Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wedge Salad

Whoever the lazy chef was who didn't feel like tearing up his salad greens is probably rich now. Wedge salads have become trendy, and they are stupidly easy to make. Whether you go for a basic iceberg lettuce, or strive to impress with endive, these are all about the presentation. If it looks pretty, your guests will be impressed.

1 head of lettuce - I recommend a tight lettuce like Iceberg or Endive
Salad dressing of choice - thicker ones like bleu cheese, ranch, or French work best
Garnishes - bacon bits, onion, tomato, cucumber - any combination

1. Wash lettuce and cut off most of the stem, leaving enough to hold the head together. Cut larger heads of lettuce into 6 pieces lengthwise. For endive, you'll get about 4 servings. Plate each wedge.

2. Dice garnishes into small pieces, about the same size as the bacon bits.

3. Drizzle wedges with about 2 Tb of salad dressing apiece. Sprinkle lightly with the garnishes and serve chilled.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, March 28, 2011

Gingered Bok Choy

The other form of cabbage I will eat. I prefer Baby bok choy for its tenderness. The stem cooks in the same amount of time as the leaves, and you don't have to cut it into pieces for cooking because it is smaller and more tender. And two usually make a proper serving.

The first time I made this was for Passover. The intent was for there to be plenty of leftovers, enough to last me several days. Who likes bok choy? It was the first item to disappear.

This recipe is so simple, I questioned posting it. There's no sauce, and I don't even add salt. Just the natural taste of the veggie, subtly enhanced by a single spice.

one 1" piece of fresh ginger root
8 small baby bok choy

1. Slice the ginger very thin, at least 4 pieces. Place in a large saucepan, then add 1" of water. Bring to a simmer.

2. Wash bok choy thoroughly, slice in half lengthwise, then add to the simmering water. The water does not need to cover the bok choy. Cover, and allow to steam until veggie has wilted and becomes soft, about 5 minutes.

3. Drain, discard ginger (or reserve for garnish), and serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Peanut Butter

There was a bag of peanuts sitting on the counter, going to waste, so why not? I own a food processor.

Joyfully, Alton Brown has a recipe for peanut butter. Even better, it's almost exactly the recipe I would have attempted if I hadn't looked online for one. Unfortunately, shelling peanuts takes a very long time. While Alton would probably prefer you grow your own in the backyard, I vote for buying shelled, roasted nuts. Light or no salt. Either that, or get yourself some unpaid child labor to shell them for you. You won't have to check on them for at least an hour.

The chili powder came about because I thought the peanut butter was a little too sweet. Instead of adding more salt to balance it, I realized that there is no rule saying you can't make flavored peanut butter. You could add red pepper flakes, a few drops of liquid smoke, or a savory herb like cumin. A small amount of dehydrated fruit, like banana chips or apricot leather, makes it a breakfast spread. The key is to keep the amount of additive to a minimum, so no one is exactly sure why this batch tastes unique.

I'm going to make this recipe with cashews for Passover, so I can have a KLP nut spread. (Use vegetable oil instead of peanut.)

And for those of you who say that peanut butter is not a "dip", you've never seen Papa Smurf go at a jar.

*6 oz shelled, roasted peanuts
*3/4 tsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp chili powder
*1 Tb peanut oil

1. Place peanuts, honey, salt, and chili powder in bowl of food processor. Process until mixture begins to clump up, about 1 minute. Warning: the first few seconds are VERY loud.

2. Add oil 1 tsp at a time (3 tsp total), processing for 1 minute each time. If purée is still too thick, add 1 more tsp, but be careful. The purée will thicken when you store it in the fridge, but return to a more fluid state if you let it sit on the counter for a while before using.

3. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.

Makes 3/4 cup

Variation: For Chunky, reserve about 1/4 C of peanuts. After last processing, add reserved nuts and pulse briefly until desired chunkiness is reached.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring Thaw

I finally cooked enough of the items in the freezers to empty the chest freezer overnight and defrost it. Under the ice build-up, the inside was remarkably clean. I washed it with a slightly soapy solution and wiped it dry. The gaskets around the lid were moldy, probably because the lid couldn't fit tight when there was ice build-up. I wiped them down and applied a diluted bleach solution.

When returning items to the freezer, I got organized. I found some empty plastic shoeboxes in a closet. I washed and dried them thoroughly. Into each box went one kind of meat. Chicken, fish, lamb chops, and pork chops (I'm not kosher) each got their own box. A piece of masking tape with the name of the item and date on the lid later, they were stacked neatly at the bottom.
There has been this shoe rack sitting in the hall, taking up space. I decided to set aside some things to donate, including this little shelf. Halfway to the pile, I realized it was the shelf insert to the freezer, turned upside down! Just sitting in the hall, with random stuff piled on it. Grr. I washed that, too, and it now holds all the uncategorized items like single servings to take for lunch.

When I turned the freezer back on, I left it on a lower setting as it began to cool. It turns out that it holds -5ºF at this lower setting, so I'm going to leave it there and save a little electricity.

The kitchen freezer has never been as disorganized, but it is now much easier to see exactly what is available. There is almost no duplication of items. Most important, there is still at least two weeks' worth of food. Papa Smurf gets nervous if the stockpile runs low. I think it's a leftover tradition from the Depression and WWII. When food was scarce due to rationing or became otherwise unavailable, you tended to stock up on it when it was available. It seems he and my mom never outgrew that habit.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I got the basic idea for this from the L.A. Times food section, then added the cheese when Papa Smurf said he would be more likely to eat his veggies if they had cheese on them.

I like Brussels sprouts. These and bok choy are the only kinds of cabbage I would make voluntarily. Even as a kid, I thought they were great. I also loved lima beans, so draw your own conclusions.

I made these with frozen sprouts. Fresh ones are more crisp and have the feel of miniature cabbages. They're also usually larger than the ones in freezer bags. I would say four to six whole sprouts per person if you buy frozen, but only two or three for fresh.

20-24 frozen brussels sprouts, defrosted (8-12 fresh)
2 Tb olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp oregano
1/4 C grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350º. In a bowl, combine oil, salt, pepper, and oregano.

2. Slice sprouts in half lengthwise. Place in bowl and toss in dressing to coat.

3. Add parmesan and toss again to coat sprouts with cheese. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 15 minutes, or until cheese is toasted a golden brown. Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, March 18, 2011


I love hamantaschen. Why do we only make them for Purim? Possibly, because they involve quite a bit of work until you get the hang of it. I volunteered to make a hundred for a Hadassah luncheon once. Took almost four hours. A single batch does not take nearly as long.

Hamantaschen are named after the three-cornered hat worn by the evil Haman in the book of Esther. Purim celebrates his defeat, and is the only Jewish holiday during which you are supposed to get drunk. Think of it as a Jewish Mardi Gras. It falls one month before Passover. The next day, you start a month-long cleaning spree to purge the house of chometz (leavening).

Some of the best hamantaschen I've had are from Hesh's Bakery in Philadelphia. Actually, everything they make is fantastic. If someone can recommend an excellent Jewish bakery in the L.A. area, please enlighten me.

I use the recipe off the can of Solo Lekvar filling. Except, I usually forget to buy an orange. I substitute 1/2 tsp orange juice or go get a lemon off the tree. This recipe produces a consistent, flaky cookie. For filling, there are hundreds of recipes out there. I use the canned Lekvar because a. I like prune hamantaschen, b. it is thick, and c. the recipe was designed for it. For this cookie, you need a very thick filling. I have tried regular canned pie fillings and preserves. They either run in the oven or overbake and develop a hard shell. Solo brand makes prune, apricot, and poppyseed fillings that are ideal consistencies for their hamantaschen recipe. Plus, the quantity in the can matches the amount of dough. Remember, any recipe you get off a package was created to help them sell the product.

2-3/4 C flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 C sugar
1 Tb baking powder
1 tsp grated orange peel
1/2 tsp salt
1 C butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tb milk
1 can Solo Prune/Plum (Lekvar) filling
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tb milk, for brushing

1. Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, orange peel, and salt in large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add eggs and milk and mix until dough binds together. Knead dough in bowl several strokes until smooth. Divide dough in half and wrap each piece in waxed paper. Chill until slightly firm, about 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 350º. Line two or three baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out one piece of dough on lightly floured surface to 1/4" thick. Cut 3" rounds with a cutter and place on cookie sheets. Spoon 1 tsp of filling into center of each circle. Bring 3 edges together into the middle to form a triangle, leaving only a small opening of filling showing. Pinch edges upwards to make a ridge and sharp points. (They will melt down and soften while baking. If you don't make sharp points, the cookies come out round.) Continue to roll out and cut circles until all the dough is used. Remember, any dough will get tougher the more times you roll it out. Try to conserve space.

3. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden. Remove from baking sheets and cool on wire racks.

makes about 3 dozen

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Quinoa-stuffed Tomatoes

Do not adjust the color on your monitor. The tomato was intentionally orange. It didn't taste any different. I just thought it looked neat.

Quinoa is proving very difficult to photograph. My little camera can't get the resolution up close.

I love stuffing tomatoes. I just don't like hollowing them out. Go for ones that are more firm and they're less likely to tear. Use a tomato corer to remove the core, about 1/2". A small melon-baller is ideal for scooping out the insides. You just want to leave the outer shell.

The amount of stuffing you need depends on the size of the tomato. I'll just give a guideline that should be more than enough.

4 medium sized tomatoes
1/2 C dry quinoa, soaked & rinsed if necessary
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp parsley flakes

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Hollow out tomatoes and set them upside-down on cutting board to drain. Place quinoa, salt, pepper, and parsley in saucepan with 3/4 C water.

2. Place tomatoes open-end up in baking dish and place in oven. Bring quinoa to a boil, reduce to simmer. When it is cooked, about 15 minutes, remove from heat and remove tomatoes from oven. Using melon-baller, stuff quinoa into tomatoes and place back in baking pan.

3. Return tomatoes to oven and bake 5 more minutes, until heated through. Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mystery Meat

Today's post was going to be Teriyaki Beef. Instead, it's another reminder to label anything that is not in its original packaging.

I defrosted a lovely steak that had been lurking at the bottom of the chest freezer for some time. No freezer burn, good marbling, thick, and a proper color. I marinated it in teriyaki sauce (store-bought because I was lazy) for several hours. Baked it at 300º for almost 45 minutes, to get a gentle, slow-roasted flavor. When I cut into it, the meat was soft, brown around the edges, and medium-rare inside. Then I tasted it, and realized it was LAMB.

Never, ever, make teriyaki lamb. It does not taste good. If I had been the one who froze the over-sized lamb chop in the first place, I would have labeled and dated it, and we could have avoided this disaster.

There's one more UFO (Unidentified Frozen Object) "steak" in the freezer. I'm going to season it in a neutral way before baking, something that will go with either beef or lamb. I do love the result of the 300º/45 min bake on a 1-1/2" thick piece of red meat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Black beans with Mango

I know the photo looks a lot like the black-bean chili, but this has a completely different taste.

Bags of dried beans always tell you to "sort and rinse" the beans. I did find a couple of beans that looked less than perfect. The big surprise was a rock about the size of three beans. Always take a look at your dried beans before cooking them!

To dice a mango, slice off the two halves on either side of the large seed. With a paring knife, cut a grid in each hemisphere. Invert the skin, then scoop out the flesh with a large spoon.

According to a bag of dried black beans, 1/4 cup is one serving. More likely, you'll use a little less if you're having this as a side. I'll still give you the one-cup recipe.

1 C dried black beans
1 large, ripe mango
1/2 C diced onions
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1. Measure, sort, and rinse beans. Place in small saucepan with about 3 C water. Let soak for 6 hours. Drain off water.

2. Add soaked beans, onions, salt, pepper, and 1-1/2 C water to saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cover. Simmer for 1 hour.

3. Dice mango and add to pot. Add enough water to cover. Simmer about 30 minutes, until mango is very soft and beans are fully cooked. Serve hot.

Serves 4-6

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I really need to change chapter headings. For the record, "terrine of sirloin with vegetables" is not a healthy recipe. At least not the way I'm making it today. We have a lot of breadcrumbs taking up space, so I'm looking for ways to go through them.

Usually, I make meatloaf in the food processor. Whole peas don't do so well when you do that, so the instructions are by hand.

This is the basic, comfort-food version. Nothing fancy or creative. One loaf of ground beef, coming right up.

1-1/4 lb lean ground beef (10%-15% fat)
1/2 onion, minced
*1/2 C breadcrumbs
*1/2 C carrots, diced
*1/2 C peas
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp oregano

1. Preheat oven to 350º. In a bowl, combine onion, breadcrumbs, carrots, peas, salt, pepper, and oregano. Mix in egg and tomato paste.

2. With hands or a pastry cutter, knead in ground beef until mixture is evenly combined. Spread in a bread loaf pan.

3. Bake until interior reaches 160º as measured with a food thermometer. Generally, I start checking every ten minutes around the 40-minute mark. I also pour off the fat whenever I check the temperature. Yes, the loaf comes out a little drier than it would if the fat was allowed to congeal, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

4. When loaf is done, let rest at room temperature for 10 minutes, to let the internal temperature come up to 165º and to make it easier to slice. Serve with gravy, pasta sauce, or ketchup.

serves 4-5

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Challah is the egg bread eaten on Friday nights in Jewish homes and synagogues to celebrate the beginning of Shabbat. Traditionally, there are two loaves, to commemorate the Hebrews collecting two portions of manna in the wilderness on Fridays so they could rest on Shabbat. The convenience of having two smaller loaves in the modern age is that you can freeze one for later.

This is Good Housekeeping's recipe, with one major alteration. OK, I cut the recipe in half, and then made a major alteration. Challahs are supposed to be made with water. There is no dairy in a traditional challah so it is pareve (kosher to eat with either meat or dairy meals). That's also why this uses oil instead of butter for its fat. I like my breads made with milk because it adds softness and makes the taste richer. If you are following kosher, or even kosher-style, sub in water for the milk. If you're vegetarian, you don't have to worry about mixing meat and milk, and can make it either way.

The six-strand braid is a lot easier than it sounds. It creates the image of one braid laid upon another, but joined. If you feel that my instructions are vague or incomplete, GH's directions have you divide the dough into 67/33%. The larger piece is one three-strand braid, the smaller another, and you do lay one on top of the other. For many holidays, including Rosh Hashanah, challahs are shaped into a spiral to note the turning of the year.

For a raisin challah, work in 1/2 C golden or dark raisins during the kneading process.

3/4 C milk or water
3 Tb oil
1 Tb sugar
1 package (2-1/2 tsp) dry yeast
3+ C flour
1 tsp salt
3 eggs

1. Warm milk, oil, and sugar to 100º. Stir in yeast and set aside until foamy, about 5 min.

2. While yeast is proofing, combine salt and 1 C flour. Separate one of the eggs and put the yolk in the fridge for later.

3. In stand mixer, combine the 1 C flour and liquid ingredients. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium for 2 minutes into a smooth batter. Add 1 C flour, the 2 whole eggs, and the egg white. Beat again until
smooth. If dough is too soft to knead, beat in another 1/2 C flour.

4. Liberally flour kneading surface. Pour dough on to board. Knead until dough is smooth, about 10 minutes. Try to add as little flour as possible. An egg dough will always be a little sticky. Just because it sticks to the board a little doesn't mean it isn't ready.

5. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to grease all sides. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down and let rest for 10 minutes.

6. If making one loaf, divide dough into 6 equal pieces. If making two smaller loaves, make 12 equal pieces. A food scale comes in handy, as you can divide the dough by weight instead of estimating size. Roll each into a long rope, about as long as you want to make the loaf, all equal in length. Take 6 strands and press the "top" ends together, fanning them out a little. The braid sequence follows:
  1. 6 over 1
  2. 2 over 6
  3. 1 over 3
  4. 5 over 1
  5. 6 over 4
Repeat 2-5 as necessary until you reach the "bottom". It doesn't matter if you're counting the strands from the left or the right. Press the strands together and tuck under both ends so the seams don't show.
7. Place loaf on a cookie sheet lined with greased parchment paper (see note from the strudel recipe about egg-washed items). Place in warm place to proof until doubled, about 1 hour.

8. Preheat oven to 375º. Beat egg yolk until smooth, adding a teaspoon of water if necessary. Thoroughly brush loaf with egg wash. Bake for 35 minutes for a large loaf, 20-25 for two smaller ones. They will be dark golden and sound slightly hollow when tapped. Remove to a wire rack until cool.

makes 1 1-1/2-lb loaf or 2 12-oz loaves

Difficulty rating  :-0

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Poll for the month

I've added a poll at the top of the page. I want to hear what kinds of recipes you would like to see on this blog. For one thing, it will give me ideas.

I'm keeping the poll open until the end of the month, so you have plenty of time to decide. And you may vote for more than one item.

For specific requests, just make a comment on this post.

Happy cooking!