Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen


Gingersnaps 0

Posted on December 22, 2014 by Sahar

I almost love gingersnaps more than I love a really good chocolate chip cookie. Almost. It’s a photo finish, really.

Just like gingerbread, gingersnaps date back to Medieval England and predate the cake style gingerbread we know today.

Traditionally, “gingersnaps” are a crispy cookie that “snap” when eaten, hence the name.

Gingersnaps have a long history in Europe, especially England and Germany. The cookies were made using molasses as a sweetener rather than refined sugar because it was less expensive and more readily available to the average person. (At this time, white refined sugar was extremely expensive and only available to the very wealthy.) As England expanded its colonial rule, it brought many of its cooking and baking traditions to these colonized countries, including gingersnaps.

European and British food traditions continued even after the American colonies gained their independence. Recipes that had been passed down, such as the traditional molasses and ginger recipe for snaps, still flourished in American kitchens.(information from www.ehow.com)
This recipe makes a lovely crispy yet slightly chewy melt-in-your-mouth cookie. The combination of shortening and butter is what does this. An all-butter cookie would cause the dough to spread quite a bit and make a very crispy cookie. An all-shortening dough would make a more cake-like cookie. I also like to use brown sugar as opposed to white because I find the cookie has a better texture and flavor. However, if you prefer to use or all you have is white (or even light brown) sugar, feel free to use it. Feel free to play with the spices. Of course, ginger should be your main flavor. However, most traditional gingersnap recipes have cloves and cinnamon.  I decided to buck tradition and used allspice as my secondary spice. Most of the sweet spices have an affinity with each other, so I thought, why not allspice? It works well in this recipe.As for the sugar to coat the cookie dough before baking – it’s a traditional addition. If you decide you don’t want the extra sugar, then skip that step.  However, since I wanted to go traditional (sort of), I did that step using turbinado (raw) sugar.If you would like to add even more ginger flavor, you can add grated fresh and/or finely chopped candied ginger.  Add as much or as little as you like.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

From top: molasses, baking soda, ginger, allspice, salt

From top: molasses, baking soda, ginger, allspice, salt

 

1/2 c. butter, room temperature

1/2 shortening, room temperature

1 c. dark brown sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1/4 c. molasses

 

2 1/2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground allspice

 

Extra sugar for rolling

 

 

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2.  In a mixer bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, and brown sugar.

Getting ready to cream the butter, shortening, and brown sugar together.

Getting ready to cream the butter, shortening, and brown sugar together.

After creaming the butter and sugar together. You don't want to beat too much air into the mixture.

After creaming the butter and sugar together. You don’t want to beat too much air into the mixture.

Add the egg and molasses and mix until well combined.

After adding the egg and molasses.

After adding the egg and molasses.

3.  Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and allspice.

Sifted dry ingredients. Kinda like the way it looks.

Sifted dry ingredients. Kinda like the way it looks.

4.  Add the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture 1/3 at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Mixing in the dry ingredients. Be sure to mix well after each addition and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Mixing in the dry ingredients. Be sure to mix well after each addition and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

The finished dough. Try not to eat it at this stage.

The finished dough. Try not to eat it at this stage.

5.  When the cookie mixture is ready, take a small amount and roll into a ball about 1″ in diameter.  Roll the ball in the extra sugar to coat.

Rolling the cookie dough in sugar. This is a pretty traditional step in making the cookies.  However, if you prefer not to have the extra sugar, you can skip this step.

Rolling the cookie dough in sugar. This is a pretty traditional step in making the cookies. However, if you prefer not to have the extra sugar, you can skip this step.

Place the ball of dough onto a cookie sheet.  Repeat about 4 dozen times. Have no more than 12 per baking sheet because the cookies will spread.

Ready for the oven. The cookies will spread quite a lot, so be sure to have about 2" between each ball of dough.

Ready for the oven. The cookies will spread, so be sure to have about 2″ between each ball of dough.

6.  Bake the cookies for 15 – 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time.

Now your house will smell like the holidays.

Now your house will smell like the holidays.

Enjoy!

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup 0

Posted on December 19, 2014 by Sahar

As I sit here on this rainy & chilly day, my mind and appetite turn to soup.

This recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup is a hearty soup that is quick (especially if you use leftover or store-bought rotisserie chicken) and can be easily be made either ahead or after a day at work. Or, almost better yet, what to feed your family the day before a big holiday (hint, hint); this recipe can easily be doubled.

This soup is certainly a recipe that shouts TexMex at you. It  is certainly more Tex than Mex – mainly because Mexican cuisine doesn’t use blended chili powders. If any chile powders are used at all, they are of a single chile (i.e. ancho, guajillo).

This soup can also easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable broth and omitting the chicken. If you want the added protein, you can add beans, extra-firm tofu, seitan, tempeh, or even simply extra hominy in place of the chicken.

 

The ingredients (chicken broth not shown)

The ingredients (chicken broth not shown)

The hominy. I like to use both yellow and white. It's simply a personal preference. There's absolutely no difference in the flavor.

The hominy. I like to use both yellow and white. It’s simply a personal preference. There’s absolutely no difference in the flavor. For a brief explanation of what exactly hominy is, go here.

From top:

From top: grapeseed oil, cumin, Mexican oregano, black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt, San Antonio chili powder

 

2 tbsp. vegetable oil (you can also use grapeseed or canola oil)

1 small onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small (4 oz.) can diced green chiles (hot or mild)

-or-

1 small  (7 oz.) can salsa verde

1 tbsp. chili powder (I like San Antonio blend)

1 tsp. Mexican oregano

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. cayenne

1 tsp. salt, more to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, more to taste

2 cans hominy, drained

1 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

4 c. chicken broth

4 c. cooked, shredded chicken

Lime juice, to taste

1/2 c. chopped cilantro

 

Vegetable oil for frying

 

The condiments

The condiments

 

Shredded Cabbage

Chopped Green Onion

Crispy Tortilla Strips

Lime Wedges

Sour Cream

 

 

1.  In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is soft, about 3-5 minutes.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Add the chiles or salsa verde and saute for another 2-3 minutes.

Adding the salsa verde. I used salsa in this recipe because it's what I had at home.

Adding the salsa verde. I used salsa in this recipe because it’s what I had at home. if you are using salsa, be sure to let it cook down by at least half.

2.  Add the chili powder, oregano, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper.  Saute for 1-2 minutes or until the fragrance comes up.

Adding the spices. be sure to stir pretty much constantly; you want the spices to have a scent (this means the oils are cooking). You want to take care not to burn them.

Adding the spices. Be sure to stir pretty much constantly; you want the spices to have a scent (this means the oils are cooking). You want to take care not to burn them.

Add the hominy and tomatoes and saute another 2-3 minutes.

Adding the tomatoes and hominy.

Adding the tomatoes and hominy.

3.  Add the chicken broth.

Adding the chicken broth. Once the soup is cooking, be sure to stir frequently to keep the hominy from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Adding the chicken broth. Once the soup is cooking, be sure to stir frequently to keep the hominy from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Cover the saucepan and bring the broth to a boil. Uncover, lower the heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

After 30 minutes. The soup should be somewhat thickened from the hominy.

After 30 minutes. The soup should be somewhat thickened from the hominy.

4.  While the soup is cooking, make the tortilla strips.  Take 6-8 tortillas and cut them into roughly 1/4-inch wide strips.

Tortilla strips. Be sure to use a very sharp knife so you can get even strips without tearing up the tortillas.

Tortilla strips. Be sure to use a very sharp knife so you can get even strips without tearing up the tortillas.

Be sure to separate them.  Heat a medium (9-inch) skillet with about 1/2-inch of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Test the oil by dropping a strip in the oil; it should immediately sizzle. Fry the strips in small batches until they are crispy.

Frying the strips. Be sure to keep them as separated as possible and fry in small batches. Frying the strips should take no more than 60 - 90 seconds per batch.

Frying the strips. Be sure to keep them as separated as possible and fry in small batches. Frying the strips should take no more than 60 – 90 seconds per batch.

Drain the strips on paper towels. (Alternately, you can simply serve the whole tortillas or tortilla chips on the side.)

The finished strips.

The finished strips.

5.  After the initial cooking time, add the chicken, lime juice, and cilantro.  Cook for a further 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice. At this point you're simply heating the chicken through. Be sure to taste for seasoning.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice. At this point you’re simply heating the chicken through. Be sure to taste for seasoning.

6.  Serve the soup with the tortilla strips, cabbage, green onion, extra lime wedges, and sour cream.

The finished soup. Pretty, huh?

The naked finished soup. it’s great just like this.

The fully dressed soup. Perfect for a chilly, rainy night.

The fully dressed soup. Perfect for a chilly, rainy night.

Enjoy!

Reflections and Goals 0

Posted on December 17, 2014 by Sahar

As 2014 comes to a close, I, like no doubt many of you, am beginning to reflect on the year.  What I did and didn’t accomplish, learned, mistakes I made, and victories I achieved.

I know I certainly didn’t accomplish all the goals I set for myself.  I’m still staring at the open patch of grass where I want to build a garden, didn’t teach myself to make corned beef, or make the perfect soft pretzel.

I did manage to teach myself how to skin fish fillets and improved my puff pastry recipe. Small victories; but victories nonetheless.

Will 2015 be better? Who knows. There’s really no crystal ball to see into the future. I know that it is all up to me, however, to make things happen or not.

Some things I would like to accomplish in 2015 are:

1.  Actually starting my garden so maybe, just maybe, I’ll have something to harvest in the summer.

2. Post more often and expand my blog outreach. Get some more media coverage.

3. Post my travel writing in a more timely manner.

4.  Improve my photography skills.

5. Start what I call my “farmer’s market project”.  You’ll see.

6. Again, set my goals to teach myself to make

Corned Beef                                          Pastrami

Shrimp Curry                                       Mansaff (a Bedouin dish)

Consumme                                           The Five Mother Sauces

Doughnuts                                           The perfect hot chocolate

real barbecue brisket                         Confit

cured salmon                                       bagels

pita bread                                             Swiss meringue

strawberry croissants                        ma’amool (date filled cookies)

 

That’s just what I’ve come up with off the top of my head.  I have every confidence that I’ll come up with more as the year progresses.

 

 

IMG_0014IMG_2673IMG_3164IMG_0974

 

Have a great 2015.

Gingerbread 0

Posted on December 12, 2014 by Sahar

More than once when I’ve made gingerbread, my husband will come home and simply say, “It smells like Fall in here.” I take that as a compliment.

Gingerbread is a confectionary that has seemingly always been associated with Autumn and the Holidays.  In Medieval England, the term gingerbread simply meant ‘preserved ginger’. The name wasn’t for the desserts we’re familiar with until the 15th century.

According to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Making Gingerbread Houses, the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread. The hard cookies, sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens, were a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble the dignitaries visiting her court. Over time some of these festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as ‘fairings.’ The shapes of the gingerbread changed with the season, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall. Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. The gold leaf that was often used to decorate gingerbread cookies led to the popular expression ‘to take the gilt off of gingerbread.’ The carved, white architectural details found on many colonial American seaside homes is sometimes referred to as ‘gingerbread work’.

Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. It is unclear whether or not gingerbread houses were a result of the popular fairy tale, or vice versa.

Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists. The cookies were sometimes used to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over another. The first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, has recipes for three types of gingerbread including the soft variety baked in loaves:

Soft gingerbread to be baked in pans.

No. 2. Rub three pounds of sugar, two pounds of butter, into four pounds of flour, add 20 eggs, 4 ounces ginger, 4 spoons rosewater, bake as No. 1.

This softer version of gingerbread was more common in America. George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, served her recipe for gingerbread to the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited her Fredericksburg, Virginia home. Since then it was known as Gingerbread Lafayette. The confection was passed down through generations of Washingtons.

(Source: History of Gingerbread, The History Kitchen, Tori Avey)

**********

A main ingredient in gingerbread is molasses.  It is basically the leftovers of the sugar making process after the sugar crystals have been removed during boiling.

There are several different types of molasses comercially available: Light Molasses, Dark Molasses, Blackstrap Molasses, Sulphured Molasses, and Unsulphured Molasses.

Grandma's is a good, consistent brand of molasses that's readily available at just about every grocery. It's an unsulphured light molasses.

Grandma’s is a good, consistent brand of molasses that’s readily available at just about every grocery. It’s an unsulphured light molasses. Plus, the company sponsors an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. I’m all about that.

You may be asking yourself, what’s the difference? Or, you may not be.  But, I’m going to tell you anyway.

Light Molasses:  This comes from the first boiling of the sugarcane is generally the sweetest of the molasses. it is also known as “Barbados”, “Sweet”, “Mild”, or “First” molasses.  This molasses is generally used in baking, marinades, rubs, and sauces

Dark Molasses: This comes from the second boiling and after more sugar is extracted. It is generally thicker and less sweet.  it can also be called “Full” or “Second” molasses.  It can be used interchangeably with light molasses for most uses.  It is most commonly used in baking.

Blackstrap Molasses: This comes from the third boiling and is very thick and dark in color.  It has the highest mineral content because of its concentration.  While it can be found in grocery stores, it is most commonly found in health food stores. Some people will use blackstrap molasses (especially vegans) as a health food and supplement to their diets because it contains iron, niacin, and B6, among other minerals that wouldn’t necessarily be in or in very low levels in a vegan diet.

Sulphured and Unsulphured Molasses:  Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is sometimes added to molasses as a preservative because molasses can ferment and spoil. It does change the flavor of the molasses making it less sweet. Unsulphured is preferred because it is sweeter and is closer to the original molasses flavor. And, because, well, it doesn’t have sulphur.

(Source: Healthy Eating, SF Gate)

Also, molasses can be distilled to make rum. FYI.

*********************

My inspiration for this recipe came from an old recipe found in a 1965 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book that I received from my mother-in-law not long after I married. As I was flipping through the book, it reminded me of the book my mother had as I was growing up.  I believe hers was the same edition. (She still has it. I think it’s now held together with rubber bands.) I always remember the notes and McCall’s Cooking School recipes she would save in her book.

The BHG Cookbook my mother-in-law gave me. It's a souvenier edition of the 1965 printing celebrating 10 Million copies sold.

The BHG Cookbook my mother-in-law gave me. It’s a souvenir edition of the 1965 printing celebrating 10 Million copies sold.

My 2nd. edition, 1935 printing of the BHG Cookbook. I don't think it's ever been used.

My 2nd. edition, 1935 printing of the BHG Cookbook. I don’t think it’s ever been used.

BHG 1950 printing. This is about the time the now familiar red-and-white cover was first used.

BHG 1950 printing. This is about the time the now familiar red-and-white cover was first used. I bought this off Ebay. It was obviously loved.

Mom said to me as recently as Thanksgiving that the gingerbread recipe in the BHG book is a great recipe.  In fact, she made it for my sisters and I often when we were kids.

 

Here is the ingredient list for the original recipe:

1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. light molasses

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. boiling water

(from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1965 printing)

 

I will say, though, while I love the original recipe, I have changed it up a little:

* I’ve omitted the cinnamon and added quadruple the ginger.  It’s a flavor preference.

*I’ve replaced the white sugar with either dark brown or maple sugar. Again, it’s a flavor preference. The new sugars aren’t as sweet as white sugar.

*I’m using butter flavored shortening. Because I can.

Now, of course,  you can do whatever you like.  Add or subtract as you see fit.  Other sweet spices (i.e. cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, anise) will work well in this recipe, too.  However, you may want to be somewhat conservative on the amount of extra spice you use.  You’re making gingerbread, not a spice cake. Some people will also add a small amount of finely chopped candied ginger to the recipe as well.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The maple sugar. Like most real maple products, it is not inexpensive. But, if you do have some, use it.

The maple sugar. Like most real maple products, it is not inexpensive. But, if you do have some, use it.

Ground Ginger, Salt, Baking Soda

Ground Ginger, Salt, Baking Soda

 

1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. dark brown or maple sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. molasses

 

1 1/2 c. flour

3/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. ground ginger

 

1/2 c. boiling water

 

1.  Preheat your oven to 350F.  Spray or butter & flour a 9″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish.  Set aside.

2.  Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and ginger.  Set aside.

My mom's old sifter that she gifted to me.

My mom’s old sifter that she gifted to me.

Sifted

Sifted. You can, of course, use a small strainer to sift as well.

3.  With either a hand mixer and medium bowl, or a stand mixer, beat the shortening on medium speed until it is softened.

The softened shortening. It helps the process if you have the shortening at room temperature.

The softened shortening. It helps the process if you have the shortening at room temperature.

4.  Lower the speed to low (otherwise you’ll end up with a mess) and gradually add the sugar.  Once the sugar is incorporated with the shortening, turn the speed back up to medium and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.

A fluffy shortening and sugar mix. This process helps to incorporate air into the shortening and make sure the sugar will mix into the rest of the batter thoroughly and not lump up.

A fluffy shortening and sugar mix. This process helps to incorporate air into the shortening and make sure the sugar will mix into the rest of the batter thoroughly and not lump up.

5.  Turn the heat back down to low and add the egg and molasses.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the ingredients are mixed thoroughly.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: always break your eggs into a separate bowl before adding to the rest of your ingredients. Otherwise, you may be sorry.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: always break your eggs into a separate bowl or cup before adding to the rest of your ingredients. Otherwise, you may be full of regret.

Egg and molasses mixed in.

Egg and molasses mixed in.

6.  Keeping the speed on low, alternately add the dry ingredients and the boiling water.  (I generally begin with 1/4 c. of the boiling water, half of the dry ingredients, the other 1/4 c. water, the other half of the dry ingredients.) By adding the ingredient this way, along with scraping down the sides of the bowl, you are ensuring even mixing as well as jump-starting the baking soda.

After adding the first 1/4 cup water. I know it looks strange, but trust me, it's fine.

After adding the first 1/4 cup water. I know it looks strange, but, trust me, it’s fine.

After adding the first half of the dry ingredients.

After adding the first half of the dry ingredients.

7.  Pour the batter into your prepared baking dish and place in the center of the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean when you insert it into the cake.

So, as soon as I tokk this photo, Husband took the piece off the top.

So, as soon as I took this photo, Husband took the piece off the top.

 

Enjoy!

Lime Marmalade 0

Posted on November 18, 2014 by Sahar

When it’s citrus season, my mind turns to making marmalade.  Not so much to eat it all myself (admittedly, it’s not my favorite preserve), but to give way as gifts at the holiday season and for those winter birthdays.

I have written about marmalade before; my recipe for Blood Orange Marmalade shows a less traditional way to make marmalade.  I use fruit juice and honey to sweeten as well as Pomona’s pectin to help set the marmalade up.

A traditional marmalade recipe generally uses equal parts sugar and water with anywhere from 2 – 5 pounds of fruit.  Citrus has lots of natural pectin (in fact, that is what many commercial pectins are made with, along with apple), so, generally, there is no pectin added to marmalade.  Many old-school recipes also require an overnight sit of the fruit in water and cook it the next day with sugar. An example of old-school marmalade can be found here.  A less time-consuming, but still traditional marmalade recipe can be found on the website/blog, Food In Jars.

Since I started posting about preserves – my first one, Classic Strawberry Jam – I’ve certainly learned a lot more.  While that first post is, if I may say so myself, packed with information, there were some things I just didn’t know.  I’ve since learned that 220F is the temperature where optimal jelling happens, and leaving your jars in the hot water for 5 – 10 minutes after they’ve been processed helps to stabilize the pressure in the jars where there is less likelihood of the contents leaking.  Also, Pomona’s Pectin is the only commercial pectin (that I know of) that uses calcium to activate the pectin (because it’s a sugar-free pectin); Low-Sugar Ball Pectin does not.

Pomona's. I usually buy it online, but if you go to the website, it has a list of local vendors.

Pomona’s. I usually buy it online, but if you go to the website, it has a list of local vendors.

 

In this recipe, I have once again used a non-traditional method.  I don’t let the fruit sit overnight, use less sugar, add lime juice instead of water, and I use pectin.  When I do make marmalade, I prefer it to be more on the tart/bitter side than the sweet.

Understand, I have a sweet tooth.  But I have my limits.

This is also a soft-set marmalade.  Most commercial marmalades, or even homemade ones, will be a rather stiff set, mostly due to the amount of sugar used.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The pectin and calcium powder. Because Pomona's is a sugar-free pectin, it needs the calcium to help activate it.

The pectin and calcium powder. Because Pomona’s is a sugar-free pectin, it needs the calcium to help activate it.

Calcium water. To make it, take 1/2 tsp. of the powder and mix it with 1/2 cup water. I like to use a 4-oz jelly jar to keep the water. It will keep in the refrigerator for 2 - 3 months. Just shake to mix.

Calcium water. To make it, take 1/2 tsp. of the calcium powder and mix it with 1/2 cup water. I like to use a 4-oz jelly jar. It will keep in the refrigerator for 2 – 3 months. Just shake to mix.

 

5 lb. limes, washed

4 c. lime juice

3 tbsp. low-sugar pectin (only if using regular commercial pectin, like Ball)

1 tbsp. calcium water (only if using Pomona’s)

2-1/2 c. to 3 c. sugar (18-3/4 oz. to 22-1/2 oz.)  *the amount of sugar is completely dependent on your preference

3 tsp. pectin (only if using Pomona’s)

 

 

1.  Measure out 2 lbs. of limes.  On each lime, cut the ends off down to the pulp.  I like to squeeze any juice off the cut ends into the pot.

Cutting the ends off.

Cutting the ends off.

After you have cut the ends off, cut the limes in halves or quarters and very thinly slice.

This took a while.

This took a while.

Place the limes in a large saucepan.

2.  Take the remaining 3 pounds of limes and peel them.  The easiest way to do this is to cut off the rind.  Cut out the lime segments from between the membranes of the lime. (See my previous marmalade post on how to do this.)  Then, segment the limes. (Ditto.)

Segmenting the limes. If they don't stay together when you cut them out, don't worry.  They'll cook down anyway.

Segmenting the limes. When you segment them, cut between the membranes (the white lines).  If they don’t stay together when you cut them out, don’t worry. They’ll cook down anyway.

Place the segments in the same saucepan as the unpeeled lime pieces. Add the lime juice.

The limes and juice ready to go.

The limes and juice ready to go.

If you are using regular low-sugar pectin (i.e. Ball), add it now.

3.  Bring the limes and juice to a boil over medium heat.  Turn down the heat to medium low and continue cooking until the peels are soft, about 45 – 60 minutes.

You'll know the rids are soft when they can easily be mashed with a fork.  You'll also begin to notice some thickening of the juice.

You’ll know the rids are soft when they can easily be mashed with a fork. You’ll also begin to notice some thickening of the juice.

If you are using the Pomona’s, add the calcium water at this time.

4.  Now, if you are using standard low-sugar pectin (i.e. Ball), add the sugar to the limes.  If you are using Pomona’s, mix the pectin with the sugar and add it to the limes.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

It's hard to see, but the Pomona's pectin is mixed in with the sugar. If you try this with regular pectin, it won't work.

It’s hard to see, but the Pomona’s pectin is mixed in with the sugar. Don’t do this with standard pectin; it must activate before you add the sugar.

5.  Continue cooking the marmalade over medium-low heat until it is thickened, about 10 – 15 minutes.  To test the marmalade for its set, you can either place a thermometer and boil it until the liquid hits 220F, or place a small amount on a plate that has been frozen – the set will happen once the liquid is rapid-cooled on the frozen plate. Run your finger through the marmalade once it has cooled.  If you can leave a streak when you run your finger through, the marmalade has set up.

My marmalade once it has set up.  It's a soft set, which is what I wanted.

My marmalade once it has set up. It’s a soft set, which is what I wanted.

6.  Place the marmalade in canning jars leaving 1/4″ headspace, clean the rims and put on the lids and rims.  Place the jars back in the hot water and process for 10 minutes (begin timing when the water comes back to a boil).

After the marmalade has processed, take the canning pot off the heat, remove the lid, and leave the jars in the hot water for an additional 5 minutes.

Take the jars from the hot water and let them cool on racks.  When the jars seal, carefully tighten the rims.  If you can, leave the jars for at least 12 – 24 hours before moving them.

The finished marmalade.

The finished marmalade.

This recipe makes 7 – 8 half-pint jars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ginger Candy 0

Posted on November 13, 2014 by Sahar

Ginger is one of those spices that’s been used by humans for thousands of years.  The use of ginger dates back to 500 years BCE in China. A safe and versatile herb, ginger was traded by the Greeks and Romans and was among the first spices to find its way to Europe. It was a favorite of Confucius and he claimed never to be without it when he ate.

Traditionally it was (and still is) used to treat nausea, stomach ache, diarrhea and bleeding.  The shape of ginger also resembles that of the human digestive system and was noted in the “Doctorine of Signatures” (an ancient belief that plants grew where they were most needed; it was made popular in the 16th Century by Swiss Alchemist Paracelsus).

Of course, ginger is also a key ingredient in Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines, amongst others.

(some material from examiner.com and wikipedia.org)

Many people find the flavor and the warm feeling they receive from eating ginger as soothing, which no doubt helps them feel better.  I know my husband & I like to eat ginger-heavy foods when we feel sick.

One of the easiest, and some would say tastiest, ways to get one’s ginger fix is to candy it.  We’ve all seen ginger candy in its various forms in Asian markets and other specialty grocery stores.  However, it is very simple to make and has a spiciness that the pre-made candies just don’t have.

The key to making ginger candy is the younger the ginger, the better.  Young ginger looks plump, firm, feels heavy for its size, with a tight almost shiny skin.  It has more juice and is less fibrous than older ginger.  Older ginger will look dried out and the skin shriveled.  It is also far more fibrous (the result of being dried out).  Also, while young ginger has a spicy flavor to it, older ginger can be bitter.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

1 lb. fresh ginger

1 c. sugar

1/2 c. reserved ginger poaching water

 

1.  Peel the ginger.  I like to use the spoon method.  This simply entails scraping the skin off the ginger with a regular teaspoon.  This takes off the skin with minimal loss of ginger and allows you to get into all those nooks and crannies.

Peeling the ginger using the spoon method.

Peeling the ginger using the spoon method.

The end result. Except for a couple of bad spots I cut out, the pile on the right is all skin.

The end result. Except for a couple of bad spots I cut out, the pile on the right is all skin.

 

2.  Slice the ginger into approximately 1/8″ thick slices with either a very sharp knife or a mandoline.

Going back to what I said before, this is what your ginger should look like.

Going back to what I said before, this is what your ginger should look like.  This ginger is young, plump, and has a lovely ginger-spice scent.

The sliced ginger. I may have gone a little crazy on the thinness scale.

The sliced ginger. I may have gone a little crazy on the thinness scale.

Note: If you like, you can slice your ginger thicker or even cut it into small cubes (as I’ve seen some candies), however, the cook times will increase for both the poaching and candying.

3.  Place the ginger in a medium saucepan and cover with water to 1″ above the ginger.  Bring the water to a boil, turn down the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the ginger is soft and pliable. (You’ll know this when you take a piece of ginger out of the water and bend it and it doesn’t crack or break. Be careful – hot ginger.)  At a 1/8″ thickness, this takes about 45 minutes – 1 hour.  As I stated in the note, if you cut the ginger thicker, it will take longer.

If the water gets too low, add more as needed.

While your ginger is poaching, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Poaching the ginger.  Silly me, I forgot to take a picture of the ginger after it was poached.

Poaching the ginger. Silly me, I forgot to take a picture of the ginger after it was poached.

4.  When the ginger is finished poaching, reserve 1/2 cup of the poaching water and drain the ginger in a strainer.

5.  Add back into the same saucepan the ginger, reserved water, and the sugar.

Ginger, water, and sugar in the saucepan.

Ginger, water, and sugar in the saucepan.

Stir until the sugar is somewhat dissolved.  Bring the water to a boil.  Reduce the heat and cook, stirring almost constantly, until the water has evaporated and the sugar crystallizes on the ginger, about 20 – 30 minutes.  (As the pan dries out, you will need to begin constantly stirring and adjusting the heat so the sugar doesn’t burn.)

Early in the final candying process. The ginger will become darker as it cooks and the sugars caramelize.

Early in the final candying process. The ginger will become darker as it cooks and the sugars caramelize.

After aboout 20 minutes. The water has reduced significantly.

After about 20 minutes. The water has reduced significantly and is looking like syrup.

At about 30 minutes. The edges of the pan will begin to sugar up and the syrup has reduced even more. At this point, you want to stir pretty much constantly.

At about 25 minutes. The edges of the pan will begin to sugar up and the syrup has reduced even more. At this point, you want to stir pretty much constantly.

 

6. Once the ginger has dried in the pan (you’ll know this because the sugar on the ginger has begun to recrystallize), remove the pan from the heat and spread the ginger onto your parchment-lined baking sheet. Allow to cool.  It should still have some pliability (this will come from any residual moisture the sugar has held on to.)

The dried ginger. It's hard to see, but the sugar has crystallized.

The dried ginger. It’s hard to see, but the sugar has crystallized.

 

If you like, sprinkle more sugar on the ginger and toss to coat.

Ginger and sugar on the baking sheet.

Ginger and sugar on the baking sheet.

Done!

Keep the ginger in an airtight container for 2 weeks.

The ginger will keep in an airtight container for 2 weeks.

 

Candied ginger can be simply eaten out of hand or chopped up and used in any number of desserts.  If it does dry out before you’ve used all of it, place the ginger in a container with some sugar.  This will flavor the sugar in the same way as using a vanilla bean will.

 

 

 

Mujadarah مجدرة 0

Posted on October 17, 2014 by Sahar

In the ongoing informal series of foods from my childhood, today, I’m going to introduce you to Mujadarah.

Admittedly, this wasn’t my favorite dish growing up.  I usually picked at it or ate it with lots of salad so I could get it down.  But, as happens with most of us, my palate changed and discovered that I, even if I don’t love Mujadarah, I like it.  It must have been the lentils.

The first record of mujadara dates back to  1226, in the Iraqi cookbook Kitab al-Tabikh by al-Baghdadi. It was known as “peasant food”.  Mujaddara is the Arabic word for “pockmarked”; the lentils among the rice resemble pockmarks. Generally consisting of rice, lentils, sometimes burghul (#3 or #4 coarse grind), and, very occasionally, meat, it was served during celebrations. Without meat, it was a medieval Arab dish commonly consumed by the poor. Because of its importance in the diet, a saying in the Eastern Arab world is, “A hungry man would be willing to sell his soul for a dish of mujaddara.”

Arab Christians traditionally eat mujaddara during Lent.  The dish is also popular among Jewish communities of Middle Eastern origin, in particular those of Syrian and Egyptian backgrounds; it is sometimes nicknamed “Esau’s favourite”. Jews traditionally ate it twice a week: hot on Thursday evening, and cold on Sunday.

(Some information from wikipedia and Rose Water & Orange Blossoms)

If the recipe looks somewhat familiar to you, I’ve made a dish similar before, Koshari.  The biggest difference is that Koshari has chick peas and pasta and is generally served with a tomato-cumin sauce.

 

A few notes:

1.  You can make this dish with white rice, brown rice, or burghul wheat. If you use burghul, be sure to use a #3 (medium coarse) or #4 (coarse) grind. If you use burghul, it will be the standard 2:1 ratio you would use for white rice.

2.  You can use either brown or green lentils.  Don’t use red.  They cook too soft for this dish.

3.  My mom uses just cinnamon as the spice (other than salt & pepper).  Play with the spices and come up with a combination you like.

4.  While some do make this dish with meat, I’ve always eaten it as a vegetarian meal.  If you want to add meat, follow the meat cooking instructions for Kidra.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

The lentils. Use brown or green.

The lentils. Use brown or green.

From top left:

From top left: cumin, allspice, olive oil, black pepper, salt

 

1 c. brown or green lentils

2 c. white or brown long-grain rice

2 lb. onions, cut in half and sliced thin

4 c. water or broth (5 c. if using brown rice)

2 tsp. allspice

1 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. pepper

1/4 c. + 2 tbsp. olive oil

 

1.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the rice and saute for 1 – 2 minutes.

Sauteing the rice.  I used brown in this post.

Sauteing the rice. I used brown in this post.

Add the salt, pepper, allspice, and cumin.  Cook until the spices begin to give off a fragrance, about 1 minute.

Adding the spices. As you cook, the oils in the spices will come out and flavor the oil and rice.  Be sure to stir constantly so the spices don't burn.

Adding the spices. As you cook, the oils in the spices will come out and flavor the oil and rice. Be sure to stir constantly so the spices don’t burn.

Add the water or broth, bring to a boil, cover the saucepan, and turn down the heat to low.  Cook until the rice is done – 25 to 30 minutes for white, 45 to 50 minutes for brown.

2.  Meanwhile, heat the 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep skillet.  Add the onions and a pinch of salt.  Stir occasionally, until the onions are soft and begin to take on color.

Cooking the onions. When you get to this point, make sure you watch them closely.  You want caramelization, not burning.

Cooking the onions. When you get to this point, make sure you watch them closely. You want caramelization, not burning.

Once the onions begin to brown, watch them more closely and stir more often; you want the onions to brown, not burn.  Cook them down as far as you like. (I prefer them to be fully caramelized.)  Depending on how dark you want the onions, it could take anywhere between 20 – 30 minutes to cook them.

I like my onions well caramelized. This took about 30 minutes.

I like my onions well caramelized. This took about 30 minutes.

When the onions are done, take them off the heat and set aside.

3.  About halfway through the rice cooking time, place the lentils in a medium saucepan, cover with water to at least 1″ above the lentils, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Cook the lentils, adding water as needed, until they are done, about 20 – 25 minutes.

Boiling the lentils.  Be sure to keep them covered with water so they don't dry out.

Boiling the lentils. Be sure to keep them covered with water so they don’t dry out.

4.  When the lentils and the rice are done, mix them together (I usually do this in the pot I cooked the rice in).  Mix in the onions.  Taste for seasoning.

5.  Mujadarah is usually served with either yogurt or a tomato-cucumber salad (basically tabouleh without the bulghur wheat).

Sahtein! صحتين!

Sahtein! صحتين!

 

 

Kidra قدرة 3

Posted on October 06, 2014 by Sahar

I’ve been feeling sentimental lately thinking about the foods from my childhood years.  I’d forgotten how good some of them were and still are.  It must also come with the realization that I’ve hit middle age and how I really need to eat healthier.

Kidra is another one of those dishes from our childhood that my sisters and I remember fondly.  It was an every-once-in-a-while dish; it was never one of Mom’s favorites, so we didn’t have it too often. But, when we did have it, my sisters and I would gorge.

Traditionally, it’s a recipe that is baked in a large narrow-necked clay pot called a tanour (التنور).  The pot was filled with the ingredients, sealed with a flour and water paste, and buried in an oven built into the sand where it was left to cook for hours and up to overnight.  Once cities started growing, people would send not only their bread to the bakeries, but their tanour pots as well.  In some very remote areas, the Bedouin still cook Kidra this way.

Now, many families have tanours made of lined copper that can be placed in the oven or on the stove (my parents have one) and it generally takes less than an hour for the Kidra to cook.

This is dish cooked all through the Palestinian regions and families in the Middle East, but it is most popular in Gaza, where, from what I can tell, the dish originated.

 

A few notes:

1.  If you don’t have a tanour, don’t worry.  I don’t either.  I used my Dutch oven.  It works well.

2.  Lamb is the most traditional meat to use in this dish.  You can use beef if you prefer.  Either way, be sure to use a stew meat (shoulder, round).

3.  Some people will use saffron or osfour (the stamen of the safflower) to give the dish a yellow color.  It is totally optional.  My parents never used either of these in this recipe, so I don’t either.

4.  Another traditional ingredient in this recipe is whole heads of garlic that are added just before the tanour goes into the oven.  My parents never used garlic in their Kidra.  After doing some research, I decided I wanted to add garlic in my own recipe.  However, instead of whole heads of garlic, I use peeled cloves. I like it.

Again, this is completely optional.

5.  If you don’t have whole cardamom pods for this dish, it will be fine without them.  However, you do miss out on some of the traditional flavor if you don’t use them.

6.  While white rice is most commonly used, you can use brown long-grain rice (brown basmati works well).  Just add an additional 1/2 cup of liquid and add 15 -20 minutes to the cooking time.

7.  You can make this vegetarian by using vegetable broth or water, omitting the meat, and adding more chick peas and/or fava beans.  If you’d like to add some green, use fresh green beans (not haricot vert) and saute them at the same time as you would the chick peas.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Clockwise from top left:

Clockwise from top left: ground cardamom, cardamom pods, black pepper, salt, ground cumin, ground allspice. Center: olive oil

If your garlic cloves are large, cut them down to make the cloves more equal in size.

If your garlic cloves are large, cut them down to make the cloves more equal in size.  Also, be sure to cut off the stem end because it doesn’t cook down and has an unpleasant texture.

1 lb. lamb or beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

2 tbsp. olive oil, more if needed

1 med. onion, chopped fine

1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled, larger cloves cut in halves or quarters

1 1/2 c. long grain rice

1 15-oz. can chick peas (garbanzos), drained

6 – 8 cardamom pods

3 c. chicken broth or water, more if needed

 

 

1.  Preheat the oven to 325F.  In a medium bowl, toss the meat with the spices.

Spiced lamb.

Spiced lamb.

2.  In a Dutch oven, or, if you’re lucky, you have a tanour, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Brown the meat in batches; you want to get a good sear on the meat.  If you crowd the pan, they will simply steam.

Browning the meat.  Don't crowd the pan or instead of a nice brown crust, you'll end up with grayed steamed meat.

Browning the meat. Don’t crowd the pan or instead of a nice brown crust, you’ll end up with grayed steamed meat.

After each batch of meat is browned, take it out of the Dutch oven and set it aside.  Repeat until all of the meat is done.

The finished (so far) meat.  I just put it in the overturned Dutch oven lid. It's a Dad thing.

The finished (so far) meat. I just put it in the overturned Dutch oven lid. It’s a Dad thing.

3.  Saute the onions and garlic in the Dutch oven, about 5 minutes.  If you need to keep the brown bits on the bottom from burning, add about 1/4 cup of water or broth to help deglaze the pan. (It doesn’t have to be an exact measurement. Just eyeball it.)  Stir frequently.

Cooking the onion and garlic.  If you need to, like I did here, add a little water or broth to deglaze the pan to keep the lovely browned bits from burning.

Cooking the onion and garlic. If you need to, like I did here, add a little water or broth to deglaze the pan to keep the lovely browned bits from burning.

4.  Add the rice and cook for another 2 – 3 minutes.  Stir constantly.

Adding the rice.

Adding the rice.

Add the chick peas and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Again, stir often.

Adding in the chick peas.

Adding in the chick peas.

Then add back in the meat, cardamom pods, and the water or broth.

Adding the meat, cardamom pods, and broth.

Adding the meat, cardamom pods, and broth.

5.  Bring the water or broth to a boil on the stove.  Cover the Dutch oven and place it on the middle rack in the oven and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

In the oven.

In the oven.

Alternately, you can cook this fully on the stove (especially of you don’t have an oven-safe pot) on low heat for about 45 minutes, or, again, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

6.  Serve with plain yogurt or cucumber-yogurt salad.

If you use cardamom pods, be sure to let your guests know.  The pods infuse a wonderful flavor but aren’t great to bite into.

Sahtein! صحتين !

Sahtein! صحتين !

 

 

Hill Country Weekend 0

Posted on September 30, 2014 by Sahar

Several years ago, Husband Steve & I decided that on our birthdays, if we could help it, we’d not give gifts, but go somewhere the birthday kid wanted to go.  Since, this year, he had been out of town just before his birthday, I gifted him with power tools.

As for me, we decided a long weekend in the Texas Hill Country would be a nice, and affordable, idea.  We occasionally go to Fredericksburg for a few quick hours but rarely move off of the Hauptstrasse (Main Street) where most of the touristy shops and restaurants are.

This time, we decided to remedy that.

Friday:

We arrived in Fredericksburg, as is our routine, about 2 hours later than we originally planned. Steve & I decided we didn’t want to stay in a hotel, so I booked a room through Gästehouse Schmidt, a company in Fredericksburg that acts as a reservation service for bed & breakfasts, private home rental, and vacation homes throughout the Hill Country.  I found a lovely room in a private home, Casa Mariposa.  The house was a beautiful stucco with wonderful design and landscaping (we guessed the owners are artists, or, at least artistic).  The room itself was around the side of the house with a private entrance.

At Casa Mariposa.

At Casa Mariposa.

Since it was Labor Day weekend, we guessed the owners were out of town since we never saw them or their dogs.  No matter.

Three of the things I loved about the space were the fact that it was in a very quiet & lovely residential neighborhood, it was within walking distance of the north (less touristy end) of Main Street, and it was across the street from the local radio station.

The radio station.

The radio station. I didn’t get the call letters.

Since we didn’t arrive until almost 6pm, we basically had just enough time to drop off our things and rush off to Kerrville to the fall music festival.  We were going to enjoy an evening of music, and, especially one of our favorites, Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line.

Lovely skies above Kerrville.

Lovely skies above Kerrville.  The evening was surprisingly cool for late August.

People camping out at the festival. I'm a four-walls girl myself.

People camping out at the festival. I’m a four-walls girl myself.

First glimpse of the stage.

First glimpse of the stage. The group playing was rather forgetful.

Since we arrived so late, we decided to eat dinner at the festival.

Some of the food stalls.

Some of the food stalls.

As with many festivals these days, there is always an effort to have at least one stall with healthier food options; Kerrville was no different.  However, like most festival goers, we opted for less healthy.

My dinner. Nachos and Dr Pepper.

My dinner. Nachos and Dr Pepper.

Steve's Dinner: Barbecue Plate

Steve’s Dinner: Barbecue Plate

The food was about what we expected.  Basically, my nachos tasted like something you’d get at any ballpark in America.  Steve’s average barbecue was covered with an almost too-sweet sauce (I suspect KC Masterpiece) and quite possibly HEB brand cole slaw and potato salad. The bar was set low and we weren’t disappointed.

I was then regaled with what I believed was some of the most defiantly mediocre folk music I’ve ever heard.  There was one performer (whose name I blissfully can’t recall) who included a little TMI to his act. To keep myself sane during this period, I walked around and took a few pictures of the green.

Kerrville evening.

Kerrville evening.

Walking around the festival.

Walking around the festival.

This photo was a happy accident.

This photo was a happy accident.

Moon over Kerrville.

Moon over Kerrville.

After the picture taking was over, I decided to get some dessert.  I went to the stand that was selling ice cream sandwiches.  I was given my choice of cookies, so I chose chocolate chip. They were the size of hubcaps.

Dessert. We shared. Still didn't finish it.

Dessert. We shared. Still didn’t finish it.

The cookies were just OK.  They had been frozen, and, while there’s nothing wrong with that, they were too hard and thick.  They should have been just a little chewier and thinner.  Plus, the taste was flat.  It was probably due to the freezing.  The ice cream was Blue Bell. Can’t go wrong there.

Finally, Nora Jane came on stage. Sanity restored.

We drove back to Fredericksburg and sleep.

 

Saturday:

We really had no concrete plan for Saturday other than to drive. We knew that we did want to go back to Kerrville and see the town, maybe head to Bandera. (Both of which we ended up doing.)

But, first, breakfast.

We really had no idea where we wanted to go.  A Yelp search came up with the Sunset Grill. It did not disappoint. (Yelp turns out to be helpful on occasion.) It is a pleasant room heavy on yellow and green with a leafy patio space.  They were busy but the room didn’t feel overcrowded.

The breakfast menu is very egg-heavy. To me, a mark of quality.

My Omelet: The Neptune

My Breakfast: The Neptune

My breakfast was the Neptune Omelet.  As the name implies, it’s seafood.  Cocktail shrimp, scallops, and real crab (a nice surprise) with a bit of cream cheese mixed in.  It was delicious. Honestly, one of the best omelets I’ve ever eaten.  I even liked the home fries. The whole grain toast was a nice touch.

Steve's Breakfast: Huevos Rancheros

Steve’s Breakfast: Huevos Rancheros

Steve was quite happy with his Huevos Rancheros.  His egg was cooked over easy – perfect for mixing with the sauce.  The sauce itself had a bit of kick without being too overwhelming. I had a small bite and almost wished I’d ordered that instead.  Almost.

After breakfast, we were off to Kerrville and Bandera.

Kerrville Theater

Arcadia Theater. Kerrville.  I like these older facades.

While walking around Kerrville, Steve had one basic thing on his mind: albums. Since albums have come back into vogue, he’s been adding to his already extensive collection. For our anniversary, I bought him a 1917 Victrola, so now he includes 78’s in his hunts along with his constant pursuit of 33’s and 45’s.

I suppose he could have worse habits or hobbies.

So, while he ducked into the first of many antique malls we would patronize over the weekend, I just took a few photos of flowers.

Flowers on the square

Flowers on the Square. Kerrville.

Flowers on the Square. Kerrville.

Flowers on the Square. Kerrville.

Flowers on the Square. Kerrville.

Flowers on the Square. Kerrville.

We walked around a bit more and came across the Schreiner Mansion and the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center.

We didn’t go into Schreiner Mansion (it was closed).  It was built by Charles Schreiner in 1879 and, after his death in 1927, was used as a Masonic Lodge.  In 1972, it was sold to a private owner.  In 1974, it was purchased by the Hill Country Preservation Society.  By 2009, the mansion was donated to Schreiner University.  The Mansion is now used for tours, as an event space, and educational programs.

Schreiner Mansion

Schreiner Mansion

Next door is the Kerr Arts and Community Center.  It is in a refurbished post office and is an open, flowing space.  As you walk in, there is an exhibit of Kerr County’s geological history with fossils, rocks, petrified wood, and petrified dung included. On one wall, there is a large-screen TV with a continual loop of tectonic plate shifts (with Kerrville’s future position marked) beginning at 4 billion years BCE through present day. If you ask, one of the docents will show you the effect of acid on limestone. It was a well done and fascinating exhibit. Science! (I don’t recall why I didn’t take photos. I don’t believe photos were allowed.)

AS we walked through the KACC, we saw a rather nice (and expensive) gift shop and a wonderful exhibition of winning photographs by members of the Hill Country Camera Club.  There were some beautiful photographs displayed.  Sadly, no photos of the entries were allowed.

We then came across this gem.  A completely handmade working miniature Ferris Wheel.  I think I stared at it for 20 minutes.  A gentleman at the center said that there was a recent exhibit of works by members of a woodworkers club in town.

All wood carousel at Kerr Arts & Cultural Center

Working all wood carousel at Kerr Arts & Cultural Center

All handmade

All the figures were handmade. It was beautiful.

Soon, we were off to Bandera.  The Cowboy Capital of the World.  Little did we know we were visiting during Celebrate Bandera.  The population of 856 seemed to explode 10-fold.  There is a sizable craft fair on the courthouse grounds, busy shops and restaurants, a parade, and a whole lot of cowboy pride.

Bandera Courthouse

Bandera Courthouse

Festooned horses

Festooned horses

To get away from some of the crowds, Steve & I walked around a bit.  Bandera is a lovely little town.  I think we’ll try to go back when it’s not so crazy.

We just liked this sign.

We just liked this sign.  I can certainly relate.

Flowers in Bandera

Flowers in Bandera

Flowers in Bandera

Flowers in Bandera

We made our way back to the courthouse to find some refreshments.

Texas Hurricane.  40 ounces of citrus and sugar water. Refreshing on a 99F day.

Texas Hurricane. 40 ounces of citrus and sugar water. Refreshing on a 101F day.

After we cooled off a bit and did a little shopping, we decided it was time for lunch.  We had walked by this bar called the Chikin’ Coop earlier and decided we needed beers and burgers.

It was dark and cool when we stepped inside.  In fact, I managed to find a table right next to the air conditioner.  I went to the bar to order beers and get menus.  They were busy, so it took some time to get the food; beers, no problem.

When we finally did get our lunch, it was great.  Some of the better burgers we’ve had in quite a while.  They weren’t overly huge, were still juicy, and the ingredients fresh.

My Lunch: Mushroom Burger with Onion Rings

Steve’s Lunch: Cheeseburger with Onion Rings

My Lunch: Mushroom Burger with Fries and Shiner.

My Lunch: Mushroom Burger with Fries and Shiner.

Chikin' Coop's Kitchen door. I want this.

Chikin’ Coop’s Kitchen door. I want this.

I would have to say my only complaint would be about the volume.  There were a couple of bands on stage while we were there that were far too loud for the size of the room.  They weren’t bad, just loud. I’m not just saying this because I’m middle-aged.  There was one young lady who seemed to think that sheer volume could make up for the fact she still had a rather untrained voice.  It was painful.

We made our way down Hwy 173 to Hondo because, well, we’d never been there.  There wasn’t a whole lot going on when we arrived.  It was almost the epitome of the sleepy small town.  We, admittedly, get there late (almost 5pm) for a Saturday, so a lot of places were already closed or closing.  Plus, we were pretty worn out from being out in the heat most of the afternoon, so we didn’t explore the town as much as we might have otherwise.

Raye Theater. Blanco, TX

Raye Theater. Hondo, TX

Old Blanco Courthouse

Medina County Courthouse, Hondo, TX

After about an hour in Hondo, we made our way back to Fredericksburg.  I spotted a couple of signs as we drove back through Bandera and just had to stop.

Spotted this sign driving back through Bandera on our way to Fredericksburg.

Come for the balls. Stay for the festival.

I just love these cool old signs.

I wonder how fun this place might have been.

After making  it back to Fredericksburg, showers and naps, we decided on a restaurant that was within walking distance of our room, Catfish Haven.  Now, Steve’s all about the fried catfish.  I rarely cook it at home because of the mess, and, because, well, it’s not terribly healthy.  But, if we make an every-once-in-a-while treat, we somehow justify the occasional lapse to ourselves.

We made it in about 7pm and the restaurant was about 3/4 full.  We were seated right next to the side dish (euphamistically, but I suppose somewhat accurately, called the vegetable bar) and salad bars.  Fried Okra, green beans with bacon, and pinto beans were on tap.  In just the short time we had been there, I noticed the kitchen changing out the fried okra pan twice.  The salad bar had the usual lettuce and toppings available along with all the mayonnaise-based dressings you could ask for.  Everything looked and tasted fresh.

Catfish Haven

Catfish Haven’s sides bar.

Catfish Haven

Catfish Haven’s salad bar.  It was fresh, clean, and varied.

Catfish Haven

Steve’s salad and fried okra (one of his all-time favorites).

Catfish Haven

I just opted for a fairly simple salad knowing what was coming from the kitchen.

The menu was, of course, seafood-heavy, but did offer burgers, chicken, and steaks of various preparations.  We opted for fried fish and seafood, because, what the hell.

Frying is, admittedly, not personally my favorite way to prepare or eat fish and seafood, but this was excellent.  Nothing was overcooked or greasy.  The hushpuppies had a peppery taste to them and didn’t appear to have been sitting around under a heat lamp.

Overall, a very good meal. Especially when washed down with a beer.

Steve's Dinner: Captain's Catch

Steve’s Dinner: Captain’s Catch.  Catfish, shrimp, oysters. He was happy.

My Dinner: Fried Oyster & Shrimp Plate

My Dinner: Fried Oyster & Shrimp Plate.  The oysters weren’t overcooked and the shrimp were huge. I can’t remember if I finished or not.

After dinner, we walked around our end of Main Street and wandered around a shop that was heavy on tin sculptures and Talavera pottery.  Some of it was lovely, but we debated whether a) we could fit it in the car, and b) do we really need it.  In the end, we didn’t buy anything.

We kept trying to walk off some of dinner when we saw quite a storm coming our way.  The temperature dropped at least 10 degrees in 20 minutes and there was a spectacular light show happening.  Steve & I decided it would be for the best to make our way back to our room.

Storm a'comin'

Storm a’comin’

It turned out to be a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  At least in Fredericksburg.  I went to sleep long before Steve.

 

Sunday

Going home day and we decided to take our time getting there.

After a snail’s pace early morning, we finally packed up and headed out.  There was one more place we wanted to visit before we left Fredericksburg.  But first, brunch.

I was all for going back to the Sunset Grill, but Steve wanted to try somewhere else in town.  We spotted the City Cafe and pulled in.

It was a small space with no more than 10 tables. Brunch was good, but average.

City Cafe Steve's Breakfast: Migas

Steve’s Breakfast: Migas. He said they were good.

City Cafe My breakfast: Pancakes

My breakfast: Pancakes with over-easy egg and bacon. Meh.

After brunch, we walked across the street to Red Baron Antique Mall.  Steve, of course, was on the lookout for albums.  I was just wandering.  I did end up buying a Brownie camera.  Now, to clean it and use it.

Every antique store I go into now seems to have large numbers of rolling pins.

Every antique store I go into now seems to have large numbers of rolling pins.

Wall o' Gadgets

Wall o’ Gadgets

Fredericksburg

Vereins Kirche, Fredericksburg

The Vierens Kirche (Vierens Church) in Fredericksburg was originally built not long after the first German settlers came to the area as a meeting house. The original building was demolished in 1896.  The current Vierens Kirche was built and dedicated in 1935.  It is now a small museum chronicling the history of the town. The museum is free but there is a suggested donation box.

About 10 miles east of Fredericksburg is RR1376.  Follow that road and you will come to the storied town of Luckenbach, Texas.  Population 3.

There’s truly not much to the place.  It was named after Jacob Luckenbach (1817-1911) whose family was one of the first to settle in and around Fredericksburg.  It has a bit of a disputed history, but is generally accepted to have been established as a town in 1846.  It was a thriving town until 1970, when the post office officially closed.  Hondo Crouch and some friends purchase “downtown” Luckenbach soon after and turned it into a place for musicians (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker, etc.) to hang out and jam.

And a legend was born.

Any given weekend, you can head to Luckenbach and find people enjoying music, drinking beer under the oaks and elms, pitching washers, and buying souvenirs.

We took one look in the post office, saw the crowd, and decided we really didn’t need any more t-shirts.

Luckenbach, TX

Post Office. Luckenbach, TX

Washer Pitchin'

Washer Pitchin’ Pits. The Central Texas equivalent of pitching horseshoes.

Luchenbach rooster

Luckenbach rooster. He must be used to the people and noise. He was just strutting around.

Luchenbach Dance Hall

Luckenbach Dance Hall

After we left Luckenbach, we decided to head towards New Braunfels.  But first, RM1888 took us through Blanco.

We didn’t really spend a whole lot of time there.  Just a quick stop at the Old Blanco Courthouse.  The courthouse was originally built in 1886 and was only used for four years, until 1890, when the county seat of Blanco was moved to Johnson City.  The building has since been used for offices, a school, bank, community meeting hall, and theater/opera house.  By 1937, it was in use as a hospital.  When the hospital was closed in 1961, the building eventually fell into disrepair.  It was bought in 1986 by an admirer who wanted to restore the building to its former grandeur.  When the new owner wanted to move the building from its original place, the Blanco County Preservation Society was formed to oppose the plan.

Today, the building is beautifully restored with a small museum and is used occasionally as a movie location.

Old Blanco County Courthouse

Old Blanco County Courthouse

Old courtroom upstairs where they filmed part of the 2010 version of "True Grit"

Old courtroom upstairs where they filmed scenes for the 2010 version of “True Grit”

We headed to New Braunfels.  I haven’t been to there since I was a child, so I was looking forward to seeing the town.  It was much larger than I remembered.

New Braunfels, TX

Brauntex Theater. New Braunfels, TX. Marty Stewart was on the marquis.

New Braunfels, TX

Birthplace of Gebhardt Chili Powder. New Braunfels, TX

New Braunfels, TX

San Antonio Street, New Braunfels, TX

New Braunfels, TX

Train Depot, New Braunfels, TX

I really wasn’t in the mood to go into any more antique malls. Steve was.  We finally agreed on a time limit and walked into the Downtown Antique Mall.  I made the mistake of pointing out to Steve two booths full of nothing but albums and the time limit soon went out the window.

So, I wandered.  I found some real treasures.  It was a nice store.  And huge. So many antique malls allow their stall holders to put any old junk up for sale (I’ve seen plastic pill boxes you can buy at HEB for sale more than once).  This place seems to be a little more selective.

The things you find in antique stores these days. I now officially feel old.

The things you find in antique stores these days. I now officially feel old.

Found this Revere Stereo camera while wandering around the antique store while Steve was pawing through piles of records.

Found this Revere Stereo camera while wandering around the antique store while Steve was pawing through piles of records. I bought it. Now to clean it and figure out how to use it.

New Braunfels is a lovely town and I would like to go back, perhaps during the week when it’s not quite so busy.  Explore it more in depth.  Stay out of the antique mall.

Our final destination was a place that I think has the best barbecue anywhere, Cooper’s Pit Barbecue. The original restaurant is in Llano, but they’ve opened restaurants in New Braunfels, Fort Worth, and, soon Austin (yea!).

You choose your meat from the pit, hand it to the cutters who break it down for you.  They have corn, macaroni & cheese (plain and jalapeño-bacon), potato salad, cole slaw, and cobbler (peach, blackberry, apple, and pecan). It’s all good.

I’m wrong. The meat is ethereal.

You get butcher paper to eat on and white bread on the table.  There are self-serve beans, sauce, pickle slices, and sliced onions.

As usual, we overbought to take the extra home.

Barbecue porn. Cooper's. New Braunfels.

Barbecue porn. So happy. Cooper’s. New Braunfels.

And, home to Austin.

 

 

 

Lentil Soup شوربة دس and Artichokes with Coriander اضيوكي مع الكزبرة 2

Posted on September 28, 2014 by Sahar

I am now going to introduce you to two more dishes from the Middle East – one from my childhood and one I discovered more recently.  Lentil Soup and Artichokes with Coriander.

Lentil Soup (Shorbat Adas) is a very popular dish during Ramadan. Soup is a traditional way to break the fast and the heartiness of this soup is perfect for that.  Some people will put cooked ground beef or lamb in the soup, others balls of Kefta (basically, ground meat with onion, parsley, and spices).  Some will also use dried bread and puree it into the soup to thicken it. Sliced radishes are also a popular addition.

The Artichokes with Coriander (Ard al-shokeh ma’kuzbara) is a more recent discovery for me. It’s a dish popular in Jericho in the early summer when artichokes are in season.  Here, I’ve used frozen artichokes.  This way, I can eat this dish at any time of year.  Mainly, though, because I really don’t like to clean artichokes.

 

A few notes:

1.  The soup is really best with the red lentils.  They have a lighter, slightly sweeter flavor that’s best for the soup.  They’re much more readily available than they used to be.

2.  Be sure to wash the lentils.  They’re generally dusty when they’re packed.  While processing methods have become better, sometimes, especially if they’re from a bulk bin, they may also have small rocks or dirt. So, be sure to check them carefully.

3.  As with most soups, this is even better the next day and freezes well.  When you reheat the soup, be sure to add a little broth or water because it thickens up as it sits.

4.  If you want a smoother soup, then you can puree it.  However, I prefer a little texture in the soup.

5.  You can easily make the soup vegan by using either vegetable broth or water.

6.  Don’t use marinated artichokes packed in olive oil.  Be sure, especially with canned or jarred ones, that they are packed in water.  Or, if you’re using frozen, they’re unseasoned.

7.  If you don’t like cilantro (coriander), you can use parsley.  It obviously won’t taste the same, but it will work.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

The lentils. Red lentils work best in this soup. They're much more readily available than in the past.

The lentils. Red lentils work best in this soup. They’re much more readily available than in the past.

From the top:

From the top: salt, pepper, olive oil, flour, cumin

Lentil Soup

1 1/2 c. red lentils, washed and drained

4 c. broth (chicken, beef, lamb, vegetable) or water

1 med. onion, minced

3 cl. garlic, minced

1 tbsp. flour

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1 tsp. cumin

2 tbsp. olive oil

Juice of one lemon, or to taste

 

1.  In a large saucepan, place the onion, garlic, lentils, and broth or water.

Lentils, onion, and garlic in the saucepan awaiting the broth.

Lentils, onion, and garlic in the saucepan awaiting the broth.

Cover and bring to a boil.  Keep the saucepan covered, turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

The boiling pot.

The boiling pot.

2.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, cumin, and olive oil.

The oil, flour, and spices mixed together. It smells lovely.

The oil, flour, and spices mixed together. It smells lovely.

Add the mixture to the lentils after the first 45 minutes of cooking.

 

The soup after the first 45 minutes of cooking time.  Sorry, the lentils don't stay red.  They turn to a dull gold-yellow.

The soup after the first 45 minutes of cooking time. Sorry, the lentils don’t stay red. They turn to a dull gold-yellow.

After adding the oil-spice mixture.

After adding the oil-spice mixture.

After you add the oil & spices, cook for another 15 minutes, uncovered.  Stir occasionally.

3.  Add the lemon juice and cook another 5 minutes.

My old-style lemon reamer. One of my favorite things I received from my mother-in-law.

My old-style lemon reamer. One of my favorite things I received from my mother-in-law.

Taste for seasoning.  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil over the top and some extra lemon on the side.

The finished soup.

The finished soup.  Perfect.

 

 

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

Salt, pepper, olive oil

Salt, pepper, olive oil

The artichokes.  I used frozen ones in this recipe. If you do get jarred or canned, bue sure they aren't marinated ones.

The artichokes. I used frozen ones in this recipe. If you do get jarred or canned, be sure they aren’t marinated & flavored  ones.

Artichokes with Coriander

2 lb. artichoke hearts (2 bags frozen-thawed or 6 cans drained)

4 tbsp. olive oil

3 cl. garlic, minced

1/2 c. coriander (cilantro), chopped

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1/4 c. lemon juice, or to taste

 

1.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 – 2 minutes.

Cooking the garlic.

Cooking the garlic.

Add the artichokes hearts and cook another 5 minutes.

Adding the artichokes. Be sure to continue stirring frequently to keep the garlic from burning.

Adding the artichokes. Be sure to continue stirring frequently to keep the garlic from burning.

Add the coriander (cilantro), salt, and pepper.  Cook another 5 minutes. Stir frequently.

Adding the coriander (cilantro).

Adding the coriander (cilantro).

2.  Add the lemon juice and cook another 2 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat and taste for seasoning.

The finished artichokes.

The finished artichokes.

3.  You can serve this either warm or room temperature.  This dish can also be made a day in advance.  Warm it slightly or let it come to room temperature before serving.

Sahtein! صحتين

Sahtein! صحتين

In this post, I served the soup with toasted split pita bread to make a sort of cracker.  You can also serve with warm pita or a cracker of your choice.  The plainer the better.

 

 



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