Sunday, October 13, 2013

A New, Healthy, Idea for a Coffee and Chocolate Gift Basket

 We were asked to make up themed gift baskets for a church women's conference, and my assigned theme was "Coffee and Chocolate". Always in season, but who wants to keep doing the "Starbucks and Godiva" thing?  I really wanted to step out and make one that was a little unusual.

Personally, we drink Community Coffee because we think their Medium Roast is the best daily coffee there is - we switched from Folgers a couple of years ago. We can no longer buy the one pound bricks in our local stores, so we order 8 or 10 pounds at a time direct from this small, family-owned company in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There are two different women who pack our orders, and they sign their names to the packing list. They always get it right and I appreciate them.  It is great - every once in a while the Community Coffee folks email us a 15% or 20% off sale, and orders over $60 get free shipping. So we have wonderful, perfect coffee on hand.

That is what got me started down the Creole coffee road for my gift basket, and it snowballed from there to include Mexican Chocolate and Cafe de Olla. Partly because these wonderful, traditional American coffee & chocolate drinks are so good they deserve a much wider audience. And partly, also, because all of these can make use of Molasses.

Molasses is "unrefined sugar" to the Nth degree: Sugar cane molasses is a natural sweetener that contains a whopping bunch of naturally occuring nutrition in its unmodified, un-additive, un-messed-with, good, natural form.


 Check this out from the World's Healthiest Foods: 
Percent of Daily Value of Nutrients in 2 teaspoons of Blackstrap Molasses (notice that "blackstrap" type has about double the nutrition of regular unsulphured molasses - which is also good if you can't buy blackstrap in your local store):
 manganese 18%
 copper 14%
 iron 13.2%
 calcium 11.7%
 potassium 9.7%
 magnesium 7.3%
 vitamin B6 5% (there are other B vitamins / Niacin too)
 selenium 3.4%
Calories per 2 tsp: only 32 (1% of Daily Value)

How cool is that? All these old Southern ways of cooking and eating are actually healthy for us after all. Cooking in iron skillets (to add natural iron to our diets), using molasses, flavoring our spinach and greens with bacon grease (Vitamin K is fat soluble!).... oh I am getting sidetracked here... back to the gift basket!

Here are the recipes I used:


Creole Coffee:

Brew a nice breakfast coffee. To each mug, add 2 teaspooons of molasses and, if desired, 1/4 cup hot milk or cream.


Cafe de Olla (Mexican Coffee):

6 cups of water
6 Tablespoons ground Coffee (regular roast, regular grind)
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Molasses
1 Cinammon Stick
Evaporated Milk to taste

Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Add all the ingredients except milk, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Strain into mugs and add undiluted canned milk to taste.  If the leftover coffee gets cold in the pan it can be gently reheated, just don't boil it again.

Mexican Coffee is very similar to old fashioned cowboy coffee or "creekbank coffee", in that it is made the same way: boiled up in a pan and then strained.  The addition of spice and sweetener is a matter of personal preference and availability.


Mexican Hot Chocolate

1 can Evaporated Milk
1 cup of water
1 block Mexican Chocolate
1 Tablespoon Molasses

Stir and heat until the chocolate melts, then whisk until frothy. This is very rich, so this recipe makes 3 servings. The reason there isn't extra sugar is because Mexican Chocolate has unrefined sugar in it already, along with vanilla and a hint of cinammon. If you can't get any in your stores, use powdered cocoa, brown sugar, a half teaspoon of vanilla, and a dash of cinammon.


I just wrote the recipes out by hand and doodled in colored markers to decorate them, then layered them onto a piece of cardboard and wrapped in clear wrap so they would stand up nicely in the basket. 

It all came together with a pound of Community Coffee, a bottle of blackstrap molasses, a box of Nestle's Abuelita Mexican Chocolate, a package of Fiesta Brand Cinammon sticks, and the recipes, all fluffed up with some red and green tissue. It is very cute, if I do say so. We will find out what others think when they auction it! :-) If it proves to be popular, I may make some of these up for Christmas gifts.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tomato Pie, How to Bake an Empty Pie Shell, Oh & How to Stop a Soggy Crust

 My daughter-in-love Sandy asked me to make Tomato Pie for a party they had this past weekend. This is her favorite of my recipes.  It is so rich that it can be a main course, and no one will ask where the meat is.

It took me a while to perfect this one, since people are a bit secretive about their tomato pie recipes. Sort of like Marie on "Everybody Loves Raymond", they tend to leave out a single important element or direction. Then one makes it, and it is "almost" perfect... except for that little flaw! Well, that little flaw in Tomato Pie is the soggy crust. I have two solutions that both work well.

Here's my recipe, with complete instructions :-)

Tina's Tomato Pie

1 Deep Dish Pie Crust, pre-baked (see instructions below at the end of the post)
2 pounds fresh tomatos, peeled (see instructions below at the end of the post) - In the winter, use canned whole tomatoes.
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, minced, or 2 teaspoons dried basil, crushed
1 teaspoon Salt
Pinch of sugar
Couple of grinds of fresh ground black pepper
1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of Real Mayonnaise (do NOT use "lite" mayo or yogurt or any substitutes!!!)
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar Cheese

Pre-bake your pie shell. For tomato pie, when you remove the pie weights, sprinkle the bottom of the crust with shredded cheese to cover, then return to the hot oven to finish baking.

Baking some shredded cheese onto the crust is an important step that will help keep the crust from getting soggy from the tomatoes. I tried several things when I first made this. Brushing the inside of the crust with egg white and then popping back into the overn for the last 5 minute of baking is a good technique too. But the thin layer of melted cheese seems to work best for this dish.

Peel your tomatoes, and chop them coarsely. Sprinkle with salt and put them into a colander to drain for about 30 minutes to 1 hour. I like to set my colander over a bowl to catch the juice. It is good to drink right then, or freeze and add to soup later.

 After the tomatoes have drained, stir in a pinch of sugar, then put the tomatoes into the baked pie shell. That "pinch of sugar" is what my grandmother added to every tomato dish - she said a pinch of sugar will "cut the tomatoes", and it does do something that really rounds out the flavor. I can tell the difference without it.

 Mince the basil and sprinkle it over the top of the tomatoes, along with a grind or two of black pepper.


 In a bowl, blend the mayonnaise and cheese, then spoon the mixture on top of the tomatoes. Use a knife of spatula to spread it out and completely cover the top of the pie.

 Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and bubbly. 

You can serve it warm, but we serve it fresh baked and cooled to room temperature. And some of us like it leftover for breakfast too!  Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers, as this pie will spoil if left out too long. 


As promised above, here are the instructions for pre-baking your pie shell, and for peeling fresh tomatoes:

How To Pre-bake a pie shell:  Line the pie pans with crust and flute your edges. Make sure there is plenty of dough for overlap on the top edge as the crust will shrink a little. Fork the bottom and sides of the crust all over to make little holes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, then line the pie crust with aluminum foil (or waxed paper or parchment). 

Next, either push another, empty pie pan in on top of this one, or fill your foil-covered crust with dry beans or rice (use some old beans that you will never cook with and save them for this purpose). This will help keep the crust from shrinking and from bubbling.

Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes at 450 degrees. Remove from oven and cool slightly but leave the oven on. Lift the foil & beans out of the crust or remove the other pan. Use your foil to make strips and cover the edges of the crust to keep them from overbrowning.

Then, return the crust to the hot oven for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the bottom is baked. Cool before filling.

How To Peel Fresh Tomatoes:  Bring a 2 quart pot of water to a rolling boil. Keep the heat on high and, using a slotted spoon, put each WHOLE tomato into the boiling water. Turn & poke down if necessary to be sure the tomatos all get time under the water.

Leave in for one minute only, then remove each tomato using the slotted spoon. Put these tomatoes into a bowl of cold tap water. Now the skins will just peel right off with your fingers.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Letterpress Poster Printing ... And A Little Wood Type Puzzle Solved

 I've been doing more printing lately. This is the first poster I've ever printed. I am pretty happy with it! It was a give-away for my demonstration at our Farmer's Market - we had a bit of a celebration on the first day of the new Cottage Food Law, and I figured, why not promote the really big event of the season: The Harvest Fair!  The demonstration was fun and I met a couple of printers - boy they must be right that once printer's ink gets into your veins it never goes away,  because nobody gets excited to see my type the way former printers do. It is worthwhile to hold a little exhibit just for the chance to make some erstwhile printers really really really happy! :-)

After I started looking at my little Line-o-Scribe proof press to figure out how to use it for a portable demonstrating press, I remembered a couple of cases of very small wood type that I bought when I was first outfitting my shop and haven't used before. They are small fonts and, lucky for me or I never would have gotten them, were not as desireable at the time for people looking for that large newspaper and poster faces they could print with their Vandercooks. Turns out these are perfect for flyer-sized posters on my press.


 Now, here is the wood-type puzzle I mentioned in the title:

A little oddity of note: see that "4" in the lower right (stage right) corner? When I first set it, it was backward! And another small face also had backward - aka not mirror image - fours! I kept turning it upside down to try to fix it, about drove me batty. Then after a couple of days, I looked at the pieces of type again.

Can you solve the puzzle? 

Answer is below,

under the photo...





When I looked at the type after clearing my mind, I was able to see that they didn't need to be flipped 180 degrees, but turned a quarter turn.

In both fonts, the number crossbars for the number fours are exactly the same length. Thus, when standing on their crossbars, they look like they are non-mirror-image cutouts.  It was just a fluke that they were all turned
wrong in their case, looking for all the world like they belonged that way!


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