Friday, April 6, 2012

Singular Rice Krispie Treat

I'm a big fan of Rice Krispie Treats, but the standard recipe makes 24 squares, and I find it challenging to have a pan of them in the house and not return to it over and over until they're all gone in one evening. This recipe makes 3 squares if you cut them the size Kellogg's bases their nutritional analysis on, but it makes one big square to my way of thinking.
  • 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • 6 large marshmallows
  • 1/2 rounded C Rice Krispies cereal
1. Melt butter and marshmallows together in microwave-safe bowl on high for 1 minute, stirring well to combine. Move on to step 2.
1. In saucepan, melt butter and marshmallows together over low heat. Move on to step 2.

2. Stir in cereal until well coated. Place on a square of plastic wrap and fold up, molding the treat into a square. Allow to cool.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently


We've just returned from a trip to Solvang, an old Danish colony on the Central California Coast (Santa Barbara County). One of the real joys of a visit to a place like Solvang is experiencing the food. Scandinavian cuisine in general doesn't seem to get enough credit, but fortunately most people are well aware of the quality of Danish pastries and baked goods. We certainly enjoyed ourselves, being sure to visit some bakeries and to get æbleskiver alongside breakfast one morning.

Coming back, though, I decided that while we'd taken advantage of plenty of sweet treats (Danish waffles with buttercream and raspberry, eclairs, cheese bread, butter ring, etc.), we hadn't had much in the way of Danish entrees. My dietary restrictions made it somewhat difficult, but I knew there must be traditional dishes we hadn't stumbled across that I'd be able to eat. So upon returning home I did some research and discovered the dish known as millionbøf. Literally translated it means "million steak", as the meat is minced into many small pieces. I adapted this recipe from several informal versions I found and translated online. I do own one Scandinavian cookery book, and our local library has one other, but both are from the 1960s and focus mainly on herring dishes, so I had to rely on Google and myself for this (in other words, Danes, sorry if it's not exactly as it would be traditionally).

  • 2 Tbsp finely diced onion
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 2/3 C beef stock
  • 1 heaping Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 C water
  • salt (to taste)
  • pepper (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp kitchen bouquet
1. Sauté onions in fat of your choosing (I used butter). Add ground beef and brown for 3-4 minutes, until no longer pink, breaking up the beef completely with wooden spoon into tiny bits. Drain.
2. Add beef stock, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
3. Whisk flour and water together and pour into beef mixture, stirring until mixture becomes thicker. Season with salt and pepper. Add kitchen bouquet and stir until fully combined. Serve over Mashed Potatoes.

Robyn's notes: before beginning, I patted the ground beef all over with a paper towel, to dry it. Drying beef helps it brown and in this case also made it easier to break up the meat into the small bits, so that it didn't clump together as ground beef sometimes will. Onions make me ill, so instead of finely dicing mine, I coarsely chopped them. Makes it easier to find them when I'm picking them out of my portion later. I might add some paprika when making this again, paprika being a common addition to the dish. Kitchen bouquet is a browning and seasoning sauce found in US grocery stores.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Final note: we took the photo at the top of this entry just outside of the Village Spinning and Weaving store, where the owners were kind enough to spend a good half hour with me so that I could try out every spinning wheel they had assembled. I can easily recommend their shop, as well as Danish Mill Bakery, Mortensen's Bakery, and The Red Viking Restaurant.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: Yes, Chef

Author: Marcus Samuelsson
Published: June 26, 2012 by Random House
Available for Pre-Order: Amazon, Powell's

This was a seriously good book. Before I received it I didn't know a lot about Marcus Samuelsson. I haven't watched any of the seasons of Top Chef Masters, and I missed season 7 of the regular Top Chef (which is when he appeared as a judge), so my awareness of him as a chef has been name recognition only. I'm very glad that has changed with reading this memoir.

Immediately upon finishing the first chapter, I started checking the copyright page, "about the author" paragraph, and author's note to see if he had written the book entirely on his own or with a ghostwriter. Less than 5 pages in, I was that struck by the writing. After brief Google searches I still can't be sure, but I suspect that the acknowledgment of Veronica Chambers 'helping to tell his story' and 'the fine touch on the words being all hers' tells the reader that she was a big part of the writing. Either way, whoever was involved should be proud.

About six or seven chapters in, I was told that I was reading with a very expressive face. Smiling gently most of the time, occasionally furrowing my brow (I can only assume this was as I read a scene that took place on the playground). That has to be because the story of Samuelsson's life is truly fascinating and strangely accessible, considering how vastly different it is from my own experiences.

In tone Yes, Chef reminds me a bit of Jacques Pépin's The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, which is a real compliment from me. Both memoirs show the same respectfulness toward family and kitchen staff, the same underlying sense of humor, and the same gratitude, optimism, and hard-working sensibility. One of the things I enjoyed most about Pépin's memoir was his humbleness and focus on the positive things in life, the ways he'd been fortunate. Samuelsson showed the same traits here.

I have no idea why someone would read a chef's memoir if they weren't interested in food, but for those of us who are: don't worry, there's plenty of gastronomic talk to satisfy most any foodie. I was especially pleased because there is so much discussion of dishes and flavour components of various countries and cultures around the world, which is wonderful. Most chef memoirs seem to focus on French cooking nearly to the exclusion of all else. While I understand that French traditions are the backbone of most restaurant work in the West, and I believe French food has a strong place in the culinary world, I don't believe that place is the only place.

I'm also a big fan of holding your head high enough and keeping yourself to a high enough standard to not feel the need of calling out your detractors in print when writing a book about yourself. Yes, Chef does not avoid this trap entirely. There are two professional clashes that are discussed, but the persons involved are not insulted and enough positive had been said about them in the previous mentions of them that it comes across not as a spiteful hit, but as a needed explanation of why those professional clashes happened. The incidents in question could not have been left out, so they were written about in the best way possible without attacking, and I appreciate that Samuelsson acknowledged his own responsibilities instead of placing all blame on the other involved parties. The only person truly called out in the entire book is a celebrity chef who conducts himself publicly in a style that I don't personally care for, so I can't be annoyed about seeing him taken down a peg. Even in that case, Samuelsson let the other man's words speak for themselves.

I live with enough privilege to have never thought of food careers as an arena where race would be a particular issue. My experiences growing up in California have been such that the idea of a professional kitchen being almost exclusively white chefs and Latino line cooks seems ridiculous (when I eat shawarma, qorma, adobo, mole, udon, mochi, tajine, phat thai, tandoori chicken, etc., I don't expect those restaurants' kitchens to be full of white faces, and in California those items are more available to me than coq au vin). I had my eyes opened to prejudices that still exist in the cooking world, and I appreciate that Samuelsson discussed it in a way that was clear and honest about the effect on him, but without changing the tone of the book from that of a story about a Chef who is black to a Story About a Black Chef. Race has been a factor in his life and his career, but it is not the entirety of the story, and I'm grateful that it wasn't written as if it were (though the last two chapters did start to get that way).

The quality of the book broke down suddenly and strangely for about 17 pages a few chapters before the end. Anecdotes that weren't relative or interesting were forced in with a shoehorn, then left lying there with no follow-up or reason for being. The writing through this section was choppy and backed me out of what I was reading, as I flipped backward and forward to see if maybe I'd accidentally skipped a page. It was this section that also made me think the book might be better off as a whole without titles to the chapters. Most of the chapters' content related directly to their titles, but others only tangentially or only 2 pages out of 10. The last two chapters were a lot of "wrapping up" language. They mused, felt nostalgic, and seemed to be trying to impart a lesson, when there was still more story to tell. It's unfortunate that this departure from the feel of the rest of the book is what the reader is left with, walks away with, as it's not the supremely enjoyable experience I had from the first 270-some pages. Fortunately it's not bad enough to dispel the good feeling, and I definitely feel good about recommending the book overall. As for me, I'm now off to watch Top Chef Masters Season 2, so I can see the man in action!

I received this book as an uncorrected proof "Advanced Reader's Copy" through a giveaway, from Random House, with no obligation to review or recommend.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Soup-er Easy Chicken Pot Pie

In celebration of Pi Day (π = 3.14...), a quick and simple way to bring pi(e) to the dinner table.

  • 1 can (18.6 oz) Progresso® Rich & Hearty chicken pot pie style soup
  • 1 C mixed vegetables (see notes)
  • 1 oz sliced Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese, cut into 4 slices
  • 2 Pillsbury® Grands!® frozen buttermilk biscuits (from 25-oz bag)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray insides of 2 ovenproof 2-cup bowls with cooking spray.
2. In 2-quart saucepan, heat soup and vegetables to boiling, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.
3. Into each serving bowl, pour half of the hot soup mixture. Carefully place 2 cheese slices in center on top of soup in each bowl. Place biscuits over cheese; spray biscuits with cooking spray. 4. Place bowls on baking sheet for easier handling; bake 38 to 43 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown and soup bubbles around edges. Cool 5 minutes before serving.

Robyn's notes: for vegetables, either use 1 cup of frozen mixed veggies, or 1 cup total of fresh vegetables of your choice (peas, diced carrots, chopped celery, green beans, etc.). This was not exciting, but it was simple and filling. The cheese that I used made the finished product look quite greasy, and I'm not sure it added much flavour, so I might switch to sprinkling shredded cheese over the top of the biscuit if making again.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Feel like having something else for π Day? Maybe try one of these:
Mini Cottage Pies
Tamale Pie

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gnocchi Mac n Cheese

See notes below for yield information

I came across this recipe on The Cutting Edge of Ordinary, who in turn got it from Noble Pig.

  • 1 pound purchased or homemade gnocchi
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 C milk
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 C shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 C shredded fontina cheese
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1/3 C shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Preheat oven to 375. Prepare gnocchi according to package directions. Drain and place gnocchi in a single-layer in a 1-1/2 quart shallow baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick spray.
2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in flour until it thickens and bubbles, then whisk in milk and Dijon. Continue to whisk mixture and cook until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes.
3. Combine Gruyere and fontina, then add by the handful to milk mixture, stirring until melted before adding the next handful. Once all cheese is melted, season sauce with salt and pepper.
4. Pour sauce over gnocchi and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano over top. Bake gnocchi until they puff and the cheese is golden and bubbly, about 25 minutes. Let gnocchi rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Robyn's notes: this is fantastic, absolutely wonderful. The spots where the sauce has crisped in the oven are absolutely the best parts, and our forks fought over the last few gnocchi to get that bit of crunch. I've made the recipe twice, actually, because I had some question about the yield. The recipe calls for 1 pound of gnocchi, which is definitely more than 2 servings, but the amount of cheese in the sauce didn't seem like enough to create a sauce for 4 servings. Many of the commenters on the blog where I found this mentioned making this recipe and serving themselves, their spouse, and their children, which indicated that it served 4 people, but I still didn't trust the sauce to go that far. So I made the dish once just for me, using the full amount of sauce but half as much gnocchi. Tasted great but way too much sauce. According to the gnocchi package (I was lazy and used store-bought), 1 pound is 3 servings. When I made the full recipe, as listed above, the two of us polished it off easily and would not have left any for another person, so I'm not reducing any of the measurements. Be aware that this should probably be considered a treat or a splurge, and is more than 2 servings but less than 4.

***** 5 Stars: Excellent. A favourite for both of us, I will make this repeatedly

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cookbook Review: Healthy Cooking For Two (Or Just You)

Author: Frances Price, R.D.
Subtitled: Low-Fat Recipes with Half the Fuss and Double the Taste
Published: 1995 by Rodale, re-released 1997 with a different cover but same contents
Available for Purchase: Amazon, Powell's

Within the first few months of purchasing this cookbook I had made around 50% of the recipes, and have since increased that to nearly 80%. There were only two occasions where we felt that a dish shouldn't go on the 'repeat' list, which is a great record, especially as compared to the other 'cooking for two' books I have. Great results come with basic skills, and the focus is on fresh ingredients as opposed to canned or frozen.

I love that this cookbook is focused on the recipes. There are two sections in the beginning with tips and techniques, and the occasional in-depth ingredient explanation fleshing out a recipe, but there is no space that's wasted that could better be devoted to recipes.

Each entry is listed in column format, with a column for the measurements to serve 1, and a column for the measurements to serve 2. A few recipes have a column for 2 and a column for 4, but they are the exception.

I never give cookbooks as gifts, because people have such different tastes and needs when cooking, but made an exception for this one. I bought a second copy for a friend and have considered buying copies for my sister and mom. All three households have two or fewer people and the variety of recipes would allow everyone to find dishes that satisfy them.

The only photo in the book is the one on the cover, so for those who need pictures of the completed dish to guide or inspire them, that may be a problem. This is actually the cookbook that cured me of that stumbling block, and I'm a better cook for it. Basic nutritional information is included for each recipe.

Recipes I've made from this cookbook:
Hong Kong Primavera with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Baked Potato Soup with Broccoli & Cheddar
Bachelor's Prize Chicken

***** 5 Stars: Excellent. A favourite for both of us, I cook from this repeatedly

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chicken Saté with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Note: this recipe includes a 15 minute marinade. Be sure to allow for that time in planning.
  • 2 1/2 tsp creamy peanut butter
  • 1 to 2 tsp and 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice, divided
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 tsp firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp soy sauce (lowest sodium available)
  • 8 oz chicken breast tenders, all visible fat discarded
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, 1 to 2 tsp lime juice, and red pepper flakes until smooth. Set aside.
2. In a shallow dish, stir together the remaining 2 Tbsp lime juice, brown sugar, and soy sauce. Add the chicken, turning to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.
3. Meanwhile, soak two 6- to 8-inch wooden skewers for at least 10 minutes in cold water to keep them from charring, or use metal skewers. Preheat the broiler.
4. Remove the chicken from the dish. Thread half the chicken accordion-style onto each skewer. Place on a baking sheet. Broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until no longer pink in the center. Brush the chicken with the peanut sauce.

Robyn's notes: I love chicken in peanut sauce, and have several recipes from the simple (buy Thai peanut sauce in a jar, marinate the chicken, broil it) to the complex (ask the owner of our favourite Thai restaurant how they make their pra ram long song). This one is a perfectly acceptable version. If it's not terribly exciting that may be because it's from a book specifically geared toward heart-healthy dishes. It's still good. I served this with steamed white rice (not included in Nutritional Analysis below), and I made minor changes. I cut boneless skinless chicken breast into long strips, instead of purchasing chicken tenders. I threaded onto more than just two skewers, because I find that getting one skewer with 4oz of chicken feels like less than getting the same 4oz of chicken spread across two or three skewers. I also used the broiling pan, not a baking sheet, as I always do when broiling. Personal preference there. I used barely a pinch of pepper flakes, because I can't eat spicy foods, that probably made a difference for how exciting or not the dish turned out. I was most surprised that the chicken wasn't cooked in the peanut sauce, that it was applied after cooking. What that mostly meant is that the sauce was very difficult to "brush" onto the chicken, as it maintained the peanut butter consistency. GF if you use GF soy sauce.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Nutritional Facts: Exchanges = 1/2 Carbohydrate, 3 Lean Meat, 1/2 Fat. Calories 180; Calories from fat 55; Total Fat 6g; Saturated Fat 1.4g; Trans Fat 0g; Polyunsaturated Fat 1.6g; Monounsaturated Fat 2.6g; Cholesterol 65mg; Sodium 190mg; Total Carbohydrate 5g; Dietary Fiber 1g; Sugars 3g; Protein 26g

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cookies and Cream Zoku Pop

  • 3 chocolate sandwich cookies, twisted apart into halves
  • 1 recipe vanilla base
  • 2 Tbsp crumbled chocolate wafers (see notes, below)
1. Dip the decorative side of half a sandwich cookie in the vanilla base. Using tweezers, apply the dipped cookie to the wall of the pop maker mold. Insert the stick and repeat with remaining molds.
2. Combine vanilla base and crumbled wafers. Immediately pour into prepared molds until you reach the fill line. Let freeze completely.

Robyn's notes: When I twist apart my Oreos (which were Double Stuf because they're the best, but I'd recommend using regular Oreos for this recipe, as the Double Stuf were a bit too big), I always have one plain chocolate cookie side and one side that's chocolate cookie and all the creme. Instead of buying additional wafer cookies for crumbling, I just crumbled the half of the Oreos that didn't have creme on them. These popsicles were really very good.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Zoku Pop Vanilla Base

  • 4oz vanilla pudding (1 individual serving cup)
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
1. Whisk together all ingredients until sugar has dissolved.

Robyn's notes: this makes enough vanilla base to be used with other ingredients for 3 popsicles. No star rating because it's not eaten on its own.

Baked Ravioli with Tomato and Cheese Sauce

  • 7oz marinara sauce
  • 8oz fresh ravioli, tortellini, or other stuffed pasta
  • 3 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cheese Sauce:
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1/2 C grated Cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat marinara sauce. Spread it in the bottom of a large, shallow ovenproof dish. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain. Turn into the dish containing the marinara sauce.
3. Make the cheese sauce by melting the butter in a medium pan over low heat. Stir in the flour until it has all been absorbed. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly, and cook over medium heat, still stirring to thicken. Add the cheese and continue cooking until it has melted. Season to taste.
4. Spoon the cheese sauce over the pasta in its ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake for 5-10 minutes, or until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbling. Serve from the dish.

Robyn's notes: this went very quickly and was well-received. He ate all the sauce that was left on my plate when I was done, even. I heated the marinara sauce in a bowl in the microwave to save time, but it can just as easily be done on the stove, and any tomato-based pasta sauce works. No photo because he'd just gotten home from the gym and was too hungry to wait for me to make it pretty and snap a picture.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Product Review: Zoku Quick Pop

One of my xmas gifts this year was a Zoku Quick Pop Maker (Amazon link). It had been on my wishlist for quite awhile because one of the most frustrating things about my health problems is how often I have to be on a liquid diet. Liquid diets allow me to eat popsicles, but most popsicles don't have a lot of nutritional value, so I end up eating a Dreyer's Strawberry Fruit Bar once a day and drinking Ensure and juice the rest of the time. After a couple days of this, I am absolutely dying to chew things.

Enter the Zoku.

The point of the Zoku is that it takes ice cream maker technology and rearranges it to work for popsicles. The Zoku sits in the freezer empty (for at least 24 hours before you use it the first time, then just leave it in there between uses), then you remove it from the freezer, pour in the ingredients, and wait. 7 to 9 minutes later, you have 3 popsicles.

Now, I've read all the reviews, I know that the Zoku doesn't work fabulously with anything that has a low sugar content (or is made with artificial sweeteners), but I also know that I can use it to make a popsicle out of fruit juices or yogurt thinned with milk, and these are things that are staples of my diet when I'm not feeling well.

So far I've made four batches of popsicles with the Zoku. All have been edible, but there have been varied levels of success.

Batch one: strawberry Yoplait yogurt thinned with milk. Worked fine. Froze into a popsicle in about 8 minutes, wasn't terribly exciting but, then, strawberry yogurt isn't exactly the most exciting dish when it's in yogurt form.

Batch two: milk chocolate Ensure. I did this with the full expectation that it wouldn't work. Ensure is a nutritional drink (meal replacement), and while "sugar" is high on the ingredients list, the liquid consistency made me question its suitability for Zoku pops. I waited 11 minutes, then tried to remove the first popsicle I'd poured. It absolutely would not come out, which the instruction manual says is a sign that the sugar content is too low or the ingredients were too soft. I left that one alone, waited a 4 or 5 more minutes, then tried to remove the other two popsicles. Both came out fine. Again, they weren't exciting, but again the ingredient was something that isn't great when eaten in its usual form, so it wouldn't make sense to expect a popsicle made out of it to be fabulous. For the popsicle that wasn't to be, I filled the sink with hot water, placed the Quick Pop Maker into it, and the popsicle came out. The Quick Pop Maker had to refreeze for 18 hours or so after that intentional defrost before I could use it again.

Batch three: Naked Juice Power-C Machine. Another that I suspected might not work, because there's no sugar added. Since I love Naked Juices so much and I rarely get them (they're not cheap), I only filled one popsicle form with the juice. That way if it didn't work, I wouldn't have wasted the rest of the juice. Worked fine, froze in about 10 minutes. It was more noticeably tart as a popsicle than as a juice, but was still good.

Batch four: Kern's Strawberry-Banana with banana coins. Here I decided to branch out into the fancier popsicles. I sliced the banana coins very thinly, carefully placed them in the popsicle forms (difficult, because as soon as the banana touches the side of the form it freezes to it), then poured in the juice. It took about 14 minutes to freeze completely, but worked perfectly and tasted wonderful. The photo at the head of this entry is these strawberry-banana popsicles.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the Zoku. My biggest complaint is the need to separately purchase a popsicle storage container. Without that item, I have to either eat all three popsicles or make less than three at a time, because you can't leave the popsicles in the Zoku to eat later. Considering that a single serving of yogurt thinned with about 1/4 C milk (I didn't measure it) made 3 popsicles, it's not as if I'd be gorging myself to eat 3 at a time, but I would like to be able to eat one, then eat the next an hour later. Basically, the product is exactly what it's advertised as: a quick and easy popsicle maker.

No compensation received for this review, product was a gift from a family member and all ingredients were purchased by me. No endorsement by any named company is implied.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Peach-Glazed Chicken

  • 1/2 (15.25oz) can sliced peaches in fruit juice, drained with 1/4 C juice reserved
  • 1 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dried basil, crumbled
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 4oz each), all visible fat discarded, pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
  • olive oil spray
  • 1 tsp olive oil
1. In a small bowl, stir together the peaches, reserved juice, brown sugar, vinegar, and lemon juice. Set aside.
2. In another small bowl, stir together the basil, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle over both sides of the chicken. Lightly spray both sides with olive oil spray.
3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat, swirling to coat the bottom. Cook the chicken for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until browned on the outside and no longer pink in the center. Push the chicken to one side. With a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to the pan, reserving the juice. Cook for 1 minute. Turn the peaches over and cook for 1 minute, or until lightly browned.
4. Pour in the reserved juice. Stir to combine the juice, chicken, and peaches. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the juices are slightly caramelized and glaze the chicken and peaches, stirring occasionally.

Robyn's notes: this went quickly and was quite good. The peaches, to me, seemed to soak up quite a bit of vinegar, but I was the only one who felt that way, and I'm sensitive to the taste (and smell) of vinegar, so most people probably wouldn't notice. The chicken was great. I served this over couscous (not included in Nutritional Analysis below), which I prepared by replacing some of the water with the leftover peach juice from the can. Usually I won't use recipes that call for "half a can" of anything, but when it's canned fruit it's not as big of a deal to me. I just put the remaining peaches into a container in the fridge and can have them as a side dish with lunch or as a snack the following day.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Nutritional Information: Exchanges = 1 Fruit, 1/2 Carbohydrate, 3 Lean Meat. Calories 250; Calories from Fat 45; Total Fat 5g; Saturated Fat 1.1g; Trans Fat 0.0g; Polyunsaturated Fat 0.9g; Monounsaturated Fat 2.6g; Cholesterol 65mg; Sodium 360mg; Total Carbohydrate 26g; Dietary Fiber 2g; Sugars 23g; Protein 25g

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Panko Chicken in Mustard Cream Sauce

  • 1/3 C low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 C panko
  • cooking spray
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 4oz each), all visible fat discarded
  • 1/4 C fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp fat-free sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp dried tarragon, crumbled
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Pour the buttermilk into a shallow dish. Put the panko in another shallow dish. Lightly spray a baking pan with cooking spray. Set the dishes and baking pan in a row, assembly-line style.
3. Dip the chicken in the buttermilk, turning to coat. Roll each piece in the panko, lightly shaking off any excess. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in the baking pan. Lightly spray the top of the chicken with cooking spray.
4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center.
5. Meanwhile, pour the broth into a small saucepan. Heat to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Whisk in the sour cream, mustard, and tarragon. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until smooth and heated through, whisking constantly. Pour the sauce over the cooked chicken.

Robyn's notes: this is a heart-healthy and diabetic-friendly recipe, thus the "fat-free" qualifiers in the ingredients. Substituting the regular version of each of those would likely be fine, though obviously the nutritional information below would be inaccurate. This was fine, but not exciting for me, mainly because I'm not a big fan of Dijon mustard. But it went quickly and the chicken turned out well, moist inside but with a crispy coating. I served it over plain couscous (not included in the nutritional analysis below).

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Nutritional Facts: Exchanges=1 starch, 3 lean meat. Calories 195; Calories from fat 30; Total Fat 3.5g; Saturated Fat 0.9g; Trans Fat 0.0g; Polyunsaturated Fat 0.7g; Monounsaturated Fat 1.2g; Cholesterol 70mg; Sodium 280mg; Total Carbohydrate 11g; Dietary Fiber 1g; Sugars 2g; Protein 27g

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sour Cream Chocolate Ganache

  • 6 oz premium-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 oz premium-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 C plus 3 Tbsp sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
1. Place the chocolates in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium power until glossy, 2 to 3 minutes; stir until smooth. Let cool; whisk in the sour cream, vanilla, and salt. Let stand until thick enough to spread.

Robyn's notes: there were many problems with this recipe. It's hard to give it a rating, because two of the problems were on my end, but overall I'm still rating it down because neither of them should have made that much difference. First, my microwave will not allow "medium power". If I press the button for power level, the display says "power level may not be changed at this time". I don't know why. However, I have melted chocolate in the microwave every year for at least 25 years. I always do it on high for a minute or less, stir, then another minute, stir, repeat if necessary until the chocolate is melted. Second problem that may have been on my end was that the semisweet chocolate I had in the house was a little on the old side. Not out of date, but close to it. That should not have made a difference, but I acknowledge it for what it's worth.
The chocolates would not melt properly. The semisweet chocolate would do nothing but solidify into clumps. I eventually gave up, because it is possible to over-melt chocolate, even in the microwave. As a result, the final product was not smooth, it was lumpy and unattractive. It tasted ok, but not exciting. The recipe says the yield is 1 Cup, but after I used it to frost two mini cakes I poured the leftover into a plastic storage container and still have more than a cup of frosting. Since I feel that the point of using a small-batch cookbook for frosting is to not have leftovers, that was the final straw.
I will probably try the recipe again sometime with fresher semisweet chocolate, just for fairness, and if it comes out better I'll remove the above notes.

** 2 Stars: Acceptable. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, if I make changes

Classic Chocolate Cakes

This recipe comes from Small-Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers by Debby Maugans. She has a full page of instructions for cooking individually-sized cakes in clean cans (14.5 or 15 oz cans that once held diced tomatoes or beans or soup, for example). I am not including those instructions. More information about that is in the notes after the recipe.
  • unsalted butter for greasing cans
  • 1/4 C whole milk
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp well-beaten egg
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 C plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 C plus 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • Sour Cream Chocolate Ganache
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter the insides of two clean 14.5oz cans and lightly dust them with flour, tapping out the excess. Line the bottoms of the cans with rounds of parchment paper and set them aside. Alternatively, line 4 regular-size muffin cups with paper liners.
2. Whisk the milk, egg, and vanilla in a small bowl.
3. Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a fine-mesh sieve placed over a small, deep mixing bowl. Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl. Add the butter and half of the milk mixture; beat with a handheld electric mixer on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium, and beat until the batter has lightened and increased in volume, about 45 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining milk mixture, and beat until well blended, about 20 seconds.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared cans or muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out clean, about 20 minutes for cupcakes and 27 to 29 minutes for cakes. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Loosen the edges of the cakes from cans using a small sharp knife; invert the cans and remove the cakes. Cool completely. Cut in half crosswise with a sharp knife. Frost with the Sour Cream Chocolate Ganache, between layers and on the tops and sides of the cakes, or on the tops of the cupcakes.

Robyn's notes: this recipe is way too complicated for what you get. It comes out as two perfectly acceptable small chocolate cakes. Not great cakes, not special cakes, just fine. I cooked the cakes in the cans, to see how well it would work, and it wasn't worth the trouble. Yes, the final product came out looking like actual mini cakes instead of like cupcakes, but to have to remember to set aside empty cans, clean them, remove the labels, store them, then grease them, flour them, cut parchment paper rounds just the right size to sit inside the bottom of the cans...too much hassle. Cupcakes are fine.
In one of the Amazon reviews for the cookbook, someone complained strongly about the suggestion to use cans, because Maugans does not mention anything about the BPA that is in most cans. The reviewer felt this was very irresponsible, as they feel it's a health risk. I don't really care about that aspect, because I'm re-using cans that I've already eaten the contents of, which means I've already been exposed to the BPA of that can once. If I were seriously concerned about BPA, I wouldn't have commercially canned foods in the house and therefore wouldn't have cans to use for this recipe, thus would be using muffin tins.
In step 3 of the recipe, I didn't bother with any of that sifting through a fine-mesh sieve. Doing it the way she's described doesn't change the measurements (sifting dry ingredients through a sieve
before measuring them does, sifting them afterward does not), and the dry ingredients incorporated with each other just fine without sifting, so I didn't need to use yet another tool that I'd later have to clean (this recipe already uses a bowl for beating the egg, fork or whisk for beating the egg and whisking the wet ingredients, a bowl for the milk mixture, the main bowl, beaters, two measuring cups, four measuring spoons, a spatula, a muffin tin or cans, and that's before making the frosting).
The one thing I can't really speak to is the size of the finished cakes. My sweetheart prefers cake batter to cake, so he kept dipping a spoon into the bowl and then into the filled cans. When I finally got them away from him and into the oven, they came out different sizes, one about 2.5" tall, the other about 3.5" tall.

** 2 Stars: Acceptable. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, if I make changes

Monday, November 14, 2011

Green Bean Un-Casserole

Most Americans are familiar with the 56-year-old Thanksgiving side dish that calls for cream of mushroom soup and french fried onions. This is a much lighter and healthier version, sized, of course, for two.
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1/4 C panko
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried minced onion flakes
  • 1/4 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and cut
  • 1/3 lb mushrooms, thinly sliced
1. In a small pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add panko, onion flakes, and salt. Saute about 6 minutes or until crumbs are slightly toasted.
2. At the same time, steam green beans and mushrooms for 6 minutes.
3. Place green beans and mushrooms in serving dish, top with crumb topping.

Robyn's notes: as a refresher, to steam the vegetables with a steamer basket, place a pot on the stove and add about an inch of water. Place steamer basket into pot so that the veggies are not touching the water, but with the water almost reaching the bottom of the basket. With the lid on the pot, bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and steam for the required time.
This recipe is obviously not as rich as the original, but my taste-testers both enjoyed it.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Panko is a Japanese-style bread crumb, which is made from bread without crusts. Panko is coarser than the usual dried bread crumbs, airier, with larger flakes that tend to stay crispier longer. It also contains far less sodium, and doesn't generally absorb as much grease, so makes a good substitute for those trying to eat healthier.

Although several years ago it was difficult to find outside of Asian food stores, panko is now much more widely available and can usually be found near other packaged bread crumbs, or in some areas of the country in the Asian section of the store.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chicken Alfredo Crepes

Another not-really-a-recipe one-serving dish, to give an example of things to do with crepes.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In small bowl, combine first 3 ingredients. Spoon mixture down the center of crepes. Roll crepes up and place, seam side down, on baking sheet.
2. Bake for 9-10 minutes, until heated through.

Robyn's notes: I checked the crepes every 2 minutes, starting at 6 minutes, by touching the top of each crepe at the center. After 10 minutes, even though they were only warm to the touch at that spot, I took them out of the oven because the edges were getting pretty crispy and I didn't want them to burn. Turns out they were hot all the way through, even though I couldn't feel it from the outside.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Turkey Crepes Two Ways

This is not really a recipe, as there aren't any measurements. Still, I enjoyed how these came out and thought I'd share them as examples of ways to use crepes. This is a single serving.
  • 2 cooked crepes, cooled
  • deli-sliced oven-roasted turkey breast
  • thinly sliced cheddar cheese
  • cream cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place turkey breast in single layer over each crepe, covering as much of crepe as possible.
2. On one crepe, place slices of cheddar cheese in single layer over turkey breast. On the other, spread or drop dollops of cream cheese over turkey breast.
3. Roll up and place, seam side down, on baking sheet. Bake for 5-6 minutes, or until cheddar cheese in first crepe is melted.

Robyn's notes: I made one of each of these at the same time because I wasn't sure if either or both would come out well, and didn't want to have to re-heat the oven and start again if the first one I tried wasn't good. They both came out well and I ended up alternating bites, so that I'd have a cream cheese bite then a cheddar bite. This is good for a quick lunch, and was filling. Don't roll the crepes too tightly, or the centers will still be cold when the edges appear ready.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Monday, October 10, 2011

Quick Chicken and Broccoli Crepes

  • 5oz frozen chopped broccoli (fresh ok, too)
  • 1/2 of a 10.75oz can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 C cooked slivered chicken or turkey
  • 7-8 cooked crepes (see notes, below)
  • 3 Tbsp mayonnaise (see notes, below)
  • 1/2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 Tbsp additional grated Parmesan cheese
1. Cook broccoli according to package directions, drain thoroughly. Combine with soup, Worcestershire sauce, 3 Tbsp cheese, and chicken. Fill crepes with chicken mixture; roll up and place in shallow baking pan. Combine mayo with milk; spread over crepes. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp cheese. Broil until bubbly.

Yield: 7-8 crepes (see notes, below)

Robyn's notes: lots of changes and notes for this recipe. First, I can't eat broccoli, so the rest of the sauce was made separately while the broccoli was cooking, and then after filling my crepes, the broccoli was added to the remaining sauce and the other crepes were filled. Secondly, this in no way filled 7-8 crepes. The broccoli filled out the crepes a lot more than the sauce that didn't have broccoli, but in total we got about 4 crepes out of this recipe, two each. It was plenty for us with a side of fruit. Third, my stomach doesn't generally react well to mayonnaise, so while I cook with it sometimes, I don't when I'm already feeling somewhat unwell. So in place of the mayonnaise and milk, this is what I used for a sauce on top of the crepes:
approx 2 Tbsp of remaining condensed cream of chicken soup from can
approx 1 Tbsp sour cream
approx 1 Tbsp milk

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often