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  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.

*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.

*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

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

Saturday, September 1, 2012


You knew I would get to this eventually.  It's just that kind of from-scratch thing I would do just to see how it works.  Finding a label for it was harder.  I didn't want to open a new Dairy category, and then have to relabel all my Cheese recipes.  Butter is involved in most pastries, and I'll probably use some of this batch to make croissants, so we'll stick it there.

Grandma Sophie showed Techie Smurf and me how to make butter once.  I've only done it a couple of times since then.  While not difficult, it's easier to buy it at the market than to buy the cream, go home, and make it there.  But it's cool to say you know how to do it, then let everyone think it's something special.

There are two easy ways to make butter at home.  The half-hour version involves shaking a jar full of cream until it separates.  If you don't want a bicep workout, the five-minute version is to let the stand mixer run until you hear a sloshy sound.  Let's do that.

1 pint heavy whipping cream
about a quart of ice water
1/2 tsp salt (optional)

Last chance to change your mind
1.  Allow cream to warm almost to room temperature, somewhere in the 60ºs.  Pour cream into stand mixer with the whip attachment.  Start mixer at medium speed.  When it starts to whip, run at full.

2.  Somewhere after the cream gets to stiff peaks, it is going to take on a slightly yellow tinge.  This takes about 4 minutes.  Turn off briefly and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then put on that splash-guard attachment you never bother to use.  Run on full again, and the whipped cream is going to start to sag and get mushy after another minute.  Then it's going to break into a grainy soup, and finally into chunks of butter.
Butter soup

3.  Pour off buttermilk and store it in the fridge for some kind of use like pancakes.  (Note: this is not the same thing as the Cultured Buttermilk you get in the market.  It is a very low fat regular milk with a couple of stray grains of butter that escaped when you poured it off.)  Switch to paddle attachment.  Add a cup of ice water to the bowl and use the paddle to stir.  It is important to use cold water.  Otherwise, you're just going to melt the butter and it will disappear with the buttermilk.  Drain off and repeat as many times as necessary until the water runs mostly clear.  (I only did it twice.)  Washing the butter makes it last longer, especially if it is going to be left at room temperature for any amount of time.

4.  To finish, use a large spoon or spatula to work out the last of the water and buttermilk.  Salt if desired and transfer to a storage container.  If you did it right, butter can be left out for several days because it's all fat, but I prefer to keep mine in the fridge and bring it to room temperature only when ready to use.

Makes about 1 C butter and 1 C buttermilk

Difficulty rating  π