Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bohemian Raisin Bread-Houska

 © Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  

My favorite food in the world is houska. It reminds me of my Babi's kitchen with all the warmth and love. Even in the 1950's, Babi used a wood burning stove to cook. She tested the oven temperature by simply putting her hand in the oven to see if it felt right. After she passed away, I bought houska at Bohemian bakeries. They started disappearing over the years. My mom's mother had a church cookbook that had a houska recipe. I had tried to make it myself but it turned out like a door stop. 

My dad's mother is from Obenice, Bohemia in the Czech Republic. We lived with my dad's parents in Cicero, Illinois until I was two years old. Moje babicka (my grandmother in Bohemian) spoke very little English but she was a fantastic cook. I was too young to learn from her. I would love to have learned to make kolacky (pastries with filling), noodles made just with eggs and flour, knedliky (bread dumplings) and houska, a sweet raisin bread.

Years later, I got a bread machine. After some trial and error, the houska recipe works! There are some similarities to challah bread, but this recipe has eggs and milk, so it is definitely not kosher. I do use the 6 strand braiding technique for challah bread because it is so pretty.

Houska is so good that I eat it like cake, without butter, toasting, jelly or anything.


  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, soft
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons  salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon  nutmeg
  • 1 cup scalded milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg separated into yolk and white (2 eggs total)
  • 4 ounces golden raisins
  • 2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
  • Slivered almonds
  • Total time: 6 hours
    • Preparation time: 30 minutes
    • Cook time:           5 ½ hours
  • Servings: 16-20 slices approximately
  1. Combine all ingredients except raisins, egg white, and yeast in bread machine pan.
  2. Put yeast into yeast dispenser.
  3. Run the bread machine in dough raisin mode.
  4. Add raisins when machine indicates-mine beeps towards the end of the kneading process.
  5. Remove dough when cycle is completed.
  6. Braid dough by strand method or divide between 2 bread pans.
  7. Let rise until double in height, 1-2 hours.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  9. Brush loaf or loaves with the egg white.
  10. Sprinkle with slivered almonds. 
  11. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Test for doneness-an inserted toothpick will come out clean.
  12. Slice to any desired thickness and serve. 
Food Facts - Raisins

As you may know, raisins are made from grapes dried in the sun. They belong to the genus and species Vitis vinifera 'Thompson Seedless' in the Family Vitaceae, the grape family. The genus Vitus includes a wide variety of grapes. They are a deciduous perennial, meaning that the plant sheds its leaves and lives for more than two years. Most production is in Califorina. However, the state of Washington is the second largest grape grower followed by Oregon and New York. Raisins are an ancient food found in the Phoenician and Egyptian cultures.

Both regular and golden raisins are made from Thompson Seedless Grapes. The difference is in the processing. Golden raisins are treated with sulfur dioxide to stop the fruit from darkening from oxidation. Natural raisins are not treated with sulfites so the color is darker. If you react to sulfites in foods, golden raisins may not be a good choice as they are very high sulfites. Organic golden raisins are available but they are higher in cost and may not be raised in the USA. 

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Easy Lasagna

 © Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  

I love lasagna, just like Garfield the Cat. I also have the same credentials for making authentic lasagna-none. I’ve put this recipe together by trial and error. I hate dry lasagna that has only just a little bit of sauce and cheese, so this recipe probably has more of both than other recipes.

Use a deep, oversized lasagna pan, whether metal, ceramic or disposable. A 13 x 9 x 2 inch cake pan is too shallow. I could only get 2 of 3 layers into one. The pan in the photograph below has a four quart capacity and the interior dimensions are 12 x 8 x 2 1/2 inches. 

I have tried and failed for 40 years to make a good pasta/spaghetti sauce. I have finally given up and use a bottled sauce that I’ve doctored up to my own taste. The pasta/spaghetti sauce recipe follows the lasagna recipe.

The lasagna baking dish will be very heavy, handle carefully with both hands using oven mitts. If using a disposable aluminum pan, place on a cookie sheet for easier handling. A disposable aluminum pan is great for a potluck, freezing the entire batch, or bringing a gift to a new mother/sick friend. It’s easy to freeze the entire batch or individual servings. That is, if you’re family doesn’t eat it all in one sitting!

  • 5-6 cups of your favorite pasta/spaghetti sauce, with or without meat for vegetarian lasagna
  • 12 lasagna noodles, cooked according to package instructions
  • 32 oz. regular or low fat ricotta cheese
  • Optional 1-3 tablespoons of dried parsley or 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella, regular or low fat
  • Optional 1 cup Parmesan 
  • Total time:                    2-2 1/2 hours
    • Preparation time: 1 hour
    • Cook time:           1 hour
  • Servings:                     12


1.    Prepare your favorite pasta/spaghetti sauce.
2.    Cook 12 lasagna noodles according to package instructions.
3.    Combine parsley with ricotta cheese.
4.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5.    Coat lasagna pan lightly with oil, preferably olive oil.
6.    Layer lasagna, ricotta and mozzarella cheese evenly as follows. There will be four layers of pasta, five layers of pasta sauce, three layers of ricotta, and four layers of mozzarella. Here is the layering order:
a.    1 cup of pasta/spaghetti sauce
b.    3 lasagna noodles
c.    1/3 of ricotta mixture
d.    1 cup of mozzarella cheese
e.    1 cup of pasta/spaghetti sauce
f.     3 lasagna noodles
g.    1/3 of ricotta mixture
h.    1 cup of mozzarella cheese
i.      1 cup of pasta/spaghetti sauce
j.      3 lasagna noodles
k.    1/3 of ricotta mixture
l.      1 cup of mozzarella cheese
m.  1 cup of pasta/spaghetti sauce
n.    3 lasagna noodles
o.    1 cup of pasta/spaghetti sauce
7.    Cover pan with aluminum foil. I like to use extra wide for better coverage.
8.    Bake covered at 350 degrees from 20 minutes.
9.    Remove from oven and remove aluminum foil.
10. Top with remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese.
11. Return to oven and bake 25-30 minutes or until cheese is browned.
a.    If desired, remove from oven at 20-25 minutes and cover with 1 cup Parmesan cheese.
b.    Return to oven and bake 5-10 minutes until Parmesan cheese is melted.
12. Remove from oven. Let sit 5-10 minutes otherwise the lasagna will be runny.

Photo Credit: © Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved

Donna’s Doctored Pasta/Spaghetti Sauce

  • 1 - 24 oz. jar of your favorite pasta/spaghetti sauce
  • 1 - 16 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/8 to ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium to large onion, chopped
  • 2-4 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 lb. ground beef or uncooked Italian sausage
  • If using ground beef, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • If using ground beef, 1 teaspoon salt
  • If using ground beef, ½ pepper, preferably fresh ground
  • If using ground beef, 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • If using ground beef, 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • Total time 2-2 1/2 hours
    • Preparation time 15 minutes
    • Cook time           1 hour at least
  • Servings – 5-6 cups sauce

1.    Heat olive oil in pot sufficient to hold all ingredients.
2.    Saute onions and garlic.
3.    If using fresh Italian sausage or ground beef, crumble and sauté with onions and garlic.
4.    If using ground beef, add salt, pepper, and fennel seeds while sautéing to release flavor.
5.    Add tomato bits, basil, and oregano.
6.    Simmer on low until flavors blend, at least one hour. I usually let it cook for 2-3 hours.

I like to serve this on medium pasta shells to get maximum sauce in each bite!

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Crock-Pot Beef Stew and Pot Roast

My 1980's vintage Crock-Pot 
I love to come home and have the house smell of dinner cooking! Beef stew and pot roast are perfect for the Crock-Pot. You can put all the ingredients together the night before, refrigerate, and start it the next morning. You could even make up several batches at once, freeze them, and just take them from the freezer to the Crock-Pot. If you want to brown the meat and/or saute the vegetables, by all means do so. I'm a "dump it all in the pot all at once" type of cook. I don't like to do any type of prep work than cutting up the meat and vegetables.

This recipe for Beef Stew is a stew itself from recipes I've used and combined over the years. Substitutions and additions are encouraged! Does someone in your family dislike peas or mushrooms? Don't add them! Did your mom or grandma add other root vegetables such as parsnips or sweet potatoes? Add or substitute to make this recipe your own!

  • 1 pound beef top round or similar stewing cut, cut in cubes
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 14 ounce can beef broth or homemade beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic minced
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 stalk celery chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds potatoes cubed, with or without skins
  • 1/2 pound carrots-frozen or fresh cut fork size
  • 4 -8 ounces mushrooms, fresh or canned (optional)
  • 1 cup peas, fresh or frozen (optional)
  • 1 cup red wine such as burgandy (optional)

  • Total time: 8-9 hours
    • Prep time: 30 minutes
    • Cook time:           8-9 hours
  • Servings: 4-6

  1. Put meat in Crock-Pot.
  2. Pour flour, salt, and pepper over meat and stir to coat.
  3. Add remainder of ingredients.
  4. Cook on low for 8-9 hours or high for 4-6 hours.
  5. If making from a frozen premade batch, I would recommend thawing in the refrigerator overnight and cooking the next day.

Pot Roast

I’m not even sure if you can call this a recipe. The Crock-Pot makes the most tender pot roast imaginable. When it’s on sale,I buy a cut of chuck that weighs about 2 ½ pounds. Although I look for a lean cut, some fat is needed so that the meat is not dry. I put the entire piece of chuck in the Crock-Pot with about 1 quart of water. 

The great chef, Paul Prudhomme, said something to the effect that “Water is for washing,” meaning that it does not add to the flavor profile of the meat. I just can’t see spending money on beef broth for cooking the meat when the meat makes its own broth. I’ve tried adding burgundy wine to the roast but it seems to make the meat tougher. 

The meat is seasoned with salt and fresh ground pepper. I coarsely slice an onion and layer it on the beef itself and add a bay leaf to the water. Cook on low for 6-8 hours and it’s done! The meat is so tender that you don’t even need a knife. Fork shred the beef and marinate in barbecue sauce for the best BBQ beef sandwiches ever!
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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Barley Bean Soup

 © Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  

Here's a great barley bean soup recipe than can be made three ways-beef, chicken/turkey, and vegetarian. They're easy to make and great comfort food! Just perfect for warming up after school, skiing, or any winter activity.

I adapted this from a recipe on a box of barley. A dietitian told me to eat more beans for the fiber. I had soup beans from the local organic food store that had been on the shelf for a while so I threw them in. What a difference! The recipe became a soup rather than a bunch of ingredients in a pot. I usually freeze half of the batch for future use.

  • 1 pound ground beef, shredded chicken, or shredded turkey (omit for vegetarian)
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks celery chopped, including leaves
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil such as canola
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 pound mixed beans for soup (1 pound for vegetarian)
  • 8 cans broth-beef, chicken or vegetable
  • 2 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup pearled barley
  • 1 16 ounce package frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
  • Total time  4-8 hours
    • Preparation time  30 minutes
    • Cook time            4-8 hours minutes
  • Servings    10 large bowls
  1. In a stock pot, saute meat (if used), onion, garlic, and celery until cooked through.
  2. Add remaining ingredients.
  3. Cook 2-4 hours on low heat or 8 hours on low in a Crock-Pot.
  4. Add additional broth or water to reach desired consistency.
  5. Remove bay leaf prior to serving.

Food facts – Barley

Barley belongs to the genus and species Hordeum vulgare  in the Family Poaceae, the grass family. The genus Hordeum includes a wide variety of barley types including foxtail barley, seaside barley and many others. The largest barley producing states are Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota.

Most barley sold in grocery stores is pearled barley. This means that the inedible hull and the bran are removed. The inside is called the pearl and is polished, similar to rice. Hulled barley still has the bran with only the hull removed and is also available online or at some grocery stores.

Barley is the fourth most popular grain in the world and has been grown since ancient times. The Egyptians famously made beer from barley. In fact over 40% of the U.S. production of barley is used for making beer, which is made from fermented barley (malt), hops (flower of the hop plant), water and yeast. Barley was even used to standardize a unit of measurement, the inch. During his reign from 1307 to 1327, Edward II decreed that three grains of barley placed end to end equaled one inch.

Barley can be used for much more than beer and soup. One of my favorite recipes substitutes barley for risotto rice for a different texture in risotto. Top the risotto wild mushrooms for a unique flavor. Pilafs have a whole new character when made with barley instead of rice. Pair barley with beef and root vegetables for cozy winter dinners.

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Low Sugar Raspberry Jam

 © Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
One of  the reasons I started canning was to make my own low sugar jellies and jams. Most jam recipes that I've seen have at least two to three cups of sugar to one cup of fruit. Ouch! I looked all over the Internet for low sugar jam recipes but there were very few. I found that Ball has a pectin that requires low or no sugar. There are short recipes on the bottle but I just didn't feel comfortable without complete canning directions.
Lo and behold, Ball has Web site for calculating pectin measurements. First, choose one of fifteen of the most common fruits. Then choose jam or jelly. Finally, choose which of their three types of pectin and the recipe is calculated for you!
I live about 5 miles from an organic farm that has raspberries, strawberries and all good things. A pound of pick your own raspberries is just $6.00. Last year, I picked about 10 pounds and plan to pick 30 pounds this year. I washed the raspberries and started jammin' less than an hour after they were picked! I've also made low sugar sour cherry preserves, orange marmalade, and apple jelly using this pectin!
This recipe can be used for storage by refrigeration or canning. Please refer to the Ball Web site for canning instructions and follow carefully.
I put this jam on my oatmeal, toast, English muffins, and ice cream for that burst of fresh fruit flavor!


  • 5 1/3 cups fresh raspberries
  • 1 1/3 unsweetened fruit juice such as apple or lemon (if you like tartness)
  • 6 tablespoons Ball RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin
  • Up to two cups sugar (optional)
  • Total time  1 hour
    • Preparation time  30 minutes
    • Cook time            30 minutes
  • Servings     Six 8 ounce jelly jars
  1. Wash fruit.
  2. In a pot sufficiently large enough to hold all the ingredients but small enough to easily stir, add raspberries and the fruit juice of your choice.
  3. Stir in Ball RealFruit Pectin slowly and bring to a full boil over high heat while stirring constantly. I turn the gas burner on my stove all the way up.
  4. Test for jell thickness. Take a metal spoon, dip it in the pot, and let the jam cool. If it jells on the spoon, it is the right consistency.
  5. If it does not jell, add more pectin and or sugar to achieve the right texture. I need to add one cup of sugar to get it the way that I like it.
  6. Remove from heat and ladle in hot jelly jars and let cool to room temperature.
  7. Refrigerate until used.
  8. This jelly can also be canned. Please go to Ball Web site for exact canning instructions.
Food Facts

Red raspberries belong to the genus and species Rubus idaeus in the Family Rosaceae, meaning the rose family. The genus Rubus includes a wide variety of berries include blackberries, loganberries, and dewberries. They are a perennial. Most production is in the states of Washington, California, and Oregon.

Raspberries are rich in antioxidants and calls them a super food. What are antioxidants and why are they important?  Antioxidants block free radicals from acting. Free radicals can cause cell damage that could lead to cancer. Other foods rich in antioxidants include grapes, blueberries, nuts, tea and other fruits and vegetables. 

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas"

Image Credit: iTunes
I like to have complete sets of music, such as Mozart’s Piano Sonatas and Chopin’s Nocturnes. Since I love Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" (Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 2) and "Pathetique" (Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13), I decide to look for this complete set. Jeno Jando’s recording on the Naxos label was my choice. 

The Artist 

Jeno Jando plays all of the pieces, an amazing accomplishment. I can't imagine learning to play all of the sonatas, much less playing them well enough to record. According to Naxos, Professor Jando is one of the most prolific artists in the history of classical music recording. The Hungarian pianist has been a Professor of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary since 1974 and has won many awards. Professor Jando has recorded over 60 albums of a wide variety of classical composers and periods. These include Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier,” Haydn’s Piano Sonatas (running almost 11 hours!), Franz Liszt, and many of Bartok’s works. The English translation of his first name often appears as Jean or Eugene.

The Composer

Renowned as a definitive composer of the Classical Era, Ludwig Van Beethoven lived from 1770-1827. I am astounded by the emotional range of his music. The thunderous opening of the "Symphony No. 5 in C Minor" probably resonated with 18th century head-bangers. The oh so delicate melody of “Fur Elise” graces music boxes everywhere. The "Moonlight Sonata" is the most soothing music I've ever heard.  The "Pastoral Symphony" (Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68) evokes serene high mountain pastures in my mind, particularly the final movement. There is a scene in the movie “Immortal Beloved” where Beethoven, played by Gary Oldman, puts his ear on the piano to feel the vibrations because he is deaf. My heart just ached thinking about how horrible that must have been for him. 

The Label

I have wanted to add all of Beethoven's piano sonatas to my music collection for some time but found the cost to be very daunting. Even some MP3 sets cost as much as $70.00 USD.
I decided to check recordings from Naxos. I have bought many of their albums in the past because of the wide variety of classical music in their catalogue and quite frankly because of price. The Naxos web site, states that Naxos is the world's leading classical music label. Naxos keeps costs to a minimum by focusing on the music rather than the artist, which eliminates expensive artist promotions.

The "Virtual Box Set -Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas" contains 100 cuts. Every one of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas is included. The variety of moods is astounding. While my favorites are calm, quiet pieces, they are in the minority. Many of the sonatas have a wide range of dynamics that command the listener's attention. This is not music that I play as background music, like Mozart's piano sonatas or Telemann's "Tafelmusik".

I like everything about The "Virtual Box Set - Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas." This recording and any of Professor Jando's recordings would be a great addition to any classical music collection.

About the recording: 
Available for download on iTunes for $7.99
Run time: 10 hours 10 minutes
Released in 2012 on the Naxos label

The talented Jeno Jando playing Beethoven in concert.

The Great Dane Victor Borge and the Muppets performing the "Moonlight Sonata."

"Immortal Beloved" Moonlight Sonata Scene

Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Mozart: The Complete Piano Sonatas"

Image Credit: iTunes
My never-ending quest is to find inexpensive complete music sets of high quality classical music. "Mozart: The Complete Piano Sonatas" played by Carmen Piazzini is a beautiful addition to my collection.

About the Artist

As one would expect, iTunes and Barnes and Noble have several choices of distinguished artists playing the complete Mozart piano sonatas. These include Glenn Gould, Daniel Barenboim, and Jeno Jando. I bought this recording by Carmen Piazzini because of many positive reviews on several Web sites and low price. I now play this more than any other classical album that I have. Her playing is crisp and clean. Every note is clearly audible. I particularly like the Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major K. 331 "Turkish March": III. Rondo: Alla Turca (Allegretto). In my opinion. too many artists play it too quickly. Ms. Piazzini's version is one reason that I chose this album. I already had a CD with the sonatas played on the fortepiano. As much as I would like to be a purist, I prefer the sound of a modern piano.

I was not familiar with Ms. Piazzini. There are short profiles at and the Spanish version of Wikipedia. Her Web site is in German. Luckily, Google Translate works very well for this site. Ms. Piazzini was born in Argentina to Italian parents. Her family has a strong musical tradition. Her grandfather was a close friend of Giacomo Puccini, according to the Web site. Ms. Piazzini now lives in Germany and has recorded over 50 CD's. These include the complete piano concertos of both Mozart and Beethoven as well as the complete piano sonatas of Haydn. She has also recorded an album of music from modern Argentinean composers such as tango master Astor Piazzolla.

The Composer

One of the most beloved composers of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived from 1756-1791. His baptismal name was Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. In those 35 short years, he composed over 600 works. A jack of all trades, these include 41 symphonies. As a child prodigy, 13 symphonies were composed by the age of 15. Mozart also wrote over 45 concertos, mostly piano but including violin, and horns of all sorts. This recording includes 18 piano sonatas. Other piano pieces included fugues, rondos, minuets and fantasies. There are 36 violin sonatas. I’m just not a big fan of the violin. Mozart also compostesd masses, oratorios, organ music and even music for his Masonic Lodge. “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Don Giovanni,” and “The Magic Flute” are just three of his 23 operas. The movie “Amadeus” gives a wonderful sampling of Mozart’s compositions.

Along with his contemporaries Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Joseph Haydn, Mozart defined the Classical era of music. A recent Google search returned over 103,000,000 hits so I will refer the reader to those for further information.

This recording is an excellent choice for anyone that enjoys Mozart!

About the recording: 

Available for download on iTunes for $5.99
Run time: 5 hours 34 minutes
Released in 2009 on the x5 Music Group label (Stockholm, Sweden)

Tribute to Mozart
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