Thursday, May 24, 2012

Birthday Gifts

My gifts from my beloved this year weren't food- or cooking-related, but we did my belated birthday celebration with my folks this week and the gifts from them were.  Here's the lovely selection of Le Creuset items in my favourite colour: 

I love the petite casseroles (or mini round cocottes), and I'm working on some recipes specifically so that I can use them (definitely a creme brulee, possibly a little potato dish, not sure yet what else). 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Marshmallow Fondant

Since I recently had a birthday, this week we're doing the late celebration with my folks.  My mom has always been one to make special cakes in different shapes to match some event going on in life or the theme of the party.  When I was in the 8th grade, for example, my party was midnight bowling and then (after sending the boys home) a slumber party.  So the cake she made was a bowling ball striking a bowling pin.  When my sister was 25, my mom drove down to visit and made a campfire cake using sheets of melted hard candies shattered into flames, with marshmallows on skewers sticking up as if they were roasting.  This year she's making me a knitting-themed cake, and in brainstorming the best method it was decided that she would make a basket out of cake (frosted), and then round Rice Krispies Treats frosted to look like balls of yarn (she doesn't have and didn't want to buy any round cake pans and the other option was to put two cupcakes together and cut off the edges to make them round).  She will be frosting with buttercream, since I basically consider cake to be a vehicle for conveying frosting, but I decided to try and see if I could make marshmallow fondant work as another option.  I used ratios and instructions from
  • 1 C miniature marshmallows
  • 1/2 Tbsp water
  • food colouring
  • 1 C powdered (confectioner's) sugar
1. Dust your counter or a large cutting board with powdered sugar. Place the marshmallows and the water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute, until the marshmallows are puffy and expanded.
2. Stir the marshmallows with a rubber spatula until they are melted and smooth. If some unmelted marshmallow pieces remain, return to the microwave for 30-45 seconds, until the marshmallow mixture is entirely smooth and free of lumps. If you want colored or flavored fondant, you can add several drops of food coloring or extracts at this point and stir until incorporated.
3. Add the powdered sugar and begin to stir with the spatula. Stir until the sugar begins to incorporate and it becomes impossible to stir anymore.
4. Scrape the marshmallow-sugar mixture out onto the prepared work surface. It will be sticky and lumpy, with lots of sugar that has not been incorporated yet--this is normal. Dust your hands with powdered sugar, and begin to knead the fondant mixture like bread dough, working the sugar into the marshmallow with your hands.
5. Continue to knead the fondant until it smooths out and loses its stickiness. Add more sugar if necessary, but stop adding sugar once it is smooth--too much sugar will make it stiff and difficult to work with. Once the fondant is a smooth ball, it is ready to be used. You can now roll it out, shape it, or wrap it in cling wrap to use later. Well-wrapped fondant can be stored in a cool room or in the refrigerator, and needs to be kneaded until supple before later use.

Robyn's notes: I did not end up incorporating all of the powdered sugar, and I didn't dust either my workspace or my hands with sugar, so I used a lot less sugar than this recipe instructed.  I was fairly nervous about it, but the fondant was the proper consistency, not sticky, and I didn't want to add more sugar unnecessarily and make the fondant crack.  I did lay down wax paper, and turned the bowl out onto that, there was enough unused sugar to keep my fondant from sticking to the wax paper.  This was really easy and definitely tastes better than store-bought fondant (ever tried it? it's nasty--like cardboard).  I was just making a test batch, so there's only one colour, if I'd made more colours I could add a stripe onto the cupcake, or a small flower, or whatever.  What's shown in the picture at the top of this post is almost the entire batch.  I pinched off and tasted about a half-inch ball before covering the cupcake.  Keep in mind that fondant is not meant to stick onto a cake on its own, if using it to frost something you'll need to put down a thin layer of another frosting (buttercream or whatever) as an adhesive, otherwise the fondant will just lift right off. 

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

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How to Whip Cream

Take a look at the ingredients list of a package of whipped cream.  Don't have one nearby?  Here's what I found on the side of a tub of Cool Whip: water, corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, sodium caseinate, natural and artificial flavor, modified food starch, xanthan and guar gum, polysorbate 60, polysorbate 65, sorbitan monostearate, sodium hydroxide, beta carotene.  That's really not the slightest bit appetizing to me, and honestly I never have need of 8oz (more than 3 Cups) of whipped cream.  Interestingly, it takes less time to whip cream from scratch than it does to drive to the store and buy Cool Whip, assuming you have heavy cream in the house.
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
1.  About 10 minutes before you plan to start, place a whisk and a medium metal bowl in the freezer so that they'll be cold when you begin.
2.  Pour cream into bowl and begin whisking as quickly as you can keep up with.  Be sure to rotate the bowl so that you access every bit of the cream.
3.  As soon as you see the beginning of soft peaks forming (they'll look like wavy streaks), add the sugar and vanilla.  Continue whisking until soft peaks have formed, being careful not to overwhip.  The cream should hold its shape when dolloped onto something.

Yield: approx 1 Cup 

Robyn's notes: It's best to use a bowl that's somewhat deep, instead of one with a wide mouth, and keep in mind that the cream will about double in size, so pick a bowl that can accommodate that.  I can't give estimates on how long to whisk each stage because I'm relatively weak from my health problems, so the speed at which I whisk may be completely different from what someone else would do.  Just watch for the strength of the peaks and it should be fine.  This should be used right away, but if it needs to be refrigerated for a couple hours, just give it another quick whisking before using, to re-incorporate it all.  When I'm making an ingredient that calls for cream, I buy it in a one-pint carton and get a package of strawberries or raspberries or similar at the same time.  Then, when I've used as much cream as I'll need for the recipe in question, I can whip up most of the rest of the carton into whipped cream and serve it on fruit (or even as part of a quick fruit shortcake).  If you're used to Cool Whip, real whipped cream may not be sweet enough for your taste, in which case feel free to increase the amount of sugar incrementally until it's the way you like it.   

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dark Chocolate Butterscotch Brownies

Today is National Butterscotch Brownie Day. This recipe is not a traditional butterscotch brownie, which is more of a blondie, having no chocolate to it. But, frankly, I'll take any opportunity to write a recipe that includes both chocolate and butterscotch.
  • 1.3oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 C butter, cubed
  • 2/3 C sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 C 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate baking chips
  • 1/2 C butterscotch chips
  • 1/3 C 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate baking chips
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp butter, cubed
1. Prepare baking pan: line a loaf pan with non-stick foil. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a microwave, melt unsweetened chocolate and butter; stir until smooth. Cool slightly. In a medium bowl, combine sugar and chocolate mixture. Stir in egg white and vanilla. Gradually add flour to chocolate mixture. Stir in chips.
3. Spread into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
4. For glaze, in a microwave, melt chips and butter; stir until smooth. Immediately spread over brownies. Cool before cutting.

Robyn's notes: Rich! This makes two large brownies and would probably make a good base for some vanilla ice cream. The photo above includes the glaze, so I'm also showing the brownies without glaze, as I know some people think it's not a brownie if it's frosted in any way. I used "non-stick foil", which is not regular aluminum foil. It's a more expensive version sold by the Reynolds company that doesn't stick to anything. I didn't test any other methods (greasing pan, regular foil, etc.) so I can't speak to how well they'd work, I can only say that there's a good amount of fat in the recipe and greasing the pan might mean too much. 3 stars instead of 4 because it really is so very rich that we won't be wanting it too often.

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

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Red Potato Gratin Dauphinois

  • 3/4 C heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 Tbsp garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 small to medium red potatoes
  • 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 C Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 C fontina cheese, shredded
1.  Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, Dijon, and garlic; add salt and pepper. Cut the potatoes as thin as possible using either a mandoline or your sharpest knife and place them in the cream mixture to marinate.
3.  Rub the olive oil all over the sides and bottom of two gratin pans and then begin shingling the potato slices in a single layer on the bottom of the pans. When the first layer is finished, sprinkle a thin layer of both Fontina and Gruyere on top of the potatoes (it should be about 1 Tbsp of each, depending on the shape of your pan). Repeat this process until you have 3 layers of potatoes, then pour the cream mixture over the top, filling it up about halfway; make sure you reserve enough of the Gruyere to liberally coat the top layer of potatoes.
4.  Bake, uncovered, at 400°F for 30 minutes, then turn on broiler and broil for 2 more minutes.  Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Robyn's notes: this is another recipe I'm quite proud of.  It came out fabulously.  When the first 30 minutes of cook time had finished, I took the pan out of the oven, turned on the broiler, and poked through all three layers of potatoes with a toothpick, to see how tender they were.  If any part of them had been still crunchy, I would have broiled for longer than the 2 minutes, to get them nice and tender.  Fortunately all three layers were perfect, so the 2 minutes under the broiler was just right to give it an extra browning on top.  Since I'm not allowed to eat potato skins, I peeled my half of the potatoes.  I served this as a meal, but it can also be a side, though I'd recommend getting all the smallest potatoes possible if serving as a side.  

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

Guide to Using Up Ingredients

I've added a page to the top of the blog entitled "Using Up Ingredients".  This is a cross-reference of the recipes by certain ingredients, so that if you've made something that called for, say, 1/4 C of plain yogurt, and still have the rest of the container to use up, you can look up yogurt on that page and find other recipes that call for it. 

The page is under construction, because it means I have to think of the ingredients that this is often a problem with, and search, list, and link each recipe for each, but it should be useful despite being incomplete.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

No-Roll Chicken Cordon Bleu

Note: plan ahead, chicken needs to refrigerate before cooking
  • 2 Tbsp ham, cut to a fine dice
  • 2 Tbsp Gruyere, shredded
  • 2 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1/2 C flour 
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 C panko 
1.  In small bowl, stir together ham, Gruyere, and cream cheese.  With sharp knife, cut a pocket in each chicken breast half; stuff with ham and cheese mixture.  Place chicken on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
2.  Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet or pan.
3.  Spread flour in bottom of a shallow dish.  Beat together egg and Dijon, pour into another shallow dish.  Put panko in a third shallow dish.  Dredge chicken in flour, turning to coat.  Dip in egg mixture, covering well, and then dredge in panko, pressing with fingers to help panko stick to chicken all over.
4.  Place chicken breasts on wire rack set in pan.  Spray the top of each with a short burst of cooking spray (optional).  Bake at 375°F for 30 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink in the center and juices run clear.  Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

Robyn's notes: I'm quite proud of this recipe.  I was thinking this morning "I've still got quite a bit of ham left, what should I do with it?" and then sat down and wrote this recipe for an altered chicken cordon bleu.  It came out very well, served over rice.  Swiss cheese can be used in place of the Gruyere, but it won't have the strength of flavour.  I made this a second time in May 2013, entirely because I needed a better photo for a project I'm working on.  That's the photo at the top of this entry, and it shows the chicken served alongside red quinoa. 

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

Monday, April 30, 2012

Crustless Mini Quiches

  • butter, for greasing pans
  • 2 Tbsp bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 C milk
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of pepper
  • 1/3 C diced ham
  • 1/3 C Gruyere, shredded, divided
1.  Preheat oven to 400°F.  Butter the bottom and sides of two mini tart/quiche pans and dust with bread crumbs (1 Tbsp of crumbs into each).  Set aside.
2.  In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs together; add the milk, salt, and pepper. Add ham and all but 2 Tbsp cheese.
3.  Pour egg mixture into the prepared pans and scatter remaining cheese over tops.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until eggs are set.

Robyn's notes: this is very close to a Quiche Lorraine, but uses ham instead of bacon (mainly because I had ham in the house I wanted to use up).  I'm a big fan of breakfast for dinner, obviously this can be served basically any time of the day.  If you do not have mini tart pans, prepare a regular sized pie pan in the same manner and bake for 25-35 minutes, watching for the eggs to set.  It may be a much thinner quiche that way, I can't say for sure how far the egg mixture will go in a single large pan.  This turned out very well and I'm pleased with it because I always have bread crumbs in the house but rarely have prepared crusts or the energy to make a crust from scratch.  Good way to use up Gruyere if you've made Gnocchi Mac n Cheese recently.

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

Easy Berry Yogurt Muffins

Note: check yield before starting, this is a full-size recipe, makes 12 muffins
  • 1 1/2 C flour 
  • 1 tsp baking powder 
  • 1/2 tsp salt 
  • 1/2 C packed brown sugar 
  • 4 Tbsp melted butter 
  • 1 large egg 
  • 3/4 C plain yogurt 
  • 2 Tbsp milk 
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • 1 C blackberries, frozen or fresh
1.  Preheat oven to 400°F.  Line muffin tin with 12 paper cups.
2.  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and brown sugar.  In another bowl, combine the melted butter, egg, yogurt, milk, and vanilla until well mixed.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently stir.  Add in the blackberries and stir until just combined.
3.  Spoon batter into paper cups and bake for about 20 minutes or until the tops are golden.  Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes, serving while still warm.

Yield: 12 muffins

Robyn's notes: I may eventually cut this recipe down, but sometimes you just have to make it once at full-size in order to determine the best method for halving the single egg.  These muffins definitely need the paper linings for the tin, they wouldn't have come out of a tin that's just been sprayed or greased.  When combining the wet ingredients, I melted the butter in the microwave, let it sit to cool while I combined the rest of the wet ingredients, then slowly drizzled in the butter while stirring.  If you add melted butter to cold egg, the egg will start to cook in the bowl.  For me, the 20 minute cook time was perfect, it definitely could not have come out any sooner and shouldn't go much longer, but some ovens might need one or two minutes more.  I used fresh berries.  The berries, by the way, are somewhat molten when the muffins first come out of the oven, so be careful.  Would make a good brunch muffin.  

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

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Food Holidays

I really enjoy so-called Food Holidays, and you'll see me providing recipes that fit them now and then. Obviously, none of them are actual US Holidays (partly because even federal holidays that are designated by Congress are technically not state holidays unless a given state chooses to participate). Some are official observances, designated by Congress, the President, or certain executive departments. These are generally calling attention to a food or food-related industry that's economically important to the US, which is why the US Department of Agriculture regularly selects foods to have their own special day.

As for the rest? Marketing. The pork industry can only get so far with slogans like "the other white meat" and "be inspired". Dairy farmers of America did great with "got milk?" but they need to remind the consumer of all the other things their cows produce. So their PR departments and marketing execs give us holidays that aren't holidays, excuses for us to eat their products and keep them in the forefront of our minds.

And I'm ok with that. There are more food holidays than there are days in the year, so we certainly don't celebrate all of them. At the beginning of the month I take a look at the food holiday calendar and if there's anything upcoming that I want to eat, I plan it for that dish's special day. In this house we enjoy our food, and silly little things like Lima Bean Respect Day (April 20th) are one more way to do that.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mini Carrot Cake

It's my beloved's birthday, and the only kind of cake he really enjoys is carrot cake.
  • Unsalted butter, at room temperature, for greasing the cans
  • 3/4 C + 2 Tbsp sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the cans
  • 1/4 C + 2 Tbsp buttermilk
  • 1/4 C vegetable oil
  • yolk of 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 C grated carrots
  • 2 Tbsp raisins
  • 2 Tbsp chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 2 Tbsp sweetened flaked coconut
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh or canned pineapple, well drained (optional)
  • Cream Cheese Frosting
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Grease the insides of the cans and lightly dust them with flour, tapping out the excess. Place the cans on a baking sheet for easier handling, and set aside.
3. Place the buttermilk, oil, egg yolk, and vanilla in a small bowl and stir to mix.
4. Place the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium-size mixing bowl and whisk to blend well. Add the buttermilk mixture and whisk just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in the carrots, raisins, nuts, coconut, and pineapple if using.
5. Spoon the batter into the prepared cans, dividing it evenly between them. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out clean, 37 to 39 minutes.
6. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the cans to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Then run a thin, sharp knife around the edge of each can, and invert the cans to release the cakes. Turn the cakes upright and let them cool on the rack. (The cakes can be wrapped individually in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days)
7. To frost cakes, cut each in half horizontally. Spread a layer of the Cream Cheese Frosting about 1/4 inch thick on the cut side of one cake half, then stack the other half on top of it. Frost the top and sides of the cake. Repeat with the remaining cake and frosting. (Frosted cakes can be stored loosely but well covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days)

Robyn's notes: I can't eat many of the ingredients in carrot cake, so instead of making two mini cakes in recycled cans, I made one mini cake in a 4 inch springform pan. This left a little leftover batter, but not too much. I did not use the pineapple, and I chose walnuts over pecans. The cake, possibly because of the difference in pan, had to cook for 46 minutes. The picture below is prior to frosting the cake. I (obviously) did not frost according to the instructions given, because he's not a big fan of frosting. I just cut the rounded top off and frosted the top in a single layer, then added the frosting carrot.

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

Small Batch Cream Cheese Frosting

For frosting Mini Carrot Cake.
  • 4 oz cream cheese, cubed, at room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 C confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1. Place the cream cheese and butter in a medium-size bowl, and cream them with a fork or a hand-held electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 45 seconds. Sift the confectioner's sugar over the cream cheese mixture; then beat, using a hand-held mixture on medium speed, until the frosting is creamy. Stir in the vanilla. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

Robyn's notes: the recipe says this makes 1 Cup. It made a lot more than that, which is something I've noticed with this author's frosting recipes. She always says they make one cup, they always make significantly more than that. I spooned out a few Tablespoons of the completed frosting into two small bowls. To one I added a drop of green food colouring and stirred; to the other I added one drop red, one drop yellow and stirred. When I had a small bowl of green frosting, a small bowl of orange frosting, and a large bowl of white frosting, I used the white for frosting the cake as usual, then dropped a small amount of orange frosting onto it in the shape of a triangle. At the fat end of the triangle I dropped a small amount of green frosting, using a toothpick to shape it until I had a tiny carrot made out of frosting.  This can be seen in the photo of the frosted cake, linked above.

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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Grilled Triple Cheese Sandwiches

Today, April 12th, is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day. When I was growing up, our dad had only two meals in his repertoire, and one of them was grilled cheese sandwiches served with tomato soup. His version involved Wonder bread, Kraft singles, margarine, and Campbell's condensed (with Goldfish crackers swimming on top). As I've gotten older, my tastes and skills have moved on a bit, and while I still enjoy a good Goldfish cracker, the rest of those brands have fallen by the wayside.

So in honor of this very important holiday, I present a recipe and some tips for grilled cheese sandwich success.

1. Heat nonstick pan over medium heat. Pile chosen cheese evenly onto two slices of bread. Top with remaining bread.
2. With pastry brush, coat top piece of bread on each sandwich with melted butter. Sprinkle Parmesan loosely onto buttered bread. Turning sandwich upside-down and holding both sides carefully closed, place into hot pan.
3. Brush melted butter over new top of sandwich and sprinkle Parmesan loosely onto buttered bread. Cover pan and cook over medium heat, checking bottom of sandwich often to ensure it doesn't burn.
4. When bottom of sandwich is golden, flip sandwich carefully with spatula. Cook, uncovered, until new bottom of sandwich is golden and center cheese is melted through.

Robyn's notes: I didn't use exactly as much cheese as I prepared, but close to it. Because the bread comes from a mini-loaf, if the sandwiches aren't served alongside anything else, a single sandwich won't be enough for each person. In that case, double this recipe and make two sandwiches per person. This was served, of course, with Quick Herb-Tomato Soup.

The above is all pretty standard; I think most of us know how to make a basic grilled cheese. The following tips, however, should help with making the most of the meal. First: grate your chosen cheese. Cheese is easiest to grate (and slice) when it's cold, but easiest to work with (and melt) when at room temperature. So grate the cheeses early on, and then allow them to come to room temperature or close to it (being careful not to just leave cheese lying around for too long, for safety's sake). Grated cheese will melt faster and more easily when making the sandwich. Second: do not slice the bread too thickly. The general rule of thumb is no thicker than 1/2inch, especially if the bread is particularly dense. The heat has to get through it to melt the cheese, after all. When you're piling the grated cheese onto the bread, don't be afraid to give it a good mush with your (clean) fingers. This helps in getting enough cheese into the sandwich, and also keeps it from falling out during the all-important flip. Third: use a non-stick pan. Cast-iron has its place, but not with grilled cheese. Start heating up that pan in advance, so that you place the prepared sandwich into a hot pan to begin with. Fourth: use real butter, not margarine or spreads. Salted butter supposedly has a nice flavour to it for this use, but I don't keep it in the house, so I can't confirm that. Butter the bread,
not the pan. In the case of the recipe above, you must butter the bread in order to give the Parmesan something to stick to, but in all cases you want the sandwich holding the fat, not the pan. I've recommended brushing the butter on in melted form, because it's easier than trying to spread solid butter across bread without tearing the bread, and because it helps the butter coat the bread so that it cooks evenly. If this is not an option (no brush, for example), bring the butter to room temperature before beginning. Soft butter is easier to spread. Fifth: cover the sandwich as it cooks the first side, but not the second. Covering the sandwich helps retain heat to melt the center cheese before the bottom bread burns. The second side will cook faster, so it's best not to cover the sandwich after the flip as it may cook too fast to catch. Sixth: press down on the sandwich with the flat of the spatula after the flip, it helps the center cheese spread evenly. Finally: don't be in a rush. There is no reason to ever heat the burner to "high", keep it at medium or below.

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

Quick Herb-Tomato Soup

  • 1 (14.5 oz) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 C roasted garlic hummus
  • 1 tsp crushed dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning blend, crumbled
  • 1/2 tsp pepper (coarsely ground preferred)
  • 1 Tbsp snipped fresh parsley (optional)
1. In a small saucepan, stir together all the ingredients except the parsley. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Carefully pour into a blender and process until smooth (or remove from the heat and use an immersion, or handheld, blender).
2. Return to the pan. Heat over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until just simmering. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with the parsley.

Robyn's notes: this was far too strongly herb flavoured. If making this again, I'd actually halve the amount of all of the herbs. It was quite easy and quick, though. Shown with Grilled Triple Cheese Sandwiches.

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

Nutritional Facts: Exchanges = 1/2 Starch, 2 Vegetable, 1 Fat. Calories 125; Calories from Fat 55; Total Fat 6g; Saturated Fat 1.1g; Trans Fat 0g; Polyunsaturated Fat 2.4g; Monounsaturated Fat 2.7g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 200mg; Total Carbohydrate 16g; Dietary Fiber 5g; Sugars 7g; Protein 4g

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