Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Crisp Cinnamon Apple

To celebrate this New Years Eve, I decided to create a cocktail. It's based on wanting something sparkly because it's NYE and wanting something boozy...because it's NYE.

Here's what I did:

3 oz. hot cinnamon schnapps
Enough sparkling apple cider to fill glass
Crushed ice

Fill most of champagne flute with crushed ice. Add hot cinnamon schnapps. Fill glass with sparkling cider. Enjoy!

Happy 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mexican and Peppermint Stick Cocoa Mixes

A few years ago I was at my parents’ house around Christmas time and got to looking through my mom’s Sunset magazine. They had all these crazy Christmas ideas, most of which I couldn’t possibly put together, but then there was this page on making your own cocoa mixes. They just looked so pretty and like something I could actually do. I did a couple and then forgot about it until this year. I still had a bunch of jars left over from my first round and I think they came out even better this time. I do a half size version of this as my jars are too small for the full one. The full version, listed here, makes 1 quart or 12 servings.

I held off on posting these because I knew I was giving a few to at least one of my readers (aka friends) and didn’t want to ruin the surprise.

Mexican Cocoa and Peppermint Stick Cocoa Mixes from Sunset Magazine (Dec. 2004):

For both mixes-
Unsweetened cocoa powder
Powdered milk

For Mexican cocoa mix-
Brown sugar
Ground cinnamon
Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra)
Cinnamon sticks

For Peppermint Stick cocoa mix-
Granulated sugar
Miniature chocolate chips
Peppermint candy (or candy canes)

To make the Mexican cocoa mix, layer 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup powdered milk, 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1 tablespoon each salt and ground cinnamon, and ¾ cup chopped Mexican chocolate. Add a few cinnamon sticks to top of jar. Ibarra chops fairly well, but can be a little messy as it flakes. Mexican chocolate is so delicious and different from other chocolates.

To make the Peppermint Stick cocoa mix, layer 1 cup powdered milk, 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, ½ cup miniature chocolate chips, and ½ cup crushed peppermint candy. It looks really cool if you put half of the mini chocolate chips under the granulated sugar and the other half over it. To crush the peppermint candy canes, I broke them up and use my mini prep food processor. You can also wrap a rolling pin in plastic wrap or place the candy in a bag and crush with a mallet. You can use this technique for crushing the candies for chocolate peppermint ice cream.

They look so pretty! And they taste good too. I hope all my friends like them! According to Carrina, they’re both awesome.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Latkes are all about tradition. Fried potato pancakes are an important part of Chanukah, as they are made with oil and the whole holiday is about oil. You can learn more about Chanukah here. It’s my favorite holiday and though minor in the scheme of Judaism, it’s still really fun. Some of my most treasured childhood memories revolve around playing dreidel with fake Mexican money with my brother (the money is a whole different story), while my folks fried up delicious latkes for dinner. As I got older, I helped with the arduous task of grating all those potatoes. There are a few different ways to do these. The way I learned was from my dad who learned from his grandmother. This is a Jewish peasant style that resembles hash browns. While I do love hash browns, these are so much better.

Since this week was Chanukah, I had a latke party with my friends. They came over and I cooked and we ate and it was wonderful. My favorite part of holidays are spending them with people you love and eating good food.

Important notes for making these: drain, drain, drain. The grated potato will be very watery and you want to drain all of the water out or you’ll end up with mushy pancakes. It’s a pain, but so worth it. One of my deli (Deli by Sue Krietzman) cookbooks describes making latkes like becoming a slave to the stove, which is so true, but the results are worth it. Another thing worth pointing out is that your fire alarm will go off. All the oil gets a bit smoky. I cannot remember a single year in all my life where the fire alarm didn’t beep at least once. It’s part of the tradition.

Latkes from my dad:

Serves 6

6 potatoes
2 eggs
1 onion
1½ tsp. kosher salt
½ c. matzoh meal

A general rule, according to my pops, is for every 6 potatoes, you need 2 eggs and 1 onion.

Peel the potatoes and onion. Grate the potatoes and onion into one bowl. Drain it. Drain it again. Drain it until you’re really sure it’s drained. Then do it again.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs and mix in salt and matzoh meal. Add this mixture to the drained grated potato and onion mix.

Pour oil into a pan. Make sure it’s hot! Start it on high, watch it and then turn it down. According to the Deli cookbook, you should drop a large dollop of the latke mix into the pan and flatten with a spoon. This never works out well for me. I get two pans going and form patties in my hand, which helps to drain more liquid from it, and throw them into the pans. I usually try to have at least 6 cooking at a time. Then I rinse off my hands, flip and repeat.

It takes a couple of minutes on each side. You’ll know they’re done when golden brown and crisp. You’ll need a lot of oil and to keep greasing the pans. Take your time. The stovetop owns you until they’re all done.

Serve immediately with sour cream and applesauce.

They were a big hit, as always, and that’s why I make them every year. With all the grating and everything, they are just so dang good and worth the time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Chocolate Peppermint Ice Cream

I felt that it was about time I did something holiday appropriate around here. I have a bunch of peppermint candy for something else I’ve been working on and wanted to do something fun with it. As a result, I made chocolate peppermint ice cream. Usually I prefer vanilla based ice creams because you can do so much more with them, but winter seems to equal chocolate. I use the light chocolate recipe from Ben and Jerry because it works better as a background for other flavors whereas the others are chocolate for rich, chocolately goodness sake. Make sure when grinding up the peppermint candies to get them as small as possible. The big chunks will sink to the bottom of the ice cream and often really get in the way. Unless you like big chunks, then just go for it how you want to. If you’ve made any of the other ice cream recipes I’ve posted, you’ll recognize the basic base in step 2, minus the milk. This is a little more complex, but still very delicious and rather easy.

Chocolate Peppermint Ice Cream modified from Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book:

1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
¼ c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ c. milk
2 large eggs
¾ c. sugar
1 c. heavy or whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
About 1 c. crushed peppermint candies

I crushed my candies in my mini prep food processor using the dull side of the blade.

Melt the unsweetened chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water. Gradually whisk in the cocoa and heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. The chocolate may “seize” or clump together. Don’t worry, the milk will dissolve it. This did happen to me and while it takes some time to work out with the milk and whisking, it will de-clump. Whisk in the milk, a little at a time, and heat until completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minutes more. Pour in the cream and vanilla and whisk to blend.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the cream mixture and blend. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 1 to 3 hours, depending on your refrigerator.

Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer’s instructions. Mine takes about 25 minutes. About 2 minutes before the ice cream is done, mix in the crushed peppermint candies. Transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze for at least 2 hours, best overnight.

We had this the first time for dinner with friends and it was well-received. There’s still a little left and I may mix it in with my hot chocolate one of these cold days.

Monday, December 22, 2008

No-Knead Bread

While I am behind on the whole “oh my gosh! No-knead bread is amazing!” but oh my gosh! No-knead bread is amazing! It’s crusty and yummy and perfect for just eating or sandwiches or just eating. It made me feel a little bad because of how good it was versus how much work I had to put in, but wow! It’s really that good. With this cold weather, the warmth and smell of baking bread is just what I need. You can see the original recipe here.

No Knead Bread from NY Times:

3 c. all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ tsp. instant yeast
1¼ tsp. salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. It’s been super cold here, so I let mine go for about 20 hours, even with the heat on, just in case.

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. Again, it’s been cold, so I let it go a little longer, about 30 minutes.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

See how long it lasts. About a quarter of ours was gone before we even got dinner ready.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chicken with Apples and Cider

One of the things I love best about cooking with my husband is when I hardly have to cook at all. Aaron did most of the work on this one and it was delicious. I did prep and dishes. I will make these apples again because they could go with so much! The warm apple flavor is perfect when it’s dumping buckets of snow outside. We did a half size of this one, but I wish there were twice as many apples because they were so good!

Chicken with Apples and Cider from Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook:

Makes 4 servings

2 Tb. vegetable oil
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced (any tart, crisp apple would work)
1 Tb. packed dark brown sugar
4 (4-oz) skinless boneless chicken breasts
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 medium onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
½ c. apple cider
¼ c. cider vinegar
2 c. hot cooked wide noodles

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Sauté the apples until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the brown sugar; cook, stirring frequently, until tender, 3-5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate.

On a sheet of wax paper (or a cutting board if you don’t feel like wasting wax paper and know how to clean a cutting board), sprinkle the chicken with the cinnamon, salt, and pepper. In the skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Sauté the chicken until browned, 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer to another plate.

In the skillet, cook the onion, covered, until tender, 6-8 minutes; stir in the cider and vinegar. Reduce the heat and simmer 2 minutes. Return the chicken to the skillet; simmer, spooning the sauce over the chicken, until chicken is cooked through and liquid is reduce by half, 4-5 minutes.

Return the apples to the skillet; cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Arrange the noodles on a platter; top with the chicken mixture, pouring remaining juices over the chicken.

We had ours with some steamed broccoli and bread. It was a great meal. Thanks babe!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chai Martini

In 2005 I was subscribed to Jane magazine and while most of it was kind of “eh”, there were some highlights, including this chai martini recipe. I’ve been casually looking for Voyant Chai Cream Liqueur since then. Today I went out in our actual snowstorm and got it. Now I’m inside, warm and happy and drinking this amazing cocktail.

The “I’ll Be Bombed for Christmas” Chai Martini from Jane Magazine (Dec. 2005):

2 oz. vodka
2 oz. Voyant Chai Cream Liqueur
Splash of milk (I used soy)

Pour all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Now, as Jane mag says, go help your mother.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Crab Cakes and Aioli

Some time ago I realized that I had two cans of crab in my pantry and not a clue where they had come from. I knew I needed to do something with them and when my husband and I were digging through cookbooks for upcoming meals, I came across the perfect recipe. During college I babysat for this very nice family. They happened to get Cooking Light magazine and I’d copy down recipes from time to time when they looked interesting enough. That’s where this recipe comes from and I’m really glad I finally got to use it.

The recipe pairs crab cakes with red pepper mayonnaise, but I only had one pepper (and yellow at that), so I searched for a good aioli recipe to have with the cakes. The original is here. I served it all up with some celery sticks. Both were really easy recipes and I will try it again.

Crab Cakes from Cooking Light and Aioli from

Makes about 6 cakes and about 1½ cups aioli

For the aioli-
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped (more like 8!)
½ tsp. salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 large egg yolks
Fresh lemon juice

For the cakes-
1/3 c. reduced fat mayonnaise
¼ c. minced red onion
¼ c. minced red bell pepper (I used yellow)
2 Tb. minced celery
1½ fresh lemon juice
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 lb. lump crabmeat, shell pieces removed
1¼ c. panko, divided
2 Tb. butter (I used olive oil instead)
6 lemon wedges, optional

Do the aioli first to let the flavors mingle a bit more. You could even do this a day ahead of time. In blender (I used my mini prep food processor. It was a lot easier than using my huge blender), purée garlic, salt, cayenne pepper, and 2 teaspoons oil until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add yolks (save one of the whites for the crab cakes!) and lemon juice and blend until smooth. With motor running, very slowly add remaining 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons oil in thin, steady stream, blending until aioli is thick, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To prepare the cakes, combine 1/3 cup mayo and next 6 ingredients (through crab) and ¾ cup panko in a large bowl. Stir until well combined.

Form into 6 patties. Dredge patties in reaming ½ cup panko.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter (or olive oil. I use this because I like the taste better) in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 3 patties, cook 10 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through, turning once. Remove from pan and keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining butter and patties.

Serve crab cakes with aioli and garnish with lemon wedges if desired.

Like I said before, these were awesome and I will find a way to show them off to friends soon.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Growing up, I had tremendous access to delicious food. One of my favorite things in the world was the spring rolls my neighbor made. Thin, crispy and so delicious – they were definitely not the burrito sized egg rolls from the supermarket. After those, my second favorite ones are from a little place in the “mall” back home. Every time I go home, I go there. The airport is right by there, so sometimes I’m eating there immediately after landing. So delicious!

Because I love those so much, I wanted to try to do it at home. I used to watch my neighbor make hers (and sometimes helped in picking the stems off peppers) and hoped that might help. It did… a little. These were very time consuming, but so delicious. I modified a recipe from in a number of ways. First of all, I didn’t need 50 spring rolls, so it’s half size. Also, my husband isn’t a fan of mushrooms, so those were out. Also, I don’t eat pork (outside of bacon) and didn’t have shrimp. I used buffalo meat for half and made the other half veggie. Finally, and most importantly, I used the regular wrappers you can get at most grocery stores these days or at Asian specialty markets. The note on the original recipe says that when the woman created it, these wrappers were not easily available. The original recipe is here.

Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls modified from original from Gourmet via

Makes at least 15 rolls

4 oz. very thin bean thread noodles (in small skeins, also known as cellophane or mung bean noodles)
1 medium shallot
2 garlic cloves (I kept these two the same because I love shallots and garlic, of course)
1 c. grated carrot (about 3 carrots)
¼ lb. ground buffalo (or turkey or chicken or pork, if you like)
1/8 c. Asian fish sauce
1/8 c. plus ½ tsp. sugar
1 ¼ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
About 15-20 spring roll wrappers
About 3 c. oil

Put noodles in a large bowl and cover with hot water by several inches. Soak, pulling noodles apart and stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Drain noodles and cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces, then transfer to another large bowl.

Pulse shallot and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped, then add to noodles along with carrots, fish sauce, sugar, pepper, and salt. I then separated this into two bowls and mixed in the buffalo into half. Mix with your hands until well combined. Chill filling, covered with plastic wrap, until cold.

Meanwhile, partially fill a large pan with water. Soak the wrappers in the pan, making sure each wrapper is covered before adding the next one. Cool water is fine for this. They should be pliable in about 2-3 minutes. Remove all of the wrappers onto a wet towel and cover with another cloth towel. I put mine on a plate as well, to make it easier to transport the lot of them to the table for assembly.

Line a tray with wax (or parchment) paper. This helps keep the tray clean. Peel one wrapper off the pile and place on the tray. Place a heaped tablespoon on the edge of the wrapper. Roll once, tightly, fold in the edges and roll completely. Repeat until done. Make sure you use only one wrapper at a time. They do tend to stick to each other, so be careful. If two are used, the outside will be crispy, but the inside a little gummy. Ick.

Heat oil in a large pot (I used my wok) over medium-high heat. Fry rolls in batches of 5 or 6 (I had room for 3), keeping rolls apart during first minute of frying to prevent sticking, until golden brown and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Make sure oil get hot again before adding the next batch. Transfer to a plate with paper towels to drain.

These were very, very tasty. A few did end up being double wrapped and were gummy on the inside, but the filling was cooked, so I just scooped that out and ate it. Although time consuming, I will try this again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Crunchberry Ice Cream

This ice cream was inspired by a Portland must see and my favorite doughnut shop, Voodoo Doughnut. If you've come to Portland, go there. If you live here and haven't, go there now. You can see the doughnut that brought about this crazy experiment on the menu page. It’s the second doughnut on the top row. Basically, what happened was my husband bought more Captain Crunch (because it was on sale and because he loves it), while mocking my “adult” cereal choice. This led to a silly discussion of the Captain, which led to a “hey, you should make ice cream like that Voodoo Doughnut.”

And it tastes like an ice cream version of the doughnut. The experiment was a success!

What I did was this:

Makes 1 quart

Recipe from Orange Cream Dream Ice Cream minus the orange concentrate
1 heaping cup of Captain Crunchberry Cereal

Make the base and mix in the vanilla extract. Add to mixer and mix according to instructions. Two minutes before the ice cream is done, add the cereal. You do this at the end to make sure it doesn’t get soggy and also so it doesn’t all sink to the bottom. It is initially soft serve and becomes more like hard pack after two hours in the freezer.

It’s so good! I doubt it’ll last very long.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Parmesan Focaccia

In my Italian feather bread post, I mentioned I bought two books when learning of my love of bread baking. One is obviously Beard on Bread, as I mentioned. The other was Flavored Breads: Recipes from Mark Miller’s Coyote Café. It contains a plethora of yummy, flavored breads, including a few focaccias.

One of the first things I wanted to do when expanding my bread making repertoire was to learn how to make pizza dough. Homemade pizza really is the best and though the pre-made dough from Trader Joe’s is awesome, it’s a big sticky and hard to get out of the bag. And since I’m making almost all my own bread anyway, why not? I tried the Asiago Focaccia recipe this summer, replacing the asiago with sharp white cheddar. It was, to say the least, amazing. This time I decided to try it again, but make it more like pizza dough. My first loaf was gigantic and could only be bread.

This time came with a bit more trouble. My plan was to have the dough made and ready to go on Tuesday, when my husband and I invited our friend Mike over because his wife Carrina was out of town and I wanted to save him from a night of eating hot dogs. I figured since I had made pesto, homemade pesto pizza would be the natural thing to do. Unfortunately for me, the dough was not cooperating. After an hour, it still hadn’t doubled in bulk. So I just left it, hoping it would rise eventually and made pesto lasagna instead (which was really awesome, by the way, but used a bunch of non homemade things and was so last-second-thrown-together, so I left it out of the blog).

So I was waiting and waiting and waiting. Finally, it had doubled in bulk. I punched it down for its second rising and what do you know? 30 minutes wasn’t enough time. So I left it for a few hours and then stuck it in the fridge. Last night we ate leftover lasagna and the dough just sat. Finally, today I decided I would check it out. And it worked! Somehow it all worked out in the end and it was beautiful and tasty. I figured I’d share this story because not everything in the kitchen is going to turn out perfect or go exactly the way the book says it will, but it can still work out in the end. Cooking and baking are adventures. That’s why I love it so much.

I replaced the asiago, a semi hard Italian cheese, with parmesan. You often see them blended together because they’re natural partners. I just happened to have an awesome block of parmesan in the fridge (thanks again Trader Joe’s!) and went with it. The recipe calls the chopped garlic to go on top of the focaccia, but I blended it in as it was destined for pizza and not just as bread on its own. Normally I do like to finish off my breads my hand, but because of all the additions to the dough, this one was done entirely in my mixer.

Parmesan Focaccia modified from Asiago Focaccia from Flavored Breads:

Makes one super gigantic loaf or two smaller ones.

1¾ c. lukewarm water
¼ c. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. active dry yeast
3¾ c. bread flour (I replaced ½ c. with whole wheat for a nuttier flavor)
2 tsp. salt
2 c. grated Asiago (or Parmesan or Romano) cheese
10 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (do I even need to say I used at least 12?)

Combine the water and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer or a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the mixture, stir in, and let sit for 2 minutes.

Add the bread flour. Mix with the dough hook (or knead by hand) for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the dough is silky and elastic. Add the salt and continue mixing or kneading for 1 minute. Add 1½ cups of the Asiago cheese and mix for 1½ to 2 minutes longer, or until evenly distributed. I added all the cheese here because of its pizza status. I also then mixed in the chopped garlic and mixed for another 1½ to 2 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl (or clean, dry and oil the mixer bowl) and cover in plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until approximately doubled in volume. Punch down the dough and let rise for 30 minutes longer.

Turn over a baking sheet and sprinkle with corn meal. I used two since I made two rounds instead of one. Place a baking stone on the middle rack in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. I don’t have a baking stone, so I just warmed up my baking sheet for a couple of minutes in the hot oven before transferring the dough onto it to bake.

Place the dough on a well-floured work surface. Gently pull and stretch the dough evenly into a 14 x 10-inch rectangle or a 12-inch circle. I divided the dough into two and made two circles about 10”. I wanted it to be thinner than regular focaccia. Brush the top of the dough with the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil and top with the remaining ½ cup of cheese and the chopped garlic (if you haven’t already mixed them in). Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for another 15 minutes.

Using a spray bottle, spritz the oven walls with water. Work quickly so the oven does not lose heat. Using a finger tip, create dimples in the top of the dough. Slide the dough into the hot stone (or warm baking sheet). Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until the focaccia turns golden brown. If doing the two, 12 minutes should be enough if baking one at a time. Transfer the focaccia to a rack to cool.

I snagged a bit and it was delicious, so pizza time it was. For the pizza we used:

4 Tb. pesto
¼ ricotta cheese
1½ c. mozzarella cheese
½ c. cheddar cheese
¼ yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 fully cooked TJ mango sausage, sliced

Spread the pesto over the dough. Dot with ricotta and cover with the other cheeses. You just need enough cheese to cover the top entirely. Use as much or as little as you like. I love cheese, so there’s lots of cheese. Sprinkle with the onion and sausage. Bake for 5 minutes and then stick under the broiler for about 2 minutes.

It was so delicious. I wanted to eat all of it at once, but didn’t. The dough worked perfectly with the pesto and the whole thing was a garlic delight.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Curried Pumpkin Soup

As you may recall, I was a little short on pumpkin puree when making my pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. My husband and his sister bought a large can under the possible intention of using it to make pumpkin pancakes or something of that nature. When that didn’t happen, I was left with a large can of pumpkin and the need to do something with it.

Fighting the urge to just make pumpkin ice cream, I searched through my cookbooks until I found something exciting and different: curried pumpkin soup. I found a great recipe in my Alice Bay Cookbook, given to us from my husband’s oldest friend and our wedding officiant, Kai. Kai lives up in Washington’s Skagit Valley, where the recipes come from. I’ve only tried a few recipes out of the book, but they’ve all been good. I’ll have to look to it more.

This soup is pretty easy and it tastes amazing. The only note I’ll make is that when it has you transfer the soup to a blender or food processor to make smooth, make sure it is in small batches. I didn’t and I burnt my hand when the soup shot up through the top of the blender lid. Plus, I made a huge mess. Despite the mess and my hand, this was worthwhile.

Curried Pumpkin Soup from Alice Bay Cookbook:

Makes 6 portions

¼ c. butter
1 large onion, sliced
¾ c. green onion, sliced, white part only
2 c. pumpkin puree
4 c. chicken broth (I used 2 cups of my veggie stock and 2 cups leftover boxed chicken broth)
1 bay leaf
½ tsp. ginger
½ tsp. curry powder
¼ tsp. nutmeg
Few fresh parsley sprigs
2 c. half-and-half
Freshly ground pepper

½ c. sour cream or yogurt (I used yogurt)
½ c. minced green onion or chives (I used green onion)

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until soft and golden brown. Stir in pumpkin, chicken stock, bay leaf, ginger, curry powder, nutmeg, and parsley. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and continue simmering, for 15 minutes.

Transfer the soup in batches to blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return to saucepan and add half-and-half. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes, but do not allow to boil.

To serve hot, ladle into individual bowls. Float a dollop of sour cream on each and top with green onions of chives.

To serve cold, chill soup thoroughly, serve in individual bowls and garnish with sour cream and chives.

This was a really good soup. I had mine with some of the Italian feather bread and that’s it. This would be a great starter for a fall/winter feast.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Garlic Roasted Chicken

Way back in the day, back when I was dieting all the time, my husband and I bought a Weight Watchers cookbook at Costco. It has sat, mostly unused, on our shelf for some time. This weekend before grocery shopping, we decided to get down on those cookbooks and make some different things for the week. My husband went to the Weight Watchers book and found a surprising number of recipes that sounded tasty. Turns out most of them are Weight Watchers because the serving sizes are tiny and you use lower fat dairy products.

One of these recipes was for a whole roasted chicken, something we’ve wanted to do for some time now - mostly since we got our roasting pan from our wedding registry. I love cooking with my husband. It goes by so much faster and it’s fun. We skipped the gravy part.

Garlic Roasted Chicken with Gravy from Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook:

Makes 4 servings

1 (3½-pound) chicken (ours was closer to 4)
1 lemon, halved
1 onion, halved
4 fresh rosemary sprigs
4 fresh thyme sprigs
6 garlic cloves (ha! More like 12 cloves)
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees; spray the rack of a roasting pan with nonstick spray. Remove the chicken giblets and neck from the body cavity; refrigerate or freeze for another use. Rinse the chicken under cold running water inside and out; pat dry.

Place the lemon, onion, rosemary, thyme, and all of the garlic in the body cavity. Part of our onion fell out. There’s not that much room in there! Place the chicken, breast-side up, on the rack in the roasting pan. Roast 30 minutes; pour the broth and lemon juice over the chicken. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Roast, basting frequently, until cooked through and the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced in the thickest part, a thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 180 degrees, about 1 hour longer. Ours took more time as it was a bigger chicken. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board; let stand 15 minutes

Remove the lemon, onion, and herbs from the cavity and discard; carve the chicken. Their final and obviously very WW direction is to remove the skin before eating. I didn’t to this and it tasted delicious.

It was moist and delicious. It probably could’ve used a bit more garlic though.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Italian Feather Bread

Earlier this year I discovered just how much I love baking bread. I promptly called my parents and picked up the two books they recommended. Since then I have tried to not buy sandwich bread at the store so I can make it myself at home. Although my husband and I have been back home for over a month now, I haven’t made bread, aside for the challah for the stuffing, since then. So last night, I decided to get that done.

I tried a new recipe out of James Beard’s famous book Beard on Bread. I followed it exactly and though my loaves were not as big as I would’ve liked, it tastes wonderful. I do have some serious issues on shaping loaves, but they still taste good, ugly though they are. The reason I followed it exactly is because, with baking, a little change at the beginning can be a big change in the end. With cooking, I go crazy and make things up when I go along, even if I’ve never tried the recipe before (my mom does this too and we drive my dad crazy!). So next time I’ll likely make one big loaf and add a little whole wheat flour.

As for this time, man! I almost threw the whole thing back in the KitchenAid to finish kneading because it was pissing me off. However, I am very stubborn and worked it out by hand. I really do like finishing off my own breads and there’s no victory like that magic moment when stubborn dough becomes soft and satiny and works with you rather than against you. And like I said, it tastes fantastic. Beard’s instructions are very easy to follow and his voice comes through clearly. You kind of feel like he’s in the kitchen with you, helping you work the dough. Although with my efforts last night, he probably would’ve pushed me out of the way and done it himself.

Italian Feather Bread from Beard on Bread:

Makes 2 free-form loaves

2 packages (or 2 scant tablespoons if you buy it in bulk) active dry yeast
1 Tb. granulated sugar
1 c. warm water (100 to 115 degrees, approx.)
1/3 c. butter, cut into small pieces (very small, they need to melt in hot water)
¾ c. hot water
2 tsp. salt
5½ to 6 c. all-purpose flour
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Stir the yeast, sugar, and warm water together in a large mixing bowl; let sit till yeast dissolves and starts to proof. In the meantime, melt the butter in the hot water and let cool to lukewarm. Add the salt, and combine with the yeast mixture.

Stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon, add the flour, 1 cup at a time, until the dough almost comes away from the sides of the bowl. (He adds: don’t be afraid if it seems rather soft and sticky; it will stabilize in the next step.)

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured board. Using a baker’s scraper or a large spatula, scrape under the flour and dough, fold the dough over, and press it with your free hand. Continue until the dough has absorbed enough flour from the board and becomes easy to handle. Knead for 2 to 4 minutes, being sure to keep your hands well floured, because it is still a sticky dough.

When the dough is soft and smooth, let rest for 5 or 6 minutes and then divide into two. Roll each half into a rectangle about 12” long and 8” wide. Starting from the wide end, roll this up quite tightly, pinching the seams as you roll.

Butter (or grease with oil) one or two baking sheets well (I used one) and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place the loaves on the sheets, and let them rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 50 to 60 minutes.

Brush with beaten egg white and bake in a preheated 425 degree oven 40 minutes, or until the loaves are a rich, golden color and make a hollow sound when you tap the crust, top and bottom, with your knuckles. Cool on a rack and slice when quite fresh.

It’s delicious warm, which is my favorite way to eat homemade bread, and goes well with meats and fruits.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Pesto is one of my very favorite things. It’s easy, it’s delicious and most people like it. When I realized I still had some basil left over from the Pad Khee Mao, I knew it needed to be put to use and what better way than the ultimate basil sauce: pesto! Plus, that meant I could use my mini prep food processor, which I never remember to use. It’s amazing for small things like this and salsa.

Pesto from Pasta:

2 garlic cloves (I used 4. 2 is for the weak!)
½ c. pine nuts
1 c. fresh basil leaves
2/3 c. olive oil
4 Tb. unsalted butter (I replaced this with olive oil, which probably was a bit too much)
4 Tb. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (it’s worthwhile to use a really good Parmesan. The cheese is important to the taste)
Salt and ground black pepper

Peel the garlic and process in a blender or food processor with a little salt and the pine nuts until broken up. Add the basil leaves and continue mixing to a paste.

Gradually add the olive oil, little by little, until the mixture is creamy and thick. Be careful with this. The olive oil will spill everywhere and make a mess.

Beat in the butter (or in my case, more olive oil) and season with ground black pepper (I used a lot). Beat in the cheese. Alternatively, you can make the pesto by hand using a pestle and mortar.

Store the pesto sauce in a jar, with a layer of olive oil on top to exclude the air, in the fridge until needed.

The reason I used more olive oil instead of butter is because I have never seen anyone make pesto with butter before. So it probably was a little too much oil and thus a little runnier than I would have liked, but still super tasty.

When I’m ready to use it, I’ll toss it into warm pasta and blend. Or maybe make pizza! Pesto can be used with so much; I’m excited to see what I’ll decide to do.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Buttermilk Mini Cakes and Fudge Frosting

Last night, my husband and I realized we had zero sweets in the house. No more pie, no more ice cream, no more tasties! This was a sad state of affairs. So I grabbed my Settlement Cookbook, which has the unfortunate subtitle, very telling of its publication date, of “the way to a man’s heart”. Despite the sexism on the cover, I love this book. It has some of the very best baking recipes ever.

Even though our house was devoid of sweets, it had all the makings ready to go in the pantry. I decided on buttermilk cake and fudge frosting. Of course I could have just made my famous chocolate chip cookies (and I’m sure I will again soon), but I felt like being a little creative. Instead of the 9” cake pans it recommends, I used muffin tins. They’re smaller than most of my cupcakes, so I decided to call them mini cakes instead.

This made for a lot of dishes. I used my KitchenAid for almost everything except the egg whites, which I did in a separate bowl with a hand electric mixer.

Buttermilk Cake from The Settlement Cookbook:

Makes about 12 mini cakes or 2 9” cakes

2 c. cake flour
2/3 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
2/3 tsp. baking soda
1 c. buttermilk (I always use Saco buttermilk powder. It’s amazing)
½ c. shortening (I used butter)
1¼ c. sugar
2 eggs, separated
1½ tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flour. Add salt and baking powder and sift again. Honestly, I never sift anymore. I just mixed these together with a wooden spoon.

Add soda to buttermilk and allow to stand while cake is being mixed.

Cream shortening (butter), add sugar, and beat until fluffy. Add yolks, well beaten, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, continue beating. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites.

Pour into greased and floured (I sometimes use sugar instead of flour) 9” layer cake pans (or muffin tins). Bake about 30 minutes.

Insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. When it comes out clean, the cake is done. Allow to cool before frosting.

Fudge Frosting from The Settlement Cookbook:

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
½ c. milk or light cream
1½ c. sugar
2 Tb. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt the chocolate over low heat, add milk and sugar, boil until a few drops form a soft ball in cold water. I used my double boiler for the melting the chocolate part and then just the top pot for the boiling part.

Add butter and vanilla. Let stand undisturbed a few minutes, then beat until thick enough to spread. If too thick, stir in a little cream. I used my KitchenAid for this part.

Spread evenly over cakes and enjoy.

I have a quick warning about the cakes. They are very soft and crumbly. My first six came out of the tin very easily, but the second six were super difficult and only two made it out intact. Do not overfill, make sure the sides are well greased and remove while still warm. They are super delicious though and this is an easy cake to master. Even as a crumbly mess, they are tasty.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Impromptu Tuna Salad

I got really hungry the other day and needed a protein hit, so I threw together some tuna salad. It really hits the spot without being too filling.
This is what I did:
1 can light tuna
Glob of mayo
Glob of dijon mustard
Teaspoon-ish of balsamic vinegar
3 gherkin pickles
1 celery stick
3 cloves of garlic

Drain the tuna and place in a bowl. Chop the pickles and celery. Mince the garlic. Mix the mayo, mustard and vinegar with the tuna. When at the right consistency for your tastes, mix in pickles, celery and garlic. Serve with crackers, on toast or salad greens.

I ate my straight with some potato chips.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ploughman Sandwich

Sorry for the lack of posts the last few days. My in-laws have been in town and as such, I haven’t been cooking much. Here’s something I did last week:

I was recently in England and because most of the food was “eh”, I bought a lot of grocery store meals. There I discovered the ploughman sandwich and fell in love. It consists of a thick slice of cheddar (preferably sharp and English), pickles, lettuce, and pickled onions/relish on tasty bread. It comes from the Ploughman’s Lunch. I’ve been missing it since I’ve been back, so I attempted to recreate it. Also, I wanted to use up some of the leftover challah.

I used pear chutney for the relish. My mom made it. The reason I mention the food my parents give me so much is because they are farmers now. My mom has been canning since I was a kid and now with their homegrown stuff, I get incredible things. The last time they visited I got the aforementioned chutney, amazing ketchup made with heirloom tomatoes, rosemary, parsley, lots of garlic and more ranchero sauce. I also have a pesto in the freezer that she made. Their business is called Chernay Gardens and it’s awesome. They are certified naturally grown, which is something you can check out here.

Anyway, this is what I did:

Two thick slices of challah
Big chunk of white cheddar
Bread and butter pickles
Big piece of lettuce
Pear chutney

Spread chutney on slices and pile on the ingredients. I had mine with gherkin pickles on the side. It was really good, but could’ve used a sharper, more flavorful cheddar. Also, pickled onions or a different relish would’ve lent a more authentic flavor. And different pickles (less sweet). Still, it was a nice re-creation and a twist on my usual sandwiches. Next time I’ll probably also use a more rustic type bread.

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