Archive for October, 2010


Dear Erin,

Indian Summer blew away during the night and today dawned chilly, the first really cool day that we have had this fall.  The wind is blowing like only the Kansas wind can blow making it impossible to imagine any outdoor chores.  I haven’t turned on the heat yet and it feels like soup weather!!  I’ve been anxiously awaiting soup weather — you know how we love our soup in this household?!  I muddled my way through some morning chores and then set the soup pot on to simmer.  My lunch of taco soup did the trick and warmed me right up; it was so hearty that I’m even thinking of going outside for awhile.  The only thing better would have been to have you here eating some with me.  My recipe varies a bit with what I have on hand but I think the taste is generally pretty consistent, use the vegies and spices you want to get the flavor that you like.  These are the ingredients that I used today:  

  • 1# ground beef (ground turkey or cubed chicken is also nice)
  • 1 onion diced
  • 3 carrots chunked
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 1/2 cup diced red pepper
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pint tomatoes with their juice
  • 1 quart stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cans beans ( I used chili beans) 
  • 2 cups frozen green beans
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 4 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 1-2 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
  • salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion, carrot, celery, red pepper, and garlic until softened.  Crumble in the ground beef and brown until no pink remains.  Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for about 30 minutes.  This makes a large pot of soup and would serve 6-8 people.  Serve the soup with sour cream, crumbled tortilla chips, and a sprinkle of cheese.


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Vanilla Syrup

Dear Mom,

Hold on to your hat. I have started drinking coffee. Well, I’ve started drinking espresso. I know, I know – for years when I would come home from college, Dad would always ask if he could brew me some espresso as the two of you had your daily cup and I would always say no. The truth is, I’m a morning person. A perky morning person, at that, and I just never really got into drinking coffee – I didn’t need it! I love the flavor, but I would reall only occasionally have some – more like a special treat every now and then. But about a year ago I started getting on the daily caffeine band wagon. I drink iced tea on almost a daily basis, which I love. I also ordered some of my favorite Kashmiri Chai tea and brew a concentrate that’s wonderful for making hot and iced chai lattes (I love how spicy and delicious they are). All in all, I’ve been going gaga making my own beverage creations.

Recently Shelly, one of my coworkers, brought her tiny espresso machine into work and I suddenly got giddy. I ordered myself some espresso, and started plotting out my future latte-making.  I love the flavor of vanilla in my coffee, but I don’t like overly-sweet beverages.  So I decided to make my own vanilla syrup to add to my coffee. It’s just a basic simple syrup, but it’s overloaded with vanilla beans, which means I only have to use a little in my morning coffee to get a whole lot of flavor.  It adds just a hint of sweetness that perfectly offsets the bitterness of the coffee, and it makes for an incredibly fancy-tasting coffee house coffee. Best of all, it’s super inexpensive. It would be great for brushing on layer cakes, to glaze pastries, or anything else you can think of!

So tell me, should I make up a care package of vanilla beans so you can make some for yourself? Trust me – you’ll love it!

Vanilla Bean Syrup

1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1 vanilla bean, scraped

1. Combine all ingredients (including the scraped bean, not just the scrapings) in a small pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir to ensure the sugar dissolves. Ket cool slightly.
2. Pour the cooled syrup into a storage container and use as desired.

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Dear Mom,

I love to make cinnamon rolls, and I usually make them with brioche dough. They’re so warm and delicious – and I usually make them with brioche dough. But when I was given some homemade concord grape jelly recently, I wanted to try a new approach – sweet buns. The dough is one I learned in school and it’s wonderful. It’s takes less time to make and it’s ideal for making the night ahead so that it’s ready to bake in the morning.

They turned out really nice – I used salted peanuts to contrast the sweetness of the jelly, and it made for a very PB and J breakfast pastry. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s totally messy and I had to soak the pan for about a year to get all that sticky jelly out, but it was worth it – rich, sweet, and salty. I think it’s a great way to incorporate jams and jellies into baked goods. It would work with a million combinations – fig jam and pine nuts, peach jelly and almonds, apple jelly and pecans. Yum!

Concord Grape and Salted Peanut Sweet Buns

16 oz all purpose flour
pinch salt
3 oz sugar
1 1/2 tsp yeast
7 oz milk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 oz eggs, room temperature
3 oz butter, room temperature

concord grape jelly
salted peanuts, roughly chopped
egg wash, as needed

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast to combine.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the milk, vanilla, and eggs together to combine.
3. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 3 minutes.
4. Increase speed to medium high, and add the butter in four additions, mixing until fully combined before adding the next addition.
5. Continue to mix for 2 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the edge of the bowl.
6. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 30 minutes.
7. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick.
8. Brush off excess flour. Spread a thin layer of jelly onto the dough, and sprinkle with peanuts.
9. Roll the dough towards yourself into a loose roll. Cut off the edges, and divide the roll into even pieces.
10. Transfer the rolls to a buttered baking dish. Cover them with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator overnight (you can also put them in a warm place and let rise until double in size – 1 1/2 hours).
11. Egg wash the rolls and sprinkle with more peanuts. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the filling is bubbly and the dough is golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.

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Making Sofrito

sofrito ingredients

Dear Erin, 

The nights are getting cool here in Kansas but we are having warm Indian Summer days.  Arlo helped me pick all the peppers yesterday, when he wasn’t whacking weeds with a big stick, following paths into the field, or climbing on the big red gate at the edge of the garden.  We picked a lug-sized box of red, green, and yellow peppers, loaded it into the wagon and he pulled it to the garage.  Variety names often catch my interest when I’m choosing what to plant in the spring and Big Bertha certainly has lived up to her name!!   

Big Bertha

One way to preserve the pepper bounty is to make sofrito which can then be stored in the freezer for winter use.  I made sofrito for the first time last season after hearing about it from Willie.  I took it one step further and made multiple batches for the freezer whenever I had excess produce.  Not only is this a great way to preserve onions, tomatoes and peppers but it is a fantastic way to preserve the fresh taste of cilantro.  I freeze the finished sofrito in assorted sizes and I love having it to add summer freshness to winter soups, stews, braises, and salsas.  I’ve also made this mixture using other herbs instead of the cilantro  like italian parsley, cutting celery, chives, and basil.  Here’s what you need to make one batch of sofrito:

SOFRITO (pepper, garlic, and herb sauce)

  • 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped onions
  • 5 cups coarsely chopped sweet peppers (include hot peppers to your liking)
  • 8-10 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bunch cilantro leaves (or herb of choice)
  • salt & pepper to taste

In a large, heavy dutch oven saute the onions in the olive oil for several minutes over medium heat until they soften.  Add the peppers and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic, oregano, herbs and continue cooking for about 2 minutes more.  Add the tomatoes and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  You don’t want to overcook the vegies but they should be soft.  Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool.  When it has cooled transfer the mixture to a food processor in batches with the fresh cilantro and pulse until desired consistency; I like mine chopped fine but not pureed; you can leave it chunky if you like.  Use immediately or transfer to containers and store in the freezer until needed.  This makes about 5 cups.

the finished product ready for the freezer

 Love, Mom

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Whole Wheat Pancakes

Dear Mama,

It’s raining in New York. A lot. Now, I personally love rain, but I am not immune to the strong desire to crawl back into bed on a dreary, rainy day rather than go on with my real life. Not to mention my house is a mess because I haven’t cleaned at all since Willie arrived (or left) from our lovely visit over the weekend. And I’m sick. Pretty much, everything is a hot mess.

So I couldn’t think of a better time for comfort food. Namely, Dad’s whole wheat pancakes. So when I got home from work last night, I took the dog out (briefly) and then went inside and mixed up a single serving batch of pancakes. I plopped a pad of butter on top and poured some real (yes, REAL – no Aunt Jemima here, I swear) maple syrup on top. I ate it in bed (also with the dog) while it rained outside. I planned on not telling anyone about this experience, but instead – it seems like the food did it’s perfect job of comforting me. And I couldn’t not share that.

Whole Wheat Pancakes

3 oz whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
2 tsp honey
1 egg
5 oz milk
2 oz melted butter

1. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt to combine.
2. In another bowl, whisk the hone, eggs, milk, and butter to combine.
3. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, mixing just to combine.
4. Ladle the batter onto a hot griddle, wait until it evenly bubbles, and then flip. Cook until the other side is brown. Serve warm!

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