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.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Candied Cranberries

Sometimes, at the end of Thanksgiving, I still have a spare bag of cranberries, as well as about half the sauce I made for that dinner. I've learned to serve the sauce, thinned and combined with a handful of other ingredients, as a salad dressing, or slathered on biscuits and pancakes,  and countless other ways to keep it from going to waste. The fresh cranberries, themselves, could probably be frozen, but this time of year, the freezer is usually pretty full, so I'd rather not try to cram more in.

Therefore, I seek out alternatives.

If you have a cup or two of leftover cranberries from Thanksgiving (or just want to do something lovely  with what you have, regardless of whether they're leftovers or not), you can candy them up a bit, and have a nice treat with the sweetness and the tartness playing back and forth across your tongue. 

It's not something to have ready in an hour – it takes overnight and a little change. 

But it's well worth it.

Candied Cranberries


1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup fresh cranberries, washed, sorted (no bruised or shriveled ones), and allowed to dry
1/2 cup extra-fine granulated sugar


In a small saucepan over medium heat, dissolve sugar in water. Bring just barely to simmer – do not boil! (If it does boil, you'll have to wait for it to cool a few minutes before the next step).

In a small container, combine cranberries and sugar-water. Place in refrigerator and allow to chill at least 8 hours or overnight. 

After they have cooled over time, pour cranberries and syrup into strainer  over bowl. You may wish to save the syrup for some other recipes (it's a nice simple syrup with a faint hint of the berry flavor, good in some drinks). 

Meanwhile, lay a sheet of parchment in a large jelly roll pan (sided cookie sheet) and put extra-fine sugar in a bowl. A few at a time, roll the cranberries  in the extra-fine sugar, then allow to rest and dry out for at least 1 hour on the parchment.

Nibble on them straight as a snack, or use them to decorate desserts, like a buche de noël.

Buche de Noël (Yule Log)

Coconut cream filling with added goodness; premium chocolate sponge cake; double-chocolate frosting with bonus. 
And candied cranberries.

Decadence without flour.

What's not to like?

Recipes for the cake elements posted in partes tres. 

In this cake, I used just over 2 cups coconut cream, and added to the whipped coconut cream for filling, in these amounts:

1 Tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon powdered vanilla
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
3 Tablespoons orange liqueur

I topped the cake with a sprinkling of ultrafine granulated sugar for the snow, and tossed in a few candied cranberries...the flavor combination of the orangey chocolatey cake and the sweet-tart berries is amazing!

Update, December 2014: this year, I traded up, for the filling. I went from a simple whipped coconut cream to a white chocolate/coconut cream/orange liqueur mousse. It held its form better in the center of the cake, and ended up with a not-too-sweet, well-balanced finish.

The rest of the process remained the same.

It was still a big hit.

Dark Chocolate Frosting

In case you aren't familiar with me, I like chocolate.

Well, that probably would be labeled a gross understatement.

Given the opportunity, I could probably exist on nothing but chocolate. And I'd start with good frosting, like this stuff. It has a lovely texture, the sort to hold its shape if you use it for piping and other decoration, and a flavor to die for.

I worked this down and adapted for my own use, from a recipe a friend found for me.  It can easily be doubled, but under normal circumstances, one single batch should cover a normal two-layer cake. Or a nice buche de noël.

Dark Chocolate Frosting


3/4 pound (one 12 ounce package) good-quality semisweet chocolate morsels
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons confectioner's sugar, sifted
pinch salt

1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/3 cup boiling water
2 Tablespoons orange liqueur


Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or by microwave oven (if microwave, begin at full power for one minute, then, in thirty second increments, stirring after each time, until nearly smooth, so you can stir the last remaining lumps out of it. Do not overcook, or it will congeal and be unworkable! Allow to stand until no longer warm to the touch, but still melted.

Combine cocoa and boiling water, stirring until cocoa is completely dissolved. Add orange liqueur and combine well.

With electric mixer on medium-high, beat butter, confectioner's sugar and salt until light, pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low, add melted, cooled chocolate, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add in cocoa mixture, beat in completely.

Wait until you've finished frosting your cake before you lick the spoon and spatula, but enjoy the beaters right away.

Chocolate Sponge Cake (Fudgy Genoise)

One can make an awesome, quite large buche de noël using this recipe. Or, just a lovely delicate sheet cake.

Any way you look at it, it's nice to have a rich, yet gluten-free bit of naughtiness to share around…

Chocolate Sponge Cake


12 egg yolks
1 1/2  cups sugar, divided
10 egg whites
1 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla or 1 teaspoon vanilla and 3 tablespoons orange liqueur 


Preheat oven to 375º F.

Line a large jelly roll pan (sided cookie sheet, 14"x 20" or somewhat larger) with well-greased parchment.  Also line an 8"x8" or 9"x9" shallow brownie pan the same way.*

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high until pale and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add salt and vanilla, then beat in cocoa powder. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.

Thoroughly clean and dry mixing bowl and whisk. Beat egg whites on medium-high until they form soft peaks. While the mixer is still running, gradually add in remaining sugar about a tablespoon at a time until mixture is glossy and stiff peaks form.

Stir well about 1/4 of egg white mixture into egg yolk/cocoa mixture to make it a little lighter. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheets, spreading the batter just barely even with the tops of the pans. Bake 10 (for the smaller) to 15 minutes, until cake springs back when touched at center. 

Cool on rack. Cake will deflate slightly.

If making a buche de noël or other rolled cake, allow the large sheet cake to cool only about 5 minutes. Using a cooling rack or a larger flat cookie sheet and a towel dusted with cocoa powder, turn cake out of pan (be sure the cake is NOT centered in the towel, but to one side or the other, with only an inch or two extra border on the one side. Start by rolling the wider towel edge and then very gently roll the cake around it, and allow to cool completely while preparing your choice of creamy filling. 

When cool, carefully unfurl the cake, spread the filling thickly, use the towel to re-roll as tightly as possible. Again using the towel, transfer the cake to cake plate, outer seam side down. If you like, you can serve lightly dusted with confectioner's sugar or superfine granulated sugar. Or slather it with your favorite ganache or frosting.

Serves 12-16.

*I have updated this to include a second, small pan, because this recipe has consistently expanded beyond a single jelly roll pan's sides, leaving a "muffin top" effect which, while tasty on its own, makes rolling more difficult and a bit unattractive unless you dig out a good knife and trim it all to heck (which, I will concede, gives us tasty crumbs to nibble before the grand unveiling, but we're trying to avoid being naughty until after Christmas morning).  I suggest saving the smaller cake for a later date, perhaps to use in a New Year's trifle, or freezing it until St. Valentine's Day and making something decadent without the added effort.

Bunny Cookies

Every one in a while, I end up making food for somebody non-human, especially at Christmas time. As I've already mentioned, I made dog cookies for Pop's best friend, Clyde, as well as more bikkies for Bat's best friend's best friends…

This year, I also made bunny cookies…that is to say, treats for the bunnies in the house of my young friend Asteroidae and her family. It took a little prying to be sure what was permitted in their diet, but eventually I had a batch of decadence for lagomorphs.

Oddly enough, when it's baking, it smells good enough for people to eat…I may have to try it sometime as a basis for an energy bar, or something like it. 

Nevertheless, for the bunnies…

It began with oat flour. It ended with bliss. 

Bunny Cookies


1 1/2 cups oat flour (you can make your own by blending the dickens out of a couple of cups of regular – not instant – oatmeal)
1 cup fresh spinach 
1 medium carrot, finely grated
1 small apple, chopped into small pieces
1 medium banana, smooshed*


Preheat oven to 300º F.

If you have a food processor†, combine everything but the oat flour and puree it. Add in the flour, mix well. Spread out on an oiled parchment on a cookie sheet, to about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick or slightly thinner. Bake about 45 minutes, or until golden-browned on top and crusty. 

Remove from oven. Cool a few minutes, then cut into centimeter-square pieces or smaller (it will still be sticky in the middle, so you may need to use a wetted knife to cut). Spread the pieces out on the cookie sheet, place back in oven, and bake another 20 minutes, or until they are completely crusty and beginning to darken.

Remove from oven, allow to cool completely. Store in solid container, in refrigerator or cool dark place.

* I realize this is not actually a technical term used in polite cooking society, but, seriously, go ahead and smoosh your banana in its skin & then just cut or tear off the end & squeeze it out like toothpaste from a tube. Or, you can peel the banana first and then smoosh it in the dish.

†Without a food processor, I recommend using a hand-blender to puree the fruits and vegetables. Barring that, you will want to add water to the mix in a regular blender, then strain it back out using a sieve or colander lined with a coffee filter, until most of the water is removed and the mixture is thick and pasty. Once that is done, mix in the flour by hand. Or with a wooden spoon or spatula, if you prefer. It's kind of a sticky dough, so I used a silicone spatula.  

Dairy-free whipped filling: go crazy with a can of coconut milk

I've seen a lot of posts on the internet showing how to make a substitute for whipped cream using coconut cream - that is, the thick gloop which likes to rise to the top of a can of coconut milk. Several have even been so kind as to give recommendations for brands worth buying for it - top of their list for greatest cream-to-water ratio: Trader Joe's. I'd like to add Golden Star to that preferred list. I opened up two still, well-chilled cans to find less than an inch of liquid at the bottom of each can. All the rest was rich, thick, chilled-buttery solids. Of this I approve. Most others are just about half cream, or even less. That's fine for some things like curries and soups, but not when you want to get whippy with it.

And I do like getting whippy with it.

For just regular, immediate serving, you can use the coconut cream plain, with just a little vanilla and a hint of your preferred sweetener (I used some agave syrup, most recently). In essence, all you want to to is give it a lift, so you need no more than about a half-teaspoon to a teaspoon of sweetener and a half-teaspoon of vanilla per cup of coconut cream (unless you're a sugar addict, in which case, dump in as much sweetness as you like. It's all a matter of taste).

But if you let it stand – in or out of the refrigerator – for more than a couple of hours, it begins to liquefy – or, at the very least, go too soft – once more. I needed it to hold its shape overnight, in the middle of a buche de noël, so it took some figuring. My solution: gelatin. Unflavored gelatin. One teaspoon of dry gelatin, added to a quarter cup of the coconut water I separated from the coconut cream… It went like this:

Take one can of good, high-quality coconut milk, allow to stand without shaking for at least a couple of days, then refrigerate overnight.

Open the can carefully (again, don't shake it), and very carefully scoop out the great dense globs of the cream on the top of the can.

Pour 1/4 cup of the remaining liquid into a small dish to set into a pan of cool water, or the top of a small double-boiler under which the heat is off.  Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of unflavored gelatin onto the top of the liquid and allow to stand about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn on the heat and add the coconut cream. Allow to melt and bring to simmer, but be careful not to boil.

Remove from heat, refrigerate until completely chilled (at least 2 hours).

Put in bowl for a stand mixer, whip up until light and fluffy. Add sweetener and any flavorings you like, whip a little more. Overbeating this does not do the same damage that overbeating dairy cream does (unless you don't think of having butter instead of whipped cream as damage). Chill the heck out of it, then serve or add to recipe.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pumpkin Cookies for Dogs

When the holidays roll around, there's occasionally a little fresh pumpkin left in our house after making pies. While many people have no problem with either throwing the half-cup or so into the trash, or burying it deep in the frozen wasteland that is the deepfreeze, I rather enjoy producing more gifts for Christmas. Even for the pets.

Not long ago, I discovered that said squash was good for dog digestion, and – more to the point – our big fella Clyde likes it almost as much as he likes sweet potato. And he LOVES sweet potatoes. In fact, I've occasionally just  baked a couple of large sweet taters, sliced them up, and dehydrated them to give as substitutes for biscuits. Indeed, one can even use leftover baked sweet taters instead of pumpkin, in this recipe.  Or, if you feel like splurging (or taking a shortcut), you can buy canned pumpkin or  yams. Most dogs won't know the difference.

And, you can use other flour for this, but the brown rice flour is the most easily digested, as well as being least likely to trigger an allergy in your dog – plus, it makes the best crunch. Clyde really likes the crunch. Especially when there's squash involved.

The original source I had for this recipe (long since lost) suggested a teaspoon of dried parsley, but I usually have fresh on hand around holiday meals, and recipes need more of the fresh for the fullest effect. Either way, it's especially nice for the rest of the family if you add some in to the recipe, because it helps sweeten doggy breath…or at least cut the funk when he pants in your general direction.

Any way you look at it, though, if you throw together this recipe, you'll have a happy goggie in short order.

Punkin bikkies on top of breath-freshening bikkies. A veritable cornucopia.

Pumpkin-Laden Dog Biscuits

2 eggs
1/2 cup pumpkin puree 
2 Tablespoons powdered milk (dry)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
2 1/2 cups brown rice flour
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley (optional)


Preheat oven to 350º F.

In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin and eggs until completely combined smooth. Stir in powdered milk, salt and parsley (if using). Gradually stir in rice flour to form a stiff, dry dough. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface (use rice flour, please!) and knead lightly until fully combined. 

Press dough to about 1 centimeter thick (somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 inch), and cut into biscuits (if you have a shape you want, go ahead and use it, but I prefer the simple approach: grab a big knife and cut a grid of rectangles or diamonds). 

Place on ungreased cookie sheet, and, with the tines of a fork dipped in rice flour, press pattern most of the way through each biscuit. 

Bake 20 minutes, remove from oven carefully turn over, return to oven to bake another 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Cool on rack completely before storing or giving to the dog.

Clyde, want a cookie? Do I even need to ask?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Oven-crisped Caramel Puffcorn

Buttery goodness....

We live next to an army. Or, maybe it's just a platoon. I'm not good with numbers. All I know is that there's a mess o' young'uns coming and going, and the little hooligans are always sneaking around trying their little stunts. For example, last night, in the midst of the snowstorm, they came over and swept our stairs and shoveled our sidewalk! The NERVE! Sometimes, when they get bored in the summer, they weed the garden for Pop. And they're polite and courteous to everybody. 

It's just so wrong

And, because of this, it's hard to get even with them, especially when you strongly suspect that their orthodontist scowls at half the things I like to offer…like the Bat's homemade Cracker Jack (I'll have to have her post that recipe, some time soon). Not only is it sweet and decadent, it's also popcorn, so the hulls get stuck in inconvenient places and manners, and then you have to hear about the picking and flossing…ick.

So my friend Fleet introduced me to this concept a year ago: you can have caramel corn without getting hulls stuck in your braces (or, for us older folks, between our teeth or – heaven forfend – between denture and gum). All it takes is a bag of those extruded corn puffs, the kind which are essentially Chee-Tos without the cheese, and then your favorite caramel recipe.  This is a mixture of several different recipes, but I've made it repeatedly, and it's always decadent, no matter how many times I toss it together. It's possible to make it with half the butter, but why would anybody want to do that? 

It will be just right for spoiling the heck out of those meddling kids.

Caramel Puffcorn


1 (8 ounce) bag hull-free corn puffs
1 cup butter (no substitutions)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 Tablespoon baking soda
Optional: 1/2 cup peanuts, pecans, or cashews


Preheat oven to 250ºF.

Pour the contents of the corn puffs bag into a well-buttered large roasting pan (or a gi-normous steel bowl like the Bat has).

In a 2 quart saucepan on high heat, mix butter, sugar and syrup, melt and bring to a boil. Allow to boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add baking soda. Mixture may puff up a bit, and will become frothy and foamy.
Add baking soda and watch it FOAM!

When thoroughly mixed, pour over corn puffs and stir gently with a heat-resistant silicone spatula until caramel is evenly distributed over all puffs.

Place in 250º F oven. Bake 45 minutes, remembering to STIR EVERY 15 MINUTES until done.

Spread out on two large buttered jelly roll pans (cookie sheets with sides) and allow to cool enough to handle. As they cool, begin to separate the chunks back into individual puffs. If you don't do this while it's still a little warm, you will have big candy bricks, instead of bite-sized morsels of buttery sweetness.

When it is cooled, put into sandwich-sized bags and hand it out, to vanish instantly into the maws of young ruffians.

Or, if you're feeling contrary, hide it away and nibble on it yourself. It can last a week or two if stored in airtight containers. Out of sight. Away from temptation.

Clyde's Cookies, or Barkin' Bars

Crunchy munchy barkin' bars

Some years back, we inherited a dog – a slightly-oversized Labrador Retriever named Clyde. He's a hundred-pound doofus pudding, who views the Bat and me as joint-alphas, and dotes on my Pop. The trouble is, Pop dotes on him, and keeps giving the dog all manner of scraps…needless to say, Clyde has put on a few pounds, over the years, and those few pounds are not the sorts he can afford to have, as he has a genetic defect making his foreleg vulnerable to dysplasia and arthritis. We try to keep the pressure off that joint, to the best of our abilities, and when we can't, we make sure he's as comfy as an old dog can get without being too doped up.

Anyway, at Christmas, we like to spoil both the fellers in our house, so the Bat and I do a little baking…(actually, these days, the Bat spends more time working on her cross-stitch projects, while I mess up her kitchen, but we eventually end up with a fair trade, somehow). Last weekend, I made cookies for Pop, this weekend, I made goggie cookies for…well, a certain spoiled baby.

Not only are they munchies to please the beast, but this recipe also does a little tiny bit of breath-freshening, so it makes us all a little happier.

Clyde's cookies, or Barkin' Bars

3/4 cup boiling water
2 cubes chicken or beef bouillon or 2 1/2 teaspoons bouillon powder
3 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup powdered milk (dry)
1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten

Dissolve bouillon in boiling water. Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 300º F.

We loves us that parsley…even the curly stuff!

Mix all ingredients in a medium or large bowl, then knead the dough together on a lightly-floured surface.

Pat or roll dough out to approximately 1/4 inch thick. Use a long knife or dough-cutter to slice into 3/4 x 2 inch strips, or cut with your favorite bone-shaped or cat-shaped cookie cutter. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet.

With a fork dusted with flour at the tips of the tines, pierce the center of each cookie all the way through (this will help them to be crunchier at the center, too).

Bake at 300º F for 30 minutes, until lightly browned.

Allow to cool, store away until somebody has been very good (with Clyde, it won't be long…with Pop, a little longer). 

Serve dry and crunchy. Clyde especially likes them when they're a little stale.

Good dog, Clyde!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Pecan Shortbread Cookies (Pecan Sandies), or, How To Reward a Physicist for Retrieving a Wallet from Another Dimension


I lost my wallet the other day. 

Well, I misplaced it. 

I spent the better part of an hour retracing my few steps, and had no success. It didn't help that I'd just finished a lovely frat-house quality cocktail of vodka and the equivalent of Kool-Aid on an empty stomach moments before I realized my wallet was not in the pocket where it belongs. 

In other words, I was distressed and befuddled, and had no luck finding my plastic, my losing lottery tickets, and my aged ticket to my alma mater's stage production of The Trojans. I wasn't all that worried about those contents, but, dang it, I'd just bought the wallet a few months ago, after spending a year looking for the right one at the right price to suit my needs, and I was going to miss it. 

Besides, it had pics of my sister's kids, at their most adorable, in it.

So I had resigned myself to living with my losses, climbed morosely into my room, gotten into my pajamas, and turned on the tv to watch whatever show had the biggest pyrotechnic display, when Pop came to the door and asked if there might be a reward for the person who finds the wallet. 

It had been out in plain sight, in the room of rest. It was a clear case of hiding in plain sight. On the other side of a dimensional rift.

It took a nuclear physicist to find it. 

This is his payment:
Pop got 30 of these. Mom got two. Seems fair. In Pop's world.

Pecan Shortbread Cookies


1 cup (1/2 pound)  butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups plus 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped, plus 1/2 cup finely chopped


Preheat oven to 350º F.

In large mixer bowl, at relatively high speed, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in vanilla and salt. At low speed, gradually scoop in 2 cups flour until just mixed. Stir in coarsely chopped pecans.

Onto a parchment-covered cookie sheet, set  two inches (about 5 centimeters ) apart, shape dough into  1 1/2 inch (4 cm) balls and top with a sprinkling of finely-chopped pecans. Lightly butter the bottom of a flat-bottomed cup, then dip into bowl holding remaining 3 Tablespoons flour, use floured cup to lightly press cookie dough balls flat-ish.

Bake at 350º F for 15 minutes, or until golden-brown. Cool on rack.

Makes 32.

Let your father have as many as he wants.

Never Eat a Heath Bar Again

English Toffee

Every Christmas season, the Bat and I feel compelled to make at least one large batch of candies for gifts, because...well, just because. The batch usually involves dark chocolate truffles, fudge, and these toffees. We'd make them at other times of the year, but people would wonder what was wrong, why were we giving out candies, then we'd end up eating them all out of paranoid guilt. And certainly my girth needs no such enhancement. Therefore, this becomes pretty much strictly a holiday treat for us (more is the pity). In fact, 90% of this particular batch in the photos went to a friend's place of business – where one of his customers sampled a piece and said afterward, "I'll never eat a Heath Bar again!"

Hence the title of the blog entry.

The Toffee recipe is originally from the Bat's well-worn copy of The Freezer Cookbook, by Charlotte Erickson, with no real adaptations other than that you can swap out sea salt or fleurs de sal for the pecans...or even in addition to it, if your little heart desires.

Still, if you want to make the stuff any time, all you need is a few basic ingredients, a 2 - quart (or slightly larger) saucepan, a well-BUTTERED jelly roll pan (a cookie sheet with sides), and a reliable candy thermometer. And a stove. Those really do come in handy when you want to cook.

All right, then. I've had my moment of silliness, now it's time for the rich and sweet:

English Toffee (double batch)

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups (1 pound) butter
6 Tablespoons water
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans

In medium or large saucepan, combine butter, sugar, and water. Cook over moderately high heat to the hard - crack stage (300° F. on your candy thermometer).

Bring to boil

Watch closely, stirring occasionally, with greater frequency toward the end of cooking time, to prevent burning.
Caramel stage

When the liquid reaches 300°F.,  immediately remove from heat and pour into generously - buttered jelly roll pan. Immediately sprinkle chocolate morsels over the top of the hot mixture and spread as soon as the chocolate has melted.
In pan with chocolate

 Sprinkle with nuts.

Chocolate, pecans,  and SCOOOORE!

With a buttered blade, you should score the candy into 1-  or 1 1/2 - inch pieces. Let cool completely. Break apart and share. Or don't share, if you're not afraid of a little gluttony.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fresh Tomatillo Relish (pseudo-salsa-verde)

IMAG1567 by leucanthemum b
Tangy! Zippy! (It even works if you use dried cilantro, as I did here!)
Some days, I get these cravings…

Usually, the pangs are for ordinary foods which have suddenly been added to my proscribed list, like yeasty honey-wheat bread fresh from the oven and slathered with butter. I can have the butter (in small amounts). I miss the wheat breads. Especially around the holidays, since fresh bread was one of those things that Grandma Helen excelled at, for the festive tables, and we spent many of those holidays, in my yoot, at her table.

But I digress. This does not cry out for yeast breads.

Some foods, she would never have served, simply because she was a nice German-American wife of a Midwestern farmer, and a product of her time. She never heard of salsa, never heard of tomatillos, or cilantro, or jalapeño peppers, or… quite a bit of the stuff we take for granted when we walk into the produce section of a supermarket today. In fact, I've found quite a few people in my neighborhood who still know nothing about these things. But that's probably because I live out here in the sticks, and people here tend to pay little attention to the latest trends from the coasts.

So, I get to treat the people who sit at the Bat's table with the products of my playtime in the kitchen, the result of my spending entirely too much time surfing food porn on the internet.

This particular dish, my relish, occurred because my pop kindly potted a couple of tomatillo plants for me, this year, and I was looking to use the fruits in something besides my favorite chili and your basic salsa verde recipes… I suppose one might eat this on tortilla chips, or on a chicken taco, or some such. But it's just fine as a light side dish, as a sort of salad.

Heck, it's a relish. Do with it what you please.

Fresh Tomatillo Relish


about 3 lbs fresh tomatillos, husks removed and thoroughly washed
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, minced
zest of 1 small lime
juice of 2 small limes
1/4 cup rice vinegar
dash salt
2 small jalapenos, finely minced


Rinse the tomatillos in cold water, peel, and keep rinsing them until they are no longer sticky. Cut away the bit where the stem was attached (pretty much the same way you'd rid most tomatoes of their stem cores). Coarsely chop them (into cubes of less than 1 centimeter) and put them in a medium-sized bowl. Add all the other ingredients, and mix well.

Refrigerate at least 1 day before serving, to allow the flavors to blend.

Can be kept in fridge for up to two weeks.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cranberry Rum Pecan Pie

Fresh from the oven. A few of those cranberries pushed some of those pecan halves around – the big bullies!

When it comes to desserts, I am my father's daughter. I love pie. I love pie so much that, if somebody were to tell me I had a choice between a long life married to Dolph Lundgren but never to have pie again, and a big slice of pie right before a swift death, I'd be hemming and hawing, and still probably choose the pie. And I'd give my eyeteeth even for a simple lunch date with Dolph. I think he's that cool.

But enough of guilty pleasures and schoolgirl crushes.

The problem with pie is, I can't eat wheat any more. And most people make their pie crusts from basic all-purpose wheat flour. I'm also allergic to almonds, and most people who build gluten-free recipes love to make pie crusts with almond flour. This, of course, means I can't eat just any pie. Therefore, I search high and low for crusts and compatibilities.

And, of course, I seek the best way to safely misbehave.

This means, while I get a healthy overdose of sugars, I can at least brag that there's extra nutrition in whatever I prepare. In this case, it's a bit of additional protein. Yes, it's a pecan pie, but it's a pecan-pecan pie. The crust is purely pecans and butter.

Seriously. Pecans. Butter. Crust.

As for the pie filling…well, let's get down to business.

Cranberry Rum Pecan Pie

Crust ingredients:* 

2 cups chopped pecans
4 Tablespoons melted butter

Filling ingredients:

3 large eggs
1 cup dark Karo syrup
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons dark rum
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 1/4 cup chopped pecans, plus some complete halves for decoration (optional)


For the crust:

Coarsely chop pecans. Spread out on jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides), and roast in oven at 350º until slightly darkened (about 8 minutes). Allow to cool.

Put into blender or food processor and chop until only slightly coarser than cornmeal. Place pecans in freezer at least a half hour, to deeply chill.

Preheat oven to 450º Fahrenheit. 

Remove from freezer, add 4 Tbs. melted butter. Mix well. Press evenly into 9-inch pie pan† (you may want to lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the mixture while you work, to keep things tidy. Personally, I like the opportunity to lick the buttered pecan crumbs off my fingers when I'm done). Refrigerate until filling is ready.

For the filling:

In a medium or large bowl, stir the 3 eggs, 1 cup syrup, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 2 Tablespoons dark rum. When the ingredients are fully mixed, add the chopped pecans and the fresh cranberries. Pour into crust.  If you wish to get fancy, you may choose to arrange a few pecan halves on the top of the filling, for decoration (and added nutrition, if you want a really good excuse to do this).

Place on middle rack of oven. Bake at 450º F for 10 minutes (if you're working with a convection oven, 425º). Reduce oven temperature to 350º, continue to bake at least 35-40 minutes, or, until the middle begins to set up. Remove from oven, cool on rack.

When fully cooled, cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.

Serve with ice cream or whipped cream (I like a rum whipped cream, myself!)

*If you think this doesn't have enough sugar in it, you can always add a little sweetener to the crust, as well. My original source recommended 2 Tablespoons non-sugar syrup, and I've used brown sugar plus cinnamon before. But with this, I don't think it needs any more sweetness, or people's teeth will start to hurt.

†I prefer to use a glass pie pan for this, because I can hold the dish up to the light after I've spread the crust and pressed it in. That way, I can see if I've missed any spots or made an area too thin. Also, the pecan crust seems to crisp a little better in either a glass pan. I think it may be that it continues to cook a little after it comes out of the oven, and the butter finishes it nicely. But don't quote me on that. I'm not a scientist. And I am a little bit nuts.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Oven-fried Chicken and Potatoes O'Becky

Friday nights we have a sort of a family get-together. That is to say, Bat's BFF and her husband come over to decompress, and thereby give the old fogeys in our house a chance to catch up on the latest gossip from my alma mater. This gives me a chance to play a little bit in the kitchen, since, as long as it's only for three of us, sometimes the recipes mean FAR too many leftovers. Having a couple of extra people pitching in on the eating process means less goes into the freezer. That's not always a good thing, but then, the deep-freeze is often over-filled with goodies harvested from Pop's garden, so there is  a built-in problem when it comes to extra servings.

I really didn't have to worry about extra, though, this week. Pop, who watches his food intake, and who doesn't care for chicken since the days of the Great Depression (when chicken and Spam were the meats on the table almost all the time), ate two servings of the bird, plus went back for seconds on the 'taters. 

In other words, the whole dinner was a success, and I didn't have to worry about freezer space.

And the truth is, it was fairly simple. Much of the preparation can be done hours ahead of time (even the night before), and the cooking is low-fuss. The real trick is to brine the chicken at least three hours before you start to cook. And to use buttermilk (no cheats or substitutions). That's what (a) makes it tender and (b) gives it a little "tang". I also made mine gluten-free, by using garbanzo flour to coat the pieces, which gave it an added distinction in its flavor and texture, but you can go ahead and use an all-purpose flour, if you like.

There is something else to consider: keep the portions in a manageable size. I bought a six-pound package of chicken breasts on sale at the local supermarket, and it contained five pieces of bird. I don't know about you, but a single piece of meat that large is more than I can handle at one sitting, these days. Also, when they're that big, it takes forever to cook them. So, for this recipe, I stripped the meat from skin and bone, and then cut the pieces into sections approximately 1/3 pound in weight (slightly larger than the palm of my hand, not counting the fingers), leaving the tenders whole. If you buy leg portions, you'll want to separate the thigh from the drumstick. Of course, you can buy the pieces already boneless and skinless, if you feel like saving time, but I like the part where I got all six pounds for six dollars, when the prepared stuff was $3.49 per lb.

Also, if you want to fix these two dishes in one meal, it's easy enough to peel & chop your potatoes and chop your onion & pepper while the chicken is marinating, and let them stand in their own separate dishes, submerged in cold water, until it's time to cook them (about the time you put the chicken in the oven). If you do this, drain well before cooking.

At any rate, dinner is served. 

We like a little color…

Oven-fried Chicken


3 lbs skinless, boneless chicken pieces
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 eggs 
3 cups garbanzo flour (divided)*
1 Tablespoon coarse-ground pepper
1 Tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cooking oil (I prefer canola, because it has no flavor of its own)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into 1/2 tablespoon slices


In a gallon zipper bag, mix buttermilk, honey, Kosher salt and chicken. Shake well, allow to sit in refrigerator at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 400º F. 

Fill a gallon zipper bag with 2 cups garbanzo flour, pepper, Old Bay seasoning, and salt. 

In a shallow bowl or smaller bag, put remaining 1 cup of garbanzo flour

In another wide, shallow bowl, lightly beat eggs. 

Remove marinating chicken from refrigerator and pour away the buttermilk mixture. Pat dry the pieces of chicken. 

Dredge each piece through the plain flour, then through the egg, finally dropping it into the bag of seasoned flour. Shake thoroughly as each piece is put into the bag, so as to cover the chicken completely.

In a 9x14x2" roasting pan, pour oil, place in oven to heat up. When oil starts to shimmer, remove from oven, add butter. 

Carefully place the pieces of floured chicken in the pan, fitting so they do not overlap. 

Place in oven, bake about 10-15 minutes, remove from oven, turn pieces over, return them to the oven for another 5-10 minutes, until they are lightly-browned. 

Allow to stand and cool about 5 minutes before serving (they are also tasty served chilled).

*you can substitute your favorite flour, or whatever you have on hand.

Potatoes O'Becky


3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes (about 4 cups)
2 cups sweet corn, fresh or thawed from frozen
1 medium sweet red pepper, diced
1 medium sweet onion, diced (Vidalia or Texas Sweets are best)
1 Tablespoon coarse-ground black pepper
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (approximately)


In a large frying pan or wok, heat olive oil with onions at medium-high temp until the onions turn transparent. Using a slotted spoon or a strainer, remove the onions from the oil, replace them with the potato chunks, salt and pepper. Cook until they begin to turn brown and slightly crisp, flipping with spatula occasionally.

Meanwhile, in another frying pan at medium heat, melt butter, sauté the corn until some kernels begin to turn golden-brown. Add peppers and stir until just mixed. Stir this and the onions into the potatoes. Let cook on medium heat for a few minutes, for the flavors to blend. Serve hot.†

†Leftovers of this can be reheated in a frying pan & mixed into eggs, for a tasty breakfast. It's even more awesome when you add freshly-cooked, crumbled bacon to the eggs… 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dangerously fudgy breakfast bars

Danger, Will Robinson! These are actually sort of good for you!

My friend Asteroidae and I have a weekly appointment on Thursdays, to make a batch of breakfast bars for her to have on hand in the mornings. We started this because she has the same problem I used to have – it's nigh impossible to jump start in the morning, and we've thus both been too rushed to eat a nutritious breakfast. This way, when she's running behind (and, like me, that's fairly often) she will be able to reach into the refrigerator and grab a portable handful of breakfast. Plus, she gets to learn more cooking and baking techniques. Double-plus, we have an excuse to enjoy each other's company.

And, as further benefit, her family gets to share in the tasty treasures, I get to play in the kitchen without having consequences to my girth, and…well, the list goes on.

Since this week was interrupted by Halloween, though, and Asteroidae spent the afternoon with her family, carving pumpkins and putting finishing touches on their decorations, I was left to my own devices. Sigh.

Rather than mope around, I decided I'd go ahead and work up another pile of stuff I don't need, so that when Asteroidae and her brother arrived, I'd have a few bags of tasty treats for them, anyway.

A week ago, we made a batch of hazelnut-fudge breakfast bars, using the popular spread and a recipe I found online. After I'd bragged about the treats to my friends on social networks, one of them commented that her kids couldn't have hazelnuts. Was there a variation I could find?

Unfortunately, the hazelnut spread has its own particular flavor and texture, so it's pretty difficult to replace its fudgy richness. Fortunately, I had recently discovered jars of Nutkao Gran Cremeria spread in the imported foods section of my favorite nearby Big Lots store.

If you have severe allergies, this is still not the option you need, as the label clearly indicates Nutkao manufactures its dark chocolate spread in the same facilities, with the same equipment with which hazelnuts, soy, and other nuts are processed. But if you're looking for a nice non-nut spread for this recipe or others, this Italian company has a very tasty, dangerously chocolatey option... and it makes awesome breakfast bars!

Dangerously Fudgy Breakfast Bars


4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1 cup butter (2 sticks) (You can substitute coconut oil, but it will change the flavor, obviously)
1 cup milk or substitute (I used plain soy)

1 jar (350 grams) Nutkao Gran Cremeria Dark Chocolate Spread,* warmed to soften
5 cups quick oats (not instant)
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1/2 cups dried cherries or cranberries (optional)
2 Tablespoons powdered vanilla


Grease and line with parchment one 8x14x2" roasting/baking pan.

In a 3 quart (or larger) saucepan or stockpot, mix sugar, cocoa, and soymilk. On medium-high heat, stir constantly until the butter is melted and the mixture comes to full, rolling boil. Allow to boil 1 minute without stirring, then remove from heat.

Stir in Nutkao Chocolate Spread until completely blended, then add the oats, pecans, cherries, and vanilla. Stir until well-mixed. Pour into baking pan, spread evenly, allow to cool in refrigerator or freezer.

*I found this imported product at a Big Lots store in my neck of the woods, but it may not be available in every region. It is much thicker and more fudgy than most chocolate toppings, but, if you wish, you may choose to substitute a popular hazelnut/chocolate spread. However, if you do, it will not be as darkly chocolatey, and its decadence may be diminished. Okay, the hazelnut (or other nut spread) recipe, since it is less darkly delicious, will probably be snitched by kids more, so if you're a dark chocolate fanatic & want to protect your shares, avoid making that change…

Not designed to be shared.

Note: under normal circumstances, one makes these treats using quick oats. I had some rolled oats on hand, but they were of the sort which take a little longer to turn to mush in the mornings. They make the bars denser, chewier, and hold a slightly nuttier flavor than the quick oats do, if you like that sort of thing. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Klippy's Pappy Picked a Peck of Pickling Peppers: a learning process (no recipe)

Pop has a modest garden in the back yard, in which, this year, he planted about ten pepper plants, most of which turned out to be hotter varieties. And, as is often the case, he wasn't sure what to do with the bumper crop. Now, you might not think that, by the picture above, we had jalapeños, since most people think of the hot little green things, but Pop likes to wait until things are VERY ripe before he picks them, and I don't get in his way. 

When these little peppers turned red, they did the same thing sweet peppers do when they go from green to red: they sweetened up. The interesting thing, though, was that they lost precisely none of their heat. The "green-ness" of the flavor was abated, but the crisp, fresh heat was present, as ever, and the extra sugar in the fruit elevated and helped retain the heat on tongue (and cheek, and eyes, and wherever else one is affected by hot peppers).

Because they were so pretty, I couldn't see fit to dehydrating them, and since they were still sweet, my choice for the first batch of jalapeños was to amplify the sugar still more by putting them into a nice sweet pickle batch, so that people might use them on sammiches ;) or in spreads, or for just showing off how tough their tongues and intestines might be. 

And, since this was an experimental batch, I cheated a little: I used a seasoning mix, following its instructions with slight variation. I added some lime juice and cilantro – both fresh – to the peppers as I chopped them, used rice vinegar instead of either regular or cider vinegar in the brine, and maltitol for sweetening, all so I could use these for myself as well as for gifts. If you use artificial sweeteners, though, you will need to "bump up" the amount of vinegar you use, because you will have less bulk for your brine, and it will have a shorter shelf life, as non-sugar sweeteners usually are not stable and may begin to turn bitter within about 6-10 months.  

From a peck – literally – of peppers, I managed to get 6 pints and 7 half-pints of pickled peppers. 

The question Pop asked me about them was one I've heard from others, as well (actually, sort of a complaint): why is there always so much liquid at the bottom of the jar when you finish? It's not like that in the pickles you buy from the store, after all. So I looked things up, and – surprise, surprise! – the factory doesn't always pickle in the jars. The process is started in vats, and the liquid is drained as the pickles are finally put into jars. When we, at home, pickle, we need the extra brine to "top off" the contents, making sure the veggies are totally covered before we put them into the hot bath, so that every last bit of food gets the flavor of the brine, and so there is less likelihood of bacterial growth in the jar.   

One can do with a little less brine, if one is pressure canning, but this having extra liquid is still the simplest, safest pickling process. I'm sticking with it. If it's good enough for government work, it's probably not going to explode in our cupboards. And, besides, it worked last year on the pickled green beans.

In Case I Get Thirsty…(not a recipe, but a link)

For years, I'd been suffering from crippling migraines and aching joints, plus a host of other problems, and only recently we narrowed down the problem to things for which I'm not technically allergic (those I cut out years ago - grapes and their byproducts, and strawberries, and raspberries, and a handful of other things normal mortals eat daily), but still have intolerances toward. Two of the culprits are aged cheeses and…

wait for it…


Needless to say, I am gravely disappointed, since some of my favorite foods are pasta dishes buried in parmesan, breads slathered with sharp cheese crumbles, and so on. Plus, there is the beer with which one must necessarily wash down the day.  

I'm learning the heartbreak of trying to go gluten-free. 

Being allergic to grapes for most of my adult life meant I had to be certain there was pretty much no wine in my diet, other than the cute and cloying or the extremely expensive niche wines. I didn't really miss that, though, because, in recipes, you can find reasonable substitutions, most of the time. When you can't, you just don't make Boeuf Bourguignon. It's a little bit disappointing, but that's just the way life goes. To quote some obscure musicians of my youth, "You can't always get what you want."

But if you try sometimes, you get what you need:

Gluten-free beers .  Rated for taste. And some are even good and beery. Yes, it is possible!

The gods do love us.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Make it Snappy – Ginger Snappy!

Pop expressed disappointment when he discovered that the Bat and I returned from the grocery store, yesterday, with only one small package of cookies (and cheap ones, at that!). They weren't bottom-of-the-line dollar store imitation-food cookies, though. They were from Aldi.

Nevertheless, to a cookie junkie, it's tough to see bags devoid of classic recipes.

So, in order to satisfy the growling beast within him, I set to, in the kitchen, today.

Besides, there's a chance a few people might stop by, after the parade today (our harvest-time fair is in town, and it opens with a nice, big parade, and we live within the safe parking zone).

So, to the kitchen!

This particular recipe is a combination of three different recipes, aspects of each we like, in this house, but each one was not quite what we wanted. This one seems to suit all three of us.

Indeed, Pop was so happy, he absconded with three before I could get this shot (please note the not-quite-so-tidy rows, trying to hide the evidence).

Ginger Snaps


1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) salted butter (no substitution), softened at room temperature
2 Tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cups molasses
4 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking soda
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons hot Mexican chili powder
sugar for rolling dough in


Preheat oven to 350º F.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, fresh ginger, and sugar until light and lemon-colored. Add in egg and molasses, beat until smooth.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, salt, nutmeg, ground cloves, and chili powder. Add to creamed butter, mix well.*

Scoop by teaspoon and shape into balls, roll in sugar, and place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350º F for 15 minutes. Cool on rack.

Makes 90+ cookies.

*If you find the dough is too soft to work easily, place in the refrigerator for about a half hour, until it stiffens up a little. At this time, you might also want to roll portions of the dough into "sausage" rolls, about 1 1/2 inch to 2 inches in diameter, wrapped in plastic, to be put away in the freezer for later use.

Update: I've made a batch of these using gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used Bob's Red Mill). There had to be a couple of adjustments, in order to keep the crispness and not lose the heat, though. Instead of using 4 cups of the gluten-free AP flour, I used 1 1/2 cups of sweet rice flour and 2 1/2 cups AP flour, plus 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum. I also allowed the dough to chill overnight in the refrigerator, and then still used the 1 teaspoon cookie scoop to form the balls before rolling in sugar & baking on ungreased pans. Because of the change in flour/starch composition they didn't need to bake the full 15 minutes, but were done after only 12 minutes – plus about a minute of cooling down on the cookie sheet before removing them to the cooling rack. They're a little lighter in texture than the standard ginger snap, but they keep the flavor and the crispness a person wants in a snap cookie.

Update update: almost forgot to mention, I used some of the leftover sugar from having made candied ginger, in the bowl of sugar I rolled the GF cookie dough in, for that extra bit of zing. If you do this, you will not regret it.

These are my gluten-free version

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Curd Your Enthusiasm: Citrus Meringues Filled with Citrus Curd

Since I've joined the gluten-free club recently, I've had a divvil of a time trying to find recipes for things which won't cost an arm and a leg to prepare (have you seen the price of gf all-purpose flour?), especially if I want to share with friends, and not put out what people will assume are poison because I refuse to  sample my own… well, anyway. 

I've also discovered that something I had always assumed had been on my list of severe allergens could be prepared sans the grape (I have had nasty asthma attacks from just a bite of meringue with cream of tartar in it. I usually have to take extra allergy meds before eating out, as a result).

Naturally, I was nearly ecstatic when I learned that the real reason one puts cream of tartar into a meringue is to break down the coil in the egg white protein, so that it will whip up better, and so that it will hold its whippy form once it's set to baking, and that other acids may be used in its stead. Indeed, one source recommended I might use Fruit Fresh, for its ascorbic acid and minimal flavor impact.

But I rather like a little citrus. 

Actually, I can eat lemons the way other people eat tangerines, peeled, sectioned, and then popped into my mouth like candy. But I know most people can't handle that sort of thing, so I try not to do it to them, in anything I prepare.

I try, anyway. 

I went a little agley with this particular batch… I forgot how very tart Dickinson's lime curd is, and I used in in plentiful amounts. I recommend, for others, a little greater discretion.

Meanwhile, the meringue is light, delicate, a little crispy…dangerous!

Citrus Meringues Filled with Citrus Curd


2 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup extra fine sugar
zest of one medium lemon or lime (about 1 teaspoon), finely grated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup of your preferred lemon or lime curd*


Preheat oven to 400º F.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment. Set aside.

In a clean, chilled, small bowl, combine salt and egg whites. Whip until foamy, then continue to beat  on high speed, gradually adding sugar, until stiff peaks form (at least 8 minutes, often more than 10 minutes). Gently fold in vanilla and citrus zest.

Spoon about 1 teaspoon of meringue onto parchment on cookie sheet. With spoon, make a slight indentation in the dollop (or, if you wish, use a frosting bag to squeeze out a little bowl-shaped base.

Gently set about a half-teaspoonful (or less, depending upon the strength of flavor) of curd in the center. Top with enough meringue to completely cover & seal in the citrus curd, then leave a little swirl on top, if you like.

Continue to repeat this until all the meringue is used.

When you have all the cookies assembled, place in middle of that preheated oven, close oven door, and turn off the heat.

Allow to stay in oven at least two hours (overnight is just dandy. Just don't forget you have them in there, and try to bake a breakfast the next morning without having removed them, first).

Makes about 15.

*You can do a batch of pie filling, instead of curd, but if you do this, you'l want it to be slightly thicker than the one the Bat taught me for Pop's birthday pie, here. One can use a variation on it, adding extra starch to the recipe in its beginnings, until it thickens dramatically.

One down side to overstuffing these meringues is, the lime curd settles downward a little too much, causing it to occasionally compromise the integrity of the cookie in this manner–>>>

The tragedy here is, you can't very well pack these up and give them away as your best, prettiest treatsies. You'll have to eat them all on your own (the horror!). The other down side is, the filling can easily overpower the meringue's taste, so you can have a whole lot of curd flavor in a little comparatively bland pouch.  Check first to see how strongly tart your curd is, and be discreet in your usage. Unless you're like me, and you love to peel the enamel off your teeth. Then, go wild!