allow to cool 10 minutes in the pan, then invert onto serving plate and let it cool completely. Glaze with a mix of 1 cup confectioner's sugar with 1/2 tsp vanilla and cream to make it smooth. Sprinkle with brightly colored sugar.

Note that a plastic baby is put in the filling of a King Cake; however, I wrapped dollar coins in waxed paper and put 3 in my filling, for the 3 kids at home. All three got a prize, and all three were pleased. My husband was most pleased with cake, however, as evidenced by the fact that he ate about half of it in 2 days! Lucky him, he never gains weight.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Bread Sticks

The Super Bowl is over; the commercials were disappointing; my little guy nearly cried over the Patriots' loss; my most wonderful dog never even glanced at the coffee table on which foods were piled well below his nose level (except from across the room).
By far, I'd have to say that these bread sticks were a great hit. I let the boys form them, so they're rather uneven, but I'll take uneven bread sticks and happy children any day of my life.


1-1/3 cups water
1-1/3 tbsp butter
4 tsp sugar
1-1/4 tsp salt
4 cups flour
4 tbsp powdered milk
6 tsp yeast

Mix all ingredients together for dough. Let rise, then split into 24 balls, which can be rolled out into ropes. Meanwhile, melt 2 tbsp butter, and let cool, then mix the butter with 2 tbsp olive oil 2 tsp garlic powder and 1 tsp oregano. Drizzle the cooled butter/olive oil mix over the formed bread sticks, let rise, then bake at 400 for 12 to 15 minutes. The shorter the baking time, the softer the bread sticks will be. I served them with a bowl of marinara sauce for dipping, and they were almost all gone. My husband saved a few for today's snacking.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Orange Muffins

As I've said before, I love muffins. Mini muffins. Not too sweet, and since they're mini, I can have more than one! We had about 1/2" of snow this morning, topped with freezing rain, creating about 1/2" of ice on top of the snow. Needless to say, no one went anywhere. Can anyone say, "It's a good morning for muffins"?


1-3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp. powdered milk
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 cup orang
e juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp lemon extract
1/2 cup chopped almonds

Sift together the dry ingredients, then mix in the wet ingredients. Stir in the c
hopped almonds; spoon into mini muffin pans and top with a bit of sugar. Bake at 400 for about 12 minutes, or until just done. Makes 3 dozen.

I've had the heat up to 74 all day, in case we lose power, and had very large thermoses of boiling hot water and coffee on the counter, along with oil lamps and candles lined up on the kitchen table. If the power goes out, I'm ready, and I convince myself if it doesn't go out that the very act of my having prepared for the emergency caused the electric company to say, "Dang! We'll have to go someplace else to upset someone!" But aren't the arbor vitae outside my bathroom window pretty with the ice on them? (As long as the ice doesn't pull down the power lines).