Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pasties, Bronze Turkeys, and old school spirit

Tonight, I fixed supper again for the old fogeys... mostly because I had nothing better to do, as well as that Mom is still nursing a bruised rib & pulled muscles around it, and that Pop is a health hazard as it applies to food prep.

So, of course, I decided to experiment.  I'm always up for the basic Upper Peninsula variation on Cornish Pasties, & have found a dozen or so recipes in the Bat's collection of regional church cookbooks and such (although, the recipes online always seem to use ground meats, and I'd never heretofore eaten anything but chuck steak chopped into 1/2 centimeter or so cubes, in any of the places I'd been up in the UP).  This past month, though, I'd been wondering if I could create my own, in honor of my alma mater and its long-held rivalry with the nearest neighbor college (not a link to their site... that might be considered disloyal to the Fighting Scots).

Considering that Monmouth's big annual fair is the Prime Beef Festival, and Warren County (of which Monmouth is the county seat) had, a century ago or so, proclaimed itself the Prime Beef Capital of the World, I opted initially for a straight-beef-no-meat-blend approach.  And, taking into consideration Knox College is in the heart of Galesburg, IL, the home of Carl Sandburg, and they have an annual celebration of the man, each year, in Rootabaga Days, the traditional blend of beef, taters, and "beggies" (or, as rutabagas are called in other parts of the world "Swedish turnips", or, more simply, "Swedes") seemed a natural way to go.

And, being as I'm notoriously lazy -- or, rather, I was visualizing somebody mass-producing these things to serve at the athletic events when Monmouth and Knox face off -- I was looking for a few short cuts.  Therefore, I accept that coarsely chopped meat might end up the best option.  I didn't follow that, for tonight's beefy handfuls, though.  I like my cubed beeves.

What it boiled down to was this:  I cheated on one thing.  I bought pie crusts from the refrigerator section of the supermarket.  I even used a house brand.  Don't stand (or sit) there with your mouth agape.  These things are too thick and unwieldy for making good pies, but they hold up quite nicely around a meat pocket.

So, other than that cheat, my beef pasties were pretty traditional.   I didn't make a whole mess of them, but, having two pie crusts in the box, I cut each in half and made four pasties.    And then I made another four -- a variation -- in honor of the trophy our two schools have battled over for, lo, these many years, even after the guy who later became a spy for the Soviets stole the trophy and hid it for more than a decade....  but that's another story.  Suffice to say, the Bronze Turkey inspired me, too.

I really would love to see somebody at the Monmouth College food service put some of these together during game days, at the concessions stand...

What you'd get is this:

Monmouth-Knox Pasties, or Beefy-Beggie pockets (with a Bronze Turkey optional substitution)

1/2 cup (about 3/4 lb) chuck steak, diced (cut into cubes approx. 1 centimeter or less), or coarsely       ground (or chopped) turkey
1/2 cup diced peeled potatoes (about the same size as the meat cubes)
1/4 cup minced (finely chopped) peeled rutabaga
1/4 cup coarsely grated carrot
1/2 cup finely minced sweet onion, divided
1 tsp (or so) butter, cut into small bits
salt and pepper to taste
2 prepared pie crusts, cut in halves
2 Tablespoons milk
1 egg white, lightly beaten, with a little bit of water (less than a teaspoon)

Preheat oven to 350º F.

Mix potatoes, rutabaga, carrot, and 1/3 cup onion in bowl.   Divide into 4 equal parts.

Unroll pie crusts (if they are stiff, pop them in microwave oven for about 10 seconds, until they are soft and pliable) onto cookie sheet. Cut in half.  Brush edges of crust with milk.

Spread 1/4 of vegetable mixture on one end of pie crust half, sprinkle 1/4 of the meat on top of that, top with a few small chunks of butter, salt and pepper.

Fold crust over, making a 90º-angled wedge (a quarter-pie), completely sealing edges (it doesn't have to be pretty, but it ought to be sturdy and leak-proof).  Make a small vent in top of crust.

Brush top of crust with egg mixture, sprinkle with remaining onion (one can substitute sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, or leave top plain).  The egg white will make the crust a little more flaky.  If you want a firmer, crustier top, use whole egg, some water, and then sprinkle your choice of topping.

Bake 45 minutes or until top is rich golden brown (yes, bronze-ish). Remove from oven, allow to cool about 5-10 minutes.

Serve hot or cold, with gravy, catsup, mustard, or salsa.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What the egg lady left behind

Long years ago, when the milkman still drove through the neighborhood delivering dairy products, there was also an egg lady.  At least, there was in our neighborhood.  In fact, the egg lady continued to deliver eggs to us long after we fetched our milk from the supermarket.  Mrs. Bennett always gathered the freshest, largest, best eggs one could ever hope to have, and she delivered right to the side door of our house.

Better than the eggs, though, Mrs. Bennett left a handful of dangerously decadent dessert recipes with the Bat.  The aforeposted Illini Bars, for example, came from her recipe files.  And, now, more of her chocolate treats must be made known to the general populace.

Today, we have brownie drops, aka, "those awesome little chocolate cookies with the chocolate mini-chips and the frosting that's probably going to kill me..." (this is the double recipe she recommends).

Brownie Drops

1 cup butter or oleo
3  1-oz. squares unsweetened chocolate
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon NaCl (salt)
1 12-oz bag of chocolate mini-chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate squares.

Add sugar, buttermilk, egg and vanilla.  Mix thoroughly.

Sift together dry ingredients.  Add to chocolate mixture.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Drop by tablespoons onto greased cookie sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes.  While still warm, frost with chocolate glaze (recipe below).

Makes 10 dozen.

Chocolate glaze:

Melt 1 square of unsweetened chocolate  and 4 Tablespoons butter or oleo.  Blend in 2 cups powdered sugar, 2 Tablespoons hot water, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

I'm not sure Chief Illiniwek would be able to refuse

I've seen variations on this recipe online a bit, recently, & had to ask the Bat for her copy, because, no matter how good the others look, Mom's brownies are always the best.  And, these are perfect for spoiling friends around the holidays.

(I will try to add pix later, after I've finished making a batch or two, but, for now, I'm just copying the Bat's recipe card into a format I can read without the smudges.)

Illini Bars


(for the brownies)
2 heaping Tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 cup butter
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon NaCl (salt)
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3-5 cups all-purpose flour

(for the gooey middle part)
1 full (1 lb.) bag of Kraft (or equal quality brand) caramels, unwrapped
1/3 cup evaporated milk
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350º F.

Unwrap caramels from bag.  Melt with milk in microwave (it should take about 2 minutes maximum), or, in double-boiler on stovetop.   Set aside.

Melt butter, mix in cocoa powder.  Add sugar, eggs, salt, and vanilla, then add enough flour that the dough is very thick, yet not crumbly.  Spread half of dough into bottom of jelly roll pan, bake for 6 minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle chocolate chips over half-cooked dough, then spread caramel mixture over that.  Finally, crumble remaining dough over the caramel, return this to oven, bake another 20 minutes, until done.  For best results, serve warm.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Brownies that justify government-paid prices

This particular batch, I added chopped dried cherries to the recipe the same time I added the chocolate chunks and the chopped pecans. I then served it with ice cream, whipped coconut milk, and the Bat's super-rich fudge sauce. 
It was somebody's birthday, but I really didn't need the excuse. 

Recently in the news there was an article showing that, at many government-agency brunches, luncheons and dinners, the taxpayer has forked over for some rather... ummm... not-cost-cutting delicacies, such as $5-apiece Swedish meatballs, $7.32 apiece Beef Wellington hors d'oeuvres, and $8 brownies.  Now, I wasn't at any of these events, so I can't say for certain that the treats cited were worth your having paid some strangers to enjoy them,  but I can be sure that, if the brownies were anything like the Bat's favorites, there would be people willing to swap eight buckeroos for one chocolate nummy, and they would not necessarily be seen as crazy.

She picked up this particular recipe from a regional magazine about six years ago, thinking it sounded pretty good, then received a gift package which included a couple of samples of the original company's treats.  They were awesome, but contained something for which I have allergies and she has intolerances (in that she can't stand the taste)...  she adapted, then aided and abetted one of my vices, and they're now beyond awesome, In My Humble Opinion.

They're almost enough to start a church around. Or, at the very least, have the Feds knocking at your door, bringing charges of producing addictive substances without a license.

Better-than-government Brownies

13 Tablespoons butter (no substitutions)
6 1/2 ounces fine unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped roasted pecans
6-7 ounces fine-quality, chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate bars, or semisweet chips

Preheat oven to 350º F.  Grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan, set aside.

In small pan on low heat, melt butter and chocolate, stirring constantly until completely melted and smooth.  Allow to cool a bit.

Into a small bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat eggs and sugar with mixer on high speed, scraping sides of bowl occasionally,  until lemon-colored and fluffy (about 5 minutes).  Add in cooled chocolate mixture and vanilla.  Beat on low heat until combined.  Add flour mixture, beat on low speed until just combined, scraping sides of bowl - avoid overbeating, because it will prematurely activate the gluten and make the brownies tough.  Stir in pecans and bittersweet chocolate chunks/chips.

Spread batter in prepared baking pan.  Bake 30 minutes  or until brownies just begin to pull away from sides of pan and center appears set.  DO NOT OVER-BAKE.   Cool in pan on wire rack.  Cut into medium bars.*  Serve.

*The Bat says the original recipe suggests cutting them into 3x3-inch squares, but one that size would actually feed four people...  they're very rich.  Make 'em smaller and share the guilt around.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chocolate Cheesecake Decadence

I like the occasional cheat.  I especially like a cheat with real flavor, and no funny aftertastes.  So, when I'm not up for digging out Mom's odd little scraps of paper for the Zingermann's (excessively, dangerously rich and tasty) brownie recipe, I'm inclined to reach for a box of Ghirardelli's brownie mix.  They use top-notch ingredients, and the flavor is good enough to pass off as homemade, in a pinch.  

But, in my world, we're not allowed to use paint straight from the tube, let alone use a mix straight from the box.  If the mix is good, we throw stuff into it, and if the mix is great, we pile stuff on top of it.  Ghirardelli's usually gets toppings, like this one, which, if you like snitching chocolate cookie dough, resembles a safe version of that...  it's gooey and fudgy and rich as the dickens.

Chocolate Cheesecake Decadence


7 ounces good dark chocolate (at least 65% cocoa)
3 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese (not light or fat-free) warmed to room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs 
1 Ghirardelli's Chocolate Supreme Brownie mix, prepared according to box instructions.


Preheat oven to 300º.  
Prepare Ghirardelli's  brownie mix following instructions on box.  Pour into 12-inch spingform pan, pulling some batter up the sides of the pan. 

In a small bowl for microwave oven or in double-boiler, melt chocolate.  Beat in cream cheese until thoroughly mixed.  Mix in sugar until evenly distributed, then add eggs, whip until fluffy.  Pour onto the top of the brownie batter in the springform pan.

Place in middle of oven, bake for at least 90 minutes, until the cheesecake begins to firm up around the edges and is still slightly jiggly in the middle.     Turn off heat, allow cheesecake to cool inside the oven.

*This recipe leaves a slightly crispy, crackly crust on the top of the cheesecake, not unlike a standard brownie finish.  If you prefer a soft, traditional cheesecake finish, you will want to put a couple of pans of water in the oven, before you put the batter in to bake.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Birthday Burger Cake & Fries

This week marked the ninth birthday of my... ummm... technically, I guess, there's no kinship, but because of the closeness of our families, we'll call her my niece. Anyway, I don't need to go into any details about the family, just suffice it to say, we all love her, and wanted her to have a very special day. Ergo, I spent a bit of time mulling over how best to do my part.

Last year, I built her a carrot cake somewhat in the shape of the Great Sphinx (complete with neighboring pyramid to hold the candles). I made a cocolocomotive, and then a circus tent (filled with runts and sixlets) for her brother, these last two years, respectively. Naturally, they've come to expect the unexpected.

In other words, I had to build a better mousetrap.

Initially, I looked through books and online for ideas. I had considered getting crazy with fondant, but that's such an uninteresting flavor, I tossed that notion. And then, I found the trend du jour -- fabulous fakes. Make your cake look like some other food. "One ha!" said I.

And I set about planning this lovely beast.

It's an ice cream cake. As if you couldn't figure it out by looking. But here's how it was assembled.

What you will need:

2 layers white cake
1/2 gallon (or a close approximation) chocolate cake
1/3 cup shaved coconut, colored green
1/4 cup (approximately) chocolate jimmies candy
6 ounces (approximately) yellow rolled fondant
pearl cake sprinkles (optional)
cherry ketchup (see recipe below)

Start with your favorite white cake recipe (I cheated & used a French vanilla mix, mostly because I had time & money constraints, & the local grocer had those mixes on SUPER sale. It was pretty tasty, as pre-fab foods go).

So, anyway. Make two 8" or 9" round layers according to your recipe or mix instructions. Allow to cool. Remove from pan, wrap & freeze.

Now, for the ice cream. Select your favorite chocolate half-gallon, allow to soften on counter or in refrigerator until easy to scoop. Take cleaned cake pan, line with plastic wrap. Press ice cream into pan to form patty. Cover. Freeze hard.

Add green food coloring to about 1/3 cup shaved sweetened coconut (Mom helped me make our own -- she cracked the shell, I picked out the meat, she worked the slicer. Then we simmered the shavings overnight in lowfat milk, which we shall use in short order for coconut cream pie, I'm guessing. Anyway, the last stage was to strain away the milk, add sugar, then add color. But you can probably buy shaved coconut and save yourself a few steps... just add the green food coloring). Now, you have lettuce.
I opted for taking a large knife & shearing away the domed top to one layer of the cake, so as to make the bottom half of the bun (a) more level and (b) look more realistic.

Roll out fondant to approximately 12 inches in diameter, trim into even square.

Once that is set up, you have to be ready to work fast, if your kitchen, like ours, is the hottest room in the house. Set a plate out and pour your chocolate jimmies into it, spread around. Remove ice cream from the freezer, then from the pan, and, using the plastic to keep your hands clean, roll the edge of the disc in the jimmies. Set it on top of the cake. Sprinkle your leftover jimmies from the plate onto the top of the ice cream layer. Top with fondant, cherry ketchup,

second layer of cake, and finish bun with cake pearl decorations as sesame seeds (optional).

Of course, what's NOT optional with a burger, is fries. For ours, I bought two pound cakes (I rather like the WalMart bakery pound cake, but made do, this time, with Sara Lee, and found that, while frozen, they slice very nicely). Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Trim away all the cake crusts, leaving bare the lovely creamy-looking cake centers... With a very long knife, cut pound cake loaves lengthwise to 1/2" to 1/3" thick sticks (I do not recommend a serrated knife for this task). Arrange on baking rack over cookie sheet. Brush top & sides of each stick with egg white. Sprinkle with large-crystal decorative sugar. Bake about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool enough to handle. Carefully flip each stick, coat with more egg white, sprinkle remaining side with decorative sugar. Put back in oven for about 3 minutes, or, until golden-brown on edges.I printed my own accessories on card stock & went a little crazy, but you can take a sheet of white wrapping paper & cut it, fold it, & glue it to look like a small serving bag for fries, rather than a jumbo cup/box thingy. Let them "tumble" out (carefully arrange them to look like the pouch has fallen over). Or, you can put them in a basket or a bowl, or a large paper plate... go ahead, be creative.
Of course, French Fries are incomplete without ketchup. Do NOT use tomato ketchup (as if I had to tell you that). Use my simple cherry ketchup... but have fun, and put it into a clean ketchup bottle for serving.Make sure you label it carefully, if you're making it in advance. But for best effect, don't apply the ketchup to the fries until the whole thing is on the table in front of the guests. After the initial shock, they all want to snitch the fries... (watch those little fingers).
We had a happy birthday.

Cherry ketchup

In essence, this is a simple, slightly liquid cherry pie filling run through a blender.
1 quart frozen pie cherries
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 Tbs. butter (optional -- it just makes the flavor a little richer)
2 Tbs. corn starch

In a medium saucepan, heat cherries and water until all cherries are completely thawed. Run through blender until you have a pureé. Return to heat, bring to steady simmer. Add sugar, cinnamon and butter. Stir until completely mixed and sugar has fully dissolved.

To add corn starch, either carefully sift into cherry mixture, or pre-mix with enough cold water to make smooth liquid (if you do this, you may need a pinch extra starch to help thicken the sauce). Add a little at a time, stirring until completely mixed in and the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat, cool and put into bottle for the table.

Squirt like crazy all over the cake fries, right in front of guests.

Have a great party! I know we did!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chicken/Spinach Lasagna

On Fridays, the folks and I have friends come over to sup with us, and about every third week, the Bat lets me take over the menu. This week, we're having a nice, big batch of Lasagna. I particularly like making this, now that there are several pasta manufacturers who produce noodles you don't have to boil first, before cooking things up. Of course, were I hard-core, I'd be making my own, but then, that would mean being on my feet more than my mutilated knee allows. Ergo, the Barilla (or, whoever's on sale. I'm not really an obsessive chef in that regard).

So, tonight's dinner is now resting in the refrigerator while I rest in the comfy chair and let my cat groom my face (thank the powers that be for Diphenhydramine HCl). It will get popped into the oven at the beginning of "Jeopardy!"

Meanwhile, here am I, blogging it up.

For Denephew.

BTW-- I sometimes use cheats. Aldi stores now carry some very nice sauces, and Grandessa spinach and cheese spaghetti sauce is a quick fix if you don't feel like going the extra steps. It provides just the right amount of spinach so that it doesn't overpower the rest of the ingredients in the lasagna itself.

Chicken/Spinach Lasagna
1 1/2 lbs. roasted or grilled chicken, skin and bones removed, chopped coarsely
1/4 lb. fresh spinach (or thawed from frozen), chopped and stems removed, steamed until completely tender
1/2 lbs. fresh mushrooms, cut in half and then sliced fairly thinly
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1 sweet yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-centimeter squares
3 cups your preferred meatless spaghetti sauce (whether you choose to make from scratch or buy a jar of something is up to you)
16 oz. tomato sauce
24 oz. ricotta cheese
2 medium eggs
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. roasted garlic, minced or crushed
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
2 cups shredded/grated mozzarella cheese (more for the top, if you go that way)
1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan or "Italian Blend" cheese
olive oil for cooking


In a saucepan, stir-fry mushrooms in olive oil, on high temperature, until the moisture mostly evaporates and the mushrooms begin to brown and crisp a bit. Add in both spaghetti sauce and tomato sauce, then chicken, onions. Squeeze liquids out of spinach, stir into sauce. Allow to simmer about an hour, stirring occasionally, until most of the chicken turns to shreds. Remove from heat, add sweet pepper.

Preheat oven to 350º F.

In a small bowl, thoroughly mix together ricotta cheese, oregano, basil, garlic and eggs.

In a 10"x 14" x 2" lasagna/roasting pan, ladle enough meat sauce to cover the bottom of the pan (about 1 cup).

Without overlapping them, lay three lasagna noodles on top, spoon and spread ricotta mixture over the noodles to just cover them (about 1/2 to 2/3 cups). Ladle some more meat sauce over that, to just cover. Sprinkle a layer of mozzarella.

Top with three more noodles, repeat layers of ricotta, meat sauce, mozzarella, and once again with everything. The last row of noodles need only be topped with the remaining meat sauce and a generous layer of mozzarella, then sprinkled with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil (shiny side down), put in oven to roast 30 minutes. Remove foil. Continue to cook another 15 or 20 minutes, until the top is bubbly and brown.

Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Peachy Side Up Shortcut Shortcake

The Bat's favorite spice is cardamom. My personal (wink wink) theory is that she just likes the "mom" part of it, but, then again, I'm rather partial to it in some foods, as well. I especially like it with apples and peaches and the like. Therefore, when I run across a simple recipe for peaches which uses some seasonings which I know will overpower the flavor of the fruit, I call out for my 'mom.

I'd been actively searching for a Jacques Pepin concoction involving toasted slices of brioche topped with peaches and cream caramelized (heavy on cognac, of course), and I came across a simpler, comparable dessert in a spiral-bound vanity-press cookbook published by some unnamed Methodist church.

Now, my folks don't to alcohol, for one reason or another, so I don't subject them to it unless it's absolutely impossible to get around it (so far, it hasn't been). Seeing this was an older Methodist cookbook (from back when they served grape juice for communion), there was none of that stuff going into their plans, here. Still, it used a superabundance of nutmeg. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It just didn't seem to allow for pleasure in dining on the peaches themselves. So, I had to pass on that, by my own personal preference.

Either way, the process is simple and the ingredient list is minimal.

Oh, the best part of each of these recipes is, they're not seasonal. They both relied on a big ol' can of cling peaches. So you can fix it any spring morning, if you so desire. You don't have to wait until your orchard is ready for picking.

Peachy Side Up Shortcut Shortcake

A little deranged-looking, but happy, no?


1 29-oz can of peaches
1 8-oz carton of heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1 16.3-oz. pkg Pillsbury Honey Butter Grands biscuits

chopped pistachios, pecans or cashews (optional)


Drain syrup from can of peaches, pouring it into a skillet. On high, cook until it becomes caramel (about 8-10 minutes). There is no need to stir, but in the last minute or so, give the pan a few swirls or shakes to keep the edges from burning. Stir in the cardamom, cream, and peaches, bring back to boil stirring constantly. Into a 10-inch covered casserole, spoon peaches and arrange cut-side down.Pour cream caramel over them, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Kinda looks like underdone eggs, doesn't it? Doesn't taste that way.

Meanwhile, Preheat oven according to instructions on biscuit container. Open biscuit canister, follow directions for preparation.* Bake.

After the biscuits have cooled sufficiently to handle, place a split biscuit on plate, set peach on top of each half. Spoon caramel cream over top of each half biscuit.**

This dessert can be served on warm or cooled biscuit "shortcakes".

Serves at least 6

*If you want to go all fancy, you can mix a teaspoon of honey with a teaspoon of water, brush mixture on tops of biscuits before baking (or you can brush with a little milk and sprinkle with some sugar). Personally, we think there's already enough sweetness in this dessert before you get to that point....

**finishing options include topping with chopped pistachios, pecans or cashews, or drizzles of raspberry syrup. Again, fond though I am of nuts and syrup, I kind of like them plain.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Pizza and tossed salad

I heart radishes!

So, the Bat and I made pizza, last evening. Most of the time, she makes the dough for the crust, and I come swooping in and throw stuff on top of it at the last minute, before it gets made into a meal... we cheated, yesterday, and used store-bought crusts -- one of the recognizable brand name, and two of a relatively unknown name. Both were very good, of course, but not as good as had we followed the "secret family recipe" she adapted from her Chicago-Style Pizza cookbook (she likes the Uno's recipe). Fresh crust always wins that contest. But shortcuts are encouraged, if you have a crowd or if you have time constraints

Since we had company, we had three pizzas. Bat likes putting a ton of mushrooms, olives and cheese, and not much else, on hers. Pop likes a lot of meat, so we pile on the Italian sausage, pepperoni and onions. Me, like a non-red-sauced pizza with loads of vegetables, and, if we have any, a little roasted chicken (I prefer dark meat, but this week, the local market had bone-in, skin-on breasts on sale for $o.98 per lb, and the thigh meat was fully thirty cents more. And these were great honkin' breasts, at that. So, chicken hooters it was.

I also had to chop an onion, a couple of sweet bell peppers, and a few other items, so, as I was already doing the work, I opted to make a tossed salad to accompany the 'za. Why waste a perfectly good half-pepper, if it won't fit on the bread? Also, we'd been to Aldi the other day, & found a box of "artisan lettuces"... a couple of butter varieties and some other spiky variants of the mizuna family. It clearly meant must use. There's nothing like a big bowl of cool greens to go with a platter of garlic-laden goodies! Naturally, I dragged out a few other vegetables to go into the bowl: celery, radish, coarse-grated carrot, cauliflower (broken apart into slightly-smaller than bite-sized chunks), bell pepper, finely chopped scallions, and chunks of fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes. I was only sorry I had no avocado in the house!

But then, maybe that would have been too much... it doesn't even need dressing, this way.

As it was, the pizza was filling and kept everybody happy -- my own pizza was a hit with Pop and the guests (not enough left over for breakfast, darn it!).

So, here's what I did for mine:

Pesto Pizza

one of your choice of 12-inch (or so) crust (I prefer extra thin & crispy, but since we were cheating & using store bought, & the Bat took that one for hers, mine this time was on a "regular" crust)
Extra virgin olive oil to brush crust
8 oz. sliced fresh mushrooms, quick-stir-fried in butter
1/3 cup pesto sauce (your favorite. I usually decide which one to use the moment I'm beginning assembly)
2/3 cup ricotta cheese, crumbled
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup frozen spinach, thawed
1/3 sliced sweet bell pepper
1/3 cup or so sliced sweet onion
1 medium tomato, sliced thinly
1/2 cup chopped chicken, cooked

Preheat oven to 425º F.

In a hot frying pan or wok, drop a tablespoon or so of butter, and, when melted (before the butter starts to smoke), stir in mushroom slices. Cook until golden but not crisped. Set aside.

Precook (or open package of) your favorite pizza crust. Brush generously with olive oil, even (especially!) the edges. Spread pesto over the surface. Crumble ricotta cheese (yes, it's soft, so you can spread it with a spatula, but it will mix in with the pesto sauce, then, so be prepared for that, if you do).

In a strainer (or with your bare hands, if you're feeling macho), press as much of the liquid as you can from the thawed spinach. Spread thinly over surface of pizza. Cover with mozzarella cheese. Arrange the rest of the toppings to satisfy your sense of esthetics.

Bake in hot oven 10 minutes, or until cheese bubbles and begins to brown.

Allow to cool only a minute or two before serving.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Blimey! It's limey! Lime Curd

I bought a couple little bags of little limes, last week, at which time the Bat asked me what I intended to do with them. When I say "little limes," I mean approximately the size of cherry tomatoes. These are not your typical bartender's limes, but closer to key limes (see pic above. That's not a giant lemon, just a regular one, slightly smaller than a baseball). They require some work to juice, since they won't fit into the average citrus juice press. Natch, the Bat was not volunteering to sit all afternoon squidging the little things on one of her gadgets.

I knew that ahead of time. I did some warm-up exercises before I started, today.

Now, you already know the big downside to itsy bitsy citsy... er, um, citrusy things. You're going to have a sore arm, stiff fingers, and a very angry wrist. The upside is, you get a lot more zest per tablespoon of juice. All those little guys have a touch more surface area than one or two big guys. This means, when I got going, I had plenty of extra zest to put into a little tub and pop into the freezer for a later occasion. Plus, some of those peels went down the garbage disposal, making the kitchen smell like... well, like lovely, lovely limes.

Meanwhile, I had, from my two pounds of limes, a little over 1.75 cups of juice and about five tablespoons of zest, and I was ready to roll. So I fixed me up a mess o' curd.

Lime Curd

2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups fresh lime juice
2 Tablespoons lime zest
4 eggs, well-beaten

Place double boiler on high heat. Put sugar, butter, lime juice, and zest in upper level, stir until butter melts.

In a separate small bowl, thoroughly beat the eggs (but not so they're frothy), then whisk two tablespoons of the hot lime mixture into the eggs, stirring to blend well.

Reduce heat to medium until water is just simmering. Gradually add the egg into the lime mix, whisking constantly. Cook in top of double boiler until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon (about 20-25 minutes).

Ladle into clean jars, put lids on them, allow to seal*, and refrigerate when cooled to lukewarm. Best if eaten within a few days.

*the bat taught me the basic trick to sealing foods into a jar... make sure the jars are absolutely clean, still warm. Put fresh new lids into simmering water, allow to stand a few minutes to soften the rubberized seal. Using a canner's funnel, fill your jars with what it is you're planning to preserve. Make sure the rim of the jar is clean. Using tongs, take lid from hot water, place carefully over the top of the jar, then clamp it down with a screw-on canning ring. (At this time, you may also wish to put them through a hot water bath, for greatest degree of canning safety, if you're not planning to refrigerate or to eat within a few days). If you've done it all correctly, as it cools you will hear a little "ping" or "pop" from the creation of a vacuum seal. If it doesn't seal, just pig out or pop it in the fridge.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bunnies, bunnies, bunnies...

Today, I'm breeding bunnies.

The process is very simple -- almost as simple as the mother nature variety (but not nearly so overwhelming, for the uninitiated). In fact, if you go back to my Christmastime post on Mice in the Kitchen, you already have the basics.

You will need a double-boiler and either waxed paper or parchment for this project, as before. But, sorry, no dark chocolate. I also recommend avoiding the use of white chocolate chips, favoring the brick/block style chocolate for this project, because I find that the chips tend to be less inclined to melt smoothly (they're great baked into stuff, but crummy for dipping). And, by my personal preference, I have chosen the white chocolate kisses with cookie crumbs in them, over plain white chocolate or the hugs, with the chocolate stripes. It's mostly esthetic, but then, I also like how the cookie bits cut the excessive sweetness of white chocolate, and these little guys are plenty sweet anyway. I also chose to visit the organic food store for their unsweetened, medium coconut, rather than the other local supermarket brand option, for the same reason (they only carry sugar-added). Sweetened coconut would just be too darned much, for anybody over the age of six.

So, to bunnies.

White Chocolate Marshmallow Bunnies


1 lb white chocolate (block form)
1 bag regular "campfire style" marshmallows
1 bag mini marshmallows
1 bag (12 oz or so) Hershey's white chocolate kisses, your choice of variety
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, medium or fine flake
sliced almonds or cashew halves


In the upper portion of a double boiler, over low heat*, melt white chocolate. Dip large marshmallows, one at a time, to completely cover them with the white chocolate, set them on parchment or waxed paper to cool a little bit.

While those are cooling, lay out pairs of nuts on another parchment sheet, to form ears (use your own artistic sense to decide whether to point them all in one direction, or to make the "lop ear" arrangement). If you are using almond slices, set them up so the pointier side is left fully exposed, and the round end is the anchor. Dip flat side of kiss into white chocolate (or, dip a tool into it, then spread onto the flat surface), then set that, liquid-side-down, on top of a pair of nuts. Allow to cool a few minutes, to set up. You do not want to try to attach them to the "body" too soon, as they will tend to surrender to gravity if the chocolate is still too soft.

Meanwhile, dip small marshmallow into chocolate. Roll in coconut, let rest on one edge of cooling dipped marshmallow to make the tail.

Add the head (if they've cooled too much for the chocolate to adhere, go ahead and lightly dip again, hold in position for a little while before moving to the next bunny).

Do not allow any two to sit too closely together... bunnies can become a problem, can't they?

1 lb of white chocolate will make approximately 4 dozen bunnies, depending on how thick you layer the chocolate on the marshmallows.

*be careful to keep the temp down, and to stir regularly. White chocolate will quickly turn to lumpy, beige, vanilla-flavored almond bark if allowed to overheat. It tastes okay, but if you wanted pristine white bunnies, you won't get them if you're not on your toes. I speak from experience.

Note: If you don't like the long noses these bunnies have, wait until they're cooled, then heat a knife to melt/cut off a portion, to round the face out a little. I find that the kids who eat these little guys have no complaints about my Cyrano de Bungeracs.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

In line for a decoration

I cheated, this week.

You see, there was this boy, and his sixth birthday, and his expressed interest in chocolate cake, and my having a few other things going on (including preparation for hosting a doll club meeting this coming Tuesday evening -- it's open to anybody who has an interest in dolls/doll-related collectibles). But anyway, I took shortcuts.

I made a cake from mixes, used tubs of pre-fab frosting, and otherwise cut corners (literally, as well as figuratively). But I don't know if anybody will complain, considering all...

I had a set of candle holders in the shapes of circus performers, and, well, things sort of went from there.

This required two packages of identical brand-name, pudding-in-it dark chocolate cake mixes, baked in three pans: 1 angel food ring pan, a standard 8" layer cake pan and 1 form for making taco salad bowls (it was the best I could come up with on short notice to make the cone-ish peak of the tent, & I had to trim away the "wings" all around it). It also used one full standard tub of chocolate whipped frosting to hold the layers together and to hold the colored sugar grass on the plate; the exterior required nearly two full double-sized tubs of white whipped frosting, and a surprisingly small amount of Wilton's icing color to get the white frosting to go all yellow, red and orange. In each case, though, I added a small amount of powdered vanilla, because nothing should ever go straight from the box... and, besides, I like the extra little kiss of flavor of vanilla, in many sweets.

The scariest part of this is, because I used the angel food cake pan, there was this nice, big hollow section in the middle, just right for filling with candy. Naturally, there will be a surprise when the monkey-boy cuts into it. The Bat opened a mess of little packets of hard-candy-coated, chocolate-flavored Sixlets and I mixed them with a handful of sour Runts, and poured them into the unfrosted gap before attaching the peak with chocolate frosting. (I reckon the youngsters will enjoy the candies, while the rest of us have a sip of something a little more adult in nature, because candy is dandy, but....anyway.)

The ropes and trim are made from pull-apart candy whips (wild cherry flavor). The (sadly misshapen) front gate to the tent is made from a brand-name store-bought fruit leather supported by toothpicks, since, even at doubled thickness, the stuff is far too flexible to hold its own shape (no foolin', huh?). I think that, if I choose to do this again, I'll make a frame for it out of white chocolate, first.

The lettering (such as it is) was scribbled using one of those pre-fab icing tubes with the cut-your-own-size tip attached to it. In other words, I cheated. A lot. But I had fun. And I think a birthday boy might be happy with it, too.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Apple Cardamom Bread Pudding

What's yer name? Puddin' Tame. Ask me again and I'll tell you the same...

The Bat is not the biggest fan of bread puddings. In fact, I think, she'd use stale bread as the base for those tacky glue-and-bread sculptures some of our friends did when we were much younger, rather than sit down at a table and swallow most bread pudding. Honestly, in her mind, if your bread wasn't good enough to be eaten before it got stale, you're just not trying, and you might as well feed it to the outdoor critters (and attract something the dog can chase up a tree, at the same time).

Still, stale bread got rescued. And it got puddinged. And it didn't end up being all custardy, the way so many bread puddings are (the only custard our family generally likes is the one going into a pumpkin pie). For starters, we don't use no sissy French stuff. We like bread with substance. Good, dense, fill-you-up-and-stick-to-your-ribs sourdough is my bread of choice, and, believe it or not, the best I've found in our limited region comes from the bakery section of our Super WalMart. Don't get the "sandwich sourdough," though, because it's still a little on the fluffy side. Get the real, crusty, tooth-resistant stuff. Barring access to WalMart (or, if you are too snooty to go there), see if you can find some San Francisco Sourdough, or something comparable. It's not just about texture, but also the tangy flavor....

Now, this week, somebody who shall remain nameless broke into the loaf of sourdough and had a couple of sandwiches, so I didn't have quite enough of it to make the recipe I was working from... what to do, what do do? Hmmm..... this heel of so-called pumpernickel (it's really not heavy enough to be actual pump, but is just a reasonably good local dark rye loaf) might be enough to fill in to make a pound of bread... cut into roughly one-inch cubes, the combo ends up being about a dozen cups, so... beautiful. And it even looks unusually pretty, once you add the dried cranberries...

And so, to bake.

Apple Cardamom Bread Pudding

1 lb dense day-old bread, cut or torn into roughly 1-inch cubes (about 12 cups)
4 eggs
2 medium baking (tart-ish) apples, grated (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup apple syrup*
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 cup milk
1 cup dried cranberries

In a large bowl, whisk eggs and grated apple until well-mixed. Add in syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, salt, cream and milk. Mix well.

In a large baking dish, toss bread crumbs and dried cranberries until evenly distributed.

Pour liquid over bread cubes, stir until all the bread is evenly coated. Cover. Refrigerate 30 minutes or so.

Preheat oven to 350º F. (175º C). Uncover baking dish.

Bake about 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Serve warm. **

*The syrup I used is residual sauce from the last time the Bat made Apple Slices. She set aside about 7 pints in jars, & I raided one of them, today. If you don't have a mother who is so courteous as to leave you this tasty treat with which to work, look for a good apple-flavored syrup at the store and add a little extra cinnamon & nutmeg to the recipe here, to ratchet it up a notch.

**Can be topped with more apple syrup, or chopped pecans and praline syrup, if you're a sugar junkie. I've even drizzled a dark fudge sauce on it, but then, I could probably put that particular fudge sauce on pizza and still be happy. I'm just that way about dark chocolate.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Anadama Bread

Legend has it that this bread, in its New England origins, was given its name by a fisherman whose wife refused to bake him bread. He created his own, and named it "Anna, damn her." Dunno how close to fact the tale is, but dammit, the bread is almost sinful.

The Bat makes it a couple of times a year, not generally for any special occasion, but as her whimsy takes her. Any time this comes out of the oven should be declared a national holiday, or, at least, a day of feasting, song and dance.

It makes two standard loaves, but also can make awesome rolls. The Bat gives us the best of both worlds, by using an extra-long loaf pan (16-ish x 4-ish inches) and five smallish rolls in an 8-inch square pan. Pop gets the rolls, and therein lies true love.

Anadama Bread

5 cups all-purpose flour (approximately)
1/2 cup corn meal
1 pkg (1/4 oz) active dry yeast or 3/5 oz cake fresh yeast
2 1/2 cups water
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. butter
1/2 cup molasses

In a small bowl, stir 1 cup of cold water into corn meal. In saucepan, bring another cup of water to a rolling boil. Stirring constantly, pour corn meal mixture into water. continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is very thick (about 10 minutes). Add salt, butter, molasses. Allow to cool to tepid.

In larger mixing bowl, warm remaining water until it is tepid, stir yeast into it. Add the cooled corn meal mixture and gradually stir in about 4 1/2 cups of the flour, kneading to make a stiff dough. Knead well for about 10 minutes until the dough is resilient (if it is still sticky, you may need to add a little more flour. Shape the dough into a ball, put it in a buttered bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for about one and a half hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Punch down the dough and divide into two pieces. Shape each half into a loaf and put the loaves in buttered standard loaf pans (8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch). Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place until the dough has again doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes. Bake in preheated oven at 350º F [180º C] for one hour, or until the loaves sound hollow if tapped on bottom.

Best served warm from the oven, with real butter.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Philly Fish Chowder

Fishy Friday strikes again. Not that anybody in my immediate circle is concerned by a certain faith's practice of eschewing meats, but, since it's March, and the weather here is unpredictable, I thought a little tummy-warming was in order. We've already had chili (three varieties, mind you!), a big pot of chicken stew, and the Bat went wild and made her beefy-vegetable-practically-thick-as-gumbo soup last week, so now we're on to paler offerings for our Friday night gathering.

When I want to make soup, I try to make stock well-ahead of time, too, so as to not spend all day on my battered pins. So, yesterday, I made a big pot of vegetable stock. I probably made enough to toss a quart or so into the freezer, but I decided I don't want to dilute the flavor at all, today, so the whole gallon-plus is going into the pot again...

Just a few things:

When using my vegetable broth, the chowder is a slightly golden-hued creamy soup, as opposed to the more traditional bright-white if you build it from fish stock.

With your fish, be sure it's very fresh, or fresh-frozen. Don't bother to thaw the frozen stuff before cooking it, here. The boiling stock will do that for you.

Your choice of potato variety will affect the flavor, too. If you use golden-types, such as Klondike Rose or Yukon Gold, it will lend a slightly buttery finish to the chowder. Using Russets, you may wish to bump up the soup's flavor with some bacon crumbles or chopped ham...

If you have issues with fat & cholesterol, you may choose to use neufchatel (reduced fat cream cheese) instead of cream cheese, but don't use the low-fat "cream cheese" -- it's just insufficient all around.

Philly Fish Chowder

1 gallon rich vegetable broth or stock
1 lb mild fish (I used flounder, this week)
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup frozen corn (or, if you can get it, fresh-cut from cob)
1/2 large red sweet bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, coarsely chopped
1 (8-oz) brick cream cheese, softened in microwave until nearly liquid

In a large stock pot, bring stock to boil. Drop in fish, let return to simmer. When fish is cooked until easily flaked, remove from stock, break into large crumbles (if the boiling stock hasn't already finished the job) and set aside in refrigerator.

Return stock to a boil, add vegetables, allow to simmer until potatoes are tender. Add in cooked fish, stir in cream cheese. Serve hot, garnished with shredded cheddar cheese and chopped chives (or, no garnish, if you have a Pop like mine, who just wants the soup).

Afterthought: This is really good with fresh-baked Anadama bread. I'll have to have the Bat post her recipe for that, very soon...

Vegetable Broth

I've learned, through the years, that baking is a science, but cooking is an art form. What this means is, you need exact measurements for a lot of things to work in the oven. From breads to brownies, from soufflés to sugar cookies, if you don't use precision with ingredients, temperature and time, you're likely to be disappointed with the results. On the other hand, stovetops are more forgiving of the experimenter... sometimes.

It all starts with the most basic thing of all: water. Then you start tossing things into it. If you need a primer on the concept, I highly recommend you read the folk tale Stone Soup (the version Captain Kangaroo read to us in the good old days). I have it on good authority, though, that there is such a thing as throwing too many things in a pot. A basic vegetable stock is still rather difficult to destroy (IMHO, one guaranteed method is to include Brussels sprouts, rutabagas , or turnips, but that's just one cook's attitude). Oh, also, try to use real, rich carrots, not those baby-type things, as the finger food ones have too little flavor for anything other than absent-minded noshing.

Vegetable Broth

1 gallon water (approximately)
1-2 tsp olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 large red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green pepper, chopped
2 cups celery (including leafy greens), chopped
1 cup carrots, sliced no thicker than 1/2 cm. (you can grate them if you prefer)
1/2 cup chopped cabbage
1 cup corn, frozen or fresh from cob (NEVER from a can!)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1-2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp finely-ground white pepper (you can use black pepper if it's what you have on hand)
1/4 tsp paprika
pinch sage

In large stock pot, bring water to simmer. Add all other ingredients, bring heat back up until simmering again, cover, continue to simmer for a few hours, until the liquid has reduced noticeably. Remove from heat. Strain out the veggies (you can save these to toss into a meatloaf, later, if you want... or they still make good compost).

Serve with chopped scallions or chives as garnish, or set aside to use in other recipes.

This can be frozen for quite some time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rebound Spuds

This being the time of March Madness, the Bat has read up on how to get picture-in-picture, and has set her remote to jump directly from one game to the next. No we don't have a sports fan in this household, no sirree! Not us, no way nu-uh. Nope. Never. No no no no no no well... a bit.

So, in honor of hoops being the least depressing thing on television and, apparently, the center of the President's life (oops, leave politics out of this), we in the house of K present our Friday dish, a variation on twice-baked potatoes, sans skins, bounced out of the oven and sent back in for the score...

Rebound Spuds

7 or 8 medium Russet potatoes, buttered and baked until tender, then cooled enough to handle (makes about 7 cups)

2-3 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp (approx.) butter
1 large sweet onion, diced, divided
1/2 tsp celery salt or Old Bay Seasoning

1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup finely grated extra sharp cheddar, divided
1 cup finely grated sharp white cheddar, divided

8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced and coarsely chopped
Ground pepper to taste
2-3 Tbs heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 c. milk
(this stage is optional)


Scrub, then dry potatoes. Slice off any discolored spots, pierce several times with fork or sharp knife. Coat with butter, place in hot oven (400-450º F), bake for about an hour, or until spuds are tender. Remove from oven, allow to cool until you can handle them without pain.

While the potatoes are cooling, stir-fry (high temp) the onions in olive oil butter, in a large pan, until they begin to turn golden-brown. Add celery salt. Set aside.

Peel the skins off the potatoes, discard (or, you can save them for...whatever. You won't need them for this recipe, anyway). In a medium bowl, mix the potato innards until well-mashed. Add milk, yogurt, 3/4 cup each of cheeses, and 2 Tbs of the browned onion. Mix very well.

Put in heavily-greased oven-safe dish (1 1/2 or 2-quart casserole works well). Bake at 400º F until completely hot again (about 20 minutes). Remove from oven, sprinkle remainder of cheddar cheeses over the top, return to oven, bake until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly (about 10-15 minutes).

For Gravy:
While waiting for the cheesy topping to brown in the oven, return remaining onions, in saucepan, to high temp on stovetop. Add in the mushrooms and ground pepper, cook until mushrooms begin to brown around the edges. Remove from heat, add heavy cream and milk, stir until smooth. You may also choose to add bits of crisp bacon, finely shredded ham, or other ingredients. Serve in side dish, to ladle onto potatoes as desired.

Note: if you bake the potatoes the night before, you may have to reheat them a little bit in order to work with them. Putting them, covered, in the microwave oven with a little bit of the milk is a good way to get started. On the positive side, if you peel them, then nuke them, you can get them hot enough that most of the mixing will be a piece of cake. If they're colder, potatoes & cheese are reluctant to cooperate with a mixer. You just have to be careful when you handle a hot potato bowl, and when you transfer to the baking dish... we don't encourage people cooking themselves in the process of cooking dinner.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

random thoughts from the kitchen

I put together the chicken stew last night that is the base for our Chicken Pot Pie, and it occurred to me that type and quality of ingredients will make a big difference. For example, those little finger-sized orange things they call baby carrots? They're fine if you're looking for an innocuous snack, but when you toss them into a stew, they have virtually no flavor. Now, I know some people might say that's a good thing, but in my stew, foods are added not merely for ornament.

Get the real thing. Buy a package of actual carrots, scrub them well, chop them into bite-sized chunks, and let them soak up the flavor of the stock, the onions, etc. while imparting theirs to the rest of the meal.

In fact, if you can get darker-colored, such as red carrots, go wild! I'm requesting that Pop plant a seed packet or two of these, this year. I even asked nicely, as he scooped up his second bowl of stew...

And, amazingly, when making stew, the cheapest cuts of meat (while requiring some extra work and plenty of cooking time) make the most flavorful dishes. I like to make my chicken stock using giblets -- this week, I had some leftover bones from roasted chicken breasts, and tossed them in with a little celery, half an onion (chopped, of course), a few mushrooms, a pair of bay leaves, Old Bay Seasoning, salt, pepper, and a pound of gizzards and hearts, letting it all simmer for a couple of days. The meat was amazingly tender after all that time....

Same holds true for making chili without ground beef. I like chunks of chuck steak or roast, and let it cook slowly and over low heat (yes, you can use a slow cooker, once you brown the meat). Worried about all that fat? To heck with that! just strain it out after the meat is browned.

And one thing I learned this week: low cholesterol butter-flavored sprays and spreads do not serve well to grease a cooking or baking surface. I was playing with phyllo, making various sizes and styles of cups -- with a certain person's dietary restrictions in mind --, and the ones using the "heart-healthy" sprays between the layers before baking, while they browned up prettily, tasted rich and were tender as any others, stuck fast even to the nonstick forms. Next time, I might use the butter-flavored spray between outer layers (the ones farthest away from the form, that is), but inner 2-3 layers will get, at the very least, olive oil (not Olive Oyl, though).

On another track, Greek yogurt is awesome, but can be rather expensive. There are places online (here's a good one) where you can learn to make your own, from a tub of regular yogurt. If you use cheesecloth or a coffee filter, you're not likely to be able to re-use it, so take that into account when working your budget. On the other hand, a good cotton kitchen towel can be washed and re-used all you want... as long as you rinse out all the detergent after each wash, and line dry rather than tumble dry (nobody I know likes the flavor of fabric softener).

One more thing: I consider myself beyond merely fortunate to live in a place where I am called "poor", and still have access to the variety and quality of foods I play with (and the opportunity to play). My thoughts -- and agnostic's prayers -- go to those who, for various reasons, have not.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fish Cake Muffins

This being the first Friday in Lent, some of my compadres worry over my immortal soul (such as it is), so I thought I'd move in a friendly direction, tonight. I was planning to fix a single recipe for the Bat, the Geezer, and a couple of our extended family-ish regulars, but events conspired to set me up with a full house, so I improvised a bit or two.

First, some of us are allergic to shellfish and crabs, and still crave crab cakes. In the good old days, before anaphylaxis became a recognized and feared word in our house, the discovery of those precious jewels of salt water chefs was a source of its own near-religious experience. Now, somebody has decided that taking such a risk is a really bad idea. I won't name names, but... well... pass the Benadryl, willya? I'm going in! almost.

Also, rather than spatter the kitchen with a lot of grease from frying them up, I tried a suggestion I stumbled across in a magazine, and baked them in a well-greased muffin pan. It meant less fat, better for the heart, or so they say. They wound up pretty tasty, & folks went back for seconds (& one went back for thirds)

No crab, though. Dagnabbit.

Not that we missed it that much.

Fish Cake Muffins

2 lbs. mild white fish, shredded or finely flaked
4 c. fresh whole wheat bread crumbs
1 medium-large red bell pepper, seeds removed and minced
8 scallions, finely sliced
4 large eggs, beaten
2 medium or large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp. Tabasco or other good hot sauce
1 1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning*
1 tsp ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Heavily grease non-stick muffin pans.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients (I generally find mixing by clean, bare hand is best -- it's not too different from making meat loaf, in that regard). Scoop out in equal portions to fill 24 muffin cups. Place in middle rack of oven, bake 20 - 25 minutes, or until golden-browned.

Serve hot.

It does nicely with a zesty tartar sauce or seafood cocktail sauce, or sprinkled with a little fresh lemon juice and garnished with lemon wedges.

* 1 1/4 tsp of celery salt & 1/4 tsp paprika may be used as reasonable facsimile of Old Bay Seasoning, if you're desperate. ;-)

Apple-Cabbage Slaw

Tonight's menu had quite a bit of savory to it -- we had fish cakes (using a variation on a crab cake recipe I'd found intriguing), sweet-and-savory sweet potatoes, and needed something with crunch and zest and sweetness to complete the platter. When one serves seafood, often the best option is either some form of picallily or a traditional cole slaw. I wanted neither of these, and when I'm in one of these moods, it's best to just humor me and let me do the cooking...

So. Cole slaw not cutting it? Add something different. Usually, during the summer, we'll slice a few fresh tomatoes into it, bump up the mustard content to a mayonnaise dressing, and go wild that way. Or, Mom has discovered she likes the cheat of a half bottle of peppercorn ranch dressing instead of sour cream/mayo varieties.

I had a nifty handful of apples. And stuff. So here is what I tossed together for an army, tonight.

Apple-Cabbage Slaw

4 medium-sized tart apples (Granny smiths are very nice, I had not-quite-so-tart Braeburns and Galas), peeled, cored, and coarsely grated
2 Tbs. cider vinegar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 head (approx. 8 c.) cabbage, shredded
1 1/2 or 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 c. greek yogurt
1/2 c. light mayonnaise
1 c. sour cream
1/2 tsp. ground mustard powder

Peel apples, then coarsely grate them into a small bowl. Add vinegar and lemon juice. Set aside.

Cut cabbage head in half, put one half back into sealed container in refrigerator. You won't need that. The remaining half of the cabbage, cut in half again along the line of the core. Cut out the core and discard (unless you're a little crazy like me, and want to nibble on the strongly-flavored bit of crunchy while working on the rest of the project). Slice both quarters of the cabbage into thin strips, then chop strips into approximately one-inch lengths. Put into LARGE bowl. You will have at least 8 cups of vegetable matter, and will need room to add the remaining ingredients.

Add sugar to cabbage. Let stand at least 10 minutes (refrigeration is advised, but not mandatory at this stage).

Stir in apple mixture, celery seed. Go ahead, use the same small bowl you just emptied to mix yogurt, sour cream, mayonnaise, and mustard powder. Add to cabbage mix, stir well, refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serves at least 15.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Frogs' Eyes in Mud

Some people can't stand tapioca pudding. My father is one of those people. The only way Pop will touch tapioca is if it's buried in a fruit pie, as a thickening agent. On the other hand, my mother is not a tapioca-hater. In fact, she, like me, is rather too fond of such sweets (I have the greater sin, there, though. The Bat can walk away from a fresh bowl waved in front of her. My impulse control is precisely zilch. I will even eat the cheap store-bought stuff).

Still, the battle between tapioca or no began early in our home. The Bat fixed us kids a nice batch of pudding 'way back in the mid-1960s, when the elder of my sisters was still in diapers, and Pop, trying to persuade us that this stuff was as disgusting as he thought it was, told us it was a big bowl of frogs' eyes. I am told that normal youngsters find this sort of label off-putting.

Obviously, he had raised somewhat twisted children. We asked for seconds.

The years have gone by, and tastes may have changed for some, but I still love my frogs' eyes. Recently, I had a severe craving for them, but when I looked in the refrigerator for ingredients to make the stuff, I found I had no fresh whole milk. I don't know about you all, but pudding from skim milk is just an insult to the world of desserts, and using canned milk is... well, the gods of food would have had me char-broiled in an instant for such a blasphemy.

I did have a half-gallon of Vitamin-D-enhanced chocolate-laced whole milk, though. It was a start. But using that alone, the flavor of the chocolate was lost, and the pudding became grey. Not quite what one wants, is it? So I added a little here, a little there, and suddenly I had destroyed my resolve to avoid adding to my waistline (and I may have broken my father's heart). Foolish me, I tossed in a large portion of a brick of Scharffenberger extra bitter chocolate. Not only did it improve the look and flavor, I was now wholly unwilling to share my concoction.

I have since had occasion when I have wanted to make this, and, instead of being out of whole milk, I've had no chocolate milk. No big. It's actually rather fun, to make your own chocolate milk in advance -- and I've even done so with Ovaltine (the malt gives the pudding an entertaining kick, but you really have to be in the mood for it). You just have to make sure no solids get dribbled into the pudding pan. Other than that, go wild!

Here's my lunch, today (I made a double batch, to share with a friend):

Frogs' Eyes in Mud

1/3 cup small pearl quick tapioca (I like Bob's Red Mill, but Minute Tapioca will serve, as well)
3/4 cup water
2 1/4 cups whole chocolate milk
1 bar (approximately 3.5 oz.) good dark chocolate, grated or finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
2-3 Tablespoons good cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a double boiler, pre-soak tapioca in water, according to the package instructions (Bob's says about 3 1/2 minutes). Do not drain. (Now is the time to turn on heat to bring water in bottom pan to a boil.)

Stir in chocolate milk, grated chocolate, and salt. Continue to stir until chocolate solids are mostly dissolved.

Beat egg yolks, stir in. Stir constantly until mixture thickens noticeably (it usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes).

Remove double boiler from heat.

In a separate dry bowl, beat egg whites with sugar and cocoa powder until light and fluffy (but do not go so long that they form peaks). Fold in a few tablespoons of the hot chocolate mixture, gently mixing (you do this to pre-heat the whites a bit, so they don't suffer heat shock and become lumpy fried eggs in your pudding). Repeat once. Gently fold in the rest of the chocolate mixture, mixing well.

At this point, you can either put it into individual serving dishes or just leave it in the big bowl. Refrigerate immediately. Serve cold.

Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

You can get fancy with this, if you so desire, by topping it with real whipped cream and decorating with shaved chocolate, or simply grating more good chocolate onto the top of each individual portion. I find that such actions take too long, with all that yummy chocolate pudding calling out my name the entire time... I sometimes even eat this stuff warm from the pan.

Dang it, now I'm all hungry, and lunch isn't for another... three minutes! GTG!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Graham Cracker Fudge (aka nutty fudge nougat)

It's a cross between a candy and a no-bake bar cookie. And it's a sin not to nibble.
Some years back (possibly even before I was born), the Bat caved to impulse and picked up one of those little booklets of recipes they put in the racks by the cash registers at the supermarket. We don't usually cave to the allure of candies, or to the wild and woolly displays of the tabloids, but recipes -- well, that's quite another thing. And when the Pillsbury prize-winning ones come out, heck, that's like catnip to us. We don't always have to try every one of them, but we has to has, my precious... That's where this one comes from, originally, with slight variations.

Best made near Christmas, so you can justify making lots of it, and taste-testing every last batch.

When we make a batch, it usually disappears in short order. You can probably imagine why.

They're very rich, and in no wise carb-neutral, but they're butter-and-chocolate heaven. And they can be made wheat-free!

So I went a little nuts…

Graham Cracker Fudge

4 c. sugar
1 c. butter
1 can Milnot (or plain evaporated milk)
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour*
2 c. graham cracker crumbs*
1 1/2 c. chopped nuts (optional)†
2 tsp vanilla
 pecan halves (optional)

Combine sugar, butter, milk product in 3-quart (or larger) saucepan, bring to a boil stirring constantly.

Once in full rolling boil, allow to continue for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat, stir in remaining ingredients until well-mixed.

Spread into a greased jelly roll pan. Allow to cool (may be refrigerated to speed the setting-up process). Cut into 1-inch squares. Top with nut halves, if desired.

* if you need to prepare this for someone on a gluten-free diet, of course you should substitute 1:1 gluten free all-purpose flour for the regular flour (I have, most recently, been using Pamela's, easily available for subscription via Amazon), and, instead of graham cracker crumbs, use almond meal (almond flour). In the depicted batch, I used the unblanched meal, but there's no set rule on this one.

†Recently, I experimented with adding coarsely-chopped dried tart cherries, along with chopped pecans. It was pretty darned spiffy. But these goodies need no embellishment. They're just decadent and sinful all by themselves...