Holiday Delights

We celebrated Christmas with Sackett Man’s family. In total we had thirteen people in our home over the weekend before Christmas (fourteen if one counts my soon-to-come baby boy), and I couldn’t have had a nicer time.

I LOVE playing the hostess. I love getting the house ready. I love putting the air fresheners in various rooms (apple cinnamon is the best scent). I love making up the beds with fresh, crisp sheets and warm blankets, setting out clean soft towels in the bathrooms, putting up the finishing touches of Christmas decoration so that the atmosphere is warm and full of the holidays. Most of all, I love to cook. Molasses cookies. Fudge. Artisan bread. Bowls of dried fruit and almonds and cashews for snacking. Scrumptious beef roast with gravy, mushrooms, and onions, roasted in garlic and rosemary and red wine. Mashed potatoes made creamy with milk, sour cream, and butter. Green beans cooked to bright green al dente and tossed with chopped, crispy bacon.

My mother-in-law brought her own delicacies. She made a ton of Christmas cookies, and brought her delicious caramel rolls. My sister-in-laws brought cranberry fluff, homemade punch, english toffee pudding, vegetable trays, ham-and-pickle roll-ups, pecan pie, pickled herring, cheese and crackers, lefse… I’m sure I’m forgetting something… Needless to say, we did not go hungry!

A huge thanks to my wonderful In-Law Family, for coming to visit us and celebrating Christmas in such a special way. 🙂

One thing I tried making this year that I’ve never, ever attempted before, was good old fashioned candy (yes, that you need a thermometer for as you carefully cook the sugar). I made Turkish Delight.

I wasn’t sure about it. I and my family love the Narnia series; our young boys really enjoy the original BBC Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe movie. There’s been curious interest regarding the sweet that was Edmund’s favorite for a while now, so I finally researched and found a recipe and tried my hand at it. Turkish Delight can be made in many, many flavors (lemon, orange, pistachio, chocolate, etc) but the most common is Rose. Yes, Rose flavored candy. I assume this is the flavor Edmund enjoyed, because in every single movie the candy is a soft pink color. To that end I ordered my rose water (Rose Flower Water by Cortas), and— because some reviews said it was a very strong brand— I sampled a teaspoon of it in a glass of water (the recommended amount is 1-2 Tablespoons in a glass of water), and I couldn’t drink it. It was so strong! The scent was like putting my nose smack dab into the middle of the strongest bouquet of roses ever. And then drinking that bouquet. So that made me concerned that the flavor of the Turkish Delight was going to be too much.

I forged ahead anyway.

I used the recipe from this lady’s blog: http://titlisbusykitchen.com/recipe/turkish-delight. Not only does she have the recipe written out, but she has a step-by-step video to go with it. It made the whole experience so much better; there’s nothing that takes the fear out of an new recipe than watching someone with a sense of humor show you how it’s done!

The ingredients are:

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp rosewater
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • Few drops of food coloring
For the dusting
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • Extra powdered sugar (on hand if needed)

The only modification I made to the recipe, at all, was I halved the amount of rose water. I put in 1½ tsp instead of 1 tbsp. For our American tastebuds, unused to the taste of roses, it made all the difference! It flavored the Turkish Delight delicately, without overpowering it.

My husband and I, used to the scent of roses as being connected to bouquets, soaps, or face wash, like the flavor but are still getting used to attaching it to a food. Our kids, on the other hand, have no such preconceived ideas, and love it!

January Note: One thing to keep in mind: this is an old fashioned candy, made the old fashioned way. There are no preservatives or additives to keep it in perfect form for weeks (*cough cough* months YEARS *cough cough*) on end, so it will sweat and the powdered sugar it rests in will turn into a glaze around it. For the best results, eat the candy within the first five days. If the sweating really bothers you, switch out the powdered sugar/cornstarch every 2-3 days.

Another side note: the recipe says it will keep for a week. That doesn’t mean you have to throw it out on the eve of day seven. It just means that the texture will become softer and less candy-chewy, and it will sweat more and more. I’m nearing the end of week two, beginning week three, and I’ve taken to using a fork to separate the pieces (the best I can) and eating it that way.

My prep for candy making.

My prep for candy making.

Mixing, mixing, mixing as the sugar SLOWLY rises in temperature.

Mixing, mixing, mixing as the sugar SLOWLY rises in temperature.

You can't see it here (sorry), but it has reached temp: 240˚F.  * note: turn off the heat immediately when it reaches temp!!!

You can’t see it here (sorry), but it has reached temp: 240˚F.
* note: turn off the heat immediately when it reaches temp!!!

This is the water/cornstarch mixture. Once this has cooked you add the sugar syrup and cook low and slow to a glowing gold color. KEEP THE HEAT ON LOW! AND MIX CONSTANTLY!

This is the water/cornstarch mixture. Once this has cooked you add the sugar syrup and cook low and slow to a glowing gold color. KEEP THE HEAT ON LOW! AND MIX CONSTANTLY!

After adding the three drops of red food coloring and the Rose Water, I poured (scooped) the mixture into the wax lined/oiled pan. I used this handy icing spatula to spread it out even.

After adding the three drops of red food coloring and the Rose Water, I poured (scooped) the mixture into the wax lined/oiled pan. I used this handy icing spatula to spread it out even.

This is what you will need to finish the Turkish Delight: a cutting board sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. you turn the Delight out onto the board and cut it. 1"x1" is the perfect size.

This is what you will need to finish the Turkish Delight: a cutting board sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. you turn the Delight out onto the board and cut it. 1″x1″ is the perfect size.

So sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished product, all cut and dusted. Just imagine your favorite picture of Turkish Delight from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe… it really is just that pretty!

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Autumn Green

It snowed last night. The snow melted immediately once the morning light touched it, but its brief presence made one things very clear—

The garden must be picked.

Unfortunately I am in no state to do it. I am confined to my husband’s recliner with my laptop, taking vicodin every four hours, because yesterday I was in the hospital having a cerclage. So my husband geared up with grocery bags, scissors, laundry baskets, and gloves. Our oldest bundled up in his winter coat, hat, gloves and boots. The two of them are outside picking EVERYTHING. Bless them!

Most of what’s coming in I can take care of later. One thing, however, cannot wait, unless I want a limp, green, slimy mess.

Ew.

What is this potential mess? My cilantro. I love cilantro! Its fresh lemony scent wafts through my nose and washes my thoughts clear of any stress and trouble. Its bright flavor bursts in my mouth and proves to every taste bud that God loves each and every one of them and wants them to be happy!

But cilantro attacked by the unforgiving, freezing forces of nature? A malicious cruelty done to a completely innocent herb, if you ask me. So Sackett Man is outside with scissors and cutting and bagging it all for me. I figure that I can take five minutes today to stand in my kitchen and preserve it. Despite my achy back and other, general achiness, it will be SO worth it!

Mom and I have tried different ways of preserving cilantro over the years. We’ve tried drying it, which preserves it nicely, but you loose the fresh, bright burst of flavor that I love so much. We tried freezing it whole last year, in ziploc bags, but it was difficult to pull out just what you needed and when it thawed it was just not the same. And then one day a couple of weeks ago I was on the phone with Mom, and she was telling me about all the things she was doing with her garden produce. That day she happened to be making pesto, and I thought… “Pesto. Pesto! PESTO!” And why not? Why NOT make a pesto out of cilantro? As far as I know there’s no law that says pesto can only be made out of basil, but even if there is I’m willing to risk jail for this wonderful and amazing concoction. Because it’s delicious.

The next day I picked a bunch of cilantro to try it out. My heart pounded as I put it in the blender; my hands shook as I added the oil. My whole body quivered as I pushed the button and watched as it spun and blended into a brilliant emerald green elixir. I carefully, meticulously measured in the salt and the lemon juice, and blended it once more, gently and lovingly.

And then… I tasted it.

Oh heaven! I had found it… the perfect way to preserve cilantro so that its fresh wonderfulness could be enjoyed even in the depths of winter. I made Indian chicken and rice that night, and tried a spoonful of the Cilantro Pesto on top. It was fantastic, and Sackett Man gladly put it on top of his second and third helpings.

The process is really and truly very simple.

You’ll need 10 cups of cilantro total, but be aware that you’ll have to add it in a bit at a time.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.48.53 PM
Firstly, I put 5 cups of cilantro into my blender.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.50.30 PM
I added 1 cup of olive oil, to give the blender enough moisture to blend.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.49.13 PM
I pulsed the blender, using the handle of a wooden spoon to push the cilantro down in between pulses.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.50.41 PM
I added the last 5 cups of fresh cilantro and pulsed all over again. Then I added approximately 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and some salt. A quarter to half a teaspoon, depending on how salty you like it.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.50.55 PM            Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.51.09 PM

Look at that! Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.51.43 PM
I put it into two quart-size ziploc bags, and spread them flat to put in the freezer. Flattening them works well for usage, too, because you can just open the bag and break a piece of the frozen ‘slab’ off whenever you want to use some.

This is what I shall do with the cilantro my husband is bringing in today.

I can’t wait!

 


 

~ Cilantro Pesto ~ Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.51.35 PM

• 10 C. Fresh Cilantro
• 1 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• 1 ½ – 2 T Lemon Juice
• ¼ – ½ tsp Salt

Put 5 cups of cilantro and the olive oil into the blender. Blend in pulses, scraping down the sides in between. When it’s blended, add the rest of the cilantro and blend again in pulses. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste and blend just enough to mix.

Pour into two quart ziploc bags, flatten, and freeze.

Enjoy!


Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

How does time get away from us? Imagine my surprise (and guilt) when I connected here to discover that the last time I had posted was February 12th, and here it is March 26th.

Shame on me.

A lot has been keeping me busy. We had the Memorial for Sackett Man’s grandmother. Another grandparent had to go to the hospital, as did another, and two of them moved into a nursing home. I’m doing preschool at home with Roman, James outgrew his clothes and I had to go burrowing into boxes in the basement to find any that did fit, and Rose is crawling, walking along furniture, and getting into everything. I’ve written 13 chapters in a ff story, and have been arranging babysitting services for our kids during a business trip Sackett Man and I are taking in April.

But I’m still ashamed. So forgive me.

On the other hand, I’ve had lots of wonderful recipes I’ve been making, and let’s just say that life with children 5 and under is a huge adventure. And we’ve gotten more snow. Again. And again.

I’ve consoled myself by baking desserts for the family and pretending that Christmas is coming twice this year.

Spring is here at last! Can't you tell?

Spring is here at last! Can’t you tell?

Mom and I are also going through the seeds we’ve got waiting in a bag in the fridge, and planning our two big gardens. We’re going to create some mounds in the snow for the squash, watermelon, and potatoes, and we’re going to plow some nice long rows and plant the seeds in the snow. Then the summer thaw come and we’ll sigh as we watch our frozen seeds get washed away in the snow melt. By midsummer we won’t dare mow because there will be little tiny plants sprouting up everywhere in our yard EXCEPT in the nicely plowed garden, and Mom and I will be wandering around with our heads to the ground trying to identify what’s growing and if it’s edible, and hoping that the whats-its and whatchamacallits ‘bear fruit’ before the Autumn snows.

Okay, not really. By May (I hope) there will be bare ground to plant in, and God willing we’ll have a fantastic harvest of squash, melon, potatoes, kale, swiss chard, tomatoes, onions, peppers, green beans, beets, and herbs. Among other things. But right now I feel like Mrs. Beaver stuck forever in a never-ending winter.

On the Plus Side, the cliffs and mountains of snow lining our driveway are glorious in size, and during the few days it’s warm enough our two boys and Sackett Man enjoy going out and digging tunnels through the packed giants. By the time Spring is actually here, we’ll have the BEST ‘underground’ tunnel system.

I, in the meantime, have been indulging in cooking and baking. I made a cake, for no reason at all, and took Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 11.00.31 AMan entire afternoon on it. Yep. I baked, I cooled, I stacked, I frosted, I decorated. It was pretty, and it was delicious. Raspberry Silver cake with a lemon butter frosting. Mmmm… I love making cakes. I never have the time I would like to do all of the ones I want to do, but then again I guess that’s a good thing… Sackett Man and I have no desire to match our sons’ growth spurts; two inches every two weeks would put us in dire straits!

The ‘flowers’ are supposed to be purple. I’m not sure what happened in the photographic translation… I also decided I need more practice at making flowers. Professional I am not. But the family sure enjoyed it. It was gone in two days.

I also made molasses cookies. These are some of my favorite cookies, but then I’m a big fan of molasses. Rich, dark, deep tones tantalizing the tastebuds… Try a tablespoon in a cup of milk. Yum!

Anyway, I creamed the butter and the sugar and the egg. Then I added the molasses and creamed some more. (Thank you Mom and Great Grandma for teaching me how to cream with a wooden spoon!)

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 11.04.48 AMAnd this is how I do dry ingredients. I like to sift it all through my mesh sieve. It takes the lumps out of everything (like the baking soda) so that it is all fine and fluffy and partially mixes everything for you. Then you can finish mixing by hand.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 11.05.00 AMAfter combining the dry and wet, I ended up with a VERY thick batter. Time to taste test. Yes? No? Not sure? Taste it again. And again. I think three times is the required number.

Mmm!

Roll by the Tablespoons in sugar and line them on your Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 11.05.09 AMpan. Little brown, sparkly balls of goodness just waiting to be eaten! Just make sure you bake them first. That’s a very important step.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 11.05.29 AMEight minutes later you will have beautiful brown, sparkly balls of slightly crispy, beautifully soft goodness just waiting to be eaten! And it’s okay, because now they’ve been baked. There’s nothing to stop you now. There was certainly nothing to stop me.

Many of them did make it into my apple cookie jar, I am proud to announce. My self control kicked in soon enough!

This is a family recipe. It’s been made many, many, many times.

~ Molasses Cookies ~ Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 11.05.38 AM

  • ³/8 C. Shortening
  • ³/8 C. Butter
  • 1 C. packed Brown Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • ¼ C. Molasses
  • 2 ¾ C. Flour
  • 2 tsp Baking Soda
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • ½ tsp Ground Ginger

Cream the Shortening, Butter, Sugar, and Egg. Add the Molasses.
Stir in the dry ingredients.
Scoop by the Tablespoon and form into balls and roll in white sugar. Place on a cookie sheet 2 inches apart.
Bake at 350º F for 8=10 minutes.

Enjoy!

Mushrooms ala Cocoa

Is it wrong to think that the mixed scent of warm chocolate and cooking mushrooms is fantastic?

This is the conundrum I found myself in one night last week. It had been a very long day of housework and taking down, packing, and storing all of the Christmas decorations. I had the remains of the Beef Roast and its gravy (which I had frozen to be used later, on a day like this day), sour cream, and some fantastic portobello mushrooms, so I decided to make a Throw-Together Beef Stroganoff for supper. I got some noodles boiling, and started sautéing the mushrooms in my cast iron pot, and immediately the kitchen began to smell delicious. As I stood there, my aching feet decided to make their presence known, as well as other various body parts that had been used and abused carting large and heavy bins around, and I felt in a desperate need for a pick-me-up. Thankfully I have a small bag of Chocolate Mint Cappucino mix in my cupboard, which made for the perfect cup of decadence.

I stood there at my stove, stirring the sautéing mushrooms and sipping on my cup of chocolaty goodness, taking deep breaths and thinking to myself how wonderful mushrooms and chocolate smell.

(The stroganoff was fantastic. I poured the left-over roast and gravy into the pot with the mushrooms and let it all heat through, then I put in about a cup of sour cream, and mixed in the noodles. There wasn’t much left for leftovers once my family got to it.)

Family Roast

Who doesn’t love a good beef roast? That’s what I made yesterday, throwing it into the crock-pot at eight-thirty in the morning in preparation for the fifteen family members that were going to descend upon our home that afternoon. My mom brought a fantastic potato salad and a fruit salad with crunchy, candied pretzel pieces in it. My two sister-in-laws brought hot, creamy spinach dip and delicious cranberry-white chocolate bars. There was also salad and homemade biscuits-n-butter. Yum!

Sackett Man camped out in his recliner, resting and icing his knee (which is doing well), though he did rise up and, crutch in hand, venture outside to try out his new turbo flashlight. No animal is safe from detection in our woods anymore.

We opened presents; we shared good company and good food.

That’s why I like the roast. I had a TON on my plate (pun intended) that only grew larger when it snowed and I had to spend two hours yesterday morning plowing our driveway. Yet I was able to do so without stress, because I knew that in the house it was starting to smell wonderful as the feast cooked and grew delicious all on its own.

I don’t really have an exact recipe, because I tend to eyeball it. But it’s a very forgiving recipe; you can adjust all of it to your taste.

1 Beef Roast (any kind)

Crockpot Roast with: onion, mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, red wine, mushroom soup

Crockpot Roast with: onion, mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, red wine, mushroom soup

2 onions, quartered

2 packages of sliced mushrooms

1 T minced garlic

1 T rosemary, dried (I would do less if you’re using fresh)

1/2 – 1 Cup red wine

1 can cream of mushroom soup

s/p to taste

Set your crock-pot on High for 6 hours.

Now, I usually like to start cooking my roast around nine or ten o’clock and let it cook (first on High, then on Low for the remaining time) all day for a five or six pm supper. The meat is literally spoon-tender at that point and moist and succulent. Yesterday we ate at two-thirty, so the meat wasn’t quite as falling-apart as I prefer, but it was still tender and moist and fantastic!

This makes for, honestly, one of the easiest decadent meals I’ve ever made. All you need to do that night is steam a veggie and put out some delicious bread. Mashed potatoes are good with this, too.

Enjoy!