Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Carrots with Parsley

I love carrots.  I don't know why I don't make them more often.  Easy, starchy even though they're a vegetable, and malleable to a host of cooking styles and flavorings.

I have a lot of Italian parsley and fresh thyme left over from Thanksgiving.  Yes, they're still good.  What I ended up with here was almost a carrot and parsley salad, but cooked and tossed with a little butter.  Carrots are one of the few vegetables I still toss with butter.  I've grown beyond drowning my veggies in it.  My mother always put butter on veggies, and I never knew how good some tasted without any sauce or seasoning until I started to cook for myself.

1 lb carrots
*2 C Italian parsley leaves (off stem)
* leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme
1 Tb butter

1.  Peel carrots and chop into manageable chunks.  Place in a medium saucepan with water to cover and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover pot, and cook until somewhat tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain.

2.  Return carrots to hot saucepan and add butter.  Stir until butter melts.  Add parsley and thyme.  Stir to mix, but don't let the parsley cook too much, or it will wilt.  Serve immediately.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Masa-Crusted Sole

I'm already starting to eat lighter at dinners.  There are just too many cookies and calorie-laden drinks during the day.  And my manager introduced me to the concept of a steak breakfast platter.  It was really nice of her to buy one for each of us who worked on Christmas, especially because she had not gotten much sleep the night before.  Long story short, I need to find more dishes that are filling without as many calories as I have been eating the past month.

Yes, this is pan-fried, but fried food does not have to absorb as much oil as we all assume.  Masa harina does not absorb as much as wheat flour would, and frying quickly at a higher temperature is how you avoid any food from getting too greasy.  I'm not deep-frying, just enough to get the skin crispy.  And fish is lower in calories and fat than most meats.

I used Dover sole because it was on sale.  A more traditional fish for this treatment is tilapia.  Really, any white fish would work.

1 lb Dover Sole fillet, or any other white fish fillet
*1/2 C masa harina
*1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
oil for frying
lemon wedges, tartar sauce, or seafood sauce for serving

1.  Start heating 1/8" oil in a medium skillet, about 1/4 C.  Use high heat, but watch it to make sure it doesn't start to smoke.  Turn on vent fan.

2.  In a shallow bowl, mix together masa flour, paprika, and salt.

3.  Rinse fish to get it damp, but not dripping wet.  Dredge pieces of fish in flour.  Set as much as fits comfortably in skillet.  Fry until bottom starts to turn light brown, about 3 minutes.  Carefully flip.  I tried with tongs, but the pieces were too tender and broke.  A spatula is a better choice.  Brown other side, about 1 or 2 minutes, then remove to paper towels to drain.  Add oil if necessary and start cooking the next batch.

4.  Serve hot, accompanied by lemon wedges or sauce of choice.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Travis House Oysters

Merry Christmas Every One!  (I read A Christmas Carol every year.)

In many parts of the world, it's a thing to eat oysters at Christmas.  Even in Southern California, the grocery store kept running out of the fresh ones in jars.  I finally got the last two, then had to decide what to do with them.

I flipped through every cookbook I own, searching for something other than a raw oyster recipe.  Sorry, that creeps me out.  There were several oyster soups which sounded interesting, but they involved puréeing the oysters.  Again with the ick factor.  Finally, I found what I was looking for in the Williamsburg cookbook.  Seasoned, baked, with a lightly crunchy top coat.  It would work as an appetizer or a main course alongside pasta.  Besides, I got to use my little ramekins.

I did make a slight change in the recipe.  I subbed celery for the bell pepper, and topped it with Italian seasoned breadcrumbs instead of crumbled saltines.  For such a small amount, I wasn't going to buy a box.  And I was having it with pasta with a spinach marinara, so it fit the meal.

One word about the plastic jars the oysters come in.  They are very difficult to open.  I finally got one after putting on a wrist brace and using two grip pads.  I ended up walking up the block with the other, hoping to find a neighbor who could open a jar.  Met my new neighbor across the street, but that's not the point.  And the jar said Medium Pacific oysters.  If those are medium, I don't want to meet the large in a dark alley.  I only needed two per serving.

1/4 C butter
1/4 C flour
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
dash pepper
dash cayenne pepper
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 C diced onion
2 ribs celery, diced
1 pint oysters
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 tsp cracker or bread crumbs

1.  Butter a 1 quart casserole or 4 individual ramekins.  Preheat oven to 400º

2.  Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Remove from heat and add flour.  Stir until smooth, and all lumps have been incorporated into the paste.  Return to heat and cook until light brown.

3.  Add paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic, onion, and celery.  Cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly to keep the roux from scorching.

4.  Add the oysters and their liquor, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce.  Stir to combine and heat a minute longer for everything to thicken.

5.  Pour into large casserole or divide evenly into ramekins.  Sprinkle tops with the crumbs and bake for 20 minutes for the casserole or 15 for the ramekins.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving, as it will be very hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Last chance to make Christmas cookies!  Everyone at work is starting to expect me to bring goodies.  They ate the fruitcake because I called it "coffee cake".  It's all in the marketing.

I would have made gingerbread for them, but I've already posted that here.  Gingersnaps are lighter, with much less molasses and spices, and small enough to pop in your mouth.  They're also a great do-ahead that you can stick in the freezer until you want cookies.  Just slice them off the log and pop them in the oven.

This recipe was from the L.A. Times and titled "Old-Fashioned Gingersnaps", but I'm not the one who clipped it.  Grandma Sophie must have, dating it pre-1990.

1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C sugar
1/4 C molasses
1-1/2 tsp ground ginger
*1 tsp ground cinnamon
*1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1-3/4 C flour
sprinkles for decorating

1.  Beat butter in mixer until fluffy.  Add sugar and beat in.  Beat in molasses, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, soda, and salt.  Add flour 1/4 C at a time and mix thoroughly.

2.  Shape into two logs 1-1/2" thick.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or even stick it in the freezer for another day.

3.  Preheat oven to 325º.  Grease baking sheets or line with silpat or parchment.  Cut roll crosswise with a sharp knife into 1/8" thick slices.  You can leave on the plastic wrap and peel it off each slice to make the process a bit easier.  Place slices on cookie sheets and decorate with sugar, sprinkles, or cinnamon if desired.  Or you can leave them plain.  Bake until golden, about 8 minutes.  Don't wait until they get browned, or they will be very hard when they cool.  Just a hint of doneness.

4.  Let cool on cookie sheet for a minute to make them easier to move.  Cool on racks until room temperature, then serve.

Makes about 5 dozen, but they're very small

Difficulty rating :)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December Tomatoes

The cherry tomato plant doesn't seem to realize it's December.  We had a cold snap last week, and it got down below 40 three nights in a row.  I thought that would kill it, but it seems to be rebounding.  There are a few frosty patches that are probably cold damage, but the majority of the plant is fine.  I trimmed off the dead or dying parts, as I've been doing all year.  As you can see, that pretty much stripped the bottom half bare, but the newer parts of the vines just don't know when to quit.

There were some fully grown tomatoes on dead branches when I pruned them.  They were in various stages of ripening, from solid green to ready-to-eat.  Those are at the bottom of the photo.  I made a mixed jar of pickled tomatoes and got nearly a pint.

One thing I've never had to deal with before in a garden is weeds.  My vegetables never lasted long enough to worry about it.  With only the remaining green onions and tomatoes as competition, weeds are starting to take root.  I'll have to remember to pull them weekly during the winter, or it's going to be a mess in three months when I go to  plant something else.

I had also assumed that everything would die when I put soil in the empty pool, and did not fill it.  I'm not sure how much new soil I can add next year if the asparagus and tomato are still there.

This may sound like I'm complaining, but I'm simply trying to come to terms with the reality of a successful garden.  This has never happened before!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Baking Tips

What with this being baking season and all, there is always room for a few tips to make the goodies come out better.

1.  Know your pans.  You know which of your cake pans and cookie sheets cook more evenly than others.  Which ones are non-stick?  Which ones benefit from parchment or a silpat?  Which is the one that warps when it hits 325º, making it a bad choice for gingerbread house pieces, but perfectly fine for smaller cookies?  It seems counter-intuitive, but now is not the time to buy a new baking sheet.  You don't know how it is going to react with your favorite cookie recipe.

2.  Know your oven.  Does it run hot or cold?  Does it have a convection function, and if so, do you need to alter the temperature from the given one in the recipe?  Where should you place the racks to achieve the desired browning and cooking time?  I've lived in this house for almost three years, and I'm still experimenting with the oven.  Getting closer to understanding it.

3.  Remember carryover baking when deciding if something is done.  You know how you have to let a turkey or roast sit for a half hour after cooking to finish?  The same applies to baked goods.  Always pull cookies and smaller baked goods before they are done.  A car doesn't come to a halt when you take your foot off the gas, and a cookie doesn't magically stop baking when you take it out of the oven.  Even when removed to a cooling rack, enough heat remains in the product to continue the cooking process for several minutes.

4.  How to do the toothpick test.  No one will complain about an underdone cookie, but cakes are different.  To do the toothpick test, insert a wooden toothpick about an inch from the center of a cake.  You don't test the dead center because of carryover baking (see above).  If it is done almost to the center, the center itself will be cooked by the time the whole cake has cooled.  If you have chocolate chips or anything else in your cake that should be gooey when warmed, remember that it will come up on the toothpick.  That doesn't mean the cake itself is underdone.  Cheesecakes are really hard to guess, because they will fail the toothpick test until they are overbaked.  For those, the jiggle test is a bit more reliable.

5.  Storage of baked goods.  Unless they have a lot of alcohol in them, the best way to store baked goods is at room temperature for short-term (one or two days) or in the freezer.  A properly frozen and defrosted baked good will taste exactly the same as freshly baked.  To freeze, make sure the item is completely cooled.  Seal it in plastic, getting out as much air as possible.  Then wrap in foil.  Then place in a ziplock bag and squeeze out the air.  It should survive the freezer for up to three months.  Try to avoid refrigerating baked goods for more than a couple of days, as that will cause them to absorb moisture and get stale.  As for the rum balls and fruitcakes, those have enough hard stuff in them to sit out for a week.  Just cover them with plastic wrap or seal them in a tin and you're good.

6.  Unloading goodies when you realize you went too far.  Use cute tins and bags.  Honestly, it's all about being festive.  Take a tin to a neighbor, work, or school.  You won't have to worry about how badly you underestimated the yield when you made four different batches of Christmas cookies.  Even people who proclaim themselves super-healthy "juicers" will break down for a couple of holiday treats.

Friday, December 13, 2013


No, wait, come back!

The fruitcake is so maligned in our society that I don't think I've ever had it.  I remember seeing one at Grandma Sophie's once, but I'm pretty sure it was store-bought.  If I had some, I was under twelve and have no recollection.

I went in search of a lighter recipe, as a way to ease myself into this subculture.  King Arthur Flour has one for a Golden Fruitcake which seems much less dense than I had imagined.  It beats the recipe in the Bible, which talks about the batter yield in pounds, as in a seven-pound loaf.

The original recipe calls for five eggs and makes a bit more product than I had in mind.  I scaled it down to three eggs, or 60% of the original.  It's a good thing I like math.  I rounded most of it so I don't need to bother anyone with "1/2 C plus 1 Tb plus 2 tsp of dried cranberries".  Just call it a heaping 1/2 cup and be done with it.  Oh, and I used candied ginger instead of lemon peel.  It seemed lighter and like it would add a brighter note to the finished product.  You can swap out any of these dried fruits for something you prefer.  This amount yielded three mini-loaves and a 6" round.  That's about a full loaf and a half.
There were more cherries on the round cake.  They sank in.
I didn't know that fruitcake was a long-term project.  "Quick-bread" refers to no yeast, but this is certainly not something you can make on a whim.  At the very least, the fruits have to be soaked overnight.  Because of the low baking temperature, it takes much longer to make this than, say a banana bread.  After baking, it should "age" over several days.  If it sits around longer than a week, it needs to be brushed with several tablespoons of rum or brandy.  The alcohol is a preservative.  These aged cakes are probably the heavy ones that everyone instinctively cringes against.  My goal was to eat or freeze all of them in under a week.

*1-1/4 C raisins (golden, dark, your choice.  I used mostly currants.)
1/2 C (heaping) dried cranberries
1/2 C (heaping) dried apricots, chopped
1/2 C (heaping) candied ginger, chopped
1 8 oz container candied red cherries
*1/2 C brandy (or apple juice), plus more for brushing
1/2 C (one stick) butter
1 C sugar
2 Tb corn syrup
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 eggs
2-1/4 C flour
2/3 C milk
1-1/4 C walnuts (or pecans)

1.  The night before, combine all the fruits except the cherries.  Stir in brandy and let sit at room temperature.

2.  Prepare pans by greasing with shortening or using pan spray.  Preheat oven to 300º.

3.  In mixer, cream together butter, sugar, corn syrup, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.  Scrape down sides, then beat in eggs one at a time.  Beat again until soupy.

4.  Add flour and milk in alternating amounts, starting and ending with flour.  Try not to overbeat, or cake will develop air pockets.

5.  Pick through the nuts and save the prettiest ones for decoration.  Place the rest in a ziplock bag and whack with a rolling pin until bite-sized.  Add to batter.

6.  Add soaked fruit and most of cherries, saving some of the latter for decoration.  Stir until combined.

7.  Portion batter into pans 3/4 full.  Arrange reserved nuts and cherries.  Bake for about 50 minutes for mini loaves, 80 to 90 minutes for a full-sized loaf or cake.  You are looking for a light-brown cake, not the really dark kind that haunt nightmares.  Use the toothpick test for doneness.

8.  Cool in pans 5 minutes, then brush with a few tablespoons of brandy and let sit for 5 more minutes before turning out to cool completely.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then seal either in gift baggies or foil.  If freezing, always wrap in foil first to reduce freezer burn.  Can be kept at room temperature for a week before needing another brandy treatment.  Without alcohol, they must be refrigerated or frozen a couple of days later.  The cakes taste best if they can sit for at least 24 hours before serving.

Makes about 5 mini loaves, or one full loaf and a 6" round cake

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Greek 8-Layer Dip

Yes, I'm running a little behind on the posts.  There were a lot of Thanksgiving leftovers.

Despite my best attempts, Techie Smurf and his family left a few foodstuffs behind, including a box of Brown Rice Triscuits.  I needed something to do with them to avoid mindless munching.  I was going to make a Mexican-style layered dip, but I was out of pintos to soak.  I did have some garbanzo beans, and so this dip was born.

I had fun, and stacked on a couple more ingredients than originally intended.  It was a bit expensive, but I hadn't been grocery shopping in almost two weeks and could afford it.  I even found pre-sliced and pitted Kalamata olives!  Sprouts is way too much fun.

2/3 C dried garbanzo beans (or 1 can cooked)
6 oz plain Greek yogurt
*1 C diced tomatoes
*2 stalks green onion, chopped
1/2 C kalamata (or your favorite) olives, sliced or chopped
6 oz marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 C crumbled feta cheese
2 Tb pine nuts, toasted

1.  If cooking, soak garbanzo beans overnight.  Drain, place in a casserole, add 2 C water, and bake at 300º for three hours.  I used leftover chicken broth as the cooking liquid.  You could add salt, cumin, garlic, or other seasonings.  Drain.

2.  If using canned beans, drain and rinse.  Now you're caught up to the cooked team.  Mash beans with a fork until a chunky paste forms.  Spread on the bottom of a loaf pan or other clear, steep-sided serving dish.

3.  The next layer is the yogurt.  This makes the beans seem less dry in the layered scheme of things.  Sprinkle tomatoes next, then finely chopped green onion.  Top that with the olives.  The layer of artichokes was thicker than the three previous, and served as a more defined break in the flavors.  Next comes the crumbled feta, and lastly a light sprinkling of pine nuts.

4.  Cover and chill for at least an hour, to let flavors meld.  I know it seems like there aren't any seasonings in this, but the feta has salt and the olives and artichoke hearts have been marinated in vinegar and spices.

5.  Serve with crackers and/or crudités.

Serves about 12 as an appetizer dip

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, December 6, 2013

Champagne Granita

Sorry about the poor contrast.  Maybe a glass dish?
Eight of us at Thanksgiving dinner, and we barely made it through half a bottle of champagne.  At least we know that none of us has a problem.

So, what do you do with leftover champagne?  You can freeze it into ice cubes and make mimosas at a later date.  They just won't have any fizz.  Off in search of another idea.

Granitas are just flavored syrups that you run a fork through as they're cooling.  Every half hour, you pull it out of the freezer and grate it so it doesn't form a solid popsicle.

The rules with alcohol are a little different.  Since champagne never freezes completely, I didn't sweeten it or bother to work on it as it chilled.  I just poured it into a loaf pan and chopped it up with a fork in the morning.  Champagne Icee.

Bear in mind, don't serve this as a big scoop like you would ice cream.  It is intended to replace a small cocktail between courses or as a palate cleanser.

1.  Pour champagne into a loaf pan.  If using a full bottle, you may need two.  Place in freezer overnight.

2.  Run a fork through the champagne ice, shredding it as you go.  Even hacking at it like an ice pick will create shards small enough to use.
3.  Spoon into small bowls or glasses and serve immediately.  You may even want to freeze the dishes first.

Serves a lot, assuming small quantities of no greater than 1/4 C per serving.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sloppy Moussaka

When I was still trying to avoid chewing on my temporary crown, I considered making sloppy joes.  Then I wondered what new thing I could make with ground lamb.  That evolved into a joke about Sloppy Moussaka.  After a bit, I realized there was no reason I couldn't do that.

This is the cheating, not from scratch version.  Store bought sauces, so it only takes half an hour to make.  I did try to do the oven-roasted eggplant for the slices, and it didn't taste as good as frying them.  I tried.

1 lb ground lamb
1 C tomato-based pasta sauce
1/2 C alfredo sauce
1/4 C grated parmesan
8 hamburger buns
1 small eggplant
oil for frying

1.  Slice eggplant crosswise, thinly.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and let sit 10 minutes to leach out some of the moisture.  Pat dry with paper towels.

2.  Fry eggplant slices in a skillet in 1/4" vegetable oil until lightly browned.  Remove to paper towels to drain.

3.  In a large skillet, brown lamb, chopping into small pieces.  Drain off excess fat and add tomato pasta sauce.  Stir to coat, and add more sauce if necessary.

4.  Lightly toast hamburger buns and set the bottom halves on a cookie sheet.  Start preheating broiler.  Cover bottom of buns with half of the fried eggplant slices.  Divide meat mixture on top, then top with remaining eggplant.  Spoon on about a tablespoon of alfredo sauce on each, then sprinkle with parmesan.

5.  Broil until parmesan gets toasty.  Transfer to plates.  The buns I bought were kind of small, so two were a serving.  Serve either with top bun on the sandwich or on the side.

Difficulty rating  :)