Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tea Party

I throw a tea party every summer. My place isn't that big, or I would invite everyone I know. It isn't much harder to make a meal for 20 as for four. You just end up with more dishes. A tea party is one of those dainty things that give you an opportunity to get out the good china in the middle of the afternoon.

Afternoon Tea, the way I do it, is a three-course event. The first course is savory: small finger sandwiches and canapés. The second course is scones with jam and cream. The third is dessert. My menu differs slightly every year, but I always serve cucumber sandwiches and scones. It helps to have a large selection of teas handy, but even Lipton can be made into an event. I also serve homemade lemonade with lemons right off the tree.

First Course

Cucumber-dill sandwiches
Open-faced watercress and pimiento-cheese sandwiches
Tuna salad in profiteroles

Second Course

Scones with whipped cream and homemade cherry jam

Third Course

Chocolate Walnut Torte
Tea cookies
Apple slices

I will be sharing most of the recipes in future posts.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stuffed Eggplant

I had half a jar of spaghetti sauce left from the casserole. Actually, the only thing I bought for this meal was the eggplant. The orzo made an interesting side, but I usually have spaghetti with this dish.

2 medium eggplants
* 1/2 jar (about 12 oz) spaghetti sauce
1 C ricotta or small-curd cottage cheese
* 1/2 C chopped canned mushrooms
* 1/4 C chopped canned olives

1. Preheat oven to 375º. Halve eggplants lengthwise and remove stems. With a mellon baller, hollow out halves, leaving about 1/2" all around.

2. In a bowl, mix together ricotta, mushrooms, and olives.

3. Fill hollows in eggplants with cheese mixture. Pour sauce on top. Bake for 1 hour.

Difficulty rating  π

Cottage Cheese

The first time I made cottage cheese, it was because I thought it would be cool to make cheese at home, and this is by far the easiest kind. Since then, I've found it's a great way to get rid of extra milk that is on the verge of spoiling. Today, I made it because I couldn't find an 8oz container of ricotta and was very upset by the price of the 15oz container. For 30¢ to upgrade to the next size milk, I made what I needed.

2 C milk (2%, 1%, or nonfat)
2 Tb vinegar (distilled or white wine. If you want to use lemon juice, double the amount)

1. Warm milk to 165º. The recipe works as low as 120º, but I like to be overly cautious and kill all bacteria.

2. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. It will separate into curds & whey almost immediately.

3. Let sit until it cools to room temperature, up to 4 hours. Do not stir.

4. Line a sieve with two layers of cheesecloth. Yes, you really can use it to make cheese. Place sieve over a bowl. Pour curds & whey into sieve and allow to drain.

5. Place sieve and bowl in fridge until cold and dry. About 4 hours or overnight. At this point, it can be used as a substitute for ricotta.

6. To make more like store-bought cottage cheese: Add a few tablespoons of milk to create the creamy texture, and a scant 1/8 teaspoon of salt and sugar for flavor.

Makes 1 cup

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Bible

I am a huge fan of The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. It has all the basic recipes you could want, plus a few more adventurous items. It also has nutrition information and the amount of time needed to prepare a dish, which comes in very handy. Yes, it can be a bit dated. Some of the recipes were very popular in the 1970s. And temperature requirements for cooking meats and poultry have come down significantly in recent years.

The best part of this cookbook, however, is right in the title. Every recipe has a glossy color photo in the photo index. You know right away what it's supposed to look like before you even start. There are illustrations for nearly every step of a recipe. I'm not calling it idiot-proof, because anything can be messed up, but this is as close as you're going to get. Even if you don't like the way a recipe was written, you can still use it as the starting point for what you really wanted to make.

And, as promised, an updated photo of the pantry.

Friday, July 23, 2010

White Sauce Base

This is basically thickened milk. It's a great thickener for any cream sauce, from country gravy to mac & cheese to a base for clam chowder.

2 Tb butter or margarine
3 Tb flour
1 C milk

1. In a saucepan, melt butter. Add flour and stir to make a roux. How dark you let it cook will determine the color of the sauce.

2. Gradually add milk, about 1/4 C at a time. Allow each addition to come to a low boil. Stir constantly, or it will scorch.

3. If necessary, strain out lumps. Add seasonings or other ingredients as needed.

Difficulty rating  π

Fish a la King

I know it's supposed to be chicken, but I've been eating a lot of chicken lately and wanted fish. It gives me the chance to introduce the white sauce base.

1 lb any white fish. I used red snapper.
1/4 C white wine (may be omitted if children are eating it)
1 C white sauce base
*one 4 oz can chopped mushrooms
*one 4 oz can chopped pimientos

1. Bring wine, 2 C water, and salt and pepper to taste to a simmer in a large skillet. Add fish and poach, about 3 min per side. Do not let water boil, or fish will become tough.

2. Add mushrooms, pimientos, and salt and pepper to taste to white sauce base. Keep warm until fish is ready. Stir in 1/4 C of fish's cooking water.

3. Plate fish first, then spoon sauce on top. Serve hot.

The three round things are a potato latke mix that I baked in muffin cups instead of frying. They came out a little tough, but I think that had more to do with the mix being a bit old than how they were made.

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010


I wish I'd brought a camera. I got everything off the floor of the pantry today! Still need one extra shelf under the built-in ones, but there is nothing on the floor itself.

Scrubbing the floor and lower part of the walls was an adventure. I don't think they've been cleaned since the linoleum was put in many years ago. One spider was especially upset with me. I scrubbed one plastic shelf to put back in. Food was being kept on it?!? The only thing on it now is cat food and FoodSaver rolls. And I got a lot of cat food to take home that Dad's cats don't eat now that they're on a special diet. I'll keep the dry for Molly and give the canned to my friend who feeds the neighborhood strays.

All the food-bearing shelves are still pretty full. Dad brought down a lot of food from the house up north (including more pimientos!), but most of it was long expired. At least it's trash day. I tossed a few more things without expiration dates if they looked like they had been there too long.

My next goal is to clear enough space to scrub the shelves themselves. That won't be for a while. It isn't disgusting, but when you have cats in the house, fur manages to get on everything, even cans in a closed pantry.

I'll bring my camera next week for a pictorial update.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Pimientos are one of the foods I'm stuck with. I'm mildly allergic to capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers hot, so I don't cook with anything stronger than bell peppers. Dried pimientos are made into paprika, which I love as a nice accent to some dishes, so I'm assuming I can eat these without adverse side effects. I'll keep my inhaler close by until I'm sure.

I cannot think of any reason a person should have six jars of pimientos in their pantry. One of the jars is pretty big, too. They are not an ingredient. They're more like an herb, something you add as an accent. I cook in a minimalist fashion designed to bring out the natural flavors of my dishes. Tossing in pimientos as a garnish is, to me, like an easy out if the dish cannot stand on its own.

Oh, well, guess I'll have to find something to do with them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Kugel is one of those traditional Jewish foods, in the sense that no two people make it the same way. Basically, it's a noodle pudding. I like to make it sweet and fruity and have it as breakfast. Comes out like a noodle-y coffee cake.

*3 C egg noodles
*3 C chopped fruits or dried fruits. Stay away from citrus, berries, or bananas. Think apples, pears, peaches, raisins
3 eggs
1 C milk
1 Tb sugar
1/2 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg

1. Boil water in a big pot. 2 qts should be enough. Preheat oven to 350º. Butter an 8"x8" casserole.

2. While noodles are cooking, chop fruits into bite-sized pieces.

3. In a bowl, beat eggs well. Beat in milk, sugar, and spices.

4. When noodles are very soft, drain and rinse. Stir in fruit. Place mixture in casserole. Pour liquid mixture evenly over the noodles. It should come up almost to the top. Let set for a minute before placing in oven.

5. Bake for 50 min. Pull out of oven and let rest for 10 min before slicing, to let the custard set. Serve hot, but leftovers are just as good cold.

Makes 6 servings

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Banana Muffins

I'm not used to making baked goods from a mix, and I couldn't find an expiration date on this one. Assuming you use a freshly-bought mix, they will rise and brown better.

*One box Pillsbury Banana Bread Mix (plus whatever it tells you to add)
*1/2 C crushed Walnuts
*1/2 C chocolate chips
*1/4 C shredded coconut

1. Mix banana bread mix like it says to for muffins, but only use half the oil.

2. Stir in walnuts and chocolate chips.

3. Spoon into GREASED muffin pan or pan-spray muffin liners (or they'll never come out - you're only using half the oil)

4. Sprinkle tops with coconut. Bake as directed.

I got 15 muffins out of this recipe. I'm estimating them at 200 calories each, despite their small size. But they're yummy.

Difficulty rating  π

My Favorite Casserole

This isn't really my favorite casserole, but my mom used to call it that. My guess is it was something I would eat without complaining. So, this simple, kid-friendly recipe will be my first one.

Unless otherwise stated, all recipes will be for four adult-sized servings. That's how most food is sold, and how I usually cook.

Items from the pantry will be marked with an asterisk *.

1 lb lean ground beef
* 1/2 bag macaroni (I used noodles this time, because it was a pantry item)
1/2 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
* 3 oz jar chopped olives (optional, again from the pantry)

1. Boil water for the pasta. While it's cooking, brown the ground beef. If you're fat-conscious like I am, drain it off. Otherwise, it does add flavor.

2. When meat is browned, add sauce. It will be soupy. Bring to a boil.

3. Drain off pasta when it is cooked, then add to meat & sauce.

4. Serve with a side veggie, and you're good to go! (Also reheats very well.)

Obviously, you can doctor it up all you want. Garlic, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, whatever sounds good that day!

Difficulty rating  π

Part I: The Pantry Project

My parents' pantry has been a source of aggravation since I took my first food safety course in the first semester of culinary school. I have taken the California food handler's exam three times, and scored 92, 100, and 98. Once I saw the pantry with a trained eye, I immediately understood why my parents were often ill.

The first time I cleaned out the pantry, I found items so old they were purchased before bar codes became the standard. This was in 2001. I threw out baking soda after realizing the "serial number" on it was really an expiration date in 1988.

Every three years or so (most canned food is stamped three years from date of packaging), I'd do another purge. I've since found two cans swollen with botulism and a bag of dried beans 15 years old that either I missed before or my mom put it back. The amount of food in the trash was appalling and wasteful.

When my mom died in May, my dad said he was unlikely to use anything in the pantry, and I could help myself. Very little of it could be donated. Either a package was opened, had no expiration date, or was slightly past it. So, I have made it a mission to use all the odd items in the pantry.