Monday, December 31, 2012

Chocolate Chunk Cheesecake

This one is so easy, you can go get the ingredients after reading this post and have it ready in plenty of time to greet your New Year's guests.

I saw a photo in the coupon section of the paper from the Kraft recipe collection, which made me run online to look for the recipe.  This isn't it; it's better.

The great part of the ganache on top of this cake isn't merely that it's a chocolate coating.  It covers all cracks and dips that cheesecakes inevitably develop.  To minimize the imperfections, make sure the cake is thoroughly cooked before turning off the oven, and cool it very slowly.  You start by cooling it at least half an hour in the oven with the door cracked.  Then, you can take it out and put it on a cooling rack for another hour before doing the topping.  It sounds time-consuming, but the active time on this one, total, is about half an hour.

The only problem was that I had a very difficult time getting the crust off the bottom of the springform. It may have been because I used real butter instead of margarine.  I'm going to recommend you line the bottom of the pan with waxed paper.  Also, because the butter did leak out the bottom, make sure you place a rimmed cookie sheet under the pan while it's baking.

I made a 1/3 recipe in my 6" springform, so the proportions in the photo look off.  Also, because I never did get a good slice, check out the better picture on the link.

18 Oreos, crushed (about 1-1/2 C)
1/4 C butter
3 8oz packages of cream cheese
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C sour cream
3 eggs
12 oz baking chocolate (1-1/2 packages)
1/2 C heavy cream

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Melt butter and combine with crushed Oreos until moist.  Press into bottom of a 9" springform pan that has been lined with waxed paper.  Place on a rimmed cookie sheet.

2.  Beat together sugar and cream cheese until well-combined and slightly fluffy.  Add sour cream and eggs and beat again until smooth.

3.  Chop 8 oz of the chocolate into bite-sized chunks and stir in.  Pour into pan.  Bake for 45-50 minutes, until top is lightly set and cake no longer jiggles when shaken.  Turn off oven and allow to sit with oven door cracked for 30 minutes to an hour.  Allow to cool to room temperature for another hour.  Run an offset spatula or knife around the rim to loosen cake, but do not remove from pan.

4.  Chop remaining 4 oz of chocolate.  Bring cream to a simmer, then remove from heat.  Stir in chocolate and melt until smooth.  Pour over cake and spread with the spatula.  Chill for 3 hours.

5.  To serve, have a serving plate ready.  Pop open the springform.  Carefully lift cake off bottom plate and peel off waxed paper as you move it to the platter.  Allow to sit at room temperature 30 minutes to make slicing easier, and run the knife under hot water between slices.

Serves 16

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Braised Quail with Wild Rice

So here's my big Christmas adventure with an ingredient I've never used before.  And using my own recipe that I came up with using what I know of poultry.  Wow, that sounds as dumb as I thought it would.

The one thing I wasn't expecting was for the quail to come out of the package stretched out, and not wanting to tuck in.  I hadn't planned on enough time to truss them, and they cooked with their legs stuck out in rather indelicate positions.  In my defense, I just saw a commercial with a quail on a bed of rice that looked just like mine did.  If you do want to truss them, which would take about two minutes apiece, I would tie the legs together, cross the strings under the back, cross them over the breast (which will hold in the wings), and tie them to the neck stump.  Remember to take off the string before serving.

I also wished I had picked up a jar of gravy.  The rice wasn't dry, and the pomegranate seeds both gave it a zing and festive color.  But, since I hadn't made a sauce, gravy would have been nice.  You could reduce some of the cooking broth, but there isn't enough fat in the quail to make a gravy of its own.

1 oz bacon fat (or lard or salt pork) or 1 Tb oil
6 quail (1 pack), thawed
6 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly smashed
1 14oz can chicken broth (low salt if you can get it, or at least reduced-sodium)
*1 tsp thyme
*1 Tb dried parsley flakes
1/2 C white wine
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 C wild rice mix (I got some out of the bins at Sprouts that was brown rice, black rice, and wild rice, or you could buy a package)
*1 tsp dried sage
salt to taste
1/2 C pomegranate seeds (optional)

For the rice
1.  Bring 1-1/4 C water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Stir in rice, sage, and a bit of salt.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 45 minutes, stirring once half an hour in.  Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, and set aside, covered.

For the Quail
1.  Once the rice is about halfway cooked, stuff each quail with a clove of garlic.  Truss, if desired.  In a deep frying pan with a lid, render the fat from the pork or heat oil.  Remove solid fat and introduce quail, breast-side down.  They'll probably roll to one side; that's fine.  Sear on all sides until lightly browned, about half a minute at a time.

2.  Add broth, thyme, parsley, wine, and pepper.  Add enough water so the quail are submerged at least halfway.  Bring to a simmer and reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Turn quail to submerge other side, recover, and cook 5-8 minutes more.

3.  Arrange rice on serving platter.  Set quail on top of rice.  Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and serve immediately.

Serves 3

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Wild Goose Chase

Grandma Sophie used to make a roast goose for Christmas every couple of years.  (That's the Catholic side of the family.)  One year, I decided to make one for the next generation, because Melody Smurf never knew Grandma Sophie.  This was during one of Writer Smurf's phases when she didn't want Melody to think she was any religion other than Jewish, so we called it Goose Day instead of Christmas.

Back in Charles Dickens' time, people had goose on holidays because it was often cheaper than other forms of meat.  Makes sense, since half of it cooks off as fat.  That's how Bob Cratchit's family could afford one.  Not so much now.  Pavilions wanted $5.50/lb, and Sprouts a slightly more reasonable $5/lb.  Did not even ask at Whole Foods, since they were selling fresh ones in the meat counter.  I could make a lamb roast for less than what a small goose costs.  Were I having more people over, I'd spring for it.

Fast-forward to a 99 Ranch expedition.  Took the cooler so I could go nuts.  I went to the one in Gardena because the Victory Blvd exit in Van Nuys was closed.  Didn't like the store as much, but it was in a decent neighborhood.  They didn't have any geese, so I picked up a frozen duck because they were only 2.99/lb.  I got a few other things that would be impossible to get anywhere else and called it a day.

Friday was my final shopping day, because I knew it would be nuts at every market until Christmas.  Got a 6-pack of quail at Sprouts.  That's two per person, which I hope is enough.  I've never cooked quail, and I don't think I've even tasted it before.  This will be an adventure.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Rye Rolls

I still have a lot of rye flour, and wanted to see what other kinds of sugars worked with rye and caraway, so I threw together some rolls.

Maybe I should explain something about me and bread.  I have discovered that, though it can be time-consuming, making yeast bread really isn't a big deal.  Beat together the ingredients, knead a bit, let rise while you do the crossword; punch down, shape, let rise again and watch General Hospital; bake, remove from pan, and allow to cool slightly before serving.  I don't make it every day because I have a job (which also involves baking yeast bread), but there's no reason an average home cook can't turn out a loaf or batch of rolls once a week.

If using packages of yeast instead of measuring out of a jar, double the recipe.

*1/2 C milk
2 Tb butter
*1 Tb honey
1 tsp yeast
3/4 C rye flour
1 C A.P flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp caraway seeds

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

2.  In stand mixer, combine rye flour and 1/2 C white flour.  Add milk mixture and beat into a thick batter, about 2 minutes.  Add salt and caraway seeds and beat to combine.

3.  On a kneading surface, adding only A.P. flour, knead dough until smooth.  Round, place in lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat all sides.  Place in warm place to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

4.  Punch down dough.  Grease a muffin pan.  Portion into 2 oz rolls.  The shape in the photo involves stretching out the ball, folding it in half, then folding back those ends halfway.  One side has two folded-over sections.  I put those on the bottom, leaving the three bumps on top.  Place in a warm place to rise for another 45 minutes.

5.  Bake at 350º for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned.  Cool on rack and serve.

Makes about 6 rolls

Difficulty rating :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shrimp and Vegetable Bisque

I could have sworn I had a recipe for shrimp bisque somewhere.  Throwing things in the pot worked just as well.

According to my food dictionary, bisque is supposed to be thickened with rice.  I had already bought potatoes because this was originally going to be some kind of chowder.  Whatever.

This was also going to help me use up milk.  The potatoes made it creamy enough that I only added a cup.  It's almost like a shrimp-tinged vichyssoise.

1 lb raw shrimp, with shell & tail
1/2 C chopped onion
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced
1 C corn kernels
1 lb white potatoes, large dice (skin optional)
*1 C milk (optional)
salt and white pepper to taste

1.  Shell shrimp, rinse, put shrimp in a bowl, and place bowl in fridge for a while.  Put the shells in a small saucepan with 2 C water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes while you chop up the veggies.

2.  Place veggies in a larger saucepan.  Strain shells out of shrimp stock and pour over veggies.  Discard shells.  If needed, add a little more water just to cover.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer.  Cover and cook until carrots and potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.  Turn off heat, stir in shrimp, and let residual heat cook the shrimp for 2 minutes.

3.  Working in batches, purée soup in blender or food processor.  If you remember, strain out a few shrimp to use as garnish.  (I was tired and the pool guy was cleaning ants out of the jacuzzi.  Things happen.)  Return to saucepan and reheat.  Season with salt and white pepper.  If too thick or not creamy enough, add milk.

4.  Serve hot immediately, or chill for a cold soup.  If serving cold, check seasonings before dishing.

Serves 4-6

Difficulty rating :)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Potato Latkes

Our holiday potluck at work fell on the third night of Chanukah, so I made latkes.  Unlike the plantain ones, I stuck to the traditional.

I should have used a bigger skillet.  It took a long time to cook them, and I was running late for the party.  That's why there isn't a picture.  They looked a lot like the plantains, just less yellow.

As usual for frying, open windows and run the stove vent.  The house smelled like French fries for two days.

1-1/2 lbs russet potatoes
1/2 lb yellow onion
2 eggs
1/4 C matzoh cake meal
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
peanut oil for frying
applesauce and sour cream for garnish

1.  Grate potatoes and onion.  Box graters are traditional, but I always use the food processor.  The strings of potatoes can get long, so you may want to cut the potatoes in chunks first.  Also, I don't peel the potatoes.  It's your choice.

2.  Toss potatoes and onion to mix.  Add matzoh meal, salt, and pepper and toss again.  Lightly beat eggs and add to potatoes.  Toss until everything is a gooey mess.

3.  In a large skillet, heat 2 Tb oil until water dances.  (Hood fan should be started now.)  Add potato mixture in 1/4 C mounds and fry until underside is crispy and lightly browned.  At first, this will take about 5 minutes.  Later batches will go faster.  Flip and cook underside until crispy.  Remove to paper towel-lined platter.  Repeat, adding oil as necessary.  Place a paper towel between layers.

4.  If made ahead, reheat in oven at 350º by placing a heatproof rack over a baking sheet and placing the latkes in a single layer.

5.  Serve hot, next to a bowl each of applesauce and sour cream.

Makes at least a dozen

Difficulty rating :-0

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chocolate Chewies

I cut out this recipes ages ago from the L.A. Times because it was similar to something I had attempted to make that didn't end well.  My problem with that was trying to make a meringue cookie that could hold large pieces of nuts.  This is more like a macaroon, hence the Passover label (assuming you find KLP powdered sugar).

The good news is that the only fat in the cookies is from the nuts, and the egg whites provide protein.  There are still over 100 calories per cookie, but that's to be expected in a cookie.

The recipe is from the Torrance Bakery, and they seem to have an odd sense of a rounded teaspoon.  I did tablespoons and still came up with more than the specified number of cookies.  My guess is they're using a purple scoop, which is a very good size for portioning cookies.  Go to a restaurant supply store and a rainbow of scoops in standardized sizes will present itself to you.  While it's temping to buy one of each, I recommend the purple for cookies and yellow for ice cream or muffin batter.  Get a green if you do a lot of barbecues with potato salad.

And I finally used the last of the Costco walnuts my mom bought!  Not confessing to the expiration date.  They lived in a ziplock in the freezer, so they weren't rancid, but they were pretty stale if you tried to eat them on their own.

Also in my freezer was a summer's worth of egg whites left over from ice cream and the hollandaise.  If you don't have such a stash, buy a carton of them in the market.  They're usually next to the Egg Beaters.

*1 C egg whites
1-3/4 C cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
5-1/2 C powdered sugar
*1 lb walnut pieces (I bashed them into large-chop size)

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  This time, I'm advocating the parchment instead of the Silpat.  I tried both, and got a more even bake out of the paper.

2.  Mix together the egg whites, cocoa, salt, and sugar on medium speed (with the paddle, if using a stand mixer) until the batter is stiff and all ingredients are well-incorporated, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in the nuts by hand or with the paddle attachment on a low speed.

3.  Place the batter by rounded tablespoons onto the baking sheet, working in batches.  Bake until the cookies are a bit shiny and slightly cracked, 10 minutes.  They will look underdone, but do not overbake.  Allow to rest on parchment for 5 minutes, then carefully peel off and transfer to cooling rack.

Makes 4 dozen

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, December 10, 2012

Rhubarb-Apple Crumble Pie

I've never cooked with rhubarb.  My only experience eating it is the little compote side you get at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant.  It just sounded like something my grandma would make, so I came up with a recipe for it.

Unfortunately, it isn't rhubarb season.  I had to buy a bag of frozen, pre-cut pieces.  A quick web search of other recipes assured me that sugar is necessary to make it palatable, which is why most people think of it as a fruit rather than a vegetable.  Fine, a slightly over-sugared version of a basic fruit pie ought to do it.

One note on fruit pies, especially ones with a high moisture content.  You know that old thing about pies cooling on the window sill?  That's so the juices can gel.  If you try to slice a pie hot from the oven, it runs everywhere.  Fruit pies ought to be cut at or slightly below room temperature.  After the slice is on the plate, it may be warmed.

1 9" pie crust bottom
8 oz rhubarb, cut in 1" pieces
2 medium eating apples, such as Gala or Fuji, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 C sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 C flour
*1 tsp cinnamon
*1/4 tsp nutmeg

2 Tb butter
1/4 C flour
2 Tb sugar
1/4 C rolled oats

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.

2.  In a bowl, toss together apples and rhubarb.  Add sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and toss to coat.  Place filling in crust.  It will mound up a lot, but will bake down to just above the crust rim.

3.  In a separate bowl, cut together butter and flour.  Cut in sugar and oats and sprinkle crumb topping on pie.  Because it's piled up so high, it's going to be a little difficult to convince the crumb to stay put.

4.  Bake for 45 minutes, until well-browned.  I put a cookie sheet under the pie, in case crumb fell off or the juices bubbled over.  Cool before slicing.

Makes one pie, 6-8 slices

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Jury Duty

Not only were there trials being seated, I had to sit through three days of jury selection.  While hour-and-a-half lunches are awesome, they still cut into my cooking time.  I decided not to invite anyone over for the first night of Chanukah because I did not know if I would have the afternoon off to cook and didn't want to cancel dinner three days before the holiday.

It was a good call.  Every accused has the right to a fair trial by jury, but it's annoying when your routine gets upended for two weeks right before the holidays.  I decided to console myself by baking cookies.

I made a batch each of Hedgies and Snowballs (minus the chocolate centers).  Both doughs keep well in the fridge for a few days, so I baked several of each on my lunch for afternoon snack on Wednesday and stored the rest.

Today, we deliberated, so I made considerably more and dropped my little green tin in the center of the table after we returned from lunch.  Fortunately, we were able to reach consensus before anyone put on weight.

I'm baking off the last of the dough now to take to work tomorrow.  But, now that I've started cookie season, I'm bound to continue.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hollandaise

I suspect the same person who invented mayonnaise had something to do with the development of hollandaise sauce.  They are both an emulsion of eggs and an oily substance.

The tricky part of hollandaise is to cook the eggs enough that you don't make anyone sick, but keep them from curdling to achieve the creamy texture.  Also, to time it so it's ready just when the rest of dinner is and nothing ends up overcooked while waiting for something else to catch up.  If you whisk constantly and use a double-boiler or a similar set-up, you should be successful.  I think I made my first batch as a teenager.  People make it out to be a lot scarier than it really is.

This is more or less the Bible's recipe.  They divide the butter into three portions, not four.  There is also a microwave version, but I don't like the idea of cooking it in 15-second increments.  Some chefs will insist that you only use pre-melted clarified butter, but I think the butter solids help to stabilize it without changing the flavor.  The Bible says you can use margarine; I've never tried it and can't vouch for them.

As for uses, Hollandaise goes well with almost any fish or shellfish and most green vegetables.  A properly cooked steak is not overwhelmed by it.  It is the sauce on Eggs Benedict, because there is nothing better to pour on ham and eggs than butter and eggs.

3 egg yolks
2 Tb lemon juice
1/2 C unsalted butter, cut into 4 2Tb chunks, room temperature
1/4 tsp salt

1.  Use a double boiler, or fill a saucepan partway with water and set a bowl on top which fits snugly.  Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.

2.  Add egg yolks and lemon juice to bowl.  Whisk until smooth.

3.  Add one chunk of butter to eggs and whisk until butter is melted and mixture is smooth.  Continue with remaining chunks.  Mixture will thicken and become a paler yellow.  If the water below starts to boil at any point, reduce the heat.  (I used a Visions saucepan so I could keep an eye on the water.)

4.  Remove bowl from heat, but keep the water simmering.  Add salt and any other seasonings*.  Serve immediately, or return to heat whenever it starts to stiffen.  Stirring regularly will keep it smooth.

*For the fish in the photo, I added a pinch of saffron and a wee bit of mustard.  For any herb or spice you may add or use as garnish, add sparingly.

Makes 2/3 C

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving Debriefing

My evil plan worked!  Actually, it worked a little too well.  The turkey was done an hour before I expected, so I kept it warm at 200º until it was time to put in the casseroles.

I had bought food for eight, then a few people decided to have dinner with their relatives (how dare they), so there were more leftovers than expected.  Not complaining, and I somehow managed to lose a pound over the past week, despite having a "Thanksgiving" dinner every night since Thursday and pumpkin pie for breakfast three days in a row.  Can't say enough about portion control.

After taking great pains to keep the majority of the meal meat-free, the vegetarian decided to have some turkey.  Not only that, she ate one of the legs!  There was more than enough, and I still have small pieces for at least one casserole.  That is, if Princess doesn't con me out of them first.  When the claws come out, you're more likely to feed the cat table scraps.

I'm really thinking that I need to make the green bean casserole more often.  Why do we only eat it once a year?  It isn't even difficult to make!

I braved the mall early on Black Friday, mostly for essentials I had needed for some time but was waiting for a good sale to buy.  It was funny to see all the people who weren't used to being up and out at 4:30am.  I got a couple of promo buttons at JCPenney.  One was of cranberry sauce out of the can, with the ridges intact!  That one is going up on my pin collection.

Once my jury duty is done, I'll be able to set aside time for some real cooking and recipe posts.  I'm crossing my fingers that no one wants to seat a jury the week after Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hostess Apocalypse

Forget the zombies.  The real end of the world as we know it came on November 16, not December 21 2012.  That was the day Hostess shut down its ovens.

I buy one or two boxes of Ding Dongs a year.  They're expensive, and that's about how often they are discounted.  I never liked the texture of Twinkies, and while I love Wonder Bread, it's all sugar and can't hold up to a sandwich filling heavier than peanut butter.

I did buy into the panic of facing the reality that Ding Dongs may never be made again and got to the market in time to buy the last box.  That was 10am last Friday.  There were still a few boxes of other items in the Hostess display, but they were probably gone by the end of the day.

The only thing I like about this whole crisis is that none of the cakes will go to waste.  Of this one last batch, every box will or has been sold.  What's more, they will be eaten.  Maybe a few years from now, but they will not end up in the trash.  Americans waste too much food, a lot of it expiring on store shelves because grocers like an overabundance on display.

I'm not going into the reasons that the company folded.  From what I understand, it's pretty much 50-50 to blame on the part of both management and labor.  And now 18,500 people are out of work right before Thanksgiving.  Even if they get hired by whoever buys the company, I can guarantee you they won't make as much in pay or benefits as Hostess was going to give them on the new contract.

And for people who say that Hostess sales were falling because consumers are more health conscious, go get a container of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt and compare the nutrition information to that of a single Ding Dong.  I'm not kidding.  The Ding Dong has a lot of saturated fat, and the yogurt has significantly more protein.  Other than that, the nutritional breakdown is almost identical.  You might as well have the snack cake and make it up with a lean-protein-rich meal at another time of the day.

Whoever ends up with the company, I will doubtless buy another box when they go back on the market, just to show support for the institution.  Then I'll go back to getting them once in a blue moon, because they really are better when you haven't had one in a long time.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving Menu

Since I'm having all new people to dinner this year (many of whom I have never met), I'm going with ultra-safe, expected dishes.  While I like being inventive for Tea, Passover, and pretty much any fancy dinner through the year, Thanksgiving is something you don't mess with.

The only major change to the menu was making sure everything except the turkey was vegetarian.  I'm not saying that a vegetarian at the table is a bad thing, but it really makes you conscious of every ingredient.  At least she's ok with gelatin in the Pumpkin Chiffon Pie.  I'm not changing that.  You can just skip it if you have an issue.  It's going on the table no matter what.

Turkey:  I don't do anything fancy.  Light rub of salad oil, generously salt and pepper the outside for a crispy skin, stuff the cavity with the parts of onion, celery, and carrot that I didn't use for everything else, and roast at 325º until the thermometer hits 160º.  Let rest during the half hour that the starches and green beans are in the oven.  Serve with a couple of jars of gravy and cranberry sauce carefully removed from the can.  Keeping the ridges intact is important. :)

Greenery:  I was going to do either a salad or the Cream of Asparagus Soup.  The vegetarian voted for salad, so that's what I'm making.  Just chopping up a head of red leaf lettuce and adding tomatoes, green onions, and candied walnuts.  Also vital is the French's Green Bean Casserole.  To reduce the salt, I plan to make my own sauce instead of using cream of mushroom soup.  Just basic White Sauce Base with a can of mushrooms and a reasonable amount of salt and pepper.

Starch:  Candied yams out of the can (baked with marshmallows, orange juice, and brown sugar) and stuffing.  I expected to have to make the stuffing from scratch, since the boxed ones have chicken stock in them, but Mrs. Cubbison's basic version is a blank slate of seasoned bread bits.  It costs a tiny bit more than the other brands, but far less than making it all from scratch.  I'll just doctor it up with celery, onion, dried cranberries, herbs, and sliced almonds, and use plain water for the liquid.

Kick-Ass Rolls:  Because they're awesome.  Also an excellent do-ahead.

Dessert:  Pumpkin Chiffon Pie.  Can be made the day before, then put a lock on the fridge.

I did make a conscious cost-cutting effort for the shopping, mostly that I got the dry goods and turkey at Vons and will get the last-minute fresh produce at Sprouts.  Everything traditional is on sale anyway.  It's when you think out of the box that a holiday meal gets expensive.  I also loaded up my Vons card with online coupons and found a few paper ones that were useful.  The best deals were getting an extra dollar off the turkey ($9 for a 14-lb Butterball), the French's onions for under $2, and $4 off the dried sage.  Basically, the meal cost what I thought it ought to, not what today's inflated prices have done to a trip to the grocery store.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pre-Party Cleaning

I haven't been doing as much writing as I had hoped, and even less cooking,  but I have been finishing a few projects that had remained undone for far too long.  I really need to do the NaNo project on my own schedule, possibly in January.

Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching, and I am determined not to wait until the day before to make the house presentable.

The first step in making your house party-ready is to establish in your mind how clean, tidy, and decorated you want to make it before starting.  Everyone has their own comfort-level for both everyday cleanliness and company clean.  I'm the first to admit my standards are higher than most, and I try not to look down on how other people keep house.  Without children leaving stuff everywhere, most of my weekly cleaning involves laundry, putting away out-of-place items, and sweeping up cat hair.  For company, I dust, clean the bathrooms, and mop the floors.  If your comfort level is more "lived-in", I congratulate you for not bowing to the expectations others place upon you.  As long as the food is prepared and served in a food-safe manner, it doesn't matter if every piece of lint has been removed from the ceiling lights.

I find it best to start the extra cleaning at least a week ahead of the event.  Then you can do it in half-hour increments each day, or one task.  First up is making room in the fridge for party groceries, especially the turkey.  This is followed by cleaning and decorating areas the guests definitely will see, and lastly the areas they might see, but probably won't.  The night before, I set the table and put little slips of paper in all the serving platters that say which dish goes in what.  That way, I don't forget to serve something or use the platter for something small, leaving a large item plate-less.

I'm going to buy my turkey on Wednesday, so it has a full week to defrost.  I'm tired of trying to pull the giblets out of a half-frozen Butterball.  I don't even know how many are coming, but no one ever complained that there was too much turkey.  I'm limited by the size of my oven, as I discovered last year.  I had to roast the 20-pounder I bought in the large oven at work.  I'm sure a 15 lb bird will be more than enough for the number I can get around my table.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo

Writer Smurf told me about National Novel Writing Month several years ago.  The point of it is to write a book from start to finish in a month.  No stops, no editing, just get a story out of your head and onto the medium of your choice in thirty days.  Ideally, you also hit the word goal.

For my first attempt, I'm kind of cheating.  I started to rewrite the first book I ever finished several years ago, and never got past page 10.  Then my hard drive imploded and erased the ten pages.  It's a decent story, but the writing style is awful.  It reads like a textbook instead of a novel.  I'm going to use NaNoWriMo as a way to focus what passes for my spare time and restart the rewrite.  I don't expect to finish it, but it would be nice to create some momentum and a habit of writing at least half an hour a day.  That's about twice as long as I spend on blog posts (excluding cooking), so I know I can find the time if I really want to.

What that means for The Yellow Apron is that I'm not going to have time to cook as many interesting dishes or write many posts.  I don't know why they picked November for this project.  It's a short month with a major holiday in it.  August would have been a much better choice.

So, assuming my new hard drive makes it through the month, I'll have a lot more recipes in December.  Posting just might be a bit scarce for a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fish and Corn Patties

I don't fry as often as this blog makes it look like I do.  It's just a really easy way to make fish with a lot of flavor and not much effort.

I think this is the flavor I wanted out of Emeril's corn cakes.  The fish flavor is very mild, but not completely overpowered by the sweetness of the corn.  I served it with a side of marinara the first night, and a creamy mustard sauce the second.  The mustard doesn't provide any visual contrast, but it spiced things up a bit.

1 lb white fish fillet (I used swai)
*1/2 C white wine (optional)
3/4 C corn kernels
*1/2 C breadcrumbs
*1 tsp parsley flakes
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying

1.  Bring 1/2" water and the wine to a simmer in a medium skillet.  Add fish and poach until opaque, about 2 minutes on each side.  Drain, then flake fish into a mixing bowl.

2.  Bring corn to a low boil in a small saucepan.  Cook for 5 minutes.  Drain and add to bowl.  Add breadcrumbs, parsley, salt, and pepper and toss together.

3.  Beat eggs lightly and add to bowl.  Stir to combine into a thick paste.

4.  Wipe dry that medium skillet and add several tablespoons of oil, enough to coat bottom thinly.  Heat over medium until water drops crackle.  Add fish mixture in 1/4 C mounds and cook until browned, about 3 minutes.  Flip, press a little flat, and cook until other side is browned.  Remove to paper towel to drain.  Re-oil pan if necessary, and continue with all of the mix.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Apple Brownies

This was one of the featured dishes on The Bitten Word's Cover-to-Cover challenge, from Team Martha Stewart.  I had everything on hand, it looked easy, and the person who made it for the blog noted a few problems with the recipe that I wanted to try to fix.

Maybe my fixes didn't work, as this came out more like a heavy coffee cake than a brownie.  Brownies should be like light cookies or heavy cakes.  The chocolate in a true brownie provides that weight.  The apples, not so much.  Applesauce would have been more effective.  I was able to pick up the slices and place them in muffin liners for storage, but they were too fragile to store without the liners.

This doesn't change the fact that it is a tasty dessert / tea snack.  I'm posting my version of the recipe, but the original is here for those who would like to try it.

1/2 C (1 stick) margarine
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/4 C brown sugar, not packed
1 C flour
*1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 egg
*1/2 C chopped walnuts
*3 medium Gala apples

1.  Generously butter an 8"x8" baking dish.  Preheat oven to 350.

2.  Dice apples 1/2" and keep in a bowl of cold water until needed, so they don't brown.

3.  Cream together margarine and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in egg.  Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

4.  Gradually add dry ingredients to the moist and beat just until combined.  Add the nuts and apples and stir until combined.

5.  Spread mixture evenly in pan and bake until firm and springy, about 40-45 minutes.  Allow to cool in pan on a rack for 30 minutes, then cut into 16 squares.

Serves 8 to 16

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sweet Potato Cassoulet

I just went through a rather dramatic week in computer-land.  My hard drive fried.  Like an idiot, nothing was backed up.  I didn't have that much on it that I would miss forever, just the first ten pages of a re-write I'm going to attack next month and a slide show of two years of cleaning out my house so it no longer looks like an episode of Hoarding.  As I have discovered after recently organizing a hundred years' worth of family photos, at least I have them.  They can be held in your hand or put in an album or frame.  While subject to the ravages of time, they cannot be erased by a speck of dust on a microchip, and I have the negatives for most of them.  Mostly, I just had to borrow a computer to check my email and couldn't upload photos to the blog.  It's all better now, and thanks to pre-scheduling, you would never know anything had happened if I hadn't told you.  Took forever to re-establish my bookmarks.

I wasn't sure that "cassoulet" was the right name for what I was throwing together, so I looked up the definition in my food dictionary.  Basically, it's the French name for pork'n'beans.  Change the herbs, omit tomato paste, and you're good to go.  I didn't use duck fat or large pieces of meat, but it's close enough.

And I have discovered yet another use for Sprouts' bacon ends.

1 C dry Great Northern Beans
*1/2 onion, minced
1/4 lb chopped bacon
1 lb sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
*1/8 tsp ground cloves
*1/2 tsp thyme
*1/2 tsp rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Sort and rinse beans.  Cover with water and let soak overnight.  Drain.

2.  In a medium frying pan, sauté bacon until the fat renders.  Remove any large pieces of fat.  Add onion and cook until soft.

3.  Boil at least 2 C water and preheat the oven to 250º.  Combine all ingredients except the sweet potato in an oven-safe casserole with a lid.  Pour water over to cover by about one inch.  Stir again.  Cover and place in oven to bake for 2 hours.  Check water level once an hour and add more as necessary to keep moist, but it no longer has to cover by a full inch.

4.  After two hours, add the sweet potatoes.  Stir to combine, and add water just to the top of the cassoulet.  Return to oven and cook until potatoes are done, at least 30 minutes.  Serve hot, but tastes just as good the next day either hot or cold.

Serves 4 to 5

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Greek Salad

Sensing a theme yet?  I don't usually get three posts out of a single meal, but I was in a mood.

It was harder than I expected to get the kalamata olives.  I think it's a neighborhood thing.  People in some areas are just more into fancy olives than others.  I did try Sorrento's, but the only ones they had were in a giant jar.  Didn't need that many.  Got them on clearance at Pavilions, but I almost had to fight another lady for them.  No one ever buys kalamatas, and suddenly at 9 am on a Sunday, TWO people want them!  We each got a jar, but she clearly wanted another.  Well, I got there first.

The dressing is from Mideast & Mediterranean, but I messed with the salad part.

1 head red leaf lettuce
2 Roma tomatoes
1 cucumber
6 oz kalamata olives (pitted or whole, your choice), drained
4 oz crumbled feta
1/4 C olive oil
1/4 C white wine vinegar (or plain distilled)
1 clove garlic, minced
*1 tsp parsley flakes
*pinch of oregano
salt and pepper

1.  Whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, parsley, oregano, and a dash each of salt and pepper.  Refrigerate dressing until ready to use.

2.  Wash lettuce and shake dry.  Chop into large pieces and place in salad bowl.  Chop tomatoes into large chunks (8 per tomato) and sprinkle on salad.  Peel cucumber and cut in half lengthwise.  Then cut in half again lengthwise and chop quarters into large bite-sized chunks.  Add to salad.  Add drained olives.

3.  Pour dressing on salad and toss.  Wait one minute, then pour off some of the excess dressing.  No one wants to eat a drowned piece of salad.  Garnish with feta and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating π

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mozzarella Herbed Rolls

I just made these up to use the rest of the mozzarella from the veggie lasagna and because I bought too much milk again.  They were really good, so here's the recipe.  I bet they'd also make good sandwich rolls if you portion them larger.

2-3 C flour
*1 C 100º milk
1 tsp yeast
2 tsp sugar
*1 Tb Italian Seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
*1 C shredded mozzarella
olive oil

1.  Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm milk and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2.  In stand mixer with paddle, stir together 1 C flour and the Italian seasoning.  Add milk mixture and beat on medium until a batter forms.  Add salt, cheese, and another cup of flour and beat into a soft dough, about 2 minutes.

3.  Turn out onto a well-floured board and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.  Round dough and place in a lightly oiled bowl.  Set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 hr.  Punch down and let rest 10 minutes.

4.  Grease a cookie sheet or line with a Silpat.  Portion into 2 oz pieces (about 12).  Round each piece, flatten slightly, and arrange on cookie sheet.  Allow to rise 45 minutes.

5.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Bake rolls for 15-20 minutes, until golden, turning cookie sheet once.  Cool on wire racks and serve.

Makes about a dozen

Difficulty rating :-0

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dolmades

It's kind of hard to find grape leaves.  You have to go to a gourmet foods store or live in an area with a large Greek or Middle-Eastern population.  Whole Foods, Gelson's, and Bristol Farms are probably your best bet for the big chains.  After striking out at Surfas (the girl was surprised they were out), I found them at Sorrento Italian Market, which I haven't been inside in at least 30 years.  They have everything Mediterranean that you didn't know you wanted, plus an Italian deli and bakery.  Slightly pricey, but they have it.

Once you find the leaves (they come in jars), the only thing I know of to make with them is stuffed grape leaves.  They are variously called dolma (dolmades) or sarma, depending on if you're Greek and understand what the words mean.  In America, they are commonly called dolmades.

I decided to make the meat-filled ones.  When I go out, I usually eat vegetarian dolmades because they are served cold and therefore aren't overcooked.  When you make a meat filling, they should be served warm out of the pot.  Well, I must have overfilled them, because I ran out of filling 2/3 of the way through the leaves.  Whipped up a small batch of vegetarian, all-rice filling and finished them off.  The recipe below will reflect the quantities I believe I should have used.

This is based on the recipe in Mideast & Mediterranean Cuisines

1 Tb olive oil
1/2 C minced onion
1/2 lb ground lamb
1/4 C short-grain rice (like Calrose)
*1 Tb chopped fresh mint or 1 tsp crushed dried mint
*1 Tb chopped fresh dill or 1 tsp dill weed
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 C water
1 8oz jar preserved grape leaves, about 28
2 lemons, thinly sliced
boiling water
lemon juice to taste

1.  Heat oil in a medium skillet.  Add onion and sauté until onion is tender.  Add meat and cook until meat is crumbly and browned.  Drain off fat.  Add rice, mint, dill, salt, and pepper.  Stir over medium heat until rice is glazed.  Add 1/3 C water and bring to a simmer.  Cook, uncovered, over medium heat 5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.  Set aside to cool while preparing leaves.

2.  Drain grape leaves.  Cut off tough stems.  Place leaves in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them to rinse and soften the leaves.  Drain and allow to cool slightly.

3.  Line bottom of medium saucepan with 2 or 3 leaves.  Place a leaf shiny-side down on a work surface.  Place a scant tablespoon of filling in the middle.  Fold in sides, then roll up from the stem end, like rolling a burrito.  Place seam-side down in saucepan.  Repeat with remaining filling and leaves, laying the rolls neatly in the saucepan.  When one layer is finished, coat with several lemon slices, then begin another layer.

4.  Find a heat-proof plate that fits snugly in the saucepan.  Invert and place on top of rolls; press down slightly to make sure it fits.  Fill saucepan with water an inch over the plate and bring to a boil.  Lower to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, until rice is tender.  Drain and serve with lemon wedges for garnish.

Makes about two dozen

Difficulty rating :)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Orange-Glazed Carrots

These are a nice side for holiday meals.  Served cold, they're also great for summer picnics.  I love flexible dishes.  And it's super easy, too.  You can make this as an afterthought, and make it look like the centerpiece of your side dishes.

1 lb thick carrots
*1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 C dried cranberries
1 Tb butter
1 Tb brown sugar
2 Tb orange juice

1.  Peel carrots and cut into large chunks, big enough that diners will need to cut them into at least two bite-sized pieces.  In a medium saucepan, cover carrots with water.  Sprinkle with thyme and salt (optional) and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until pieces can be pierced by a fork, but are not fully cooked.

2.  Drain off water and return to medium heat.  Add remaining ingredients and stir together.  Return to a low boil and cook until sauce has reduced to desired consistency.  Put into serving bowl and either serve hot immediately or chill for later.

Difficulty rating π

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lamb Calzones

Ah, the original Hot Pocket.  I had issues scoring some obscure ingredients for another dish and had to find something to do with a pound of ground lamb.  I've already posted nearly everything I know how to make with it. Time to invent something.

Calzones are just individual-sized, folded-over pizzas.  You can make them with frozen pizza dough and any toppings you want.  I just happened to have the lamb and half a pound of shredded mozzarella.  You can put the sauce inside if you want, but I prefer to have it in a bowl for dipping.

These are dark because I made them with part buckwheat flour.  No particular reason, just thought I'd be different.  It's the same recipe as if you used only all-purpose flour.

2-3 C flour
1 C warm water
2 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
olive oil
corn meal
*1 lb ground lamb
1/4 C pine nuts
1 clove garlic, minced
*8 oz shredded mozzarella
1 14oz jar pizza sauce or marinara
*corn meal

1.  Stir together water, yeast, and honey and let sit until yeast activates, about 5 minutes.

2.  In stand mixer, combine water mixture and 1 C flour.  Beat into a batter, about 2 minutes.  Add salt and another cup of flour and beat again to make a light dough.

3.  Generously flour a kneading surface.  Pour dough onto it and knead until dough is smooth and silky, about 5 minutes, adding as little flour as possible.  Oil a bowl lightly with olive oil.  Turn dough ball over in oil to coat all sides and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.  Punch down dough, form into 3- to 4-oz balls by weight, and let rest while cooking lamb.

4.  In a medium skillet, toast pine nuts and dust lightly with salt.  Set aside.  In same pan, brown lamb.  Pour off the fat and add garlic.  Lamb should be fairly dry, well-browned, and completely cooked.  Add pine nuts and set aside until ready to use.  Prepare two cookie sheets with either a Silpat and scattered corn meal or a liberal amount of olive oil and corn meal.

5.  Roll out one ball into an 8" diameter round.  It's ok if it shrinks up a bit after measuring.  If using pizza sauce on inside, spread 2 Tb on crust, leaving a 1" rim.  Add 1/2 C of lamb filling on one half of the circle, followed by 1/4 C of cheese.  Fold over other half of crust and pinch closed.  Transfer to cookie sheet.

6.  Once all pies have been panned, brush each with water to soften the crust and make them rise better.  Cut a small slit in the top of each for venting.  Preheat oven to 400º.  If you timed it right, the first pie should have had about half an hour to rise, the last at least 15 minutes.

7.  Bake calzones for 10 minutes.  Rotate pans and bake for another 5 minutes, until well-browned and crisp.  Cool on a wire rack for five minutes, then serve with a side of sauce for dipping.

Makes 5 or 6

Difficulty rating :)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Banana-Chocolate Chip Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

This was my assignment for The Bitten Word's cover-to-cover food magazine challenge.  I had already read the issue of Bon Appetit, and I would have made this eventually.  This was just an excuse to make it sooner.  This thing has a pound of butter and a jar of peanut butter in it.  Just a heads-up.  I found the calories listed online, and wished I hadn't.

I have a problem with recipe names that are this long.  It shows a lack of creativity, and proves that there are too many competing flavors in the product.  I would have named this "Banana Madness Cake" or "Peanut Butter-Banana Awesome Cake", because the peanut butter ends up being the dominant flavor.

Since I was test-driving the recipe for their blog, I couldn't cut it down and made the full-sized cake.  Cakes are big.  When they say 16 servings, they really mean it.  I took it to work, and encouraged everyone to take some home to their families.  It still took three days to eat it, but people were also disappointed that it was gone.  It has that "I want the leftovers" factor.  These would make really cool cupcakes, with the peanut butter frosting and chips to decorate them.  As a single cake, it weighed at least six pounds.  Not kidding.

I learned a few things while making this.  One, I only have one 8" cake pan and this requires two.  Two, it was a good thing I used the 9" pans instead, because the recipe actually called for extra-deep 8" pans and it would have overflowed.  Three, a good-sized banana makes about half a cup of mash, and I came up half a cup short.  That turned out to be a fortunate thing, considering the extra-deep pan issue.  Four, I'm out of sugar.  I had to empty sugar bowls to get past the first cup, and eventually used sugar cubes to make up the rest of it.

Cake
Nonstick spray or shortening
3 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp kosher salt
1-1/2 C sugar
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 C packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
2 C (4 or 5) mashed very ripe bananas
1 C sour cream
10 oz mini chocolate chips (it came in a 12 oz bag, so I just saved the other 2 oz for garnish)

Frosting
2 C creamy peanut butter
1-1/2 C powdered sugar
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2-1/2 tsp vanilla
chocolate chips, mini chips, and kisses for decoration

special equipment: Two 8x8x2" cake pans
alternate: Two standard 9" cake pans or about 3 dozen cupcakes

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Coat cake pans with nonstick spray or shortening (or use paper liners for cupcakes).  Line bottom of pans with parchment or waxed paper; spray paper.

2.  Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in small bowl.  Using electric mixer, cream sugar, butter, and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and scraping down sides and bottom of bowl.  Beat in vanilla.

3.  Add dry ingredients and beat on low speed just to blend.  Add bananas and sour cream; beat just to blend.  Fold in mini chips.  Divide batter evenly between pans - I recommend using a scale and weighing them.  It's over two pounds of batter per pan.  Smooth the tops of the cakes.

4.  Bake cakes until a tester comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  I baked mine for 15, then rotated racks, baked another 15, rotated again, and 5 more minutes was perfect.  Transfer to a cooling rack and cool in pan for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto racks, peel off paper, and let cool completely.  You can even freeze the cakes and frost them another day.

5.  For frosting, beat peanut butter, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Place one cake upside-down on platter (or cake circle if you need to move it to a different plate at some point).  Spread 1-1/4 C frosting on it.  Place remaining cake right-side up on top of it.  Use remaining frosting to coat top and sides.  Garnish with chocolate.  Cover and chill. (ok to refrigerate for up to 2 days)  Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

Makes at least 16 servings

Difficulty rating :)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Chilled Butternut Squash Soup

Ah, Fall, when all sorts of wholesome, warm, comfort foods conspire to fill us.

And then it got hot.  Like 100º hot on October 1st.  So I decided to find out what butternut squash soup tasted like when chilled.

Squash soup and I go back about ten years.  And every time I try to make it, something explodes and I have to clean the kitchen.  This time, I was determined to do it right.

First, I bought pre-diced squash, eliminating the likelihood of blood ending up on the counter.  I really hate cutting squash, and the feeling is mutual.  It's about twice the cost of buying the squash whole, but it saves you a lot of time and effort.  This time, I considered it worth the money.  As far as pureeing, that is where I usually run into trouble with scalding hot soup.  I have tried immersion blenders and the food processor.  Neither was a good idea.  This time, I got out the heavy-duty blender and did it in small batches.  Somehow, I managed to get all but a few drops pureed and in the final container.

All of the chicken and vegetable broths at the store except one contained way too much salt, and that one cost almost as much as the squash.  I opted for a small onion instead.  I also waited to check the salt until the soup had cooled, and decided that I didn't need any at all.  Feel free to add some if you think it will help.

A side note that has nothing to do with this recipe: Dried-basil pesto has officially surpassed Things that don't expire as my most-viewed post.  Looks like I'm not the only one stuck with lots of dried herbs.

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced (or one 20 oz package pre-cut cubes)
*1/3 C chopped walnuts
1/2 C chopped onion
1 Tb olive oil
2 C water
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Plain yogurt or sour cream for garnish

1.  In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium.  Add walnuts and onion and sauté until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

2.  Add squash, ginger, nutmeg, and water.  Stir to combine and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes, until squash is very tender.

3.  In a blender, purée soup mix, working in batches.  Chill uncovered in refrigerator until cold, at least 2 hours.

4.  To serve, ladle into soup bowls and garnish with a couple tablespoons of yogurt.

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Quantities

I admit to having difficulty figuring out how much to make to feed a party.  When I cook for myself, I make smaller portions, but I know not everyone eats like I do.  I don't want people to go hungry, and end up making way too much.  For some occasions, like Thanksgiving, that's part of the tradition.  It's disappointing if you don't have leftovers.  It took me about four tea parties to get it right, but I now end up with about one serving left at the end of the afternoon, just enough that no one went without and I have something to snack on while doing the dishes.

So how much should you make?  Cruise lines have it down to an exact science.  They have years of data that tell them how much people will eat.  Not so helpful when you throw a handful of parties a year and make something new nearly every time.

Still, there are some guidelines that can reduce the amount of leftovers.  Keep in mind, these numbers are for self-service, either as family style or buffet, and are dinner-sized numbers, which generally work for anything after 11am when people are treating themselves to the fancy meal of the day.  With plated meals, you can control the portions exactly.

Hors d'oeuvres and other pre-meal snacks:  Make at least three different items to munch on as guests are arriving, and plan on two canapes of each kind per person or five crackers/dipping veggies (1/2 oz of cheese or dip on each).

Appetizers: One per person, plus one or two extra for the people who don't get that this is a big meal.

Soup: 8 oz per person

Salad: 1 cup per person

Dinner rolls: 1.5 per person

Vegetable: 1/2 C per person

Rice or starch: 1/2 C per person

Meat: Here's where it gets tricky

  • Boneless meats like roasts, 1/2 lb per person
  • Poultry, 1 lb per person (bones)
  • Fish, 6 to 8 oz per person
  • Shellfish is going to depend on the type and size.  Figure 6 oz out-of-shell, which can be significantly more if you buy something shell-on.  Then there's the amount of work the diner needs to expend to eat what's inside the shell, like with mussels or crab.  You may just have to take a stab at it, and be ready with additional side dishes in case you come up a bit short.

Dessert:  No one ever complained that there was too much dessert, but they don't finish it either.

  • A pie serves 8
  • 8" round layer cake 10-14
  • Cookies 3 per person, depending on size
  • Brownies or other similarly cut desserts 2 per person
  • Pudding is about 1/2 C per person, but best to make a little more
  • Fruit salad.  Everyone says they're on a diet or trying to reduce the amount of sugar they eat and want a fruit salad option.  Then they don't eat it when they see the "real" desserts.  Unless you're doing a breakfast or lunch buffet, don't even bother.  Put out a pound of grapes or strawberries.  If you do decide on a mixed-fruit salad, figure that half of the guests will take about a half-cup.


I would love feedback on these numbers and any helpful hints to make quantities come out right.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Vegetable Lasagna

This isn't much different than the regular lasagna I already posted, except you're using vegetables instead of ground beef and it's a lot bigger.  This was my contribution to the choir's Rosh Hashanah dinner, so I used the biggest pan that fit in my oven.  Ended up with a lot of leftovers.  A LOT of leftovers.  I meant to take a photo of the whole dinner spread, which would have fed about twice the number we had.  Feel free to cut this recipe in half, and you'll still get at least 6 servings.

One great discovery was that the soft-sided cooler I use to transport foods can also handle hot items.  I wrapped the hot casserole in a bath towel before putting it in the cooler, so it wouldn't damage the sides.  When I got to temple an hour and a half later, I still needed oven mitts to pick it up.  This is the same cooler that kept ice cream frozen solid for almost an hour with only two blue-ice packs.  If anyone is interested, the company is called California Innovations.

15 lasagne noodles
1 (24 oz) jar of chunky vegetable pasta sauce
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tb olive oil
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 medium eggplant, cut in 1/2" dice
1/2 lb portobello mushrooms, cut in 1/2" dice
2 large carrots, peeled and cut bite-sized
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 28.5 oz container ricotta cheese
2 eggs
8 oz shredded mozzarella

1.  Bring at least a gallon of water to a boil in a large pot.  Cook noodles according to package directions.  Drain, rinse, and keep in a small amount of water to keep soft.

2.  You can really make the filling while step 1 is in the works.  In a large skillet, sauté onions in oil until tender.  Add garlic and tomatoes.  Add carrot and eggplant and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Add Italian seasoning and cook until carrots are soft and eggplant is mostly cooked.  Add mushrooms and cook until tender.  Remove from heat.

3.  In a bowl, lightly beat eggs.  Add ricotta and combine thoroughly.

4.  For the assembly, pour about 1/2 C of the pasta sauce on the bottom of a 10" x 15" casserole.  Layer on the first 5 noodles, four going the long way and the fifth to make up the end.  Overlap slightly.  Add half of the vegetable mix, followed by half of the ricotta.

5.  For layer 2, you can get away with only 4 noodles if one of them broke or shredded.  Follow with remaining cooked veggies, followed by the rest of the ricotta.

6.  To top, use remaining noodles.  Pour the rest of the jar of pasta sauce on top.  At this point, you can either refrigerate as a do-ahead or preheat oven to 350º.

7.  Cook lasagna for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.  Return to oven and cook an additional 15 minutes, until cheese is melted.  Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Note: unlike a meat-based lasagna, there isn't a lot of fat to hold this one together.  Be very careful when cutting and serving.

Serves about 12 if it's the only entrée on the table, a small army as a side dish

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Banana Rum Pie

This is a variation of the Williamsburg Cookbook's eggnog pie.  I had some bananas past their prime and decided to do something different than the Banana Cream Pie I already posted.  It also used up some of the rum in the liquor cabinet.  The price on the label is $6.48, and the same bottle online at BevMo is $10.99.  It's been in there a while.  Spirits don't go bad, but that's kind of ancient.

This chiffon pie uses gelatin to set up, like the Pumpkin Chiffon Pie.  The procedure is the same, but with fewer ingredients.  It does take several hours to make because of setting time, but most of it is passive.  The most work you do is stirring the milk to keep it from scorching.

As I was pouring the rum in the measuring cup, I realized that the alcohol was not going to be cooked out of this one.  I stopped pouring and made it about a tablespoon lighter than the 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) in the recipe. Despite having about half a tablespoon of rum in each slice of pie, you can't really taste it and no one will get tipsy.  Maybe that would be different if you used dark rum or banana rum.  Mainly, it enhances the rather modest amount of sugar in the pie.  I could have used less sugar than the recipe called for and been happy, because the bananas were sweet.  Still, if you're concerned about the alcohol content, warn folks ahead of time and let them decide.

1 9" pre-baked pie crust or graham cracker crumb crust
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 C milk
1/2 C + 2 Tb sugar, divided
3 eggs, separated
*1/4 C rum
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla
*3 small or 2 medium to large bananas

1.  Prepare pie crust or crumb crust and set aside.  Soften the gelatin in 1/4 C cold water and set aside.

2.  Bring the milk and 1/2 C of sugar to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Beat the egg yolks slightly.  Add about 1/2 C of the hot milk mixture to the eggs and stir until combined.  Return tempered eggs to the saucepan and heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and coats a spoon.

3.  Stir in softened gelatin until it dissolves, then stir in the rum.  Add nutmeg and vanilla, and stir until combined.  Place a piece of plastic wrap touching the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until mixture is cool and begins to firm, about 2 hours.

4.  Beat egg whites to soft peaks.  Add remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat to firm peaks.  Fold into custard until combined.

5.  Slice bananas thinly.  Arrange as many as fit on bottom of pie crust.  Pour half of custard on top.  Arrange another layer of bananas.  If there are any left, save them for garnish.  Pour rest of custard on top and decorate with any remaining banana slices.  Chill until ready to serve, at least 2 hours.  Garnish with whipped cream if desired.

Makes 1 pie, about 8 servings

Difficulty rating :-0

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Whiskey Chicken

I'm not sure why people who didn't drink whiskey had five partially-used bottles of it in their liquor cabinet (4 Scotch and 1 Bourbon), but my parents left a lot of alcohol behind.  I choose to assume they had many more parties than I knew about.  Cooking with it may appall some people, but it's kinder and less wasteful than pouring it down the drain.

There was a lot of good stuff in the clearance bin the Thursday before Labor Day.  I spent about $5 and got a pound of steak, 4 large fresh breakfast sausages, and 1/3 lb of 24 ct head-on shrimp.  That afternoon, it all went on the grill.

I've never cooked whole shrimp before.  I've always peeled and deveined them.  After realizing that they would fall through the grill on their own, I put them on wood skewers.  Convinced myself that one twitched and almost dropped the whole thing down the sink.  Finally, they were on the grill.  It was weird, because the moisture in them evaporates and stays in the shell, condensing on the inside of it.  Instead of getting dry, they steam themselves.  Yes, that sounds kind of gross, but now I have a photo of shrimp on the barbie.  They were ridiculously difficult to shell after cooking, so I won't do that again, but it looked neat.

The following week, I decided to marinate some chicken thighs in a whiskey marinade.  Found this simple recipe on Food.com.  Then I thought that, as long as I have way too much Scotch sitting around, I would make up a glaze to go with it.   Didn't bother to research a recipe, just dumped the rest of a bottle into a saucepan with some logical ingredients and started reducing.  I was cooking out all the alcohol, so it didn't matter how much of the stuff I used.  It became no different than reducing a broth into sauce.

Marinade
*1/2 C Whiskey
1/2 C brown sugar, lightly packed
*1/4 C olive oil
*1/4 C soy sauce
1 Tb salt
*1 Tb black pepper
*1/2 Tb (1-1/2 tsp) garlic powder

1.  Whisk together all ingredients.  Place in a gallon ziplock bag with as many pieces of chicken as the bag will hold.  Should be about 8, or an entire cut-up chicken.  Set on a plate or casserole and refrigerate at least 3 hours.  Turn bag over every couple of hours to coat all sides.

2.  Either grill chicken until thermometer reads 160º or bake in oven at 325º for about 45 minutes, until juices run clear.  If desired, serve with glaze below.

Glaze
*1 C whiskey
*1/4 C honey or molasses
*2 Tb minced red onion or shallot
1 garlic clove, minced

1.  Stir all ingredients together in small saucepan.  Bring to a low boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half.  For thicker syrup, continue to reduce.  Serve over chicken or use it to baste chicken while grilling.

Marinade and sauce each will coat 6 to 8 servings

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Corn Cakes

These are the pancakes I refrained from making a few posts ago when I was trying to use up caviar.

While I find Emeril highly entertaining, and fell asleep to his show every night for a few years before discovering The Daily Show, I very rarely make any of his recipes.  I'm not into Southern cuisine.  But the picture of these looked really good, and I just omitted the Bam spice blend.

You kind of need it.  I'm not saying these are tasteless, they're just more savory than I was expecting.  You really taste the masa flour, and I was looking forward to a sweet corn taste.  If I make this again, I'm going to make up the cornmeal/masa/flour volume with half cornmeal and half flour, and double the amount of corn.

I made these dollar-pancake sized so I could have three or four as a side dish.  You only need to make the tiny ones in the original recipe if you're making the hors d'oeuvre.  And you do get a lot out of the recipe.  The half-batch I'm posting here made five side-dish servings.

1 Tb olive oil
1/2 C corn kernels
1 Tb minced shallot
1/2 tsp salt
dash of pepper
1 egg
1/2 C cream
1/4 C + 2 Tb cornmeal
1/4 C flour
*1/4 C masa harina
1 tsp baking powder
dash of cayenne pepper
1/4 C + 2 Tb water
oil for pan

1.  Sauté corn and shallot in olive oil until soft and season with salt and pepper.  Set aside to cool.

2.  Beat together egg and cream.  Separately, sift together cornmeal, flour, masa, baking powder, and cayenne pepper.  Add cream mixture to flour and combine.  Then add corn mixture.

3.  Gradually add water until a batter forms.  Stop when it is thin enough for your tastes.

4.  Heat a griddle over medium-high heat.  Lightly oil, because the pancakes are going to absorb whatever you put on there.  Spoon out desired amount of batter.  When top sets, flip to cook other side. Remove to paper towel lined platter and keep warm until ready to serve.  Can be served by themselves or with various savory toppings.

Serves 5-6 as a side, 12 or more as an hors d'oeuvre

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cleaning out the Crisper

I hate wasting food.  Maybe it goes back to the "starving children in China" mantra I had to deal with as a young child.  (Where are children starving nowadays?)  You can freeze meat and bread, but produce and dairy must be used in some fashion before they are past their prime.

I had a drawer-full off good intentions going bad.  The celery was already limp, and some of the other items were threatening to join it.  I had been eating meat too often anyway, and decided to spend a week with vegetarian dinners.

The remaining asparagus and swiss cheese from the tea became a full-sized quiche, topped with chia seeds to improve the fiber and protein content.  Everything else went into the blender with some tomato sauce.  Gazpacho is great, because nowadays fancy chefs make it out of all sorts of things and sell it for $8 a bowl in restaurants.  Veggies in a blender.


Next time all that fresh produce you bought starts to go bad, consider alternatives to giving up: quiche, gazpacho, stir-fry, hot vegetable soup, or even as part of a stew.  Eat your veggies.  They're good for you.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tomato-Basil Puffs

Pate a Choux, or cream puff pastry, doesn't have to be sweet.  The dough itself doesn't have any sugar in it, just the cream filling when you make cream puffs or eclairs.  You can flavor the dough with herbs before baking to make a savory flavor.  You can also do this with pie crust dough; I've seen hors d'oeuvre mini-cups for sale with a sun-dried tomato flavoring.  And I have found another use for the dried basil flakes!

It also isn't difficult to make these.  Everyone who has never made profiteroles thinks they're fancy, difficult, and amazingly expensive.  Let them think that.

Since I was so far behind when preparing my tea party, I forgot to take a photo of these.  Here's another shot of the whole first-course platter.  The puffs are the ball-shaped things with bits of tomato peeking out.
1/4 C butter
1/2 C water
dash salt
1/2 C flour
*1 tsp dried basil flakes
2 eggs
1 Roma tomato, finely diced
2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.  In a small saucepan, bring butter, water, basil, and salt to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Add flour all at once and stir until it forms a paste that pulls away from the sides of the pan.

2.  Add eggs one at a time, incorporating fully before adding the next.  Allow to cool slightly so it is easier to handle and use the time to line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

3.  Using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" round tip,  pipe out 1-1/2" circles of paste at least an inch apart on cookie sheet.  Use a damp finger to press in any points left by the tip, or they'll bake that way.  Bake about 25 minutes, until golden brown.

4.  Remove puffs from oven, close the oven door, and shut it off.  As soon as the puffs are cool enough to handle, slice off the tops to expose the insides.  Return sheet to oven and let them dry for another half hour.

5.  While the puffs are drying, dice the tomato and season with oil, salt, and pepper.  If preparing all of this ahead of time, simply refrigerate tomato mix and store cooled puffs in a ziplock at room temperature until ready to use.

6.  Shortly before serving, fill puffs with the tomato mixture.  Serve immediately, before the moisture soaks into the puffs and makes them chewy.  You want them crisp.

Makes about 18 hors d'oeuvre-sized puffs

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Asparagus Mini-Quiches

Mini-quiches were actually a whole lot easier to make than I was expecting.  Yes, I had to make pie crust, but the cookie cutter I picked was a perfect size for the mini-muffin cups, and I just dropped in raw asparagus tips and a few tiny bits of swiss before pouring in scrambled-egg mix.  Granted, I bought the thinnest spears they had at the market and only used the top two inches.  Any thicker, and I would have had to blanch them.

If you're making these for a larger party, I would recommend buying the shells at a restaurant supply store.  They aren't cheap, but they do come in a box of at least 50.  I would gladly pay $10 (or whatever it was) at Surfas not to have to make four dozen of them.  For the one dozen I was doing, it was silly to get the whole box.

Half a batch of pie crust dough
1/4 C asparagus tips
1/4 C swiss cheese, cut into 1/4" dice
1 egg
1/4 C milk
dashes of salt & pepper
special equipment: mini-muffin pan (regular sized muffin cups will result in fewer quiches)

1.  Roll out crust dough very thin.  Cut out circles with a 3" cookie cutter.  (You'll probably end up with extra dough.  Freeze it for a future project.)  Set each circle over a muffin hole and let it fall in on its own as much as possible.  If you have to push it in, do it from the outer edges and don't push in the middle.  It will tear, and then you'll end up cleaning charred egg out of the cup.

2.  Chop asparagus tips into pieces no longer than half an inch.  Place one teaspoon in each cup, followed by one teaspoon of cheese.

3.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Beat together egg and milk.  Add a touch of salt and pepper and beat in.  Pour egg mix into cups, being careful not to fill them all the way to the top.  Again with scrubbing burnt egg off the pan.  Bake until fluffy and custard is set, about 25 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly in pan, then remove to cooling rack.  Serve either hot or room temperature.

Makes 12

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Tea Party 2012

It took a while, but I finally had my tea party in the middle of August.  It was so hot that almost no one had hot tea.  Most had lemonade or iced basil-mint tea.  Still, tea isn't really about the drink, it's about the company.

I don't know when I became so bad at time management.  I'm going to have to do a post in the near future about how to do-ahead for a party so you don't have to leave the oven on for six hours on the hottest day of the year.  All the food was ready with about 15 minutes to spare, but I usually have all the dishes done and put away long before anyone arrives.  Part of putting in a lot of effort for a party is making it look like it all happened by magic and you didn't do anything out of the ordinary.

First  Course
Cucumber-Dill Sandwiches
Asparagus Mini-Quiches
Tomato and Basil Puffs

Second  Course
Buttermilk Scones (normal recipe, but I used the buttermilk from the butter I made)
Whipped Cream and Homemade Butter
Lavender and Cherry Jellies and Gooseberry Preserves

Third  Course
Cranberry-Almond Biscotti
Individual Apple and Blueberry Tarts

Drinks
Hot Teas
Iced Basil and Mint Tea
Homemade Lemonade

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Basil & Mint Tea

This is really why I was so happy to be growing basil.  And it is going to town.  I had to pick some leaves before it sagged under its own weight.  It also happened to be that time again to rip out yet more mint in the front yard.

This is very similar to the tea you get at the end of a Moroccan meal.  I made mine a bit less sweet and didn't add any black tea so it would be decaf, but the heady herbal fragrance is intact.  It is also great iced, and you could "season" it up to make an adult drink with any of a number of spirits.

6 C water
1/2 C packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 C packed fresh mint leaves
2 Tb sugar or honey, or to taste

1.  Bring water and sugar to a boil.  Add herb leaves and boil for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat and let steep for half an hour.

2.  Strain out leaves.  Taste and add sugar if necessary.  Either serve hot or chill for iced tea.

Makes 6 cups, or 6-8 servings

Difficulty rating  π