Monday, June 29, 2015

Cherry Clafoutis

Cherries were on sale at Sprouts again, so I decided to make this classical French dish.  You can make a clafoutis (pronounced clah-foo-tee') with any stone fruit or firm berry, but I think cherries are one of the traditional fruits.

So what is a clafoutis?  Looking at the ingredients, you can see it's kind of a cross between a flan and a baked crepe.  It's also very easy to whip up, once you spend half an hour getting the pits out of the cherries.  In a truly traditional recipe, you don't worry about the pits and just warn the diners not to bite down.  Supposedly, they impart a slightly nutty flavor.  I wanted to do a variation where you soak the cherries overnight in liqueur, and you have to pit them for that.

Also deviating from Julia Child's original recipe, I sprinkled the top with rolled oats.  I wanted to give it a slight crunch and compensate for the guilt of eating a "dessert" for breakfast.  This is probably healthier than waffles because there's no oil or butter in the batter.  There's just an awful lot of sugar.  I bought sweet cherries and was able to cut back to 1/2 C, but tart or Rainier cherries are going to require all of it.

3 C cherries, pitted and stemmed
*1 Tb kirsch or brandy
1-1/4 C milk
2/3 C sugar (or less, depending on sweetness of fruit)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 C flour
2 Tb raw rolled oats (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting

1.  Drizzle kirsch over pitted cherries and cover.  Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

2.  Butter a 10" oven-safe skillet, casserole, or cake pan.  Preheat oven to 350º.

3.  Place milk, half of the sugar, eggs, extracts, salt, and flour in the blender.  Run until mixture is very smooth and the consistency of cream.

4.  Pour enough batter into the bottom of the dish to coat it evenly.  Bake for 7-10 minutes, until batter is mostly set.  This will keep the cherries from burning into the bottom of your dish and make it much easier to serve.

5.  Remove casserole from the oven and arrange the cherries evenly on the spongy bed.  Go ahead and pour the kirsch over it; this is why we used way less vanilla than the original recipe.  Sprinkle cherries with the remaining half of sugar, then pour all of the batter into the dish.  Shake slightly to make sure the batter has been evenly distributed.  If using oatmeal, sprinkle it on top now.

6.  Return dish to oven (remember that it's still hot before grabbing it) and bake for an additional 50 to 60 minutes, until set and puffy.  Within a few minutes of pulling it out, it's going to deflate.  It's supposed to.  There isn't much flour in there to hold it up.  Give it a good chance to rest and firm up if you expect to slice and serve it.  Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve warm.

Serves 4 as breakfast, 6 to 8 as dessert

Difficulty rating  π (with pitting the cherries, :) )

Friday, June 26, 2015

Lavender Cake

There's a recipe for a "summer cake" in the tea book that is very pretty, but has almost no flavoring in it.  I decided to crank it up a notch and infuse it with lavender.

I admit, part of the appeal of this recipe was the naked sides of the cake.  Icing is not my strong suit.  The poured fondant in the cookbook's photo had me nervous until I remembered I have rolling fondant in the pantry.  Not as tasty, but far easier and looks better.

As I was tweaking the recipe for my own uses on a piece of scratch paper, I had an old episode of "Good Eats" on in the background.  Alton was talking about the revolution that happened in cake baking about a hundred years ago when someone realized that oil produced a cake better than butter did.  Betty Crocker soon signed on to the concept and the packaged mix was born.  To me, it explained why I often have better luck with margarine in the batter than butter.  Margarine is mostly solidified oil.

3/4 C sugar
*1 tsp dried culinary lavender
3/4 C margarine
3 eggs
2/3 C milk
*1-1/2 C cake flour
2 Tb baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1.  The day before, measure sugar into a sealable container.  Add lavender and shut tightly.  Shake to distribute buds and let sit overnight.  (You can also let it sit several days.  There's no real time limit.)

2.  When ready to make the cake, pour sugar into a fine-mesh strainer just large enough to let the sugar crystals through.  Shake gently over the mixing bowl of your stand mixer until the only thing in the strainer is the lavender and maybe the largest sugar crystals.  Reserve those for garnish.

3.  Add margarine to the bowl and beat with the paddle until creamy.  That takes a couple of minutes, so you can prepare two 8" cake pans by greasing them with shortening and lining the bottoms with wax paper.  Might as well start preheating the oven to 350º while you're at it.  I love stand mixers.  They free you to do all sorts of things.

4.  Scrape down the bowl and add eggs one at a time, beating each until incorporated before adding the next.  Add milk 1/3 C at a time.  You will end up with a sloshy mix, but it will keep the finished cake from drying out.

5.  Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add slowly to bowl and mix on low until mostly incorporated.  Scrape down sides, then beat until smooth, about one minute.  Try not to beat until it starts to look stringy.  That's gluten, the enemy of a fine-crumbed cake.

6.  Pour into prepared pans.  The trick to making a two-pan cake come out even is to weigh them.  Both pans should weigh the same if they have an equal amount of batter.  Yes, the layers look thin, but did you see how much baking powder you put in this cake?  Bake until lightly golden and springy, about 25 minutes.  Rotate pans once after 15 minutes for even browning.  Once they pass the toothpick test, allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and removing the wax paper.  Cool completely before icing.  You can even bake the cake several days before and freeze it once cool until needed.  It's easier to ice.

Filling and Topping
1/2 C butter, softened
1 C powdered sugar
1 tsp lavender extract
*1/2 C prepared fondant

1.  Beat butter until creamy.  Gradually beat in powdered sugar.  Beat in extract and whip until fluffy.

2.  Place bottom cake layer on serving plate or cake circle, whatever its final destination will be.  Iced cakes don't look as good once they have been replated.  Spread filling over top of the bottom layer, reserving 2 Tb.  Go all the way to the edges, so it will peek out from between the layers.

3.  Place top layer on the filling.  Once everything is lined up, spread remaining filling on top of cake in a very thin layer.  This will keep the fondant from sliding around, provide moisture, and make it taste a little better.

4.  Knead fondant until soft.  Roll into an 8" circle, sprinkling with powdered sugar as needed to prevent sticking.  Carefully transfer circle to top of cake and center it.  Brush lightly with water and sprinkle with reserved lavender buds.

Makes one 8" layer cake

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wonton Ravioli

I had a dozen wonton skins leftover from the soup and a chunk of cotija cheese sitting around and decided to try making ravioli out of them.  It was very easy.  They don't taste like pasta ravioli, but I put them together in the time it took to bring the water to a boil and they were done five minutes later.  I didn't have any sauce in the fridge, but I had just pulled some oven-dried tomatoes out of the oven and tossed a few on top while they were still warm.  For a last-minute hot lunch, it was a great idea, and it took less time than the tuna salad I had planned to make.

1 dozen wonton skins
2 Tb filling (can be cheese, pre-cooked veggies, leftover cooked hamburger, etc)

1.  Start boiling several inches of water in a medium saucepan.

2.  Set out wrappers on a work surface.  Moisten the edges of half of them.

3.  Place 1 tsp of filling in the middle of the moistened squares.  Top with the dried ones.  Use a fork to press the edges shut.  Do a good job, or the filling will leak out.

4.  Place ravioli in boiling water and cook for 5-8 minutes, until pasta is done.  Drain and rinse.  Serve with sauce of choice.

Serves 1

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, June 20, 2015


My first cucumbers were ready when I got home from vacation.  That was when I realized I had no idea how to tell if a cucumber was ripe (because they're green) and had to look it up online.  That was when I also found out I was supposed to be growing them on a trellis.  Bit too late for that.  Oops.  Readjusted the vines on the rocky rim of the pond.

I also found out that "real" cucumbers have little prickly spines on them.  The ones in the market are scrubbed smooth and covered in a light coating of wax.

That fat, light colored one on the top is a touch over-ripe.  Supposedly, that makes them bitter.  I have never found cucumbers to be all that bitter, probably because I usually have them with some kind of vinegar or other dressing.

Normally, I don't bother peeling cucumbers.  I plan to peel every one of these prickly little suckers.  It was bad enough getting stuck for a moment when I picked the first one.  Not getting that in my mouth.

I sliced up the best-looking one into sunomono.  I did taste a slice before adding the dressing, and they're a tiny bit sweeter and crisper than the ones in the market.  Makes sense, when they're fresh off the vine.

I hope I have at least one more ready to pick next week for my tea party.  I'll probably have some more peas by then.  Haven't decided if I'll share those or have a personal snack time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


As mentioned in the wor wonton post, I first made wontons in grade school.  Back then, my mom presented me with wrappers and filling and I just did the tedious part of wrapping and frying them.  Kids don't know that's the part no one wants to do.  When I decided to make a Chinese soup with the rest of the cabbage, it just seemed natural to make wontons part of it.

I decided to use the Sunset Oriental Cook Book for this one, since it is probably what I made as a child. The shrimp filling is straight-forward and the flavors are generic enough to adapt to any Chinese-themed meal.

It took me about three pieces into the process to realize these are basically square tortellini.  Since pasta originated in China, the wontons probably came first.  The brand of skins I bought behaved like thick filo dough.  Work fast and don't leave them exposed to the air any longer than you need to.  If you have leftovers, you can use them to make ravioli or tortellini.  There was even a recipe for it on the package.

These are great do-aheads.  You can make them several hours in advance and keep them refrigerated until ready to cook.  Just keep them under plastic wrap so they don't dry out.

1 package wonton wrappers (at least 3 dozen pieces)
1/2 lb raw shrimp (or ground chicken or pork)
2 stalks green onion, finely chopped
6 slices water chestnuts, minced
2 Tb fresh parsley, minced
1 Tb soy sauce
1 Tb vegetable oil + a bit
1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt (if shrimp is not pre-salted)
1/8 tsp pepper

1.  If you bought shell-on shrimp, peel and remove the tails.  Toss the shells in a pot with a cup or so of water and simmer for 10 minutes into stock.  Strain and discard the shells.  I don't care what you do with the shrimp stock, but it's a shame to waste the shells.  I poured mine into the soup.  Finely chop the shrimp.

2.  In a bowl, combine all the ingredients from the shrimp down into a filling paste.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

3.  Unless you plan to drop these instantly into a fryer or soup, lightly oil a baking sheet.  Set out as many wrappers as you can fill in a few minutes and keep the rest in the package to stay moist.  Have a small dish of water nearby to moisten your fingertips.

4.  Dampen the edges of the wrappers, then scoop either a level teaspoon or heaping half-teaspoon into the center.  Fold one corner to the opposing one to make a triangle.  Press the seams shut.  Then pull the two bottom corners together, overlapping the points, into a little hat.  Place the wonton on the oiled sheet and go on to the next.  When the filling runs out, cover baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

5.  To cook by simmering, simply drop into the water or broth and cook until pasta is al dente.  The filling will cook quicker than the shell.  Since this will usually be in a soup, get out a ladle and start filling up bowls.

6.  To fry, heat at least 2" of vegetable or peanut oil to 360º.  Depending on the size of your fryer or saucepan, cook about 6 at a time.  Poke them around to keep them from sticking to each other.  They will be golden brown in under two minutes.  Drain on paper towels and start the next round as soon as the temperature recovers.  Serve immediately or at room temperature with a dipping sauce like flavored mustard or sweet & sour.  Do not store in the fridge.  They will lose their crispness.  You have to eat them all that day.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen, depending on how you scoop the filling

Difficulty rating :-0

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Wor Wonton Soup

I bought a head of cabbage.  Not exactly sure why, except I needed a green veggie for a bean stew.  That took care of half of it.  Not in the mood for cole slaw, I had to come up with something else to do with it.  I did consider cabbage rolls, but you need whole leaves for that.  I may make those sometime soon; the recipe I found sounds really good.
The bean stew.  Ok, but not post-worthy

I learned that "wor" means "everything" in Chinese.  That means you can put in everything that sounds good at the moment, including half a head of cabbage.

I'm going to post the wontons separately.  They aren't any more difficult than any other hors d'oeuvre, but they are worth their own post.  I remember helping to cater my mom's parties when I was ten or twelve and frying up dozens of wontons so she could be free to mingle.  If you can leave a fifth grader alone with the deep fryer to make them, they're not hard.  The only difference with this batch was simmering them in the soup instead of frying.  The recipe is the same.

I got to use my three whopping pea pods from the garden in the recipe.  Bought a handful of them at the market to round it out.  I bought a handful of everything that seemed like it should be in the recipe, which is how I ended up with a $25 pot of soup.  It did taste like one from a Chinese restaurant, which was the goal, so I guess I succeeded.  Feel free to add or subtract ingredients to fit your personal taste and budget.

*1 quart chicken stock (low-salt)
4 stalks green onion
*2 cloves garlic
1 Tb minced or grated ginger
1 Tb vegetable or sesame oil
*1/2 head of cabbage or 6 baby bok choy
2 medium carrots
1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast or pork chop
4 oz snow peas in the pod
4 oz mushroom of choice
1 can sliced water chestnuts
1 can sliced bamboo shoots
1 batch uncooked wontons
1 tsp red pepper flakes
soy sauce to taste

1.  Cut onion into small pieces and mince garlic.  Drizzle oil into a large pot and cook onions and garlic over medium heat until fragrant.  Add stock and ginger and bring to a low boil over high heat.

2.  While the stock is coming to a boil, slice cabbage thinly or chop bok choy into bite-sized pieces.  Reduce heat on pot back to medium and add cabbage.  Cover and cook until it starts to soften.  This will take longer if you choose green cabbage, about 10 minutes.

3.  Peel and chop carrots into bite-sized coins.  Add to simmering pot and continue to cook while you get everything else ready.  Slice chicken or pork thinly into a piece you could pick up with a spoon or chopsticks.  If the mushrooms are big enough to need slicing, now is the time.  Get the prepared wontons out and open the cans.

4.  Everything else goes in the pot now, just wait on the soy sauce a bit.  Stir to make sure the wontons are submerged and put the cover back on the pot.  You can raise the heat a little because so much else has gone in.  Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the wonton noodles are done.  They take the longest.  You will see the pink inside before the noodles are cooked if you made shrimp.  Depending on what kind of mushroom you used, they may not be completely cooked.  This is fine, and merely adds a different flavor.  Taste and add soy sauce as needed.  Serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Buckwheat Cotija Bread

After putting on three pounds in five days on vacation, I went on an over-compensating diet.  The problem with that is you get hungry.  As a way to fill me up while still staying relatively light, I decided to make a cheese bread and simply not eat too much of it.  Sprouts finally had buckwheat flour back in stock, so I added it to the dough.

This is not a gluten-free recipe.  There's more white flour than buckwheat in it.  It is lower in gluten than an all-wheat loaf would be, and I probably should have baked it in a loaf pan rather than free-standing because of that.  It kind of spread out instead of rising.

I'm listing the four-serving loaf I made.  To use a package of yeast, double the recipe.  That will make enough for a regular loaf pan, should you wish to make a sliceable loaf.

1/2 C milk
1 Tb butter, plus more for brushing
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp yeast
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C buckwheat flour
about 1 C all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp cracked pepper
2 oz cotija cheese, crumbled
1 Tb butter, melted, for brushing

1.  Warm milk, butter, and sugar to 100º F.  Stir in yeast and let sit until foamy, about 5 min.

2.  In stand mixer with the paddle, stir together buckwheat flour, pepper, and salt.  Add milk mixture and beat into a smooth batter.  Add 1/2 C a.p. flour and the crumbled cheese and beat into a soft dough.

3.  Turn out dough onto a well-floured board (up to 1/2 C of a.p.) and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.  Place in a lightly oiled bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

4.  Punch down dough and turn out onto a board.  Let rest 10 minutes, then shape as desired.  Allow to rise again in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.  Brush with melted butter.  Bake at 375º for about 20 minutes, until cheese bits are visibly toasted and loaf sounds slightly hollow when tapped.

5.  Turn out bread (or remove from baking sheet) to a wire rack for cooling.  Serve warm to room temperature.

Difficulty rating :)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Growing Season

I need to stop scheduling my vacations in early summer.  In my area, that's when things ripen or need the most attention.

Pretty much all of my tomatoes decided to ripen a few days before I left, so I made marinara.  You can freeze the leftovers for later if you don't want to can them.  The sweetness of the Bradleys brought a wonderful depth to the sauce.  The older vines on the beefsteak died as their fruit ripened, so I cut the whole thing back to allow new growth.  The smaller sprouts below are already producing.
I have two cucumbers growing!  Like the pumpkins, cucumber plants have both male and female flowers.  I found two close to each other.  One I hand-pollinated, but didn't notice the other until after it was growing.  Also like pumpkins, cucumber plants have large leaves that obscure what's underneath.  At least these don't seem prone to fungus.  Think I'll schedule this year's tea for when they're ready to pick, so I can make the cucumber sandwiches with produce from my garden.
My lone surviving pea plant has a pod!  I didn't realize it had bloomed.  Must have done it when I was at work.  Hoping some of the other buds on the vine have similar luck.  The boysenberry has a couple new blossoms, which surprised me.  I thought it was done for the year.
Techie Smurf is about two months behind.  It's still cool in Pennsylvania and he's growing lettuces.  His tomatoes and peppers are established, but still barely more than seedlings.  He has the advantage of regular rain in addition to watering.
Writer Smurf planted two kinds of pumpkins in the front yard.  She didn't read the spacing instructions and put two packets in a row of hills about twelve feet across.  I showed her my pictures from last year, and she is going to train them all over the yard.  It will make for a really neat Halloween decoration.  I was joking that she could sell whatever she doesn't carve or cook.  Or they could get a chest freezer and fill it with stewed pumpkin for the year.
I also appreciate that I only have a few birds and squirrels who may want my veggies.  They need to put up rabbit fences and something to keep away the chipmunks and hedgehogs.  I haven't seen it, but there's a fox in the neighborhood.

Seeing them just getting started for the year makes me happy that I have plants producing year-round.  Especially the tomatoes.  It's only a long weekend, but I feel like I'm missing whatever magic is happening in my small garden.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Butterscotch Blondies

This is kind of cheating.  It's the blondie recipe from before with different mix-ins.  Just figured it would be an easier find on a search engine.

This time, I made the half batch in the 8x8 pan.  All went well until I meant to give them two more minutes and got a little too involved with polishing the kitchen table.  I discovered wood oil recently and have been bringing furniture and woodwork back to life.  A lot of things that I thought needed to be sanded down and revarnished are passable.

Anyway, you can tell where this story is going.  They got a tiny bit more baked than I intended, but nowhere near dunking level.  (As in, need a hot drink to dunk them in to make them edible.)  It was good to know the recipe is somewhat forgiving.  This may be because I used real butter instead of subbing in margarine.  Just in case, I removed them from the pan after only a few minutes and cut the squares while it was still fairly warm.  This reduces the carryover baking, when something continues to cook in its own heat and the residual heat of the pan.

3/4 C brown sugar
6 Tb butter, room temperature
1-1/4 C flour
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 C butterscotch chips
1/2 C chopped walnuts

1.  Grease an 8"x8" square casserole or line with parchment.  Preheat oven to 350º.

2.  Cream together butter and brown sugar until whipped.  Beat in baking powder, salt, and vanilla.  Beat in egg until smooth.  Gradually beat in flour until fully incorporated into a thick batter.

3.  Stir in butterscotch chips and walnuts.  Spread batter in pan, making sure it reaches the corners.  Any thin areas will cook faster than the rest and possibly burn.

4.  Bake blondies for at least 20 minutes and up to 35.  Check frequently after 20 minutes.  Top should be lightly golden but not browned.  A clear glass casserole will let you see how deep the color goes.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes in the pan.  If you trust yourself, turn out the cookie whole, then cut it, or you can do it all in the pan.  Allow cookies to cool completely before storing, but they can be eaten off the cooling rack at any time.

Makes 16 (4x4)

Difficulty rating  π