Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know all you cooking bloggers out there will have had a busy old time today, but I hope it’s been a happy one, and that you are now stuffed with turkey and snoozing on the sofa.

I am often asked what we do in England at Thanksgiving. My answer is always the same – nothing, because we have bugger all to be thankful for in England. Only joking folks. :-) Personally, I think I won the lottery of life being born British. But, Thanksgiving is all about Pilgrims in a new land, many of whom were escaping what they perceived as religious persecution/intolerance in Britain, and the festival, therefore, has no place in British culture.

Anyway, I have a few reasons to be thankful right now. My right arm is finally mending. Most of the bite marks healed up after about a week, but there was one that just would not heal. It was so bad that I feared Alvin had done lasting damage. Yet, after a month of ministrations from nurse Mick, I now have full use of my arm again. Also, the insurance company are going to cough up the money to repair our car. Hooray!

I also have lots of other reasons to be thankful. I have a wonderful hubby, three fine boys (my cats), a great family, and many good friends. And last, but most definitely not least, thanks to you folks who take the time and trouble to come and read my blog, I appreciate it more than you will ever know.

It being Thanksgiving, I actually donned my baker’s hat. I know!!!!! Stands back in amazement, Jan has actually baked a cake. These cranberry walnut bars are a firm favorite in our house, and get wheeled out every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our neighbors get these every year for their Christmas box. One year I tried giving them something different, and they all wanted to know what happened to the cranberry and walnut bars. Oh hum!

The original recipe came from a lady I knew in California. On this occasion, I made two cakes and Mick took one to work. His co-workers loved them, and he said he could get me a few commissions if I was interested. I don’t think so. After all, I am the reluctant
cook. ;-)

On a little side note. I know a few of you have expressed an interest in the Zen Spoonmaster’s cooking utensils, but it seems they have now disappeared from their web site. When I checked it out, I noticed that they have updated the site, and I have e-mailed Jan Meng to find out what’s happened to the spoons. I’m sure it’s just a temporary glitch, and I’ll get back to you about it as soon as I hear.

Meanwhile, on with the show.

Cranberry and Walnut Bars


2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup butter, melted
1¼ cups fresh cranberries
½ cup chopped walnuts

  • Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
  • Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with a little butter.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs until thickened.
  • Gradually add sugar, beating until blended.
  • Stir in flour and melted butter.
  • Add cranberries and walnuts, mixing gently until combined.
  • Spread evenly in pan, and bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Cool and cut into bars.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chicken with Creamy Bacon Penne, and an “Oh Deer” moment

It’s true what they say, it doesn’t rain but it pours. Not only am I still having problems with my arm, but last week, Mick hit a deer on his way to work. He was driving on a two-lane highway, with a 55-MPH speed limit, when the deer ran right out in front of him and stopped. He had no chance to brake, or swerve to avoid it. The deer went right across the bonnet (hood).

The result:
Damage to Mick – zero
Damage to car – bad, but repairable
Damage to deer – terminal.

At first glance, the car doesn’t look too bad, but one headlight is smashed, the bonnet (hood) is dented and warped, and the side panel is cracked and hanging loose. But at least Mick was only shaken, not stirred, and that’s the main thing. Still, one cannot help but wonder, what else is going to go wrong?

On a brighter note, my latest article for Oklahoma Living Magazine can be found here:

The article is about a recent visit to a local arts center called, Hungry Holler, home of renowned artists, Jan and Marc Meng. Jan is a self confessed gourdphile, who creates beautiful works of art from homegrown gourds. The article shows some of her work on exhibit in their small rustic gallery. If you’d like to see more, check out their web site at:

Marc is known as the Zen Spoonmaster as he lovingly handcrafts cooking utensils from woods such as maple, wild cherry and walnut. Each spoon he creates is totally unique and will last a lifetime. Also the spatulas are made for right and left handed cooks.

I have begun my own collection as you can see below, and will be adding to it on my next visit. Why not treat yourselves this Christmas? You’ll be glad you did, these spoons are a pleasure to work with.

Anyway, without further ado, on with the recipe.

This is another recipe from the BBC Good Food magazine, so kindly sent to me by Beth at:

I did make a few alterations to the recipe, the main one being I didn’t cook the bacon with the chicken. American bacon is of poor quality compared to British bacon, and cooking the two together would have resulted in a lot of bacon grease. Also the quantities of wine and cream seemed a bit stingy, so I increased those. The result was fabulous. Mick absolutely loved this dish, and pronounced it a definite keeper.

Chicken with Creamy Bacon Penne

Serves 2


5 slices thick bacon, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil, and a little drizzle
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup heavy cream
8-ounces penne pasta
Black pepper, to taste

  • Boil pasta for 5 minutes, drain into a colander, drizzle with a little olive oil to prevent it sticking together.
  • In a large skillet, over a medium high heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, and set aside on paper towels to drain. Drain bacon grease from pan, but don’t wipe or clean pan.
  • In same skillet, heat olive oil over a medium heat, and cook chicken for about 5 minutes each side.
  • Pour in wine and allow to bubble until half the wine has evaporated.
  • Add peas, cream, penne, and bacon to skillet, and season well with fresh ground black pepper. Do not add salt as the bacon already creates a salty taste.
  • Cover pan and cook for a further 5 minutes, until chicken is thoroughly cooked and all other ingredients are heated.

Serve immediately. Yum!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pickled Red Cabbage

This summer, one of Mick’s co-workers gave us a couple of lovely homegrown red cabbages. As it is traditional to serve pickled red cabbage with Lancashire Hotpot, I decided to try my hand at pickling, something I have never done before. So, although I made this back in July, last week was the first time it was sampled, and it made an excellent accompaniment to the Hotpot.

The recipe for pickled red cabbage came from Isabella Beeton’s 1861 cookbook entitled, Book of Household Management. The following information about Mrs. Beeton comes from Wikipedia.

"Isabella Mary Beeton (nee Mayson; 12 March 1836 – 6 February 1865), universally known as Mrs Beeton, was the English author of, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, and is one of the most famous cookery writers in history.

Popularly known as Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, it was essentially a guide to running a Victorian household, with advice on fashion, childcare, animal husbandry, poisons, the management of servants, science, religion, and industrialism.

Of the 1,112 pages, over 900 contained recipes, such that another popular name for the volume is Mrs Beeton's Cookbook. Most of the recipes were illustrated with coloured engravings, and it was the first book to show recipes in a format that is still used today. It is said that many of the recipes were actually plagiarised from earlier writers (including Eliza Acton), but the Beetons never claimed that the book's contents were original. It was intended as a guide of reliable information for the aspirant middle classes. Mrs Beeton is perhaps described better as its compiler and editor than as its author, many of the passages clearly being not her own words."

Below is her recipe for Pickled Red Cabbage.


red cabbage
2 pint vinegar - to each quart add 1 tbsp ginger, well bruised
1oz whole black pepper
a little cayene, if liked


1. Take off the outside decayed leaves of a nice red cabbage, cut it into quarters, remove the stalks, and cut it across in very thin slices.
2. Lay these on a dish, and cover them plentifully with salt, then cover with another dish.

3. Leave for 24 hours; turn into a colander to drain, and if necessary, wipe lightly with a clean, soft cloth. Put them in a jar; boil up the vinegar with the spices, and when cold, pour it over the cabbage.

It will be fit for use in a week or two, but if kept for a very long time, the cabbage is liable to get soft and discoloured. To be really nice and crisp, and of a good red colour, it should be eaten almost immediately after it is made. A little bruised cochineal boiled with the vinegar adds greatly to the appearance of this pickle. Tie down with bladder, and keep in a dry place.

The only changes I made were:

I used some salt, but not plentiful amounts.
I used ground ginger instead of fresh.
I didn’t use cochineal.
I used a screw top lid on the jar, not a bladder.

And, despite having been made three months earlier, it was still crisp, and a good red color.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I'm Back! (Kind of)

Well, I’ve had better weeks. Not only did I have problems with my arm from the cat bite, but last weekend, the bottom half of my face swelled up until I looked like a hamster who’d had lip enhancements. Needless to say, I went back to the doctor who told me I’d had an allergic reaction to the antibiotics, so she put me on a different one. My arm has since slowly improved, but is still not completely healed. One of Alvin’s teeth went particularly deep, and I think it may have damaged a tendon or something. This area is still very red and swollen, and pretty sore. I think if it doesn’t improve in the next day or so I will have to go back to the doctor.

Anyway, Mick, le petit chef, did a great job in the kitchen for those few days I had to keep my forearm elevated, and has since been invaluable for chopping, stirring and the like. It’s quite frustrating not being able to do things myself, but I am adapting to my supervisory role. :-) And thanks to all of you for commiserating with my misfortune, I have really appreciated all your good wishes.

Also, I must thank Nicole at: for giving me this award.
I'm sorry it's taken so long for me to acknowledge it, I'll be passing it along next time. Thank you Nicole.

Today’s recipe is Lancashire Hotpot, a traditional dish from my home county in England. The origins of Hotpot are a little vague. Some claim it has its basis in the Lancashire cotton industry, as it is a simple dish to prepare and has a long cooking time. Women mill workers could prepare it in the morning, leave it to cook all day, and it would be ready when the family came home from work. Others say it originated with the miners, who would take the pot to work wrapped in a blanket, where it would keep warm until lunchtime. Still others suggest it was prepared for shepherds to eat while tending their sheep on the moors.

But, one thing historians generally agree on is that Lancashire Hotpot made its first appearance during the industrial revolution of the mid 19th century. Hotpot is certainly mentioned in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, North and South, which was first published in 1855. Mr. Thornton, a mill owner in the novel says of Lancashire Hotpot, "I never made a better dinner in my life." I hope you all enjoy it as much.

Originally, Hotpot was made with mutton and oysters, both of which were very cheap in 19th century England; nowadays we use lamb and exclude the oysters. I’m afraid I have deviated even more from tradition and used beef. I did actually manage to get some lamb – but that’s a whole other story – and we have now become so accustomed to the beef version that we actually prefer it. I guess you could say that my Lancashire Hotpot is a variation on beef stew, but what ever it is, it’s darned tasty.

Lancashire Hotpot


1lbs beef stew meat
½ cup seasoned flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
2lbs russet potatoes, thinly sliced
1-cup beef broth/stock
1 onion sliced
3 carrots, sliced
1 turnip or rutabaga, sliced
4 tablespoons melted butter, divided


  • Pre-heat oven to 375°F.

  • Put flour and beef in a resealable plastic bag, and shake to coat.

  • Heat oil in a large skillet over a medium high heat, add beef and sauté until browned.

  • Transfer the meat to a tall-sided casserole or Pyrex dish and top with a layer of potatoes. Use the smaller pieces, reserving the larger ones for the top layer.

  • In alternate layers add, onions, rutabaga, carrots, and top with remaining potatoes.

  • Pour in the stock.
    Brush the potatoes with half the melted butter. Cover dish and bake for 1½ hours.

  • Remove the dish from the oven, and brush the potatoes with remaining melted butter.

  • Return dish to the oven, and cook uncovered for a further 30 minutes or until potatoes are browned. If the potatoes don’t brown evenly pop the dish under the broiler for a few minutes.