25 September 2006

My Grandmother's Goblets

I am constantly amazed at the beautiful glassware on the market. The colors, the design and the sparkle are delectable — pure eye candy!

Of course I always want to own them. The idea of serving a deep Malbec in a cranberry-hued goblet or ice water in heavy Swedish crystal is alluring. Because of course, presentation is essential to the enjoyment of good food and drink.

In my spendthrift past I often bought glassware I did not need because I liked the way I thought it would look on my table. Once I paid $20 per goblet in a French-style wine shop, only to find the same glassware at TJ Maxx for $4.99 each. So I vowed “Never again!”

When Grandma Annie’s house was sold, I inherited her pressed glass goblets. For as long as I can remember, these attractive but inexpensive goblets were used at Sunday dinner and any other time Annie wanted to set an elaborate table. I know nothing about the glasses’ provenance. I do know she had them as a young married woman.

The exteriors of two or three of the glasses are speckled with the deep red paint used on the inside of a cabinet in her kitchen in the 1930s or 40s. I have no wish to remove those tiny red dots — on the outside, I am sure they are harmless.

My husband and I have a small collection of wine glasses and champagne flutes. But especially as the holidays approach, we start thinking about libations for Grandma Annie’s glasses. Right now, I am thinking about cider or some plum-y, jam-y wine from Lower Michigan. . .nothing too fancy as befits these simple but treasured glasses.

21 September 2006

Autumn Along the Shore . . . and Pumpkin Cravings

Driving home from class the other day I noticed that the grasses along the shore had begun to turn yellow and brown. Here and there, small patches of sumac were becoming a deep crimson. The sky was overcast and the sun only a hint. Luckily, I had my camera along.

It was raining when I got back to town, the kind of rain that comes and goes but nevertheless forces you inside, preferably inside your kitchen where you will make something comforting to eat.

Pumpkin. I wanted pumpkin. When I finally got home, I found a can of pumpkin from last year (still good, it says so on the bottom of the can) and a few other ingredients, including Bisquick. Emboldened by my fellow food bloggers over at My Husband Cooks, who made Tater Tot salads the other day (much to my delight), I bravely included Bisquick in the ingredients.

This is what I made: Crustless Pumpkin Pie

1 cup canned pumpkin
½ cup Bisquick
½ cup fructose
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

Pre-heat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients in large bowl. Transfer to greased pie plate and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, until pie is firm in the middle and slightly browned at the edges. Serve chilled with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

The original recipe from Bisquick calls for evaporated milk, but I’ve always used buttermilk. I made this a time or two last year when a local bakery was selling pumpkin custard pies.

Chi-chi? No. Satisfying? You betcha.

17 September 2006

Steak Provencal with Roasted Potatoes

When I was growing up, Saturday night was steak night. Wisconsin was filled with steakhouses, many located on the outskirts of town, some in old farmhouses, others in former roadhouses. The classic meal was a thick, juicy steak with baked potato and sour cream, preceded by an iceberg-lettuce salad and maybe a cheese tray.

My father was well-known in this corner of the world for his steaks. He just knew how to do them. They were brown on the outside, pink on the inside, tender and flavorful. Growing up, I preferred chicken or fish: There was just too much steak around!

During college, I ate little meat, preferring to explore vegan fare. Then I married a man who is a steak lover.

I began to take pride in my own steaks. My standard way of preparing them was with a garlic-and-herb rub. But recently I discovered a recipe for Steak Provençal that I really love. It pairs well with roasted potatoes from Patricia Wells, Wisconsin native and fellow UW-Madison journalism alum.

Steak Provençal for Two


  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4 small green onions, sliced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoons lemon zest
  • Dash herbes de Provence
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sea salt

Marinate your favorite cuts of meat for 2-4 hours in the refrigerator. If the price is right, I prefer filet mignon. But select tenderloin is fine.

Remove from marinade. Broil until fully cooked, turned steaks frequently to ensure they lie flat and are fully cooked. When finished, add ground pepper and add a dash of sea salt.

Roasted Potatoes

  • 1 dozen small new potatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 425. Wash but do not peel the potatoes. Cut them in half and coat with olive oil. Place flat side down in a greased pan and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, until the potatoes have turned a golden brown. Sprinkle with sea salt.

I usually serve this meal with a tomato salad and roasted or sautéed peppers and a not-too-tannic red wine.

14 September 2006

Apple-Cheddar Scones

Autumn is coming on fast here in northern Wisconsin. Last year at this time, everything was still very green. But we've had a spate of cool nights, a few damp days here and there and a host of glorious sunny days in the past few weeks. Cool nights and sunny days make for red and gold leaves.

And they are turning already, along the road out to the university and even in town. Last year's autumn was long and lingering, but I suspect this one will be quick. Our spring was earlier.

What does this have to do with food? Nothing, really, except that foods typically associated with a season enhance your enjoyment of that time of year.

Most people claim fall as their favorite season up here. Apples are plentiful and this being Wisconsin, so is cheese.

I baked these scones tonight (I've decided to experiment with a new seasonal recipe each month).

Apple-Cheddar-Walnut Scones

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour and white flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (depends on your preference)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (I used fructose)
  • 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400. In large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Cut in the butter, using a pastry tool or your fingers to create a grainy texture. In a small bowl, blend the buttermilk, cheese, applesauce and walnuts. Add the moist mix to the dry mix and blend thoroughly. Divide into 8 balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet or use a greased scone pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center indicates the scones are thoroughly baked. The scones will be a golden brown. Serve warm, with apple butter.

The true test for scones is how they do when warmed over. These held their moisture, a rare feat for a scone.

08 September 2006

Apple Cider Making

It’s a good night for hunkering down at home with a big bowl of popcorn and maybe a cool mug of apple cider.

It was a night just like this that some friends held their annual cider-making party last year. I was among the dozen or so guests who began preparing bushels and bushels of apples late in the afternoon.

The five varieties of apples, picked at a nearby orchard a week earlier, had been left to mature for a few days.

Working an old-fashioned cider press is hard work, and it was left to the more muscular guests, thankfully.

It seemed to take hours. Meanwhile, an herb-encrusted lamb roast cooked on a covered outdoor grill, perfuming the air outside. In the kitchen, three separate casseroles of potatoes, squash and green beans cooked in the hostess's big ovens. Two different fruit desserts cooled atop the stove. A fire roared away in the living room, and bottles of a peppery red and a nippy white wine were set out for guests to sample.

Dinner was served as soon as the apple pomace had been made into liquid.

We filled two tables, one in the dining room and one in the kitchen. The hostess joined us at the kitchen table and the talk turned to plays, music, restoring old houses and even, perhaps because of the dark evening and the approaching fall holiday, ghosts and unexplained occurrences.

The guests were a diverse and eclectic group, representing all segments of our small town, for the hostess is a collector of interesting people. What struck me was how often food and dinner tables serve as uniters.

Dinner conversation lasted until nearly 11 p.m., from salad to apple crisp and (decaf) coffee. I was sorry to leave, but Laurie sent us all on our way with a plate of leftovers. Eventually, each of us received a jug of apple cider, too.

I won't be making apple cider tonight. But my kitchen is warm and my house is cozy and redolent of roasted peppers and autumn vegetables. Not a bad beginning to a rainy night at home.

02 September 2006

France: The Worker in the Vineyard

During our stay in the Lot Valley, it was important not to rush around seeing things and taking pictures but to give in to the rhythm of the tiny village in which we stayed. We wanted to experience everyday life in rural France.

Mornings we drove down to Cahors, prowling the markets and the shops and cafés. Afternoons we preferred to stay closer to home.

The lovely house our friend loaned us after my husband’s surgery was too enchanting, with its tile floors, massive armors, comfortable sofas. Herbs and lilacs grew in the yard; everything was green and lichen-covered. Why leave? Here was sheer magic!

Nearly 300 years old, the home turned its back on the village and faced a vineyard. Afternoons while my husband rested, I sat by the pool listening to the calls of roosters and cuckoos and the droning of contented and very benign bees in the warm spring sunshine.

Looking down into the vineyards, I noticed a solitary worker, who began his task of staking the vines at about 9 a.m. each day. He worked until noon, took the traditional two-hour hour break, and went back to his vines. Between 2 p.m. and about 6:30, the sound of chain saws and tractors would ring out across the valley again, competing with the roosters and cuckoos.

The man in the vineyard went about his work, never looking up. I wondered if he could hear so strong was his attention to task. I later learned he could not.

For a week, I watched his progress. I don’t know if he ever saw me up there, but I considered him my companion on those sunny afternoons.

I sometimes think of him, when I am working at a repetitive task and giving it my full attention. I wonder if he is content with his job. Or does he merely tolerate it? Does he wish for a different lot in life? Is he happy staking vines and caring for grapes used in making the famous Black Wine of Cahors. I hope he is.

Several bottles of wine from the very grapes he tended had been left for us by our hostess. They were deep and rich and tannic and we drank from them in the evenings, once we closed the shutters and settled in. Our wine tasting was always accompanied by hooting from an owl that sat in the lilac tree each night.

Those were wonderful days and nights, the vineyard, the worker, the wine, the owl, the church bells and the smell of wood smoke and herbs. Such deep contentment!

01 September 2006

Parmesan Cheese Scones with Herbes de Provence

Scones don't have to be sweet.

Several years ago I finally broke down and invested in a cast-iron scone pan.

I was writing an article about scones for my weekly food column and figured I’d better have some first-hand knowledge. Since then I have periodically made sweet scones, usually pumpkin-raisin or cinnamon, but I wanted to try some savory scones this time. Why not scones with herbes de Provence?

Parmesan Scones with Herbes de Provence

  • 1 cup pre-sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • ½-cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼-teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
  • ½-stick cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yoke, reserve the white for glaze
  • ½-cup buttermilk

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Blend dry ingredients, including cheese, in a large bowl. Cut in the butter, working it into the flour with your fingers or with a pastry tool. Mixture should crumbly.

In a small bowl, blend egg, egg yoke and buttermilk. Gradually add to dry mixture until a sticky dough is formed. This is where an eight-section scone pan comes in handy. But you can also shape dough into round balls and place on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Beat leftover egg white, and brush each scone with it, sprinkling on additional Parmesan or herbs, if you like.

Bake scones for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes 5-6 scones.

The delicate flavor of these scones pairs well with cheese as well as honey or jam. I thought butter with a lavender honey spread might be tasty.

Next time, I may increase the herbes de Provence for more zest.