Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tragic Days

This is a photo of John's Aunt Pris (Priscilla), who died in a tragic accident at her home early Saturday morning. She was a very vibrant, loving, fun and caring person who was just 49 years old -- a woman in her prime.

John's family is pretty large, close-knit and well-known in the area where they're from. Pris' husband, Rich, also comes from a very well-known family, so it didn't surprise me that there would be at least 200 people (seemed like many more than that) at her viewing last night. Pris touched so many lives outside her family, from her long-time fellow co-workers, to her 4-H friends, and everyone she ever taught how to ride a horse. They were lined up in the freezing cold, for blocks outside the funeral home, waiting for more than an hour in some cases, to help the family grieve.

When John's mom told me the terrible news, I was right in the middle of frying potato/veggie pancakes (latkes) for my mom's Chanukah celebration on Saturday afternoon. I was shocked and couldn't think of how I could help Pris' surviving immediate family members. It took a day to figure it out: I would cook for them. If there's nothing else I can do, I know I can cook for people. John joined in as well, making a massive chicken and vegetable stir fry.

We sat down with a list of pretty universal food items that we thought they might like. The list grew ever larger, but I knew I could do it all before Tuesday when we left for the viewing. All day Monday, I made baked ziti, baked macaroni and cheese, red sauce (Italian), garlic whipped potatoes, sauteed green beans, corn, peas, carrots, jasmine rice and a few other items that escape me at the moment. John came home from work and took over for a while, making the stir fry, at the same time I prepared a cookie crust dough for a couple of pies I wanted to make. I gave Pris' kids a list and they promptly posted it on the fridge. On Tuesday morning, I baked the two fruit pies (berry and summer fruit, and peach blueberry), which were still warm when we arrived in Pennsylvania to greet her family with two coolers filled with food and open arms for loving embraces.

Our intention was to make sure that Rich would not have to think about cooking for at least a week. Fortunately, Rich and Pris' son Michael will be staying with Rich for a few weeks, and their elder daughter Holly and son-in-law Steve live right next door. Michael let us know that he was looking forward to diving into the bounty, but Holly said that she and Brianne would be dividing up the food into portions to freeze for Rich. Either way, John and I made a commitment to ourselves to visit Rich when we return from our Christmas trip to Utah and periodically check up on him from time to time.

In the meantime, I will keep them all in my prayers.

This is how the newspaper The Morning Call published her obituary:

Priscilla E. Stocker, 49, of Lower Nazareth Twp., died December 16 following an accident at her home. She was a daughter of the late John P. and Elaine (Wagner) Wettlaufer. She had been employed by Cadmus Specialty Publications for many years. She was a 1975 graduate of Easton High School. A Northampton County 4-H Club leader, she loved her horses and her dogs, even Bart. Survivors: Husband of 31 years, Richard; two daughters, Holly Hess and her husband Steven of Lower Nazareth Twp., Brianne of Bethlehem; son, Michael R. of Doylestown; four brothers, John of Sandy, Utah, Thomas of Bangor, James of Palmer Twp., Timothy of Bel Air, Md. Services: 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Ashton Funeral Home, 14th and Northampton streets, Easton. Call 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesday. Contributions: To the Northampton County S.P.C.A.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Menu for Hope -- I'm Offering Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World -- Enter Code UE33

Here's a quote from Pim to explain what A Menu for Hope is:

Every year, Food Bloggers from all over the world get together for a fundraising campaign. We call it "Menu for Hope." Last year, we raised $17,000 to help UNICEF.

This year, Menu for Hope III raises funds to support the UN World Food Programme, which provides hunger relief for needy people worldwide. To us Food Bloggers, food is a joy. On our blogs, we celebrate food as a delight or even an indulgence. Unfortunately, for many others who share our world do not share that privilege. For them, food is a matter of survival. This "Menu for Hope" is our small way to help.

On our Menu this year is a great list of amazing food related prizes. We hope that they will entice you to give whatever you can, and with some luck you can win unique and wonderful food gifts offered up by food bloggers from around the world.

The rule is pretty easy. For every US$10 you donate, you may claim one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. The more you give, the better your chance to win. The campaign is scheduled to run from now until Friday Dec. 22nd, 6PM PST. So get a move on!

Originally, I wasn't going to participate in the raffle because I didn't have Deb's Delectables to put up for the prize. But, after thinking about it for a while, it seemed like a good fit for me to offer one of my favorite new cookbooks up for a prize instead.

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero is a great new book from the same person (Isa) who brought us the classic Vegan With a Vengeance. The recipes are wonderful, flexible and tasty! Best part is there's a photo of every cupcake recipe in the book, in color!

So, please see the info below (from Pim's site) to donate and earn a ticket for the raffle. Mine is code UE33.

Here's what you have to do to donate:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope.

2. Go to the donation site at and make a donation.

3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code—for example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 for EU02. (Please use the double-digits, not EU1, but EU01.)

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Check back on Chez Pim on January 15 for the results of the raffle.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Gentle Reminder -- America's Second Harvest

For those who haven't yet participated in A Menu for Hope, or who have and still wish to help others less fortunate, I suggest donating to America's Second Harvest or your local foodbank. ASH has links to local foodbanks, so you can start there if you don't know where yours is.

My local foodbank is The Community FoodBank of New Jersey. It allows you to take part in a virtual food drive where you can choose directly from a list of items that they need at that moment. It's a pretty neat solution to a pretty bad problem.

Last year, I participated in Pim's Menu for Hope effort, raffling off a box of my Deb's Delectables chocolates. This year, because we're renovating the kitchen, I've closed up shop for the year and all my supplies and tools are in storage for the next few months. Sorry, folks. Definitely next year, though.

In the meantime, I've been suggesting that family members and friends they pick a cause they think is worthy and give to it. Sure, new things are nice, but in the back of my mind (and most days in the front of my mind) knowing that people within a 5 mile radius of my house are going hungry really puts things in perspective.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Basic Pizza Dough from Mark Bittman

Well Mr. Bittman, in my book, you're two for two. First, your vanilla ice cream recipe and now your basic pizza dough.

I recently bought a handful (or rather a boxful given their girth) of cookbooks including the one here, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I'm slowly making my way through all of the pages I've marked with little copper page points from Levenger or ye olde post-it flags.

John and I usually eat/make our own pizza about once a month. I've shown some of our efforts on this blog. Of all the dough recipes we've tried none have come close to the flavor and texture of Bittman's Basic.

What you see here is a 12-in. eggplant pie I made using some of the dough. It was light and airy, and tasted like pizza parlor dough. It was a bit plain in flavor, but Bittman suggests adding a variety of ingredients before adding the water to achieve a tastier dough. We intend to try the freshly cracked black pepper and garlic.

To the right is the upskirt. Crispy due in part to the high heat of the oven, the recipe, and the pan, the bottom of the pie came out perfectly.

Prior to laying the dough on the pan, I lightly sprayed it with canola oil.

Interestingly, Bittman says he gets 1 large or two small pizzas from the recipe. We got one large and two small. Maybe he likes deep dish pie. We like a relatively thin crust, but this poofed up enough to make typical pizza joint crust.

Here's a side view so you can have an idea of the height of the 'za.

The recipe is very simple and can be made by hand, in a food processor or a stand mixer. Of course, I used the Artisan mixer for this recipe.

Here's the recipe (I shortened it a bit for space):

1 teaspoon instant or rapid rise yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse Kosher or sea salt
1 to 1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Combine the yeast, flour, and salt in the mixer. As it is mixing, add the 1 cup of water and 2 T of oil.
2. Mix, adding more water until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky.
3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a few seconds until it forms a smooth round ball. Use the last tablespoon of oil to grease a bowl, and place the dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft free area until it doubles in size (1-2 hours). (It took ours much longer since we keep the house a bit cool due to energy prices. But, we were doing laundry, so putting the bowl on top of the dryer made the dough poof up well.)
4. Heat the oven to 500 degrees F while you stretch out the dough onto your pans. (This dough is really easy to manipulate, so it won't take long.)
5. Add your toppings. (We used my homemade tomato sauce and added a mixture of shredded cheeses. John left his plain, but I also added some fried panko-breaded eggplant I had from an earlier recipe.)
6. Cook for 10-12 minutes depending on how crisp you like your pizza.
7. Enjoy!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Homemade Granola Bars

One of my newest cookbooks is the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. It's a huge (more than 500 pages) hardcover book filled with a wide range of classics. The various cookies include bars, drops, roll-outs, shaped, batter, no-bakes, and essentials like sugar and chocolate chip.

There are some great photos in the middle of the book, but probably the most helpful aspect of this tome is the all the tips scattered throughout. King Arthur's book editors were kind enough to list both weights and measurements for the ingredients as well as nutritional information (yay!) and suggested variations on recipes.

I recommend this cookie book for people who love to bake and try new recipes as well as different versions of the classics.

Earlier this week, I decided to try one of the recipes from the book, Vermont Granola Bars. It seemed like it would be easy to adapt since it called for two different liquid sweeteners.

Here's my version (I used organic ingredients when possible):

1.5 sticks of butter
1.5 cups of agave nectar
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup of dried unsweetened cherries
1 cup dried chopped apricots
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
1 teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon

First, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (25 degrees cooler than the original due to the agave nectar), and lightly grease two 9 x 13 inch pans.

Combine the agave nectar and the butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue to boil for 5 minutes. Then set aside to cool a bit.

While the syrup is heating, place all the dry ingredients except the cherries, apricots and cinnamon in the prepared pans and bake for 12 minutes.

Stir the ingredients on the pan every 4 minutes to prevent the edges from getting too dark. After the time has elapsed, remove the pan from the oven and transfer the oat mixture to a large bowl.

Add the cherries and the apricots and toss to mix thoroughly. Then add the cinnamon and toss again.

The mixture should look like the photo at the right.

Now add the vanilla paste to the butter and agave syrup and stir until combined.

Then, gradually mix the syrup into the oat mixture until everything is well moistened.

Move the batter into the pans and press it flat. The cookbook suggests using the bottoms of other pans the same size to flatten the mixture, but I found that it was easily enough flattened using the back of a silicone spatula.

Bake the bars for 8 minutes until they are a light golden brown.

Cut into squares or bars while they're still warm. I tried it both ways and found that they were very difficult to cut and remove from the pan once they had cooled.

King Arthur recommends using a baker's bench knife to cut the bars into long strips, then transfer each strip to a cutting board to cut into bars.

I just used a large chef's knife and cut them into bars. Then, I used a steel spatula to remove them from the pan. Not too much trouble when warm.

So, how do they taste? Well, pretty darn yummy. Toasting the coconut and almonds beforehand really brings out those flavors. They're a bit sticky, so my guess is that you could probably get away with just 1.33 cups of agave (or even less) and do just fine. I'm not sure I'd bring them along on a hike, but rather serve them as dessert, perhaps drizzled with a carob ganache.

For a low-cholesterol version, you can substitute 3/4 cup of grapeseed oil instead.

The yield, according to the book, is 48 small bars. I cut about 20 decent-sized bars.