Saturday, November 6, 2010

Chicken and Dumplings

I had some frozen chicken breasts that needed to be used up as they were starting to freezer burn. This called for some seriously moist cooking. I also have a sore throat, so soup seemed like the best idea to me.

Chicken and Dumplings
3 large half chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
Several chicken necks
1/2 pound carrots
1/2 pound or so mushrooms
1/2 large onion
1 sprig rosemary
several sprigs thyme
2-3 tablespoons chopped garlic
2-3 bay leaves
20 oz. chicken stock
1 cup Bisquick(tm) baking mix
2.5 oz 2% milk
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt to taste

Boil the chicken necks in a gallon of water for about an hour, scumming the fat and flotsam from the surface. I put mine in cheesecloth so I didn't have to retrieve bones and skin.

Once the necks have boiled, remove them from the pan and discard (you could retrieve the meat if you so desire - I was lazy).

Chop carrots, onions, and mushrooms into bite-size pieces and add to pan. Add chopped garlic. Let simmer for an hour or so.

Add chicken breasts (still frozen) and simmer until done. Remove each breast and cut into bite-size pieces and return to pan.

About half an hour before you want to eat, add the salt, rosemary, bay leaves, and thyme.

Fifteen minutes before dinner, mix the baking mix, milk, garlic powder and a pinch or two of salt together. Add to boiling soup in teaspoon (or tablespoon) sized dollops, depending on how large you want your dumplings to be. Simmer for 10-12 minutes, turning over halfway through the cooking.

Of course, this won't be enough dumplings for the entire pot; I knew we'd have leftovers and I will make fresh dumplings for them. Double baking mix and milk quantities for a single sit-down dinner. If you don't like the baking mix I used, or can't get it, substitute your favorite. Adjust the fluid amount accordingly.

I'd forgotten how rich and creamy the dumplings make the soup; noodles never quite achieve the same effect. The dumplings just melted in my mouth. The soup was just velvety as we ate. Just what I wanted when I have a sore throat.

Feel free to add celery or mess with the proportions of vegetables in the soup. I just like a very carroty and mushroomy soup, particularly when I don't feel great. If you have a chicken (or turkey) carcass and time to make your own stock, feel free to omit the chicken breasts, chicken necks, and broth -- I only used them because I didn't have the time to start fully from scratch today.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Irregular posts

I'm sorry about the irregular posting these last few months. Life's been quite hectic and, while I've been cooking, I haven't had as much time to play as I would like. And I've had even less time to record what I've been playing with.

One of the reasons is I've gotten sucked into a big research project. I'm exploring how spices were used in the late medieval kitchen. One of my inspirations for this project was Tom Colicchio making a statement in his Top Chef blog about how medieval chefs would use spices to cover rancid/spoiled meat. That's like putting $30 gold braid on $2 cotton broadcloth -- doesn't make sense. Anyone with enough money to buy the spices would have enough money/resources to get fresh meat on a regular basis. So I'm looking at data from medieval household about how much spice they buy, how much is sent to the kitchen, how much is sent to the still room for perfumes and the like, how much is used medicinally, how much is sent to the creamery, and how much is given to visitors as gifts (lots and lots). I'm also looking at how many people are in the household so I can get an average of how much spice per person was purchased and used in the kitchen.

My preliminary results suggest that they weren't using that much more spice than the average American household and less than modern Indian households. When I say spice, I'm not talking about the herbaceous basil, oregano, etc. I'm looking at clove, cinnamon, pepper, etc. Salt and sugar are also excluded because they are used in a multitude of ways that are really outside the scope of what I'm interested in.

When I have more data and conclusions to post, you'll find them here. I'll also be posting recipes, but I don't know how often. Things are quieting down activity-wise, but winter is approaching with the waning energy that the cold brings.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dyed Pie Crust

The dyed pie crust didn't happen this weekend. But I learned a couple of very important things:
  • If you are going to dye a dough, don't add the to the dough after the dough is mixed. No matter how much you work it (and with pie dough this is bad), the dye does not get distributed evenly. In some situations, marbled pie dough might be the way to go, but this was not one of those situations. Next time: try mixing dye with the water the dough will be made from.
  • Wear gloves. Blue might have been the shade I wanted for the dough, but it was not the color I wanted for my fingernails. Fortunately food dyes are reasonably water soluble, so with many repeated handwashings, the worst of it came out. But I do still have traces of the dye around the cuticles and edges of the nails from last Wednesday's experiment.

That said, the experimental painting with the dyes worked okay. I need to get some food-safe brushes for applying the dye, a spoon just doesn't give light enough coverage. And I don't know what I want to do with the yellow dye; as a paint it looks more orange than yellow. Hmm, just had a thought: cake decorators thin their dyes with vodka so they can airbrush with them. Perhaps that will work for these dyes too!

I'm also going to look into a local cake-decorating store. Perhaps I'll find something a bit more appropriate.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Life has just been kicking my can this summer. If I could work 80 a week at my office, I'd still be behind. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel so things should get better soon.

I am planning to do some pie shell decorating for this weekend. I promise I will post my results!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Still here!!

I have not fallen off the face of the earth. I've been dealing with a lot of life right now - including the death of my mother-in-law. So, it's been kind of tough to write and tough to cook. Next week, things should be easier, so look for a post mid to end of the week.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Radishes, Not Just for Salads!

When my mother rejoined the workforce in my teens, my dad and I picked up a lot of her cooking tasks. Over time, my dad took over making all weekend breakfasts and was usually pretty good. My mother never needed to worry about leftovers as my dad kept finding new and inventive ways to use them. Some of them didn't work out too well, but most of them worked incredibly. I think it helps that my dad never had a home ec teacher to tell him it wouldn't work.

One of his great discoveries was that radish roots sauté wonderfully. They didn't work too well in the omelet, but on their own they were exquisite.

This week I was able to get wild-caught, fresh salmon on a wonderful sale. I've been grilling it until tonight, when a wind/dust storm made grilling inadvisable. Each night, I've been trying to come up with a new vegetable combination to accompany it. Tonight, I decided on radishes.

Sauteed Radishes, Zucchini, and Onion
1/2 cup zucchini, sliced
1/2 cup radishes, sliced
1/2 cup onion, (sliced lengthwise in strips)
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon olive oil

Heat oil in skillet. Sprinkle salt over veggies as the oil heats. Sauté onions until they start to become translucent. Add radishes and zucchini and sauté until they are to their desired doneness.

This is a very easy and flavorful vegetable dish. A lot of people find zucchini to be bland, but I don't. I do find that it plays well off a stronger flavor, so it's creaminess can come to the fore.

When choosing radishes to sauté, make sure the radishes aren't too big or too strong. If they are, the radishes will be bitter.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review: Over a Red-Hot Stove

Over a Red-Hot Stove (ed. Ivan Day) is a wonderful series of essays of reviewing the development of cooking technology from the 16th century to present. The six-essay series tackles a different aspect of technology development from the development of the kitchen range to changing meat roasting technologies to changes in yeast/leavening techniques in breadmaking.

I found Peter Brears' (author of Cooking in Medieval England) essay on the changing technological changes in the methods of roasting meat quite compelling. His discussion of the transition from open hearth roasting to closed oven roasting provoked a lot a thinking about why we value grilling so much today. Grilled meats share a lot of characteristics with open-heart roasted meats.

Early meat roasting technologies involved one or more spits arrayed in front of a large open hearth, burning wood or coal (occasionally even turf, when fuel prices are too high). Drip pans placed under the spit caught the fats and fluids rendered from the meat as it roasted, and were basted back onto the meat as the roasting process progressed. This treatment led to a very succulent and flavorful piece of meat.

Two important characteristics of open-hearth roasting are intense heating of one side of the meat at a time and removal of the rendered fats from the meat. The alternating periods of heat allows the sugars to rise to the surface of the meat and carmelize, providing incredible Maillard reactive flavors (enhanced by basting from the drip pan). In addition, the application then removal of heat allows the heat to slowly penetrate the meat and slowly change the protein structure of the meat, leaving the meat very tender and juicy.

Most grilling instructions call for grilling one side of the meat, then turning the meat and grilling to desired doneness. If a thin steak is being grilled, this may be the most efficient way to grill, but for a thick piece of meat, this process increases the likelihood the meat will be burned. Personally, I prefer to work with meat at least one inch in thickness (and thicker when doing pork ribs). By turning the meat periodically during the cooking process, I alternate the intense cooking heat with cooling, drawing the sugars out of the meat. I also drain the rendered fats away from the meat, preventing the fat from overheating and affecting the flavor of the meat. While I can't baste with drippings to increase succulence, I can marinate and add flavor and fluid prior to cooking, thus increasing the succulence.

I love it when a book about food or cooking makes me put things together in different ways! Over a Red-Hot Stove certainly stirred things up in my mind. Go get a copy for yourself and see what it makes you think about cooking!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Curried Potato Salad

Potato salad is one of America's summer staple food. But face it, too many times, potato salad is bland or one-note or uninteresting. Most of them use mayo or sour cream as their bases, which is more fat than any of us need.

A couple years ago, a local restaurant gave me the recipe for their creamy curry sauce. It's excellent, but not as versatile or healthy as I like. So I started playing with it (of course).

Yogurt is a common (and quite yummy) substitute for mayo. I buy a (relatively) local creamery's yogurt - Tillamook. The creamery is situated near the town of Tillamook on the Oregon coast. I am partial to their products, which I feel are far superior to nearly all the larger regional brands -- and head and shoulders above the national ones. But this is all beside the point.

My point is that low-fat yogurt, from any source, is healthier than mayo. It has loads of nutrients, especially vitamin D and calcium.

Curry Potato Salad
3-4 cups of diced potatoes
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup celery

Curry Dressing
1-1/2 cups plain, low-fat yogurt
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Blend well by hand or with a food processor.

Steam the potatoes until done, but firm. Cool.

Once the potatoes are cool, mix the onions, celery, and potatoes. Add the curry dressing 1/2 to 1 cup at at a time, until everything is coated. Do not add too much dressing (you probably won't use all of it). Enjoy!

I prefer the waxy potato varieties (red, Yukon gold, white) to the mealier russets. I think it nicely highlights the creaminess of the entire dish. The celery and onion provide a nice crunchy counterpoint to the unctuous creamy conspiracy of the potatoes and sauce. One of my next experiments with this dish is deciding what other vegetables to include - carrots and broccoli are definitely contenders.

I made the salad the night before I served it. The flavors tend to marry and intensify overnight, especially as the potatoes absorb some of the curry flavor.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Every so often, fortunately not very often, I decide to do a fry-up for dinner. The contents of the fry-up vary, but usually in some way include a meat, a starch, garlic, onions or leeks, mushrooms, and a veggie. Tonight's fry-up involved leeks and mushrooms I had purchases over the weekend for camping -- they needed to be used and used quickly!

And did I add, needed to be fast? I hurt today.

Beefy Leeks and Mushrooms
8 oz beef sirloin cut into cubes
1 large leek cut into coins
8 oz. mushrooms sliced thickly
2 large potatoes
2 cans green beans (I know, but I didn't have fresh -- and I said quick)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt

Microwave the potatoes for 4 to 5 minutes, then cube.

Add oil to a large skillet or wok and heat on medium/high. Add potatoes and mushrooms. Saute until halfway done.

Add leeks and garlic. Saute until done.

Remove everything from the pan and saute the steak on high until nearly to desired doneness. Return everything to the pan and add the green beans. Heat until green beans are done.

This was wonderfully savory and amazingly yummy. The dish was mostly vegetable, but tasted very full of meat. And it was fast and easy to make -- about a half hour, from first chop to serving.

I love the interplay of leeks, mushrooms, and beef. That combination is so savory, so umami that I just can't get quite enough of it. In some ways, I prefer leeks to onions; while the taste isn't as sharp, it contains a lot of the freshness I associate with green onions. However, I prefer to go gently with the spicing, simply because I like to let the leeks shine.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

New Recipe Finally - Grilled Mahi Mahi

I'm sorry about the lack of post last week - I had a virus or something and one demon of a headache (not a migraine - that I know how to deal with) that two prescription meds just could not knock out. So I went to work and came home and let Julia baby me.

So I'll try to do two recipes this week!

The last week has been rather toasty here in the Pacific Northwest with highs in the 90s. This wouldn't be too bad, but the highs the week before were in the upper 60s to lower 70s. We went from mid-May to mid-July with no stop over for June!

So I'm going to enjoy my grill. Today's recipe is Grilled Mahi Mahi.

Grilled Mahi Mahi
1 lb mahi mahi fillets (four fillets about 4 oz each)
1 large lemon
6-7 garlic cloves
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 cup water
2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Zest and juice the lemon and put in a sealable plastic bag. Chop the garlic finely and add to the lemon juice. Add the rice wine and water (I collected the water in the lemon husks to add flavor). Add salt and fish. Marinade no more than 30 minutes. I marinaded for 60 minutes and I think that was a little too long.

Lightly coat each side of each fillet with olive oil.

Grill on medium heat for about 1-2 minutes per side. I grilled 2-3 and the fish was a little more done than I preferred. Part of this may have been the marinade time being too long.

The fish held together reasonably well, though the edges of some of the fillets tried to fall off. The fish was firm, but not yet tough; I definitely should have shortened either the marinade time or the grill time (I think both).

However, the fish was delightfully lemony and not overly garlicky. I thought about adding fresh dill, but the store was out of it. I refused to use dried dill; I really wanted a fresh flavor to the fish.

I served the fish with brown basmati rice, steamed broccoli, and a lovely, well-chilled rosé. Now, I'm going to enjoy my dinner.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Salmon is a fish that, when I lived on the East Coast, I thought was good and solid, but not spectacular. I didn't quite get why so many cooks thought is was one of the best saltwater fish to cook and eat. Then I moved to the Pacific Northwest and discovered why.

Most salmon eaten on the East Coast is from the Atlantic is farmed salmon. Farming helps keep the salmon population up but keeps the salmon in proscribed areas. This leads to less foraging for food by the fish, which leads to lower muscle tone, increased fat, and less flavor. Atlantic salmon's flesh is lighter pink than Pacific salmon, in large part because the salmon is fed a farm-feed. Some areas add beta carotene to help increase the pinkness of the flesh, but that doesn't improve flavor.

Pacific salmon, on the other hand, is largely (but not exclusively) wild-caught. There are Pacific salmon farms, but, most restaurants and groceries carry several varieties of wild-caught fish. Admittedly, the stocks of fish in the Pacific have been very stressed in the last few years, so wild-caught is both becoming more scarce and more expensive.

One really interesting facet of Pacific salmon is the variety of flavors you can find. All salmon is labeled by subspecies, such as king, sockeye, and chinook, and some are also labeled by river, such as Copper River. So, at my local grocery store, I can have my choice of Copper River sockeye salmon, Copper River king salmon, chinook and others. Copper River salmon of any type is seen as superior to others, with good reason. While many people claim that king salmon is the best, most flavorful, I actually prefer sockeye. King salmon has firmer flesh and make larger fillets or steaks, but I find the flavor of the sockeye to be far superior.

Regardless of where the fish is from, if you don't pick a fresh fillet, you won't have good fish. The fish should be firm, relatively odorless, and reasonably moist. If the fillets have gaps between muscle tissues, are dry, or have a strong scent, then pass it up.

I've grilled salmon, poached it in wine, roasted it, pan-fried it, and baked it. I tend to prefer grilled or roasted salmon, but I'll eat it nearly any way I can get it. Several restaurants along the Pacific coast batter dip it and deep-fry it -- oh that's heavenly!

Roasted Salmon
1 large salmon fillet (I prefer fillets to steaks in large part because there are fewer bones)
1 orange
1/4 cup of soy sauce
1 cup of white wine
2 tablespoons of canola oil

Preheat oven to 425°F (230°C).

Clean the salmon; you will likely have to descale it. Coat pan with canola oil and place salmon on the pan skin down. Place in hot oven. Roast until salmon is done -- between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on how done you want it. The salmon will be light pink. If you want a brown crust, lightly oil the top.

Grate the zest from the orange. Squeeze the orange for its juice.

Put soy sauce, juice, wine, and zest into a sauce pan. Reduce by half or so. Drizzle over salmon.

As my house guest a few weeks ago said, "Pacific salmon is much more delicate than Atlantic." The fat isn't cloying as it can be in Atlantic salmon, the flavor is much less fishy, and the texture is quite a bit finer. Add an acidic sauce to brighten the flavors and you will have an amazingly succulent fish.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Modem fail

Sorry about this guys. We just got the modem fixed (actually replaced) today, so I should have a post up soon.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Big fail -- modem issues and rough weekend

Sorry I've missed this week. I went for a quick weekend trip last weekend and came back barely able to move. While I love doing this blog, I've needed to reserve all the energy I've had for my real job.

In addition, I need to get a new modem. I'm getting very sporadic connection with the one we have. I suspect getting its antenna chewed on by a kitten that thinks it's a puppy -- at least he chews like one. You should see what he does to card board and paper towels. If I thought it was at all nutritious, I'd save a fortune on cat food.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Creamy Mushroom Chicken

I love making a dish that is so good you don't mind having it for several meals in a row (i.e. dinners in a row). It's even better if the dish is relatively quick and easy to make. This is one of those dishes.

And *gasp* it doesn't even have garlic!

Creamy Mushroom Chicken
2 - 3 pounds of chicken cut into large cubes
1 pound crimini mushrooms sliced
2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 cup white wine (preferably sparkling or champagne)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups water

Chop dried porcinis into very small pieces so they need less time to soak and don't have to be chopped while wet. Soak porcini mushrooms in two cups of boiling water for 10-20 minutes (about as long as it takes you to cut up the chicken and mushrooms and brown them).

Sprinkle salt over chicken chunks and let sit for five minutes.

Heat olive oil in large skillet or everyday pan until olive oil is hot and leggy. Brown chicken and remove from pan. Brown mushrooms and remove from pan.

Deglaze pan with wine. Add mushroom soup one can at a time and whisk thoroughly to combine before adding the next can. Rinse cans out with 4-5 ounces of water. Add porcini fluid and porcinis. Add chicken and mushrooms. Cook until chicken is done.

Serve over rice or noodles.

I used cream of mushroom soup as the base because I didn't want to spend huge amounts of time cooking a sauce down. Between the mushrooms in the soup, the mushrooms I added, and the porcinis, the sauce turned out amazingly rich and full of mushroom-y goodness.

I will confess I used a sparkling white wine because I had some left from dinner the night before. It was nicely crisp and dry without being sour and supported the mushroom flavor wonderfully. I think it also helped the sauce be a bit lighter, though I suspect that was mostly in my mind.

Peas work really nicely as a vegetable to serve with the sauce -- I thawed the peas and mixed them into the sauce on my plate. They gave wonderful little bursts of fresh sweetness in the sauce.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chicken in Milk and Honey

After the weekend I had, I needed to take yesterday really easy. So this is a recipe I developed years ago.

Chicken in Milk and Honey
1 lb chicken cut into serving sizes
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon honey (clover works well)
1 pinch mace
dash of salt

Dissolve honey in milk in a crock pot on medium. Add chicken and spices and simmer in crock pot for several hours. Serve over baked potatoes or noodles.

This is a really easy recipe to prep. The chicken and sauce are mildly sweet, but not overly so. Last time I made it, I served it to 150 people and had absolutely no leftovers. People wandered into the kitchen looking for more!

This recipe works better with lighter honeys. Buckwheat will be far too strong and will overwhelm the chicken. I initially used clover because it's readily available and not overly strong.

It's been a while since I've made this recipe; I think I'll remedy that this week.
When I do, I want to make some tweaks, like browning the chicken before putting in the crock pot and deglazing the pan. I also think it would be lovely with an orange blossom honey.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I first made oatcakes over a decade ago. When I presented them to friends during a Ceilidh, I was met with some skepticism. People tried one rather dubiously. By the time they finished their first one, they had a handful they jealously guarded from everyone else!

Best of all, they are dreadfully simple.

8 oz oats (by weight)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lard or bacon fat (melted)
3 ounces hot water

Grind oats in a food processor until they are coarsely chopped. Mix all ingredients in a bowl; the dough will be sticky.

Sprinkle some flour on a flat surface to prevent the dough from sticking. Roll out walnut-sized pieces until they are palm-sized disks.

Bake at 325°F (190°C) on an ungreased baking pan for 30 minutes or until dry and crisp.

Oatcakes store wonderfully in a cookie tin, so you can make up a bunch and store for later use. Spread a little butter or jam on the oatcake (though I prefer them plain) and your off on a taste and texture sensation.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pancakes with Fiber - but don't tell anyone

I like pancakes for breakfast on weekend mornings. Not the banal, overly leavened things you get from certain mixes, but a nice, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth pancake. Unfortunately, they tend not to be so good for you -- lots of sugar and not much fiber.

Why can't something that tastes so good have fiber that is so good for you? It can!

Sneaky Pancakes
1-1/2 cups white all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
4 tablespoons sugar
1-3/4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon (add up to a second if you prefer heavier cinnamon flavor)
2 eggs
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients together. Beat eggs and milk together, then add butter (mix well while adding to prevent the butter from lumping). Add wet ingredients to dry, stirring to combine. A few small lumps should remain. Let rest for 1/2 hour or so.

Heat griddle. Pour 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter on the griddle and let cook until bubbles form and pop on the top surface. Carefully lift the edge to check how brown the underside is. If the underside is brown, flip and let finish cooking until the bottom browns.

This recipe should make about 8 - 10 small pancakes.

When I make the pancakes, I preheat my oven to about 170°F (77°C) so I can keep them warm until they are all done. Then we can sit down and eat breakfast together instead of one person eating while the other cooks (and then eats alone).

The wheat bran I use is 8 grams of dietary fiber per 1/3 cup (not really great, but think how bad it is without the bran). Split between two servings, that's not great, but it's a little better than most US cereals.

This recipe uses a bit more fluid than most recipes, but that is because bran is often somewhat dry, which is why it gets compared to cardboard. The eggs in particular add a richness that offsets the coarseness of the bran, providing a much more luxurious mouth-feel and tenderness.

I like how the cinnamon comes out in this recipes. I think it helps distract you from thinking about how "healthy" the pancakes are. Then again, I really like cinnamon.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pork Fajitas?

Last week, my partner decided she wanted pork. Then she discovered that avocados were on sale, so she decided we should make pork fajitas.

The more common meats for fajitas are, of course, beef, chicken, and shrimp, but there's no reason pork couldn't work, so I was game. Of course, we were out of lettuce and sour cream, but we don't let little things like that stop us.

Pork Fajitas
1 large pork steak
1/2 large onion
1 red pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
dash of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoon canola oil

Slice onion and pepper into narrow slices and place in separate bowls. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt into each bowl and mix.

Mix all the spices together.

Cut the pork into strips. Sprinkle half of the spice mixture on the top and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Flip the pork and sprinkle remaining spices. Let sit again for 5 to 10 minutes.

Heat canola oil in a medium-hot pan. Saut&233; the onions until they are translucent and start browning, then add the peppers. Once the peppers soften, remove from pan.

Place the pork strips in the pan and brown on each side. Add the onions and peppers and saut&233; until pork is done. Remove from heat and serve over tortillas with your favorite toppings.

I wasn't confident how well the pork was likely to turn out, but it was really, really good. I was concerned that the pork would dry out, but adding the vegetables to the pan while I was finishing the pork kept the pork tender and moist.

Green peppers would work in this recipe, but I think the red is better. The sweetness of the red pepper brings out the sweetness and savoriness of the pork in a way green peppers can't. Green peppers are a little too bitter to do so.

Normally, I prefer corn tortillas over flour, but getting fresh corn tortillas can be a real challenge. With the pork fajitas, I think flour would work better as they are milder in flavor and really let the pork shine.

So now I know that the meat I use in fajitas is only limited by my imagination!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Not your mama's potato casserole!

Sorry about last night -- I went to a photography discussion and it ran way over time.

So, about that title. I had an enjoyable weekend with a couple friends coming over to help sort through some stuff that we are sending off in a couple of weeks. Anyway, that presented a rather interesting conundrum for dinner. One friend is a lactovegetarian and the other is allergic to most grains, including rice. So what do you feed them?

Did I also mention that it was wet and chilly? I wanted to get the oven going to drive off some of that chill.

Potato-Leek Casserole
4 large potatoes
1 leek
1/2 to 3/4 pound crimini mushrooms
30 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
16 oz sliced American cheese
3 tablespoons fresh chopped garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
~1 cup 2% milk
1 tablespoon butter

Slice the potatoes about 1/4 inch thick. Parboil them until they are about halfway done.

Slice the leek into coins. Saut&233; leek and garlic until leek is soft.

Slice the mushrooms. I prefer thick and meaty, but others like thin and melt-in-your-mouth.

Put cheese (reserve 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar), spices, and milk in a large microwavable bowl. Microwave in 1 minute increments, stirring after each time period, until somewhat smooth and creamy.

Layer cheese sauce, potatoes, mushrooms, and leeks in a large casserole dish. Sprinkle reserved cheese over the top of the casserole. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for half an hour or until the potatoes are done and the cheese on top has browned.

Let me start by saying, I cheated on the cheese sauce. I use the American cheese to help make the cheese sauce smooth and creamy without spending huge amounts of time over the stove stirring and stirring and stirring.

I will also admit that my measurements of the milk and spices are approximations. I made the casserole by the seat of my pants, adding stuff until I got the spicy scent I wanted and the cheese texture. I started with about 1/2 cup of milk and added more to the cheese sauce until it was creamy. So you may not need as much milk as I said or you may need more. Also, it depends on how hard your cheddar is.

However, the end result is so totally worth it! I believe potatoes, leeks, and cheese are an amazing flavor team, but when I added in the curry-ish spices, I took it so far beyond the next level, it was unbelievable. Serve it with broccoli (you need a veggie, c'mon!) and it's a well-balanced vegetarian meal with a variety of textures.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Almond Milk

I got a bunch of recipes that I want to try that call for almond milk. So I spend this last week making some -- the old-fashioned way, with mortar and pestle. I know I could just run out and buy some or use my food processor, but I want to understand the product in a way that you only get when your hands get messy.

Almond milk is a long-time stand in for dairy milk in many lactose-free recipes and as a substitute in Lenten recipes. Almond has thickening qualities that neither soy milk nor rice milk have. So it's especially good in custard-style dishes.

Almond Milk
1 cup of almonds
2 cups of water

Pound the almonds as small as you can in a mortar and pestle. Add water and stir. Let sit for several hours. Drain fluid into a bowl. Stir milk to mix if it separates.

When pounding in the mortar and pestle, you can only do a few almonds at a time. If you add too many, then you won't be able to get the particles pounded small enough or evenly. I warn you -- this takes a lot of effort.

I decided my almonds weren't beaten enough after I soaked them, so I tried to pound them again (yes, they were wet). That was messy, but it did help a lot. I let it soak again.

I think I might have added too much water in this first attempt. I'm not sure I got it as thick as I wanted, so it's usefulness is likely to be limited in the dishes I want to do. I've got some other recipes to look at and see what other methods are recommended and try them. Once I get what I want, then I'll start using it in recipes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tofu Stir-fry

Stir-frying is wonderful this time of year, though it gets better as the local produce starts coming in during May and June. I usually use beef or chicken, but that's a problem when I have vegetarian guests. Usually I leave out the meat, but I feel like I'm wanting for protein (even when I add cashews) and I don't quite get the same chewiness. So this time, I decided to use a very firm tofu.

The tofu I used was one I sampled in a local grocery store and was curry-flavored. I figured this would go well with all of us as we all like curry, but my partner and I aren't overly fond of tofu. In fact, I'd never cooked tofu before.

It was yummy!

Tofu-Vegetable Stirfry
2-3 cups chopped carrots (I like mine on the thick side)
1 head Napa cabbage
1 crown of broccoli
1/4 head of cauliflower
2 small zucchinis
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1/2 large onion, sliced along the length
15 oz firm, curry-flavored tofu, sliced thinly (not quite julienned), not cubed
1/4 oz curry seeds
1/4 oz coriander seeds
3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic
1/2 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and slivered
1/4 cup stir-fry sauce
1 teaspoon chili oil
1/4 cup of oil

Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in the wok. Stirfry each vegetable over high heat until it is nearly done, starting with the onion, garlic, and ginger, and ending with the napa. (My preferred order is: onion/garlic/ginger, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini, napa, and tofu). Add oil as necessary between vegetables. Toast the coriander and cumin in a small skillet over low heat for 20 minutes.

Stir-fry the tofu until nearly done, then add the vegetables back into the pan with the coriander, cumin, stir-fry sauce, and chili oil. Continue cooking until all vegetables are done.

Serve over brown basmati rice.

The stir-fry was delicious! I wanted to make sure I had spiced the vegetables to complement the tofu without making a curry stir-fry. The toasted cumin and coriander seeds were just the ticket.

Tofu is actually pretty easy to work with. I just treated it like I would any other vegetable. I had hoped to be able to brown it a bit, but the tofu was a little too wet or my heat wasn't high enough. Most likely it was a combination of the two.

Just a quick pointer when doing stir-fries: take the time to get everything chopped before you start cooking. You don't want to leave vegetables (or meat) sitting too long in the pan or it doesn't cook evenly. You need to stir frequently, but not necessarily constantly.

By the way, feel free to increase or reduce the vegetables according to taste. I prefer my stir-fries vegetable-heavy, so I used a lot. Not everyone agrees with that philosophy. One of my favorite aspects of stir-fry is that no two are alike; I can create a new one every time by varying my vegetable and protein combinations.

For those of you who aren't familiar with napa; it's a member of the cabbage family like bok choy. However, napa is much more tender, a bit sweeter, and a lot less cabbage-y than bok choy.

I think I've found a way to get us eating more tofu and a bit less meat.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Quick and Dirty (Yet Yummy) Lunch

Sometimes when I spend a weekend alone, I don't really want to put forth much effort for lunch or dinner. I just want to throw something together, heat it up, and eat so I can get on to the important work of doing something that's not terribly interesting.

I found myself in this predicament this past weekend. I realized I really needed food before I ran out shopping, but didn't want to take much time to eat. So I threw together a quick, hot lunch.

Bean and Tomato Toss-up
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can black or kidney beans, drained
1/2 cup frozen corn (I really don't like the watery stuff from a can)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon or so cilantro, optional
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped onion, optional

Drain the beans. Put everything into a large, microwaveable bowl. Heat on high for 3 minutes. Stir. Heat for 2 minutes or until it is heated through.

On the surface, it doesn't sound like it's all that great a dish, but believe me, it's lovely. I like how the tomatoes stay kind of fresh tasting without being overly sweet or sour. The beans provide a really nice, firm texture, replacing the need for meat. The black beans provide greater depth of flavor than the kidneys beans. And the corn provides a really fresh sweetness (and whole grain) to the dish.

It's incredibly healthy, with no fat, lots of fiber, and oodles of flavor. Serve over brown rice for a complete protein. Give it a shot some lazy weekend.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Better never than late...

Or is it the other way around? Anyway, here's the late blog for the week. Sorry about that -- life just got the best of me.

Rather than describing a recipe this week, I thought I'd talk a little about cooking game meat. I realized that I've talked about recipes for cooking rabbit, venison (deer, for those who may not know), and duck. I haven't talked very much about the strategies used when cooking game meat.

Game meat isn't hard to cook at all. On the contrary, it can be very easy to cook, provided you've gotten it properly field-dressed (entrails removed cleanly with no spillage). But you can't cook it quite like you would that slab of beef you bought at the grocers last night.

Game meats differ from domestic meats in two ways:
  1. Game meat is made of muscle that has done a lot of work.

  2. Game meat has less fat.

These two facts add up to game meat being a little tougher than store-bought meat. Game animals forage for their food, which means they don't get food as regularly or as abundantly as farm animals. They have to range around to find food and security. All of this work builds muscle fibers and, with the lower food volume, encourages leanness. As a result, the muscle fibers are stronger and denser.

Most game animals are older than domestic animals when they are harvested. Again, the muscles have done a lot more work and do not have the fat deposits that younger animals' muscles have. This leads to meat that is a little drier/less moist than store-bought meats (which can also be injected with sugar-water or salt-water).

The toughness and dryness of the meat respond very well in a low-temperature, moist, slow-cooked dish. I am partial to braising, stewing, or crock-potting (if you forgive the coining of the term) game meats. Game meat can be roasted, but a fat-based moist method (such as larding) must be used. If you are careful, you can succeed in grilling or pan-frying some cuts, but in general, stick with the moist methods.

However, for some game animals and for some cuts, moist cooking isn't quite enough to bring out all of the wonderful flavor of the meat or to render it fork-tender. In these cases, you will need a little acidity to help break down the meat. I'm partial to using tomatoes and/or wine.

Tomatoes provide a wonderful brightness to game dishes, especially rabbit or venison. Tomato's natural juices reduce the amount of water you need to add, helping to concentrate the flavors of the meat, vegetables, and the broth. I prefer to use canned tomatoes (not tomato sauce) and some tomato paste. Tomato-based sauces are also a little more forgiving of sloppy field-dressing of the meat, provided you carefully clean the meat before freezing, canning, or cooking (when the meat is fresh).

Wine is just as wonderful with game meats, providing an increased savoriness to the dish. Wine also brings out a complexity of flavor that tomatoes just can't match. There is a reason coq-au-vin calls for old chickens. The meat has a wonderfully rich flavor, but needs the wine to break down the fibers and release all that wonderful built-up flavor.

Vinegars and fruit juices can provide the acid base for game meats, but must be carefully considered. For instance, rabbit works well with apple juice, but orange juice or red grape juice will overwhelm it. Venison will work very well with balsamic vinegar or cider vinegar, but will overwhelm rice vinegar and white wine vinegar.

So, to sum up, game meats tend to be tougher and drier than store-bought meat. Moist methods tenderize the meat and make it more moist. Acids, such as wine or tomatoes, help bring out every bit of flavor the meat has to offer -- which is a lot.

See, I told you cooking game meat was easy!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Not tonight dear, I have a headache

I'll post later this week. I went grocery shopping and pulled my neck/shoulder lugging groceries.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mushroom Pork Chops

Several weeks ago, I bought a family pack of pork chops. I divvied them up and froze what I didn't immediately use. Some of the chops were HUGE - like twice the size of a normal pork chop. Easily six inches or more long.

This last weekend I decided to make pork. Of course, I pull out the packaging, thinking it was a roast that I wanted to smother in mushrooms. Oops! I decided I would smother them in mushrooms anyway.

Mushroom-smothered Pork Chops
1 375ml bottle of rose wine
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon bruised grains of paradise (if you don't have them, use 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper)
3 very, very large pork chops
1 lb mushrooms, sliced thinly
2 teaspoons or so oil (I used my Chardonnay Fumé grapeseed oil.)
1 tablespoon or so sea salt

Marinade pork in wine, cinnamon, and grains of paradise for two hours.

Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C).

Spread some oil on the bottom of the roasting pan. Lay first pork chop in pan. Sprinkle with salt. Spread a little oil on pork chop. Cover with a layer of mushrooms.

Place second pork chop, salt, oil, and cover with mushrooms.

Place third pork chop, salt, and oil. Cover top and sides with remaining mushrooms.

Roast for 2 to 2-1/2 hours.

The mushrooms keep the pork very moist and add tons of flavor. The long, slow roast gelatinizes the connective tissue, giving a really, really rich, unctuous savor to the meat.

This dish is really easy to make but tastes like you had to really work for it. But let's keep how easy it is to ourselves.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Venison Hash

As I've said many times, my parent supply me with several pounds of venison each year. And I try to make them last. This last time, my parents gave me several pounds of ground venison. So, I needed to figure out how to use it as I don't use much ground meat ever.

But last week, I was really, really tired and really, really, really sore from being out of town last weekend. I wanted a quick and easy, no fuss, no work meal.

Hmmm, ground. That's almost the same as pre-chopped, right? Got it!

Venison Hash
2 lbs or so ground venison (or ground beef)
1 lb southern-style frozen hash browns
1/2 chopped large onion (3-4 inches in diameter)
1/2 pound or so sliced crimini mushrooms
1 tablespoon or so garlic powder
1 teaspoon or so cinnamon
1 teaspoon or so powdered ginger
1 pound frozen peas
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the venison, onion, and mushrooms in large skillet. Drain excess grease (if you are using venison, there won't be any).

Set heat to medium. Add potatoes and cover. Stir every 10 minutes or so until potatoes are done.

Add peas. Cook until peas are heated through and just past crunchy (they should still be firm).

Enjoy with a lovely microbrew.

My inspiration for this dish was a shepherd's pie. I used venison instead of mutton because that was what I had on hand and because I knew it would work well. I used frozen hash browns because all they really ever need is a heat-through and crisp. I did chop the onion and slice the mushrooms, but if you are really pinched for time or energy, you can use pre-sliced. I don't recommend it as doing it yourself isn't that much work, but you could if you needed to.

The result was a wonderfully warm and filling dinner that was definitely homey, very close to what I would call comfort food. And it only took about a half hour or so to make, great when you're on the go.

My only complaint was that it was a little on the dry side. I added a little water when I reheated it for lunch the next day and was very pleased with what I got. The water helped convey the spices much more effectively.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spice Bread

I've written a couple of times (3/30/2009 and 3/8/2010)about my medieval bread recipe, Fine Bread. Anise isn't the only spice that can be used in it. I've used cinnamon instead in the past, but I've found the flavor a little too one-dimensional.

I needed a quick and easy dessert for a party the other night. Fine bread is really quick and easy -- just weigh and mix the sugar, flour, and spices, and beat in four eggs.

Aniseed isn't to everyone's tastes. Most people don't like the strong licorice-like flavor and are reluctant to try it. But most people do like spice cake.

Spice Bread
8 oz flour (weighed)
8 oz sugar (weighed)
4 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon clove
1 teaspoon butter
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C).

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Beat the eggs well; there mixture should be evenly yellow with no globs of white or yolk. Add to dry ingredients. Mix until it's batter.

Melt the butter and coat bottom of dish. Add batter and smooth out in pan.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes (less if the dish is a thin, metal pan). Sprinkle powdered sugar lightly over the top of the cake. Serve warm or cool.

This was an unmitigated success!!!! The sharpness of the ginger was well-balanced by the warmth of the cinnamon with the clove and nutmeg providing a nice deep richness to the flavor.

The eggs kept the bread really moist, almost like it had fruit in it, but without the chewiness or sogginess that often accompanies the fruit.

Several of the guests put a little whipped cream on the top and couldn't get enough of the combination! Yea!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Internet Fail

I am having trouble with my modem at home. It won't talk to any of the wireless devices in the house. So I won't have a recipe tonight, but expect one Tuesday or Wednesday.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fine Bread

I have to apologize a little to my readers. I've been a bit distracted this year -- preparing for an medieval arts competition. I didn't win, but I didn't expect to. I mostly wanted to get some feedback on some ideas I've had and I wanted to have fun. I succeeded!

For this competition, I've been playing again with a late-16th/early-17th century recipe called "Fine Bread." This recipe isn't a bread as we would describe it; it's more like a biscotti that is flavored with anise.

Before you say "I don't like anise/licorice," you should try this recipe.

Fine Bread
8 oz. unbleached all-purpose white flour
8 oz. sugar
4 large eggs
2 oz. anise
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C).

Put the anise seeds in a mortar and pestle and bruise (grind gently) until the anise becomes aromatic.

Beat the eggs well until they are a fairly uniform yellow; you don't want globs of white and yolks.

Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the eggs. The eggs will absorb all the dry ingredients; have faith. You will know you are almost done stirring when the batter forms a dough. There will still be some dry ingredients to be incorporated, so keep stirring. A few strokes more and the mixture will become a batter.

Melt the butter and pour into baking dish. Swirl the pan around to coat the bottom.

Pour batter into pan and bake until done -- 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the baking dish. Poke the center with a toothpick; the bread is done when the toothpick comes out clean.

Cook for five minutes or so, until the fine bread pulls away from the edges of the baking dish. Turn out onto a baking rack and let cook. Sprinkle powdered sugar lightly over the top.

I know; I blogged this a while ago. This time, though, I baked it in a cast iron skillet. I really liked how this turned out; the crust was more crispy than before and it really stayed moist.

Remember how, above, I asked you to wait until you tried this before you said you don't like anise? I've had multiple people who really, really don't like licorice/anise tell me how much they enjoyed this. One person actually wanted to know what other flavors I used in the recipe to offset the anise flavor and was surprised to find there weren't any.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Venison, Lovely Venison

I adore venison. I grew up in a hunting family; between my parents and my siblings, we would get 3-4 deer a year (yes, I've hunted for my own dinner - and brought it home).

Most people who don't like venison think it tastes too gamey. This is usually a result of an improperly field-cleaned deer. The trick to field-cleaning to take your time removing the offal, being very careful not to puncture any internal organs, as this will taint the flavor of the meat.

The second-most cause of gamey meat is improper cooking. Venison is a very lean meat and as such should be cooked in a relatively moist environment over medium heat. If you try to grill or broil it like beef, you will end up with tough, dry, gamey meat.

I prefer stews, braises, and stovetop sauces, like stroganoff, for my venison. Crockpot cooking is another wonderful way to get tender, delicious venison.

Venison in Onion Mushroom Sauce
1 to 1 1/2 pounds venison, tenderloins or steaks are best
1 large onion, sliced thinly
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced thickly
2 tablespoons canola oil
7 or 8 cloves garlic
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Heat oil in skillet. Carmelize the onion and mushrooms in skillet and remove. Briefly sauté garlic in skillet and remove. Mix flour, salt, and pepper and dredge meat in it. Dredge meat in flour mixture and brown in skillet, removing pieces as they are done.

Deglaze pan with water. Return meat, onions, garlic, and mushrooms to pan and simmer at a medium low heat until gravy is thick and meat is done.

Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, noodles or even fried potatoes.

The gravy provides nice moist environment to cook the venison in. The longer the venison simmers, the more tender it will be. This is one of my favorite ways to prepare venison as the meat will be melt in your mouth tender in a relatively short time.

And when there are only two of us, we get to have leftovers!!!!!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Broccoli and Havarti - a Match Made in Heaven

Most cheese sauces served with broccoli are cheddar-based. I've gotten a little tired of the same-old, same-old, so I went looking for something new. I wanted a creamy cheese that had a strong flavor without being cloying. My eye fell on some Havarti in the cheese case and I realized I had my cheese sauce.

Broccoli in Havarti Cheese Sauce

1 or 2 crowns broccoli, cut into spears
8 oz Havarti cheese (I selected a creamy Havarti, but this will
work as well with regular)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon vodka
1 cup 2% milk
1 tablespoon butter (reduce if the milk is whole, increase if the milk is skim)

Slice cheese into small pieces and mix with cornstarch. Havarti does not grate well.

Heat milk and butter until butter is melted. Add vodka and cheese mixture. Heat in a double boiler over medium heat until cheese is melted, stirring occasionally.

Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture thickens.

Meanwhile, steam broccoli for 7 to 10 minutes, depending on how done you like your broccoli.

Spoon sauce over broccoli.

Oh my, did this work. The cheese sauce was wonderfully rich and creamy, but not overwhelming. The cabbage notes in the broccoli cut through the cheese sauce, but only supported the green notes of the chlorophyll (if the broccoli is overcooked, the sense of the chlorophyll will disappear).

This sauce will also work well for cauliflower. Unfortunately, this was a lot of cheese sauce for two people, but the sauce reheats well with the addition of a little more milk and brief bursts in the microwave.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Molten Chocolate Cake

A few weeks ago, I was at a foodie celebration enjoying sampling all kinds of wine and yummy food. I also attended a demonstration on making a wonderfully impressive, but very simple, molten chocolate cake (also called chocolate lava cake) in just about 30 minutes. Further, he made a crême anglais, sugar swirls and decorations, and ice cream. I'm not that ambitious.

For Valentine's Day, I wanted a special dessert, so I decided to make the molten chocolate cake. But I didn't want serve it with heavy custardy (though quite yummy) add-ons. Instead, I made a simple strawberry sauce to go with it. Score!!!!

Molten Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Sauce
Chocolate Ganache
3.5 oz heavy cream (by weight)
3.5 oz good bittersweet chocolate (by weight), I used Ghiradelli's

Chop chocolate into smaller pieces. Heat both chocolate and cream in a double-boiler until chocolate is melted and the sauce is smooth. Do not let mixture boil.

Make this up and put in freezer the day before you are making the chocolate so the ganache has time to set.

Chocolate Cake
7 oz good bittersweet chocolate (by weight), again I used Ghiradelli's
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon chocolate extract (if you don't have this, just add this much vanilla)
3 eggs separated and at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sifted cake flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar (not superfine)
1/8 teaspoon ground achiote
1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Melt chocolate and butter in double-boiler.

Mix egg yolks, vanilla extract, and chocolate extract together. Remove chocolate and butter mixture from heat and quickly wisk the egg mixture in.

Sift flour 2x. Mix flour, sugar, achiote, cayenne, and cinnamon together. Blend into the chocolate mixture.

Whip egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

Fold one third of the egg white into chocolate mixture. Once that is incorporated, fold the second third in. Then fold in the final third. This allows the egg whites to be incorporated without losing too much of their loft.

Grease four 6 to 8 oz ramekins with cooking oil, then dust with cocoa powder.

Fill each ramekin about 1/2 full. Place a largish cherry-sized piece of ganache in center. Fill until ramekin is just over 3/4 full.

Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 15 minutes. The edges will be starting to crack, but the center will be barely set. Be careful not to overbake.

Let cook for about five minutes, then remove from ramekins.

Serve warm.

Strawberry Sauce
8 oz ripe strawberries
1 tablespoon sugar (if the strawberries are very sweet, use less sugar)

Slice strawberries into small cubes. Add sugar and mix well.

Place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours to allow sugar to draw out juice.

Mash lightly with a potato masher.

Spoon strawberry sauce over chocolate cake.

This turned out wonderfully! The tart but slightly sweet strawberry sauce was a perfect foil to the bitterness of the chocolate. The spices added just a tiny touch of heat to the cake, not enough to create any burn, but enough to make the chocolate just a little complex. We really enjoyed it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Beef Barley

I love beef barley soup, especially when it is cold out. Well, relatively cold as we're not buried in snow. But the temps this weekend still qualified as chilly.

However, I discovered that I didn't have time to make it like I normally would -- spending eight hours on the stove, unless I wanted to leave the stove on overnight. (Ummm, no, not a good idea). So, I grabbed my trusty crockpot.

Beef Barley Stew
2 lbs beef cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large onion, diced
1/2 to 1 pound carrots
3-4 celery stalks cut into bite-sized pieces
2 portabello mushrooms
1 lb barley
5 cloves garlic, chopped finely
Freshly ground black pepper

Put everything, except 1/2 pound of the barley into a crockpot and cover with water. Start simmering on low.

After at least 6 hours have passed, add the remaining barley and bring the water level back up to ensure everything is covered. Cook for at least two hours.

I like a long, slow cooked beef barley stew. The soup gets so rich and unctuous, like satin on the tongue. However, the barley is very cooked down with no firmness to it. This time, by putting the barley in at two different times, I got my unctuous broth and a delightful presence when I chewed.

Note that I didn't mention salt. I didn't salt the soup until I served it because barley is a salt-hog. And because I was cooking the soup with such a low and slow method, I didn't need it to ensure everything cooked properly. By waiting until serving, the barley didn't get a chance to absorb all the salt. And we could adjust the salt to our individual tastes.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Another fail

Sorry about this guys, but I've got another fail week here. Since Thanksgiving, I've been dealing with an allergic reaction to something -- we don't know what. We got it under control in December, but last week something set it off again. We're doing testing to find out what, but right now, I'm not cooking much because I've got steroid creams all over my hands, arms, and legs (and really don't want to be feeding it to anyone).

Tonight is quick and dirty nachos for dinner. Take your favorite tortilla chips, put your favorite shredded cheese on it, sprinkle some cumin/coriander/garli on them, add 1/2 cup of beans, and microwave for 1 minute. Top with avocado, salsa, sour cream, and anything else that floats your boat. It takes all of two minutes to make.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Crock Pot Soups

My hard drive is at least temporarily fixed. I had to reset it to factory settings, which wasn't fun and cost me my archived e-mails and bookmarks!

I love my crock pot. I don't use it nearly often enough, but when I do, I really appreciate having it.

This weekend was supposed to be chillier than last week (which was in the upper 40s). That sounds like time for ham and bean soup for dinner!

Normally I do my soups on the stove, but this time I did in the crock pot -- mostly because I am busily working on the paleography of a 14th century manuscript. So I wanted to be able to ignore the soup until I got hungry.

The soup turned out wonderfully. I soaked the beans for 24 hours because I put them in Friday night and then discovered a social commitment for Saturday. So they didn't go in the pot until Saturday night. I cooked them overnight on low with a country ham bone and some ham. The next morning I turned them to high and added mushrooms, carrots, and celery. Silly me, I forgot the onions. It turned out wonderfully!

The beans were firm and meaty, the ham melted in my mouth, and the veggies were cooked through, but not mushy. I'm looking forward to dinner tonight: leftover soup!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hard drive fail

I may miss posting the next couple of weeks -- I am having computer problems that look mysteriously like a hard drive failure (on a one year old computer!). I hope to be posting from an alternate computer, but that will likely mean that my posts won't always be Monday evening.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Partial fail

I will post later this week. We went on a trip this weekend that WIPED me out. Right now, I plan to sit on a heating pad and take good pain meds.

Monday, January 4, 2010


It's hard to believe that I started this journal just after Christmas last year. In that year, I've talked about a lot of different topics: baking, wine, soups - whatever I've felt like talking about. And you readers have, for the most part, been very supportive.

I haven't accomplished everything I wanted yet. I wanted to do more experimental cooking, playing with higher levels of cuisine. I've found that I'm spending a lot of time trying to get the most out of recipes I'm accustomed to making, perfecting them, sharing them. And it's been good.

I received a new book for Christmas this year: Cooking: the Quintessential Art by Hervé This and Pierre Gagnaire. The authors talk about what makes cooking art, what is the difference between an artisan and an artist in the kitchen. At the end of each chapter are some thought experiments, intended to help the reader break out of established ways of thinking about food. All in all, it's a book I enjoyed reading cover to cover; it really made me think about cooking, especially how I approached cooking. I don't agree with some of its suggestions about what makes cooking an art or a cook an artist.

I use several approaches toward deciding what I want to cook. Sometimes, I want to focus on a flavor, whether is a spice/combination, a vegetable, a specific meat, etc. I try to find a way to highlight that flavor and make stand out. That flavor may not be a food that I'm cooking; I've built many meals around a specific wine I want to sample.

Other times, I want to see what I can do with a technique. Some of the techniques are ones I've never tried before. I occasionally apply techniques in new ways just to see what happens. I've had failures and I've had successes. I've learned from each and every one.

During the next year, I plan to include some of the thought experiments from Cooking: the Quintessential Art in my blog, whether I find the outcome a success or failure. I may need to tweak some of the experiments based on ingredients I have available (for example, I haven't found squab locally yet). So keep an eye out for these posts!