Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Elena's Orphanage Christmas Project


At this thankful time of year, I must acknowledge my gratitude for the bounties of life that my family and I enjoy.  All the ingredients for this (see previous post) tasty and  nutritious stew were in my house; no shopping was necessary. 

It was six years ago that we added two very special daughters to our family, increasing our children to 7.  We adopted two older girls from a Moldovan orphanage.  Moldova is the smallest and poorest of all the Eastern European countries.  Aids, women and child trafficking (Moldova ranks #1 in this department), prostitution (which leads to abortions...some of my daughters' friends have had over 10 abortions), starvation, freezing, suicide, filth, disease, and suffering were in their future,and are now in the lives of the friends they left behind.  My daughters were the rare lucky ones, brought to America, to a loving family, and to opportunities that were before unimaginable. (When we were there, the unemployment rate was 68% and life expectancy for a woman  was less than 55 and about 50 for a man).  The children are sent out of the orphanages at the age of 16 without a place to go, food to eat, often without shoes or a jacket, and with no love and no hope in their future. If it is winter, the children often crawl into the underground sewers to find a place of shelter from the elements. If they get caught stealing a loaf of bread, they are sent to prison where they are usually dead within 2 months.  If the children die, that is good; one less child for the government to care about, but they don't care anyway. The children are considered not to be real humans...just a little higher up than animals.

I traveled to Moldova twice, spent a month there, and had my eyes opened to many things that I am now thankful for.  I wanted to travel to that small country again, but my name was added to Moldova's equivalent of a mafia list, and I was not allowed to return.  One of my daughters had been sold (usually to Arab men) by her orphanage director.  Because of the adoption, his $1000 deal fell through.  I tried to get the director removed, but as a former KGB officer, he is a very powerful man.  The country does not want to admit that it cannot care for its own children.  It is an embarrassment.  

Today, as I cleaned and peeled the vegetables for our stew, I was reminded of a young Moldovan lad carrying an old bucket, walking down the icy January streets, begging for peelings so that his moma could make a little soup.  I thought of the orphanage children who slept 3 or 4 to a small cot with a tattered blanket, huddled together so that they would not freeze in the night, and often the babies did freeze.  The house we rented had ice on the inside walls.  I remember shaking all night every night even though I wrapped up in my warm coat and the blankets I brought along.  I remember taking a 14 year old girl out to lunch, to McDonalds.  She was so excited; it was a dream come true.  And then I watched as Hubby took off his scarf and his hat and put them on this little girl before we took her back to the orphanage.  At the age of 14 she only weighed 60 pounds.  A 12 year old who we cared for on another occasion weighed only 40 pounds.

In 2 weeks, one of my adopted daughters, who is now 21 will return to Moldova for a month.  She is working hard to bring a little Christmas to some orphan children during her college winter break  She is accepting donations that are being used to purchase winter coats and to take fresh fruit for all the children in one of the many orphanages.  She has earned her own airfare and an extra $500 to get started.  She needed $2000 more and now has donations of almost $1500. 

I know that charity fills many hearts at this time of the year, and if anyone out there would like to help a child, my Elena is accepting donations at:  Elena Barlow, P.O. Box 970653,  Orem, UT  84057.  She is also working toward a goal of building a type of "Stella House" which will be a home for orphan girls who have reached their 16th birthday and have no where to go.   Preliminary work for this project is in the works, but Elena's "Stella House" project will be in the future.  These Moldova "Stella house" projects can be googled if anyone is interested.

Monday, November 29, 2010

French Friday with Dorie: My Go-To Beef Daube (Beef Stew)

My Daube

Food Fit for a Cold Winter Day
What a wonderfully diverting day I had in my kitchen!  I cooked “My Go-To Beef Daube”, a delicious beef stew which will hopefully balance out the coldest day of the year here in AZ.  It may actually freeze tonight, which concerns me greatly as we have many citrus trees and our garden is abounding with lovely vegetables and fresh herbs that most of the country grows during the summer months.  We have not had a freeze for the past 5 or 6 years, so I guess we are due.  But so early in the year...usually if it does not get this cold it waits until the end of December or into January.  As I write this afternoon the temperature is 54^.   I can remember many times enjoying a swim in the pool over the Thanksgiving weekend, but not this year.
A few cut up strips of Bacon frying until brown
Saute the beef in small batches until browned
The Cubed Beef

The browned beef added to the browned bacon
While the chunked up beef was browning in bacon fat and oil, I swept through my fridge and found many wonderful vegetables that begged to be added to this stew, which in Dorie’s recipe is mostly meat, carrots, perhaps parsnips, and onions with “a little herb bouquet to keep it company.”  My version is loaded with sweet potatoes, onions, mushrooms, carrots, leeks, shallots, potatoes, celery, scallions, the meats, and the herbs.  And since I had lots of left over parsley from Thanksgiving, I minced and sprinkled that over the stew for an extra measure of wonderful flavor

After removing the meat, mushrooms and leeks were sauteed in a little fat

Then Added Sweet and Russet Potatoes, Scallions, Celery, Carrots...and Decided to make 2 pots
Tomorrow is our neighborhood ladies’ Christmas dinner where I will remake the potatoes gratin as my assigned dish.  It will be a wonderful event to ring in the Christmas Season, and I will enjoy treating my friends to Dorie’s wonderful recipe.  Since I’ll be at my party, Hubby is planning his own event, a men’s dinner with six of his friends.  I thought I would make the stew for them to enjoy as part of their feast.  Tomorrow I’ll make dinner rolls for the men, and Hubby can figure out his own dessert...he actually makes terrific chocolate chips cookies, and he buys great frozen yogurt in a variety of flavors...by the quart...so I think he will be OK.  (If I get ambitious, I will make the suggested spaetzle to accompany the stew as I have not made that in a few years.... it sounds good to me!)

Getting the Fresh Herbs Packet ready...Parsley, Rosemary, Oregano, and Thyme.  What a Lovely Bouquet!
Listening to Christmas music in the background, eating leftover Thanksgiving pie, and cooking the stew has been relaxing.  The smells, the colors, and the art of chopping all those ingredients has been a great way to unwind after a very busy weekend...all that eating and shopping and cooking and entertaining and baking...oh my!  And, it’s time for something besides turkey and trimmings; we’ve eaten it 5 or 6 times already over the past few days.

Ready for the Oven
We don’t use alcohol in our house.  Instead of the brandy and wine I added a good beef stock.  The color is rich and the aroma is fabulous, and all my veges looked quite happy simmering away in the pot...actually two large pots.  I had to make enough to have a taste myself,  I’m sure at least one  son-in-law is stopping by later, and when he smells what has been cooking, he will also consume a bowl, and I will need enough for Hubby and his men friends.  And, I was motivated  to use all those wonderful refrigerator items that won’t keep forever

Just Out of the Oven and Ready to Eat
It is still November and for me it is a time of year to be thankful for so much.  This stew was made from ingredients found in my house, no need for any shopping.  I am so blessed to have so much especially compared with most of the world.  My heart is full and ready to march forward with zeal into the Christmas season.  I enjoy reading all your posts.  You all make this Dorie experience fun...your enthusiasm and positive attitudes are catching!

Note:  A few days later...My neighborhood ladies' Christmas dinner party was wonderful!  There were 90something of us who attended.  Three of us made Potatoes Gratin as our assigned dish.  My Dorie version was devoured and people were looking for more...the gratin was a hit and was practically perfect if I can brag just a little!  Thanks, Dorie, for a great recipe that my family and friends enjoy.  (Hubby's party also consumed a large baking dish of these potatoes and they also loved them.)  We give this recipe a "Thumbs-Up!"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

French Friday with Dorie: Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake

Caramel -Topped Semolina Cake Reminds me of my Mother's Baked Rice Pudding

One of my favorite comfort foods, and actually one of my favorite desserts, is pudding.   I always have both homemade chocolate and vanilla, and sometimes other varieties in my fridge...makes great quick cream pies or kid snacks, or me snacks.   I have fond memories of my mother using left over rice to make a creamy baked rice pudding.  She always added raisins and I thought it was much better than the rice that was originally used as part of the meal.

Making the Cream of Wheat into a porridge
Dorie’s Caramel-topped Semolina Cake reminds me of my mother’s delicious rice pudding: creamy, sweet, grain based, and with raisins.  The recipe was simple, quick, and had an elegant  quality...I could have eaten the entire cake all by myself and would have loved every bite.  (And by the end of the day, I did finish all but the piece hubby enjoyed....making this a very dangerous food!)

The porridge is changing into a pudding with the addition of eggs, vanilla, sugar, and raisins

The sugar mixture boiling...for only a couple of minutes
After reading the posts written by fellow FfwD friends, I was careful not to let the caramel get too amber, I used the correct 8" size pan, and I tried to learn from their other mishaps...thanks very much!!! because mine is delicious and, yes, I will definitely make this cake, which to me is really a pudding, very similar to my mother’s rice pudding, often.

The sugar changes into a caramel very quickly and easily coats that heated cake pan
The caramel was quick.  Dorie suggests 5 minutes, but at less than 3 minutes it was finished!  And when it is finished there is no time to take a photo or to blink...it needs to get off the heat!  Other FfwD cooks wrote that there was a little bitterness to the caramel, which I do not detect (maybe they were taking a photo instead of removing the caramel from the stove).  And Dorie's tip to heat the cake pan in the oven before adding the caramel made this part of the recipe a breeze.  The caramel swirled and coated the pan bottom with ease and was quickly ready for the batter.  After baking, and with no greasing the baking pan, the cake plopped out perfectly onto my serving platter and looked beautiful, with just a little caramel dripping down the sides of the cake.  And, unlike some other FfwD cake bakers, the caramel did not all absorb into the cake...it was a bit like flan: looks beautiful and tastes delicious.

With the addition of the "batter", this cake is ready for the oven.
This semolina cake would be a great brunch dish, a wonderful bedtime snack, or a fun treat for my grandkids.  And, of course, being cereal based, it would also be great for breakfast  (my mom also made some type of  "mush" several times each week...another reason this cake reminds me of my mother).  Even though it is sweet, it also has a very healthy quality. 

Just out of the oven, this cake easily falls out of the pan onto the serving platter.
Oozing with caramel and with a creamy, light texture, this was a lovely recipe to bake during this busy Thanksgiving week when so many other delicious foods are being cooked.  Total cooking/photo time was about 10 minutes plus the oven time.  Thanks, Dorie, for a quick yet delicious recipe that fit easily into my very busy holiday week...the biggest food week of the year.

My  first slice  (This cake is small, about 6 servings)

This cake could enjoy a dollop of whipped cream, a variety of fruits, berries, a little cinnamon, or other personal favorites.  I thought the golden raisins were a perfect fit.  My hubby also thought it was yummy and would enjoy having it again  (if I don't eat it all myself).

Hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving...one more blessing for me to be thankful for are all my wonderful new cyber friends...you...and this fun FfwD experience I am enjoying each week.  I'm not a sleeper, so I have a new in-the-night activity...reading all of your posts...and it is both fun and informative...thanks to you all!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

French Friday with Dorie: Potato Gratin (Pommes dauphinois)

First, let me wish all of you out there in cyberspace a very Happy Thanksgiving! 

On November 30th, about one hundred ladies in my neighborhood are getting together to enjoy our much anticipated traditional Christmas dinner, relax with holiday music and a Christmas story, and return home with a small, thoughtful gift that will keep the meaning of the Christmas season in our hearts.  Almost everyone attending will contribute a food or  program item,  will bring decorations or table settings, or they will just be there to share conversation, a good meal, and friendship.  We women try hard to make Christmas and the holidays special for family, for charitable organizations, and for work associates and friends as we work  in many, many ways to make these days exceptional.  Because the next couple of months can be stressful, or for some they can be lonely, we come together each holiday season to share a wonderful and relaxing evening that is just for us.
It was time to get out the mandoline--cut very thin potato slices
My assignment for our traditional Christmas dinner is potatoes au gratin.  Today I chose to test Dorie’s recipe for Potato Gratin (Pommes Dauphinois) hoping to find a recipe with some extra special baked goodness worthy of a holiday dish.  Oh my!  It is awesome!  This simple, creamy, bubbling over, melt in your mouth gratin is just perfect!  I will definitely make this recipe for our ladies’ dinner.

        The thin slices were arranged in layers in my baking dish., topped with garlic infused cream and seasonings.                                                                                         

While shopping for a granddaughter’s birthday gift today at Costco, one of the food samples being offered was a ready-made potato gratin.  Costco was also pushing their spiral cut ham as a main-course-holiday-dinner item.  The lady at the sample booth mixed some ham chunks in with the gratin, and gave store customers samples to try.  What a nifty idea, thought I.  So, upon returning home to make my homemade “Dorie” gratin, I decided to make a second with the addition of that ham the sample lady talked me into buying.

I have fresh herbs growing in my window garden which add a delicious addition to the baked goodness of this dish.
Both versions are delicious and comforting.  I love the garlic infused cream that works its way all through the potatoes, and the fresh herbs smothered under a layer of mouth watering cheese, filling the house with a luscious aroma.  These  are new ideas for my gratin.  The potatoes were done just right and with all that creamy goodness they just melt in your mouth.  This is, by far, the most outstanding potatoes gratin recipe I have ever tried.  It will now be our house recipe.

Small ham slices were added to my 2nd gratin, everything else being the same.

This classic gratin oozes with creamy homemade comfort.
I’m happy I made two; the kids will stop in tomorrow hoping for leftovers.  And I’m happy even more as I have found a special recipe that will be a sure hit with my neighborhood lady friends.  Thanks, Dorie, for another great recipe.  And, by the way, it is sooooo much better than the Costco variety!
This slice was my taste -- YUM!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

French Friday With Dorie: Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux

What a delicious dinner I made for hubby and I to enjoy...just the two of us dining this evening on the Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux.   Earlier in the day, I went shopping for a nice roasting chicken and some fresh garlic; the other ingredients were in the house.  I have fresh herbs growing in my window and  I have lots of lovely vegetables which I added to the pot.   It is wonderful to use these delicious recipes Dorie has put together that use normal ingredients; items that are mostly in my pantry with just a few special extras.  Initially, I was concerned that this French cooking experience would find me searching regularly for unusual ingredients.  Not so.  This recipe is actually for "lazy" folks.  Not only was it easy, it was absolutely delicious!

Lovely Fresh Herbs:  Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, and Garlic

The recipe invites the chicken to be roasted at 400^  using a Dutch oven; my cast iron pot.  This was new to me as I usually roast my meats slowly for a longer time and use a covered traditional style roaster pan.  Because of the high temperatures and the practically sealed pot, the chicken was well done in record time.

A new feature for me:  place bread in the bottom of the Dutch oven before adding the chicken.  Purpose:  Imbibe the juices from the chicken and become a crispy treat during the roasting process.

This bird is ready to roast!

I cleaned and chunked the veges while the chicken roasted half-way.  After only 45 minutes I added my veges, and then decided that I wanted to eat lots of veges because they were looking really good to me, so, I added LOTS more.  Right at this point, my son-in-law stopped by and seriously wanted to stay for dinner...but being the great guy he is, he went home to my daughter wondering what would be waiting for his dining pleasure this evening???  (Actually, he is a lucky guy, my daughter is a great cook!)

For the vegetables, I used: small red potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and an onion.  These high water content veges added their own sauce to the pot and caused the chicken to be smothered in their juices.  Because I thought the extra veges would certainly add at least an extra 30 minutes  to the roasting time, I went outside to mow the lawn.  I know, most of the country is either raking autumn’s last leaves or getting ready to shovel snow, but we, here in AZ are mowing our beautiful, very green, winter lawns.

Half Roasted Chicken...Actually it is more done than I thought tie would be after only 45 minutes.

Veges Added to the Chicken...actually, I will find a larger pan for the next roasting...not enough room in this pan to go anywhere but on top of the chicken.

And then I added LOTS of veges.  And I'm happy that I did!!!

Well, I could have taken the chicken with extra veges out of the oven without the extra time...the whole thing was probably finished after a total of 90 minutes roasting time.  But, the well-done roasted chicken and veges were wonderful!   Not as pretty a chicken as others I have viewed in your photographs, but ....oh my, the meat was just about falling off the bones and sooooo juicy.  And the veges had plenty of “sauce” and were practically perfect.  The blend of herbs, olive oil, and some salt and pepper was just right.  Hubby thought it was all really good.  And that’s what counts, right?

And here it is all cooked.  YUM!
If I had made a roasted chicken with vegetables before knowing about Dorie’s recipe, I would not have added the bread, olive oil or garlic, and I would have roasted this meal slowly in a covered roasting pan at a much lower temperature.  I learned that using the Dutch oven sped up the process, and resulted in a juicy, tender meal with all the herb flavors infused wonderfully through the dish.  Fabulous!  This is what I hoped for when I signed up to be part of this experience.  New ideas, better ways to do things in the kitchen, and fabulous results.  Thanks, Dorie for another “keeper” recipe...and yes, I washed the chicken.

 Juicy and Delicious!

Note:  I've decided, after reading the "questions" section on this dish, that had I roasted my chicken without the Dutch oven lid on, the chicken would have crispy skin and less "sauce".  Because we loved the flavors, juiciness, and the wonderful aroma all through the house from leaving the lid on,  (and no splattering in the oven meaning no burning smells and no mess to clean up)  I WILL LEAVE THE LID ON THE NEXT TIME I USE THIS RECIPE...it was fabulously delicious!

Friday, November 5, 2010

French Friday with Dorie: Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Flan

It was fun to choose a cooking project this morning that would fit in with my personal week.  Tomorrow I am teaching a holiday appetizer idea class for the ladies at church, so I chose a recipe from the four assigned for November that could double as one of my appetizer ideas;  Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Flan.  And to make this project more fun, my daughter, Stephy-Wephy, arrived early with her little "Pumpkin" to help and to taste and to make my morning delightful.

I have several little ramekins that I use for custards, creme brule, and flans of a different type so they were readied for this unusual-to-me flan.

We blended the ingredients, poured the custard into the ramekins, topped the flan with Gorgonzola cheese crumbles and chunks of walnuts.  They were placed on a paper towel lined baking sheet and put into the pre-heated oven.

Hot water was poured into the pan until it came about half way up the ramekins.  After only 20 minutes, these little flans were ready to come out of the oven for cooling.

I found my hot canning jar lift-out-of-the-hot-water-bath-tool that Stephy-Wephy insisted on using to place the flans onto the cooling rack.  Like a new toy!

Stephy was excited to find a pretty display plate and to photograph the flans.  She also added a pretty piping of sour cream for our taste test.  Nice work, Stephy!

After filling 18 ramekins there was a little pumpkin mixture left over--so we made one without the nuts or cheese for 8 month old "Pumpkin" to taste test.

I wondered if she would like the pumpkin vegetable and did not expect her to enjoy her flan.  However, she ate every bite, cleaned her bowl, and then got mad that there was not more.  Amazing.  I think she has a new dinner item to add to her list of favorites.


The folks at the office are into my weekly cooking.  They have been asking when I am completing my next assignment.  They want to taste!!!  So, gotta keep them all happy.  I took a few to the office for them to try.  They were surprised that my pretty flans were not sweet.  With that dollop of (sour) cream, pumpkin, and nuts, they were all expecting a sweet custard dessert.  I admit that my brain wanted to have a sweet pumpkin taste too.  But it was fun to try a new flavor for the pumpkin that was without cinnamon, sugar, etc.

My office tasters comments were:
adult type appetizer  (Yea...I CAN use this for my appetizer class)
Vetetable!  This MUST be healthy! 
You might add a little more salt
What other cheeses would be delicious in this...how about that melty Gruyere?

Everyone who "tasted" ate the whole thing...no noses were turned up for this vegetable.  And, since my little "Pumpkin" loves this dish, I will be making it again!

I am excited to see what everyone else chose to cook.  I'm getting some great Thanksgiving ideas!