Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cooking Lesson at the Savory Spoon

Morning sun illuminates whitewashed cabinets and gleaming stainless steel appliances as our group of 15 people dons aprons and washes our hands, Dressed in chef whites and standing behind a butcher-block countertop, owner Janice Thomas, describes prep instructions for the morning as we arrange the dining room.

"We're a hands-on cooking school," says Thomas, a Wisconsin native who also lived in Tucson. "And August is a big food month for local foods." Open from June through October and housed in a renovated schoolhouse, Savory Spoon Cooking School, in Door County, Wis., has offered cooking classes since 2003, often with a focus on indigenous foods - including cherries, mouthwatering cheeses and whitefish.

Today, each of five small groups prepares a dish together, from Swiss Chard and Olive Tart (see photo), to Roasted Apple, Pecan, Cherry and Black River Blue Salad, Green Beans with Orange and Toasted Maple Pecans, Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Cherry Sauce and Fresh Blueberry Tart. An hour later we savor our handiwork, and wish for more of everything.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

Leftovers - it's rather amazing what you can create after finding a forlorn can of pumpkin puree in the cupboard and fresh cranberries hiding in the very back of the refrigerator.

Such was the case yesterday as an Alberta Clipper made its way into our neighborhood, and a desire for 'cozy' food came over me. With orange and cinnamon accents, this dense bread would be especially good for dessert or with a strong cup of morning coffee

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread
Makes about 10-12 slices

1/2 cup cranberries, rinsed and sorted
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 cup sugar

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1 can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs, beaten

Bring cranberries, orange juice, zest and sugar to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, until cranberries are soft. Cool slightly and drain over a bowl to capture cranberry liquid. Set liquid aside; set cranberries aside.

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices. Stir in pumpkin, oil and eggs and combine thoroughly. Fold in cranberries gently, with a rubber spatula. Bake in greased bread pan and a 350-degree oven for 60-70 minutes or until bread is firm, and browned on top.

Allow bread to cool about 10 minutes and then pour reserved cranberry liquid over top of loaf. Let bread cool completely before loosening with a metal spatula and removing from pan.

VOE - Make sure the entire loaf is well cooked by sticking a long toothpick deep inside before removing from oven.

VOE - If you use your hands to remove the bread, be prepared for sticky cranberry on your fingers. But it's still the best method to retain the loaf shape and tastes delicious.

Monday, January 12, 2009

American River Walk - European Feel

On a warm, muggy day in May, I walked with several friends on San Antonio's renowned River Walk. We had taken a boat tour along the River Walk on the previous morning and shared lunch within view of a mariachi band, at a restaurant across the water. But our walk offered a totally different view of this renowned waterway; much of it quieter and more contemplative.

Brilliant bougainvillea overhung sidewalks and Spanish-tiled stairs, which led from riverside to streetside. As we walked we appreciated hand-painted tiles at the Old Mill Crossing - Last Known Place Where Horses Drank and Forded the River - Erected by the Daughters of Texas Trail Drivers. We admired ornate iron work depicting two hands and a cross and commemorating the first mass celebrated in San Antonio, on June 13, 1691.

We rounded a gentle curve and I was momentarily transported to another world. Just ahead, a driver in a straw hat navigated a tour boat beneath an ivy-covered, arched footbridge. White-painted adobe and red tile roofs at one end of the bridge resembled a quaint European village. Only after we walked several more blocks did we return to the hustle and bustle of modern shops and restaurants, and I missed the quieter, gentler River Walk.