Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sausage and Lentil Soup

I can say that I have ever cooked with lentils up until now. I've known they were healthy and good for you, the hippies back in the day said so. The first time I ever had them was in stew form as a side dish to some braised short ribs in Paris and absolutely fell in love with them. Quite tasty, but be warned as they can be a little gassy to those of you with problems with the legume family. Then again, if you have kids it could be a plus as nothing elicits giggles better than gas.

This soup is based on one that appeared in this months Bon Appetit, loosely based as the quantity it made was twice what this one does, plus I didn't have everything needed so I improvised, a lot. Also note that I used all dried spices and herbs with this soup which is a bit of a departure for me, but hey even So Cali has its months where herb gardens go dormant. So inspired by one and improvised based on own taste scores again here at casa fraz.

Sausage and Lentil Soup

  • 1 lb Italian sausage-cut to1/2 inch slices
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 1 c chopped celery, tops included
  • 1 1/2 cups lentils
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 t basil
  • 1/2 t marjoram
  • 1/2 t thyme
  • 1 T fennel, crushed lightly
  • 2 T parsley
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 5 oz package fresh spinach
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive Oil
  • Parmesan cheese

In large stock pot add enough olive oil to just coat the bottom. Over medium high heat add sausage. Stir often until well browned and no pink spots remain. Add onion, pepper and celery, stirring often cook until onion is translucent - about 5-8 minutes.

Add spices, chicken broth and lentils. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer 30 minutes until lentils are tender. Stir in spinach and cook until just wilted. Serve hot with Parmesan grated over the top of the soup.

Dr. Pepper Devils Food Cake

I can't lay claim to the recipe or idea for this cake. I got the idea from the "Chocolate Crazy" cookbook I bought some 20 years ago. It was for a from scratch cake using Dr. Pepper as the liquid base for the cake. (Even though out of print it is copyrighted work so I can't reprint here). The cake worked for me and was a hit at numerous parties I brought it too. Then came children and the need for stupid easy shortcuts which brought about the "invention" of this version.

One thing that does take a bit of time is tracing out and cutting paper liners for the cake pans. Hardly worth skipping as it guarantees you an easy release from the pan every time. Really.

Dr. Pepper Devil's Food Cake

  • 1 18oz Cake Mix - Devil's Food Chocolate
  • Regular Dr. Pepper - not diet
  • Pre-packaged Chocolate, or Fudge type Frosting

Follow directions on cake box for the amount of eggs and oil, substitute the water with the Dr. Pepper. Follow mixing and baking directions. (I used 3 8" pans which weren't on the box directions and they were done in 18-20 minutes). Cool cakes and frost with your favorite chocolate type frosting.

Now, just how much more stupid easy can one get?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Easy Beef Stroganoff (cream o'mushroom to the rescue)

Living with picky eaters means calling things something other than what it is and avoiding discussions on the specific ingredients. In the case of stroganoff sour cream is the indicated thickener and it is something 2/3 of the children won't touch, even if we are at a Mexican restaurant. So I called this "steak and gravy with mushrooms" and I got 2/3 to eat it.

The savior is canned soup, specifically cream of mushroom for the thick creamy texture to the gravy, the rest is simply getting some familiar other things into it and voila...easy stroganoff that can pass as "steak and gravy". The nice thing about using mushroom soup instead of sour cream is you don't have to worry about the sour cream curdling and separating on you, the soup stays nicely creamy even on a simmer.

Easy Beef Stroganoff

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lbs sirloin, sliced into small strips
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 T minced garlic
6 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 can beef broth
1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t salt (less if the broth is high sodium)
1/2 t black pepper, fresh ground if you have it

In large skillet heat 2 T olive oil over medium high heat. Add sirloin strips and stir fry until edges start to brown. Move meat to side of pan and add onion, stir fry until translucent. Add mushrooms to pan and stir all until evenly distributed.

When mushrooms are starting to brown add soups, broth, salt (to taste) pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Stir until soup is dissolved into the liquids. Simmer 15 minutes until meat is tender. Check the salt and adjust if needed. Serve over cooked egg noodles or mash potatoes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Peppermint Layered Fudge that I have perfected stupid easy white fudge its time to start mixing it up and coming up with variations other than "vanilla" and into the realm of more adventurous. This layered fudge idea comes from the "Peppermint Bark" candy sold by Willam- Sonoma this time of year. Good stuff made better ala the fraz.

Of course it falls into the stupid easy category, I mean what good is fudge and candy making if you can't do it fast and easy? Though this has two steps, they are essentially the same you just need to allow time for the first layer to set before adding the second layer. Trust me on this, let the first layer set up in the fridge because trying to put the second layer on the first while it is still soft will yield a marbled mess rather than layered fudge.

Don't freak on the addition of the coffee extract to the 1st layer, coffee for reasons I'm not quite certain of will make chocolate taste even chocolatier!

The easiest way to crush the peppermint candies in the peppermint layer is to give them a whack with a meat mallet while they are still in their wrappers. It neatly contains the crushed candy and makes it easy to unwrap into the measuring cup. If you take it out of the wrapper you wind up with peppermint candy shrapnel all over you and the kitchen, not a good thing.

Peppermint Layered Fudge

1st layer
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 oz semi-sweet or dark (70%) chocolate - chopped
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 t coffee extract
  • 1/8 t sea salt

2nd layer
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 24 oz good quality white chocolate chips
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 t peppermint extract
  • 1/8 t sea salt
  • 1/3 c crushed peppermint candies (about 15 starlight mints)

Line 13X9 inch pan with plastic wrap.

For the first layer pour chopped chocolate into microwave safe mixing bowl. Add extracts and salt, cover with sweetened condensed milk. Microwave on high for 1 minute 30 seconds. Stir until smooth, pour into prepared pan evening out to cover bottom of the pan. Chill in refrigerator at until set (about 2 hours).

For the second layer pour the white chocolate chips into microwave safe mixing bowl. Add extracts and salt, cover with sweetened condensed milk. Microwave on high for 1 minute 30 seconds. Stir until smooth, fold in chopped candies. Pour over first layer and even out until smooth. Chill at least 2 hours to set firmly.

This should be the last of the fudge recipes for this year. Who knows what next year will yield, in the mean time I have some 20 pounds of fudge to divvy out as gifts for the neighbors and use as hostess gifts this year!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spinach and Rice Soup

After all of the mousse cake and fudge of the last few weeks its time to remind myself that healthy eating is a must. Nothing like a good hearty soup to sustain you while being healthy at the same time.

I used a prepackaged blend of brown, white, basmati and wild rice from Fresh and Easy market, any raw rice blend you find would easily be substituted in. If you are desperate and understocked in the old pantry just plain white rice could be used, you'd just miss out on some of the flavor and texture the other rices bring to the soup.

Spinach is there for several reasons, primary is that it is a mild green and full of folic acid and other goodies that make this soup extra healthy without clouding the good rice flavors and textures.

Spinach and Rice Soup

  • 1 yellow onion chopped
  • 4 medium carrots sliced
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup rice blend
  • 12 oz package fresh spinach leaves
  • 46 oz can low sodium chicken broth

Coat the bottom of a large stock pot with olive oil and add onion and carrot. lightly salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium-high heat until the onion is starting to turn translucent. Add rice and saute another 3 minutes or so, stirring often until the onion is clear and the rice is lightly toasted.

Add chicken, basil and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover at low simmer 30 minutes until carrots are tender and rice is fully cooked. Stir in the raw spinach and cook another 2-3minutes until wilted and well integrated into soup. Serve hot with a salad and fresh baked bread.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chocolate Mousse Cake

This has been a stand by for years. The original recipe came from a Betty Crocker cookbook I bought when I first went out on my own and didn't know how to cook. As always I can't leave well enough alone and have modified it a bit over the years to get to this final result.

It is always a "wow" at a party, thoroughly rich, decadent and a delight in your mouth as you savor. IT is not, and I repeat NOT an every day dessert nor one for the cholesterol challenged among us. But oh is it worth every calorie at a special function or occasion.

Chocolate Mouse Cake

  • 1 cup freshly brewed strong coffee
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 lb unsalted butter (2 cups or 4 sticks)
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 lb semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 8 eggs lightly beaten.

Line a 9 inch spring form with aluminum foil.

In heavy sauce pan add coffee, sugar, salt, vanilla and butter. Heat over medium heat and stir occasionally until butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Allow it to come to a simmer, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

In large mixing bowl add the chopped chocolate. Pour hot sugar mixture over the chocolate and stir until smooth. Slowly beat in the eggs until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake 50-60 minutes at 350F until set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Chill before serving at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. When chilled carefully remove foil from the cake and place on serving plate. Garnish each slice with a dollop of whipped cream and chopped nuts.

The cake will come out cracked and dried at the edges and lower in the center. This is normal for the cake, or at least it has been for me in the 20+ years I have made it.
Make sure the sides of the pan are lined to the top with the foil. This is an extremely liquid batter and will leak out of even the tightest sealed spring form pan.
A simmer is just that...a couple of bubbles and not a hard rolling boil. A hard boil will scorch the coffee and sugar.

The money shot...root beer float fudge!

Stupid Easy Fudge Take Two...
I found a bottle of root beer extract over a year ago at Surfas in Culver City. (They now are have split out the store from their mail order but the link will get you to the goodies I found). With that little purchase I set out to make a root beer float fudge and this is the final recipe that worked, completely. Where I failed in years past was to not have enough white chocolate chips in the mix for it to adequately set so it would hold its shape at room temperature instead of oozing and sticking all over the place.

The Holidays are my signal to set about making batches of fudge, not just ordinary fudge but different fun stuff. I found out that my friend Mike aka Cosmo loves peanut butter fudge. I found a recipe or two on online that I could modify to fit my "Stupid Easy" formulation, prep and results. That lead believe it or not to determining the key to making the Root Beer Float version that really rocks.

All of my recipes are done in a 1200 watt commercial grade microwave oven so please increase your time if you are using a smaller wattage unit in small increments of 15-30 seconds to get the same results.

Root Beer Float Fudge

  • 24 ounces good white baking chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli brand)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 t root beer extract
  • 1 t vanilla extract

Line an 8X8 inch pan with plastic wrap, allowing enough hanging over the sides to be able to fold it back over the fudge.

Pour chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl. Add extracts and toss lightly. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the chips. Microwave on high for 1 minute 30 seconds. Stir until smooth, if the mixture starts to stiffen before completely mixed zap it in the microwave for another 15-30 seconds.

Pour the homogeneous mixture into the prepared pan, carefully folding the flaps over the top of the fudge. Chill in refrigerator until set, about 2 hours.

The peanut butter is equally easy, the recipe is a blend of a couple. The common thread in most I found was to use white baking chocolate bars rather than chips. I suspect those don't have emulsifiers like the chips and has a different hardener in place that better offsets the fatty peanut butter that is soft at room temp as it is. Regardless, I went with the majority and the results were really good. You can make it with or without nuts, I opted for without as the picky eaters in my house don't like nuts in fudge or cookies.

Peanut Butter Fudge

  • 1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1/2 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 12 ounces white chocolate squares or white baking bars, chopped
  • 3/4 cup chopped peanuts
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an 8X8 inch pan with plastic wrap, allowing enough hanging over the sides to be able to fold it back over the fudge.

Break up and coarsely chop the white baking chocolate. Add to microwave safe mixing bowl. Add peanut butter. Pour sweetened condensed milk over all of the white chocolate and peanut butter. Microwave on high for 1 minute 30 seconds. Stir until smooth, if the mixture starts to stiffen before completely mixed zap it in the microwave for another 15-30 seconds.

Pour the homogeneous mixture into the prepared pan, carefully folding the flaps over the top of the fudge. Chill in refrigerator until set, about 2 hours.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

White Bean and Greens Soup

Yesterday it was the perfect day for baking, and cooking here in LA. Cold, wet and rainy so I needed to come up with something to warm the cockles of my heart. Soup was on the agenda. A simple soup was the option, one that would be healthy as well as tasty. This simple soup fit the bill and was rounded off with fresh baked bread. (Yesterday I was a regular Julian Child in the kitchen).

In this soup you can use any green you want that is in season and looks good in the produce section. This soup I used mustard greens for their peppery bite, but kale or even beet greens would have worked just as well.

This soup could easily be made vegetarian by substituting a vegetable broth for the chicken broth. It would remain healthy as you are getting your protein from the beans not the broth, and the fiber rich greens are still there to clean out your pipes as my Uncle Al would have said.

White Bean and Greens soup

  • 2 cups small white beans
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 3 small carrots sliced
  • 1/2 green pepper diced
  • 1 T garlic - minced
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 t ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch mustard greens - trimmed and coarse chopped
  • bay leaf
  • 1 t rosemary
  • 1 can (49oz) chicken broth

Cover beans with water and soak over night. Drain and refill stock pot with 8 cups water. Add bay leaf and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1.5-2 hours until beans are tender. Drain well and put aside.

Saute onion, carrots and green pepper in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook one more minute. Add rosemary and a new bay leaf. Add chicken broth and simmer 30- minutes until carrots are soft. Add greens and cook until wilted but still tender crisp, about 5 minutes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Without Okra is it still Gumbo? I say yes.

Traditional recipes for gumbo all include "Okra" but if I use it I effectively alienate 3/5 of my household to the point they won't touch it. What's a cook to do but omit something that offends a majority where possible.

My gumbo style is more of the "Creole" Gumbo in that it has a lighter roux and includes tomatoes. By omitting the okra everyone eats it. Celery is another bit that shouldn't be omitted as it is part of the trinity of onion/pepper/celery, but since it falls in the category of "okra" with my picky eaters I substitute in celery seed for the pop of flavor needed and there is no loss to those of us who really like gumbo with all the goodies.

Traditionally it is served over rice and eaten with a bowl. Please do so as you won't want to miss a bit of the wonderful sauce or "gravy" that comes with it.

Creole Gumbo

  • 1 lb smoked sausage - sliced
  • 1 lb chicken (I use de-boned thighs) in large dice
  • 2 lb raw shrimp
  • 1 T bacon grease or oil
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 green pepper diced
  • 1 large carrot diced
  • 2 t celery seed
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 T butter
  • 3 T flour
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 1 T File' powder
  • 2 cups rice, cooked according to directions.

In large stock pot add bacon fat and sausage. Cook until browned. Remove with slotted spoon and cook the chicken in the remaining fat. Remove with slotted spoon.

Add the onion, green pepper, carrots, cayenne pepper and celery seed. Cook in remaining fat over medium-high heat. Stir often and scrape up browned bits from bottom of pan. Cook until onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 10-15 minutes. Add butter and flour. Stir constantly until the flour is dissolved and takes on a light brown color, about 3-5 minutes.

Add diced tomatoes, chicken broth and tomato sauce, stir until the flour mixture (roux) is completely incorporated and lump free. Return sausage and chicken to the pan. Bring to boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

Increase heat and add shrimp and file' powder. Stir constantly until shrimp are cooked and the gumbo is thickened about 5 minutes. Serve over hot cooked rice.