Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lemon Curd-a-licious

It just takes a little time, but making your own lemon curd couldn't be more simple. In looking up recipes to follow, I decided in favor of Ina Garten's for ease of preparation and small ingredient list. Alton Brown's had all this egg separating to do, but I hate slimy or sticky things on my hands (and I'm a cook, go figure).

Probably what took longest besides heating was peeling the lemons. I found that in using the veggie peeler, if I peeled away from me with a light touch, kind of wiggling in a saw motion left and right as I went, that it was effective at keeping most of the pith out of the cut and yet allowed me to cut longer and bigger pieces so I wasn't spending forever trying to get it off.

Don't Freak Out. It will curdle when you add the lemon juice to the butter-sugar-egg mixture. It will really make your eyes bug out as you try to stir it to make it stop separating, but there is nothing you can do. Just mix it up a while and then follow the rest of the directions.  As it heats up it slowly begins to melt together and become cohesive once more.

Since I did a double batch, it took about 15-20 minutes to heat up to 170 degrees at a slow creep with constant stirring. It's really a fantastic thing to see the sudden thickening of the sauce as it hits near the 170 mark. At that point I turned mine off and just kept stirring until it was under 160. How do I know it was under 160? I was using my trusty digital thermometer, as evidenced by the picture, it is in the pot just behind my scraper handle.

If I was going to do anything scientific for a job in my life, it would have to be some sort of food chemistry. That way, I could eat any mistakes :P
I can now mark this off my list of things to learn how to make and not stare at it with trepidation any longer. Now..to tackle that pate a choux....

The color is so purdy. Right up there with creamed butter, sugar and eggs.

Two quarts of curd from six lemons, 10 large eggs and 3 cups of sugar

Lemon Curd

1999, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, All rights reserved

Prep Time:20 minInactive Prep Time:--Cook Time:10 minLevel:

EasyServes: 3 cups.


•3 lemons
•1 1/2 cups sugar
•1/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
•4 extra-large eggs
•1/2 cup lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)
•1/8 teaspoon kosher salt


Using a carrot peeler, remove the zest of 3 lemons, being careful to avoid the white pith. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely minced into the sugar.
Cream the butter and beat in the sugar and lemon mixture. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Mix until combined.
Pour the mixture into a 2 quart saucepan and cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. The lemon curd will thicken at about 170 degrees F, or just below simmer. Remove from the heat and cool or refrigerate.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

spice spice baby

I just made the most perfect cake I have ever made in my life I think. It is moist, has a fine crumb, excellent balance of textures, spices and the frosting is fantastic.

 It is called "Gigi's Carrot Cake" and it's by Emeril Lagasse on the Food Network. I'm not much of an Emeril fan, but occasionally he has a recipe or two that I have all the ingredients for and it sounds good, so I make it. One other recent by him was a cornmeal cake I think, but that's another post.

I have made this cake before, but it never turned out quite as nicely as it has now. I don't have a fine shredding blade for my food processor, so in favor of laziness I always use the medium shred blade. This time, however, I took pains to shred 5-6 cups of carrots by hand ( I was going to make two cakes), and it was worth it. The smaller shred gives a better mouth feel and disperses the carrot more evenly throughout the entire cake.

Also, I opted to try out my new "Cake Spice" from The Spice House instead of using just cinnamon in it like Emeril does. Though, I did add an extra 1/2 tsp of cinnamon anyway. Either way you shake it, cinnamon or cake spice, both are delish.
In my mind, I know that the amount of frosting he has listed for this cake is technically enough, but somehow, I just want a smidge more between the layers, so I would recommend making an extra half batch of it to have an ample amount for applying to suit your taste.
His measurements of sugar are spot on, however, not too sweet. I do add a few shakes of salt, probably equal to a pinch. I think I'd add 1/8 tsp if I was making a batch and a half. I feel like it just adds a little somethin' somethin'.

Do NOT forget to toast your pecans! It brings out the buttery sweet nut flavor and really adds "oomph" to the overall taste of the cake. Emeril says to mix the pecans INTO the frosting, but I opted to send them through a little nut grinder and apply them liberally to the outside. In my mind, it made it look nice and rather expensive ($8.99/lb for pecans!), but feel free to experiment however you like.

If you have had trouble in the past like I have, with getting your cake to come out of the round pans, either butter and flour the pan, or for extra insurance, use some parchment, set the pan on it and take a tracing around the bottom and cut them out to make circles to fit inside the pans. Do this for each individual pan or it may not fit properly. Alton Brown had a really handy easy way of doing this, but I can't remember what it was, sadly. I have only 10 inch pans, but 30 minutes still seemed to do fine for me in my propane oven. You may wish to reduce the baking time depending on how your oven cooks.

This is the kind of cake that makes the house smell great and is awesome enough to serve to guests or give as a gift. It's decadent and classic yet homey and comforting. Made to be shared (if there's any left).

Gigi's Carrot Cake

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2002

Prep Time:35 min Inactive Prep Time:10 min Cook Time:35 min
Level: IntermediateServes: 1 cake, 8 to 10 servings.

•3 sticks, plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
•2 cups granulated sugar
•2 cups all-purpose flour
•2 teaspoons baking soda
•2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
•1 teaspoon salt
•4 large eggs
•1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
•3 cups grated carrots
•1 cup chopped toasted pecans

Pecan Cream Cheese Icing:
•8 ounces cream cheese
•1 stick unsalted butter
•1 (1-pound) box confectioners' sugar
•1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
•1 cup chopped toasted pecans


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter 3 (9-inch) cake pans with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer. Add the sugar, and beat. In a medium bowl or on a piece of parchment, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the eggs, beating well after the addition of each. Add the vanilla extract and mix. Add the carrots and beat on medium speed until well incorporated, about 2 minutes. Fold in the nuts. Divide between the 3 cake pans and bake until set and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest in the cake pans for 10 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, remove from the pans, and let cool.
For the Frosting: In a large bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar gradually, beating constantly. Add the vanilla and pecans.
When the cake is cool, place 1 cake layer on a cake plate or stand. Spread the top with cream cheese frosting and top with a second and third cake layer, spreading the icing between each layer. Spread the icing around the sides of the cake and let harden slightly before serving. To serve, cut into wedges.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Multi-Faceted Fruits

I was watching an episode of "Chopped" tonight, a show on the Food Network channel (basically: 3 chefs compete to make good food with mystery ingredients in an insanely short amount of time to win 10k.)

For the dessert round tonight, they had several mystery ingredients, one was "Cherimoya", which I was surprised I even spelled correctly when I did a web search on it. It is apparently a creamy fleshed fruit that has tones of banana, strawberry, mango, pineapple and even some others. !!I want to try this fruit!!

Sadly, the season is over with for now and it's pretty pricey if you ask me. From http://www.calimoya.com/  $30 for 3-5 fruits maximum 4lbs, but then on another page it says $42. A little confusing. If I end up really liking the stuff, it might just be cheaper for me to fly out there for a day to get my fill.  *..,*  'scuse me, was just drooling a little as I dreamed about it.

Cherimoyas ready to eat
picture borrowed for example purposes from the calimoya website

Friday, September 24, 2010

Random Art Class

I don't have time or energy to take a traditional art class up at the local museum (and pay their outrageous prices) so when I saw this little downloadable game for the Nintendo DSi (handheld game system) for like $8, I was intrigued.

It's called "Art Academy - First Semester" and it's just what it sounds like. It's a step by step of the basics with a little bearded cartoon guy that looks like Grumpy of the seven dwarves and his name is "Leonardo" - of course! He has a black and white puppy dog that pops on screen during loading and lesson introduction times, just like my dogs, so it connected with me on that level immediately.

Since I have never had art lessons except once in first grade and once in 6th grade, this is rather enlightening for me and gives some excellent tips on how to get shadows and shapes to look the way you want them. Below you can see my slowly improving technique with each lesson. The first two are pencil sketches obviously and then it moved into painting skills. I love the fact that the DSi lets you upload it to an SD card so you can save it or show it like this. It's surprisingly accurate for being a touch screen, and a whooole lot cheaper than buying art supplies.

I Really labored over this lime half. :P

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Quote Note

"Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie."

Jim Davis, "Garfield"

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Spice 'o my life

I think I am in love.

Who? Who?


What what?!

When I received my order from The Spice House I have to admit I was downright giddy. They wrap everything so nicely, it was like getting a big present with a bunch of little ones inside. The sensory euphoria that took over while unwrapping each spice was giggle inducing. I'm telling you now, their dried lemon zest smells *just like* lemon cookies with hard sauce - in my mind anyway.
Maybe I sound a little crazy, but I seem to have exceptionally sensitive olfactories and even though it can be a pain when bad smells are afoot, I like to keep them that way for the good ones. The dried ginger, when held next to the cake spice I ordered, smelled just like the best ginger snaps you've ever had in your life.
I can't say enough good about my spicey experience. It was like an aroma therapy session or something. Try it, order some spices, spend some time delicately sniffing the air around them, divvy it up into smaller bottles or something, and don't forget to send me one. ;)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

cupcake madness

I met a friend down in VA last July and we stopped in at a sweet little bake shop wherein we partook of scrumpteous cupcakes that were golden cake with minty frosting. In a word, nummy. I go bonkers for mint stuff, particularly pepperminty stuff, not like the hard candies though, more like Andes Candies and Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream etc. Although, I have either heard of, or have an idea for (can't remember which at this point), white hot chocolate with crushed peppermint candies. I think there is a great possibility I could like that.

I digress. So my friend asked me if I would ever do my own version of those cupcakes, and I really thought I'd like to, but I can never find peppermint extract. Thankfully The Spice House (see link also at right of blog), carries a staggering array of spices, extracts and flavorings. I was able to order some just in time for my friend's baby shower this month. 

Try as I might though, I could not replicate the same kind of golden moist crumb and flavor that the cupcake at the bake shop had. I suspect it is somewhat because I use King Arthur Flour which is not bleached or bromated to make the texture extra fine and I won't use things like margarine ever - or even shortening if I can help it. After trying several versions, my family and I having to eat the "mistakes" (aww so sad! ;P ) I found an addictively delicious Chocolate mint chocolate chip cupcake. I found it on a blog called Cast Sugar hosted right here on Blogspot and it is from a book apparently named "How To Eat A Cupcake". Apropos, eh?

And thankfully for you dear reader, I will provide it here with my few changes at the end that made it more to my liking. Enjoy, and thank me with your mouth full later. :D


1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. (2 oz.) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped, melted
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. peppermint extract
1/2 c. chocolate milk
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. (6 oz.) mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Insert liners into a medium cupcake pan.

In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Beat the melted chocolate into the butter mixture. Add the eggs, peppermint extract, and chocolate milk. Beat until creamy.

In a separate medium-sized bowl combine the flour and baking soda.
Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and beat until well blended (careful not to over-beat the batter). With a spatula, stir in the chocolate chips.
Fill the cupcake liners 2/3-3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pan.
Mint Buttercream:

3 c. confectioner's sugar + 3 Tbsp.
1 c. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. milk
Pinch salt
1 tsp. mint extract
Green food coloring
In a small bowl using an electric mixer on low, beat together sugar, butter, milk, and salt until creamy. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy. Add mint extract and a few drops of green food coloring, beating until frosting is smooth.
Spread icing on cooled cupcakes with a knife or transfer to a pastry bag and pipe over cupcakes.
***My Changes***
If you use KAF as I do, then you may consider using their special cake flour for this, for a finer texture. I intend to give that a go next time I make them as it has just recently become available in my local store.
Otherwise, my changes are mainly for the frosting. It was, I thought, insanely thick and kind of buttery - but in a bad way. Nobody wants to really feel like they're eating whipped butter on a cupcake, even though that's what it is. So here's how it went for me.
I did not have any regular white milk, so I used some of the chocolate milk I had left. The fact that the milk was chocolate did not do much to either the color or flavor in my opinion, as it was such a small amount added.
I made a double batch of frosting because I made a double batch of cupcakes, so I will relate the measurements to you for that size. This will allow Ample frosting for all of the cupcakes, and it is the kind of cupcake that needs ample frosting. (Have you ever heard of one that doesn't?? Maybe it's more like we need the ample frosting. Either way, just put some more on!)
1 LB of butter = 2 cups/4 sticks
I used 2 sticks salted and 2 were UNsalted.
I added one "shake" of salt from my shaker even though I had some salted butter in it already. Probably equal to a very small pinch?
4 TBS of milk
3 Tsp of peppermint extract (to help cut the butter's intensity and I liked the mint stronger tasting)
1 tsp of vanilla extract - gave it that lil extra somethin' somethin'
Omit green food coloring as I don't like the thought of adding something that might be unnatural to my food on purpose. I know I can't avoid it all, but I avoid what I can.
To make up for the loss of color, I added a sprinkle of mini chocolate chips on top after piping it out of my powdered sugar bag (store packaging = FREE piping bag, always a good thing). They turned out pretty cute inspite of my lack of a steady hand. That just means I need to practice on some more cupcakes. ::wink wink:: Well, maybe in the not too close future anyway.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


There was a sale at the local meat market this week on drums and thighs so I thought I'd use this as an opportunity for some prime grilling time. I have included a lovely shot of a crock full of the chicken bits which kind of  makes up for the last less-than-beautiful picture of the duck.

I have taken to brining all of my chicken/turkey meat before cooking it which makes it infinitely better in a few ways.
  1. It is an opportunity to flavor the meat with salt, sweetness and spices.
  2. It keeps the meat moist for all manners of cooking.
  3. Provides an environment to kill off some bacteria that might've contaminated the meat.
Those are the three I can think of off the top of my head and probably the only ones worth mentioning at the moment.

I decided I wanted a lemony flavor, so I made up my standard brine of 1/4 cup kosher salt and 1/8 cup sugar to each quart of water used. After that I brought it to a warm heat and added some toasted coriander and peppercorn medley, a bit of dried rosemary, some garlic powder, onion bits and turmeric. I added about a half a cup of lemon juice (from the bottle, it's what I had), lemon zest would've been awesome.

I let the 10 lbs of drums/thighs sit in the cooled brine in the fridge for about 2 and a half to 3 hours. It would've been okay for even 4 hours possibly.

I wanted to add a nice sweet glaze to it as I grilled it, so I found part of a jar of yellow mustard left, Dijon would've nicer, but I didn't have it. So, I added about a quarter cup of white balsamic vinegar to it, along with nearly half a cup of lemon juice, a quarter cup of Bragg's liquid aminos, and roughly a 1/2 cup of honey. For spices I used white pepper, pepper medley (black, green, white, pink), paprika, turmeric, coriander, and garlic powder. I think that was it. I really wish I could remember better when I'm putting things together off the cuff.

Initially I basted the the chicken once and let it sit for about 15ish minutes skin side down running on a slow grill of about 300 degrees. After that I basted again, turned it, basted the cooked side and let some grill marks develop for about 10 minutes, then continued turning and basting off and on for about 20-30 more minutes. I'm not even a thigh gal and I liked it. Chicken Lickin' good.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Duck Season!

Disclaimer: The following pictures will NOT be pretty. Food is supposed to be attractive, but sometimes, it's just not, even if it still tastes good. You've been warned.

It isn't to say that I don't like duck, I like Donald Duck, Darkwing Duck, Scrooge McDuck, Daisy Duck, and even Daffy Duck (he's hard to like tho). But I don't think I can like duck dinner. Admittedly, this is an Ugly Duck, but it smelled really, really good. I had my first foray into using a smoker the other day, using some hickory and guidance from my brother, we built up a toasty bed of coals and let it do its thing. I just cannot get into the...how to describe it, deepness of the meat, it is rich to be sure, but heavier than I'm used to, since I'm mainly a chicken gal.  My male family members loved it. As for me, if I had to go on this one experience, I would never eat duck again. It didn't help that all I could think of while preparing it was the cute little Yellow Duck with the garbled voice from the Tom & Jerry cartoons where he thought Tom was his "Momma".  "If my Momma wants a duck dinner, my Momma's gonna Get a duck dinner." Gah!

But as the addage goes, You never know unless you try. And I always say it is good to try new things, or at the very least, as in this case, enlightening if not "good".

Saturday, August 28, 2010

things to try

Still on the thought of things to make for this winter I am adding a few savory items to my list as well after seeing an episode where Ina Garten of Food Network fame, makes hollandaise sauce in a very simple fashion using the blender and had it over roasted asparagus tips. It sounds good and I don't even care for asparagus (at least not the way my bro makes it).

So I'm percolating an idea here, I'm thinking traditional eggs Benedict, the whole nine yards. Home made english muffins, hollandaise and poached eggs with a slice o' ham/Canadian Bacon. My initial leaning is to follow Alton Brown's recipe and method for everything except the sauce itself which I would use Ina's method for because it is infinitely easier and less time consuming. Though I do like Alton's idea for holding the sauce in a thermos so it doesn't break if you're running behind on assembling.  This is making me hungry. ::smack leeps:: This'll be a very snowy or drizzly winter day project no doubt.

I'd also like to make pate a choux (accent marks are missing on that) basically the dough for cream puffs, eclairs and other delightful French style pastries.
Boston Cream Pie if I can find a good recipe.
Something with Lemon Curd.
Some kind of sweet cheese muffin like one I had years ago at a place called "The Wagon Wheel" in Hereford, MD.
Avocado Pie from Pinch My Salt blog
Coconut Cake
and Gingerbread People

My actual list is longer than that, but those are the ones I want to make the most. If anyone has some good ideas I'm open for suggestions. They can be sweet or savory, challenging or not so much, but they need to be tasty above all.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cookie Cravings

I don't know about you but I'm ready for some cool fall weather and days filled with the nummy smells of goodies baking in the oven. So when a 70ish degree day finally came by as a break in the blistering summer, I seized upon it with gusto. I've already begun making a list for this winter of desserts that I have never made before, some more challenging than others, some just sound sooo tasty. The first one I decided to do is the "$250 Dollar Cookie". Simple enough, but it was a HUGE batch making 112 cookies. I had to transfer the batter to one of those large tapered steel kitchen bowls that are like 1 and 1/2 feet across the top and use that with my stand mixer very carefully.  Here is the picture of the Urband Legend and recipe which was printed in a newspaper some years back among other places.

My only changes were that I had a few extra nuts, like 1/4 cup and added them along with an extra tsp of vanilla. I only had unsalted butter, so in addition to the 1 tsp of table salt, I added 1 tsp of Kosher Salt to make up for it. I liked it, as it added a nice salty nip here and there along with the chocolate morsels. I used walnuts as my nut choice, but I don't feel they stood up very well to the oatyness. I can't decide what nut would and I will have to think about that a bit, any suggestions are welcome. I found that the cookies were better the next day as well, and freeze nicely.
I managed to get exactly 112 cookies as the recipe suggested, by using a 1 & 3/8ths inch disher/ice cream scoop. They didn't spread a lot on me, so I managed to cram 16 onto my air bake cookie sheets and they just barely touched here and there, which was good because they took 15 minutes per sheet in my LP fired oven. They are a crisp texture, best had with a nice cup of milk but don't let not having milk stop you. Enjoy the tasty picture.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Faux Pas Surprise

*UPDATE and new pics through out: Yes you can indeed go straight from hot pasty sludge (picture number three) straight through to making the sauce without spreading and cooling it first.*

I'm sure we've all done it. I've done it lots of times. It can occasionally be salvaged, but most of the time you just lay them to rest in a little hole in a corner of the yard somewhere. Oh..you don't? That must be only me then.

What am I speaking of you ask? Why, kitchen flubs and faux pas of course - mistakes! Mine usually spring from forgetting an ingredient, or thinking I could remember a technique I hadn't seen or done in a while or just messing up from cooking when too tired. This particular time, I didn't have a lot of ingredients and substituting took a lot more measuring than I expected which distracted me from remembering basic dessert chemistry. And I was tired and it was late. Whammy all the way around.

My failed fudge - rather than going to the recipe-whoopsie-graveyard out back (this is where stuff like curdled cream soups and things go) managed to gain redemption in the form of fudge SAUCE. And what an awesome sauce it is..er was (I think there's like a tablespoon left). I think I will actually repeat this flub and make it a bonafide recipe instead. The results were outstanding and tasty and I will share them here with you dear readers.

It all started with needing to rid myself of old canned ingredients before the expiration date, the majority of which was sweetened condensed milk.  So here's your ingredient list.

1 Can sweetened condensed milk 14oz
8 1oz pieces Bakers UNsweetened Chocolate (aka Baking Chocolate)
12 TBS Hershey's Cocoa Powder (equal to 3/4 cup)
4 TBS oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
12 TBS granulated sugar (also equal to 3/4 cup)
2 Tsp Vanilla Extract (use the real stuff!)
1/4 to 1/2 Cup approx, water
1/4 Cup approx whole milk

Place the chocolate, cocoa, oil, and sugar into a heat safe bowl and on top of a sauce pan with some water in it to devise a makeshift double boiler, or use your own if you have one. Don't burn yourselves.

Bring water to a nice steamy simmer and let the residual heat melt everything slowly together. Give it an impatient stir occasionally like I did. Once the chocolate and everything is all gritty and pasty and you're feeling disgusted that it took so long (especially if you used a Pyrex glass bowl instead of metal) it will look like this:

Now open your can of SWEET MILK and scrape it all into the bowl. Just before this point you'll want a sheet pan or something nearby, already buttered so the stuff will release when you get ready to take it out. You can turn off your burner now. Mix the sweet milk into the chocolate pasty stuff and watch it tighten up fast. When it's nearly mixed entirely, don't forget to put in your 2 TSP VANILLA EXTRACT. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl so everything is combined.  It will look like this:

Use a pot holder whilst you move the now tight and still gritty chocolate "fudge" to the sheet pan. Smooth it out flat - don't worry about getting it perfect. Throw that into the freezer for a while until it sets up - probably ten minutes or stick it in the fridge for closer to 20, just so it's all stiff and nothing pasty anymore. At this point you can nibble on a cold corner of the failed fudge and wishfully sigh about how it would've made such nice fudge if you'd remembered to melt the sugar first. Or you can wrap it up in some plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge over night while you consider your future options.

I assume if you just go straight to making sauce out of it, that it will work fine, but I don't really know because I left mine in the fridge over night. I will try to make it straight through in the future though. (*See update at top of post*)

Whatever you decide, you should put the firm failed fudge (say that three times fast) back into the double boiler, heat on simmer, let it start to get warmish at the edges, looking like it could melt back into a gritty paste if you gave it some time, then add your WATER a little at a time and begin stirring. You may not need to use all of the water to get it where you need it. I must admit I didn't measure at the time.

The sugar crystals should disappear and it should be glossy and puddingy but a little thicker than pudding, which is when you put your WHOLE milk in and give it another stir. My friends, you have just made the most fabulous chocolate fudge sauce you will ever put your spoon, fingers, or lips to.

You should have a consistency that will mostly dribble off of a spoon onto a scoop of vanilla ice cream but requires you to stick the spoon in your mouth to get the rest. If you don't, then add a touch more milk or water, probably a TSP at a time so you don't over do it. If you go with the milk, it will result in a richer end product. When chilled it has a fairly "Nutella" like look, but a touch firmer. I bet it would be awesome as a spread come to think of it.

When you want to reheat it, just do it passively in a warm bowl or something. I was toasting pecans in an iron skillet and when done, I just sat a bowl in the still warm (not hot! you'll break your bowl!) skillet and let the natural heat of the iron warm the bowl and sauce. I am kinda dangerous and turned the flame on lowest for about 1 minute or less to bump up the speed a little. I can't recommend you do stuff like that because you could forget and shatter your bowl and ruin your fudge sauce. Umm.. and put out an eye maybe.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Life is a bowlful of berries

It is strawberry season around here. Actually, it's getting a little far into it and my first year patch is starting to taper off some. I managed to have the forethought to snap a pic of some the little delectables from the first batch though, and a good thing too. They were big and beautiful and oh so abundant. I call them "little red drools" (instead of "jewels") because that's what you start to do when you're picking them. I put mine in a large collander as I crawl along the rows, searching them out like I'd lost my house or car keys. (Yes, with that much focus!)
The heady scent of the berries builds in the receptacle as the collection progresses, making it seem more full than it actually is. Sometimes, when my back starts to hurt, I just look down into the collander, smile at it, and dip my face into the aroma, taking a big deep sniff. "Ahhhhh...", and then I can go on to the next row.

I confess. It has taken me some years to appreciate the deliciousness of strawberries. I always had a textural issue with the seeds. Maybe I should soon revisit things like raspberries and blackberries and such to see if I can taste beyond the seeds so I can finally enjoy them for their flavor.

                                                                            Delish, no?

P.S. The bowl is a recent purchase from a nice little gallery called Moon Dog Pottery in Welsh Run, PA. I like it very much for berries and salads. Also, for a most excellent shortcake recipe, see the link at the top right for "Simply Recipes" blog and search strawberry shortcake in her search bar. It is GOOD. Though I am just as fine with having the berries on my buttermilk biscuits too.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Weird weather means more soothing soup

This weather has been spasmodic to say the least. One day it's hot and muggy, the next it's cold and windy. I can't stand it! And neither can my garden plants apparently, as 4 of my tomato plants up and croaked on me last week. I figure they were weaklings and don't want them anyway.

Anyway. As the title says, weird weather means more soothing soups and have I got the soothing soup for you. Matzo Ball Soup. A traditional Jewish soup, I was introduced to it about 15 years ago by the daughter (or was it the niece?) of a couple of friends. It has been a tasty ongoing experience ever since. Last year I learned how to spiffy up my soup with a most excellent lesson from my friend Carolynn. I have been completely happy doing it her way ever since and always could be completely happy if it was the only way I ever knew. However, I made one major alteration to her design by making my own chicken stock to cook everything in. Mercy Me and I DO declare, it is something I will Never Not do again.

I have always felt that making stocks and broths eluded me greatly and felt a little bad that a culinary basic was supposedly beyond my grasp. Who knew all I needed to do was look up a really good recipe?? I saw Ina Garten from the Food Network making her chicken stock and was intrigued to try it. My only beef with her chicken stock is that she uses whole chickens, cooks them to death, then tosses them, meat and all. Wasteful! Apparently a number of other people agree with me on this point as shown via the message comments left on her recipe on the FN site.  So, this is what I do/did:

I made mine in a 12qt pot which was too small but it worked out anyway and I only used about 7 or 8lbs of chicken. I used all thighs and drum sticks plus the giblets, spine and carcass of one spatchcocked chicken (use my dictionary.com link for that word). I first brined them all in a solution of 1/8 cup table salt (or 1/4 cup kosher salt) plus 2tbs sugar per quart of water for a couple hours (I feel 4 hours would be better in the future). Then I threw everything in the pot that her recipe calls for except for cutting her salt in at least half because I brined the meat. Cooked it for around an hour at a very gentle simmer, almost not noticable because of the smaller pot most likely. Removed all the chicken parts and removed whatever meat came off easily, threw all the skin, bones and bits back in the pot and cooked it more until it had reduced a good deal and looked a nice deep golden color.

After cooling I strained out the solids, mushing them a bit in a colander to get all the liquid out. Cooled it some more and chilled it over night until the fat had set up good on the top. What ever you do, DO NOT throw this fat away! Perish the thought! Cook with it! I put mine in an ice cube tray, two tablespoons to a cube, covered with plastic wrap and froze it for future use. It just so happens that matzo balls require two Tbs of oil per package, ... I wonder what is slick like oil but a much tastier alternative? HMMMM. ::wink wink::

So that's the basic jist of it. I can't give away everything, you should experiment yourself! Meanwhile, enjoy this delectable picture of the finished product. Num num.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Presto Pesto

Herbs are amazing. They are flavorful, colorful, aromatic, medicinal, hardy and a myriad other things. Along with spices, they are likely what some would consider the most essential thing to tasty cuisine and life would be quite dull without them.

My personal amazement of herbs stems (no pun intended) from today's dinner experience. I planted a goodly amount of basil and flat leaf parsley last year and suffice it to say.. you can only have basil with tomatos or in a tomato sauce so many times before you're either really tired of it or not feeling so well. So I began experimenting with pestos, a fresh and herbaceous alternative to other heavier style sauces, and good on more than pasta to boot.

ANYway, back to the point. I get home today, it's 7 o'clock and Everyone is HUNGRY. What to do?!  Waste money on mediocre fare and feel bloated and guilty for several reasons afterwards? Not a chance, I'm way to practical for that, tired or not. I take a quick mental stock of things that are edible both inside and outside of the house at this point, as I was just in the garden the other day.

Parsley. It did not escape my notice that some of last year's parsley managed to hang on through this year's intense snow storms and is coming back strongly, if somewhat weathered in texture.

Cheese. I splurged on some nice chunks of semi-expensive but very tasty cheese a week or two ago. Parmesan, Romano, Asiago. Mmm. A little goes a long way on the good stuff and it actually gets melty unlike the saw dust in the green lidded containers (I know you know what brand I'm talking about).

Walnuts. I keep these on hand all the time in the freezer because I use them in my favorite bread regularly as well as desserts.

Chives. One amazing little chive plant soldiered its way thru the winter in a planter up closer to the house along with some lavender plants and bits of thyme and mint. It had quite a number of long, lovely succulent looking.. whaddayacallem, chive stems? I'll have to look that up later. These lend an enjoyable oniony flavor without all the flesh and intensity and trouble of cooking an actual onion. So, snip snip, off they went with me to the kitchen.

Before I knew it, I had all the makings of a tasty pesto in my possession and to town I went, rinsing, snipping, chopping and grating. It took me all of 30-45 minutes which is really very fast for the way I cook. So fast, in fact, that when I announced from the kitchen that it was "Dinner time!", the reply that came was, "That was fast." A rare statement indeed.

I also procured a few random rainbow swiss chard leaves. I sure wish these had been more plentiful. Wilted in a touch of butter in an iron skillet with a lid on top made them a lovely counter point to the salty flavors in the pesto.

So here's how it came together:

About 1 cup unchopped Italian flat leaf parsley, stemless.
Approx 1 cup toasted walnuts (mine came diced already) toast in a skillet, stirring often on medium heat until fragrant, remove from heat immediately
Pinch of kosher salt or to taste (remember you will be adding the salty pasta water and cheese later)
Pepper to taste
Enough olive oil to make the parsley and walnuts mix smoothly in the food processor, I used maybe up to 1/2 a cup.
Grind all this up in the food processor adding oil as you go.

Approx 1/2 cup or so of a nice cheese (parmesan is traditional) as mentioned above. (I'm not sure which was which, I forgot to label them) I used the small hole side of the grater to grate it, but not a microplane.

Around 7 or 8 chives that were roughly 6-8 inches long and about half the size of a chopstick in diameter, roughly chopped into 1/4 inch lengths or so. Add these to your noodles once you've put the pesto and cheese in, then mix it all together.

Whatever amount of pasta you want and whatever shape. I used thin spaghetti. I always get Barilla Plus brand, it's more satisfying and doesn't taste nasty like whole wheat. Don't forget to salt your pasta water. I've been told the water should taste like salty ocean water, but I know there's more accurate measurments out there somewhere. I usually just guess. Reserve 1/2 to 3/4 cup of your cooked pasta water. It is somewhat starchy and salty and will be useful to make your pesto and cheese into a natural sauce once you've added it all to the noodles. Start by adding it only a bit at a time until it gets kind of creamy looking.  This works best if the water is still nicely hot too.

Plate and top with another sprinkle of cheeeeeeeese and enjoy.

I wish I had taken a picture. It was very pretty, but hunger wins out over creativity sometimes. I'm sure I'll be making it again though, so I'll try to snap one then.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cute Puppy Interlude

The time has come for some cute puppy pics! I've gathered quite a memory card full and am going to dish up the most adorable ones I can find for your (and my) viewing pleasure.


I have always gotten a kick out of seeing dogs sleep with their tongues sticking out for some reason. It's just too funny and cute. This was taken back on 2/6/10 and is the boy, Peace, at rest in his sister's crate. Don't forget you can click on the pictures for full size images.

This was taken 2/23/10 and is the girl, Harmony, sleeping "cheek to cheek" with Peace in her crate. The other night we heard this loud sucking sound and were looking around for it and I noticed she was fervently nursing/swallowing in her sleep. She is by far the better adjusted dog
in many ways.

She often looks at us as if to say, "Yes, I am that smart, so do as I say and all will be fine."
Taken 3/16/10

"Whazzat?" *sniiiiiff* This is one of the rare times I have been able to get him with his eyes open during a flash. I was actually trying to get a pic of him snuggled in his bed, but he was
too nosey. Taken 3/6/10

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Porky Pig P-p-p-pulled Apart

The other day I was desperate for something interesting to make out of a hunk of pork roast that had finally thawed in the fridge so I went to some of these new food blogs I keep finding and started browsing. I found an awesome recipe for Pulled Pork on Simply Recipes, but I didn't have all the ingredients. No sweat! I'll improvise! And so I did.

It has turned out quite deliciously if I do say so myself. I was lacking the pickled jalapeno and the chipotle chile powder and the tomato paste (which is weird 'cause I usually have some on hand).  So in place of all of those, I threw in about a half bottle of the Chipotle style Tabasco sauce, some extra ketchup, some regular ol chile powder and a couple cans of green chilies for good measure in addition to whatever else the recipe said.

I marinated over night, because that's always a good idea. I thought I was going to cook it in the Crock Pot instead of how she (the blogger lady) says to, but I got impatient and decided to go the 2 hour route like it recommends. I don't know if my cut of pork was just worse than hers or what, but two hours did NOT do the trick. I cooked it until I could pull it with a fork, which I did, but some of it seemed so flavorless and kind of tough that I put it right back in the sauce without reducing it at all. I cooked it probably another couple hours, then turned off the heat and left the lid on so it would kind of steep.

Now that did it. However, I didn't have the benefit of time to reduce the sauce by the time I got to it, so I strained out the pork and added just a bit of corn starch to barely thicken the sauce so it would stay with the pork better on the sandwich and give it some body. So we feasted on pulled pork atop soft kaiser rolls with spears of cold, crunchy good kosher dills and home made coleslaw and don't forget the chips. I think I would like to slow smoke/grill the pork next time and then soak it in the sauce after pulling it. But that's way more involved.

There's really not a lot of hands on time for this sort of thing if you don't mind ocassionally turning the meat as it cooks between doing other things. Probably the hardest part is pulling it with the forks or whatever utensils you choose to use. My hands get crampy sometimes. My brother said that's why they don't have little Spongebob-type teenagers in the back of these serious BBQ joints pulling the pork apart, but the guy looks like Popeye or Bluto instead, complete with bulging forearm "muskles". I couldn't help but laugh at that.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Okie Dokey Tapiockey

More than just okie dokey, I think I have found the most superb recipe for tapioca pudding. Up until I found this, I didn't much care for tapioca pudding. In fact, I would say I had quite a disdain for it due to a run in with a bad batch from "Swiss Miss" where the bits didn't get cooked right and were grainy and crunchy. I thought it was vanilla at first, boy what a let down.

Fast forward/Rewind to a couple years ago. My family and I are on a small summer trip which takes us through the (misnomer alert) Pennsylvania Dutch country. Before I was born, they had been to, and enjoyed stopping at the Shartlesburg Hotel. However, by the time we got there with me alive, we discovered that it had closed a couple summers earlier. No worries though, we were informed that something similar was just down the road, Haag's Hotel. Oookay.

Well, it was alright. The best thing I remember was their roast chicken and gravy. It HAD to be from scratch, and if it wasn't, color me impressed with whatever company it came from. But anyway, this is where Mom gets me to try some of their tapioca pudding. I remember thinking that it had potential likability..if it were just made better. I got the feeling that it was Not from scratch, and no wonder, the stuff takes at least an hour for one batch not counting over night soaking of the pearls.

After that, I decided we needed to know what really good tapioca was like and using my family as willing guinea piggies, I set forth on the quest. It has been two years in the making and I had all but given up because of the shoddy results of many recipes instructions. It just so happend that I was browsing my favorite section (desserts) on a new food blog I found not long ago - ("Simply Recipes" see the link to it on my sidebar. ) and there happend to be a recipe with a way of making it that I had not attempted yet. It is, I would say extremely easy, at least in a comparative manner. Others may not require you to stand there and stir nearly as much, but considering you actually get an outstanding product at the end that you "MMM" and "Ohh" about, it's worth it.

Before I describe any alterations I have made, know that it is for a double batch of the pearls because there is no way we'd have any left over for the next day if I didn't. And, I only have access to pearls that require an over night soak. I do not reduce the milk for cooking as suggested by the recipe when soaking pearls over night. I felt it made it too stiff.

The only changes that I have made are to increase the salt by maybe 1/8 to 1/4tsp more. I don't know, it just felt like it needed a touch more, so it's up to you if you want to try it.

I double or even triple the amount of vanilla I use. I would love to try a vanilla bean in it, perhaps steeping it in the milk a little bit before putting in the pearls. (After removing the paste from within the bean first of course).

I have been making this with 4 cups milk (from 2% up to whole) and 2 cups Half n' Half. I imagine using just whole milk would be fine but I was being decadent.

I have made this with small pearl as called for and large pearl. The only differences would be a longer soak time in water for large pearl and also longer cooking time. I recommend taking a really slow creep up to the first boiling stage so that the pearls get a chance to get semi-translucent first and then boiling slowly for probably 10 minutes instead of 5. During this time you can never leave the pot and I recommend using a heat proof scraper of some sort, stirring almost constantly, (but gently) to keep anything from sticking to the bottom/sides. I can go for either size pearls texturally speaking, but the small pearl is less time consuming and there feels like there is more of them in the mixture to go around which is nice too. Large pearls are like chewing on nice little gummy bears kind of. All personal preference of course.

The Fam has decided that they prefer the pudding more custardy and would probably be happy if I didn't whip the egg whites before adding. I like it a touch lighter though, but not As light as the egg whites make it. So, I don't bother to fold them in too gently when adding. It keeps it light but puddingy all at the same time. It'll settle even more by the next day. IF you have any left. Oh yeah, and I do add a touch of cream of tartar for the egg white stability, but I guess I should try leaving that out since I'm so rough on them anyway. We'll see how that goes.

If you have a spare half hour to an hour and really love good tapioca, I seriously recommend giving this recipe a try. If you don't have that spare time....you're missing out. :(

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Lost Recipe

Usually, anyone who grows up around their parents has many and various stories of "when I was young" thrust upon their eardrums at regular intervals until none of them are new any more and they begin to repeat. Myself, I am no stranger to these and have heard ample amounts remembering most of them by heart. Some I have grown accustomed to enduring because they simply can't be helped, and others I tend to say "yes yes, you told me this before", because *I* can't be helped.

However, there's always a story or two that you don't mind and you wish had more details. One such story is of my Mother's parents running a restaurant in the early 50's. My Mom recalls how things were, the sounds, the smells, the cooking, the customers. She has been repeating this along with a strong desire to reclaim the lost recipe of a particular cake my Grandmother used to make and sell out of, on a daily basis. This is an infamous cake in our house and she fairly makes our mouths water to hear of its deliciousness. It was called something like "A Chocolate Mocha Layer Cake with Custard Filling".  Having her tell us the whole ordeal of watching her Mother make it for the umpteenthmillionth time, I couldn't take it any longer. I decided to take things into my own hands.

Since then I have been on the search for a recipe that seems to resemble what she remembers Grandma putting together, but she was such a young girl, it's hard for her to say. While the custard filling between the layers is undeniable, the cake and frosting are up in the air.

The custard was a deep yellow, cooked with cornstarch and made with a genuine vanilla bean.

The cake was two layers, believed to have been a butter cake, not oil, made with unsweetened bakers chocolate, not cocoa. She remembers seeing Grandma make coffee for some part of it, but not sure if it was for the cake or the frosting. It is also possible that she whipped her egg whites and folded them into the batter because she remembers seeing cream of tartar out (which helps stabilize egg whites when whipped). Additionally it may have been made with buttermilk.

The frosting was a definite buttercream as the cake had to be refrigerated or it would melt. She doesn't remember seeing cocoa powder used at any point and thinks that maybe semi-sweet squares were used in the frosting. I am inclined to think that the coffee was for the frosting which is what made it all Mocha.

Sounds delish, right? Well! I intend to get to the bottom of this, even if I have to bake 100 different cakes over time. Heh Heh Heh. Any clues or suggestions would be helpful. And yes, you can have some cake too.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Not enough interesting stuff

This past month life has been about the mundane. No experimenting, no trying new things or bettering old things. Ah well. March is upon us and it is time to think about, if not begin, planting seeds in multiples of plenty for this summer's garden. I will be revisiting several well known veggies again this year, staples of almost any garden really. Others are new to me and will require some study. It's all a lot of work, but seeing as I'm STILL cooking with my hot peppers frozen from last early fall, I'd say it's more than worth it, given the price of those things year round.

Here's some of the line up planned for this summer:

SeedSavers.org offerings:

Yellow Finn Potatoes (so tasty you can eat them without butter/salt/pepper)
Green Arrow Peas
Tigers Eye Beans
Copenhagen Market Cabbage
or perhaps Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage
Broccoli DeCicco
Dragon Carrot
White Cucumber for pickling (can't remember the specific name at the moment)
Garden Huckleberry (maybe)
Diamond Eggplant
Rainbow Swiss Chard (a must!)
Yellow of Parma Onion
Cipollini Onion (Borettana Yellow)
King of the North sweet peppers
Beaver Dam medium hot peppers
Persian Star (a.k.a. Samarkand) Garlic
Cilantro (from which also comes Coriander seed for seasoning)
English Lavender
Genovese Basil
Giant from Italy Parsley
Cinnamon Basil
Russian Tarragon (good with fish I hear)
Bees Friend Flower

Lateglow Strawberries - planted last year to get patch established

Julia Child Tomatoes

With the exception of the potatoes, peppers, beans, swiss chard and tomatoes the list above is subject to change according to how much time and energy I have to devote to the project. I doubt I'm going to do any melons this year, they just aren't my favorite. I adore sunberries but they're so abominably hard to harvest that it wastes my time and energy. The same with ground cherries, though I suspect I could manage a system to make them easier to get at, but maybe another year. I also have an apple tree that I ordered from a SeedSavers member last year that needs to be transplanted to a final destination this year. It may get fruit within 1-2 more years. So hard to be patient!

If anyone ever wants to get me a present I am in need of some good gardening gloves that will take some getting wet and will stay cool and are not bulky. I am probably a medium for women's glove sizing. ::whistles innocently to herself:::

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Soothing Soups

With ourselves knee deep in winter and soon to be the same in snow, I thought it was a good time to break out the soup pots again. There's nothing like a good, hearty, satisfying bowl of soup when you're weary from the dreary. Ha. I rhyme. Anyway.  I bought this butternut squash after seeing an episode of "Good Eats" a few weeks back, intrigued by how tasty and simple Alton Brown made it all look. Well, it IS kind of simple, if you have the time. And it IS tasty, I'll give him that.

The poor thing sat in my fridge for nigh on two weeks before I got around to even Thinking about cooking it up. The good news is that it didn't rot, (but I get the suspicion that it was on its way to going down hill), so the squash keeps very well even if you're mean to it. My particular squash had a sticker with instructions, very similar to Alton's but I followed his since it was his recipe I was using. BTW, you can look his up on Foodnetwork.com by inputting "butternut squash soup alton brown". I'll leave the details to him, but the changes I made were these:

I tossed in a little cup of cinnamon applesauce we had sitting around on a whim. I'm not sure if it made a difference or not because it was so small.

I felt the finished product was kind of boring, so I diced and sauteed a small sweet onion and about three nice sized carrots in some bacon fat and added it to the soup, leaving the veggie addition chunky.

I added a little more salt than he called for, probably another 1/2 tsp of kosher.
I also used a little candied ginger instead of the fresh that he called for because I didn't have any.
Added maybe a 1/4 tsp of powdered ginger to help pump it up a bit.
Black pepper in addition to white pepper.
A dash of worcestershire sauce because I felt it was lacking depth of flavor. It helped but I ended up adding a dash of Bragg Liquid aminos as well, for some "umami" (long U, oo).
I think I would've added some nice chunks of bacon if I'd felt like cooking it, but I was tired.
Also added about a tbs or more of salted butter in the beginning before making all the other additions.
Oh yeah, and I put probably a good tsp or two of paprika in which was good too. I'm sure if you have the smoked kind it would be even better. Unless you Really feel like roasting peppers to add directly.

On the FN site there are suggestions to have it with cinnamon, brown sugar sans honey or with the honey too, apples, sweet potatoes (never white apparently), dallops of sour cream or yogurt. So apparently you can make it more sweet or savory depending on how you like it.

I recommend letting the flavor develop for as long as possible, as much as an hour or so at a just warm temp, stirring now and then to prevent scorching. I liked it much better when I did that. I think I will be adding this to my list of warming soups for those bone-chilling fall & winter days.

**Update** It is not only much better the next day but it is also Excellingly good with sour cream.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

May the Fork be with you..

Pizza is typically a finger food. Nay, more personal than that.  A deft grasp is required so you don't upset the delicate balance of hot, cheesy, saucy, goodness and ample toppings onto yourself with a cry of despair. Swift and clean amputation of your bites is a must, otherwise you run the risk of the same result as stated above. It is a wonderfully innate and privately choreographed dance between slice and self.

Sometimes though, I go a little heavy on the cheesy and the saucy and the toppings. But we must not let that interfere with our ultimate goal: piloting all that awesome flavor onto the landing strip of our tastebuds. So whip out your trusty prongs (I said Trusty not rusty) and dig in, because nothing should come between you and the perfection that is PIZZA.

My Latest Creation

I have been testing new ways to make pizza without tomatos because I know someone with allergies to them. I have decided that I like a white pizza made with a cream sauce, because otherwise it's just too dry. The pizza above has that white sauce along with onions, garlic, peppers, spinach, chicken tenders, bacon, shrooms and olives. IT WAS SO GOOD. ::smack leeps::

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hot Chocolate Bzz Bzz Bzz

Originally I bought the chocolate for a cocktail I thought I wanted to try. It looked tasty in the picture and sounded good. It tasted like pencil lead. I do not think I am a cocktail sort of girl. So here's all this lovely chocolate. It tastes pretty bad too, at 85% Cocoa content. ::cringe:: I am a milk chocolate lover, in spite of the much acclaimed health benefits of the darker delight. I tried a piece. I smacked it around in my mouth, relishing its silky melting texture on my tongue. And yet, by my expression, you'd never guess there was anything good about it. My nose wrinkled, my eyebrows knitted together in nothing other than sheer endurance. If I was a child with no concept of how healthy or how expensive it was, I'd have spat it out on the spot with an "Ew!".

Suffice it to say, that was the last time I was going to have it "raw". Now, don't get me wrong. I have worked to expand my taste buds beyond the HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) laden offerings of the mass market food industry. I have heard that people appreciate "bitter" notes in their food and I have taken that with a grain of salt, and given it a try myself.  But I just Cannot DO deeply darkly chocolate by itself. And thank goodness, You can't make me, either. :P

What I can do, however, is make something out of it. It started a few weeks ago with the first big snow. I had never made hot chocolate from a bar before, but I knew it had to be pretty good, better than just cocoa powder. Or even worse, cocoa Mix. Bleh! Since then, I have been tossing some variations about on the ingredients list, but it generally remains the same items. I have a tendency to add by the pinch or dash and what not until it tastes right. But, thankfully for you, I think I have narrowed down the measurements pretty close to what I find myself putting in most of the time. And so, I unleash onto the world:

LJ's Buzzin' Hot Chocolate
Serves 4

Approx 20 minutes

4 Cups Milk 2% or better (I use Horizon organic)

1/2 C Water

2/3 C Sugar

3.5oz Bar of 85% Dark Chocolate (such as Green & Black's Organic)

1/4 C + 2Tbs Cocoa Powder

1/2 tsp Kosher Salt

2 tsp freeze dried coffee

1 & 1/2 tsp Real vanilla extract
Whipped Cream
Mix water and sugar together in 2Qt pot. Get it good and hot (don't boil), stirring until sugar dissolves.
Smash or break chocolate bar into smaller pieces (whack it with a hammer before opening wrapper) and melt into the sugar water, whisking regularly to avoid scorching.
Once smooth, whisk in cocoa powder, salt and coffee.
Whisk until all lumps are gone. If having trouble, add about a 1/4 cup of the milk and whisk again.
Slowly add remaining milk, whisking all the while.
Turn heat to medium-low and cover pot with lid.
Allow to heat slowly, do not boil, whisk occasionally.
Once steamy, remove from heat and whisk in vanilla.
Pour into your favorite mug, add copious amounts of marshmallows and whipped cream and prepare for a lovely chocolate buzz.

We have gone waaaay out and had this with s'mores, which you may or may not want to do. This is what restaurant hot chocolate that you pay a buck fifty for should taste like, but you know they just use paper bag mixes because it all gathers in the bottom of the cup and the rest tastes like dish water. Should this resemble any other hot chocolate recipe, I can't help it because it's all a coincidence.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Slow Cooking Almost Like No Cooking

My bro kindly picked up a few things at the store for me a few days back. Whilst he was whittling away his time in the lengthy line (no doubt eyeing candy bars along the way), he spied a little booklet named for the style of cooking made infamously popular in the 70's by the company known as no other than "Crock Pot". I wonder if it ever occurred to any of the marketing execs that this brand name is dangerously close to "crack pot"?  As in: adjective- eccentric; impractical; fanatical: crackpot ideas. Well, it Was the 70's, they were getting away with a lot back then and I guess they thought nobody would notice.

Anyway. At first, when he brought it home I dismissed it as a bachelor's lazy attempt at making his living space smell better and feeding himself. But after Mom started flipping through it, she was reading the recipes off and they sounded really quite good and so I took a look. Lo and behold, they were not full of ingredients I had no way of getting without much trouble, in fact, I had most on hand as it was.

So I delved into what has to have been one of the easiest cooking experiences of my life, bar none. I made a roast pork loin with fruit medley served over basmati rice. Scrumptious! I am not fond of pork unless it is in the form of sausage or bacon, so for me to say 'Mm mm tasty' to it is quite rare. This was tender, and juicy and flavorful. The slices broke up a little bit and acted a touch like "pulled pork" but no biggie, it was good anyway. We just sat there going "mmmmm this is SO Good!" like every 30 seconds or so. I have to admit, I almost felt guilty at how good it was. It just seemed like it was something I had slaved over it to get it to taste so fabulous! But I didn't! And that is AWESOME!

This called for aside from the marinade of thyme, salt, sugar and bay leaf, basically apricots, prunes, green grapes, garlic, and red wine. The only thing I did differently than the recipe was marinate in the sugar and applejack water I had previously reconstituted the cranberries in, which infused the berry flavor as well. After browning the meat before placing it in the cooker, I also deglazed the pan with a shot more of red wine and then poured it in with the roast. Oh yeah, and I added carrots 'cause I had a bunch of em sitting around. None of that really added any work though, so it was still "easy peasy".  Next I'm going to make Beef Bourguignon in the cooker and it looks just as simple as this one was.

Funny how my bro hasn't touched the book since I've been cooking out of it. I get the feeling it will be left with me for Quite some time. MmHm.

Check it out! Bet you wish you had smell-o-vision!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Can you grill a turkey?

The answer is yes! Kinda, sorta, maybe. Or you can at least Use the grill in the process. This is what I thus embarked upon last night after my oven broke just as I had the bird all trussed up and no where to go. Yes, it was all prepared and stuffed to the gills, if birds had gills anyway, with aromatics and sage and a little bacon fat on the breast for good measure. Oiled and seasoned, brined and beautiful. What's a girl to do? Nobody had any idea. Except  the 95 year young little lady sitting demurely in her chair reading the local paper. "Well, haven't you a grill?", she queried. Lightning struck my very exhausted brain at that moment and I formulated my plan.

It's the dead of winter. And I do mean Dead. Everything is still crunchy with snow and ice and it has not been above freezing for weeks I think. How was I supposed to even Think of considering the grill, all tucked under it's not-so-cozy looking cover until next season? Well thankfully someone did or we'd have had raw bird and an unhappy cook on our hands!

I had forgotten that I often did pizza on the grill during the summer to keep the heat out of the house. I have this thing called a "hearth kit" which is somewhat like a glorified pizza stone, except a lot bigger, thicker and with sides that come off. It is meant for the house oven which I keep it there a lot of the time, but during the summer I put it on the grill and it acts like a lovely heat sink and will bake nearly anything with amazing accuracy as long as I account for the grill top being so much closer to the food and regulate the heat every so often. 

And so, with hopes high I trudged out into the bitter cold of the evening (because that's how long it took to figure out a solution) and fired up my trusty friend who seemed more than happy to oblige me with rows of dancing blue flames like some sort of miniature chorus line. And I have to admit I had my doubts, but it came off without a hitch. As the night grew colder I had to check on the bird about every 30 minutes to make sure the burners were high enough or not too intense to maintain the 325 degrees suggested by the bird's packaging.

And so, about 4 hours later Mr. Gobbler was ready and we feasted upon him (or her come to think of it), along with the usual turkey dinner fare. Might I add that since I didn't have an oven, I couldn't make "dressing" and I don't care to stuff turkeys because it dries them out often times. However, I have decided that "Stovetop" stuffing is perfectly acceptable when you add some sauteed carrots, onions, celery and dried cranberries which have been reconstituted in sugar water and Applejack. It doesn't replace scratch, to be sure, but it's nothing to sniff at when in a bind.

And so, dinner was saved, thanks to some 95 year old quick thinking and a very handy grill. I imagine you might be able to do much the same with just some brick or stone, but I'm not sure of the health implications so I can't exactly condone doing it that way for sure. But if you get a few pizza stones from the store you can likely whip something up.  And by the way, the turkey is delish and moist and wonderful even cold, I heartily endorse fowl brining to everyone. And sorry, no pictures, I was too tired to remember by the time it was all done.