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Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Health(ier) Choice

The other day as I was looking for cake flour, I came across a bag of spelt flour.  What the hell was I doing with spelt flour?  All I can figure out is that I must have bought it by mistake because I cannot imagine the scenario under which I would actually choose to buy spelt flour.   But I have officially decided that this is the summer of using up so I had to come up with something to do with that bag of spelt flour.

After an exhaustive (well, it wasn't all that exhaustive), Google search for cookies made with spelt flour, I settled on a recipe for peanut butter chocolate chip brownies.  Before you get all excited about these brownies, let me just tell you that I made them and they were vile.  They were dry and hard and all the things that brownies shouldn't be.

But I am not one to give up and I still had half a bag of spelt flour, so I got to work.  It became my personal mission to make brownies using spelt flour that would taste good.  No small order, let me tell you.

The recipe below is my take on healthier brownies, although given the two sticks of butter and all the sugar, I'm not sure they really qualify as a health food.  I did use some coconut sugar in place of granulated sugar so I suppose that adds to the healthfulness.  Who knows?  What I can tell you is that these are much tastier than the original recipe and not nearly so hard and dry.

Kate took them to school for the Ultimate Teenage Taste Test and they got high marks.  I'm not sure that was because they were so drop dead delicious or because there were teenagers tasting them and teenagers are always hungry and will pretty much eat anything.

Either way, I'll take the high marks.  For those of you who are into things like spelt flour, I think you'll be really impressed.  You could go crazy and use date sugar in place of the brown sugar.  I didn't go that far, mostly because they didn't have date sugar at Whole Foods and there was no way I was going to schlep around looking for it.

Let me know what you think.

Recipe:  Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Brownies


1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1-½ cup coconut sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon molasses
4 whole large eggs
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla
3 cups spelt flour
1-½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoons kosher salt
1-½ cup semi sweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350ºF and grease a 9x13 baking dish.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and peanut butter together until fluffy.  Add coconut sugar and brown sugar and mix until combined.  Add the molasses, eggs and vanilla.  Mix until incorporated on low speed.  Keeping the mixer on low speed, add the flour, baking power, cinnamon, salt and chocolate chips slowly.  Mix until everything is combined.   Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.  Smooth the top.

Bake in the center of the oven for 26-28 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Let cool and then cut into squares.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Simply Perfect

I have decided that this is going to be the summer of the simple cake.  Usually during the summer I'm all about pies, crisps, and buckles, but this summer is going to be different.  I'm going simple and trying out all the recipes I've collected for quick and easy cakes.

I am not going to be presenting you with complicated chocolate layer cakes.  As much as I love those, I always think that they're more appropriate for the cooler weather.  This is somewhat perplexing because I usually think layer cake, and chocolate layer cake in particular, is perfect any time of the year.

Instead, I'm going to give some simple cakes a try.  This recipe for Raspberry Buttermilk Cake is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.  First of all, it pretty much calls for a bunch of ingredients you probably already have in the house.  Second, what could be better than a cake with raspberries?  And third, it takes about 22 seconds to throw together and get into the oven.

And isn't summer all about making life easy?

This would be the perfect cake to bring to a picnic, if you're in to that kind of thing.  Or to a potluck (although I don't think I've ever been to an actual party that was billed as a potluck).  Or if you're hosting a little soiree at your place.  Do you get my drift?  This is just a great little summer dessert.
A beautiful batter.
Ready for the oven
Just out of the oven.
If you're not into the raspberries you can substitute in some blackberries or blueberries, although who isn't into raspberries?  The point is that you should go where ever the lovely summer breeze takes you.  I promise that this dessert will be a surefire winner.

Recipe:  Raspberry Buttermilk Cake
(Gourmet Magazine, June, 2009; Smitten Kitchen)


1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (56 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup (146 grams) plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (22 grams) sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)
1 large (57 grams) egg
1/2 cup (118 ml) well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup (5 ounces or 140 grams) fresh raspberries


Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup (146 grams) sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla and zest, if using. Add egg and beat well.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons (22 grams) sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A New Take on Tabbouleh

Despite the fact that Kate thinks we eat chicken every night for dinner, which is not true, I love chicken.  Chicken can be prepared in a million different ways and it always delivers.  Rarely have I met a chicken dish I didn't like.   For me, chicken is the protein for all seasons.

There is hardly a dish that I can think of that can't be improved with the addition of chicken.  Simply grilled, poached, or broiled, it can add a heartiness to a salad and make it into a main course.  What could be better?

I am also a lover of summer salads.  To me, there is nothing more refreshing on a hot night than a salad filled with all the best that the season has to offer. Tabbouleh salad is a particular favorite of mine.

I started out with Ina Garten's Chicken with Tabbouleh salad and then went to town with it, adding sharp feta cheese and salty Kalamata olives.  What results is the perfect summer salad, as far as I'm concerned.  And there were lots of leftovers, which will make  delicious lunches for a couple of days.

Recipe:  Chicken with Tabbouleh
(Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties!, 2001)


1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup bulgur wheat
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
1 whole (2 split) chicken breast, bone in, skin on
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup minced scallions, white and green parts (1 bunch)
1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (2 bunches)
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (1 bunch)
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
8 ounces feta cheese, medium-diced
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and medium-diced
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a heat-proof bowl, pour the boiling water over the bulgur wheat. Add the lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Stir. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the bulgur to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour.

Place the chicken breast on a baking sheet and rub it with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until just cooked. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Remove the chicken meat from the bones and discard the skin. Cut the chicken into medium dice and add to the tabbouleh. Add the scallions, mint, parsley, cucumber, olives, feta, tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Season, to taste, and serve immediately or cover and refrigerate. The flavors will improve as it sits.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Backyard Bounty

Ted is a frustrated gardener.  We live in the city where farmland is at a premium.  Or rather, I should say that farmland is nonexistent.  But that doesn't stop Ted.  Every summer he valiantly tends to his tomatoes and whatever else he can manage to squeeze into our urban sized backyard.

The one crop we always have an abundance of is mint.  This is probably because mint is one of those things that doesn't need an invitation to grow and take over every millimeter of available space.  I have to say that Ted does a pretty good job of reigning the mint into a small square of space, but it's not easy.

The net result of all this is that I have to make an effort to cook with mint.  If I didn't, we would be completely overrun with the stuff.  Yes, we could just remove it and be done with the mint.  But that would be no fun.  So, I am constantly on the lookout for recipes that call for mint.

This recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis  not only calls for mint, it call for a lot of mint, which makes it even better -- both in taste and in usefulness.  It also calls for a lot of basil, which Ted also grows and that we have in abundance.  The recipe is quick to prepare, pretty low in fat (which at this time of the year everyone is thinking about) and has a pleasant kick to it courtesy of the chili peppers.

You can go all out and make a trip to an Asian market to pick up your ingredients for this recipe.   Conversely, you can do what I did, which was just to wing it with what I had in the house.  Either way is delicious.

Recipe:  Spicy Mint Beef
(Giada De Laurentiis)

* Note:  I took the lazy approach and used serrano chilies, regular basil (because that's what grows in our backyard), and in place of the sweet and black soy sauces, I used 1/4 cup regular soy sauce mixed with 1/4 cup honey.

Make sure to assemble all of your ingredients before you start cooking.  This recipes goes very fast and you'll want to be ready to roll.


3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Thai chiles, such as prik kee noo, or 3 serrano chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 pound flank steak, very thinly sliced
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, cored, seeded and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
2 tablespoons black soy sauce
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh Thai basil leaves
1 cup whole fresh mint leaves


In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and chiles and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the steak and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add the shallots and bell pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the fish sauce, sweet soy sauce, black soy sauce and chili paste. Bring the mixture to a low simmer and cook, stirring frequently until the meat is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and serve.

Serving suggestion: sticky or steamed white rice

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

We Made It

I am the happiest person alive right now.  I am happy because we have made it through Kate's junior year.  For a time it looked dicey, but the AP tests are done as are all of her final exams, and now it's smooth sailing to June 6th and the end of the school year.

Kate's school is on a funky calendar.  The schedule is much like a 4-4-1, where classes end in May just before the AP tests.  After the AP tests they go right into finals.  Then for the last two weeks of the school year (the 1 of the 4-4-1), they have mini courses, which are less academic and a lot more fun than say, physics.

But the school schedule isn't the point of all this talk.  The point is that we have all made it through Kate's junior year.  There were times when I really wondered if we could make it to the end, what with all the teenage girl drama, homework, and SAT's, but we have.  (My friend Karen described the junior year as "one big test".)

I am so happy.

So now we are on to the summer and all that that entails.  There will be (lots of) tennis and (lots of) college visits.  There will also be lots of opportunities for Kate to catch up on all the sleep she missed out on since last September.  And, most of all, there will be oodles of time for her to be with her friends.

Social plans. Imagine that.

So, in honor of all the fun my beloved daughter is going to have this summer, here is one of my all time favorite recipes.  Make this Friendship Bread and pass it along to your friends.

Recipe: Amish Friendship Bread Starter


1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3 cups white sugar, divided
3 cups milk


In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Let stand 10 minutes. In a 2 quart container glass, plastic or ceramic container, combine 1 cup flour and 1 cup sugar. Mix thoroughly or flour will lump when milk is added. Slowly stir in 1 cup milk and dissolved yeast mixture. Cover loosely and let stand until bubbly. Consider this day 1 of the 10 day cycle. Leave loosely covered at room temperature.

On days 2 thru 4; stir starter with a spoon.

Day 5; stir in 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk.

Days 6 thru 9; stir only.

Day 10; stir in 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk. Remove 1 cup to make your first bread, give 2 cups to friends along with this recipe, and the recipe for the bread (below).  Store the remaining 1 cup starter in a container in the refrigerator, or begin the 10 day process over again (beginning with step 2).

Recipe:  Amish Friendship Bread


1 cup Amish Friendship Bread Starter
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease 2 (9x5 inch) loaf pans.

In a large bowl, combine the Amish bread starter with oil, eggs, 2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix well. Pour into prepared loaf pans.

Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How Do You Feel About Millet?

Frankly, I wasn't sure how I felt about millet.  Millet?  Millet is not a sexy grain.  Millet is not even a grain I've ever thought much about.  But grains are the new "it" food, and I don't like to feel left out of a food trend.

There's an interesting story to these millet muffins.  My friend Mona, who is as much of a foodie as I am, was telling me that her husband had the most delicious millet muffin while on a college trip with their daughter.  It was from the Metropolitan Bakery in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia.  She said that we had to figure out how to make this muffin.

Now, I'm not one to reinvent the wheel so I checked in with by good friend Google. Low and behold, up popped the recipe for the Metropolitan Bakery Millet Muffin.

I, who was not overwhelmed by the idea of a millet muffin, am now a true believer.  These don't have that twigs and nuts texture that so many whole grain muffins have.  What they do have is an earthy flavor (which is different than a twiggy texture) that is so satisfying.  And good for you too.

Recipe:  Metropolitan Millet Muffins
(James Barrett, Co-Owner/Baker, Metropolitan Bakery, Philadelphia PA)

Note:  This is a great recipe to make the night before (up to adding the flour mixture) so that you can have fresh muffins ready in a jiffy the next morning. 

Makes 12 muffins


1 cup millet
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter 12 1/2 cup muffin cups.

On a baking sheet toast millet in one layer in the oven until lightly golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Cool millet completely.

Into a medium bowl sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the millet. In another small bowl stir together the eggs, milk and vanilla. Set aside. Cream well the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Alternately beat in the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Do not over beat.

Spoon batter into prepared cups and bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool muffins 5 minutes before turning out. Serve warm or room temperature with fruit preserves.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Lasagna By Any Other Name

I never claimed to be a good photographer.  Enough said.
I have the one child in America who doesn't like lasagna.  Come on... who doesn't love lasagna?  Well, I'll tell you who.  Charlie.  Yes, it's true.  Charlie does not like lasagna.

Charlie is an interesting creature.  From a young age, he would eat anything.  I remember once, when Charlie was about 2, I was going out for the evening and Ted was in charge of feeding Charlie dinner.  Ted grilled catfish.  Other Daddies would have gone the safe route with chicken nuggets, but as I said, Charlie ate everything so there was no fear he would rebel when he was served catfish.

Oddly enough though, Charlie does not like lasagna.  I always think of lasagna as a somewhat innocuous food.  It's noodles.  It's cheese.  It's sauce.  Basically lasagna is pizza in a casserole dish, with noodles in place of crust.  He likes pizza just fine so why not lasagna?

The only thing I can can trace Charlie's dislike of lasagna back to is our nanny Mary Rose.  She gave him so much apple juice as a toddler that he hasn't had a glass since.  Maybe she made him a lot of lasagna too and I just didn't realize.

The point of all this, and there is a point, is that it's really too bad that Charlie doesn't like lasagna of any type because there are in fact a zillion kinds of lasagna, most of which are quite delicious.

This recipe for Pastel Azteca is filled with delicious zucchini, corn, poblano peppers, Oaxaca cheese, and tortillas, all layered together to create a lasagna with a Mexican flair.  It's somewhat cumbersome to prepare so start early and clean up while it's in the oven.  You will have used every skillet you own but it will be well worth the effort.

Unfortunately this is not a recipe I will ever make for Charlie.  It's funny because he would probably be more than happy to have this for dinner if I rolled the tortillas up enchilada style.

As I said, Charlie is an interesting creature.

Recipe: Pastel Azteca 
(Marcela Valladolid)


12 corn tortillas
Vegetable oil for frying
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 chopped garlic cloves
1 chopped small onion
2 cups roma tomato, boiled 30 seconds, peeled, and pureed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 1/2 cups chopped zucchini
1 1/2 cup fresh corn off the cob or 3 fresh corns
3 poblano chiles charred, seeded, deviened, and cut in strips.
Salt and pepper to taste
Non stick cooking spray
3/4 cup mexican crema
3 cups shredded Oaxaca cheese


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large heavy saute pan, add enough oil to fry 12 tortillas. Heat oil on medium-high heat. When hot, working in batches, quickly fry tortillas. Simply fry for 10 seconds on each side. Remove tortillas from heat and drain in paper towel.

In a medium saute pan on medium heat, heat oil and add garlic and onion. Saute for about 3 minutes, or until onion is translucent. Add tomato puree. Cook for 10 minutes and turn heat off.

In a separate large saute pan on medium heat, melt butter. Add zucchini and corn. Cook for 2 minutes and add the poblano. Add 1/2 cup of water to mixture and cook for 4 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spray a 9x13 baking dish with non stick cooking spray. Cover the bottom with tortillas, about 4 tortillas. Add 1/2 cup of tomato mixture on top of tortillas. Top with 1 1/2 cups of zucchini mixture. Add 1 cup of cheese. Drizzle with 1/4 cup of mexican crema. Season the first layer with salt and pepper. Start on the second layer with tortillas, then tomato, zucchini, cheese, and with mexican crema. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Do it again for a third time, to finish off with a third layer, making sure to season with salt and pepper.

Bake uncovered until cheese begins to melt, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Serves 8

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Making A List and Checking It Twice

Do you shop at Costco?  Or Sam's Club?  Or Target?  Well, I love both Costco and Target and I have the inventory to prove it.  I have enough deodorant and toothpaste to provide health and beauty aids to a small nation.  I have enough baggies to send my children lunches at school for the next five years.  I have a lot of extras.

And it's not on purpose.  Sometimes I actually run out of something and I put it on a list and I buy it.  Other times, I think  I might be out of something and I buy it without actually checking first.  And then there are things like laundry detergent that I always think I need, so I buy it every time I go to Costco.  This is not a good approach.

So, I've made an executive decision to make this My Summer of Using Up.  My approach is simple.  I am going to start by creating a master list of everything I buy at Costco and Target because there is a certain amount of overlap.  Then I am going to take a full inventory which, trust me, is no small project.  I am going to assemble like items together so there will be toothpaste with toothpaste, instead of one tube of toothpaste with the toilet paper and so on.
Have you ever noticed how essential everything looks when you're shopping at Costco.  Doesn't everyone need a 62 pack of batteries?
I am going to use up what I have before buying more.  It's not like I'm one of those Extreme Couponing crazies who buys the stuff because it's a good deal.  What I am is a disorganized shopper and it needs to stop.  This is My Summer of Using Up,  Hear me roar!

I'm feeling good about my prospects for success here.  As I've gotten older, I am finding that I don't like having so much stuff around.  I need more empty space and there's no better place to start than by cutting back on household items.

I'm looking forward to actually needing to buy laundry detergent.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

You Had Me At Hello

The other day I was having lunch with my friend Suzanne.  Suzanne loves to cook and she's good at it so our conversations always come around to what we've been cooking.  The culinary conversation always follows updates on the trials and tribulations of raising teenage daughters, a discussion that is much longer than any one lunch date.

Anyhow, after we established that it would be nice for our girls to be willing to wear a party dress more than once, talk turned to food.  Suzanne asked me if I had made, wait for it, Slutty Brownies.  Slutty Brownies?  I had never heard of Slutty Brownies.  How could I have missed out on Slutty Brownies?  I pride myself on being au courant on the subject of food, especially things like brownies, and these slipped by.  I needed to know more.

Suzanne started describing how they were prepared and I had to immediately Google them (as we were talking, I'm ashamed to admit) to make sure I could locate a recipe once I got home.  Not to worry.  There had to be at least 20 different versions -- some from scratch (no way) but most were made using mixes.

Now I am not usually a lover of cake mix, but something called Slutty Brownies demands the use of a mix.  Don't you agree?  So on my way home from lunch, I made a stop off at the grocery store to pick up my supplies which consisted of a box each of brownie mix, sugar cookie mix, and a bag of Double Stuffed Oreos.

And then the magic happened.  After mixing up my brownie and cookie batters (in separate bowls), I made a layer of cookie dough, topped it with a layer of whole Oreos and then covered the whole thing with brownie batter.

Into the oven for 30 minutes and out came... Slutty Brownies.

I'm not sure where the name of these brownies came from but we can all use our imaginations.  It doesn't matter.  One thing is for sure.  They were appealing right from the start.


Recipe:  Slutty Brownies

* Note:  I made 2 8x8 pans but you could make these in a 9x13.  Just adjust the baking time according to package directions.


1 box brownie mix
1 box sugar cookie mix
1 bag Double Stuffed Oreos


Preheat oven to 350F.

Spray 2 8x8 pans with cooking spray (see note above).   Make the cookie batter according to package directions.  In another bowl, make the brownie batter, also following package directions.

Layer half the cookie dough in each pan, creating an even layer that completely covers the bottom of the pan.  Top the cookie layer with the whole Oreos (do not separate them).  Top the whole assembly with the brownie batter, spreading to cover completely.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until done.

Let cool completely and then cut into squares.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Vanilla Bean Update

My homemade vanilla.
For those of you who have been reading the blog for a while, you will recall that several months ago I embarked on what can only be called "The Great Vanilla Experiment".   I decided to make my own homemade vanilla using just vanilla beans and booze (and a wing and a prayer).

Prior to this experiment, I brought my vanilla at the supermarket or at Penzey's -- just like everyone else.  And I didn't buy that crappy vanilla extract either.  I bought the good stuff from Madagascar.   I used that fancy vanilla like water, never really considering that it was a pretty costly ingredient to just splash into everything and anything.

But never mind about my vanilla habits.  Back to the experiment.

So I got this idea to make my own vanilla.  It was easy and simplicity is always a huge draw for me.  I bought a lot of vanilla beans (the good ones  from Madagascar) and a bottle of vodka.  (Ted was in charge of the vodka purchase since he's the resident bartender around here.)  I split the beans, stuck them in a jar and filled it to the brim with the booze.

And then I waited.

And I waited some more.

And then I tasted it.  It still tasted pretty much like alcohol so I waited some more.

Well, ladies (and a couple of gentlemen), today was the day.  I checked on the vanilla this morning.  I did the sniff test and it smelled like vanilla.  And then I tasted it and it tasted like vanilla.  And then I did a taste test with the fancy vanilla I had in the pantry and do you know what?  My homemade vanilla had actually turned into actual bona fide  vanilla!  It tasted just like vanilla!

Do you sense my excitement because I'm pretty much jumping up and down about this.

I'm a vanilla maker!  Is there an actually profession called vanilla maker because I'm pretty sure I could get that job.

So, now armed with a quart of homemade vanilla, I can splash vanilla into anything I want.  I can add to my original quart and keep it going forever.  I can be the Queen of Homemade Vanilla.

All this from an experiment.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Lovely Little "Tarte"

I have never been a brunch kind of person.  I love breakfast, but brunch has always seemed a little too precious to me.  I like a  hearty stack of pancakes, or the classic American breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast.  I'm not a big lover of delicate little crepes or fancy egg dishes.  I'm a basic breakfast gal.

But it was Mother's Day on Sunday and being both the mother and cook meant that I was in charge of breakfast.  Now that might sound wrong to you but I was okay with it.  At least I knew that (1) I would get what I wanted for breakfast, and (2) that it would taste good.

I was originally planning to make pancakes but then I saw this Giada DeLaurentiis recipe for a breakfast tart with pancetta, and green onions.  It sounded surprisingly appealing (given my general dislike of fancy eggs) and somewhat more festive than pancakes -- at least any pancakes I was going to make.

It was also surprisingly easy to make.  I didn't even have to make the pastry for the crust, which on Mother's Day was a gift in and of itself.  (After all, wasn't Mother's Day supposed to be a day of rest for me?)  The filling was a really rich concoction that included gruyere cheese and mascarpone cheese, a staple in at least half of Giada's recipes.

I whipped the tart up in just minutes and slid it into the oven for about 20 minutes.  What emerged with a beautiful puffy tart, perfect for breakfast, or brunch if you're feeling fancy.

Recipe:  Breakfast Tart with Pancetta and Green Onions
(Weeknights with Giada, 2012)

Note:  You could substitute in all kinds of other ingredients.  Mushrooms, bacon, and cheddar cheese would also make a delicious tart.


1 unroll-and-bake refrigerated 9-inch pie crust (recommended: Pillsbury)
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
5 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (4 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Gruyere
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Special equipment: 9-inch tart pan with removable base

Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan.

Unroll the pie crust and arrange it in the prepared pan. Gently press the crust into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim any excess crust from the top of the pan. With the tines of a fork, prick the pastry in several places. Using a pastry brush, coat the crust with the beaten egg white. Put the pan on a baking sheet and bake until the egg white has set, about 10 minutes. Allow the crust to cool for 10 minutes.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until brown and crispy, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain on a paper towel lined plate.

In a medium bowl, combine the beaten eggs, mascarpone cheese, Gruyere, green onions, salt, pepper, and pancetta. Mix until smooth. Pour the mixture into the cooled crust and bake until the mixture has set and the top is golden, about 18 minutes Cool the tart for 10 to 15 minutes then remove it from the pan to a serving platter.

Cut the tart into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Biscuit, A Basket

This is my final product. Not bad for a first try.
Having not been raised in the South, biscuits weren't something that I knew a lot about as a kid.  In fact, the closest I had ever come to a biscuit was back when I lived in Los Angeles.  We used to regularly eat breakfast at John O'Groats and they served the most delicious little biscuits.  Those were the biscuits on which I based all of my biscuit knowledge.

I actually never even thought about making biscuits either.  I knew I liked them, but like bagels, I figured biscuits were something I would never master.  I mean, come on.  What Jewish girl from Los Angeles can make a light and airy biscuit?

But curiosity got the better of me when I saw instructions for how to make buttermilk biscuits in the latest issue of Fine Cooking Magazine.  They didn't look hard to make.  The instructions didn't even look all that intimidating so I decided to channel my inner Paula Deen and give the recipe a whirl.

Let me just start by saying that there's a lot more to making a biscuit than following a recipe.  In fact, I think that biscuits are probably one of those foods that have a style that's personal to the baker and that's what makes them really good.  I suspect that biscuits have family histories that span generations.  Being a Jewish girl from Los Angeles, I had no such history to draw on.  Jews are not traditionally biscuit makers.

But I digress.  The biscuit recipe was deceptively easy.  Only a couple of ingredients were called for and pulsing the mixture in the food processor took just seconds.  It was at this point that I ran into trouble.  I was being very careful not to overwork the delicate dough.  I also didn't want to allow the heat from my hands to melt the little pieces of butter that would cause steam to release from the dough in the oven.  This was actually easier said than done.

But I persevered and before I knew it I had six beautiful biscuits ready to go into the oven.  I popped them in and waited for magic to happen.
These are my biscuits ready to go into the oven. Pretty impressive, huh. 

These are the biscuits from Fine Cooking Magazine

When the biscuits were done baking I pulled them out, and brushed the tops with melted butter.  They looked lovely, although a little more spread out than the ones in the picture in the magazine.  I attributed that to the fact that I did not have a food stylist on standby.

I've got to tell you.  They were tasty, although probably not quite as light as they might have been, but tasty nonetheless.

Not bad for a Jewish girl from Los Angeles.

Recipe: Southern Buttermilk Biscuits
(Fine Cooking Magazine, June/July, 2012)


9 oz. (2 cups) chilled all-purpose flour, preferably White Lily; more as needed
2 Tbs. baking powder (preferably aluminum free, such as Rumford)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
4 oz. (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus 2 Tbs., melted
3/4 cup buttermilk; more for brushing


Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Chill a food processor blade and bowl as well as a large mixing bowl. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Pulse the flour, baking powder, and salt in the food processor until combined. Add the cold butter and process with ten 1-second pulses; the butter should be the size of small peas. Transfer the mixture to the chilled mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk, moving your hand, with fingers apart, in circles to incorporate it into the dry ingredients. The dough is mixed when it just barely comes together.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Pat and roll it into a 1-inch-thick square. Using a floured 2-1/2-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out as many biscuits as you can, dipping the cutter in flour between cuts to prevent sticking and making sure to lift the cutter straight up, without twisting. Arrange the biscuits on the parchment-lined sheet so they touch.

Gently gather the remaining dough scraps and press them into a 1-inch-thick rectangle. Cut out as many biscuits as you can and arrange them on the sheet, snug against the others. You should have 6 or 7 biscuits.

Brush the tops of the biscuits with buttermilk and bake until golden-brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush with the melted butter. Serve warm.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Little Bites of Heaven

Are these not adorable?
A couple of months ago Williams Sonoma was featuring a baking pan that was shaped like a donut.  It was so cute and I kept thinking how cute it would be to make a cake shaped like a donut.  But what's the point of a cake shaped like a donut?  Shouldn't the cake taste like a donut too?  And if it tastes like a donut then isn't it a donut and why do I need the pan?

Here's my point.  I don't usually get lured in by specialty baking pans.  I don't have a ton of storage and after making and serving a cake shaped like a donut once or twice, I think the whole thing might get a little old.

So imagine my surprise when I saw and purchased a brownie bite pan just like that.  I didn't even think about it.  I just knew I had to have that pan.  I just knew that making those cute little brownie bites, all chewy and delicious, was going to be worth the cost of the pan.

And it was.  The little brownie bites (about four bites each, to be exact) are the perfect combination of chewy and dense.  They're all the best things about a brownie in a bite size little package.  And they're so cute, which is not to be discounted.

This is what my brownie bite pan looks like.  Each little cup holds about 2 tbl. batter.
Now mind you, I've only used the pan once and the true test will be if I use it over and over.  But I think I will because these brownie bites are so adorable.  And if I don't, I guess I'll have to revert back to my browse but don't buy policy when it comes to specialty baking pans.

I like this brownie recipe from Nigella Lawson although any brownie recipe (or brownie mix, for that matter) will do nicely.

Recipe:  Everyday Brownies
(Nigella Lawson)

* Note:  To make brownie bites, spray a brownie bite pan with cooking spray.  Spoon 2 tablespoonfuls of batter into each cup and bake at 375 for 25 minutes.  If making a pan of brownies, use a 9x13 pan and see below for additional instructions.


1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 6 ounces milk chocolate, chopped into small nuggety chunks (or 1 cup chips)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Melt the butter over a gentle heat in a medium-sized saucepan.

When it's melted, add the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon (still over a low heat) to help it blend with the melted butter.

Whisk together the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and pinch of salt, and then stir into the pan; when mixed (this will be a very dry mixture, and not wholly blended at this stage), remove from the heat.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the vanilla extract and then mix into the brownie mixture in the pan.

Stir in the chopped chocolate and quickly pour and scrape into a foil-lined baking tin or disposable foil pan, spreading the mixture with a spatula, and cook in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes. It will look set, dark and dry on top, but when you feel the surface, you will sense it is still wibbly underneath and a cake tester will come out gungy. This is desirable.

Transfer the pan to a rack to cool a little before cutting into 16 pieces.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Passion Play

One of my favorite features in cooking and architectural magazines is when they showcase a chef's home kitchen.  These are people who cook for a living, people who can make a gourmet meal out of a pickle, some bran flakes, and a lemon.  These are people who know their way around a kitchen.

You would expect that professional chefs would all have home kitchens equipped to the hilt.  And many of them do, but just as many have home kitchen that are well, rather modest.

On the other hand, I know a lot of home cooks.  These are people like you and me, who cook for their families, friends, and an occasional bake sale.  I also know a lot of people who are masters of takeout or prepared foods.  While they are not quite as serious about the whole cooking thing as I am, they cook when they need or want to.  Hey, different strokes...

Many people I know have huge, stunningly beautiful kitchens, equipped with Wolf ranges, Sub Zero side by side refrigerators and freezers, warming drawers, multiple dishwashers, double ovens, and the like.  They have countertops made of stone beautiful enough to have been used in the construction of Versailles. Other people I know have more modest cooking spaces with fewer top of the line appliances and Corian countertops.  There are even those home cooks who live in tiny apartments where the counter space is so small that the dining table has to do double duty.

But here's the thing.  You don't have to have a gourmet kitchen to be a gourmet cook.  The deliciousness of your food does not depend on the quality of your countertops.  It does not depend on whether you have a big kitchen or a small one, nor does it depend on whether you have top of the line Wolf double ovens or  an old oven, although appliances that work are a definite plus.  While gourmet appliances are nice, they are not required equipment for being a great cook.

I think the thing you need most in the kitchen is passion, plain and simple.  To be a great cook requires passion.  Having passion, for whatever I'm doing, is how I show my love to my family and friends and what makes me feel best about myself.

Bon Appetit, May 201

Recipe:  Cucumber and Avocado Salad
(Bon Appetit, May 2012)

Note: Chiles de árbol are sold at some supermarkets and at Latin markets.


24 sprigs cilantro plus 1/4 cup coarsely chopped leaves
1/4 cup chopped peeled ginger
6 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
2 dried chiles de árbol
2 English hothouse cucumbers (about 2 pounds total), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon (or more) kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal


Combine cilantro sprigs, ginger, garlic, and chiles in a resealable plastic freezer bag; seal. Lightly pound with a skillet or rolling pin until ginger and garlic are well mashed.

Add cucumbers, 1 tsp. salt, and sugar. Seal bag; shake to mix. Squeeze bag firmly to slightly mash cucumbers, 1–2 minutes. Place bag in a large bowl; let macerate at room temperature, turning halfway through, until juices form, about 35 minutes.

Empty contents of bag into bowl; turn bag inside out and scrape out any small bits. Discard cilantro sprigs. Mix in celery, juice, and oil. Season with more salt, if desired.

Divide avocado among plates; spoon salad over. Garnish with chopped cilantro and basil.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Commitment Issues

What's with this weather?  One day it's 80 with a bright, sunny sky.  The next day it's 60 and raining.  This is not good for my mood or my hair.  This weather is so up and down that I can't commit to sandals yet and I love sandals.

What's a girl to do?

Last week I ordered a caprese salad for lunch, and let me tell you, the tomatoes in that salad were far from caprese-worthy.  Clearly it's too soon to commit to fresh tomatoes as well.  For the moment, it's probably the best course of action to stick with canned tomatoes and skip the caprese altogether.

Despite my run-in with the tomatoes, I was still craving a light, springy pasta dish the other night.  This Bobby Flay recipe skips the fresh tomatoes and instead relies on canned San Marzano tomatoes.  San Marzano tomatoes are a delicious option, even later in the summer when vine ripened tomatoes are plentiful.

What makes this pasta dish particularly appealing is the inclusion of fresh arugula (always a favorite of mine) and fresh basil.   These two simple ingredients take this rather run of the mill "pasta in tomato sauce" recipe and kick it up a notch or two.

So, while it's too soon to commit to either the bounty or the footwear of summer, we can at least enjoy a few little glimpses of the coming season.

Recipe: Penne with Tomato Sauce, Arugula and Parmesan
(Bobby Flay)


1 pound penne pasta
Kosher salt
Tomato sauce
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
Sugar, if needed
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like it)
4 ounces baby arugula
Fresh basil leaves, torn
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pasta, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. If using fine salt, use 1 tablespoon. Stir in the pasta, cover the pot and bring to a boil.  Cook until just slightly under al dente (it will continue cooking in the sauce, about 8 minutes).  Remove 1 cup of the pasta water and reserve. Drain the pasta well.

To make the tomato sauce, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large high sided sauté pan. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and half of the reserved juice and bring to a simmer, cook for 15 minutes and then gently crush the tomatoes with a potato masher until slightly smooth. Taste for seasoning and add sugar if needed. Add the chile flakes and continue cooking until thicken, about 25 to 30 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Season the sauce with the salt and pepper to taste.

Add the drained pasta to the sauce and toss to coat evenly. Stir in some of the reserved pasta water, if needed and ½ cup of the cheese. Stir in the arugula and herbs. Transfer to a platter and serve with the remaining cheese on the side.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Homemade is Best

I just bought a new cookbook that I'm really excited about.  It's called The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila.  I think that this is a cookbook we all should own.

Let's face it.  We all buy a lot of stuff in the grocery store.  We buy some things because they're staples like milk, eggs, flour, and butter.  Other things we buy because they're convenient, things like granola bars, cookies, and Bisquick.   These items are not always the best example of whatever they are.  But there they are, just waiting to be plucked off the shelf and dropped into our shopping carts.  Often these items full of all the bad stuff we should all be avoiding: preservatives, stabilizers, sodium, and sugar.  And, often, these packaged foods are far more expensive than the sum of their ingredients.  Moreover, these "store bought" foods are rarely as tasty as something you make in your own kitchen, where you really can control the quality of your ingredients.

I know.  This is amusing coming from me.  I'm no slave to healthfulness, but I'm also not stupid.  (Although Kate would argue otherwise.)  What I am, is a slave to what tastes good, It only follows that foods made with fewer ingredients and chemicals would be better for you and would taste better.  Imagine that.

I've never quite figured out who Williams Sonoma is selling $18 Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic Simmering Sauce to.  And that's just for the sauce.   You still have to add the chicken!  The point is that with a little effort we can all eat better tasting, healthy for, and (much to Ted's pleasure) maybe save a few bucks in the process.

And that's where The Homemade Pantry comes.  This cookbook is filled with recipes for all kinds of things like jam, breads, crackers, condiments, and snack foods.  All are very easy to make and you'll know what you're eating.

Here's the thing.  We all know that in almost every case the thing you make at home is going to be better for you.  And, it's probably going to cost less than buying it.  Let's start a trend.  Homemade is best.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Wild and Crazy

Bon Appetit, May 2012
I don't know what's come over me, but lately I've been all about what's in season.  Maybe it's because the sun is shining.  Or maybe it's because I've been paying more attention to what's become easily available in the grocery story and at the farmer's market.  Who knows.  I'm not quibbling.

The net result of all this is that we are eating extremely well in our house.  I've been throwing ramps into everything and let me tell you, they up the volume of most any dish.  Morel mushrooms and peas are in season too. And so is wild salmon.

Years ago, I would order grilled salmon whenever I went to a restaurant.  I got into a salmon slump and I didn't eat it for years because I had gotten myself so sick of it.  But salmon is so good for you, and it gets so much positive press, that a couple of years ago I had to revisit the whole salmon thing.

What I realized is that salmon is, forget about tuna, the chicken of the sea.  You can do anything with it and it tastes good.  And, if you're lucky enough to happen upon wild salmon, which is in season right now, you're in for a treat.

This recipe for poached salmon showcases (do you like the use of the word showcase?) all kinds of ingredients that are delicious right now.  Peas, a most under appreciated veggie and morel mushrooms play a key role in this dish which just screams springtime.

While I am far from being a totally seasonal cook, I'm working on it.  This recipe is a step in the right direction.

Recipe:  Poached Wild Salmon with Peas and Morels
(Bon Appetit, May 2012)


2 6–8-ounce center-cut wild king salmon fillets (each about 1 1/2-inch thick)
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons kosher salt plus more for seasoning
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces fresh morels; sliced, stemmed shiitake; or other mushrooms
1/2 cup shelled fresh (or frozen, thawed) peas
1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives or 2 pea tendrils


Place salmon, skin side down, in a large high-sided skillet. Add wine, 2 Tbsp. salt, and cold water to cover salmon by 1/2". Cover pan and bring liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, uncover, and gently poach salmon until just cooked through and barely opaque in the center, about 6 minutes, depending on thickness. Transfer salmon and 2 Tbsp. poaching liquid to a plate; tent loosely with foil.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup salmon poaching liquid and peas and simmer until peas begin to soften, 2–3 minutes. Add cream and bring sauce to a simmer. Cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Using a spatula, transfer salmon, skin side up, to paper towels. Gently peel off and discard skin. Invert salmon onto serving plates and spoon mushroom sauce over. Garnish with chives.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Home Grown

Bon Appetit, May, 2012
Now that the weather is getting warmer, I am getting more enthusiastic about salads.  Ted has planted  basil and rosemary, and my mint is coming back full force.  The tomatoes are still just little seedlings but it's just a matter of time before I have, what I hope, will be a bumper crop.

I was going through some cooking magazines looking for a nice salad to make with dinner on Friday night.  I wanted something colorful with a lot of different textures.  I thought about making a panzanella salad, but then I happened on this recipe for a fattoush salad.

I have never made a fattoush salad before.  It's sort of a Middle Eastern version of the Italian panzanella salad, and uses toasted pita in place of the toasted bread.  The dressing is heavy on ground sumac and uses pomegranate molasses.  I thought it sounded really interesting and delicious.

My first order of business was to procure some sumac and some pomegranate molasses.  This is where Google is invaluable.  A quick search revealed that there was a Middle Eastern market just a few minutes from my house.  In fact, it's so close that I've probably passed it 100 times.  I zipped over and picked up my ingredients and I was ready to go.

Like panzanella, fattoush requires a lot of cutting and chopping.  The result is a really colorful and flavorful salad, which is actually hearty enough to serve as a vegetarian entree.

Ted and Kate loved it and I felt like I put some of the mint I have growing in my backyard to good use.  As the summer progresses, I'll be able to come up with most everything I need for this salad just by going into my backyard.

Recipe:  Fattoush
(Bon Appetit, May, 2012)


For the Dressing:
4 teaspoons ground sumac, soaked in 4 teaspoons warm water for 15 minutes
3 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons (or more) pomegranate molasses
2 small garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons (or more) white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried mint
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

For the Salad:

2 8-inch-diameter pita breads, halved, toasted until golden brown, broken into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 pound Persian cucumbers, or one 1-pound English hothouse cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
6 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Little Gem or baby romaine lettuces, or 1 small head romaine lettuce, trimmed, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch strips
2 cups (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 cups purslane leaves or additional 3/4-inch-strips romaine lettuce
1 cup fresh mint leaves
Ground sumac (optional)


To Make the Dressing:

Combine sumac with soaking liquid, 3 Tbsp. lemon juice, 2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses, garlic, 2 tsp. vinegar, and dried mint in a small bowl. Gradually add oil, whisking constantly, until well blended. Season with salt; add more lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, and vinegar to taste, if desired.

To Make the Salad:

Place pita pieces in a medium bowl; pour oil over and toss to coat. Season pita to taste with salt.
Mix tomatoes and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add 3/4 of dressing; toss to coat, adding more dressing by tablespoonfuls as needed. Season with salt. Add pita; toss once. Sprinkle sumac over, if desired.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Out of the Oven and Into the Trash

You will note the giant crater in the middle of the cake.
Lest you think everything I make works out, I wanted to share this picture of my failed lemon poppy seed cake attempt with you.  What you can't see in the picture is the blob of poppy seeds that somehow migrated to the lower left corner of the cake.  Not particularly appetizing, if I do say so myself.

I have to start out by saying that I followed the directions.  I whipped the eggs and the sugar for five minutes as instructed, and I lightly folded in the dry ingredients.  (Lightly being the key word here because I have a somewhat heavy hand when it comes to folding.)  I have no idea what went wrong.  All I know is that I have a lemon cake with a giant crater in the middle.  Hum...

I make lots of things that don't work out.  I just don't tell you about them.  I have to keep the mystique going and if I reported on every kitchen misstep, well, that's all I'd be writing about.

But here's the thing.  I don't mind when things don't result in a culinary masterpiece (or in this case, something edible).  Not everything Julia Child made was successful.  In fact, if I'm to believe all that I've read about her, there were at least as many failures as there were successes.

Sometimes the recipes don't work because I did something wrong and I'm willing to admit that.  But you know what?  Sometimes it's the recipe.  Not every recipe in every cookbook works.  Imagine that?  Most do, but sometimes they just don't.

My family is always very patient when I serve a somewhat less that perfect chicken dish for dinner.  We've gotten good at cutting around the sunken centers of pound cakes.  But sometimes things just land in the trash can, which is very frustrating, but you know what? It's not the end of the world.

It's just a cake.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Let Me Be Your Hostess

I grew up eating Hostess baked goods.  Every once in a while my mother would go over to the Hostess Bakery outlet in Van Nuys and load up on the the goodies my sister and I loved.  She would come home with all kinds of treats from Twinkies to Tiger Tails.

Do you know what a Tiger Tail is?  Well, I'll tell you.  It's a Twinkie that's striped with jam and instead of white cream filling, it has jam inside.  They were a most under appreciated cake as I recall, hence their easy availability at the Hostess Bakery outlet.

There truly wasn't a Hostess product that I didn't love, although I recall thinking that the Donettes were a little dull when compared with a Snowball.  My favorite treats were the pink Snowballs and the little devils food cupcakes with the distinctive squiggle on top.

Back when Charlie and Kate were little, I decided to introduce them to the joys of Hostess.  I bought them Twinkies and Snowballs and those little cakes were still magical.  I have to admit that I did have a nibble of a Snowball and it wasn't quite as delicious as I recalled, although it was still just as pretty.

Well, the other day I was reading one of my favorite blogs Confessions of a Cookbook Queen and there it was: a recipe for faux Hostess Cupcakes.  What I really loved about this recipe was that it didn't pretend to be a gourmet version of a Hostess cupcake.  This recipe called for cake mix and ready made frosting.  This was a Hostess Cupcake I could get my arms around.

I had forgotten how easy baking with a cake mix is.  It took me about 22 seconds to make the batter and throw the cupcakes into the oven?  Okay, it's true that cake mix doesn't make as delicious a cake as making it from scratch, but convenience is worth something, isn't it?

Anyway, I made the cupcakes and then whipped up the cream filling and piped it into the cooled cupcakes.  A quick dip in melted chocolate frosting and a white icing squiggle on top and I had my own homemade Hostess Cupcakes.  (Practice with the squiggle.  Mine got much better by the end.)
After baking the cupcakes, I used a large tip to pipe in the cream filling.

Then I dipped the filled cupcakes into the melted chocolate frosting.

The finished product!  

I felt really nostalgic sending my faux Hostess Cupcakes off to school with Kate to give to her friends at lunch.  School... just where a Hostess Cupcake is most at home.

Recipe:  Homemade Hostess Cupcakes
(Confessions of a Cookbook Queen)



2 dozen Devils Food Cupcakes, baked and cooled (use a mix, make homemade, whatever floats your dinghy)
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
6 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces


1 can of chocolate frosting
1 can of vanilla frosting, for squiggles


Prepare filling:  In the bowl of a mixer, combine powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla.  Add boiling water and whip with the whisk attachment on medium low speed until smooth and cool.  Add shortening and butter and beat on medium low until combined.  Increase speed to medium high and beat for about 4-5 minutes, until smooth, fluffy, and doubled in volume.

Fill cupcakes.  You can use a piping bag and tip, or cut a hole with a knife, fill with a spoon, and place the cut out cake back on top to cover.

Remove lid and foil from frosting and microwave on high for about a minute, stirring every 15 seconds until it is the consistency of hot fudge.  Dip the tops of the cupcakes in the frosting, holding upside down to allow excess to drip off so they aren’t messy.

Once frosting has cooled and firmed up, pipe squiggles on with canned white frosting (or remaining filling) if desired.


Filling recipe is adapted from The Whimsical Bakehouse’s House Buttercream

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Live and Learn

The ramps are the green things.
I have to come clean here.  Before I lived in Pittsburgh I had never heard of ramps.  I had no idea what they were.  And you know what?  I didn't know enough about them to care.

Back then I didn't have a food blog.  Back then I rotated the same four or five recipes every week or two.  Back then, my idea of cooking was sprinkling chicken with lemon pepper and throwing it into the broiler.  We did not eat an exciting menu, but it was fine.  And you know what?  Sometimes fine is fine enough.

Now that I'm a self appointed food professional (meaning I have a blog and I can follow a recipe), I'm all about the ingredients.  I'm always on the search for something new and my bedtime reading is often a cookbook.  You have to understand.  The blog is like a three eyed monster.  I have to keep feeding it or, in the case of the blog, it will wither away and lose loyal readers.  In the case of the monster, well,  he wouldn't wither away but things could certainly be unpleasant.

But back to the ramps.  Just today, I was chatting it up with Deborah and I mentioned ramps.  "What," she asked "are ramps?"  Now I could have gotten all hoity toity on her, and behaved as though everyone (except her) knew what a ramp was.  But she knows me really well and she would have known that I was full of shit.  (Can you believe that I just used the word shit on a food blog?)

So, for those of you who don't know what a ramp is, here goes:

The ramp, sometimes called wild leek, is a wild onion native to North America. Though the bulb resembles that of a scallion, the beautiful flat, broad leaves set it apart.  (Courtesy of About.com)

And these are ramps:

You see, they kind of resemble scallions but they're more slender and pack a real garlicky punch although they are more closely related to onions.

 So now that we've had our little science lesson for the day, I though you might want to jump out to the grocery store and pick up some ramps for dinner tonight.  They're only available for a short time so buy a bunch.  The keep well in the frig and are delicious in eggs if you have any left over.

See, you learn something new every day.

Recipe: Roasted Chicken, Ramps, and Potatoes
(Gourmet,  April 2000)


3/4 pound ramps
1 (3- to 3‚-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 pound small red potatoes, halved
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth


Preheat oven to 500°F.

Trim roots from ramps and slip off outer skin on bulbs if loose. Cut off and reserve leaves, leaving white bulbs attached to slender pink stems.

Put leaves and bulbs in separate bowls.

Pat chicken dry. Put in a flameproof large shallow roasting pan, without crowding, and surround with potatoes. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and rub all over to coat evenly. Arrange chicken skin sides up and season with salt and pepper. Roast in upper third of oven 20 minutes.

Toss bulbs with remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil and season with salt. Scatter bulbs around chicken and roast mixture until breast pieces are just cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer breast pieces to a platter and keep warm. Roast remaining chicken and vegetables 5 minutes more, or until cooked through. Transfer to platter and keep warm, loosely covered with foil. (If crisper skin is desired, broil chicken only, skin sides up, about 2 minutes.)

Pour off fat from roasting pan and straddle pan across 2 burners. Add wine and deglaze pan by cooking over high heat, scraping up brown bits.

Boil wine until reduced to about 1/4 cup and add broth. When broth boils, add ramp leaves and stir until wilted and tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with tongs and add to chicken. Boil pan juices until reduced to about 1/2 cup and pour around chicken.