Monday, February 28, 2011

Canned Salmon and Rice Casserole

This recipe is adapted from the 1961 edition of "The New Antoinette Pope School Cookbook." I found the combination of bacon and salmon intriguing. The recipe calls for bacon that is "cubed." I used regular bacon and "diced" it with kitchen shears. Next time, I might try pancetta instead of bacon. Most of these ingredients one easily has on hand in the pantry or refrigerator, so it's quite economical.

Served with a fresh salad and vegetable, it is a light meal in itself. But it could just as easily be served as a side to white fish. The recipe is easily doubled.

Use a trusted, name-brand of canned salmon. Others can be overly salty and taste more like tuna than salmon.

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked white rice (I use Uncle Ben's and make it the day before)
  • 1/4 lb. (about four slices) diced bacon
  • 3/4 cup chopped onions
  • 1, 7 1/2 oz. can pink salmon, drained and flaked
  • 1/4 cup minced, curly parsley
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Tabasco Sauce, about 4 drops
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh, pulled bread crumbs
  • Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Dried dill and lemon wedges for serving

Fry the cubed bacon and chopped onion together in a skillet over medium heat, about five minutes. You do not want to "crisp" the bacon. Add the garlic and stir through just until fragrant--maybe a minute or so. I de-glazed the pan with a bit of dry, white wine.

In a medium bowl, mix the salmon with the rice and parsley. Add the bacon-onion mixture, mixing well with "two forks"--I used my hands. Add salt and pepper to taste, being careful with the salt since both the bacon and the salmon have plenty.

Measure the milk into a small glass and add the egg yolk. Drip in Tabasco and lightly beat with a fork. Pour into salmon mixture and mix thoroughly.

Butter a one-quart casserole and fill with salmon mixture, pressing down slightly. Pour melted butter over pulled breadcrumbs and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Mix. Cover top of casserole with breadcrumbs. 

Cover with a lightly-greased piece of tin foil and bake at 375 F degrees for about 40 minutes, removing foil last ten minutes. Serves 2 generously as a main meal, 3-4 as a side.

To serve, sprinkle portions with a bit of dried dill and a lemon wedge on the side. Goes great with fresh asparagus.

NOTES: The original recipe did not call for the addition of an egg yolk or milk, but I found the mixture dry and in need of something to bind it. I wanted to use 1/2 can of cream of celery soup, but with soup prices so high ($1.47 here) I was too cheap to open it. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kitchen Tip: How to Soften Rock-Hard Brown Sugar & Make Your Own

There's nothing more frustrating than going to use brown sugar only to find it's morphed into one massive rock on un-usability. But don't despair, or throw it out. Break it up the best you can and place it in a sealed bag, container or jar. 

Take a broken, clay pottery chard and clean it then soak it in water for about 10-30 minutes. Wipe dry and throw into the container with the sugar. Just lay it on top. In a few days, the sugar will have miraculously returned to its soft, natural state from slowly absorbing the moisture. It may be necessary to re-wet the shard. 

Once the sugar is reconstituted (yes, pat yourself on the back for a kitchen disaster avoided), simply keep a wet pottery shard in the sugar at all times. Works like a charm.


Add one tablespoon of molasses to one cup of sugar. Mix in well. If you want it a bit darker, add a bit more molasses. Use as you would brown sugar packing it down as you measure.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

Not your ordinary, everyday snacking cake, this
chocolate beauty is rich with butter and sour cream.

This is another in my quest for small cakes that bakes in an 8 x 8 x 2 pan.* It's a perfect dessert cake for guests or special occasions. The crumb is dense but light, moist and chocolaty and lends itself to decorating options, such as fresh berries in the summer. I settled for a simple, almond buttercream frosting. The addition of rum and vanilla flavoring to the thick batter gives just a hint of "richness" that complements the chocolate.

  • 3/4 cup butter, room temperature (1 1/2 sticks) not margarine
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, washed
  • 1/2 teaspoon rum-flavored extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 F. and butter/grease your pan. Cut a piece of wax paper to fit in the bottom and then grease it. Dust with cocoa powder tapping out the excess.

Stir together the dry ingredients of cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt.

I used a combination of regular, unflavored cocoa
and Dutch-processed cocoa.

Beat the butter and the sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add flavorings.

I now wash all my eggs before cracking them open.
Remember folks, they're pushed out of a chicken's butt!
If you wash an apple, why not an egg? Think about it.

Add flour alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

I think maybe that "J" swirl was from my finger
scooping up the rich batter...

Spread batter into prepared pan. Tap on counter to dislodge any air bubbles. Bake for 30-35 minutes, checking on it after 25 minutes and until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes. Invert on wire rack. Cool and frost as desired.

Almond Butter-Cream Frosting
  • 1/4 cup margarine, a bit cool
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract 
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk

Cream margarine until light. Begin adding powdered sugar a little at a time, beating after each addition. If it's not "creamy" but remains "powdered" don't be alarmed. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. Beat in. Now add the milk, first just one tablespoon. Beat. Add another teaspoon. Beat. If it needs to be fluffier, add a bit of another teaspoon until desired consistency is reached. Taste. Add more flavoring if desired.

Skim a thin layer on cakes and sides, not worrying about crumbs. Then add remaining frosting. If desired, top with fresh berries or a decoration of slivered almonds.

*Notes: I baked this in a 9 x 9 pan since my 8 x 8 was being used for another purpose. The cake was done after about 25 minutes. May also be baked in a round 8" cake pan.

For a less-rich, but equally great cake, try my chocolate mayonnaise cake with almond cream cheese frosting. Just click on the link below:
Kitchen Bounty: My Favorite Chocolate Cake

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Small Baked Ham with Brown Sugar Glaze and Bacon

With rising food and meat prices, I'm trying to find ways to stretch my dollar. Leftovers is one of the easiest solutions ... and nothing keeps giving like a ham. But it needn't be that half-a-hog affair for the holidays that weighs as much as a toddler.

Boneless (even bone-in) hams provide a lot of food for a great price. Having said that, avoid propaganda pre-sliced, pre-voted, hunks of meat. You are quite the cook and you can determine the centimeter slice of of your meat and your vote!

A ham like this cooks fast. It provides a ton of taste and, even more importantly, can be used for sandwiches and cut and diced to be used in casseroles later on. And that's exactly what I plan to do with it. It will feed me for quite a while.

In case you didn't know it, I worked in a deli and am "certified" in all things "Boar's Head." To make this ham, I used a Boar's Head product that I highly recommend: Brown Sugar Glaze. It has a great "spice" flavor that balances the sweet brown sugar. The ham was a whole, non sliced, "sweet ham"

A little goes a long way. This will easily do 2 small hams.
 I look for it on sale.

Follow the instructions on the back of the jar. I prefer to stud a ham with cloves after scoring it. You want to score it so the glaze seeps down into it. If there is a layer of fat on the ham, this is especially necessary. Unfortunately, with small hams such as this, there is not. They tend to be very lean.

I've had this can of whole cloves since the 1980's.
I got it at my little corner store in Indiana
where prices were written, not stamped.
I'm not a believer in changing your spices
every year. Sheesh...who came up with that idea?
Oh, the $pice companies . . .
Score the ham diagonally using a sharp knife.
Stud with whole cloves. These are spaced
about two inches apart (they don't have to go into the cuts.)
Because smaller hams can be very lean, I cover it with bacon which is optional. Then put in about 3/4 cup HOT water into the pan and tent with foil and crimp the edges tight. Why? Well, the ham is already cooked. You just want to warm it up and let the flavors seep into it without drying it out. The water and foil will kind of steam it. (The directions only call for 1/2 cup of water, but I like the extra "sauce.")

After scoring and studding, slather with the glaze.

This is probably a bit of overkill with bacon--
I could have used less. It won't crisp during cooking,
it will just release needed juices into the ham
and drip into the water making a wonderful sauce.
(This is my black deli apron.)

Bake at 350 degrees about 15 minutes per pound. The last fifteen minutes, remove the foil. Baste the ham with pan juices and pat on a bit more glaze over the bacon if desired.

When done, remove and discard bacon. Cut ham into thin, thin slices removing cloves as you go. Place them back into the pan drippings. To make sauce, place pan over low flame and heat up. Add a pinch or two of Cayenne pepper. Strain and serve on the side.

Here's what to make with leftover ham:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Black Eyed Peas with Ham Shanks and Greens (Hoppin' John)

Black eyed peas are a Southern tradition. The custom is to serve them with collard greens and some type of pork on New Year's Day for good luck and prosperity. No two recipes are the same. Some use kale. I used spinach simply because I had it on hand. If using collards, the correct way is to de-stem them, stack them, roll them like a cigar, and slice into ribbons. Some people do thinly slice the stems. I discard them.

Some use smoked sausages, but most rely on ham hocks or shanks and most is served over white rice although some add the rice directly to the dish as it cooks. If you like bean soup, you will like black-eyed peas. This dish is so prevalent in the South  that this time of year one can buy pre-soaked black-eyed peas in the produce department of most grocery stores. A real convenience.

More and more people use smoked turkey parts for their beans. I stick with the ham. No need to raise the ire of Mr. Good Luck . . . Sadly, today, even in the South, pork hocks and shanks are difficult to find. I've been told China buys most. In fact, China now owns Smithfield Ham . . . Here in the South, we have easy access to smoked pork jowl--basically, it is a fatty, uncut, smoked thick slab of bacon. Many people cut it into chunks to use for Hoppin' John. I love it. In fact, many people just use bacon ... and lots of it.

Some people add the rice to the Hoppin' John stew; others serve the stew over the rice. Many do not use tomatoes, but I like what it brings to the party and, historically, it is accurate.

Soak your peas in water overnight, changing the water
a few times. I put them in a colander and place
that in a bowl. Just lift, rinse, and then replace the water.

There are a zillion stories about Hoppin' John along with ingredients and recipes. All are fun to read. This is just how I usually make mine (If you had a ham for Christmas, now is the time to use that ham bone!) By all means, do some Google searches and watch a few videos. Most are entertaining and informative.

Happy New Year! May your year be filled with bounty, success, and health!

Hoppin John
  • 1 1/2 - 2 lbs. smoked ham shanks
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 4 cups chicken stock or a combination of water and chicken stock
  • I often add a bit of "Better Than Bouillon" ham flavored enhancer
  • 1 1/2 cups dry black eyed peas
  • 1 10-oz. box frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry or
  • 2-3 cups cut/torn fresh collards leaves, no stems
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped or
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes, broken apart
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon cumin seed, freshly crushed
  • 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped green onions
  • 1 1/2 cups raw white rice
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon dried onion
Rinse and pat dry the ham shanks. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven and brown the ham shanks on all sides. When done, remove to plate.

Ham shanks have more meat than a ham hock, but both
are inexpensive and filled with flavor.

Browning the shanks intensifies the flavor
and releases the fat in which to
saute the vegetables.

Add a bit more oil to the pot and add the chopped onion, celery, green pepper, jalapeno and cook until soft, scraping up the brown bits left over from the ham in the pan. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the cumin, the chopped garlic and the red pepper flakes and stir just until fragrant. Add the black-eye peas then the tomatoes, juice and all. Add the chicken stock, the ham shanks and any liquid that has collected on the plate. Bring to a slow boil, lower heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 1 1/2 hours until beans are soft and tender.

Remove shanks from pot and allow to cool. Add the smoked paprika. Taste. If you'd like it hotter, add a few shakes of Tabasco. Re-season with salt, pepper, cumin if needed.

Pour 3 cups water into a pan and add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon dried onion. Add the 1 1/2 cups raw rice. Stir. Bring to a boil then lower to simmer and cover until done. Set aside. 

Remove the meat from the bones and cut up.

Save the bones. Using a small spoon or knife, remove the marrow
and feed to your cat or dog--they love it.

Add meat back to the beans in the pot. Now add the chopped greens and stir. The mixture will be like a thick soup. 

To serve: place rice on plate, spoon over the Hoppin John and sprinkle with the green onion. If desired, you can also sprinkle with crumbled bacon. It is traditional to serve with cornbread!!!

Notes: Cumin has a distinct flavor. If you are not used to it, add less rather than more. You can always re-season it. Hoppin' John is great served with any type of smoked sausage.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chicken with Rice and Bacon (Funeral Chicken)

(Update: Since I posted this recipe, I've seen several on the Internet. It belongs to a family of old-time recipes called "Funeral Chicken." All add some kind of canned, cream soup, rice, and bacon. Why "funeral?" Well, it takes a long time to bake, time one can spend with the bereaved family, etc. The older recipes always use bone-in, skin-on chicken, hence the long bake time. The newer recipes use skinless, boneless chicken breast which I DO NOT recommend at all (unless you want it to be your own funeral ....) 

This recipe is really all about the rice. It's incredible. After two hours of a slow bake, it's infused with the most amazing, delicious, tantalizing, smoky, bacon-chicken taste I've ever had. And it's a cinch to prepare! I have tried short cuts. They don't work. 

This is very-much adapted from the cookbook, Sweet Potato Queen's Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner). It's a fun read and recipes aren't "listed" but kind of imbedded in the prose. Thank-you for the inspiration ... 

It's important to cover this dish securely so the steam cooks the rice and chicken. Do not peek! Do not change that oven dial! Once that oven door closes, leave it that way until the buzzer goes off.

I secure the dish with two pieces of regular foil and then place a glass lid on top. (You can use one sheet of heavy-duty foil.) Use an 11 x 7 Pyrex baking dish. Mine has a glass lid which I love. Crimp the foil as tightly as possible around the rim of the dish. Yes, I have OCD ....

Do not use boneless, skinless chicken. As a society, we are obsessed with cuts of meat that bear no resemblance to it's origin. I find it both odd and peculiar. And, as a cook, it makes me angry. Bone, skin and sinew add flavor and moisture. Do you have teeth? 'Nough said ....

I used no salt in this recipe since the bacon and soup have plenty. It's important to season the chicken liberally. I used a combo of Bell's Poultry Spice, pepper, garlic powder, and a bit of whole, dried thyme. I coat the front and back of the chicken. I also like Cavender's All Purpose Greek Seasoning. The original recipe called for just Italian seasonings. Blah ... That is where it went wrong.

  • 4 meaty chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on*
  • 4 pieces of bacon, cut in half, plus one extra piece cut into fourths
  • 1 cup raw rice (not instant and not brown) I use Uncle Ben's Converted Rice
  • 1 can cream-of-chicken soup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried onion
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon seasoning (see above) per chicken thigh
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • Several grates of fresh nutmeg--don't omit
  • A pinch or two of garlic powder
  • Cayenne pepper--to season

Preheat oven to 300 F degrees.  Layer the bacon on the bottom of the dish. Evenly distribute the raw rice over it and sprinkle with the dried onion (how easy is that?)

My 11 x 7-inch Pyrex pan easily accommodates a slice
of bacon that has been cut in half.**

Place 1/4 piece of the extra bacon piece under the skin of each thigh. This gives it just a bit more taste and keeps it from drying out. Evenly coat the chicken pieces with the spices you are using, including the dried thyme and several grinds of pepper, front and back. Place on top of the rice. Give just a dash of Cayenne pepper on top.

In a small bowl or pitcher, measure one cup water and add the cream of chicken soup. Add the parsley, nutmeg, garlic powder. Whisk until well blended. Pour into the casserole, right over the chicken. (If you used garlic powder on the chicken, omit it in this step.)

Now cover tightly, tightly with heavy-duty foil or two layers of regular foil. Place in a 300 F oven for two hours. Do not peek. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 20-30 minutes covered. Do not open!!! You want the steam to finish cooking the rice.

The rice will have expanded from absorbing the liquids and juices from the chicken. It will be infused with an incredible smoky flavor from the bacon. 

Be careful not to overcrowd the pan.

I once brought to this work for my companions and the deli dept. cooked it in their oven. It was incredible. Why? Double the meat meant double the drippings as they leached into the rice.

If you double this recipe, be sure NOT to crowd the pan. You may need to adjust your cooking time a bit longer, especially if you are using all thighs. A trick is to use a sharp paring knife and just cut along the thigh bone, enough to release it from the meat.
*Chicken thighs are meaty and gelatinous, so they add a lot to this dish and I can't imagine it without them.

**Don't use "thick" bacon. The last time I made this the bacon was ridiculously paper-thin (have you seen the price of bacon, lately?), so I used a bit extra.

Notes: The original recipe called for just seasoning the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika and then using one teaspoon of dried oregano mixed with the soup mix and spices listed. The paprika really didn't add anything to the dish. I opted to liberally season the chicken instead and to insert a small piece of bacon under the skin. The soup mixture picked up the flavors just fine. After preparing this several times, I think liberally seasoning the chicken is important otherwise the chicken itself is a bit bland. And it's really important to SEAL this puppy TIGHT to keep in the steam to cook the chicken otherwise you will end up with raw rice.

This comes out to about one piece of bacon per thigh. That's not a lot of bacon.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Baked Spaghetti Casserole

This is a Tricia Yearwood recipe that is making the rounds around the Internet and food blogs. If you have kids, they'll love it--just hold the "heat." It's quite friendly to "tweaks" and additions. I added a bit of crushed fennel (which I highly recommend) and red pepper flakes. Perfect! Mushrooms would be a great addition, too. Just think what you like on your pizza! In the summer, I'll be using fresh basil from the garden, for sure.

Be sure to use "thin spaghetti," which is not to be confused with angel hair. This is even better the next day. When I make it again, I will either prepare it the night before or in the morning and refrigerate it, covered, before baking to allow the flavors to mix.

Don't be put off by the "mushroom soup" topping. It's fine. What I find myself doing more and more is to buy a jar of prepared Alfredo Sauce and spread that on top instead of the soup. It's your call.

Serves 4-6
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef (about one cup)
  • 3 slices bacon, cut into pieces
  • 6 oz. thin spaghetti
  • 1/2 - 3/4  cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup chopped green pepper (about one whole pepper)
  • 1 tablespoon finely diced garlic, about two large cloves
  • 2 - 4 tablespoons sliced black olives, rinsed and drained
  • 2 1/2 - 3 cups diced, roasted tomatoes, juice and all (canned roasted tomatoes)
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasonings or oregano (I use the Italian seasonings)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon freshly crushed fennel seed
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste) 
  • 3/4  cup cream of mushroom soup mixed with 2 tablespoons pasta water
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Mozzarella, Cheddar or Italian blend cheese, divided
  • 1/4- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8 x 8 baking dish. Bring a large pan of salted water to boil.

In a large pan, fry bacon until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towel. Remove bacon fat and save. Add ground beef to pan and brown along with the red pepper flakes if using. Salt and pepper to taste. Discard fat and remove ground beef to a plate or bowl. (If using a cheaper cut of ground beef, add a bit more meat since most will be fat.)

Add bacon fat, less 1-3 teaspoons, to pan and add the onion and green pepper. Cook just until the onion begins to get a bit brown. Add the garlic and stir just until fragrant, less than a minute. Add the tomatoes, Italian seasonings, fennel. Mix. Now add the crumbled bacon and ground beef. Simmer for about 7-9 minutes. You want the flavors to blend and some of the liquid to evaporate to create a thick sauce but, if necessary, add a bit of liquid. Taste. Re-season as necessary.

It's important to always taste and re-season as you cook.

As meat mixture is simmering, add pasta to boiling water and cook less 2 minutes per instructions. Drain. Add back to hot pan. Stir to get rid of added water. Now add some of the bacon fat to prevent pasta from sticking and to add a bit more flavor.

Scatter about 3 tablespoons of sauce on the bottom of the greased dish. Place half of the spaghetti on top. Spread half of the sauce on top of pasta and sprinkle with one tablespoon of the black olives. Cover with half the grated cheese (not the Parmesan) and repeat the layering of pasta, sauce, olive, cheese.

Using a spoon, place dollops of the mushroom soup mixture or the Alfredo sauce over the top and, using the back of a large spoon, spread it out evenly. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the edges are boiling and the top is golden. Allow to cool a bit before cutting.

Fresh Parmesan is best. For the layered cheese in this particular
casserole, I used a combo of Mozzarella and Provolone. The original recipe called for all Cheddar which, to me, is more English thant Italian.

You know you want this!

Notes: If doubling recipe, use a 9 x 13 pan and 3, 14.5 oz. cans of tomatoes, being careful about increasing the red pepper flakes, fennel and garlic (can you ever not add enough garlic?????).

Leftover, refrigerated baked spaghetti slices up beautifully
and tastes even better the next day-- and it's not bad
with a dollop of sour cream, either!

NOTES: I now make this about every other week. I even have it for breakfast! I do the half recipe in an 8 x 8-inch dish. I first add about 1/4 teaspoon fennel and if not strong enough, add another 1/4 teaspoon. Because I love black olives, I add more than the called-for 2 tablespoons. I think they add a lot of flavor to this dish. I rarely use all cheddar cheese (which can be oily) and have settled on the Mozzarella and Provolone that I buy pre-shredded.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Baked Apples in Tea

Choose apples that are firm and just a bit tart.
Why can't they make Granny Smith apples in red?

My favorite quote about baked apples comes from the original Joy Of Cooking cookbook:

"Apples are baked in a hot oven,
in a moderate oven and in a very slow one
with results that seem to be equally satisfactory
to cooks and their victims."

This is quite true. No two recipes for baked apples is the same when it comes to oven temperature or ingredients. But there is one constant: use apples that are firm and a bit tart. This recipe calls for fresh nutmeg and it really does make a difference. A huge difference for the better.

The recipe that follows was inspired after reading a recipe that called for "unfiltered apple cider." I'm sure it's wonderful. But that means I have to try to find it, buy it and I will be left with a quart. So I used leftover tea. Earl Grey tea, to be specific. And I was quite happy with the results. You could also use an apple or cinnamon-flavored tea. Or you could just use water, like "the old days." (The Joy of Cooking recommends "1 tablespoon water for each apple.")

  • 4 cooking apples, washed and dried
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground nutmeg (maybe a tad more)
  • 1 cup brewed tea mixed with 1 tablespoon brown sugar (if using unfiltered apple juice, omit the brown sugar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler into 4 long strips
  • 2 tablespoon melted butter (optional)
  • Butter

Preheat oven to 350-400 F.*

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Add the fresh-grated nutmeg. In another small bowl or glass, combine the tea with the brown sugar and vanilla. 

Using a melon baller, scoop out the core of each apple being very careful not to cut open the bottom. If you do, the filling will ooze out when the apple is baked. Now peel the top 1/4 of each apple. If desired, brush the peeled, outer part of the apple with melted butter and roll in some additional white sugar.

Stand the apples upright in a glass baking dish. Taking a piece of lemon zest, push it down into the hollow core. Now, begin filling each apple with sugar-spice mixture. Put a pat of butter on each apple.

Pour the liquid around the apples and spoon a bit inside the sugar-packed core. Place in oven and cook anywhere from 30-60 minutes. Cooking time will depend on your apples. Softer apples will take less time, crisp ones longer. Check after 30 minutes. If desired, cover with foil and baste apples a few times during cooking. The apples will be done when the tip of a sharp knife easily pierces the thickest part of the apple. Remove each apple to a bowl. Drizzle with some of the liquid.

As you cut into the apple, the sugar mixture will spill out revealing the lemon zest. The tannins of the tea provide a nice balance with the sugary center.

NOTES: If desired, remove apples from pan when done and add the liquid to a small pan. Add a bit of butter and, if needed, a bit of sugar and reduce until syrupy. If using the apple juice, omit this step.

*A slow oven may result in the sugar not fully melting. A hot oven can cause the apples to "explode." For this recipe, I used Rome apples that were softer than I would have liked and it took a good 45 minutes for them to cook at 350 degrees. I cooked them for 30 minutes covered with foil and then removed it to finish them. Sometimes I do just the opposite and cook them uncovered and then put foil on the last 15-20 minutes. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chicken Soup With Rice, Lemon, Dill and Red Pepper Flakes

When I taught school in a small Indiana town, a Greek family opened a small restaurant and made a wonderful chicken soup with dill, lemon and red pepper. Sometimes it had  meat, sometimes it didn't. After trial and error, the following is pretty close. 

  • 6 cups homemade chicken stock  Kitchen Bounty: Chicken/Turkey Stock
  • 1 stalk celery cut up/diced
  • 1 1/2 peeled carrots, thick parts cut lengthwise and then thinly sliced
  • A few pinches of dried thyme flakes
  • 1-3 teaspoons Kosher salt or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon or so of dried minced onion (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh garlic
  • 3-4 strips of lemon zest (or to taste) that has been peeled with a vegetable peeler, reserved
  • A few pinches red pepper flakes, reserved
  • 6-8 tablespoons raw, white, long grained rice that has been washed and rinsed in a sieve under cold water until the water runs clear. Or use Orzo.
  • 1-3 teaspoons dried dill according to taste, reserved
  • Diced chicken meat (optional) I usually leave it out

Bring the above ingredients just until they begin to boil. Lower to a simmer and cover for 40 minutes or so, stirring occasionally and tasting and seasoning as you go.

About ten minutes before serving, turn onto the lowest setting add the reserved lemon peel, dill, and pepper flakes. Just let the soup sit partially covered so all the flavors blend.

You can always leave the soup as is and serve lemon, dill and pepper on the side.

Rinse the rice to get rid of the starch that can interfere with the broth’s taste.

By all means go ahead and use fresh dill, especially as a garnish, but you will need several teaspoons. Place leftover dill between paper towels to dry and store in a leftover spice jar. This works well with any fresh herb.

Begin with just a pinch or two of red pepper flakes—you can always add more. It will take a while for the “heat” of the flakes to be released into the soup as it simmers, so keep that in mind before deciding to add more.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Simple Lemon Cake

Moist. And easy.

I'm always on the prowl for a good cake recipe that doesn't feed an entire wedding party! I adapted this recipe that I found on the inside of a margarine box. It was pretty simple. The cake itself was moist and the simple frosting gave just enough lemon tartness without being overpowering. Great with a hot cup of tea or cold glass of milk.

This cake is even more flavorful the next day. 


  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh-grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon fresh-grated orange zest
  • 1/4 cup melted margarine
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 (scant) teaspoon almond extract

  • 3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon melted margarine or butter
  • 2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 350 F. Grease or spray an 8 x 8-inch pan.

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Stir in the zest from the lemon and the orange and use your fingers to incorporate throughout.

In a small bowl combine the wet ingredients. Add to flour mixture and mix with a spoon until incorporated. Using a wire whisk or hand-held beater, beat just until smooth being careful not to overbeat. If using an electric beater, blend and then beat on medium speed for about one minute. This is not a cake that has to be "beaten."

Pour into pan and bake 30 - 35 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.

In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, margarine or butter, and enough lemon juice to desired consistency. Spread over cooled cake.

Now, really, how easy is that? Enjoy!