Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Ham

I was trying to decide what to write about. It's not that I haven't been cooking, but the things I cook around Christmas time are usually just family favorites. I made up my usual batch of cut-out Christmas cookies. My sister and I decorated them with the help of the two older boys. When a four-year old and a two-year old help paint food coloring-laden powdered sugar topping onto cookies, something unusual happens-some cookies disappear before they are completely painted. My two-year old was painting a star. He painted an edge, said, "Look, Mommy!" I smiled in approval. The next time I looked over there he was painting another point on the same star, but the previously painted point was missing. It was eat-and-paint-as-you-go.
We made gingerbread men and women, decorated with royal icing and red and green M&M's. For that perfect icing, you must use meringue powder.
My sister and I also made homemade marshmallows. I was going to cut them into fun shapes and dip them in chocolate, but I was rushed so I just cut them into squares. They were delicious, nonetheless, and my four-year old kept asking for "more square marshmallows".
I made biscuits and gravy, pasta with browned butter and pecorino romano, beef stroganoff, grilled chicken with penne and creamy white sauce, and soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I cajoled my mom into making her chicken pot pie and chicken enchiladas. Let's just say the last two weeks I spent eating. I ate at In-N-Out, Del Taco, Chilis, the Blue Plate, Spaghetti Factory and the Waffle Shop. I could include other meals here, but I don't want to be obscene. I am sure you probably feel full just reading what I ate. But I saved the best meal for last.
Christmas Dinner.
My husband suggested I write about the usual ham recipe. We always, always, always have ham, au gratin potatoes, croissants and Martinellis on Christmas Day. We have recently added a breakfast casserole my mom discovered, which I may add here later. We usually have a vegetable, and this year it was my same old green beans with bacon.
The ham recipe is really simple. I just add a few things to the sauce, just like I remember my mom doing. Seriously, its so easy, its not even really a recipe. But its really, really good. If you don't like your ham recipe, you should try this one. If you do like your ham recipe, you should try this one. It's different, and there are so many ways you could change it up, like substituting orange marmalade or pomegranate jelly for the pineapple-apricot.
I always buy the same ham, it comes in a red foil-looking wrap. It is a bone-in, spiral-sliced ham. There is a seasoning packet in it that you are supposed to mix with 3 Tablespoons water and heat on the stove until boiling. I add the water it calls for, and also, a half a 16-oz jar of pineapple-apricot jam, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup honey, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
I cook the ham according to the package directions, which is usually baked, covered with foil for somewhere around two hours. At the one hour mark I baste with about half the glaze. I pour a little bit in between each of the slices. At the 1:45 mark I do it again, using the rest of the glaze. When the ham comes out of the oven, I transfer it to a platter, and pour the juices into a saucepan and turn it on high. Once its boiling, I mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/3 cup cold water and whisk well. Pour about 1/4 cup of the mixture into the boiling glaze and whisk until slightly thickened.
Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Eat Here- Blue Plate

Yes, here it is-another restaurant review. I may start doing this full-time instead of cooking at home...just kidding. Although, this restaurant, is, I believe, my new favorite. Honestly, I think it is the best place I have ever eaten.
Well, first-my husband has been getting better at finding restaurants for us to try. I suggested that he check the internet for 'Best of...' restaurant guides from magazines, like Bon Appetit, and the result has been that we have been eating at more restaurants I want to write a review for. I decided this time I would bring my notebook, and try to take down a few of the details of the meal.
My husband was flying into San Fransisco, and we decided to leave the kids with grandma and make a date of it. He found this restaurant, and I have to admit, as we approached the locale, we were a bit unsure. We decided to just go in and give it a shot.
We arrived about six, and I think there was one other couple there. The seats were very close to each other, and about eight feet from my seat was the kitchen, situated in the dining room. A dim, bluish light cast an unusual pallor over the dining room, but the dim interior was a nice romantic switch from the over-lit restaurant interiors. Our waiter seemed slightly preoccupied, but was quite adept. We started with a dungeoness crab salad with frisee sprinkled over the top, spanish chorizo aioli, and a crispy slow egg. I have to admit, I wasn't sure what a 'crispy slow egg' was. It was a soft cooked egg that was coated and fried in something crunchy that tasted like cheese. The crab salad was light and fresh, and absolutely delicious with the silky egg yolk mixed in. The chorizo aioli was amazing. I could have written a post about that. The delicious flavors usually associated with chorizo made their way into a light but flavorful mayonnaise based sauce that perfectly complimented everything on the plate. Ahhhh...I wished there was more of it.
Oh, I forgot. A plate of fresh focaccia had made its way to our table in the meantime. It was good, but was quickly overshadowed by what was to come.
My husband ordered the painted hills ribeye with garlic french fries with horseradish pub cheese fondue, and I had the chicken thighs with wild rice and sliced toasted chestnuts. It was accompanied by grilled puntarelle, with a fuyu persimmon sauce and a malt mayo. We also ordered the drunken Spanish goat cheese macaroni as a side. It was kind of a lot of food, but we consumed everything edible on the table. The steak was the best I have ever had. It was a huge piece of meat, not what I was expecting at a high dollar restaurant. It was perfectly cooked, and practically melted in your mouth. It was simply topped with an herb butter, one of my husband's favorites. He was wishing for a bit more kick from the horseradish fondue, but it was a perfect accompaniment. I believe my chicken thigh was brick-cooked. The skin was deliciously crunchy and the inside was intensely flavorful. The persimmon sauce was delicious, even though the chicken didn't really need it. I was savoring every bite. The grilled puntarelle was something I have never had or heard of, but there are so many hybrids out there, sometimes its hard to keep up. It looked like a form of mustard greens, and I looked it up and it turns out its related to chicory, native only to Rome. It was pretty darn good. I am not a big fan of cooked greens, usually they are overcooked for my taste, but this was crunchy and extremely flavorful.
The goat cheese macaroni was phenomenal. If I ever eat at this restaurant again, I won't be able to write about it because I am pretty sure I have run out of adjectives. The macaroni was so creamy, and it was topped with a perfect, crunchy, buttery bread crumb topping.
I am sorry to break the news to you, but you probably will not be able to enjoy the exact feast I did, but I am sure yours will be just as delicious and life-changing. I believe their menu changes daily. There were many dessert offerings, including coconut creme pie, tangerine sorbet, affogeto, vanilla creme brulee, pumpkin mascarpone cheesecake and warm chocolate cake with fleur de sel caramel. I would have loved to try one, but, sadly, I was much too full.
I would recommend reservations, as the place was popping at the seams by 7:00 pm. If you had to wait, though, it would be worth it. Oh, I forgot to mention. The entire meal ran us the cost of eating at Outback...not bad, right?

The Blue Plate Restaurant
3218 Mission St.
San Fransisco, CA 94110
414.282.6777

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stuffed or Dressed? (Stuffing)

I know many people who, oddly, don't care for stuffing that much. I say, what kind of stuffing have you had? I imagine it must be some horrible rendition in some horrid school cafeteria. Or perhaps your great-aunt made it with something you didn't like in it-raisins, oysters, celery, onion, etc. Which are not bad things, but if you don't like them or the way they are cooked it can ruin your stuffing experience.
I love stuffing. I know we really should call it dressing, because we never actually stuff the bird, but we always just call it stuffing. I love it and we only have it a few times a year! Recently I have begun making it when we have a roasted chicken, which happens several times a year, and also when we have ham (a twice-a-year occasion). I like it anyway it comes. I even order turkey dinners at restaurants because I just love stuffing and gravy! At a restaurant I worked at, we served several Thanksgiving banquets the week of, and the sous-chef knew of my affair with stuffing and saved me a large portion each time. I still ate plenty on Thanksgiving! A few years ago, I discovered an absolutely delicious stuffing recipe, and it has become a family favorite. It has bulk sage sausage, apples and cranberries in it. I always make one pan of that stuffing, and one pan of plain (for the unadventurous). I usually have none of the sage stuffing left. You can make the stuffing with a box mix, and just add the additional ingredients, or make it from old bread that you baked in the oven until its dried. If you use your own bread, just saute some finely chopped onions and carrots with the sausage, and season with salt and pepper.
I make this early in the day on Thanksgiving, and I put it all in a pan, cover with foil, and reheat while the Turkey is resting. I know I have mentioned Thanksgiving a lot, but I think its time we serve stuffing all throughout the year, instead of making it wait until Thanksgiving to make its appearance on our table. Let us have a stuffing revival!
 
Sage Stuffing
1 lb sage sausage (homemade or purchased)
2 boxes stuffing mix, any brand
-either
4 cups water
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon,
-or
4 cups homemade chicken broth
2 small apples (crisp, sweet apples like gala, pink lady, fuji or jazz are best)
1/3 cup dried cranberries

Brown sausage in a large pot over medium-high heat.. Add apples and cook, stirring for about 1 minute. Add stuffing mix, dried cranberries, water and bouillon (or homemade chicken stock), and turn off heat. After thoroughly combined, transfer to a 9x13 glass baking dish. You can cover and reheat at 350 for about 25 minutes.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sugar and spice, Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin is my realm. It has been for quite sometime. When I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I decided I was going to make a couple of desserts for a church potluck. I was going to make pumpkin bars, pumpkin roll, and pumpkin pie. I was going to make it all from scratch, and all from actual pumpkin, not canned. I boiled the pumpkin. I did that for several years. I boiled it, and  it was so waterlogged, after I removed the skin and pureed it I cooked it down to try to remove some of the liquid. I ran into a myriad of problems cooking the pumpkin this way. Some times it was very fibrous, and sometimes my recipe was way too watery.
I found out just a few years ago that there is actually a particular pumpkin that is used for the canned pumpkin. It has a flesh that can only be described as 'custard-y'. The usual pumpkins we buy for their appearance in the fall months usually do not have this attribute. These pumpkins are called 'sugar-pie' or 'pie' pumpkins. I have asked at grocery stores and produce stands, but everyone looks at me like I have two heads. I have since decided that I will either have to: A. grow my own pumpkins, or; B. resign myself to buying canned pumpkin, or; C. use the pumpkin I can find and deal with its idiosyncrasies.
So, I have yet to grow my own pumpkins. Every year something happens, the kids dig out my plants, they die, I forget to plant them in time, we move...etc.
I have also discovered that roasting the pumpkin results in a mellow, rich flavor without the extra water that I have to get rid of. I roast halved pumpkin, cut side down, on a stoneware baking pan at 350 for 1-2 hours, until the pumpkin is soft to the touch. After it cools I puree it and freeze it in 1 cup portions to use in recipes. It works fine in recipes. But I still just buy canned pumpkin if I have none left in the freezer.
These cupcakes are just another cupcake recipe. Not really. They are from one of my favorite cookbooks, and they are moist and delicious. They actually can be a cake, which I think would be amazing, but I was taking them to a party and I didn't want to risk disaster. They have a modest maple cream cheese frosting, sprinkled on the on the top, and I had someone remark that they were the best cupcakes they ever had. Not bad for pumpkin, huh?
If you made this into a cake, I would finely chop the pecans and sprinkle them all over the top and press them into the sides.

For the cupcakes
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Frosting
12 ounces cream cheese
3/4 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, preferably grade B
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup pecan pieces, toasted and finely chopped, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 and position and oven rack in the center. Place muffin liners in pans.
Cream the butter with the sugar, beating in the bowl of the stand mixer on medium-high until very light in color, 4 to 5 minutes. You can also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl, although you may need to beat the mixture a little longer to achieve the same results. Scrape down the bowl with the spatula.
Beat the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl to blend. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs to the butter mixture. Add the pumpkin and blend well, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary.
Alternate combining the wet and dry ingredients. 
Bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Make the frosting: Place the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a mixer or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the maple syrup and confectioners' sugar and mix thoroughly.
Frost cupcakes, and sprinkle the tops with toasted chopped pecans or pumpkin candies.
Makes 18 cupcakes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Eat Here-The Rose Restaurant

A few weeks back my husband and I decided to spend a night away from the kids. We really needed it, it has been quite a while. We were supposed to go away for a weekend in August, but extenuating circumstances prevented that, so it got postponed and shortened. My husband found a restaurant for us to visit, somewhere new for us to try out.
The Rose Restaurant in Prescott, Arizona is inconspicuous. It occupies a house that has a nostalgic look about it. As you enter, there is a lovely little area that was a household foyer in a former life. You might be greeted by the owner, a sweet middling woman from the midwest. She makes the place. She greets each patron at their table, announces the specials, and pushes her homemade pies. She bakes the pies herself, and that evening we had the privilege of sampling her handmade pecan pie. But I will tell you about that later.
The restaurant is sprawled across the ground level of a spacious house, with tables and chairs situated perfectly in the now-open rooms. There are enough seats to make you feel like there are other people around, but not so many that the room lacks privacy.
The restaurant has a definite French flair, but classy, updated decor keeps it feeling fresh. The menu holds traditional offerings, many with an updated twist.
We started with the Brie and roasted garlic, it was delicious. My husband thinks it was the best brie he has ever had. It was cooked to perfection, as was the roasted garlic, a creamy, delicious addition to the platter. There were actually a couple of appetizers I wanted to try, but I wasn't sure if he would like all of them.
We settled on the prime rib and lobster tail. My husband and I are not really big eaters, so usually if we have a starter, meal and dessert, we split all of it between the two of us.
The prime rib came with fresh veggies and a potato gratin dish, both were delicious, but the prime rib was stunning. Cooked to perfection and so tender! The horseradish sauce was perfect, and the lobster tail was divine. Everything was seasoned perfectly, in my opinion.
We ended with a slice of pecan pie, one of my favorites, and it was perfect. I know I have used that word many times, but there are no other words like it! If I had a restaurant, I would model it after the Rose Restaurant. It is definitely on my list of places I want to return to, and I would recommend it again and again.

The Rose Restaurant
234 South Cortez Street
Prescott, AZ 86303-3939
(928) 777-8308

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chocolate Bliss

I have this baking book that I received last year at Christmas. It seems now like I have always had it, but I got it just this last Christmas. I really, really love this book. If you like baking, this is the book for you. It has everything from whole grain bread to savory pies and delicious tarts. There is great detail given, even a bread primer, instructing even the most inexperienced baker on how to proof yeast, allowing dough to rise and keeping butter and other ingredients at the proper temperature.
I have made several recipes from this book, and I absolutely love them. The pumpkin bread is just amazing! But I will save that for another day. The whole grain bread, basic white loaf (with variations like cheddar-mustard), potato rolls, pesto rolls, pizza, and rosemary focaccia are outstanding. I thought I loved to bake but now that I have this book, I find myself going at it three times a week!
About six months ago, I was flipping through the book again, (I get ten or twenty pages farther each time, but I end up stopping because I have decided to make just about everything I read about) and I saw a recipe for chocolate silk pie. I wanted to make it right then and there, but I didn't have any chocolate sandwich cookies (read: Oreos) to smash up to make the crust. So I waited.
As I was preparing my Thanksgiving menu, I usually ask everyone what pie they would like to see on the table. The usual always pop up, you know, apple and pumpkin, and a few special items make their way to the table every couple of years. My brother like pumpkin roll, my husband likes cheesecake, etc. So this year I decided to make pecan pie and chocolate silk pie, in addition to the others. I LOVE pecan pie, but its not real popular around here, and my mom bought a chocolate silk pie from a baker last year and it was soooo good I wanted another one.
This chocolate silk pie is unlike any other I have had, and probably any other you have had. This is no 'pudding' pie. It is the real deal. Rich, silky custard fills the inside with delectable chocolate goodness. It is almost like eating a truffle pie. I had several people ask me if it was fudge. It was so rich I could hardly finish the sliver I had taken, but I savored every bite. I would pay for that chocolate silk pie. I am writing about it now because I hope you decide to make it. Soon. You won't be sorry. I am pretty sure I am going to make it for Christmas day, but I will make the Orange Chocolate Silk Pie. If I can last that long. I may decide to make another sooner.


For the Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely ground chocolate cookie crumbs (a food processor works great)
3/4 stick butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 and position an oven rack in the center. Put the cookie crumbs and butter in a medium bowl and stir until all the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer the buttered crumbs to the pie pan and spread evenly, pressing them into the bottom and sides of the pan.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

For the filling:
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons sugar
3/4 stick butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (up to 70 percent cacao) finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Topping:
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered

Dark chocolate curls, additional cookie crumbs or finely chopped chocolate pieces for garnish
You can also optionally drizzle homemade dark chocolate sauce or caramel sauce over the the slices when serving, but this may cause a sugar induced coma.

Make the filling: Bring 2 inches of water to a low boil over medium-low heat in a medium saucepan. Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer and whisk by hand to blend. Place the bowl over the simmering water (the bottom of the bowl must not touch the water) and whisk constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Heat until the mixture reaches 160 F on an instant-read thermometer and the eggs look light in color and texture. (They will also begin to thicken and should coat the back of a spoon.) Remove the eggs from the heat and beat on high speed for 3 minutes.
While the eggs are beating, place the butter, cream and chocolate in a medium bowl and set the bowl in the saucepan over the simmering water. Let it sit for 1 minute, then gently stir with a spatula until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the chocolate mixture to the eggs, lower the speed to medium, and beat until there are no streaks of egg visible. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the vanilla extract. Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape down the side and bottom of the bowl, making sure that any streaks of egg are blended into the chocolate. Scrape the filling into the prepared pie crust and smooth the top. Refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.
Make the topping: Whip the cream and sugar into firm peaks. Use a spatula to spread the whip cream onto the top of the cooled chocolate filling, making swirls as you go. Alternatively, use a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch star tip. Sprinkle the top with cookie crumbs or chocolate shavings, as desired.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Take In- Chicken Crisper Tacos

When our first son was very young he looooovvveed eating at Chili's. He loved their chips and salsa, and I think just the experience of eating there. Since we lived in a pretty small town, our eating out options were pretty much Chili's or...that other place that's open all night. We won't speak their name here. Anyway, back to Chili's.
A couple of years ago (maybe one...don't really remember) they started selling this Honey-Chipotle dipping sauce. Well, actually, they sold this chicken, that came with Honey-Chipotle dipping sauce. You notice I write the name of this sauce like a proper name, because it is. It deserves it. This sauce is pretty awesome. It's very spicy and very sweet, just the way that I like sauces. I dress up BBQ sauce I buy from the store, adding lots of spice and lots of sweet. So my husband basically fell in love with this sauce. He asks for several little cups of it every time we go. He drowns his chicken tacos in it, and eats it with his fries. I believe it has replaced Frank's Red Hot, the sauce that used to find its way on top of everything from pizza to fried fish to spaghetti (weird, I know).
After I made a few replica recipes, like this and this, he asked me if I thought I could make this Honey-Chipotle dipping sauce. So I tried. It wasn't quite right, so I left it.
Then, I had a brilliant idea.
I looked it up on the Internet! I found a recipe for it while we were on vacation and sent it to myself as an email. I made it when I got home, but it just wasn't quite right. It had too much honey flavor and a little too much spice. I thought about it a little more, and tweaked it again. This time, it was just about a perfect replica!
Try it, and see if you like it!

Honey-Chipotle Dipping Sauce

1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup ketchup
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring ingredients to a boil. Serve immediately.
Makes a little more than a cup.

To make Chicken Crisper tacos, warm some flour tortillas, and place fried chicken strips, cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato inside shell. Drizzle with Honey-Chipotle dipping sauce.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Desire

Do you ever get one of those late night cravings for something you know you shouldn't eat? And, you don't really want any of your friends to know you were actually craving that particular item? It happens to me. I like good food, but every once in a while I eat something-something I shouldn't.
Sometimes it's just because it's cheap.
Sometimes it's for the nostalgia.
Sometimes I just don't have very many options.
More often than not I am sooooo sorry I indulged. Kind of like eating ice cream when you are lactose intolerant. Just a few short hours later your body starts a rebellion.
One of those late-night snacks my husband and I find ourselves indulging in is Jalapeno Poppers. Or Pepper Poppers. Or whatever. I have seen them all different ways, shapes and sizes; wrapped in bacon, grilled, fried and baked. I made a fancy version with bread crumbs, and you had to keep the jalapeno whole. You slit the side of it, deveined it and stuffed with cheddar cheese. It was good, but not that flavor pop that I was hoping for.
So, I made my own. I often take a few different principles and combine them to create what I want. This was the case with these poppers. The great thing is, because I made this recipe, I can change it. If I don't have bread crumbs, I just use egg batter. If I don't have sharp cheddar, I use jack, Colby jack or white cheddar. You could use pepper jack, goat cheese, feta or brie. You could even use Velveeta if you wanted. It's all up to you. You could also add bacon bits to the filling, if you so desire.
I would caution you to use gloves. I make things with jalapenos all the time, but for some reason when I do 10 jalapenos for poppers, I end up with hands that feel like they had a very long bath in turpentine. They hurt. I also find myself, somehow, forgetting that my hands are burning from the oil of jalapenos that I can't wash off no matter how I try, and rubbing my suddenly itchy eye. It is not pleasant. Consider yourself warned.
The recipe is fairly easy. Mix up a filling that consists of cream cheese, cheddar cheese and Tabasco. Cut jalapenos into bite-size pieces and devein. Dip in egg batter or bread crumbs, and fry. They really are quite simple. The very large jalapenos found at the grocery store work quite well and don't seem to be as hot as the small version I grow in my garden. Which works out pretty good for everybody involved. You can pan fry or deep fry the poppers, until they are a beautiful golden brown. Resist the urge to pop one in your mouth for about five minutes; the cream cheese and cheddar cheese marry and create a child that could be related to magma.

Jalapeno Poppers

4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons red pepper sauce (like Tabasco)
1/4 teaspoon +1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon +1/2 teaspoon pepper
10 medium jalapenos, cut in thirds and deveined
1 egg
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (optional)

1-2 cups oil for frying

Combine cream cheese, cheddar cheese, hot pepper sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Set aside. Mix egg and cornstarch well in a second bowl. Set aside. Combine flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a third bowl. Set aside. Pour bread crumbs (if using) in a fourth bowl.
Stuff jalapenos with cream cheese mixture. Heat oil to medium-high heat. Dredge jalapenos in flour, then egg, then flour.
If using breadcrumbs, dredge in flour, then egg, then flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, turning once.
Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to cool.
Makes 30.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Eat Here-Walnut Avenue Cafe

If you find yourself in Santa Cruz on a weekday morning, you will notice, as I did, that the city does not quite wake up until about 11 a.m. I am attributing this to the fact that the city really and truly wakes up only on the weekends because of the boardwalk. But, if you are there, or anywhere near, and you are hungry for breakfast, there is a place you definately should try.
I am a breakfast person, if you hadn't noticed, and I find there is no better way to start a vacation day than with a good breakfast. I mean eggs benedict, biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon...etc. We found this great little place; good food, good coffee (an absolute must) and not too pricey. I feasted on eggs benedict florentine, and my husband got another version. Potatoes come on the side, and the food was just delicious. The cosey cafe has a family atmosphere with an updated twist. Perfect.
Walnut Avenue Cafe
106 Walnut Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA 95060-3913

(831) 457-2307

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Warm Thoughts

I keep notebooks. What I mean is, I write things down; things that I plan to do, things I make, recipes, ideas, short stories and math problems. I make lists and lists and lists. I make lists of what I should do each day, what I am going to make for meals for the next two weeks, what I should buy from the store, what we should have on Thanksgiving and what I am going to buy people for Christmas. If I lost my notebook, I don't know what I would do.
Once, when I was catering a banquet, one of the servers got my book wet. I almost lost it. I started freaking out. Everything is in that book. Notes on food, amounts, time lines, and measurements. I know, I sound a bit obsessive, but we have to have some measure of stability in this ever-changing world, and my stability is my notebook.
So, as I was flipping through my notebook today, I found this recipe for soup. I like soup. Especially on a cool day, or when I don't want to fuss too much with something. I like to just throw everything into a big pot and let it simmer away. It's comforting, it's quick and usually it's easy.
That is the case with this soup. I had a jar of homemade beef and barley soup on hand that I needed to use up, we had already had beef and barley soup a few times (this is what happens when you don't can something properly-you have a limited amount of time to consume 5 quarts of beef and barley soup) anywhoo...
I was tired of the beef and barley soup, so I decided to gussy it up a bit, and make a Mexican soup. I chopped away and threw everything into the pot. It was really good. It's a fairly light dish. It was easy. It was fast.
Did I mention it was really good?
I think chicken and rice soup would be a better base, so that is what I am going to call for in this recipe. This soup is really good. I can't say that enough. I really like it. A little spicy, just the way I like it. As a matter of fact, I think I will have some now...

Fast and Easy Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 32 oz Can condensed chicken and rice soup
+ 1 can water
1 Green bell pepper, chopped
1 Large tomato, chopped
3 Small corn tortillas, cut into strips
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 Tablespoon Mexican hot sauce, like Tapatio
1 Lime, cut into 6 wedges
Additional hot sauce

For garnish (optional, but I would recommend it):
Sour cream
Grated cheddar cheese
Cilantro

Combine soup and water, bell pepper, tomato, corn tortillas, cumin and hot sauce in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Ladle soup into bowls and squeeze one lime wedge over each bowl, and drop in a few extra drops of hot sauce. Add sour cream, cheddar cheese and cilantro if desired.

Serves 4

Monday, November 1, 2010

Comfort Food

Biscuits and gravy has been one of my favorite breakfast foods for as long as I can remember. It was part of the thrill of eating out for breakfast. It was not, however, something we had at home. I had them at a little restaurant in Chino, California, known as Flo's Diner, served atop a mountain of hash browns with eggs and coffee on the side. I took my husband there and he was not impressed. He said the food tasted like cigarettes. I think it was all in his head.
I have had gravy made with bacon, sausage and even ground beef. Of course there is white gravy with no meat, but that doesn't even count. I have to say the worst by far was the ground beef version. We had that at a diner in Washington, when I was up there for my brother's wedding. I was perusing the menu with my husband and I said, "I wonder what SOS is..." He whispers to me, "You don't want to know." And proceeded to explain it was something his dad had told him about, consisting of ground beef gravy on toast. Now, perhaps you have had that and it was good, but I think it pretty much lives up to its name....
I am pretty particular about my gravy, I like thick, white gravy with big flecks of black pepper. I like it a little spicy, over some pretty tender biscuits. My children and husband love it too, and my sister FINALLY decided to try some a few months back, and now, she cleans up all the leftovers....without being asked. I will wander back into the kitchen some hours later and find her reheating a biscuit for her second breakfast.

So, after some trial and error, and picking up some tips from grandmas I know, I have a process similar to this: brown some spicy bulk sausage. Use a slotted spoon and scoop out the cooked sausage, leaving as much of the drippings in the pan as possible. Add butter and flour then whisk in milk. Add salt and pepper and you're done! It's amazingly delicious, and you could experiment with other types of sausage, like sage, but I have actually never ventured from the hot. It is just our favorite.


Prepare biscuits

For the Gravy
1/2 lb hot sausage, homemade or purchased
3 cups milk
3 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
salt and pepper to taste

Brown sausage in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the sausage and set it aside. Add butter to drippings and melt. Sprinkle flour over the drippings, and whisk, cooking over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Drizzle in the warm milk and continue whisking and cooking until the mixture becomes smooth. Add salt and pepper. Return to medium high heat and cook for about one minute. Taste the sauce. There should be no trace of flour. Whisk in sausage, and taste. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve over fresh biscuits.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sage, Spicy, Sweet

About half a year ago, I decided it would be much cheaper if we purchased our meat in large quantities once a year and divided it up for storage in our large freezer. Many butchers will cut your meat to order, i.e., buy a pork loin and you can get two roasts and two dozen chops. The cost is minimal compared to buying these items individually. It was around this time that I had purchased a pork shoulder, and my husband had given me a meat grinder for Christmas, so it was only natural for me to make sausage. I had used the other half of the shoulder to make this fantastic braised pork shoulder with fennel, and as the remaining half sat in the freezer, I began fantasizing about what I should do with it. I decided it should be sausage. At the incredible prices you pay for sausage, and the amount of sausage I use, I figured I would save some money. I told my plan to my husband (it seems like I always have plans) and began thinking about the types of sausage I would make.
A few weeks later, I still hadn't made the sausage, and we were in a hotel watching TV (we don't have cable...for some strange reason my husband thinks I would spend too my time watching the Food Network...hmmmm) so, I was watching Emeril's show, and guess what he was making...sausage! I was so excited! I decided to try his recipe, for Mild Italian Sausage. I also made sage, which I use when I make stuffing, and hot, which is a favorite for biscuits and gravy. They were amazing and delicious! I still can't believe I made them and they turned out that good. And it was so incredibly easy!
For grinding the meat, you can use a KitchenAid attachment, which you can also use to grind your own hamburger mixes (that way you know exactly what's in there), or a counter top grinder. If you have neither, you can cut the meat by hand. It is very tedious, and will not be as uniform as a grinder.

Each of these recipes makes three pounds. Be sure you have the right amount when you start, and be sure to test each type you make by frying it up and tasting it. Salt is very important here as it brings the flavors together.
Mild Italian Sausage Recipe
(note: ground anise seeds are the same as fennel seeds. You can use a mortar and pestle to grind the fennel seeds for the ground anise the recipe calls for. To toast seeds, just put them in a pan on the stove top on medium low heat, stirring constantly, until you smell them.)

For the sage sausage, I used a Tablespoon each of salt and pepper, and simply added a Tablespoon of powdered sage and 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh sage.

For the hot sausage, I used a Tablespoon each of salt and pepper, 2 teaspoons cayenne, 2 teaspoons chili pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons chipotle powder (you can find it at World Market), 2 teaspoons paprika, and 2 teaspoons chili powder. Taste the sausage and adjust the seasonings. I added more, because we like ours very hot.

I divided the sausage into 1-lb portions and wrapped them in plastic wrap, then labeled them for storage in the freezer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Apple a Day

Now that fall is here, and apples are in season, are you eating your apple a day? Well, there are a few ways you can do that, and one of them is this delicious caramel apple cake. The day I saw the recipe in a magazine, I decided I would make it, first chance I got. My husband's birthday is in October, so when I was planning his birthday dinner, I asked if he would like to try it. He was game.
 I made the recipe almost exactly the way it said to, but I didn't have a three-inch cake pan (and I was a bit short on time) so I turned them into muffins instead of a whole cake. I wouldn't make their caramel sauce (much too tedious and its not that good...) I would make this one instead. The addition of orange juice to the batter is great, and the use of baking powder and baking soda makes these muffins puff up very nicely.
The jist of the dessert goes like this: lay some apple pieces in the bottom of each muffin cup, pour in cake batter. While its baking, make the sauce. Pop out muffins, pour sauce on. This is my condensed version. Their version takes 2 1/2 hours, mine, about 30 minutes.


You decide.


Caramel Apple Muffins

1 Recipe Caramel Sauce

For the batter

3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 cup sour cream
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
4 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks

Preheat the oven to 400. Grease muffin pan.
Combine all cake batter ingredients, except for the apples, in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium high for about 5 minutes, occasionally scraping down the sides. Add apples and fold in.
Divide batter between muffin pans. Bake for 15-25 minutes. Test for doneness.
Meanwhile, prepare caramel sauce.
Allow muffins to cool for 5 minutes. Turn out onto plates or serving platter. Top each muffin with a ladle full of caramel sauce.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Green Enchiladas

Quite often, at a potluck at church, you can find a dish or two of green enchiladas.
I generally avoid green-sauced things, mostly because I discovered as a teenager they didn't like me. My mom always made red enchiladas, a favorite dish around our house that consisted corn tortillas filled with shredded, canned chicken and processed cheese. If we were lucky there were black olives on top and sour cream....mmm just thinking about it makes me miss mom's enchiladas. But that's not why we are here today.
I tried some enchiladas a few years back at a church potluck that blew my socks off. Now, I really, really like Mexican food (by now you have probably figured out that I really, really like any food), but I have a bone to pick with the Senoritas that make enchiladas. Many times the meat is bland. And I know why. They boil it, add the teeniest bit of salt and pepper and throw it in a tortilla and rely on the sauce on the top to deliver the flavor. I advocate highly seasoned food. I want every bite to be filled with flavor and make me so desirous of my next bite I don't chew my food properly. That is how these enchiladas were. After I stuffed my face with them, I hurried back to the line to see if there were any more. No luck. Others must have discovered this well-kept secret. After asking around a bit, I discovered who made them. One of the senior Spanish ladies, probably the sweetest person I know. After drowning her in flattery for about five full minutes, I asked her if she would share her recipe. It was sooooo easy I couldn't believe it! I made them that week, and my husband was pretty much in shock. I shared them with my family, next, and they have become quite a hit around here. I actually was planning on making them tomorrow or the next day when someone asked me for the recipe. Now, there are two ways you can go about making this, and I highly recommend making extra sauce and freezing it for the next time you make enchiladas. This lady who makes them also said you can freeze the whole pan and just pop it into the oven. They never last that long around here.... You can use fresh tomatillos when they are in season and just puree them in a blender or food processor, or you can just buy the can.
So here it is.

For the Sauce
2 cans green enchilada sauce (the large ones)
or
2-3 lbs. tomatillos, peeled, washed and pureed
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 of a medium onion, finely chopped
4 teaspoons chicken bouillon
2 teaspoons cumin


For the Chicken
2 or 3 fresh or frozen chicken breasts, boiled until cooked and shredded
salt and pepper to taste
Enchilada Sauce

For the Tortillas
1/2 lb jack cheese
24 medium size corn tortillas
Enchilada Sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Prepare the sauce. Combine all listed sauce ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Adjust seasoning as necessary. In the meantime, boil and shred the chicken, and add about each of salt and pepper, and 1/4 cup of the enchilada sauce. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350.
To make the enchiladas, heat vegetable oil in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Dunk tortillas in the enchilada sauce, then fry them for a few seconds on each side. Place in a prepared baking dish. Add chicken and roll up the tortilla. Repeat until the ingredients are gone.
Add more sauce to the edges of the rolled shells, and sprinkle jack cheese on top. Place in oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until cheese has melted.
Top with sour cream if desired, and serve!

Friday, September 24, 2010

It's That Time of Year...

Since fall is approaching, I decided it's about time I began making scones again. I am not talking about that piece of cardboard that hides under a thin layer of icing trying to pass itself off as a scone, commonly found at Starbucks coffee shops.
These scones are amazing. Extremely tender with a wide variety of spices and dried fruits you can add in to create any scone you choose. I love to make them as a fall treat. If you leave out the special additions and skip the sugar these are quick and delicious biscuits that are wonderful paired with spicy sausage gravy for breakfast, or as a southern side with dinner.
The variations are amazing. Lemon-poppy seed and dried cranberry-orange are some of my favorites. The sky's the limit when it comes to these breakfast treats. You could substitute 1/4 cup of the flour for cocoa powder and drizzle them with ganache. Make apple cinnamon, sour cherry and orange, lemon-blueberry, dried apricots with toasted hazelnuts or toffee chip (mmmm!). A few simple ingredients and you have a delicious partner for coffee on a lovely fall day.
One scone that is a particular favorite of mine is the gingerbread scone. There is a delicious topping you can use made from apples, but I don't ever usually bother with it. I just drizzle the top with powdered sugar icing, or make a cream cheese frosting (see below). They are also divine when slathered with butter. They cook for 14-17  minutes in the oven and they come together in a snap in the food processor-how easy can it get?
Also, here is a little tip: If you don't have buttermilk (I highly recommend keeping a quart or half gallon of the cheap stuff in your fridge for amazing baked goods and presoaking chicken and onion rings before frying) but if you don't, microwave 1 cup milk for about 30 seconds until it is lukewarm. Stir in 1 Tbsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Works like a charm.

Basic Scones
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold  butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup cold buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten (optional)

Preheat oven to 425F and position and oven rack in the center. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a thin silicone mat. Place the flour 1/4 cup sugar, baking soda and salt in the bowl of the food processor and process for 10 seconds to blend well. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse 5 times at 1-second intervals, or until the butter is cut into medium pieces. Add your extras now.
 Pour in the buttermilk and pulse another 20 times, or until the dough holds together in large, thick clumps. Use a spatula to scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently squeeze or knead the clumps together until they form a cohesive dough.
If the dough seems sticky, lightly dust your work surface with flour. Pat the dough in a circle about 1 inch thick and roughly 7 inches in diameter. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into 8 equal wedges and transfer to a prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.
If you would like too, brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. If you make a drizzle this step is definitely not necessary. Bake for 14-17 minutes, until firm to the touch and golden brown. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Extras
1/2 cup dried sour cherries and finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 cup dried cranberries and finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 blueberries and finely grated zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon poppy seeds and finely grated zest of one lemon
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots and 1/4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries and 1 tsp finely grated ginger

For gingerbread scones: substitute sugar for 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar. Add 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves to the flour mixture. decrease buttermilk to 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp, and add 2 tablespoons light unsulfered molasses.

Cream Cheese Drizzle
Blend:
4 oz cream cheese
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup of milk, plus more as needed to achieve desired consistency

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Eat Here-Oliveto

About a month and a half ago my husband and I found ourselves in downtown Oakland. We decided to make the most of our situation (we were childless for the afternoon) and get lunch somewhere. Deep in the heart of Oakland, on College Street, is a lovely cafe named Oliveto. It is technically Oliveto Restaurant and Cafe, but we did not know that at the time. It is situated on a busy corner, and it is an unassuming little place, just the kind I like.
When you enter the front door, a nostalgic stairway winds its way up to an unknown second floor (we found out later it was the restaurant area). We sat in the cafe, and promptly fell in love with the ambiance of this place. Sausages hanging in the fridge and a large wood burning pizza oven just added to the visually pleasing aesthetics of our table.
We started off with a tart that had thinly sliced potatoes, red onions and gruyere. With it's rich pastry crust it was a bit heavy for a starter, but nonetheless, very delicious. We then enjoyed a freshly baked pizza topped with thinly sliced red onions, sausage and an arugula salad. Absolutely delicious and fresh tasting.
We ended out our meal with a house made plum ice cream with plum caramel sauce. Very good, with a rich, full flavor. The bill ran us about $25 with tax and tip, which by all means is a very good price for a meal for two.
The menu changes quite often because the chef's rely on local, seasonal produce. Not a bad thing.
If  you are ever in the area, I would recommend you stop by Oliveto Restaurant and Cafe at 5655 College Avenue, Oakland, California, 94618.
You can also view their current lunch and dinner menus and see if there is anything that excites you.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Go-To Dinner: Pork Chops

We love to have company over and there is one meal I make more than any other when we have people over: Pork chops. Not just any pork chops, pork chops with apples. When I was a kid, I remember my dad talking about eating pork chops with applesauce. I thought that was pretty disgusting. Right up there with creamed tuna on toast and 'ramen-a-la-dada' (trust me, you don't want to know). Alright, I'll tell you. Ramen noodles cooked as usual and accompanied by cut-up hard-boiled eggs, mixed frozen vegetables and soy sauce. Not a big fan.
Anyway, back to the pork chops. As a young teenager, I made sure nothing on my plate touched the other items on my plate. I hated it when people served me and the mashed potatoes were touching the corn, and the gravy from my Salisbury steak was rushing to meet my buttered piece of wheat bread. Yucky! Or so I thought. When I began cooking as an adult, I realized some of the delicious unions that occur when foods meet.
I am not talking about those bland, tough chops with mealy applesauce smeared on top. This, I assure you, is not the meal I am describing to you. This meal is easily and quickly prepared, looks amazing and impresses every time. Don't you wish all meals went like that?
For starters, the pork chops are 'cured' in a mixture of salt, brown sugar and rosemary, that imparts a wonderful depth of flavor  and allows the pork chops to cook quickly and retain their moisture.
Secondly, the chops are fried in bacon grease. Now, if you are not in the habit of keeping bacon grease, get into it! Green beans, eggs, breaded zucchini and more reach astronomical levels when fried in bacon grease. Before you know it, you will be eating it with your breakfast cereal (ok, maybe not).
Then, you cook peeled apple pieces in the leftover grease with a bit of chicken stock, cinnamon and apricot jam. the emerging sauce has a hint of sweetness and gives you that magical union of fruit and meat. My husband asks for this meal at least every few weeks, and is always elated to find it on the menu for dinner.
I assure you, you will come back to this recipe time and time again-whether its to impress company, a quick weeknight dinner, or a way to use those lonely apples sitting on your counter.
Trust me.

Pan Fried Pork Chops with Glazed Apples

Serves 4
2 Tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
4 Thin-cut pork chops (about 1/2 inch thick each)
Freshly ground pepper
1 Tablespoon bacon grease, plus more if needed
2 Small to medium crisp apples such as honey crisp, gala, pink lady, Fuji or jazz, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 Cups chicken stock
1/3 Cup apricot jam
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or another if you don't have it)

Combine the brown sugar, kosher salt, and rosemary in a small bowl and stir together. Coat the pork chops on both sides with the mixture, gently massaging the meat with your fingers to jump start the curing process. Let stand for 15 minutes. Rinse the chops and pat dry with paper towels. Season the chops on both sides with pepper to taste.
Melt the 1 tablespoon bacon grease in a large heavy skillet over high heat, add the pork chips, and cook until crispy brown, about 2 minutes on each side.
Transfer the pork chops to a plate and cover with foil. Add the apples to the skillet and cook, stirring gently to brown slightly, about 30 seconds, adding a bit more bacon grease if the pan is dry. Add the stock, jam, vinegar and cinnamon and stir well. Cook until the sauce thickens and is rich brown in color, about 10 minutes. (Don't cook down the sauce too much, but if you do, simply add a little more stock.)
Uncover the pork chops and top with the glazed apples.
For a beautiful and festive variation, add 1/4-1/2 cup of dried cranberries when you add the stock.
We like to eat this with Green Beans....

Thursday, July 29, 2010

We All Scream

With summer in full force, many of us are turning to our icy weakness-ice cream. My husband is particularly fond of vanilla bean ice cream, so I buy it quite often and serve it with caramel sauce and nectarines that have been dipped in cinnamon and sugar and fried in butter (I know-a healthy dessert). Last year, I decided to make homemade ice cream. When I asked my husband which flavor he would like, he immediately responded "Strawberry". What? I thought for sure he would have asked for vanilla. So I made about five quarts of strawberry. It was amazing. I mean really amazing. Really, really amazing. I can't believe how much it tastes like strawberries. I had purchased a flat of them from one of those corner-of-the-street vendors and used them the next day. It is a bit tedious making strawberry ice cream, because you have to hull, clean, puree and strain away all the seeds before you even make your ice cream base, but it was well worth it. We ate that ice cream for about three months and enjoyed every minute of it. I actually just found a quart of it down in the bottom of my chest freezer and we enjoyed it for Max's birthday. And, a year later, it was still amazing.
 This year, I had determined to make vanilla. And I did. It is AWESOME. It is very rich, so you don't have to eat as much, which, I am sure, makes it good for you. AWESOME and HEALTHY. Just kidding, I wouldn't classify it as healthy. But, it is so good, you should decide right now, you are going to do it. First, whenever you drop the homemade ice cream bomb, people automatically label you as a domestic goddess. Second, it is NOT very difficult, and if you have ever made custard, it is a snap to make ice cream. Which, a little side note here, I would definitely recommend the egg version, as frozen custard is so much richer and creamier than the egg less version (and rich is what we are going for, right?)
Third, when you pull out a tub of your own homemade ice cream to give your children, husband, parents, and guests, you feel a sense of pride in offering something very fresh, containing nothing artificial or un-pronounceable.
And while I am sure I could give you four through ten, I will leave it at that.
Use the vanilla base, and with a few minor alterations, you can add chocolate and coffee to your ice cream repertoire. I would recommend buying a big container of heavy cream from Costco. Make two batches of vanilla, one coffee and one chocolate, and all your dreams will come true.
Well, all my dreams came true.

Ice cream (3 ways)

Makes about 1 1/2 pints
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 vanilla beans (split lengthwise)
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cups sugar
2 eggs

Combine cream, milk, sugar, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla beans with tip of a knife into cream mixture, then drop in pods. Heat cream mixture just to a boil.

Whisk eggs in a large bowl, then add hot cream mixture one ladle at a time. Once you have added two or three ladles, pour mixture into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and registers 170°F on thermometer (do not let boil). ( I never use a thermometer)

Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean metal bowl, then cool, stirring occasionally. Chill, covered, until cold, at least 3 hours, up to 24.
Freeze custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer.

So, vanilla-you can use three vanilla beans for each recipe, or half vanilla beans and half vanilla extract. Vanilla beans can be obtained very inexpensively on the Internet here, or a few more here, or here. You can also hop in your car and go here, where they can be purchased for 2.99 for two. This is significantly less than your grocery store, where one can run you twelve to fifteen dollars.
I make a double batch, use three vanilla beans, and about a tablespoon and a half of vanilla extract.
For coffee flavored ice cream, use a tablespoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of espresso powder. Add the espresso powder after the cream is hot. This is the brand I use.
For chocolate, add two tablespoons, cocoa powder, one tablespoon of vanilla, and 1/4 c. semi-sweet chips or pieces. Add the chips or pieces after you return the cream to the stove.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Take in-Lettuce Wraps

Ok, so I know this is another Asian food recipe, but I really need help in this area. Asian food always presents a far more difficult puzzle to me than does any other style of food that I have experimented with. When I taste something with those influences, I taste only the final result, none of the comprising flavors. When I came upon this recipe, in a food magazine, I wanted to try it. It is a recipe for PF Chang's chicken lettuce wraps. It's really good. Soon on the horizon, I will offer you Chili's Honey Chipotle Sauce (my husband's faaaavorite), but for now, more Chinese.
Back to the lettuce wraps. The first time I made the recipe, I followed the directions as closely as possible. You saute some cellophane noodles in peanut oil, to throw into the wraps, and I definitely would do it if I was making a meal for friends, but on a family night I would just skip the noodles. They are a little fickle, time consuming, and don't come apart very easily.
So, second time around, skipped the noodles. And the lettuce. I also skipped the 1-hour marinade and just drizzled a little teriyaki on and added cornstarch, salt and pepper about ten minutes before stir frying. I skipped the mushrooms (didn't have 'em) and the water chestnuts (I don't really like them) I put the whole thing on top of rice and used beef instead of chicken. It was still a hit. As a matter of fact, my husband, who absolutely does not eat leftovers, heated up the leftovers for himself the next day! Its a bit spicy, but I don't de-seed the jalapeno. My hubby likes spicy stuff. I also threw in a sliced summer squash and a sliced zucchini during the last two minutes of the stir fry and it was really good! I cut them into 1/2-inch thick half-moons.
I'm going to include the original directions for you, and you can make my changes if you want. Be sure the chicken or beef is pretty finely cut up, or it can be a bit tough with this high heat.
Sorry for the lack of photos, my camera had a four-year-old happen to it.
P.F. Chang's Chicken Lettuce Wraps

FOR THE CHICKEN
1 large egg white
1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, diced

FOR THE STIR-FRY SAUCE
2 tablespoons oyster sauce (I only found oyster flavored sauce)
1 tablespoon hoisen sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoons cornstarch

FOR THE NOODLES
2 bundles cellophane noodles (only called bean thread noodles at my grocery store)
Peanut oil, for frying

FOR THE STIR-FRY
4 tablespoons peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon peeled ginger (or minced ginger-found in the refrigerated produce section)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
4 scallions; 2 minced, 2 cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound shitake mushrooms, stemmed and diced (I used whatever mushrooms I could find-probably white button)
3/4 cup diced water chestnuts
small lettuce leaves, for serving (butter leaves are nice)
soy sauce, chili paste and/or hot mustard, for serving

1. Prepare the chicken: Whisk the egg white, cornstarch and rice wine vinegar in a bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. In the mean time, prepare all other ingredients. I would recommend reading ahead in the recipe and combining all the items that will be added at the same time. The stir-fry comes together very quickly.
2. Make the stir-fry sauce: Whisk 1/3 cup water, the oyster, hoisin and soy sauces, and the sesame oil in a bowl, then whisk in the cornstarch  until dissolved.
3. Fry the noodles: Pull the noodles apart into sections. Heat 3/4 inch peanut oil in a medium saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer registers 380 F. Working in batches, press the noodles into the oil with a spatula until they puff, 5 to 10 seconds. Drain on paper towels. (This is a bit of an acquired skill)
4. Make the stir-fry: Heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons peanut oil to the skillet; when almost smoking, stir in the garlic, ginger, jalapeno and minced scallions, then add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the sugar and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, water chestnuts and scallion pieces and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add the stir-fry sauce and chicken and cook 1 minute.
5. Make a bed of noodles on a platter and top with the chicken mixture. Serve the noodles and stir-fry with lettuce leaves and soy sauce for dipping.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Eat Here-Picazzo's

On our recent trip to Sedona, Arizona, we ate at a lovely little restaurant called Picazzo's. The full name is actually Picazzo's Organic Italian Kitchen. The main thrust of the restaurant is, obviously, organic, but you also have gluten free options.
We had a late lunch so we just planned to have some dessert, but the aroma of freshly baked pizza overwhelmed us and we decided to split a small one. We had the classic, it was topped with organic pesto, ricotta, mozzarella and Italian sausage.
After just a few minutes our pizza arrived. The crust was thick and chewy, reminiscent of fresh baked french bread. The pesto was absolutely delicious, and we made short work of the pizza. The service was very good, although they were a bit busy, especially for a Tuesday night, so we did not see our waitress as much as I would have liked.
I was really in the mood for chocolate (weird, huh) so we ordered a gluten-free brownie, topped with organic vanilla bean ice cream. It was alright, but it really reminded me of diet food and I am not a big fan of diet food. Don't get me wrong, I would eat there again and I probably will the next time we travel out here. I give the place four stars out of four. The food was good, it was not expensive, the pizza we split was fifteen dollars and for about twenty-five we had a decent meal. That is comparable to Chilis, who is not organic, gluten free or local. By a long shot.
I say, bravo, Picazzo's!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Unbelievable Banana Bread

I am not joking-you might have a banana bread you really like, but I am telling you this one is absolutely amazing!
I have always made my mom's recipe for banana bread, which I think she acquired from her mother. It is good, and more importantly, it is what I was used to, which sort of implies that it doesn't really have to be good, it is just the thing we crave because it is familiar. But, nonetheless, her banana bread is good-it is a wonderful, simple recipe that calls only for staples, and is a great way to use those leftover, over-ripe bananas.

This banana bread, on the other hand, is a work of art. It is for that time that you want something extra special. The recipe makes two loaves, and I am telling you it is an absolutely grand gift. Just the other day I made up a batch and took the second loaf to an elderly couple living in a retirement home. They shared it with some friends, who asked if they could pay me to make more!
Add a cup of dark chocolate chunks for an extra special treat!
The recipe calls for buttermilk, which gives this loaf tenderness, but that density you can expect from buttermilk, and the large amount of sugar used gives the bread a crispy, sugary top that reminds me of my favorite part of muffins.Vanilla and cinnamon give subtle flavors to this delicious bread.
I am not kidding you, when I bake this bread if I do not take the second loaf to someone it rarely makes it to the next day's breakfast. Walnuts add a delightful depth to the recipe, but if you don't like them, you can leave them out and the bread is still divine.
As bananas begin to become over-ripe at our house, I peel them and place them in a plastic freezer bag. Once I have enough for a recipe, I just set them on the counter for about an hour and they are extremely soft. They practically dissolve into the batter, leaving you without any big pieces of banana!
Enjoy!

Unbelievable Banana Bread
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups very ripe bananas
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place oven rack in the middle of the oven. Grease two 9-by-3-inch loaf pans. Combine all ingredients, except bananas and walnuts, in a stand mixer. Once thoroughly combined, add bananas and walnuts, if using.
Divide the batter between the two loaf pans and place in oven.
Bake until bread is a deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Transfer pans to wire racks and let cool for five minutes before removing bread from pans.
Let cool an additional 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe from Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook.

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