Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tomatillo Salsa

I was looking for a sauce to serve with the tamales.  I admit to being afraid of tomatillos, or at least I was.  Anything that even remotely sounds like a pepper has me wary.  Then I found out on the Wikipedia page that some parts of the country call them Husk Tomatoes.  Aw, heck, I've heard of those.  They're just like hard, green tomatoes.  Fear gone, I went web-surfing for recipes.

The recipe I'm starting with here is from and is meant for canning.  That just means it can hold up to prolonged cooking and processing.  You can't over-cook it.  I omitted the jalapeños for my own use, but the amount of heat is entirely up to you.  There are plenty of vibrant flavors in this recipe without the addition of a hot spice.

The only problem with the recipe as it was on the site was the yield.  I scaled it to 2 cups of chopped tomatillos, which by the recipe should have made 2 pints.  I got less than 1 pint.  That was more than I needed to garnish the tamales.  I may have just cooked them so long that more water evaporated than the recipe allowed.

2 C chopped tomatillos
1/2 C chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 C chopped cilantro
1/4 C lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
*1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1.  Combine all ingredients in medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.

2.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3.  If not canning, store in refrigerator for up to a week.  For canning, do normal processing.

Makes about 1-1/2 C

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Vegetarian Tamales

I promised my vegetarian roommate that I would learn how to make tamales.  To say that she doesn't cook is an understatement, so any homemade meal is a treat.  I decided to make this elaborate production for Purim, a traditionally vegetarian meal.

The basic concept for this recipe comes from the Tasty Kitchen Blog.  She has an amazing post that shows you step-by-step how it works.  I just changed the filling into veggies that I like and added a bit more cheese.  OK, a lot more cheese.  I love the phrase "zero to tamale".  That's how a lot of my recent recipes have gone.  If you try to do them all at once, you'll kill yourself.  I made the masa after breakfast, the filling while my lunch was in the microwave, and assembled it after tea time.  (mmm, tiramisu)

1/2 package dried corn husks
*2 C masa flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt, divided
*2 tsp cumin, divided
*2 tsp chili powder, divided
2-1/2 C vegetable broth, divided
1 stick (1/2 C) butter
1/2 C diced red onion
1 green bell pepper
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/4 C chopped cilantro
1 Tb olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tb lime juice (of 1 lime)
1 C shredded "Mexican blend" cheese

1.  Some time before you start the process, cut pepper in half and remove seeds, stem, and ribs.  Broil until the skin turns black.  Rub off skin under running water and chop flesh into bite-sized pieces.  Store in fridge until ready to use.

2.  To make the masa dough, cream the butter in the mixer.  In a separate bowl, stir together masa flour, baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp cumin, and 1 tsp chili powder.  Stir 2 C vegetable broth into flour, to make a thick paste.  Scrape down sides of mixer and add masa.  Beat into a uniform paste.  Set aside.

3.  To make the filling, heat the oil in a skillet.  Add onion and garlic and cook until onion starts to soften.  Add tomatoes, roasted green pepper, cilantro, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, and 1/4 tsp salt.  Add 1/2 C vegetable broth and cook together until broth has mostly boiled off and tomatoes are thoroughly cooked.  Set aside.

4.  Place dried corn husks in a shallow pan (I used a rectangular cake pan) and pour 2 qts boiling water over them.  Allow to sit at least 30 min, turning periodically, to hydrate the husks.

5.  Set up a pot with two inches of water.  If you don't have a steamer basket for the pot, get a strainer or colander that fits it.  Start warming the water while you assemble the tamales.

6.  Unwrap one of the husks.  There are four or more usable husks in one dried husk bunch.  The middle one is usually a loss; tear that one into 1/2" strips to use as ties.

7.  Set one husk on a clean dish towel on the counter so it doesn't slide around.  Place about 3 Tb (just under 1/4 C) of masa batter in the middle of the upper half of the husk (pointy end is "down") and spread it around a little.  Place 1 Tb of filling on the masa, then a generous sprinkling (1 Tb?) of shredded cheese on top.  Pull in the sides, then fold up the pointy end.  Use a strip of husk to tie into a package, leaving the wide end open.  Set in the steamer/strainer with the open end up and go at it again.

8.  When all of the tamales have been assembled, set the steamer over the now-boiling water and place a lid on the pot.  Cook for 90 minutes, until the masa batter has cooked and set, checking the water level every 20 minutes or so.

9.  To serve, leave tamales in their package and let the diner unwrap the treat.  I made them into a big meal with black beans, rice, and tomatillo salsa.

Makes about 18

Difficulty rating :-0

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Breakfast Polenta

I was going to title this post "grits", but it isn't traditional Southern grits and I didn't want to be misleading.  This is what the corn meal box refers to as "mush".

Grandma Sophie used to make this for my dad when he was a boy and they were on war rations.  I recently found their ration books.  Americans would not put up with that kind of thing nowadays.  During WWII, you didn't waste any food.  Anything left in the pot, she would scrape together and fry up into pancakes to have later.

The sausage in this is my own addition.  I'm not big on the salty/sweet combo that is so popular today, but I do like sausage or bacon with syrup.

*1/3 C corn meal
1/2 C milk
water as needed
dash salt
2 sausage links
breakfast syrup (maple if you have it)

1.  In a small saucepan, stir together corn meal and milk.  Over medium-low heat, cook until it just starts to boil, stirring frequently.  Lower heat to a simmer and add half a cup of water.  Stir frequently and add a dash of salt.

2.  Cook the sausage links and chop into bite-sized pieces.  I usually use microwaveable sausage so I don't have to watch two pans at the same time.

3.  If mush gets too thick, add a little more water.  It cooks in about 7 minutes.  Pour into a cereal bowl, add sausage, and top with syrup to taste.  Serve hot.

Serves 1

Difficulty rating π

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chocolate Tiramisu

Come on, you knew we were going to get to this next.

It may surprise many people that there is no chocolate in traditional Tiramisu.  It's all about the coffee.  However, most people like chocolate and coffee together, so the chocolate version has become almost the norm.

I decided to go with a recipe from an actual Italian, namely Giada.  It's very straightforward and breaks everything down into manageable steps.  All the real work is done when the cream mixture is combined.  The rest is just assembly.

That said, don't try to make this in one day.  Because I made my own cheese (leftover milk and buttermilk, so I made quark for the mascarpone), it took almost a week.  Even if you buy the ladyfingers, give yourself two days.  It isn't worth the stress to try to do it in one day.  For everything to set properly, you're looking at a 12-hour minimum.  Actual work time is about half an hour with store-bought ladyfingers and an hour more if you make them yourself.

24-32 ladyfingers
6 oz mascarpone
2/3 C heavy whipping cream
1/2 C sugar, divided
1 batch chocolate zabaglione
1-1/2 C double-strong coffee
cocoa powder and/or chocolate shavings for garnish

1.  Place mascarpone in a medium bowl and beat lightly until smooth.  In another bowl, whip cream and 1/4 C sugar to firm peaks (Giada says soft, but that made the final product a bit soupy.)  Fold the cream into the mascarpone until smooth.  Then fold in the zabaglione until it looks a bit like chocolate mousse.  Chill for 1 hour to set.

2.  Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing it to drape over the sides.  Do a very neat job of it, as wrinkles will transfer to the finished product.  I think I spent more time on this part than the assembly.

3.  Get everything out for the assembly.  Ladyfingers, check.  Mousse, check.  Coffee that is still warm and you've stirred the other 1/4 C sugar into it, check.

4.  To form the first layer, soak a ladyfinger in the coffee, then place upside-down in the loaf pan.  I almost screwed this part up.  You have to place all of the cookies upside-down, because this thing is going to be inverted onto a platter.  Create a slightly overlapping row of the cookies along the bottom of the pan in the same way, dipping each one well, but not to the point where it falls apart.  I got six along the bottom of my pan.

5.  Spoon 1/3 of the cream over the cookies.  Do another layer of dipped cookies and cream, then a third.  Use remaining cookies to form a more solid base for the tiramisu.  I ended up using eight along the bottom, then another six placed lengthwise on the edges.  Fold up the plastic wrap, compress everything slightly to make sure there are no air bubbles, and chill for 6-8 hours.  I felt mine was too soft, and froze it for the last half hour, just to be absolutely sure it wouldn't fall apart.

6.  To serve, remove plastic wrap from top of loaf pan.  Center on serving dish and flip over.  Carefully peel off remaining plastic wrap.  Dust with cocoa (which I forgot to do for the picture because I wanted to eat it!) and decorate with chocolate shavings.

Serves 8 (really Giada, 12?)

Difficulty rating  :-0

Friday, February 15, 2013

Chocolate Zabaglione

This is a sub-recipe in Giada de Laurentiis' Tiramisu post, but you could serve it on its own as a dessert, probably in a martini glass.

I'm going to save you a lot of "what am I doing wrong?" and let you know the secret to making zabaglione work.  When the recipe says "whisk", it means whisk.  Not spoon, not fork.  This dessert is whipped egg yolks with flavoring.

I actually found a bottle of Marsala in the liquor cabinet (why am I still surprised at the variety of alcohol my parents stocked?).  You could substitute port or sherry.  You can also substitute something non-alcoholic, like fruit juice.  It all depends upon the flavor profile you want in your finished product.

*2 Tb heavy cream
*1/4 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 egg yolks
1/3 C sugar
*1/4 C Marsala
pinch of salt

1.  Melt chocolate with cream and stir until smooth.  Keep warm.

2.  Place a bowl over a pot of simmering (not boiling) water.  Whisk together yolks, sugar, Marsala, and salt.  Continue to whisk until mixture is thick and foamy, and has a chance to cook over the hot water.  This takes between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on how good you are at whisking.

3.  Add chocolate to egg mixture.  Whisk until smooth.  Pour into serving glasses and chill.  Garnish with contrasting chocolate, fruit, cookies, etc...

Makes 2-3 as a dessert, about 1-1/2 C

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


These cookies are now available in most markets, but I thought I'd give it a shot on my own.  Actually, I wouldn't have bothered, but I do have a blog to maintain.

Ladyfingers generally are not served on their own, but are used to make more complicated desserts.  The obvious is tiramisu, but they work great for trifle and stacked shortcake concoctions.  You can even bake them in the bottom of muffin cups, then fill the rest after it has cooled with a filling like mousse or a no-bake cheesecake.

I got this recipe from The Cupcake Project.  She fixed the one on Allrecipes, which generally received either average reviews, or good ones if you made certain changes.  I also trusted her on the quantity needed for tiramisu.  If that's your aim, cut this recipe in half.  It makes a lot.  Or, just freeze the rest and have them at a moment's notice for another dessert.

Eggs have a peculiar property, in that the whites and yolks each whip up better if they are not combined with the other.  So, while it sounds stupid to whip them separately when they're just going to get folded together, it actually works better this way.

For aesthetic reasons, I would suggest sprinkling the tops with granulated sugar on their way into the oven if you are not putting them into something else.  Taste-wise, they are plenty sweet.

As for the Silpat vs Parchment debate, the ones on the Silpat baked more evenly and turned out softer, but I had a very hard time getting them off without breaking them.  Go for the parchment and keep an eye on them.

4 eggs, separated
2/3 C and 2 Tb sugar, divided
1 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

1.  Preheat oven to 400º and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Fit a pastry bag with a 1/2" round tip or snip of the end of a quart ziplock bag and place in a glass to stabilize.

2.  Beat egg whites to soft peaks.  Add 2 Tb sugar and beat to glossy, firm peaks.

3.  Beat egg yolks and other 2/3 C sugar until pale and fluffy.

4.  Sift together flour and baking powder.  (Yes, we're up to 3 bowls.)

5.  Fold half of egg whites into egg yolks.  Fold in all of flour.  Fold in remaining whites.  Get the pastry bag ready to go.

6.  Fill pastry bag with the gooey mess.  Pipe out cookies 3" long.  They will spread out on their own, so leave at least 1" between and on either end.  Place in oven immediately and set timer for 7 minutes while you pipe out the other one.  Note how long it took you to do the second one when you put it in.  If you have more dough, reload the pastry bag and set it in the glass until you're ready to go again.

7.  Check first pan when the timer goes off.  They should be lightly golden, with pale centers.  Remove from oven.  After about a minute, you can transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and pull the second pan.  Reload the first (you can reuse the parchment once) and put it in while you deal with the second pan.  Seven minutes later, that last pan will be done and you can cool the last of them.

Makes 4 dozen

Difficulty rating :)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Duck a l'Orange

I'm on a staycation.  I have a bunch of things to catch up on, and I'm cleaning out the garage.  There's a hardware store in there.  Not kidding.  Pounds of various sizes of nails, bolts, and washers.  Every switch-plate and outlet cover ever used in this house.  PVC pipe.  Copper pipe.  Galvanized steel pipe.  Redundant tools.  Decade-old paint.  The kitchen cabinets from the last remodel.  Two doors.  Grass seed for 1977.  The good news is I don't have to buy any supplies to re-varnish the kitchen table.  I'm also going to make a laundry table with a removable cover so you can use it as an ironing board.

Anyway, I now have time to do something special with the duck I bought at 99 Ranch in December.  The oranges on my struggling tree are ripe, so this seemed like an obvious choice.

While reading various recipes online and in cookbooks, I found a common theme: no one makes Duck a l'Orange the same way.  Nobody.  Not even close.  Usually, classic recipes are pretty much the same everywhere you look, except for that one special tweak that makes the recipe unique enough not to have to pay royalties to someone.

So, I have taken the best aspects of at least five of these recipes and added one of my own.  Only one of the recipes even suggested Grand Marnier as the alcohol in the sauce, or any orange-flavored liqueur for that matter.  I can't find the bottle of G.M., and I'm not about to go out and get one, so I'm using the Triple Sec with 1960's-style illustrations instead.  I did find some orange tequila, but this dish requires something richer.

I'm also taking the hard road and doing the two-day version where you butcher it into four pieces and make your own duck stock.  That was Bon Appetit's idea.  They assume you know how to do things like butcher your own meat.  I happen to know how to take apart poultry, but a beginner may want to buy their duck fresh at Whole Foods or a farmer's market where the butcher can do it for you.  The cooking-the-duck part is mostly from Saveur, but I made a bunch of changes to that from various other sources.  After all that, I guess you could almost call this my own recipe.

For the Stock
1 duck (about 5 lbs), thawed
1 carrot, halved and cut into chunks
1 small onion, cut into chunks
2 ribs celery, cut into chunks
*10 peppercorns
*1 tsp thyme
6 C water

1.  Cut off fatty skin parts around neck and tail of duck and place in a large pot.  Over medium-low heat, render fat from skin, about 10 minutes.

2.  While fat is rendering, cut off wings from duck and set aside with neck.  Discard giblets or save for another use.  Cut leg/thigh quarters off duck and set aside.  Carve breast halves from carcass and set with leg quarters.  Refrigerate until ready to cook.  Chop the carcass into several pieces.

3.  Remove skin from pot and discard.  Add carcass pieces, wings, neck, and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.  This lets the bones brown and the onion develop flavor.

4.  Add remaining ingredients and stir.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Cook for at least 1 hour, and up to 2.  Refrigerate stock so fat will separate from liquid.

5.  Set a fine-mesh sieve over a pot.  Pour stock-pot contents through sieve to remove impurities.  Discard waste, leaving 4 to 5 C of duck stock.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

For Duck
2 duck leg quarters
2 duck half-breasts
2 C duck or chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
2 large oranges, like navel
*1/4 C orange liqueur, like Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
1 Tb butter
2 Tb sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1.  Remove zest from one orange.  Cut it in half and juice it, about 1/2 C of orange juice.  Add zest to juice.  Set aside.  Divide other orange into segments.  Chill until ready to use.

2.  Score fatty skin of all duck pieces.  In a large skillet, cook leg quarters over medium-low heat.  Drain off fat and turn pieces every 10 minutes until thermometer reaches 125º, about 40 minutes.  (If you want, save the duck fat for another use.  I put the first couple of tablespoons in with my side of wild rice.)  Set on a rimmed baking sheet and start preheating oven to 250º.  Place breast pieces skin-side down in skillet and cook for 10 minutes (this can overlap the last turn of the legs).  Drain fat, turn meat-side down, and cook for 1 more minute.  Place breasts skin-side down on the baking sheet and put in oven.

3.  Drain the pan again and add the duck stock.  Turn heat up to high so it boils and begins to reduce.  Once it has reduced by half, add orange juice, sugar, salt, and liqueur.  Once it has reduced again to about under a cup, taste and adjust sugar or salt as needed.  Stir in butter until melted and sauce is syrupy.

4.  Check temperature on thighs.  They should be at least 155º, preferably 165º.  Place the thighs on a deep serving platter.  Slice breast pieces and arrange with legs.  Scatter orange segments around platter.  Pour sauce over duck and serve.

Serves 2-3

Difficulty rating:
  • making your own duck stock $@%!
  • using chicken broth :-0
  • using chicken broth and having someone else butcher the duck for you :)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pond Garden

There's a fountain pond in the back yard that is harder and more expensive to maintain than I thought.  I liked the area better when it was a mini-garden and don't know why my parents put in the thing.  The pond guy recommended that, if I was not in love with it, a cheaper solution is to re-landscape it into a garden.  That way, a future buyer could take it upon themselves to excavate it, fix the pump, replace the torn liner, and turn it back into a pond, and I don't have to rip out the plumbing and electrical to remove the whole thing.

Instantly, visions of a 4x6 vegetable garden sprang into my mind.  And when that fails, I'm sure I can plant something foolproof for the rest of the year, until I manage to kill that, too.  The only downside is that I'll have to water it manually, since the sprinklers in that corner of the yard were removed when the pond was installed.

My handyman offered to do the project for me and the gardener will probably want to help, but this is something I know I can do by myself.  I am perfectly capable of punching holes in plastic and filling the basin with dirt.  Besides, I have several packets of Miracle-Gro samples from visiting the Rose Parade floats.  I can make something happen.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Shepherd's Pie

This is what I did with the leftover potato guts from the potato skins.  It's loosely based on Alton Brown's version and is totally worth buying the lamb.

As usual, I made a few minor changes.  Based on the comments, I added some shredded cheddar to the potatoes.  I still have some of the 2 lb bag I got a while ago because it was on special for about the same price as 8 oz.  Instead of using fresh herbs, I subbed in the dried herbs in the spice cabinet.  Things like that.

If you don't feel like making your own mashed potatoes for the crust, the powdered kind from the box works fine.  I just happened to have a lot of potatoes on hand, and mashed potatoes are not difficult to make.

This does take some coordination in the time-management department.  I'm going to break it down a little better than Alton did.

For the Potatoes
*1 lb russet potatoes
1/4 C milk
2 Tb butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 egg
*1/4 C shredded cheddar

For the Lamb
2 Tb oil
1 lb ground lamb
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tb flour
1 Tb tomato paste
1 C chicken broth
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
*1/2 tsp rosemary
*1/2 tsp thyme
1-1/2 C frozen mixed vegetables

1.  Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2" dice.  Place in saucepan and add cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are fork-tender, about 15 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, in a deep skillet, heat the oil on medium.  Add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and lamb and cook until lamb is brown and crumbly, about 5 more minutes.  Add flour and toss mixture to coat.  It will look pasty.  Add remaining ingredients and stir together.  Set on simmer to thicken.

3.  Drain the potatoes.  Mash with a fork or potato masher.  Add butter, milk, salt, and pepper and mix until smooth.  Add egg and cheese and combine.

4.  Preheat oven to 400º.  Set up an 8"x8" baking pan on a rimmed cookie sheet.  As well as you seal it, it will run over the sides.  Place lamb mixture on bottom of dish.  Spoon potatoes over, starting around the edges and working your way in.  You want a solid layer of mashed potatoes on top.  Bake until potatoes are set and slightly browned, about 25 minutes.  Allow to sit 15 minutes before serving.

Difficulty rating :)