28 February 2011

Family recipe Monday: muffins and popovers

Bird runes on the front porch

For straight-out mental exhaustion on a grand scale, the sort that makes your loved ones seriously debate the merits of having you placed in a nice home for the bewildered for a while, very little stacks up against unrelenting weeks of grant-writing interspersed with a few building emergencies. Times being what they are, there is no let-up to grant-writing in sight. In order to be the flagship institution I think we can be within the next ten years, we absolutely must re-think, re-plan, re-tool, and find the resources to do that. But that work is in addition to, not instead of, everything else that is going on. We plan strategies. We plan budgets. We teach and grade and advise. We serve on committees. And we write grants.

On Friday we moved most of the bones of a mammoth from the old building to the new one. Yeah, they're big. And they had to go down a story's worth of outdoor steps. In the snow. That led to a great discussion on how we should be commemorating these events for the participants--grand-tour-type rock band T-shirts, or Scout-type badges? It's been an astounding year when viewed in retrospect. Opened a new building. Moved steel cases with our bare (OK, work-gloved) hands. (My grandmother always did want me to wear gloves during the day....) Moved a library and a half. Packed thousands and thousands of rocks and fossils. Bought a forklift (for this I went to graduate school?). Mopped up a flood. Mopped up other leaks. Gave tours to a couple of thousand people even before the building opened. Moved giant sculptures into place. And, in the process, got blessed with one of the best groups of students, faculty and staff ever, anywhere.

My new plan in to start bringing in some kind of baked goods every Friday to keep everyone happy, or at least fed. I'll post a running chronicle here on Thursdays. With any luck and a few good breaks in the weather, we can get this move completed by the summer. I've posted some of my favorite cookie and muffin recipes already; it's time to start baking them for the troops here.

This is another of my favorite big-batch mix recipes. Nice to have on hand at the end of a frenetic week, and easy to load up with fruit so that we can call it a health food....

Oatmeal mix

7 cups flour
3½ cups sugar
2 T salt
¼ cup baking powder
2¼ cups shortening
18-oz. box rolled oats

Combine dry ingredients in very large bowl. Sift. Using a pastry blender, cut shortening into mix until mix is consistency of cornmeal. Store in airtight container in cool, dry place. To measure, spoon lightly into cup and level off with spatula. Yield: 22 cups mix.

Oatmeal muffins

1 egg
½ cup milk
3 cups Oatmeal Mix (above)

Beat egg until light. Add milk and mix well. Pour into oatmeal mix. Stir just enough to moisten, Fill greased or papered pans 2/3 full. Bake at 425* F for 20 minutes. Yield: 1 dozen.

Variations: Add ¾ cup chopped dates, ¾ cup simmered raisins, 1 cup blueberries, ¾ cup chopped nuts, or 1 cup diced apple and ½ tsp cinnamon.

Popovers don't keep long enough to be brought to work. They are steam-puffed and collapse soon if they're not eaten first thing. But they're wonderful dinner breads and not all that difficult to make. You need the right kind of baking pan and a very hot oven. You can experiment with them a bit; savory popovers with onion and dill are especially nice with seafood.

Perfect popovers

2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 T salad oil

In mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, flour and salt. Beat 1 ½ minutes with rotary or electric beater. Add salad oil; beat ½ minute. Don't overbeat. Fill 6 to 8 well-greased custard cups ½ full. Bake in very hot oven (475* F) for 15 minutes; reduce heat to moderate (350* F) and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until browned and firm. A few minutes before removing from oven, prick each popover with skewer or two-tined fork to let steam escape. For drier popovers, turn off oven and leave them in for 30 minutes, door ajar. Serve hot.

Happy Monday. Four weeks until we see cranes in the skies....

Cranes at sunrise.

21 February 2011

Family recipe Monday: beans and peppers

Nine inches of snow
Is sixty-three in cat math--
Please send it away.

In the past two weeks, by the old Fahrenheit thermometer, we have gone from 24 below to 64 above and back to 4 below, this time with a snowfall just deep enough to make getting out a nuisance. This is ridiculous. The sane people stayed in all weekend, this being a three-day weekend, but we had tickets to see The Lion in Winter on the big-screen vintage theatre in town, and therefore did not qualify as sane people.

Negotiating the uncleared  streets and sidewalks would be complicated enough without having to factor wheelchair logistics into the equation. We went, however, and it was awesome as always. We even managed to forge through the snowdrifts there and back without staging a repeat of the Old Sparky scenario.

Now we are waiting to see if the sidewalks get cleared as arranged while worrying about Shirley's carpal tunnel surgery today (although this looks like it doesn't even qualify as outpatient surgery--more like drive-by).

I think everyone is tired of winter at this point, especially since it has never settled down and really acted like winter. It is definitely off its meds. The ice in particular needs to go away.

Hibernation thoughts, however, are going away. We want to get out and play, not curl up and go back to sleep. We're restless and eating lighter foods. Here are some favorites that we're likely to be making soon. These are all vegetarian, but not vegan.

Green chile torte

1 ½ cups skim milk
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
4-oz can chopped green chiles, seeded
Pinch cayenne pepper
¼ tsp vegetable salt

Preheat oven to 325* F. Heat milk in small saucepan until hot but not boiling. Beat eggs. Slowly beat milk into them. Add cheese, chiles and seasonings. Pour into 6 lightly greased shirred-egg dishes or one 9” pie pan. Bake for about 40 minutes or until set.

Portobello fajitas

4 portobello mushrooms, stems removed and discarded, caps wiped clean
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 T soy sauce
1 T chopped fresh cilantro
6 oz dark beer
1 T fresh-ground black pepper
1 T habañero pepper jelly
1 onion, sliced into ½“ thick rings

Combine olive oil, sliced onion rings, lime juice, garlic, soy sauce, cilantro, jelly, beer and pepper in a large Ziploc plastic bag. Add the mushrooms, seal the bag and GENTLY shake to coat the mushrooms with the marinade. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Cut 4 12”x12” pieces of foil. Remove mushrooms from marinade, place a foil square on a work surface and set a mushroom on top, underside up. Fold the foil edges over to enclose the mushroom and seal the edges shut. Grill indirectly over medium hot fire for 10-12 minutes with the lid closed. Remove and discard the foil. Return the unwrapped mushrooms to the grill, bottom side up, brush with the marinade and cook until grill marked, 30-60 seconds. Remove from the grill and slice into ¼“ slices. Serve with warm flour tortillas, grilled onion rings, guacamole and pico de gallo.
--Pat Monaco

These are a couple of recipes for gallo pinto, which Gene learned to make on his birding time in Costa Rica. Gene omits the bacon. You may or may not wish to do the same. It's a very flexible recipe with lots of possibilities for improvisation. The rice really should be cooked the day before in order to get the right texture.
Gallo pinto I
3 cups day-old cooked rice
2 cups cooked black beans
2 T fresh onion, finely chopped
1 T bell pepper, red or green, finely chopped
2 T fresh coriander, finely chopped
3 strips bacon, cooked, drained, crumbled
2 T oil
½ T Worcestershire sauce
½ T Tabasco sauce

Sauté onion and bell pepper in oil on medium heat. Add beans and cook 2 minutes longer. Add rice and mix, cook 3 minutes more. Add Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and coriander, mix well. Garnish with bacon crumbs. If desired, top with sour cream. 6 servings.
--Gene K. Hess

Gallo pinto II

Sauté in butter or oil: fresh onions, fresh sweet pepper (red or green), cilantro (½ stalk cut into very small pieces). Mix in ½ lb cooked red or black beans. Add 2 T Lozano sauce, 2 T soy sauce, a little black pepper, and salt to taste. Add cooked rice, as much as you like. Chop 1 small tomato into pieces and put on top. Cover and cook 10 minutes.
--Gene K. Hess
Happy Monday. Get outside and play if at all possible.

14 February 2011

Family recipe Monday: bar cookies

Badlands in a February thaw

Still life with snowmelt, Badlands

I have no idea what happened to the weather out here in the hinterlands, but we are in a strange and wonderful February thaw. On Friday, it was positively balmy, and a few of us desperately cabin-fevered museum staff jumped into the Suburban and headed out for a day trip to Badlands National Park. We were delivering a few non-critical things, such as collections records, and one desperately critical item: a whole case of Girl Scout cookies for the Badlands museum staff. Apparently the Girl Scouts didn't get out to Interior, South Dakota, yet, and our colleagues were pining away for Thin Mints. I felt like a rider for the Pony Express, urging the steed on to get there in time before our gallant colleagues collapsed. Mission accomplished.

It was a gloriously pretty day. We took a little time to walk around the Fossil Trail to take in the sunlight and scenery under a blazingly blue sky. It could have been spring. The rabbits and deer had clearly been out in the melting snow, as had someone else, possibly a coyote. We are six weeks away from the return of the cranes, and there could be lots of winter weather left to come, but Friday was a preview of spring and we were glad to be out for it.

Warmer weather is a good time for dragging out the lighter recipes. Bar cookies are good weekend baking projects. You don't have to have any particular skill for rolling and cutting or for dropping cookies--just bake them in a shallow pan and worry about the cutting after they cool. These are older recipes, so make substitutions in the ingredients as necessary. Bar cookies are good for potlucks and other gatherings.

Apricot bars

¾ cup oleo
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. salt (optional)
2 cups flour
1 can Angel Flake flaked coconut
1 cup nuts

Cream oleo, sugar, egg and vanilla. Combine flour, coconut, nuts and salt. Reserve 1 cup of flour mixture and add remaining part to egg mixture. Spread this mixture in 9x12” floured and greased pan. Flour on your fingers makes the spreading easier. Then spread 8 oz apricot preserves over mix--don’t get it on edges of pan. Then crumble the 1 cup of reserved flour mixture over top. Bake about 30 minutes. Cool before cutting.

Quilting bee special lemon bars

2 cups flour
1 cup butter
½ cup powdered sugar
6 T lemon juice
4 T flour
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking powder

Cream together the 2 cups of flour, butter and powdered sugar. Pat evenly into a 10”x15” pan and bake 15-20 minutes at 350*. Beat the eggs until thick and lemon-colored. Add lemon juice and sugar. Continue beating. Add 4 T flour and baking powder. Pour over baked crust. Bake 25 minutes or longer at 350*. When cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Happy Monday, happy Valentine's Day. Spring is on the horizon. Honest.

Ice crystal impressions in mud, Badlands National Park

07 February 2011

Family recipe Monday: more teabreads

Beauty in the snow, from the Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail site. This one is from Calhoun County, Illinois. It just glows in the blizzard.   

It was a great weekend to stay in, brew tea, read old books and bake. It certainly was not a good weekend for getting out and eyeing birds, as birds are not stupid and tend to stay in warm places where they can't be seen. Nor was it a good weekend for driving around, since the weather was erratic and kept producing icy roads and blowing snow at the strangest times. I think that everyone up here would settle for either better weather or an outright snow day or five.

There is a blueberry cobbler in the refrigerator, the fond memory of buckwheat pancakes from this morning, and another batch of teacakes ready to go off to Afghanistan. Apparently the last batch of teacakes evaporated or something over there.

My favorite snow day therapy is still a window looking out on the snow, Earl Grey tea and teabreads in the late afternoon. These are best combined with a puffy quilt and a stack of books. It's all the more satisfying in a prairie-girl kind of way, I'm finding, if the bread and the quilt are both homemade. Either I've been up here way too long or not nearly long enough. I'm opting for the latter, and that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Cranberries weren't always easy to get in the flatlands and drylands. Anyone who has only experienced them in the form of canned jelly at Thanksgiving is in for a pleasant surprise in using them fresh and whole. As these two recipes show, they are perfectly paired with orange juice (or any other citrus juice). You can substitute dried ones for fresh ones, but I'd soak them in orange juice for a few hours first. These are good for afternoon and evening gatherings, and also make good mini-loaves for gifts. Don't ignore the advice to let these stand for a while before slicing. Baking-powder breads need  to cool and firm up in order for the crumb to be good and not, well, crumby.

Cranberry-orange tea bread

3 cups all-purpose biscuit mix
1 T grated orange rind
¾ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup milk
½ cup orange juice
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

Combine biscuit mix, rind and sugar in large bowl. Combine egg, milk and orange juice. Add to biscuit mixture and beat for about 1 minute. Stir in nuts and cranberries. Spoon into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350* F for 55 to 60 minutes. Let stand in pan 10 to 15 minutes. Turn out on rack to cool. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and let stand a day before slicing. If refrigerated, first slice, then allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Re the next one: I don't use margarine, full stop. If you are substituting butter, you may need to check both the amount of flour and the heat of the oven to make sure that the texture is good and that the bread does not burn at the edges. I haven't had many problems with this. There are heart-healthier versions out there, though.

Cranberry quick bread with sweet orange spread

½ cup margarine spread
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
1 cup unsweetened orange juice
1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries
½ cup chopped nuts

Beat spread and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add combined dry ingredients alternately with juice, mixing well after each addition. Stir in cranberries and nuts. Pour into greased and floured 9”x5” loaf pan. Bake at 350* F for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes and remove from pan.

Sweet orange spread

Combine ½ cup margarine spread, 1 T powdered sugar and 1 tsp. grated orange rind. Mix well and chill.

Happy Monday. What is your favorite bad-weather therapy?