Archive for the 'cooking' Category

Blennerhasset Mansion: Kitchen

I think I have a new area of fascination: historical cooking and cuisine.

Today we visited the ca. 1800 era Blennerhassett Mansion, on an island in the Ohio River. The mansion itself was picturesque and the setting beautiful

Blennerhassett Mansion

The fascinating part, for me, was the kitchen. This is where the first person singular story of history came alive. All cooking was done at the giant fireplace, central to the room, over coals or using reflected heat.

Kitchen Fire

The sandstone sink was a luxury for the time, with a drainpipe plumbed out through the side of the house. Copper cooking and food preparation utensils were an expensive luxury for the period.

Sink & Copper utensils

Water and staples were stored in giant barrels in the kitchen.


A home and a kitchen of this size could not be operated without a substantial staff; a wealthy wife and mother was not a hands-on cook or housekeeper. The docents indicated that the servants’ quarters were larger and better furnished than most standalone homes of the times.

I think, in the future, I’ll pay more attention to the ‘back of the house’ part of the history in the future; it’s really interesting.

(Note: the colors were reportedly authentic to the period and very expensive choices for the time.)

Posted on Saturday, July 10th, 2010 by Jeri
Under: cooking, history | 3 Comments »

November Gingerbread

One of my family’s favorite comfort foods is gingerbread, the cake variety. I’ve always loved warm, spicy baked goods, and this comfort food is perfect for fall and winter. I adapted a recipe from Cooks Illustrated for this try.




2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose unbleached flour, plus more for dusting pan
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, then cooled to room temperature
3/4 cup mild molasses
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup milk


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of 9×9-inch baking pan and dust with flour.

  2. Mix together dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and cocoa.
  3. Beat butter, molasses, and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in egg until incorporated. Gradually add buttermilk and milk until combined.
  4. Add dry ingredients to liquid; add ginger and beat on medium speed until batter is mostly smooth (ginger will make it slightly lumpy), about 1 minute, scraping down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Do not overmix. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
  5. Bake until top springs back when lightly touched, edges have pulled away from the pan sides, and cake tests done with a toothpick, about 40 minutes. Set pan on cake rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm, or at room temperature. (Gingerbread can be wrapped in plastic, then foil, and refrigerated up to 5 days.)

Recipe notes:

The grated fresh ginger gave it a wonderful kick but was a little overwhelming – I might cut it back to 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons.

I doubled the recipe and made this in a 9×13 pan. That didn’t work out so well – the cake was too thick and baked too slowly, about 1:05, and by the time it was done it was slightly scorched on the edges and still heavy in the middle. Next time I’ll use two 9×9 pans.

I’d actually like to find a lighter, cakier recipe that’s still very spicy and molasses-y – but this one was yummy.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. :) Enjoy!

Posted on Friday, November 27th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: cooking | 2 Comments »

Apple Butter


When I make apple butter, I make it in volume. The teen boy squad loves both apple and pear butter and consumes a lot of it! Here’s my recipe, adapted slightly this year for a cane-sugar sensitive sister.

30 lbs mixed cooking apples
(I used mixed Macintosh, Jonagold, Yellow Delicious and Granny Smith)
6 cups apple cider
1 cup plus ½ cup apple cider vinegar
5 cups agave syrup
5 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice

Peel, core and slice the apples. I use a mechanical gadget that works well for all but the biggest or softest apples. Drop the sliced apples into a large bowl partially filled with water and ½ cup apple cider vinegar to prevent browning.

I used three stock pots to simmer the apples. Drain and evenly distribute the apples, the cider, the cup of cider vinegar and the agave syrup. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then simmer until soft, mushy and saucy.

The traditional method of achieving fine textured apple butter is to press through a sieve. I prefer using a hand held immersion blender instead, it’s easiest. You can also run the apples through a blender or food processor until smooth.

A note on spices – aromatic spices only last about a year in the cupboard before the flavor fades noticeably. It’s a good idea to invest in new for this cooking adventure, especially cinnamon. I like my apple butter a bit spicy and the recipe reflects that – you can adjust to taste.

After blending the apples, add spices and continue to simmer, leaving the pots only partially covered. The goal is to cook the apples down to a thick sauce. Keep the heat relatively low and stir every 30 minutes or so. There will be some caramelization of sugars on the bottom; this is good, it adds color and flavor complexity. Scrape it up and stir it in. You just don’t want it to scorch. (If it does scorch, but the flavor hasn’t permeated the apple butter, it may be salvageable. DON’T scrape it or stir it up, carefully pour the apples off into a different pan to continue cooking.)

You will need to simmer the apples for hours – typically, mine takes about 8 hours to reach the consistency I like. You can also reduce the apples in a large crockpot on low, with the lid tilted off-center, overnight.

Apple butter doesn’t freeze especially well and should be canned or refrigerated. I use traditional hot water bath canning.

We had leftover apples, so the youngest and his friend-who-is-a-girl made a couple of apple crisps.

Yum – I love fall!

Posted on Sunday, October 11th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: cooking | Comments Off

Dinner for One

Tonight I had dinner alone (take out chicken tikka masala and nan). Dinner companionship is something I’ve taken for granted over the years as a wife and mother, but Bryan’s gone now, the eldest was at work and youngest off on a date.

Because I’m compulsive and twisted that way, I did some math.

For the next three years I should have some combination of young adults living at home, so they’ll probably forage from my fridge about four nights of seven. I’ll likely have a dinner date with a friend a couple times a month as well. This leaves me with about 420 nights eating dinner on my own during that time period.

After than, I have, conservatively, 28 years left of eating dinner alone. With the same rate of dinner dates a couple times a month, that’s 9,548 solo dinners.

Damn, I’d either better work on my social life, or buy stock in Amy’s Organic.

(Note: black humor, not black depression, was my intention here!)

Posted on Friday, May 8th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: cooking, friends | 9 Comments »

Drunken Ice Cream

Dessert during Battlestar Galactica tonight will be courtesy of my excellent friend Barb, who takes great care of me when I’m in Anchorage. A few months ago she made a simple but yummy dessert she called “Drunken Ice Cream”, which I’ve been wanting to try at home since.


1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream, softened
2 shots Bailey’s Irish Cream. Or more. ;)
Crumbled hard cookies to taste

Mash together in a shallow mixing bowl, return to ice cream carton, and hide in the back of the freezer. It will all fit – ice cream has air incorporated into it, which will disappear when you mash it up with the Bailey’s.

She used Pepperidge Farms Brussels cookies, because they’re hard enough to stand up to mashing & immersion in ice cream, plus they contain chocolate, so that’s what I’m using too, but any hard, non-crumbly cookie would work.

You can make this with sugar free ice cream and cookies – and in fact I will, for some of the family – but if you try to use some weird-ass brand of sugar-free Irish cream I don’t want to hear about it.


Posted on Friday, January 16th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: cooking | 2 Comments »