Thursday, December 29, 2016


Three years ago we had Thanksgivukkah.  This year it's the other end of the lunar calendar arrangement.  I feel like I remember lighting a last candle into the new year once, so this may not be the latest Chanukah can possibly be.  But having the second night on a day when I usually make a fancy dinner anyway was helpful.

This year, I decided to follow Techie Smurf's tradition and do fondue.  I haven't hosted fondue in maybe ever, but we used to do it several times a year when I was growing up.

The only problem I came across while shopping for this meal was figuring out what to dip.  We used to do beef and shrimp, but one of my guests couldn't have seafood.  So I decided on beef and chicken, with some blanched pearl onions and baby bella mushrooms as what passed for a vegetable option.  We did have salad and latkes, so it wasn't all meat.  I got lazy and stressed for time and bought pre-sliced meat for stir-fry.  After all, I had just committed to peeling a bag of pearl onions.  The beef ended up fine, and the chicken was excellent.  For dipping sauces, I made Papa Smurf's special sauce and a horseradish cream, which is just horseradish beaten into unflavored whipped cream.

For dessert, there had to be chocolate fondue.  I got marshmallows, bananas, and made poundcake.  Taking a cue from a 1970 fondue cookbook, everyone got a little cup in which to spoon a personal portion of chocolate.  That cut down on drippage.

Growing up, the threat was always that if we didn't finish the fondue set-up we would have stew the next day.  It never happened, and I don't think we ever had stew anyway.   I just reheated the oil and kept having fondue dinners for the next two nights.  Plus, as just me, I was able to put in a lot of pieces at once instead of just the two sticks I gave each of us.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Potato and Celery Root Galette

I finally got my celery root!  They're $3 a pound, so it isn't going to become a staple, but at least the potatoes were 69¢ for a 5 pound bag.  That made up for it considerably, and I did need potatoes for latkes.

There are many definitions of galettes.  The obvious one (to me) is the buckwheat crepe.  They can also refer to certain types of open-faced pastries.  In this case, it's a vegetable tart.

My original plan was to make this with just celery root and some kind of topping.  Then I found this recipe and learned that celery root doesn't have enough starch to hold it together.  So plan B became more labor intensive, but probably more successful.

Now for the big question, what does celery root taste like?  I don't know why I was surprised that it smelled like celery when I was cutting it.  The taste is also celery-like, with a potato-ish texture.  It isn't $3/pound awesomeness, but I might splurge once in a while if the recipe sounds really worthwhile.

1 small celery root (less than 1 lb)
1 lb russet potatoes
2 Tb butter
2 Tb olive oil
salt and pepper
other spices or herbs to garnish

1.  Get out the V-slicer, food processor, or mandolin, because you need very thin slices to cook everything evenly.  Scrub the potatoes clean.  Clean the celery root and trim off any hairy roots.  Slice both on the thin setting.  You may have to cut the celery root in half first.

2.  In a medium bowl, toss together the vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.  Start preheating the oven to 350º.

3.  Melt the butter in an oven-safe 9" skillet.  Turn down the heat to low while you shingle the potato and celery root into a pattern, alternating each kind.  Keep going around until it's all used.  I ended up with about three layers.  Turn up the heat to medium-high for several minutes to crisp the bottom layer.
4.  Cover pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  I forgot the foil part, which may be why mine didn't turn out of the pan neatly.  I have also doubled the butter from the original version.  After the 20 minutes, remove the foil and cook until the vegetables no longer look opaque and start to pick up a nice golden hue, another 10 to 15 minutes.
5.  Remember to use oven mitts for the rest of these instructions!  Remove skillet from oven.  Carefully loosen the galette with a wooden spoon.  Start at the edges and work your way in.  Then get a serving plate and place, inverted, on skillet.  Flip the pan and hope for a successful "thunk' as it drops in one piece.  Remove pan and dust the galette with chopped herbs, seasoning salt, paprika, or even shredded cheese.  Serve hot.

Serves 2-4, depending on use

Difficulty rating  :-0

Friday, December 23, 2016

Cabbage Rolls

I've had this one from the southern food section of bookmarked for months.  I just haven't gotten around to it.  So I picked a day that I really didn't have the time to do it and kind of rushed the whole thing.

Aside from getting the leaves off the cabbage, it's really easy.  Drop a handful of a quickie meatloaf mix into the leaves and fold them up, then drown it in a simple tomato-based sweet-and-sour sauce.  Do something else for an hour while it's cooking, thicken up the tomato sauce, and you're done.

While I agree with her discovery that frozen cabbage will be soft when it defrosts, I don't recommend it.  It's soft because the water in the cells turned into jagged ice crystals and cut through the cell structure.  She just used the leaves before they could wilt or get slimy.  It's the same concept as how frozen spinach looks pre-cooked because it has wilted and the cells are crushed and soaked.  If you tear off the leaves you need and blanch them, the core will still be usable.  Although, I was pretty close to dropping the whole head in the pot and hoping the leaves would fall off by themselves; it's the hardest part of the recipe.  You're going to have almost half a cabbage left after you fill these.  I made the cabbage and apple part of the German corned beef and cabbage with it.

1 large head of cabbage
1 lb 90/10 or 93/7 ground beef (you could use ground chicken or turkey)
3/4 C cooked rice (I used brown)
1/2 C finely chopped onion
1 egg
1/4 C milk
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
3 Tb vinegar
2 Tb sugar
1/2 C water
2 Tb cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 C cold water

1.  Carefully peel off 12 to 15 leaves from the cabbage.  I kept cutting off the bottom so the core was not attached to the leaf.  It's ok if you can't get that many large leaves.  Just overlap some of the smaller ones.  Drop into a large pot half filled with boiling water and blanch until the color gets vibrant and the leaves soften, no more than 5 minutes.  Drain.

2.  In a medium bowl, combine ground beef, rice, onion, egg, milk, salt, and pepper.  In a separate bowl, combine tomato sauce, diced tomatoes in their juice, vinegar (I used a combination of apple cider and rice vinegars), sugar, and water.  Start preheating the oven to 350º.
3.  Lay out a couple of cabbage leaves on a work surface with a casserole dish nearby.  Place a handful of the meat mixture near the bottom of the middle of the leaf.  Fold in the sides, then fold the top down. Turn over and place, seam side down, in the casserole.  Continue until you run out of meat, about 10-12 rolls.
4.  Pour sauce over the rolls and bake until the middle of the fattest one reaches at least 165º, about 45 minutes to an hour.  Remove rolls to a serving plate.  Pour the sauce into a skillet (easier than trying to hit a narrow saucepan) and stir in the cornstarch slurry.  Bring to a low boil and cook until thickened.  Serve rolls with sauce.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

Yes, it's a little late, but there's still Christmas.  One of the guys at work requested it for our potluck.  Fortunately, I made a 1/3 batch, 6" cake, because there was so much food that most of it was left over.  That's why the photo looks so out of proportion.

This is basically an adaptation of my blender cheesecake with far less yogurt so it wouldn't collapse under the weight of the pumpkin.  I saved the rest of the container for the topping, instead of sour cream.  That was a good thing, because it did fall more than I was expecting.

*1-1/2 C crushed ginger snaps
1/3 C butter, melted
3 8oz bricks of cream cheese
6 eggs
1-1/2 C sugar, plus 2 Tb for topping
2 Tb cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
6 Tb fat-free Greek yogurt
1 C canned pumpkin
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice, plus more to dust topping
1 C sour cream or Greek yogurt for topping

1.  Butter a 9" round springform pan and preheat oven to 350º.  Stir together crushed cookies and melted butter into a paste.  Press into bottom of pan and as far up the sides as it can go.  Bake while you make the batter, about 10 minutes.

2.  In stand mixer, cream together sugar and cream cheese.  Add eggs one at a time and beat to incorporate.  Add cornstarch, vanilla, and yogurt.  Scrape sides and beat until smooth.

3.  Spoon 1 C of batter into a side bowl.  Add pumpkin and pie spice and stir to combine.
4.  Pour about half of the regular batter into springform.  Top with all of the pumpkin batter, then remaining plain batter.  Run a knife through the batter to swirl the two flavors.  Bake at 350º until center stops jiggling, about one hour.  I recommend placing it on a baking sheet.  The butter in the crust ran a bit.  I don't have that problem with graham crackers, just ginger snaps.

5.  Turn off oven, crack open the door, and let cool for about 1 hour, until pan is cool enough to handle without mitts.  Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until needed.

6.  Shortly before serving, beat together remaining yogurt and 2 Tb of sugar.  Spread on top of cake, then sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice.  Serve chilled.

Serves about 12

Difficulty rating :)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Toasted Coconut Waffles

I originally bookmarked this recipe from Bon Appetit after googling recipes to use coconut oil, but made it this weekend because I had too much milk on hand.  That happens when I shop places that don't carry quarts.  There's only so much you can put in coffee.

The recipe was pretty straightforward as written.  I wasn't going to compound my milk problem by buying buttermilk, and made these with all 2%.  That just means I omitted the baking soda and upped the baking powder by that 1/2 tsp.  I did reduce the coconut oil slightly.  That's a crazy lot of oil.  Even at 1/2 C, that's two tablespoons per waffle.  I did keep the sugar, because unsweetened coconut needs it.  Coconut flavor only pops when you add sugar.  Even how much syrup each bite absorbed seemed to make a difference.

These came off the iron all kinds of floppy, but quickly firmed as they sat.  By the time I had taken the photo and started to cut it, it was almost crispy enough.  By the time I was actually eating, it was the right texture.  Maybe the cornstarch has something to do with it.  I've never made a waffle or pancake batter with a 3:1 ratio of flour to cornstarch.  That's pretty high.

*1 C unsweetened coconut flakes
*1/2 C coconut oil
1-1/2 C flour
1/2 C cornstarch
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
*2 C milk
1/4 C sugar
pan spray for iron

1.  Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350º.  Arrange coconut in a single layer on baking sheet (or toaster broiler pan) and cook until golden, about 2 minutes.  Allow to cool.  While that's happening, melt coconut oil, either in the microwave or in a small saucepan, until just melted.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.
2.  In a larger bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt.  Separately, lightly beat eggs.  Add milk, sugar, and the now not-hot coconut oil to the eggs.  Pour wet into dry and stir until mostly combined.  It's ok to have lumps at this point.  Add 3/4 C of the toasted coconut and reserve the rest for garnish.

3.  Let the batter sit while the waffle iron is heating.  That ten minutes will allow any dry lumps to hydrate.  Spray hot iron with pan spray.  There's so much oil in the batter that you should only have to do this for the first one.  Pour out about 2/3 C batter onto iron, close, and cook until golden.  I got 4 waffles out of my batch, which is what the recipe suggests, but one of them was a bit thick and I had actually used less milk than they recommended.  You may get five.

4.  Serve with a toasted coconut garnish, syrup, and butter.

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Turnip Gratin

Michael Symon was doing a segment on The Chew about ugly root vegetables that are in season this time of year.  The first one I decided to try was his Celery Root Gratin.  First I decided to google it as faster than going through the show's website, only to find eight recipes above it.  All of those were part potato, and not what I was looking for, but it did demonstrate that others have not only considered using celery root in this way, but went to the trouble to make it less intimidating to the general public.

Then I went grocery shopping, and they didn't have any.  I bought the second-largest turnip instead, which was well over a pound.  This recipe will work with any root vegetable, and I had already made up my mind to try something I'd never had before.  I'll have to find another recipe when I finally do track down a celery root.  Or when I eventually pull up my celery and they have roots under them.

I had too much milk on hand and decided to use that instead of the cream.  I don't know what happened, but I managed to make cheese with it.  The whole thing was swimming in whey, with 2% curds in the casserole itself.  I have no idea where that much acid came from, or maybe the milk was just getting old.  Use the cream.
As for taste, it pretty much tasted like a potato gratin with a less mealy texture and a hint of something like horseradish.  Nothing to be scared of.

1 Tb butter to grease the dish
2 C cream
*3 cloves garlic, minced
1 C green onions, finely sliced
1/4 tsp nutmeg
*1-1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp kosher salt & 1/2 tsp pepper
1 lb turnip, peeled and sliced very thinly

1.  It is very important to slice the turnip thinly, so it cooks evenly and completely.  If you have a mandolin or V-slicer, use the thinnest setting.  If not, do it on the food processor with the slicing blade.  By hand, just do your best.

2.  Preheat oven to 375º and grease an 8x8 baking dish with the butter.

3.  In a saucepan, heat cream to a simmer.  Add garlic, green onions, and nutmeg.  Stir to combine.  Slowly add the cheese and stir until melted.  Add salt and pepper.

4.  In baking dish, make a layer of turnip.  Spoon over some of the cream.  Continue with layers until all of the turnip is used, then pour remaining cream on top.  Sprinkle lightly with more parmesan.

5.  Cover dish with foil and bake 45 minutes.  Remove foil and bake another 10 to toast the cheese.  Let sit until it stops boiling, another 10 minutes or so, before trying to serve.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Chicken with Mustard Sauce

I used to make this a lot when I was first on my own.  However, there was a dry sauce packet for it, so all I had to do was add water and simmer until done.  I couldn't find one at the market and don't remember the brand, so here's a from-scratch version.

I'm starting with Jaques Pepin's version (via the NYTimes), because you might as well go with someone who reliably puts out a good product.  As a teacher, he breaks things down into reasonable steps with basic ingredients.

I didn't use dijon mustard, instead opting for my homemade beer mustard and just adding the extra mustard powder.  I also used the suggestion from the comments to use broth instead of water.  I didn't go crazy as some of the commenters did and add a whole bunch of flavoring ingredients.  I wanted this to be a simple, mustard-flavored sauce.

You can see from the photo that I used skin-on chicken thighs with the bones.  I just cooked them longer.  I'm also upping the mustard to the full amount for this half recipe.  Maybe my homemade mustard was too mild, but I thought this needed more of a kick.

4 skinless, boneless chicken half-breasts (5 oz each)
salt and pepper
1 Tb oil
1 C finely diced onion
2 Tb flour
1 C chicken broth
1-1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
1 Tb dijon mustard

1.  Heat oil on medium in a skillet just big enough to fit all of the pieces.  Lightly sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and cook on each side to sear, about 1 to 2 minutes each side.

2.  Add onion and cook for another minute.  Sprinkle flour over both sides of chicken and brown for one minute per side.

3.  Add broth and bring to a low boil until sauce starts to thicken.  Lower heat, cover, and cook 5 minutes.  Remove (still slightly undercooked) chicken to a platter and keep warm.

4.  Turn up the heat and reduce sauce to about 3/4 C.  Lower heat back to a simmer.  Stir together dijon and dry mustard into a paste and add to the sauce.  Don't boil after mustard has been added.

5.  Return chicken to the pan and simmer, covered, until pieces are done, 10 to 15 minutes.  Serve hot, with sauce spooned over.

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pumpkin Lasagna

My last pumpkins ripened on the counter, their vines having died as soon as the nights dropped close to 50º.  I missed using them for Thanksgiving, but now I get them all to myself.

All of the online recipes I read were for canned pumpkin.  The way I'm doing it, you could substitute pretty much any squash.  Acorn squash has the closest texture.
This pretty much follows the pattern for a regular lasagna.  The pumpkin mix is the marinara and the mushrooms are the meat.  For a non-vegetarian version, you could use ground turkey or chicken.

I mostly followed this recipe from Taste of Home, but cooked noodles from dry because they were on sale for 88¢.  With a side salad, this is a full vegetarian meal.

3 C canned or roasted puréed pumpkin (the 28 oz can)
9 lasagna noodles
8 oz mushrooms, preferably crimini (baby bella)
1 C diced onion
1 Tb olive oil
*1/2 C half-and-half
1 tsp sage
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 C ricotta cheese
1 C shredded mozzarella
3/4 C grated parmesan

1.  Start boiling a big pot of water to cook the noodles according to the package directions.  Thinly slice the mushrooms.  Cook the onion and mushrooms in the oil over medium heat until wilted and the mushrooms have given off their water, lightly seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.  The water may be boiling by now, so get the noodles cooking.  They will need to be completely cooked.

2.  Stir together the pumpkin, cream, nutmeg, and sage.  Add a little bit of salt and pepper.  Go easy on the salt; there's almost 2 cups of cheese in this, all of it salty.

3.  When the noodles are done, drain into a strainer and rinse with cold water.  Start preheating the oven to 375º.

4.  Get out an 8x8 baking dish.  Spoon about 1/2 C of the pumpkin sauce on the bottom of the dish.  Then layer three noodles, overlapping slightly.  Spoon on another cup of sauce.  Top with half of the mushrooms.  Then half of the ricotta and mozzarella, and 1/4 cup of parmesan.  Start again with another layer of noodles, 1 C of pumpkin, the rest of the mushrooms, and rest of mozzarella and ricotta, plus another 1/4 C of parmesan.  Top with remaining noodles, then the last scrapes of the sauce.
5.  Bake for 15 minutes.  There's no egg in this one and everything is pre-cooked, so you're pretty much just heating it through and melting the cheese.  Top with remaining parmesan and cook another 15 minutes or so, just to brown the cheese.

6.  Let casserole sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before trying to slice.  Serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sweet Potato Pie

Techie Smurf has been doing some research on his Ancestry account, and we probably have 1/4 roots in the South.  That explains why almost every Southern dish I try is like a "where have you been all my life?" moment.  Can't get into okra or New Orleans cuisine, though.

I've never made sweet potato pie, but I did have one crust left from the coconut-lime assignment.  After a bit of online research and a glance at what I had on hand, I decided to wing it.

I'll tell you right now, I only used the coconut oil because I had the jar of it.  That's why it says "or butter" in the recipe.  I decided to make that my fancy and unique flavoring for this one.  (It was originally going to be a tablespoon of bourbon.)

This recipe most closely resembles Paula Deen's from an older issue of Good Housekeeping.  The main change was swapping maple syrup for part of the sugar, making the vanilla unnecessary.  After that, it was all little tweaks.

2 C pre-baked sweet potato mash
*4 oz (1/2 C) cream cheese
2 Tb *coconut oil or butter
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C maple syrup
*2 eggs
1/2 C half-and-half (somehow I bought fat free 1/2 & 1/2.  How is that a thing?)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
*unbaked crust for one 9" pie

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  If you need to cook your potatoes, pierce several times with a fork and bake for one hour, until soft.  Slit open when cool enough to handle and scrape out insides.  You could also do it in the microwave, but the roasted flavor really adds something to the pie.  I don't recommend canned or boiled because the moisture content is much higher and will change the consistency of the finished pie.  My best recommendation is to make this pie after a holiday dinner, when there's always a couple of extra baked sweet potatoes left over.

2.  Cream together sweet potato pulp, cream cheese, and coconut oil.  Add sugar and syrup and beat again.  Add eggs, half-and-half, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and beat until smooth.
3.  Pour filling into crust.  Bake for one hour, or until middle is set.  Cool slowly, first in oven, to reduce cracking.  If necessary to hide cracks, slather with whipped cream.  Best served room temperature.

Serves 8

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Chocolate-Dipped Maple Shortbreads

Just to see what would happen, I googled "Christmas Cookies" on Images.  Not that far down were these from Reader's Digest, of all places.

"Shortbread" refers to keeping the gluten strands short, generally with fat.  That is what "shortening" means in the food product.  It's why cookies and cakes are crumbly, while you have to tear a low-fat bread.

This particular recipe doesn't have an egg, which many shortbreads don't.  What that meant in this case was that I didn't have to make as many as the 6 dozen the recipe estimates.  I did some quick math and knocked out a quarter batch on a single sheet.  I still somehow came up with two dozen.  I swear, I even used a measuring tape to get the dimensions of the logs right.
The recipe was not without its flaws.  I had to knead in much more flour than I should have to get the logs to hold their shape, and they still spread out a lot in the oven.  And I knew there was too much milk in the ganache, but followed the instructions anyway.  It never really firmed up, not even the leftovers I put in the fridge to use for coffee and hot chocolate the next day.  I'm going to fix those problems here.

As you can see from the photo, I didn't limit myself to crushed walnuts for the decorations.  I pulverized a ginger snap (left over from the pie) and did some with coconut (other pie).  The cookie itself is neutral, so anything that works with chocolate is fair game.

This does make a crazy lot if you use the dimensions they give for a single-bite cookie, so I'm posting a half-sized batch.

1/4 C unsalted butter
1/4 C shortening
1/4 C powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp maple syrup
1 C flour
1/2 C quick oats
1/4 tsp salt

1/3 C semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tb milk

1.  Cream together butter and shortening.  Add powdered sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add vanilla and maple syrup and beat again.

2.  Separately, combine flour, oatmeal, and salt.  Beat into creamed mixture to make a thick paste.  Wrap in wax paper and chill half an hour.

3.  Preheat oven to 325º.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into 1/2" thick logs.  Cut 2" lengths and place on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly golden.  Allow to cool 5 minutes on the sheet, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
4.  Microwave chips and milk on half power at 30 second increments, stirring well each time, until smooth.  Arrange toppings, which can include crushed nuts, crushed cookies, coconut flakes, or sprinkles.  Dip half of each cookie in chocolate ganache, then either dip in toppings or sprinkle on top.  Place wet cookies on wax paper to firm up before plating or boxing to give away.

Makes about 4 dozen

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Oyster and Bean Stuffing

I fell off the gluten-free trend hard.  Not really.  I just happened to make something that included bread and noticed it.

I'm not a huge stuffing person.  I take the requisite spoonful at Thanksgiving, but rarely go back for seconds.  Actually, I rarely go back for seconds of anything because there's pie coming up.  With a terrible schedule at work that would prevent me from cooking anything time-consuming for five days, I decided to make a casserole to hold me until then.

This recipe doesn't have to be as involved as I made it.  You can use canned beans and cut out two hours plus soaking time.  They sell bread cubes for stuffing already dry and seasoned.  If this didn't have eggs in it, you could assemble everything except the bread a day ahead and bake it later.  I wouldn't do that the way it's written, but you could bake it ahead of time and reheat it in a 300º oven for 15 minutes.

While stuffing is traditionally a side dish, nutritionally this one can be a main-dish casserole.  It's probably more balanced than macaroni and cheese.  There's loads of protein, iron, and fiber, with carbs holding it together.  It might actually be overkill to serve it with a turkey.

The bread choice in stuffing can be critical.  Many people swear by cornbread and won't consider anything else.  I went with the more delicate French loaf because of the oysters.  If I had nixed the beans and doubled the oysters, I could have gone with cornbread or a heavy bread like rye.

1 loaf of the fat French bread, not a baguette
1 C dry white beans or 1 15oz can
1 C diced onion
1/2 C diced celery
1/2 C diced carrot
2 Tb olive oil
8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 8oz can oysters
*3 C low-sodiumchicken broth
2 eggs
1/4 tsp dry thyme
1/4 tsp dry sage
1/4 tsp dry rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
butter for greasing dish

1.  The day before, cube the bread into 1" or smaller pieces.  You should get roughly 16 cups.  Leave out to get stale.  If you're not using the oven, spread them out on a baking sheet and leave the oven door cracked.  If cooking beans, soak overnight.

2.  Day of, drain beans.  Refill saucepan and simmer for 2 hours.  Drain and set aside.

3.  Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add mirepoix (celery, onion, and carrot) and sauté until softened.  Add thyme, sage, rosemary, and mushrooms.  Continue to cook down the mushrooms.
4.  While that's simmering, chop the oysters into small pieces.  Add them, their juice, and the drained beans to the mix.  Once that has cooked for a minute, taste and decide if you need salt or pepper.

5.  Get out a big bowl.  Beat the eggs, then beat in the broth.  Add the mixture from the skillet into a kind of stew.  Start tossing in the bread a couple of big handfuls at a time until the flavor ingredients are distributed with the bread.  Leave to sit a few minutes while you prepare the oven and dish.
6.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Butter a large casserole.  Pour stuffing into casserole and distribute evenly.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  That will keep in the steam in case the moisture didn't distribute well in the bowl.  Remove foil and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, until top starts to look browned and crispy.  Serve from the pan.

Serves about 8

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Cream of Celery Soup

I had a bit of cream left from the two pies and an urge to make soup once it finally got below 80º outside.  My seedling lettuces were not happy with the heat wave and I need to replant a couple of spots.  Arugula doesn't seem to mind, though.

All cream soups have pretty much the same base: roux, dairy, and broth.  The broth gives the soup depth and keeps it from being all milk.  As a result, you can use this recipe for almost any "cream of" veggie soup and just alter the main ingredient and the herb you choose to accent with.

I have to admit, the star of this one is the celery fresh out of the back yard.  I tend to think of celery as an herb rather than a vegetable, and cooking it an hour after it is harvested really reinforces this concept.  You probably won't get raves for this soup using market celery.  However, since most cooks use this in recipes rather than by itself, the less flavorful ingredient that is readily available won't be noticed.

1-1/2 C finely diced celery
1/2 C finely diced onion
2 Tb butter
1 Tb flour
*1/4 tsp dried sage
1/4 C white wine (optional)
1-1/2 C low-sodium chicken broth
*1 C half-and-half, or cream for greater richness
salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.  Cook celery and onion until softened, about five minutes.  Add flour and stir into a paste.

2.  If using wine, pour that in now so the alcohol can boil off.  I decided to use 2 Tb tequila instead because I was having nachos for dinner.  If you use hard stuff instead of wine in any recipe, cut the amount in half as a general rule.

3.  Add broth or stock 1/2 C at a time so it can gradually thicken between additions.  Sprinkle in the sage during this process.  Once all the stock has been added, simmer for 10 minutes.
4.  Taste soup, then add salt and pepper.  Keep in mind that cream will dull the salt, but not by much, so don't worry if the soup seems too salty at the moment.  Stir in the cream, allow to simmer for 5 minutes, and taste again.  If everything is balanced, serve hot with celery leaf as garnish.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Mozzarella

I bought a tub of the small mozzarella balls to make some pizza and had quite a few left over.  I considered putting them in some kale & quinoa, then got an inspiration to bake them with some large Brussels sprouts I'd picked up.

For the most part, I liked this recipe.  It would have been better if I'd topped them with a mixture of panko crumbs and parmesan.  At that point, they become dipping appetizers with a little side of marinara.  Yes, Brussels sprouts as hors d'oeuvres.  Even when I'm disappointed in the world and seriously depressed over the state of the country, I try to eat healthy.

8 large Brussels sprouts
olive oil
salt and cracked pepper to taste
*1/4 tsp dried oregano
*8 "cherry" sized mozzarella balls

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Trim the bottoms of the sprouts and cut in half lengthwise.

2.  Drizzle oil on the bottom of a 9" x 7" roasting pan.  Toss the cut sprouts in another tablespoon of oil and place cut-side up in the pan.  Sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper, and oregano.

3.  Bake for 30 minutes.  While that's going on, cut each cheese ball in half.  Remove pan from oven, top each half with a cheese half, and bake until cheese is toasty and melted, another 15-20 minutes.  This is also when you would add the panko crumbs if you wanted to do the crispy topping.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pumpkin Pie Spice

When I decided to make the Ginger-Coconut Pumpkin Pie, I was willing to concede the point and buy pumpkin pie spice at the market.  It's a pointless thing to have when you know how to cook, just as any cook familiar with Indian cuisine will make their own garam masala or a preserver will have a unique pickling spice.

The market made the choice easy for me, since they were out.  Instead, I got down Grandma Sophie's pumpkin pie recipe and made a triple batch of just the spices.  It's pretty much the same thing.  You can add some allspice in the same amount as cloves if you have it, just for an extra kick.  Then I marked on the jar that 2-1/4 tsp equals one pie, and the job was done.  Just a couple of minutes and no money spent on a unitasker ingredient.

1 Tb cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp ground ginger
1-1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground cloves

Stir together in a small bowl to make a smooth powder.  Store in a tightly lidded container in a dark, dry place.

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Ginger-Coconut Pumpkin Pie

This isn't a trend with coconut.  It just sounded good and I'm stress-baking; I suspect I'll be doing that often for the next four years.  The coconut in this one is very understated and could be swapped for heavy cream.

While not my assignment, this was on The Bitten Word's pie challenge list.  Since my selection from The Food Network had come out as advertised, I decided to give this recipe a shot.

Funny story about grocery shopping for this one.  I couldn't find the ginger snaps and was totally lost on the cookie aisle.  This was when I realized I never buy cookies.  Finally, I asked an employee.  The words GINGER SNAPS were written super huge on the orange box.  I can't find anything, sheesh.

6 oz ginger snap cookies
*1 Tb finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 Tb packed light brown sugar
4 Tb (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 15oz can pumpkin purée
1 C coconut milk
3/4 C sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt

3/4 C heavy cream
1 Tb packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice, plus more for dusting

1.  For the crust, preheat oven to 325º.  In food processor, pulverize cookies, ginger, and brown sugar.  Add melted butter and pulse until a paste forms.  Press into pie plate, covering bottom and curving up the sides.  If you use a glass plate, hold it up to the light to see if you have gaps.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes to set.  Mine puffed up a bit and I had to press it down before it could cool like that.
2.  Open can of coconut milk, empty into a bowl, and beat to reconstitute.  The stuff settles in the can into something resembling shortening over water.  Once you get all the lumps out, measure out the cup you need and refrigerate the rest until you can think of a use for it.

3.  Beat eggs lightly in that bowl you just got dirty.  Add remaining filling ingredients and combine.  Pour into crust and bake for about 1 hour 15 minutes, until set.  Allow to cool at room temperature, about 2 hours.  Now, my pie developed deep cracks because I used homemade pumpkin purée, which has a different moisture level than canned.  Never fear, if yours cracks there is topping to cover it.
4.  Whip heavy cream, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice to firm peaks.  Spread over pie, leaving enough showing around the edges to be interesting.  Dust with more pie spice.  Pie can be served cold or room temperature.

Serves 8

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Lime-Coconut Custard Pie

The Bitten Word, one of my favorite blogs, is ending in a few weeks.  They're going out with a bang, doing their annual Thanksgiving recipe index, Fakesgiving, and a reader-participation challenge.  I signed up and got this pie from The Food Network.

When they say this is Easy, they mean it.  Whisk things together and pour into store-bought crust.  In the spirit of the challenge, I made this exactly as written.  I'd never used refrigerator crust before.  Crazy easy to work with, but was tough and didn't taste very good.  If you're going to cheat, the frozen crusts are better.

Making this as written, it also got expensive.  I've never bought coconut oil before.  $5.99 on sale for 14oz.  The crusts, $2.50 (2-pack) for the store brand on sale.  Limes 39¢ each.  Sweetened shredded coconut (I only had organic unsweetened at home) $2.99 for store brand.  Pints of both half-and-half and heavy cream.  I needed every ingredient except the flour, eggs, sugar, and vanilla.

As for the taste?  Ignoring the crust issues, I would focus on the coconut part if you were thinking of making this pie.  The hint of lime barely freshens it up a bit, and I would use all the juice from both limes if I made this again.  I would also put a little sugar in the whipped cream, or better yet, buy a spray can of it.  Cheaper and easier, if not as pretty.  On the other hand, it's a pretty good coconut pie, and came out looking exactly like the photo on their site.  Even the time estimates were about right.  I don't put in times here because everyone works at a different pace.  The biggest effort went into zesting and juicing the limes.  Aside from that, it was all measuring and stirring together while the oven preheated.

1 sheet refrigerated pie dough
2 Tb flour, plus more for dusting
2 eggs
1/4 C coconut oil
1-1/4 C half-and-half
1-1/4 C, plus 1 Tb, sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 C sugar
2 limes
1/2 C heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla

1.  Assuming your pie dough needs to come up to room temperature to be rolled, get that out first.  While it's warming, finely zest both limes.  Cut one open and juice.  Warm the coconut oil, either in the microwave or on the stove, until just melted.

2.  Start preheating the oven to 350º.  Lightly dust a work surface with flour and roll out the crust to 12".  My pastry board has outlines for several sizes of pie plates, so I just used the one for a 9" pie.  Transfer dough by folding it over the rolling pin and sliding it over to the plate.  Coax crust into a 9" pie plate, glass if you have it, then crimp the edges into whatever decoration you like.

3.  In a medium bowl, beat eggs slightly.  Then beat in flour, liquid coconut oil, half-and-half, shredded coconut, and sugar.  Reserve 1/2 tsp of lime zest for garnish and add the rest, plus the juice of one lime.
4.  Pour custard mix into pie crust and bake for 50-55 minutes.  I checked after 45 to make sure the crust wasn't browning too quickly.  Mine was fine, but if yours is getting dark, use a crust guard or strips of foil to cover just the edges that are too dark.  The pie is done when the center is done jiggling, but not completely set.  Allow to cool to room temperature, 1 or 2 hours.  At this point, you can refrigerate it overnight.

5.  For garnish, bake reserved coconut until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes.  I did mine in the toaster oven at 350º.  Walked away and burned the first batch.  At least it was only a small commitment of time and resources.  While that's cooling, whip heavy cream and vanilla to soft peaks.  Spread on pie and sprinkle with toasted coconut and reserved lime zest.  Serve immediately or refrigerate for later.

Serves 8

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, October 31, 2016

Accidentally Gluten-Free

Very few of my dinners lately have contained gluten.  I do work in a bakery and bake at home as well, so there most certainly is gluten in my life.  It hasn't been a conscious choice, just something I noticed after the meal was made.

And that's the point I'm making.  I don't like diets that try to pretend you're having meat if you're a vegan or bread if you're gluten-free.  You shouldn't feel like you're missing out by having substitutes and instead embrace the variety of what you can have.  I like following a meal plan that makes delicious food that just happens to conform to the guidelines.  I won my senior competition in culinary school with a vegetarian meal in part because no one noticed there was no meat in it.  Delicious and nutritious meals should be your goal.  Whatever restrictions you or your doctor have placed on your dietary lifestyle simply have to be built into the recipes.

Meanwhile, I've lost a little more weight than I should because of the gluten-free thing.  I tend to replace bread with low calorie, high-fiber foods like beans and brown rice or just more veggies.  Not much of a potato person, I rarely add salt to anything, and I haven't been frying lately.  So I'm having ravioli with alfredo sauce and garlic bread for dinner.  Nothing like packaged food to put a little weight back on.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tortilla Soup

I spent a wonderfully drizzly morning off watching cooking shows.  (When your area is in a drought, any rain is "wonderful".)  One of them was The Pioneer Woman doing recipes that included tequila.  As a result, pretty much all of them were Tex-Mex.  Her tortilla soup looked especially good.

I've never had tortilla soup that I remember, but it sounded like something I could make.  I read several recipes to get a sense of the hybrid that everyone started with before making it their own.  Pretty much the only part of Ree's that I'm keeping is the tequila, which didn't make it into the online version, and thickening the soup with masa flour.  I still have a lot of tequila from my parents because I don't drink hard stuff.  I do cook with it.  The method I'm using here will cook off all the alcohol, so don't worry about serving it to kids.

Full disclaimer, I didn't make the recipe exactly as I'm posting it.  El Pollo Loco set off my capsicum allergy one day, and their food isn't usually a trigger for me if I stay away from the salsas.  So I'm not even risking bell peppers at this point and subbed in tomatillos.  All the chiles and peppers in this version I'm posting because they probably taste good.  What I risked was a teaspoon of chili powder in over half a gallon of soup.  Mild heartburn, but no tingling nerves or asthma.

If you don't feel like making your own chicken, two cans of it will do.  That will cut 45 minutes off your prep time, but can get kind of expensive.  Making this as a way to use up leftover chicken is probably the most efficient use of your time.  I used the last of the turkey.

Since I hadn't had tortilla soup before, I didn't realize it needed garnishes.  I guess it's kind of like chili.  These garnishes could get as elaborate as the soup itself, making this great for group meals.  Have a big crowd in the house over the holidays? Make a double or triple recipe and put out garnishes and some tortilla chips.  Each bowl would be unique and the guests would feel like they were participating.  Oh, and here's yet another gluten-free recipe (I seem to be making a lot of those lately, but making up for it during the rest of the day), so you wouldn't have to worry about that increasingly annoying part of the dietary spectrum.

1 C diced red onion
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
*1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tb olive oil
*2 Tb (one ounce) tequila - optional
1 qt unsalted chicken stock
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes and chiles
1 15 oz can black beans
1 C frozen corn kernels
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 jalapeño or Anaheim chile, seeded and diced (or to desired spiciness)
*2 C cooked, shredded chicken
4 6" corn tortillas
*1 Tb masa harina or corn meal
salt to taste
garnishes such as more diced onion, crumbled cotija cheese, sour cream, diced avocado, lime wedges, cilantro, jalapeño…

1.  Early in the day, take the tortillas out of the package and let them sit in the air to get a little stale.  Think croutons.  When you cut a stale tortilla into strips for the soup, they will soak up the broth better than fresh.  If making your own black beans instead of using the can, soak and cook 2/3 C dry to get roughly the same yield.

2.  In a large soup pot, sauté onion in the oil.  Add the cumin and chili powder and continue to cook until the spices are fragrant and the onion starts to soften.  Add minced garlic and continue to cook another minute.  Add tequila and let it boil off until the pan is mostly dry.
3.  This is where it gets crazy easy.  Drain beans and rinse several times so the color won't dull the soup.  Add beans, broth, tomatoes in their juice, corn still frozen, diced peppers, diced hot pepper, and chicken.  Bring everything to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook 15 minutes.
4.  While it's simmering, dissolve masa harina in 1/4 C water.  Think of it like adding cornstarch to a dish to thicken it.  Cut tortillas in half, then slice into 1/2" wide strips.  Start preparing your garnishes.

5.  When the soup has half simmered, taste and add salt or spices as necessary.  Stir in the masa mix.  Keep simmering until the raw veggies are as cooked as you like them and the soup has thickened slightly.

6.  If serving all of the soup at once, stir in tortilla strips.  If there are going to be leftovers, treat the strips as a garnish and just put a handful at the bottom of each bowl before adding the soup.  You could also serve with a starter lime wedge squeezed into it and just have more available with the garnishes.  If you cook the lime directly into the soup, it won't have the same freshness.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side

Difficulty rating  π