Friday, December 30, 2011

Sticky Buns

An early Happy New Year to all.  I like to make a special breakfast on Christmas, since I know I don't have to go to work.  These breakfast rolls can also be that special New Year's treat to get up to in the morning.

This is an adaptation from my first year pastry class.  The professional recipe makes several dozen.  This one is closer to my chocolate rolls, and gets to use the now-infamous 8" square pan.  I use that thing at least once a week.

A note about cleaning said pan.  The parchment lining keeps it mostly clean, but there's bound to be some topping dripped onto the pan surface.  You're basically making caramel, which will harden on the pan as soon as you take out the rolls to let them cool.  Don't panic.  Fill the pan with boiling water and let the sugar dissolve.  You may have to do it more than once, but don't bother scrubbing.  Elbow grease will not get off the caramel, but the Universal Solvent will.

Like the chocolate rolls, you can do the first half the evening before and place the shaped rolls in the fridge until morning.

2/3 C milk
2 Tb butter
1/4 C sugar
2 tsp yeast
2-3 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 C butter
1/2 C brown sugar
1 Tb honey
1 Tb corn syrup
*1/2 C chopped walnuts or pecans

1.  Warm milk, butter, and sugar to 100º.  Butter does not need to melt.  Stir in yeast and let rest until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2.  In stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine salt and 1 C flour.  Beat in milk mixture to make a thin batter.  Beat in egg and 1 C flour to make a thick batter, about 2 minutes.  Beat in 1/2 C flour to make a soft dough, another 2 minutes.  Pour out onto floured board and knead until smooth, about 5-10 minutes.  Place in lightly oiled bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hr.

3.  Punch down dough and let rest.  In mixer, cream together second butter, brown sugar, honey, and corn syrup to make a paste.  Line an 8" square pan VERY WELL with parchment paper.  Smear paste on bottom of pan, then sprinkle with chopped nuts.

4.  With a floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 9" x 18" rectangle.  Dust surface with cinnamon, leaving one inch on one long side clean.  Roll up dough starting on the other long side, and ending by sealing the clean side.  Cut nine 2" lengths.

5.  Place pieces cut-side up in pan with space for them to rise and expand.  Either cover and refrigerate until morning or put in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 hr.

6.  Bake at 400º for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool in pan until no longer bubbling, then invert onto serving plate and remove parchment paper.  Start soaking the pan now.

Makes 9 rolls

Difficulty rating :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cha Siu Bao

My first foray into steamed Chinese food.  As adorable as bamboo steamers are, you don't need to go to extra expense for this.  Get out that big soup pot and fill it with an inch or so of water.  I used a wire pot stand, but you could poke a lot of holes in a sturdy pie tin with a Phillips screwdriver to make a steaming platform.  Use your inner MacGyver to improvise until you know that steaming is something you want to do often.

I cheated on the sauce.  There was actual cha siu (Chinese barbecue) sauce at 99 Ranch.  To do it yourself, see the original recipe I used as my source.  I can't think of why I would need 12 ounces of oyster sauce, so I went for the easy way out.  You'll also notice in that recipe that the dough recipe has somewhat different amounts.  I made one batch following the 24 serving amounts and split it between the red bean buns and these bao, so I estimated the quantities here to match the amount of filling.

I didn't grill my pork, I did it in the oven.  Maybe it was a fluke, but it came out really well.  I'm definitely going to make it that way again.

1/2 lb pork shoulder roast
1/2 C cha siu sauce, divided
4 C flour
3 Tb sugar
1-1/3 C water
2 tsp yeast
2 tsp baking powder
1 Tb shortening

1.  Cut pork into 2-inch thick slices and coat with half of the sauce.  Marinate for several hours.

2.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Roast pork for 20 mintues, until thermometer reaches 155º.  Remove and allow to cool slightly.  Chop into 1/2" cubes and toss with remaining sauce.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

3.  Add sugar and yeast to warm water and let sit until foamy, about 10 mintues.  Combine 2 C flour, baking powder, and shortening in a large bowl.  Add water mixture and beat into a batter.  Add another cup of flour and beat into a dough.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth, adding flour as necessary, about 10 minutes.  Set in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until tripled, about 2 hours.

4.  Punch down dough and let rest 10 minutes.  With a food scale, measure out 2 oz portions.  Round pieces into balls and let rest 5 minutes.

5.  Press each ball into a 4-inch circle.  Place 2 Tb pork filling on each and pinch up sides to make a dumpling with a puckered top.  Place on a small square of parchment or waxed paper and let rise 10 minutes.

6.  Boil 1 inch of water in a large pot and set up a steaming rack.  Place bao in steamer at least 2 inches apart.  I got 5 in at a time.  Put lid on pot and steam for 12 minutes per batch.  Don't worry about the ones left waiting their turn.  A little more rising time won't hurt them.  Serve immediately.

Makes about 12

Difficulty rating :-0

Monday, December 26, 2011

Red Bean Buns

I have been wanting to go to dim sum for a few weeks.  No one else is quite as interested, and I don't want to go alone.  Part of dim sum is trading around the dishes.  Besides, that's way too much food.

I picked up some dried azuki red beans at 99 Ranch, before learning that you can buy the paste pre-made.  It isn't difficult to make the paste, especially if you're used to making beans from dried.  I've also seen azuki at Marina Farms and Sprouts.  Look in the Asian aisle of better grocery stores.

I was also surprised that the dough for these buns and bao are just plain white bread.  I always assumed there was some special ingredient like rice flour.  The white fluffiness of steamed buns is just because there isn't a crust.  I decided to bake these instead of steaming them, to make them different than the bao.  It was a good choice.  Despite being just mashed beans in bread, they taste like a pastry.

A Chinese friend warned me that dim sum is time-consuming, but I found that these and the bao required less effort than hamantaschen.

1 C red bean paste (see below)
2 C flour
2 Tb sugar
2/3 C warm water
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp shortening
oil for bowl
1 Tb honey
sesame seeds

1.  The day before, start the bean paste:
  • 1/ 2 C azuki beans
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1 Tb oil
  Soak beans in 2 C water for at least 8 hours.  Drain, add fresh water, and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 2 hours, until soft.  Drain.  Purée in food processor or blender.  Stir in sugar.  Heat oil in a frying pan.  Cook bean purée in oil until most of the moisture is gone.  It should look like dark pink refried beans.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

2.  For the dough, add sugar and yeast to warm water and let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.  Beat in 1 C flour, shortening, and baking powder to make a batter.  Add 1/2 C flour to make a soft dough.  Knead on a floured board until smooth, about 10 minutes.  Lightly oil a bowl and place dough in it.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until tripled, about 2 hours.

3.  Punch down dough and let rest 10 minutes.  Get out the food scale and cut 1 oz pieces off the dough. Round them into balls and let them rest 5 minutes.

4.  Flatten each dough ball into a disc about 4 inches across.  Place 1 Tb of bean paste in center and enclose to make a ball.  Place buns on a greased cookie sheet or one lined with parchment or a silpat, seam-side down.  Let rise for 30 minutes.

5.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Add 1 tsp warm water to honey and brush tops of buns.  Sprinkle a few sesame seeds on top of each bun for garnish.  Bake for 25 minutes, until browned.  Cool on racks and serve at room temperature.

makes about 12

Difficulty rating  :-0

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Oreo Truffles

My hostess at Thanksgiving made these.  She didn't have to give me a proper recipe, just the basic how-to.  Really, that's all you need.  However, I did double-check on the Kraft recipe site for quantities.  If you dare, scroll down to the bottom of their recipe page.  Don't some of those recipes sound good?

1 8-oz brick of cream cheese, softened
1 package of Oreos
*1 lb semisweet baking chocolate

1.  Make Oreo crumbs by processing in the blender or food processor.  This is easier if you freeze them for about an hour first.  The White Stuff hardens and doesn't get as pasty.

2.  Whip the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy.  Combine with 3 cups of the crumbs.  It will make a grey, grainy paste.  Chill for about half an hour.

3.  Melt the chocolate.  I recommend the microwave at half power, stirring every 60 seconds, until smooth.  Line two baking sheets with wax paper.

4.  Make 1" balls of cream cheese (the larger end of a melon-baller) and dip them in the chocolate.  I made a dozen at a time, dropping them in the bowl as they were shaped, then warmed the chocolate between batches.  I recommend using two forks and rolling the balls between them until coated, so the excess can drip out.  Place truffles on baking sheets and dust with remaining Oreo crumbs before the chocolate sets.  (I skipped that step, but they probably look better if you do it.)  Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.

5.  If not serving immediately, keep refrigerated.  Because of the cream cheese, they cannot be left out indefinitely.  4 hours maximum at room temperature, and do not freeze.

Makes about 4 dozen

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Seven-Layer Bars

This is my year of the cookie.  After realizing how few varieties I made last year, I have promised myself to make at least one batch of cookies or finger desserts a week for the rest of the year.  It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.  The project is progressing rather well, and my co-workers look for my little green cookie tin every time I have a shift.

My godmother introduced me to these.  While not technically cookies because there's no dough, they are about the right chewiness.  (Wow, spell-checker actually recognizes that as a word.  Quinoa - nope.)

Yes, there are a lot of ingredients in this one, but it's all in small amounts.  Odds are, it will use the last bits of the bag that you bought for something else.  And yes, apparently the butter counts as a layer.

To serve these, you need to put them in paper muffin liners.  Otherwise, they'll fall apart.  This makes them excellent for packing in tins to give as gifts or laying out on a platter at a party.  And because they are made from pre-cooked ingredients, they stay moist and fresh at room temperature for at least a week.  Yeah, right, a week.

6 Tb butter
1-1/4 C graham cracker crumbs
*1 C chocolate chips
*1 C butterscotch chips
1 C shredded coconut
*1 C chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk

1.  Melt butter and combine with graham crumbs.  (Make crumbs by pulverizing graham crackers in a ziplock with a rolling pin.)  The crumbs don't have to be entirely moistened.  Spread across the bottom of an 8" square pan.

2.  Start making the layers by evenly distributing the chocolate, butterscotch, coconut, and nuts.  Pour the condensed milk evenly over all and let it soak in while the oven is preheating to 325º, at least 15 minutes.

3.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Let sit in pan for 10 minutes, then cut into 2" squares.  Allow to cool thoroughly before removing squares from pan.  Store in a sealed container.

Makes 16 2" squares

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Peppermint Mocha

Sure, you could get dressed, spend $4, and make a half-hour run to Starbucks.  Or, you can make this every morning for pennies while you're deciding what to wear.  It's also an excellent after-dinner party drink, easily jazzed up with kahlua, creme de menthe, or chocolate liqueur.  To make it easier for the latter, I'll give the four-serving version.

And for those who have noticed, yes, I am working the peppermint extract overtime this month.  I like mint.

2 C French roast coffee, brewed double-strong, or 4 shots espresso
2 C milk
1/2 C chocolate syrup
1/8 tsp peppermint extract
whipped cream and crushed candy canes for garnish

1.  Once coffee has brewed, add milk directly to coffee pot.  Let sit five minutes for the burner to warm the milk.  Carefully stir in chocolate syrup and peppermint.  If necessary, leave on the burner a few more minutes.

2.  Pour into coffee cups and top with whipped cream and candy cane pieces.  Serve immediately.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, December 18, 2011


My favorite part of a visit to Solvang is watching them make fudge on the marble table at the fudge shop.  It looks like really hard work, turning 20 pounds of fudge with a paddle and working in the air to a creamy texture.  I'm not sure if I buy a pound because it looks so good, I know it's fresh, or I want to make the cooks feel valued.

You don't have to go to that much effort to make fudge at home.  You can, but you don't have to.  The simplest, creamiest, most fool-proof recipe for fudge I know is on the back of a jar of Kraft marshmallow creme.  One note: I used chocolate chips instead of chopping 12 ounces of baking chocolate.  They didn't melt entirely.  After five minutes, I decided to give up and call it a fold-in, and the small chocolate nubs that were left were a really nice addition.  Alternatively, you could melt them in the microwave on half-power before stirring them into the fudge.

That will get you as far as basic chocolate fudge.  While yummy, there's all sorts of things you can do to it.
  • Nuts: walnuts, pecans, almonds.  Just make sure they are chewable size
  • Mini-marshmallows: don't stir in until the fudge is almost cooled, or they will melt
  • Extracts: 1/8 tsp of peppermint extract, and the whole batch will be minty.  Add crushed candy canes on top to give a visual cue (that's what I made this time, but using my peppermint-flavored candy cane sprinkles)
  • Candy: mini M&Ms, a contrasting chip, or crushed hard candies add flair and flavor
  • Peanut butter or pre-melted white chocolate, swirled in at the last minute

3 C sugar
3/4 C (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine
1 5oz can evaporated milk
*12 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped
1 7oz jar marshmallow creme
1 tsp vanilla
fold-ins of choice

1.  Line 9" square pan with foil.

2.  Bring sugar, butter, and evaporated milk to a full rolling boil in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Boil 4 minutes, or to 234ºF on a candy thermometer, stirring constantly to avoid boiling over and scorching.

3.  Remove from heat and stir in chocolate and marshmallow creme.  Stir until combined and chocolate is melted.  Add vanilla and fold-ins.

4.  Pour fudge into lined pan and allow to cool to room temperature.  If it's a warm day, chill in fridge ten minutes before cutting.

5.  To cut:  Remove fudge from pan by lifting entire foil lining and place on work surface.  Peel down the edges to lay flat.  With a warm knife, cut 1-1/2" squares.  Place in paper liners before serving, especially to kids.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, December 16, 2011

Grenadine and Candied Pomegranate

This was going to be Pomegranate Jam, but it didn't quite work.  I quickly realized that the syrup part was grenadine, which I will add to absolutely any ordinary soda or lemonade.  I still order Shirley Temples when I'm the designated driver.

You can liven up the syrup with a shot of vodka, which also serves as a preservative.

1 pomegranate
1/2 C sugar
1 tsp lemon juice or 1 oz vodka

1.  Cut open pomegranate and remove the seeds.  I could go into detail about this, or you can watch this highly entertaining video:

2.  Stir together arils and sugar in a saucepan, breaking as many of the seeds as possible to release the juice.

3.  Heat over medium to boiling, stirring and breaking open more seeds with back of spoon.  Allow to boil for 5 minutes, stirring to avoid it boiling over.

4.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice or vodka.  Strain syrup into a jar, pressing the seeds to get as much of the syrup as you can.  Place seeds in a separate container and use on salads, ice cream, or anything else that you would use dried or candied fruit on.

5.  Refrigerate both jars once cool enough to handle.  Syrup lasts one month, seeds one week.

Makes about 3/4 C syrup and 1/2 C seeds, depending on size of fruit.

Difficulty level  :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


One thing about the holidays is that you always end up with a lot of leftovers.  They can be great for lunches and snacks in the following days, but you have to be careful about what you re-serve.

First, make sure the food is safe before deciding it is leftover-worthy.  If you left out a bowl of dip most of the night, toss it.  An all-vegetable dip may still be safe, but not anything with dairy, meat, or fish in it.  Many people leave out dinner platters when they serve dessert.  Try to find room for them in the fridge while you're changing plates and putting whipped cream on the pie.  It's ok if the guests spend an extra ten minutes chatting before dessert.

How long can you keep food in the fridge?  My general rule is that cooked dishes are good for five days.  Uncooked veggies (like salad) get two.  And cream pies need to be eaten within a day or two.  They start to separate and get icky.  If you know you won't finish a cooked dish, like stuffing or a roast, in under a week, freezing is a good solution.  First, get the product down to refrigerator temperature to minimize freezer burn.  Get as much air out of the freezer bag as possible, using a vacuum sealer if you have one.  Label it with the date it was made and put it in the deep freeze.  You can enjoy your holiday meal again in January.  Fruit pies and most kinds of cakes are freeze-able.

Basically, don't re-serve anything that was sitting out longer than four hours unless it's bread, nuts, or uncut fruit.  Everything else requires refrigeration for future meals.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Butterscotch Poppy Seed Cake

One of my co-workers made this for our Thanksgiving pot luck.  When she said she was bringing a poppy seed cake, I assumed it was lemon, nodded, and hoped someone else would bring a dessert.  But I love butterscotch, and this was great.

This counts as semi-homemade, but no one is going to care.  If you don't have the time to make every single treat from scratch, use this one as the last-minute hostess gift.

It doesn't have an icing in the recipe, and doesn't really need it.  However, if you are the sort of person who can't take a Bundt cake somewhere without icing, I'll put one here.

1 box white or yellow cake mix
1 box butterscotch pudding mix
3/4 C vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 C water
1/4 C poppy seeds

1.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.  Beat for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.

2.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease a Bundt pan.  Pour batter into pan and bake for 45-50 minutes.  Cool for ten minutes in pan, then turn out onto serving plate.

3.  Ice when cool:  Beat together 1/2 C powdered sugar, 1 egg white, and 1/2 tsp vanilla.  Drizzle over cooled cake.

Difficulty level  π

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gingerbread Cookies

I didn't make these last year?  I must have been distracted by all the batches of Dirty Snowballs I ended up making in a vain effort to win the cookie contest.

These are probably the quintessential Christmas cookie.  They make the whole house smell like the holidays.  And the dough is versatile enough to make crispy ginger snaps, supple gingerbread men, or solid pieces for house construction.  The creamy icing is not necessary, but often helps to cut the tang for those who prefer a more mild cookie.

2-1/4 C flour
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C shortening
1/2 C molasses
1 egg
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

icing and decorations

1.  In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.  Beat at medium speed until well mixed.  Wrap in waxed paper and chill for 1 hour.

2.  On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll dough 1/8" thick.  These are the thickness which dries best for ornaments.  (1/16" for crisps, 1/4" for softer cookies, and 1/2" for construction pieces)  Preheat oven to 350º.

3.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters.  If making ornaments, poke the string hole before baking.  Reroll trimmings to cut out again, but keep in mind that they will get tougher the more times you roll them out.  What I usually do is roll out a handful of dough, then add another handful to the scraps, etc, until it has all been used.  That will minimize the toughness.  Place cookies 1/2" apart on cookie sheets.

4.  Bake for about 8 minutes, until edges turn brown.  (You'll have to adjust the time for various thicknesses, and ornaments can be slightly overbaked, since they're going to go stale on purpose.)  Remove to cooling racks and cool completely before decorating.


1-1/4 C (or more) powdered sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 egg white

1.  Combine ingredients with a whisk.  Let sit in the fridge for 5 minutes for the powdered sugar to absorb the liquid, then beat again.  If you want thicker icing, add more powdered sugar.

2.  Icing can be spread over cookies, piped into designs, or dipped.  It can be colored with food coloring.  You can also top the icing with sprinkles that will stay on once the icing is set.

3.  It can take as long as 8 hours for the icing to set, even if it is applied thinly.  It's best to decorate the night before and to place waxed paper between layers of cookies.

Yield depends on size of cookie cutters and extent of decoration

Difficulty level  :)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rabbit Tagine

I finally had the chance to go up to the 99 Ranch in Van Nuys.  Compared to my old one in Anaheim, it isn't as new and fancy.  The bakery is smaller and there isn't a food court.  But the deli is awesome.  They had whole fried ducks the day I was there, looking like they had just come from a swim through lava.  Heads and all.  If you wanted one of the very healthy crabs, you practically had to chase it across the store. Those suckers move fast.

Since I had to put the groceries in a cooler in the back seat, live crab was not on my list.  But I checked out the deep freezers, where you can find unusual meats and fish.  I finally found the seafood medley that I had wanted to use for the risotto.  They also had a pound of pre-steamed baby clams for $1.99.  And they had whole rabbit, frozen solid.

Um, I didn't notice the "whole" part until the onions were sautéed.  It isn't hard to cut one into pieces.  It's like quartering a chicken.  You just don't want to do it at the last second.  At least there weren't any giblets.

Rabbits don't have a lot of meat on them.  It's like a Cornish hen, where you think you're getting more than you really are.  Plan a healthy serving of sides, like veggie couscous and some harira.

I'm going to lie a touch in this recipe.  I planned to use chicken broth, then forgot to buy some.  Subbed in 2 cups of Chardonnay.  All that Two-buck Chuck isn't going to drink itself.

2 lb rabbit, cut up
1 Tb olive oil
1/2 C chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 C (about 8) dried dates
2 C water
2 C chicken broth
2 tsp cumin
2 Tb lemon juice
1 tsp kosher salt
pinch saffron

1.  In a deep frying pan with a lid, sautée onion and garlic in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add rabbit pieces and sear for one minute.  Turn over and sear other side for a minute.

2.  Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and let the tagine cook slowly for 1-1/2 hours.  Turn meat over about halfway through cooking.  When done, the meat will practically fall off the bones.  Serve over rice or couscous.

Serves 3

Difficulty level  π

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peppermint Meringues

Here's something easy to do with the leftover egg whites from the Chocolate Cream Pie, courtesy of December's Bon Appetit.

I can't stress enough the part about storing them in an airtight container.  Meringues will pick up all moisture from the air and get soft and sticky.  They are supposed to be crunchy.

*3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/3 C sugar
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/8 tsp peppermint extract
12 drops red food coloring

1. Preheat oven to 200º.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat.  With an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium-high until white and foamy.

2.  With mixer running, gradually add sugar in 3 additions, beating for 2 minutes between each addition. Beat until firm peaks form, about 2 more minutes.  Add powdered sugar and peppermint extract, beat to blend, about 1 minute.  You want the meringue shiny, but not dry.

3. Dot surface with food coloring.  Do not stir; it will swirl in the pastry bag.  Spoon meringue into a disposable pastry bag or ziplock with a 1/2" round tip, using a metal spoon.  (Between the peppermint and the food coloring, this will be the least damaging to your pastry equipment.)  Pipe into 1" rounds on baking sheets.

4.  Bake meringues until dry, about 2-1/2 hours.  Turn off oven, open door a crack, and allow to cool slowly for 1 hour.  Store at room temperature, placing waxed paper between layers, in an AIRTIGHT container.

Makes about 60

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chocolate Cream Pie

Because I wanted one.

This recipe is a lot like thickened ice cream.  Most cream pies are really pudding in a crust, but this one is more so.

I had a terrible time finding an Oreo crust.  I could have bought chocolate grahams or Oreos and made it myself, but the store-bought graham crust was on sale.

This recipe is courtesy of the Bible.

1 9" prebaked pie crust or crumb crust
1/2 C sugar
1/3 C flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 C milk
2 squares unsweetened dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 egg yolks
3 Tb butter
1 tsp vanilla
whipped cream for garnish

1.  In a medium saucepan, stir together sugar, flour and salt.  Add milk and stir until absorbed and there are no lumps.

2.  Stir in chocolate and warm over low heat.  Stir constantly to avoid scorching until chocolate is melted.

3.  Raise heat to medium and continue to stir.  Cook until mixture boils, about 10 minutes, and becomes thick.  Remove from heat.

4.  In a separate container, beat egg yolks until smooth.  Add about 1 C of hot pudding mixture and beat together to temper the eggs so they don't curdle.

5.  Pour egg mixture back into saucepan and stir rapidly to spread it through the pudding.  Return to a low heat, but do not boil or the eggs will curdle.  Cook until mixture becomes very thick and mounds when dropped from the spoon.

6.  Remove pudding from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.  Pour into pie crust and cover surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming.  Chill at least 4 hours before serving.

Serves 8

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hand Washing

I consider this the number one most important part of food safety.  You can start with the best ingredients and follow every other rule of safe cooking, but if you contaminate the food with dirty hands, it is unsafe.

What is proper hand-washing?  It involves using soap and the hottest water you can stand.  It takes about 20 seconds of lathering, getting the palms and back of your hands, wrists, between the fingers, and under the nails.  Sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself three times.  And don't turn off the water with your now-clean hands.  Remember, a dirty hand turned it on.  Use a paper towel.

It also involves washing every time you have a contaminating event:
  • Before beginning to cook
  • After using the restroom
  • After blowing your nose or covering a cough or sneeze
  • After eating, drinking, or smoking (saliva contamination)
  • When transferring from raw to cooked food
  • When transferring from high-risk food like meat to low-risk like vegetables that will not be cooked
  • After touching your hair, face, body, or clothing
  • Both before and after doing dishes
  • After doing any sort of cleaning project like sweeping, taking out trash, or picking up something off the floor
  • After touching anything that may be unsanitary, like a damp sponge or used dish towel
  • Every 20 minutes, even if there have been no contaminating events
And now for my opinion on foodservice gloves.  I, and many professional chefs, don't like them.  They actually discourage hand sanitation.  When you can't feel debris on your hands, you don't realize they need washing.  Cooks also use them instead of washing, and often do not wash when they change the gloves. But the public thinks they look more hygienic, so it has become standard practice in many establishments to use them.  It is not California state law.  Proper hand washing is.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vegetable Soup

I'm trying to figure out why most vegetable soups have beef, or at least beef broth, in them.  And the ones that don't, have zucchini as a main ingredient.  The great thing about being a grown-up is that you don't have to eat zucchini if you don't like it.  That's it, I'm going off the grid.

Vegetable soup is a good way to clear out the crisper while making something healthy.  Feel free to adjust to your own tastes.  For example, subbing in a russet potato for the parsnips.  I had a cold and just wanted something hot and good for me.

1 C dried Navy beans
1 yellow onion, minced
4 celery stalks, chopped into bite-sized pieces
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 lb parsnips, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 C fresh green beans, ends snapped, cut into 1" pieces
1 large (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 Tb olive oil
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Sort Navy beans, rinse, and soak overnight in cold water.  Drain.  In a medium saucepan, cover beans with water two inches deep.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 2 hours.

2.  In a large soup pot, sauté onion in oil until soft.  Add 3 C water, celery, carrots, parsnips, green beans, and bay leaf.  Drain beans and add to pot.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

3.  Add canned tomatoes with their juice and bring back up to a simmer.  Stir, taste, and add salt and pepper as necessary.  Discard bay leaf before serving.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, November 25, 2011

Part VI: Safe Cooking

AKA, how not to poison your guests.

I've done a few posts on food safety, but this section will go into a bit more detail.  The holidays are a fun time to share food, but more people contract foodborne illnesses in November and December than in the rest of the year.

To check out some previous topics:

Most of the lessons I'm going to be boring you with are from ServSafe Essentials, the food safety textbook of the National Restaurant Association.  I don't have this newest version, but anything that has changed will be to make it more lenient than what I know, not more strict.  A lot of it is common sense, and the rest is stuff that you feel like you should have known, but no one ever told you.  I'm not going to go into any of the picky stuff that you'll never need to know.  This is about how to be a successful home cook with food safety in the back of the mind.  All of these lessons will become second nature after a while.

Don't worry, there will still be plenty of recipes.  It is baking season, after all.

This also means that I've finished the crackers and matzoh!   Yay, me!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bison Meatballs

I really need to stop buying ground meat just because it's on sale.  Cuts, sure, I can do something with those.  Ground meat just gets worked into some sauce until it doesn't matter what it was originally.

But, come on, 75% off a $9 package of an unusual meat?  It ended up cheaper than ground beef would have been, just because I had to use it the same day I bought it.  I do that anyway.

Bison is leaner than beef.  Look at a one-pound package of ground bison and one of lean ground beef.  It is considerably smaller.  So, I had to use filler.  Yes, I had some leftover bacon fat, but what's the point of buying lean meat just to add fat to it?  Out came bread crumbs.  And I did have some spaghetti and sauce lying around.  Fine, spaghetti and meatballs it is.

Another thing I've always wondered about is why you have to brown meatballs in a pan to cook them.  They never remain round, and tend to cook unevenly.  Would the world end if I simmered them instead?  It turns out, the answer is no.  They did not fall apart, and cooked evenly in the same amount of time it took to boil the spaghetti and warm the sauce.  I would say that you can use this method any time you do not care if the outside of the meatball is crispy.

1 lb ground bison
*1/3 C Italian bread crumbs
1/4 C milk
*1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 clove minced garlic
1 egg
1 can beef broth
1 bay leaf

1.  Soak bread crumbs in milk until they absorb all of it.  Add ground bison, egg, Italian seasoning, and garlic.  Knead thoroughly and let sit in refrigerator at least 15 minutes, for flavors to meld.

2.  Boil beef broth and two cups water in a pot with the bay leaf.  Reduce to a simmer.  Get out the meat mix and start making 1-1/2" balls.  I got 20 out of my batch.  Drop them in the simmering water.  When all are in the pot, add more water, if necessary, to cover.  Maintain at a simmer for 15 minutes.  I stirred them once, to make sure nothing was stuck to the bottom and they cooked evenly.

3.  Drain, discard bay leaf, and serve.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Radish Dip

I had some radishes left over from the calamari salad.  Dip time.

Most of the recipes I found involved a brick of cream cheese.  Really?  Is that the cop-out when you can't figure out how to turn a veggie into a dip?  Back to the nonfat Greek yogurt, with some feta to bring out the bite in the radish.

*1 bunch red radishes (about 8)
1 C nonfat Greek yogurt
4 oz crumbled feta chese
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp dill

1.  Trim off stem and bottom of radishes, then cut into quarters.  Chop in food processor.  Add remaining ingredients and process until a chunky dip forms.  Chill until ready to use.

makes about 2 cups

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bacon Pie

Bet that got your attention.

This is one of those things that comes to you in the middle of the night.  Does bacon pie exist, and if it does, what's in it?  I did a Google search, which produced some interesting ideas, including this gorgeous bacon lattice, but they weren't what I had in mind.  Then, this month's Bon Appetit arrived and one of the recipes solved the problem for me.  Hash brown crust.  Yes!  That's what this idea needs.

Technically, this is a quiche.  I tried to come up with some way not to make it a heart attack waiting to happen, but broccoli doesn't work for breakfast.  The best I could do was to leave the skin on the potatoes.  If your goal is to make this a stuffed potato in pie form, go for the broccoli.

3/4 lb russet potatoes, shredded or grated
1 Tb oil
1/2 lb bacon, excess fat trimmed, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 C finely chopped onion
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
2 eggs
1 C milk
salt and pepper

1.  Heat oil in a skillet.  Add shredded potatoes, onion, and a little salt and pepper.  Cook hash browns until browned and crisp.  Press into a pie plate to form the crust.

2.  Fry bacon in the skillet until done.  Place bacon in crust, then sprinkle with cheese.

3.  Preheat oven to 375º.  In a bowl, beat together milk and eggs.  Season with pepper, then pour on top of cheese.  Let custard settle a bit before placing pie in oven.

4.  Bake pie 45 minutes, until egg is set.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Apple-Stuffed French Toast

We had some leftover round raisin challahs at work after the High Holy Days, so I took one home.  Not being a huge fan of raisin challah, but a big fan of French toast, this was a no-brainer.

It's very important for stuffed anything to cut your own out of a large piece.  This applies to bread, chicken, loin, roast, and veggies.  Buy an unsliced loaf of challah or brioche for any French toast, slice it to the thickness you want, and let it sit out overnight to dry out slightly.  It will absorb the egg better that way.

4 2"-thick slices of challah
1 apple, cored and thinly sliced
1 Tb brown sugar
2 Tb butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
1 C milk

1.  In a skillet, melt 1 Tb butter.  Add apple slices and cook over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes, add brown sugar and cook one more minute.  Set aside.

2.  While apples are cooking, slice a deep pocket into the challah pieces.  Make a slit in the bottom and cut all around, leaving about half an inch to the crust to hold the slices together.  In a bowl, beat together milk, egg, and cinnamon.

3.  Divide apple and stuff each pocket with its portion.  Place all of the slices in a baking dish and pour the custard over them.  Let soak 5 minutes, then turn over the slices and soak again, until all of the custard is absorbed and the pieces are evenly soggy.

4.  Preheat a large skillet over medium heat and melt remaining tablespoon of butter.  Transfer bread slices to skillet and cook about 5 minutes on each side, until egg is cooked.  Serve dusted with powdered sugar and syrup on the side.

This method also works with pears, peaches, cherries, bananas, and just about any fruit that you might want to stuff inside a piece of bread.

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tequila Chicken

Yes, I have a very well-stocked liquor cabinet.  I had never even had tequila, but this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa sounded interesting.  And I was going up to the produce stand in Ventura again anyway.  They have limes at 4/$1.

I figured I should taste the tequila before soaking the chicken in it.  I had the tiniest sip.  Have you ever seen "The Three Amigos!"?

After getting tipsy from less than a teaspoon of the stuff (I'm really a lightweight), I cut the amount in the marinade by half.  I don't care if very little of the marinade actually makes it into the meat and most of that cooks off.

This is really a recipe for grilling.  I found a cool frying pan with grilling ridges and used that to get it started before putting it in the oven.

This also works better with boneless chicken breasts, or even chicken tenders.  Hey, it's what I had in the freezer.

1 lb chicken breast
2 Tb tequila
2 limes, zested & juiced
1 lemon, zested & juiced
1 tsp chili powder
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 Tb olive oil

1.  Prepare marinade: Combine tequila, lime and lemon juice and zest, chili powder, garlic, salt, and pepper in a bowl.  Add chicken.  Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, turning periodically.

2.  Preheat grill or a frying pan and the oven to 325º.  Brush oil onto grill or fry pan.

  • For grill:  Cook for 3 minutes on each side, and continue turning until meat thermometer reaches 160º.  Baste periodically with marinade, but stop before the last time you turn the meat.
  • For stovetop:  Pan-fry for 3 minutes on each side, basting each side with marinade.  Transfer to a baking dish and cook in oven until meat thermometer reaches 160º, about 20 minutes.

Serves 3 to 4

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Banana Bread

This is what happens when I forget I bought bananas.  I prefer mine almost green.  Once a banana has a few spots, I don't like the texture anymore and save it for cooking.

I still feel bad about that almost-homemade muffin post way back at the beginning of this blog.  I am so glad the original Pantry Project is a distant memory.  This is an actual from-scratch recipe.  It's from Sunset Easy Basics for Good Cooking.  The version I have is out of print, and I seriously doubt it was one of the expensive versions Amazon lists.  I don't think I've used this cookbook ever, but it has extremely easy-to-prepare recipes.

One thing I noticed is that most banana bread recipes ask for 3 bananas, but then they say 1 cup of mashed banana.  I have a feeling the size of the average banana has increased significantly since most banana bread recipes were written.  I'm going with the one-cup measure.

You don't have to do the rum-soaked raisins, especially if children will be eating this.  I have inherited a very well-stocked wine collection and liquor cabinet, and I'm not much of a drinker.  Might as well cook with it.

*1 C mashed, very ripe bananas (2 or 3)
1 C sugar
1 egg
1/4 C butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1-1/2 C flour
1 tsp each salt, baking soda, and baking powder
*1/2 C raisins
1 Tb rum

1.  Preheat oven to 325º.  Lightly grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan.  (I used 2 of my minis).  Soak raisins in rum. You may have to soak them in hot water first if they're a little older.  Otherwise, they won't absorb the rum.

2.  In one bowl, combine bananas, sugar, egg, and butter.  In another, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

3.  Pick a bowl and pour the other into it.  Stir until just combined.  You don't have to get rid of all the lumps.  Add raisins.  (With the rum, if you feel like it.  Otherwise, drain them first.)

4.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake until toothpick comes out clean, 50-60 minutes for a full loaf, 30-40 for mini pans, and 20-25 for muffins.  Cool in pan on a rack until you can handle the pan.  Remove bread from pan; it may require a spatula.  Cool until room temperature, then let it sit out another half hour.

5.  Banana bread tastes better the next day.  Wrap in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator.  The easiest way to slice it is with a very sharp knife, through the plastic wrap.  It keeps it from disintegrating.  Warm to room temperature for serving.

makes 1 loaf

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fennel & Calamari Salad

Fennel tastes like celery and licorice had a baby.  Calamari is squid.  If this doesn't appeal to you, move along.  For those who like the light, fresh taste of a mild seafood paired with a crisp salad, please continue reading.

There are two ways to cook calamari so it is edible.  The first is to fry it for the shortest time possible.  The other is to poach it for five to ten minutes, until it is opaque, but you're not completely sure it's done.  We're doing the second today.

This is also an amazingly low-calorie salad.  Even with the two slices of olive bread I had with it (btw, excellent choice with the fennel), the meal came in well under 400 calories.

1/2 lb calamari (steak or whole, either will work)
1/2 lb fennel bulb
4 oz greenleaf lettuce
2 radishes
1/4 C lemon juice
1/2 Tb olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1.  To a 6" frying pan with sloped sides, add 2 C water, 1 tsp lemon juice, and a dash of salt.  Bring to poaching temperature, which is just under a simmer.  You don't want it to boil.

2.  Slice calamari into 1/2" strips for steak or 1/2" rings for whole, and cut the tentacles in half.  Place in frying pan and poach for at least 6 minutes.  Turn every minute or so, to avoid the bottom cooking more quickly than the top.  Remove from water and chill until ready to use.

3.  Slice fennel bulb thinly in rings.  If you have a mandoline, that's great.  I would love one.  Tear lettuce into salad-sized pieces.  Slice radishes thinly.  Need a mandonline....

4.  In a small bowl, combine remaining lemon juice, oil, and a touch each of salt and pepper.  Whisk dressing until oil is broken into small beads.

5.  Place greens on two plates.  Arrange radish slices on top of greens.  Arrange calamari pieces on top of salad.  Drizzle with lemon dressing.  Serve promptly.

Serves 2

Difficulty level  π

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Spinach Dip

Crackers and dip are really fattening.  As if the crackers didn't have enough fat and calories in them, whatever dip you use probably has more.

Not this one.  There's a touch of oil used to sautée the onions and garlic, but the rest is non-fat and actually very good for you.  Guilt-free dip!  Now I need to find guilt-free crackers.

10 oz frozen spinach
1/2 C finely chopped green onion
1 Tb olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon pepper
1/2 tsp dill
1 tsp lemon juice
2 C non-fat Greek yogurt

1.  Defrost spinach.  Microwaving is fine.  I specified frozen for its texture, but it needs to be defrosted before you can use it.

2.  In a medium fry pan, sautée onion and garlic in olive oil until soft.  Add spinach and combine.  Season with salt, lemon pepper, and dill.  Cook until excess liquid has evaporated.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

3.  In a bowl, combine spinach mixture and yogurt.  Stir in lemon juice.  Chill until ready to use, and do not let it sit at room temperature more than 2 hours.  I recommend putting out smaller bowls of it as necessary.

Makes about 1 quart

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers

The cats are ticked that I've been eating vegetarian the past couple of weeks.  No particular reason, just haven't been feeling the need for meat every night.  Maybe when it starts to get cold.

Most of the stuffed-pepper recipes I found online include canned tomatoes.  After the whole thing with the risotto being too tomato-ey, I decided to do without.  It was plenty flavorful, and slightly sweet from the corn I substituted.  There is easily enough filling for four split-open peppers, and you'll probably have some left over.  The filling would make an excellent stuffing for poultry, as well.  I would have no qualms about serving this as a vegetarian entrée at Thanksgiving.  Leave off the cheese, and it's vegan.

4 red bell peppers
3/4 C dry quinoa
1/2 C dried black beans
1 C finely chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tb olive oil
4 crimini (baby portobello) mushrooms
1/4 C corn kernels
1/2 C chopped carrot
salt to taste
1 tsp Italian seasoning
2 Tb grated Parmesan cheese

1.  Rinse & sort black beans.  Place in saucepan with 2 C water.  Soak for 6 hours or overnight.

2.  Drain and rinse beans.  Return to saucepan and add 2 cups fresh water and a touch of salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 2 hours, drain, and set aside.  If you need to pre-soak your quinoa, this is a good time to do it.

3.  Bring quinoa, 1-1/2 C water, and a dash of salt to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

4.  While quinoa is simmering, sautée onions and garlic in olive oil in a large frying pan.  Discard stems of mushrooms and slice caps into thin slices.  Add to pan and continue to cook until mushrooms are soft. Add quinoa, black beans, corn, carrot, Italian seasoning, and about 1/2 tsp salt.  Combine over very low heat.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.  Remove filling from heat and set aside.

5.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Wash bell peppers.  Split in half lengthwise.  Discard stems, seeds, and ribs (those white membrane things).  Arrange peppers in a casserole with the cut ends up.  Fill each half with as much of the filling as it will hold.

6.  Bake for 45 minutes, until peppers start to look soft.  Sprinkle tops with Parmesan cheese and bake 10 minutes longer, until cheese browns.  Allow to sit a couple of minutes before serving.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a side

Difficulty rating  :-0

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Matzoh Pizza

Yes, I still have matzoh.  What part of 5-lb box did you miss?

This is actually some of the best thin-crust pizza you will ever have, and you get to make it at home!  I would even serve it to guests.  At any time of year, it's a good way to use up that last bit of spaghetti sauce you always seem to have left over.  It can also use the last bits of some veggie in the crisper that you forgot about.

*1 piece of matzoh
1/4 C spaghetti sauce
1/2 C shredded cheese of choice
pizza toppings of choice (frozen spinach in photo)

1.  Preheat oven or toaster oven to 375º.  Run matzoh under hot water for a few seconds to wet surface.  Do not soak.

2.  Place matzoh on foil-lined baking sheet.  Spread spaghetti sauce over surface.  Top with shredded cheese and toppings of choice.

3.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cheese is melted.

serves 1

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Corn Bread

I can't believe I haven't made corn bread in over a year.  Especially with all the corn meal I have lying around.

I use the recipe off the Alber's corn meal box.  Their site has a lot of great recipes.  I prefer to make the sweet corn bread instead of the regular corn bread.  The latter comes out a bit dry and tastes like grits.  I guess it depends upon how much butter you're willing to use.  The sweet corn also uses two eggs, so you can do half a batch if there's a smaller gathering.  You can also make them into muffins, freeze them, and have your picnic's corn muffins done days in advance.

1-1/2 C flour
2/3 C sugar
*1/2 C corn meal
1 Tb baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 C milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 C vegetable oil
3 Tb butter, melted

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease an 8" x 8" pan or line 20 muffin cups.  The bread in the photo was made in a really cool 10" casserole I have.  Bake 5 minutes less, and it won't rise as high as one made in a smaller pan.  (If you're really brave, just grease the muffin cups and don't line them.  Warning, these will not travel as well as paper-lined.)

2.  Combine all dry ingredients in one bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat together milk, eggs, oil, and melted butter.  Stir wet and dry ingredients until combined, but do not beat until smooth.  The smaller lumps will disappear on their own as the bread bakes.  Over-mixing produces large air bubbles.  Maybe someday I'll explain the science behind it.  Pour into prepared pan for bread, or fill muffin cups 2/3 full.

3.  Bake for 35 minutes (20 for muffins), or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Serve bread from pan, or it will fall apart.  Leave muffins in their paper liners.

Serves 12

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Maybe I should make a category for nuts or seeds.  I'm calling this a salad garnish, even though most people just eat them as snacks.

This is what you do with the seeds out of the pumpkin you have sacrificed for Halloween.  It's either this or the trash.  It helps that they're a yummy snack and beyond easy to make...not counting the getting them out of the pumpkin part.

One pumpkin's worth of seeds
1 Tb olive oil
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili powder

1.  Rinse as much of the guts off the seeds as you can.  Shake off excess water.  Toss in oil.  Add salt and chili powder and toss again.

2.  Preheat oven to 300º.  Spread seeds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (so they can't escape). Bake about 30 minutes, until golden brown, moving them around every ten minutes or so.  Add more salt after cooling if desired.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie

Ah, comfort food.  Pot pies are basically stews with a crust.  I like this version because you don't have to make a pie crust.  Scone dough is much more forgiving.  I'll give you a how-to for cooking the chicken, but any leftovers will do.

If the crust looks unusual, it's because I used half whole-wheat flour.

1 lb chicken breast or assorted meat
1 batch white sauce base
1/2 C diced onion
1/2 C frozen peas
1 C frozen sliced carrots
1 5oz can sliced mushrooms
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 batch scone dough

1.  To roast chicken:  Season meat with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Roast at 350º for 45 minutes, or until center reaches 160º.  Cool enough to handle, cut meat from bones, and chop or shred into bite-sized pieces.

2.  Prepare white sauce base.  Add onion, peas, mushrooms with their juice, and carrots and bring back up to a simmer.  Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.  Stir in chicken.

3.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Prepare scone dough and roll thin.  Place chicken stew in an 8" x 8" baking dish.  Cut strips of dough and place on top of stew, covering entire top.  (For individual pies, divide stew into ramekins and cover with a round of dough.)

4.  Bake pie for 15 minutes, until crust is done and stew is boiling.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pumpkin Crepes

This is the reason I bought the mascarpone cheese in the first place.  Putting it in the risotto was an afterthought.

The idea for this dish came from Princess Cruises.  It was the vegetarian entrée on the night that everything looked amazing.  Since none of us was going to order it on the night they had beef Wellington, rack of lamb, and lobster, we made Melody Smurf order them and passed everything around.

The first thing you will notice is that these are not sweet.  We tend to add sugar to anything with the word "pumpkin" in it, but these are savory.

When choosing a pumpkin for eating, don't get one of the big ones with ridges all over it.  Those are the ones you carve up and stick on the porch.  They don't taste very good.  Get the little one marked "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin.  It should weigh no more than five pounds.

I cheated on the crepes this time and bought some.  They were very thin and slightly sweet.  It was ok for the pumpkin's flavor profile, but I wouldn't use them again for anything savory.

1 small pie pumpkin (about 3 lbs)
1/4 C butter
1/4 tsp each nutmeg, cumin, and paprika
8 8" crepes
1/2 C mascarpone cheese
2 Tb milk

1.  Wash skin of pumpkin and cut in half.  Not as easy as it sounds.  Scrape out seeds and strings.  (Keep seeds for making pepitas.)

2.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Place pumpkin, cut side down, on a baking rack in a roasting pan.  You may want to line the pan for easy cleaning.  Roast pumpkin in oven for 45 minutes, until soft.  Surprisingly, mine smelled like roasted seasoned potatoes when it was done.  Allow to cool slightly.  Using a spoon, scrape flesh off of skin and place in a bowl.  Mash, either with a fork or a potato masher.

3.  Place pumpkin in a medium saucepan.  Over low heat, add butter and seasonings.  Stir until warmed and creamy.

4.  Beat together mascarpone and milk until smooth enough to drizzle off a spoon.

5.  Lay a crepe on a plate.  Spoon 1/3 C pumpkin mixture in center and spread into a line.  Roll crepe to one side.  Repeat with a second crepe to make one serving.  You should get 8 crepes out of a 3 lb pumpkin.

6.  Drizzle with mascarpone and garnish either with candied walnuts or pepitas.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Seafood Risotto

I decided to make some kind of risotto, so I went to the local supermarket to buy arborio rice.  Wow, it's expensive for something I'm not sure I'll make again.  So I made something else and waited until Sprouts was having a 25% off bulk items sale.  I got a cup of it out of the bins for a dollar.  That's plenty for 4 to 5 servings.

Arborio rice is very short grain.  It is similar to calrose rice, which is what you usually think of as the sticky rice in sushi, but more refined.  And it soaks up a lot of liquid.  What you end up with is something with a creamy, cheesy taste, even if there's no dairy in the dish.  That said, I did use cheese here, mainly because the tomatoes were a bit overwhelming.  It was a balancing flavor, not to add creaminess.

Risotto does take patience.  You have to add the liquid in stages, or the grain gets overwhelmed.  However, you don't have to stir it constantly.  That's an old tradition.  You have to stir it almost constantly.  You can take half a minute off every so often.  And it's going to take at least half an hour to cook.  This is the price you pay for a unique texture.

For the seafood, I was hoping to find something called "seafood medley", which is kind of like all the little odds and ends that the fish counter can't use for anything.  They were out, but any assorted seafood can be used, as long as the total weight is about a pound.  I ended up using half shrimp and half mahi-mahi.

1 C arborio rice
1 C (8oz bottle) clam juice
2 C water
*1/4 C dry sherry or white wine
1/2 C diced onion
1 Tb oil
*2 tsp Italian seasoning
*1 tsp dried parsley
1 15oz can diced, no-salt tomatoes
2 C chopped spinach leaves (or 1 C frozen spinach)
1 lb mixed seafood, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 C mascarpone cheese
salt to taste

1.  In a small saucepan, heat clam juice and water to a simmer.  Keep warm on the side.

2.  In a larger saucepan, cook onions in oil until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add rice and sautée for two minutes, until lightly toasted.  Add 1 C of cooking liquid and stir lightly until absorbed.  Every addition of liquid will require several minutes of cooking time.

3.  Add sherry and the can of tomatoes, including the liquid.  Stir until absorbed.  Add the spinach, Italian seasoning, and 1/2 C of cooking liquid.  Continue adding liquid when needed until entire amount has been added.  At this point, add seafood and stir until cooked thoroughly.  If rice begins to look dry, add another 1/2 C of water.

4.  When rice is creamy and seafood is cooked, remove from heat.  Stir in mascarpone.  Garnish with parsley before serving.

Serves 4 to 5

Difficulty rating :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pantry Remodel

It used to look so much neater
The pantry has taken a downturn from its glorious organization.  I realized this when I almost dropped the food processor on my head.  Why was it on the highest shelf I can reach?  It was time for some serious redesign.

First, I had to conquer the spice cabinet once and for all.  At 5:30 on a Saturday morning, I decided enough was enough and I was going to get that plastic shelf out.  Only four screws held on the door, and they weren't even hard to get out.  The plastic thingy made it through the opening with a millimeter to spare.  Getting the door back on was a touch harder.  I really needed a third arm.  Still, I managed to set it evenly and the entire project took me a whopping 15 minutes.

Ah, that's better
Next up was how to put the spices back in.  I decided that duplicates were no longer allowed.  Ground spices on the bottom shelf, herbs and whole spices in the middle, and seeds and extracts on the top.  Everything fit with loads of room to spare and nothing was difficult to find.

So, what to do with all the duplicates?  Went out and bought some plastic boxes.  Placed them in the boxes neatly and kept multiples of the same item together, labeled the lids, and snapped on the top.  Which brought me to my main project of the pantry, where these boxes needed to be kept.

Everything came out again.  Wiped down all the shelves again.  Scrubbed the floor again.  Sorted out stuff to throw away or donate for Yom Kippur again.  And then it was time to put it back.

I bought a small wire shelf to put opposite the wine rack, even though I'm really not fond of putting things on the floor.  It's just that the first built-in shelf is so high that you lose a lot of storage space.  The wire shelf is for cat food, to protect it from the ants that found the pantry.  Sidebar, the most environmentally friendly way to deter ants is to pour table salt over their point of entry.  Another thing of which I have way too much.  Close to four pounds.  Two tablespoons of it got rid of the ant problem in about three hours.

All the heavy stuff like the food processor, ice cream maker, and my canning jars went on the bottom shelf, even though I don't use them very much.  The foods I use regularly moved up to the second shelf, leaving the baking supplies on the third one, where they've been since the last sorting.  The top shelf became storage for rarely-used, lightweight items like sprinkles, party sugar, and the duplicate spices from  the spice cabinet.
Fall cleaning accomplished
It will take a little getting used to, like any change.  But, now I know for sure that there is only one of each kind of spice in easy reach, and where to look if I run out of something, rather than run out to buy more.

Which reminds me, I discovered that my baking powder is six months expired, and here we are approaching baking season....

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Black-Currant Jam

I've never tried to make a jam from dried fruit before.  I wish I had chosen a fruit that did not taste so much like prunes, but the technique should be sound.

There's some cheating involved in this.  I wasn't sure this would set up, so I used some orange marmalade as a contributing flavor.  It was from one of those cute little jars you get at a hotel breakfast.  And I only needed one ounce to make this work.

1/2 C dried currants
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C water
2 Tb (1 oz) orange marmalade

1.  In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm water and sugar until sugar dissolves and it begins to boil.

2.  Add currants and stir together.  Allow to boil until currants have plumped, the water has taken on some color, and the bubbles are at least a quarter of an inch in diameter.  Stir every minute or two to prevent scorching.

3.  Remove from heat.  Stir in marmalade.  Chill.

Makes 1 cup

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Venison Terrine

Sprouts had ground venison.  I've had venison steak, but never worked with it ground.  They also have ground antelope and several cuts of bison.  I'm starting a new catchall category for every uncommon meat.

Terrines are fancy meatloafs that are served cold and take two days to make.  Other than that, they're easy.  You can use a regular bread loaf pan if you don't have a terrine mold.  Because I wanted something the right size to put on crackers, I used the three mini-loaf pans I bought this summer.  Generally, there should be more fat in a terrine, to keep it tender.  I subbed in bread crumbs because I don't care if it isn't buttery smooth.  There's a lot of cream to supply some fat.

Yes, there are a whole lot of ingredients in this one.  However, you're only using a few at a time.  I'll try to break it up to make it more manageable.

1 lb ground venison
marinade ingredients (see below)
top garnish (see below that)
1/4 C breadcrumbs
1 C heavy cream
1 egg
1/4 C pine nuts, pan-toasted
1/4 C dried cranberries, plumped in 1 Tb red wine

1 tsp ground peppercorns
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp kosher salt
2 Tb (1 oz) red wine
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Top Garnish
2 shallots (1/4 lb), thinly sliced
6 baby portobello (crimini) mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 Tb balsamic vinegar
1 Tb oil
1/2 tsp salt

1.  Combine marinade ingredients.  Knead marinade into meat.  Cover and place in refrigerator at least 8 hours or overnight.

2.  The next day, sauté mushrooms and shallots in oil until very soft, about 10 minutes.  Add balsamic vinegar and salt.  Cook one more minute.  Set aside.  Try not to eat out of pan.

3.  In food processor, place marinated meat, bread crumbs, cream, and egg.  Process until a very smooth paste forms.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Fold in pine nuts.  Drain any liquid from cranberries and fold them in.

4.  Preheat oven to 300º.  Place terrine mold in a 3"-deep roasting pan.  Start boiling a whole lot of water.  If desired, line mold with heavy plastic wrap to make it easier to turn out the terrine and clean the pan.

5.  Spread onion mixture on bottom of mold.  This will be the top when you turn out the terrine.  Drop forcemeat paste on top of onions.  Spread evenly throughout the mold.  Wrap top of mold tightly in heavy foil.  This prevents steam from getting into the mold and upsetting the moisture balance.  Place roasting pan setup on oven rack.  Add the boiling water at least halfway up the side of the mold, for gentle cooking.

6.  Cook terrine until thermometer reaches 160º, about 1-1/2 hours if using a loaf pan, slightly less for a terrine mold.  The mini-loafs took less than 45 minutes.  When you pull out the thermometer, the juices should run clear instead of red.  Remove from oven and from roasting pan.  Remove foil and allow to cool to 120º on the counter.

7.  Place plastic wrap on top of terrine mold, then add a weight which fits the pan.  I suggest another loaf pan if that's what you're using, and weigh it down with something like jars of tomato sauce or soda cans.  What you're doing is forcing the liquid fat in the pan to disperse evenly within the terrine and on the bottom.  Place the pressing terrine in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

8.  Half an hour before service, turn out of mold onto serving plate and allow to warm slightly.  If it sticks, loosen edges with a thin spatula and/or use the warm-water Jello unmolding technique.  Once the fat gets a little warm, it will fall right out.  Use as a spread or serve as an appetizer with currant jam.

Serves 8 to 12 as an appetizer

Difficulty rating  :)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Fig Preserves

As I was driving up to Ventura, Melinda Lee was talking about fig season.  Before I came home, I had to stop at a roadside stand and buy some.

Figs have a short season because they are highly perishable.  They also do not ripen any further off the tree, so make sure the ones you get are soft.

Figs are great in salads.  I had fig ice cream in Greece.  There was a one-pint jar of whole fig preserves at the stand for $8.99.  I don't care if it did win a blue ribbon at the Ventura County Fair, the four figs I bought to make nearly the same amount were only $2.

I'm using the skillet jam method because these are moist fruits.  The preserves will be chunky, because preserves are generally whole fruits.  I cut these in pieces to make them easier to serve.  Jam is generally crushed or puréed fruit.  Jelly is from the juice of a fruit, with no pulp.  The way I put preserves in containers is to put in the whole fruit first, then add enough juice to cover.  Any remaining juice, I boil a couple of minutes more and put it in a separate jar as jelly.  Jellies make good glazes, sauces, and even pancake syrup.

1/2 lb (about 4) whole figs
1/2 lb sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

1.  Cut figs into quarters.  If pieces are still large, cut them again.

2.  Put figs and sugar in a saucepan.  Over low heat, bring to a low boil.  Stir frequently to avoid scorching.  Cook until juices are clear, at least 5 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

3.  Have clean storage jars ready.  Pour jam into an 8" skillet.  Bring to a boil.  Skim off any impurities.  Boil until bubbles begin to get large and clear.  Spoon into jars, cool to room temperature on the counter. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I bought too much milk again.

This particular entry is devoted to the pancake part of crepes.  I'll give you some filling suggestions, but actual filling recipes will come along whenever I do them.

Most of the recipes I found included buckwheat flour.  I couldn't find any, even at Sprouts.  That was surprising.  I've always made this recipe with just plain AP flour, so it doesn't matter to me.  You could use whole-wheat flour for part of it to make it more on the savory side.  The recipe I'm posting is neutral, for either sweet or savory.  It's also the single-egg proportion.  Feel free to double or triple the recipe if needed.

I also tend to make my crepes in a 6" skillet instead of the more common 8".  They're easier to flip.  It depends if you plan to serve just one or several per person.  A smaller crepe is ideal for desserts and uncomplicated fillings.

The first crepe is usually a loss, as the pan is either too hot or too cold, and you won't know it until you pour some batter into it.  Don't stress, just move on.  If you're not using the crepes right away, separate them with wax paper, seal in a plastic bag, and either refrigerate or freeze.  They can be reheated in a low oven until they regain their crispy-ness.

There are several folding techniques.  The easiest is to fold it over the filling like an omelet.  Next up is folding it in quarters.  That's how it is usually served in France, so you can put the crepe in a paper cone.  I've even had it open on a large plate with the fillings on top.  You fold it yourself.  The rolled version that most people think of for crepes is actually rarely used.

Fillings can be savory or sweet, with or without sauce.  Today, I put in some brie, fresh spinach, candied walnuts, and oven-dried tomatoes.

*3/4 C milk
1 egg
1/3 C flour
oil for greasing pan

1.  Beat together milk and egg.  Pour into pitcher containing flour a little at a time until thoroughly incorporated.  Let rest in fridge for at least an hour, or even overnight.  This allows the gluten to develop slowly and dissolves lumps.

2.  Stir batter.  It should be the consistency of heavy cream.  If too thick, add a little milk.  The thinner the batter, the crispier the crepe, but it has to have a little body.

3.  Preheat skillet, preferably non-stick, at medium heat.  Grease with a few drops of oil.  Generally, I pour about a tablespoon of oil, swirl it, then drain it to a heat-safe container.  I continue to re-use this oil in the same manner for the whole batch, and it's usually enough.

4.  Stir batter briefly.  Pour several tablespoons of batter into pan and quickly swirl until bottom of pan is coated.  Continue to swirl until batter is set in a thin layer, then place pan back on burner.  Allow to cook until edges are browned, about 2 minutes.  Loosen with a spatula and flip (the easiest way is to use your fingers).  Cook an additional 30 seconds, or until parts of underside are browned.  Set aside on warm plate and cover with a clean towel.  Re-oil pan and start again, stirring batter before each crepe.

Note: if you decide to use two pans to cut your time in half, stagger when you pour the batter.  Also, two pans probably will not hold heat the same way.  I tried it, and one of the pans wasn't very good.  It makes good scrambled eggs, just not so much with the crepes.

Makes about 5 or 6  6" crepes

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Candied Walnuts

Candied nuts make great accents for salads.  They aren't bad to snack on, either.  All the ones at Sprouts were heavily salted, so I decided to make my own.

*1 C walnut halves
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tb olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Toss nuts in olive oil until evenly coated.  Stir together powdered sugar, salt, and cayenne.  Toss together nuts and sugar.

2.  Spread coated nuts in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes, then stir with tongs to expose more sides.  Continue to bake in 5 minute increments until nuts are dark brown and the sugar is caramelized.  Cool and break apart.  Store in a dry, airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

Makes 1 cup

Difficulty rating  π