Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Panini - its still grilled cheese you ninny

December pretty much wiped me out this year. Tired, beat exhausted and combo's therein. After all was said and done I broke down and got the Calphalon Panini Grill that I have been eyeing for ages.  A little self indulgence is good for a tired old soul.

At 49.99 at Bed, Bath and Beyond it was a screaming deal (for Calphalon that is). As if I prolly couldn't have used my grill pan and stuck a foil wrapped brick on it for the same effect, but then again I'm a cookware whore so I had to go the distance and get an official panini pan.

Those stupid sandwiches are all the rage. Put on your best "Godfather" voice "PA nee nee" and you have it nailed down. Why call it panini instead of grilled cheese? My best guess is that they can turn a 2 buck grilled cheese on the kiddy menu into a $10 sandwich on the adult entree side. My guess, could be wrong but I don't think so.

With this silly panini grill we've been on a hot sandwich binge. It falls into the stupid easy category. Bread, some sort of binder like mayo, mustard cheese, vegie and meats are at your whim.

Pictured is a "Rueben Panini". Roast beef, mayo, sauerkraut and swiss on Jewish Rye.

Other variations have been equally easy to slap together and grill up. So far the big "hits" aren't that unusual more adding a new ingredient or two to make it more than the usual grilled cheese.

"Cheese Steak" - Jewish Rye, roast beef, roasted red peppers, swiss and hot asian mustard.
"Grilled Chicken" - Wheat bread, grilled chicken slices, roasted red peppers and swiss
"Tuna Melt" - Rye Bread, Tuna (chicken of the sea) pepper, cheddar and jack cheese
"Italiano" - Chibata, provolone and mozzarella
"Holey Bread and Cheese" Swiss and Sourdough

Of course after all that cheese you better have a salad on the side to keep the pipes running clear(ish).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Poblano Potato Gratin

One of my favorite cooking magazines is Gourmet.  The recipes are pretty global and they give the history of the region it came from as well as resources for the odd ingredients.  Fortunately in LA I usually don't have to wander too far too often to find the real deal or a reasonable substitute.

This recipe was in the November 2008 issue and it really got my attention.  Potato gratin with attitude thanks to some roasted peppers.  IT could go with a lot of different foods as the heat was just enough.  And it did just that last night when a bunch of my old friends from the cube-dwelling days got together for the Holidays.  This was the perfect side, adding just the right amount of heat and creaminess to counter point the Asian Crusted Salmon (recipe to follow) and a traditional Beef Bourginon.

Poblano Potato Gratin
Serves 8 (side dish) 
Active time:45 min Start to finish:2 1/2 hr 

November 2008 

In Mexican cuisine, rajas refers to thin strips of roasted chiles. Although they commonly spice up everything from stews to tamales, rajas are best when adding a kick to creamy dishes. Here, forest-green poblanos lend a mild, almost fruity heat to a potato gratin.

  • 1 1/2 lb fresh poblano chiles (about 5) -I substituted Anaheim
  • 1 lb onions, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips 
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 
  • 3 lb large Yukon Gold potatoes 
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream 
  • 3/4 cup whole milk - I substituted non-fat milk
Roast chiles and make rajas:
Roast chiles on their sides on racks of gas burners (or see cooks’ note, below) on high, turning with tongs, until skins are blackened all over, about 10 minutes. Immediately transfer to a bowl and let stand, covered tightly, 10 minutes.

When chiles are cool enough to handle, peel or rub off skin. Slit chiles lengthwise, then stem, seed, and devein. Cut lengthwise into thin strips.

Cook onions with 1 tsp salt in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in chiles and remove rajas from heat. Reserve 1/2 cup rajas for topping.

Make gratin:
Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Generously butter a 3-qt shallow baking dish.
Peel potatoes, then cut crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices with slicer. Transfer to a small heavy pot. Add cream, milk, and 1 tsp salt and bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally (liquid will thicken). Stir in rajas, then pour mixture evenly into baking dish. Sprinkle reserved 1/2 cup rajas on top.

Bake until potatoes are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Cooks’ notes: 
Chiles can be roasted by broiling on a broiler pan 2 inches from heat, turning, 8 to 10 minutes. 
Rajas can be made 3 days ahead and chilled. 

Gratin can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature and reheat, covered, in a 350°F oven (about 30 minutes).

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cherry Fudge (stupid easy of course)

Its the holidays.  I have an excuse to bake and cook like a fiend for the fam and friends and give it all away as gifts.  Baking and Candy making is my favorite part of the Holidays.  Of course Fudge tops the list of my candy making.

Last year the basic fudge got names "Stupid Easy Fudge" by my friend Ruth666.  Yup, it really is that easy.

Today,s version used 82% Valrhona and semi-sweet chips in a 50/50 blend.  Keeps the final product the right texture for cutting and of course, how it feels as it melts in your mouth. 

Cherry Fudge

8 oz Valrhona 82% Cocoa chocolate - coarse chop
8 ox semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c coarse chopped dried cherry
1 T Cherry Brandy

Line an 8X8 baking dish with foil or cling film.

In microwave safe dish put in the chopped valrhona.  Cover with semi-sweet chips.  Pour sweetened condensed milk over the top.  Microwave 1 minute.  Test - if center still cool to touch microwave 30 seconds and test again.  Do not boil.  When center is just warm, add cherry brandy and stir until smooth.  Fold dried cherry in to the mix.  Pour into prepared pan, cover and cool.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Best Pumpkin Bread recipe yet

Pumpkin Bread recipes are more than a dime a dozen.  They have more varieties using raw, puree or the dreaded already spiced "pumpkin pie" canned stuff.  I love a good pumpkin bread and its taken a few whacks to get one that works consistently.  

The day after Halloween at my house is the day I commit jack-o-cide.  Yup, those adorable decorations get the big dice and roasted off for puree.  A puree that I use for soup, pie or bread as the whim strikes.  I like the flavor even better than butternut squash.

This recipe is easily doubled.  Its good just warm from the oven or the next day slathered with butter for brekkie.  Its all good.  It all works.  Added boner - it really is easy.

Pumpkin Bread Recipe 
  • 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée*
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • zest of one orange
  • juice of one orange plus enough water to equal 1/4 cup
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberry
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Sift together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda. 

Mix the pumpkin, oil, eggs, 1/4 cup of water, and spices together, then combine with the dry ingredients, but do not mix too thoroughly. Stir in the nuts. 

Pour into a well-buttered 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes until a thin skewer poked in the very center of the loaf comes out clean. Turn out of the pan and let cool on a rack.

Makes one loaf. Can easily double the recipe.

* To make pumpkin purée, cut a pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff, lie face down on a foil or Silpat lined baking sheet. Bake at 350°F until soft, about 45 min to an hour. Cool, scoop out the flesh. Freeze whatever you don't use for future use. Or, if you are working with pumpkin pieces, roast or boil them until tender, then remove and discard the skin.

This pictures serves to do nothing for the recipe but I do find the whirling and swirling blade hypnotic and a stress reliever.  

This pic does have a purpose.  Though the batter is rather homogeneous it pays to run a knife through it to break up any big bubbles before you bake it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Redder than Red Cranberry Sauce

There are two kinds of cranberry sauce lovers in my house.  Sweetish and tart.  I like the latter, kidlets seem to prefer the former.  Until now I didn't have a sweetish to make them happy that didn't come out of a can.  Now I do.

I'm a big fan of Nigella Lawson a brit on Food Tv.  The woman cracks me up, but she is spot on target when it comes to fast easy comfort food.  This weekend her Holiday edition included "Redder than Red Cranberry Sauce".  Perfectly sweet tart with a bit of a cherry pie back to it because you use cherry brandy in it.  

Next time I'm in London I need to track her down and maybe get her to sign of her books.  Maybe?

Redder thanRed Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries 
  • 7 ounces caster sugar 
  • 3 tablespoons cherry brandy 
  • 4 fluid ounces water 
  • Lemon juice, optional 
Place all the ingredients in a pan and cook until the liquids have reduced to a thick cranberry sauce. 

The pectin-rich nature of the fruit means that it solidifies briskly as it cools, so take the pan off the heat to stop it from cooking and reducing when you still think there's too much liquid. Once the berries have burst, which should be after about 10 minutes, it should be ready. Taste to test whether the sauce needs more sugar (if you find it too sweet just add some lemon juice).

Note I skipped the lemon juice and opted to use regular table sugar as "castor sugar" is not something I keep in stock in the old pantry.  I canned up a small jar as a gift for our T-giving guests and the rest was tossed into a serving container for the big day.  Mmmmmm...turkey next

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pomegranate Jelly

Fall means pomegranates come to market.  If you have a tree you have more than you could ever image possible to consume.  Or give away.  The latter is how I wound up a giant grocery bag full of them left on my doorstep the other day by our friend Kate.

They are buggers to clean in order to get to the juicy little seeds inside the pod.  Years ago I believe it was Malto Mario who showed how to cut them in half at the equator and then rap them hard repeatedly with a spoon to knock the seeds loose.  It works and is a lot less messy than trying to carve them out with a spoon.

After last weeks 90+  yesterdays surprise rain here in the SGV brought about some nice cool weather.  That got me in the mood to do some cooking.  The first challenge was what to do with all those pomegranates.  Jelly was the logical answer.  A quick search of the Certo Sure Jell site yielded the recipe.  Of course I can't help but add my own twist, a little lemon juice to tarten it up Just a little.

SURE.JELL Pomegranate Jelly   
  • 3-1/2 cups prepared juice (buy about 5 large fully ripe pomegranates)
  • 2 T lemon juice 
  • 1/2 tsp.  butter or margarine 
  • 1 box SURE.JELL Fruit Pectin 
  • 5 cups  sugar, measured into separate bowl  

Make It
 BRING boiling-water canner, half full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling. 

CUT pomegranates in half horizontally. Squeeze out juice from each half with orange juice press or citrus reamer. Place 3 layers of damp cheesecloth or a jelly bag in large bowl. Pour prepared fruit juice into cheesecloth. Tie cheesecloth closed; hang and let drip into bowl until dripping stops. Press gently. Measure exactly 3-1/2 cups juice into 6- or 8-qt. saucepot. 

STIR pectin into juice in saucepot. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon. 

LADLE immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 5 min. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lids spring back, lids are not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

It is important to measure closely when making jelly and jam.  Probably less forgiving than baking in some respects.  The fresh juice does need to be filtered so you have a clear jelly.  I always start with a bit more juice than the recipe calls for to compensate for the reduction when you filter.  Filtering is easy, use a paper coffee filter and a strainer big enough to hold it then pour the juice through. 

A hard rolling boil looks like this.  It is boiling so hard that you can't stir down the bubbles.  Once at this point cook to the recommended time to ensure the jelly setting.
I've been told the water bath serves two purposes.  The first is to completely sterilize the contents in case you had any contamination in the process of filling the jars.  The other is to ensure a very tight seal.  Don't skip this step as you also have a very strong chance of your jelly not setting, but separating.
Of course that bit of foam and remnant of jelly when skimmed is always put aside in a tiny bowl.  Why?  Obvious is if that bit sets at room temp your canned jelly will too.  Also...you get a little tasty treat for all your labors while you wait for the canned stuff to be ready.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Italian Style Braised Beef Short Ribs

November 1 was officially our first rain day here in LA.  Not exactly a cold rain day but the kind that triggers the yearning for hearty comfort food.  Long slow cooked hearty beef that nurtures the carnivore within kind of comfort food.

Costco has quite the deal on Beef Chuck boneless short ribs.  Big, thick, beautifully marbled chunks of beef.  Even though you don't get the bones and marrow to pick at as you would with a bone in variety it is still a great cut of meat.  Cooked bone-in does yield more flavor but you can compensate for that with some good beef broth.

Short ribs because of all the marbling are best cooked in a slow braise.  That means it is just covered with liquid and slow cooked until all the connective tissues dissolve away and the meat is just fork tender falling apart.  That long slow cook also means the flavor is cooked deep into the meat.

This recipe comes from a lot of different sources.  It is loosely based on a Bolognese style spaghetti sauce that I've seen made by people like Malto Mario on Food TV. The recipe also has some bits based in the classic tomato sauce my Ma makes that she in turned learned from an old Italian lady that lived by us in Iron River MI when I was really little.  

Though they called the sauce "gravy" its still good eats.  The lady's name is lost to memory at this time but this "gravy" is her legacy in the kitchen.  A side bar is that the "gravy"in this recipe is referenced in a stuffed rigatoni recipe that she gave my Mom. It is an extremely labor intensive dish, but my gawd is it good.   Look for that in the coming days.

Italian Style Braised Beef Short Ribs
  • 4 lbs boneless beef chuck short ribs
  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1/2 C sun dried tomato in oil
  • 2 T chopped garlic
  • 1/2 C loose fresh basil (2T dried)
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 T fennel seed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 C Red Wine - use what you are serving with dinner
  • 2 pkg Beef broth concentrate or bouillon (it would make 1 C each)
  • 2 Cans diced tomato
  • 1 Can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 C flour
  • 1 T kosher salt
  • 1 T coarse ground black pepper
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T bacon fat

Mix flour, salt and pepper.  Dredge beef in the mixture.  Heat large dutch oven over medium heat, add olive oil and bacon fat.  Heat until just smoking and add beef, do not crowd pan, cook in batches.  Sear beef  on all sides until well browned and crusted about 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove cooked beef to platter on side and repeat searing with the remaining beef.

Using a food processor fine chop onion, carrot, celery, sun dried tomato and fresh basil.  Add to the hot pan after the last of the beef has been seared.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir often scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan.  Cook about 10 minutes until onions are translucent and beginning to caramelize.  Add wine and scrape bottom of pan clean to deglaze.  Cook until wine reduced about one half.  Coarse grind the fennel seed and add to pot.  Add oregano and bay leaf.

Add diced tomato and sauce.  Add the beef boulion concentrate.  Stir until dissolved.  Add beef to the top of the sauce.  

Cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer 2 hours.  (You may also slow cook in 325F oven for 2 hours).

Serve over pasta or mashed potatoes. 

Don't crowd the pan while searing the meat.  Doing so will cause the meat to simmer in its own juices rather than get a deep dark sear and crust.  This deep dark sear is what adds to the intense flavor in the final dish.
Searing of the mire poi you will find that a lot of liquid is given off the vegies.  Use that liquid to help deglaze the pan and scrape up all those flavorful bits from the bottom. I little trivia for you the term mire poi is french, the italians call it sofrito.  Still the same fine diced combo of onion, carrot and celery.
A friend turned me on to this brand of liquid beef broth.  It really adds a deep rich flavor to the dish without all the added salt of the traditional little boullion cubes.
Let the meat just sit on the braising liquid, it doesn't have to be covered.  That is the difference between braising and stewing...the latter the meat is completely submerged in the liquid.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Apple Cranberry Walnut Tatin

I've decided about the pissiest presentation these days for a dessert is in individual ramekins (or in this case a mini-souffle).  Skip the big box store for them, head to your nearest restaurant supply and save a bundle.  I bought mine at Surfas in Culver City for $3.50 instead of the around 10+ at the other places you'd find at the mall.  

Over this last weekend we met at my cousins house for dinner, I was in charge of desserts.  For the kids 1 yr to 17 I opted for cupcakes.  For the adults I took an old favorite pie recipe and kicked it up a bit for the adults.

What makes a "tatin" in french baking is the rich caramel poured over the fruit then it is turned upside down after it cooled just enough to thicken up.  For this version I wanted it to be an over the top caramel so I made it with brandy.

The problem with that is that it is messy compared to a regular pie and not exactly the kinda wow you want when people get the dessert.  Putting each serving in its own ramekin allows for good presentation without having to hack up the dessert to get it on a plate.

Apple Cranberry Walnut Tatin
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/3 c brown sugar
  • 2T water
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 T brandy 
  • 4 lightly buttered ramekins
  • 6 medium apples (I used fuji, but gala work nice too)
  • 1 T cinnamon (adjust to taste)
  • 1/8 t fresh ground nutgmeg
  • 8 T fresh ground walnuts
  • 1/2 c dried cranberry
  • 1 sheet ready made pie crust (like Pilsbury ready made)
For caramel place sugars and water in heavy pan.  Over medium heat bring to boil.  Whisk slowly until dissolved.  Boil gently until thick and turning deep caramel color (about 5-10 minutes).  Reduce heat and whisk in butter 1 T at a time.  It will foam up and stir constantly to reduce the foaming.  Once foaming has settled, REMOVE pan from flame.  Add Brandy and stir constantly until foaming stops.  Carefully return pan to med-low flame, use caution as it could ignite remaining brandy.  Cook gently until it is soft ball stage about 234F.  Remove from heat and allow to cool while preparing the rest of the dessert.

Cut pasty dough into 4 circles slightly larger than the ramekin.  Save remaining pasty bits to cut into decorative shapes.

Peel, core and slice apples.  Toss lightly with cinnamon and nutmeg.  Divide between two bowls.  Lightly butter the ramekins.  Using first batch of apples divide between ramekins, layering neatly into dish.  Divide walnuts and cranberry, using one division to be split between all 4 ramekins in even layers.  Repeat layers ending with the nuts.  Pour about 2T caramel into each ramekin.  

Top each ramekin with pastry, tucking edges in and against the rim.  Cut some vents into the dough to allow steam to escape.  Top each with a pastry shape (I used a leaf shape) that is dampened on the bottom to help it stick.  You can brush with an egg or cream wash then sprinkle with some raw sugar if you want a shiny more decorative top.  Place ramekins on rimmed baking sheet to catch possible boil over and drips.

Bake 30-40 minutes in 350F oven, or until golden brown.  Serve warm.

Assembling the first layer as evenly and flat as possible helps with minimizing the collapse as the dessert bakes and the fruit shrinks while being cooked.
Mmmmmm....nice rich caramel, just enough left over to toss on a scoop of ice cream as bakers treat while making these.
Top layer of fruit comes just to the top of the ramekin.   Crappy phone-cam doesn't show the fine details on the one that has its dough top on, but you get the idea of tucking inside the dish and up against the rim.
All fresh out of the oven.  Note the steam vents are clearer in this pic.  Of course since this is fall I opted for a "leaf" design, but you can use hearts, diamonds, or even fruit shapes as decoration made from the left over pastry dough.

Pineapple Cranberry Spread

Paula Deen wasn't kidding around when she says in the south it either starts with a stick of butter or a package of cream cheese.  I got the recipe idea from my sister Niki still in the Ozarks back in MO.  

Back there those little jars of cream cheese with stuff in it are a popular party treat, usually with Ritz, but I won't go there right now.  The usual hands down favorite is the pineapple variety. Those little jars are really pretty expensive if you stop and think about it and that is why my sister came up with her version. 

Her version is simply a can of crushed pineapple and a block of cream cheese.  Not being one to stay in the lines well I took that as the starting point and created my own version.  With two blocks of cream cheese how bad could it be when you have fruit with it?

Pineapple Cranberry Spread
  • 2 8oz packages cream cheese - room temperature
  • 1 small can crushed pineapple
  • 1/2 c dried cranberry
  • 1/4 t ground ginger
Put the cranberry in  a small microwave safe bowl.  Drain off the pineapple juice and pour over the cranberry.  Add just enough water to bring cover the cranberry if needed.  Microwave 1 minute and tightly cover.  Let set at least 1 hour.

With mixer beat in ginger and beat until fluffy.  Add Pineapple.  Drain of any remaining liquid from cranberry and pitch it.  Add cranberry to the bowl.  Cold in the fruit.  Refrigerate 2 hours before serving.

Serve with crackers or thinly sliced and toasted baguette.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Asian Style Pickles

This is one of those recipes where I had something that was so good I had to try to replicate it.  There is a local restaurant, Teri & Yaki that specializes in "asian comfort food".  The stuff is pretty darn good.  

I got hooked on a particular side dish a couple of years ago when they opened the one here in outer monrovia.  It is "Spicy Cucumber".  It is obviously cucumber, red pepper flake, very pronounced sesame oil taste but after that it gets to be a little difficult to ID some of the bits and pieces in it, especially the herbage.  

Last spring I bought one of those jumbo packs of "English Cucumbers" from Costco.  I still don't know what possessed me to buy it as there are 4 huge cucumbers in the pack, far more than we could eat in a week or before they went bad.  With all those cukes I decided to try and put together something resembling the "Spicy Cucumber" from Teri & Yaki.  After a couple of tries I put up my first batch.  A couple of times more and I had it.  Now whenever I have something asian on the entree' list I can have my own "Asian Style Pickles".

Asian Style Pickles
  • 2-3 Engrish Cucumbers
  • 1/2 C cilantro - coarse chopped
  • 3 small green onions, thinly sliced  including tops
  • 1/2 -1 t red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • Sesame Chicken Salad Dressing - approx 1 cup to cover.
Using mandolin slice cucumbers very thin.   Put about 1 1/2 inches cucumber in a quart pickle jar.  Add 1/5 of the sliced onion, cilantro and red pepper flakes.  Repeat layers until jar is filled.
Cover with Sesame Chicken Salad Dressing.  Add lid and seal tightly.  Refrigerate for one week.  Will keep up to 2 months in the fridge

I use this as a straight up side dish.  Other times I scoop out the cucumbers and dressing and put over cooked chicken and lettuce.  I've even tossed some into cooked couscous or rice for a heartier side dish.  Its pretty versatile and tasty too!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Pumpkin Chile Soup

Hard to believe 3 days ago it was 106 and very humid here.  This morning it is barely 70 and a light rain falling.  Not exactly cool fall weather according to the rule books for the rest of the country, but what the heck this is LA and I'll take it.

The start of cool fall days means soup and fresh baked bread.  Today I did both.  I cheated on the bread...Pumpernickel in the trusty old bread machine.  The soup is totally from scratch.  Yes, even the pumpkin is from scratch that I canned from last years Jack-o-lanterns and this is the end of the supply.  

Soups are a pretty easy throw together once you have a few recipes under your be.t.  Canned broth is my favorite cheat and it saves some cooking time in the process.  Today I decided I wanted something a little different so I opted for a sweet/savory version of Pumpkin Soup which in itself as a variation of Butternut Squash soup I came up with a while back.  The  green chile part was taken as I didn't have any bell peppers floating around.  It works now the soup has more of a southwesty type flavor.

Pumpkin Chile Soup

  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 2 T chopped garlic
  • 1 t thyme
  • 1 t fresh sage
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 t ground cumin
  • 1/4 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 2T Olive oil
  • 1T butter
  • 2 C pumpkin puree
  • 1 can (7 oz) green chiles
  • 2 cans (14 oz) low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Dice onion.  In large stock pot heat butter and add onion when the butter begins to sizzle.  Add salt, pepper to taste. Add sage and thyme.  Cook over medium heat stirring often until onions are clear and beginning to caramelize (about 10 minutes).  Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.

Transfer onions to blender.  Add can of chiles, do not drain.  Blend on high slowing adding chicken stock until only tiny bits of onion remain.  Return to pan, add pumpkin, cayenne pepper, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and stir in until uniform.  Simmer 20 minutes.  Check salt and pepper before serving. 

Serve with warm bread, green salad and you are in cool weather heaven.  

Using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth will give you a vegetarian soup which is equally tasty.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pear/Stilton/Caramelized Nut Salad

One of our more favorite salads as a meal is one that has a lot texture and flavor. Several years ago we got turned onto Pear/Stilton as a combo for a salad. Over the years we've added to it elevating it to main course status.

Caramelized nuts is super easy to do. Using a silpat pretty much guarantees you no sticky messy clean ups.

Caramelized Nuts
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1 T water
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 C walnut or pecan halves
  • sea salt to taste

Over medium heat melt butter. Just as butter begins to sizzle add brown sugar and water. With whisk stir constantly until all the sugar is dissolved into the butter and water. Cook 1-3 minutes until bubbly and turning a dark bubbly brown. Add nuts and toss carefully until well coated. Immediately pour onto silpat lined baking sheet. Separate the nuts. Salt with coarse sea salt.

The nuts are an integral part of the textures in this pear/Stilton/caramelized nut salad. It works best if you use lighter flavored salad dressings or vinaigrette's so you don't overwhelm and hide the subtle sweetness of the pears or the lightly tangy Stilton. One of the things I like about the salad is that you do get the whole slightly sweet and salty play with the pear and sea salt on the nuts.

Pear Stilton and Caramelized Nut Salad
  • 5-6 cups mixed greens (I use Fresh & Easy Wild Rocket blend)
  • 1 ripe pear
  • 1/2 c crumbled blue Stilton (An English Blue cheese, sub Gorgonzola if you can't find Stilton)
  • 1/2 c bacon bits
  • 1/2 c thinly sliced English Cucumber
  • 1/2 c Caramelized Nut
  • 4 slices baguette
  • Salad Dressing (I used honey mustard)
  • Black Pepper

Divide greens between two large salad plates of bowls. Place a couple of slices of bread on the side of the bowl. Divide cucumber and put on top of the greens. Core the pear and cut into a dozen thin slices. Add the pears. Divide the Stilton and to salad. Divide Nuts and add to salad.
Dress to taste. Add fresh cracked black pepper to taste.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Orange Chocolate Palmiers

Today is "Bloggers Picnic V (V for vendetta)". It is done potluck style. Anyone who is a fan of blogs, writes a blog, reads a blog, comments or torments on a blog is welcome to attend. Invite details on Metblogs.

My contribution to the days noshing and festivities will include these tasty but stupid easy cookies. I'm not quite sure where I heard that orange and chocolate are a good flavor combination but they do pair well. These cookies are something I just thought up one day and ran with it.

Orange Chocolate Palmiers

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry - thawed

  • 2 T raw or tourbinado sugar, divided

  • zest of one medium orange

  • 1 oz bitter sweet chocolate

Lay down a sheet of plastic wrap larger than the puff pastry sheet. Sprinkle 1 T of the raw sugar on the plastic wrap approximately the size of the pastry sheet. Unfold pastry on top of the sugar. The unfolded pastry should have the creases visible and running horizontal on the wrap.

Sprinkle the remaining 1 T raw sugar over the pastry sheet. Zest the orange with a microplane over the puff pastry. Using microplane grate the chocolate over the pastry. Lightly tap the sugar, zest and chocolate onto the puff pastry.

With one long edge of the puff pastry carefully fold the edge to the nearest crease. Fold again to the half way point on the pastry. Repeat with the other edge of the dough. Fold the dough again in half. Wrap dough in the plastic wrap and chill 15-minutes. Very important that you chill the dough or it will not cut well nor puff correctly in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 400. Line baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper. Remove the dough from fridge and immediately unwrap. Cut the dough in half. Take the half and cut in the middle (will yield 2, one quarter rolls). Cut the one quarter roll into 3 pieces (about 1/4 think). Lay each cookie on the sheet about 2 inches apart. Repeat until all of dough is cut and lined up on baking sheet.

Bake 12-14 minutes until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes before moving to wire rack.

Note the original crease lines as they are important guides for the folding when it is time to start rolling the palmiers.

Microplanes are the greatest gift to the kitchen, makes it so easy to finely grate things like chocolate and get even distribution at the same time. After the final fold is done you have a log that needs to be rolled in the plastic wrap so it will hold its shape will chilling.
A sharp serrated knife is the best tool for cutting through the chilled dough. It doesn't cut and drag through the dough causing it to lose its shape like a regular knife will.
Silpat sheets...the single greatest invention for anyone who lies to bake. Cookies like this that have a lot of raw sugar would bake and burn onto a regular cookie sheet, here they just bake away and glide right off the sheet. Clean up is easy...damp cloth and it is done.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

When Chocolate isn't...

Yikes...if your Hershey's chocolate doesn't taste like chocolate anymore read the bag.
It may not be chocolate.  Cybele who runs the Candy Blog was interviewed on the Today Show.  

The short of it, Hershey's who for years has billed itself as America's Chocolate has decided to go cheap instead of maintaining quality to boost their profits.  They have substituted palm oil or other vegetable oils for the cocoa butter.  The end result is something vaguely chocolate flavored with a chalky texture AND a somewhat bitter after taste.

You can read quite a bit of related info on the Candy Blog.

If you don't like what you tasted do like I did.  Drop Hershey and note and tell them the changes suck.  I'll boycott any product that says vegetable or palm oil instead of cocoa butter and buy only those that do.  
I became a fan of the Candy Blog and Cybele's work through the LA Metroblogging network.  Her site is one worth bookmarking and following if you have a sweet tooth.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Steak and Gravy

Growing up in the mid-west Steak and Gravy was a regular meal for us. Thursdays I believe was the day. It was made using a cheap cut of beef that was braised until it was fork tender. The meat of choice was "round steak" which in LA is becoming next to impossible to find.

I was too tired to think yesterday about what I wanted for dinner and after wandering back and forth through the meat dept at Pavilions I spotted "Thin sliced Top Round Roast". Pretty much the same cut of meat my Ma used for our "Steak and Gravy Night". Old fashioned comfort food has its merits, this is one that is tasty and perfect for one of those brain dead days where one is too tired to think.

With my version I had to do some changes as my picky eaters (4/5 of the house) canNOT bear the sight of onion in their food. Feel free to include a thinly sliced medium yellow onion and cut out the onion powder from the dredging. Just add the onions after the beef is browned off and cook until soft. Then add the beef back in and continue cooking as per the instructions.

Steak and Gravy

  • 1 1/2 lbs thin cut "Round Steak" or "Top Round Roast"
  • 1 can beef broth
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1 T Montreal Steak Seasoning
  • 1 T onion powder
  • nutmeg
  • 1 pkg brown gravy mix.
  • 2T oil

Cut the steak into serving sizes of about 1/4 lb each. Pound each side with the serrated side of a meat mallet until about 1/2 their original thickness.

Heat large skillet with oil over medium high heat until just smoking. Combine flour, steak seasoning and onion powder. Dredge each piece of steak in the flour mixture. Sear each side until brown in the hot oil. Do a few pieces at a time, moving cooked pieces to side while searing the new pieces.

Add the beef broth and scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Using a grater add 3-4 good scrapes fresh nutmeg to the pan, stir in well. Bring to boil. Put lid on the skillet and let it simmer on low for 1 hour. At the end of the hour prepare gravy mix according to pkg instructions then add to the Steak. Stir constantly until gravy is cooked. Server over egg noodles or mashed 'taters.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Marshmallows and Popcorn

I can't take credit for this. It was my 11 yo's idea. It actually is pretty tasty. The whole sweet and salting thing. Added bonus is the soft/sticky and crunchy thing. I'm not certain however that the ortho for him and his pals would appreciate the combo since they all have braces. Whatever...what they don't know doesn't come to haunt me later.

Stupid easy recipe:

Marshmallows and Popcorn

  • 1 bag Orville Redenbocker butter flavor popcorn
  • 2 c mini marshmallows.

Pop the popcorn according to package directions. Put popped corn into a bowl, toss with marshmallows. Serve with hot cocoa.

Rose Hip Mint Jelly

My Grandma Jasovec lived deep in the woods on a small farm outside of Ely MN. Many a summer was spent foraging with her for berries and stuff when I was a little kid.

She had some roses on her property. Those roses came from her mothers farm in South Dakota. (My grandmother was actually born in a Sod House on the Prairie of SD but that is another story for an place). It has relevance as her humble beginnings she learned to cook all sorts of stuff. Among the things she could do magic with was Rose hips.

Part of what she did was make great jelly's and jams. Rose hips was one of the items on her farm she made jelly with (also wild strawberries, wild blueberries, choke cherry's and just about anything else ending in "erry" and was a fruit. Oh, also rhubarb combined with any of the "erry" fruit.

I have quite a collection of roses. Several bloom only once a year so I just let them go, grow their hips then leave them for the birds in the area to feast on. This year my memory was jogged and I remembered that my grandmother made jelly from Rose Hips. Swore by them as a cure all which if you believe wikipedia there is some herbalists that believe so.

So with a little research (Grandma passed in '81 so those recipe cards of hers are long gone at this point) I found a recipe for Rose Hip Jelly. The Mint was my idea to add a little more flavor as the rose hip, though related to the apple tastes more like quince.

Rose Hip Mint Jelly

Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes

  • 4 quarts ripe rose hips
  • 1 bunch mint
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 pgk pectin crystals (I used sure-jel)
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1/2 c lemon juice

Preparation: Simmer rose hips and mint in water until soft. Crush to mash, and strain through a jelly bag. Should make about 4 cups of rose hip juice.

Add to juice, lemon juice and pectin crystals and stir until mixture comes to a hard boil. Stir sugar in at once. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove jelly from heat and skim off foam with metal spoon.

Pour jelly into hot sterilized jars.

Yield: about 5 cups

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Couscous and vegie saute'

After this last weekends Battle Bacon I am pretty much overloaded with animal proteins and their associated fats. Don't get me wrong, I'm still an omnivore with heavy carnivore overtones, BUT - I still like lighter vegie only meals to keep the pipes clean and functioning.

One of my favorite summer meals is a simple vegie saute tossed with warm couscous. Nice and filling, full of flavor but it doesn't weigh you down. Couscous also has the advantage of being the easiest pasta on the planet to cook. Had boiling water or stock and walk away. No boiling pot of water adding tons of steam to the kitchen making a hot day worse.

Couscous & Vegie Saute'

  • 1 1/c water or stock
  • 1 c couscous
  • 2 medium zucchini -sliced
  • 8 oz button mushrooms
  • 1 med red onion
  • 1 small green pepper
  • 1/4 c basil coarse chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • fresh cracked pepper

Bring water or stock to a boil. Pour over couscous, cover and let sit for 5 minutes.

Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Slice mushrooms in halve, quarter the really big ones. Add to hot oil. Cook approximately 5 minutes until they start to brown.

Add sliced zucchini. Cook about 5 minutes until they start to brown. Chop onion and green pepper and add to pan. Add half of the chopped basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook 5-10 minutes or until onion begins to caramelize.

Fluff couscous with a fork. Add the hot vegies and remaining chopped basil. Toss lightly and serve hot.

This is a pretty versatile dish. You can use it as a side dish or main course.

Best flavor in the couscous comes from using a good stock, beef or chicken. If you are using as a side dish chose a stock that compliments your main (beef for beef for example). If you are looking to go vegetarian use vegetable stock.

Also, if you want your vegies to brown better during the saute process reduce the olive oil by half and substitue in a pat of butter to replace the removed oil. It does add a bit of animal fat to the dish that is otherwise missing, but what the heck...what is a little butter between friends?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Iron Chef Bacon & "Layered Salad"

In my little corner of LA we like to party. Our street is pretty special in that you get more than a couple of us together and we wind up putting together a party. It has been like that for as long a I can remember. One of our favorites of the last few years is "Iron Chef Night". We work it out more than a few different ways. Sometimes we do themes like "Provence", English Pub, Thai etc.,. Other times we do ingredients like pumpkin, peaches or cinnamon. We get a lot of great food and then move into a really good time with the neighbors.

This weekend we can attribute our Iron Chef night to my cousin Paul (two doors up from me) for the ingredient. It started with a conversation over more than a few bottles wine after an evening at a local wine bar. When he was living back east in Jersey he and his roommates joked about "man candles" or candles with scents guys would appreciate more than the frou-frou florally stuff. Bacon was their number one candle idea. We got to laughing and decided Bacon had to be our next Iron Chef night ingredient. After all who doesn't like crispy, salty pork product?

I remember my Ma used to make at Thanksgiving all the time this layered salad that I just loved that included a lot of bacon in it. I remember it coming from the mid-70's, but it wasn't something we got much as only the two of us would eat it, my Pop and other Sibs didn't do cauliflower so it didn't make sense to make it unless there was a crowd or a special occasion with guests to help eat it up.

After looking at the original recipe, that was sadly missing quantities I figured I might as well update it a little. This was going to be for a competition so I had to make it a good one.

Mom's Layered Salad
2 inches chopped lettuce
next layer 1 small box of frozen peas
next fresh cauliflower cut into little pieces
next a layer of chopped bacon crisp fried or bacos
1/2 pkg Great Beginnings garlic salad dressing mix sprinkled over last layer
Layer of real mayonnaise over the top to seal. Refrigerate 24 hours. Toss before serving

Bacon Layered Salad

1 small head iceberg lettuce chopped
10 oz frozen peas - thawed and separated
1 small head cauliflower
1/2 small red onion thinly sliced
1 1/2 c grape tomatoes - halved
1 1/2 c bacon chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 c miracle whip
1/2 package 7 Seas Zesty Italian salad mix
1 1/2 t smoked paprika

fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 c chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Chop lettuce and put into the bottom of a straight sided bowl. Pour lemon juice over the lettuce and toss lightly to distribute. Add fresh cracked pepper to taste.

Cut Cauliflower into small florets. Toss with smoked paprika in a small bowl then spread in even layer over the lettuce. Sprinkle chopped parsley evenly over the cauliflower.

Add peas. Add layer of bacon bits. Sprinkle salad dressing mix over the bacon. Carefully spread the Miracle Whip over the top of the bacon. Arrange tomatoes cut side down. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Toss just before serving.

Make life easy.....use a mandolin for the thin onion slice layer

chop lettuce in bite sized pieces

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

S'mores Parfaits

Although I may be a fruit pie/cobbler guy, I do enjoy my chocolate. Rich deep chocolate, not that wimpy milk chocolate stuff. We got invited to BBQ the other day and were left with the task of putting together a dessert for the host who dislikes fruit, especially if it is baked into something.

Chocolate to the rescue. Since it is summer and an outdoor BBQ the perfect thing would be something S'mores like. Since there wouldn't be a fire going I opted to go with duplicating the flavors and leave the fire part out.

The filling was inspired by the September 2008 Food & Wine "30 Best Fast Recipes Ever". I opted to go with the really dark chocolates and knew their recipe couldn't hold up to the intense Valrhona's I wanted to use. Therefore I swapped in half-and-half for the milk to compensate for the lower cocoa fats in an 85% cocoa solids bitter sweet chocolate. I increased the sugar as well as I was using a "Black Onyx" unsweetened baking chocolate from Surfas that is as the names suggests so rich in chocolate solids it looks almost black.

S’more Parfaits

  • 6 graham crackers – crushed fine
  • 2 T butter melted
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 c miniature marshmallows

Double Chocolate Pudding Filling

  • 2 ¼ c half and half
  • 1 c sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 T corn starch
  • 3 T unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 5 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chopped
  • 2 T unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 1 t vanilla extract

Fine crush the graham crackers in food processor. Reserve 6 teaspoons for later. Add 1T sugar and melted butter. Whiz until incorporated. Divide the mixture evenly in to 6, 8 oz ramekins. Bake in 350 Oven 5 minutes. Let it cool while making the pudding filling.

In a medium non-stick sauce pan mix 2 cups half-and-half and sugar. Stir until smooth over medium heat until it boils and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in salt.

Mix corn starch, cocoa powder and remaining half-and-half and whisk until smooth. Whisk into hot mixture until smooth. Return to moderate heat and whisk constantly until the pudding is thick enough to coat back of spoon, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk eggs until smooth. Whisk in briskly and constantly 1 cup of hot cocoa mixture until smooth. Return pan to medium low heat. Whisk in the egg mixture and whisk constantly until the mixture just comes to a boil about 2 minutes. Do not boil.

Pour chocolate mixture through strainer into mixing bowl. With beater attachment on stir add chopped chocolate and cubed butter. Stir until just incorporated.

Divide pudding mixture into each ramekin. Top with Marshmallows and reserved graham cracker crumbs. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 1-2 hours.

The marshmallows can be “toasted” with a kitchen torch just prior to serving

Use really good chocolate and cocoa

Whisk briskly to totally dissolve in the cocoa and corn starch mixture to avoid lumps
Lightly tap in the graham cracker bottom, don't press or it will be like a brick at the bottom you can't break loose to eat with the filling and stuff.
Slowly stir in butter and chopped chocolate until just smooth. Don't beat or you will have it full of bubbles and not have a smooth texture.
Divide the pudding filling and enjoy! Of course you can skip the entire parfait and just eat the pudding as it is an intensely rich and velvety chocolate pudding all by itself.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Chocolate Praline Dessert

Chocolate Praline Dessert

I'm not sure where I got this from, I suspect it came out of one of my Mom's massive collection of church or PTA cook books. Given the HUGE amount of butter involved I'd guess it was from one of books issued back in Farmington MO when we lived back there in the 70's.

Really a lot of simple steps. Do put aside a long period from start to finish as there are several chilling periods between layers lasting an hour or two each. Fair warning, but the end result is well worth it.

Praline Chocolate Dessert

2 c Oreo cookie crumbs
½ c butter
1 c chopped pecans

1 ½ c butter cubed
1 c brown sugar
1 t vanilla

2 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese softened
½ c confectioners sugar
1/3 c brown sugar

1 c (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
½ c heavy whipping cream

Pecan halves

In small bowl combined cookie crumbs and butter. Press into bottom of a 9 inch greased springform pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with pecans.

In large saucepan over medium heat bring butter and brown sugar to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla. Pour over pecans. Refrigerate for 1 -2 hours until set.

In large mixing bowl, put filling ingredients until smooth. Spread over praline layer. Refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours until set.

For ganache, in a microwave safe bowl melt chocolate chips with cream, stir until smooth. Cool slightly, spread over filling. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours until set. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen, remove sides of pan. Garnish with pecan halves. Refrigerate leftovers. 14-16 servings

Make sure you use a really good chocolate for the ganache. Do be careful with the melting of the higher cocoa solid chocolates as they will burn or seize faster than the usual chips you get at the groc. I used a Valhrona 85% cocoa solid bittersweet chocolate as regular semi-sweet is still to sweet to counter the rich filling and praline.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Mediterranean Couscous Salad

Couscous is an ancient style of pasta made from wheat very common to the Mediterranean and known by a lot of names. I see it repeatedly show up on FoodTV on different shows and used all sorts of ways, usually associated with Moroccan or Sicilian cooking. Finally after getting beaten over the head enough with its merit I started trying it in different things based on what I saw on Food TV.

Couscous is the easiest thing in the world to make. Pour boiling liquid on it. Cover it. Wait 5 minutes and you are done. No stirring, draining or watching hoping it doesn't boil over or burn. A stupid easy way to get carbs in your diet. While it sits and steeps you can get whatever else you want with it or in it prepped.

This recipe is inspired by a lot of the flavors of the Mediterranean but doesn't pay any particular allegiance to any particular one.

Mediterranean Couscous Salad

  • 1 can chicken broth (vegetable broth if you are in a vegan mindset)
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 1/4 c couscous
  • 1 T mint (2T fine chopped if using fresh)
  • 1 T parsley (2 T fine chopped if using fresh)
  • 1 T basil (2T chiffonade if using fresh)
  • 1 c grape or cherry tomatoes - halved
  • 1 c cucumber, quartered then sliced
  • 1/2 c coarse chopped roasted red pepper
  • 1/2 c sliced kalmata olives
  • 4 green onions, tops included, sliced
  • 1 lime, zest and juice.
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine broth, oil, garlic, and bay leaf in a small sauce pan. Cover and bring to simmer, simmer for 5 minutes covered to develop bay leaf flavor.

Combine couscous and dried herbage, if using fresh do not add now. Pour the hot liquid over the couscous. Cover. Let it steep 5 minutes, tightly covered until liquid is absorbed.

Once liquid absorbed uncover add lime zest and juice and fluff with a fork. Add any fresh herbs, the veg and fold in gently. Add fresh cracked black pepper to taste.

NOTE: as the broth and olives bring a salt element to the salad do not test for salt until it has rested at least an hour. At the end of the rest period flavors will have melded enough to test for salt, taste and adjust as needed. Serve or allow to sit until meal time. Can be served at room temp or chilled.

Really important, resist temptation to remove lid while steeping. Doing so you run the risk of losing moisture and having a dry chewy couscous.

Toss in any board juices with the veg as it is flavor you'll lose otherwise. Be very careful with the salting as too much and both the cukes and tomato will release too much moisture making the salad wet...and those vegs very funky rubbery.