Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Navajo Fry Bread

Several years ago, I read a few of Tony Hillerman's mysteries, set on the vast Navajo Indian Reservation, featuring the legendary detective Joe Leaphorn and the younger and impetuous tribal police lieutenant Jim Chee. I loved reading the descriptions of the American Southwest landscape and about the customs of the Navajo.

Of course my interest is always piqued when novels contain passages about cooking, eating, and food. In the Hillerman books, Navajo Fry Bread was talked about frequently and almost became a character itself in my mind.

I tried my hand at making it but it was a terrible flop.

Currently, I am reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich, an author who chronicles life on the Objibwe Reservation in North Dakota. Once again fry bread is featured.

I decided to try again; this time with better results. This is probably not traditional at all, and I would welcome a recipe that is. I used baking powder for rise and a small amount of yeast for taste. A great boost in flavor, and probably more traditional, would come from frying in animal fat. I didn't have lard so I used peanut oil, which is quite flavorful.

Navajo Fry Bread
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup warm milk
1 Tbsp. melted butter

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, yeast, and salt. Stir in the milk and butter until well blended and a stiff dough forms. Add a little more milk, if needed. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for about 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times. Divide the dough into 12 balls. Roll each ball into a 6-inch diameter circle.

Heat about 1 inch of oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the flattened dough circles flipping with tongs until well browned on each side. Drain on paper towels.

Serve the breads with soups or salads. Great to use for tacos. I made breakfast tacos with spinach scrambled eggs topped with cheese, salsa, and sour cream.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Very Old-Fashioned Southern Coconut Icing

AT 85-YEARS-OLD, my Mother still loves to entertain.  She had an Easter brunch for 16 people and when she half-heartedly invited me, she didn't think I would really make the trip. After thinking for a while, and talking to my husband about it, I decided, sure why not?

With only three days notice, I made an 800 mile round trip which included driving twice through the sprawling hellscape of Atlanta. Everyone in the Southeast knows about "driving through Atlanta". The people who live in Atlanta know about "driving through Atlanta".

When I got to Mama's, she asked me to make the cake. In an old box of recipes, she had found her own Mother's tattered, yellowed, hand-written recipe for coconut cake.  That makes this recipe at least a hundred years old.

The actual cake was a basic pound cake. It is topped with a unique, cooked icing. A sturdy cake is needed to stand up to this icing (not frosting) which is substantial and glaze-like. Poke some holes in the cake before spooning on the hot icing and also let it run down the sides. Don't let the cake's homely appearance dissuade you; this is a scrumptious cake, which tastes even better the second day.

Mama is not only a fabulous cook, she grows her own flowers for decorations and sets a beautiful table. The menu included baked ham, scrambled eggs, baked cheese grits, fruit salad, roasted asparagus with olive oil and lemon, and fluffy homemade rolls.

It was a wonderful party!

Old-Fashioned Southern Coconut Icing
1 1/2 cups milk
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup (4 oz.) butter
2 cups fresh (or frozen and thawed) grated coconut

In a heavy 3 quart saucepan, bring the ingredients to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir until thickened, about 15 - 20 minutes. Stir in coconut and continue cooking until thick, about another 10 minutes.

Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Prick it several times with a toothpick then spoon over about one third of the hot icing. Top with the other cake layer, prick a few holes, and evenly pour over the remaining icing letting it drip down the sides of the cake.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dogwood Winter

Roasted Sweet Potato and Broccoli Rice Bowl with Fresh Spinach

 OVEN ROASTING VEGETABLES is efficient and delicious and one of my favorite ways to cook them. I love vegetables, every one. I love how they look so beautiful and healthful in produce displays. To me, working with fresh vegetables is the most pleasant and pleasurable part of cooking.

I place a cutting board beside my sink. My sharp knives are close at hand. Above the sink, a window looks into my backyard. I love staring out that window while I work, whether it is rainy or snowy or foggy and overcast. Now, I am watching the greening of grass and trees and the blossoming of flowers.  The birds are back, singing and frolicking.  In my quiet kitchen, I wash, peel, slice and dice vegetables into beautiful shapes. It is so relaxing and calming. This window faces west so I watch the sunset as I prepare our evening meal.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Roasted Broccoli

Tiny Heirloom Tomatoes

Roasted Sweet Potato and Broccoli Rice Bowl with Fresh Spinach
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 sweet potatoes
1 bunch broccoli
1 - 2 Tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch spinach
Garnishes and Dressing

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel sweet potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces. Place into a mixing bowl, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss together very well. Spread onto a large rimmed baking pan and place into preheated oven. Roast for 15 minutes.

Wash and cut the broccoli into pieces. Place into the same bowl used for the sweet potatoes, drizzle with more olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss together.

Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven; they should be golden brown on the bottom. Turn them over and push to one side of the pan. On the other side, spread the broccoli pieces. Return the pan to the oven and roast for 10 - 20 minutes. The broccoli should be browned at the edges and the sweet potatoes should be bronzed and tender.

Cut off the large stems from the bunched spinach. Wash very thoroughly to remove any grit. Tear into bite-sized pieces and dry in a lettuce spinner or with a clean kitchen towel.

Place rice into individual serving bowl and arrange the roasted sweet potato and roasted broccoli and spinach as desired.

Top with dressing of choice and also any garnishes desired.

This Miso Tahini Sauce is delicious and so is this Fresh Ginger Dressing.

Suggested garnishes include chopped nuts, toasted sesame seeds, raisins or dried cranberries, tomatoes, radish slices. As you can see, I even added a dollop of guacamole.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie

WHEN YOU NEED A QUICK AND EASY (easy!) homemade dessert, look no further than this chocolate chip cookie baked in your black iron skillet.

No need to use (or clean up) the mixer. Don't bother getting out those cookie sheets and parchment. No standing over the oven to make sure your delicate cookies won't burn (as all cookie bakers know can happen in seconds). Nope; just one bowl, one wooden spoon, one skillet. And feel free to walk away from the kitchen for a few minutes while it bakes.

This cookie recipe is also accommodating--any baking chips will do, as well as add-ins such as coconut, pecans, M&M's. And because you have one large surface, there is plenty of room for piping messages and decorating.

Delicious as a base for a Sundae with a scoop of your favorite ice cream, syrup, whipped cream, fresh fruit.

Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie
6 Tbsp. softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugars with a wooden spoon. Stir in egg and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the chocolate chips.

Transfer to a 10-inch cast iron skillet and smooth top. Bake until cookie is golden brown and just set in the center, 18 - 20 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.

“sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love

(all the merry little birds are
flying in the floating in the
very spirits singing in
are winging in the blossoming)

lovers go and lovers come
awandering awondering
but any two are perfectly
alone there's nobody else alive

(such a sky and such a sun
i never knew and neither did you
and everybody never breathed
quite so many kinds of yes)

not a tree can count his leaves
each herself by opening
but shining who by thousands mean
only one amazing thing

(secretly adoring shyly
tiny winging darting floating
merry in the blossoming
always joyful selves are singing)

sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love” 
― E.E. Cummings

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spanish Rice

 A NICE HEALTHFUL SALAD-AS-A-MEAL was on the menu for the evening. That is until I went outside.  It was an overcast spring day and the temperatures weren't that bad--in the forties. The kicker was the windstorm in progress. The wind had been howling for hours and we had even lost our electricity during the night. When I went out into the very damp and cool day and the wind hit me--damn, it was cold! I quickly scurried back inside and dismissed the salad idea. I wanted something warming to eat and I didn't want to go back out in the wind to get it.

After looking around the kitchen, I decided on beans and rice--always on hand and always good.  And to make a humble dinner seem more special, I made it Spanish Rice.

Made with short grain brown rice, the recipe starts with sauteing onions until translucent and then sauteing the rice until it is golden brown, just like a traditional white rice Spanish rice would be made. Because the brown rice gives the dish more substance, it can serve well as a main dish. Top it with cheese or sour cream if desired.

Spanish Rice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 1/2 cups short grain brown rice
1 bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small can green chilies, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 oz.) can chopped tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
3 cups liquid (juice from tomatoes plus broth or water)

Heat oil in deep skillet or 3 quart sauce pan. Saute onion until translucent. Stir in brown rice until it is beginning to turn golden. Add bell pepper, celery, green chilies, garlic, tomatoes and liquid. Stir well to combine, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Mixture should be creamy, not dry.