Thursday, April 28, 2011

Buttermilk Biscuits

The problem with buying a quart of buttermilk for one recipe is that you have to find other uses for it, or throw it away.  The good news is that biscuits freeze perfectly for later.  This recipe from the Bible is super-easy to make, and you can have warm biscuits for breakfast in half an hour.

These are slightly darker than normal and be-flecked because I added wheat bran flakes.  All white-flour will make for lighter biscuits.

To make them with regular milk, use the same amount of milk, one tablespoon of baking powder, and omit the baking soda.

2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 C shortening
3/4 C buttermilk

1.  Preheat oven to 450º.  Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  With pastry blender or well-washed fingers, cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

2.  Add milk and combine until mixture just comes together.  Do not over-mix.

3.  Turn onto lightly floured surface and knead several strokes to make the dough smooth.  Roll out to 1/2 inch thick.

4.  Using a floured 2-inch round cutter, cut out biscuits and transfer to ungreased cookie sheet.  For softer biscuits, have rounds just barely touching.  Press scraps together and reroll until all of the dough has been used.

5.  Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until well-risen and golden

makes 12

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Roasted Red Potatoes with Rosemary

The advantage of doing roasted potatoes is that you can put them in the oven at the same temperature as most roasted meats.  The downside is that they often take longer to cook than the meat.  Even small red potatoes are going to be in there a while.  Just a warning to start these first.

1 lb new red potatoes
1 Tb olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried rosemary

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Scrub potatoes clean and quarter them.

2.  In a bowl, toss potatoes in oil.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and rosemary, and toss again to coat evenly.

3.  Line a baking dish or cookie sheet with foil (to make cleaning easier.  Not required for recipe.)  Arrange potato quarters in a single layer and place in oven.  Bake for 1 hour, or until insides are tender when pierced with a fork and cut surfaces are lightly golden.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Skillet Jam

This is the method of making jam recommended by the Los Angeles Times.  They reprint the recipe almost every year.  It is definitely easy, and works best with berries.  The main difference between this and the other way of making preserves is that you do not have enough time to skim off impurities from the surface while it is boiling.  This doesn't really affect the taste.  The top may have a bubbly, soapy look after it sets.  You can skim that off.

1 lb fresh berries (strawberries, blackberries, etc)
1 lb sugar
1 Tb lemon juice

1.  Wash fruit and prepare by removing stems and cutting larger pieces to bite-sized.  For blackberries or raspberries, cut in half through the tough core.  Smash blueberries just enough to break the skin.

2.  Combine berries and sugar in a saucepan.  Over medium heat, bring to a low boil.  Cook until sugar is fully dissolved and juices run clear, about 5 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice.  Refrigerate for 8 hours, or overnight.

3.  Preheat an 8" skillet with rounded sides.  Have cleaned containers ready.  (You don't have to do the full canning process.  The shelf-life of jam is about 1 month in the refrigerator.)  Pour jam into skillet and bring to a boil.  Boil, stirring constantly, until a spoonful drizzled on a frozen plate firms up in seconds.  Another way to tell is that the bubbles get larger and clear, nearly one inch in diameter.

4.  If not canning, but just storing as a regular prepared food item:  Pour into prepared containers, but do not cover until it stops steaming.  Then, place lids on containers, but do not seal.  Allow jam to cool to below 150º before refrigerating (you can pick up the container with your bare hand).  Secure lids once jam is chilled.

makes 1 pint

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hard-Boiled Eggs

I know this feels like something everyone already knows.  Yet, few of us boil eggs on a regular basis.  I know I always have to look it up.  Good Housekeeping to the rescue.

Use fresh eggs.  I know this sounds stupid, but it's important.  The older an egg gets, the more air gets inside the shell.  Air pockets make it easier to remove the shell, but the egg isn't as pretty with a flat bottom.

1.  Place desired number of raw eggs in a saucepan large enough to allow plenty of room between them.  You don't want them knocking against each other more than necessary.  Fill pot with cold water, enough to cover by one inch.

2.  Over medium-high heat, bring water to a full boil.  Once it is boiling, remove from heat and cover pot tightly.  Let eggs sit in hot water 8 minutes for soft-boiled, and a full 15 minutes for hard-boiled.

3.  Pour off hot water and replace with cold water to stop the eggs from cooking.  You can even add ice cubes.  Store in the shell, refrigerated, for up to a week.

4.  To peel: everyone has their own method.  I tap the bottom end to open up the air pocket.  Break the thin membrane "skin".  Using the side of your thumb, go around in a spiral, peeling off only what comes easily.  It takes about four revolutions to get to a point where the rest slides off.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, April 18, 2011


Charoset is the fruit-and-nut mixture served at a Passover seder to remind Jews of the mortar used to build the Pharaoh's cities.  Some people take it to the extreme and use the food processor to achieve a muddy paste.  I prefer mine chunky enough that you can tell what's in it.

Like most Jewish foods, every cook makes this differently.  Sephardim often use dates and other dried fruits.  Ashkenazi versions usually include apples.  Feel free to make adjustments.

Charoset is good as a snack with matzah, or as part of a leafy salad.  I generally make enough to send everyone home with a little, but this recipe will give you plenty for a seder of up to 12.

2 sweet apples (I prefer Gala)
1/2 C finely chopped walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tb sweet red wine or grape juice

1.  Peel apples, if desired.  Core, then dice into 1/4" chunks.

2.  Stir in walnuts and cinnamon.  Drizzle wine and stir together to combine.  Chill until ready to serve.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Passover Preparations

I attempt to be kosher during Passover, in addition to observing basic chometz rules and the kitnyot. The last is the hardest, because just about everything nowadays has corn syrup in it. I'll admit, I don't have separate dishes, pans, and utensils for meat and dairy, I don't kasher my kitchen for Passover, and I don't "sell" my chometz, so technically it's "kosher-style". Anyone who observes true kosher will tell you that "kosher-style" isn't kosher at all.

The advantage to living in L.A. is the plethora of kosher markets. I was disappointed with Western Kosher Market on Fairfax because they don't have a produce section. There is a produce market two doors down, so they don't really need one, but I only had one quarter for the parking meter and was in a bit of a rush. The meats and fish at Western were wonderful, and the KLP (kosher l'Pesach) was clearly marked. I also went there the day they were rearranging the shelves for Passover, so I'm sure it's usually a much more organized market. Glatt Mart and Elat Market on Pico are true Supermarkets which just happen to be Kosher. They have produce, a meat counter, fish counter, bakery, deli, frozen, boxed and canned foods, and non-foodstuff like shampoo and foil that you would find at any supermarket. It's a plus that they are next door to each other; if you don't see what you need at one, go to the other.  Parking in the lot is a frightening experience, and good luck getting a spot within a block the week before Passover.

I suspect that the origins of Spring Cleaning were the chometz search by candlelight done the night before Passover. Weeks of scrubbing, vacuuming, and sorting out foods precede the ritual. I don't perform the actual candle ritual, but I do use the week to remove everything from my pantry and fridge and clean the shelves. When I replace items, I sort all the KLP onto one shelf. I know that's my "safe" shelf and I don't have to look at the labels again for the week.

While I find cooking for Passover challenging, I also find that it means cooking from scratch and using fresh ingredients. There are loads of KLP convenience foods around, but I'd rather make my own recipes. And for those bemoaning a week without any grains or legumes, I found out that quinoa is KLP!

This year's Seder menu:

Gefilte fish & hard-boiled eggs to start - we do this every year
Leg of lamb with pomegranate glaze - Techie Smurf's contribution
Plantain Latkes
Stewed garlic spinach
Hungarian Chocolate-Walnut Torte

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lasagna - the Easy Version

This is the recipe I referred to a few months back as taking about the same amount of time as heating a frozen lasagna.  Let's assume that estimate does not include the half hour it takes to boil the water for the pasta.

There are certainly more complicated versions that are more "from scratch".  This is more like Remedial Italian cooking.

8 lasagna noodles
1 lb ground beef
1/2 C diced onion
1 25oz jar marinara sauce (I prefer a reduced-salt spaghetti sauce)
1 15 oz container of ricotta cheese
1 egg

1.  Boil a large pot of water and add lasagna slices.

2.  While the pasta is cooking, brown ground beef and onion in a deep skillet.  Drain off fat, then add 2 cups of the pasta sauce.  Reduce heat to simmer and keep warm until ready to use.  In a bowl, beat together egg and ricotta.  Preheat oven to 350º.

3.  When pasta is cooked, drain and rinse.  Place 3 of the slices on the bottom of an 8"x8" casserole.  Let the slices overlap slightly, so they cover the bottom.  They will be longer than the pan, so let them come up the sides.

4.  Dot pasta with half of the ricotta, then carefully spread it around.  Pour half of the meat sauce on top, then spread that.  Lay three more slices of pasta in the casserole, going the other way and allowing the edges to hang over the sides.  Spread the remaining ricotta on the pasta, then pour on the rest of the meat.

5.  Fold the overhanging edges inward.  Using the remaining two noodles, cover the top of the casserole.  You will have to cut the ends of the noodles to fit.  Pour whatever sauce remains in the jar over the top and spread evenly.

6.  Bake for 45 minutes, until top is a rich color, but not hard, and the juices inside have been boiling for a while.  Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.  I would wait about five minutes after the sauce stops boiling.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kalua Pork

Just because I still have several pork chops in the freezer. The star of every luau is actually very easy to make. Most recipes call for pork butt or another fatty cut, so it can self-baste a little.

I couldn't find banana or ti leaves, so I got some dried corn husks. You could also use foil or parchment paper, but I was looking for something to add flavor. Now I have leftover husks for some other things I want to make. Liquid smoke lives with the barbecue sauces. The recipes I looked at call for Hawaiian Sea Salt. The closest I could find was Himalayan Sea Salt (I'll wait while you think about that one) at Target. Decided to skip it and use regular Kosher salt. It's the large crystals that make the difference.

When cooking for a larger group, say Memorial Day or 4th of July, spring for a whole pork loin if you're doing the loin cut. I lined up two chops as though they were still part of the loin.

1 to 1-1/2 lb pork loin chops
1 Tb kosher salt
2 tsp liquid smoke
1 dried corn husk

1. Soak husk in hot water until the layers peel off, about 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 350º.

2. Lay out a large sheet of heavy-duty foil. Arrange 3-4 husk leaves on the foil. Place 1/2 Tb salt and 1 tsp liquid smoke on the leaves, then place the meat on top. Sprinkle the other half of the salt and smoke on top and arrange several more leaves on the top of the meat. Fold leaves to encase loin chop, and wrap securely with foil. Using another large sheet of foil, enclose the package with a water-tight seal.

3. Place foil package in a deep, oven-proof pan. Add two inches of hot water. Cover with a secure lid or more foil and place in oven. Bake for one hour, then reduce heat to 325º and bake an additional 2 to 3 hours, depending on thickness of meat. Check every hour and add more water if necessary.

4. Remove package from pan and let rest until cool enough to handle, but still warm. With two forks, shred meat. Serve hot, accompanied by barbecue sauce or - for the brave - poi.

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Molasses Bread

This recipe comes from a children's cookbook called Recipes From Many Lands. The entry is in Israel's chapter, which I never understood. The flavors and texture are very much American.

A note on quick breads. They're called that because you don't have to wait for yeast to do its thing. Most loaves of quick breads take about an hour to bake, which is not exactly the speedy way to make breakfast.  This one takes over an hour because of the relatively low cooking temperature.  A plus, though, it's low fat.

I finally broke down and bought some buttermilk. Wow, that stuff smells awful.  You can use regular milk if you substitute baking powder for half of the soda.  I'm going to print the recipe as it appears in the book, but I didn't use two flours.  I used 2 cups of regular All Purpose flour, sifted after measuring, and 2 Tablespoons wheat bran flakes.  Close enough.

1 C unbleached flour
1/2 C sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 C whole wheat flour
1 egg
1 C buttermilk
1 C molasses

1.  Preheat oven to 325º.  Grease a standard loaf pan.

2.  Sift the unbleached flour, then measure.  Resift with sugar, soda, and salt.  Stir the whole wheat flour before measuring, then add to dry ingredients.

3.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg.  Add milk and molasses, and stir to combine.

4.  Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredient bowl.  Stir until just combined.  Do not overmix; it's ok if it's lumpy.  Pour into loaf pan.

5.  Bake for 1hour, 15 minutes, until center is set.  Allow to sit for several minutes in loaf pan, then remove to wire rack to cool.

Makes 1 loaf

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Recession Garden

Now that I have a real back yard with good sun exposure, not just an enclosed patio, I decided to grow some vegetables. I had a cherry tomato plant when I was young that lasted several years, and grew enough beans one summer to have with a couple of meals. That, and the mint, is the sum total of my success at farming.

I started small this year. If this planting goes well, I'll expand next year. We have Roma tomatoes - my favorite kind, eggplant, and artichokes.

Part of the point of having a vegetable garden is to save money. The plants, potting soil, and one pot (I had the other two) cost me $33. At current market prices, I estimate that these plants need to yield 10 lbs of tomatoes and 3 each of eggplant and artichoke for me to break even. That doesn't sound like much, but for me it will be a small miracle.

If this does work out, look for many Italian and Mediterranean recipes this summer.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spinach Tortellini

This was my entrée for my senior year cooking competition in culinary school. I was very surprised I won because my chef did not believe in such a thing as gourmet vegetarian cooking. The trick was to make a star dish that was so impressive, you never noticed the meal lacked meat. Serving freshly made espresso ice cream for dessert didn't hurt.

Originally, I made this with asparagus, but Papa Smurf doesn't like asparagus. He isn't fond of vegetables in general, but eats them because he knows they're probably good for him.

As with most doughs, pasta dough will get tough the more times you roll it. You'll get two roll-outs out of this no problem, but the third will be much tougher. By then, you should be almost out of filling anyway, so it won't matter.

1 recipe pasta dough
2 oz baby spinach leaves
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 C cream cheese
salt to taste

1. Chiffonade spinach leaves and discard any stems. Combine spinach, a dash of salt, garlic, and 1 tsp water in a saucepan. Cook just until spinach wilts, one minute. Remove from heat. Whip together with cream cheese in food processor to make a smooth mixture, or by hand to leave visible pieces of spinach. Chill until ready to use.

2. Roll out pasta dough very thin. Let it rest a moment, since it will probably shrink up a bit. Cut into 2" circles. Into center of each circle place scant 1/2 tsp filling. Fold over and seal to form a semi-circle, then pull in the two diameter ends to make the tortellini shape. (If this sounds too complicated, cut two sheets of squares and make ravioli.) Place shaped tortellini on parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to cook, up to 8 hours.

3. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Carefully drop in tortellini and cook until pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes. They should all be floating.  Drain, rinse, and serve hot with your favorite pasta sauce.

Serves 3-4

Difficulty rating  $@%!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pasta Dough

My grandma showed us how to make noodles from scratch once. I thought the process was neat, even if they didn't taste very good.

This recipe jazzes up the concept a little, while still producing a fairly neutral dough that will adapt to any recipe. You can easily omit the dill, or substitute any herb which works with the final product.

If you are using an extruder, use less flour to make a softer dough. For a roller, you can make it as sturdy as you want. I have always rolled it out by hand with a rolling pin, and it works just fine. Having those 1/16" rolling-pin bands does come in handy, but no special accessories are required for your basic rolled-out pasta. You can make linguine or ravioli with just a (cleaned) ruler to mark off the widths.

1-1/4 C flour
2 eggs
1 Tb lemon juice
3 Tb water
2 tsp olive oil
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1/2 tsp dill weed

1. In a bowl, combine 1 C flour, eggs, lemon juice, water, olive oil, salt, sugar, and dill. Stir into a batter, about 2 minutes.

2. Stir in 1/4 C flour. On a floured board, knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Wrap tightly in plastic until ready to use.

Makes 9 oz dough

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pork Chops

Again, I don't keep kosher. Papa Smurf came home one day with eight massive, boneless pork chops from Costco. We split one. Since everyone's first instinct is to Shake 'n' Bake pork chops, I got out the bread crumbs.

I don't remember how I came up with this technique, but I do remember that I was out of bread crumbs the first time I did it and made it with matzah meal. I know, the ultimate insult, but they came out great.

4 boneless pork loin chops, 1 to 1-1/2" thick
*1 C bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp oregano
1/4 C vegetable oil

1. In a shallow pan (I use a pie dish), stir together bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and oregano. Preheat oven to 325º. Add oil to a large, oven-safe frying pan and heat until water drops dance.

2. Moisten pork chops with water and coat all over with bread crumbs. Arrange all four chops in frying pan. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side, until gently browned and crumbs look crispy.

3. Place entire frying pan into oven and cook until internal temperature of chops reaches 145º, about 15 minutes for thin chops.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, April 1, 2011

Part IV: The Readers Hath Spoken

All right, you carnivorous pastry-lovers. I've seen the poll results, and you're apparently all off your New Year's diets - except for the first voter, who wanted to see more in the healthy category.

The reason I haven't posted many meat recipes so far is that I kind of take meat for granted. You season it, stick it in the oven, and eat it when it's done. I prefer to concentrate on side dishes, which are often overlooked in meal planning. It's easy to boil up some rice and microwave veggies, and call it a balanced meal. Most home cooks don't want to take time to make something complex unless it's the star item on the plate.

Now, as for baked goods, you'd be getting that anyway, no matter how the voting went. I'm a baker!

So, for a while at least, I will endeavor to show more entrées.  Hope you enjoy them.