Sunday, October 21, 2007


Popovers are one of my husband's favorite foods. He likes them so much that he bought his mother a professional-grade popover pan for a gift years ago. She no longer uses that pan these days, so she gave it to me. That was earlier this year, and I am now hooked on popovers, too.

I've tried a couple of different recipes, one from a King Arthur Flour cookbook, and one from Better Homes & Gardens. The BH&G version is by far the best. It's both easy and fairly fool-proof. I say "fairly," because I was a bit foolish when I made them today. I foolishly thought that I could use up some heavy cream that I had on hand as a substitute for half the milk in this recipe. Since we always use skim milk here and the original recipe calls for "milk," I thought that using half skim milk and half heavy cream might make a suitable substitute, perhaps giving me a consistency close to whole milk, and maybe even producing a more tender, rich popover...I was wrong, and my popovers today flopped.

Instead of being light, crisp, and tender, they had a crust like hard rolls, and it didn't even taste as good as they did with the skim milk version. Needless to say, this is going to be something that we're going to do again next weekend, because today's popovers didn't do justice to the recipe.

That said, I'm going to type the original recipe below, with just a couple of small modifications, which I have used successfully several times now. The original recipe called for vegetable oil, but I have found that the equal amount of melted butter works really well. The consistency is the same as with the oil, but the flavor is much richer. Also, since I have found that my attempt at substituting something other than skim milk was a failure, I'm adding that level of specificity to my recipe. I'm only going to use skim milk with this popover recipe from now on.

Oh, and one more point bears mentioning here...I've never made this recipe without a professional-grade popover pan. What I mean by professional grade is that this is a very heavy pan that heats very evenly so the popovers all "pop" at the same time and don't burn before they're completely done in the inside. If you don't have a restaurant supply store in your area, you could order a professional grade pan from a website like
King Arthur Flour. It might seem a bit much to buy a pan just for popovers, but you can also use these pans for muffins and cupcakes.

Shortening (to grease your popover cups)
4 large eggs
2 cups milk
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Grease your popover cups well. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a blender, combine remaining ingredients until smooth, and pour into 12 popover cups, filling them each half full. Bake popovers for 40 minutes or until very firm. Immediately after removing them from the oven, poke each popover with a fork to let the steam escape. Serve immediately with butter, jam or jelly, honey, or just enjoy them plain. They're crisp on the outside and very tender on the inside. (Makes 12 popovers.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I won again!!!

Wow! I used to say that I never win contests, but I certainly can't say that anymore. Lori, who produces a wonderful sewing podcast called Sew Forth Now, picked my name to win Simplicity pattern # 3631. I've admired that pattern when she has posted it on her website, and I've thought that the jumper would especially be a fun thing to make. The jacket it really interesting, too, but I try to avoid spending too much time making things that end up looking dated in the years to come. And that jacket, though it's stunning, looks like a potentially trendy piece...though it is really cute, and it definitely has some retro charm.

Anyway, that was the start of my Tuesday. So I'm giving thanks to the Lord for the many unexpected ways that He blesses me. I hope and pray that your eyes are open today to the many ways that He is blessing you.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Grandma's Never-Fail Banana Bread

I'm working from home today, so I mixed up a batch of my maternal grandmother's banana bread. I called it her "Never-Fail Banana Bread," because it has turned out perfectly every time. And everyone I've served it to has commented that it's the best banana bread they've ever tasted. It's light and flavorful, and it never lasts long at our house. I made some recently for friends of ours who needed help with refreshments for visitors following a funeral, and I promised my husband I would make some again soon so that he could enjoy more of it himself. Even so, I'm giving away half of this batch. This recipe makes 2 large loaves, but I divided half of the batter into two smaller pans and plan to give a loaf to a couple of our friends who have been generous to us recently, as a way of saying thank you for their thoughtfulness and generosity.

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
4 eggs
2 cups mashed bananas
1 cup chopped walnuts

Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy, then add one egg at a time, beating until very light and fluffy. Add mashed bananas, mixing in to combine. Add dry ingredients and walnuts and mix to combine well.

Pour into two 9x5 prepared loaf pans (grease and flour each pan) and bake for 60-70 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pans. Makes 2 loaves.

Chicken and Cashew Stir Fry

This recipe has been in my family for several years. I believe that it originated with a cousin of mine, who no longer eats meat, so he probably hasn't made it in a long time. But before he became a vegetarian, he prepared this recipe for my parents, and they both loved it. My mother asked him for a copy, and it quickly became a favorite of mine, too. Now, I make it for our little family, and my husband enjoys it as well. It makes a large batch, so we generally enjoy the leftovers for two additional meals for the two of us.

20 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4-5 cups shredded cabbage
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup soy sauce
6 oz. cashews (roasted and salted)

Blend 2 Tbsp. soy sauce with 1 Tbsp. cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl. Add chicken strips and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in wok over high heat. Add chicken strips, stir frying them until they are white and firm. Add onions and mushrooms. Continue to stir fry until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms are cooked but still somewhat firm. Transfer meat and vegetable mixture in a covered casserole dish.

Add remaining oil to the wok. Stir in cabbage and sugar. Stir fry until cabbage is crisp tender. Return vegetable and meat mixture to the wok, stirring to combine. Mix remaining soy sauce and cornstarch together and add to the wok. Stir again and steam briefly to thicken the sauce.

Serve over rice, and top with the cashews. (I usually put the cashews into a dish on the table for my guests to help themselves.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Failed Crochet Project

Well, I had to frog another crochet project. It's not the first time, and it won't be the last.

I tried to make the cloche hat that you see pictured to the right...probably three times now. I tried it once a couple of years ago using some navy yarn. That time, my cloche turned into a beret. It was so flat that I started decreasing my stitches as an attempt to make something other than a pancake--thus, a beret was born. My husband told me that he thinks it looks cute on me, but I haven't had the courage to wear it outside the house.

A few days ago, I tried this hat again, this time using some of the lovely red wool that I had left after finishing my Sweet Pea Shawl. I could just imagine how pretty that hat would look, especially if I used some darker red to add a little contrast to the flower. So I grabbed my hooks and yarn again on Sunday afternoon, but I soon found myself with another pancake on my hands.

Yesterday, over lunch at work, I frogged the new pancake and started the hat all over again. This time, using the same red wool, I adjusted the pattern a bit, trying to use a method my mother-in-law uses with success. She never uses a pattern. She just shapes the hat as she goes...increasing some rows and crocheting other rows with any increase to give it shape. Her hats always seem to turn out well.

For a while, my revised pattern looked like it would work. It was turning into more of a head shape than a pancake this time, but then I tried it on last night in front of a mirror...and saw the little point at the top of my head.

So today, as I started lunch here at work, I added a few more rows. Perhaps I was thinking that I could pull the hat into a better shape, smoothing the little point away somehow. But it soon became obvious that the point wouldn't go away. So I frogged my project again.

I'd still like to make a cloche hat, but I think I'd better buy the kind of yarn the pattern calls for the next time, rather than trying to use what I already have in my stash.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Raw Apple Muffins

We're up north this weekend visiting my father and enjoying one last fishing weekend before my husband and my father put Dad's boat dock and hoist away. Since my mother has been gone (she died four years ago), I've been taking over the cooking when we visit. So this weekend, I decided to make one of our favorite fall muffin recipes for brunch. They're from a church cookbook, and I've made them three or four times now. The only change I made from the original recipe was to eliminate the raisins. I like raisins in baked goods, but my husband doesn't. He likes raisins, but for whatever reason he doesn't like them cooked.

Anyway, here's the recipe...

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
4 cups raw apples, peeled and diced
1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or peanuts

Combine sugars, eggs, oil, and vanilla in a small bowl. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir diced apples into the dry mixture and then add the wet mixture to the dry as well. Add chopped nuts lastly, stirring enough to combine all dry ingredients well. Distribute batter in sprayed or paper-lined muffin tins. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Makes 18 muffins.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

I'm working from home today, which means that I can bake over the lunch hour. At the office, I tend to use my lunch hours for portable craft projects, like crochet, embroidery, or hand quilting. But today, since I'm working from home, I'm using my lunch hour to mix up a batch of whole wheat bread. Generally, I use my sourdough starter for this, but my starter is in the freezer right now until the weather is cooler...I bake a lot more homemade bread and rolls when the temperatures are consistently below freezing.

In any case, since my sourdough starter is still at rest (in the freezer), I'm going to use a recipe that I found and made several times this past summer. It's from the book "Don't Panic--Dinner's in the Freezer,"a wonderful cookbook if you're interested in saving time and money while preparing make-ahead meals. You cook once and freeze at least half of what you make to thaw and finish at a later time. This book and one called "Once-a-Month Cooking" have both been wonderful in helping me to better manage my time at home, while still providing our family with delicious, healthy, homemade meals.

One note I should make is that the recipe called for all-purpose flour, but I haven't tried it that way, so I changed my ingredient list to call for bread flour, which I nearly always have on hand these since I bake quite often. Also, I have varied my method a bit from the instructions in the book because I always use the methods that my grandmother and mother used, which I learned from them.

I remember when I was taking a food science lab class in college that my instructor scolded me once for kneading my bread like my grandmother did, telling me that I was breaking the gluten strands and that my bread would not rise properly. Apparently, the rest of the students used the method she had demonstrated to use, but I had always made bread the way I had learned to make it at home. Long story short, when we cut into each student's loaf that day, my loaf was the only one that rose as it should. The instructor had to admit that the method my grandmother used worked really well. I think Grandma would have had a good chuckle over that if she had still been alive.

3-1/2 to 4 cups bread flour
2-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/3 cup honey
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large egg

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup bread flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, and salt; mix well. In a saucepan, heat milk, water, honey, and oil until temperature is 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit (I use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature) Then add flour mixture to liquid. Add the egg, and blend at low speed to moisten and then beat 3 minutes at medium speed, adding some of the remaining white flour until it's the right consistency to remove from the mixing bowl and finish the dough by kneading on a floured surface until the dough is smooth and elastic, at least five minutes. Place dough into a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover with a warm, damp dish towel and let rise in a warm place until light and doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Divide into two parts and form into two two loaves. Place each loaf into a greased 9x5 loaf pan. Cover the pans again with a warm, damp dish towel and let rise in a warm place until light and doubled, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Remove from pans and cool. If you want to freeze one or both of the loaves, use a zippered freezer bag with a good seal, pressing out the extra air before closing. On the day you want to serve the frozen bread, thaw it at room temperature.