colorkitten

March 13, 2011

yum yum yogurt

Here's a post that's been in draft mode for over a year...I even have had photos for it this whole time. (Which, ha ha, I can't seem to find. I did find a few but I know there were more. If I find them later I'll add them!) So sad! But after explaining how I make yogurt once again last week to friends I realized I really, really, needed to get this finished up so I could just send people here.


fresh yogurt


A big jar of fresh yogurt

A little back story: we eat a fair amount of yogurt around here. Emily has been eating it since she was tiny, and from the get-go I bought plain yogurt and added fruit purees instead of buying the commercial stuff. I found that I really needed to buy a better brand of yogurt, but getting those giant cartons was really adding up. I was super-intimidated by the idea of making my own yogurt since all the directions I had read involved either a lot of equipment, or an oven with a pilot light, or a system involving warm water and a cooler.....but then, I read the book Milk. It was a revelation, seriously. (I recommend it highly to anyone interested in dairy...the "white magic" experiments alone are worth the price of the book. And are the subject of yet another blog post that's sitting in draft mode.....) And her method for making yogurt? So easy. All you need is a candy thermometer, large pan, and wide-mouth thermal containers. No yogurt maker, no cooler, none of the other stuff I'd always seen called for in various methods.

I tried it, it worked, and I've made all our yogurt for about 2 years now. Here's how I do it (after some tweaking and experimenting). You will need: milk (I prefer whole milk), some starter yogurt (it can be anything as long as the cultures are live; I started mine with Stonyfield Farm plain), your candy thermometer, and at least one wide mouth thermal container (I use this Sky Thermal Food Carrier made by Imusa and available locally for about $8). Optionally, a large sieve and straining cloth if you want a thicker yogurt.


fresh yogurt


Yum!

Get started: clip your thermometer onto a saucepan, then pour in enough milk to fill the wide mouth container you will use -- 6 cups of milk will fill a 48 oz container and makes a decent size batch. I make twice that, but like I said, we eat a lot of yogurt. Turn the heat on low-med and heat the milk -- stirring occasionally -- until the temp reaches 180º. Note: if you, say, forget that you're making yogurt and lose track of time, your milk can go up to about 220º and it will still make perfectly good yogurt. It won't taste as fresh but you don't need to throw it out or anything. Not that I'm admitting that's happened to me....just saying.

Turn off the heat, and let the milk's temperature drop to about 120º. When it gets close, fill your thermal container with hot water and let it sit for at least 5 minutes. Get your starter yogurt out and put a few tablespoons into a small bowl (I use maybe 2 tablespoons per 6 c milk but my experience has been that you don't need to be too precise) and let that sit as well.

When the milk cools down to 120º, remove the thermometer and skim off any skin that may have formed, then ladle some milk into the bowl with the starter yogurt, whisking until ismooth. Add more milk if it's too thick. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk and stir. NOTE: do not let it go below 120º, this is the one mistake that will ruin the yogurt.

Empty the thermal container and wipe dry, pour milk mix into container and close it up. Let sit for 5-6 hours. Your timing my vary - you'll get a feel for how long it needs to sit based on your particular milk/yogurt/environment over time.

When it's time to check it, open the lid of the container and carefully use a spoon or spatula to just check the texture of the yogurt -- it should be like a soft custard. At this point you can either use it as it is -- just pot it up and refrigerate it, or for a smoother yogurt, pour it into a large bowl and stir before potting up. Or, at this point you can drain it for a "greek-style" yogurt. Which is what we do.

To drain it, I use a mesh strainer over my biggest stockpot, with an old (and very clean) tea towel lining the strainer. You can use fine cheesecloth, gauze, or even an old piece of cotton as long as it's clean and lint-free. Pour the yogurt into the strainer and cover (with a towel, or anything, just for dust -- I can sit the lid of the pot on top of the strainer, so I do that). You'll hear the whey start dripping right away! It takes 1-2 hours to drain, depending on your strainer and cloth -- I only need about an hour. You want about 2 cups of whey to come out of a 6 cup batch. Again, this doesn't need to be too precise. The longer you drain it, the thicker it gets, so try different draining times to see what you like best.


For MizK


Here's how thick I make my yogurt. Do you think I go overboard a little?

When it's ready, scrape it all into a large bowl and you can do two things -- if you want it to be very set, just mix it with a wooden spoon a few times to smooth it out. It will be very firm but it will have small lumps in it. If you want it to be very smooth, whisk it briefly. This will break the curd, so the final product will be looser, but very smooth. I do it the 2nd way.

Finally, just put it in the fridge and let cool! Then add whatever mix-ins you want. We add strawberry puree and peach puree for Emily; I mostly eat it with a little honey mixed in, or preserves (cloudberry jam yogurt is delicious!) This will last a lot longer than commercial yogurt -- I've never had mine go bad, just get more and more sour. Just remember that you need to save a little starter for your next batch.


cloudberry yogurt


Cloudberries in my yogurt!

A few final notes:

I don't scald or sterilize anything. I haven't had anything weird happen, even the yogurt that has gotten left by accident has never grown anything, just gotten more and more sour.

I have successfully restarted my yogurt from a bit of frozen starter after travelling, so if you're going away just pop enough to start your next batch in the freezer.

If you use skim milk, you may need to add some dry milk to get it thick enough. I have never done this so I don't really know how it works. I'm all about the whole milk yogurt.

If you don't drink milk, you can use this method with soy milk! Check out these instructions from I Eat Food, which even tell you how to make the soy milk!


December 04, 2010

dala horse cakes!

Like a lot of people I know, I bought those IKEA dala horse DRÖMMAR pans when they came out a while back, but I never actually used them. Yesterday, I saw this adorable stocking design on the allsorts blog, and thought "aha! I'll decorate the cakes like that! And make the red and white with red velvet cake batter and powdered sugar!" And voila, red velvet dala horses:


red velvet dala horses

That's the little one, the big one is here. He's not as cute because he baked longer and isn't so red. But still, cute xmas dala cake!
The pans really are non-stick, I was impressed. I may have to get more bakeware from IKEA in the future. The design I made by cutting a stencil from typing paper based on the allsorts dala horse, putting it right on the cake (not reusable, obviously!) and sprinkling the sugar over it. Emily looooves them, and I think they will be reappearing all this month.
I only wish they had a set of little pans to make lots of individual horses!

October 10, 2010

tomato bread

I had more of the windfall tomatoes than I could use fresh, so I pureed the remainder and made tomato bread!


tomato bread!

How pretty is that? All I did was substitute the puree for the water my regular recipe calls for. (I subbed 12 oz of puree for 9 oz of water -- it was a lucky guess!) Emily hated it though...and it wasn't good for morning toast with jam. But it made fantastic sandwiches:

tomato bread sandwich

It wasn't quite that bright in person. But it was really good. Definitely something I want to experiment with more, but I might not inflict it on Emily's regular loaf next time!

September 20, 2010

windfall tomatoes

heirloom tomatoes, about to become salad
Aren't those lovely? The recent tornado storm craziness we had here in NYC knocked a load of heirloom tomatoes off our friends' vines, and we got a small bag -- no idea what these guys are, but after adding some olive oil, basil and pecorino they were delicious. I've got a big one of these that's begging to be sliced up tonight!

August 22, 2010

the fairy ring

I finally dug out the molds and chocolate I had bought a while back to make these adorable chocolate mushrooms. Emily and I tried our hand at making them and here is our result!

chocolate mushrooms

It was our very first time making molded candies, and I was surprised that they came out looking at decent as they did. We definitely learned a lot...the colored chocolate (white, red and pink) was brushed into the molds first, then a nice thick layer of dark chocolate was put in. We filled them with strawberry-laced buttercream I had leftover and then assembled them.

chocolate mushrooms

Definitely not professional looking, but pretty cute. Unfortunately....they were unbearably sweet! None of us could get through more than about half of one and we have had no desire to repeat the experience. I think they'll be getting thrown out tonight. I might try them again, but fill them with something (relatively) lighter, like marshmallow fluff. But I think it'll be a while. They were fun to make, though, and we'll definitely be trying more molded chocolate one of these days! Just.....not so big. And not full of frosting.

March 18, 2010

what we found at the end of the rainbow (cake)

gold at the end of the rainbow cake

Gold! We didn't end up doing much for St Patrick's day this year, but Emily was more than satisfied to help me make rainbow cake. Then we surprised her by adding the "gold" when we had it for dessert. I love it when a plan comes together!

March 13, 2010

biscuit day!

biscuit day!

2 developments since we started making the biscuits:
first, every Saturday is Biscuit Day. Emily is very firm on this point.
second, as it turns out, heart shapes are far more efficient than the traditional circle when cutting out. And cute! Win-win!


February 28, 2010

Cooking with Cartoonists: Tuna Fish Wiggle

Dik Browne's Tuna Fish Wiggle.


Dik Browne's Tuna Fish Wiggle

Do you really want this recipe? Really? Well, if you still do after seeing that photo, just google it. Dik Browne (of Hagar the Horrible and Hi & Lois fame) claimed his wife invented this dish in the early 40s while trying to make chicken-a-la-king on a budget, but it seems to be a pretty well-known recipe (often served over toast). Basically, it's an unbaked tuna casserole, with the sauce poured over the noodles instead of mixed in. I used fresh ingredients instead of canned, but even so....I think baking might have improved it. It was edible, at least (although Emily said it was disgusting and picked at the noodles). But I'm not sure I can believe that his family still was eating this regularly after he became successful!

He did offer up a menu that doesn't include Tuna Fish Wiggle:

Cocktails with Miniature Meat Balls in Jelly Sauce
Boeuf Bourguignon
Green Noodles
Tossed Salad
Fruit Bombe
Coffee

But the recipes included were either nixed in our vote (green noodles) or too complicated for a small family dinner. I wish I'd overruled them and gone for the green noodles! Next cartoonist, please!

The Cartoonist Cookbook is a book put together in 1966 by the Newspaper Comics Council, featuring 45 popular strip cartoonists of the 60s, with bios, art and recipes. It's a fun thing to have if you like cartooning, but I somehow never got around to actually cooking from it. This year, I decided to work my way through it and try and do at least one recipe from each artist!

February 21, 2010

Cooking with Cartoonists: Blueberry "Muffins"

Time for another recipe from The Cartoonist Cookbook! Artist #2 is Dick Brooks, who based his strip, "The Jackson Twins" on his own twin sisters. I hope they didn't mind!

His dinner menu was pretty impressive -- just reading it made me feel sleepy:

New England Clam Chowder
Steamed Clams
Boiled Lobster
Corn on the Cob
Cape Ann Blueberry "Muffins"
Fresh Strawberry Shortcake
Chablis

(This menu is followed by instructions to go out back, lay in your rope hammock, and sleep for three hours after dinner!) Now, once again that's a meal I can't argue with. It's also a meal that would overwhelm our small household. I was intrigued by the quote marks around the "muffins" and everyone here likes baked goods, so it seems like the natural choice. And as it turns out, the reason they're "muffins" and not just muffins is because...they're not muffins. It's a coffeecake! But in our house there is no coffee...so let's just call it cake.

Dick Brook's Blueberry Cake:
2½ c sugar
1 c butter, softened
3 eggs
1 c milk
5 t baking powder (yes, 5!)
1 t salt
5 c flour
1½ pints blueberries (this is 3 cups, or about 145 grams)
sugar
cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour, salt and baking powder into a small bowl and set aside. Cream sugar and butter, adding eggs one at a time. Add milk, then add flour mixture slowly and beat until blended. Stir in blueberries and then spread into a 10½ x 15½ x 2 inch pan and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top. Bake for 1 hour, testing for done-ness before removing. I used that big chunky sugar -- sanding sugar? But regular sugar would work fine.

Now, I don't know what kind of crazy pans Dick had, but I had nothing close. I ended up using a 9 x 14 pan. The batter seemed awfully stiff as I spread it into the pan:


Dick Brook's Blueberry Cake

I was worried that it would be too dense. But, it baked up amazingly!

Dick Brook's Blueberry Cake

Unfortunately, I did not test for doneness, because the edges were so brown I thought it had to be done. An hour later, the center had totally collapsed and I had to dig the partially cooked center out and throw it away. Boo! Next time I will try two small pans and I will check it before taking it out. Fortunately, the parts that were fine were delicious:

Dick Brook's Blueberry Cake

In the words of the five-year-old, "YUM YUM YUM!". I will definitely be making this one again!

The Cartoonist Cookbook is a book put together in 1966 by the Newspaper Comics Council, featuring 45 popular strip cartoonists of the 60s, with bios, art and recipes. It's a fun thing to have if you like cartooning, but I somehow never got around to actually cooking from it. This year, I decided to work my way through it and try and do at least one recipe from each artist!

February 15, 2010

cookies of love

candy-filled cookies

We made these cookies for Valentine's Day -- originally we were going to make them last week and send them out, but then that whole blizzard thing happened and quashed that idea. So we waited and just made them for ourselves this weekend. The idea and the cookie dough recipe came from an old clipping I'd saved from Family Fun magazine -- but instead of melting jolly ranchers in the centers, we baked the cookies, then poured our own hard candy (using the lollipop recipe) into the middles.


candy-filled cookies

It worked out beautifully! The cookie dough kept its shape and the candy was easy to handle.


candy-filled cookies

I don't think we'll be able to eat them all though! Definitely a recipe for gift-giving.

We had a good day, although having two holidays your 5-year-old likes on a single day is a bit rough (Chinese/Lunar New Year was yesterday as well -- we did Valentine's for the first half of the day, New Year's for the 2nd)...it all came out fine though!

And finally I just have to show off the lovely necklace I got for Valentine's Day (which would look much better with something other than an oversized t-shirt, but I wore it all day anyway)!


skull necklace

Hope your Valentine's Day was sweet and happy! (And let's not forget, Gung Hay Fat Choy! Welcome, year of the Tiger!)

February 12, 2010

Cooking with Cartoonists: Light Chocolate Cake

Many years ago, I bought a copy of The Cartoonist Cookbook, a book put together in 1966 by the Newspaper Comics Council, featuring 45 popular strip cartoonists of the 60s, with bios, art and recipes. It's a fun thing to have if you like cartooning, but I somehow never got around to actually cooking from it. This year, I decided to work my way through it and try and do at least one recipe from each artist!

Going alphabetically, my first artist (I'm skipping Neal Adams) is Alfred Andriola, who drew crime comic Kerry Drake for decades. He apparently lived a pretty happy bachelor lifestyle in Greenwich Village and gives us a nice date-night-back-at-the-bachelor-pad menu (he even gives you music suggestions based on your dinner companion's hair -- Sabrica's Flamenco for brunettes; Strauss' Salome for blondes). The whole dinner?

Prosciutto and Melon
(he says you should only buy prosciutto in a good Italian market)
Filet of Chicken Kiev
Spinach (or corn) souffle
Tomato Salad
Light Chocolate Cake
Coffee

It all sounds good, but our pick was (shocking!) the dessert, which came out wonderfully (and lasted us 2 days, so about 6 servings). Behold:


andriola's cake

The cake layer there is shorter than it should be, my pan was too wide. (You really need to use an 8x8 for this one.) Basically, it's a flourless sponge cake, topped with a chocolate whipped cream. And amazingly good. Surprisingly, I couldn't find any cake recipes online that were like this -- they were all either only technically flourless (they used matzo meal or something like that) or they were very dense. Here's how Alfred makes it (note, I skipped both the almond extract in the cake, and the chopped almonds on the topping as no-one here likes almonds but me):

Cake:
3 eggs, separated
5 T sugar
3 T cocoa
1 t vanilla
½ t almond extract
½ t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350° . Whisk egg yolks, adding sugar gradually and then continue whisking until creamy. Add cocoa, extract and cinnamon and whisk until smooth. Beat egg whites (in a stand mixer!) until they form stiff peaks, and then fold gently into chocolatey mixture. Pour into 8" x 8" pan, lined with parchment or waxed paper and then greased and floured. Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool before removing from pan and peeling off paper.

Topping:
1½ c heavy cream
¼ c sugar
2 T cocoa
½ t vanilla
Mix all ingredients together and chill for at least an hour (I put them all into a covered container, shook hard, and then put in the fridge for probably 4-5 hours. You can do this up to a day ahead, I'd think.) Whip until firm, and spread over cooled cake. Optionally, sprinkle with chopped almonds.

Bonus!! Alfred was neighbors and pals with James Beard, and the two of them collaborated on what must be James Beard's only comics credit:


"What's Cooking" 1966 comic

January 24, 2010

best biscuits ever

And possibly the easiest, too. If you have a food processor, that is. Emily and I had ours with butter and honey, Evan went for straight butter. Thumbs up from everyone!

biscuits

Seriously, I have never tried a biscuit recipe that grew so tall in the oven! Try these for yourself! Recipe here.

January 22, 2010

wasabi adventure

Over the holidays, we made our Xmas eve trip to Mitsuwa to pick up our Xmas Cake, and while browsing around the section of special fancy stuff for gifts, we found a display of real wasabi. Not the fake stuff you get in restaurants (which is mustard, horseradish and green color) but the actual root. I was excited to see it, and then flabbergasted by the price:


fresh wasabi

Yup, that's $59.99 per pound. Luckily, a little root doesn't weigh much! So we brought the tiniest one home.

fresh wasabi

I didn't have the proper grater (I used my trusty basic microplane) and we weren't even going to have sushi in the house while it lasted. But I wanted to see for myself what it was like.

fresh wasabi

And it really is nothing like the faux wasabi I've had all my life. It's hard to explain, but unlike the horseradish version, the heat dissipates really fast. And it doesn't go to your sinuses at all. At least in comparison. I do not love wasabi paste, but I really liked this! I couldn't just keep eating little pinches of it though, so I made a bowl of wasabi mayo out of it and we had it on sandwiches for a few days. Delicious, and definitely a worthwhile experiment!

November 20, 2009

the panda is back!

Remember the awesome Fry Pan-da that Fred Flare had a year or so ago? (Which, I can testify is actually a pretty awesome pan in daily use.) Well, they've got a Baby Pan-da in stock just in time for the holidays:

minipanda.jpg

Much smaller, just 7" so not as useful. But just as cute! And yes, one is already stashed away in our house for Emily. So, everyone who's been wanting a Pan-da of their very own - now's your chance!

August 17, 2009

eye spy...something red

eye spy...red

Funny...it's all about the food, apparently! We must have some red things around this house...but food is what comes to mind first.

This week's eye spy theme brought to you by Ellieboo!

May 16, 2009

brownies!

We have been in search of the perfect brownie recipe for our hosuehold (that would make everyone happy) and nothing has ever really worked out. Until now:

best brownies ever

Want a closer look? Zoom into the chocolateyness here! This is a recipe I found on the King Arthur blog, it's actually a recipe they've published for years, apparently, but this blog post gives you a step-by-step along with some tweaks. I followed the blog post (although I erred and followed the amounts in the original recipe) and the results were amazing. Most importantly, they are still great a day later -- I find that practically any brownie is awesome still warm, but a day later, meh. Not these, they are still going strong. (The next test will be to see how they handle freezing -- since it makes 24 brownies! I froze half and we'll see how that goes.)

Next time, I'll probably use plain dutch cocoa, the addition of the black cocoa wasn't necessary I think. And I added the chips immediately instead of waiting -- and there are still visible chunks of chocolate in the brownies, not quite as much as on their blog but plenty for me. Of course, I will have to actually get more dutch cocoa as I forgot I was almost out when I placed my recent order! And can't afford shipping for one item so.....it may be a while before we have these again. Sigh.

Oh, and Evan says they are better this way:

even he approves

Now go fix yourself some brownies!

May 06, 2009

what we've been eating...

in all this gloom (a week of rain we're having. and I mean raiiiiin).

Soup and sandwiches!

soup and sammich

some bright and happy orange muffins made with this pulped navel orange:

orange pulp

(I did not make the topping, just made them plain. I was leery of pulping the whole orange, but it really is good.)

and for fun, fiddleheads!! They showed up in our Stop & Shop and I grabbed a bunch. They were as good as everyone says they are (sort of asparagusy). I'll definitely grab them again when I have the chance.

fiddleheads

And of course, cupcakes! But more about those later.

What have you been eating?

March 25, 2009

winter's last hurrah

hot chocolate

There is our last mug of hot chocolate (unless we get some crazy weather!) for the season...and the ultimate mug-full! After a few years of trying various homemade hot cocoa recipes with no success (I mean, they all made hot cocoa, but none of us really liked any of the results) I finally discovered the secret. Don't mess with cocoa! Go for the chocolate....it's so simple, but so much better. Why I never thought of it (and why everyone keeps pushing the cocoa) I do not know. Here's how we like it:

For each mug, put 1 cup of a rich whole milk into a small saucepan (got so-so whole milk? make your cup up out of 2 ounces of cream and 6 ounces of whole milk) and heat until just bubbling. In a larger saucepan, put 1 tablespoon of water and 35 grams of a decent milk chocolate and melt together over low heat. Add heated milk and stir until smooth. Dark chocolate would probably be good too, but milk chocolate works for us. (I use the 99 cent bars from ikea, you need 1/3 of a bar per mug.)

And to top your chocolate? Homemade marshamallows!

freshly cut marshmallows

I have wanted to try making marshmallows for years, and only now finally got around to trying it. So easy -- if you have a candy thermometer, a stand mixer, and the patience to leave the pan of marshmallow along overnight. I used the Alton Brown recipe and they are ridiculously good. (Vegetarians -- from what I have read online, you can sub 1 T of agar-agar for each packet of gelatine.) We'll definitely be trying flavored ones in the future.

And they melt amazingly, witness the result in Emily's favorite dessert, Pixie's Delights (basically, baked s'mores, from a vintage kid's cookbook we have).

pixies' delight

I cannot wait to toast these! And....while I can wait for next winter, when it does come back around I will be well-prepared.

February 16, 2009

happy valentine's day (weekend)!

happy valentine's day!

Hope you all had a good weekend, Valentine-y or not. We had fun, lots of valentine's and these cupcakes. Emily found the sprinkles at Target and loved them, so she and I made cupcakes Saturday! I have to admit, I don't love the recipe I used (I don't make cupcakes that often, so I haven't been able to try many recipes, and so far none of them are keepers). It's for chocolate-banana cake and while it sounded good in theory, not so great in practice. Really I should have remembered that I have a red velvet recipe stashed somewhere I've been meaning to try -- that would have looked perfect!

Well, there are a lot of sprinkles left, so....more sweetie cupcakes soon, I think!

happy valentine's day!

October 27, 2008

best. pie. ever.

apple pie

No kidding. It's the sour-cream apple pie recipe Alicia Paulson posted recently. I made my own crust (the awesome no-roll crust recipe from Penzey's which they ought to call "no-work pie crust") which you make like this: dump 1-1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup canola oil, 1/4 cup melted butter (okay, actually they say 1/2 cup oil, but I like butter and next time might try using all butter), and 3 Tablespoons milk into your pie pan, stir with a fork until well mixed, press into place. It actually makes a nice, flaky buttery crust! With no work!! I also used Mutsu apples because there are no granny smiths at the farmer's market. And I used brown sugar in the topping. And the result? Amazing. I want Saturday to hurry up and get here so I can buy lots more apples!! And we haven't even finished this pie off!! (And a note: it warms up in the microwave fine in 1 minute, although you do lose the crunch of the topping. But watch for hot spots!)

October 13, 2008

recipe request: baked macaroni

So here's the macaroni recipe I use (as seen in the polka dot macaroni). It's based on the (allegedly) original recipe from the Automats, but there is actually controversy about that recipe -- some people claim there are tomatoes, others say no. Relatives who ate at the automat say no. But who knows? I don't really care. I love it because it's so easy to remember: 1/2 t worcestershire, 2T butter, 2T flour, 4 oz pasta, 8 oz cheese, 12 oz milk. It's like mathematical macaroni!

1. preheat oven to 350°
2. grate 8 oz of cheddar cheese and set aside (I grate 2 lbs at a time and freeze it in packets of 8 oz each!)
3. cook 4-5 oz of elbow macaroni and drain (you can do this while making your sauce, below)
4. melt 2 T butter in a small saucepan, add 2 T flour and whisk until it just starts to turn golden brown. Grind in some pepper if you like. Add 12 oz of milk and cook on medium low for 5-6 minutes (don't let it boil!), stirring regularly. Hey, you just made béchamel sauce!! Awesome!
5. combine sauce, pasta, cheese and 1/2 t of worcestershire sauce in a bowl and stir until just combined.
6. Scrape into a baking dish (I use a 9 x 12 glass dish) and bake for 30 minutes. Or so. Depending on your oven.

Dish it up! Also, this is best fresh, but it can be frozen and reheated - Emily loves this so much I often bake a whole one just to portion up and freeze to give her later. She even likes it at room temp, I don't know if I like it that much though!

(If you wanted to reduce the fat and starch, you can replace the béchamel sauce with an (unheated) egg blended into the milk. Put the milk and 1 egg into a blender or food processor along with the worcestershire sauce and pepper and whirl away. Mix into the pasta and cheese and bake as above. It works perfectly well, but we're too used to the other way, so I won't be doing it again.)

October 09, 2008

this is...my favorite kitchen tool

Well, whoops. It's been some week. I was supposed to post this on Sunday, and I even had my post planned, but I never got to it. So I'll just give you the gist: this was a rough one! I love everything in my kitchen, I swear. First I ruled out all gadgets since a "tool", to me, is a non-powered item. And I finally decided that my one cannot-live-without item is my wusthof santoku knife. Honestly, I love it so much more than my chef's knife. I use it for practically everything. You can't beat it on vegetables! Although...I doubt it cuts bread too well...so don't ask me to give up the rest of my knives!

This week's This Is... theme brought to you by Sharon of Handmaiden.

September 23, 2008

autumn cookie baking

molasses crinkles

In honor of the beginning of Autumn (yay! at last!), here are two cookie recipes that I love this time of year -- the Crinkles especially. It's a basic molasses cookie recipe I have seen in a ton of places, it's probably been around forever. The sprinkling step is actually very important -- it's what makes the crinkles!! So don't skip it!! the Walnut Nuggets are also very tasty -- and both cookies ship really well, if you've someone far off you'd like to bake for!

CRINKLES
2-1/4 c sifted flour
1 t salt
2 t baking soda
1/2 t ground cloves
1 t cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
3/4 c softened butter
1 c brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 c molasses
sugar
At least 1 hour ahead: Sift together flour, salt, soda, cloves, cinnamon and ginger. In mixer, cream butter, brown sugar and egg together until "very creamy". Add molasses, then add flour. Refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour.
to bake: Preheat oven to 375°. Shape dough into walnut-sized balls and dip one side of each ball into sugar. Place balls 3" apart on greased cookie sheet and flatten slightly (with palm of hand, glass, whatever). Sprinkle each cookie with 2-3 drops of water. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until done.

WALNUT NUGGETS
1/2 c softened butter
1/4 c sugar
1 egg (unbeaten)
1/2 t vanilla
2 T orange juice
2 T grated orange zest
1-1/4 c sifted flour
1/4 t cinnamon
3/4 c chopped walnuts
At least 8 hours ahead: In mixer, cream butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, juice and zest together until fluffy. Turn to low speed and add flour and cinnamon. Refrigerate dough until ready to use.
To bake: Preheat oven to 325°. Shape dough into walnut-sized balls, place on greased cookie sheet. Using the bottom of a heavy glass dipped into sugar (press the glass into the dough first to get the sugar sticking), flatten balls to 1/8". Sprinkle with nuts and bake 20 minutes.

Updated: found! see a photo of the walnut nuggets here.

Okay, this is a pretty brief entry, but it's been sitting in draft mode so long (a whole year!) I don't even remember what I was going to say about them! I decided it was time to post or delete, and they're good recipes, so I thought someone else might like to try them!!

September 22, 2008

yum.

yum!

yum!

yum!

All taken this weekend at our local Greenmarket, at the main produce stand. We actually buy first from a smaller farm (I call the owner "the Angry Farmer" because he was always so cranky last year -- he's in a much better mood this year, but the name stuck); then we come down here for whatever the Angry Farmer didn't have. We buy those radishes all the time, as well as their carrots.

(Photos #2 and #3 are my red outside pics for this week's Year of Color theme.)

September 17, 2008

polka dot macaroni!

A while back, I was going through my repro edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls to find a recipe and stumbled on the following:

polkadot macaroni

Which is basically a baked macaroni with sliced hot dog arranged all over the top before baking. Since I happened to be making baked macaroni and cheese that night (different recipe though), and we happened to have a single leftover hot dog, I decided to give it a try:

polkadot macaroni - the reality

My photo's not as pretty as theirs, between the lack of wicker and kitschy pot-holders, and the glaring flourescent tube over my stove. In person it looked pretty much like the original. And as far as taste goes -- I was actually surprised to find that it was pretty good. I kind of thought we'd be picking those polka dots off. Still, I have my doubts that I'll be going out of my way to make it again. But you never know...it is polka dots, after all!

September 04, 2008

dreamsicle lollipops!

So, round two of the lollipops, with some good and some bad. The good: I've got the system totally down now, it was easy as pie what am I saying? I can't make pie! It was totally easy this time around. A new experiment, "adding sparkles" at Emily's request, went really well. But, the dreamsicle flavor is too chemical, I think. She has given up on them already, declaring that they "taste like lip balm". I'm not a big fan of orange flavor, real or artificial, so...I think these pops will be heading out soon. They sure were pretty though!!

Action shot -- that's stovetop napalm, basically. Scary!!

eek!! sugary danger!

Here are the molds all nicely lined up. You can just see my trick for perfectly straight sticks at the bottom there -- I line up extra sticks and rest the bottoms of the sticks that are in the molds on the line.

mold setup

Freshly filled molds - you can see one "sparkle" lollipop on the right there.

setting

Popped out of the mold and ready to go!

just unmolded

Here's a close-up of the "sparkles" -- the one on the left is what the backs looked like, we put some in before pouring and they look like they're embedded in resin (I guess they kind of are!). On the front we sprinkled them on right after pouring, and as the mold company promised, they stick perfectly. And here's a whole mug full of dreamsicleness! Dreamsicle lollipops, I wish we loved you more.

September 03, 2008

mmm...tomato-ey!!

Emily found an orange tomato at the Greenmarket this weekend and asked to buy it (just because it was orange!), and I wanted to find something to do with it that would preserve it's orangeness. Knowing she won't eat raw tomatoes, I looked through my books and cobbled a recipe together that resulted in this:

mmm...tomato-ey

And it was delicious! She still wouldn't eat it though...but that's okay, more for us!

Here's what I did: slice up yummy tomato and lay out on a baking sheet. drizzle with olive oil (I used 1 T for one tomato), sprinkle with salt (I used kosher, any flake salt would be good), grind some pepper over the lot, and finally, grate piles of parmesan on each slice. (okay, actually, I use pecorino, but parmesan will work fine and most people have that instead). Broil 6" from broiler unit for 6 minutes. Transfer carefully to plates and then scarf down.

August 12, 2008

i saw you lollipopping, lollipopper

lollipops!!

So, this is a bit of a story. My brother has been doing all this amazing stuff to make a Mario-themed party for my nephew. He's been working for a couple months coming up with ideas, and at some point I suggested star lollipops, which we decided would be fun to do. Then we got all excited about making our own lollipops, and planned on performing our grand experiment during a recent visit he made to our part of the country. We found an excellent recipe, I looked into flavors and colors, we found supplies and molds....but then....the molds took forever to get here and they didn't get here before his visit ended!!

So I sent him his half of the supplies and we both made them (with kid help!) this past weekend. And up there are mine!! We were both very happy with our results (and Emily loooooves them) and we'll definitely be making more!

A few notes:

The metal molds rock. I would not use anything else.

You don't need to use wooden utensils. Silicon is fine, and would actually work better -- I followed the instructions and used a wooden spoon -- which was still damp from stirring the water/sugar mix, and when I used it to mix in the flavor and color the water instantly boiled off and made bubbles in my candy!! My brother used silicon and had no such trouble.

Have more than the 10 molds called for ready for each batch -- because I used some small molds, I could have easily made 12-13 lollipops. My brother used a larger mold and got 11 lollipops per batch. (As you may have guessed, he let us go first and then learned from our experience.)

If you are wondering, my lollipops are "cake" flavor (which is mostly kind of sugary and buttery, and very tasty). I also picked up creamsicle and shirley temple (the drink) flavor, going with the theory that fake fruit flavors in candy can turn a kid off real fruit...I figure fake cake and popsicle flavors? what can that do? Next time it will be orange colored creamsicle lollipops, I think Emily will like those even more!!

And while I'm talking flavor -- since I used flavor as opposed to extract (flavor is much stronger), I only was supposed to use ¼ teaspoon, and accidentally didn't even put it all in. The result was a very sugary flavor, sort of like cotton candy. Which we really liked! I will go easy on the flavor in the future.

They are not kidding when they say the temperature will creep up slowly then suddenly start shooting up. Literally stare right at your candy thermometer towards the end so you don't overshoot and end up carmelizing your sugar! I actually turned off the burner just short of 300° and it still went slightly past the mark.

All in all, a really fun project with delicious results!

Mmmm...there are only 5 left now!! How long will they last?

July 17, 2008

infernal brownies

So, I've been wanting to make something from the Black Oven blog since it started -- because it's not just funny, the recipes all look really good! I'd been thinking of trying her brownie recipe first (because who doesn't like brownies?) but hadn't really thought about it too much. Until I was browsing the King Arthur catalog before placing an order, and spotted BLACK COCOA. Black Cocoa for my Black Oven brownies? Too good to be true! A week later, this arrived (along with assorted other yummy cooking things):

the cocoa

But was it really black? You be the judge:

how black is black?

Pretty close to black, I say. That's black cocoa on the left, natural process cocoa on the right. And on hands and counters, it looks even blacker. Seriously, I looked like I'd been shoveling coal! So, I got to work, making the recipe but replacing the baking chocolate with the equivalent in cocoa powder and oils (I used a little less than 1/2 black cocoa, natural process for the rest). It passed its first test with flying colors -- the batter was probably the tastiest brownie batter I've ever eaten, and everyone else in the house agreed. Then it was time to bake -- and the result was, well, pretty evil looking:

surface of an asteroid? no! evil brownies!

We couldn't wait for them to cool, so I cut few pieces as soon as possible and wow, these are some dark chocolate brownies!! So cool!! Ta-da!

brownies as black as your EVIL HEART

We loved them. Unfortunately....the following day was when we all started getting sick. So I ended up eating, maybe one of them. Evan ate several though, and said they were great. Emily hated them though -- and she will eat ANY crappy brownie on the planet. She just didn't like the color, mainly. (Although there is a slightly odd taste from the black cocoa -- I saw it described somewhere as slightly chalky, like the taste of the chocolate cookies in oreos.) So I promised her that future batches of these brownies would actually be brown. Now I just have to figure out what to do with the rest of this black cocoa!

April 03, 2008

best baking blog in the world

Thanks to Natalie of the awesome cupcake blog Bake and Destroy, for posting about the Black Oven, a black-metal inspired baking blog. So. Cool. I. Can't. Stand. It. Go read now!! And even do some baking!!

Also thanks to Natalie for hosting the Great Candy Swap, which I have had loads of fun in already -- and I haven't even gotten my package yet! But filling the package for my partner was way fun. But more about that later...

And I also have Natalie to thank for posting about Cake Mania, which I bought for my DS and became completely addicted too!

Hmmm....maybe Bake and Destroy is the best baking blog in the world....

May 15, 2007

for certain friends of mine who know who they are

USA Today did a little "expose" today on "baby carrots", which aren't actually baby carrots. Most of you are probably saying "well, duh" but lots of people think they really are baby carrots, as in little carrots that have not grown for very long. And on top of that, many people have attributed special nutritional powers to baby carrots because they are supposedly "young" baby carrots. Which is why the whole baby carrot thing is a pet peeve of mine to the point where all you have to say to me is "baby carrots" and I will start rolling my eyes and making gagging faces. Which is why certain friends of mine will think it is hysterical that I read this article today.

By the way, I have nothing against so-called baby carrots themselves, even though I don't buy them myself. Anything that reduces waste and gets people to eat vegetables is a-okay with me.

May 03, 2007

hello kitty cake

Hello Chocolate! Hello Banana! Hello Strawberry!

Presenting the wonder of the instant hello kitty cake! These are Japanese snack sponge cakes, made by adding a bit of milk to a mix and microwaving in the included mold (very similar to the ones where you add an egg and put in a mug, but it does taste a bit different). I love these cakes. Love love love them. Unfortunately, finding them is totally random. I won't see them for ages and then suddenly there will be loads. Lately, I haven't seen them at all!

Honestly, I do not understand why these cakes (in general, not just the hello kitty ones) aren't sold here in the US. It's not the best cake, no, but it literally takes a minute to have fresh warm sponge cake in front of you. (Hmm, that is probably the answer...there may not be a lot of people here in the US that want a plain, no-icing sponge cake for a snack.)

April 04, 2007

Emily's first bento!

So today I had a monster of a dental appt (why? because: if you have genetically weak teeth which have been weakened further by environmental factors; strong jaw muscles and bones; and you clench your jaws at night when you are stressed....you can break your own teeth) which was going to last through lunch time. And Emily, being in a huge growth spurt, cannot miss her meals. So...perfect opportunity to make her a cute(ish) bento! Nothing super-exciting but it was fun anyway. Here's the box:

hello kitty bento box

We bought her this on our Girl's Day excursion to Mitsuwa. If I could have justified it somehow I'd have bought another for myself. And here's how I packed it:

emily's first bento!

the top layer holds grapes, strawberries and pancakes cut into flowers and hearts. The bottom layer holds macaroni and cheese plus some sauteed green beans. It's not too fancy because it was pretty last-minute, but I think it's pretty fun anyway, and so did she. Hopefully I won't have to crack another tooth to make her another lunch!

March 07, 2007

for those of you thinking of clearing out your pantries

You know how if you mix bleach and ammonia you get a deadly toxic gas? Well, apparently, old sushi vinegar and old almond extract poured down the sink at the same time have the same, deadly, effect. Agh.

February 13, 2007

Hey all bento-making girlfriends!! (or boyfriends)

This here bento:

Was made by my friend Tenae for her boyfriend this Monday. And Monday night...he proposed! Was it the heart-shaped apples? The mini-sandwiches? Or the cute little butterfly? Who knows? In any case...do you blame him? Who wouldn't snap up someone who makes you lunches like this to take to work. In any case, congrats, you guys! Check out more of Tenae's cute bentos on her blog, This Little Bento.

February 10, 2007

my favorite kitchen gadget...

emily helping

...is emily! It's surprising how helpful she can actually be. She started out mostly washing things for me and smooshing cookies, but now she can add ingredients, stir, sort-of measure (if she's carefully directed - she levels the spoon and everything, which cracks me up!) and cut up mushrooms! Which works out well since we eat mushrooms quite a lot and she loves to do it. The only real problem? She eats about half of what she cuts! So I just give her lots extra and am grateful that mushrooms are pretty cheap.

January 27, 2007

recipe request - vegan dashi

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about our daily family bowl of miso soup (well, not actually daily anymore, but 3-4 times a week), and one thing I never really thought about is that miso soup made the traditional way cannot be vegetarian because the base is really the dashi, or fish stock. Using just water will make a much weaker soup, and using vegetable stock will change the flavor quite a bit. Luckily, my copy of the Book of Miso Soup* comes to the rescue with a seaweed-only dashi recipe that you can substitute for regular fish-based dashi!

Kombu Dashi

for each cup of stock you want, you will need 1 cup of water and one 2" x 4" strip of kombu.

wipe kombu down with damp paper towel. Using scissors, cut several slits partway through each strip (do not cut through). Place in a saucepan with the water and let stand 30 minutes. Put on low heat and bring to a simmer. When the water begins to bubble, remove kombu with tongs or strainer.

At this point, you can continue adding ingredients to make your miso soup, or you can refrigerate the dashi to use later. I also see no reason that you couldn't make a big batch, and freeze it in 1-2 cup servings. I doubt it would last incredibly long in the freezer, but certainly it ought to be fine for up to a month.

*I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes miso soup. The information in it is unbelievable, from a breakdown of every variant of miso to a guide on making your own, with over 100 recipes for different miso soups, each accompanied by color photos of not just the final product, but the ingredients as they should look prepped for cooking! One of the best designed cookbooks I own.

January 25, 2007

what's on your menu?

So, you say you want to get into the weekly menu groove but you either can't cook, don't cook, or are out of ideas. Well, here are some of my favorite (print) resources for you!

First of all, if you're new to cooking or short on time, in general, avoid the ambitious stuff. And in fact, avoid any recipe with a lot of ingredients, especially if they're minor ingredients that you do not have on hand. (A little secret of mine - if I have a recipe that calls for say, a pinch of dried cilantro which I do not have, I just leave it out. And the food is none the worse for it.)

If you have cooked a bit but want some (mostly) quick recipes, do yourself a favor and check out the 1-2-3 cookbooks by Rozanne Gold. There are a ton of these (Desserts, Kids, Entertaining, Healthy, you name it) but a good place to start is with the basic Cooking 1-2-3 volume. Her gimmick is that every recipe uses just 3 ingredients (not including salt, pepper and water, I think) so while not all the recipes are easy, they are all pretty simple.

If you want to work more vegetables into your menus, Jack Bishop's Vegetables Every Day is essential. Nearly any vegetable you can think of, with buying and storage tips, plus recipes. And so far, not a single recipe I've tried from it has been a dud. This book is on my small "essential" shelf of cookbooks I literally could not do without.

Want to start baking? The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion is also on my essentials shelf. It covers everything you can make with flour, pretty much, from pancakes and biscuits to bread and cakes. Explanations throughout explaining "why", which is important to me when it comes to baking, which really is like science. Our family favorite pancakes are on page 3 (and I use malted milk powder, not sugar).

Finally, my number one current essential, Cook's Country magazine (which can be bought in collections by year, check the 2005 bound edition here). This is a sister publication to Cook's Illustrated, and is a more user-friendly version, geared to the beginner or busy cook. I am such a fan I get the magazine AND buy the bound editions at the end of the year, but you might want to just go for the books. Unfortunately a lot of their web content is inaccessible if you don't pay (which does suck, I mean, I buy the magazine AND the book but I still can't use the website without paying even more...) but there's enough free content on there for you to get a good taste (ha ha). This is a publication so user-friendly Evan reads it (and so does Emily, but that's a different story). Recipes, equipment tests, taste test and even menus!

In general I would have to also say, if you can, check cookbooks out from the library before buying. I always try to, and have avoided several purchases that I would have been unhappy with. And don't think people who write cookbooks are all infallible either; I have at least two cookbooks (by well-known chefs!) that have really bad recipes in them, as in they won't even work the way they're supposed to. So don't think it's just you if a recipe doesn't work or you don't like it.

So that's my quick roundup...stay tuned for a couple of tried and true recipes soon!

January 20, 2007

what's on the menu?


Signs: Zaitzeff Menu - Originally uploaded to flickr by LarimdaME

One of the questions I get a lot, is "how on earth do you get so much stuff done?" And the answer is: well, truthfully, I don't get so much stuff done. My projects languish for what seems like forever. And I don't do even a tiny percentage of the things I want to. But how I accomplish what I do manage to get done is mainly due to being a little crazy with my organization. And one of my number one systems, because I know you are just dying to know...is the weekly menu!

I know there are people who think doing a menu is insane, but seriously, it has worked out so well. And if I ever let it slide meals go to hell around here fast! I highly recommend it to anyone who cooks even half their meals (just mark those other nights as "takeout" or "pizza" or "tonkatsu at Mitsuwa" or whatever you plan on eating). In case you want to give it a try, here's my system.

First, I chose a day to do the whole week's menu. For me, Sunday is best, since it's a slow day and is one day after our local greenmarket and one before our main errand day. At some point that day I sit down and type out the next week's menu, along with a list of what groceries I'll need to make those meals. (I actually plan lunch as well, although that's pretty basic. Mainly I plan lunch to make sure we don't just eat the same thing every single day.)

How do I pick out meals? I have a master list of basic and quick favorites, which is easy because I can just copy and paste them into different days. I try to also plan one extra-special meal (roast chicken or brisket, for example) and include one new recipe. Although if things are busy I may skip one or both of those. Then once I have 7 dinners picked out, I shuffle them around until I have a line-up that makes sense (i.e. we're not eating the same thing three days in a row).

Once that's all done, I make 2 shopping lists -- one for Monday which is when we do our main shopping run, and a smaller list for Thursday or so for things I don't want sitting all week (produce and meats, mainly). And then I am set for the week - no last minute trips for something I needed, no staring into the fridge willing something to magically appear, and every day I can do a quick check to see if I need to pull anything from the freezer or start something early. So, a little time spent one day a week = lots more time during the week to....not get anything done anyway! yay!

Seriously, it really does free up a lot of time and save money. Give it a try if you are so inclined! Now, if you'll excuse me, I hear some multi-sided dice rolling down the hall and I think I need to go do an intervention.

October 07, 2006

cookie fun

maple sugar cookies

Last week I wanted to make some cookies, but discovered I'd forgotten to put an egg aside to do so (when we boiled eggs for miso soup). I'd promised Emily that she could help me bake, and since she loves to help cook (I should say, "help", although she can do some basic things pretty well) she was pretty excited about it. Finding eggless cookie recipes was harder than I thought, but I did finally find this recipe for Maple Sugar Cookies:

Preheat oven to 350. Combine 1/2 c sugar and 1/2 c softened butter in large mixer bowl, beat at medium speed until creamy (2-3 minutes). Add 3 T maple syrup* and continue beating until well-mixed. On low speed add 1-1/2 c flour and 1/4 t salt. Shape dough into 1" balls and place on cookie sheet 2-3" apart, flatten with bottom of tumbler or with small toddler's (clean!) hands. Bake for 12-14 minutes.
*the original recipe I based this on called for maple-flavored pancake syrup, so you'll be fine using that I'm sure!

Incredibly easy to make. I scooped the dough with my cookie scoop and put the blobs of dough on a sheet, then helped Emily flatten each one with her hands (note the finger marks!) before baking. I think I baked them a minute too long -- watch them closely! They did not burn or get too dark, but they were on the crisp side.

A few days later I decided to try this eggless cookie:

scotch teas
Scotch Teas
Preheat oven to 350. Combine 1/2 c butter and 1 c (light!) brown sugar in saucepan, stir over medium heat until butter melts. Add 2 c rolled oats, 1/4 t salt and 1 t baking powder, mix well and pour into a greased 8"x8" pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, let cool and then cut into squares.

These are weird. For one thing, I have dark brown sugar, and I'm thinking from the photo in the book that they mean for you to use light brown sugar. Evan and I ate them all, but the whole time we were going "do we like these? I'm not sure!". Very much like a very good granola bar -- which gives me some idea how much sugar must be in a granola bar!! I might try them again with light brown sugar just to see how they turn out, but I don't think they'll be making regular appearances in the cookie jar here. Not that we actually have a cookie jar, but....you know what I mean. But the maple cookies will definitely be coming back soon!

July 18, 2006

the recipes!

apron swap recipe cards

Those are the recipe cards I made for Heather to match her apron. All baking: strawberry bread, banana bread, and a really good (and freezable) chocolate chip recipe. All three are well tested in our kitchen! (I could probably make that banana bread in my sleep!) The little designs are actually cut-outs from the fabric, and the bases are vintage blank recipe cards, with the recipes cut out and glued down.

In case you're interested, here are the actual recipes:

Strawberry Bread
1-1/2 c fresh strawberries, rinsed, cored and sliced
1 c sugar
1-1/2 c flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 t cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 t vanilla
1/2 c butter, melted and then cooled (very important!)
Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease and flour an 8"x5" loaf pan. Place strawberries in a small bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the sugar; mix and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together all remaining dry ingredients. In your medium bowl, beat eggs til foamy, then add the vanilla and butter, then the strawberry-sugar mixture. Combine with the dry ingredients, mixing until completely moistened. Scrape batter into pan and bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick/skewer comes out clean. Cool pan on a rack for 20-30 minutes before removing.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 c unsalted butter,
softened
6 T sugar
6 T light brown sugar
1/4 t salt
1-1/2 t vanilla
1 c plus 2 T flour
1/2 baking soda
1 c chocolate chips
1 c pecan or walnut pieces
Preheat oven to 375°. Beat the butter, sugars, salt and vanilla until well-combined. Add in the egg, scrape bowl down with spatula and beat for a few more seconds. In a 2nd bowl, whisk together the flour and soda. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix on low speed until just blended. Add chocolate and nuts and mix in by hand. Shape dough into 11/2” balls and place about 3” apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 9-12 minutes, until edges are golden. Let sit for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks.
Alternately: do not preheat oven, and place shaped cookies close together on cookie sheets and freeze. Transfer when frozen to freezer bags or containers, bake at 375° in batches as small or large as you like.

Banana Bread
2 large eggs
1 c sugar
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 c mashed bananas
2 t vanilla
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
2-2/3 c flour
1 c sour cream
Preheat oven to 350°. Beat together the eggs, sugar and oil. Blend in the bananas and vanilla. In another bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients and then add all at once to the banana mixture. Mix quickly but thoroughly, then stir in the sour cream, mixing until just combined. Pour batter into a greased and floured 9"x5" pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Notes: On the banana bread - I am a purist and I don't like nuts or chocolate in my banana bread, but the original recipe (from King Arthur Flour) calls for up to 1 cup of chopped nuts as an option, and I'm sure chips would work too. Also, you can substitute yogurt or buttermilk for the sour cream, but I don't think it works as well. The strawberry bread is from a Penzey's Spice catalog and my onw note on that is that you can chop the berries up if you need to (Emily doesn't like the texture of the large slices). The cookies are from a chronicle books fundraiser called From Our House To Yours, I can't remember the origin past that.

July 05, 2006

wacky cake

By request, here's the recipe for the WWII-era ration cake recipe I used for the s'mores mini-cakes; it's called "wacky cake" and if you google that phrase you'll actually find the recipe all over the place. However, I'm using a version that was reworked slightly by the America's Test Kitchen people for their Cook's Country magazine (which, btw, I love). You can see the usual version here; according to the research in the Cook's Country article, it was first published in 1949 in a collection of reader recipes and was submitted by one Mrs. Donald Adam of Detroit. I think their ingredient changes are worth following:

1 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c unsweetened cocoa
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 t vanilla
1 T vinegar
5 T vegetable oil
1 c cold water

the directions in all recipes are almost all exactly the same: Preheat oven to 350° F; sift dry ingredients into an 8x8 baking pan (I actually dump them all in and whisk together); make one large hole and two small in the mixture, pouring the oil into the large hole and the vanilla and vinegar into the small ones -- then, pour the water over the whole thing, mix quickly until moistened (do not beat) and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. I have never frosted this cake, just eaten it straight or sprinkled powdered sugar on before serving. ALSO: don't try this the first time if company's coming! My first one was a disaster (I was nervous about overmixing and there were huge streaks of flour through it!) and while hopefully yours won't be, it is slightly weird so play it safe! Some recipes say to mix in a bowl and then pour into a pan, but according to Cook's Country you risk having it not rise as well.

This cake is seriously quick and easy, cheap, vegan and really good if you like chocolate cake!

WHOAH! STOP THE PRESSES! Astute reader Melanie caught a typo in the recipe (I sent her a scan of the original), which I've just fixed. The amounts on the vanilla and vinegar were switched -- oops!! What you see now is correct. Sorry!

July 03, 2006

s'mores mini-cakes!

s'mores mini-cakes

Sort of in the cupcake tradition, but really far enough removed that I'm just going to call them "mini-cakes". These are the cakes I made for Emily's half-birthday party (which was just the three of us!) -- graham cracker squares, topped with little slabs of chocolate cake, with mini-marshmallows broiled on top of the whole thing. Extra-exciting was that I finally used my broiler for the first time -- I don't know why I've been so nervous about it! The crackers were like little edible plates, and surprisinly softened up enough in the few moments in the oven to eat as part of the cake; the cake itself is from scratch and is a WWII ration cake recipe that I love -- no eggs or milk!; and the marshmallows I stuck on by brushing the cake tops with water and then just placing them on. I then broiled them all until they looked like this (maybe 2-3 minutes?). And they were delicious. (I actually liked the broiled marshmallows as a topping a lot -- I'm not really that big a fan of frosting.) A definite to-make-again!

June 21, 2006

more rose cupcakes

recipe_sweet_dozen.jpg

I didn't make these, they're from the new issue of Family Fun, but aren't they cute? And certainly going to be easier than what I did. Although, after my experience with the sushi cupcakes, I personally don't think I want to deal with fruit roll-ups on anything ever again. Kids would probably love them though.

May 18, 2006

an improbable recipe...

...and probably, an impossible one as well! This appeared in an MGM short we saw last week called "I'm Much Obliged". A minor plot point revolved around this newspaper recipe by "Auntie Pru" (actually a cranky old man with dyspepsia), which was so ridiculous I had to write it down. And here it is:

Paradise Whip

2 pounds of marshmallows
1 dozen crushed bananas
1 pound of butterscotch caramel syrup
1 cup dark brown molasses
1 can of condensed milk
6 egg yolks

Beat yolks of six eggs. Add condensed milk, pour in the molasses and caramel syrup. Thoroughly mix marshmallows with bananas. Add liquid ingredients and set aside to cool. Serve with meringue and sweeten to taste.

Obviously, the "sweeten to taste" part is a big joke, haha, about as funny as the short was. (i.e. NOT). I could almost believe this was some noxious 1930s recipe except there is a major step obviously left out...you cool it, but it's never been heated. I did wonder for about 15 minutes if it was possible to make something from this. Then I decided it would just be too gross and sweet no matter what you did! But if you're brave enough to take a crack at it, go right ahead!

April 26, 2006

more cupcakes!

sushi cupcakes

For Evan's birthday last week, I made sushi cupcakes since he loves sushi so much. They were actually pretty tasty too, although they did not last long at all (all that candy started breaking down pretty quickly). I baked a sheet cake and used biscuit cutters to make rounds; frosted them with Claire Crespo's "rice" icing (4-1/2 cups shredded coconut, 3/4 cup powdered sugar, and, um, sour cream and a little vanilla. I'll look that up later.) the "nori" is cut from green fruit rollups, which were gross beyond belief. If I ever try this again I will work ahead and get real fruit leather from a health food store. Jujubes were cut into the different shapes for the "tuna", "pickled vegetable" etc. The "soy sauce" is a chocolate-cherry sauce that was really tasty (cocoa powder, powdered sugar and Fox' u-bet cherry syrup) and the wasabi is just a little frosting. I had ideas for the pickled ginger but Evan hates the stuff anyway so I skipped it!

LIke I said, the candy all started breaking down by the next morning, so these definitely would have to be eaten quickly. And I was pretty much picking all the candy off anyway -- but I can see kids going nuts for them. Don't know if I'd do it again, but it was fun to try once!

April 14, 2006

Emily's birthday cupcakes

cupcake roses for Emily!

Another belated post, this one about the cupcakes I made for Emily's birthday party last year. These were inspired by a photo I clipped from a magazine (although I didn't save enough of the page to know what magazine!) and are buttercream roses iced (with a huge flower-making frosting tip) directly onto the cupcakes. If you've ever seen directions for making icing roses on a flower nail, it's basically the same thing, except you make them right on the cupcakes. And since they're buttercream they're totally edible and yummy, unlike royal frosting or (most) fondant. I was very happy with the way they turned out. I made yellow and pink ones, and the cupcakes are chocolate (thanks to my friend Betty for help with those!) Here they are on display before the party:

before the party

And here the cupcakes are naked; and lined up getting iced.

More info: I used the basic buttercream recipe in the Wilton cake book, but I made it ahead of time and kept it in the fridge; I had to use the mixer to soften it a little but I kept it really cold to make it easier to work with. (I had two setups and when the one I was using started getting warm from my hands I put it in the fridge and switched to the other.) I used the Wilton 125 petal tip -- I wanted to use a bigger one, but I didn't give myself time to get them online and I was lucky to find two 125 tips locally as it was! I pretty much free-handed the roses, I didn't use any petal count system (in the comments -- I actually don't know what that 3-5, 7 count means). I looked at a couple of different ways people made roses and just sort of winged it. There's a reason you don't see all the cupcakes I iced in those photos!!

January 19, 2006

soup for breakfast?

breakfast miso

Yup! Soup for breakfast!! Most days now, Emily and I have a miso soup breakfast or brunch (okay, a lot of the time my breakfast is tea while she has oatmeal, then we have this 2-3 hours later). And it's actually probably the best thing I've found to eat first thing in the day.

I always was fascinated by the idea of the traditional Japanese breakfast after seeing it in enough TV shows -- I'm not so sure about the fish, but soup and rice sounded pretty good to me. I've never been into the whole sweet breakfast paradigm and while the eggs and meat thing works for me, it's heavy and a pain to cook. I always meant to try it but never did, but I've been trying to be more diligent about actually eating breakfast every day.

And finally I got motivated to try it out, after reading Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat(*see more on this book below) and seeing her "Japanese Power Breakfast" idea (basically, miso for breakfast). I didn't even really look at her recipe, since I knew how to make miso soup just fine. But I did use her idea of adding a quartered hard-boiled egg, and her list of vegetables to use made me feel better about adding whatever I had sitting around.

want to make your own?

Continue reading "soup for breakfast?" »

November 21, 2005

cupnoodle

Even though it's absolute junk food, I do love me some cup noodle sometimes (although what I really love is Mug, which is apparently now discontinued everywhere but Indonesia, from what I can find out!). Anyway, trying to find out more about the fate of my beloved Mug, I discovered this crazy flash Cupnoodle site! Go to "Play and download" for lots of ridiculous (and short) Cup Noodle videogames!

October 29, 2005

I heart kabocha

kabocha + kabochaI love pumpkins, and I love winter squash. Recently, we've been trying out all the squash I'd never cooked before (spaghetti squash, mmm!) and finally I bought a kabocha at Mitsuwa a while back. I already knew how much I loved the seasonal kabocha wagashi and croquettes I got at Mitsuwa. And now that I've cooked the actual squash, I think that it just may be my favorite winter squash of all! So far, we have had the basic roasted/steamed side dish, a fantastic soup (no peeling necessary! fyi, I went with the mozarella on top), and I've roasted the seeds using this recipe (with great results, although I think I will try cumin instead of cayenne next time). I've also made kabocha yogurt for Emily about a zillion times and she loves it (as well as the plain cooked kabocha). Next kabocha gets turned into this recipe for simmered kabocha. Plus it's fun to say. Kabocha kabocha kabocha!

Last night I completely forgot to mention: I also made these cookies from a recipe I found online. They were pretty, but they tasted like cardboard. Rancid cardboard. I am on the lookout for another cookie recipe to try.

October 24, 2005

Oh, bento!

bento thumb.jpgAs someone who prefers to eat small amounts of several foods at any meal possible, I love bentos -- looking at them, eating them, thinking about them...and I have often thought about how much I would love to make them when Emily goes to school someday. (Of course, I doubt I'll have the time and patience to make fancy anime bentos like these!) But the idea of sending her off every day with a lunch that's attractive, fun and well-balanced really appeals to me.

My only hesitation was that it might be too strange for an American kid to take to school. As I read here, the experiences of kids taking bentos to US schools has been mixed. But then, I discovered the waste-free lunch movement, and the accompanying Laptop Lunch Box, and I started thinking that maybe it wasn't such a weird idea after all. With bento-like lunch containers coming out here, by the time it's an issue I think it just might seem normal!

And then yesterday I came across the Vegan Lunch Box, which documents the (vegan, obviously) lunches packed every day by a mom in WA using the Laptop system. Great ideas, feedback on how the system works (and doesn't -- more lids are needed, I agree), examples of bento-style lunches of (mostly) Western recipes, and some idea of how well it goes over in her son's 1st grade class (very well, apparently). I'll be keeping an eye on this one and taking notes!

So, looks like Emily will get bentos and I get to have fun in, well, another 5 years or so!

More resources: fantastic bento photo blog from Mizuko Ito (this a great companion to the Vegan Lunch Box blog); flickr bento box group (drool!); Cafe Japan, which I have; Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals on the Go, which is on my wishlist; and if the Laptop system doesn't work for you, there's also the Zojirushi "Mr. Bento" lunch set and Zojirushi "Ms. Bento" lunch set.

July 22, 2004

Whoah, Betty!!

Betty Crocker gives us the cake for reformed alcoholics (or not-so-reformed): the Strawberry Margarita Cake! I'm assuming you could do this with just about any drink mix you like and make a cocktail cake recipe of your own. Mmmm! (although, I think I'd use real whipped cream and maybe call my lime peel "zest")

September 25, 2002

pumpkins!

Finally, the weather has changed and it's really Fall, not just technically Fall, and it's almost October. October has always been my favorite month, and Fall my favorite season, for a number of reasons: my birthday is in October; my favorite holiday, Halloween, is in October; it's the month that you get to start wearing sweaters and eating warming foods; nature goes into her whole Autumn display; and it holds the promise of Winter, which I really like in concept, but don't actually like when it's here. I also love the whole iconography of Halloween (yes, I'm one of those people who sometimes decorates the whole house for it) and making Halloween food and treats. Here's one recipe I'm definitely going to do this year—how cute are those? Now to just find the time to plan the party and…think of a costume. Guess who has zero ideas this year?

September 13, 2002

Cooking Lesson Seven: Our Favorite Winter Soup

Note: this is one of a series of cooking articles I'd started posting before I had the blog set up. I turned them into blog entries to keep them on the site.

An easy, warming pot of soup for the depths of winter.

Yes, I know, I did promise to follow up the Super-Efficient Cooking Day with some more recipes for you to go with that, but, since it is the depth of winter right now, I want to share my favorite winter soup recipe with you all.

All you will need for equipment are some basics: a cutting board (or counter do don't care about), knife, can-opener and big soup pot.

Your ingredients:

¾ c. chopped onion
¾ c. chopped carrot (I chop the carrot sticks I always have in the fridge)
1 T. olive oil (any vegetable oil is fine)
1 lb. ground beef (or equivalent protein; turkey, tofu, soy crumbles etc.)
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes (do not strain)
1 15 oz. can of chickpeas (do not strain)
1 15 oz. can of tomato sauce (note on all these cans: just get close to 15 oz. Sometimes I can only get the 14½ oz. diced, and often have to buy 2 8 oz. cans of sauce)
HEAT!: I use about a T. of a chopped habañero relish I have; but you can use whatever hot seasoning you have on hand. Sambal Oelek would work great, or even Tabasco. Or fresh jalapeños, maybe. Go easy, you can always add more. This gives the soup its warming and sinus-clearing properties, but you don't want to kill people here!
seasoning: A T. or so of any "southwest" or "tex-mex" mix would work. I use about 1 t. of salt, ½ t. of fresh ground pepper, and about ¼ t. each of cumin, oregano, cayenne and paprika.
6 c. water

Put the onion and carrot in the pot, along with the olive oil, over low heat. Cook, stirring regularly, until softened. Bring the heat up to medium-high and add the beef; sauté 'til it starts to brown. Add all other ingredients, and continue stirring until it comes to a boil; lower heat and simmer for at least half an hour. Voilá! You're done!

Some alternate approaches: If you're using beef or turkey and you want to lower the fat, brown the meat first, drain it and set it aside while you saute the onion and carrot, then add back in. Also, if you don't care about fat, tossing in about a T of butter shortly before serving adds some real richness (which it will to any soup). And of course, the longer you simmer it, the better it gets. This soup reheats really well, on the stove or in the microwave. I don't know how long it will keep though, because it never lasts more than a few days around here. (I'm telling you, I could live on this soup.)

When you're ready to eat, just serve it with some nice crusty bread from the store or your oven, and you're good to go.

Ah!! Now you're ready to face that old man winter again!

Afterthoughts

I forgot to mention that of course you can subtitute any canned bean for the chickpeas. Kidney beans or cannellini would probably work great. I'm still partial to chickpeas in my soup so I won't be experimenting personally.

Janaki responded on her blog with this recipe for her favorite winter soup, a potato-cheese-broccoli soup. She also got totally ambitious and served my soup up in carved out rye bread bowls! How swanky is that?

The super-productive and super-cool Abby Denson tried my recipe with no beans at all, and said it worked just great without them.

And Michael Lo offered up this near-instant Chinese restaurant classic: 1 can creamed corn, one can of water, and an egg (raw), stirred together and brought to a boil. Haven't tried it yet, but sounds good and very fast.

And finally, during my non-solid food phase while sick after dental work in January I came up with near-instant bean soup: 1 can black beans, one can diced tomatoes, 1 can chicken broth, plus your favorite black bean soup seasonings (I forget, but I think I used some oregano, cumin and S&P). Bring to a boil, simmer until you can't wait any longer, and then, if you can't eat solid food (or want a smooth soup), use an immersion blender to puree. When I made it again after getting better, I added sautéed onions and carrots.

Cooking Lesson Six: the Super Efficient Cooking Day!

Note: this is one of a series of cooking articles I'd started posting before I had the blog set up. I turned them into blog entries to keep them on the site.

How some time invested one afternoon can feed you for days.

I often find that I have very little time to spend on anything, much less in the kitchen. But I hate the idea of falling into the fast- and snack-food trap that gets so many people. So one of the things I've been working on over the past year or so is ways to have maximum good healthy home cooking with a minimum of time and effort, and my number one solution has been (fanfare) the Super Efficient Cooking Day! (Which is actually only an hour or two, but "day" sounds better...)

Some of these elements may not work for you, but the idea is still the same -- to spend a short but very organized amount of time in the kitchen which will cut hours of work from your week. Adapt as you like to the kind of foods you eat. What I end up with is: pre-cooked chicken which can be used about a zillion different ways; a load of clean, fresh, and prepped vegetable which can you can either snack on or use in dinners over the next several days; and a batch of hard-cooked eggs which are a great snack or ingredient as well.

In addition to everyday kitchen items (i.e. oven, timer, etc.) you will need a kitchen mallet; and either a jellyroll pan or a cookie pan that has a rim all the way around it.

Your shopping list:

a package of chicken breast, boneless (with or without rib meat is up to you; I go with)
eggs -- amount and type is your call
fresh vegetables, carrots and celery being the basics; plus whatever else you might like. I might go with carrots, celery, zucchini and mushrooms on a typical day.
optional: ingredients to make whatever dip (hopefully a healthy one) you like for your vegetables. I go for a low-fat sour cream or yogurt plus salad dressing mix (ranch is good).
additionally: whatever ingredients you'll need for tonight's dinner + however many meals ahead you want to shop for.

The Procedure: First, go ahead and preheat your oven to 350° or so (F) (my oven bites so I actually set it to 400°). Then get your eggs started -- put as many eggs as you want to cook into a pan that allows them to all fit in comfortably in a single layer, and cover with cold water (an inch above the eggs). You're going to bring them a boil over high heat, and immediately turn off the hear, cover and let sit for 20 minutes. Then transfer them to a bowl of cold water.

Next, we deal with the chicken. While you're waiting for the eggs to boil, get out your baking pan (line it with foil if you want easier cleanup), and give it a very light coating of vegetable oil. Take your chicken (using a large cutting board rather than the counter is a good idea here) and separate each portion. (At some point in here you'll be turning the heat off -- set a timer so you don't let the eggs sit too long.) Some pieces may be too large for one serving, just cut these in half. If you end up with some irregular pieces, don't worry, just plan on using those for stir-fry or something else where you'll be cutting up the chicken. Using your mallet (the smooth side), pound each piece to an even thickness of about ½". Lay the pieces on the pan so they don't touch -- you can optionally season the chicken at this point, depending on what you plan to do with it later. Some salt and pepper will be fine for almost anything though. Put the chicken in the oven and clean up your raw chickeny mess. (And if you aren't done before you handle the eggs -- wash those hands!) How long the chicken will take depends on your oven and the quantity of chicken. Just check on it every 5 minutes or so. (If you plan to use it without any further cooking, make sure it's well-done before taking it out -- if you'll be using in cooked dishes slightly underdone is okay. Just make sure it's cooked thoroughly the second time around.) Note: once we started buying larger packages of chicken at Costco, I still cut up and flatten all the chicken, but I separate all but a couple day's worth into dinner-size portions, wrap and freeze.)

Now, that your chicken is roasting and your eggs are cooling, it's time for the vegetables. Wash up your cutting board (or get out a clean one) and chop and slice away! I like to fill a bunch of Ziploc Containers (I like the "short square" ones) with cleaned, cut-up vegetables to grab and eat out of the fridge, and since I'm cleaning and chopping anyway, I will also chop up whatever vegetables I need for the next couple days at the same time (sliced mushrooms or zucchini, chopped peppers or onion, you name it).

At this point your chicken should be done -- and you should have a nice stack of containers full of ready-to-use-and-eat veggies, and a bowl full of eggs ready to put away. This is a rewarding moment. Store the chicken and veggies in the fridge, and either peel or store the eggs as they are. (Either way, they'll keep about a week. My method is to peel them and then store in a lightly salted water bath.)

But what to do with all this food?

Make a batch of whatever you like to eat raw vegetables with best and snack on them instead of junk.
Snack on the eggs, make egg salad, deviled eggs, or whatever you like best.
Use the chicken and vegetables in super-quick and easy dinners for the next couple days.
Make quick sandwiches from pieces of the chicken.
And after a couple of days (and before any of it goes bad) all of the vegetables and chicken you haven't yet used can find their way into a big stir-fry or soup! (Chicken shouldn't really be kept for more than about 3 days at most -- if you don't think you'll use it all, freeze it and use it later.)

Obviously, you may want a completely different set of prepped food at the finish, but the idea is the same, and the time saved will be the same too. As always, adapt to your own preferences!

Whew! Now make yourself some tea and take a break!

Cooking Lesson Five: The Mighty Marinade!

Note: this is one of a series of cooking articles I'd started posting before I had the blog set up. I turned them into blog entries to keep them on the site.

Some quick and easy ways to get variety into your home-cooking menu.

Marinades are a great way to add variety to your cooking -- you may only be able to, say, grill chicken or broil fish. but if you change your method of seasoning you can have a different final product every time you cook. Personally, I like to marinate whatever we're going to eat and then grill it. This allows me to throw a bunch of ingredients together early in the day, and then simply pull them out and place them on the grill to make dinner quickly later.

The simplest definition of a marinade is a seasoned liquid which meat, poultry, fish or vegetables are soaked in (I'm just going to say "meat" from here on in to make it easier on me, but think fish or chicken or tofu if that's what you prefer), in order to infuse them with the marinade's flavors and/or tenderize them prior to cooking. Generally, a marinade consists of an oil and an acid, with seasoning added to the mixture. The oil and acid help infuse the flavors into the meat, and the acid has an additional tenderizing effect -- so marinades are especially good for tougher (i.e. cheaper) cute of meat. For something which doesn't need tenderizing, you can use a low-acid marinade, or even skip mxing up a "proper" marinade -- you can take any liquids you would use to season your food and soak your meat in them. Soy sauce, wine, orange juice -- with or without additional seasoning added.

Don't worry about being too incredibly precise, or about following any specific recipe. This is a great opportunity to experiment. Base your seasoning mix on any flavors you are partial to, or on a recipe you think sounds interesting, but don't worry too incredibly much about precision. You can even use almost any salad dressing as a marinade. In a "proper" marinade, the acid will actually partially cook the meat as it marinates. There really is a huge difference -- if you try a number of different marinades you'll find that any marinade high in acid will visibly cook the meat as it soaks!! (And you can even leave the oil out entirely -- although for things like lean meat or skinless chicken the oil is rather necessary for the cooking process.)

There's a few basic rules of thumb when it comes to marinades -- but beyond that, you can do whatever you want! (Marinades are one of the areas of cooking that allow for the most experimentation with only very rare bad results.)

Make sure not to over-marinate. Especially in the case of acidic marinades, which could actually start to break down your meat! Generally, red meat can be marinated for up to 24 hours (although I usuall just go for 3 or 4); chicken should be marinated in the 2-4 hour range; fish for 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on what kind of fish it is (anything, for example, that may be called "steak" -- swordfish, tuna, etc -- can probably be marinated for up to 2 hours); and vegetables only need 15 minutes or so, as the flavorings are more of a coating and don't really soak in. (But they can be left much longer.) Of course, use your own judgement. Very thinly sliced chicken obviously needs much less time than whole parts do. And honestly, if you need to leave the chicken in the marinade all day while you're at school or work, don't worry about it!!

Keep everything cool! Especially in the case of chicken -- do not marinate at room temperature as a rule. Make up your marinade and then slip it into the fridge. You can bring it out a little while before cooking, but be careful. And if you want to use the leftover marinade as a sauce, make sure to cook it thoroughly -- pour it into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil before using it.

Match your seasoning to your meat. Obviously, the stronger the flavor of the item you're marinating, the stronger the seasonings you can use. However, that's not a strict rule by any means. Just keep in mind that milder ingredients like some fish and chicken will be totally overwhelmed by heavy flavoring. Of course, sometimes that's what you want.

Don't waste dishes! The absolute best way to marinate is in a one-gallon reclosable freezer bag. It's much easier to get the meat covered completely, you can simply turn it over every half hour or so instead of stirring, and you just throw it away after you're done. I'm generally not into using plastic, but this is one case where it is so much easier and the result is so much better it's completely worth it. You simply pour the ingredients directly into the bag, add the meat, close and go!

I personally prefer to grill all marinated meat, but you could also pan-fry, broil, or even put in a roast or stew.

Here's my basic all-purpose marinade; used by friends with good results:

1/4 cup vegetable oil (or olive oil, or other flavored oil you like) 1/3 cup soy sauce (or vinegar, fruit juice or wine) approximately 1 tablespoon each of your favorite herbs and spices. I most commonly use mustard powder and lemon pepper in my soy/oil mix, occasionally adding a little chopped garlic.

The only important thing you should keep in mind is to keep the flavors balanced. If you use a strongly flavored oil (such as peanut or olive) you need to make sure that the accompanying liquid won't clash. Soy sauce and olive oil, for example, would not be high on my list of optimal mixtures. With olive oil I'd probably use a flavored vinegar; with something like peanut oil I'd experiment with juices and vinegars to find one I like (peanut oil and lime juice, for example, are a good foundation for a Southeast Asian-inspired marinade). If your seasonings are very hot (chili powder, cumin, garlic) you might want to either use a fruit juice in your mixture, or balance them with some honey or sugar. Here are a few more basic marinades for you to start with:

A vegetable marinade:
1/4 cup olive oil; 1/4 cup vinegar; 1 teaspoon powdered mustard; 1 clove minced garlic; 1 cup ice water

For any meat or fish: 1 cup water; 1 cup wine*; 1 tablespoon pepper; 1 bay leaf; 1 small onion, sliced thin; 1 teaspoon crushed rosemary or thyme; 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves. *use red wine for beef; dry white wine for chicken or fish; vinegar if you'd prefer not to use wine
For beef or shrimp: a beer marinade!! 1-1/2 cups beer; 1/2 cup vegetable oil; 1 small onion, sliced thin; 1 minced garlic clove; 2 tablespoons lemon juice; 1 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon pepper; 1 teaspoon powdered mustard.

Have fun!!

Cooking Lesson Four: Rice, The Wonder Grain

Note: this is one of a series of cooking articles I'd started posting before I had the blog set up. I turned them into blog entries to keep them on the site.

There's a reason most of the world eats rice everyday. It's easy, goes with everything and it's good for you too.

After covering bread, the major source of grain for most people (aside from maybe Captain Crunch, that is), I figured I ought to follow up with another great food basic, rice! Rice is not just a nasty bland side dish foisted on you by parents -- rice is a great base for all kinds of meals, and is so versatile you can eat it constantly and never get bored. (Not to mention the health benefits of eating a lot of grains.) There's even a great new cookbook called On Rice that is nothing but dishes from every cuisine in the world, served as one-dish meals over, you guessed it, rice! I got it a few weeks ago, and starting making recipes out of it right away -- if you get into the whole rice thing, it's an absolute necessity, especially as it has mostly non-asian based meals, which is usually all you get in stir-fry/"serve on rice type cookbooks.

Now, there are about a zillion kinds of rice and ways to cook rice, but I'm obviously not going to get nutty here. Any basic grocery store is going to have several kinds of plain rice (as well as the nasty minute kind), health food stores will have several more varieties, including brown rices and related grains like wheat berries. And asian groceries will have even more, including different varieties of sticky rices-- really, whatever kind of rice you want to use is fine. I personally would recommend looking for a stickier rice, as it will hold together much better when you put other foods over it. Also, there are major taste differences in rice. Experiment with different types and brands until you get what you want.

As for cooking your rice -- follow the directions on whatever kind of rice you are using, as cooking times and amounts of water can be very different from rice to rice. Rice isn't difficult to cook once you've got the hang of it, although it's another one of those intimidating cooking things. Stove-top cooking in a nice heavy pan will work just great. If you find you are fixing rice a lot, invest in a rice cooker -- believe me, it is worth the money. (Make sure you get a good one though -- don't get one of those rice cooker/veggie steamer deals with the glass lids -- they do not work.)

Now, the whole thing that is brilliant about rice is that it is great for turning almost anything into a solid meal. Once you've got the basic idea of stir-frying down, you can take anything you find in your fridge, cook it, and dump it over rice to make a meal. Here's the idea:

You need a large frying pan (or a wok if you actually have one), and some sort of cooking oil. Take any ingredients you have on hand -- all vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned), or vegetables with some meat or chicken. Prepare the ingredients -- wash veggies, and cut everything into bite-size pieces, and place to one side. Gather up whatever seasonings you've decided to use -- the easiest is to just use soy sauce and nothing else, but you can use anything you want -- peppers, any kind of cooking sauces, any seasoning (store-bought or your own mix). Heat a small amount of oil in the pan over med-hi heat, let the pan get pretty warm, and then start adding your ingredients. Start with the things that will take longest to cook (meats, "hard" veggies like raw carrots and onions), and add everything bit by bit until everything's in the pan. Keep stirring, adding the seasonings you've picked to taste, until everything is cooked through. Pour over a bowl of cooked rice and voila! Yummmmm!!

Obviously, you can get as sophisticated as you want here. One nice thing to try is adding broth (buillon is fine) towards the end, and then adding a little cornstarch diluted in cold water to make a thick sauce in the stir-fry. And there's tons of excellent recipes that follow this basic idea which you can use -- but my point is, you don't have to have a recipe or even a particular list of ingredients! Once you know how to whip this sort of thing up, you can always make a presentable meal out of whatever's in the house (well...assuming you keep some food around besides Captain Crunch). In college a roommate and I regularly ate "vegetable bin scraps over rice", and I still like to throw things together and see how it turns out. it's not alway great, but it's always edible.

One really good rice dish is a classic Japanese dish called donburi. There are about as many kinds of donburi as there are kinds of rice, but here's an easy one (great on cold nights):

You will need: 1 sliced onion (halve it lengthwise, then slice the halves thinly); about 3/4 lb beef, either ground or sliced into bite-size pieces; 1 c beef broth/buillon ; 2 T soy sauce; 2 T mirin (you should be able to find mirin in the "asian" section of your grocery store -- in a pinch you can use sake); 2 T sugar; 1 t ground ginger; cooking oil. (And don't forget to have a batch of rice ready!) You can use chicken and chicken broth instead of the beef if you like.

Heat a small amount of oil in a large frying pan or wok (med-hi). Add onions and cook until soft. Add meat and cook until cooked through. Mix the soy sauce, mirin, sugar and ginger in a small bowl and add to onions and meat. Continue cooking for another minute, then add broth. Bring liquid to a boil, then turn burner down to low and cover pan. Let cook for 5-10 minutes, then heap cooked rice in bowls and pour mixture over the rice. Dig in! (serves two)

Cooking Lesson Three: Bread!!

Note: this is one of a series of cooking articles I'd started posting before I had the blog set up. I turned them into blog entries to keep them on the site.

Add a jug of wine and your "thou" and you are all set (or; some stew, a blanket and a good tv show...all depends on the weather, really...)

Bread is, of course, one of the most basic foods. You can eat it anytime, with almost anything. Unfortunately (unless you have a bread machine, of course), making bread can be really time-consuming and, not at all easy. You've got the yeast, and all that kneading and rising and kneading and rising...but before there were yeast breads, there was something much simpler, quicker and easier to make -- soda bread!!

Soda bread is any bread that uses baking soda (there are also recipes that use baking powder) instead of yeast to make the dough rise in the oven. Because the physics involved are so different, preperation is entirely different also. Most soda breads are seriously as easy to make as throwing some stuff in a bowl, mixing it up, and baking it for half an hour. And fresh-baked bread is one of the best things in the world.

Here's how to make a simple white soda bread, good with butter and jam, excellent with soups, and probably good for anything else.

You will need: 3-1/2 cups of flour. (Just plain flour, not sifted or anything.) 1 teaspoon of baking soda. 1/2 teaspoon of salt. 1-1/2 cups of buttermilk. That's it!! After you've made this once, you could try experimenting, adding herbs, or dried fruit, or whatever you'd like to try.

Set the oven to 425 degrees, and sprinkle some flour on a baking sheet (aka cookie sheet), and on a counter or table you can work on. Mix the flour, salt and soda in a large bowl, and then add enough buttermilk to make it moist and clumpy. (Don't let it get slimy! You can add a touch more flour if it seems too wet, but you can only fix it so far.) Turn the dough out onto your floured work surface and knead it with your hands until it forms a large ball. Shape it into a circular patty, 6" across and 2" high. Using a sharp knife, cut an "X" across the top of the dough patty. Bake for about 1/2 an hour, until the bread is golden brown and sounds like a drum when you tap the bottom. Let it cool a bit before you start cutting it up. Now, wasn't that a cinch?

In the coming cold weather, try this bread with some thick stew, beef or vegetable.

You might also try making cornbread, which is another non-yeast bread. Any bag of cornmeal will have a decent cornbread recipe on the back, and cornbread is just as easy to make as soda bread. Try cornbread with chili! Or with the meal in lesson one.

Once you've mastered this simple soda bread, check out cookbooks for other soda bread recipes you can try. I really just do not have the time to make regular bread, but soda bread is just as good, and too cinchy not to try!!

Cooking Lesson Two: Date-Impressing Artichokes

Note: this is one of a series of cooking articles I'd started posting before I had the blog set up. I turned them into blog entries to keep them on the site.

Come off like a pro by making this easy-to-cook but intimidating vegetable.

Artichokes are a very impressive vegetable -- they intimidate most people, but they shouldn't! They're really a cinch to cook (hardly any work), and not hard to eat once you know what you're doing. Serving up artichokes will make you look like a serious cook -- and, while I don't know about their validity as the aphrodisiac they were once reputed to be, I do know that eating with your fingers and nibbling on your food can add a certain....something...to your date. We won't go into that, however! The lavish homemade sauce will make you look even more clever -- but you can skip it and just use melted butter with a little lemon juice mixed in.

Here's what you need: 2 artichokes. (They aren't hard to pick out -- just look for nice firm, fat-looking ones with as even a green color as possible.) Powdered mustard, garlic, olive oil and vinegar for the sauce. (Or butter and lemon juice)

First, start the artichokes. You want to clip off the pointy ends of the leaves -- I just use a pair of scissors. Then cut off the top 1/2" of the artichoke and the entire stem, taking off the bottom layer of leaves. To wash the artichokes, sort of spread out the leaves under running water, and then shake upside down. Place them upside down in a vegetable steamer over as much water as will fit in the pan without flooding the steamer, put a lid on the pan and put on the stove over high heat. Once the water is boiling, check the clock or set a timer, and just ignore them for the next 45 minutes. (If you are using a small pan, check to make sure the water hasn't boiled off every 10 minutes or so -- add more water as necessary.)

While the artichokes are steaming, fix the rest of your dinner (I suggest steak and rice, or something else simple) and then make your sauce (you can make the sauce as far ahead of time as you want). In a bowl put 1/2 teaspoon of powdered mustard, and either one chopped garlic clove or 1/2 teaspoon of prepared garlic (the little jars at the grocery store). Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil and 4 tablespoons of vinegar, stir and let sit.

To make sure that the artichokes are done, pull the pan off the heat, take off the lid and pull up one of the outer leaves with your fingers or a fork. If the leaf pulls off easily, you're ready to go.

Using tongs or something else that'll keep you from getting burnt, lift the artichokes out of the steamer carefully, and place them right-side-up on the plates. On the table, put a dish containing sauce between your date's plate and yours -- and make sure to put a big bowl or something similar to the side to put the discarded leaves in.

To eat the artichoke, pull a leaf off from the outside layer, and hold with your thumb on the inside (the side curving in). Dip into the sauce (you'll get to know how much sauce you like on you leaves as you eat) and then place the leaf between your front teeth about halfway into your mouth (inside, concave side, down). Bite down gently and scrape the flesh of the leaf into your mouth across your lower teeth as you grip the leaf with your upper teeth. Throw the skin of the leaf into the bowl you put on the table. Now do you see what I mean about that certain....something? (Especially if you get to, I mean have to teach your date how to eat it.) If you don't get a lot of flesh off the first several leaves, don't be frustrated -- the outer leaves have a lot less meat on them, and it will get better as you go in.

When you get to the tiny leaves in the middle -- you don't eat these. Pull them out and expose the
"choke", which is the part that looks like a lot of pale green hair. Use a spoon (or whatever) to scrape the entire choke out and get rid of it. Now, what you are looking at is the heart, which for many people is the highlight and big payoff of eating the whole thing. Cut it into chunks and eat it, dipping it into sauce. Or eat it whole if it's a small one.

(TIP: if you're one of the people intimidated by artichokes, make one for yourself and practice first -- then you'll impress your date even more with your sauve, worldy artichoke eating style!)

Have fun! And if you get lucky, I don't want to know about it. See you next time!

Cooking Lesson One: A Swanky Meal In Minutes

Note: this is one of a series of cooking articles I'd started posting before I had the blog set up. I turned them into blog entries to keep them on the site.

A simple chicken-and-side-dish dinner that needs few ingredients and even less time.

Okay, not minutes exactly, but here's a meal that is totally easy to fix (even if you've never cooked before!!) and looks and tastes like you knocked yourself out fixing it. Guaranteed to impress!!!! This will feed 2-4 people. For more, just double all ingredients.

You will need: Tequila (any brand will do), lime juice, boneless chicken breasts (one per person), 1 15-ounce can of black beans (not soup, beans), 1 15-ounce can of Green Giant "Mexicorn", Tabasco.

First: the main dish. Use one chicken breast per person. Put them in a pan or container with high sides and add (using a standard measuring cup) 2/3 of a cup of tequila and 1/3 of a cup of lime juice (use Rose's Lime if you feel extra swanky -- it's in the cocktail section). This makes your marinade. Let the chicken sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes. (You can let it sit as long as you like -- but put it in the refrigerator if it's going to be more than half an hour.) Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat with a small amount of oil in it. Add chicken a few pieces at a time and cook until browned on both sides. Pay attention -- chicken burns easily. If you're not sure if it's done, cut through a piece and look at the inside -- if it's pink cook it a little longer. If you have a grill -- this is especially good grilled!

The side dish. (This is pathetically simple but people always think it's complicated.) Take the can of black beans and rinse them in a strainer. (You can do this while the chicken is soaking.) When the chicken's about half-way done, dump a 15 ounce can of Green Giant "Mexicorn" into a second frying pan over medium heat. After about 2 minutes, add the rinsed black beans. When heated through, add a few drops of Tabasco and turn the heat down until you're ready to serve it.

Ta-da! Now you have made a posh-looking dinner. Serve the chicken and vegetables with a salad, some rice, or for extra bonus points, bake some cornbread!! Cornbread is super-easy to make and uses only a few ingredients. Find a bag of cornmeal in the baking section -- recipe and directions are on the bag. Have a nice dinner!

A Few of My Favorite Cookbooks

Note: this is one of a series of cooking articles I'd started posting before I had the blog set up. I turned them into blog entries to keep them on the site.

Truthfully, I rely very heavily on my collection of old cookbooks for most basic cooking. You can't beat the old Better Homes & Gardens notebook-style cookbooks (pre-1960) for an all-purpose great cookbook. And if you can find
a complete set, the Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cooking is not easy to get, but is a comprehensive, 13-volume encyclopedia (they weren't kidding when they named it). I learned how to cook out of my family's copy, and after
years of looking managed to find my own set. It's not really that difficult to find good basics like these with just a little time spent checking out thrift stores, flea markets, or of course, eBay.
But there are plenty of good cookbooks in print today, although there's an overwhelming number of them! Here's a few I've found incredibly useful.

First up is On Rice, as mentioned in Lesson Four. I love rice, and this has tons and tons of one-dish meals, with something for everyone. I've made probably at least half of the recipes in here by now (although I confess to tweaking them a lot of the time -- I do love shortcuts!) There's also a lot of great information on all the different kinds of rice, and there's even dessert recipes! I have yet to try one of them, but someday I'll need that comforting rice pudding, I'm sure!!

the Visual Food Encyclopedia is a super reference -- it has become a total supplement to my Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cooking because while it isn't nearly as in-depth (after all, it's just one book, not 13 volumes!) it does have good basic info on a ton of fresh ingredients, the recipes are more modern and simple, and it's full of the most amazingly beautiful full-color paintings. Ever wondered exactly what a ripe mango was supposed to look like? Well, now you can know.

I probably cook Japanese food a good percentage of the time, although I lean more towards the home-cooking side than anything you'd really find in a restaurant. Two of my most essential references are The Book Of Japanese Cooking and Japanese Family-Style Recipes. Both have great pictures, easy-to-follow directions and no ingredients should be too difficult to track down. I'd have to say, if you only get one though, go for the Book of Japanese Cooking.

Who doesn't love restaurant cookbooks? I have loads of vintage ones, and it's still a healthy division of the cookbook sections. But I have to confess I've never gotten one of the award winning modern books like The French Laundry Cookbook. I just can't get into that style of cooking myself, although I'd be perfectly happy to eat there! No, for me it's the retro-styled official cookbooks like those from Lundy's, Junior's, or the Brown Derby. Maybe partly because they're usually good reads as well as good cookbooks!

Speaking of retro cookbooks, a lot of the old standbys are still around. You can pick up the current edition of the standard Better Homes & Gardens book, still in the 3-ring binder but modernized and updated. I already have two (30s and 50s editions) so I can't justify adding this one, but every kitchen should have at least one edition of this classic. I've never bought one myself, but I'm sure the basic info is still just as good. And if you want modern, or healthier recipes, it would probably do you more good than a vintage copy. And while you're at it, you can get modern versions of two other classics: the Good Housekeeping and Betty Crocker cookbooks, or, even cooler, a new reprinted edition of the 1950 Betty
Crocker
cookbook, exactly like the one I have -- just new and clean.


Sometimes I don't want to cook, but I want to read about food and cooking. The ultimate food writer is of course M.F.K. Fisher, and her Art of Eating is a great introductory volume containing five of her early works. Another writer I like is Betty Fussell whose My Kitchen Wars is about all sort of things (but it does all come back to the kitchen). For a more modern viewpoint, check out either of Anthony Bourdain's books -- Kitchen Confidential is a must-read for anyone who's either worked in a restaurant or wanted to, and A Cook's Tour is a really enjoyable read about food and eating all over the world. Plus, the guy liked comics growing up, so that's a mark in the plus column as far as I'm concerned.

Tools I Use

Note: this is one of a series of cooking articles I'd started posting before I had the blog set up. I turned them into blog entries to keep them on the site.


In my opinion, and in that of practically everyone I know, a rice cooker is an absolute necessity. I'd rather give up the microwave than lose my rice cooker! And once you have a rice cooker, you'll find that you really do want to make rice constantly. I actually use the smallish-but-awesome Zojirushi NS-KCC05 (it has fuzzy logic!!) although I admit I scored it on sale. The fuzzy logic cookers are nice because they're much more forgiving, and they're much better at holding warm rice without burning it or drying it out. But fuzzy logic isn't necessary -- there's a great line of lower-cost Aroma
rice cookers
which I have used and which work perfectly fine. One note though -- do not buy a glass-lidded rice cooker! They are really just good steamers and do not work anything like a standard rice cooker. Avoid!!

Another thing I can't live without is my cast iron skillet (although I think you're better off checking your local hardware store or Kmart unless you've got a free shipping deal!) And don't believe all that nonsense about never touching it with soap! After it cools, give it a good wash with some regular detergent and a scrubber and then dry it thouroughly. This does not harm the seasoning in any way.

I was surprised to find bamboo cooking utensils available online (I pick mine up in a Chinatown grocery) but I can't recommend them enough. They're much better than wooden spoons and spatulas.

I've finally been convinced of the good uses of citrus zests, which I'd always avoided until recently getting one of the great Microplane zesters. I'm totally a convert and I want the others in the line. I got the big flat one so I could also use it for ginger; but I want to get one I can use for cheese. (My brother got one of the handled ones, suitable for cheese, so I can see how he likes that one before I decide.) Anyway, this thing makes such perfect, light and non-bitter zest you can use it in anything and never notice it (except for the added flavor). A kitchen extra, but an important one.

And finally, anyone who cooks even half-seriously should invest in at least one really good knife -- the difference between cheap and good knives is amazing. Your one knife ought to be a chef's knife or the japanese equivalent, a santoku. I prefer the santoku, probably because I use it mainly on vegetables, which is really what it's designed for. But whichever type you pick, make getting a good knife a priority. You won't even believe the difference.

Why a computer in the kitchen is not a bad idea!

or; some of my most-used online resources for cooking

Note: this is one of a series of cooking articles I'd started posting before I had the blog set up. I turned them into blog entries to keep them on the site.

Cooks and shows:

The Food Network's massive site is still probably my first stop when trying to figure out what to do with some surplus vegetable or what the best side dish is for a new recipe I'm trying. They're almost too massive, in fact! But if you search by show it can help a lot. I have not watched anything regularly in ages (aside from A Cook's Tour) but I do still try to check in on Melting Pot when it's the Eastern European kitchen, Ming Tsai on any show, and of course Good Eats, which is an absolute must-watch.
Speaking of which, there finally is a Good Eats website, although really it's an Alton Brown site. A little sparse, but hey, I sure can't complain about that, can I? If you need more detail, check out the Good Eats fansite, which includes every little smidgen of info you can imagine about the show from transcripts to equipment lists.
The one cooking show I do not miss is Nigella Bites (in spite of the unfortunate name). Nigella Lawson's trust-your-instincts-and-go-for-it approach is right up my alley, and the food is always simple and amazingly good. However, as her show ended up on E! and the Style Network, there is no good web presence for her show (or her). The official US site offers very little in the way of recipes or anything else, and the UK site isn't much better (although it does have some recipes not found in the US site). The show is on constantly, though, so just try to catch it on tv.
Now, The Splendid Table is a show on the radio, true. But it's a really great and interesting program I always learn something from. Thank goodness for the internet, though because I always miss it on the air. The site has shows archived so you can listen to whatever you've missed (plus details and recipes right on the site). Lots of other helpful info, too.

Recipes:

I don't love love loveAllrecipes.com but it is on my list of places to check when I need a dish. The pro is that you can find a recipe for almost anything; the con is that a lot of the recipes aren't that great since they're not being screened by pros for you. But, if you are confident that you can adjust for taste or you have time to do a test run on any recipe, it's a great resource.
I like Epicurious a lot, although it's a little too "buy this, buy that". But the recipes are good and the enhanced search is impressive as heck. (Not to mention a good work-avoidance tool...)
And finally, RecipeSource is a really extensive, stripped down database of tons of recipes.

Tools:

If you are missing one or two ingredients from a recipe, you don't necessarily need to run down and buy them (especially if, say, your recipe calls for one tablespoon full of something you have to buy by the quart). Check the Cook's Thesaurus first for equivalents and replacements, as well as for more info on obscure ingredients.
The temperature that water boils is important to a lot of recipes, but it's often not actually 212° -- to find out exactly what it is in your town, right now, check out the Boiling Point of Water Calculator.
And finally, while it is generally not for the novice, I find the online version of Fine Cooking (my cooking magazine of choice, although I don't even get it anymore!) to be a really great resource -- you will even find short instruction movies on various cooking processes and recipes!!

May 09, 2002

tofu marinade

I got a good query from Lisa Hundt, who asked about marinating tofu. My personal preference would be about 30 minutes to an hour, after slicing or cubing. But I've seen recipes calling for anywhere from 15 minutes to one week! (I can't imagine a week is safe, since you aren't supposed to keep tofu around that long once it's opened.) I'd say go longer if: you've left the tofu in bigger pieces; it's a lighter-flavored marinade; or you like a stronger flavor. Or of course, you want to throw it in the fridge before leaving for the day and cook as soon as you get home. I think you'll be okay doing that.

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