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


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.

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)

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


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.