Sunday, February 28, 2010

Peanut Butter Cookies for Breakfast

We woke up one recent morning to the smell of peanut butter cookies. My mother knows these are one of my husband's favorites, and so she whipped up a batch and started popping them in the oven even before the first pot of coffee finished brewing. She's quite the baker and can't resist the urge to make our favorites when we're home.

This recipe comes Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book - Souvenir Edition (1965), which holds a permanent position on the kitchen counter. Snuggled between the flour container and the stove it sits ready for its daily perusal as our meals come to life. The signature gold cover of this edition (usually they're a snappy red and white plaid) is a bit dusty with flour and its pages are absolutely stuffed with clipped recipes and marked with notes.

Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
1 cup shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup peanut butter
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour*
2 teaspoons soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Thoroughly cream the shortening, sugars, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the peanut butter. Sift the dry ingredients together, and add to the creamed mixture. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. Press with the back of floured fork to make crisscross pattern. Bake in moderate oven about 10 minutes. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.
*For a richer cookie, use 2 cups of flour.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tastes of Home

While I come from a long line of German farmers who put some of the best meat and potato concoctions on the table (and breads!), there's another set of flavors and foods that tell me I'm home. From the first time I tasted these flavors I think I fell in love.

One step in the door and we could have closed our eyes and just followed the smell of garlic, lemon, onion, and spices up the stairs to a bustling kitchen. Sybil and Maan gave us a hearty welcome as we entered the swirl. Maan never missed a beat as he prepared the last skewers of lamb for the grill merrily smoking outside, and the tabouli looked like summer in a bowl - a vibrant mix of green parsley, onion and mint with sparks of red tomato, garlic, and bulgur.

A friend worked away on the kibbeh nyee (pronounced kib-bay nigh-ay) - raw ground lamb mixed with bulgur and a family recipe of assorted spices - shaping the meat, pouring on the olive oil and setting mint leaves around the plate for a tasty garnish. Each family has their own mix of spices, which usually include cumin and cloves. Best eaten wrapped in a bit of pita with a slice of raw onion this is one of the taste sensations I adore.

Sybil guided us to cold beers and a big bowl of hummous decked out with olive oil and bright parsley leaves waiting next to the kalamatta olives, sliced fresh vegetables, and soft pita bread. Surrounded by these friends, tastes, and sounds was simply joy.

Sybil's Hummous*
2 15 oz. cans of chick peas (drain about half the liquid and save the extra)
2 large cloves of garlic (more if you like. Cut out the centers unless super fresh.)
3/4 teaspoons salt
2-3 tablespoons tahini
1/3 cup (or a bit more) lemon juice (about the juice of one lemon)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (remove the large stems before chopping)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Place the first five ingredients in a food processor or blender until fairly smooth. Sybil likes hers with some texture still in it.) Use excess liquid from the chickpeas as necessary without making it too soupy or too thick. (You should be able to scoop it up with pita without it dripping.) Place in shallow serving bowl. Cover with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with pita bread or crackers, but take a photo of it immediately. You won't get another chance.
*Note: Recipe perfected in mid-1980's, and still in use as of February, 2010. Vary amounts to suit your taste, but this is a good starting point by all accounts.

Friday, February 26, 2010

My Mother's Coffeecake

Sunday mornings when I was a child would not have been complete without warm cinnamon rolls or a slice of freshly baked coffee cake. We would come home from church, settle in the living room with the Sunday paper spread across the floor and eat the warm buttered slices over comics and headlines. The house smelled like sweet bread, and crumbs would cover my skirt.

My mother, true to form, woke us up one morning on this visit with the smell of fresh-baked coffee cake. Stumbling out to the kitchen for my first cup of coffee I spotted two nicely browned rounds on the corner cutting board. The knife gently broke though the still-hot-to-the-touch crust and slid through the layers below. My first bite in a year of this favorite childhood treat did not disappoint. (It was so satisfactory, in fact, that I was not able to get a picture.)

The recipe comes from a book that has been on our kitchen counter forever. Now tightly encased in cellophane it came with the brand new Monarch stove my parents bought for their first house more than fifty years ago. A fine layer of flour greets my fingers as I hold it and just a wee bit of the shortening, too. I've seen my mother touch it in reference during kneading or just after for years now, even though I know she must know it nearly by heart. Her mother, my grandmother, always made a crumble-top coffee cake that is another family treasure. This recipe became a family favorite somewhat by accident. As my mother said, "I tried the recipe and it worked for me, so I just kept making it." I, for one, am eternally grateful.

Foundation Sweet Dough, a.k.a. My Mother's Coffee Cake and Cinnamon Rolls
2 cakes yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup milk
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon lemon rind
5 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Soften yeast in water. Scald milk and add shortening, sugar and salt to scalded milk. Cool to lukewarm. Add the softened yeast, eggs, and lemon rind to the cooled mixture. Add enough flour to liquid ingredients to make a stiff batter. Beat well. add enough more flour to make a soft dough.

Turn out on lightly floured board and knead until satiny. Place in greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. When light, punch down. Shape into rings, rolls or coffee cakes. Let rise again until doubled in bulk.

Bake in moderate over (375 degrees) for 25 to 30 minutes for coffee cakes - 10-15 minutes for rolls, depending on size.

Yields are two 12-inch rings or about three and a half dozen rolls.

(Cover photo from Remembering Monarch Range.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Home in America

Being home this time of year has its pros and cons, but as my favorite season I focus mostly on the pros. Bright sparkling landscape and shades of blue, brown, and white that aren't seen at any other time.

Out for a walk on the family land in Michigan getting chilled to the bone while enjoying the company, the landscape, and seeing some of the earliest signs of Spring I was more than glad to be back.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Miracle ramen in Ebisu

After visiting the farmer's market at the United Nations University, we decided to head over to Ebisu to find a little ramen shop - Afuri - that served what sounded like an enticing flavor: yuzu. Entranced by this recently discovered flavor of Japan, it was impossible to resist the opportunity the beautiful day seemed to offer.

Ramen, as I have thus far experienced it, is as wide and varied as meatloaf or chili in America. And, like meatloaf and chili, everyone has a recipe, but no two are exactly alike. In each steaming bowl, though, can be found: noodles, broth (sometimes clear, sometimes deliciously murky and gravy-like), thinly sliced onion, a bit of seaweed, and a slice of two of relatively fatty pork. After that, anything can happen as a recent Frugal Traveler post suggests.

Let me just say here that I can't say I'm a fan. And I do say this with some trepidation because the Japanese love their ramen. A rough equivalent in America is to say you don't like apple pie. But I do like yuzu and thought this sounded pretty innovative. And I was pretty hungry. Miracles happen. Maybe now was the time for ramen.

Located on a little side street about a five minute walk from Ebisu station, Afuri looks pretty nondescript. A little tidier, bigger and slightly more modern looking than other ramen shops, it could still be just about any restaurant in a city where eating out is as common as breathing. The line coming out the door, though, testified that here was something perhaps a bit different. It also gave us a goodly amount of time to study the ticket machine and determine what we wanted. We decided on shoyu-based yuzu ramen, and one other dish of just ramen noodles with toppings and a dipping sauce on the side. (The machine had pictures, which was a serious godsend. See the button photos at left.) About fifteen minutes later we settled in at the counter with our steaming bowls.

The smell alone of the yuzu ramen (top picture in the post) convinced me that this just might be the miracle I was looking for, but the sight of the grilled pork confirmed it. Rather than a soggy fatty piece of meat, this one was a wee bit charred and still sizzling. The broth was a lovely color with those lemon-lime flavor overtones that are yuzu. The noodles were perfect, and I can't say much else because we ate it so fast. This is a variation of ramen I would gladly eat again.

Meanwhile, my dish (at left) with the dipping sauce on the side was the bomb-diggity. The dipping sauce was soy-based with onions, presumably a healthy dash of hot pepper oil, sesame seeds, thinly sliced onions, and maybe a bit of yuzu, too. It was just amazing. Throwing etiquette to the wind and ignoring the fact that the long counter afforded every other diner a good view of me, I drank the leftover sauce directly from the cup once the noodles were gone.

Restaurant Details
1-1-7 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Map (in Japanese, but it will get you there.)

P.S. A great list of ramen links can be found at Ramen Tokyo, and Ramen Adventures (one of the Tokyo ramen hosts for the Frugal Traveler) offering enough information about eating good ramen in Tokyo to keep a fancier busy (and pleasantly full) for a lifetime.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Vegetable Adventures at the United Nations University Farmers Market

Under the white awnings of the farmer's market at the United Nations University in Tokyo is another treasure trove of local seasonal food. Over forty stalls offered vegetables, fruits, rice, breads and pastries, flowers, and some of the prettiest rock salt I've ever seen from varied parts of Japan. Part of a burgeoning farmers market movement to connect people with their food and its producers, this market between trendy Harajuku and super-bustling Shibuya, bristled with energy and enthusiasm.

Four kinds of natto from Sendai, three types of mochi from Nagano Prefecture, and a huge variety of mushrooms including shitakes already started on a log, were but a few of the great edibles on offer. Running a close second as a personal favorite to the mochi from Nagano was the little salad garden in a bag that was so cute it was difficult to resist the urge to add it to my own garden already underway. Add to this woven straw baskets and bags, and metalware made from recycled materials, along with hot coffees, tasty lunches, and a bevy of other treats for a perfect weekend trip.

One of a number of markets that are springing up around Tokyo and all of Japan as part of a government sponsored program, Marche Japon, the UN University Market has steadily grown since its inception a little over a year ago. and is part of the UN effort to educate people about food security and healthy eating. Vendors were nearly overwhelmed with happy inquisitive customers all looking for something tasty to eat or a pretty bouquet. Another great stop on the seasonal food tour, this market will be well worth visiting again to see what's new on offer!

Planning to go?
Every Saturday and Sunday
10am - 4pm
*Be careful! Not all vendors come both days.