Saturday, April 28, 2012

Roasted Bell Peppers

No, I didn't burn dinner.  They're supposed to look like that.

Bell peppers are expensive if they're not in season.  You can always buy roasted ones in a jar, but that is also pricey, especially for something you're probably going to use as a salad garnish.  This very simple technique produces a fat-free roasted veggie that is ready for a multitude of uses.

Any color of bell peppers (orange and red in photo)

1.  Slice open peppers.  Discard stem, seeds, and membranes.  Place face-down on lined cookie sheet.

2.  Place under broiler until skin is burned black.  Remove and let cool slightly.

3.  Under running cold water, peel off skin by rubbing with fingers.  Peppers are now ready to use in any recipe.

Makes: as many peppers as you use

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chocolate Babka

On my recent trip to Philadelphia, I stopped by my favorite bakery, Hesh's.  Turns out, you can only get chocolate babka there if you pre-order it.  Still picked up a Passover cake, which is the real reason we went out there.

I bought a regular loaf cake at Hesh's, then a babka at another bakery closer to Techie Smurf's house.  Forgot both in their freezer when I left.

So, being babka-less, I started to look for recipes online.  Wow, no wonder they taste good.  Butter, eggs, more butter, chocolate, too much sugar...

The one I found that looks closest to Hesh's is Martha Stewart's.  It is very daunting on the page and makes three.  I only have two loaf pans, and one had beer-cheese bread in it, so I started to cut down the recipe to a single loaf.

While I was at it, I also reduced the amount of butter and sugar, and the proportion of filling.  If you are using packets of yeast instead of measuring it from a jar, just double the recipe and make two loaves.

This also isn't as scary as it looks.  If you've made my chocolate rolls or sticky buns, you've already done most of this before.  Add on some twisting and streusel, and you're set.  I'm giving it the third rating just because you have to decipher my directions.  Performing them isn't difficult.

This recipe is in three parts: bread, filling, and streusel.  I'm going to list all the ingredients together to help with shopping.  Bear in mind that most are divided, sometimes in all three parts.

1/2 C milk
1-1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
2 C flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C + 2 Tb butter (real unsalted butter)
*8 oz (1/2 lb) semisweet chocolate
*1 tsp cinnamon

1.  Warm milk, 1/4 C butter, and 1/4 C sugar to 110º.  Butter does not need to melt.  Stir in yeast and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2.  In mixer, stir together 1 C flour and the salt.  Add milk mixture and beat into a batter, about 2 minutes.  Add one egg and 1/2 C flour and beat again into a light dough.  Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead into a slightly sticky, smooth ball, about 5 minutes.  Add as little flour as possible.  Add a few drops of oil to a bowl to grease it.  Turn dough over in bowl to coat all sides and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

3.  While dough is rising, cut together 1/4 C flour, 2 Tb sugar, and 2 Tb butter to make streusel topping.  Keep in refrigerator until needed.  Then chop chocolate finely and cut together with cinnamon, 2 Tb sugar, and 1/4 C butter to make a thick chocolate paste for the filling.  That one can stay at room temperature, to make it easier to work with.

4.  Punch down dough and allow to rest on floured board for 10 minutes.  Beat the other egg to use as an egg wash.  Butter a loaf pan.  With a rolling pin, roll out dough into a 16" square.  I have a huge pastry board, and it almost wasn't big enough.  You want the dough about 1/8" thick, like you were making sugar cookies, and twice as long as the loaf pan.  Brush the edges with egg wash.  Spread almost all the chocolate filling evenly over the square, leaving the edges clean.

5.  Roll up the dough like a jelly roll, sealing the far end.  Hold the left end steady, and roll the right end away from you.  Once the dough has twisted at least 4 times, lay it straight across again.  Brush top with egg wash, and place remaining filling on the roll.  Fold the roll in half, with the chocolate parts touching. Twist twice again, seal the open ends, and wedge into loaf pan.  Brush top with egg wash and sprinkle with half of the streusel topping.  Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.

6.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Sprinkle babka with remaining streusel and bake for 55 minutes.  (I placed a sheet pan on the rack below to catch any falling crumbs.)  Allow to cool in pan about 10 minutes before turning out.  Cool completely before slicing.

Makes one loaf, about 12 (who are we kidding, 6) servings

Difficulty rating  :-o

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Beer-Cheese Bread

People keep leaving beer at my house.  Techie Smurf has his stash for visits, but I don't know where the rest of it came from.  I got this recipe from The Saucy Dipper, who got it from Alton Brown.  It just sounds like the perfect thing to toast up for breakfast or tea.  Or to put barbecued meat on.  Or rip to shreds the instant it comes out of the oven.

Sara said hers came out a touch dry.  That could have been from over-baking, since it can be hard to tell when a cheese bread is done.  The melted cheese sometimes looks like uncooked dough.  Just to be on the safe side, I added 1/4 C of milk to the original recipe, which seems to be how I "fix" any baking recipe that doesn't quite work.

Being an Alton Brown recipe, the measurements are by weights and degrees.  This scientific way of cooking really does produce more consistent results.  Plus, I got to use my new digital scale.  I did measure the flour as I went, but keep in mind the volume is approximate.  I also used all white flour.  If you use the original's whole wheat for part of it, the volumes will not match.

12 oz wt. all-purpose flour (about 2-1/4 C)
1 Tb baking powder
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
*1/2 tsp dill weed
4-1/2 oz grated sharp cheddar
*12 oz (1 can, 1-1/2 C) cold beer
1/4 C milk

1.  Grease a loaf pan and preheat the oven to 375º.

2.  In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients.  Stir in cheese.

3.  Add beer and milk.  Stir until just combined, as few strokes as possible.  Pour into loaf pan and spread evenly.

4.  Bake 45-55 minutes, until 210º or a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in the pan 10 minutes.  Turn out to a cooling rack and let cool 10 minutes before slicing.

Makes one loaf, about 10 servings

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chocolate Vacation

I don't usually like to share much of my personal life.  This is a cooking blog, and you probably are not interested in every thought I have.  I also don't do restaurant reviews, but this has to do with items I've either made or have on my to-do list.

For my birthday, we went to a restaurant in downtown Philly called Max Brenner's.  The menu is ok, the food is good enough but not wonderful, and the presentation is amazing.  That's how you hide so-so items, with creative plating techniques.  The desserts are the most important part.  I recommend sharing an appetizer or two, then skipping straight to the chocolate.  Two of our desserts:
Chocolate Tiramisu
Chocolate Burger

The tiramisu was very creamy with excellent-quality chocolate.  The side of berries didn't make much sense, but I found it "necessary" to add the vial of additional chocolate syrup.  The burger was a slab of fudge on top of marshmallow cream in a powdered-sugar dusted bun.  It came with vials of white chocolate and raspberry sauce.

A few days later, we went to Hersheypark.  For a theme park named after chocolate, there isn't a whole lot of chocolate theming.  It's all roller coasters.  However, the company headquarters and Chocolate World are nearby.
One part of the theme park that did impress me was that they have a Kosher food stand.  It was closed for Passover, but should be open by now.  I don't know of any other park that has made the effort.

So, there you have it.  The food-related highlights of my trip.

Oh, and Linus is settling into his new home.  He's already best friends with Charlotte.

Monday, April 16, 2012


On the sixth day of Passover I was getting pretty desperate for snacks.  I had two egg whites in the freezer from a half-batch of chocolate ice cream, and scared up the rest of the ingredients.

The Bible has two macaroon recipes.  I kind of made a hybrid of the almond and coconut, because I didn't have enough almonds, then left out the extract because it isn't KLP.  This version can be done entirely in the food processor.  Or, if you buy ground almonds, just mix them in a bowl.

*2 egg whites
*1 C (about 4.5 oz) almonds.  They can be whole, sliced, or slivered
1/4 C sugar
*1/2 C coconut flakes

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  If grinding the nuts, place in food processor with sugar and let run until finely ground.

2.  Add coconut and pulse two or three times, until distributed in nut flour.  Add egg whites and run for about ten seconds, until a paste forms.

3.  On a lined cookie sheet, drop mixture in 1" mounds, about 1" apart.  Bake for 20 minutes, until puffy and golden.  Cool slightly, then move to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 2 dozen

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, April 13, 2012

Club Cards and Coupons

I was very skeptical about the new online version of Vons/Pavilions' club card.   I don't use that many clipped coupons because I try not to buy processed food.  If more than half of my purchases are from the aisles, rather than the perimeter of the store, I'm either making something specific or very tired and short on time.

While it's a little spooky to know that the store is keeping track of every single thing I buy, the specials they are offering for things I actually use have improved.  I've learned to click on Roma tomatoes, bananas, and onions even if I don't plan to buy them.  You never know.  I got half off some sliced deli meat, making my entire lunch cost about a dollar.

Coupons are great if you use what they offer.  I'm cooking for one, so getting a dollar off if you buy 3 isn't usually the best choice for me.  Someone with a large family will certainly have different shopping habits.  I've seen episodes of Extreme Couponing where the contestants end up paying nothing.  You have to know where to find the coupons and which web sites get you the best ones for the least membership fee.

I know I've ranted against club stores like Costco and Sam's Club for aiding potential hoarders.  They are no more responsible for hoarding tendencies than bars are for alcoholism.  If you go in there knowing your goals and limits, you can stock up on things you really do need and use for a low per-unit price.  You should always be prepared to leave with nothing at all if the items on the shelves don't fit your need.

But the most important thing to look at when shopping is the final cost of an item.  Is it what you believe that product should cost?  I don't care if something is 50% off, or even 75% off the original price.  (Although, when I saw 4oz of lox for 99¢ a couple of weeks ago, I didn't really care what it tasted like.  Lox was on my shopping list, and that was the best price on the shelf.)  If that final price is higher than I think I should be paying for it, I won't buy it.  I'll rethink my menus for the week while I'm standing in front of the meat or produce display, if whatever I was going to buy doesn't meet my standards.  And sometimes I'll give up on the larger chain and go to Sprouts, which is on my way home from Pavilions, and get the fixings for a vegetarian meal.  Their meats are too expensive, but no one can beat their produce prices.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that it's possible to make creative meals on a budget, if you're willing to shop creatively and alter your plans.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Black Bean Enchiladas

Chicken enchiladas remind me too much of Inglewood Unified's lunches in the 80's.  I wanted to try to make enchiladas, but couldn't bring myself to do the chicken, and wasn't sure that I'd like the beef.  That left fish or beans, and black beans just sounded right.

I always thought enchiladas must be difficult to make.  They're about as hard as lasagna.  The hard part is the filling.  If you buy canned beans, this takes no time at all.  This is also a good do-ahead.  Everything is pre-cooked, so you can assemble it in the morning in about ten minutes, refrigerate, and put it in the oven when you get home.

3/4 C dried black beans or 1-1/2 C canned black beans
12 soft corn tortillas
1-1/2 C shredded mozzarella cheese
1 28oz can enchilada sauce (your choice of mild, medium, or hot.  The one I got said mild, but it was pretty spicy.)

1.  a.  If cooking the beans:  Soak for 8 hours, drain and rinse.  Refill pot with 3 C water, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook for 2 hours.  Drain and rinse again.
     b.  From the can:  open can, drain, rinse.

2.  Pour about 1/2 C sauce in bottom of 13" x 9" casserole.  Pour the rest in a shallow bowl.  Microwave tortillas for 20 seconds to soften them.

3.  Coat both sides of a tortilla in sauce and place in casserole.  Spoon about 2 Tb of beans into center, then sprinkle with about as much cheese.  Fold over one side, then the other.  Turn it over so the seam is on the bottom and start a row.  Repeat with remaining tortillas, beans, and cheese.

4.  Pour any remaining sauce over enchiladas.  Sprinkle with any remaining beans and cheese.  At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the enchiladas to cook later, or preheat oven to 400º.

5.  Cook enchiladas for 15 minutes, or until cheese melts and the casserole is heated through.  Serve hot, garnished with sour cream.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Apples 'n' Onions

I have read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books many times.  Most of Farmer Boy, about her husband's childhood, centers around food.  One time, I decided to try to make pan-fried apples & onions.  Turns out, it's really good.  This side goes with any meat.  Or, you could serve it as a kind of cooked salad.  Maybe even as a brunch go-with.  The sweetness you get with caramelized onions is enhanced by the apple juices.  For a more savory zing, cook them in bacon drippings instead of butter.

2 medium yellow onions
3 apples about the same size as the onions.  I would use a semi-tart variety like Gala or Fuji
2 Tb butter

1.  Slice onions into rings.  Core apples and cut in half.  Cut into thin slices.

2.  Melt butter in a large frying pan on medium heat.  Cook onions until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add apples and continue to cook until tender, at least 10 minutes.  Serve hot

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring Break

Just taking a short trip to Philly for Passover/ my birthday/ help Techie Smurf and his family settle into their new home.  Linus is coming with me.  They lost one of their cats and really want the most loving, snuggling, purring, 13-pound cat you've ever met.  (And that's down from 18 pounds this time last year.)  I'm the one who has to take him on a six-hour flight, but I'll get a lot more sleep without him kneading on my head at night.  And the girl cats will be much happier without an alpha male eating all their food.
I'm going where?
Since he's the most expensive carry-on ever, I can't take my computer.  I've pre-scheduled enough posts that you won't miss me, but they aren't Passover-themed.  For some holiday ideas, please see the "Passover" section of the recipe index.  Some of my favorites:

Have a great week!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Baked Chicken

I know, this sounds too basic, but it isn't an April Fool.  The first time I baked a whole chicken, I was seriously impressed with myself.  People make a big deal out of it, like you did something special by not overcooking it.

We used to have chicken on the Friday nights that we didn't go out for sushi.  I always thought it was some kind of punishment until my mom explained that, in the 1940's, meat did not grace the table at every dinner.  The fact that they had a chicken on Fridays meant that there was meat in their diet at least once a week.  I guess the rest of the week was vegetarian, fish, or maybe an occasional cheap cut of beef.

The pre-baked chickens you get at the market are usually a good price.  They cost about the same as raw, and save you the trouble of baking it.  But they're often dry from sitting under the heat lamps.  If you can spare an hour, do it yourself.

Whole chickens can also be expensive for what you get.  Remember, a lot of the weight is bones.  I picked up this one on sale for 77¢ a pound.  I know, cheap.  And it wasn't even marked down for quick sale.  You  don't have to be an extreme coupon-er to get a good deal.

1 medium sized chicken
*1/2 onion, chopped
*2 stalks celery, chopped
salt, pepper, and garlic powder
*olive oil

1.  Set up a roasting rack in a roasting pan.  Open bag of chicken, rinse under cold water, and stick your hand down the cavity to remove all of the giblets.  I know, kinda gross.  Save them for stock or toss them; your choice.

2.  Set the chicken on its back on roasting rack.  The wings should be on the top.  Rub the skin, including the underside, with about a tablespoon of olive oil, more if it seems dry.  Stuff the cavity with the onion and celery as aromatics.  Sprinkle the skin with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

3.  Cook at 325º for about one hour.  Check the temperature in the thigh joint.  You can pull it at 160º if it's going to rest for 10 minutes.  If chicken is not done in an hour, or you want the skin darker, raise temperature to 350º and check every 15 minutes.

4.  Allow chicken to rest on counter for 10 minutes before serving, to let the juices settle.  Cut into quarters or pieces and serve.

Difficulty rating  π