Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mac & Cheese

My version takes exactly as much time to make as something out of a box. It's a lot more labor-intensive, uses one more pot, and costs considerably more, but you can taste the difference immediately.

*8 oz (1/2 lb) elbow macaroni
1/2 small onion, diced
1 C white sauce base
1/8 tsp pepper
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
1 oz white wine or sherry (optional)

1. While pasta water is coming to a boil, dice onion and sautée in butter for white sauce.

2. Add pasta to boiling water. Add flour to butter and onion and stir into the roux. Slowly add milk to roux, remembering to stir pasta occasionally. When thickened, add pepper, cheese, and wine.

3. When cooked, drain pasta, rinse, and put into serving bowl. Pour cheese sauce on top and combine. Serve immediately.

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chilled Borscht

I love cold soups, it's really hot outside, and I have several cans of beets. Time to make borscht.

There are several kinds of borscht, but beets come up in nearly all of them. There's some with cabbage, some with beef, some hot, some cold, etc.

After reading several versions online, in cookbooks, and the label on the Manischewitz jar, I decided to come up with something on my own. All the cans of vegetable broth in the store had way too much salt in them, and I was not about to boil anything for two hours when it's 100º outside, so it was time to improvise.

*1-1/2 lbs canned beets (about 3 cups)
2 Tb lemon juice
1/8 tsp celery salt
1/8 tsp onion salt
1/2 C cranberry juice
1 C sour cream, plain yogurt, or creme fraiche

1. Drain the beets, reserving the liquid. To the liquid, add lemon juice and enough water to make 2 cups.

2. Cut the beets into small dice. This gets easier if you buy sliced beets to start with. Add to liquid. Stir in celery salt, onion salt, and cranberry juice. Chill for several hours.

3. Portion into bowls. Garnish each with 1/4 C sour cream.

This makes about four portions as a first-course soup. If you plan to have it as a main course for lunch, it will serve two or three. You can also garnish with any combination of the following: diced cucumber, onion, carrot, celery, or even something more exotic like fennel or leeks. If using vegetable broth instead of water, omit the celery and onion salts.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pimiento Hummus

Hummus can be flavored with all sorts of vegetables, herbs, and nuts. So, why not the ever-abundant pimiento? The flavor came out much more subtle than I expected, which is a good thing. I was dreading the possibility of it tasting like puréed pimiento.

*1 15 oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas, whatever you call them)
*1/2 C tahini paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tb lemon juice
salt to taste
*1 4 oz jar chopped pimientos
*Olive oil as needed

1. Drain garbanzo beans and pimientos. Rinse if you prefer lower salt.

2. Place all ingredients except oil in food processor and purée until smooth. Add oil sparingly to create desired consistency.

3. Chill and serve with pita or bread.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, August 21, 2010


My can opener and Cuisinart are either feeling very loved, or are going to rise up in the middle of the night and come after me.

Tapenade is basically seasoned olives, and amazingly easy to make. The ingredients are somewhat specialized, and not cheap. This recipe is from my Garde Manger textbook. Being a professional recipe, it makes 1 quart of tapenade. That works for large parties, but you should cut it down for smaller gatherings. Since anchovies are usually sold in 2 oz tins, I recommend cutting it in quarters. Personally, I found it too salty and heavy on the anchovies, but that can be good for an appetizer dip. Plus, I tend to eat low-salt, so I'm hypersensitive to it.

*12 oz Niçoise olives, pitted
*8 oz black olives, pitted
8 oz salt-packed (not oil) anchovy fillets, rinsed and dried
6 oz capers, rinsed
*4 oz minced garlic
*lemon juice as needed
ground pepper to taste
*extra-virgin olive oil as needed

1. In food processor, combine all ingredients, incorporating lemon juice and oil slowly. Blend until chunky and easily spread. Do not over mix; there should be texture, and identifiable bits of olive. The lemon juice and oil should not create a soup; they are a dressing.

For a super-easy and vegetarian version, buy chopped black olives, minced garlic in a jar, and the smallest capers you can find. Omit the anchovies, add a bit of salt, and stir the ingredients instead of using the processor.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, August 20, 2010


Like spices and herbs, I have the tendency to keep tea far too long. I have over a dozen flavors in my pantry, slowly losing flavor. Add to that all the tea my mom kept, and it's at least a year's worth. It's going to stain my teeth, and I'm not used to this much caffeine, but I'm going to have to start drinking more tea.

The key to iced tea is to sweeten it while it's still hot. Of course, it means you're sweetening it how you like it, and everyone else just has to deal with it. It's simple chemistry that sugar will not dissolve well in cold liquid. A decent alternative is keeping a bottle of simple syrup on hand and adding some of it to the iced tea. To make a simple syrup, boil equal parts water and sugar, then cool slowly. It's like liquid sugar, does not need to be refrigerated, and you eventually learn how much to use to get the desired result.

For hot tea, it is important to steep the leaves for the right amount of time. Too long, and it gets bitter. Not long enough, and you miss the rich flavor. And don't reuse tea bags on a second or third cup. You might as well be drinking hot water. Brew it in a pot instead, remove the tea bag when it's ready, and reheat it later if you need to. The best way to use leaf tea is with a tea ball or a nifty little tea sieve that only rests in the pot as long as you need it. I haven't used a French Press, but I've heard they are also ideal for getting a proper brew. Dumping leaves in and using a strainer only really works if you plan to serve the whole pot within ten minutes and start over for a second round.

I'm going to try to drink my oldest teas first, but so many of them have been there for over ten years, I'm not sure where to start. Teas in sealed bags or tins keep longest. Wooden boxes are more subject to humidity. Tea does not "go bad" if protected from humidity, but it loses flavor and aroma. So, next time you are tempted to buy the extra-large box of Lipton at Costco, ask yourself if you're really going to drink 72 bags' worth in six months.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

French Onion Soup

This has to be the easiest soup I've ever made. And I thought split pea soup was pretty mindless. To get rid of some pantry items, I subbed in onion soup mix for one of the onions (and bought low-salt beef broth to compensate), and used matzah balls instead of croutons. I don't like cheese on my onion soup, but I'll include the Bible's version of the gratineé.

One thing I've noticed when making recipes 30 years old, or even older, is how ingredient sizes have changed. Many times, the package or can sizes referred to in a recipe simply do not exist anymore. Especially since packages have gotten smaller in the past couple of years so manufacturers don't have to raise prices. I buy the closest size I can find and adjust if I have to. Produce has also changed. What was once called a "large" onion is now a medium one. But I really like onions and bought big ones for the soup. Professional recipes use weights for their ingredients, and I'm starting to see the benefit. Years from now, a weighted recipe will still be valid, long after food engineering has messed with the size of a piece of produce.

1/4 C butter or margarine
3 large onions, sliced
1 tsp sugar
1 Tb flour
2-1/2 C water
1/2 C red wine
2 10-oz cans condensed beef broth
1 loaf French bread
Swiss cheese slices

1. In 4 qt saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter and sugar for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in flour until well blended with the onions and pan juices.

3. Add water, wine, and undiluted beef broth. Heat to boiling, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Cut four 1" thick slices of bread from loaf. Toast the bread slices in 325º oven until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

5. Portion soup into oven-safe bowls. Place one slice of bread on surface of each bowl. Top bread with Swiss cheese.

6. Place bowls in a baking pan for easier handling. Bake in 425º oven until cheese is melted, 5-10 minutes.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Beef Stroganoff

Disclaimer: I do not keep kosher. It's purely coincidence that I haven't broken any kosher laws so far in this blog. Probably because I've eaten mostly vegetarian for the past month. So, of course I pick the hottest day of the year to slave over the stove.

I had several recipes to choose from, but ultimately went with the one from the Bible.

Between this Stroganoff and the French Onion soup I made as a side dish, I took out a LOT of pantry items. Unfortunately, there's plenty more where that came from.

1 Tb butter
1 lb beef chuck, cut into strips (stew cuts are fine)
1 medium onion, sliced
3/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
*2 4oz cans mushrooms
*8 oz wide egg noodles
1 Tb flour
1/2 C sour cream

1. In 12" skillet (which has a lid) over medium-high heat, cook steaks and onion in butter until meat is browned, about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper, 1/4 C water and the liquid from the mushrooms. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 1-1/4 hrs until meat is tender. Add mushrooms and heat through.

2. About 20 minutes before meat is done, cook noodles as package directs; drain. Spoon onto warm serving platter.

3. Remove meat and mushrooms to platter on top of noodles; keep warm. In a cup, stir flour and 1/4 C water into a slurry. Stir liquid into skillet. Cook over medium heat until sauce is thickened, stirring. Stir in sour cream; heat through, but do not boil. Spoon sauce over meat and noodles.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ice Cream

Like jam, I learned how to make ice cream for Passover. It's time-consuming, the ingredients can get expensive, and you have to buy an ice cream maker, but the results are definitely worth it. I have the Cuisinart model that uses a freezer bowl. The bowl just lives in my freezer so I don't have to plan ahead. Otherwise, it takes at least 24 hours to freeze the bowl completely.

I make a custard base ice cream, which means I use egg yolks. The ice cream becomes like a frozen creme anglaise, which is much richer than most of the ice creams at the market. I think it holds the flavors better than just frozen cream, and you can get away with using lower percentages of fat in the milk and cream.

I know it sounds like a lot of sugar, but flavors are dulled when they are cold, so you really do need this much.

And don't throw away the egg whites. They freeze very well for the next time you make macaroons or a meringue. Or, make an egg-white omelet. Get creative.

Ice Cream Base

2 C heavy cream
2 C milk (any % fat is OK if you're using heavy cream)
4 egg yolks
1 C sugar

1. Whisk egg yolks slightly. Whisk in sugar until slightly pale and mixture falls in ribbons. Set aside.

2. Bring milk and cream to a low boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. This can take 15 minutes or more, but you don't want to scorch the milk.

3. Whisk eggs again slighly to make them loose. Temper the eggs by adding 1/2 C of the hot milk to them and beating vigorously. Do this with about half of the milk. The idea is to warm the eggs slowly so they can cook without turning into scrambled eggs.

4. Add eggs to main body of milk and continue to cook until the mixture thickens slightly, meaning the eggs are cooked. It is OK if is comes to a low boil, but avoid higher temperatures that will curdle the eggs.

5. Remove from heat. Strain if necessary, and place in refrigerator to cool completely, at least 2 hours. Chill in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions until desired consistency is achieved. At this point, it will be like soft-serve ice cream. To make it firm, it will have to be frozen for at least 4 hours.

Makes 1 qt mix, 6-7 cups depending on overrun (amount of air whipped into cream).


Vanilla: Several days before, portion out sugar into a container and place one vanilla pod into it. Seal tight and shake once or twice a day to make vanilla sugar. If you want vanilla seeds visible in the ice cream, split open pod and scrape out seeds into cream as it is heating. The pod can also go in, but remove it once the cream has boiled and discard.

Cherries Jubilee: In a pan, cook pitted cherries in butter and a little sugar. Add a splash of brandy and serve hot over vanilla ice cream. (See Photo)

Bananas Foster: In a pan, cook banana slices in butter and brown sugar. Add a splash of rum and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate: While heating cream, stir in 4 Tb (1/4 C) cocoa powder.

Cappuccino: After removing from heat, stir in a double-shot (2oz) freshly brewed espresso.

Mint Chip: After chilling, add scant 1/4 tsp peppermint extract. During the last 5 minutes of freezing, add 2 oz (2 squares) coarsely chopped unsweetened baking chocolate. Add a few drops green food coloring if desired.

Eggnog: Pour LIGHT eggnog directly into ice cream maker, or dilute regular 50/50 with milk. Add a bit of nutmeg.

A warning about fruit: It will freeze very solidly. If adding fruit, chop into very small pieces.

Nuts: Similar results to fruit. I recommend crushing them.

I prefer uncomplicated ice cream flavors, but the best part of making your own is that you get to decide what's in it. If you want pistachio-almond-fruit-fudge-butterscotch-delight, there's no reason you can't make it. Have fun!

Difficulty rating  :-0

Friday, August 13, 2010

Grandma's Recipe Box

When my Grandma Sophie died many years ago, the only thing of hers I wanted was the recipe box. Whenever I visited, we always cooked or baked something, and the recipe was usually on a card from the box. She kept it in a kitchen cabinet with her baking pans. The light-blue, square, plastic box had two parts to it. On the left were cards carefully organized into at least 40 categories. On the right were oversized cards and recipes that had never been filed.

At some point, I decided to organize the box properly. I bought a photo storage box and a lot of index cards. Going through every recipe, I set up the categories in alphabetical order and got rid of redundant or illegible cards. A lot of the recipes were missing something critical, like how to bake them or a key ingredient like flour. Most of the recipes were from magazines or the newspaper, but some were handwritten, either by Grandma or one of her friends. It felt like a history lesson.

Since setting up the box, I have worked on it. I add recipes as I come across them, mostly from the LA Times. Every time I create a recipe that I want to remember, in it goes.

I'm editing the box again. That means reading every recipe and deciding if it is something I want to keep. I did find several good recipes that fit the Pantry Project and that I hope to use. I'm not going to try to make everything in the box, but it's nice to know that the recipes are there if I ever do need them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I spent many years making really terrible bread. It was very dense, and the crust was tough. About all it was good for was French Toast or bread pudding.

Finally, I was able to figure out what made bread work. I cobbled together recipes and methods until I found one that worked for me. The best part of it is that the formula is based on the amount of liquid used to make one loaf, so I can cut it into fractions for smaller amounts or multiply it for more. It does depend on measuring the yeast with a teaspoon, but one packet of yeast equals approximately 2-1/4 teaspoons, so you can figure it out. Really, if you use only half a jar of yeast before it stops working, you've spent about as much money as buying packets for that many loaves.

Dough for One Loaf of White Bread

1 C milk
1 tsp yeast
2 Tb sugar
1 Tb butter
3+ C flour
1 tsp salt
Vegetable oil

1. Warm milk, sugar, and butter to 100º (you can use the microwave). The butter does not need to melt. Stir in yeast and let sit until slightly foamy, 10 min. (If it doesn't foam, the yeast is dead. Don't use it.)

2. In stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine milk mixture and 1 C flour. Beat for 2 minutes into a batter.

3. Add 1 C flour and the salt. Beat again for 2 minutes into a very thick batter. Turn on oven for about 3 minutes, then turn it off. Leave door shut.

4. Coat kneading surface with 1/4 C flour. Pour dough onto flour and sprinkle top with another 1/4 C or so of flour. Knead mass carefully at first, since it will be runny. Add as little flour as possible during the kneading process*. When dough sticks together as you fold it and the seam disappears easily, it is ready. Approx 5-10 minutes. Grease a bowl lightly with oil and place dough ball in it. Turn to coat all sides. This will keep the dough from drying out. Place in oven, which should be about 90º-100º, for one hour to let the dough rise.

5. When dough has doubled, remove from oven and punch down. You literally punch your fist into the middle of the bowl to deflate the dough, then pull in the sides. Allow dough to rest for 10 minutes, during which you can warm the oven back up a little if it's too cool.

6. Shape dough into however you want to make it and place on a greased pan: loaf, round free-standing loaf, dinner rolls, focaccia, etc. Place back in oven to rise another 45 minutes.

7. Remove from oven and turn oven on to 400º. Before baking, you may want to brush bread with melted butter for that butter-top flavor. Bake for 25-30 minutes for a loaf, less time if you divide the dough into portions. Cool on wire racks.


Start by containing the dough into something resembling a ball. It helps to flour your hands first. Using the heel of your hand, push the dough away from you with a rolling motion. Flip the part you just pushed back onto the dough. Give it a quarter turn. Repeat the process, adding a little flour whenever the dough becomes too sticky to handle. The dough should never feel solid. There should always be a soft and silky feeling to it.

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pasta with Peanut Sauce

This asian-inspired sauce is very easy to make. You stir up the sauce while any long-strand pasta is cooking (spaghetti, linguine, soba noodles, even ramen without the flavoring packet). This time, I served it with somen noodles*, green beans, and tofu, making a vegan meal. Not low-calorie or low-fat, but no animal products.

Peanut Sauce

*1/2 C peanut butter (the chunkier, the better. They make one that has whole peanuts in it.)
*1/4 C soy sauce
1/4 C warm water
1 tsp ginger
*1 Tb toasted sesame seeds

1. Whisk together peanut butter, soy sauce, and water until smooth.

2. Whisk in ginger and sesame seeds.

3. Pour over cooked, drained, and rinsed hot pasta. Serve immediately.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I visited Pete's Produce and got an eggplant. Once I had made baba ghannouj, I needed some pitas to eat with it.

I have tried several pita recipes, with barely edible success. Some rise with yeast, some with baking powder, some with steam. The one I have resisted trying, from Mideast & Mediterranean Cuisines, is not the kind that rises at all. It makes the flat pita breads that are not intended to be pulled open and filled. It's a lot like a thin-crust pizza that someone forgot to put toppings on, but tougher because it's pan-fried instead of baked. Today, that was exactly the kind of flatbread I wanted to make, so I finally tried the recipe. I made it with all white flour because I didn't have any whole wheat flour, and they came out fine.

1 C all-purpose flour
1 C whole-wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1-1/4 C water (approx)
Vegetable or olive oil

1. In a bowl, stir together flours and salt. Stir in enough water to allow dough to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

2. Turn out onto a floured surface. Knead until dough is soft and smooth. Pinch off pieces about 2" in diameter. Shape into balls. Cover with a dry cloth towel and let rest 10 minutes.

3. Heat griddle (or frying pan) over medium-high heat. Lightly grease with oil. You will begin cooking when a drop of water sizzles on the pan.

4. Roll out a ball of dough into a 6" circle. Set on griddle and cook until lightly browned on underside, about 2 minutes. Turn and brown other side. Bread will puff slightly, but not a lot. Serve warm or place in plastic bags while still hot to keep soft.

5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 for remaining dough balls. Makes about 8 pitas.

Note: Do not do what I did and roll all the balls first and stack them off to the side. By the time I got down to the last two, they had stuck together and I had to re-roll them. They turned out tougher than the rest. Or, be sure to place waxed paper between each pita, preventing this sticky problem.

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, August 8, 2010


This is the other thing I'm stuck with in vast quantities. There's an entire case of 4 oz Brandywine stems & pieces. Plus, several other varieties. And I don't really like mushrooms. Actually, I liked canned better than fresh, but only when heavily seasoned with pretty much anything.

Today, I tackled the 21 oz jar of marinated button mushrooms. Reading the ingredients, I realized that the seasonings were much like what you add to tahini paste when you make hummus or baba ghannouj. So, I figured I'd try to make some kind of a dip along those lines.

Tahini is wonderful. Basically ground sesame seeds, it has a nutty flavor that is very peanut-butter like. To make baba ghannouj, you roast an eggplant at 400º until it's a mushy purple lump, scoop out the insides, and puree it with generous amounts of tahini, garlic, and a little lemon juice. Yummy dip. Hummus is pretty much the same recipe, but sub in a can of garbanzo beans for the eggplant. The tahini isn't cheap, but if you have access to a middle-eastern market, it won't break the budget.

When I opened the jar of mushrooms, they smelled more like salami wrapped around a pickle. I rinsed off most of the garlic and herbs and tossed them in the food processor with about half a cup of tahini paste. Not my best experiment. After an hour in the fridge, the flavors melded into something palatable, but I'm guessing I shouldn't have used the marinated ones for this idea. The tahini couldn't balance the strong vinegar in the mushrooms.

At least I'm not out any money for this experiment. The one thing I hadn't anticipated when I started this project was how cheap my trips to the supermarket would get. I thought I'd be spending more, getting all sorts of ingredients to make the pantry items work. Instead, I'm still buying the sorts of things I always do, but the pantry is those stray rare ingredients that tend to run up the grocery bill.

The next time I have an opportunity to cook is Tuesday. Think I'm going to check out a produce market I recently discovered and buy an eggplant. Baba ghannouj sounds really good right now.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Earl Grey Cookies

Another winner from the LA Times. They do leave a slightly bitter aftertaste, but another cookie cures that. :) My first attempt at them came out a little hard, but they were ideal for dunking, kind of like biscotti. The ones that I froze for later defrosted a bit softer.

*1/2 C plus 1 Tb blanched whole almonds
1 C (2 sticks) butter, cut into chunks, softened
1-1/2 C plus 1 Tb powdered sugar
3-1/2 C cake flour
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
*1/4 C Earl Grey tea leaves, crushed
Flour for rolling

1. Make almond flour by grinding the almonds in a food processor until they become grainy like sand. Do not over-process into paste. Set aside.

2. Beat butter on medium-high until creamy. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low until sugar is incorporated. Scrape bowl. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, several minutes.

3. In a separate bowl, combine almond flour and cake flour.

4. Add half the egg yolks to sugar-butter mixture and beat until incorporated. Beat in remaining yolks.

5. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 4 stages and mix on low speed until all the flour is incorporated. Stir in tea leaves.

6. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Beat lightly until the dough has softened a bit. On lightly floured surface, roll dough into two 12" logs, 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

7. Preheat oven to 350º degrees. Slice logs into 1/4" thick cookies and place them 1/2" apart on baking sheets. Bake for 13 minutes, turning pans halfway through. The bottoms of the cookies will be golden brown when done. Let them stand on the baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to a rack to cool.

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hungarian Chocolate-Walnut Torte

This incredibly rich cake can be made for Passover. Make the icing without butter, and it's pareve. I'm not printing the calories. Trust me, you don't want to know. If you want a smaller dessert, 1/3 of the recipe fills a 6" springform pan, although it won't rise as high. (Bake for only 20-25 minutes.) And I cannot stress enough the importance of using a springform, and lining it with waxed paper as the recipe directs. This sucker won't come out, even from a non-stick pan sprayed with pan spray or greased.

This recipe is from the LA Times.


3/4 C sugar
1/2 C water
*6 oz semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
6 eggs, separated
*6 oz shelled walnuts
3 Tb matzo cake meal or flour
Walnut halves for garnish

1. Bring 1/2 C sugar and water to a boil in heavy-bottomed 2- or 3-qt saucepan, stirring over medium heat. Boil and stir until all sugar has dissolved into a simple syrup. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool.

2. Beat yolks in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Grind walnuts with remaining sugar and matzo meal in food processor. Use pulse setting so it becomes walnut flour, and not a paste. Stir into egg yolks. Add cooled chocolate mixture and combine thoroughly.

3. Using clean beaters, beat egg whites in another bowl until they hold stiff peaks, but are not dry. Fold whites into chocolate-walnut mixture, incorporating them gently so that no whites are visible. Pour batter into 9" springform pan lined with wax paper. Bake in lower third of oven at 350º until puffed and almost set but still a little gooey in the center, 35-40 minutes. A toothpick inserted 1" from center should come out clean.

4. Cool on rack 1 hr 30 min. When completely cool, run a thin-bladed knife around edges of cake to release it from pan before popping the spring; invert onto serving platter. Peel off wax paper.

Chocolate Icing

6 Tb butter or margarine
*6 oz semisweet chocolate, cut in small pieces
2 Tb water

1. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. When half is melted, gradually whisk in chocolate, stirring well as it melts. After chocolate has been added, stir in water and beat well until glaze is smooth. Cool 5 minutes to thicken slightly.

2. Using a spatula, spread glaze over top and sides of cake. Garnish with walnut halves. Refrigerate about 1 hr to set the glaze, but bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Difficulty rating  :-0

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The nice part about making your own lemonade is that you can control the sugar. Besides, what else are you going to do when the tree keeps chucking out grapefruit-sized lemons? This recipe is from "The Book of Afternoon Tea". It uses normal sized lemons with normal acidity. My lemons are very mild, probably because of their size, and I use about half the sugar.

3 lemons
1/2 C sugar

1. Using a vegetable peeler, pare off the peel from the WASHED lemons and set in a heatproof bowl with the sugar. Squeeze juice from lemons (approx 3/4 C) and set aside.

2. Bring 3-1/4 C water to a boil and pour over lemon peel and sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar, then let cool completely. Add lemon juice and strain into a pitcher. Chill & serve.

Makes 1 qt.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I first started making my own jams and preserves for Passover, so I could make sure there was no corn syrup or gelatin in them. Now, I do it whenever fruit is so in season that it's cheaper to make jam than to buy it.

Making preserves has nothing to do with the canning process. You do not have to can jams when they are made. I do keep mine in sterilized mason jars in the fridge, but that's to extend their shelf life to over a month. I rarely go through the whole processing rigamarole; I only do it when I made so much that I can't use it all in a month.

My approach to jam is really more like making candy. That way, you don't have to figure out how to use pectin or other gelling agents. It also tends to produce extra fruit syrup, especially with strawberries. I keep it separate for pancakes, blintzes, or ice cream topping.

This recipe is specifically for berries and stone fruits like cherries or apricots. Citrus is used for marmalade, which is a different recipe.

8 oz (1/2 lb) fruit of choice
8 oz (1/2 lb) sugar BY WEIGHT. This is the time to splurge on C&H, or the best cane sugar you can find.
1 Tb lemon juice (a preservative. It enhances color, flavor, and prolongs shelf life)

1. Wash and prepare fruit: hull strawberries, remove any unwanted skins, seeds, cores, or pits, and cut into pieces no bigger than 1/2". For small berries like blueberries, mash slightly - just enough to break the skin.

2. In a non-metal bowl, sprinkle lemon juice over fruit. Cover fruit with sugar. Set in refrigerator and allow sugar to absorb juices. Several hours or overnight.

3. In a saucepan, slowly bring to a low boil, stirring frequently to avoid scorching the sugar. With a spoon, skim off the scummy bubbles that form. When the bubbles stop being foamy and get clear and larger, turn up the heat a bit and get out the candy thermometer. You want to get it to the fudge/soft ball temperature, 240º.

4. Once it reaches temperature, remove from heat and place into very clean - preferably sterilized - containers. What I do is get all the fruit into the first jar and fill up the spaces in-between with syrup. Any remaining syrup goes in a second container. Cover loosely and allow temperature to come down slowly. After 2 hours, secure lids and place in refrigerator. The jam should set up overnight.

Makes 1 pt.

Difficulty rating  :-0

Monday, August 2, 2010


There are several takes on scones. Some are almost cakelike, others are dense and crumbly shortbread, and some are cousins of biscuits. I prefer the last. They're easiest to spread with cream and preserves. I've sprung for the double Devon cream a few times. That stuff is more fatty than butter. Most often, I use unsweetened whipped cream with preserves.

This recipe is adapted from "The Book of Afternoon Tea"

2 C flour, plus extra for flouring the board
1 Tb baking powder
1/4 C butter
2 Tb sugar
2/3 C milk

1. Preheat oven to 425º. Into a bowl, sift flour and baking powder. Cut in butter until flour is almost the consistency of dry oatmeal. Stir in sugar.

2. Make a well in the center and pour in milk. Stir together until just moist. Do not overmix. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead lightly.

3. For individual scones, pat dough to 1/2" thick, then use a 2" round cookie cutter to cut them out and place a little apart on a cookie sheet. For moister scones, make two large rounds 1/2" thick, then cut each into quarters, but leave them touching. You can break them apart after baking and end up with less crust.

4. Bake 10-12 minutes, until risen and lightly brown. There isn't much sugar in the dough, so they should not be dark. Cool on a rack, then keep covered with a towel until ready to serve.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Choux Paste

Choux paste is the dough you use to make cream puffs and eclairs, or fry into beignets and churros. I assume it's called choux because a small mound of it bakes into the shape of a cabbage ("chou" in French). They get their leavening from steam as the water in the mix evaporates. The flour and egg then cook and hold the hollow shape.

There is nothing hard or scary about making profiteroles, the round bits of pastry that, when filled with pastry cream, we call cream puffs. There is no special equipment necessary. Even if you want to do some pastry-bag piping, you can just fill a ziplock with the dough and snip off a corner to make a hole the size you want. Of course, if you have pastry tips and want to play with them, that's fun too.

This recipe is from The Bible.

1/2 C (one stick) butter or margarine
1 C water
1/2 tsp salt
1 C flour
4 eggs

1. Grease 2 large cookie sheets. In 2-qt saucepan over medium heat, heat butter, water, and salt until boiling. Remove from heat.

2. Add flour all at once. With wooden spoon, vigorously stir until mixture forms a ball and leaves sides of pan. Preheat oven to 375º.

3. Add eggs to flour mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition, until smooth. Cool mixture slightly.

4. Portion onto cookie sheets.

This is where I have to deviate from the recipe, because the baking times are dependent on the size of the puffs. If you make the hamburger-bun sized ones in the original recipe, it's 50 minutes. 1-1/2" to 2" is more common; those cook in about 30 minutes. If you do swans, the necks only take 10-12. Remove them, then finish baking bodies. The swan bodies are elongated teardrops. Cut off the top third after baking, fill, cut the top in half and use each half as a wing, and plant the question-mark-shaped neck in the front.

From top to bottom: Rustic chou shape, pastry-bag piped rounds, swan bodies and necks

The baked results. See the difference between the mounds and the piped dough.

Sliced open and with fillings. Profiteroles do not have to be desserts. There is no sugar in the dough. I used it here with tuna salad. You can make large ones and put stew or chicken a la King in it. I recommend only using thick sauces, though. Thin ones will absorb too fast and make it soggy.

For dessert fillings, you can used whipped cream, pudding, jam, or get adventurous and make various flavors of pastry cream. Powdered sugar or a swirl of chocolate make decorative toppings. The Bible has a really cool idea of making a ring of touching cream puffs. You slice the whole top off and fill it, put it back on, ice with a chocolate glaze, and fill the center with strawberries. No surprise, this is the photo on the cover.

Difficulty rating  :)