Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Baked Beans

I made some black beans a while back and only cooked them an hour, so they would be a bit firm.  That's how many black beans for salads are cooked.  Papa Smurf didn't like that.  He wanted soft, mushy beans.  I can do that.

This recipe is for your basic barbecue-style baked beans.  The best beans ever were from a restaurant called Love's that went out of business years ago.  I was surprised that these came pretty close.  It's all about the rich, thick sauce against the creamy softness of the beans.

Just because this recipe is easy, doesn't mean it's fast.  Plan 16-20 hours ahead.  I'm serious.

1 C dry Navy or Great Northern beans
1/4 C minced onion
1/4 C tomato paste
2 Tb brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 whole cloves

1.  Sort beans to remove any stones or shriveled beans and rinse.  In a large casserole, cover dried beans with two inches of water.  Let sit 8 hours or overnight.

2.  Drain off water.  Stir in remaining ingredients and turn on oven to 225º.  When oven is ready, pour 1 C boiling water into casserole.  Stir to combine.  Cover and place in oven.

3.  Bake beans 8-10 hours.  Check every 3 hours or so and stir in more water if beans start to look dry.  Sauce should be very thick, but there will be some water at the bottom of the pot that you can stir into the rest of the casserole.  Allow to rest 15 minutes before serving.

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Avocados are in season, so I made a simple guacamole.  This one is flavored entirely by spices, kind of like those packets in the market.  I use less salt.

The lemon juice is more a preservative than an ingredient, which is why I suggest squeezing an actual lemon instead of using bottled juice, but I liked the sourness it added.  You can substitute lime.

2 very ripe avocados
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp onion salt
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp chili powder
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

1.  Slice avocados in half and scoop out flesh into a bowl.  Mash with a fork.

2.  Work in seasonings, taste, and adjust if necessary.  Squeeze lemon juice into bowl and work into dip.

3.  Serve immediately, or store in refrigerator with plastic wrap touching any surface of the dip which would be exposed to air.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chocolate-dipped Strawberries

I debated whether it was worth posting this as a "recipe".  But there are tricks you should know before making chocolate-covered strawberries at home.

First of all, these do not keep.  You get 24 hours maximum before the berry separates from the chocolate.  Make these last when you have a party.

Always wash the berries before beginning, then pat dry.  Very dry.  Moisture will not only prevent the chocolate from sticking, it will accelerate the spoilage process.

You can melt the chocolate in the microwave.  Put semi-sweet chips on Defrost for 1 minute at a time, stirring after each minute.  Once you can stir it smooth and it falls in ribbons, you're ready to go.  It can be reheated if it starts to firm up before you're done.

Before starting, cover a cookie sheet or plate with waxed paper and put it in the freezer for 15 minutes.  This will make the chocolate set up faster and coat more evenly.

The fancy tuxedo design is very easy to do.  You need two bowls, one white chocolate, one dark.  Dip the berry in the white first and let it harden.  Then dip it quickly in the dark on an angle once for one lapel, then once on the other side, leaving a V of white to represent the shirt.  With a piping cone, add button dots and even a bow-tie in dark chocolate.  You could also do stripes, by dipping the berry in a base color, letting it harden, doing another color, etc.  Or roll the berry in crushed nuts before the chocolate hardens, or sprinkles.  Still, nothing beats the classic plain, dark chocolate coating.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blender Cheesecake

Cheesecake is not difficult to make.  And it impresses the hell out of your guests.  It does require one special piece of equipment, a spring-form pan.  Otherwise, you're never getting the thing out.

Many cooks are afraid of the dreaded cracks in the top of the cake once it cools.  It happens if the cake is cooled too quickly, and is why you should leave it in the oven once the oven is turned off for at least half an hour.  Still, sometimes cracks appear even before the cake has finished baking.  That's why sour cream icing was invented.  No one will ever know.

This is something you can, and should, do ahead.  It's great to get the dessert out of the way the day before you need it.  But don't ice it until shortly before your guests arrive, or the icing may dry out.

One cheesecake will serve at least 12 people.  If that is way more than you need, I have made this version easy to cut in half or thirds.  One half will make a shorter 8" or 9" cake.  One third of the recipe will fill a 6" spring-form.

Crumb Crust
1-1/2 C graham cracker crumbs (measured after pulverizing in a ziplock with a rolling pin)
1/2 C butter, melted (3 Tb for the 1/3 version)
6 Tb sugar

1.  Combine all ingredients into a crumbly paste.

2.  Press into a thin layer in a 9" or 10" spring-form pan.  The bottom and the lower rim of the spring-form must be completely coated so nothing leaks out, then see how far up the sides you can get.

Cake Batter
3 8-oz packages of cream cheese (the brick, not whipped.  "lite" is ok.)
6 eggs
3 6-oz containers (2-1/4 cups) of plain nonfat yogurt
1-1/2 C sugar
2 Tb cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Place spring-form pan with crust on a rimmed baking sheet.  Just in case anything leaks.

A happy blender
2.  Place all ingredients in a large blender.  I recommend putting in the cream cheese last.  Depending on the strength of your blender, you may want to incorporate the bricks one at a time.

3.  Pulse until all ingredients are combined, then let 'er rip.  Whip batter for one minute on medium.

4.  Pour into prepared spring-form pan.  Bake for one hour, or until center is no longer liquid.  It can still have a little shake to it, but should spring back when touched lightly.

5.  Shut off oven with cake inside.  Leave in oven with door shut for half an hour.  Open oven door a crack and let the cake cool to room temperature.  This may take another hour.

6.  Carefully slide a spatula around the edges before popping spring-form.  Remove the rim, loosen crust from bottom of pan, then slide the cake onto a serving platter.  Chill until ready to serve.

Sour Cream Icing
1-1/2 C sour cream (fat-free is ok)
1/4 C sugar

1.  Whip together sugar and sour cream until well mixed.  Shortly before serving, spread over top surface of cheesecake only, until all cracks, dents, and bumps are evened out.

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are a summer favorite.  Some versions are very complex, but I like mine basic.  I also keep them fairly low fat by using a soy-based mayo substitute.  You cannot taste the difference.

You can buy plastic deviled-egg plates at party stores that look almost as nice as glass ones.  There are also cases, so you can take them to picnics.

When making a large number, at least a dozen, you can put the filling in a pastry bag with a flower tip and squirt it into the hole for a pretty effect.  There is also nothing wrong with spooning it for a rustic look.

4 hard boiled eggs
2 Tb mayonnaise
salt & paprika to taste

1.  Slice eggs in half and pop out yolks.  Arrange whites on an egg platter.

2.  Either with a fork or electric beater, mash yolks.  Beat in mayo, salt, and a touch of paprika until the mixture is very smooth.

3.  Fill egg whites with yolk mixture.  Dust with paprika and serve chilled.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cucumber-Dill Tea Sandwiches

Last year, I took it for granted that everyone knew what a cucumber sandwich was.  There seems to be more than one kind.

I have a personal rule that I can't buy a loaf of bread until I've finished all of the Passover matzoh.  It doesn't usually take me this long.  The rule does not prevent me from baking a loaf of bread.  I picked up some very cute mini loaf pans so I wouldn't have to cut the sandwiches in quarters like I usually do with full-sized bread.

1 medium cucumber
8 oz reduced-fat cream cheese
1 tsp dill weed
bread slices

1.  Peel cucumber in strips, or use a zester, to create contrast.  Slice thinly.

2.  Beat together cream cheese and dill.  The consistency of reduced-fat cream cheese will make it smooth.  If you must use regular cream cheese, beat in 1/4 C sour cream to achieve the same consistency.

3.  Spread cream cheese in a light layer on two slices of bread.  Place a layer of cucumbers on one slice and close the sandwich.  Repeat with remaining bread, cream cheese, and cucumber.  If desired, cut in half or quarters.

Serves about 8

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tea Party 2011

Part of having the same people over every year is trying not to repeat myself, while still presenting favorites.  There are always cucumber sandwiches and scones with cream and some kind of homemade jam, but I rotate the rest of the menu.  For last year's, look at Tea Party.

First Course
Cucumber Sandwiches
Deviled Eggs
White bean hummus with celery sticks

Second Course
Scones with whipped cream and blackberry jam

Third Course
Cherry Cheesecake
Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cherry Streusel Pie

I love cherries.  Not fond of pitting them, but why else do you own a cherry-pitter?  They're fabulous little gadgets that also work on olives.  It's silly, but I like the little x mark they leave.

So, I have a pie crust and extra streusel topping in the freezer and a bag of cherries in the fridge.  Doesn't take a genius to see where this is going.  And, if you don't mind the half hour it takes to do the pitting, this is a very easy dessert to prepare.

1 Pie Crust for 9" pie
1 C streusel topping
1/2 C quick oats
1 Tb brown sugar
5 C cherries, measured after pitting
1/2 C sugar
1/4 C corn starch
1 Tb lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tb butter

1.  To pit cherries:  Scrub kitchen sink clean and fill halfway with cold water.  Dump in cherries.  One at a time, place cherries in hand-pitter, stem side down, and punch away.  Once you have 5 cups of pitted cherries, pull out sink drain just enough to let out water.  The stems and pits will remain in the sink and are easy to throw out.  Moving on...

2.  Taste one cherry of average darkness to adjust sugar level.  If tart, increase sugar to 3/4 C.  If very sweet, lower to 1/3 C.  In a bowl, toss together cherries, sugar, corn starch, lemon juice, and salt.  Allow to rest in the fridge for at least several hours or overnight, so the natural juices can mingle with the dry ingredients.

3. Preheat oven to 350º.  Set crust dough in a pie pan and set on a rimmed cookie sheet that has been lined with foil (in case anything boils over).  Mix together generic streusel topping, oatmeal, and brown sugar and set aside.  Pour cherry mixture into pie shell.  Dot top with bits of butter.  Sprinkle streusel evenly on top.   Bake for 40-50 minutes, until brown and crispy and the cherries are boiling in their own juice.  Allow to cool slowly to room temperature before serving.  Goes well with a side of vanilla ice cream.

Makes 1 pie

Difficulty rating  :-0

Monday, June 6, 2011

Individual Meat Pastries

This recipe is inspired by the beef empanadas from the June 2011 Bon Appetit, the Individual Beef Wellingtons from the Bible, and a desire not to go grocery shopping.  I did this all with items on hand; except for the puff pastry, most home cooks have the ingredients lying around.  The chili powder was a substitute for tomato paste, and the dates were for canned mushrooms.  Some day I will try the Beef Wellington.  If ground beef can end up this good, imagine what the treatment would do to a nice cut of meat!

And I know it looks a little intimidating, but start-to-service was less than 45 minutes.

1 lb ground beef
*1 package (2 sheets) puff pastry dough
1/2 C minced onion
*1 Tb chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
*1/2 C dates or other dark dried fruit like prunes or raisins, chopped
1 egg

1.  Defrost pastry sheets according to directions.

2.  Brown beef and onions in a skillet.  Resist the urge to drain off the fat and add the salt and chili powder.  Lower heat to simmer while you prepare the dough.

3.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper (there's an egg wash).  Carefully open pastry sheets and roll out on a lightly floured board to 12" x 12" sheets.  Cut each sheet in fourths (6" squares).

4.  With a slotted spoon, so most of the drippings stay in the pan, divide the ground beef mixture evenly among the eight squares, keeping it as close to the center as possible.  Add chopped dates to each package.

5.  Prepare an egg wash by beating the egg.  Moisten the edges of each square and pull up the corners to the center.  Pinch the seams closed completely, but open the top to allow venting.  Transfer each package to a cookie sheet with a spatula.  Brush on egg wash and place in oven.  Bake for 20 minutes, until dark golden brown.  (The beef is pre-cooked, so you're just baking the pastry.)

Serve two pieces per person.  To serve as a plated appetizer, allow one per person and garnish plate with caramelized onions and beef gravy.

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Monthly Farm Report

How long does it take a tomato to ripen?  I have something like 30 in various stages, and at least 6 full-grown, but the only color change so far is to a slightly yellower shade of green.  It doesn't help that the tomato plant is fighting some kind of disease.  Several branches seem to be winning.  Started looking up recipes for Green Tomatoes, just in case.

At last count, there were three eggplants growing.  A new purple bloom appears every couple of days.

Artichoke is still putting out leaves, but is in no rush.

At the rate the corn are growing, they should be ready to pick sometime around Thanksgiving.  Maybe they need warmer weather.  After a spring heat wave in March or April, Southern California doesn't get warm until the first of July.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Eggplant Nuggets

I don't know why eggplant has such a reputation for - how should I put this - not tasting good.  You just have to come up with exciting ways to prepare it.  Eggplant is a lot like tofu, in that it tastes like whatever you put on it.  In this case, that is a crispy coating.

1 large eggplant
1/2 C corn starch or matzoh cake meal
1 tsp salt
1/4 C oil

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Dice eggplant into 1-1/2" cubes.  In a pie pan, combine corn starch and salt.  Heat oil in a large skillet until water droplets dance.

2.  Rinse eggplant cubes and dredge in corn starch.  Fry in skillet until coating is lightly browned, turning often.

3.  Transfer cubes to a nonstick cookie sheet.  Bake until cubes begin to soften, about 15 minutes.  Serve hot, accompanied by marinara or tahini sauces.

Difficulty rating  :)