Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cheese Grits. Yum!

I've been making these grits for breakfast for quite a while now. If by chance you were lucky enough to be born in the south or have visited down that way, you have probably encountered grits. Every cafe serves them with breakfast and in Creole cooking they are eating with any meal as a starch. You may have encountered an unfortunate bowl of instant grits at some point in your life and swear they are the strangest food you've ever been served. All I can say to that is, if you've only had instant grits "you ain't had no grits". Mine are made from stoneground yellow cornmeal that I am blessed enough to buy from a local grist mill and they made divine grits. You don't want to use regular cornmeal, try to find regular (not instant) grits or polenta grits. Our natural food store carries the polenta grits. They are delicious served with real butter, salt and fresh pepper but my kids favorite is with cheese. Can't blame them on that, I love them too!

Cheese Grits
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/2 cup grits
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper (to taste)
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup fresh grated cheddar cheese

Combine the milk, water, grits and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over low heat. Stir constantly until the grits are thick. Usually this takes about 10 minutes. Watch out because as they get thick, they will bubble up and can burn you if it splats you. Fancy word there, huh? When they are nice and thick, turn off the heat and stir in the pepper, butter and cheese. Dish it up and serve. This recipe can be increased for feeding more than 4 people. I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, January 25, 2010

La Petite Artiste

My three year old daughter has started drawing portraits. On our art line you can see her two latest masterpieces. The portrait on the right is of her mom and baby brother. I am the "one with the big head". What amazes me are the expressions of her people. Her pupil placement especially evokes a certain feeling. Also note the birds, sun and clouds. It just cracks me up. I have a feeling I will have a more difficult time weeding out her artwork than I have had with her big brothers various robot and monster truck drawings. Be still my heart!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Snack Mats

For me, inspiration comes from many places, books being in the top 5 places for acquiring some good old inspiration for handmade things. On my last trip to the library (by myself even!) I came across a beautiful book called Linen, Wool, Cotton , a lovely book of sewing projects written by an equally lovely Japanese woman. Like so many others, she loves to work with natural materials and out of that passion came this book. There are 25 wonderful project to make for your home and to wear, I could be in serious trouble if I happened across a bunch of linen, cotton or wool that needed a destiny.
One project caught my eye in that it was small and could be put together quickly, also it was just the thing my kids would enjoy using. Her snack mats are made from a gorgeous white fleece with three elegant french knots in the bottom corner so mine don't evoke quite the same spirit but they are very much loved now at afternoon snack time so what can I say. Besides, anything white around my little darlings isn't white for long. The girls' are made from a small flour sack trimmed with thrifted lace and the boys' are made from the remains of their dad's old shirts that were repurposed into Christmas PJ bottoms.

I embroidered their initials on them since my little men aren't into lace. Now, my machine isn't made to do embroidery so I will show you the nice "T" I made with the button hole function and not show the "D" I made with the button hole function. They were all gratifyingly delighted when they awoke from their naps to find snacks waiting on their own snack mats. By the way, those chocolate cookies are my favorite and every time I make them I eat way too many. Those and rice crispy treats. Just keep them away from me, I have no self control!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Homemade Yogurt

When I was a young girl my mom learned how to make yogurt. Delicious creamy yogurt in her own kitchen. In fact, several of the women in our homeschool group regularly made yogurt for their families. Not in a yogurt maker, oh no! In a big pot with a thermometer, then poured into glass jars and set in a warm place for just the right amount of time to transform from regular milk into a thick, faintly tart treat. Seemed like magic to me and even today, after countless jars of yogurt from my kitchen, it still seems magical.
A few years ago I read of a method that didn't require the use of a thermometer and an ever watchful eye. Sign me up for that! The author said to heat the milk over low heat until small bubbles formed around the edge of the pan (180 degrees). Turn off the heat and cool until you can keep your finger in the milk for 20 seconds (110 degrees). Stir in room temperature yogurt with live cultures, 2 generous tablespoons per quart of milk, then pour into clean glass jars. Cover the jars and set in a warm place where they won't be disturbed ( I leave them overnight in my turned off oven with the oven light on) until the yogurt is thick. It will thicken a bit more after you put it in the fridge. That's it! It works every time.
One note about homemade yogurt in case you've never had it before is that the consistency isn't like store bought yogurt at all. If you add gelatin and guar gum it may be closer to commercial stuff but I'm fresh out of guar gum at my house so I just take it as it comes. Sometimes it will be a perfect creamy consistency. Other times it's runny, the batch I just made can be drunk from a glass. Occasionally it will be almost gluey. Never mind though, it's fine to eat or you can use it for cooking or smoothies. Also you can make as much as you need. I make 2 quarts at a time, my mother-in-law makes a pint at a time. Just adjust the proportions of starter yogurt for the amount you need. After you have your first bowl of creamy homemade yogurt with maple syrup drizzled over the top and maybe some pecans sprinkled on, you'll be hooked. Watch out!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Winter Games

Last week during a bitterly cold spell we were all stuck inside. All day. Every day. For over a week. This is a little tough for a mom who values daily vigorous outdoor play for her rambunctious kids. I especially value the ensuing quiet in the house when they are enjoying their daily vigorous outdoor play. So last week we played inside. They were starting up a game of hide and seek and while his brother was counting I cleared out one of my cabinets and stuck big brother in it. He was thrilled and delighted to say the least. Particularly since he obtained the only flashlight with working batteries.

Of course, this led to clearing out three more cabinets for the other delighted siblings. This led to dragging pillows and blankets into the hideouts and almost an hour was spent hiding and giggling, visiting back and forth and the requisite rearranging.

Little sister was content snuggled up in the smallest cabinet, as long as she has her blanket she is content anywhere.

Then I ran out of cabinets. Poor little guy, so sad. Or maybe he is crying because everyone else has clothes and he doesn't. I can't remember.

Monday, January 11, 2010


I have several collections of old things that I love. Cookbooks, old and new, pottery pitchers, mostly old, antique books, definitely old, and rotary egg beaters. I just love them.

All of them have different handles and mechanics. They are surprisingly sturdy and efficient, especially considering that some are from the 1920's. I don't use these, they are stored away for someday when I have a great place to display them. There is one I keep in my kitchen and use nearly every day, a good friend of mine almost past out one day when I whipped it out to use. She had never seen anyone actually use one.

The yellow handled one is my favorite, I have a thing for yellow. Mostly I love thinking about the woman who used to use each one. Did she have a variety to choose from when she bought it. You can almost imagine her excitement at having such a cutting edge kitchen tool to make her life so much easier. She probably set right out to make an angel food cake from her fresh eggs just to get to beat the egg whites with her modern gadget.

Things have come a long way from the rotary beater to the KitchenAid but keep an eye out and if you see one of these at a flea market or antique shop or in your Grandma's kitchen, give it a try. You might fall in love with it. Just ask Grandma first before you take it, okay?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chocolate Chiffon Cake

Tuesday night we were going to a potluck dinner and all I could think about was an old favorite recipe for Chocolate Chiffon Cake. I dug through my two recipe card files and finally found the smudged and splattered note cards bearing the sacred recipe. The source of this cake and the wonderful icing has long passed from my poor little memory but from whoever or wherever I obtained it, Thank You! I've been making this cake for a long time. Last time I was at my mom's we were looking through a box of old photographs and came across one of my birthdays, maybe my twentieth, and this cake was there on the table decked out with pink candles. Of course, my twentieth birthday wasn't all that long ago but let's just say, I've had a few cakes since then. About the cake, it has a beautiful even texture and taste remarkably like a homemade Hostess cupcake without the weird cream stuff inside. The icing is just a bit thicker than a glaze but thin enough to run down the sides of the cake in glorious chocolate rivers. You will have to excuse the odd color in the photo above, by the time it was cooled and iced the sun had long been gone. I was left with my kitchen lights to work with and they just aren't the same. Now to make this cake, you make some of this:

And then some of this:

Fold it together like this:

When it's mixed together pour it in a pan like this:

Put it in the oven to bake and hopefully your kitchen won't look like this:

If it does, don't worry, it's nothing a little elbow grease and promise of cake to come won't fix. Here is the recipe, I hope you come to love this cake too.

Chocolate Chiffon Cake
1/2 cup cocoa
3/4 cup boiling water
1 3/4 cup cake flour (substitute 1 1/4 cup + 1 Tbls. unbleached flour and 5 Tbls. cornstarch)
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oil
7 eggs, separated (see note below)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

In a bowl, combine cocoa and boiling water, cool 20 minutes or until room temperature. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, soda and salt. Stir in oil, egg yolks, vanilla and cocoa mixture. Beat until smooth. In a large bowl beat egg whites and cream of tartar until still peaks form. Gradually fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites using a motion from the bottom of the bowl up to the top instead of a circular stirring motion. This will mix the batter without deflating the egg whites. In a chiffon cake the air you beat into the white helps the cake to rise and gives it a soft texture. You don't want to stir out all the air you just beat into the whites. Pour the batter into an ungreased angel food cake pan (tube pan) and bake on the lowest oven rack at 325 degrees for 60 to 65 minutes. Invert pan to cool completely. Then remove the cake from the pan by running a knife around the outer edge of the pan then the inner ring. Turn the pan upside down and pop it out of the outer part of the pan. Then run the knife between the cake and the bottom of the pan and the cake will fall onto the platter. Ta da!

A note about separating eggs. There are all sorts of contraptions for separating eggs but my mama taught me to do it using the egg shell. Crack your egg over the bowl you want to put the egg whites in. Hold the halves of the shell in each hand with the yolk in one half. Let the white run out into the bowl. Gently tip the yolk into the other half of the egg shell. Do this back and forth until all the white is separated from the yolk. If you have trouble and the yolk starts to break, just stop and dump it into the bowl for the yolks. A little white in the yolks is fine, what you don't want is yolk in the whites. The yolk contains the fat of the egg and any fat will keep the whites from beating up stiff like you want. Try it, you'll feel like a real chef!

Chocolate Icing
1/3 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
6 Tablespoons cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 to 4 Tablespoons hot water

Melt the butter, stir in the powdered sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Stir until very smooth. Stir in enough hot water to make the icing pourable. Drizzle over the cooled cake and spread with a spoon, pushing gently to help it run down the sides of the cake. Do not make this icing too long before the cake is cooled or you may be temped to eat it before you are able to put it on the cake. This has never happened to me, I'm just saying this could happen to some one of lesser constitution. Enjoy!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Snowy Monday

We woke up to a fresh layer of snow on top of the remains of the snow from the weekend. Our morning has included hot biscuits for breakfast, math from the new workbook, letters made out of salt dough, tent making, a computer induced meltdown and lots of dishes washed. Lunch was a pot of cream of broccoli soup and a loaf of wheat bread still warm from the oven. Before I go tackle naptime I want to share a quote from my precocious four year old. "One hand rose up like a little rose in a flower bush, sprinkled by the sun." Monday is a good day after all.