Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Better than Starbucks? Oh, yeah.

I had my first Starbucks vanilla scones today. Oh, my, they were good. But these are even better, if I do say so myself.

Back story: I tried an Andes Candy mint chocolate scone recipe from a card I found in the grocery store. It was awful. Just horrible. Downright disgusting. But then I got to thinking ... if I replaced the Andes with cranberries, and added some orange flavoring, and used white chocolate instead of regular ...

Orange-Cranberry Two-Bite Scones

2-1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped slightly in food processor
1 tsp plus 1/2 tsp orange extract
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup white baking chips or chopped white chocolate

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Mix dry ingredients. Cut butter in with a pastry cutter until it resembles coarse meal. (This can also be done in a food processor, using only half the flour mixture. Add the remaining flour mixture in the bowl before adding cream.)

Sprinkle 1 tsp orange extract over cranberries. Stir berries into dry mixture.

Add cream and 1/2 tsp orange extract to dry ingredients. Mix lightly with fingers just until the dough holds together. Wrap in plastic and chill about 1/2 hour.

Roll out into a 6" x 8" rectangle. Cut into 2-inch squares, then cut each square diagonally in half to create 24 triangles. (A mezzaluna or pizza cutter works really well for this.)

Place scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake 13-15 minutes or until golden brown and puffed. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Melt chips; drizzle over cooled scones.

Based on Andes mint scones recipe:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I didn't do the Facebook "30 Days of Thanksgiving" this year. Sometimes it's hard to come up with the words, much less the feeling. My family isn't one to sit around the table and make everyone say something they're grateful for before we can eat, so it's not exactly tradition for me.

But there are lots of things I'm thankful for on a daily basis.

1. Indoor plumbing. I'm not being facetious. I love that I can use a toilet, a shower, a sink, without having to go out to a little building in the cold or rain. I love that most grocery and department stores have public bathrooms. And that they're free to use. Camping for a week every year in a converted hayfield has reinforced this, but I've been thankful for modern plumbing as far back as I can remember thinking about these things.

2. Family. I disagree with half of them on everything and with all of them on something, but they're here for me. Right now we have four generations alive and kicking, and that's a bonus I'm thankful for.

3. A warm, dry home. Again, camping reinforces this, but so did a semester living with a local family at Cambridge, where central heat was not considered a necessity. It's darned cold in Cambridge in November. I'm thankful for the technology and construction that keep me out of the elements.

4. I'm rich. Compared to most of the world, that is. I may be one of the 99 percent, and on the bottom of that pile, even, but I'm thankful to have shelter, food, clothes, safety and a whole lot of luxuries, like electricity and the internet.

5. The internet. I'm not a people person, but I've connected to several new communities through the web, and reconnected with some old friends. I've made real-life friendships that started as a few words on a computer screen. I'm thankful that online relationships allow me to engage without being overwhelmed.

6. Food. I love food. I'm thankful that I have access not only to sufficient quantities of food, but a variety of foods from so many cultures and countries. I'm thankful for my garden, and also that other people grow, slaughter, process and provide the things I can't or won't grow myself.

7. Pets. I'm currently a crazy cat lady, with five indoor cats, two mamas with kittens that I'm fostering until they find homes, and a colony of outdoor cats that I feed, TNR and keep an eye on. I've always had an affinity for animals, and there are times they've been my comfort and my connection to life. I'm thankful that I live in a society that (mostly) acknowledges the worth of companion animals and that I have the space and means to surround myself with them.

Right now I'm sitting at a reasonably new computer, in a warm home, with a cat curled up next to me, waiting for the brine to cool so I can start my Thanksgiving turkey preparations. That's a lot to be grateful for right there.

Speaking of turkey, I'm slow-roasting again this year. It's a 15-pound bird, so I'll start it Wednesday night around midnight in a 450 F oven for an hour, then let it go at 225 F while I sleep. It should be ready long before our dinner ETA of 2 p.m.

The turkey is brining now, with fresh herbs that I've managed to coddle through the 20-degree nights: sage, rosemary, thyme, chives and chervil. For maple flavor, I added four decaf maple tea bags as an experiment. Smells pretty good so far.

I've done a maple glaze for the past few years and it's fantastic. The gravy is a bit sweet, but we always have a second bird done with traditional seasonings, so people have a choice.

Oh, and I use Michael Symon's cheesecloth trick. Makes for moist meat with a crispy skin. And it's really fun to peel off before you carve it.

Now, this is how I do it; I'm not a professional chef or certified food scientist, so if you have any questions, check with the experts. But dang, this method turns out a turkey to be thankful for.

Maple-Glazed Slow-Roasted Turkey

1 stick salted butter
One onion, cut into wedgesA few garlic cloves, crushed slightly
One fennel bulb, cut into wedges (optional)
Fresh or dried sage to taste
Fresh or dried thyme to taste
3/4 cup real maple syrup
3 apples, cut into wedges
2-foot-square (4-layer) piece of cheesecloth

Melt butter in saucepan. Add onion, garlic, fennel, sage and thyme. Stir in maple syrup. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool while you prep turkey in pan.

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Wash turkey inside and out. Set on rack in roasting pan breast side up. Truss legs if you want; tuck wing tips under. Put apple wedges into cavity.

When glaze is cool enough to handle, soak cheesecloth in it. Drape cheesecloth over turkey, covering it completely (leave access to the cavity), tucking it in around the edges. Drizzle remaining glaze over the turkey; put the vegetables and herbs inside the cavity and cover the hole with cheesecloth.

Cook turkey at 450 for 40 minutes to an hour. (That's figuring from 12 to 20 pounds. Check the experts for more specific timing!) The skin should be browned but not dried out.

Turn heat down to 225. Tent foil over breast. Roast another 5 to 8 hours, until a meat thermometer inserted in the breast reads at least 165 F. You can go longer and hotter without overcooking at this low temperature.

Another advantage of slow roasting is that the turkey gets more evenly heated through, and generally stays hotter during the "resting" time before it's carved, so you can set it aside (covered) while you bake your casseroles and still have a nice hot bird

Peel the cheesecloth off and discard before you move the turkey to a carving board.

Friday, June 15, 2012


My strawberries are coming on, and I've picked them twice. They're smaller this year because I didn't really take care of them until too late in the season last year, when this year's buds were already starting to form. Small ... but tasty.

I ate the first handful (above) myself, but the second, larger picking was cut up and served over slices of peach pound cake.

Still, I've still been buying strawberries at the grocery store. Lots of them. Too many, in fact. They're just so enticing, sitting there in the produce section, begging me to take them home.

And they've been on sale.

But this turned out to be a good thing. I finally decided to try out the ice cream maker I bought last year. It's one that you freeze, so it doesn't require salt. I always thought that was a waste of money (and disposing of the brine isn't good for either the septic tank or the lawn). I made room for it in my very crowded upright freezer. Had to pack a bag of peas inside it to fit it in, but I figured that would only help the process along.

I had seen a recipe for frozen strawberry yogurt that seemed simple enough. Of course, I forgot to bookmark or copy it. But this one from Taste of Home was pretty close. I adapted it, using vanilla yogurt and leaving out the extract.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

2 cups (16 oz) fat-free vanilla yogurt
2 cups pureed fresh strawberries (about 1 pound)
1 can (14 oz) fat-free sweetened condensed milk
1 cup fat-free milk

First of all, read the directions on your freezer if you are using it for the first time! I'm glad I did, because it said to prepare the mixture before getting the cylinder out of the freezer.

I pureed a full pound of berries plus a few from an open container. I ended up with extra puree. It didn't go to waste, though -- I added frozen pineapple and banana and had myself a smoothie while waiting for the freezer to do its thing.

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl (they come to more than six cups in total volume).

Fill cylinder of ice cream freezer two-thirds full or according to manufacturer's directions; freeze as directed.

The freezing begins! Three(ish) cups in the cylinder, three(ish) cups left over.
I set the cylinder on a braided hot pad to insulate it from the metal surface. I wonder if wrapping it in a towel might be a good idea to help keep it colder.

Refrigerate remaining mixture until ready to freeze.

Allow to ripen in ice cream freezer or firm up in refrigerator freezer for 2-4 hours before serving.

Remove from the freezer 30-45 minutes before serving.

The original recipe says it makes 1-1/2 quarts, but I got 2 quarts out of it.

My 1-quart freezer took half the mixture, about 3 cups, for a 4-cup cylinder. It produced just about a full freezer after the increase in volume. I packed up 3 cups in a plastic container and decided the remaining cup was for quality control.

It passed with flying colors.

Hmmm. I've also been buying way too many blueberries ...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Taken off-guard, again

The garden is coming on, but with today's thunderstorms, I didn't make it out there. That leaves my tomatoes and zucchini still in their pots, waiting to go in the freshly cleared ground. At least I know they're well-watered.

So far, I've got peas and chives in bloom, rhubarb ready to pick (it's in the shade so later than most others around here) and walking onions thriving. Roma, yellow, pole and yardlong beans have been planted. The strawberries are fruiting, protected by bird netting.

Chervil has come up and gone to seed already. Ditto with lettuces -- it's just too hot to put more in right now. They all bolted two weeks ago, before I even got a decent salad.

The Joe Pye weed is over a foot tall, iris are blooming and the giant hibiscus are just starting to pop up from the ground.

It all happens so suddenly every year. I poke around for weeks, looking for any signs of green, and rejoice at every shoot ...

 ... then next thing I know, I'm surrounded by green (and yellow/white/pink/red/purple)!

A lot of the green, of course, will be weeds. One day I'm thinking I should take the four-tined cultivator to a section of weed seedlings, then the next I need to get out and pull two-foot-tall plants, like in the area I designated for tomatoes this year.

(It was planted in melons last year, which all got wiped out by a flood, followed by squash bugs. I'm hoping for better luck this year as I'm trying real watermelons -- the huge, oblong kind, not the usual Sugar Baby type.)

This was a good afternoon's work.

I've already wrangled my first rock of the season, too. It was in a spot where I wanted to put a tomato plant.

Yes, there are three other huge rocks right next to that spot, but I wanted a tomato THERE. So it had to come out.

 It took me about an hour of steady work -- digging around it, sloping the ground in front of it, working it up and pushing soil under it until it was at surface level, then rolling it (by sitting on the ground and pushing it with my legs) to where I wanted it.

The 1" x 4' iron pike is somewhat useful, but I don't know what I'll do when my trusty wood-handled shovel finally gives out in one of these rock 'n' roll escapades. I'm not sure they make them like that anymore.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

That rummy glow

I learned about Atomic Rum Balls from a friend in California. Not being a big drinker, I had never heard of Bacardi 151 rum, nor did I understand the implications of a 151-proof beverage incorporated into a holiday confection. I quickly learned, however, where the "atomic" part of the name came from, as I began to experience that special glow.

The other day, I told someone to look up Atomic Rum Balls online, intending to direct her to the recipe I posted, but later realized it's only up on my Facebook page. So for the total stranger I was talking to in Target, and all other seekers of rummy goodness, here are the original and my Anna's cookies variation.

Mary's Atomic Rum Balls

1 sleeve (5.25 oz) Anna's Thins in whatever flavor you like
1 cup pecans, walnuts or almonds
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp powdered cocoa (or other dry flavoring, like tea -- see below)
2 Tbsp Karo syrup
1/2 cup Bacardi 151 rum (you can use another, or even a flavored rum, but then they won't be Atomic!)
Powdered sugar for coating

Grind cookies in food processor. Dump into mixing bowl.

Grind nuts in food processor. Dump into mixing bowl.

Add 1 cup powdered sugar and cocoa (if using). Mix. Add the Karo and rum and mix thoroughly. If mixture is too sticky, add more powdered sugar, up to 1/2 cup.

Refrigerate overnight.

Roll into 3/4-inch balls (about a teaspoon each). Roll in powdered sugar and place in single layer in airtight container. Allow to age a week or two for best flavor.

Some good flavor combos:
Anna's cappuccino thins, pecans, cocoa
Anna's chocolate chip thins, walnuts, cocoa
Anna's ginger thins, pecans, cocoa (or chai)
Anna's chocolate mint thins, walnuts, cocoa
Anna's almond cinnamon thins, almonds, 2 tsp. chai tea (loose, or open two teabags); spiced rum (= subatomic; I recommend Blackheart 93 proof)

Original Sal's Atomic Rum Balls

1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup Nilla wafer crumbs, finely ground
1 cup pecans or walnuts, finely ground
2 Tbsp powdered cocoa
2 Tbsp Karo syrup
1/2 cup Bacardi 151 rum
Powdered sugar for coating

Mix the dry ingredients, then add the rest and mix thoroughly. NOTE: You may have to add more crumbs or powdered sugar if mixture is too sticky. Refrigerate overnight. Roll into 3/4-inch balls (about a teaspoon each). Roll in powdered sugar and place in single layer in airtight container. Allow to age a week or two for best flavor.

Makes 2 to 3 dozen.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to take a shower when you have Adult ADD

5 p.m. Say, "I'm going to go take a shower." Go to bedroom to get clean clothes. Straighten covers on bed. Adjust window shade. Notice book next to bed that needs to be returned to library. Put book by door. Take clothes to bathroom.

5:06 p.m. Close bathroom door. Notice mirror that needs to be mounted on wall. Go get pencil, drill, drill bits, hammer, screwdriver, screw anchors, mirror clips.

5:11 p.m. Try to hold mirror steady on wall. Fail. Look around for ideas.

5:12 p.m. Find box of cat litter is right height to hold mirror. Mark position on wall with pencil. Drill holes. Find out holes are too small for screw anchors. Drill bigger holes. Fit screw anchors into wall, except for one that bends.

5:20 p.m. Rummage through junk drawer; find thin nail. Notice a couple of dishes that need to be washed. Wash them. Return to bathroom. Forget nail. Go back to kitchen to get nail. Insert nail in screw anchor, pound into wall, remove nail, finish mounting mirror. Put away tools and pencil. Yay! Ready to take a shower.

5:28 p.m. Return to bathroom. Pick up towel and realize you have laundry on the line that needs to come in before the dew falls. Put towel down and go out to bring laundry in.

5:31 p.m. Take clothes to bedroom #1, fold, put away. Take sheets to bedroom #2; put fitted sheet on bed and set the rest aside for later because, by golly, you need to go take a shower.

5:37 p.m. On the way back to the bathroom, notice a tube of Neosporin and an unsharpened pencil on the table. Put Neosporin back in the medicine cabinet; congratulate yourself on not getting distracted by the pencil, because you're on your way to the shower.

5:38 p.m. Notice cat litter tracked onto bathroom floor. Get broom and dustpan and sweep it up. Clean out litter box. Put away broom and dustpan.

5:42 p.m. Pull back shower curtain. Notice tub drain screen is dirty. Clean it. Throw paper towel in garbage. Notice garbage is full. Tie up bag, take out, put new bag in bin.

5:45 p.m. Take shower.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Walking with the onion again

My garden has been busy during all this rain. While I wasn't looking, the rhubarb went from too small for picking to sending up a flower stalk. The walking onions are developing flower heads. The comfrey is three feet tall. The weeds are rampant.

If celandine was a cash crop instead of an invasive weed, I'd be rich -- I have it in every garden, as well as covering the compost heap.

And the lawns? Out of control. Some parts are still too deep in water to mow.

I found a few surprises, like some pink forget-me-nots popping up where they were never planted, and this parrot tulip (I think it's a Professor Roentgen):

The strawberries have taken over the sandy garden. I had to take up well over 150 plants just to make room for vegetables. The rest of the berries are blossoming.

I managed to get in a dozen tomato plants and some cucumbers so far, and planted seeds for bush beans, pole beans, pumpkins and peas.

Now that my walking onions are established in the garden, there are plenty of mature onions to harvest. On the other hand, the leeks have petered out and are going to need replanting.

So when I went out to get ingredients for asparagus soup, I ended up with one leek and two walking onions. I think it came out just as tasty, but I typed up the recipe for folks without the unusual bulbs:

Cream of Asparagus Soup

2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 large leek OR 1 small sweet onion*
1-1/2 lb fresh asparagus
1 quart plus 1 can chicken broth
Fresh herbs of choice (I used about 1/2 tsp thyme and 1 tsp garlic chives)
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
1 cup Land O'Lakes fat-free half-and-half**

Heat 2 Tbsp butter or olive oil in large soup pot. Add leek or onion and saute until soft.

Meanwhile, cut tips from asparagus and set aside. Cut the rest of asparagus into 1/2" pieces and add to onions in pan. Saute about 3 minutes.

Add broth; bring to boil, then lower heat, cover and simmer until asparagus is very soft (15 minutes or more).

Remove soup from heat; allow to cool enough to put in blender and puree. If you have an immersion blender, you can puree in the pot. You can also use a hand mixer if you're careful, or just skip the puree step altogether.

Return soup to medium heat. Add asparagus tips
and herbs. Bring back to a simmer.

Melt 4 Tbsp of butter. Remove from heat. Whisk in flour until smooth.

Add butter/flour mixture slowly to simmering soup, stirring constantly until soup returns to a low boil. Simmer until asparagus tips are done.

Slowly stir in half-and-half, mixing thoroughly, just before serving.

* I actually used one small leek and two "walking onions," each about 3/4" diameter. I used the white and green parts of the leek and the white parts of the onions.

** LOL brand fat-free is the only brand I've found that will mix instead of separating when added to hot liquid.