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


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  :)