throw it out and start all over

Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.
Meister Eckhart


(harvest time, in the dead of winter, go figure / Julie Cook / 2018)

Here in northwest Georgia, we are currently in the midst of our typical dreary Georgia winters…
grey, damp, misty, rainy and utterly foggy…
all of which gives way to just a sunless chilly dampness that gives way a heavy case
of the “meh’s”…
Not depressed but not joyful.
Not sad but not perky.

Yet despite this damp dreariness, believe it or not, all the citrus trees, that have been
moved to the basement for the season, are now bearing a plethora of fruit…
go figure!

So when life gives you an abundance of lemons in the dead of winter…
I suppose one gets busy making
something lemony.

Of which I did…today (yesterday by the time you’re reading this today)

I was going to look up lemon recipes that require a good bit of juice but I was
in the process of “migrating” again my old computer to the new computer.
It seems that the 5 hours required the other day was not enough,
I needed to add two more hours today in order to complete the “migration”…
I don’t think it takes geese that long to migrate!

Computer migration meant I wouldn’t be looking for all things lemony on the computer anytime soon
so I would be doing so with my phone instead. Sigh.

Searching, reading and squinting, I found a recipe for a lemony loaf cake that needs 1/2 cup
of fresh juice.

Perfect.

I headed to the basement in order to pluck what lemons were ripe…6 for now.
3 limes and 2 tiny calamondins.

I zested three lemons and juiced them while the butter softened.

My phone screen kept closing so I kept having to find a clean finger in order to touch the screen
and click back on the recipe.

I read over what I needed, what the oven needed to be set on and scanned over the step by steps–
in between the on and off screen…

I creamed the butter with the sugar, I added the eggs, I shifted the flour,
I measured the baking soda, baking powder, salt…
WAIT
was that 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder or
was it 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon baking powder???????

It was too late, I had gone with the first thought…
that being the full teaspoon of the baking soda and
the 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.

When I clicked my phone from black back to the recipe, I read I had reversed the two…
I tasted the batter…yuck…definitely too much soda.
The lemon juice seemed to make it start growing in the bowl.
Now I’m no chemistry major, but there was certainly a reaction beginning to react…

But what the heck, what’s 1/2 teaspoon too much??

I poured my “growing” batter into the pan…oddly it was now right at the rim and seemed
to still be growing…
I fretted what would happen when it hit the heat????

I shoved a sheet of foil underneath in case it opted to spill over.

I set the timer and quickly grabbed my phone now with two dirty hands yet full attention.

I quickly googled what happens if one adds more soda than what is called for.

All of the listed articles might as well as have had a nuclear warning sign as a header
as each one read of disaster.

The batter will taste bitter and soapy. Check
The batter will expand beyond capacity especially if an acidic base is added. Check
The batter will flow out of the pan once it’s placed in the over. Double check,

Solution…

Throw it all out and start over.

One article did advise that you could possibly double the flour, butter, eggs, sugar
and make a double batch but I wasn’t going there.

I yanked open the oven door and grabbed the now overflowing pan and headed straight to the trashcan.

I started over.

This time being careful to get my soda and powder measurement right.

I threw out 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of lemon juice, 3 eggs, 1/2 cup of milk, 1 stick of butter,
1 Tbl of lemon zest…a huge waste but the only salvageable option.

And so as I started over from scratch on this now seemingly costly cake of mine,
I was reminded that we are currently perched on the tossing out of one year
as we prepare to start fresh on a new year.

I can honestly say that I am happy, for many reasons, to be tossing out this past year.

It’s like my batter with the too much soda, it just needs to be thrown out and started anew…
despite the seemingly lost cost.

On a personal level, this past year was a blessing in that we had great joy with the birth of this
first grandchild of ours…and the news of another one soon on his way…
As well as with the successful retiring of a 50-year business.

Yet I can’t help but think about this country of ours and of our global community.
The uncertainty.
The hatefulness.
The sinfulness.
The anger.
The turning away from our Judeo / Christian heritage.

I can only pray that God, in His Mercy, will continue to afford us His Grace…
And that He will indeed remain gracious and merciful to his wayward children.

I pray that we can hold onto a continued sense of hopefulness while we look forward to a
fresh beginning…because Lord knows, it’s time we get a brand new fresh start!
Just like my cake…that finally turned out a great success.

Here’s to a hope-filled successful new year for us all!!!

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,
that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16

tis the season or just one of those days…

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought,
doesn’t come from a store.
What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Dr. Seuss


(sterilizing The Mayor’s things in the wake of her departure / Julie Cook / 2018)

Let’s face it…we all have those days when we feel like a giraffe with our heads
stuck in a pot of boiling water.

Perhaps you’ve never looked at it that way before, but admit it, it makes perfect sense.

Maybe you’re not exactly frazzled.
Maybe you’re not terribly overwhelmed.
Maybe you’re not running behind.
Maybe you’re not stressed.
Maybe you’re not tired.
Maybe you’re not a bit melancholy.
Maybe you’re not a bit stretched.
Maybe you’re not a bit depressed.
Maybe you’re not overly busy.
Maybe you’re not apprehensive or anxious.

Maybe you’re none of those…

Maybe it’s because you’re totally overflowing with the love and joy that has come to you
from this season…as in you’ve had one too many cups of the bourbon-laced eggnog
and now you’re delusional…
or you actually managed to grab a-hold of the true meaning of Advent and this Christmas to be.

Or if the truth is told…maybe… just maybe…
you’ll admit that you’re really feeling a few of those heavier things…
Actually, maybe, you’re feeling more than a few.
Maybe you’ll admit to the truth…
you’re feeling all of those and then some!

Hence a giraffe with its head stuck in a pot of boiling water.

So good, we are now on the same page.

I was tackling the laundry yesterday in the wake of The Mayor and her two closest aides
recent visit…

When I thought that I really wanted to cook some little something that seemed
holidayish and festive.

But time…
Where was the time?

Now I’ll happily tip my hat, any day of the week,
to all those women out there who have superpowers in that they
can work outside of the home, clean their house, wash all the clothes, run all
the errands, shuttle the kids, finish the presentations and reports,
cook festive holiday goodies, complete all the shopping, decorating and wrapping
while still making time to go to the gym, write greeting cards, read a book, and post
the latest decorative things they’ve accomplished to Pinterest or Instagram.

And if your name is not Martha Stewert, you probably haven’t done half of those things,
let alone two or simply even one to the utmost of your ability.
And no fair if you have a maid, a nanny, or a small army of assistants following you around.

I actually do think that I was once able to accomplish much more when I was a
younger woman who was working outside of the house while tending to all things of the house
and raising a husband and a child.

I have no idea as to what has happened except that I simply got old.

But by George, I was determined to make something festive today if it killed me.

Every winter, I have to haul the citrus trees, that I keep in large pots
outside throughout the late Spring to early Fall, to the basement when freezing
temperatures arrive.

One tree that I’ve had now for many years has gotten so big,
that I was left with no choice other than to sacrifice it…
I can no longer move it, even with the hand trucks,
so it will be the guinea pig.

As the question remains, can a citrus tree survive a winter in Georgia?
I’ll let you know.

But the Meyer lemon tree that is now happily safe and sound in the basement,
is loaded with ripening lemons. It’s not looking too good as they don’t like
an abrupt change in climate but the looming question…
what am I to do now with all those lemons??

I opted for a tried and true southern favorite recipe…something that makes me always think
of my mom…
That being lemon squares.

Not the most festive perhaps but they are relatively easy and certainly tasty.

And as I do tend to gravitate to the melancholy this time of year as I find myself
missing those who are now no longer present in my small world…
mother’s lemon squares were calling.

Mother wasn’t known for her cooking or baking prowess, but those things she did
manage to succeed with while being in the kitchen are now treasured.

So the lemons squares it would be….

But where was her recipe…


(just one small pile of old cards and notes)

It’s amazing how over the years I’ve amassed such a plethora of old, spotted and stained
envelopes, note cards, papers, and even old receipts all covered with the scribblings
both of myself, family and friends.
A myriad of recipes which have been meant to be tried, tested and savored…
and yet with the advent of all things internet…it’s almost too easy to click
a button rather than dig through the drawers, books, and cabinets seeking that one
lost recipe.

Finally, I found what I had written down from my mom’s recipe…
but as to where her original handwritten card currently rests eludes me…
but this would have to do. Yet I had already moved to a different recipe as I couldn’t
find this one in time.

So as this is the time of year for gifts and gift giving…and since I use to share a lot more
about cooking and recipes when I first started this thing called a blog—
here is a copy of mother’s recipe along with the one I mismashed for today’s
Lemon’s squares…

Merry Christmas!!


(mother’s recipe)

Ingredients:
For the base:
1 stick of softened unsalted butter
2 cups sifted flour (I like King Arthur’s unbleached)
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
For the filling:
4 eggs lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
the juice from 4 lemons (1/3 cup but I actually used just shy of a 1/2 cup)
grated lemon peel from the four lemons you’ll juice
(grate them whole before cutting and juicing)
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
(it is a nice rounding out of the often harshness of fresh lemon juice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using a 9×13 pan—I spray baker’s joy on the bottom and then line the bottom with
parchment paper that I cut to fit. I then spray the parchment paper
(you can use butter and flour if you prefer)

Set the prepared pan aside.

In a mixing bowl sift the 2 cups of flour and the 1/2 cup confectioners sugar—
using a pastry blender, cut in the softened stick of butter until the mixture looks
like grainy sand—and holds together when handling.

Press this mixture down into your prepared baking dish.

Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes until lightly
browned and puffed.

Cool while you prepare the filling.

In a bowl stir in 1 1/2 cups sugar, the grated lemon peel, a dash of salt,
1/4 cup of flour add the lemon juice, extract and then the beaten eggs until all
is incorporated.

Pop in the oven and cook an additional 25 minutes.

The filling will puff and might slightly brown just a tad.

When it’s finished baking, remove the pan and place it on a cooling rack,
allowing the pan to cool down.

(here is where some suggest putting the pan in the fridge to cool for at least two
hours but I just let it rest on the counter)

When cool—I dust the top with powered sugar—
I use a small mesh sieve that I shake over the pan
which adds a nice light dusting.

Next I use a bench scraper to cut the bars or you can use a knife

So before you’re hung up to dry, have yourself a merry little lemon square…

and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger,
because there was no guest room available for them.

Luke 2:7

just make mine vanilla

Love ice cream.
I let myself have that about once a week.
Vanilla.

Tim Tebow


(three old shots from back in 2013 when I was first making my vanilia extract–the longer it sits,
the better it gets…just add a new bean or two over time and top off with the sprit of choice)

I like to cook.
This much we know to be true.

I use to post a good bit about my cooking exploits but over time I’ve obviously shifted my
focus and attention to issues I find more pressing…
issues like those concerning Christianity
and the practicing of our faith in a post-modern, post-Christian era.

However, I will still raise the battle cry over other issues I think pertinent to this good fight
we call life…

Take today for instance…(or yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday)

I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items.
I needed some cat food and Grapeseed oil so while I was over in the cooking oil aisle,
I decided I needed to check out the spices.
I needed to peruse the spice area as there seemed to be a mental list somewhere nagging
in my brain, begging me to remember something from this particular section that I needed…

I grabbed some Adobo chili powder.
I’ve never used it before but I’d seen a recipe for slow-simmered chicken…a recipe for chicken tacos…remember, I’m trying to reduce the iron content while looking for foods that will avert the absorption—spicey things supposedly help.

While still perusing, my eyes stopped on a bottle of Vanilla beans.

Ahhh, the mental alarm clock sounded.

Yep, I needed some more beans as I’d used the last two I had in the recently poached pear recipe.
(also a tasty recipe I once posted)

I grabbed the bottle.
There were two measly beans in the bottle.
Vanilla beans are a precious commodity.
But why companies are so chintzy I’ve never figured it out.

I looked at the price—they are usually costly as I’ve paid almost 10 bucks a bottle before,
but I was wondering just how high they might be now.
I do prefer ordering my beans in bulk as it’s cheaper but I needed to have at least two on hand.
One never knows when an unctuous creme brulee is calling…

What to my wandering eyes did appear but a 2 and a 5 joined together…as in
25 dollars for the bottle!!!!!!

WHAT?????

Is this a misprint??? my panicky brain wonders.
I march myself, with the bottle in hand, over to a gal at a register.
“Is this price correct” I practically screamed at the unsuspecting cashier.
She scanned the bottle.
“Oh my gosh” she practically screams back.
“25 dollars for Vanilia beans???? she nervously screams again.

“That’s what I thought” I reply almost exhausted from our heightened sense of distraughment.

I use vanilla beans a lot.

I’ve actually made my own vanilla and bourbon vanilla extracts, a recipe in which
I’ve shared in prior posts from back in 2013.
A homemade vanilla extract is the best of the best!! And it lasts forever.

Making the extract required my having to buy a bunch of beans…
beans I had actually ordered from Amazon–
I used Tahitian and Madagascar beans as each offers a different floral warm scent and taste.

Once home from the store, I decided to go check out the Amazon site,
just to see what they were currently selling my bulk bag of beans for as I was going to order
a new batch just to store for when I needed them—

Immediately I see that 5 beans, just 5 little beans, were going for a whopping 27 bucks.
Which did, however, beat the grocery store’s two beans for 25 bucks.
My regular ordered batch of shrink-wrapped beans was going for…
sit down before I tell you…
1/4 of a pound of beans at $115.00 while a full pound of beans listed for $400!!!!!!!!

For a batch of homemade vanilla extract, you need a good 15 to 20 beans…
of which maturate in a bottle that is large enough to contain them with enough vodka or
bourbon poured over to cover…as they are left to steep until a deep rich brown color
appears and the heady spicy aroma of delicious warmth wafts from the uncorked bottle.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON????? I practically wail.

I immediately race to the trusty all-knowing Google to type in ‘vanilla bean prices’
and sure enough, I found many articles and news stories regarding the exponentially
skyrocketing prices

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/vanilla-bean-shortage-madagascar-drives-up-us-prices/

A precarious commodity that is a fragile commodity.
A product that is prone to drought, fickled growing seasons, poaching, farmers who don’t
allow the pods to fully mature in a race to get the pods to a demanding market and finally
it is simply a matter of time…for it takes three long years for a plant to produce a pod.

According to Wikipedia, vanilla is the second most expensive spice coming in right
behind saffron.
And gathering a ready pod is extremely labor intensive because these pods of
this particular species of the orchid family are each hand pollinated…pod per pod.

Vanilla, just plain old vanilla.

Consider its humble base taste…it is often the brunt of those who refer to things as
just being average..as in vanilla, as in plain jane, as in generic, as in nothing special,
as in the bottom of the list.

Yet vanilla is a great building base—a needed and important humble building block.
Imagine Chocolate chip cookies without that added splash of vanilla.
Think vanilla bean ice-cream, sour cream pound cake, pannacotta, rice pudding,
milkshakes, protein shakes, puddings, eclairs, cookies, candy, yogurt, chewing gum,
cosmetics, perfumes, aromatherapies…the list is nearly endless….
all without their needed vanilla.

There are four main types of vanilla beans used in our consumption: Tahitian, Indonesian,
Mexican and Madagascar

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/4-kinds-vanilla-beans-know

There are however those purists out there who do indeed favor the unadulterated flavor
of that simple, smokey, sweet, floral flavor of just plain old fashioned vanilla.
No swirls of caramel, no colorful sprinkles, not bits of cookie or peppermint or toffee,
or chocolate syrup or diced fruit…just simple, plain old vanilla.

So I suppose I might just have a little problem…a little expensive problem…
As we might all just have a largely flavorless problem…

Here’s to hoping the current growing crop thrives…
hopefully in time for this summer’s long-awaited and even yearned for home-churned ice cream…
because it just won’t be summer without a bowl of fresh homemade vanilla ice cream!!!

There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are
a precious jewel.

Proverbs 20:15

In need of a little comfort?

As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness — just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

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(Freshly baked Breton Biscuits / Julie Cook / 2014)

Where do you go when you find yourself out of sorts, stressed, tired?
Where does your heart wander when it is wounded, sad, heavy?
Where do your spirits travel when your world is rocked, your day is shot, your feelings weary?

To the kitchen, that’s where!!

I confess that I’ve been feeling a bit blue and out of sorts as of late. . .blasé
—the trees didn’t help. . .
. . .but I don’t want to talk about that.
I was flipping though my most recent edition of Saveur Magazine when I found myself stopping on one particular page.
One word stopped me. . .
Butter

If there is one little thing that screams “let me comfort you my dear” it’s the real deal unctuous amalgamation of cream and salt.
Butter.
YUMMMMMMMM

The article was entitled Butter Queen showcasing a Brittany (region in France) specialty, Gâteau Breton or Gallettes bretonnes–better known as a light, delicate, sandy textured butter cookie.
That’s what I’m talking—-a light hearted version of a shortbread!!
Comfort is now a recipe away!!

So let’s make a little comfort shall we. . .

This particular recipe is originally from Le Cordon Bleu’s cookies edition as taken from the Joy of Baking
A recipe for Sables—the French Butter cookie (how many names can a little butter cookie have?!)
It’s a simple no fuss cookie. It can serve as a canvas for the adventuresome and creative, or simply as pure pleasure for the purist.

Here’s what you’ll need:
–10 tablespoons (140) grams unsalted butter, room temperature (Plugra, Presidents or other European brands)
–1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
–1 large egg (organic)
–1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (my homemade brew)
–2 cups(260 grams) all purpose flour (unbleached King Author
–1/2 teaspoon baking powder
–1/4 teaspoon salt (Real Salt Kosher)
Egg Wash–1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

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Is it just me or is red a dominant color on the pallet of my products of choice?
When you make something as simple as a butter cookie, it is key to have the very best ingredients in your repertoire available as there are so few ingredients involved. With butter being the primary , the best butter you can get your hands on is crucial. Plugra is a great US butter which is out of Texas and handcrafted in the tradition of European butter–meaning it has a higher butter fat content–making for a richer, more savory creamy product—
(see the previous post:
https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/butter-and-lent/ )

I’ve chosen President, a French butter for a French cookie, mais non?

I’ve copied the original recipe here:

Sables: In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat just until incorporated. Do not over mix the dough.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough a few times to bring it together, and then divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (at least an hour).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove one portion of the dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough until it is 1/4 inch (1 cm) thick. Using a lightly floured 2 inch (5 cm) round fluted cookie cutter, cut out the cookies, placing them on the prepared sheet. Place the baking sheet of cut out cookies in the refrigerator for about 15 -20 minutes to chill the dough. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg with the water for the egg wash. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and brush the tops with the egg wash. Then, with the tines of a fork (or I like to use the end of a toothpick), make a crisscross pattern on the top of each cookie. Bake cookies in the preheated oven for about 12 – 14 minutes (depending on size of cookie) or until golden brown around the edges.

Cool cookies on wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
(using a 3 inch cutter gave me a larger cookie which numbered 18 total)

My organic eggs, since I’ve yet to procure “my girls” for the very real deal :

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The recipe calls for the use of a 2 inch cookie / biscuit cutter however I used a 3 inch cutter, making for a tad larger cookie. Instead of 3 dozen cookies I had 18. If you wanted to be festive, I don’t know why you couldn’t use fun cookie cutters, say pumpkins, or leaves, or turkeys, or snowmen. . .as these are not sugar cookies but a rolled and cut cookie all the same.

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I’m not a big fan of egg wash as I think it “yellows” the top of the cookie and “seals” the tops often allowing the cookies to get mushy after a day or so rather than staying nice and crisp–when I make these again, I won’t use egg. . .

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When you use a fork to crisscross the top of the cookies, use the back of the fork–the front of the fork will cause the soft raw cookies to pull–the back keeps the lines smooth.

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Not too sweet with a slight saltiness offering a clean buttery finish.
These could be fun little ice-cream sandwich base cookies or another type of filling sandwiched lovingly between theses thin little butter wafers of wonderment or even dipped in melted chocolate for a chocolate dipped sandy. . .skies the limit, but I prefer the simple buttery goodness.

Pure Comfort to be sure
Bon Appétit

If You’re Afraid of Butter, Use Cream
Julia Child

Pomodoro or Let’s get cooking with Cookie

“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.”
― Isabelle Eberhardt

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(a bowl of our soon to be Tomato pudding)

Ahhh, Isabelle, I feel your pain.
When I think of summer, I think of gardens,
When I think of gardens,I think of tomatoes,
When I think of tomatoes, I think of Italy.
When I think of Italy, I think I want to run away.
When I think of running away to Italy, I think of food.
When I think of food in Italy, I think of pasta,
When I think of pasta, I think tomato, as in Pomodoro. . .

Wait a minute, What?!

That’s right, tomatoes plus Italy–as in all jumbled up together.
As they go hand in hand. . . like that whole peas and carrots thing.
And of course I probably think of bacon. . .who doesn’t think of bacon?
As in a good ol BLT—but this is not about that nor bacon, this is about Pomodoro, the humble tomato. . .

Today’s post is all about the abundance of summer tomatoes and what in the heck to do with them! Trust me, I’m feeling your pain. When the time has come and there is simply no one remaining on the planet to give away your excess crop to, as it seems as if family and friends are actually turning in the other direction when they see you coming. . .and the thought of letting the bumper crop die on the vine as it were, is totally and simply unacceptable. . .
it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get creative!

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And no I’m not talking about canning.
I don’t “can.”
And yes, I should go take a class at the Extension Agency or study some YouTube video, but the thought of creating botulism in my kitchen, then gifting it to others or welcoming it to the table some cold January night as we consume a tomato bisque made from a jar of the past summer’s canned tomatoes that I did something not right to, simply scares me. I’m thinking bio-terrorism in my kitchen and I for one do not wish to be on the CDC’s watch list.

So instead of botulism, we’re going to do a little number for those of you scouring the cooking blogs for something new and exciting in order to bring to the table on those meatless Monday’s, or terrific Tuesdays, etc, or even a little something special to offer along as a side dish to a scrumptious beef tenderloin. . .

Behold, the Savory Tomato Pudding à la Cookie

Yes, for those of you who would like a sweet version of this sort of thing, it is possible–I however prefer to have my tomato dishes remain relatively savory as in main course and not dessert.

We will start with what seems to be a million tomatoes.
Perhaps 10 decent sized tomatoes or perhaps 12 to 15 smaller ones.
First we need to remove the skin and seed these puppies
Bring a large stock pot of water to a rolling boil
On the bottom of each tomato, cut an X
Put the tomatoes in the pot of boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes.

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Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes to a large bowl of ice water as this stops the cooking process. At the X, the skin should now be easy to pull off. Peel off the skin then cut the tomatoes in half and working with your hands, squeeze out or scrape out the seeds. I know this is a pain but the seeds are bitter and will negatively effect the palate.

Using a loaf of a tuscan boule, Italian loaf, brioche or challah bread–cut away the crust and cut the bread into small cubes–you can always tear it into small pieces if you need to release any aggression.
Place the bread in a large bowl.

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Spray a casserole pan with Pam.

Next, gather some nice fresh herbs–basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano, chives, etc—whatever floats your boat— but basil is essential.
Slice and dice the herbs.

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You may notice that I actually use scissors to cut the chives into small pieces.

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Take an onion and dice it.

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In a saucepan heat a little olive oil with a few hot pepper flakes and a nice grind or two of pepper.

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Once the oil is heated and ready to sizzle, add the onions.
Stir until translucent.
Toward the end of cooking the onions add one or two cloves of minced garlic. Garlic has a tendency to burn and does not need to cook nearly as long as the onions. Add the garlic toward the end to heat it thoroughly before it has a chance to brown. Brown garlic = bitter.

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Now it’s time for our tomatoes.
Add tomatoes cooking until the tomatoes begin to break down.
(This is the same process I use to make my tomato sauce but I would be using a dutch oven, and I
would have also satued some celery and bell pepper, add some red wine, a bay leaf or two and cook
on a low simmer for about two hours—stirring periodically until the sauce thickens. . .)
We’re hoping to cook down 4 cups worth for our tomato pudding.

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I like to cook the tomatoes for about 30 minutes or even longer which will help to thicken the sauce a tad.
Continue stirring.
As the tomatoes are gently simmering, add about 4 TBL of brown sugar or maybe 3 TBL and a splash or two of balsamic vinegar. I do not like my tomato pudding overtly sweet. Some receipes call for a full cup of sugar–the thought of such makes me a bit queazy —just enough to help heighten the natural sweetness of fresh tomatoes, you may also add a nice squeeze of a lemon as well as this will highlight the tomatoes nice acidity.

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Add the herbs toward the end of cooking because if you put them in too early and leave them in too long, they will become bitter–off setting the taste of our sauce.

As our tomatoes are cooking, take this time to break 4 large eggs in a large measuring cup with room enough to add 1 1/2 cups of half and half. Whisk until well blended.

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Now remove the tomato mixture from the heat and pour it over the bread crumbs. Stir to coat all the bread with the sauce. Let it sit for a while in order to allow the bread to absorb the juice of the tomato sauce.

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Next pour the egg and cream mixture into the bread and tomato mixture.
Add about a cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

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Mix throughly and pour into your prepared casserole dish.
(you may certainly add more cheese into the body of the pudding and even get creative with the choice of cheese—I had debated on adding some fresh goat cheese but I refrained—my husband’s palate leans to the more simple whereas I dash toward the complex—naturally as it should be 😉 )
Sprinkle a mix of shredded cheddars or an Italian blend of cheese.

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Place in a preheated 350ᵒ oven for approximately an hour or until golden and puffy.
(I cooked mine for about 40 minutes in a convection oven)

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Oh so flavorful and satisfying!!!
The taste of the height of summer is on a plate!
Serve as a main as I did along with an accompaniment of wonderfully creamy rustic style grits (recipe to follow later) and for my husband who loves these, fried okra. You can forego the okra opting for a salad, or fresh green beans.

Molto Bene!
Mangiare!!

10 medium sized tomatoes—peeled and seeded
1 onion diced
2 cloves of minced garlic
a medium loaf of a rustic bread, crust removed and cut into small cubes
1 1/2 cups half and half
4 large eggs
4 TBL brown sugar
splash of a good grade balsamic vinegar
squeeze of a lemon
salt
pepper
sprinkle of red pepper flakes
mix of fresh herbs (basil, thyme, oregano, chives, parsley, rosemary)
Olive oil for sautéing onions (2 or 3 good sized tablespoons)
1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese (more if you prefer)
1 to 2 cups of shredded cheeses—colby jack, mozzarella, italian blend, cheddar—your call and choice–this may go in the casserole as well as a good coating on top
rectangle pan works best sprayed with PAM
Oven at 350ᵒ

Hodge Podge and Pumpkin Muffins

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

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(lovely Italian restaurant in Berlin, Germany / Julie Cook / 2012)

I have a friend who prefers viewing my blog only on the days I choose to focus on food or offer a little recipe or two… and not that I offer a plethora of recipes as my intent has not necessarily been to create another food blog in an already existing sea of on-line food sites. I do certainly enjoy cooking and it is indeed a creative outlet, as well as catharsis, but it is not my sole passion.

Which of course got me thinking…what is this blog business of mine all about after all anyway?

The other day I was out helping my husband with a little project of his when I asked, in jest mind you, how much it was that he intended on paying me for my assistance. He shot back a little too quick for my liking “the same amount that blog of yours pays…”
Oh the low blow of it all, the pain, the sting and sadly—the truth.

It is true that I do tend to pour heart and soul into this thing lovingly known as “the crumbs”—and why is that you ask? “It’s not like your’e getting paid”, you say. “What’s the point?!” Well. . .I’m not quite certain.

I did have a post, shortly after beginning the blog, entitled “why a blog”—it had everything to do with having just retired and leaving the classroom. The need to still “teach”. I’ve even eluded to my secret wish to having been a writer— it’s just that I don’t have anything specific or in particular that I necessarily want to write about. Being the next great novelist is not my cup of tea as I’m not one for fiction.

I suppose hodge lodge best sums up “the cookie crumbs” —it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that—which is a lot like my cooking techniques. . .and some might say that the concept of a little bit of this and a little bit of that mirrors my bar tending skills, but we won’t go there as I’m simply digressing. . .again.

And so it is with the thought of hodge podges and the this and thats of life that I shall leave you today. . . along with a delightful recipe for Pumpkin Muffins. I found this several years ago in an issue of Cooking Light–and of course tweaked and amended a la cookie..please enjoy:

Pumpkin muffins
–1 cup all- purpose flour (about 4.5 ounces)
–½ cup whole wheat flour (about 2.5 ounces) –this is where I grind oats in a food
processor using ½ cup ground oats—Quaker instead of the whole wheat flour
–1/2 cup granulated sugar
–1/2 cup packed brown sugar
–1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin-pie spice
(here is where I just add my own cinnamon, fresh grated nutmeg, cardamom,
allspice, ginger—whatever floats my boat—plus, I am not precise—a sprinkle
here, a sprinkle there
–1 teaspoon baking soda
–1/4 teaspoon baking powder
–¼ teaspoon salt
–1 can pumpkin
–1/2 cup buttermilk (fat free it you’d like—I have used coconut milk)
–1/2 cup egg substitute, or for purists such as myself, 2 whole eggs
–1/4 canola oil (if no applesauce or grated apples, ½ oil)
–1/4 cup applesauce-– if you don’t have applesauce, I’ve been known to grate half an
apple
** I add 1 cup of a mix of raisins and/ or dried cranberries– if the truth be told,
it’s more like 2 cups—you could also add some nuts if you’d like

Preheat the oven to 375°

**I have discovered that canned pumpkin has a great deal of water that can leach into a batter, changing the consistency, possibly making things too runny. I will usually spread out the pumpkin, using a spatula, onto a double layer of paper towels, allowing it to sit while I prepare the other ingredients. When it’s time to add the pumpkin, I simply scrape it off the paper towels, which has absorbed the extra moisture, with the spatula, adding it to the batter.

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1. I spray a muffin tin with Baker’s Joy; you may line the cups as well with paper cupcake cups. You will need one 12-cup muffin pan plus a 6-cup pan as you will have about 16 muffins—or just use two 12-cups pans leaving several cups empty.

2. Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combining flours, granulated sugar, and the next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk till blended. Here is where I toss in the raisins/ cranberries. Coating the fruit with flour helps it to disperse better throughout the batter rather than sink to the bottom.

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3. Combine pumpkin and the next 4 ingredients (through applesauce) in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Spoon batter into the 16 prepared muffin cups.

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4. Bake for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Cool muffins in pan for 5 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on a wire rack

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**If you’re feeling a bit decadent you could throw caution to the wind, ditch the whole “cooking light” concept and frost these puppies with a heavenly cream cheese frosting—now that’s what I’m talking about!!!!

Blackbirds in a pie…

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Blackbirds in a Pie

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

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(images of a massive flock of blackbirds near the house / Julie Cook / 2013)