Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Pie Crust Epiphany

I'm not an animist but I used to feel that a pie- crust-in-process could sense my trepidation and uncertainty, deliberately cracking around the edges or ripping when I transfered it to the pan, its rebellious behavior being directly proportional to my fear. Thankfully, I made my peace with pie crusts many years ago to the extent that I was able to teach Oldest Daughter to make beautiful pie crusts a couple Thanksgivings ago. This year, Tayta was eager to learn how to mix and roll a pie-crust; helpful soul that she is, she knew that I'd need her baking help this Thanksgiving as Older Daughter would not be home.

I'd used the same flour/shortening/water recipe for years, but this year in an effort to strike all hydrogenated fats from our diet, I decided to try a canola oil based recipe. I didn't think it would be nearly as good as a crust made from shortening, but for the health benefits I was willing to sacrifice a little flakiness. The canola oil crust turned out to be successful beyond my expectations. Not only is it a healthier crust (though I would not go so far as to call anything made from oil and flour healthy) it was delicious, and so easy to make--with the added bonus that rolling it out between waxed paper left no flour mess on my counter. None! I experimented with the first crust, then gave Tayta a short tutorial. With minimal input from me, she produced five more beautiful crusts. Together we fit them to the pie plates then wrapped and froze them. How nice it was, on Thanksgiving Eve to pull the finished crusts out of the freezer all ready for filling!

Canola Oil Pie Crust
(makes two crusts)

3 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. milk

Mix all ingredients together and form the dough into a ball. Divide dough into two pieces. Place dough between two pieces of waxed paper and flatten, evenly. Roll out dough. (You may have extra dough or you may trim an amount of dough from your crust, depending on how thin you roll your crust. I like to have plenty of dough and hate to skimp when forming the decorative edge of the crust so I begin with a generous recipe.) Peel off one piece of waxed paper and transfer the crust to a pie plate, removing the second piece of waxed paper. Fill and bake.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving in Jordan

We take our Thanksgiving feasting seriously here in Amman, with some of our international friends celebrating with more than one feast! I can only manage one celebration but it is The Feast of the year, celebrated through the years with many of the same people and always the same food. Lots of tradition.

We've always managed to find a turkey, though we've sometimes had to pay dearly for it; our best ever was a 36 pound local turkey, brined before roasting. We still talk about that one. I've adapted my pumpkin pie by substituting sweet potatoes and I still bring some pecans and dried cranberries from the States for the beloved pecan pies and cranberry relish. Below is our traditional menu-- it doesn't vary much any more--and a few favorite recipes.

This year I will miss the presence of Older Daughter, not to mention her baking assistance--she baked all seven pies last year-- and her artistic table decorations. Tayta informs me she is ready to learn how to bake pies and decorate the tables so this will be a training year.

Our Traditional Thanksgiving Menu
Amman, Jordan

Roasted Turkey
Mashed Potatoes
Southern Sweet Potato Casserole (recipe below)
Cranberry Relish (receipe below)
White Flour (only on Thanksgiving!) Yeast Rolls
Homemade preserves (apricot and fig this year)
Homemade applesauce
Sauted Vegetables (carrots, green beens, mushrooms)
Relish Plate (usually overkill as everyone is full from everything else, but it looks so nice)

Apple Pies
Sweet Potato Pies (recipe below)
Pecan Pies

Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
I've been making this annually since my mother-in-law made this casserole one Christmas and then, kindly gave me the recipe. Assessing the ingredients, this dish could probably be classified as dessert, but, hey, it's Thanksgiving! I make this once a year, only.

6 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
3/4 stick butter, melted
1 cup milk
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon

Mix ingredients together and put in a greased baking dish. Bake covered at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes--is is assuming that you begin with hot mashed potatoes.

*Topping (and this, is what makes the dish)
3/4 cup crushed corn flakes
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts of pecans)
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 stick butter, melted

Combine the topping ingredients, sprinkle over the top of the baked casserole and bake an additional 10 minutes, uncovered, at 400 degrees F.

My solution to kids trying to taking more topping than potatoes is to make this in a larger, shallower baking dish and increasing the topping recipe by 50 percent so that I can distribute it over a larger surface.

Cranberry Relish
I love cranberry and orange together so I was very thankful to receive this recipe from a fellow overseas American. Maybe not quite as good as fresh cranberries, but much better than canned!

2 cups dried cranberries
1 unpeeled orange (no seeds)
1 apple, cored (I use a Granny Smith)
4 slices pineapple (canned works fine)
1/2-1 cup sugar (start with 1/2)

Chop (I use the pulse setting on my food processor) cranberries, orange and pineapple and combine. Chop apple finely by hand and add the apple and the sugar to the other mixture. Refrigerate overnight. Optional: add 1/4 cup nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Easy Sweet Potato Pie
You can easily substitute mashed sweet potatoes for pumpkin pack/mashed pumpkin in all pumpkin recipes.

1 9 inch unbaked pastry shell/crust
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
2 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

In a larger mixing bowl combine all ingredients except pastry shell, mix well. Pour into pastry shell and bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking 35-40 minutes or until knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean. Cool before serving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Flowering Jordan

Though I'm never prolific, I haven't posted here lately as I've been working on another project. Those who know me or have read this blog, particularly in the spring, know that I am a enthusiastic wildflower aficionado and that I enjoy photographing many of my flora friends. I've been giving notecards made with my flower pictures to friends for some time, and now with their encouragement I'm launching Flowering Jordan in an attempt to market (read: sell) my cards.

I'm beginning modestly with distribution plans only for Jordan but I may try to get some cards to the U.S. if there is enough interest. Maybe in the new year. Card sets and pricing is currently only for the Jordanian market but price per card in US dollars will be about $1.50; a little more or a little less depending on the quantity purchased. Please check out Flowering Jordan, if only to see the pretty flower pictures. I'd love to hear what you think.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Feeding Teenagers-or-Easy Peasy Apple Coffee Cake

I just put coffee in the title of the cake because making it an official coffee cake gives me a good excuse to have a cup of coffee when eating it. And we are feeding lots of teenagers these days--two Bible Study groups on Thursday night and the worship band last night--so I was trying to think of a fast, easy, somewhat healthy snack cake that I could make. I made three of these cakes on Thursday and wanted to try something new on Friday so adapted this apple muffin recipe to a cake. 15 minutes from inspiration to oven and the apples go into the blender, peel and all. Couldn't be easier!

Blender Apple Coffee Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup milk
2 eggs
2/3 cup canola oil
2 cups brown sugar
5 small-medium red apples (though I've used yellow and green)
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans

1. Mix flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.
2. Blend in blender: apples (cored and cut into eighths), milk, oil, eggs, sugar, and nuts. These ingredients just about max out my Bosch blender so if you have a small bender you might want to blend in two batches. A food processor may work as well, though I haven't tried it.
3. Pour into a large (10''X13''), greased, baking dish/pan.
Optional but desirable~ sprinkle with crumb topping (recipe below)
4. Bake at 350 degrees F (medium oven) for about 30 minutes.

Nice served with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Crumb Topping:

1/2 cup brown sugar (we like dark)
1 cup flour
1/4 pound butter, chilled
chopped pecans or walnuts

In a bowl, mix sugar and flour until blended. Cut the chilled butter into smaller pieces and rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add finely chopped pecans or walnuts to taste. If you have leftover crumb topping, it stores well in the freezer and makes a nice topping for muffins.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fall Colors?

There isn't much fall color--as in orange, yellow, or red--to be seen in our neighborhood but the bougainvillea is still lovely.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Pray for the Children of Sudan

A few weeks ago my dear Palestinian sister let me know of a need she heard of via her Sudanese sister, for clothes for the children of war-torn Sudan. Lacking adequate food, nutrition, and education, many of these dear children are now orphans, having lost their parents and other family members to the war.

I passed this plea on to our youth group and three young high school women stepped up to organize a clothes drive for these needy children. With the help of others, they gathered about ten large bags of clothes and the money needed for shipping them to Sudan.

Last night we had the joy of presenting the clothes and money to our Sudanese brother. We enjoyed warm fellowship, with Dear Husband's translation help, as our Sudanese brother thanked the youth, exhorted and encouraged them, and prayed for God's blessing on them as they continue to serve Him.

Our brother encouraged us to pray for the children of Sudan, trying to imagine ourselves in their places as we pray for them--a humbling challenge for all of us.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Humble Fare

Dear husband and I had some minor cross-cultural adjustments to make when we married. We are both Americans but I'm a West Coast girl and he hails from the Midwest and the East. Where I grew up a salad could be considered an entree, even if there were no meat in it. Same for soups. Dear husband, on the other hand, had never even tasted an avocado before he met me (aren't avocados better than meat??). Additionally, my wonderful mother-in-law, also a wonderful cook, was a Sunday-pot-roast-with-all-the-trimmings kind of woman. (I still can't compete, but I certainly have learned a lot from her!)

Through the years I've learned to cook enough dishes which don't prompt my husband to look at me with a longing "where's the beef" look in his eyes and he's learned to be satisfied with a few meatless dinners. Just a few. Below is a the recipe for a favorite soup which besides being quick to fix, tasty, and healthy, is very easy on an increasingly burdened grocery budget in these days of rising food prices.

Tomato, Lentil, and Cilantro Soup

1/4 cup canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. garam masala (Indian spice mixture)
red pepper flakes to taste
2 14 oz cans of chopped tomatoes, puree one can in the blender
8 cups vegetable stock
1 cup red (orange) lentils
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup-or more-chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Heat oil in a large pan, add onions, garlic, garam masala, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until onions are soft. Add tomatoes, stock, lentils, sugar, and cilantro, simmer, stirring, uncovered about 20 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Serve with sour cream and chopped cilantro leaves. Of course, Dear Husband would prefer it served with a steak, but he'll settle for a grilled cheese sandwich.

"Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it."
Proverbs 15:17