Cooking is Magic, Part 1: Start with Fresh Ingredients

Hi, all. Sorry I have again fallen down on Wednesday recipes. The Kickstarter campaign has been taking up most of my spare time, but I’m going to make it up to you. Every day, for the remainder of the campaign, I’ll be posting about cooking and writing, and I’ll include a recipe with each post. Here goes!

raspberry-rhubarb-crumble-web

Many of my friends accuse me of being unable to write anything that does not somehow involve food. This is untrue; I’ve written several short stories with no food in them whatsoever. Only one of them has been published, though (a very scary horror story), so I think all the food writing must be a good plan. I love food, and I love cooking. To me, cooking is magic. How can I help but write about that?

Cooking is Magic, Part 1: Start with Fresh Ingredients

It begins with the first planted seed. Gardening/farming is a separate but complementary magic, a slower, more deliberate one. Good gardening requires planning over multiple years: planting fruit trees and asparagus roots that will not produce food for a year or two, pruning back the old raspberry canes to make way for new ones next spring, rotating crops in the field to promote nitrogen fixing and deter pests. Then there’s the yearly cycle of sprouting and planting and watering and weeding and, at last, harvesting. This complex and intricate dance of cycles has given me many years of pleasure.

Anything you cook is only as good as its ingredients. I often say that I cheat, and that my meals and desserts are good because I use the best ingredients I can find, ideally sourced locally and directly from farmers. Anything that doesn’t have to be shipped hundreds of miles before it reaches me is going to be fresher and riper and far more delicious. Of course, it takes some skill to use those ingredients well, but they certainly give a good boost to any meal you make.

I’ve largely given up gardening, as that part of my brain seems to have been taken over by novels. They’re similar skills: the lengthy planning, the careful balance between all the different elements of plot and character and theme. And using the best ingredients carries over, too: deep research, careful character development, and the support of your local community of writers and readers are all necessary ingredients in my writing. I have no regrets about leaving my garden behind, but I still have tremendous respect for all magicians of the soil.

The first farmers’ market in our neighborhood opened for the season yesterday. I missed it, but I’d intended to go looking for the fresh, delicious goodies of late spring, including asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, and rhubarb. Here’s a simple recipe using rhubarb to celebrate the beginning of the season. You will need to use frozen raspberries, as those won’t be available fresh until late June. Parents, the oat crumble is really fun for kids to make, squishing all the ingredients together with their hands and pressing it into the pan.

Petunia’s Raspberry-Rhubarb Crumble

1 c. rhubarb, diced
1 c. raspberries, fresh or frozen
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice

1 c. quick cooking oats
½ c. flour
½ c. packed brown sugar
¼ tsp. baking soda
6 Tbsp. melted butter

Preheat oven to 300 ˚F. Put the rhubarb, raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan and cook on medium high heat until the rhubarb and raspberries have completely dissolved, then simmer until the mixture thickens to jam consistency, for about an hour total, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, stir together the oats, flour, brown sugar, and baking soda. Add the butter and mix thoroughly. Press about half the oat mixture into a 9×9-inch or 8×12-inch baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Pour the fruit mixture on top of the baked oat layer, then crumble the remaining oat mixture on top. Bake for an additional 20 minutes. Serve warm, topped with whipped cream.

Next, Part 2: Cooking as Chemistry, Cooking as Alchemy

A Pixie’s Promise eBook Giveaways!

pixie-twain-kickstarter

Heads up! Want to win a free eBook copy of A PIXIE’S PROMISE? I’m running three contests, giving you three chances to win!

April 27-29: BAD JOKE CONTEST – Come up with an answer to that age-old question, “Why did the dragon cross the road?”

pixies-promise-nora-sketchMay 4-6: FAN ART CONTEST – Draw your favorite characters and places from A WITCH’S KITCHEN and post them on my Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds.

May 11-13: FANTASY BAKING COMPETITION – Think no cake is complete without twizzler sea serpents or unicorn horns? Make your fantastic confection and post photos on my Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds.

Contests begin at noon Friday and end at midnight Sunday each week. You may enter as many times as you like. For each contest, one entry will be selected at random to receive a free eBook. Winners will be announced on our Kickstarter campaign page the Monday after the competition (April 30st, May 7th, and May 13th).

So get your creative juices flowing and stay tuned for further developments.

A hideous lineup of monster balls

Wednesday Recipe: No-Bake Nutella Tart

Nutella tart with brownie crust

I am super busy with the Kickstarter campaign, so no time to bake, let alone test complicated recipes. Let’s go with something really simple this week: No-Bake Nutella Tart. The original recipe for this claims to require only five ingredients (also has much prettier pictures. I’ve whittled it down to four. It’s the perfect dessert to whip up in a hurry. Just keep Oreo pie crusts in stock (never a bad idea). In the photo above, I actually ran out and used a brownie mix as the base, pouring the ganache on top. Decadent!

NO-BAKE NUTELLA TART

  • 1 Oreo crust pie shell
  • 6 oz Nutella
  • 10 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 8 oz heavy cream
  • raspberries (optional)
  • chopped hazelnuts (optional)

In a small saucepan, heat heavy cream until just starting to boil. Add chocolate and reduce heat to a simmer, stirring until the chocolate is fully melted. Remove from heat and add Nutella, stirring until fully blended. (Note: you can also just heat the cream and chocolate in the microwave, but I like the stove for finer control.) Pour into pie shell. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes or in the fridge for 2 hours. Decorate with raspberries and chopped hazelnuts, if desired, then serve.

Kickstarter Campaign Has Launched!

pixie-twain-kickstarter

It’s live, folks! You can now order A Pixie’s Promise at Early Bird prices! And if you and/or your child enjoy paranormal mysteries, please consider supporting Twain’s Treasure as well. I thought it was a rollicking good read.

Also, a quick reminder that we’re holding a Facebook Party tonight, 5-7PM Eastern time, when I’ll be reading the first chapter of A Pixie’s Promise on Facebook Live! I hope you can join us.

Wednesday Recipe: Lamb Chilindron

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I found the original version of this recipe in Tapas and Spanish Cookery by Hilaire Walden, and I adapted it to more Southwestern tastes, as well as simplifying it for Instant Pot cooking. As the descendent of many generations of sheep ranchers, I love lamb passionately, and this is probably my favorite lamb dish.

For those who do not live in the Southwestern United States, you can find adequate canned Hatch green chiles at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, but I recommend ordering El Pinto’s Green Chile on Amazon.com. Likewise, any red chile powder, or even some good quality smoked paprika, will do, but Hatch or Chimayo red chile powder is best. Note that if this seems too spicy to you, you can simply substitute bell peppers for the chiles.

LAMB CHILINDRONBrowning lamb in an Instant Pot

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-1/2 lb lean lamb, cubed (lamb stew meat will do in a pinch)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small Spanish onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry (optional)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup diced Hatch green chiles
  • 4 beefsteak tomatoes, peeled seeded and chopped, or a 12-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile powder

Set your Instant Pot to saute and heat the olive oil. Brown the lamb thoroughly, in batches if necessary. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add the onion to the Instant Pot and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add sherry and deglaze the pot. Stir in green chiles, tomatoes, and red chile powder. If using fresh tomatoes, simmer for about five minutes until the tomatoes break down into a chunky sauce.

Return the lamb to the Instant Pot and stir briefly to coat with sauce. Close the Instant Pot and set it to Meat/Stew for 45 minutes. Allow the Instant Pot to depressurize naturally. Serve with rice. Serves 6.

Wednesday Recipe: Chocolate Waffles

Chocolate Waffle Birthday Breakfast

Wow! Look at that! I actually got my act together enough to post a recipe ON TIME! It must be all the gorgeous spring weather inspiring me.

I discovered this recipe entirely by accident. My younger daughter, Nora, requested waffles for her birthday breakfast – I always bring the kids breakfast in bed, and usually I make face pancakes. But she wanted waffles because I hadn’t made them in ages. Well, there’s a reason for that. They’re messy, they take forever to cook in the waffle iron, and they’re just annoying.

But necessity is the mother of invention. Dutifully, I dug out the waffle iron that morning at dawn, and then I went looking for the recipe book that came with it. No dice. I have absolutely no idea where it went. So I went to my go-to source for new recipes, The Joy of Cooking, which has several waffle recipes. And lo, I discovered that I had only one egg, which sharply limited what I could do. Most of the recipes were too complicated to easily cut down. All except the very last actual waffle recipe (I do not count French Toast Waffles, which is just french toast made on a waffle iron, I kid you not).

Chocolate waffles is a relatively simple recipe that does not require much in the way of exotic ingredients, nor many eggs. The original recipe calls for cake flour, which I completely ignored and used King Arthur all-purpose white flour instead. The results were surprisingly excellent. The batter becomes thick and foamy, almost like merengue, which makes for wonderfully light waffles. The flavor is rich and satisfying. The original recipe states, “Delectable with ice cream,” and I wholeheartedly agree, but for breakfast, I served them with warm raspberry sauce and whipped cream. For the face waffle, I used apple slices for the eyes and mouth and fried ham for the hair (bacon also works well, but that was a little too much multitasking at that hour of the morning).

The one downside to these waffles is that they dry out very quickly and get rather hard, so make sure to store any leftovers in air tight containers as soon as you’re done stuffing yourself. In my next attempt, I may try adding applesauce to improve the moisture level. I originally made a half-batch of this recipe, then made a triple batch a few days later to bring in to Nora’s class, and I had no trouble with either adjustment, other than that tripling the recipe was complete overkill, and we are still swimming in leftover chocolate waffles.

I’ve altered the recipe to make use of modern tools such as a microwave, which makes it considerably easier. The original recipe considers the cinnamon and nutmeg optional, but I think they’re essential to the rich, delicious flavor.

CHOCOLATE WAFFLESFinished chocolate waffles

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup milk

Place the butter and unsweetened chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and melt on 100% power for 1-2 minutes. If you put the chocolate on top, this will prevent the butter from splattering all over your microwave. Stir the butter and chocolate together until all ingredients are thoroughly melted. Add sugar and beat in well. Add eggs and beat in well. Stir in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add to the egg batter in batches alternately with the milk, combining thoroughly until no lumps of flour remain. The batter should be fairly stiff, resembling merengue. If too stiff to spread easily, add a little more milk.

Ladling waffle batter onto a waffle iron

See that batter? It’s trying to escape! Apply sparingly to the iron to avoid messy spills.

Finished chocolate waffles on waffle iron

Perfectly toasted chocolate waffles

Ladle sparingly onto a hot waffle iron. This batter rises a LOT, so try to just barely cover the iron. Otherwise, you’ll have batter overflowing the sides. Follow the directions for your waffle iron, but note that this batter cooks quickly (about twice as fast as Belgian waffles in my experience), so keep a close eye on them. Makes about 6 waffles, depending on the size of your iron.