Sunday, December 28, 2008


Girlfriends came over tonight, and despite the margaritas and glasses of wine, despite the cacophony of children in the background, and despite all the catch-up chatter, we managed to pull together a dinner, mostly from ingredients out of my freezer; chicken breasts, andouilli sausage (that came from a small sausage maker we visited last spring located near my dad in northern California), shrimps, and sliced bell peppers. It was a humble one pot meal, the best kind really, thrown together in a hurry and eaten with gusto.

This meal is one of my favorites, and the recipe is adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, although with the changes I've made I doubt it could qualify as "light."

Cajun Jambalaya

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound andouille sausage cut into (1/4-inch-thick) slices
3 cups finely chopped red bell pepper
3 cups finely chopped yellow onion
2 cups finely chopped celery
2 bay leaves
2 1/2 cups chopped skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped jalapeƱo pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 3/4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (tail left on)

1/4 C chopped parsely

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook until sizzling quiets (about 8 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Add bell pepper, onion, celery, and bay leaves; cook until vegetables are golden brown, sizzle loudly, and begin to squeak (about 14 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add chicken and next 8 ingredients (through garlic); cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add tomato puree; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add broth, and bring to a boil. Stir in rice. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Add shrimp and push into rice slightly. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Top with parsley.

'Tis Not the Season...

They're not in season!?

No, not right now. Out of season.

Out of season?


Well, when will they be back in season?

Hmmm.....maybe by June.


The produce in question? Green beans. Yes, this incredulous shopper has fallen victim to our seasonless society, as many of us do. Watermelon in June? No problem...Corn in February? Can do...Green beans in December? Yes! But just not at the farmers market. You see, despite what the glorious variety in our supermarkets tells us, there really is a season to produce. And even though the vast majority of all things vegetal is available at your local grocer, it doesn't come without a cost; nutrition, the environment, and taste are all compromised by not eating locally and seasonally. Now that being said, I realize that the vast majority of the world does not live in California where many, many fresh vegetables and fruits are available year round. And one cannot live on root vegetables alone, although even, dare I say especially in the North East, the local food movement is quite popular.

But the key to eating local green beans in late December is thinking ahead, buying in bulk when they are readily available (which was all the way until last month), then preserving them for another day...a cold winter's day, when you really, really must have green beans. I couldn't help but feel a wee bit smug that I had several bags of local green beans waiting in my freezer, just for that very purpose, or that I have jars of apricot preserves tucked in my pantry for days when I crave a taste of summer, all the while apricot trees still sit naked and cold in the orchard. Although these things aren't much help when you are new at the local food or farmers market thing, finding yourself in a similar situation may help inspire you to try some home preservation (canning, pickling, or freezing) when the season rolls around again!

Today at the farmers market I bought a wonderful variety of things, even though the little white tents have been steadily shrinking in number since the first frost (which for most areas was late November). I bought a pommelo, limes, avocados, eggs, lettuce, brussel sprouts, strawberries, potatoes, onions, garlic and beautiful late autumn purple grapes. There was also broccoli, cabbage, apples, honey, meyer lemons, oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, cauliflower, butternut squash, and tomatoes....yes, tomatoes. There is a grower near the coast of Ventura, who grows tomatoes year round, blanketed in plastic during the winter, but they come at a price. About $3 a pound.

So with all that, I think that it wouldn't be too hard to not have green beans for dinner. Just keep an open mind, and be inspired by what is available at the farmers market that week. And most of all, don't be afraid to try something new while it is available, and preserve that which is not always available, so that if you want to eat green beans in late December, all you have to do is shop in your very own freezer.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

We 'Holla' for Challah

It is my son's eleventh birthday, which I still cannot believe, even though I have typed the words and said it plenty today. Eleven. Wow. Anyway, he loves bread and anything made from it. So for his birthday breakfast, he requested French toast made from Challah bread, the Jewish sabbath bread, which is a pretty much a sweet egg bread, not unlike Hawaiian bread, Portuguese bread or Brioche. Being that we live in the Los Angeles environs, it is not difficult to find a good Jewish deli that could provide said loaf. But because I am a glutton for punishment, I decided to make the loaves from scratch so I would, save my husband the trip. (Just italicizing to emphasize my faulty thinking after clearly too many late nights!!) I had made the bread with success once before, and although it is a lengthy process, no step is particularly I thought.

I mixed the dough according to the directions in my Gourmet Cookbook. It was so much sticker that I remembered. Like really sticky. I let it rise, punched it down (it stuck all over my hands) then let it rise for the second time. It was supposed to require an additional 1/2 cup of flour to make it "workable" but it required at least 4 times that. Oh well. The dough was finally the perfect consistency and I divided it in two, braided it and set it aside to rise while the oven preheated. Unfortunately when I baked it, I was so preoccupied with getting the other things ready for his birthday, that I let it go too long in the oven and the bottoms were So then I spent a good 10 minutes or so, scraping the bottom of all that charred crust, blackened crumbs flying all over the kitchen, including into my eye (which is scratched and red because of it). Finally as satisfied as I could be, we went to bed.

When we woke in the morning to make the French toast, I ended up cutting off the bottom crust entirely, because it was too hard. But the end product was delicious and nobody could tell what had happened. Challah makes the best French toast because it is dense, sweet and eggy and absorbs the batter very well, without becoming soggy. You can make it yourself, or you can usually find it in a store. In case you are also a glutton for punishment, here is an adaptation of that recipe. If you have no desire to make a Challah loaf yourself, never fear, just buy the darn thing and move down the page to find the French toast recipe!

Challah (Egg Bread)

2 packages dry yeast (or 5 t)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
4 t honey
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
3 extra large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon salt
7-8 cups all-purpose flour, approximately

In a jar, dissolve yeast, 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water. Let sit for about 10 minutes or until quite frothy. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment mix oil and honey with remaining sugar and salt. Spread yeast mixture over the top and gradually add 2 1/2 C flour. Beat well. Switch to a dough hook and add 2 1/2 cups more flour and beat for 10 minutes on low speed, until blisters from on the surface. The dough will be quite wet.

Pour dough out into well-greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured board and knead in enough flour to make dough smooth and pliable, about 2 1/2 C. Let bread rest under an inverted bowl for 10 minutes. Divide dough in half, letting 1 half stay under the bowl. To make a 3-braid challah, take half the dough and form it into 3 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 3 in a row, parallel to one another. Starting in the middle, braid the bottom half of the loaf then flip it around towards you and braid the rest. Pinch the ends together and turn them under. Place each loaf on a greased cookie sheet, about 5 inches apart. Beat another egg with 1 T sugar and brush it on loaves. Let rest for another 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.

Birthday Challah French Toast

5 eggs
1/2 C half and half
1 t vanilla extract
2 T sugar
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1 t orange zest ( kids don't like it, but we grownups think it is pretty swell)
1 loaf Challah bread, sliced
4 T butter

Beat eggs together in large bowl with remaining ingredients except bread and butter. Heat heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat. Melt butter in the pan, then dip each slice of bread in the egg mixture and place on the griddle. Fry for a couple of minutes a side, or until golden brown. Cover with foil to keep warm as you fry the remaining slices. When finished, dust tops with powdered sugar and serve.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Broccolini with Preserved Lemons

Now that Christmas is "over," although in my home we keep our decorations up for the full 12 days of Christmas, I feel that it is necessary to eat something healthy to counteract all of the heavy, albeit delicious, meals we have consumed over the past several days. And in my fridge, I happened to have a small bunch of baby broccoli that needed to be cooked. I looked up several recipes to try to find something more inspired than the sauteed variety that I usually find myself making, and I came across a recipe for braising with preserved lemons that sounded interesting.

In my fridge, I have a jar of unused preserved lemons that I made in August, after picking several beautiful Meyer Lemons from a friend's backyard tree. I had all but forgotten it, as it was shoved in the back of the shelf, hidden behind the multitude of half eaten jams. Quite excited to use some of my handmade treasure (although the recipe only called for TWO slices), I headed to the kitchen to see what I could do.

The recipe was so simple, and the sourness and saltiness of the preserved lemons complimented the bitterness of the broccolini beautifully. Making your own preserved lemons is really easy, and Meyer Lemons are available in farmers markets now, although regular lemons can be substituted. And if you don't want to make them yourself, you can buy them in specialty markets too.

Preserved Meyer Lemons

1- 1 1/5 pounds Meyer lemons (5 to 6)
1/3 cup coarse salt
1/8 cup olive oil

Blanch 4 lemons in boiling water 5 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut lemons into 8 wedges each and discard seeds. Toss with salt in a bowl and pack into 1 pint jar.

Squeeze enough juice from remaining lemons to measure 1/2 cup. Add enough juice to cover lemons and cover jar with lid. Let stand at room temperature, shaking gently once a day, 5 days. Add oil and chill.

Preserved lemons will last for up to one year in the refrigerator.

Braised Broccolini with Preserved Lemons
adapted from a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens

1 pound baby broccoli or broccolini
1 C low sodium chicken broth
2 slices preserved lemon
1 large pinch dried, crushed chili peppers
1 t dried dill (or 1 T fresh)
1 T butter

In a pot simmer chicken broth, lemon, chili, and dill for 15 minutes to blend flavors. Chop broccolini into 1-2 inch pieces and place in pot along with the butter and stir to coat. Cover pot and simmer for 5 minutes more, or until desired tenderness (I like mine crisp). Remove with slotted spoon and serve.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Season's Greetings

Merry Christmas

From the Heart of My Home

to Yours

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ready or Not...

Well, Christmas is here whether we are ready or not. I'd say for me that is a definite not! But the kids are so excited they are about ready to bust a gut. I can almost feel their auras vibrating (if I believed in that kind of stuff). Today my friend (God bless her!) took them out on a long hike and we are both hopeful that our children will go to bed early so we can start wrapping. Every year I tell myself that this is the year I will be prepared, this is the year I will not stress, this is the year that I will truly relax and see Christmas through my children's eyes. Well, I blew it again, evidently. But that is great husband helps keep it all in perspective. I did manage to make some more candied walnuts today, shop for our Christmas Eve turkey and make peppermint bark.

I like to make things like candied nuts and peppermint bark during the holidays mostly because not very many people do. Most folks I know make cookies, which by the way is fantastic. I consider it a perfect do the hard work and mess up your kitchen, and share with me, and I will give you something yummy that you probably don't already have sitting on your kitchen counter in packages ready to give away. But the secret is, that even though peppermint bark looks fabulous and complicated it is WAY easier than making cookies.

Many chocolate making recipes call for something called tempering, which is basically a very scientific process of heating and cooling the chocolate to specific temperatures so that when it sets it won't get that gray or dusty look. My recipe doesn't mess with any of that, mostly because I layer the white chocolate on top of the dark, so that you won't see that dustiness, and also, because I simply cannot be bothered. I am not a professional chocolatier. I melt my chocolate in the microwave and that works just fine. The bark is rich and creamy and cool with mint, and crunchy on top from the crushed peppermint candies (I like to use handmade candies, but any candy canes will work well).

Peppermint Bark

2 packages of good quality semi sweet chocolate chips
2 packages of good quality white chocolate chips (make sure it contains plenty of cocoa butter)
2 t peppermint extract
1 extra large or 2 regular sized candy canes, crushed (use a large zip top bag and smash with a rolling pin)

Put the semi sweet chocolate chips in a large microwave safe bowl and microwave on high in one minute intervals, stirring between each, until chocolate is completely melted. It should take about 3 minutes, depending on your microwave. Stir in one teaspoon of peppermint extract. Spread the melted chocolate on a wax paper lined cookie sheet to about a 1/4 inch thickness. If it helps you, you may draw about a 10x14 inch rectangle on the back of the waxed paper for a guide. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer. Melt the white chocolate chips in the same manner. It may take a minute less or so to melt them. Stir in remaining extract into white chocolate. When dark chocolate is soft set, carefully pour out melted white chocolate on top and spread with a rubber spatula. Press gently so that you don't press through into the chocolate layer, and smear the two kinds of chocolate together. Sprinkle over the crushed candy canes and return to the freezer or refrigerator to completely harden. Break into shards.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Hanukkah

Last night, my doe-eyed, doll-faced, and free spirit of a daughter came in carrying a package. It was decorated with a Menorah and her standing next to it in a crown of lit candles. Inside was a paper candle on a Styrofoam base that had been stuffed with blue and silver fabric. It was a lovely Hanukkah gift, really, and quite a surprise, because, you see, we are not Jewish. She had decided that since everyone else in her class was making a Christmas candle with red and green fabric for their families, she would make one for Hanukkah. And she knew that she would be able to give her gift first, because the first night of Hanukkah comes a whole three days before Christmas this year.

Over the years, we have had many opportunities to enjoy Hanukkah dinners with our Jewish friends. We always appreciate an invitation, after all who wouldn't love celebrating a miracle, especially when fried potatoes are involved? So tonight, in honor of that miracle, and my lovely daughter, we will eat potato latkes and spin the dreidle (another favorite holiday game in our house). A friend's mother makes the absolute best latkes I have ever eaten. She swears that the secret is to run the potatoes through the food processor twice, creating a light and tender latke. But because this is the first time making them on my own, I tried them plain and simple.

They were delicious...the hit of our impromptu party with good friends. I "slaved" over the stove as our friends gathered in our kitchen, plates ready for the next batch to be finished (all the while shooing the children out of the room). We ate them with sour cream and some apple sauce as a first course to our soup dinner. They were crisp, light, and well flavored with chopped shallot and onion.

Potato Latkes

2 pounds of russet potatoes
1/2 yellow onion, chopped finely
1 large shallot, chopped finely
1 t salt
2 eggs

Peel potatoes and shred them in a food processor. Soak them in a bowl of cold water for a couple of minutes, then drain them well. Place them in a dish towel, squeezing out any excess liquid. Place grated potatoes, onions, eggs and salt in a large bowl and toss well to coat. Heat 1/2 C vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, but not smoking, add the shredded potato mixture in 1/4 C scoops into oil. Flatten with a spatula and cook for about 5 minutes a side, or until cooked through and browned nicely. Serve immediately with dollops of sour cream and applesauce (and caviar if you have it), or place on a paper towel lined cookie sheet and keep warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oh Holy Night and Butter Cookies

Tonight, on the night of the Winter Solstice, and the fourth Sunday of Advent, we began what I hope is to be a new tradition at our home. Called the Advent Spiral, it is practiced in Waldorf schools and many churches at some point during the Advent season. We chose to do ours on the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, to help us remember how the birth of Christ brings light into the world.

As the participants walk the spiral (made from various evergreen branches) towards the lit candle in the center, they reflect on the darkness that is in this world. At the center they light a candle that they are carrying (which is stuck in a little apple). Then on the return path they set their candle down to illuminate the way for others, all the while reflecting on how they can bring the light of Christ out into the world. This ritual was performed in silence, then carols were sung at the end.

I must admit, that I had to suppress a giggle as I walked the spiral, but I was quite moved at how reverent my children were when they had their turn. They were all eager to participate and as we watched everyone else take their turn, a hushed and eager anticipation filled the space. It provided much opportunity for conversations about the real meaning of Christmas, and how that is so lost in much of the other Christmas "rituals" including frantic shopping, traffic and crowds, and parties. It was such a lovely and spiritual time, and brought our hearts right back to where they should be in these last few days before Christmas. In fact, we loved it so much, we may do it again on Christmas Eve, inviting some friends and neighbors to participate.

I realize that this post has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with food....but should mention that after the Advent Spiral, many celebrate by eating star shaped cookies (symbolic of the miraculous star that guided the shepherds), and drinking hot cider. I think we may do that on Christmas Eve when we do Spiral #2.

Which brings me to my recipe. These cookies are delicious, buttery and easy to make en masse. I made 25, 4 inch gingerbread shaped cookies to my son's class for his holiday party. Of course, it requires a whole pound of butter, so it better make a lot, right? The recipe is adapted from one in Susan Branch's Christmas from the Heart of the Home Cookbook.

The picture below is all that is left of the cookies, a veritable "gingerbread men" carnage. Not pretty to look at, but pretty good to eat.

Butter Cookies
makes 6-8 dozen

2 C butter, softened
1 1/2 C sugar
4 egg yolks
2 t vanilla extract or 1 t almond extract
4 1/2 C flour
1/2 t salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Add yolks and extract and mix well. Sift in flour and salt and beat into butter mixture until well mixed. Use an un-greased cookie sheet when ready to bake. I refrigerated the dough for a bit, then rolled it out to about a quarter of an inch thick on a floured board and then cut them into shapes. This dough can also be shaped into a log, rolled through chocolate sprinkles then sliced and baked, or made into candy canes by dying half the dough red then rolling them out into 4 inch strips (like pencils) and twisting them together into candy cane shapes. Bake for about 10 minutes, but do not let them brown. Remove from cookie sheets while still warm and let cool on sheets of parchment.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Artisan Bread for Everyone

I've been eyeing this other food blog lately, in which the authors claim that one can bake artisan bread in five minutes a day. I was highly doubtful, mostly because I have been slaving over my own sourdough starter, that I made from wild caught yeast, that needs to be fed THREE times a day, in regular intervals, every day...unless it is in dormancy in the fridge (where it is now...I have too many other mouths to feed currently).

A while back we had tried the so-called
no knead bread upon the advice of our friend Eli, who had recommended it to us. While it was quite good, it did not deliver the tang of an aged starter, nor the shapability or variation of recipes of a sourdough starter. But my sourdough starter was wearing down my patience (well really my husband was the one who most frequently remembered to feed it), and my pocketbook...bread flour gets expensive after awhile, especially when so much of it gets dumped down the drain. So I was eager to try this recipe for "artisan bread" in just minutes a day.

It is so simple it is scary, and I was pretty sure that I had gotten it wrong. I just dumped yeast, water, salt and flour into a large container and stirred until it was a gooey mass. I left it to rise for a few hours at room temperature, then put it in the fridge for a few days until I was ready to bake a loaf. Then I scooped out a grapefruit sized ball of dough with floured hands, and gently shaped it into a round with my hands, pulling it tight and tucking it underneath itself. Then I let is rest for 45 minutes while my oven heated up. I slashed the top a bit with a sharp knife then I slid it onto my heated oven stone and baked it.

The results were much better than I imagined. The dough rose up and produced a round loaf with a blistered, crisp crust and air pockets within. While not particularly tangy, I had to forgive that bit, just for the amazing ease with which this loaf was created. It is so much like that original no knead bread, but different in that it can be shaped into different forms. Tonight I made a beautiful, if imperfect bread wreath, and it really did only take me five minutes....4 1/2 to shape the loaf and 30 seconds to turn on the oven and adjust the racks!

Here is the
great recipe I used. One batch makes four 1 pound loaves and will last for about 2 weeks in the fridge. I hope that you can find 5 minutes to make your own artisan bread. It is truly amazing and delicious, and has revolutionized the way I make bread. I know that with a bit of practice that my loaves will look better and better and I can't wait to try more of their bread variations.

Seafood Gratin

Some recipes, when tasted the first time, are so very delicious that you wonder where they have been all your life. Such is the case with the most delectable seafood gratin I made for dinner tonight. It is so rich, and filled with so much silky creaminess that it is almost impossible to go back for seconds, and almost impossible not to. A cream/wine sauce that is spiked with saffron forms the base, then it is loaded with shrimp, scallops and halibut and layered with sauteed carrots and leeks. Though it has many steps in its preparation, none is particularly complicated and it can be made in advance and baked later. The recipe hails from the Barefoot "Two Sticks of Butter" Contessa and is definitely one for a special occasion or one that would make an ordinary occasion special. I realize that this photo does not do justice to all the beautiful seafood concealed beneath the buttery blanket of Panko, but trust me, you will be amazed by its creamy goodness.

If you cannot find good seafood stock in your market it is really simple to make.

Seafood Stock

Saute 3 chopped carrots, 2 chopped celery stalks, one chopped carrot, and the shells from one pound of shrimp in 2 T olive oil over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Add 1 1/2 quarts of water, 1/2 C good dry wine and 1/3 C tomato paste. Stir in 10 sprigs of thyme and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and continue to simmer for 1 hour. Strain through a sieve, pressing on solids to remove as much stock as possible. You should have about 1 quart, but add wine or water to make up the difference if it is a bit short.

Seafood Gratin

1 cup seafood stock
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons good dry white wine
3 tablespoons tomato puree
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

8 ounces raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut in half crosswise
8 ounces raw halibut, cut into1-inch chunks
8 ounces raw sea scallops, cut in half crosswise
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups julienned leeks, white and light green parts (2 large)
1 1/2 cups julienned carrots (3 carrots)
1 cup panko (Japanese dried bread crumbs)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon minced garlic (2 cloves)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the stock, cream, 1/2 cup of the wine, the tomato puree, and saffron in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and add the shrimp. After 3 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove the shrimp to a bowl. Add the halibut to the stock for 3 minutes, until just cooked through, and remove to the same bowl. Add the scallops and cook for 3 minutes then remove to the same bowl. Continue to cook the sauce until reduced by half, about 12 minutes. Mash 1 tablespoon of the butter together with the flour. Whisk the butter mixture into the sauce along with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saute pan. Add the leeks and carrots and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until softened. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of wine, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until tender. Set aside.

Combine the panko, Parmesan, parsley, tarragon, and garlic. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and mix it into the crumbs until they're moistened.

Put the seafood into a greased 9 x 13 dish. Strew the vegetables on top. Pour the sauce over the seafood and vegetables and spoon the crumbs evenly on top. Bake for 20 minutes, until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbly. Serve hot.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cheater, Cheater Cinnamon Roll Eater

When I was in school, I learned very quickly (the hard way) that redheads always got caught. I was not necessarily guilty, but if it appeared that I was involved in any way in wrongdoing, I'd get picked off like a deer in headlights. Plus, I have a blushing problem, and if I was trying to lie, I would turn three shades of purple. So I never, ever, ever cheated. Ever...because I was pretty much a perfect child (just ask my sister...wink...wink!). That being said, I must confess (without blushing) that sometimes I do cheat in the kitchen. I've been known to use a Trader Joe's pie crust or pizza dough when really pressed for time, but my absolute favorite cheat in the kitchen is frozen bread dough. I love the stuff because it makes the best (well maybe not the best, but pretty darn good) and easiest ever cinnamon rolls. Truth be told, I do on occasion, make the entire rolls from scratch, but I'll bet that you'd be hard pressed to find any member of your family who can tell the difference, or who really cares for that matter.

All you have to do is let the dough thaw at room temperature for a few hours, then roll it out as far as you can, sprinkle it heavily with cinnamon, brown sugar and a quarter cup of melted butter, roll it up, slice it and set it to rise overnight. On cold nights I let it rise out of the fridge, but if you keep your home warm, it is best to let it rise in the refrigerator then sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before you bake it. You will be amazed at how much they rise overnight! I have this great oven that I can pre-program a start time for baking, so sometimes, I just put them in there to rise and wake up to the most amazing aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. Make these for Christmas morning (or any morning) and amaze your family with a homemade breakfast surprise!

Cinnamon Rolls
(Cheater Version...shhh!)

1 1 pound loaf of frozen bread dough, thawed according to package directions
1 T cinnamon
1/2 C brown sugar (about)
1/2 stick (1/4 C) butter, melted
1/4 C milk or cream

Roll out bread dough on a floured board into a rectangle until about a quarter of an inch thick. Sprinkle evenly with cinnamon and brown sugar leaving a one inch border all around. Pour melted butter down the middle, and spread with a spatula. Roll in jelly roll fashion starting on the wide side. Some good juicy sugar might squish out the sides, so be as careful as possible. Cut in half, then cut each half in half again. Then cut each quarter into thirds (the easiest way to cut equal pieces). Place, evenly spaced, in a greased 9x13 pan and scoop up any sugar/butter mixture that oozed out onto the board and spoon it over the rolls. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, remove from fridge and let sit at room temp for 30-45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°. Brush the tops of the rolls with milk or cream and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Frosting: I mix a couple of tablespoons of room temperature butter (you could also use a mixture of cream cheese and butter) with about 1 C of powdered sugar. It will be lumpy. Drizzle in some milk by the tablespoon while whisking until it the frosting is the consistency you desire and nice and smooth. I also sometimes add about 1/2 t vanilla. Spread over the top of the warm rolls.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tastes Like Takeout...Only Better

I don't know about you, but in these last couple of weeks before Christmas, the last thing I want to do is spend hours preparing time-consuming dinners for my family. Don't get me wrong, I love to cook (obviously) is my therapy and creative outlet. But I am so tired from shopping, Christmas functions, decorating and baking that I am tempted to put a Closed for the Season sign across my kitchen door. Fantasies aside, I am always looking through my cookbooks for something delicious, easy and light to make for dinner during these busy and stressful days, because after all, even eating out gets old after awhile.

I have a tendency to read cookbooks like novels, relishing each food description and mentally cataloging which recipes I'd like to try and which I'd rather not. But the problem with that is that because I read so many cookbooks, I rarely remember which cookbook the recipe I wanted to make is in. My family frequently finds me perched on the edge of the couch, muttering under my breath as I page through the piles of cookbooks around me. Sometimes I get lucky and find what I am looking for, other times, I fly by the seat of my pants and recreate from memory the recipe I wanted to try (with mixed results). But that is how we humans learn, from trial and error. That is particularly true in the kitchen, where missteps can either be delicious or disastrous!

One of my favorite foods to eat is Indian food. Though it can be quite rich, I tend to favor the simple dishes like daal (lentils), vegetable dishes (like Gobi Aloo-cauliflower and potatoes), and Tandoori chicken. I make the chicken quite often in the summer on the grill, but have never tried it in my oven (it is not officially Tandoori chicken because I do not have a Tandoor oven...but it is the best I can do at home). The recipe is one that I have gleaned from many sources...mostly because I could never find which cookbook the actual recipe was in. Luckily for me, it is a relatively easy dish to prepare, and was one of my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants successes!

Tandoori-ish Chicken and Yogurt Sauce

1 C plain low or non-fat yogurt (I like Greek style)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 t freshly grated ginger
1 1/2 t ground turmeric, divided
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground coriander
1/4 t cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Combine 1 teaspoon of the turmeric, then all the cumin, coriander, cayenne and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken breasts with spice mixture, pressing in gently. Place on a plate, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes. In a large bowl mix yogurt, garlic, remaining turmeric and ginger.

Set oven to broil and move rack so that it is about 6 inches from the heating element. Dip chicken breasts in yogurt mixture and set on a wire rack over a foil-lined baking sheet or broiler pan. Discard the extra yogurt mixture. Broil chicken about 10-18 minutes, watching carefully to make sure it doesn't burn (it will char slightly in places). Chicken should have an internal temp. of 160 degrees when finished. If you wish to grill it, simply place it on a well oiled, medium-hot grill and cook for about 5-9 minutes a side, or until cooked through. I often also use bone-in breasts, which can take about 30-40 minutes total to grill over medium heat (watch for flare ups!).

Yogurt Sauce: combine 1/2 C plain yogurt, one small cucumber (peeled, seeded and grated), 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t cumin, and a handful of chopped cilantro. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Serve with basmati rice and yogurt sauce.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Maple Glazed Gingerbread Cakes

I have had a spectacularly busy couple of days, and coupled with the fact that I've had no Internet access, I haven't been able to write about my kitchen mess making. Thank God for modern kitchen appliances; I've been running my dishwasher twice a day a lot lately. My counter tops are stacked high with jars full of my concoctions, awaiting their turn to be packaged and shipped off to destinations far and wide. The fun part is making it...trekking to the post office, not so much.

I've decided that Thursdays will be my cookie-making day, mostly because that is the day I visit my 90 year old grandmother, and she has a sweet tooth like I've never seen. Yesterday, I brought her a bag full of huge, soft gingerbread cookies with a maple glaze. Not overly sweet, these tender cookies would go equally well with afternoon tea or a cheese plate. Much simpler to make than ordinary gingerbread, there is no boiling water to add, or dough to chill. The ingredients are simply stirred together with a wooden spoon (saving the hassle of washing the stand mixer!), then rolled out and cut into rounds. My grandmother liked them so much she ate two, and decided not to share with her housemates. I guess I'll bring more cookies next time.

Maple Glazed Gingerbread Cakes

1 C sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
2 t ginger
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 C molasses
2 sticks butter, melted
1/2 C evaporated milk
1 t vanilla
4 C flour, plus more for dusting

Preheat oven to 375°.

For cookies:
Mix sugar, spices, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir in molasses, butter, and vanilla with a whisk. Stir in flour, 1 C at a time with a wooden spoon. Dough should be moist, but not sticky. If dough is sticking on your fingers, add up to 1/2 C more flour. Turn out onto floured board and knead until smooth. Cut dough in half and put half in fridge to roll out later. Roll dough to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut out round cookies with a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter. Roll out any leftover dough and re-cut as many as possible. Place cut cookies on a greased baking sheet leaving 1 inch between them and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire rack then glaze.

For the glaze:
sift 1/2 C powdered sugar into a bowl. While whisking, drizzle in enough maple syrup (1 T at a time) so that the glaze is shiny and comes off the whisk in ribbons. Drizzle over cooled cookies.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lush-ous Limoncello

Lest you think I'm a lush for all the alcohol-laden recipes I've been posting lately, it really isn't so...But I did promise you that I would post about how to make homemade limoncello, that beverage famous for making a fool out of Danny DeVito on The View some time ago. Evidently, he had been sipping it all night with his good pal George Clooney, and didn't have the good sense to sober-up before hand.

Produced in southern Italy, it is served mainly after dinner as a digestivo. Made from alcohol, lemon peel and sugar, it is so simple to make at home, and homemade limoncello often has a much more lemony flavor than what is sold in the market. It can be sipped on its own or mixed into delicious Lemon Drop Martinis, but it can also be used in recipes both sweet and savory. Giada de Laurentis has a fabulous Limoncello Cheesecake recipe, and Mario Batali uses it to marinate shrimp. I doubled the recipe and plan to give it as Christmas gifts, bottling it into small rubber stopped bottles I found at World Market. I will add a few recipes for my friends to try...that is if they don't drink it all first! The time to make this is now, so it will be ready to give in time for the holidays.


1 bottle of quality vodka
10 lemons
3 1/2 C water
2 1/2 C sugar

Peel lemons carefully, removing any white pith stuck on peel with a sharp knife. Pour vodka into a large glass container and drop in peel. Cover tightly with plastic (or use a large jar with a rubber sealed glass top) and let sit in a cool place for 10 days, swirling the jar every day. On the 10th day, make a simple syrup out of the sugar and water (bring sugar and water to a boil until sugar dissolves). Allow the simple syrup to cool completely then pour in into the vodka mixture and let sit overnight. Strain out the lemon peel and decant into smaller bottles if desired. Store for up to 1 month in the fridge.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sunday Supper on Monday Night

I like to know what I am going to have for dinner early in the day, so I can think about it, look forward to it, and get hungry for it. But the problem with that is that sometimes it doesn't work out the way I'd hoped and then I'm disappointed and unable to get hungry for anything else. This is exactly what happened to me yesterday. After spending the afternoon at the movies and then the park, when we returned home at around 5 p.m. I was planning on whipping up a beef stew. Unfortunately, I had anticipated only 2 hours of cooking time, not the four allotted by the recipe, and so I had to make adjustments in the menu...which was rapidly shaping up to be leftovers (yuck) or takeout. We ended up throwing together a mish-mash of leftovers from the fridge and got some takeout for me, because I was in no mood for leftovers...and we did not quite have the happy Sunday supper that I'd envisioned. Oh well, such is life.

So we will have the stew tonight, another rushed meal due to the soccer season that refuses to die. But the good news is that this stew is really fast to throw together, mostly because the meat does not require browning. Although I am highly suspicious that the stew might suffer in flavor because of that, Jamie Oliver (whose recipe it is) swears that this is not so..he even made it each way to make sure. Another great thing about this meal is that it can sit in a warm oven after it has finished cooking, waiting patiently until we are ready to eat it. Perhaps it's fate that we are having this on a weeknight. After all, it is only midday and I am finished cooking dinner! All I have to do now is heat up some rolls and toss a quick salad.

This delicious looking one-pot meal, contains so many interesting "veg" as the Brits like to call it; butternut squash, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and sunchokes (or Jerusalem artichokes, which I have never prepared or eaten as far as I know, but are the roots of a type of sunflower that do indeed taste like artichoke). It also contains a good amount of wine and fresh sage and is topped with a gremolata (freshly chopped garlic, parsley and lemon peel) after it is scooped into the serving bowls. The beauty of stew in general is that it uses what ingredients are at hand, can take a fair amount of fiddling to accommodate tastes, and can be as simple or elaborate as you desire and based on what is available seasonally.

Hearty Beef Stew

serves 4-6

1 onion, chopped
handful fresh sage leaves
olive oil & butter
4 carrots, peeled and halved
2 parsnips, peeled and quartered
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
3 sunchokes, peeled and halved
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
2 pounds beef chuck or other stewing beef, cut into 2 inch chunks
2 handfuls of flour, salt and pepper
2 T tomato puree
1/2 bottle of red wine
1 1/4 C beef or vegetable stock
1 garlic clove
handful parsley
zest of one lemon

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Drizzle olive oil and toss a pat of butter in large Dutch oven and saute onion and sage over medium low heat until soft. Toss beef with seasoned flour in a zip top bag. Add to pot along with the vegetables, tomato puree, wine and stock. Gently stir to combine. Bring to a boil and place into the oven to bake for 3-4 hours. Meat should be soft and falling apart. Stew can be kept warm in a 225 degree oven until ready to eat. Serve with crusty bread and a simple salad. Scoop into bowls and sprinkle on finely minced garlic, parsley and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Bliss

I was ogling the beautiful and delicious looking food on the other day (by the of MY recipes was just featured on that website!) and I saw a picture of the most incredible looking peanut butter and chocolate bars. And since I my opinion is that peanut butter and chocolate is pretty much the best type of sweet combination I could ever wish to eat, I was so very excited to try the recipe. It is not a baking kind of recipe, it is simply a mixing, pressing into a pan, and licking the spoon kind of recipe, which every cook should have in her arsenal of quick desserts, just in case an emergency should friends dropping by...or PMS.

They taste very much like the all-too-easy-to-devour peanut butter balls that my friend Beth and her mom make each Christmas. Containing mostly sugar, sugar and peanut butter, and of course, chocolate, these treats won't last long in my house. I think I will hide them from the kids in the freezer after tonight. I'll bet they would taste really good frozen....

Here is the link to the original recipe from the Homesteading Housewife. My recipe is much like hers with some slight modifications.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
makes 12

1/2 C graham cracker crumbs (or oat cereal crumbs...I used Barbara's Shredded Oat Squares)
2 1/2 C powdered sugar
2 C crunchy peanut butter
1 t vanilla
1/2 C brown sugar
1 stick of butter, melted

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. Press into a greased and parchment lined 8x8 inch pan.

For topping: Melt half a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 C) with 2 T smooth peanut butter in the microwave for in 30 second increments stirring well between each one. (It usually takes about 1 1/2 minutes. Pour over the top of peanut butter mixture in pan and spread evenly. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until chocolate has hardened. Let sit at room temp for 15 minutes, then cut into 12 squares.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Lovely Lemon Drop Martini

It's no secret that I love a good cocktail, and I am quite certain that they have helped me survive the rigors of motherhood. In fact, one of my very favorite books on parenting is called The Three Martini Playdate. There are so many good nuggets of advice such as: If [your children] are six or seven and capable of pouring liquid into a container the size of a cocktail shaker, then set them to a practical task such as mixing simple gin and tonics or pouring a Scotch, neat or on the rocks. And another favorite quote: If a child should wake, very late, to find you and your friends out under the cabana swilling cocktails and smoking tobacco, do not be alarmed, or deterred from having an adult evening. While I'm quite sure that most of the book was written tongue-in-cheek, there is no denying that a good cocktail can be a delicious way to enhance adult social gatherings.

One of my favorite cocktails is the Lemon Drop Martini. A little sweet (but not overly so), a little sour, and a little sassy, this cocktail is a lot like me! Made from Limoncello, which is an Italian lemon liquor (that I am actually going to make and blog about later this weekend), vodka and fresh lemon juice, this beverage tastes remarkably like lemonade, which makes it quite dangerous indeed.

Lemon Drop Martini
serves 2

Into a cocktail shaker filled with ice pour 4 shots vodka, 3 shots Limoncello, and the juice of one lemon. Rub a lemon half along the rim of 2 martini glasses and dip in a plate of sugar. Shake cocktail shaker vigorously for about 15 seconds. Pour out into glasses and serve, with a twist of lemon peel, if desired.