Back to the Basics

Posted April 29th, 2014 by Ellen and filed in Family, Personal, Recipes

Biscotti Done

For over 15 years, my husband has enjoyed cooking dinner……every dinner.  Breakfast and lunch (more often, blunch) are catch as catch can.  As a result, I’ve found I no longer know how to cook!  When I found myself having to check a cookbook for how long to boil potatoes, I decided to do something about that.  I’m in the process of once more teaching myself to cook.

My Mother was an excellent cook;  my aunts were too, my three sisters and I were all in 4-H, and my older sister is a home-economist.  All the ladies at the Grange excelled at baking and making Swedish coffee, in a big white porcelain coffee pot.  An egg is mixed in with the grounds, resulting in a coffee which is clear and delicious.  I was never successful at brewing it that way.  Back in the day, everything was made from scratch.  Our neighbor, Agnes Lindgren, at the next farm down the road, was from Denmark.  Her pastries were unbelievable.

It’s not as if I never learned to cook.  But it requires a certain familiarity with ingredients to turn out a good product.  The knack of knowing when a pie crust is just right, knowing from “how it feels” whether or not to add more flour to bread dough.  One has to stay in practice.  My goal is to build a library of “go-to” recipes. Real food, not just baking (which really is my specialty and love).  After all, we’re redoing our kitchen beginning May 12.  I need to be ready!

Parmesan Chicken was Sunday night dinner.  I’m a huge fan of Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, and used her recipe.   It was divine!  I especially liked the lemon viniagrette dressed salad served atop the warm chicken.  DH preferred his on the side.  Last night’s dish was macaroni and cheese, made with noodles (we were out of macaroni).  I used a mixture of sharp cheddar and parmesan cheese.  To me,  a midwesterner, macaroni and cheese is an entree’.  To my southern husband, it is a “side.”

Next attempt?  The Peach Bellini   Will I need little paper umbrellas?

For the Birds

Posted February 12th, 2014 by Ellen and filed in Birds, Family, My Photography, Recipes

Bluebird duoBluebird Buddies

Bluebird, LoneLone

Chickadee PuddingChickadee Pudding

Chickadee Pudding FormedFormed into a Cake

Woodpecker SuetPackaged suet can be found  in the pet section of larger stores.

It began snowing about 9:30 this morning.  Snow two days in a row – in the south?  Well, I never.  At first the snow was a fine mist, barely discernible.  As the morning wore on, the flakes became bigger and the wind began to blow.  Soon, everything was covered with at least five inches of new snow.  And the temperature was dropping fast.  Brrrrr.

Lots of birds were hovering around our feeders, especially the suet.  With ice pellets forecast for tonight and fearing a loss of power, we decided to have a big breakfast which included bacon. Yum!  The birds were eating animal fat to keep warm, so why shouldn’t we, we reasoned.  As we ate, I worried about them. Each bird looked puffy, with its feathers fluffed out against the cold wind.  I wished I could do something to warm them in the frigid air.

Years ago, I bought a cookbook at the Charlotte Nature Museum which had a wonderful chapter titled:  “Feeding Wild Animals.”  In it was a recipe for a home-made bird treat.  The birds love “Chickadee Pudding”  Using the bacon fat and things we had on hand, I made a batch of it this morning.  It firmed up quickly outside. In just minutes birds, including slate colored juncos (a bird almost never seen here),  were flocking (no pun intended) to it.  Love!

When I was a kid, my sisters and I were not allowed to sit down for a meal until we’d fed our animals.  “Have you fed your animals? They can’t feed themselves,” my father would ask.  “Get up and go take care of them.  They eat before you do.”  We didn’t just have a dog like we do now.  We had rabbits, cattle, sheep, horses and chickens to take care of.  Our father was a very wise man who taught us a great lesson.   I thought of that today as I mixed the special treat for our birds.

Chickadee Pudding (fromThe Nature Museum Cookbook)

Mix together a handful of each of the following:  dry rolled oats, bird seed, cornmeal, ground bread crumbs, dry cream of wheat and some cut up raisins.    Add a spoonful of peanut butter to melted bacon fat.  Let the peanut butter soften. Add to the dry ingredients and stir to moisten.   Put in a flat container, on a pine cone or in a tin pie plate.  Let harden before placing outside for the birds.   Note:  I used what was available, including dry grits, chopped cranberries and nuts.  It looked good enough to eat!

Snowbound or a few days?  Try doing this with your kids:  Make a piece of toast, cut out a shape with a cookie butter and make a hole for hanging.  Slather the toast with peanut butter then sprinkle with bird seed.  Hang outside for your feathered friends.

Stay warm and safe!

All photos are clickable.


Chocolate Biscotti Recipe

Posted March 6th, 2013 by Ellen and filed in Personal, Recipes is a great resource.  It’s where I found the recipe used for yesterday’s baking.  Here is the link:

Just discovered this cookie has better flavor the next day.  The tin has been tucked into the freezer, where it doesn’t “call my name” each time I step into the kitchen.  Hopefully, out of sight will be out of mind.

There are many varieties of biscotti.  Try at least one and have fun!

Culinary School

Posted March 5th, 2013 by Ellen and filed in Personal, Recipes

Chocolate Almond Biscotti

The rain is falling as I write.  Snow is forecast for later tonight.  I’m so happy to be all snug in my “chammies” (as one of my great nieces calls them) with a quiet evening ahead.

Thanks for sticking with me, friends.   I’m sorry for my long absence.  I’m almost never sick (unless you count the big stuff which we won’t go into), but this winter has been different.  After weeks and weeks of coughing, telling myself “It’s just my asthma,”  I finally went to the allergist at my son’s insistance.  The diagnosis was simple enough – bronchitis and inflamed lungs.  I left the clinic with a bag full of samples – Advair and Nasonex and prescriptions for an antibiotic and a ten-day regimen of prednisone.  It’s day  seven of the “magic” steroid.  After dragging around since mid-January, I awoke early today  full of energy.  YAY!!!!  Finally!

What to do, what to do, what to do.  Bake – that’s what!   For six weeks I’d drug myself about, feeling that my “get up and go” just  “got up and went.”  During that time of  snuggling under blankets, surrounding myself with magazine, boxes of tissues and mugs of hot green tea, I became fascinated with the food shows.  Oh my!  Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten is my most favorite followed by Cook’s Country Test Kitchen, but I also watch Chopped, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (people, people, people – do we really need fried mac ‘n cheese balls???) and “America’s Worst Cooks.”  Did you know it’s actually possible to catch instant rice on fire – and it’s in water?  I’m getting quite a culinary education.

I’m at a tremendous disadvantage here, as my DH does all the cooking.  Insists on it, as a matter of fact.  Not only does the evening chore help him  decompress, I’ve been told my midwestern fare is “too bland.”  I used to love to cook, but now cannot even fight myself to the range!  So I’ve begun my own little afternoon cooking school – party of one.

I made peanut better cookies on Sunday.  That old BH&G recipe is a classic.  I used to use half butter and half Crisco (yipes) in the cookies, but found that using only butter yields a superior product.  Today I made Chocolate Almond Biscotti from a recipe found on the internet.  I don’t know what the big fuss is over making biscotti.  Yes, it’s a little time-consuming, but is really quite simple.  My only difficulty was in stirring (recommended) the dough.  It’s VERY thick and requires a lot of muscle.

This recipe made a lot of biscotti.  We experimented with the drying-out baking – doing the first half for 15 minutes a side; the second for just 10 minutes.  I prefer the crunchy, while DH likes the cookie with a little less tooth.

Changes I made and will make next time:  Use a very high quality chocolate.  The cocoa powder I had didn’t deliver the good flavor I wanted. Directions call for blanching and peeling one cup of almonds.  Are you serious?  I laboriously peeled four almonds before throwing them in the food processor.  And I toasted them in a dry skillet to bring out the flavor.  i would also chill the dough for an hour or so or even overnight prior to forming the two loaves.  Those puppies became enormous in the oven!

Here are a couple more photos from the process.  You can see the giant loaves, which were supposed to be 4″ x 12″.  Not a chance.  The dough bakes for 30 minutes, then cools, then is sliced in 1/2″ pieces.  The pieces are baked in a slow oven for 15 minutes per side.  Oh – dipping into or drizzling the biscotti with chocolate was recommended.  Seriously?

Biscotti Loaf

Biscotti Slices Baking/Crisping

Biscotti Done!

Expect 36 eight-inch long biscotti cookies from this recipe, which I’ll try to post tomorrow.

Nighty night, dear readers.


Posted January 5th, 2013 by Ellen and filed in Christmas, Family, Holidays, Recipes

A beautiful Moravian Star is reflected in the church window.

Photo credit:  Bill Guerrant

Each time I write about baking sugar cakes, I get requests for the recipe.  Here is the one I use.  It came from DH’s grandmother:

Sugar cake ready to bake

Grandmother’s Moravian Sugar Cake

This is from my DH’s grandmother whose family has been Moravian for generations. Grandmother’s home in Old Salem (NC) stood until recently when it caught fire during renovation.

Note: Sugar cake is a sweet, light yeast dough topped with brown sugar, cinnamon and butter.  It is not really a cake.

1 C. hot mashed russet potatoes*

1 package yeast

1 C. sugar

1/2 C. shortening

4 T. butter

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs

4 C. flour**


2 C. brown sugar

Butter, about 1/2 C. melted and cooled

Cinnamon to taste***

Mix sugar, butter, shortening, salt and potatoes. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 C. warm water and add to potato mixture. Set this aside and allow to rise until spongy. Add slightly beaten eggs. Add flour to form soft dough. Put dough in clean, greased bowl, cover bowl with saran and allow to rise overnight .  (I let it rise for 12 hours.)  Spread out evenly on flat, greased pans after stirring slightly. When dough is light, make depressions in it for butter and brown sugar. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake in 350-375 oven about 20 minutes. Makes three Baker’s Secret pie pans. Note: I use a 360 degree oven.   Do not over bake.  You do not want a dry cake.  To reheat by the slice, use a microwave for 30 seconds at 30%.  You can then heat in oven for a minute or so if desired.

I use a Kitchenaid mixer when making this, with the regular wire beaters for the first step. Switch to the dough paddle when adding the flour.

*I use an old-fashioned potato ricer rather than a masher

**I get a much softer, moister product with a soft flour such as White Lily. Gold Medal is too heavy.

***I like to mix the cinnamon in with the brown sugar before sprinkling it on the dough. Drizzle butter which has been melted and cooled somewhat over the cinnamon/sugar.

Dough during its overnight rise.

Dough sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon. After depressions have been finger pressed

into the dough’s surface, melted butter will be liberally applied.

Moravian Sugar Cake.  There’s nothing like it!