Monday, October 5, 2009

Improv recipe: Roasted Curried Sweet Vegetables

This is not the healthiest dish out there, but it sure is tasty. You could probably tone down the amount of oil used, and omit the butter entirely, if you are trying to be a bit healthy. You can, of course, make things less spicy if you don't do well with heat. Make sure to taste the mixture to see if it's to your liking before you slather it on your veggies.

One last note: Unless you are an expert with a knife, do not attempt this recipe without a sharp vegetable peeler. Acorn squash are kind of a pain to peel. You can substitute a small butternut squash, which is a little bit easier to peel.

Roasted curried sweet vegetables
Serves 4 as a side dish

2 sweet potatoes
1 medium acorn squash

¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup brown sugar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1-2 Tablespoons curry powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 cloves
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Peel vegetables, cut into 1 inch cubes. Combine the rest of the ingredients except for the butter. Taste mixture and adjust seasoning as necessary. Coat vegetables with mixture.

Put vegetables in large oven-safe dish or wide-lipped baking sheet. Dot with butter.

Cook for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, or until veggies are tender.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Secret of Salads

I may have finally discovered the secret to salads.

But first, a little background.

My grandma J was the salad making expert of the family. Anytime we got together for the holidays, she'd bring a crisp, veggie-filled layered delight. Every bite seemed to be full of mushrooms, radish, tomato or bell pepper. And her salads rarely had cheese. Which makes it especially surprising that I loved them so much.

I thought I hadn't gotten the salad making gene from her, for all my salads tended to be lettuce-heavy and short on veggies. Any veggies I did add were chopped small and tended to sink to the bottom of the bowl.

Last night, while making a salad, I had an epiphany. I must give much of the credit to the ingredients I had on hand. The salad was to be the main course, so I had procured some end-of-summer tomatoes, thick chunks of fresh-boiled chicken, two types of nuts, homemade croutons, and goat cheese. It's kind of hard to go wrong when you start with good ingredients.

For all these years, I'd been chopping my veggies much too small. Sure, that's how my mom did it, but she always portioned the lettuce first into bowls, then sprinkled the veggies on top. Thus, no sinkage. But for salad in the big bowl, if the bites were larger, they rest much better on top of the lettuce.

Comparing this salad to others I'd made, I realized I had put a lot more non-lettuce ingredients into this one. Increasing the amount of other stuff in the salad made it tastier and more interesting.

I also needed to layer like a lasagna. So, a layer of lettuce, then a layer of each of the other ingredients, before I got back to the lettuce. For my normal salads, I had been putting a layer of lettuce between each other ingredient, which meant too much lettuce, not enough other stuff.

With those concepts in mind, I have created a simple salad formula. I'm confident this formula will help me remember what I've learned, so I can create successful salads in the future.

Secret of Salads

1. Start with flavorful ingredients. At least one of the ingredients should be nuts, cheese, dried fruit, bacon, or some other ingredient that packs a flavor punch.

2. Make the ratio of lettuce to other ingredients 1 to 1. e.g. make sure the amount of "guts" of the salad (meat, cheese, nuts, veggies) is at least as much as the lettuce.

3. Ingredients should be in large bite-sizes.

4. Layer like a lasagna.

Here's the salad I made using those rules.

Hearty Chicken Tomato Salad
1 bag pre-washed lettuce
2 cups chicken breast, pulled apart into large bite-sized chunks
1/4 cup nuts
1 cup cherry tomatoes, split in half
2 ounces goat cheese
Bacon Salt croutons (recipe follows)

Put a small layer of lettuce in the bottom of a large bowl. Sprinkle with half of chicken, tomatoes, nuts, croutons. Crumble half of goat cheese and sprinkle on top. Repeat, adding the rest of the lettuce and the rest of the other ingredients.

Serve with large salad tongs so you can get pieces of everything in the salad. Dressing is optional.

Bacon salt croutons
half a loaf of Italian or French bread
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons Bacon Salt (Click here to find Bacon Salt near you)

Slice bread crosswise. Cut into large bite-sized cubes.
Set bread aside and heat butter, olive oil, and bacon salt in a large skillet, over medium heat. Stir to combine.
Once butter is melted, add bread cubes. Stir, making sure that each bread cube gets a little bit of the bacon mixture soaked into it.
Stir frequently until cubes start to brown slightly. Remove from heat. Can store in an airtight container at room temperature for a day.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

So long, CSA

Last Thursday was the final week of my CSA. I had the good fortune to be in a year-round CSA run by the local university. With hoophouses and cold storage, they provided veggies for every single week of the year, except the short breaks between semesters.

Although I loved getting a new treasure trove of goodies, I could not keep up. The demands of a full-time job, maintaining a household, and cooking with oodles of fresh veggies each and every week just became too much for me. So, with much sadness, I've given up the CSA for now.

The CSA was both liberating and constricting. On the one hand, I was preparing more veggies than I had in my life. On the other hand, I was locked in to cooking with the veggies for the week. If I wanted leeks, and there were no leeks, tough cookies.
Also, anytime we takeout or went out to dinner, that meant losing a day's worth of veggie cooking time.

I'll be taking many lessons from my time in the CSA and applying them to my everyday cooking. I have a lot of veggie recipes now, and I know how to cook veggies-and how I like them prepared-in a way I didn't just two years ago.

I may still participate in a smaller, growing-season-only share from May to October of next year. And there's always the farmer's market. One just opened within walking distance of me, which I can now take full advantage of. And, I may plant my veggie garden for the winter so I can harvest some carrots, parsnips, and leeks in the spring.

So long, monster cloves of garlic. Bye-bye, basil. Sayonara, random bitter Asian greens (and, no offense, but good riddance).

You are gone, but not forgotten.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Epic win for appetizer party

A good friend invited me to a party she was hosting, and asked if I could bring some appetizers.

I generally don't do the cocktail-party style of appetizers. It's just so time-consuming to make dozens or hundreds of little bites and then, if you have done your job well, to see them disappear in a matter of minutes.

However, she asked so nicely, and I had by chance just picked up a new cookbook chock full of appetizers, so I was game.

I used two recipes from the book, and one I invented on the fly when I saw that the local grocery store had apricots on sale. The recipes were time-consuming, but very easy to do and very flavorful.

Almond-Stuffed Apricots

Makes about 20-24 appetizers. Can easily be doubled.

1 bag fresh apricots (about 10)
1/2 stick of butter
1/4 cup raw almonds (no skins)
2 fortune cookies (can substitute any kind of crunchy cookie here)
2 large pieces, or 2 small pieces, crystallized ginger
3 tablespoons amaretto

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Take butter out of fridge to soften.
Cut apricots in half, removing pits.
Toast almonds until lightly browned and fragrant.
Break open fortune cookies, remove paper.
Crush fortune cookies and almonds into medium-sized pieces.
Mince crystallized ginger into very small pieces.
Add amaretto and stir to moisten everything.
Add butter and brown sugar. Mash until butter is evenly mixed in and there are no huge chunks left.
Add a touch of salt to taste.

Oil a baking sheet.
Place apricots on baking sheet, skin side down.
Fill apricot halves with amaretto almond mixture.
Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes.
Let cool slightly before serving.

Pesto Tomatoes

This is so simple, it's hardly a recipe. It scales up well, and can be made a day in advance. I made a pesto using garlic scapes (when they are in season) and almonds, but store bought pesto is fine here.

Cherry tomatoes
pesto (homemade or store bought)
Slice tops off of cherry tomatoes.
Scoop out seeds and flesh with a small spoon or melon baller.
Fill tomatoes with pesto.

Cheesy Quail Eggs

Adapted from a recipe in Appetizers, Finger Food, Buffets & Parties by Bridget Jones

Quail eggs taste just like regular eggs, but are adorably small. They are worth tracking down. Try an Oriental or Asian grocery store. Do not be scared off by the length of the recipe. These eggs are very easy to make, but they are a little time-consuming because there are a lot of steps involved. You’ll want to do a lot of steps in advance, and break up the cooking over two or three days.

2 dozen quail eggs
4 cups breadcrumbs
1 bag pre-shredded cheese (I used a mozzarella provolone blend)
1 leek
1 teaspoon powdered garlic
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 teaspoons mustard
½ teaspoon black pepper
Half a bunch of parsley
4 chicken eggs, separated like so:
4 egg yolks
2 egg whites
2 egg whites
¼ cup milk
¼ cup sesame seeds
bottle of neutral vegetable oil
20 basil leaves (optional)

In advance (a day or two before)

Boil and peel quail eggs

Add a splash of vinegar and a tablespoon of salt to a large pot of boiling water.
Gently lower half the quail eggs in and boil for 3 minutes.
Get rid of any eggs that immediately float to the surface—these eggs are bad.
Remove eggs to a colander, and repeat with the second batch. Let cool.
Crack bottoms of eggshells, then roll egg around on a clean counter to crack the rest of the shell.
Peel carefully starting at the bottom of the egg.
Rinse off in water to get rid of the last bits of shells. Set aside.

Make cheesy breading.

Take shredded cheese and, if it’s not super finely shredded, chop it up a little bit more on the cutting board.
Put cheese and breadcrumbs into a very large glass or metal bowl.
Chop white part of leek very finely and add it to bowl.
Chop and add parsley. Add mustard, salt and garlic salt. Add pepper.
Beat egg yolks and add to bowl. Stir until everything is well mixed.

In a separate bowl, beat 2 of the egg whites until soft peaks form.
Fold egg whites into breading mix, stirring well.
Let it rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or for up to two days.

To assemble eggs

Take a large handful of cheesy breading and squeeze it with your hands so it comes together into a ball.
Flatten to make a little hamburger-looking thing.
Place basil leaf on one side (optional) then place egg on top of leaf.
Carefully squish the breading around the egg, making sure there are no gaps. (You may need to grab a little bit more coating to fill in the gaps.)

Take the other two egg whites, and mix them with a little bit of water.
Get a small plate and put the sesame seeds on the plate. Add a little bit of salt and pepper to the sesame seeds.
Dip the breaded eggs into the egg whites, then into the sesame seeds.

When all eggs are coated, let them rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

To fry eggs

Fill a pan at least halfway full of neutral vegetable oil (canola, corn).
Heat oil on high for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat to low.
Fry eggs in small batches of no more than 3.
Turn eggs frequently while cooking.
When they look golden brown and delicious, remove them to a plate lined with paper towels to let them drain.

Wait at least an hour for them to cool.
Once they are cool, slice them in half and serve with mayonnaise or your favorite flavorful dipping sauce.
They are also pretty tasty by themselves without any dipping sauce.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ren Fest Fun

Went to my first Wisconsin Ren Faire yesterday. I've been to three others, two in Michigan, and have actually been going to Ren Fests since well before I could drive.

This one, the Bristol Renaissance Faire, was pretty nice. Most fests are the same, but with a few minor variations. This one was nice because there was more open space, so it felt less crowded. Also, flushable toilets, which was amazing. Anyone who says that flush toilets detracts from an authentic experience hasn't had to use a privy in a hoop skirt and a bocice.

But I digress.

The other interesting difference between my "home" fest and the Bristol Faire was the food. There were certainly some of the same items--giant turkey leg, soup in a bread bowl--but there were also a lot of different things on the WI menu.

Chili DogsBrats
Scotch EggsCornish Pasties
Suffed, battered mushroomsGrilled, Marinated mushrooms
Hummus and PitaButterfly Potato chip
Cheese sticks with marinara sauceFried cheese balls with mustard mayo and BBQ sauces
Root Beer FloatSassafras

Some of the standout foots of both fests:
Scotch Eggs: Take a hard-boiled egg. Cover it with tasty sausage sphere. Bread and deep-fry. Split in half and eat. Recommended limit is 1 per lifetime, or else you shortenn your life.
Sassafras: A root-beer like beverage. Soft drink with a nice herbal, complex flavor, somewhat licorice. Very thirst-quenching for those who don't drink beer.
Fried cheese balls: Cremy, gooey fried cheese.

The beer selection at the Bristol Faire was also much more comrepehensive than my home fair. At my home fair you can get Guinness, Harp, etc. At Bristol, I had a Newcastle, a Hacker Pschorr, a Leinenkugel's, and a cider. They had two types of cider so I can't remember which it was. My home fair's selection is a touch more limited, and it's the same beer pretty much on any tap you go to. At Bristol, you've got to hunt around for the keg you want.

I'm sure I'm suffering a bit from the "Grass is Greener" syndrome, where my faire is routine to me, and this was new, therefore better. But I think there were some key places that Bristol shines through. I'll never give up my home faire, but I may be getting to Bristol once a year from now on, too.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Best. Drink. Evar.

I hate to sound like I suffer from superlatives, but I would encourage you to try this drink recipe below before you claim I'm exaggerating.

This is one of those dangerous drinks, where the different components are so perfectly in balance that you can't really taste the alcohol. But the drink is also exceedingly complex and delicious, even though it contains only three ingredients.

I'm referring to a Watermelon Cosmopolitan. In my case, I made my own watermelon-infused vodka, which I think was the key to the drink's success. I'm sure you could also make this with a store-bought watermelon vodka, but I do encourage you to try to make your own. Not only is it very easy to make, you also get the bonus of alcohol-soaked fruit!

The drink was so good, when I offered a taste to my mister, he took the whole thing. High praise coming from a guy who usually prefers to sip scotch or a good microbrew.

Watermelon Cosmopolitan
1 part watermelon-infused vodka (recipe below)
1 part Triple Sec
1 part cranberry juice

Shake over ice. Strain into martini glass.

Watermelon-infused vodka
I used the rind of leftover watermelon, so I had a lot of the green part of the fruit that was soaking in the vodka. This gave my vodka a lovely cucumber vibe, in addition to the melon flavor.

Rind of one watermelon, with some red still attached.
750 ml bottle of your favorite vodka
1 gallon drink cooler, such as Coleman jug or glass Sun Tea jar

Take rind of leftover watermelon, that still has a little bit of red fruit on it. Peel waxy dark green skin off of rind and discard. Cut remaining rind and fruit into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces. Add to jar. Top jar with bottle of vodka. Save vodka bottle.

Let fruit and booze marinate for about a week, shaking every day or so. Strain vodka back into its original bottle using a funnel. You may wind up with a bit more liquid than you started with. If this happens, just pour the rest off into another container. Refrigerate until ready to use.

If you wish, you can keep the watermelon for eating later.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

N-Ice surprise

Rejoice, Daiquiri Ice lovers.

Due to popular demand, Baskin-Robbins has brought back the original recipe for their Daiquiri Ice sorbet. They had replaced it with a revised formula a year or so ago, called Lime Daiquiri Ice, and it just wasn't the same.

The B&R Web site has it listed under "Flavors of the Month," so it may only be available on-and-off, during the summer months.

But, if you are a fan of the flavor, make sure to go over to Baskin-Robbins and have yourself a scoop or two.

Or, you can always try my daiquiri ice clone recipe. I put this together a few years ago when Baskin Robbins first pulled the plug on the original recipe.

(this is NOT Lime Daiquiri Ice)

The key to getting the right tartness level is the citric acid powder. The amount of citric acid powder will need to be adjusted depending on how sweet (or sour) your limes are.

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lime (fresh squeezed, a little pulp is fine)
1 tsp imitation rum extract
Between ½ and 1 ½ tsp citric acid powder (sold under the brand name FruitFresh. Or you can go to a health food store or online for generic food grade citric acid)
1 drop green food coloring

Heat sugar and water just until sugar melts. Remove from heat and add ½ teaspoon citric acid. Stir until dissolved. Let mixture cool a couple minutes, then add rum extract, lime juice and food coloring. Taste, and add more citric acid powder as needed, a quarter teaspoon at a time. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Churn in an ice cream machine for 25 minutes. Spoon ice into freezer-safe bowl, and move to the freezer for an hour before serving.

Note: The recipe only makes a little over 2 cups, so you may want to double the ingredients.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

M-m-m-my Samosas!

A few weeks ago, I had some pretty tasty samosas at a local restaurant, and was inspired to try making some myself.

The flavors seemed pretty straightforward: Mashed potato, cilantro, some coriander and curry powder. Nevertheless, I hit the library to find a basic samosa recipe I could adapt.

Mollie Katzen's Moosewood cookbook had samosa recipe that I used as a template. Because I was in a hurry (read: lazy), I used store-bought won ton wrappers and did not make my own dough.

I also baked my samosas, instead of frying them, to try to save a little bit of time and calories.

Measurements here are approximate, you'll want to taste your potato filling often and season it to your liking. If you use leftover mashed potatoes, make sure to add a little milk or other liquid, to get them smooth again.

M-m-m-my Samosas!
Store-bought won ton wrappers
1 pound potatoes (russet's fine)
1 bunch cilantro
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon Curry powder (more or less to taste)
2 tablespoons oil
Non-stick cooking spray (like Pam)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
salt and pepper

Pizza cutter
Frying pan
pot for cooking potatoes
clean work surface
potato masher

Peel your potatoes. Chop them into medium pieces, toss them in some boiling salted water until they are cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. Drain, add a little bit of milk and mash until mostly smooth.

Meanwhile, while potatoes are cooking, chop your onions and garlic, crush the coriander seeds lightly. Add a little bit of oil to pan, fry onions and garlic with spices to bloom the spices, on low-medium heat, until onions are a bit soft and everything starts to smell awesome.

Take several springs of cilantro, but not the whole bunch, remove the center stems, and chop. Add onion mixture and cilantro to the potatoes. Taste, add additional salt, pepper, cilantro and spices as needed. While potato mixture is still hot, add the frozen peas, and stir gently. Try not to mash the peas.

Spray baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray, liberally. (this is important. I forgot this step and paid for it).

To fill: have a pizza cutter, a small bowl of water, and a clean work surface.

Cut wontons in half from corner to corner so you have two triangles. Make sure the top of the triangle is pointing up. Put a tablespoon or two of filling into wonton. Wet edges of wonton, With the top of the triangle pointing up, fold over wonton so edges meet symmetrically as best you can. Press wonton together to seal. If filling oozes out, then use less filling next time.

Put wontons on baking sheet. Spray tops of wontons with cooking spray. Cook for 5 minutes at 375 degrees, then turn over, check after another 5 minutes. They're done when they are golden brown but not burnt.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Post-Oscar debriefing

The final menu for the Oscar party deviated only slightly from what I’d planned. My friend B brought bacon salt dip, and gutless rumaki (bacon-wrapped water chestnuts). The squash soup was served sans greens, and the cheese plate was postponed. Also, no carrots.

The desserts went over well. I also had some ice cream to go with them for those who wanted.

I really enjoyed the broiled citrus topped with butter and brown sugar, in a shallow pan, broiled till browned and bubbly.

The poached pears also were pretty good. I tried a trick with them, and it worked pretty well. I did not want to spend forever peeling the pears, so I split them in half and scooped out the flesh with a melon baller. They were a little uneven, but came out fairly well.

Oh, the other thing I had was a champagne punch. This was based on a recipe I got 10 years ago but never made. I modified it a bit because there was no raspberry sherbert at the store, but otherwise it was pretty close to the original

Broiled citrus fruits
3 grapefruit
3 oranges
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter

Mix butter and brown sugar. Section grapefruits and oranges, reserving excess juice for another use. Toss sections into bowl to mix.

Spread fruit out in shallow baking dish so all fruit is in one thin layer. (can be done in advance to this point). Sprinkle brown sugar butter mix on top. Broil about 4-6 inches away from the heat for 5 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and just beginning to brown. Watch it carefully so that it does not burn. Serve warm.

Pear spheres poached in red wine
6 pears, firm, slightly underripe
1 bottle red wine
¼ teaspoon Chinese Five-spice powder
brown sugar or honey to taste, ¼ cup or more
orange zest from one orange

Cut pears in half. Using a melon baller, scoop out spheres, being careful not to hit the skin on the pears. (Can be done about a day aheadIf doing ahead, sprinkle with lemon juice and cover with plastic wrap). Add pears and the rest of the ingredients to large saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 45 minutes, letting the wine mixture reduce.

Using a slotted spoon, drain pears out of wine. Cook wine down a little bit more until it starts to get syrupy. Return pears to syrup, turn off heat. Serve warm, chilled or at room temperature. Can make a day in advance. Reheat or bring to room temp to serve.

Lemon Berry Champagne punch
Make sure all ingredients are chilled before you start.
1 bottle champagne
1 bottle rose wine
1 pint strawberry sorbet
¼ cup frozen lemonade concentrate
1 cup frozen raspberries

Mix all ingredients except for sorbet and raspberries. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop ice cream into punch. Stir to combine. Add raspberries and serve.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oscars Party Planning

Out of the trifecta of the Emmys, Grammys, and Oscars, the Oscars are my favorite. And not just because my good friend B and I host a party every year. There’s simply something glitzy and glamorous about them in a way that the other two awards shows aren’t, and I like that. It gives me a chance to put on airs, and show off a little bit.

Just putting the finishing touches on my Oscar party menu. I’m part of a year-round CSA and I got a turkey from some family friends in the area, so I have a ton of food on hand to play around with and use for the menu planning. Not only is it thrifty, since all the food’s already paid for, being a localvore is uber trendy right now.

Here’s my menu as it stands right now. I’ll post the final version the Monday after.

Roast Turkey with sage and garlic gremolata
Celeriac and New potato mash
Butternut squash soup with kale and assorted greens
Italian garlic bread
Orange maple ginger glazed carrots
Cheese plate: Smoked cheddar and jalapeno Monterrey
Poached pears in red wine sauce
Warm baked citrus fruits

Until then, please, enjoy some Oscar links, courtesy of Mahalo. These links will be updated to-the-minute on Oscar night.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Improv Recipe: Tangy, creamy, quickie custards

I’ve been having some bad luck with egg-based desserts lately. Well, not bad luck so much as laziness backfiring on me. I haven’t been measuring ingredients.

Yeah, cooking catastrophe waiting to happen, I know. Two pumpkin custards in a row never set on me, and when I tried to wing it and estimate the amounts of a chocolate mousse, which didn’t go well.

But I had some leftover eggs from a souffle I'd made, half a carton of heavy cream, and I wanted custard, and I didn't want to have to find a recipe for it or be bothered with "measuring."

So I knew I was tempting fate here. However, I had learned from my previous mistakes and discovered a few rules:

1. Use a water bath, and use hot water. Doesn’t have to be boiling, but microwaving a cup of water until it’s good and steamy will work.
2. The ratio of eggs to other stuff is important. More eggs is better if you want a custard to thicken properly. When unsure, err on the side of more eggs. You might get something closer to sweet quiche, but at least it will be solid.
3. Baking the custard in smaller containers will help even cooking and setting. One large container will take forever to come to temperature and will cook unevenly. Several smaller containers will prevent this from happening
4. Add less liuqidy ingredients when you can. I added a half a cup of strained greek yogurt (essentially sour cream) to the custard mix to help thicken it up before I put it in the oven.
5. Use a trusted recipe. Even if you’re not measuring your ingredients, it will give you a proper ratio of eggs to liquid.

With these precautions, I successfully made an improve custard, which was quite good. The greek yogurt gave it a denser body and a nice tang, a little like a cheesecake.

Improv custard for two

3-4eggs (at least 3 egg yolks and 3 egg whites)
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons maple syrup
pinch of salt
½ cup of greek strained yogurt (or sour cream is fine)
¼ t cinnamon

Beat eggs until uniform and lighter yellow. Add other ingredients and mix until combined. Pour into ramekins or custard cups. Put cups in a high-sided baking pan or baking dish that will fit both of them without touching.

Microwave 4 cups of water on high for 2 minutes or until steamy. Be careful not to boil. Pour water around cups, but don’t get any into the custard.

Bake at 300 degrees until just set in the center. Check after 40 minutes for doneness. You want the edges to be set but the center to be a little wobbly. Turn off oven, leave custards in oven for at least 30 minutes, up to an hour. Serve warm, or cover and refrigerate.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Accidental Awesomeness

Last night I had a hankering for an Amaretto Sour. As I was getting out the sugar, the container of Tang caught my eye.

Lemon juice is sour. Tang is sour. Sugar is sweet. Tang is sweet. Why not kill two birds with one stone and use tang instead? I thought.

I mixed, added a little more sugar for good measure, then, remembering an article from Imbibe magazine about eggs in drinks being trendy, tossed in an egg white to increase the drink’s frothiness.

I shook and shook. At one point, I poured the drink, but noticed the egg had not combined completely, so I poured it back in and shook again.

When I finally poured it out, it was a lovely light orange. I had made not an Amaretto Sour, but a Creamsicle.

The result surprised me, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected. I’d known from previous fiddling that a key ingredient that gives the Orange Julius its creamy froth was an egg-based product. Of course, if you are worried about salmonella, or pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant, or have a compromised immune system, or think the idea of putting a raw egg white in a drink is icky, you can get pasteurized eggs or you can powdered, pasteurized egg white at the grocery store. The powdered egg white will be somewhat gritty, so fresh egg is really best.

The Creamsicle
This really needs to be shaken well
2 oz Amaretto
1 teaspoon Tang
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 egg white (or 2 teaspoons powdered egg white)
cocktail shaker

Put ice in cocktail shaker. Add the rest of the ingredients. Shake vigorously for at least two minutes. Strain into a highball glass.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar Party Time

Cross-posted at my other blog, The Manic Scribe.

Oscar nominees were just announced today.

I'm a huge Oscar fan. Not so much for the movies but for the social aspect.

I usually do an Oscar party with my good friend B. Last year I skipped it. I hope to get back into the tradition this year. I like to realy glam up the food I serve, but this year, I am just about partied out. Not to mention that I should be more budget-consious than I have been due to the current economic doldrums.

However, I've got a turkey in the freezer and half a lamb's worth of meat. And I've got a steady supply of root and leaf vegetables coming in weekly from my CSA. So I think I'll be able to put together a nice spread for my guests that won't break my budget.

Hm. Maybe I'll even ask them to bring some canned goods to donate to charity, make it something more than appletinis and red carpets.

Gratin Fail; Cast Iron Win

Got a slew of root vegetables from the winter CSA that just started on Jan 8. Tried to make a gratin, which would have beek OK, except for a few issues.

One, I had not sliced the veggies thin enough. Also, since I made the gratin in advance and cooked it from the frigde, I wound up undercooking the thing.

Two, I'd forgotten to salt the layers. Now, the layers also contained some bacon, and I salted the liquid that I added halfway through baking. It was just a touch undersalted when all was said and done. Next time I'll use my common sense and actually stick a fork in the damn thing to make sure it's done.

In other news, I seasoned the cast iron skillets I got for Christmas/My Birthday. They're still in the oven, actually. I'm not 100% sure what I will cook in them. I've got a crowd coming over for my birthday this Saturday, but we're going out to dinner. I'll have to think of something really special to break in the pans.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy New Year!

You know it's been a busy year when I don't have time to cook. I LOVE to cook. It's relaxing and therapeutic to me. But I simply haven't had time. Thus, the blog has suffered.

It was a great, but busy, 2008. Several trips out of state for family and for fun, picking up a second job, and getting my first ranking in aikido has kept my life full, but tiring.

I knew on an intellectual level that I was tired for the latter half of the year, but it was only after a good 5 days at my parents, with nothing to do but sleep in late, go shopping, read a book on wine and scarf down Company Potatoes, that I got perspective on how relaxed I felt, and how stressed I was before.

Coming back to reality, I know that I've still got a lot on my plate, but I've tasted the fruits of relaxation, and they will be a part of my diet from now on.

As a symbolic gesture of this, I actually cooked something fancy, from a recipe even, Sunday night. Pears poached in red wine sauce. The lovely thing about this recipe is it's very elegant, but can be broken up into several parts, many of which can be done in advance. It's a good example for me how I can still find ways to cook and relax in 2009 and keep a better balance of work, rest, and play.

Poached pears in wine sauce

large, somewhat shallow, saucepan, big enough to fit all pears
Vegetable peeler
spoon or ladle
measuring cups

1 bottle fruity red wine
1/2 cup fortified wine, such as port wine, or sherry (or 1/2 cup sweet wine plus a shot of something strong like vodka or rum).
1/2 cup sugar
4 pears, the ones with the green skins, slightly underripe if you can get them that way.
2 Tablespoons chai loose leaf tea (emphatically not the powdered stuff. It has to have twigs and pods and nibs in it. Can substitute 2 T mulling spices plus a 1 inch section of orange rind)

Keep stems on pears, but peel them. Cut off bottoms of pears a little bit so they stand upright. Heat all other ingredients in saucepan over low heat until sugar is just melted. Add pears. Heat mixture until boiling, then back heat down to a low simmer. Cook 30-40 minutes, turning pears every 10 minutes or so. Baste the pears with the liquid each time you turn them.

Remove pears, then turn the heat up and cook the syrup down until it is reduced to about a cup. Be careful here to make sure the syrup doesn't burn. When bubbles start to "stack" on top of each other, you're good to go.

Strain syrup, pour syrup over pears in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serve by placing each pear, standing up, then spoon some syrup around. Can add whipped cream or ice cream if you want.

The coolest thing about this recipe is how the pears turn from pale green to ruby red as you cook. Talk about alchemy. Yum.