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.