Monday, October 28, 2013

Cherry Almond Cobbler

Because I don't do pie dough

A while back I scored on a bag of frozen sour cherry's something like 4 freaking pound bag for barely $10.  Can't buy fresh for that.  Can't buy fresh with the same convenience as they were already pitted!  Today it was our first really cool rainy day for the fall season.  In fact its raining right now...and cold stormy days bring out the baker in me.

This is really a simple recipe.  Frozen cherries and almond slices as the two simply play together quite well. I remember hearing, reading, picking up by osmosis that they are in the same plant family and thus have similar flavonoids that really enhance each other.  Almond makes cherry more cherry believe it or not.

For the prep of the streusel toppings you really need to use a food processor with a dough blade.  Its much faster to give it a couple of quick pulse whizzes than to cut it in by hand with a pastry cutter.

Cherry Almond Cobbler
6 c frozen pitted sour cherries
1 c sugar
3 T corn starch
pinch salt
1/4 t almond extract
1/2 t vanilla
3/4 c flour
3/4 c quick cooking oats
2/3 c brown sugar
1 stick butter - chilled
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 350F  Grease 9X13 baking pan

Pour frozen cherries into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with the almond extract and vanilla. Let thaw 10-15 minutes.  Mix together salt, corn starch and sugar.  Sprinkle mixture over cherries and toss lightly to combine.

For topping combine flour, oats, brown sugar, and salt in food processor and pulse to combine a couple of times.  Cut butter into tablespoons and place evenly over flour mixture.  Pulse 7-10 times until it resembles wet crumbly sand.  (If not using food processor whisk together dry ingredients.  With pastry cutter cut in butter until it resembles wet crumbly sand.)

Pour cherries into prepared pan.  Spoon streusel evenly over the cherries.  Bake 45-50 minutes until topping is golden brown.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Stupid Easy Thai Style homemade cup-o-noodles

Life doesn't really get any easier than this.  Fresh noodles from your local asian grocery.  Broth and some herbage to finish it off.  Best of all since you are controlling the ingredients there is no fear of MSG!

Today I went Thai with it.  What made it Thai you may ask?  Fish Sauce and Thai Chili's.  Finish with a squirt of lime.  Its done as fast as that

The noodles are hard(ish) to find if you don't have an Asian market close to you.  If you do have one such market close by I urge you to spend time there and get to know all the ingredients, fresh and otherwise.  Who knew there were 20 kinds of Bok Choy...there are and each are a little different in size and texture, all taste similar.  The funnest part is wandering over to the fresh noodle arena, my local market has literally over a 100 kinds of noodles, many gluten free as they are made from rice. The noodles I used here were pre-packaged soba noodles.  A sorta reasonable substitute be cooked whole wheat spaghetti.

I usually have homemade chicken stock around, but today I didn't so I used my next best favorite, the trusty can of Swanson's low sodium chicken broth.

The big word of caution here is that a little fish sauce goes a long, long way.  Too much and its just stank.  Just a few drops here and it adds another level of flavor that doesn't overpower and adds just the right amount of salinity.

Stupid Easy Thai Style Cup-o-noodles

  • 1 C fresh soba noodle
  • 1 can Chicken broth (about 2 c)
  • 1-2 thinly sliced Thai Chili
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 T fresh cilantro
  • 4 drops fish sauce
  • 1/2 t low sodium soy sauce
  • lime

In small sauce pan add chicken broth and heat to simmer. Add fish sauce and soy sauce. Add fresh soba noodles and cook 1-2 minutes until heated through.  Take off heat, stir in onion, chili(s) and cilantro.  Pour off into serving bowl and give it a squirt of fresh lime juice.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Plum Dumplings with the volume turned up

I thought of my Dad the other day when his sister, my Aunt Kathy posted on FB that she was making plum dumplings for dinner.  Its a Slovene dumpling that is just a few simple ingredients and served with soft butter on top.  I decided to turn up the volume a bit and made a brown butter herb sauce to toss them in before serving.  A bit less fat than a pat of butter per dumpling and some herbs for brightness and green.  OMG were they good.  My grandmother, heck even my mother would likely snort and chortle at the idea, but it REALLY WORKED.

The recipe itself is generations old.  The actual roots are obscured to family lore.  My Dad had them as a kid and made my Ma make them for him as a treat in the fall when the tiny "prune plums" came ripe.  Dad would likely even know the Slovene name, google translate calls it "plum cmoki" which is nothing I ever recall hearing growing up.

I made them some 25 years ago for my then fiance.  We liked them, but never made them again until that nostalgic twang struck the other day.  Why you may ask...they are labor intensive.

The dough in looking at the recipe isn't that much unlike an Italian gnocci.  With Slovenia and northern Italy next door neighbors the ancient roman influence could well be the ancient root of this dumpling dough.  Just a wild arsed guess.

Plum Dumplings in Herbed Brown Butter Sauce
  • 8-10 small ripe plums
  • 1 c hot mashed potatoes
  • 1 1/4 c flour
  • 2 T melted butter
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1/2 salt
  • Bench flour - scant cup

  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 t ground cinnamon

Brown Butter Herb Sauce
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 T minced parsley
  • 1 T minced mint
  • Pinch of salt to taste

In stand mixer add mashed potatoes, flour and 1/2 t salt.  Whiz a minute or so until flour is well dispersed.  With mixer on low pour in melted butter then the egg.  Mix just until a soft dough comes together.  Let rest 5 minutes.

Bring a large stock pot, 4-6 quarts of water with salt to a boil.

Half the plums and remove the pits.  Use the "plumber crack" groove on the plum as a guide to halve your plums precisely.  Take a piece of dough the size of a walnut and flatten.  Place a plum half in the do cut side up.  Add 1/2 t cinnamon mixture.  Bring up the edges of the dough and seal all seams. Roll dumpling in flour and set on a tray to rest while you make the rest of your  Repeat with remaining dough, plums and cinnamon/sugar mix.

Place dumplings in the salted boiling water.  They will sink. Stir gently at first so they don't stick to the bottom and tear.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 20 minutes stirring occasionally.  The will float to the surface as they cook.

While dumplings cook make the Herbed Brown Butter Sauce.  Take stick of butter and put in large skillet over medium heat.  Stir as the milk solids begin to foam and brown to prevent scorching.  When the butter is browned, reduce heat to low and add the minced herbs.  Cook stir in and taste for seasoning and add a pinch or two of salt.  Place the cooked dumplings in the browned butter and herbs turning to coat.

Step by Step dumpling making:
flatten walnut sized piece of dough until about 1/8" thick, about twice the diameter of a plum half
spoon in scant 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon sugar into the hole left behind by the plum pit
Pull dough sides up and over the center of the plum, sealing edges to form dumpling. Be gentle so you don't tear the dumpling skin.
Roll completed dumpling in flour and set aside on a clean tray to rest
After putting dumplings in the boiling water allow the water to come back up to a boil.  When it does reduce heat to a simmer.  A Hard boil will cause the dumpling skins to burst and leave you with a giant mess.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the dumplings from the boiling water.  Let excess water drip off and slip the dumpling into the browned butter.  Turn carefully to coat so you don't tear the dumpling skin.
Serve hot...enjoy!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Smoked Gouda Souffle

A while I back I wrote about how daunting a souffle is, then it dawned on me, its fancy baking, precise measurements, temperatures and timing are what its all about.  Suddenly they became easier and are becoming a Sunday Brunch Staple at casa frazgo.

The real key is have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go (aka mis en place), oven preheated on standby and all tools at the ready. This goes very quickly once your milk is almost at the boil.  You don't have time to futz with measuring and grating once you start making the base.  Take your eyes and whisk away for even a minute and you have scrambled yolks and need to start over.

Prolly the greatest improvement on the traditional box grater was the creation of the Microplane Brand box grater.  Its precision cut stainless steel that is so sharp even sticky cheeses grate without clogging and dragging.  Amazing little tool. A friendly tip, cold cheese fresh from the fridge does grate faster and easier than those at room temp, this is particularly important to remember when you are working with soft cheeses like gouda, edam and young cheddars.

Have your ingredients at room temperature helps with separating the eggs, mixing the base or whipping the whites.  Even the cheese once grated and brought to room temperature melts better with less chance of clumping and separating.

Unlike other cheese souffle's you do need to cook this one a bit after the cheese has melted so it doesn't curdle and separate.  It only takes a minute or two on the heat to cook it enough and as long as you whisk continuously during that part you won't have any issues with the eggs scrambling or cheese getting funky.  When you take it of the heat stir with the whisk for an additional minute as it cools so it doesn't scramble.  Sounds like a risky spot, but its not that bad as long as you just keep whisking and keep the heat at medium using a heavy pan that won't have hot spots that can cause scorching.  The flour and mustard do a great job of stabilizing the base and minimize problems in preparation and baking.

I've been a fan of the smoked Gouda for a while.  Trader Joe's carry's a really nice one that won't break the bank. Its a semi-soft cheese with a deep smoky taste that permeates the entire souffle.

Smoke Gouda Souffle'

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/4 t cream of tartar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 T flour
  • 1 T whole grain mustard
  • 1 T water
  • 1/2 t salt 
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • dash nutmeg
  • 2/3 c Smoked Gouda Cheese
  • 1 c whole milk

Pre heat oven to 450F.
Grease and flour your souffle' dish

Pour milk into a large heavy sauce pan.  Over medium heat slowly raise temperature until it just starts to steam and tiny bubbles form at the edge.  Do Not Boil.

Combine egg yolks, flour, mustard, water, salt, cayenne pepper and nutmeg in a bowl.  Whisk until smooth.  Pour off 1/4 c hot milk into a heat proof measuring cup.  While whisking slowly pour in the milk in a slow stream until all has been incorporated.  Do not pour in all at once as you could scramble the yolks.

While whisking the warm milk pour in the yolk mixture. Stir constantly over medium heat and bring to a boil.  As soon as you get your first couple of bubbles, slowly start adding the cheese, stirring well between additions so it is incorporated.  Cook 1-2 minutes longer, remove from heat and whisk 1 minute.

Whisk egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed until they form stiff peaks.  Stir in one fourth of the egg whites into the souffle base until all whites have been incorporated.  Take the base and pour over the remaining whites.  Gently fold in the base to the whites until it is all fluffy and no more egg white clumps remain.

Pour into prepared souffle' dish.  Bake at 450F 7 minutes.  Reduce heat to 425F and bake an additional 8-10 minutes until puffed and golden brown.  Serve hot.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Kickin' back a cocktail and looking for ideas...

Seriously, since I've joined the post a day blog challenge I've had a ton of fun. Made me think a lot about my blogs and what I can do differently with them.  Today's challenge was to ask our readers what they would like to see from us.  o_O

I can look at stats and tell you French food, at least the simpler homie stuff I do is the most popular based on hits and traffic generated.  A close second is sourdough.  I explore so many ideas and styles based on what interests me at the moment, so picking one isn't an option.  I'm really not into doing just one cuisine or style as its not how I live and cook.  Its L.A and the world is literally at my doorstep so why limit myself?

It really comes down to what's fresh, what's in season and who I fell asleep through on FoodNetwork and picked up ideas by osmosis for most recipe and blog post ideas.  What I eat really shows up on this blog.  I do a lot of repeats hence the dry spells, but repeats are family favorites that already have been blogged here.

I purposely use my cell phone cameras for my blog posts. They have an informality that describes me and my food as well as my general philosophy of entertaining my friends.  The goal here long term is to take these posts and make a "Blogger's Cookbook" with a focus on the stupid easy cookery that is a theme throughout this blog.  Should I do it?

In rounding out my blog what else should I do for you that makes it a better blog for you to visit? I'm all ears and always open to new ideas.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Guest Post: Dirty Rice by Caroline Paras

As you can probably guess, frazgo isn't doing the cooking right now. I'm stepping in to share one of my recipes from my foodie blog. My blog is dedicated to my mom and the recipes she passed along -- and a few of my own that I've whipped up over the years. Most of my cooking comes from what I know, using Asian vegetables and rice. I've also branched out a bit and cook up foods that I enjoy, For this shared recipe, I thought I would combine rice with a bit of Cajun-flavoring and make Dirty Rice.

I like to think of Dirty Rice as steamed rice stir-fry. Like stir-fry, you combine a bunch of ingredients with rice and it becomes a meal. This dish gets its name from the look of white rice that is used that then gets its "dirty" color from being cooked with minced chicken livers. I know, no one eats chicken livers anymore. But, use the chicken livers, the ingredient adds that extra kick to make the recipe really good. Because of the depth of flavor, I serve Dirty Rice as both a main dish and/or as a side dish. I use a combination of onions, celery and bell peppers to form the base. Then I use green chiles for a mild flavor. If you are looking for something spicier, use jalapeño chili peppers. And, if you like this recipe, you can find "My Mama's Recipes and a Few of My Own" at Enjoy! 

Dirty Rice 
1 1/2 cup long-grain rice
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 lb. spicy ground pork
1/2 cup chicken livers
3 slices of bacon, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper
1-3 jalapeños, seeded and chopped or 1/4 cup diced green chiles
1 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
2 green onions, chopped
Cook the rice according to the package instructions, but use chicken broth for one third of the cooking liquid. So, for example, if the package says to use 3 cups of water for 1 1/2 cups of rice, use 2 cups of water and 1 cup of chicken broth. Once the rice has finished cooking, remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

Turn the rice out onto a sheet pan and drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over it. Mix to combine and let cool.

While the rice is cooking, mash and finely chop the chicken livers or purée in a blender. In a large pan, put 1 tablespoon of oil plus the bacon in and cook over medium-low heat until the bacon is crispy. Add the ground pork and increase the heat to high. Allow the meat to brown before stirring. As soon as the pork starts to brown, add the final tablespoon of oil and add the bell peppers, celery, jalapeños and onions. Brown them all over medium-high heat. Add the minced liver and cook for a few minutes more. Add the remaining cup of chicken broth and deglaze the pan by scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the Cajun seasoning and turn the heat to high. Boil away most of the chicken stock.

Add the cooked rice. Toss to combine. Add the green onions. Toss once more to combine and serve hot.

Quesadilla Casserole

Quesadilla...a wonderful FLOUR tortilla stuffed with something savory and a ton of cheese and grilled.  This was the inspiration for this dish.  Its actually almost a lasagna, but the inclusion of flour tortillas instead of corn warrants the change up in the name.  Regardless of what you call it, its quite tasty.

Stupid easy to make too.  Simple browning of meat and then layering to assemble. If you can't do that its time to pack your knives and resort to already made frozen.

Tortillas, flour is a must. They come in a variety of sizes, go for the 8" to 10" variety for easiest fitting into the pan with nominal overlap.  Too much overlap and they get to be dense and chewy.

For the cheese, I'm blessed to be in sunny SoCal where "mexican blend" cheeses are everywhere.  Its a blend of cheddar, monterey jack, queso something or other and another traditional cheese.  Its a lot more flavor than just a "colby jack" blend would give and worth searching out.  If all else fails, well, use the colby jack as it is a reasonable substitute.

Quesadilla Casserole

  • 1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 t minced garlic
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t fresh ground pepper
  • 2 T Chili Powder
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 1 t oregano leaves
  • 1/2 t red pepper flakes
  • 1 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 12 oz frozen corn
  • 1 can diced green chiles, undrained
  • 6 8-10" flour tortillas
  • 4 1/2 c shredded mexican blend cheese

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a 9X13 baking dish with a non-stick spray.

In large skillet combine beef, salt and pepper.   Brown over medium heat until well browned.  Add onion and cook until translucent.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.

Add spices, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes.  Bring to simmer.  Add frozen corn and simmer 5 minutes longer.  Fold in green chiles and take off the heat.

Cut tortillas in half.  Place 1/2 c of meat mixture on bottom of baking dish. Cover with 4 tortilla slices, cut edges to the ends of the pan.Place 1/3 of meat mixture on top of the tortilla, then with 1 1/2 c shredded cheese.  Press lightly and repeat layers until all the tortillas, meat and cheese are used up.  Bake for 350 minutes until all bubbly and the cheese is melted.  Remove from oven and cool for about 10 minutes so it cuts and serves easier.
tortilla placement for maximum coverage and minimum overlap.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Want a sneak peak before the post?

Want a good spot for teasers on what will soon be on this blog?  Check out my Feasting & Indulgences set on flickr. Often there is as much as a day lede from when a picture appears there until the post is done here.

Another set to check for kicks and giggles is Eating Out.  Its a foodies collection of meals out that I've enjoyed and use as an inspiration for what I cook up in my kitchen.

Tomorrow...may be a silent day.  I'm going to Surfas in Culver City.  My cooking mecca, as opposed to Venice Beach where I go for soul rejuvenation.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Carrot even haters will like

Here it is, after a few teasers here is the post you've been waiting for.  Carrot Cake for those who profess to hate it.  Nary a slimy raisin to be found in in it.  Perfect crumb and moistness, the latter enhanced with the pineapple which isn't usually found in a carrot cake.  Its part of the reason I really like this cake, that and the absence of a slimy snot like cooked raisin.

Different from a lot of carrot cakes is that this is baked in a slow oven that allows for very even rising with out a too terribly pronounced dome or high spot in the middle.

The addition of pineapple adds a nice tang to the cake as well as moistness.  I use crushed pineapple and you really need to let it drain well so you get an accurate measurement of pineapple without a lot of liquid to muck up the batter.  I poured a 20 oz can of crushed pineapple into a strainer set over a bowl for an hour to ensure it was well drained.  Et voila it did the trick.

I use a neutral vegetable oil for this cake as I don't want any stray flavors from the oil working its way into the cake. I've used corn oil in the past with good results and no funky flavor additions too.  I would refrain from olive oil or nut oils as they impart flavors that you might not want to the final product.

Carrot Cake

  • 2 1/2 c flour
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • 1 t allspice
  • 1 1/2 c vegetable oil
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 3 c (about 3/4 lb) grated carrot
  • 1 c crushed pineapple - well drained
  • 1 c chopped walnuts

cream cheese frosting

  • 2 8oz packages cream cheese at room temperature
  • 4 T (half stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 24 oz (about 6 c)  powdered sugar
  • 1 t vanilla extract or the seeds of one vanilla pod.

Grease and flour 2, 9" cake pans.  Preheat oven to 325f.

Combine flour, baking powder and soda, salt and spices in a bowl.  Set aside.

Beat oil, vanilla and sugar until well mixed.  Add eggs one at a time and beat well with addition.  Beat 3-4 minutes until light yellow and fluffy.  Reduce speed and fold in dry ingredients in half cup increments until blended.  Fold in Carrot.  Fold in Pineapple. Fold in walnuts. 

Divide batter between the 2 pans.  Bake 45-50 minutes until tester comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting combine butter, cream cheese and vanilla. Beat until fluffy.  On low speed add powdered sugar a quarter cup at a time until all incorporated.  Beat on high 1-2 minutes until fluffy.  Thin with water if needed to bring to spreading consistency.  Frost cooled cake layers.
Cooling cakes on a wire rack ensures that the cakes don't have a soggy bottom.  Cooled cakes frost easier with no melting and running of the frosting.
 A dab of frosting in the center of the cake plate ensures it doesn't slip when  you are frosting the cake.  A nice thick layer in the middle ensures frosting in every bite.
The money shot.  All frosted and ready to devour.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Carrot Cake the teaser

I told you a few months back I'd find my old friend  Dee Dallaire from Phoenix carrot cake recipe.Dee was the manager of Diamond's Park Central Housewares department back when I lived there in the mid-ish 80s.  I was working retail and knew that the housewares managers always had the best food and recipes and listened to what they had to share.  I did find it and its as marvelous as I remembered, moist, hint of spice and nary a freaking raisin to be found in the thing.  Nor coconut.  This recipe does have pineapple which just adds to the moistness and adds just the right tang to make it better than average.  I mean, what good is a blog if you don't share what's better than average.

Its been a long day chasing my grandson. Yes, I found time to bake a cake from scratch and enjoy a slice with dinner.  I'm beat.  Tomorrow the full recipe will be up.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Grilled salmon for a rainy day.

I'm a fan of the grill pan.  It gives those lovely marks just like a barbecue grill.  It just doesn't pack the smokey flavor of the outdoor barbecue. Smoked Paprika solves that and adds a delicate heat to it all as well.  I've post iterations of this in the past so this post will be about the pan.

Its a Calphalon Non-Stick grill pan.  Non-stick because its a compromise with the lovely Missus as its our deal.  I cook, she cleans up after me and she hates scrubbing.  Calphalon because that heavy gauge aluminum heats fast and evenly.  Also their non-stick was the best there was around when I bought this pan some 8 years ago, and the finish is still good.  Yes I take care to use only nylon tools so as not to scratch and ruin the surface, but that is the extent of the care it needs.

There are devotees out there for the cast iron grill pan.  To you I blow a big fat raspberry.  It takes longer to heat up, has hot spots and is a royal pain to clean. Then keep seasoned.  That last one my friends is reason numero uno why I don't have cast iron. Who wants to monkey around with special cleaning, drying then having to re-season when you are done.  Not.  Me.

All that aside smoke paprika is really a way to impart nice sweet hot smokey flavor to a dish or piece of meat.  Sprinkle it on, let it sit as a dry rub marinade for 15-30 minutes and you are set.  That period I put plastic wrap over it and simply allow the fish or meat to come to room temp. Added bonus is that room temp meat cooks more thoroughly and evenly than cold fresh from fridge.

Finding smoked Paprika isn't that difficult anymore.  Finding Good smoked paprika can be a challenge.  Gourmet shops have it, but they charge a small appendage.  Grocery stores stock OK but still pricey.  I found the current bottle I'm using at Cost Plus World Markets for under $4.  I've had similar luck at Surfas in Culver City and they have a veritable library of smoked paprikas covering a variety of price points.  I think I need to make another Surfas run soon.

Grill Pan Salmon

  • 4 8 oz salmon fillets
  • garlic salt
  • pepper
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Clean and dry off your salmon fillets.  Give a quick spritz with cooking spray and sprinkle garlic salt and pepper to taste.  Dust each salmon piece with about 1/2 t smoked paprika.  Turn fillets over and repeat with spritz, garlic salt, pepper and smoked paprika.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let come to room temperature and marinade for 15-30 minutes.  (The spritz of olive oil allows the paprika to stick to the fish).

Heat grill pan over medium-high heat 3-5 minutes.  NOTE if you are not using a non-stick pan you will need to oil your grill pan.  Add salmon fillets and cook 3-5 minutes, or until the cooked line is about 1/2 way up the side of the fish.  Turn over and cook another 2-4 minutes until cooked through. Serve hot.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Faux Rice-a-roni

My kids are major fans of the Rice-a-roni. You know that marvy rice and pasta concoction from the 1960's that makes its ways to many a table every night? Its actually a pretty decent fast side for a lot of grilled meats, something I do a lot of around here. The only gripe I have is that its overloaded with salt and there isn't much you can do to about it.  Except make your own.

Its a pretty simple blend of herbs and dried chicken stock that you toss in with the pasta and rice after they are browned. An easy process to duplicate.  And I did.

Of course I figured as long as I'm gonna do it up faux I'll also make in the microwave to take one pot off the stove that I have to worry about.  This actually works out quite well in the microwave and is stupid easy once you program your M.O. to remember the settings.  Its clearly a set and forget.

I used the Better than Bouillon brand chicken base for my recipe as I was out of chicken broth.  You can simply use 2 cups chicken broth if you have it on hand.  I do keep this bouillon around as it has better flavor than the cubed stuff and WAY less sodium.  A big plus especially if you are on a low sodium diet for health reasons.  Its also a good way to add flavor to dishes where you don't want to add a lot of liquid and still get a big flavor boost with that slow cooked all day flavor.

Faux Rice-a-roni

  • 1/2 c fideo noodles
  • 1/2 c raw white rice
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 c water
  • 2 t Better than Bouillon chicken broth
  • 1/2 t garlic salt
  • 1 T dried parsley

In microwave safe covered dish add pasta and rice.  Top with butter.  Microwave for 1 minute.  Stir to coat rice and pasta with butter.  Microwave on high 1 minute longer.  Toss and repeat until pasta is a deep golden brown.  It takes about 3 minutes total in my 1250 watt MO.

Dissolve Better than Bouillon in water.  Add garlic salt and parsley to rice and toss.  Add broth and stir. 

Cover the dish.  Microwave 5 minutes on high power. Continue covered and microwave 20 minutes on 50% power.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Fluff with fork and serve.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Gingered Pear Upside Down Cake with Salted Brown Sugar Caramel

This is a labor intensive cake, but then again most baking is.  Accurate measurements count a lot in baking, which I can do.  Paying attention to the steps, each one, one at a time helps too.

As its fall and we had a fun little evening soiree to attend I thought what the heck...lets be decadent and indulge. First thought was chocolate, then over to fresh fruit.  Seasonal fruit is Pears and Apples this time of year and I remembered this simply divine upside down pear cake many years ago I had made.  Then after digging around for ever I realized I lost it.  This recipe is a compilation of memory and a few others in my bag of tricks.

I use molasses and brown sugar as it simply has the best flavor, there is an almost smokey depth to the molasses that can't be duplicated with processed white sugar.  Molasses comes sulphured and unsulphured, I don't notice much of a difference in flavor or color between the two so use what you find.  Working with molasses the hardest part is measuring that thick sticky liquid then getting it all into your mix.  I've found that warming the molasses in the microwave for a minute will make it flow easier.  Spraying your measuring cup with cooking spray before measuring ensures a quick release and it all going into your recipe.

Gingered Pear Upside Down Cake

  • 2 -3 firm pears 
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 sea salt


  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground all spice
  • 1/4 t fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup molasses 
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 3 T minced candied ginger

Preheat oven to 350F.

Peel and cut pears into eighths lengthwise.  Spray the inside of a large oven proof skillet, non-stick if you have it with nonstick cooking spray.  Arrange pears in a decorative pattern in the skillet.  

Place 1/4 cup butter, sea salt and 3/4 c brown sugar in a small sauce pan.  Over low heat melt butter and stir until bubbly and sugar is dissolved.  Carefully drizzle the syrup over the pears.  Turn on heat to low and slowly bring the syrup to a boil, 2-3 minutes is all it takes.  Turn off heat.

Bring 1 c water to a boil and pour into molasses.  Stir until dissolved.  Set aside.

Sift together flour, soda, spices and salt.  Set aside.

Cream together stick of butter and 1/2 c brown sugar and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Add 1/3 flour and 1/3 molasses, stir in.  Repeat until all flour and molasses has been incorporated. Fold in candied ginger. Carefully spoon batter over the pears so as not to disturb them.  Place in oven and bake 40-50 minutes until toothpick comes out clean from center.  Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes.  Rim a knife around the outside edge and flip the cake over onto the serving platter.  (It works best if you place the platter upside down onto the pan and invert).  Serve warm or room temperature.

Pears arranged in skillet with caramel topping simmering.
Cake inverted on serving tray...note my pears did slip out of the pattern, but it was all still tasty.

Salted Brown Sugar Caramel
  • 1 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 c half and half
  • 4T unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1 t vanilla

Combine brown sugar, half and half, butter and salt in a non-reactive pan.  Over low heat stir gently until the sugar is dissolved.  Increase heat to medium, stirring constantly and gently until mixture comes to a boil.  Cook for 7 minutes until thickened and a rich dark brown, stirring gently the whole time.  Add vanilla and stir until dissolved.  Remove from heat and pour into a clean jar until needed.

To serve the Gingered Pear Upside Down Cake cut off a slice and put on a serving plate.  Drizzle over a tablespoon or two of the Salted Brown Sugar Caramel over the cake allowing to run down the sides.  Add a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and you are set for quite the decadent fall treat.

Friday, October 4, 2013

French Onion Soup #FOOLPROOF

OK.  This is really stupid easy.  Time consuming, but easy.  If you can melt butter and stir you are done.  Allow ample time, 60-75 minutes for the caramelizing process.  Total time from start to finish comes close to two hours start to finish.

The key to this is really watching the caramelizing of the onions and  near constant stirring towards the end so you don't fry the onions or scorch them.  On the latter a heavy, non-stick interior pan makes it a little more fool proof.

I do take a few short cuts, and they are potentially laden with salt.  First is buy cooking sherry that doesn't come with salt added, it can be found.  Most of what you find in the groc is very high in sodium so do be careful with this step.  Beef or vegetable stocks can be high in sodium too, read the labels and get low sodium as well.  Also, with vegetable stock be careful as many add MSG or mono-sodium glutamate to boost their flavor, its not a good thing as many are allergic to it OR it can cause migraines which it does for me.

Meatless this recipe counts if you use the vegetable stock.  Look for a vegetable stock that includes mushrooms for a richer flavor...or make your own.  I think I'll have to dust off my mushroom veggie stock recipe and post here as its really "meaty" in flavor without the meat produces used in its making.

Slice the onions thin. The thinner the better as it speeds up the caramelizing process.  Don't have that handy dandy hand held mandolin yet?  This recipe is the one to go out and find one as there are a LOT of onions to thinly slice.

Butter is used primarily as it browns better than oils do.  Worried about the saturated fat?  Then use a good olive oil.  The second reason butter is used comes to flavor, again olive oil will add flavor as well, not the same but as tasty. Vegetable oils are too neutral and just don't add in the flavor you are looking for.

This may sound like a lot of soup, but the onions do cook down a lot.  It makes 6 appetizer sized servings or doubled up for 3 entree servings.

French Onion Soup

  • 3 lbs Onions- thin sliced
  • 2 shallots- thin sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic-minced
  • 4 T butter
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/3 c sherry
  • 1 T Red wine vinegar
  • 32 oz (4 C) low sodium beef broth
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 5 sprigs flat leaf parsley
  • Swiss cheese slices (presliced packaged works fine)
  • sliced baguette

In large heavy bottom pot melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, shallots, garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper.  Stir occasionally at first, more often at the end until they are a deep golden brown. Towards the end you may need to reduce the heat to low to prevent burning or scorching. Color is flavor and this step can't be hurried.  Allow 60-75 minutes for this step.  

When your onions are a deep golden brown add sherry and vinegar.  Stir until nearly all is evaporated, about 3-5 minutes.

Tie together thyme and parsley with kitchen string.  Add beef broth.  Simmer uncovered 20-25 minutes until it has reduced by a cup to cup-and-a-half.   Test for seasoning, add more salt if needed. During the simmer stage preheat oven to 450F.  Slice and toast baguette.  Slice cheese.

At end of simmer remove bay leaf and the herb bundle.  Discard.  Ladle soup into serving dishes.  Top with baguette slice(s) and 2 pieces of cheese.  Place serving bowls on a baking sheet for easier handling.  Bake in oven 6-8 minutes until cheese is melted and starting to brown.  Serve piping hot with additional bread for dipping if desired.

It looks like a lot of onions at the start, but they do shrink down considerably as they cook.  Stir occasionally at the beginning using care not to break up the rings.

When the caramelization process is nearly complete you will need to stir more often so as not to scorch or fry your onion mixture. Watch carefully as you may need to reduce your heat.
Layer toasted baguette onto the soup.  Top with cheese.  Note the baking dish does make it easier to get in or out of the oven without spilling.  It also will catch and bubble ups and dribbles so you don't trash out your oven floor.

All melted and edges starting to brown, perfect soup for a cool fall day's dinner.  Beef broth is best, for a Meatless Monday option use a mushroom rich vegetable stock.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gawd I love my copper...100 reason to do so

So I lied...not really 100 reasons
But I can tell you with a good degree of certainty I have a few HUGE reasons for copper over anything else, especially when its stainless steel lined versus old school tin lined.  Why does the lining matter, well copper is toxic and will leach and etch quickly when exposed to acids.  The lining cures that problem.

Coppers big advantage over anything else out there is that it is an excellent heat conductor and less prone to hot spots which cause scorching problems.  This heat conductivity is better than even a commercial grade aluminum...which I have a ton of as its so much more affordable.  More on the shopping later.

Old School tin lined has one big drawback to it.  Its only temporary and you do need to get it retinned every so often and that isn't too cheap.  Not something you want to do especially if its a frequently used pan.  Another drawback is that the tinned variety isn't always that thick so you do develop hot spots.  Copper as in any other pot or pan the thicker it is the better it will be at even heating and avoiding hot spots.

I really like the stainless steel lined pots and pans much better.  Its a more durable interior.  Its an easier to clean interior and it won't be harmed by the odd use of a SoS pad..  By its nature its a thicker pan so it going to have better resistance to hot spots than even the tin lined.  Another plus with the stainless steel lined is that it has better heat retention capabilities than the tin lined, something to consider when you are frying and need a constant stable high heat.

Keeping the exterior clean isn't that hard.  Twinkle copper cleaner that my Mom used on her copper bottomed Revere ware when I was a kid is cheap and effective.  Surfas in Culver City stocks a copper cleaner that costs more but is in a larger quantity that is as easy to use.  An old home cleaning trick is to make cut a lemon in half, dip the cut edge in salt and scrub away to bring back the shine! (I don't recommend as its a waste of a perfectly good lemon and is labor intensive).

Cooking with copper, especially the stainless steel line is a breeze.  It heats fast and evenly. Perfect for candy making, caramels and syrups that are so easy to scorch, but not with copper.  The steel lined interior doesn't pick up funky metallic tastes when you deglaze with acids like wine, vinegar or citrus juices can.

Buying copper, I've found some incredible deals out there.  I picked up mine in bits in pieces from a variety of places.  Check out Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Tuesday Morning for close outs.  I even scored on some really nice speciality pieces at E. Dehillerin in Paris, yes I was there as Ina Garten and Paula Deen both featured the place on their shows and I wasn't disappointed.  Charming staff, and even with the dreadful exchange rate, I saved nearly 40% over Williams Sonoma for better quality pans.

If you want a full set, one that is totally on my wish list, not a hodge podge of pieces you need to take a close look at the Calphalon Copper, best price I've found for a nice set is $399 at Bed Bath &Beyond.  Seriously, I'd donate my hodge podge for that set so if anyone feels generous hmu for a mailing address.  I started my copper collection about 7 years ago, which was about 6 years before the Calphalon set hit the market.  Its really good stuff, copper exterior, aluminum core and a stainless steel interior.  Hits all the marks to be a great set of cookware.  Until them I'll just love what I have.

Copper, its what great cooks are using.  Everywhere.