Monday, November 29, 2010
Over the summer, we took a monthly garden pilgrimage, but the gardens are sleeping and the air is chilly. Much better now to make kitchen visits, don't you think? Our first kitchen pilgrimage is to a friend's catering kitchen. Paula was with me at the birth of my first child and was the first to teach me that true Texans put pickle relish in their chili! Paula is an artist in the kitchen, and I'm thrilled to have her as my first guest blogger in the winter kitchen pilgrimage series! To follow her on Facebook, add her business page for Paula's Parties 'n Such to your listings and check out her offerings on a regular basis. Here's one she included as per my special request. Thanks, Paula!
We all know that homemade pies are a hit for the holiday festivities. But, there are some who shudder at the thought of making tender, flaky pie crusts and perfect meringue. Well, the tips below should put your mind to rest. I'm hoping you will use these tips to reach absolute confidence in your baking skills.
IF I CAN DO IT, SO CAN YOU!
1. Separate eggs while they are cold.
2. Allow whites to come to room temperature (always) which assures the most air will be incorporated.
3. Use a small deep bowl and make sure the beaters are very clean (any grease will interfere with the beating). The whites will increase 2 1/2 - 4 times their original volume. A rotary hand mixer will make a soft meringue, but you will need an electric mixer to make a hard meringue.
4. When the whites are beaten to the foamy stage, add salt and cream of tartar. Cream of tartar helps egg whites to reach maximum volume and increases the stability.
5. The amount of sugar to add depends on the type of meringue: 2 T sugar to each egg white for soft meringues (toppings) and 4-5 T per white for hard meringues (shells). Beat in sugar gradually, 1 T at a time until no grains of sugar can be detected. The sugar is added when the whites have reached soft peaks; if added too early, meringue will not reach its full volume.
6. Spread meringue on HOT pie filling. This method provides heat for the bottom of the meringue cooking it slightly and causing it to adhere to the filling. When spreading meringue, make sure it is spread over the entire surface so that the filling is completely covered and the meringue is sealed to the edge of the dish. This prevents shrinkage of the meringue during baking.
7. To prevent weeping, make sure you bake meringue properly. Bake a soft meringue in a preheated 350 oven for 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meringue, or until golden brown. Cool at room temperature. After it reaches room temp, you can refrigerate.
For a 9" pie: 4 eggs at room temp, 6 Tablespoons sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 4 teaspoons cream of tarter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.
Place room temperature whites in mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until foamy. Add salt, cream of tarter, and vanilla. Mix until whites reach soft peak stage. Add 2 Tbsps sugar and continue mixing making sure the sugar is completely dissolved. Repeat, adding sugar 2 Tbsps at a time until all the sugar is incorporated. Mix until whites are stiff and shiny. Spread on HOT filling, taking care to cover completely, touching edges to seal. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until delicately browned. Allow to cool to room temperature before cutting or chilling.
(Alternate method using cold eggs: Put egg whites and sugar in mixing bowl and place the bowl in a pan of hot water. Stir constantly, until whites feel warm. Add the salt, cream of tarter, and vanilla. Remove the bowl from the hot water and follow instructions for adding sugar.)
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Imagine you're sitting on a hard wooden bench in the meetinghouse, services are finishing as usual: with weekly community announcements. Little do you imagine that you are about to hear words that will affect the lives of people for hundreds of years to come when your Governor, William Bradford, walks to the front of the room in his red waistcoat and violet cloak (apparently it's a myth that they all wore dull grey, black and white under their big shiny buckles) to read the following pronouncement:
TO AL YE PILGRIMS:
Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of conscience; now, I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, ye 29, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.
William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony, 1623
Much of Psalm 35 could be lifted as a lament and a beseeching in this day and time, but I will--in honor of that first Thanksgiving thought--restrict my reflections to the joy and hope in this one verse and honor the heart of those who were the first to grace this continent with their blood, sweat and tears for the express purpose of freedom of worship:
I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.
Friday, November 26, 2010
One of my favorite things to do in prepping for a holiday meal is to peruse old cookbooks to see what tradition recommends. Today, I'll offer a couple of quotes from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. (New in 1960 that is.)
Back to the cookbook. Its list of Entertaining Menus were indeed entertaining as we read through them the day before our meal shopping outing. We found menu plans for everything from a late evening buffet to a luau.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
George MacDonald is the "contributing author" for today's sabbath rest post. I flirted with similar ideas on one of this blog's side page about the garden and spirituality, but he states these ideas of imagery and reality so eloquently I'm emphasizing this essential beauty of gardening again through his words, as they are edited by Michael Phillips. This is not just the formal spirituality built intentionally into some gardens, that is a soliciting sort of spirituality. This is more a responsive one that depends on the state of mind of the receiver rather than on the garden constructed. Be prepared to throw wide the gates of your mind to understand his ideas. He can be a little complex on a first read, but the nourishment found in these ideas is definitely worth the concentration!
All high things can be spoken only in figures and images. These figures, having to do with matters too high for them, cannot fit intellectually. They can be interpreted truly, understood aright, only by those who have the spiritual fact in themselves.
It was never the design of the Lord to explain things to our understanding--nor would that in the least have helped our necessity. What we require is a means, a word, whereby to think and understand high things within ourselves. Such will true figures--for a figure may be true while far from perfect--always be to us. But the imperfection of the Lord's figures cannot lie in excess. Be sure that in dealing with any truth, its symbol, however high, must come short of what glorious meaning the truth itself holds. It is the low stupidity of an unspiritual nature that would interpret the Lord's meaning as less than his symbols. The true soul sees, or will come to see, that his words, his figures always represent more than they are able to present. For the heavens are higher than the earth, so are the heavenly things higher than the earthly signs of them, no matter how good those signs may be.
And what for example might be one of these signs MacDonald describes? He uses one beautiful one I'll share here.
The root and stem may thirst for the flower for whose sake they exist, so too may the life in men cause them to long for him who is their life and thirst for its own perfection within them.
Let us say to the Lord, "Jesus, are you loving the Father in there? Then we out here will do his will patiently waiting till he open the door. We shall not mind the wind or the rain much. For perhaps you are saying to the Father, Your little ones need some wind and rain. Their buds are hard. The flowers do not come out. I cannot get them to be made blessed without a little more winter weather. Then perhaps the Father will say, Comfort them, my Son Jesus, with the memory of your patience when you were missing me. Comfort them that you were sure of me even when everything about seemed so unlike me, so unlike the place you had left.
In a word let us be at peace, because peace is at the heart of things...
Thy will, O God, be done! Nothing else is other than loss, decay, and corruption. There is no life but that born of the life that the Word made in himself by doing thy will, which life is the light of men. Through that light is born the life of men--the same life in them that came first into being in Jesus. As he laid down his life, so must we lay down our lives, that as he lives we may live also. That which was made in him was life, and the life is the light of men.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
What is my favorite thing about homemade potpourri? It is hopeful, especially when its scents are out of season. Sound sappy? I don't care. It strikes me that when I open a jar and put it on shelf or table, I drift into little spell of day-dreaming. I breathe again air happily rife with smells from a season or two prior, and I lapse into fond reverie. There is nothing like olfactory memory for bringing the most peaceful and energetic memories right to the front of the mind.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
So what is the best way to celebrate the advent of this new season-- a season for soothing the weary body and answering the questioning soul? Why with a bath, of course!
To make a bath oil, mix 1 part essential herb oil (find these at a local craft store) to three parts light vegetable oil. Store in a glass bottle away from light. Then simply shake the bottle and use a tablespoon per bath. To convert this to a massage oil, use 1/2 teaspoon of the essential herb oil with 1/2 cup of sweet almond oil and store similarly.
for a bath oil promised to be a "therapeutic treat." In a decorative bottle, mix 3 tbsp sweet almond oil, 5 drops grapefruit oil and 5 drops orange oil. One teaspoon in the bath will prove highly refreshing, but add it after the bath finishes running if you want to keep the essential oils from evaporating before you get to enjoy them!
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Today's devotion is taken from Catherine Martin's Set My Heart on Fire.
Perhaps you know the story of the Texas rancher and the eagle. The rancher, hunting in the mountains, came upon an eagle's nest and took one of the eggs back home with him, placing it under a setting hen. The eagle was hatched and cared for by the mother hen. For some period of time, the eagle seemed perfectly content to remain in the barnyard and feed along with the chickens. But one day, it heard the harsh scream of a mature eagle, swooping down in search of prey. In the blink of an eye, the young eagle ascended into the sky and was never seen again. He had found his new home in the mountainside cliffs, for he was not made for the barnyard dirt.
The hardest work of the gardening season is finished. The days of pecking the ground are suspended for a time. It is time to look up and listen, to reflect and grow until a new season comes. It is time to accept the gains and losses encased in renewal. Rest and Peace to you my gardening friends!
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:29-31
Friday, November 12, 2010
We finally did it. We just had a full week of beautiful Indian Summer after the first couple of nights of hard freezes--making both timing and temperature perfect for a day of fall tilling. Garden Helper Senior (the one who gave me those dozen roses last week) got the tiller ready and together we tilled everything but the garlic patch and a short row of still-lively lettuce. I had never done a fall tilling before this year. Only spring. In the fall, I've always just thrown a little hay down and let the bed drift into hibernation, but my soil is getting tired enough that this year we decided to till in a few bags of fertilizer, some summer plant left-overs--mostly marigolds, herbs and bean plants--and a little shredded newspaper. Soon, I'll take a soil sample to be tested. I need to know what to save over the winter: whether it be wood ash from the fireplace or egg shells and coffee grounds from the kitchen. In a small suburban plot like mine, crop rotation is a help but rarely is it alone sufficient to keep the soil nutrient-rich. You have to supplement or accept smaller and smaller yields as the years go by.
And even now, as the sun sets, I catch a whiff of wood smoke from some neighborhood fireplace. I reach down and grab a handful of dirt. Still a fine texture.
Monday, November 8, 2010
What is blanching, you ask? Blanching involves dipping vegetables in boiling water. This process slows the negative effects of enzymes on the food while it is in the freezer.
And blanching isn't just for gardeners! As your farmer's markets close for the season, or even in the produce section of the grocery stores, the last of the seasonal food can often be purchased in bulk at cheaper prices than will be found for that fresh produce for many months to come. Now is the time to buy that produce and freeze it for yourself. For instance, I purchased a large batch of broccoli and big bag of cranberries with the intention of freezing most of it.
But if you're going to blanch those veggies, you should know that everything has different blanching requirements, and some things need no blanching at all, for example, the cranberries need no blanching; so it is good to have a chart of blanching recommendations handy. I have a home preserving cookbook that includes a blanching section. According to it,the Ball Blue Book, you should begin by washing and cutting vegetables as if for cooking fresh. Use a ratio of 1 gallon of water per pound of vegetables. A wire basket, mesh bag or metal strainer works adequately as a blancher. Use the blancher to lower the vegetables into vigorously boiling water. Begin timing as soon as you put the vegetables into the water. Keep the heat on high as you blanch. Either stir the water or keep the container covered while you blanch.
An important point to note: underblanching increases enzyme activity, so you're better off not doing it at all if not taking care to note the time recommendations. On the other hand, overblanching decreases vitamins, minerals, flavor and color. Obviously, it is vital to note blanching times!
When the blanching is finished, immerse the vegetables in icy water to stop the cooking process and pack loosely in airtight freezer containers. I like using freezer bags that I can label with the food type and the date. You can remove most of the excess air with these bags, but they don't store as tidily as stackable freezer containers.
Here are a few commonly frozen foods and their blanching times:
Asparagus: 1 1/2 min. small spears to 3 min. large spears
Snap beans: 3 min.
Broccoli: 3 min. (large sections need 4 min.)
Carrots: 3 min. for cut carrots to 5 min. for whole
Greens: 2 min.
Fresh herbs: don't blanch!
Onions: wash and chop but freeze without blanching.
Peas: (sugar or snap) 2 minutes
Peppers: neither hot nor sweet need blanching.
Potatoes: wash, peel, wash again and blanch 3-5 minutes.
Tomatoes: must be made into sauce before freezing. No blanching.
Tomatoes (green): wash, core, slice and freeze with freezer wrap between the slices. No blanching.
Plums, pineapples, kiwi and many berries such as blueberries, gooseberries and cranberries can be cut (if needed) and dry packed to freeze. No blanching is required. Others like cherries and strawberries fare well in a sugar pack. To sugar pack, use one part sugar for every six parts sliced berries or one part for four parts with pitted cherries. Allow to stand for 10 minutes for sugar to dissolve, then freeze.
Apples and pears often call for specific syrups. (More on these syrups in a future blog.)
Finally, who can boil mass quantities of a vegetable, fill the kitchen with its aroma and not make something for immediate consumption, too! So as a bonus, I'll share my broccoli quiche recipe. It was the main entree for dinner the day I froze broccoli. As a side? Cranberry salad, of course!
Italian Broccoli Quiche
2 cups of broccoli
1 unbaked pie crust
1 medium onion chopped
1 cup cooked Italian sausage
4 beaten eggs
2 cups light cream (half and half)
1 T flour
1/2 t salt
1 t Italian seasoning
1 1/2 shredded cheddar
Prick pastry shell and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 325 degrees.
Crumble sausage after cooking and cook onion in the sausage drippings. Drain.
In a bowl, stir together cream, eggs, flour, salt and seasoning. Stir in the broccoli, sausage, onion and cheese. Mix well. Pour into the pastry shell (still warm) and sprinkle with another 1/2 C cheese if desired. Bake in 325 degree oven 45 to 50 minutes. (Cover edges with foil to prevent browning if desired.)
Happy blanching (and baking)!
Tuesday, November 2, 2010