Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pennsylvania Dutch Style Tapioca Pudding

Tapioca pudding is one of those funny desserts that almost nobody eats anymore. I think the reason has to do with changing tastes in part, but only in part. More likely, anybody who ever enjoyed it homemade has also noticed the world of difference between it and the industrially manufactured sort. Some things survive being made in a factory, and some don't. Tapioca pudding is a simple and flavorful egg custard, and I've simply never seen a good processed egg custard.

Way back when, I lived in Lancaster for three years. When we would drive between there and New York, we would stop by a small roadside restaurant/hotel that was slowly dying since the highway had been moved. They still served a traditional, generous all you could eat breakfast of many small dishes, and we loved it. It was the first time I had ever enjoyed tapioca pudding, and I managed to wheedle the recipe out of them. Here it is for you to enjoy (and a special thanks to Haag's Hotel):

You will need:
1. 1 cup pearl tapioca
2. 1 quart whole milk
3. 1/3 cup sugar
4. 3 eggs
5. Vanilla extract

Pour the tapioca pearls into a mixing bowl and fill with cold water until a couple of inches above the pearls. I am assuming you are using the more generally found tapioca here which doesn't swell to gigantic sizes (~1/2 inch or 1.25 cm in diameter). If you aren't sure, feel free to add more cold water- you can have too little, but you can't have too much. Stick the bowl into your fridge overnight or 12-14 hours.

The next part is traditionally done with a double boiler, but I just use a wide-bottomed 3 qt saucepan over a medium heat. It's up to you. I'm going to assume that you are like me and use a saucepan.

The next day, drain the pearls and set aside. Then crack and whip the three eggs. Combine the eggs, sugar, and milk in your saucepan. Heat over a medium heat and stir with a rubber spatula. Keep stirring until the milk is scalded. Scalded milk is at the point where the temperature is just hot enough to start leaving a thick residue on the sides of the pot- in other words, just below a simmer. Make sure you are always scraping the bottom and sides with your rubber spatula. You stir it constantly, but don't need to go crazy whipping it in a frenzy. This will take ten-fifteen minutes.

Once the milk has scalded, add the pearls. Continue to heat over medium and stirring for another ten minutes or so. The cool tapioca will have cooled the milk, so it takes a while to come up to temperature. The pearls will clarify and begin to float to the top as you stir. The milk will also thicken to a creamy chowder consistency. Once all of the pearls are floating and the sauce has thickened, the sauce will have about reached the boiling point. Decant the pudding into a large bowl. Add vanilla extract to taste.

You can eat it hot, but its nicer if you cover the bowl and let sit in the fridge until cold. Since it takes a long time to make, and is no less effort to make a small amount than a large amount, plus since it keeps for a few days, you often find yourself eating it for a few days. If you can hold off for 1-2 days after sticking it in the fridge, you'll notice the consistency drastically alter from the custard-pudding texture to the more gelatinous treat. It's chunkier and very nice, very different.

Monday, January 16, 2017


A friend and I were recently chatting about cold soups. Most people immediately think of gaspacho, which I've never really cared for. There are very few soups meant to be enjoyed cold, but vichyssois (vee-she-swah) is in my mind the absolute king. A little bit of history here, but if you aren't interested in that, feel free to skip to the recipe below.


Despite what you would think, vichyssois is not, in fact French, but rather an American dish from about a hundred years ago. Back then, more or less any time you invented a new recipe, you would give it a French namesake (whether to honor where you were trained, the tradition you were trained in, to make it sound fancier and let you charge more...well, that's up to you.) if you didn't name it after where the recipe was invented (i.e. the Waldorf salad).

Now, it would be a bit much to claim that we in the US invented potato leek soup, which vichyssois is a varient of, but it is very, very different in character.

 In the 1980's, there was a big case of a couple who died of botulism from consuming canned vichyssois. Botulism toxin is one of the absolute deadliest toxins on earth- it would take about ten grams to kill every human being on the face of the earth. Funny thing is, it's destroyed by heat. So even today, people who hear about the death of this couple are mystified as to why they died. It's a canned soup, the only way it would have killed them were if they just ate it straight from the can.

Well, that's exactly what they did. Why? Because vichyssois is meant to be served cold, a fact which was explained on the label, that it could be enjoyed cold straight from the can.

 Now, I personally am repulsed at the idea of consuming a cold canned soup, but that's because canned soups are generally meant to be served hot and are slimy if they are consumed cold. For all I know, this vichyssois wasn't, but I really don't want to find out.

This does however prompt me to hammer home that vichyssois is as safe as anything else you cook in the kitchen. There aren't any inherent toxins to be destroyed, this was simply a case where the canning process failed and the food was contaminated from outside. So your home made vichyssois should be fine.


Peel 6-8 large russet potatoes, and cut into quarters (or cut so that the pieces are roughly equal in size). Clean and chop roughly half that amount of leeks (make sure to slice lengthwise and clean out any dirt present). You absolutely can eat most of the green part of the leeks. Dump into a large pot and add water until the vegetables are just covered. Cover the pot and heat on a high heat until the potatoes are tender.

Now, this is a great opportunity to use that stick blender gathering dust in the back of your kitchen. Don't drain the vegetables, but instead blend the contents of the pot with the stick blender. If you do not have a stick blender, you can absolutely do this with a regular blender, but it will be a bigger pain in the butt.

Once the contents are blended, toss a cut up stick of butter in and stir until it has melted. Add salt and pepper to taste, then refrigerate the pot until cold (likely overnight). Once the soup is cold, add cream and stir. The color should be a pale green, which doesn't take all that much cream. Again, check your salt and pepper, and serve with a nice piece of buttered, freshly baked bread. This may be enjoyed for any meal of the day.

A word of caution 

Add the cream after the soup has chilled. Adding the cream and then chilling can promote bacterial growth.

I like to transfer the chilled soup into a pitcher to make it easier to dispense, and to take up less space in my fridge, but YMMV.

This is a particularly great use for older potatoes, because the starches in the potato have begun to break down into sugars, producing a slightly sweeter and more flavorful soup.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Upgraded Breakfast - Omelette with Onion Sauce

It's Saturday morning. You were able to sleep in, and you're finally awake enough to want breakfast. You have a little more energy than usual, but not enough that you want to go through some hour-long ritual to make breakfast. But you also want something a little nicer than usual. What to do? Coincidentally, I found myself in just that spot about an hour ago. I would have made bacon and eggs, but the bacon was still frozen. So, omelette. But plain omelettes are kind of boring sometimes. Maybe sauteed onions? I wanted a little texture, and I never mess with the eggs themselves; the more junk you add to the eggs, the more the eggs stick to the pan, and usually the eggs or the other crap drown out the flavor of one another, so instead I will put things like onions in the middle. I wanted a little texture, so I cut the onion lengthwise to make lots of parentheses. If you want to cut them another way, that's up to you. I think having larger pieces makes it a little more pleasant for caramelized onions, but it's entirely up to you. Nice big pan, sautee the onions on medium heat to caramelize with a big pat of butter. I used one small onion and about a tablespoon of butter. Once the onions are sizzling, make sure to turn the heat down to low or medium low. If you leave the heat up, the onions will burn, and we don't want that. You want the heat high enough to cook, but not so high that the outside cooks too much faster than the inside. That's where the shape of the onion you chopped becomes really important, because it changes the ratio of the surface area to the volume, and thus the necessary time and temperature necessary. Once the onions were sauteed, I put them aside and added a pat of butter to the pan. At this point I notticed that the bottom of the pan had nicely browned from the onions, and the wheels in my head began to turn. I thought about how, if this were a roast, I would be deglazing the pan to get all those lovely flavors, but in an omelette they go to waste. What if I could somehow deglaze the pan and get those lovely complex flavors? I made a standard four egg omelette with a nice sharp white cheddar cheese and set that aside. Quickly, add about three tablespoons of butter to the pan and let it melt. Feel free to move it around the pan to melt faster. Once melted, it should be getting pretty warm, add a teaspoon of flour and then mix this in the pan. Let the pan continue to heat to cook the roux, then add a splash of half and half. If you need real measurements, I would guess around 1/3 - 1/2 cup. Whisk or mix this so that it all becomes homogenous and add more half and half as necessary. Once homogenous, add the caramelized onions and stir, stir, stir, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with your spoon or spatula as you go. This is where it gets a little bit tricky. The sauce will thicken, thicken, and then without warning will seize. It's okay- add a little more half and half and whisk it around and it will be okay. Remember what happened so you don't do that again next time though. The omelette by this time will have had a chance to have everything inside nice and fully melted. Pour the onion sauce on top and eat immediately. You get the sweetness from the caramelized onion and the sugars from the half and half beautifully contrasting the sharpness of the cheddar cheese, plus a certain savory complexity from the deglazing. This is a really nice and simple way to nice your next breakfast a little nicer without needing to do much more work. I would add a photo, but the moment I had a taste (ditto my wife) it was inhaled. One interesting variant may be to deconstruct the omelette a little further and make a cheddar sauce to replace the cheddar filling. I think that might be going a little far, but it would be a fun experiment. If you decide to go for it before I do, let me know how it goes!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sweet Potato Gratin

Sweet potato gratin

This easy-peasy recipe will now be in regular circulation on my holiday menus... The natural sweetness of the slow-cooked potatoes, and the xmas spices and cream are balanced exquisitely by the sharpness of hot paprika.

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
500ml cream (I used 35% fat content)
Hot paprika

Layer potato slices in a large baking dish. you should put the potato slices in to test the size. The cream will bubble and expand as it cooks so you want to pick a dish that, when assembled, will only be about 1/2 to 3/4 full. This is important or you'll have a nasty, smelly, smoky kitchen.

For each layer, a light sprinkle of all spices plus small coin-sized flecks of butter

Finally, pour over the cream and pop into the oven. I was also cooking my goose, so cooked for something around 45-60 minutes at 150 on the bottom of the oven. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Chicken Katsu Curry

A quick, easy, delicious main meal to throw together when you need something tummy-warming after a long exhausting day at work. Also great when you want a proper meal late at night but are trying to avoid delivery/take-away stuff. This is also very easy on the budget. My husband Alan loves this recipe and eats it without any complaints, only murmurs of pleasure and appreciation - and if you know Alan you understand how rare that is; Alan could nit-pick for Britain.

The sauce can be made ahead of time and frozen for later use. I usually make the full amount, divide it in half when finished then use part immediately and freeze the other for later use. I find I can have dinner ready start to finish in 20 minutes if I grab a packet of the frozen sauce. Otherwise it takes me about an hour to make the fresh batch of sauce. Make this sauce slowly and gently, stirring and chopping, blending and tasting as you prepare this with love.

Sauce ingredients:

1 - 2 T peanut oil (called groundnut oil in the UK)  As needed
1 medium onion - peel and chop
5 whole garlic cloves (3 if they are the huge ones) peeled and smashed
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 T plain flour
1 T medium curry powder
1 pint chicken stock (600 ml)
2 - 3 tsp honey
1 T soy sauce (I use a tamari soy)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp garam masala

1.  Heat the oil in a small pan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, then throw in the carrots and sweat slowly for 10 minutes with the lid on, stirring occasionally until softened and starting to caramelise.
2. Stir in the flour and curry powder and cook for a minute.
3. Slowly pour in the stock while whisking or stirring until combined. Add the honey, soy sauce and bay leaf and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, so the sauce thickens but is still of pouring consistency.
4. Remove the pan from the burner and stir in the garam masala, then use a stick blender to puree the sauce quickly. Return to the burner, taste and adjust, and simmer briefly to finish.
5. At this point you can separate the sauce and freeze for future use or set aside to wait while you complete the rest of the recipe.

Chicken cutlet ingredients:

1/2 cup plain flour seasoned with lots of salt and pepper
1 large egg,  beaten lightly
1 cup Japanese panko breadcrumbs (or 1 packet, etc)
6 Chicken mini-breast strips/chicken tenders (called different names in different places)
Peanut oil
White rice and salad to serve along with the chicken and sauce

To prepare the Chicken:

1. Lay strips of chicken on non-stick baking paper, gently pound flat.
2. Place the seasoned flour, egg and breadcrumbs on separate plates. Coat the chicken in the flour, then dip into the egg and finally into the panko breadcrumbs.
3. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the breaded chicken breasts for 5 minutes on each side, or until golden and cooked through. Remove from the pan and leave to drain on kitchen paper. Slice the chicken diagonally and serve with the sauce drizzled over, and steamed rice and salad.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Bearnaise Sauce   (Chervil Sauce )

After years of tears and misery as one effort after another to make this classic emulsion sauce ended in failure; I finally stumbled on a quick and easy way to make it. It seems to come together reliably time after time and my husband has declared it perfection (and if you know my husband you know he could complain for Britain). I had to share this with you because it is just so absolutely delicious.

This was originally included as the side sauce of a steak recipe on Abel and Cole, box veg and fruit deliveries in the UK. If you have ever considered trying a box veg or fruit home delivery service, I can't recommend Able and Cole too highly. We get a weekly delivery from them and are always delighted with their produce. They also are a source for Unhomogenized milk, great traditional breads, and the Seville oranges I use to make my annual batch of Marmalade.

For the original Chervil Sauce recipe: Stunning Steak Frites with Chervil Sauce 

My easy to make Chervil/Bearnaise Sauce

Note: If you can't find fresh chervil you can substitute fresh tarragon and/or parsley. They're different but will still produce a yummy sauce.

 1 shallot
 A handful of chervil
 50g of butter
 1 tbsp cider vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
 1 large egg
 1 tbsp cold water
 Salt and freshly ground pepper
 optional: lemon

How to:

Peel and finely slice the shallot. Rinse, pat dry and finely chop the chervil leaves and stalks. Chop the cold butter into small chunks. Place a small, shallow pan or frying pan over a medium-low heat.

Measure out the cider vinegar and add it to the pan. Add the shallot. Simmer for 1-2 mins or till almost all the vinegar has evaporated. Turn the heat right down. Crack the egg on a bowl and separate the yolk from the white. Add the yolk to the pan with 1 tbsp cold water.

Whisk together over a very low heat. Add the butter, lump by lump. Keep whisking the sauce as you add it (it’ll thicken). It if looks like it’s turning into scrambled eggs, take it off the heat and add 1 tbsp cold water. Once all the butter has been whisked in, take the sauce off the heat. Stir in the chervil. Cover.

Finish making the meal you plan to serve the sauce with.

Stir the chervil sauce. If it has thickened, stir in 1-2 tbsp warm water. Optionally (what I do) cut the lemon and squeeze in drops of lemon juice while stirring till it's the consistency you want and TASTE it as you go so it is just as tart as you like.

Spoon this over steak or grilled fish or poached eggs or oh my goodness anything!!

Friday, February 12, 2016

My family understands that I don't use actual recipes for my cooking. I use ingredient lists and comments and notes at best with a foundation of cooking principles learned over the years mostly from my mother and grandmother. I've tried to put more standardized recipes together for posting here to make it easier for you but thinking about that lately I decided that it would be more useful long term to switch back and pass family cooking customs and principles along to you instead. I've always liked the tradition of cooking with family and friends and passing along a body of common knowledge. I hope you find this useful and feel comfortable asking questions as well as adding your part to the greater whole.

Cheese baked stuffed mushrooms

Our current favorite starter or light lunch. Quick and simple to make, perfect when you need something hot and savory. Also pretty good for using up bits and pieces of stuff lingering in the fridge. Very easy to increase the number of servings.

This serves 2.

2 large flat mushrooms - size should be proportionate to your appetite. We find the huge portobello mushrooms are too big for us lately so we switched to plain field mushrooms.

Unsalted butter - I use unsalted butter for all my cooking and just add salt to taste if needed later in the process

Olive oil - extra virgin olive oil - we're currently favoring Portuguese olive oil.

Fresh thyme leaves - fresh tarragon if you have any - dried herbs are sort of pointless here

sea salt, freshly ground pepper

Panko bread crumbs

Cheese - crumbled or shredded - Lately I've been using cheddar for me and stilton for Alan. Use what you like or have around, this is very flexible.

1/2 onion

Garlic cloves, minced

Shallow crockery baking dish
Small saute/frying pan
Medium size chef's knife - make sure it's well sharpened - I keep a knife sharpener on my prep counter so I can give my knives a few strokes to touch up the edge before I begin prep.

1  start your oven pre-heating to 175 C/350 F (fan oven) 

2  drizzle a little oil in the baking dish
remove the stems from the mushrooms and set aside
put the mushrooms in the baking dish open side up
put a generous knob of butter in the mushroom cavity
sprinkle in a few thyme leaves
as soon as the oven reaches temp put the dish in and bake for 10 minutes
Please use a timer with a loud annoying beep

*This is the preliminary bake. It ensures that you end up with a soft mushroom that's cooked all the way through before you put the topping on to melt.

3   while the mushrooms are baking, start preparing your layers of filling -
finely dice the mushroom stems
finely dice onion
If you have tarragon chop a few leaves now
roughly mince the garlic clove

Heat the saute pan, toss in butter to melt
Toss in the minced mushroom and onion and saute until translucent
add in the minced garlic, chopped tarragon, sprinkle in thyme leaves
add salt and pepper to taste - yes, TASTE IT and add more as needed
When it's all soft and translucent and smells insanely yummy, turn off the heat and set the pan aside

4   When the timer beeps remove the baking dish from the oven
Spoon the sauteed filling evenly into the 2 mushroom cavities
Sprinkle or crumble in a generous layer of cheese
Sprinkle panko over the cheese and drizzle olive oil over all
Sprinkle a bit of sea salt crystals and black pepper over the olive oil in the bottom of the baking dish (add a bit more oil to the bottom of the dish if needed)

5 Put the baking dish back into the hot oven and bake for 20 minutes
Make sure to set the timer!

While the mushrooms are baking -
set the table
warm the plates if you like
slice some bread - a baguette or crusty loaf
get out the butter of your choice for table use
* Heat some soup or toss some green salad if you are having the mushrooms as part of a lunch/light meal

At the 20 minute mark when the timer beeps - turn off the oven and take the baking dish out
Place the mushrooms on plates and serve
Either bring the baking dish to the table so you can dip your bread into the hot pan juices/olive oil mix - or spoon some of the pan juices over the mushrooms.

* I know this may look like a lot of fussy complicated work but that's only because I'm trying to pass along all the details to you. Once you have made this you'll realize how fast and easy it actually is. And of course, you'll adjust what you do to your taste and convenience.

Let me know if you try making this - whether you liked it and how you customized it, etc.

Btw you can use small mushrooms and make trays of this for vegetarian party nibbles or starter course.