Monday, June 11, 2012

Kitchen Basics #1 - Emergencies

Internet guidelines are not a substitute for professional advice.  I do not have a medical background, my first aid experience is past employment of more than a decade in law enforcement, with the accompanying Red Cross certifications.  In case of emergency, call 911/Emergency Services or contact a physician as appropriate.  If you are unsure of the severity of an injury or incident, contact Emergency Services.  Over-cautious is better than the alternative.

I've had this post in bits and pieces for a few weeks now, and it was only today, when searching for statistics, that I discovered that June is National Safety Month.  So an especially good time to be discussing the subject. 

Accidents happen.  According to the US National Safety Council, 54,500 unintentional injury deaths occurred at home in 2008, due to poisoning, falls, fires/burns, and choking.  In 2009, 21.1 million unintentional injuries occurred at home.  One of the best ways to avoid being one of these statistics is to be mindful in your actions, and the kitchen is a good place to start.

The most basic safety precaution is to have a properly stocked first aid kit in your home.  Plenty of these are available to purchase as an already prepared kit, at Amazon, Target, WalMart, your local drugstore, or often your pharmacy.  It's generally less expensive to buy an assembled kit than to put one together yourself, though doing it yourself can mean stocking more of some items, if you find a large enough container.  Regardless of whether you buy one pre-made or create your own, here's a list--again from the NSC--of items to keep in it: Adhesive strip bandages in several sizes; Bandage compress; Sterile rolled/flexible bandages; Triangle bandages; Sterile bandage tape; Disposable latex and non-latex gloves; Scissors; CPR breathing barrier (face shield); Tweezers; Antibiotic treatment; Antiseptic wipes/towelettes; Germicidal hand wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizer; Cold pack; Disposable bags; Non-prescription medication acetaminophen, ibuprofen, anti-diarrhea medicine, antacids, laxatives; First aid manual.  It is also very useful to have a working fire extinguisher in the home, and once you've gotten one, an understanding of how to use it (read through the instructions when you buy the extinguisher, and review them periodically.  Don't wait until you have a fire to try to figure it out).


A serious burn may appear charred black or dry and white.  For serious burns, do not immerse the burn in water, as this can cause shock.  Do not remove any clothing that is stuck to the burnt area.  Elevate the burned body part, above the heart if possible.  Cover the burn with a sterile nonstick bandage--just cover, don't fasten or tape, this is a temporary measure to protect the burn from bacteria and infection--do not put gauze or towels or any material that may stick to the wound onto the burn.  Call emergency services and follow the instructions given while you wait for paramedics to respond.  If the injured person would not need to be the driver, and you feel comfortable transporting them, proceed to the nearest emergency room.

Minor burns fall into two categories: 1st degree and 2nd degree.  A 1st degree burn has skin which is usually red, often swollen, and may be painful.  2nd degree burns involve blisters, intensely red or blotchy skin, and severe pain and swelling.  If a 1st or 2nd degree burn is large or covers substantial portions of the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or is over a major joint, treat it as a serious burn and follow the instructions in the previous paragraph.  Otherwise, cool the burn by holding the burned area under cool (not cold) running water for 10-15 minutes or until the pain eases.  Another option is to immerse the burn in cool water or cover it with cold compresses.  This is the best option if the pressure of running water increases pain to the burned area.  Do not put ice on a burn.  Cover the burn loosely with a sterile gauze bandage to keep air off the burn and protect the skin from infection.  Do not use fluffy cottons or any material that may get lint in the burn.  Take whatever over-the-counter pain reliever you usually use (aspirin, acetaminophen, etc.).

Do not apply egg whites, butter, or ointments to a burn.  These are old wives' tales and can cause infection.  Do not break blisters, as this can cause infection.  Blisters will heal on their own.


Serious cuts need emergency medical treatment.  These include stabbing injuries, partial or complete digit loss, and deep cuts.  If there is severe bleeding or blood spurting from the wound, apply direct pressure with a clean cloth while contacting emergency services for further instructions.  If, after 10 minutes of direct pressure to an apparently less severe injury, the bleeding has not stopped, continue direct pressure and contact emergency services.  In case of partial or complete amputation, control bleeding with direct pressure.  If complete amputation, save the severed body part, wrap it in a clean damp cloth, place it in a bag, and place the bag in another bag filled with cold water (ice water if possible).  Do not put the body part directly in water or directly on ice.  Contact emergency services and follow their instructions.  Keep warm, and do not try to push any partially severed body part back into place.  In case of a stabbing injury, if the item is still in the wound, try to avoid touching it.  Pulling it out will increase blood loss, and if it gets pressed further in, it can cause additional injury.  As you're contacting emergency services, try to apply pressure with a clean cloth around the object.  In all situations, do not remove the cloth if bleeding soaks through.  Apply another cloth on top of the first and continue to apply pressure. 

For less-serious cuts, the first thing to remember is that you are not in a professional kitchen or television reality show.  You do not need to "power through" or ignore a cooking injury.  Stop cooking and deal with the cut, turning off all heating elements.  Better a poorly-finished meal than a poorly-dressed injury that leads to an infection.  Stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure (preferably elevating the injury) with a clean cloth for 20 minutes.  Do not lift the cloth to check whether the bleeding has stopped, as this may interrupt the clotting process.  Once bleeding has halted, rinse the wound with clear water.  If there are any particles in the wound after rinsing, use alcohol-soaked tweezers to remove them carefully.  Apply an antibiotic cream and cover the wound with a bandage.  A wound that is more than 1/4 inch deep or has muscle or fat protruding will probably need stitches.  Contact your physician or urgent care if one is available, as soon as possible (it's best to get stitches within hours of the injury).  If the cut is located on a joint where the wrapping is likely to get loosened as you finish cooking, consider wearing a non-powdered latex glove on that hand, both to protect the cut from food (imagine lemon juice or salt making their way into your wound) and to protect the food from your cut.  If the injury has dampened your enthusiasm, yield for the time being, wrap up any food that can go into the fridge, discard the rest, and go for pizza or something.  There is no shame in not wanting to continue when you're hurt and demoralized.


"When in doubt, just get out."

I've been present for two house fires.  One was a kitchen fire caused by my boyfriend-of-the-time putting a plastic colander in the oven when he couldn't remember which cupboard it belonged in.  When I later preheated the oven without looking inside first, the plastic melted and then caught fire.  Upon smelling the burning plastic, I checked the oven, and flames came shooting out at me, so high that they were inches from the ceiling.  The other was when neighbor children were playing with firecrackers and set the side of our apartment on fire.  Fortunately I had my window open and heard the crackling of the flames (which were literally inches away from where I was sitting and were climbing the wall, the fence, and the wooden telephone pole).  In the first instance, I felt confident handling the fire myself, and I did.  In the second, I knew it was far beyond my control, so I evacuated while calling 911 on my cell phone.  If you doubt your ability to control a fire for any reason, get everyone out of the house to safety and call emergency services.

In case of a fire in the oven or microwave, keep the door shut and turn off the appliance.  Do not open the door.  Fire needs oxygen, and it will burn through what's inside, suffocating the fire.  Opening the door provides the fire with more oxygen, and flames will pour out to consume the air in the kitchen.  If smoke continues, or if you'd like confirmation that the fire is out, call the fire department.  After I dealt with my long-ago oven fire, I called the fire department and asked them to come out and check for extensions.  We were living in an apartment at the time, and I wanted to be sure the fire hadn't gotten into the walls or ceiling where it would endanger other residents.  Just because the fire was out on my side didn't necessarily mean it hadn't found a way into another apartment.

In case of fire in a pan, use an oven mitt to cover the pan with its lid, move the pan off the burner, and turn off the stove.  If you can't safely cover the pan with its lid, or you don't have a lid for that pan, use your fire extinguisher.  Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire, not at the flames.  For a grease fire, DO NOT use water, as it repels grease and will likely splatter the grease, spreading the fire.  If covering the pan is not an option for a grease fire, pour lots of salt or baking soda onto the fire to smother it.  Never flour, as flour can explode and seriously increase your fire problems.  If salt or baking soda aren't available, smother the fire with a wet towel or use your fire extinguisher.  Do not swat at a fire with a towel, apron, oven mitt, or similar.  This is likely to fan the flames and spread the fire.

Again, if the fire is spreading or you are overwhelmed, get everyone out of the house and call emergency services.

Food-Borne Illness

The best way to deal with food poisoning is not to get it in the first place, which means being cautious, aware, and observant.  If you do find yourself exhibiting the symptoms of food poisoning (generally diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain; sometimes vomiting and/or dehydration), and if you are not a high-risk group, rest, drink plenty of liquids, and avoid anti-diarrheal medications that will slow the release of the bacteria from your system.  If symptoms do not improve in 48 hours, if you are part of a high-risk group (the elderly, infants and young children, people with chronic illnesses), or if there is blood in your stool, contact your physician immediately.

If you suspect botulism, or if you think the food poisoning is from seafood or mushrooms, contact emergency services or proceed to an emergency room.  

Safety Tips

  • Keep knives sharp.  Dull knives cause the user to apply more pressure, which means both less control and more force behind the knife if it does slip.  
  • Do not place sharp knives in the dishwasher.  Not only is this bad for the knives (dulling them) and for other objects in the dishwasher (that can get knocked against the knives), but it's dangerous for people reaching into the dishwasher.
  • Do not leave sharp knives in the bottom of the sink.  People reaching into the sink, especially once it's filled with soap and water, may not see them.
  • Do not gesture with knives in your hand.
  • Do not use knives for anything other than their intended purpose (for example, knives are not meant to open jars/cans or plastic packaging).  
  • Do not dispose of broken glass in the regular trash where people reaching in can cut themselves.  
  • Use the handguard if you have a mandoline.
  • Use oven mitts or pads every time you move things in or out of the oven.
  • Pull long hair back while cooking, so that it doesn't get caught in anything or catch fire.  
  • Do not wear loose or flowing clothing when cooking.
  • Keep flammable materials, such as pot holders and towels, away from the stove.
  • Do not disable smoke detectors, and have them placed in sensible locations in your home to avoid constant false alarms.
  • Keep pot handles pointed to the sides, where they won't get knocked into or snagged by movement in front of the stove.  That can cause grease burns or water scalding.  
  • Have the dial gauge of pressure canners checked for accuracy by the local county extension every year.  
  • Do not use any canned food that bulges outward, has holes in it, or rust.
  • Do not eat food if the freshness is questionable or it appears partially spoiled.  
  • Use separate cutting boards for poultry, meat, and vegetables.  
  • Do not eat wild-harvested mushrooms unless checked for safety by a mycologist.  
  • Do not use wild-harvested herbs that you cannot identify.  
  • Keep poisonous cleaning products and insecticides away from food preparation areas.
  • Ask guests about food allergies before planning a meal.
  • Change kitchen linen regularly to avoid breeding bacteria.  
  • Do not refreeze thawed frozen food.
  • Take extra care with uncooked eggs and chicken.
  • Leftovers should be cooled, properly packaged, and refrigerated within one hour.  Do not put hot food directly into the fridge.
  • Wash hands regularly.
  • Fully wash cooking utensils and workstations between uses.
  • Consider taking a basic first aid course, preferably one that includes CPR and Heimlich Maneuver instructions.
A note about contacting emergency services: when you call for emergency medical help, the call-taker will usually provide you with what are known as pre-arrival instructions, which are basic steps you can take to keep the patient safe and prepare them for the arrival of paramedics.  While the call-taker is giving you these instructions, the paramedics are simultaneously being notified of the emergency call, your location, and the basic information.  It is not necessary for the call-taker to stop talking to you in order for responders to be sent.  Do not tell the call-taker to "shut up and send someone", do not tell them you already know everything they're saying, do not try to hurry them up or shout them down.  The call-taker may have questions for you during the pre-arrival instructions, and your answers to those questions may increase the speed or level of paramedic response.  Stay on the phone as long as the call-taker requests you to, remain as calm as possible, answer their questions, and follow the instructions given.  Help will arrive as quickly as possible.  

Again, as I am not a medical professional, I cannot take responsibility for your in-the-moment decision making.  If an incident has occurred, use your best judgement and contact emergency services or your physician when appropriate.

Kitchen Basics are reminders or refreshers for those who have been cooking a long time, and information for newer cooks who may not know to ask certain questions.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Reversed Chicken Cordon Bleu

I know I just wrote a recipe for a non-traditional Chicken Cordon Bleu 6 weeks ago, but here's how this new one happened...

I was up late one night recently, sick, with a fever that made it difficult to get comfortable in bed, and so out on the sofa.  I flipped through channels until I gave up and settled on an episode of Iron Chef America (a show I'd never watched because I hadn't really enjoyed the episodes of the original Iron Chef that I'd tried).  At one point a chef put a plate under the salamander, and as the host wondered aloud what was on it, the chef replied that it was a provolone sauce.  I thought to myself "how great would that be, a cheese sauce on the plate, under the food, broiled a bit to get it hot and brown and rich and gooey and delicious".  Since I (once again) had some Gruyere in the house needing to be used, I decided to write a recipe with a Gruyere sauce as the base.  I immediately ran into a major problem, namely that of not wanting to shatter my dinnerware.  Obviously I don't have a salamander (lizard or professional kitchen equipment), but I'd assumed I'd use the broiler.  The two kinds of dinner plates I have are newer Fiestaware and unknown-age Corningware.  Some vintage Fiestaware can go under the broiler, the new stuff can't (shouldn't.  People risk it and sometimes win, sometimes lose.  The company says "don't").  Same with Corningware.  My Corningware is possibly old enough (I got it from a relative who was 79 when she died 12 years ago, and I suspect she'd had it for decades), and it doesn't say "not for stovetop or broiler use" on the back like some Corningware does, but why risk it, especially when it would mean a recipe that few people could safely duplicate?  So I've switched my beautiful idea to a dipping sauce, which ended up not needing to be broiled (see notes below), but I still think how great it would have been to serve a deep blue plate with a bubbly brown-edged white Gruyere sauce pooled in the center and a couple skewers of wrapped chicken slanted across it.

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 4 thin slices prosciutto
  • 1/2 Tbsp (approximate) Dijon mustard
1. Preheat broiler.  Cut chicken into 1-inch cubes.  Slice each piece of prosciutto lengthwise into 1/2-inch thin strips, then slice each strip into 3-inch lengths.  Using the back of a spoon, gently spread Dijon mustard thinly onto one side of each strip of prosciutto.  Wrap each piece of chicken with a strip of prosciutto, and secure on skewers (about 5-6 wrapped chicken pieces should fit onto each 10-11inch skewer).  Broil, 4-6 inches from heat, 3-4 minutes per side.
2.  While chicken is broiling, make Gruyere sauce.

Gruyere Sauce
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 2 tsp flour
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1/4 C grated Gruyere cheese
  • dash pepper
1.  In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Add flour and stir until combined, do not allow to brown.  Gradually whisk in the milk.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and simmer until sauce has thickened.
2.  Remove from heat.  Add cheese, stir until melted, season with pepper.  Pour sauce into mini cocotte or ramekin for serving.

When chicken has finished cooking, remove from skewers and serve with rice, sharing the Gruyere sauce between both people to use as a dipping sauce.

Robyn's notes: Normally if I were writing a basic cheese sauce like the one above, it would include salt for seasoning.  But since this sauce is being used alongside a dish with prosciutto in it, I've left the salt out.  Prosciutto brings enough of a salt flavour to a dish without adding additional sodium to the sauce.  Prosciutto can be difficult to slice, and I recommend taking the package out of the fridge at least 10 minutes before starting to cook.  Try to carefully lay a single slice on your cutting board and cut with the end of a sharp knife without moving the meat.  It has a tendency to stick to itself and its packaging and to shred, if it does simply try to make it work by wrapping what you can around the chicken.  If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least 20 minutes before putting the chicken on.  This helps the food slide on and off better, reduces the chance of slivers of wood breaking off with the movement of the food, and in some cases can help keep the skewers from burning all the way through.  They are still likely to char at the ends.  I did broil the Gruyere sauce alongside the chicken for the last 2 minutes of cook time, but it didn't brown on top and just gave the sauce a bit of a skin, so don't bother.  The sauce will be nice and hot from having just been made, and the broiling wouldn't add anything to it.  I made half of the chicken with Dijon mustard in the wrapping and half without, because I don't actually like the taste of Dijon, despite cooking with it pretty often, and I wasn't sure which would be better.  The pieces without were good, but the pieces with the Dijon had a wonderful depth of flavour that made a big difference, so I'm definitely including it in the recipe.  It doesn't actually taste like Dijon, just adds a little needed something to the dish.  Unless every bite of chicken is absolutely covered with dipping sauce, there will be some Gruyere sauce left over.  I simply couldn't write the recipe any smaller or it would be nearly impossible to make the roux.  So if there's enough left to save in a covered container in the fridge, it can be served over vegetables (especially cauliflower or broccoli) the following day.  We were both really pleased with this dish, and while prosciutto is too expensive to buy regularly, it'll definitely go on the list of favourites for an occasional splurge.  
***** 5 Stars: Excellent. A favourite for both of us, I will make this repeatedly

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Crashing Chocolate Cakes

I've got 3 more dessert recipes written that need to be tested, but I think they'll wait a little while.  We're starting to get a little overloaded on sweets, and I do have a couple of entrees also waiting for testing, so those will take priority after this.

Flourless chocolate cakes seem to wax and wane in popularity, having moments of being everywhere you look and moments where it seems no one has ever heard of them.  This one is similar to the "molten" or "lava" cakes that tend to be available in restaurants, but with a more homey look.  Speaking of which, the towel in the picture below was embroidered by my late grandmother in the 1950s.  It's been getting near-daily use in the years since, too, so for those of you who enjoy embroidery but think you have to choose between an item that's utilized and one that's cherished?  Have hope!  Sometimes you can do both.

  • 3 oz dark chocolate
  • 1/3 C butter
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 C sugar
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt, with butter, in a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth.
2.  Beat egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until pale yellow.  Remove top of double boiler or bowl from the heat and combine egg mixture with chocolate.
3.  Whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form (stiff peaks stand on their own completely without falling over.  Do not overbeat), fold into chocolate mixture.  Pour batter evenly into two mini cocottes or individual casserole dishes/ramekins.  Bake 18-22 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.  The cakes will rise while baking, and crash in the centers after being removed from the oven.  Serve warm with ice cream. 

Robyn's notes: I took the first cake out of the oven after 18 minutes, leaving the other to cook longer, so we could taste each and decide which we preferred.  The first (photo above) rose to about a half-inch above the cocotte rim (both had been filled to about a half-inch below the rim), and crashed very nicely and evenly at the center.  It was a little bit too "uncooked batter" in the center for my taste, which I know is the point, but I like the mushy inside of these cakes to be almost like hot fudge, not like licking a beater.  The second, which cooked for about 21 minutes, rose quite high above the rim (almost a full inch), and didn't crash nearly as prettily, instead getting a large crack and subsiding halfheartedly in one direction.  The center was closer to my preference, though.  In step 3, where I say "whisk" the egg whites?  If you have access to an electric beater, use it.  Seriously.  I had to actually whisk because my mixer is unavailable at the moment, and not only does it take forever to whisk egg whites to stiff peaks by hand, it's very tiring.  The only benefits of doing it by hand are 1) the feeling of pride and accomplishment that lasts about 90 seconds upon completion; 2) the knowledge that you could do it if your power went out/that you're not as far removed from your homemaking great-grandmothers as you thought; 3) the tiny possibility of reduction in the jigglyness of your tricep.  If you'd like to add a little liqueur to this recipe, such as Amaretto or Kahlua, about 2 tsp should do it, and it should be added to the melted chocolate and butter before adding the egg+sugar mixture.  These cakes are very rich.

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

Monday, June 4, 2012

Creme Brulee

The notes on this are kind of long, but that's because there are several options for browning the tops of the crème brûlées.  Plan ahead, these need lots of resting time in the fridge.
  • 1 1/3 C heavy cream
  • 1/3 of a vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 1/3 C vanilla sugar, divided
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • hot water
1.  Preheat oven to 325°F.  Combine cream, vanilla bean and its scrapings in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 15 minutes to infuse.  Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for other use.
2.  In a medium bowl, whisk 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp sugar and the egg yolks until they are well blended and just starting to lighten in colour.  Add cream slowly, stirring continuously.  Pour mixture into mini cocottes.  Place the cocottes into a roasting pan and add enough hot water (not boiling) to the pan to come approximately halfway up the outside of the cocottes.  Bake until custard is set but still jiggly in the centers, approximately 40-45 minutes.
3.  Remove cocottes from roasting pan and place them in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, up to 3 days if making in advance. 
4.  Remove the cocottes from the fridge 30 minutes before beginning to brown them.  Spread the remaining sugar on top of the cocottes and melt with a kitchen torch to create a crispy topping.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Robyn's notes: first, and most importantly, the taste.  This was far too rich for my liking, I simply couldn't eat it without adding a raspberry to each bite to add some freshness and cut through the strong rich custard.  The raspberries weren't meant to be more than a pretty garnish.  My vanilla sugar is not ready to be used yet, so I used regular sugar, if I'd used vanilla sugar it would have been way over the top (and I love vanilla).  I don't have a lot of experience eating crème brûlée, but my first (and favourite) was at Neiman Marcus years ago during the holidays, and theirs included Grand Marnier.  I may consider using some when trying this again.  Secondly, the process of browning the sugar.  I went to Williams-Sonoma and priced their kitchen torches last week ($40), as well as carefully reading every line of text on the packaging.  I simply cannot afford to spend that kind of money on a kitchen tool that has very few uses.  The packaging said that the torch uses butane, and after a lot of research, I determined that Bic long-handled lighters also use butane.  I am not saying that it's safe to use a Bic lighter for a food product.  As a matter of fact, I'm saying that it's probably not safe.  Probably nobody should do it.  But I decided to give it a try anyway.  It was a pain.  The lighter is not meant to be used for more than 30 seconds straight, and while I decline to say whether I kept it lit longer than that (ahem), I had to be careful that I didn't keep it lit long enough to become a danger.  The biggest differences between a kitchen torch and a Bic lighter are that the kitchen torch a) has a stronger flame, and b) has a hotter flame.  This means that the sugar melts much more quickly and over a larger area.  The Bic lighter took half an hour to melt just the top of one of these mini crème brûlées (we're saving the other to try another technique tomorrow, which I'll get to shortly).  It was very tiring and frustrating.  The sugar did melt, the caramel disc did solidify, but it was not worth the work.  The other option, which we'll be trying tomorrow on the second crème brûlée, is to sprinkle the sugar over the top, then place it under the broiler for a few minutes (be careful!  Not all ramekins are broiler-safe!).  The problem with this is that it subjects the entire dish to increased heat, which changes the consistency of the custard beneath the sugar.  I was trying to avoid that, but we'll see tomorrow how it goes.  Update: the broiler option does work, but as expected it changed the consistency of the custard, in a way I didn't like.  It became much like curdled milk, basically liquid with some strange chunks.  The final option, which I will not be trying at this time, is to flambé the sugar by splashing it with liquor and lighting it up.  I don't currently have either flambé experience or a good fire extinguisher, so I'll be letting that option pass me by for now.  

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

Vanilla Sugar

I am a big fan of vanilla.  The only scented body or hand soap I'll use willingly is vanilla, the only kind of scent or perfume I've ever used is vanilla, and just opening a jar of vanilla extract (real, please, not imitation) in another room is a great way to get me rushing in to look over your shoulder.  I think it's unfortunate that the word "vanilla" has come to mean "plain" to so many minds, because true vanilla is anything but plain.  Consider that vanilla is the seed pod of a tropical climbing orchid, and "plain" starts to go out the window.  Vanilla Sugar is not a cheap product to make and have on hand, but I think it's worth the occasional splurge because of the way it elevates sweet baked goods.

  • 2 C granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
1.   Pour sugar into a bowl and set aside.  Slice the vanilla bean down the center to open it.  Scrape the inside of the bean with the side of a small knife to remove the seeds. 
2.  Add seeds to the bowl of sugar, and use your fingers to rub the inside of the scraped bean with some of the sugar, to coax out any additional seeds that you may have missed while scraping.  Stir together seeds and sugar to get the seeds as well mixed as possible.
3.  Pour sugar and seed mixture into an airtight container, burying the bean in the sugar as well.  It will take 1-2 weeks for the flavouring to infuse fully.

Yield: 2 Cups vanilla sugar

Robyn's notes: once the vanilla sugar has combined, it can be used in place of sugar in sweet recipes, without needing to adjust measurements.  It's also good in coffee or tea, sprinkled on oatmeal or fruit, or as a simple but elegant gift-in-a-jar for friends who bake.  To make this more cost-efficient, used beans work fine, too.  If you've made a custard or sauce with a vanilla bean, you won't be eating the actual bean as part of that dish.  So once you've removed the bean from its previous use, pat it dry gently and put it into the sugar.  As the bean dries in the sugar, give the canister a shake from time to time, it'll break up any clumps that may have formed and help loosen any remaining "vanilla caviar" (the seeds) that may still be in the bean.  In the photo above, I used half of a new bean and half a bean that had already been used for another purpose.  Vanilla sugar can be stored indefinitely in an air-tight container, just as regular sugar can, and just needs to be topped off with additional sugar and more seeds or another bean as you use it up. 

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

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Raspberry Gratin

Sometimes when the original recipe is bad, there's nothing you can do to fix it. 
  • 1 C milk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 C raspberries
  • 2 Tbsp flaked almonds
1.  In a small saucepan over low heat, combine milk and split vanilla bean.  Stir until warmed through, then remove from heat and allow to infuse.
2.  Mix sugar and yolks until the mixture turns white.  Remove the vanilla bean from milk and set it aside.  Stir sugar mixture into milk and heat on low, stirring constantly, until cream thickens.
3.  Heat broiler.  Spoon raspberries into cocottes or individual casserole dishes, top with cream mixture, and sprinkle with almonds.  Cook 3-4 minutes, or until almonds are golden.

Robyn's notes: I really hoped I could fix the recipe I found, because a raspberry gratin sounded so great.  The original recipe was missing instructions, was formatted poorly, and had things in the wrong order.  Here's an example:  "Divide the into the mini casserole dishes, squeezing and sprinkle the lot with flaked almonds."  HUH?!  Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any fixing this one, and if I want a raspberry gratin I'll have to write it from scratch.  Also, clearly I don't put any effort into food styling when the dish doesn't come out well, haha!

* 1 Star: Not Too Good. Neither of us liked this enough for me to bother making it again without complete overhaul

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mini Cocotte Frittatas

When I received those Le Creuset mini cocottes, I said I would be going crazy writing recipes just to use them, and, yes, it has begun.

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 Tbsp Gruyere, divided
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 Tbsp diced ham
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 1/2 Tbsp oil
  • 1/2 C frozen southern-style hash brown potatoes
  • 2 C baby spinach
1.  Set cocottes on a rimmed baking sheet and place in oven; preheat oven to 450°F.  While oven is heating, melt oil in a small skillet, add potatoes and cook over medium-high heat, covered, for about 4 minutes, or until brown on one side.  Reduce heat to medium-low, turn potatoes, push to one side of the skillet, and add spinach to the other side.  Cook, uncovered, until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes.
2.  Whisk together egg, 2 Tbsp cheese, milk, ham, salt, and pepper.  When spinach is cooked, stir it into the egg mixture.
3.  Remove heated dishes from the oven and coat with cooking spray.  Spoon half of the potatoes into the bottom of each cocotte, and immediately pour in egg mixture, topping with remaining cheese.  Bake until frittata is puffed up and golden, about 15 minutes.

Robyn's notes: these came out quite small, which is fine as long as they're served alongside some fresh fruit or whatever is preferred.  I do not recommend increasing the amount of egg.  Every time I've tried to do so, the outside has cooked through, but as soon as it's pierced with a fork the center is discovered to be raw liquid egg.  I end up having to stir the top inch and cook, stir and cook, for another 6-8 minutes, which overcooks the sides and makes the cheese flavour disappear.  For those without cocottes, ramekins or individual casserole dishes should work fine.  I can't eat spinach, so mine is the one on the left in the picture above, I just poured in my part of the egg mixture before stirring in the spinach.  I always keep a bag of these potatoes in the freezer, to use when I'm making breakfast burritos, and the brand and style I use (Ore-Ida) is gluten-free.  An additional option for those who are able to eat such things is to use either the hash brown potatoes with peppers and onions, or to add a little diced shallot/onion and pepper when cooking the potatoes.  These were good.  Moist and tasty, and easy to add things to if desired.  

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

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

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