Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Garam Masala

Garama masala is a blend of toasted ground spices used in South Asian cuisine, most especially in Northern India.  As is the case with curry powder, different brands will have different amounts of the spices, and sometimes other spices added. 

Many garam masalas will include black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, cardamom, and sometimes coriander.  Because these spices quickly lose their aroma and strength once ground, it is best and most effective to use whole spices and create the mix as needed.  In this case, the spices are toasted first, then ground together.  Sometimes a liquid is added to make a paste.  Bay leaves, nutmeg, garlic, or onion may be included.  In store-bought garam masala, there is often a higher proportion of less expensive spices, sometimes including ground ginger and dried garlic.

The pre-made garam masala I have on hand includes coriander, black pepper, cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. 

GF - because garam masala is not a single spice, there is a very slight possibility of gluten in some brands. The McCormick company is very dependable on this subject and does not hide wheat on their labels (if it's there, it'll say "wheat", not "natural flavours"). At the time of this writing, McCormick garam masala is gluten-free, as are the vast majority of brands (I've yet to find one that isn't).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Zoku Fudgsicles

I don't think there's a part of the country that hasn't been suffering from the heat these past few weeks.  Personally, having lived in Arizona and in the Southern CA Low Desert, I'm just grateful to have air conditioning and not be looking at brown-outs on 110°F days.  But I have been using my Zoku quite a bit, mostly for simple juice pops.  I'd tried a Zoku-branded recipe for fudgsicles once before and wasn't happy with the results, so I'm pleased to say that this recipe seems to work great.
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2/3 C heavy cream
  • 1/4 C whole milk
  • 1/2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla
1.  Place the chocolate in a medium-sized glass bowl, and set aside.
2.  In a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk, and cocoa powder over medium-high heat, whisking constantly.  Bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat and pour mixture over chocolate.  Let sit for 2 minutes without stirring.
3.  Whisk together until chocolate is melted, whisk in vanilla.  Refrigerate until cool.
4.  Stir cooled sauce to re-combine.  Insert stick into mold, pour sauce into prepared Zoku, and let stand until frozen, 10-12 minutes.

Yield: 3 Zoku pops

Robyn's notes: the texture of these is exactly what I look for in a fudgsicle.  Remove from Zoku slowly, the soft consistency wants to stick.  It'll be fine if removed gently but will be a disaster if you force it.  I also thought these were great with some banana coins in the mold first.  Does not store well, I had some leftover in the fridge overnight and it had thickened to a point the following day that I had to defrost the Zoku to get the popsicle out (and I'd stirred it a lot before pouring it in the mold).

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

Small-Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of the challenges with reducing baked goods, especially cookie recipes, is that there's only so far you can reduce them before you're dealing with the ridiculousness that is parts of an egg.  There are ways to address this, and I've used them all.  One-and-one-half Tablespoons of beaten egg will often work for half an egg.  Some recipes choose to use just the yolk.  There's always the use of egg substitute (Egg Beaters being the most recognizable brand name).  And I've got a few recipes that call for a quail's egg instead of a chicken egg, as they're much smaller.  All of these options have their drawbacks.  Using part of a beaten egg means either throwing away the rest or whipping up a partial-serving scrambled egg snack, because it won't last long safely in the fridge (2 days max).  Using just the yolk often makes the final dish taste too eggy and means quickly (within 2 days) finding a use for the white or, again, throwing it away.  Egg substitute is another thing to purchase and have on hand (must be used within 7 days of opening the carton), and to be honest I'm not entirely happy about the product.  They are 99% egg white, with beta carotene for colour and vitamins and minerals added back in, but the manufacturers choose not to disclose how that's done.  And as for quail's eggs, yes, they happen to be available in my town, but they certainly aren't available everywhere, they're more expensive, and the shells are more gelatinous, which not only makes them more difficult to crack but can change the consistency of the white. 

The thing is, we love cookie dough and we even occasionally like to bake chocolate chip cookies.  But if I make an entire batch, or even a half batch, of cookie dough, it'll be gone within 2 days.  We don't even notice we're dipping into it until we're looking at an empty bowl.  And more than 2 dozen cookies is far too many for the two of us.  So I wrote this recipe to solve the problem.
  • 2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 3 Tbsp vanilla sugar
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1/2 C + 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C semisweet chocolate chips
1.  In a medium bowl, cream together butter, vanilla sugar, and brown sugar until combined.  Stir in vanilla and mayonnaise until blended.
2.  Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt, add to butter mixture and stir until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.
3.  Refrigerate, covered, for 1 hour.
4.  Preheat oven to 375°F.  Drop dough onto baking sheet in rounded spoonfuls.  Bake for 9-11 minutes or until cookies are beginning to brown at the edges.  Allow to cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet.  Remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 8 medium sized cookies (3-inch diameter) or 1 dozen small cookies (2-inch diameter)

Robyn's notes: I'm calling for vanilla sugar instead of regular granulated in order to counteract the slight tang of the mayonnaise.  It is not strictly necessary, I have made the recipe several times with regular sugar.  I did test baked directly on the baking sheet, with parchment paper, and with aluminum foil.  The aluminum foil made for a flatter cookie that I found too crunchy for my taste.  If you like a really crunchy cookie that may be the way to go.  The other two options had no discernible difference, so I'm saving the parchment paper and saying to use just a regular baking sheet.  It was a bit difficult to get all the chocolate chips mixed in, as the dough is not very sticky, so I just forced the stragglers into each ball of dough when I loaded up the baking sheet.  Based on the relative humidity on a given day, the dough may be dry and crumbly (happens about 40% of the time to me), in which case I simply add a very small amount of milk (about 1 tsp is enough) before adding chocolate chips, and mix well.  I find that these cookies have a crispy exterior and soft inside.  There is no trace of mayonnaise flavour, either in the baked cookies or in the dough.  As hard as it is, the cookies are best after 8 hours of resting in a sealed ziploc bag.  I have also made these successfully at high altitude with no changes.   

This recipe has been demonstrated on my YouTube channel!

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

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Icebox Cookies

This is the base for multiple cookie recipes, read through all notes before beginning.
  • 1/4 C butter, at room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 7 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp cornstarch
  • pinch salt (see notes, below)
1.  Cream and stir butter and sugar together with a fork until light.  Add flour, cornstarch, and salt and mix until just combined.
2.  Add mix-ins to dough, stirring well to combine (see notes, below).  Shape dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Wrap in plastic or waxed paper and refrigerate at least 2 hours before slicing or baking them (or freeze for up to 8 weeks).
3.  Preheat oven to 325.  Line cookie sheet with parchment or silicone liner.
4.  Unwrap log and slice cookie dough into rounds about 1/4 inch thick.  Place rounds on lined cookie sheet and bake until edges of cookies are just slightly browned, 20-25 minutes. 

Robyn's notes: this dough makes very crisp cookies, because of the cornstarch.  For the salt, it should be 1/16 tsp, I used my 1/8 tsp measuring spoon and filled it halfway.  The photo above shows the entire batch, so it's a good recipe for making just a few cookies for two people.  The dough is intended as a base for multiple mix-in options, and I didn't use any of them.  I added 1/2 tsp vanilla to the dough, then flattened it into a 1/4 inch-thick disc, wrapped it in plastic, and refrigerated it for 2 hours.  I then lay it out on the counter and cut out the four stars.  The remaining bits of dough I rolled into balls about an inch thick, and rolled them in sugar that I'd dyed with food colouring.  I placed the balls onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet and flattened them with the back of a metal spatula.  The stars were placed onto the cookie sheet and sprinkled with leftover coloured sugar.  I then baked them for the given time.  The cookies came out only ok, not enough flavour.  We ended up frosting them with leftover frosting from the cupcakes I'd also made, and that was good.  I will try the recipe again with other mix-ins and may increase the star rating depending on how it turns out.  To do the recipe properly, here are suggested mix-ins (use only one):  
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped lemon thyme  OR
1 tsp citrus zest + 1/4 tsp orange flower water OR 
1/2 tsp cinnamon + pinch each of ground cloves & nutmeg + 2 Tbsp toasted chopped walnuts or pecans OR
1/2 tsp vanilla + 1/4 C unsweetened shredded coconut

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Simple Cupcakes to Share (Or Not!)

Since this recipe makes four cupcakes, there's enough to share with company if you're having a couple people over, or to keep all to yourselves and have the other two the next day.
  • 1/4 C buttermilk
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • yolk of 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 1/4 C + 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Fit paper liners into 4 cups of standard muffin pan, set aside.
2.  Combine buttermilk and baking soda in small bowl, stirring to mix.  Gently whisk in egg yolk and vanilla.
3.  Place flour, sugar, and salt in medium mixing bowl, stirring to combine.  Add butter and half of buttermilk mixture.  Beat on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened.  Increase to medium speed and beat until mixture is lightened and has slightly increased in volume, about 45 seconds.  Scrape down sides of bowl as needed.  Pour in remaining buttermilk mixture and beat on medium speed until well blended, 20 seconds.
4.  Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, dividing evenly.  Fill empty muffin cups halfway with water to protect pan.  Bake cupcakes 20-23 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and tops are just beginning to brown.
5.  Remove pan from oven and cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove cupcakes from pan and transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.  Frost as desired.

Robyn's notes: I found these to be a little bit eggy, and not as light as I would have liked, but still quite good.  For frosting, I used store-bought vanilla frosting in a canister because I was very tired.  I split the frosting into thirds, adding red gel food colouring to one bowl, blue gel food colouring to another, and leaving the last white.  I placed a large star tip into a piping bag (I actually had to use two bags, so ended up using a #20 tip and a #35 tip) and then spooned red frosting into one side of the bag, white into the center, and blue to the other side.  It was not easy, as can be seen by my results in the photo above.  The first cupcake I frosted was just getting white and nothing else, until finally the red and blue made their way to the tip.  The second cupcake (front left in photo) came out the best, but after finishing it and adding some colour to the first (back left in photo), I was out of frosting in that bag and had to fill another.  For that bag, the red came out great but the blue was hanging out at the top of the bag, not reaching the piping tip.  I think some practice would be good.  For this situation I'm happy with what I got, and doing it a few more times would help me figure out how best to load the piping bags.

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

Monday, July 9, 2012

Blueberry Upside-Down Cakes

Mostly I wanted something to do with the blueberries that I had on hand, and something that could be made visually patriotic for the 4th of July.  I used two mini cake pans, and since they're very nonstick I didn't grease or flour them.  I did line the bottoms with parchment paper, however, as not doing so seemed like it would be pushing my luck a little bit.
  • 1/2 C fresh or thawed frozen blueberries
  • 1/3 C + 1 tsp sugar, divided
  • 1/4 C buttermilk
  • yolk of 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 C flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
1.  Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place jumbo muffin pan (3/4 C capacity) or mini cake pan on a piece of parchment paper and, using a pencil, trace around the bottom of one of the cups.  Cut out 4 parchment paper rounds to this measurement.
2.  Grease and lightly flour 2 muffin cups or mini cake pans if needed.  Fit 2 of the parchment rounds into each of the prepared pans, making a double layer.
3.  Place the blueberries and 1 tsp of the sugar in a small bowl, stir to mix.  Spoon the berries into the prepared pans, dividing evenly.  Set pans aside.
4.  Place buttermilk, egg yolk, and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk to mix.
5.  Sift flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium mixing bowl; add remaining 1/3 C sugar and whisk to combine.  Add butter and half of the buttermilk mixture.  Beat with electric mixer on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened.  Increase speed to medium and beat until batter is lightened and has slightly increased in volume, about 45 seconds.  Scrape down sides of bowl as needed.  Pour in remaining buttermilk mixture and beat on medium until well blended, about 20 seconds.
6.  Spoon batter over blueberries in pans, dividing evenly, and smooth tops.  If using a muffin pan, fill empty cups halfway with water to protect the pan.  Bake cakes at 375°F for 20-24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out clean.
7.  Remove from oven and place pans on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes.  If using a muffin pan, carefully pour water out of extra cups.  Carefully invert pans on large plate to release cake (if necessary, carefully run a knife around the edge of the cake to help it detach).  Peel off and discard parchment paper.  Serve warm.

Vanilla Creme Fraiche
  • 1/4 C premium-quality vanilla bean ice cream, softened
  • 3 Tbsp creme fraiche or sour cream
1.  Place soft ice cream and creme fraiche in a small bowl, whisk just to mix.  Serve immediately.

Robyn's notes: Cakes were served with Vanilla Creme Fraiche and Raspberry Curd.  This was only ok, mostly because I'm not supposed to eat blueberries, they make me fairly ill, so I just tasted a few bites.  He enjoyed it, but not worth raving over.  The vanilla creme fraiche was not worth making again.  The flavour of the ice cream was totally lost, so it was like eating completely liquified creme fraiche.  

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

Friday, July 6, 2012

B's Chicken

When I was growing up, my sister and I were both Camp Fire Girls.  Each of our clubs did various events that involved food, and often we'd end up with "family recipes" from the families of other club members.  This is the reduced version of a recipe that a girl from my sister's club--who went by "B", short for Beatrice--wrote when she was 8 or 9.  I'm sure there's a written version of it with measurements somewhere, but we've been making it so long that we just do it without bothering with any of that anymore.  Since I used up about 3 days of energy baking for the 4th of July, I needed something simple that didn't ask too much of me, and this recipe was happy to step up.

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 Tbsp Italian-style breadcrumbs (see notes, below)
1.  Place flour, milk, and breadcrumbs into three separate shallow bowls or pie tins.  In a medium skillet, heat just enough oil to cover bottom of pan over medium-high heat.
2.  Dredge both sides of chicken first in flour, tapping off excess, then in milk, finally in breadcrumbs.  Gently place chicken in oil, and cook over medium-high heat 3-4 minutes.  Turn chicken over and cook another 3-4 minutes, or until juices run clear and chicken is no longer pink in the middle.

Robyn's notes: it is very easy to overcook or even to burn this chicken, because it goes so quickly, so do not raise the heat to high or you will have a blackened crust.  I sometimes take the lazy way out (I did in this case) and buy "thin-sliced" breast fillets at the grocery.  Since the regular chicken breasts available at the store these days are around 6 oz each (which is two servings), buying thin-sliced helps us not eat twice as much as we should.  Another option if not in the mood to pound chicken between sheets of plastic wrap is to cut the chicken into small nuggets.  The only store-bought breadcrumbs I ever have on hand (other than panko) are Italian-style.  If you have plain breadcrumbs, sprinkle in a bit of Parmesan cheese (about a tsp) and dried Italian herbs (about a tsp) and mix well.  Be careful gripping the chicken to turn it in the pan, the coating will slide off if it's pinched too hard.

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

Patriotic Fruit Skewers

This probably doesn't need a recipe, just an explanation and closer photo than the one I posted on July 4th.

On each toothpick a raspberry, banana coin, and blueberry, in that order.  As a dipping sauce, Honey Cream Fruit Dip.  Make as many skewers as needed for the appetites of the eaters.

Only gets three stars because I'm not supposed to eat blueberries, they make me somewhat ill, so I'm not able to enjoy it much.

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

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cold-Oven Quarter-Pound Cake

America's Test Kitchen is cooking their way through the 20th century this summer, one week per decade.  They've invited readers to participate by making the provided recipes and then submitting a photo of themselves with the finished product.  The first week is titled Cook Like it's 1905! and as soon as I saw the recipe I knew I'd be making it and then figuring out a smaller version.  Everything it called for was already in the house, and I'd recently picked up a couple of mini tube pans using a gift card from my sister.  As you can read at the above link, at the turn of the previous century homeowners were distrustful of the new gas ovens and unlikely to buy them.  As a selling point, manufacturers marketed the gas oven as a time-saver: no pre-heating necessary!  The America's Test Kitchen Cold-Oven Pound Cake Recipe that is the first challenge is formulated for an oven that's cold when you put the pan in, and so my reduced version is as well.  I used two mini tube pans for this, and while I can't guarantee success with another pan, I suspect that two mini cake pans would work as well, because the mini tube pans don't actually have a tube running all the way through, just a divot.  Since my pans are nonstick, they needed no greasing or flouring.  If not using a nonstick pan, be sure to do both!
  • 3/4 C cake flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 C whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 C + 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 1/2 Tbsp beaten egg
1.  Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position.  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl.  Whisk milk and vanilla in measuring cup.
2.  With electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in whole egg, then remaining egg, until combined.  Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of milk mixture.  Mix on low until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Use rubber spatula to give batter a final stir.
3.  Divide batter between two mini tube pans and smooth tops.  Place cakes in cold oven.  Adjust oven temperature to 325°F and bake, without opening oven door, until cakes are golden brown at the edges and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 38-42 minutes.  
4.  Cool cakes in pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto rack.  Cool completely.  Serve.  (Cooled cakes can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.)

I served with a drizzle of Raspberry Curd and some raspberries.

Robyn's notes: Unfortunately I was not at all pleased with the results of the full-size contest cake.  Since it makes so many servings, I waited until my folks came by, so they could help us eat it.  This means my mom was around to watch me make the cake, and she confirmed that I followed that recipe to the letter.  The final cake had good flavour but was the most solid and dense cake I have ever eaten in my life.  I lifted a corner of the cooled cake off the plate and when I dropped it you could actually feel the reverberations in the table.  As we brainstormed what the problem may have been, we finally thought to take a look at my baking powder.  Sure enough, it was a year out of date.  My guess is that since the rise is relying on baking powder, mine being old (has now been tossed and replaced) kept it from happening properly.  

As for my version, it is again a much denser cake than I would like, as I made it the same day and using the same baking powder.  Because it's small, that outcome of my version is more acceptable to me than the full cake.  The density is not as noticeable because it's a smaller proportion of cake that feels heavy.  I feel confident that when I try this again with fresh baking powder it'll be more successful.  Yes, this does need to be done with an electric mixer, otherwise it'll be nearly impossible to get enough air beaten into the batter.  Even though I'm one of those people who never sift if I can get away with not, I sifted my cake flour before measuring it because it had been in a drawer for so long that it was really clumpy.  The one-and-a-half Tablespoons beaten egg is the equivalent of half a large egg.     

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

Raspberry Curd

  • 2 oz raspberries
  • 1/4 C + 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • tiny pinch salt
1.  Whisk all ingredients in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water until slightly thick. Strain; refrigerate until cold and thick.

Robyn's notes: lemon juice is also ok, I had half a lime needing to be used.  I served this over my Cold-Oven Quarter Pound Cakes and used it for an additional topping with Blueberry Upside-Down Cakes.

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day!

Recipes on another day, we're busy having our 4th of July celebration!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cookbook Review: Essentials of Cooking

Author: James Peterson
Published: 1999 by Artisan, my copy--with the cover shown above--published 2003
Available for Purchase: Amazon, Powell's, Barnes and Noble

This is a departure from the cookbooks I usually purchase, as it's not a specifically "cooking for two" or small-yield book, and it's not really even a cookbook.  Truly, it's a cooking reference book, and if you've only got space for one on your shelf, this should be one of the top contenders for that spot. 

This really does offer the "essentials", plus several new ideas that would never have occurred to me.  The book starts with full instructions--including step by step photos--on peeling vegetables (each type of vegetable is demonstrated separately), and ends with preparing and braising a large rabbit.  In between is everything from making tomato sauce to making chicken liver mousse; making french fries to cooking squid; poaching eggs to boning a whole round fish.  And there are clear photographs for each and every bit.  Even the 25 page glossary has some pictures, and it provides more than just definitions for each term.  The entry for "steam", for example, defines what cooking in steam is, how to do it, when it is usually done (with cross-reference to earlier text), descriptions of the four main types of steamers available for purchase, a description of how to improvise your own steamer, and instructions for how to use two different types of steamers.

I've never had to fillet a salmon, because my sweetheart takes care of that aspect for me when he catches the fish.  But I truly believe that if I were faced with a whole salmon, I could use the 19 photos here to take me from cutting away the fins to removing the pin bones.  At the same time, there are instructions--I hesitate to call them recipes, as most give ratios, not measurements--for all sorts of dishes, and I could use this book to make mayonnaise, chunky vegetable soup, baked tomatoes with garlic and fresh basil, gnocchi, or any of 18 classic sauces for sauteed chicken. 

Complete and sensible index, well-arranged table of contents, and colour-coded page numbers correlating to sections make it easy to find what's needed quickly.  There was not a single technique that left me feeling a jump had been made from one step to the next, and anything that requires previous knowledge tells you which page to find that particular bit of knowledge on.  For example, on "How to poach chicken in a pot", there are references to "to truss a chicken, page 146", "to core and section carrots, page 21", "to make a bouquet garni, page 31", and "to carve a roast chicken, page 149", plus the related glossary entry (poach) is listed so the reader knows where to go for more.

I am completely unsurprised that this guide was nominated for a James Beard award.  It is a condensing of years of training for those of us who will never attend culinary school but want a solid foundation for our home cooking.  As it says on the inner jacket: "Knowing how to execute a technique makes you efficient; knowing why you've chosen that technique makes you a master."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Honey Cream Fruit Dip

I took the ratios for this from an episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats. It's easy to upsize if necessary, as this makes quite a small amount of dip.  The show used 1 Cup of sour cream, to give a sense of scale. 
  • 1/2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • berries of your choosing
1.  In a custard cup or small glass bowl, heat honey in microwave for 20-25 seconds.  Whisk in sour cream.  Serve with fruit.

Robyn's notes: this was a way to keep from wasting even the tiniest remaining bit of sour cream after having used it in several recipes.  It was good on strawberries, but I think where it really shone was on raspberries. If making a large batch, the honey should be warmed on the stove in a saucepan, but for such a tiny amount as this that would be ridiculous.

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

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hamburger Stroganoff

This may not be the prettiest meal I'll ever post, but it is another nostalgic comfort food dish for me.  I've reduced it heavily from the recipe my mom made when I was a kid.  When I first moved out, I was also moving out of state, far enough that visits would be 1-2 times per year.  One of the things my mom sent with me was a binder of recipes that I'd loved growing up.  This was in there, and that's where I've taken it from.  I don't have any idea where she originally got the recipe.  Don't forget to prepare the potatoes, however you prefer to bake them (I actually use the microwave when they're being served under a dish like this).
  • 2 strips of bacon, diced
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/4 C chopped onion
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1/3 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • pinch pepper
  • 2/3 C condensed cream of mushroom soup (from a 10.75 oz can)
  • 1/2 C sour cream
1.   Place ground beef and bacon in skillet; cook and stir until beef is browned.  Add onion and cook until just tender.  Spoon off excess fat.
2.  Blend flour and seasonings into meat; stir in soup.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
3.  Stir in sour cream.
4.  Serve over baked potatoes.

Robyn's notes: this is a very filling meal, in my opinion.  You will be using half of the can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, see "Using Up Ingredients" at the top of the page for suggestions on what to do with the rest of the can.  The recipe says this can also be served over egg noodles or toasted hamburger buns, but I like it best over baked potatoes, so that's all I'm listing in the recipe itself.  It was hard to find a good skillet size for this, I used a 10-inch, which was perfect for browning the beef, bacon, and onion, but once it got to the simmering it seemed a bit large.  Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan when stirring.  I let the skillet sit over low heat for about 2 minutes after stirring in the sour cream, just to let it thicken up a bit before spooning it over the potatoes.  Probably only a 4 star recipe, but the nostalgia factor gives it a fifth star.  

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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Breakfast Burritos

For most of my career, I chose to work the night shift (aka Mids/Graveyard).  I really preferred it to either Days or Swings, for a lot of reasons, but there were a few aspects of working nights that were challenging.  One of those is the food issue.  If I was asleep from approximately 8am until 3 or 4 in the afternoon, then when I woke up I wasn't likely to be in the mood for dinner foods, even though it was the regular dinner time.  My meal during my shift (I usually tried to get the 2:30 or 3am lunch break) was never anything particularly special or filling, because it's hard to get enthused about a meal at that time of night, especially when you only have 30 minutes to reheat and eat.  When I got home from work I was ready for a nice big meal...but generally too tired to fix one after a 10-14 hour shift.  So co-workers and I often went to either a particular pancake restaurant or a small Mexican cafe that opened right before our shift ended.  At the latter, I always ordered a breakfast burrito, and the ones I got there are still the best I've ever had.  A few years ago I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to have a breakfast burrito for dinner, and was horrified at how many people asked me what that was. 
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1 C frozen southern-style hash brown potatoes
  • 2 medium (soft taco size) flour tortillas
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-2 Tbsp milk
  • dash salt
  • pinch pepper
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 2-3 Tbsp diced ham
  • 1/3 C shredded cheese (either 4 Cheese Mexican blend or Cheddar)
1.  Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Carefully add potatoes to form an even layer.  Cover and cook over medium-high heat for 4 minutes.
2.  In a nonstick 8-inch skillet on another burner, warm tortillas one at a time over medium-low heat.  Set aside and cover to keep warm.  Beat together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. 
3.  Remove lid from potatoes, turn them, and reduce heat to medium.  Cook, uncovered, for 4 minutes without further stirring. 
4.  Melt butter in small skillet used to warm tortillas.  Add egg mixture and cook slowly, scrambling with a silicone spatula.  As soon as the egg starts to set, add ham and continue to cook and stir together until cooked to your preference.
5.  Spoon approximately 1 Tbsp cheese down center of each tortilla.  Top with half of potatoes onto each, then half of the egg mixture.  Cover each with remaining cheese.  Fold over sides of tortillas and secure, if needed, with a toothpick.

Robyn's notes: this is a simple dish, but it can take some trying to get all the timing right, since both skillets are working at the same time and everything has to finish at just the right moments to keep anything from getting overcooked or cold from sitting.  I always have a bag of these potatoes in the freezer.  Likewise, I always have 4 Cheese Mexican blend shredded cheese in the house, it's more my standard than regular cheddar, so that's what I use.  Just before removing the eggs and ham from the skillet, I like to stir a bit of the cheese (maybe a Tbsp) into them so it gets all nice and warm and melty and gooey and integrated, instead of  just being layers.  Some people like to add salsa or onions and peppers or a bit of hot sauce to their breakfast burritos, since I can't eat any of that I don't.  The ham can be replaced with bacon or sausage, or left out entirely for a vegetarian version.  Without ham it might be a good idea to add a third egg, as I don't think it's as hearty a meal.  Although I've got a 'breakfasts' label on this, I'm much more likely to serve it as a dinner these days. 

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Peach Mango Smoothies

About 10 or 12 years ago, I picked up a couple Smoothie cookbooks, with the intention of eating more healthily.  I only ever made 3 or 4 recipes out of both, partly because they called for a lot of specialty ingredients and insisted that I put the items into the blender in a certain order, processing for a certain number of seconds between each addition, and I was lazy and poor and those things didn't work for me.  So eventually I stopped bothering with some of the ingredients in one of the smoothies, and stopped worrying about careful combining.  This is where I ended up, and it's a smoothie I've been making ever since.
  • 1 banana, diced
  • 1/4 C mango sorbet (store-bought ok)
  • 1 C frozen sliced peaches
  • 3/4 C frozen diced mangoes
  • 1/2 C juice of your choice (see notes below)
1.  Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until combined and smooth, stopping blender as needed to stir and push chunks down.

Yield: approximately 22 fl oz

Robyn's notes: it's ok to use a frozen banana, but if so, the banana needs to be diced into coins before being frozen.  I usually have a couple frozen diced bananas on hand for making smoothies with, they do turn brown in the freezer but as long as they were fresh to start they'll retain their freshness long after they stop looking pretty.  A full-size frozen banana is very hard to process and becomes quite frustrating.  I have used both store-bought frozen fruit and fruit that I've frozen myself for the peaches and mangoes, and it really doesn't make any difference.  I prefer buying fresh and freezing myself; if getting the store-bought make sure to buy fruit that has not got added sugar or syrup, it'll mess with the flavour of the finished smoothie.  It is best to use frozen, not just fresh fruit, however, because of the moisture content.  I use whatever juice I can find or have in the house, with a few guidelines.  My preference is for Orange Peach Mango, it just gives the best and truest flavour for this combination of ingredients.  If I can't find that, I'll go for whatever peach-mango combination I can find.  If there isn't one, I'll go for an orange-banana combination, and if that's not available, straight orange juice.  I prefer not to use "tropical mix" juices or strawberry-banana (even though I love the latter as a juice), because it just doesn't taste as good for this use.  For measuring the mango, I usually use the 1 Cup measure and just don't fill it up, since there's a lot of air between the mango pieces it's hard to get an accurate measurement without using a scale.   

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

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hungarian Goulash

This is a very reduced version of a recipe my mom made for us a lot when I was growing up.  I don't know how much similarity it bears to actual Hungarian dishes, I've done a lot of travelling but Hungary is not one of the places I've visited.  It is, for me, a touch of childhood and the smell of it cooking means comfort.  Plan ahead, this recipe has a long cook time.
  • 1/2 lb boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 3/4 C sliced onions
  • 3/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pinch pepper
  • 1/3 C condensed beef broth from a 10.5oz can
  • 4 oz egg noodles
  • 1/3 Tbsp butter (optional)
  • 3/4 tsp poppy seeds (optional)
  • 1/4 C sour cream
1.  In medium bowl, toss meat cubes with flour to coat.  In Dutch oven or 10-inch skillet, brown meat cubes in oil until well browned on all sides.  Add onions, paprika, salt, pepper, and beef broth.  Cover and cook over low heat for 1-1/2 hours or until meat cubes are tender.
2. Shortly before serving, cook noodles as instructed on package.  Drain.  If desired, toss with butter and poppy seeds.
3.  Add sour cream to meat mixture and cook over low heat until heated through, stirring constantly.  Serve over noodles.

Robyn's notes: It may seem like 1 Tbsp of flour isn't enough to coat 1/2 lb of meat, but it really turns out to be enough.  I also tap off as much excess flour as possible before putting it in the pan, so it doesn't get gloppy.  I used a ten-inch skillet.  When browning the meat it was the perfect size to accommodate all the cubes with space to turn them once, and when it came time to cover and cook I pushed all the ingredients to one side of the pan together.  I checked the status of the meat several times during the 90 minutes of cooking, stirring things around and making sure there was still enough liquid, as my mom had warned me I might need to add more broth.  She generally uses her electric skillet to make this for 4 people, and in the electric skillet she adds more broth.  I didn't need to add another drop.  I can't eat seeds, they cause a lot of pain for me, so I just leave the poppy seeds out entirely, I don't think it changes the taste or enjoyment at all.  Probably more a 4 star dish if it didn't have such nostalgic feeling for me.  As it is, I won't make it often, but will make it for many years to come, 5 stars.  

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

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mango Sorbet

Without an ice cream maker.

I have to be careful about the kitchen appliances that I choose.  Space and money are both limited, so anything that takes up room and has only one use is something I'm just not going to spend money on.  Ice cream makers fall into that category.  We don't eat ice cream very often, so it's not really a loss, if we had one I'd feel like we needed to justify it, and we'd eat ice cream more than we really want or need to.  However, I do love sorbet, specifically peach or mango sorbet, and in the summer I treat myself to pints of them and eat them straight out of the carton with a spoon.

The problems with that are double.  One is the price.  They tend to run about $4 for a pint, and I consider that to be a lot for a snack or dessert.  The other problem is the ratio of ingredients in store-bought sorbet.  For the mango, for example, there is more water than any other ingredient, sugar being the next highest, then mangoes, followed by juice--from concentrate--of lemon, pumpkin, and carrot.  Add "natural flavours" and pectin, and you've got a $4 cool treat.  I'd really rather not have more water and sugar than fruit in my sorbet.  So here's my alternative.  Be aware that since no ice cream maker is required, you can't just leave it and forget about it, it has to be checked.
  • 1/3 C water
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 2 ripe mangoes
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
1.  In a small saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil.  Stir until sugar dissolves, remove from heat and cool.
2.  Peel mangoes and remove as much flesh as possible, placing all flesh into blender.  Pour 1/3 C cooled syrup into blender over mango, add lime juice, and puree until smooth.  Transfer mixture to a freezer-safe container with a removable lid.
3.  Stir every hour for the first 2 hours, then every 45 minutes after that, for a total of 6-8 hours.

Yield: see notes below

Robyn's notes: The texture is not quite as smooth as what you would get from an ice cream maker, but for my taste it's perfectly fine.  As I was doing the stirring, I tasted a bit of it from time to time, and really thought I'd have to throw it out and start again.  It was quite sour, and I thought I had my simple syrup ratio off.  In the morning it had all evened out.  It's nowhere near as sweet as the store-bought stuff, and if you want really sweet sorbet you may want to increase the amount of syrup incrementally, but it tastes very mango-ey and I'm happy with it.  I used an old Cool-Whip container, and my yield was 1-1/2 packed Cups or 12.5 oz (this is going to depend on the size of your mangoes and how much flesh you're able to get off of them, but expect to get around this much).  So a bit less than the pint I'd get at the store, but mangoes were on special and I already had the lime so this cost me $1 to make and I feel good about what's in it.  Now, don't go eating it all, one of my next recipes will call for some of it.  I made this a second time, using a light syrup that I had cooked peach halves in for canning.  Came out very well.

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

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fettuccine Alfredo with Prosciutto

Many years ago, I lived near Phoenix and had very little money.  One of the problems with having very little money in the southern half of the state of Arizona is that for much of the year "hot" doesn't even begin to describe the world around you, and running air conditioning to a livable level is expensive.  With an upstairs apartment on the sunny side of the building, it was especially difficult.  So I spent a lot of time at the library and whatever bookstores were nearby, reading and letting them pay the utility bills to keep me cool.  On one of these trips to a bookstore, I was flipping through one of those fancy "lifestyle" magazines that describes a lifestyle I'm not convinced anyone actually has, and there was a long article about the superiority of having your cook make her own pasta.  It included enough information to be interesting, but not enough to actually make the pasta without further instructions.  A pretty picture of the pile of flour with eggs nestled into its well, then a picture of the completed dish.  Admonitions to dry each hand-cut length of pasta over coated hangers around your kitchen, with no guide as to how long they would take to dry, how to cook them as compared to box pasta, or how long they'd remain shelf stable.

I was young enough to be entranced by the article.  Oddly, the recipe for Alfredo Sauce in the magazine was basically complete.  I was already carrying a small notebook in my purse at all times back then, so I furtively scribbled out as much of the article as I could without the bookstore employees noticing that I was copying info from a magazine I couldn't afford to buy.  The next time I changed notebooks, I copied those pages into it, and continued that for several years before ever getting around to trying the sauce recipe.  This is the descendant of the Fettuccine Alfredo shown in luscious two-page spread in a magazine I've long forgotten the name of.  Although I have made pasta occasionally in the years since, this recipe doesn't call for homemade.  I'm not generally well enough to put that kind of time in, and there are many good box pastas available.
  • 4 oz fettuccine 
  • 1/4 C butter
  • 1/4 C cream
  • 1/4 C + 2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
  • dash salt
  • pinch white pepper
  • 2 thin slices prosciutto, chopped
1.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.  Add cream and heat, stirring constantly until combined.  Stir in Parmesan and pepper until smooth.  
2.  As pasta is draining, and with the sauce keeping warm over low heat, brown prosciutto in small skillet until crisp, being careful not to burn.  Spoon sauce over pasta and top with browned prosciutto and a little extra Parmesan if desired.

Robyn's notes: Dry long pasta, such as spaghetti, fettuccine, angel hair, linguine, or vermicelli, can be measured by holding them together in a bunch and wrapping a string around the bundle.  4 ounces being approximately 1 inch in diameter, the string should be a little more than 3 inches around the bundle.  You can buy long pasta measures from kitchen supply stores, which have marked holes of varying diameter, keep a string that you've marked off 1 inch lengths, or use a measuring tape.  It may seem as if there's not enough sauce to go around, as American restaurants tend to drown pasta in sauce, but this is not a sauce that you want gallons of.  If you use real imported Parmesan, which I prefer to do anytime I can afford it, the sauce will have some sweet undertones.  The prosciutto, being such a salty meat, helps cut through that.  

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

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