Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thumbprint Butter Cookies and a Lot of Jam

I've mentioned already that I got a huge 16 Quart Pressure Canner for Christmas. I loves it. It's huge and shiny and I have the ability to can huge amounts of Jam and Fruit Butter in one go. Enter 12lbs of plums that I managed to pick up at a really good price. I spent a lovely Tuesday morning making 7 pints of plum jam and 4 pints of plum butter to be either eaten, sold, or distributed to friends. I love making jam. I find it incredibly relaxing and really fun. And who doesn't adore rows of shiny jars filled with yummy goodies?

I knew that, so soon after the Cranberry Apple Butter, I probably couldn't get away with posting the Jam recipe. Besides, it's jam. It's not really fancy having only three ingredients. So I scratched my head and decided that it was cookie time. Since jam was on my mind, I came to the conclusion that it was more specifically Jam Thumbprint cookie time. So off to the kitchen I merrily went, using dairy products for what feels like the first time in ages.

These Thumbprint cookies are really buttery with a fine crumb. The nice thing about Thumbprint cookies is that you can fill them with whatever you like. You can do jam, or candy, or peanut butter... whatever floats your boat.

I made two kinds here, one with my homemade Plum Jam, and one with some Apricot Preserves that have been hanging out in the fridge since I made pork tenderloin with apricot glaze a while ago. Make sure when you make these that you don't make your dent too deep. You need to leave enough of the cookie base so that when they are cooling the jam doesn't just go through the bottom of the cookie.

Thumbprint Butter Cookies

3/4 Cup Butter (1 1/2 Sticks), softened
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Egg Yolks
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Zest of One Orange
1/4 Cup Preserves

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Mix the softened butter with the sugar until well combined, add in the salt and vanilla, then the egg yolks. Grate in the orange zest and then add the flour half a cup or so at a time until you have a nice soft dough. You might not need all the flour.
Roll the dough out into 1 inch balls and then flatten them a little with your palm. Press your thumb in to make an indentation, but be sure to leave a little cookie base at the bottom for stability. Put half a teaspoon or so of jam or preserves in each indentation. I recommend Plum, Apricot and Raspberry.

Bake for 15 minutes until the bottoms are golden. Be careful when removing from the baking sheet as they can fall apart until they cool.

Makes about 24 cookies.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Paprika Vegetable Skillet and Having Great Friends

I consider myself to be a very very lucky girl. I got some incredibly awesome Christmas Presents, and most of them were for my kitchen and my cookbook shelf. Not only did I get a gorgeous salt grinder (which is exciting when you broke yours several months ago and have been stuck grabbing salt out of a ramekin), a fantastic 16 Quart Pressure Canner which I've already broken in, and my friend Preston got me the 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet I've always wanted.

It's amazing! Not only could it kill a person in a single blow, but it makes delicious dishes and it's so very very homey. I'm using it every chance that I get. One of the best things about it is that I can put it in the oven to finish a dish off if I need to crisp up the top.

I used to live in a house where we used to make cornbread in a big cast iron skillet. have really fond memories of it always sitting on the stove, ready to go. Kitchen pieces like these turn into heirlooms. They get passed down or duplicates of them are gifted to remind someone of times past, of home. I love that this piece of kitchenware was added to my kitchen by a really great friend. Hopefully someday I'll be able to cook for him with it.

Cast Iron skillets need to be taken care of in their own way. You don't want to put them in a dishwasher, you just wash them with hot soapy water, then put a little light oil such as canola or vegetable oil in them and spread it around to coat the pan, wiping out the excess with a paper towel. This keeps them happy and in great condition. They really can last forever.

When I think of a traditional skillet meal, I think of crispy potatoes and vegetables. Great for breakfast or lunch, especially with a poached egg on top, you can use whatever vegetables you like but the combination below is my personal favorite.

Paprika Vegetable Skillet

3 Medium Potatoes, diced
1/4 of a Cabbage, shredded
6 Mushrooms, cut into thick slices
1 Cup Broccoli
1 Cup Cauliflower
1 Teaspoon Paprika
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Cheddar Cheese

In a cast iron skillet, heat up the olive oil and add in the potatoes with the paprika, salt and pepper . Cook for about ten minutes, then add the cabbage. Cook two more minutes and then add the rest of the vegetables and some more salt and pepper if you like. Cover and cook for about 5 more minutes. Then, sprinkle with cheese and stick under the broiler for about three minutes until the cheese browns.

Makes 2-4 servings depending on serving size.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Vegan Pumpkin Bread and Freezer Envy

Many years ago I used to always pick up an extra pumpkin around Hallowe'en. I'd scoop out the seeds and oven roast them, and I would break down all the pumpkin flesh and puree and freeze it. I stopped doing it a few years ago for no reason that I can tell, but this year I received a free pumpkin and couldn't resist the urge to fill my freezer with potential baked goodies.

I love having a full freezer. Right now it's filled with pesto and home made chicken stock and pumpkin puree and peach pie filling and other things I've made by hand or am going to use to make other scrummy things. We have a little little freezer right now, the kind that goes over a fridge and a quarter of it is taken up by the ice maker.

One day, I'll have a grown up house with a garden and a grown up freezer and I'll get to store things that I grow myself. This is a big goal of mine, one that will take quite a while to accomplish I'm sure, but will be worth it when I get there!

Pumpkin Bread is a big big favorite of mine. I love to load it up with spices and I adore how moist it is. It's just hearty and delicious. I have a vegan house guest right now and I wanted to make something that he could partake in. I was flipping through some of my staple recipes when I realized that this recipe only had one non-vegan ingredient in it, and that could be very simply substituted with something that might make the bread even yummier. I have to admit, it's unlikely that I'll ever make this recipe in a different form ever again.

Vegan Pumpkin Bread

If you want a little extra texture, sprinkle the top of the bread with crushed walnuts. You can use apple sauce instead of apple butter. If you don't want this to be vegan, use three large eggs instead of the Apple Butter. You can also mess around with the spice mixture based on taste.

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Packed Light Brown Sugar
1 1/2 Cup Pureed Pumpkin
6 Tablespoons Apple Butter
2 Teaspoons Cinnamon
1 1/2 Teaspoons Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/2 Teaspoons Ground Allspice
1 Cup Vegetable Oil
2 1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda

2 Tablespoons Crushed Walnuts (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Mix the top ingredients together up to and including the oil, then add in the flour and baking soda. Pour the batter into a 9x5 Loaf Pan and sprinkle with the walnuts. Loosely cover with foil to stop the loaf from getting too brown, you'll want to tent it so that the loaf can still rise a little. Bake for one hour, then take the foil off and bake for another fifteen minutes for color and crunch. Insert a knife into the center to make sure it come out clean. It may need more time in the oven as this is a big big loaf.

Makes one delicious really big loaf.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marsala Mushroom Quinoa and Listening to Leslee

Here's the thing about Marsala Mushroom's not the prettiest of dishes. The raw ingredients look way better than the finished product, but the finished product is incredibly yummy. I made this for the first time a couple months ago and randomly mentioned it on Facebook. The lovely Leslee asked for the recipe and so, after a little tweaking, I managed to get it put together. Much of the cooking that I do is a little of this, a little of that with spices and ingredients. I tend to do a lot of cooking by "feel", and I do a ton by tasting and adjusting. If I make this recipe again in the future, I might try doing it with a more varied mix of mushrooms. It tastes great with just normal white mushrooms, but throwing in some portabellas or shitake would probably be quite lovely.

Quinoa is a fantastic grain. It's high in protein, it has an interesting texture, and it takes flavor really really well. It's just as quick to make as rice from scratch. I like this dish as a side item, but if you wanted to make it into an easy main course, you could use it to stuff some peppers and then wrap them in foil and bake for 25 minutes or so. You can also throw in a bunch more veggies to turn this into a main course.

Marsala Mushroom Quinoa

8oz Mushrooms, sliced
3 Tablespoons Butter
1 Cup Quinoa
2 Cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock
2 Tablespoons Marsala Wine
1/4 Cup Parmesan
Fresh Parsley (optional)

Melt the butter is a large pan and brown the mushrooms. When they are browned, remove them but leave as much liquid in the pan as you can. Add the Quino and mix on a medium heat for about a minute. Then, add in the Stock, a hefty pinch of salt and several good grinds of black pepper and let simmer. It will take about twenty five minutes on a medium heat. Quinoa is down when each grain is big and translucent. Taste it at 20 minutes and see if you like the doneness. The Stock should all be absorbed.
Next, add the Marsala wine and the parmesan. Cook for two more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. You may want to add a little more butter. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley if you have it.

Makes 4 side dish servings or 2 main dish servings.

See how it's just not that attractive? I feel bad for the little dish.

So, since Leslie got her request, does anyone else have something they would like a recipe for?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cranberry Apple Butter and Tasks Best Done in Pajamas

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I have a friend who, in my mind, is the Queen of preserves. When we lived in the same city, I often went to her house for dinner and I rarely left without a jar of something special. She makes plum butter, fig preserves, jams, all kinds of delicious goodies. It was quite inspiring, really. So I found myself a teeny tiny pressure canner on eBay and when I found a good deal at the store on apples I decided it was time to take the plunge. I loved the result and a week later I was at it again. It was just after Thanksgiving so I also had a bag of cranberries in the fridge.

There is something so lovely about filling my kitchen with the smells of apple and cinnamon. Making Apple Butter takes a couple of hours so the house gets deliciously warm. It's a low maintenance project. You just have to stir it here and there while you potter around doing other things. Thats really one of the best things about making preserves in my mind. They are a labor of love. It takes time to develop flavor and adjust spices, with lots of tasting in between. For me, it's a relaxing Saturday morning task, one best done in pajamas with a ready supply of hot tea.

Apple Butter is a favorite in my house. It goes really well on toast or bread, and it is particularly perfect on fluffy biscuits. It's thicker than apple sauce and it isn't as sticky as a jam. The idea for this comes from one of my favorite Southern breakfast places; the Flying Biscuit. They are famous for their biscuits and they always come with a yummy dish of apple butter on the side. This is definitely a nod to them, and to my friend Laurie, the Queen of preserves.

Cranberry Apple Butter

The best apples here would be something like a Granny Smith, but honestly you can use anything you want as an apple base. The apple cider vinegar really pulls out the apple flavor, and you're going to hit it up with a lot of spices. Taste often and play with the spices until you are happy.

4lb Apples, peeled, cored and diced
12 oz cranberries
2 Cups Water
3 Cups Sugar
2 Tablespoons Cinnamon
2 Teaspoons Nutmeg
2 Teaspoons Ground Cloves
1 Teaspoon Allspice
1 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
Zest and juice of one Lemon

Put all of the ingredients in a large heavy saucepan over a medium heat. Stir occasionally for thirty minutes. The cranberries will start to burst and the apples will soften up. Grab a potato masher and squish up the apples. Then turn the heat down a little and let it cook. Stir every so often so that the butter doesn't start to burn on the bottom. The butter will reduce and thicken. Start tasting after about another thirty minutes, and adjust the seasoning as you like. It's probably going to take another hour for it to be nice and thick. If you like it smoother, you can puree three quarters of it in a blender, which I would actually recommend.

Sterilize the jars you want to use and then pour in the butter, process them in a regular water bath or or a pressure canner for about twenty minutes. Let them sit and cool and make sure they seal.

If you put them in pretty jars, they also make great gifts.

Makes around 64oz.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December Dark

I'm on my December Dark right now, meaning I have two weeks off. I'm eating my way through Atlanta. I'll be back soon!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Five Kitchen Christmas Gift Ideas

Ah the holiday season. Thanksgiving is, for me, all about the food. I love it dearly as a holiday. Christmas, though, is often about the presents. I'm a big fan of people making up Wishlists for Christmas, otherwise I find that I'm flying blind. If you are flying blind, though, and you have someone who is into food that you are purchasing for, let me help you out by recommending a few of my kitchen essentials.

Sil-Pat Baking Mat
This revolutionized my baking world when I got it. These mats are so fantastic. Nothing sticks to them. They clean up very easily. No more scrubbing cookie sheets anymore. They also seem to help things cook on the bottom more evenly. I only have one, but hope to get a couple more soon so I can do multiple cookie batches at once.

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
This was the book of the year for me. Molly Wizenberg is an incredible writer and brilliant cook. I discovered her blog Orangette early in the year, bought and read the book, and then read every single post on her blog. Her memories surrounding food are captivating and her recipes are great. I've made most of the recipes in this book and they are all winners.

A Microplane Grater
I was gifted one of these a while ago and it's just wonderful. It's great for zesting lemons and for grating Parmesan and other hard cheeses. I also love to use it to grate chocolate. It cleans up in a snap, too, and takes up very little room. It's a delight.

1.5 Quart Pyrex Casseole Dish
I have no idea where this came from. I swear it just showed up in my kitchen cabinet one day. I think that it came from my other half's kitchen contributions when we combined all of our stuff but I'm quite taken with it. It's wonderful for over braising things and I also use it as a vessel for marinading. I've used it as a mixing bowl and a serving dish too in times of need. It's easy to clean and elegantly simple.

Shun Serrated Utility Knife
So this is the pricey item on the list, but honestly if you're going to spend a little more, spend it on a kitchen knife. I am the lucky owner of three Shun Knives and they are brilliant. I love this serrated one because I can cut pretty much anything with it. I use it to break down chicken, to slice tomatoes, to cut bread, you name it. This knife plus a good chef's knife are a must have for any chef.

So there you go. A range of items that I can't live without that will surely make any cook happy to receive. So whats on my list this year?

A Caribbean Blue Le Creuset Dutch Oven
A KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment
A Salt Grinder (mine was tragically killed in a kitchen floor incident)
The Man Who Ate Everything
A 12 Inch Cast Iron Skillet

And how about you? Anything you desperately want or couldn't live without?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sweet Potato Bread

A few years ago I made one of the best investments in my kitchen. I purchased a breadmaker (this Sunbeam one).

It was initially a financial decision. I can make a loaf of bread for less than a dollar, mostly because I buy my flour in bulk. I also adore having fresh bread in the house and greatly prefer it to store bought. I broke even on my breadmaker a long time ago. It's certainly very handy to have it in the house. I never have to get bread at the store, and if I run out in the evening I can just make a loaf overnight with no effort and I have fresh bread for the morning.

I go through a lot of bread. It's my snack of choice, and I eat a poached egg on toast every morning for breakfast. When I moved to America, bread was one of the things that I missed the most. It tastes so different here.

I've played with a lot of different bread recipes, and I have a standard one that I use for every day. I was about to start making a loaf yesterday and when I reached in the fridge to get the milk out, the leftover mashed sweet potatoes that we've been working through since Thanksgiving put an idea into my head. Dense, moist, delicious sweet potato bread sounded like just the thing to brighten up my recipe and change things up.

One of the best things about making your own bread is that when you make it, the house smells phenomenal. It's very hard for a loaf of bread to cool down before being attacked in my house.

This bread is wonderful just smeared with butter. It makes great toast, it's a good bread to have on the side with a meal, and it makes for amazing sandwiches.

Sweet Potato Bread

2 1/4 Teaspoons Bread Machine Yeast
2 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Mashed Sweet Potato
1 Cup and 1 Tablespoon Milk
3 Tablespoons light oil (Vegetable, Canola)
3 Tablespoons Honey
2 Teaspoons Salt

Unceremoniously dump all the ingredients in your bread maker. Set the machine for a 1.5lb loaf on the lightest setting. Press Go.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Daring Kitchen: Sans Rival

This month's Daring Baker challenge was to make Filipino desserts. I picked Sans Rival, which is a layer cake with French Buttercream. I have to say, I wasn't crazy about the meringue-like cakes but the French Buttercream....

I have forever detested buttercream frosting on cakes. I find it sweet and greasy, it has no good flavor to me, and I would often scrape it off or avoid the cake entirely. But oh how I have been shown the light! The French Buttercream that I made for this recipe is absolutely and completely fantastic. It's gooey and tasty and smooth and rich. I made mine with salted butter because I love the salty sweet taste. I feel like I'll be coming up with a few cakes in the future that feature this new found joyous concoction. The Sans Rival recipe can be found on Catherine's blog, Munchie Musings.

Try this Buttercream. It's completely brilliant.

Salted Vanilla French Buttercream

5 Egg Yolks at room temperature
1 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
10oz Salted Butter (2 1/2 Sticks) at room temperature
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Beat the egg yolks with a mixture on high speed. They will turn lemon yellow and double in size. Meanwhile, in a saucepan mix the water and sugar over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar is just barely dissolved. Mix the sugar syrup in with the egg yolks a tablespoon at a time and continue mixing until it is all combined and the mixture is at room temperature or the butter will melt in the next step.
Mix the butter in a tablespoon at until until all is in and smooth.
Refrigerate for an hour before using if possible, then beat smooth. It is nigh impossible to not lick the spoon.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Best Part

I'm a terrible terrible blogger. I went through the whole of Thanksgiving devoted to my kitchen and preparing a myriad of dishes, and I forgot to take a single picture.
I adore Thanksgiving, even though I'm not actually American. I love that it is a holiday centered around family and food, without the pressure of gift giving. It's all about gathering people together and eating. What could be better than that?
So I gathered together a few other Waifs and Strays here in Las Vegas, and we had a big Thanksgiving lunch before heading off to work later that afternoon.
I've always made turkey for Thanksgiving, even though I was a vegetarian for seven years. This year was the first year that I actually got to eat it and wow.... my turkey is really good! I subscribe to Nigella Lawson's turkey method from How to Eat. You roast it breast down, and you don't cook it for very long. I had a 5lb turkey breast that I roasted upside-down for just an hour and a half. I basted every 15 minutes with butter and cumin, and I let it rest for half an hour before I sliced it.
It's moist, it's yummy, and it doesn't tie up your oven for five hours.
As for the rest of my Thanksgiving menu, well, it was pretty huge. I have some great recipes to add to my repertoire and hopefully by next year they will be tweaked enough that I'm content with them. Here was my Thanksgiving menu and it's inspirations.

Cumin Roasted Turkey Breast inspired by Nigella Lawson
Cream Braised Brussels Sprouts inspired by Molly Wizenberg
Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Roast Potatoes
Lemon and Rosemary Green Beans
Together Corn
Apple and Sage Stuffing
Maple Cranberry Sauce inspired by Ree Drummond
Almost Famous Maple Pumpkin Pie (my signature Thanksgiving dish)
Banoffee Pie

That plus a round of mimosas, some good conversation, lovely friends, and a lot of dirty pans made for a wonderful Thanksgiving.

For me, my Maple Pumpkin Pie and Cumin Roasted Turkey are the best part. Two things that will be a part of my Thanksgiving menu for all eternity. So what is the Thanksgiving dish that you always make every year without fail? What is your best part?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Daring Kitchen: Chinese Eggs

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This months Daring Kitchen Challenge was all about cooking with tea, and hosted by Sarah from Simply Cooked. Since I'm an avid tea person (it's kind of a prerequisite when you are British), I decided to make Chinese Eggs as they are something I'd never even heard of before. Why not do something Daring in the Daring Kitchen?

Chinese Eggs are eggs that you boil first, then crack all over and simmer in tea and spices. They are infused with flavor, and when you peel them they have this lovely delicate webbing pattern all over from where the tea has seeped through the cracks. I think I was drawn to them mostly because they are pretty. The taste was also interesting. The spice used is Chinese Five Spice powder, which I've only ever used in pie before. Topped with toasted sesame seeds, the eggs had a delicate yet intricate flavor. They were a neat snack and I did enjoy them. I think they would be a great side item for an Asian salad.

Chinese Eggs

6 Eggs
2 Tablespoons Black Tea or 4 Teabags
2 Teaspoons Chinese Five Spice Powder
1 Tablespoon Salt

In a large enough pot to avoid overcrowding, cover the eggs with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer for twelve minutes. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and keep the cooking water.
With a spoon, tap the eggs all over until they are covered with small cracks. This can also be done by tapping and rolling the eggs very gently on the counter.
Return the eggs to the pan and add the tea leaves or bags, Chinese five spice powder, and salt. Cover the pan.
Heat gently and simmer, covered, for one hour. Remove the pan from the heat and let the eggs cool down in the liquid for 30 minutes. Remove the eggs from the liquid. Peel one egg to check how dark it is; the others can be returned to the liquid if you wish to have the web-like pattern darker. Allow the eggs to cool fully.
To serve, peel and slice the eggs in halves or quarters. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cocoamint Cookies

It's turning colder out, and I've started wearing scarves to work. I love scarves. Mine are mostly all handknit, and they feel like wearing a hug around your neck. I know that it won't snow here in the desert, but I really wish it would just a little so it feels more like winter.

In an attempt to pretend it's the snowy, fluffy, grey season I find myself all about the hot chocolate right now. It's not December yet, so I can't make my fabulous Heart Attack Hot Chocolate... I reserve that for December because it's about 500 calories a cup and it's a treat. It's kind of like how I only make Maple Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving. If you make things like that too often, they don't stay special.

All that aside, I'm quite a resourceful person. So when i decided today I wanted hot chocolate and cookies, I figured why not make something that makes me feel as though I'm having both. And thus, the Cocoamint cookie was born.

These cookies are chewy and dense inside, and they have a little bit of a crispy edge to the outside. They are quite rich and so very very chocolatey.

I made a chocolate ganache glaze for these because I'm a sucker for chocolate ganache. If you're really into dark chocolate, go for that for the glaze. If you want a touch more sweetness, use milk chocolate or semi-sweet. You can put a little peppermint flavoring in the ganache too if you like, but it doesn't really need it. I feel as though the mint should be secondary to the chocolate.

Cocoamint Cookies

For the Cookies

1 Cup Flour
2/3rd Cup White Sugar
1/3rd Cup Light Brown Sugar
6 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder, packed, then sifted
4 Tablespoons Butter (1/2 a stick)
1/3rd Cup Plain Yogurt or Sour Cream
2 Teaspoons Peppermint Extract
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Melt the butter and mix it well with the sugar. Add in the yogurt, peppermint, salt and vanilla and mix well. Sift in the cocoa powder and baking soda. Then, incorporate in the flour. This is going to be a very dense, muddy dough. Scoop out chunks of dough and use your hands to press them into flattened 2 inch rounds. You should be able to get about 15 cookies. Bake for 12 minutes or until the tops have cracks on them. Cool on wire racks.

For the Ganache Glaze

2 Tablespoons Heavy Cream
3 Tablespoons Chocolate Chips
4 Teaspoons Powdered Sugar

Warm the cream up and pour over the chocolate. Stir until it is smooth, then stir in the powdered sugar. Take a teaspoon and drizzle a little of the glaze on the cookie, then spread it with the back of the spoon.

These taste great out of the oven, and keep well for several days after. I recommend dunking them in coffee or milk.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

Coconut is one of those flavors that is both exotic and completely homey at the same time. It's technically a tropical fruit, but it is such a staple flavor that I feel as though that is often overlooked. I mean, Mango, sure. But coconut? It's so easy to find and it comes in handy neat little bags that you don't have to break into with a hammer. You can put it in so many things... curry, muffins, ice cream, pie. It can be background noise, or it can smack you over the head in shining star form.

So lets talk about when coconut smacks you over the head. I'm talking here about Coconut Macaroons.
I remember eating these when I was young. They were delicious little mounds of soft and squishy coconut with a thin drizzle of chocolate over the top. They were quite delicate. Now that I'm a grown up, though, I can be the boss of my own kitchen and make them the way I really wanted them to be.... enormous, chewy, and packed with extra chocolate.

When I started to make these the other day, I wasn't really thinking about doing much to them but adding a little cocoa powder. Fate, however, intervened. I couldn't find my cream of tartar. It was lurking way back in my cabinet and as I was rifling through all of my various and sundry jars, I happened to knock over a jar of cocoa nibs. I was already going to grind some almonds, so I figured what the heck and decided to include them as well. It turned out to be the most fantastic idea I've had in a while! The cocoa nibs give the macaroons a really great chocolate flavor without taking anything away from the coconut. It's almost harmonious.

These are really the kind of rich macaroons that you can sink your teeth into. This recipe makes only eight. You could always go ahead and make them smaller, but in my mind you'd just have to eat twice as many, so eat a nice big one instead.

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

Inspired by Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess

For this recipe, I would recommend going by weight for most of the ingredient, which is what I have provided here.

2 Egg Whites
8oz Shredded Coconut
3.5oz Sugar
1oz Almonds, ground
1 Tablespoon Cocoa Nibs, ground
1 Teaspoon Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
1/4 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
Pinch of Salt
2 Tablespoons Dark Chocolate (optional)

Preheat the oven to 335°F.
Whisk the egg whites until they are frothy. Add the cream of tartar and which until they are starting to get more glossy and peaky. Then, while whisking, add the sugar a little at a time until combined, then add a pinch of salt. Whisk more until peaks are beginning to form. Grind the almonds and cocoa nibs, fold them into the egg white mixture along with the vanilla and cocoa powder. Then, mix in the coconut gently. The mixture should basically coat all the coconut, it shouldn't be runny at all.
Form the mixture into 8 largish balls on a baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are starting to turn a little golden on top and around the edges. Cool on a wire rack. If you like, melt two tablespoons of dark chocolate and drizzle a little over each Macaroon before eating.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Memorable Miso

There is a chain of Sushi restaurants back in Atlanta called RuSans. They are open late, their sushi is really inexpensive, and they have the best Miso soup I've ever had anywhere. There used to be one right by my house... so close you could walk there.

I've spent many a late night there grabbing dinner after a show. Even when I didn't eat fish or meat, their vegetarian sushi made me incredibly happy. I loved their (extremely delicious but not too healthy) cream cheese tempura roll. Now that my diet is much more varied, it's anything with Eel, maybe a rainbow roll, and always always a bowl of Miso soup.

It just stands up, and they must do something magical to it because it's very hard to replicate. When the other half of me went back to Atlanta for a visit, the first picture he sent me was of the instantly recognizable Miso soup.

The thing about Miso soup is that it's so salty and simple and warming and good. It's not too filling, but it is still incredibly satisfying. There are so many different variations of something so utterly basic. A lot of people put in seaweed or tofu chunks. Almost everyone tops it with thinly sliced green onion. For me, though, to emulate Ru Sans, the main thing that has to go in the soup are a spoonful or two of cooked Soba Noodles hiding in the bottom of the bowl.

There are a couple of specialty ingredients in Miso Soup, but once you have them in stock, you won't need to refresh them for a while. If you have an Asian Grocery store near you, just pop in and pick up the Bonito/Dashi and the Miso paste, and one package of each should last you a very long time. I make this soup all the time when I'm in the mood for something salty and warming. I'm certain this is not an authentic Miso Soup, but it sure is tasty.

Miso Soup

This soup comes together in a snap once you have the ingredients. Bonito or Dashi flakes will work well in this. You'll probably need to ask someone to help you find them. If you skip them, your soup will still taste okay but it will be missing a roundness of flavor.

2 Cups Water
4 Tablespoons Miso Paste
2 Hefty pinches Bonito/Dashi Flakes
4 Tablespoons cooked Soba Noodles
1/2 Green Onion

Boil two cups of water and put in the Bonito flakes. Let sit off the heat for ten minutes and then strain. Return the pan to the heat and mix in the Miso, stirring well to incorporate. Heat for about five minutes. In two soup boils, put two tablespoons each of Soba noodles. Pour half the soup over each and top with a sprinkling on green onion.

Makes Two Servings

Friday, October 28, 2011

Frankenapples and the Absence of Fall

"You know, I've never had a caramel apple" were the words that came out of the mouth of the other half of me when I was in the kitchen working on the caramel. I was floored. I mean, he's American. I'm the foreign one! Two of his four favorite things are candy and fruit! How could he possibly have gone twenty nine years and never had a caramel apple?

It's lucky that I was already making them, else I would have probably dropped everything and headed straight to the kitchen.

Caramel apples are very... Fall.... to me. In this town, where it's still often in the high eighties, Fall continues to elude me. So I'm wearing lots of brown, I'm perusing through fall time recipes, I'm knitting again and yesterday I made caramel apples as a treat.
I have a vague memory of being a child and eating a red caramel apple in the dark at a fair or a bonfire night, or something like that. It's one of those vague memories where you aren't sure if it really happened to you, or if you just read about it or saw it on TV and it became lodged in your brain until you made it yours. I have a lot of little memories like that.

I've seen so many Caramel Apple recipes flooding blogs that it feels odd to post another one, but I wanted to post one that was very very simple, with ingredients that I had on hand. Nothing fancy, just good old caramel apples. I think the fact that these are challenging to eat is another reason that I like them so much. You have to work through the caramel to get to the apple. The way I explained it yesterday, you're burning off some of the calories that you are eating. Of course, thats probably not the best way to look at it, but whatever I need to justify eating caramel at 10:30pm.

One of the things that I love about Caramel Apples is that they don't have to be just caramel. You can coat them with whatever other toppings you like. You can roll them in nuts, candy, chocolate, coconut and anything else that you can think of. For me, I made myself four big sturdy caramel apples. Two were just caramel, one was then rolled in crushed pecans and another in chocolate chips. For me, I love it when they don't come out perfectly. I love when they are what I mismatched.... when they are Frankenapples.

Caramel Apples

I love using Granny Smiths for these. They are nice and big and they have a great tart flavor to counter the sweetness of the caramel. I use chopsticks to skewer the apples. I have several nice reusable ones, but you can always use leftover chinese take out chopsticks. When you get to the part where you are rolling the apples in caramel, work really really quickly because it will set hard quickly. You can keep the bowl of caramel over a double boiler to keep it warm, but I find it kind of fun to race it.

4 Granny Smith Apples, skewered through
1 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup
1/4 Cup Water
1 Cup Half and Half (I used a mixture of milk and heavy cream)
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Put a baking sheet in the fridge. Over medium heat, mix the sugar, corn syrup and water in a pan. Stir until it has dissolved, and then let it boil in the pan without stirring for ten minutes. The secret to caramel is to not stir it. Mix the half and half, salt and vanilla together. After the caramel has boiled for ten minutes, take it off the heat and pour the half and half mixture slowly into it, stirring well. Once it is all combined, put it back on the heat and let it simmer for forty five minutes, stirring often. Once the time is up, the caramel will be a rich brown color and it will be much thicker than it started.

Get your apples ready. Whatever extra toppings you have, set them in shallow bowls so that you can roll the apples in them quickly. Cover the chilled baking sheet with wax or parchment paper so that you can set the apples down.

Dip the apples in the caramel, roll them in your extra topping if you like, then set on the baking sheet. Once you've rolled all your apples, let them chill in the fridge for an hour to make sure the caramel is completely set.

Additional toppings that I recommend are pecans, walnuts, almonds, coconut, sea salt, M&M's, chocolate chips and melted dark chocolate.

Makes Four big apples.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Daring Kitchen: Povitica

Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Bread and it was the challenge for this months Daring Bakers. The recipe is lengthy, so I've chosen not to repost it here, but you can find it on our host, Jenni's blog The Gingered Whisk.

This bread has a walnut filling and it's quite yummy. Mine came out a little dry, but I liked it and it did get wolfed down promptly. I think if I make it again I'll add a sweet cream cheese filling as well as or instead of the walnuts. It was certainly a new challenge! You basically make a sweet bread dough, let it rise, then roll it super super thin, covered it with a topping, then roll it up into a big log and bake it.

Definitely an interesting thing if you have a rainy afternoon and a bunch of walnuts! I'm still enjoying the Daring Kitchen challenges. It's neat to make something I wouldn't have thought of before!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


There is a term that exists in my house that probably exists nowhere else in the world. The term is "Salsified". It's like satisfied, but with salsa. You see, my other half loves salsa. I'm sorry, I probably didn't express that adequately enough. He LOVES!!!! salsa. If he could live off it, he would. And I think he's tried. I remember days when we lived in Atlanta that he would come home with 12lb of salsa because he wanted to try every brand in the store. It would be gone in two or three days. When we get salsa at a restaurant, we ask for more the second it is set down because we know he will have vacuumed it up in about nine seconds.

Last year, I started a salsa garden for him. I was growing tomatoes, cilantro and peppers. Sadly, my former duplex mate didn't mow the lawn and then I went out of town and before you knew it, kudzu had claimed the whole thing. I had no chance of weeding it out since mosquitos consider me an all you can eat buffet. So, I've taken to occasionally grabbing some ingredients and whipping up the odd batch here and there for my guy. There is one teeny tiny problem when it comes to me making him salsa. I am a spicy food pansy. I can't tolerate heat at all. I once accidentally bit into a piece of jalapeno and actually had the thought "I wonder if childbirth is this painful because if it is, maybe I should reconsider my future familial inclinations". And John, well, you know how some people like spicy food? Well, he takes it to a whole new level. He puts hot sauce on ev...ry....thing. It's ridiculous. He puts it on poached eggs! And he considers all hot sauces wussy and inferior. You know how sometimes at restaurants you ask for your food to be made as spicy as possible and they tell you that you would have to sign a waiver for that? Well, he's the kind of guy that would sign the waiver and then not even break out into a sweat while eating the terrifyingly spicy face melting food. So, you might have figured out what the problem is here with me making him salsa.

I can't actually taste it.

If I do, I'll probably die. Or explode. Or die from exploding. So, what follows below is a recipe for a very spicy green salsa that John particularly likes. He tends to use it more of a sauce than as something to dip chips into. I created this recipe when I found Tomatillos on sale and decided that since I had never made anything with them, they presented an interesting challenge. If you wanted a less spicy version, you could absolutely play with using a less spicy pepper, or use less of the pepper. Another trick would be to deseed the peppers first as that would take out a chunk of the heat.

John's Tomatillo Salsa

1lb Tomatillos
8 Serrano Peppers
1/4 Small White Onion, diced
Juice of 1 Lime
Handful Cilantro
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Set your oven on a high broil and put in the tomatillos and serranos whole. Broil until they are turning a darker brown in spots, turning over once so that they are cooking evenly, about 7 minutes total. Microwave the lime for thirty seconds before juicing. It sounds odd, but it will yield you more juice, and you want a good amount for this recipe. In a blender or a food processor, add all the ingredients and pulse until combined and the texture you are looking for is reached. I tend to go for a less chunky salsa with this particular recipe. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It's likely you might want a little more lime and cilantro.

Makes between two and three cups.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Daring Kitchen: Moo Shu Turkey

This month I participated in my first ever Daring Cook's Challenge. The concept is pretty simple. One blogger suggests a more challenging dish, everyone makes it with a similar recipe, and posts the results on a predetermined date. It's a great way to learn a new dish and expand your repertoire, as well as to maybe try a technique that you are unfamiliar with.

This month, the challenge was Moo Shu, and it's is being hosted by Shelley from C Mom Cook.

I really enjoyed making this recipe. I made Moo Shu Turkey, Hoisin sauce, and I made the pancakes that go with it all. The picture is actually with chicken because my pictures were so bad the first go around that I whipped up another batch the next day, but was out of turkey.

I really love the flavor of this dish. The Hoisin sauce is what makes it special. It has this really delicious tangy, well, Asian flavor. I don't really know how else to describe it! Making the pancakes was quite time consuming, but I think all in all it was worth it. My other half declared it an instant hit, so I'll probably be making it again in the future.

The pancake recipe is direct from the challenge, as is the Hoisin sauce, but I confess I screwed around a fair bit with the Moo Shu and I like the result.

Moo Shu Turkey with Hoisin Sauce

For the Pancakes

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3/4 Cup Boiling Water
1/2 Teaspoon light oil
Dry flour for dusting

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Gently pour in the water, stirring as you pour, then stir in the oil. Knead the mixture into a soft but firm dough. If your dough is dry, add more water, one tablespoon at a time, to reach the right consistency. Cover with a damp towel and let stand for about 30 minutes.
Lightly dust the surface of a worktop with dry flour. Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes or until smooth, then divide into 3 equal portions. Roll out each portion into a long sausage and cut each sausage into 8-10 pieces. Keep the dough that you are not actively working with covered with a lightly damp dish cloth to keep it from drying out.
Roll each piece into a ball, then, using the palm of your hand, press each piece into a flat pancake. Dust the worktop with more dry flour. Flatten each pancake into a 6 to 8 inch (15 cm to 20 cm) circle with a rolling pin, rolling gently on both sides.
Place an un-greased frying pan over high heat. Once the pan is hot, lower the heat to low and place the pancakes, one at a time, in the pan. Remove when little light-brown spots appear on the underside. Cover with a damp cloth until ready to serve.

For the Moo Shu

1/4lb Ground Turkey
1 1/2 Cups Bok Choy, Diced
1/3rd Cup Baby Bella Mushrooms
1/3rd Cup Bamboo Shoots, sliced into matchsticks
1 Green Onion, sliced
2 Eggs
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1/2 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Sherry Wine or Rice Wine
A few drops of Sesame Oil

In a wok or large pan, heat one tablespoon of oil. Use this to scramble the eggs with a pinch of salt until they are just barely set. Pull off the heat and set aside. Add the other tablespoon of oil and then add the turkey. Cook for about three minutes, then add the veggies. Cook for another three minutes, then add the eggs, salt, soy sauce and sherry wine. Cook for a couple more minutes until you are happy with the doneness. Sprinkle on a few drops of sesame oil, give it one more good stir, then serve.

Hoisin Sauce

4 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Peanut Butter
1 Tablespoon Honey
2 Teaspoons White Vinegar
1/8 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
2 Teaspoons Sesame Seed Oil
1/8 Teaspoon Black Pepper

Mix all the ingredients together. It takes a minute, but it will come to be quite smooth. If you don't have garlic powder, press a garlic clove and then strain the sauce to get out any unwanted garlic chunks.

To serve this all: Take a pancake, put a couple of tablespoons of the Mu Shoo in the middle, spoon over some sauce, and eat. It is very, very yummy.

Serves four. Makes about twenty pancakes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Snow Hippos and Shrimp

Living in Las Vegas is like living inside a pinball machine. It's all noise and bustle and lights, and everything is stark and bright and new. There is a distinct absence of trees here, an absence of beauty and life. Everything feels fake. All of the trees are imported because, honestly, nothing is supposed to live here.

But, when you are driving around town you are surrounded on all sides by mountains. They are a strange barricade that keeps what is Vegas confined in this small area, and they make for one heck of a beautiful sunset from the suburbs.

Now that it is October, those mountains are starting to get a little snow on their peaks. It's still in the 90's in the valley, but out there it's cool and breezy. You can see that fall is coming and the leaves are turning. In the shady trails of Mount Charleston, if you are so inclined, you can go on a hike with the other half of you, and build a snow hippo on the way up. Then you can eat tomato and mozzarella paninis and strawberries on top of a mountain, accompanied by a slightly warm but really satisfying bottle of beer. You can find yourself a walking stick, name it Sticky, and let it help you slip and slide back down to the bottom again.

I'm an explorer at heart. I love to travel and I love that there is so much of the world that I haven't seen yet. This week, it was climbing a little mountain and forgetting for a few minutes that you are actually in Las Vegas. Some time in the future, that mountain will be a really really big one, and instead of it being in Nevada, it'll be in New Zealand.

And maybe that day when I get back down from that mountain I'll eat Shrimp Burgers too. And maybe not, who knows. But isn't that a lovely thought?

Shrimp Burgers

Adapted from The Big Book of Fish & Shellfish
by Fred Thompson

3/4lb Shrimp, no heads (About 15 big ones)
2 Tablespoons Green Onion, sliced
2 Tablespoons Fresh Italian Parsley, minced
Zest of 1 Lemon
1 Cup Breadcrumbs
3 Tablespoons Plain Yogurt or Sour Cream
2 Large Eggs
Lots of Fresh Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Put a large pot of water on to boil. When it is boiling, throw in the shrimp, turn off the heat, and let them sit for 4 minutes. Then drain them and put them into a bowl of ice water to cool them down. Peel and chop them up. Put them in a medium mixing bowl and add all the other ingredients. Mix everything up really well... I like to use my hands for this.

Heat two tablespoons of canola oil or another light oil in a large non stick frying pan. Form the mixture into six patties and lightly fry them, three at a time, for about 3 minutes each side until golden brown. These will burn easily so I recommend not walking away from them.

Serve on a hamburger bun, with tomato, lettuce and a squeeze of lemon juice. And if you have a couple of extra ones the next day, top them with a poached egg, serve them with a salad, and call them lunch.

Makes Six Burgers

Friday, October 7, 2011

This Would Be More Interesting

This blog would be much more interesting if I were actually posting right now, but I've not really been doing that. I also haven't really been cooking. My other half was out of town for two and a half weeks and honestly, when he is gone I find myself just hunkering down and not really eating much of anything. I've also been trying to lose a little weight, so the whole baking thing has been much less common. I am developing some nice recipes though.

I've got some yummy muffins coming, a miso soup recipe, and a few other things in the works. I'm also about to venture into the world of candy making. Soon, I promise.

I made a rocking Herb Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Apricot Glaze, which is pictured above. Alas, the recipe is not mine. It is by the brilliant Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman and you can find it here.

But the good news is that my guy is back. I have someone to cook for again, and I'm hoping that we can go pick some apples next week so I can have some fantastic fall recipes for you. Maybe some apple butter, some cider and definitely some pie. It's actually a little colder here in the desert. Even though there are no trees to change color and be all pretty, there is a certain air of fall and the stores have pumpkins in front of them. Soon the mountains around Las Vegas will have snow on the tops, and the weather will be cool enough to spend some time outside.

And then comes winter and satsumas. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I shouldn't talk about satsumas yet. We'll have lots of time for that later. It's nice to know though that they are on their way!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Finding What I'm Missing

When I was thirteen, much to my mothers chagrin, I decided to give up eating red meat. She was certainly not thrilled at all, and I particularly remember one incident where I was sitting at the dining room table crying because I was allowed to leave until I had eaten all the sausages on my plate. We did eventually find some middle ground. I then gave up poultry and fish in my early twenties, and kept it that way for about seven years.

It was a big moment for me when I started eating fish, and then recently I've added other things back in. I'll still eating primarily vegetarian, mostly out of habit, but I've been adding things of a meaty nature back in.

So it is with great excitement and a tinge of regret that I announce that I have just discovered Bacon and Blue Cheese Pizza. Dear. God. It might be one of the most delicious things that I have even eaten. My foodie partner in crime, Myles, suggested it when we went out for a drink the other night. I'm sold. I want to eat nothing but gooey, unctuous, tangy, salty, crunchy, delicious pizza. I'm smitten with it.

I've always thought that the whole "everything is better with bacon" was a load of bollocks, to be honest. I find, though, after experiencing this pizza, that I'm feeling as though I have been missing something. When I was a kid, we used to have bacon sandwiches for lunch on Sundays. I think they were incredibly valuable in my sister and mother developing a strong relationship after she went through being a teenager. I think she used to always come over for them, but I may be remembering incorrectly because I didn't eat them back then, and I also moved to America. Now, though, I am excited about the prospect of heading home next year to spend time with my family and eat some of those sandwiches.

So what else have I been missing when it comes to bacon? My friend Margaret says that I should try Dark Chocolate Covered Bacon. I think she's crazy. Is she crazy?

I think I certainly need to explore this world. It seems like an interesting place to be.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Snack Attack

I'm a snacker in the worst way. I constantly want to be eating, especially when I'm sitting still. I blame it on my love of flavor, my never ending desire to experience new tastes and new combinations. I'm the person who ends up not taking a bite of someones food because I want mine to be the last flavor that I keep in my mouth. I went through the most ridiculous Goldfish Crackers phase once, and even now I have to seriously limit the amount of cheese in the house because I really will eat it all on it's own standing with the fridge open.

When you're trying to lose what I have now dubbed the "Vegas Fifteen", snacking becomes a much less viable option. I have to really think about it now as opposed to just grabbing anything. It's not just a snack, it's dipping into the calorie pool. No more handful of M&M's for me. I have to be a good little girl, and I have to say, I'm getting a little bored of fruit.

Now, I could eat the occasional cookie for about 150 calories, or I could make myself a little wrap of eggplant dip, cheese and crunchy salad for the same amount of calories. Most of those are in the tortilla, my snazzy eggplant spread comes in at about fifteen calories a tablespoon. The good thing about this is that it's all about texture and flavor. I usually smear a tortilla with a tablespoon or two of spread, sprinkle that with some sharp cheddar cheese, and add in crunchy lettuce or other salad. Right now, I have this crunchy beet salad mix that is hitting the spot quite nicely.

I'm keeping the supplies for this at work, so when someone brings in a hunk of brownies or the candy supply on Allison's desk gets refilled, I can sneak away and make myself something much healthier, more filling, and often less calorific.

I almost feel like I shouldn't be putting this recipe up since it feels too easy, but here it is. You can also serve this as a dip with pita chips, or maybe smear it on some toast. The flavor is deep and just on the cusp of bitter which I actually enjoy.

Eggplant Spread

1 Large Eggplant
3 Tablespoons Low Fat Plain Yogurt

Trim the top and bottom off the eggplant and slice it once lengthwise. Sprinkle the cut sides with a little salt, cumin and coriander. Place it in the oven on a low broil for about 5 minutes, then turn it over so it is skin side up for another 5, then flip it once more. Check to see if it is done. It should be squidgy and falling apart. Let it sit to cool for about ten minutes. Then, scoop the flesh into a small bowl, mix in the plain yogurt and mix very well. You should have a nice gloopy consistency that is mostly smooth. Taste and adjust your seasonings. Add a little lemon juice if you like.

Makes 8-10 Servings.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When All Else Fails, Just Add Wine

I've mentioned many a time that cooking is my way of easing stress. It helps me to relax and unwind, to clear my head and just empty out the noise that is constantly pounding around my brain. Risotto is the kind of food you want to make when you need things to be quiet and methodical. If you want to do it right, you are adding a small amount of liquid to rice, stirring it gently until the liquid is absorbed, then repeating. You taste as you go, playing with your seasoning until you have just the right balance. This is the kind of food that is all about the preparation, the spoon against the pan, the rasp of the pepper grinder. Risotto is one of my favorite things to cook. I get it right most of the time, but here and there I can get a little off my game.

I consider myself a fairly resourceful person. I've gotten myself out of many a bind over the years. You learn to be pretty imaginative when you find yourself in a different country than everyone you know bar two people. I'm still quite pleased with where my life has taken me over the years. I always feel that I can come up with something. So when I was stirring some mushroom risotto this weekend and not getting the taste that I wanted no matter how I adjusted my seasonings, I knew that somehow I would manage to fix it. I had sauteed some mushrooms in butter, pulled them out and then lightly toasted some arborio rice in the glistening liquid. I'd slowly added vegetable stock and some white wine, I'd lovingly minced up rosemary and thyme and some parsley. I'd salted. I'd peppered. I still just wasn't happy. It wasn't working. I knew the biggest problem was that I needed to use stronger tasting vegetable stock, but I didn't have any on hand.

As I stood there, stirring and tasting, getting more and more frustrated, I realized what I had to do. I took a healthy sip of the delightful Pinot Noir, the last of the bottle, the last of the wine in the house bar the one bottle that I keep for emergencies in case I'm invited over for dinner somewhere, and I dumped the entire glass into the risotto.

After a quick stir, I tentatively lifted a spoon containing a few grains to my mouth and tasted. The wine against the parmesan cheese and herbs bloomed beautifully across my tongue. The depth and richness of the wine played perfectly against the meaty earthiness of the mushrooms. My glass may be empty, but dinner was saved. Add in a glass of cold beer and some herb encrusted chicken and the whole thing turned out to be not too shabby after all.

Mushroom Risotto

Regarding the white wine, what I used is a wine that I opened the bottle of, instantly disliked, and portioned out and put in the freezer for cooking with. I often do this with wine that I come across that I don't enjoy. The red wine should be something you like, though. I haven't included measurements for the seasonings because I highly recommend that you do this according to your tastes. I like most of my food very salty and its not everyones cup of tea.

8oz Mushrooms, sliced
4 Tablespoons Butter
2 Cups Arborio Rice
5 Cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock
1 Cup White Wine
1 Cup Red Wine
1 Cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
Parsley, Thyme, Rosemary, Salt and Pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add in the mushrooms and brown. I know it seems like a lot of butter, and it is, but it does produce a yummy risotto. Lessen it if you feel you need to. When the mushrooms are brown, set them aside. Add the rice and cook for three or four minutes. You want much of the rice to turn translucent. Mix the white wine into the vegetable stock and add to the rice a ladelful at a time. Stir until all the liquid is absorbed before adding more. This will likely take you about thirty minutes. When you are halfway through, add the herbs, salt and pepper, and start tasting. As the liquid is absorbed, taste before you add more, checking for doneness and taste. When you have it as you like it, add in the mushrooms and the parmesan cheese and, once that has melted in, add in the glass of red wine. Stir until it is absorbed, and then turn off the heat.
This is really yummy with chicken and would probably be good with a nice steak too.

Makes 4 Servings

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Wish

I wish I was cooking. I wish I was spending lots of time in my kitchen. I wish I could use the Eggplant and the Butter and the Whipped Cream and the Apples and the Flour and the Sugar in my pantry. But, alas, I am working a lot. I am super busy. I am never home.

Food is coming, I swear, else I will go crazy.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

And We're Back

I've been so busy. So very very busy. I've been to LA. I've learned how to give a baby CPR and assess a site of a potential nuclear explosion. I've eaten a Barbecued Pulled Pork and Macaroni and Cheese Sandwich. I've consumed my weight in coffee. I've lost four pounds. I've been to a gym. I've swum in a warm pool. I've eaten candy floss (cotton candy) at a Baseball game. I've watched a girl walk down a hallway on her hands. I've rubbed a pregnant belly. I've stayed up until 5am. And I've made Ratatouille. Twice.

Now, I'm back doing my normal routine, with a little extra work thrown in but not too much. I think I can finally get back to cooking. This makes me very happy because spending all of that time out of my kitchen has been really rough. I feel really relaxed in my kitchen. Playing around with food is probably the best thing I can do to alleviate stress. There is something about the chopping and tasting, stirring and pouring, spreading and kneading that just soothes my spirit. It keeps me content and helps my busy brain settle itself down.

With money being quite tight around here the pantry is pretty bare, but I got my last CSA basket of the summer and luckily that provided me with a few things to help me along. We've been so disappointed with our summer basket. We've had hardly any tomatoes and the ones that we have been receiving have been either bad or just about to turn bad. The variety of other items hasn't been very good and we've just been disappointed. We've decided on no basket for the Fall, so I'll probably have to be better about hitting up the Farmers market.

I've never had real Ratatouille. That does make creating it a little harder, I have to say, but after scouring a few recipes, I think I've gotten the essence of the dish. I think sometimes soon I'll try and make it by following a recipe in more detail, rather than just winging it. I was happy with what I created though. It was simple and tasty, bright and heartwarming, but still light. I topped it with a fried egg for texture and a hunk of home made bread on the side.

Apparently, it is advisable to saute the ingredients before you layer them, but I confess I didn't try that. I just sliced them, layered them, and cooked them. I feel like a bit of a slacker, I must confess, but if you don't have a lot of prep time, this is certainly an easy lunch or dinner choice. It's also very low in calories by itself.

Slackers Ratatouille

If you want less liquid in the baking dish, drain the tomatoes first and then mix in a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste.

1 Medium Eggplant, sliced
1 Zucchini, sliced
1 Green or Red Bell Pepper, sliced
1 Small onion, minced
1 Clove of Garlic, minced
1 Can Diced Tomatoes (14oz if using fresh)
Dried Thyme, Oregano and Rosemary
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the tomatoes into a shallow baking dish, about 8x8 or so. Mix in the onion and garlic and a couple of hefty pinches each of rosemary and thyme, and one pinch of oregano. Layer the zucchini slices over the tomato mixture, then salt and pepper them, repeat with the eggplant, and then the peppers. Sprinkle a little more thyme over the top and a drizzle of olive oil if you so choose, though it isn't necessary. Cover with aluminium foil and bake for about 40 minutes until the tomatoes and bubbling and the veggies are tender. Serve with rice or bread, and with a generously seasoned egg fried in butter on top.

Makes four servings.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Making Strides

It's been a really busy week here on Horizon Ridge. John is off being a stunt man, and I am going to class to learn how to be an Emergency Medical Responder. The two things are not related, though I see how a correlation could be drawn there. I've also got a PR event coming up next week which puts me in Los Angeles for less than thirty six hours. I also have to finish recording the narration for a documentary that I've been asked to do. I also have to figure out how to get a handle on the laundry that appears to be morphing into an entity of it's own that will soon attempt a hostile takeover of the apartment.

I've been so busy that I haven't really been cooking, but I did want to share that after a lot of consideration, deliberation, and experimentation, I've started eating chicken again. I'm sure this is one of those revelations that is only huge to the person revealing it. But still, it's a pretty big step for me and I'll see where it goes.

I was almost expecting my first chicken dish to make me roll around on the floor cursing the heavens wondering why on earth I spent so many years not eating the delectable flesh of other beings, but it was just.... meh. It was a little different but I wasn't wowed. Of course, the thing with not eating chicken for so long is that I also have to learn how to cook it. This is going to be the challenge for me. I have to add this enormous item to my repertoire. It's going to be a huge learning experience and a challenge discovering how to do this.

So if you have a kickstarting suggestion of a recipe that I should try, please please let me know!

But for now, it's back to work and time to focus on the plethora of tasks that I have to accomplish in the next six days. Yikes!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Always Open to Suggestions

I have mentioned before that I am a slacker when it comes to using new ingredients in recipes, and that I had overcome this to a degree by snatching up some Buttermilk at the store. Being somewhat proud of myself, I started thinking about what else I could do with this strange substance. Since it is a slightly sour substance, I wasn't sure what else to do with it. I tried adding it to a couple of my standard sauces, but found it curdled easily and the flavor didn't come out so well.

Luckily for me I didn't have to think too hard as Tori suggested that I try Buttermilk Pancakes. Genius! I kept the idea in the back of my mind for a while, as when it comes to breakfast I often find it hard to break my poached egg on toast habit. I could honestly eat poached eggs on toast for all three meals a day. I adore them... even more so now since I have actually learned how to poach eggs successfully (and not only did I learn, but I also taught John, which is proving to be super handy). Sometimes I even jazz it up by having them on an English Muffin instead. But, since it was a Sunday I chose to be all brunchy and I actually made pancakes.

I wanted something fluffy, but also wholesome, preferably with some whole wheat flour in there, and not much sugar. I wanted it to be low on butter, but rich in buttermilk. This is what I came up with and I am quite happy with how they turned out. These were yummy pancakes. I almost always pair my pancakes with fruit, and today the winner was a nice juicy nectarine that was about to turn into a not so nice mushy nectarine, so I sliced it up and put it in a pan with some water and sugar to make it delicious and soft, and to create a fruity syrup. I was ever so happy with these and am adding them in to my repertoire. I might tweak them further, but for now I strongly advise you grab some Buttermilk and make yourself brunch.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Nectarines

For the Pancakes

2/3 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 Large Egg
1 1/2 Cups Buttermilk
2 Tablespoons Melted Butter

For the Nectarines

1 Large Very Ripe Nectarine, sliced
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1/3 Cup Water

In a small saucepan, mix together the nectarine, sugar and water. Leave it to simmer on medium low while you make the pancakes. If it looks like it's reduced too much, add a little more water.

Heat your oven to 170° degrees or it's lowest setting. Mix all of the pancake ingredients together. Spray a non stick pan with cooking spray and heat it on medium. Pour a quarter of the batter into the pan. Cook for several minutes, until the sides are dry looking and the middle just has a little jiggle. Flip and cook a little more on the other side. Place in the oven to keep warm while you make the remaining pancakes. When done, spoon the nectarines over your two plates of pancakes and drizzle with syrup.

I like to smoosh the nectarines with my fork so I get some on every bite.

Makes four pancakes (two servings).

Friday, August 19, 2011

So, I Have All This Eggplant

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I've really been enjoying my CSA this year. I think that having farm fresh veggies delivered to your door is quite spiffy, and I've been meaning to try this out for a really long time. The only problem I've found is with the quantities of items I've been getting. I'll often be building up a stash of a certain vegetable, whereas another one is gone in what feels like mere moments.
I really don't go through that much garlic, and only three tomatoes? In August? How sad.

My partner in crime, Jenn, has been splitting the basket with me which has been great because it keeps the cost much more manageable. She also does not like Eggplant, and said that I could keep it all. Which, too, is great, except now I have all this Eggplant. And weirdly enough, I didn't get any zucchini so my initial plan of making Ratatouille went out of the window as soon as this weeks basket showed up.

So, I did what any obsessive home cook would do. I pulled out half my cookbooks and spent an hour and a half going through them all and marking out every Eggplant recipe. For every single recipe I found, I was missing at least one major ingredient. Since I have no intention of grocery shopping until the next paycheck comes in (thank you pasta stash), I discounted all of them and turned to the internet. Then, inspiration hit. I found a few people who had added Eggplant to a standard Caprese salad. It made sense... Eggplant and tomato tend to be great bedfellows. And since I had no mozzarella, what else to do but to use goat cheese. I've been really good. I haven't foisted a goat cheese recipe on you for ages. And from this, the Eggplant and Tomato Stack was born.

When John came into my life he brought with him three things; the ability for me to always wear heels without being concerned about my partners "height" issues, an insane cat named Leon, and a George Foreman Grill.I've never had access to an electric grill before and I must say that I am an absolute convert. It's delightfully simple, just plug it in, let it heat up, and throw something in there. John used to use it for chicken and fish, but I use it for veggies. I would be very sad if I didn't have one. I think I like it more than I like the cat, but that is probably because the grill doesn't wake me up at 6am by walking on my hair. If you don't have one (a grill, that is, not the cat...which is really unimportant in an Eggplant recipe), you can make the Eggplant on an outdoor grill, or just in a pan coated with a little non-stick cooking spray.

Eggplant and Tomato Stacks

I use goat cheese in this recipe, but you could easily substitute mozzarella and just sprinkle chopped basil between the layers.

1 Small Eggplant
1 Medium Beefsteak Tomato
4 Tbsp Goat Cheese
2 Large Basil Leaves, finely chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Slice the eggplant, skin and all, in large slices, about half an inch thick. I used an Eggplant that yielded me four slices. Heat up a grill or a pan with a little non-stick cooking spray. Brush both sides of the eggplant with olive oil and then sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Grill for about 5 minutes or so until each side has some color.

Meanwhile, soften the goat cheese a little by warming in a microwave for 10 seconds or so. You want it a little soft, then you can mix in the basil and a couple more grinds of pepper.

Slice the tomato so that you have two pretty thick slices. Then assemble the dish by laying down a slice of eggplant, a dollop of goat cheese, the tomato, another dollop of goat cheese, and then another slice of eggplant. Drizzle 1/4 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar on the top.

You can eat this on it's own, or serve it with some rice or some couscous for a nice little lunch. If you wanted to, you can do two tomato slices with some more goats cheese between them. This is a very adaptable recipe.... more of a schematic I think.

Makes 2 stacks.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You Can Take the Girl Out of Georgia...

I wish so very very much that I had a recipe for you today. I would give anything to tell you that I've pulled off an astonishing feat and managed to perfectly recreate that which eludes me. But no. No such luck. I've got absolutey nothing.

I've been out of Atlanta for eight months now and I miss Southern food desperately. It's one of those strange things... you don't realize what you have until you've left. I miss yummy Fluffy Grits, I miss Apple Butter. Heck, I even miss friend Okra. Who on earth misses Okra? But the real kicker, the thing that I'm really pining for, is a light fluffy crisp chewy sugary tangy savory crumbly melty biscuit. A Flying Biscuit to be the most precise.

The Flying Biscuit Cafe is an institution in Atlanta. It's famous for it's biscuits, but they also make dreamy scrambled eggs, awesome lunch items, a baked brie that is out of this world, and some of the best french toast in the world. Many a time, I would swing by on my way home from a morning of work and pick up biscuits for the boy and I. Once, after he was suffering in the middle of a particularly wild bachelor party for a weekend, I picked up a dozen biscuits for him and the other guys to lighten the hangovers and prep them for another day of debauchery.

There are recipes all over the internet for Flying Biscuits, even some sanctioned by Flying Biscuit themselves. But honestly, I have to tell you, they are a sham. You can try all you like but there must be something they just aren't telling you because they are never as good. They never rise as high. They never have that perfectly smooth top that has a little crisp to it. So I'm on the verge of giving up I think. I can't recreate them. I wish so very very much that I could. I wish I could share them with you today.

I gave it another good shot, I really did. I made a nice set of biscuits and they looked quite good going into the oven, but really they were a sham. They were badly dressed impostors with fake mustaches and the wrong perfume. I swear I tried.

Since I can't make them, and you probably can't either (and dear god if you can please tell me how!), the next time you are in Atlanta you should take a detour and, even if you can't stop in for brunch, at least get yourself a Flying Biscuit. Then you'll understand and you'll know what I'm talking about. And then you can be as frustrated as I am!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Blame it on the Buttermilk

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I have a confession to make. I can be a bit lazy when it comes to ingredients. If a recipe uses an ingredient that I tend not to keep in stock, I'll often choose to block it out as a potential for my repertoire, or find a common substitute for the ingredient. One of the big ones here is Creme Fraiche, which I have never, ever had in my fridge. I'll often substitute strained plain yogurt. As I continue to spend more time expanding my food experience, I intend to shy away from this poor and limiting behavior. Part of confessing this here is accountability. You know my guilty secret now, and that should be enough to shame me into fixing it.

When I saw Buttermilk at the store for $1.89, I grabbed it immediately and decided now.... now would be the time that I would recovery from my silliness and make myself something with Buttermilk in it. I'm always scared of buying Buttermilk because it comes in such big containers and I worry that I won't be able to use it all before it goes bad. In the name of progress and blogging accountability, I now have Buttermilk in the fridge. No more mixing milk or cream with lemon juice and letting it sit a little.

So what to do with it? When we were in San Diego I had the most amazing Gelato. I couldn't shake how much I loved the Dark Chocolate and Orange taste. I wanted more of that, but that didn't exactly scream Buttermilk to me. These days, when you don't know where to put a flavor, it seems the easiest thing to do is to just throw it on a cupcake. I needed a plain vanilla base cupcake recipe anyway, and Buttermilk definitely adds a moistness, which is my chief complaint with cupcakes, so I did a little research and then hit up the kitchen. Twice. And here I have what I consider a strong success. A great basic cupcake recipe for tweaking, and a way to get that yummy chocolate orange combination that I've been craving.

Score one to me for the being willing to explore new ingredients. And now I'm going to score two, because I'm going to make my own Creme Fraiche.

So, what else have I missed by avoiding Buttermilk?

Buttermilk Cupcakes with Orange Zest and Chocolate Ganache

These cupcakes need to come out very moist, so be super careful not to overcook them. Also, sift your flour, even if you are the kind of person that never sifts it. Make an exception here. Use large eggs, not extra large or jumbo else the cupcake will be too rubbery. If you only have extra large, beat them in a bowl before adding them and remove a teaspoon.

For the Cupcakes

6 Tablespoons Butter, at room temperature
1 Cup White Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups All Purpose Flower
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Buttermilk
Zest of one small Orange

For the Ganache

1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
5oz Good Dark Chcolate
Zest of one small Orange

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12 Cup Muffin pan with paper muffin cups, or heavily butter the individual cups.
Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs and vanilla, then the buttermilk and orange zest, then the dry ingredients, sifted. Mix until just combined, try not to overmix the batter.

Pour the batter into the muffin cups. You'll be using about 1/4 Cup of batter for each one. Bakes for about 21 minutes, but keep a close eye after 18 minutes. You want the cupcakes cooked until the top just springs back. Keep a watchful eye!

When the cupcakes have baked, set them aside to cool. When they are close to being cooled or room temperature, make the ganache.

Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium to low heat until it is just simmering. Put the orange zest and and chocolate in a wide heatproof bowl. Pour the hot cream over it and let it sit for a a minute or two, then gently stir the mixture to combine. The heat from the cream should melt the chocolate entirely. When it is mixed all the way, take a cupcake, hold it upside-down, and then dip the top in the ganache, making sure it is all coated, and giving it a little twist as you raise it out. Then let them sit and cool. You'll likely have extra ganache which will store well in the freezer, or you can chill it and roll it into truffles.

Makes 12 Cupcakes.