Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lavender Jelly

It was either this or rose petal jam, and my roses aren't doing so well at the moment.  Back to the jar of dried lavender blossoms.

This recipe is different from the jams and preserves I usually make in that the flavoring ingredient is strained out of the final product.  Also, you need to buy pectin.  Flowers generally don't contain any natural pectin and it won't set up.  You would get a lovely, sweet lavender syrup.

I cut this down a lot because I didn't want 5 cups of jelly.  The original recipe makes that much because it's a full box of pectin.

Once again, the color of the blossoms did not transfer into the final product.  I got out the food coloring and came up with a color I liked.  Then I had a minor accident with the blue bottle that left one finger an interesting shade for two days.  At least it came off my white kitchen floor.

2 Tb dried lavender flowers
1 C sugar
3/4 C water
1 Tb lemon juice
1 Tb pectin powder

1.  The day before, combine sugar and lavender in a sealable container.  Shake a couple of times as the day progresses to make Lavender Sugar.

2.  Bring water, sugar, and lavender to a boil.  Remove from heat and let steep for 20 minutes.  Strain out flowers and discard.

3.  Return pot to heat.  Stir in lemon juice and pectin, making sure the pectin dissolves completely, and bring to a hard boil.  Boil for 2 minutes for soft-gel (240º), 4 minutes for medium-gel (248º).  Pour into sterilized jars and let cool to room temperature before refrigerating.

Makes about 1 cup

Difficulty rating :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rye Bread

I'm not a huge fan of rye bread, but it has its place.  Some deli meats are too strongly seasoned to put on a simple white or wheat bread, like pastrami.

I'm also not big on the flavor of caraway seeds, but they are essential to rye bread.  More than the taste of the rye itself, we associate caraway with rye bread as the central flavor.  I'll have to find something to do with the rest of the jar.

I based this on the Bible's rye bread recipe, and it does taste strongly of the molasses.  Molasses and caraway do blend very well, but even brown sugar would be less sweet and create a lighter-colored bread.  I'll experiment with alternative sweeteners in the future.

1 C milk
2 Tb butter
2 tsp (1 package) dry yeast
1/4 C molasses
1 C rye flour, plus more for dusting
2+ C all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tb caraway seeds

1.  Warm milk, butter, and molasses to 100º F.  Butter does not need to melt.  Stir in yeast and allow to proof, about 5 minutes.

2.  Place rye flour in stand mixer with paddle attachment.  Add milk mixture and beat until smooth.  Add 1 C AP flour, salt, and caraway and beat again for about 2 minutes to make a soft dough.  Add about 1/2 C flour and beat again to make dough sturdy enough to handle.

3.  Turn dough out onto floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Lightly oil a bowl and place dough ball in the bowl, turning to coat.  Place in warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

4.  Punch down dough and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Grease baking sheet.  Form dough into a ball and place on cookie sheet.  Flatten dough slightly.  Dust top with rye flour and allow to rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes.

5.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Bake for about 35 minutes, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped.  Remove to cooling rack immediately and allow to cool completely before storing.

Makes 1 loaf

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Salmon and Caviar Spread

I'm not sure why, but most of the caviar recipes I researched involved other expensive ingredients: lobster, lox, truffles, etc.  If you're going to throw money at something, make one thing stand out.  Don't make it a contest to see which ingredient costs the most.  (Unless it's lobster with a saffron cream sauce.  I'll make that someday.)

This is a combination of a couple of ideas.  Most of it is Ina Garten's caviar dip.  The addition of salmon came from Emeril's caviar and corn cakes.  The corn cakes look delicious, but I felt it would be repetitive after the blini.  I'll do something different with them at some point.

Oh, and this is my 300th post.  I am very proud of myself for trying many new recipes over the past couple of years, instead of falling into ruts and making meatloaf once a month.  There have certainly been repeats on my table, but many of those have been of recipes I devised or discovered for this site.  I've also put on a couple of pounds from the fancier stuff I've been making this month.  Time to cut back on the meat and go back to lighter, vegetarian meals.

*4 oz (1/2 a brick) cream cheese
*1/2 C sour cream
2 Tb lemon juice
*1 tsp dill weed
*2 Tb minced green onion, red onion, or shallot
1 5oz can (or pouch) salmon, drained
*1 2oz jar of a light caviar like whitefish or salmon

1.  In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add sour cream, lemon juice, onion, and dill and beat again until smooth.

2.  Gently beat in salmon until evenly distributed.  Stir in all but 1 Tb of the caviar.  Chill spread until ready to serve.

3.  To serve as a dip: Place in bowl and garnish with remaining caviar and sprigs of fresh dill.  To serve as a canapé: Spoon or pipe a dollop onto crackers, bread, or vegetables and top with a small dab of the reserved caviar.

Makes 1 pint of spread

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, August 20, 2012

Coconut Scones

I had some coconut milk left over from the coconut cake because I made a small one.  I made syrup with some of it for pancakes.  I was making scones anyway, and decided to use the rest of it in place of regular milk.  This required a few tweaks to the original scone recipe because of the fat content of the coconut milk and because you can't really taste the coconut flavor without a little extra sugar.  The texture ended up less flaky than a regular scone and more like a muffin that could hold its shape without a paper liner.  Not complaining.

I also wanted to find out what chia seeds would taste like in scones, so I put them in this batch.  Let's just pretend the seeds make this recipe less bad for you than it would be otherwise.

2 C flour
1 Tb baking powder
2 Tb butter
3 Tb sugar
*1/2 C coconut milk
1/4 C milk
1 Tb chia seeds (optional)
*2 Tb coconut flakes

1.  Stir chia seeds into coconut milk.  Set aside.

2.  Preheat oven to 425º.  Sift together flour and baking powder.  Cut in butter until the pieces are very small, like oatmeal.  Stir in sugar.

3.  Stir in coconut milk.  Add regular milk and stir to make a slightly dry dough.  Knead slightly.  If it doesn't stick together, add milk a tablespoon at a time.

4.  Pat dough 1/2" thick.  Either with a knife or round biscuit cutter, make 12 scones and place on baking sheet.  Moisten tops with water or milk and sprinkle with coconut flakes.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, until well-risen and coconut is browned.  Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12 scones

Difficulty rating π

Friday, August 17, 2012

Teriyaki Burgers

I was really happy when Carl's Jr came out with a teriyaki burger.  Then I had one.  I want to smack around the focus group that decided mayo belonged on ANYTHING containing teriyaki sauce.  Then they added the insult of cheese.

Let's get one thing straight - less is often more.  If you can't place the taste of a key ingredient, there are too many competing flavors in the dish.

This is the bbq grill version.  I always thought barbecuing was some huge deal that only people with a big back yard, a lot of money, and an intense desire to grill could enjoy.  This summer, I'm realizing why it is the oldest cooking method, predating the human species by many thousands of years.  Less than a hundred dollars can get you a season's worth of cookouts full of all that good, deep, earthy flavor that only an open flame can provide.

1 lb 80/20 ground beef (or 4 pre-shaped patties)
4 hamburger buns
4 1/2" slices fresh pineapple
4 1/4" slices red onion
Teriyaki sauce (I use Kikkoman's Teriyaki Baste & Glaze because it is very thick)
salt and cracked pepper

1.  If buying the meat in bulk, shape into 4 patties.  Heat up the grill.  If you have mesquite or hickory chips, add to the fuel several minutes before starting.

2.  Place burgers on grill.  Dust lightly with salt and pepper.  Cook until bottoms are done, then flip.  Add pineapple rings and buns to grill.  The buns will cook in one or two minutes, then can be removed.  Carefully flip the pineapple after several minutes to cook other side.

3.  When burgers are done (165º is Medium, if you're concerned about foodborne illness), place one patty on each lower bun.  Top with a pineapple ring, then with slices of onion.  Drizzle with teriyaki sauce and serve immediately.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Coconut Cake

I've been wanting to make this for a while.  I bought the coconut milk weeks ago.  The problem is, people either love or hate coconut.  There is no in-between.  Finally, I decided that I don't care.  I want a light, fluffy coconut cake, and I have three afternoons off in a row to have tea.

There are an amazing number of coconut cake recipes out there.  Alton Brown's is one of the most complicated and coconuttiest I found.  None were exactly what I wanted, but one came close.  This is a variation of's cake, with cake flour instead of all-purpose and one more egg white.  Warning: the original recipe is badly written and very badly formatted.  I had to rewrite it before I could try to bake one.

I admit, I have more egg whites in my freezer right now than most people do.  Ice cream.  There is nothing wrong with buying a carton of egg whites and using the manufacturer's measurements to figure out how much should go in the recipe.

I cheated on the frosting, mainly because I did not feel like making a boiled icing.  Since I had made a 1/3 cake, I whipped up a small batch of Wilton's buttercream icing for the filling (using coconut milk in place of regular) and used store-bought whipped cream frosting for the exterior.  The amount of coconut flakes you use to decorate the cake has less to do with how much you like coconut and more to do with how neatly you frosted the cake.  Note the excessive quantities of coconut flakes on mine.  And there are only three layers in the photo cake because I made a 1/3-recipe 6" cake, and that was how many I was able to get out of it without breaking the layers.

*3 C cake flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
*1/2 C shortening
1/2 C unsalted butter (not margarine)
2 C granulated sugar
1-1/2 C coconut milk  (save remaining few Tb in can to flavor icing)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
*6 egg whites
*1/2 to 1 C sweetened coconut flakes
about 4 C white icing

1.  Grease two 9" cake pans and line bottoms with waxed paper.  Lightly grease the paper.  Set aside.

2.  Cream together shortening, butter, and 1-1/2 C sugar.

3.  Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  Separately, combine coconut milk and extracts.  Starting and ending with the flour, beat flour and milk into butter in stages until combined.  Do not whip.

4.  Preheat oven to 350º.  In a separate bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites to soft peaks.  Slowly add remaining 1/2 C of sugar and beat into a meringue.  Fold meringue into batter.  Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for about 30 minutes, until light golden and the top springs back when touched.

5.  Cool cakes in pans on a rack for 10 minutes.  Turn out onto cooling rack, remove waxed paper, and cool completely.  Can even be refrigerated and finished the next day.

6.  To decorate:  Slice each layer in half, creating a total of 4 layers of cake.  Place a dab of icing in the center of the serving platter or cake circle and place a bottom layer upside down on it.  Cover with a thin layer of icing, then sprinkle lightly with coconut.  Follow with a right-side up top layer, icing, and coconut.  Repeat with the other cake.  (The cut side of the layer will always face down.  It makes it way easier to ice.)  If necessary, chill cake again before icing the outside.  As a final touch, sprinkle outside of cake with coconut flakes.  Once icing is set, the cake may be served.

Serves 12 to 16

Difficulty rating :)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Meat-Stuffed Bell Peppers

Normally, I don't buy veal or order it in a restaurant on principle.  There was a sorry package of ground veal in the clearance section marked 75% off.  I could spend the $1.50 for a pound of veal or know it went into the trash.  It went into my freezer instead.

The beauty of this recipe is that it works with absolutely any kind of ground meat.  I would hesitate to use it on fish, but the only difference in land animals would be the unique flavor each kind brought to the dish.

*1/4 C minced onion
1 clove garlic
1 lb ground meat
1 Tb olive oil
*1/4 C tomato paste
*1/4 C dry bulgur, medium grind (or 3/4 C cooked brown rice or quinoa)
*4 bell peppers (I bought 2 green and 2 red, to see which taste I preferred.  Green stand up in the pan better.)
1/4 tsp salt
*1/2 tsp oregano or "Italian Seasoning"

1.  Stir together bulgur and 1/2 C warm water in a bowl and set aside.  Cut tops off of peppers and carefully pull out the ribs and seeds, keeping the body of the pepper intact.  Lightly oil an 8" square baking dish and set hollowed-out peppers in it.

2.  In a medium skillet, brown onions, meat, and garlic together.  Drain off most of the fat.  Add tomato paste and seasonings.  When meat is cooked, remove from heat and stir in softened bulgur, including any water that has not been absorbed.  If mixture seems too dry, add water a tablespoon at a time.

3.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Carefully spoon meat mixture into peppers.  If you try to pack it in, the peppers will crack.

4.  Bake peppers for 30 minutes, until softened, but hold their shape.  Serve with spaghetti sauce if desired.

Difficulty rating π

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Guest List and Menu

Once upon a time, say two or three years ago, you could just invite people over and serve anything you wanted.  Nowadays, everyone is on a special diet.  It's to the point where cooking for a vegan is the easy part.  It's making everyone happy that is a struggle.  The most difficult menu I ever did was for my parents' 40th anniversary.  Over a dozen attendees kept kosher, and at least that many would have been offended if they were only offered kosher food.  What I finally did was present two different buffets.  The dining table was all kosher dairy, while the larger one on the patio held everything, kosher or not.  And everything was labeled.  Of course, since I don't have a kosher kitchen, it wasn't truly kosher anyway, but the guests seemed satisfied.  You can't explain to some people that "kosher-style" isn't actually kosher.

When making a guest list, consider the nature of your gathering and who would appreciate it.  Not a drinker?  They won't enjoy a wine-tasting.  I don't invite men to my teas, even though they would probably have a great time.  It's a bit too much of a girlie thing.  Carnivores go to the top of the list for a barbecue.  Then there's the mix of guests.  Make sure you aren't having over people who hate each other.  For holidays, I tend to invite the exact same people every year, but I mix up other gatherings.  People who don't know each other have more to talk about and bring different interests to the table.

As for creating a menu around these interesting friends, family, and acquaintances....  I'm learning not to stress it.  I do ask in advance if anyone has an allergy or other special dietary need.  Then I make sure that any one guest can eat at least most of what I serve.  If a vegetarian is coming, no more than one dish will have meat or fish in it.  Low-salt diet means I add as little salt as possible to all the food and put a shaker on the table.  Low-fat and -cholesterol, use lite and egg-white substitutes when they won't affect the dish.  If anyone has a nut allergy, I either forgo nuts entirely or make it clear which dishes contain them and am very careful in the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination.  As for gluten-free, I know it's a craze, but studies have shown that unless you have a wheat allergy or a sensitivity condition such as celiac, going gluten-free is actually harmful.  I know I feel terrible by the end of Passover; maybe there's a nutritional reason.  I'm perfectly willing to serve sandwich fillings on the side as a salad or make brown rice instead of stuffing, but traces of flour in sauce will not hurt the vast majority of people.  Generally, people with complex diets don't expect you to create your entire menu around them and are happy if they can eat at least half of the dishes presented.  And if the diet is not a life-and-death issue like diabetes, an allergy, or celiac, most guests will abandon their own requests if the food looks and smells good.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Blini with Caviar

I had the hardest time finding buckwheat flour.  Finally, I found it at Sprouts in the gluten-free aisle.  With the word "wheat" in the name, I had assumed it contained gluten.  It isn't wheat.  Turns out, it's even KLP if you do not observe the kitnyot.

I first heard of blini in a teen novel called Samantha on Stage by Susan C Farrar.  The title character goes to her Russian friend's house for lunch and they have them with sour cream.  Years later, I realized the Bible has an elegant hors d'oeuvre version with caviar.  The version in the cookbook's photo uses black caviar, which lends a more striking contrast than the white caviar I bought.  That's what I get for going to the regular market instead of Surfas, Whole Foods, or Bristol Farms.

While these savory-tending pancakes are most often used as appetizers (and make great wraps for grilled veggies), a little jam or applesauce with the sour cream can turn them into a breakfast item.

1/2 C buckwheat flour
1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 C milk
1 egg
1 C sour cream
1 Tb butter, melted
vegetable oil
1 2-oz jar black or red caviar

1.  In a small bowl, combine both flours, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Stir in milk, egg, and 2 Tb sour cream until batter is smooth.  Add melted butter and stir until blended.

2.  Heat 10" skillet over medium and lightly brush with oil.  Use 1 tsp of batter per pancake, so they become a one-bite hors d'oeuvre.  You should be able to get at least 7 or 8 in the pan at once.  Cook until tops are slightly set and undersides are golden.  Flip pancakes and cook until firm.  Place on a single layer on a warm serving platter; cover and keep warm until all pancakes are cooked.

3.  Re-oil skillet if necessary and continue until all batter is used.

4.  Spoon remaining sour cream into a pastry bag fitted with a medium rosette tip.  Pipe a dot of sour cream onto each pancake.  Top each dot with a tiny bit of the caviar.  (To quote Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail, "That caviar is a garnish!")  Serve warm.

Makes about 48 blini, or 24 servings

Difficulty rating :)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Swai with Sautéed Kale

Unless you're at some super-fancy restaurant, there isn't usually a fish course in American dining.  In Europe, it is common to have an appetizer, then a pasta course, then a light fish dish, then the main course.  By the time you get to dessert, you rarely feel like having more than a cup of coffee and some cheese with greens.  I know this sounds like a lot of food, but the portions are much smaller than what you get in America, and you are expected to spend most of the evening going through them.

That said, this fish recipe works nicely as a 2 oz portion for an appetizer/fish course, or you can use a whole 6oz piece as the main dish.  The quantities I'm giving here are for the appetizer, which is equivalent to about 1/3 of a main course.

*1/2 lb kale
2 cloves garlic
1 8 oz swai fillet
*1/4 C breadcrumbs
olive oil
lemon wedges for garnish

1.  Remove kale leaves from stems and cut in a chiffonade.  Mince garlic.  Drizzle 2 Tb olive oil in a large sauté pan and preheat over medium.  Add kale and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until kale begins to wilt.  Sprinkle with salt and continue to cook over medium-low while you prepare the fish.

2.  Drizzle 2 Tb olive oil into a medium skillet and preheat over medium.  Cut fillet into 4 portions.  Dredge pieces through breadcrumbs to coat and place in skillet.  Cook for 2 minutes on first side, until crispy, then flip.  Cook on other side until surface is browned and inside is opaque, 2 or 3 minutes.  Around this time, the kale should be wilted and cooked, but not dry.  Remove both pans from heat.

3.  To plate:  Arrange kale in center of each plate.  Gently place one fillet on top of kale so it does not break apart.  Decorate each plate with one or two lemon wedges, and supply more for the table (some people really like lemon on their fish, and it makes a nice dressing for the kale.)  Can be served either hot or room temperature.

Difficulty rating :)