Monday, December 20, 2010

Applesauce Cake

So here we are in the final run-up to Christmas and snowed in. London is suffering sub-zero temps and 4 inches of snow (which is a paralyzing amount in the UK!) with more predicted each day up to Christmas.

So, stuck at home I wanted something comforting and reminiscent of my childhood. Voila - Applesauce cake.

I had an assortment of apples that had seen better days but were still edible which I made into applesauce. Very simple to do - peel and core apples, cut into bite-size pieces. Dump apples in saucepan with 1 star anise, 1 clove, 1 cardamom, and a piece of cinnamon stick(bark). Add about 1/2 cup of water, pop on the lid, and let it simmer gently until the apple pieces are falling apart when stirred with a spoon. Fish out the spices and discard, then bring the sauce to a low boil and stir while watching carefully to boil off any remaining excess liquid. When the sauce looks nice and thick, take it off the heat, let cool.  No sugar needed, and it's ready to be eaten as-is or used in recipes.

Applesauce Cake -

¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
3 eggs
2¾ cups  flour
1½ tsp salt
1½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp nutmeg - freshly grated!!!
¾ tsp cinnamon
2 cups applesauce
¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). If you have a fan oven - be careful and adjust it per your experience*

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Blend in eggs.
Sift together dry ingredients. Add to creamed mixture, alternating with applesauce, beating after each addition.

If you like, stir in ¾ cup chopped nuts before pouring batter into pans.

Pour into two buttered 8-by 4-inch loaf pans or large bundt or round spring-form pan.  Bake for 1 hour or until done. (Start checking at the 45 minute mark.)

Remove and let cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pans and putting on rack to cool completely.

Sugar Glaze:

Combine ½ cup sifted icing/confectioners sugar with 1 tbsp water to start, then stir and add drops of rum or brandy or more water as needed.. Stir until the sugar glaze is thin enough to pour but thick enough to coat the spoon and stick a bit   Pour over cake.

*note: I really hate fan ovens for baking. You can't trust them, their temperature always needs adjusting from whatever your recipe requires, that adjustment is not consistent, and fan ovens will sabotage your baking when you least expect it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


God knows that my childhood was not one of gumdrops and...and....I don't know, other sweet happy shit. But there were some things I have very happy, fond memories of. The human mind and body are wonderful things. Little things can trigger a smile.

When I was a little boy, we had a farmhouse in the country in upstate New York. We go drive there every weekend and just enjoy being out of the city. In many ways, I think I appreciate it more now than I did then, although I loved being there when I was a kid. I used to love on winter mornings waking up early, going to the fireplace, stirring the ashes around and building up the fire from the night before, then curling up in a chair with a book on my lap and sink into the book for hours before anyone else was up.

Sometimes though, for whatever reason, I would sleep a little late, and my mother would wake up before me, and I would wake up to a smell I was very familiar with. Popovers. I don't know what it is about these things that I adored so much, but I went crazy for them. I pestered my mother to make them almost every damn weekend, the poor woman. Sometimes she would, sometimes she wouldn't. Sometimes, just to be extra special, she would put cheese in the batter. Mmm, popovers.

Time passed, and popovers became a distant memory, all but forgotten. I don't remember when exactly, but about a year or two ago, I was zipping around amazon, and I stumbled onto a popover pan. I had never heard of such a creature and looked it up. It seemed that they are a little different from regular muffin tins- the cups are slightly deeper, more narrow, the slope of the sides different. They also tend to be freestanding cups held by wire- which is a bit more thermally efficient. Apparently you really need one to make perfect popovers. I thought back to my childhood. I remember how much it used to drive my mother completely crazy that the popovers would collapse. They still tasted scrumptious, but the tops would cave inward. I, as a child, didn't give a shit- I cared about the taste. But I as an adult (and a somewhat anal retentive cook) was curious to see whether or not I could pull off the perfect popover. So, I put the pan on my wishlist, and pretty much forgot about it. A few weeks ago, I had a little cash and decided to buy some stuff from my wishlist. Scrolling through, I found the popover pan. I argued with myself about the cost (not much- $17 I think it was) and was it worth it, would I ever make them, etc. etc.

Then I figured, fuck it. I bought it. Well, naturally as I was waiting for the order, the company stopped selling them and replaced it with what looks like the identical thing but $1.50 cheaper. Idon't care- when a company discontinues a product and replaces it with something they claim is the same but cheaper, it usually means it's shoddier. And, hell, it's a buck fifty.

So, it arrived last week and I didn't have a chance to use it, naturally. All my chinese friends, coworkers, wife, all looked at me weirdly when I described them. When I showed pictures, the unanimous reply was always "Do you fill it with cream?" I was scandalized. Also a little mystified that every single chinese person said the same thing. Go figure, it's a cultural thing.

So last night I decided that I would wake up early and make some. I informed my wife who asked "Are you going to fill them with cream?"
"Well, can you put cheese in them?"
"Well, yes, my mother used to. But I'd rather try making one normal batch first, before I start screwing with it."
"Well, can you put herbs and spices into it?"
"Yes, but I really would like to just make one normal batch first."

So. Out of curiosity, I looked up various recipies, and decided that most of them are bullshit, or have all kinds of weird requirements, etc. For example- you don't need to use kosher salt. It's going to melt in anyway, who cares what kind of salt you use? I used coarsely grained sea salt, but only because it's all I had (just ran out of mortons). Or how the eggs and milk need to be room temperature- nope, I took mine straight from the fridge.

Please please please do not try to make this recipe "healthy." The popover is a fairly delicate thing, and using crap like soy milk, margaine, whole wheat flour, egg whites, whatever- will fuck it up, make it nasty, and hell, why are you bothering to make it if you aren't going to make it well? Just stick to the damn recipe, okay? Yeesh.

You will need:
1. 1 cup flour, bleached white all-purpose
2. 1 cup whole milk (none of that reduced fat or soy whatever, have some pride in your cooking, you fucking hipster).
3. 2 tablespoons butter, melted. You can have a little more, but you need this much.
4. 3 large eggs.
5. 1 pinch salt

Preheat your oven to 425. The tray will go onto the lowest rack, so position that ahead of time. Take your popover pan or muffin tin or whatever you use and grease the inside of the cups with some butter (not the melted butter, this is just butter used as a grease). Set the pan aside. Now, for the batter, you can use a hand mixer, a food processor, whatever. I used my kitchen aid with the whisk attachment. For those of you who care, my milk and eggs were straight from the fridge, the butter was freshly melted and still kinda hot.

Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix. To my chagrin, my flour wasn't sifted or anything, but had some fairly large lumps. I did the best I could, but it was still kind of gooey on the bottom of the bowl and such. After the mixture became homogenous (couple minutes on the second-to-lowest setting) there was a light froth on top, but not much. Enough that I knew that oxygen had made its way into the batter. The batter is fairly liquidy. From my work with creme brulee, I noticed a could of pieces of cooked egg floating in the batter. Probably because of the hot butter. I strained the batter into a mixing bowl. Good thing I did, as I strained a hell of a lot of junk out- cooked egg, gooey flour, etc. I ended up with a very nice, smooth batter. Plus, my mixing bowl has a mouth to pour, while the kitchen aid bowl does not. I poured an even amount into each of the six popover cups and put the pan into the oven, on the lowest rack.

Do not open the oven until you are ready to take the popovers out.

Keep the oven at 425 for 25 minutes. Then turn the temperature down to 350 and walk away. After 15 minutes, come back and take your fresh popovers out of the oven. You will want to eat them within five to ten minutes from the oven.

While baking, enjoy the smell. I walked around my apartment with a smile on my face from it- I had forgotten that smell, but with it, it brought back memories of delight from when I was a kid.

It's sad, but while popovers are an american dish (they are. Yorkshire puddings are very similar, but not quite the same) most americans are unfamiliar with them. It's one of the few points of american cuisine that we should take pride in, but they are almost completely unknown anymore. So, I want to thank my mother for exposing me to popovers, one of my favorite treats in the world.

And for those of you wondering, I took some pictures when they came fresh out of the oven. You can see them below. You will note that they did not collapse, and take my words on it when I say that they were perfectly cooked- crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, just the right balance of flavors. The only weird thing is that the very bottoms have that weird bell shape. I guess it must be a side effect of the pan or whatever, but it doesn't really matter- they're beautiful and delicious.

Next week, maybe I'll make another batch, this time with some cheddar. Oh, and do pay attention to the times- 25 and 15, and you'll get beautifully golden popovers.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Portugese Pickled Carrots - conserva de cenoura - a recipe from the Algarve

When Astrid and I were in the Algarve region of Portugal a few months ago, everywhere we went restaurants and cafes served us these yummy, garlicky carrots. Served in little ceramic bowls, drizzled with fresh olive oil, it was the perfect nibble to accompany a cold glass of vinho verde or rose wine - and to dunk roughly torn pieces of fresh Portuguese bread into.

2 cups sweet carrots, peeled and sliced in rounds
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. parsley finely chopped
1-2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. sweet paprika
Salt - a pinch of sea salt/fleur de sel is best
black or green olives, with or without pits

1. Place peeled sliced carrots in a bowl and steam using microwave.  Zap until tender but not too soft. Microwaves vary, so 5 to 10min depending on microwave. *Note: Keep watch so your carrots don’t over cook.
Or simply simmer on the stove, in water to cover, until just tender.

2. Drain the carrots and place in bowl to cool slightly.

3. In another bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, chopped parsley, garlic, paprika, salt.

4. Pour combined liquids over the carrots and mix gently - so not to break carrots, but mix well enough to coat all the slices. Taste for salt and spice and add to taste.

5. Add olives now if you wish and mix again gently.

6. Store covered, in refrigerator. Let the mix rest and absorb the flavours for an hour before serving or let the flavours mature and mellow longer; it keeps beautifully in the refrigerator for 3 days easily. If it looks a bit dry when ready to serve, just drizzle on a bit more olive oil, stir and serve.

Serve with crisp Portuguese bread, baguettes, or other crisp crusted bread for dunking into the garlicky oil . A cold bottle of vinho verde will complete the perfect snack.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Brownies - from scratch!

Perhaps the companies we have worked at are not typical of most UK firms, but it has been our experience that bringing baked goodies in to share with office mates is not typical and customary in the UK. When I first brought a batch of the classic American "Nieman Marcus $1,000,000 Chocolate Chip Urban Legend Cookies" into my office at KBR, the crowds went wild. Well, ok, we're all techies, all IT professionals, so yummy cookies are a natural along with coffee, lots of coffee. But then I sent in a share of the next batch with Alan (my husband) to his office and again, the crowds went wild. As time went on and we moved to other jobs the same phenomenon occurred - people delighted but mystified at why one would bring in home baked goodies for the office.

Well, it's an American thing.

Anyway, making those awesome cookies is a great deal of work, especially as I have to make them entirely by hand since I have no mixer here in the UK, and I wasn't making them very frequently. But people at Alan's office were making wingeing, mewling sounds of need so one evening I mixed up a batch of classic American brownies - from a mix box, of course. People loved them, and it was a perfect solution for home baked goody craving being dirt-easy to make. So when Alan came home from work on Thursday and informed me that the hints had progressed to stern cross-examination as to the expected arrival date of more snackies I told him to let his mates know he'd be bringing in brownies Monday morning. I planned to pick up a couple of boxes of brownie mix when I did my regular weekly supermarket run. Unfortunately I went brain dead and while I knew there was something I'd intended to pick up, I absolutely couldn't remember what. Until Alan asked me on Sunday afternoon when I planned to bake the brownies for work. Yikes! That's what I forgot to buy! But I knew I couldn't let the office staff down, they were all anticipating rich chocolaty brownies with morning coffee on Monday. So I airily announced no worries, I shall bake brownies from scratch as I had all the necessary ingredients in my cupboard storage. On the other hand, what I didn't mention was that I'd never actually made homemade brownies from scratch. So armed with a recipe from a trusted source, and scavenging the cupboards, I proceeded to bake a batch of what turned out to be the best damned brownies I've ever tasted!

Note to UK users - this recipe used cup and spoon measures, not weights. This makes life VASTLY easier.

If you don't have them, get yourself a set of standard measuring spoons and a set of measuring cups. Forget the misery of scales. I've given a rough guide to metric measures you can use.)


4 large eggs
1 cup caster sugar (or 250g)
7 0z unsalted butter (200g)
6 oz dark chocolate - use a really good quality bar(150g)
1 cup plain flour (150g)
3/4 tsp baking powder (3.5g) I just used 1 level tsp because it was easier
2 small packs dark chocolate chips or chunks (100 gr bags UK, 4 oz bags US)


Baking pan - 8 x 10 x 1.5 inches (you can use a slightly larger pan but not smaller)
Greaseproof or Parchment paper
spatula - get yourself a silicone one as they are marvelous
Two bowls, pyrex or stainless steel, (1 large for mixing, 1 which can sit comfortably on top of the saucepan).
Saucepan with simmering water


1. Preheat oven to 325 F (170c or 160C for fan ovens)
2. Very lightly butter the baking pan (this will help keep baking paper in place).
3. Cut paper and fit to the pan leaving a small bit over the long sides for lifting cake out later and tucking the corners in keep a reasonably neat lining.
4. Lightly butter the bottom paper.


1. Put the eggs and sugar into the large mixing bowl and whisk together until well mixed. Set this to the side.

2. Break up the chocolate and put it into the heatproof bowl.
Cut the butter into chunks and add to the chocolate.
Place the bowl over the saucepan of simmering water.

3. Using the spatula, gently stir the butter and chocolate until they have both melted.
Then pour them into the egg and sugar mix while stirring the mix. It's important to stir the mix while adding the stream of melted chocolate.

4. Add the flour and baking powder to the mix and whisk them in, ensuring there are no lumps of flour.

5. Now stir in the chocolate chips and pour the whole lot into the baking pan lined with greaseproof paper.

6. Put the baking pan into the oven and bake it for 30 minutes.

7. Remove the baking pan from the oven; you'll notice that the brownies have shrunk slightly away from the sides.
Put the pan on a rack or heatproof surface and allow it to rest and cool for 10 minutes (ok, 5 if you're terribly impatient)

8. Take the brownies out of the baking pan by gently lifting on the extra paper you left on the long sides of the pan. Place the brownies on a tray and allow to cool another 30 min or until cool enough to handle. Cut into pieces and serve.

9. You can store the brownies in a tin or tupperware box at room temperature for a couple days - if they last that long! Or you can also wrap them individually in wax paper and place in a zip lock bag and freeze - that way you can take 1 out when you like and just let it come to room temp. Frozen brownies will keep for a couple of months.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Creme Brulee

By request, I'm posting my Creme Brulee recipe. We recently bought a set which included ramekins, water bath, and ramekin holder. You don't need this, but it speeds up the process quite a bit. You'll see why. It's also an excuse to use a blowtorch.

You'll need few ingredients to make 4 individual brulees. Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees. In a small saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups heavy cream on a medium heat. If you have one and wish to use it, feel free to split a vanilla bean and add it. I'm unable to get my hands on one (I live in Chinatown, and work in Harlem. Neither place typically has vanilla beans readily available. Yes, there is a Fairway near me, but it's a pain in the ass to get to.). For the rest of us, add a teaspoon or two (up to you, I like adding a little more to have more of a vanilla taste to the custard) vanilla extract to the heavy cream. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl or kitchen aid (use the wire whisk) whisk together 6 egg yolks and 1/4 cup white granulated sugar until homogenous. When the cream is just hitting the boiling point (which will be about when you finish whipping together the yolks and sugar) remove from heat. Turn your mixer to a medium-high speed (this is important) and add a small amount of the cream (~1/4 cup-ish). Once it is incorporated, add a little more cream. Once that is done, add the rest of the cream, and continue to whip the mixture for another 10 seconds or so. Don't worry about foam.

Remove the mixture and pour into a separate bowl through a strainer. This will remove any egg shell pieces, as well as any pieces of egg which were cooked by the cream. Fill your water bath to about halfway. Place the ramekins in and fill each with the batter. Most recipes tell you to spoon off the foam. I find this a pain in the ass, as well as a waste of batter. Instead, I take my blowtorch and quickly wave the flame over the tops of the ramekins. It will make the bubbles disappear. You can do it two or three times. If you end up singeing the top a little, don't freak out, it's fine.

Stick the bath into your oven and leave in there for 50 minutes. Yes, 50 minutes. I've done this a number of times now (I have to justify the cost of the materials somehow) and it is always 50 minutes. Naturally, ovens differ, so check yours out at 45 minutes. I have not noticed a difference between it being located in the middle or top of the oven, so don't worry about it. How do you know it is underdone/done? Shake the bath gently. If the custard moves like a liquid, it is underdone. If it jiggles like Jello jigglers (which are slightly stiffer than classical jello) you're good. And yes, it is a very fast turnover point. At 45 minutes, it will be completely liquid. At 50 minutes, it is done.

Here is where the set is nice. Normally, you will need to leave the ramekins alone or very carefully remove them. My set has a wire holder which allows me to immediately remove the ramekins from the hot water bath, which allows them to cool more quickly. Generally, you'll want to wait until they cool a little bit before you stick them in the fridge (rule of thumb- don't stick piping hot items into the fridge or your milk will be chunky in the morning). Leave them alone for at leave a half hour- you want them nice and chilly. If you are planning on eating the creme brulee more than an hour or two later, leave them in the fridge. The custard will keep just fine, don’t worry. When you are ready to eat the dessert, take a teaspoon of granulated sugar and pour it on top of the first ramekin in a heap. Pick up the ramekin and angle it slightly, rotating so that the sugar coats the top evenly. This will ensure that you get a nice, even layer of perfect thickness. Excess gets poured on top of the next ramekin, and repeat. Once done, grab out your blowtorch.
Your first crème brulee will likely be over-scorched. I expected that I would need to move the flame rapidly and many times to get even heating. In fact, I have found that I get more consistent results if I move the torch slowly and evenly, giving the entire dish only one or two passes (one slow, one quick). Play with it- it’s really mostly a matter of practice more than anything. Oh, make sure you are not holding the ramekin when you use the blowtorch, and if you are afraid of setting your kitchen counter on fire, put foil down first.
Once done, the brulee’s go back in the fridge. Don’t try to eat it just yet- molten sugar + mouth = ouchie. Let it sit for ~1/2 hour. Eat within an hour or so. Any longer, and the sugar will start to soften and re-dissolve in the custard. Bon appétit!
Some thoughts: Have fun. Joanna and I decided to play with the type of sugar we used on the top. Most people use sugar in the raw or white sugar. I’m curious to try maple sugar. Last night, we tried using some black and harlequin sugars we had sitting around. This was interesting not just visually, but because the sugar grains were fairly large, the thickness and texture of the sugar layer was different. The black sugar was surprisingly boring and was very difficult to gauge the temperature. See below. Note: The tops are a little sloppy, because it is very difficult to make an even layer with very large grained sugar. Also, when using colored sugar, it will melt fully, but the dye stays put. So it looks unevenly coated, but it actually was very nice and even.
Oh yea. When adding the hot cream, make sure the mixer is fast. Too slow and the cream will cook the eggs much more- going fast will allow you to properly temper the eggs (raise their temperature without cooking). It always will cook the eggs a teeny bit, but this will minimize it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Kick-ass Sauce

Yea, it's a silly name. But let me explain a little. My fiance is an ABC (american born chinese). She likes glazes on her meat- sweet glazes. I tend to dislike sweet glazes. They tend to be cloying and have little flavor. If I'm going to have a glaze, I prefer something savory or spicy. Joanna is more sensitive to heat in food than I am (I'm pretty sure there are entire nations that combined are still more sensitive to spicy than I am) so I tend to avoid making food we share spicy.

Seemingly unrelated, I have been on the search for many years for the perfect barbeque sauce. In my mind, I have a flavor which is what I think of when I think barbeque sauce. For many years, I have tried many, many different varieties from the store. Some would come close, but were always off. Not that some weren't excellent (and Choo-Choo's barbeque sauce will be missed, that's for certain) but they weren't quite right. Generally, they are too sweet, or have too much bullshit fake flavoring added, or I can taste the preservatives or whatever

No, I am not giving the recipe for my dream sauce. I never attempted to make it. I wouldn't even be sure how to start.

As I said before, I like a savory glaze, while Joanna likes sweet ones. I started playing with making my own glaze/barbeque sauce about a year ago. It took a lot of trials. The biggest hurdle was my shift in philosophy. I would make something I thought was pleasant, then my fiance would taste it and not like it, insisting I make it sweeter. Attempting to do so always gave something that tasted okay, but wasn't great. The problem was that I was either making a sweet sauce, or a savory sauce that had something sweet added, and it wasn't right. What I needed to do was to invent a sauce that by its very nature was both sweet and savory. And that's what I'm writing about.

I do not have exact amounts for this. I always adjust to taste. One thing to note- don't worry too much about it tasting perfect. I've discovered to my happy surprise that even if it isn't quite right, once I coat the burgers or ribs with it and cook them, it still tastes the same- fantastic. So give this recipe a try, I think you'll be pleased.

I use a medium saucepan on medium heat. To it I add ~1/2 cup of honey. I then add a cup of Heinz ketchup. You will need to add more ketchup later, maybe a quarter cup or so. You don't want the honey flavor to be too strong. Make sure to stir fairly frequently and make sure the mixture is homogenous before adding any other ingredients. The honey will take a little while before it dissolves into the ketchup, but it will, I promise. To this, add 4-5 cloves of garlic. I use my garlic press; I don't like my hands to stink for a week. Now, take wasabi powder (if you can get your hands on real wasabi root and a sharkskin grater, more power to you) and and in a small bowl mix with some water. Do not add the powder directly tot he sauce- it'll just dissolve in and be overwhelmed. I like to use about a heaping teaspoon or so. I also find it easier to add enough water so that it isn't its customary paste, but instead is more fluid. This allows you to add it more easily tot he sauce and it dossolves more easily. Leave the wasabi alone for five minutes to let the flavor develope, then stir into the sauce. Add a dash of tobasco sauce. This will make enough to coat a rack of ribs.

Be careful about overhating the sauce, or heating it too long. Doing so will enhance the flavor fo the vinegar in the ketchup, and give you an acidic sauce. Taste when you finish and add more of whatever ingredients you need. Again, don't stress out too much- it'll taste great. I don't add mustard- again, the vinegar content keeps me cautious. I tried it but didn't find that it added anything to the sauce. I've heard people express surprise that I cook my sauce, but I think it helps the flavors to really melt together, especially the garlic. If you find that you have added too much ketchup (it happens) you can easily just add more honey and such to taste.

Alternately- you can try sauteing the minced garlic into the saucepan, then add the honey and other ingredients. I cannot honestly say that I have noticed any difference in flavor or texture, so you may as well just make your life easier and add it later. Feel free to add a little salt and pepper if you like. I hope you folks will give this sauce a try- it is really easy to make, and delicious. The wasabi also (maybe just in my mind) makes the meat a little more tender and just compliments the rest of the flavors so fantastically.

Hm. I do have powdered chinese mustard. Might be worth playing with that a little and seeing what turns up.

If you like this recipe, please post and let me know your impressions. Or if you hate it, that's okay too. This glaze, incidentally, caramelizes beautifully. This last week, I madea rack of ribs with Joanna. We were both very hungry, and the ribs came our beautifully tender and juicy and just perfect. Joanna was dissapointed, however, that they really hadn't caramelized at all. She wanted to put them back int he oven longer, but I worried that they would dry out. So, I whipped out my blowtorch (what, your kitchen has no blowtorch?) and set about with it. Everyone ended up very happy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pumpkin Pie

Basic Pumpkin Pie recipe - with notes for variations/options 

Note: In an ideal world, this pie should be baked in a
10 inch corning glass deep dish pie plate
Sadly, these once ubiquitous dishes are now rare and precious items.
If you have one or can find one, guard it well. Perhaps you can find one on eBay or steal one from your Granny. And btw there is a Zombie Death Curse on the bastard who stole mine from Astrid's last Thanksgiving dinner.

If you live in the UK, any sort of American pie plate may be difficult to find. Tesco and Waitrose used to carry them but I don't know if they currently do and that will also vary with location. The Waitrose in Canary Wharf, London had an excellent selection last time I was there.

Note: Where do you find pumpkin to make this pie?

The answer to this can be relatively simple or pretty complex - read on:

First you need to make some decisions - 

1. Are you going to use pumpkin or sweet potatoes to make this pie. Yes, you can use sweet potatoes instead of pumpkin. Nobody can tell the difference in the finished product. Trust me on this one. (This fact comes in handy in the UK where any kind of pumpkin may be impossible to find.)

2. If you choose to use pumpkin you need to decide fresh or canned.

Canned is easy - Get Libbys 15 oz can - even Tesco in the UK carries that. For some reason, Tesco's often stocks their canned pumpkin in the canned FRUIT section so check there as well as in the canned veg aisle. In the US it's available everywhere and frankly it's become the traditional standard for most people.

Or make a puree from fresh pumpkin - For this you MUST use a little 6" to 8" pie pumpkin (sometimes called a sugar pumpkin), you just need 1 to make either a 10" deep dish pie or 2 shallow dish 9" pies. Do not attempt to use the big Halloween type pumpkin. They are too watery and grainy/stringy and lack natural sugars. You can also use a butternut squash to make the puree - this is actually what is in canned "pumpkin". If you can get pie pumpkins, just cut it in half, scoop out all the seeds and fibers, then place cut-side down on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C/160 Fan) for approximately 45 minutes to 1 1/4 hours (depending on size) or until easily pierced with a knife. When done, let cool a bit and then the peel should just lift right off. You'll need to puree the cooked pumpkin in a food processor or in a bowl with an electric hand-blender wand. Let the pureed pumpkin sit in a bowl for about 20 min and if any water seeps out, pour it away before using the pumpkin. (See why we tend to use the canned stuff?)

3. If you decide to use sweet potatoes and you live in the UK, you must use American sweet potatoes for this NOT African or unlabeled ones from god knows where. This is because the name may be the same, but the vegetable isn't. Tesco's sells American sweet potatoes under the name, "Carolina Gold" and they are lovely.

OK, on to the recipe

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C)
Place your oven rack in the middle or bottom third of the oven

Ingredients -

Pie crust - buy ready made in the fresh chilled/dairy section of your supermarket - in the US, I use Pillsbury's, in the UK ready rolled short crust (made with butter if possible). If you make your own pie crust, use your favorite. Make sure you have enough for 1 deep dish/2 shallow dish single crust pies.

(Here's a link with photos about crusts - )

Pie Filling -

3 large eggs
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree or 1 - 15 ounce can (425 grams) pure pumpkin
1/2 cup (120 ml) double or heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup (110 grams) light brown sugar - you can use white sugar if you prefer
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional - a good splash of Scotch Malt Whiskey

Topping - whipped cream to top pie just before serving

First get your pie crust ready. Line the pie plate with the crust, crimp edges.
Option - sprinkle finely chopped pecans over the crust and press into the dough

Then make the filling:

1. In a large bowl lightly whisk the eggs.

2. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Taste and adjust, you may want to add more sugar or spices.

3. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and place on a large baking pan to catch any spills. Note - you can cover the edges of the pie crust with aluminum (kitchen) foil before baking to prevent it overbrowning. If you do this, make sure to remove the foil after the first 20 min baking. I can't be bothered to fuss but it is a nice option.

4. Bake the pie for about 45 to 55 minutes or until the filling is set and the crust has browned (the center will still look wet). (A knife inserted about 1 inch from side of pan will come out almost clean.)

5. Place the baked pie on a wire rack and allow to set and cool about an hour. May be served warm or refrigerate if you like it cold. (We like it cold)

6. Traditionally this pie is served with whipped cream on top

Variations - I like the brown sugar but often I use a mix of white sugar and pure Maple syrup instead. I also use more spices than listed here because my husband likes a deeply flavoured pie. You can also use brandy instead of the whiskey. If you use something different, post a comment and let us know.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mushrooms sauteed with Chinese cabbage

This isn't really a "recipe"; call it "tale of a lunch".

I mostly eat vegetarian at home - my roommate is vegetarian and does the bulk of the cooking, and I'm lazy enough that I'm perfectly content to let her cook for me (I do the dishes, in return.) So we do a lot of our shopping at produce markets, when we get the chance.

I'll cook for myself, of course, when I have to. I'm home during the day now and find myself scrounging up lunch for myself, and I've been getting tired of peanut butter sandwiches, so I popped my head in the produce drawer and saw a full head of Chinese cabbage and an unopened container of baby bella mushrooms. Lunch!

So, starting with:

1 head of Chinese cabbage
1 box of baby bella mushrooms

I assembled a few more ingredients after rummaging around in our fridge and spice cabinet:

3-4 stalks of scallions
Sesame oil
Chili sesame oil
Low-sodium soy sauce
Garlic powder (no fresh cloves, boo)
Chinese mustard
Vegetable broth

First I cleaned and chopped up the veggies. Mushrooms - discard stems and slice caps. Scallions - discard both ends and chop up the tenderest middle parts (green and white) into 1/4 inch pieces. Cabbage - chop into roughly 1x2 inch pieces.

I put about a tablespoon of the regular sesame oil into a skillet and heated it up. In went the mushrooms and scallions, and a few shakes of soy sauce. (It's easy to overdue this but you don't want the mushrooms to become little salt pellets, so just be careful.) I sauteed them together until they were nice and soft.

Then I took the chopped cabbage, separating out mostly just the bits with the white stalk (yummiest part, I think). Threw in a few pinches of the Oriental mustard and the garlic powder. (If I'd had fresh garlic handy, that would've gone in earlier with the scallions; que sera sera.) Also added a few shakes of the chili sesame oil to give it a bit of bite. (YMMV.)

I stirred this around over the heat until everything started to look nice and wilty. At this point I added a splash of vegetable broth to thin out the liquid.

At the end I had a crunchy, earthy, savory little lunch that could easily go with rice, if I weren't so lazy. I ended up eating it as is with a glass of iced tea.

Mm, summer.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Black Tomato Sauce part 1

Just a quick note that enough of my tomatoes ripened that I'm making a black tomato sauce as we speak. I'll post recipe and results later.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bluegrass Beercheese Burgers

I will freely admit to swiping this from an episode of somethingorother from Food Network a couple of years ago. Joanna and I were astonished at how good it was. I made some changes to the recipe, however:

1. We didn't use bacon as neither of us are big bacon fans.
2. We had a few drops of some ancient Jim Bean we used, but I'd reccomend a newer batch of bourbon.
3. The beer. Keep in mind that this is an american recipe. Therefore your beer should be american beer. I know, I know, the stuff is garbage. But the flavor won't be right if you use good stuff. We had a bottle of Budweiser in the fridge from god knows when that we used, and it ended up being fantastic. It wasn't flat, but it didn't really matter.
4.Texas toast is all well and good but if you can't get it, use some nice rolls.
5. Poblano peppers are mildly spicy. If you can't get them, try to get something with a touch of a kick to it.
6. When we made this, we forgot to glaze the burgers and ended up pouring the glaze on top before we ate it. It was delicious, so don't freak out if you forgot.

Prep time: ~20 mins
Cook time: ~30 mins
Serves: 6

  • 12 slices bacon
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 small yellow onions, sliced thinly into rings
  • 1 poblano pepper, julienne
  • 1 green bell pepper, julienne

Bourbon BBQ Glaze:
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons barbecue sauce
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 cups grated sharp Cheddar
  • 1 tablespoon spicy steak sauce (recommended: A1 Bold and Spicy Steak Sauce)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flat beer
  • 2 pounds freshly ground chuck
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for brushing grill
  • 12 slices Texas Toast

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Lay out bacon strips on rimmed baking sheet pan, lined with parchment paper or foil. Bake until brown and crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness. Remove, drain on paper towels, and set aside. Alternately, bacon can also be cooked in the microwave or on the stovetop.

Preheat a gas grill, charcoal grill, or indoor grill to medium-high heat.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside remaining butter for bread. Saute onions and both peppers until soft and caramelized.

Meanwhile, combine ketchup, barbecue sauce, bourbon, mustard, and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a light simmer and continue to cook until sugar is dissolved and sauce is thick, about 3 to 4 minutes.

For Beercheese, combine first 5 ingredients in food processor, and with machine running, drizzle in beer until mixture is smooth and well combined.

Divide ground chuck into 6 square-shaped patties, approximately the size of Texas toast. Season with salt and pepper. Brush grill with vegetable oil. Place patties on grill and cook, turning once until done, approximately 5 to 7 minutes until desired doneness. Once flipped, brush tops of patties with BBQ glaze.

Meanwhile, lightly butter both sides of each slice of Texas toast and grill on either side for 1 to 2 minutes along outer edges of grill, until lightly browned and toasted.

To assemble, spread 6 slices of Texas toast liberally with beercheese, approximately 2 tablespoons per slice. Top with bacon strips and burger patties. Top burgers with caramelized onion and pepper mixture. Spread the remaining slices of toast with additional BBQ glaze, about 1 tablespoon per slice, and invert onto burger patties. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes

No, this has nothing to do with the movie. I recently was forced to pick almost a dozen of my tomatoes green because they had suffered from Blossom End Rot. Essentially the whole tomato is still green, but the bottom tip begins to rot, while still on the stem. Nothing can be done for these, and it is reccomended you just prune them and throw them out. But I hate to waste food, and I was still upset at the loss. And I figured, all I really needed to do was chop off the bottom and the rest was fine. But what the hell could I do with green tomatoes? Well, I only really know one recipe for green tomatoes, and that's to fry them.

I'm normally not a fan of fried green tomatoes. Generally they are greasy, and/or the tomatoes are cooked in a high heat (I'll get to this) so that the outside is crispy, but the inside is still hard. Let alone, I've never seen or heard of anyone frying tomatoes this small. So I'll tell you right now that they came out utterly gorgeous.

To start, slice your tomatoes into medallions and lay them flat on a paper towel. Lightly spinke salt over all of the tomatoes, then allow to sit for 10 minutes. This will help draw excess moisture from the tomatoes. While they sit, you can prepare the batter. In one bowl, pour white flour. This is stage one. In the second bowl, beat two eggs and a dollop of milk (maybe a couple of tablespoons worth). This is stage two. In the third bowl, mix equal parts breadcrumbs and cornmeal, a little cayenne pepper, a dash of salt and pepper. This is stage three.

Pat your tomatoe medallions gently with a paper towel, then dredge them in the flour. Follow this with a dip in the egg mixture. This part can be twicky, and the egg mixture won't want to stick too easily to the flour. Once that's done, transfer the tomato to the breadcrumb/cornmeal mix and coat. Once that's done, put the tomatoes on a plate and let them rest a good 5-10 minutes.

While they rest, take out a frying pan. You'll want to add enough oil to go 1/2 to 3/4th up the tomato slices, but not cover them completely. I think I ended up using ~1/2-3/4ths of a cup, but my tomatoes were cut fairly thinly. Into the oil, add a pat of butter. Heat the oil on medium. This is important. At medium, the outside will crisp, but the tomato itself will also cook so that it softens and becomes delicious. At high heat, the outside will crisp much more quickly, but the inside will still be raw. If you've ever tried eating raw green tomato, you know it isn't too tasty. And it's also fairly hard, so it isn't easy to eat. So, medium heat. How do you know when the oil is ready? The butter will melt and start to sing. That is, the butter will stop melting and actually start to gently fizzle. That's when it is time to add your tomatoes.

Whether small or large, the tomatoes will take about 4 minutes on each side to get a golden brown. While they cook, you can make your southern tartar sauce to go with it. What's that? Equal parts sweet relish, mayo, and a few dashes of hot sauce (not enough to make it hot, just to add to the flavor a little). Personally though I'm more a fan of sweet relish than I am of mayo, so I add a little extra relish. You can choose whatever you want.

Once your tomatoes have cooked, flipped, and cooked, take them out with a spatulo and lay them on a paper-towel covered plate. You can eat them from there- I reccomend you don't drizzle the sauce over them but rather you dip the tomatoes into the sauce, or take a little on your fork and dab it on each piece.

The nice thing about using these young baby tomatos, actually, is that they become a fingerfood and a really nice snack. For such tiny things, they are a lot of work, but I swear it is actually worth it. Take a look for yourself:

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A word on "healthy"

I tend to find these days that I use the term "healthy" somewhat differently from those around me. From what I can tell, they usually mean "low calorie" instead. When I say something is healthy, it means that you know every ingredient which goes into it, and most of it is good for you in terms of vitamin and mineral content, and generally isn't actively harmful. I am also of the opinion that if you cook for yourself, you'll generally produce food lower in salt and calories and fat than stuff you buy from the store. Even for things which don't have a whole lot of redeeming value beyond taste like alfredo sauce will be infinitely tastier and healthier if you make it yourself than if it comes from a jar. I dislike the taste of many preservatives, and don't need excess salt or vinegar used as preservatives either. One of the worst offenders of the preservatives genre to me is 99% of bottled iced teas. I cannot taste anything but preservatives and simple syrup. There's a question for you- does anyone but me notice that simple syrup tastes very different from actual sugar?

Bouillabaisse and rouille

My fiance's family were (supposed to) get together to "help" her choose a dress. I thought that it would be a nice gesture if I made a really tasty dinner for them all, something really nice and fresh. Scanning the pathmark weekly, I saw that several fish and littleneck clams were on sale. So I figured, why not a bouillabaisse? I had some ingredients at home, and I was tired of staring at all my plants and not doing anything with them. At the least, I could use some of the basil freshly picked.

So I got up early that chilly Saturday morning and went to the store. Hot damn, beef spareribs and pork back ribs were on sale. I don't normally like ribs, but I have developed a findness for beef spareribs. And my fiance adores them, so it should work out well. I went to the meat section but couldn't find either. I found one of the meat department guys and asked what happened, and was told that they were cutting them at the moment, to come back in ten minutes. Fair enough, think I, and I continues shopping. I come back and see the pork ribs are out. I found one that looks pretty meaty (the rest were way too fatty) but couldn't find the beef ribs. Annoyed, I found another of the butchers and asked what happened. The guy apologised and explained that one of the workers had just had a heart attack, and it would be a little while. Well. I felt like a bit of a dick. I went to the fishmonger and chatted with him a bit. I wanted to buy ~4-5 pounds of scraps to make the stock with, but apparently they don't sell those to you unless you at least call ahead of time. Instead I bought some cheap porgies and had them cut up and bit. Porgies have little meat on them, so I got a whole bunch of the smaller ones which were cheap enough and coudn't really be eaten anyway. The secret to bouillabaisse is that you really want a large variety of fish, but I didn't have THAT much money on me, so I bought three different kinds (I really don't remmeber what kind anymore, it is unimportant) and some of the clams. I joked with the fishmonger that at least the guy who had a heart attack wasn't on the meatcutter at the time. The fishmonger told me that actually, the guy had recently hurt himself on the cutting machine and had just that day returned from sick leave. "Man," I said "some people will do anything to get out of work."

I went looking for saffron. You don't need much, so I wasn't too worried about buying it. I check the spices aisle, and can't find it. I go to the information desk. The woman tells me to check the spanish aisle. I give her a blank look. "But...saffron is grown in India!" I exclaimed. And as a spice, wouldn't it be in the spices section? Nope, spanish food. So, okay, I go over. Nope, not there either. No fucking saffron out of an entire pathmark. I was flabbergasted. After wasting 20 minutes on this, I gave up and called my fiance and asked her to go to the local C-Town, which always sold the stuff in tiny containers right next to the cash register (you know, in case you unload your food and suddenly realize you're running low on saffron...). She called me later to tell me that after much argument with them, they grudgingly admitted to having been sold out. I finally gave up and made my recipe without it.

So, storytime over. Now to the recipe. I like leeks and onions so I added perhaps more than necessary. I chopped about a cup worth of onions and another 4 small leeks and added them with some olive oil to a large soup pot to simmer. Since they'll be going into the soup, if you undercook them a little it isn't so important. You want to sweat them but don't need to caramelize them. I took several cloves of garlic and had fun with my new stainless steel garlic press from Ikea. Yea, you can feel free to chop it really finely, whatever. I like the press, thank you. Keep in mind that the oil is now hot, and garlic cooks very quickly. And it will burn in the blink of an eye, so watch out. If you burn the garlic, you pretty much have to start all over again, because that taste WILL carry through. So only cook the garlic for a minute or two. Having done so, I added a couple of pounds of rough-chopped tomatoes. I always reccomend that you get nice tomatoes if you can. These were nice as they were perfectly red and still on the vine. And on sale. Anyway, they were really nice. So those got dumped into the pot. After cooking these over a medium heat for about five minutes, I added 5 cups of water, a bay leaf, several sprigs fresh parsely chopped up, zested a half an orange, a large pinch of fennel seeds, a bunch of freshly picked basil leaves chopped finely (a word of caution here. If you are using fresh basil, chop it up. Basil, on being cooked whole, will turn into a somewhat slimey weird and ugly mass that nobody wants in their bowl, believe me) a dash of salt and pepper. If you have saffron, this is also a good time to add it. Now is a good time to grab some cheesecloth and wrap your scraps/hacked up tiny fish and tie the ends in a bow to make a rough bag. You want the water to penetrate, and you don't want the fish too squashed, but you don't want it open so the heads can fall in the soup, or so that some of the solids from the soup can get into the bag if you can help it. Congrads, you have just made a raw-fish teabag. I like to lower it into the pot, then stick a wooden spoon through the "handle" of the cheesecloth so that I can occasionally move it a little. It also makes it much, much easier to remove, believe me. Have the handle hand from the middle of the spoon, then lay the spoon across the top of the pot and leave to boil uncovered for ~30-45 minutes. Before you walk away and leave it to boil, drop in one peeled potato, in halves. Make sure you know where it is- search for it later is a pain. Once done, pull out the scrap bag and place into a collender on inside another bowl- the bag will drip a large quantity of broth and juice and we don't want to waste any. At this point, you can cover with a lid and leave it alone until you are close to dinnertime. Have a taste- it should be delicious by now, so you don't need to mess with it later.

While you wait for dinnertime, make the rouille. I took a nice red bell pepper and chopped it into pieces about one inch by a half inch. In a small pot, bring water with a lot of salt to a boil. Pour the chopped pepper into the pot and let it simmer until the pepper is just slightly firm (not mushy- mushy means you've boiled all the flavor out). Taste the pepper- it shouldn't be terribly salty as it won't absorb much from the water. Drain the pepper. dump the pepper, the now cooked potato you fished from the soup, 4 cloves of garlic, and some more fresh basil, all into a food processor. If you want an exercise in masochism, you can use a mortar and pestle. For everyone else, the food processor. Process it in pulses until smooth. Add a small chilli pepper, or a few drops of Tabasco- you should just barely taste the tobasco, it's not supposed to be hot. Once that's done, blend in 4-6 tablespoons of some really nice first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. As I said, taste it.

When dinnertime comes around, toss out the fish scraps and pour the juices from the bowl into the main stock. Bring the stock to a boil about 20 minutes before serving. Once boiling, add 6-8 pounds of cubed fish and shellfish to the pot. It only needs to boil about twenty minutes, and then it is ready to eat.

Take several tablespoons of the soup itself and add it to the rouille and again blend it until smooth. Serve the rouille in a small bowl with some crustily toasted french bread. The bread goes quickly, so have more on hand. Using a slotted spoon scoop up fish and shellfish from the pot and deposit them into the bowl, then using a ladel, pour soup over the fish. The rouille is nice to add to the soup as flavoring, or to spread on the bread, then dip into the soup. On finishing, you can freeze the rest. This should make enough for 6 hungry people. Bon appetit!

A word of warning for those of you watching your salt. This is a very healthy dish. However, don't add any salt to the pot until the very end to taste as the fish will naturally make the soup a tad salty.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Perfect Pancakes

Alan and I just had these for a leisurely Sunday late breakfast - perfect! Make sure you have real maple syrup to serve them with!

2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
3 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups Plain/All purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar

If you know how to make American style pancakes you can just run with the great recipe above; otherwise, here are the directions how to make the pancakes:

1. Beat the eggs and milk together thoroughly. Stir in the butter or vegetable oil.
2. Whisk the dry ingredients in to evenly distribute the salt, baking powder and sugar. 
3. Let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes, while the griddle is heating; it"ll thicken slightly.
4. Heat a heavy frying pan over medium heat, or set an electric griddle to 350°F. Lightly grease frying pan or griddle. The pan or griddle is ready if a drop of water will skitter across the surface, evaporating immediately.
5. Drop serving spoonfuls (approx 1/3 cupful) of batter onto the lightly greased griddle. Bake on one side until bubbles begin to form and break, then turn the pancakes and cook the other side till brown. Turn over only once. Serve immediately.

I recommend serving with butter and maple syrup. 

And yes, you can make the whole batch and put the leftovers into a ziplock bag to store. Microwave them for about 30 seconds or so for a nice, lazy breakfast the next day.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Matzo Meal Pancakes

I don't know why I don't make these all year around because they are really a lovely thing to eat for breakfast or even better a leisurely weekend brunch. Perhaps it's the extra effort of beating the egg whites because if you just mix in the eggs whole, the end result while pleasant is just indefinably wrong.

3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup matzo meal
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
honey (runny style in the UK) or maple syrup if you absolutely must (sigh)

oil or unsalted butter for frying (do NOT use olive oil!)

In a medium size mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. (Use a whisk for this process.)
Whisk in the water.
Stir in the matzo meal, sugar and  1/2 teaspoon of the salt.
Let stand for 25 minutes to absorb all the liquid.(in the refrigerator if possible)
 (Wait till the liquid is absorbed before starting the next step.)
Use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites until stiff. Make sure the bowl you use is metal or glass (not plastic!) You want to beat the egg whites to the stiff peak stage.

Now gently fold the egg whites into the matzo meal mixture until just blended. Make sure you fold, do not stir!
*How to fold - a useful technique to know
Use a large spatula for this procedure. Scoop up a good dollop of whipped egg whites on your spatula and gently mix it into the matzo meal batter. This will "temper" the batter and lighten it.

Hold the egg white bowl over the mixing bowl containing your batter, and tilt it so that the egg whites slide out onto the batter. Using the large spatula, cut a path down the middle of the mixture with the edge of the spatula. Then gently turn half the mixture over onto the other half. Continue cutting down the middle and turning a portion over. Don't stir. The point of folding is to retain the air you have beaten into the whites. Be careful to only work the batter enough to incorporate the whites. It's ok if the mix looks a little streaky.
Cover the surface of your griddle or large flat frying pan with some oil and heat over medium hot.
When the oil starts to sizzle, drop the batter, 1 tablespoon at a time, onto the griddle/pan. Don't crowd the pancakes, make several batches.
Fry the pancakes until they reach the level of golden brown you like, (about 2 minutes or so per side.) Flip them over and and cook the other side.

Remove the pancakes from the pan and let drain on a paper towel while you fry the next batch.

To serve - I recommend drizzling them very lightly with honey (or maple syrup if you insist but honey is better and traditional for Passover.)

If you have leftover pancakes, they're a pretty nice nosh snitched directly from the fridge.


This Monday night is the first Seder of Passover.

You have been warned!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lemon Curd

Forget the stuff they sell in stores as Lemon Curd. Even the stuff in little gourmet places claiming to be homemade, organic, etc. This is the real thing. This is sunshine of the gods. This is the sun spread on your toast.
This is IT!

4 lemons - the grated rind and juice
4 eggs - lightly beaten
4oz butter - unsalted
12 oz castor sugar

Pot of barely simmering water with a large glass or metal basin (bowl) that fits comfortably on top
  note: I like this much better than a double boiler, the bowl shape gives a better result.

1. Grate rind of lemons and squeeze out juice.
2. Put sugar, rind and juice, butter and beaten eggs into a large basin on top of a pan of simmering water.
3. Stir with a wooden or silicone spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Then continue heating gently and stirring for about 20 minutes, until the curd thickens. It should coat the back of the spoon.
4. Pour into warm sterile jars, cover, and label.
5. Refrigerate!

This recipe makes about 1 1/2 lbs (3 cups) of lemon curd which is just about enough for 1 nice jar for you and 1 small jar to give away to someone who'd better be damn grateful and worship you for the goddess (or god) which you are for making something as heavenly tasting as this and then giving some away.

Warning: Lemon curd doesn't keep. Make small batches, keep cool, and use within 2-3 weeks. (That's why they have to put extra stuff in commercial curd or it would never make it to the customers.)

You can double this recipe if you need a larger amount but not more than that or it won't cook smoothly.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Honey-wheat bread

Evidently, my formspring questions have been showing up on this blog. Formspring is stalling out so I'm not going to answer any questions there until it gets sorted.

However, to make amends for this error, I'm going to post my first recipe here. It's the most basic bread recipe I know. I've made it the last two weekends in a row, because it's cold out and cold weather makes me crave warm bread. I'm also addicted to bread. It has 6 ingredients and could not be simpler. The result is a crusty, slightly sweet wheat loaf that toasts beautifully and makes excellent sandwiches, particularly with freshly sliced ham.


3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 packet yeast
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup nonfat milk
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Then do this:

1. In a large bowl, mix the warm water and yeast. Stir to dissolve (I use a big wooden spoon.) Add in everything else but the flour. Stir until everything's dissolved (the oil won't be, obvs, but that'll mix in fine when you add the flour.)

2. Stir in the flour gradually until you can't really stir it anymore and you have a big ball of dough in the bowl.

3. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 6-8 minutes or so until it's all nice and smooth and your arms are tired.

4. Put a little oil in a clean bowl and turn the dough over in it to coat it. Cover the bowl loosely and put it somewhere the cats won't step in it.

5. Let it sit there and rise for an hour.

6. Take it out of the bowl and shape it into an 8-inch loaf and then put the loaf in a lightly greased loaf pan.

7. Cover the loaf pan with lightly oiled plastic wrap and leave it there until the dough rises an inch above the lip of the pan. (It took over an hour the first time I did this because my apartment was freezing. The second time it only took 30 minutes.) Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350.

8. Take off the plastic wrap and stick in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes total, but after 20 minutes, take it out and loosely cover with foil.

9. Stick it back in for another 15 minutes or so. Enjoy the aromas wafting out of the oven. Then take it out, take off the foil and brush the top with a little oil so it turns nice and brown for the last five minutes.

10. Take it out and tap the top of the loaf, if it sounds hollow it's done. If it thuds, it's still wet inside and let it go a bit longer.

11. When done, turn the loaf out onto a wire rack, or if you're too lazy to get out the wire racks, just leave it on a stove burner to cool.

At the end you get this:

Warm, sweet, delicious bread. Serve with butter.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Adventures into Weird Flavors, part 1

Okay, I like to experiment with interesting, unique, different foodstuffs. I decided this would be a fun place to do some quickie notes/reccomendations of them. Today's item is something which I just tasted for the first time not 2 minutes ago. It was so awful, I immediately said "I have to blog about this!"

The product: Steaz Cola: Green Tea Soda. Yes, it is a green tea cola. It sounded weird, so I bought one- count it ONE bottle.

Our testers: Myself and my lovely fiance Joanna.

Color: It's black. Looks like your standard cola. More like pepsi than coke- coke has a characteristic slight orange/red sheen which pepsi does not.

Bouquet: Andrew: I know that smell...It smells like Moxie! No,'s- like Moxie and A1?!
Joanna: Oh my god, this smells terrible!

Taste: Andrew: Oh my god- it tastes like Moxie and A1 steak sauce!
Joanna:It's like carbonated steak sauce.

Aftertaste: Andrew: The moxie goes away fairly quickly, leaving the flavor of the steak sauce behind- not so awful, but not what I want from a drink.
Joanna: I still have that steak flavor in my mouth.

Afterwards: Joanna: Oh my god, I feel sick...Oh my god- my burps taste like steak sauce!
Andrew: Well, I tried it twice. You have to say that. I think any more would be...unhealthy.

Andrew: It's different and unique. But perhaps some things were not meant to be crossbred by man. And steak and unwashed cola nut would be among them.
Joanna: Pepsuber! Pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi- pepsuber! (it's a mcguyver joke- look it up)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chinese Almond cookies - celebrate the New Year

Get ready to celebrate the start of the Year of the Tiger with some crispy Chinese Almond cookies. They're delicate and perfect to nibble with cup of tea - or coffee or a glass of cold white wine.

I just made a batch of 6 dozen of these - the entire house is filled with the perfume of almonds.
Almond cookies symbolize coins and will be sure to bring you good fortune. Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Chinese Almond Cookies Recipe

makes about 6 dozen cookies

Ingredients - US measures used
1 1/3 cups of almond flour (ground almonds)
1 cup of unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Pinch of kosher salt - I use Flor de Sel (you should, too!!)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of almond extract
1 3/4 cups of plain flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
Slivered almonds

Equipment -
Mixer with paddle blade attachment (other mixers can be used with care or a heavy wooden spoon)
2 flat baking sheets (cookie trays)
1 pastry brush (you really, really MUST have at least one of these in your kitchen. Please buy one if needed!)
     - a small wood-handled pastry brush should cost about a dollar or two
Parchment or baking paper

Method - with comments
1 Place the almond flour, salt, and butter into an electric mixer with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for three minutes. The mixture will become course and chunky looking. (I just have a little crappy hand mixer, I used that on the lowest speed - careful not to burn out the motor, you could also use a large wooden sppon and a strong elbow. Scrape down the bowl often with a spatula and poke the mixer beaters clear if you are not using a high end mixer) Note that this step is fast even if done by hand.

2 Add one of the eggs, reserving the other for later, and the almond extract. Mix on low speed until just incorporated.

3 In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and baking soda then add to the butter mixture at low speed. Mix until just combined.

4 Take the dough and flatten it into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator for two hours to chill.

5 Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the other egg into a bowl and beat it.

6 Take pieces of dough and roll them into balls about 3/4 inch wide. Place them on the sheet about an inch apart and then press them down slightly with your palm to make a coin shape. There should be enough space for exactly 12 cookies on a standard baking sheet.

7 Place a slivered almond onto each cookie and lightly press it into place, then paint the surface of the cookie with some of the beaten egg using a pastry brush or your finger (this will give the cookie a lacquered appearance once it bakes).

8 Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges just begin to tan. Cool on the sheet for 2 minutes and then slide onto a wire rack. Be careful, these can start to go brown very fast at the end, you want them just golden.

Makes 5 - 6 dozen.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pasta with tomato cream sauce

I'm a combination of happy, relieved and proud that I finally can present this recipe. Why? Because I have been working on it off and on for several years now (I don't make it all that often). The big thing I'm concentrating on here is the sauce. I normally serve this with angel hair pasta and some nice shrimp as it is a fairly delicate combination of flavers.

Here's what I did:

I took a pint of grape tomatoes. I like grape and cherry tomatoes because they have a lot of flavor and a brightness to the flavor that is difficult to get from large tomatoes. Larger tomatoes, if they're cheap, tend to be mealy. If you can buy the pricey ones on the stem, they're quite nice. Best, of course, is growing your own- which I plan on doing this year (gotta use that balcony for something- it's a sin to just ignore). Anyway, this recipe makes enough for dinner for two and then lunch for the next day. Take the pint of grape tomatoes and slice them lengthwise and dump them into a saucepan. I should say that you do not, in fact, have to slice them, but it speeds up the process a little. What are we doing and why are we doing it? You are to heat the tomatoes under a medium heat- do NOT get impatient and stick it on high, or you will severelly risk burning the tomatoes. You are heating it on medium to do two things. One is to cook the tomatoes. The second is to remove the water. And this is the trick. I spent years trying different kinds of tomatoes, washing or not washing, removing the jelly or leaving in, patting every single piece of tomato dry with a paper towel- the list goes on. Why did I do all of this? Because once I made the sauce, the sauce would be watery to greater or lesser amounts. Oh, most people would not have been able to tell, I know. But I could- the flavor and texture were off and I knew why. And I knew where the water came from, clearly- the tomatoes. This time, I unlocked the secret. You need to cook the tomatoes under a medium heat until the consistency becomes a somewhat thick paste- yes, this will take a long time and a lot of stirring. Say 20 minutes at the very least. As you cook, I would reccomend that you get a potato masher and smush them as they cook- as I said, to work it into a thick paste.

Okay, paste done. In another saucepan, you're going to make a basic roux. I use one stick of butter and roughly a heaping tablespoon of flour. Melt the butter, then whisk in the flour. Lot it cook for a minute, though not too hot. Now at this point you have some choices, though I know where I go. You will want to add milk or cream. Yes, milk will work just fine. However, I personally like a much richer sauce- I use heavy cream. Slowly add two cups of cream in small amounts, keeping the roux homogenous. Having done so, let the sauce heat to a simmer (careful! milk will boil over in a split second if you don't keep a careful eye on it). Now add the tomato paste. Whisk it in. You'll have a very dark, red sauce. Taste it. Now, I wanted a nice tomato flavor, but not too strong, so I ended up adding roughly another cup of heavy cream. To this, I added about a pinch of black pepper and salt.

I made two pounds of angel hair pasta and two pounds of shrimp with this. This was vastly too much- I'd reccomend one pound of pasta and one pound of shrimp- I shoudl say, one pound after being deshelled. So yea.

Here's a tip. If you want the sauce to have a shrimp flavor, peel your shrimp and put just the shells into a small amount of water- just enough to almost but not quite cover the shells. Heat to a boil and let it go for a little while. Most people don't know, but the majority of the flavor in shrimp actually comes form the shell and not from the meat. After I've heated, I strain the shell with cheesecloth, then heat the water more. Once it goes down enough, add to the cream sauce. However, since this is water, you will end up, of course, watering the sauce. However, this is a useful tip for using shrimp in other meals and sauces.

Edit 3/5/12 Another tip: You can use canned tomato paste. However, and this is incredibly important- do NOT use the ultra cheap stuff. The price difference is negligable, since you only need to use one of the tiny cans. You MUST check the ingredients. There should be one and only one ingredient: tomatoes. If it says anything else, particularly if it says Citric Acid, DO NOT BUY IT. The acid will either react badly with the cream, or it will make the sauce taste sour. A cheap brand I reccommend is Contadina. I've seen it in stores for a whopping $1.25 for a tiny can. You can get it even cheaper in a large pack at Costco's. But whatever you buy, spend the extra fifty cents and buy the good stuff, even if it isn't organic or some other nonsense (you hippy).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chicken with honey, garlic, and almonds - from an ancient recipe

I thought this recipe was originally from To The King's Taste, but when I checked that source I couldn't find it again. So it might have been from one of my other medieval cookbooks. It's definitely somewhere between 1000 and 600 years old originally. In any case, the version I make is pretty close to the original, insanely tastey, and easy to make.

Since I make it from memory, there are no set measurements but I think you'll find it easy enough to follow along.

Chicken - cut up in serving size pieces or breasts - make sure skin is left on and intact.
Plain flour - for dredging the chicken prior to browning
Honey - (the kind called runny or clear honey in the UK, regular honey in the US)
Fresh garlic cloves
Sliced Almonds
Green grapes -tart ones, not quite ripe ones are best
Salt, pepper, ground cinnamon
White wine or chicken stock or water
Cornstarch (Corn flour in the UK)
A whisk
A saute pan (frying pan) with fitting cover

1. Dump a few tablespoons of flour into a plastic bag and season with some salt, pepper, and a light sprinkle of cinnamon (very easy on the cinnamon)  Dredge the chicken pieces thoroughly in flour - just drop them in the bag a piece or two at a time, grasp the bag at the top to close, and shake. (Easy trick, eh?)

2. Melt butter in a saute pan (frying pan for us infidels). When the butter starts to sizzle a little, add the chicken pieces in a single layer and brown lightly all over, turning frequently as needed. The skin should be golden brown and slightly crisped.

3. Meanwhile, slice the garlic cloves, take half the grapes and snip each in half.
4. Put the remainder of the grapes in a bowl and crush them. Dump into a sieve and press out all the fresh juice. (This is a simple form of verjuice)

5. When the chicken is lightly browned, lower the heat and toss in the sliced garlic, the cut up grapes, lots of sliced almongs, drizzle in the honey all over the chicken. Add the verjuice (the crushed grape juice, remember?)
6. Bring pan to a simmer and check the level of liquid - you only want the chicken pieces to be covered about 1/2 of the way. Add white wine/stock/water if needed.

7. Cover pan and turn heat low so it very gently simmers. Let cook about 30 minutes, occasionally turning the chicken pieces in the cooking liquid.

8. After 30 minutes, remove the chicken pieces to a plate. Turn up the heat under the pan and allow the cooking liquid  (your proto-sauce) to come to a gentle boil. Taste to see if the flavour needs adjusting and add salt/pepper/honey as needed. The taste should be mellow and slightly garlicy and sweet not sugary!
9. Dissolve cornstarch (probably between 2 teaspoons and a tablespoon depending on how much liquid is in the pan) in a bit of cold water (yes even in the UK, it has to be cold water). Pour this slurry into the boiling cooking liquid and then whisk it smooth and glossy. Check the seasoning and adjust if needed.
10 Put the chicken pieces and any juices on the plate back into the pan and mix to coat.

Serve with rice or buttered wide egg noodles - or spaetzle type noodles for a more medieval dish.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

French Onion Soup


3 large onions thinly sliced
2 large cloves garlic crushed
1 tsp sugar
1/3 bottle white wine
1-2 pints beef stock

Slowly saute onions, garlic an dsugar in butter and oil until they are caramelised (about 30 minutes). Then add wine and stock, bring to a boil then lower to a simmer for an hour.


1" thick slices of french bread
olive oil
crushed garlic
Gruyère cheese

Liberally coat both sides of the garlic bread with olive oil and garlic then pop into a 180/350 oven for 20-25 minutes. When the soup is ready, load a bowl, float a crouton on top, cover with Gruyère cheese then blast it with your blowtorch until bubbly.

On the off chance

On the off chance that anyone ever wants to buy me a gift, please keep this in mind

That's the hardcover set not the paperbacks!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Red Cabbage Borscht

I was stuck at home yesterday due to the weather and there was nothing in the house to eat and very little in the way of supplies. What I -did- have was a head of red cabbage, some onions and some apples. So I made a red cabbage version of borscht which was absolutely delicious.

1 head of red cabbage
a few onions
a few apples
4 cups beef broth
apple cider vinegar
sour cream

I sliced up the cabbage and onions in my food processor, then put them in a pot with a few tablespoons of butter to soften. Meanwhile I peeled, cored, and chopped my apples then added them. After about 15-20 minutes, I added 4 cups of beef broth (sadly I had to use bullion cubes), 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/4 sugar and about a teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.

I brought this to the boil, then let it simmer uncovered for an hour. Serve with a spoon of sour cream. And some love. <3