Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tasting Spoons at New Site

In case any of you missed my posting about a month ago, I've moved my blog over to a new address, my own url at If you'd like to go visit that site, just click on the link. There will not be any posts from this website in the future, although the content is still here. Everything here is over there, however, except comments.

If you want to subscribe to my new feed (either through a reader or via email), click THIS LINK and you'll view a window where you can select which type. If you select the email option, watch for a confirming email from an odd name (doesn't say tasting spoons or feedburner) that requires you to confirm your email address before you'll begin getting the notification. See you over there . . .

Monday, March 31, 2008

Big Announcement - I've moved my Blog

My blog has moved to:

Just click on the link above to get there.
No more stories or recipes will be posted here.

Some months ago I made a big decision . . . that I wanted to "own" the domain name, Tastingspoons. Actually you never really own it, you just rent it year after year. As long as you pay the bill, you can take up residence at that site. So, after reading up about it, buying more than one book on different subjects related to html, WordPress (one type of software that runs the editor portion and design of websites and/or blogs), and CSS, I finally got it up and running. It's been a rocky and bumpy road for me to get there, but I'm now happy with the format of the new site. My new blog has additional pages (things about my favorite books of all time, for instance, and a page with most of my art, including short blurbs about them).

All my posts have been transferred (from the beginning of this blog), but comments can't be, so I'm sorry to say that the comments you all have done, will just have to remain here on this site. I'll keep this site up and running for awhile, but eventually I'll delete it. Everything is contained over at the new site.

Subscriptions: you can go on over there, to the new site and will need to re-subscribe there if you want to get an email whenever I've uploaded a new post.

If you want to to know more specific details about why I've done this, it was for a variety of reasons. (1) I wanted more options, more ability to make the blog look like what I wanted, rather than what blogspot thinks is the only way; (2) I wanted to add other pages without adding other complete websites, which was what I had to do through blogspot; so now I have a page for Books, a page for My Recipes, a page for My Art, and an About Me page that includes a whole lot more info, if you're inclined to want to know more about me than you already do; (3) WordPress designs are legion in number, i.e., there are just hundreds and hundreds of different designs out there in the web-sphere that work with WordPress and are FREE; (4) I wanted more font options than blogspot offered, which is very limited. Since my background is in advertising, I'm very particular about fonts and how they look. I won't have endless options using WordPress, but more than I do now.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Caramel Sauce

Knowing I wouldn’t have lots of time to prepare dessert for Easter Dinner, I whipped through my tried and true recipes for one that is easy, but looks like you slaved for hours. Aha! This cake fit the bill. It’s a rich, delicious flourless chocolate cake, with an easy caramel sauce that you drizzle over it. When Phillis Carey made this she talked about how easy it was to make. It truly is – you melt chocolate and butter, then combine with sugar, cocoa and eggs. That’s IT. Pour it into a greased and parchment bottomed springform pan and bake. Done. Then you just have to make the easy caramel sauce, which can be made up to a day ahead.

The flavor? Rich chocolate, no question. Low calorie? No, certainly not. Delicious? Oh yes. You need ice cream on the side, though, to cut the richness. And you can easily cut smaller servings to feed about 16 people if you need to. A small, very small, wedge is sufficient. We fed 9 on Easter and there were still 5 or 6 slices leftover. And I think the slices were too big for a dessert following a rich dinner.

You’ll be very happy you tried this. I’ve made this several times, always to good reviews. When it was first served to me at the cooking class, Phillis told us it’s better warm – so if you can, re-warm the cake in a 350 oven for about 10 minutes. If you have leftovers, don't refrigerate them. They'll keep at room temp for about 4 days, sealed up well.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Caramel Sauce
Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor
Serving Size : 10 (or up to about 16)
1 cup unsalted butter
8 ounces semisweet chocolate -- ScharfenBerger preferred
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder -- sifted
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream -- at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 T. rum or 2 tsp vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 10-inch springform pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
2. Stir butter and chocolate in a 4-quart saucepan over low heat until melted.
3. In a large bowl mix sugar and cocoa powder. Add eggs; whisk until blended. Whisk in chocolate-butter mixture and pour batter in prepared pan. Bake about 40-45 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan, on a rack.
4. Caramel Sauce: Stir sugar, water and lemon juice in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil - without stirring - until syrup is a deep amber color, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and add the heavy cream. The mixture will bubble vigorously. Return to a low heat and stir in any bits of caramel that aren't dissolved. Add butter and run or vanilla and whisk the mixture until smooth. This can be made one day ahead.
5. Cut the cake into wedges and serve drizzled with the warm caramel sauce with a scoop of ice cream on the side. If desired, using a baking sheet, you may re-warm the wedges of cake at 350° for about 10 minutes.
Per Serving: 650 Calories; 40g Fat (52.5% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 75g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 216mg Cholesterol; 59mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain (Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 7 1/2 Fat; 4 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
Printer-friendly PDF recipe.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Iceberg Wedge with Warm Bacon & Blue Cheese Dressing

It was one day a few weeks ago I noticed a chunk of Gorgonzola cheese in my refrigerator. I do really like Gorgonzola, and always have intentions of using it all whenever I buy a small wedge. I had about ¾ of a cup left over and needed a use for it. A stroll through my “to-try” recipes, and this popped up. Ah . . . crumbled blue (for me, Gorgonzola), bacon, red onion and a zesty mayo-based dressing. Sounded good to me. The recipe came from Bon Appetit in 2006, which you can find online.
A short bit of advice about Gorgonzola: until I took a class from an Italian chef, I didn't realize that when you buy Gorgonzola you definitely want to buy it when it's freshly cut from the big wedge, as you can start counting the days from that point, that it will last. Gorgonzola has a very short shelf life. If you see even a smidgin of mold inside the wrapper, don't buy it.

Nothing much was changed in my preparation of this salad – I used some less bacon than called for, and I didn’t have iceberg, but Romaine. The dressing is just mayo with fresh lemon juice, pepper, and a dash or two of Tabasco or hot chili sauce. I thinned the dressing down some – it was too thick. The recipe just calls for “buttermilk,” and you use your own judgment . . . about 1-2 tablespoons should be sufficient. You want the dressing to be more like pouring quality, so I did have to add something. Since I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, I used some milk instead.

The salad is easy. It’s definitely GOOD. This isn’t a “wow” kind of recipe – just simple, delicious homey food. Next time I might add just a touch of sour cream to the dressing, just to see if it would be a good addition.

Iceberg Wedge with Warm Bacon and Blue Cheese Dressing
Recipe By: Bon Appetit, January 2006
Serving Size: 6
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise -- can use fat-free
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1 cup blue cheese -- coarsely crumbled [or Gorgonzola]
1 tablespoon buttermilk -- optional
1/2 pound thick-sliced bacon -- cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 head iceberg lettuce -- cut into 6 wedges, each with some core attached, or Romaine
1/2 red onion -- very thinly sliced [or green onions]
1. Mix first 4 ingredients in medium bowl. Add blue cheese and stir until well blended. If too thick, thin with buttermilk by tablespoonfuls to desired consistency. Can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill.
2. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until golden brown and beginning to crisp. Arrange lettuce on plates. Spoon dressing over. Using slotted spoon, transfer warm bacon from skillet onto salads, dividing equally. Garnish with onion. NOTES : You don't use all the dressing, so the calorie count is way off.
Per Serving (not correct per serving): 700 Calories; 71g Fat (87.7% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 66mg Cholesterol; 1212mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 7 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
Printer-friendly PDF recipe.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Just a recipe . . . for grilled salmon salad

The other night I fixed a nice dinner for friends. And the best part was the friends brought an appetizer and dessert (thanks again, Jenny), so really I only had to think about the main dish and whatever would go with it. As I perused my recipe collection, I went through category after category thinking “what shall I fix?” And what kept nagging at me was . . . I’ve got to make something that I haven’t already blogged about. You see, as a blogger, (and likely most food bloggers agree) I feel the need to continually bring you, my loyal readers, new and interesting recipes. Not something I prepared 2 weeks ago, or 2 months ago that I’ve blogged about already. With those parameters, my possibilities were whittled down, big time.

You see, after blogging for nearly a year, I’m finally getting down to the last hundred or so recipes from my own personal collection. Sure, I’ve blogged about other recipes now and then, ones I’ve found on other blog sites or cookbooks, and I truly do still have lots of recipes to share with you. And it isn’t as if I don’t ever fix dishes more than once. I do. I just don’t blog about it when I do. But the pressure is there to post – or try to post – a new recipe and story every day. Some days I don’t . . . like everyone, I get busy, we have leftovers, or I just don’t have any “great idea” about something I choose to make or blog about. Or, I fix something new and don’t like it much, so surely I’m not going to blog about that!

So, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, we can move on to the recipe. I finally decided to prepare a grilled salmon salad that is one of our family favorites. My DH has been asking me to make this for several months. I hadn’t made it for a long time because I blogged about it last summer, when I was confined to writing, rather than cooking, when I fractured my foot and couldn’t walk or stand for nearly 3+ months. Back then I wrote up posts on some of my favorite recipes, but didn’t have pictures of them. This is one of those recipes. And now I have a picture.

But, since this one is so awfully good, I decided I’d re-post about it. It’s one of my top ten favorite recipes. And it’s one of my go-to recipes when I don’t have a whole lot of time to prepare a company-geared menu. This dish is a meal in one – a protein (salmon fillet), a salad (watercress and perhaps other greens), and vegetables (onions grilled, as well as some red and yellow peppers). Back when I was still a working woman, this was a meal I could shop for and prepare in a reasonable time after I left work, and still put a “company” meal on the table.

Here’s the gist of the recipe: it’s a large salmon fillet (we normally buy them at Costco) that’s sprayed with olive oil spray, placed on a piece of sprayed heavy-duty foil, edges rolled up to surround the fish. That sort-off foil plant is grilled on a moderately hot barbecue. Along with some red and yellow bell pepper strips too, if you’d like. Meanwhile, you prepare a simple Asian-style salad dressing with fresh ginger in it, and you mix up a big mound of watercress (I added spinach to the watercress this time because I had a bag of baby spinach on hand) with some thinly sliced red onions. I also toasted some sesame seeds too. That’s really all there is to it. You toss the dressing on the greens, carefully slide the hot, bubbling salmon fillet on top of the salad, then garnish with the red onions, grilled peppers and sesame seeds. I also drizzle a bit more dressing on top of the fish. Serve.

Cook’s Notes: you can use other vegetables (quartered red onions, asparagus, both grilled, or some steamed green beans – left whole, stems trimmed – and tossed with rice wine vinegar) but our preference is for the bell peppers and onions. Sometimes I add some halved cherry tomatoes to the salad too.

I’m not going to insert the full recipe again – just give you the link to go check out my first posting of it
last July.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Vermont Cheddar Cheese Bread

It’s been about 6-12 months ago that I first read about the No-Knead Bread. It’s made the rounds of bloggers around the world. Not too long after I read about it I tried it. And was positively amazed how good it was. And how easy it was. It’s just that it requires about 18-24 hours of time (very little of it with any work, though) to make. The dough develops a sourdough kind of flavor, and is baked in a heavy Le Crueset-type pan, with a lid. The pan creates its own hotter-than-heck oven, within the oven. Gives the bread a great crispy crust like the artisan loaves you may buy at your local bakery.

Some other blogger mentioned a book out there – Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I ordered the book, have read parts of it, and decided I’d have to try this recipe last weekend. The prep and baking method is very similar to the no-knead bread, although maybe easier since this one requires only a two-hour rise to start the batter.

The bread is a cinch to make, i.e., don’t be intimidated by the long list of instructions . . . they’re just wordy and very thorough. You can do everything by hand if you choose, but I utilized my stand mixer (with dough hook) to perform the harder work for me. This dough does not require kneading at all. In fact the recipe indicates you do not knead it. The less you mix it, the more of those wonderfully big holey holes you’ll get in the loaf.

The steps include:
(1) mixing up the dry stuff, the wet stuff and combining the two
(2) letting the dough rest for 2 hours
(3) refrigerating the dough to bake at a later time (up to 7 days later)
(4) shaping the loaves (takes about 3-4 minutes) and allowing them to rise
(5) baking in a 450 oven, on a pizza stone

I’ve only made one recipe so far, from this new book. But if this bread is any indication of the others, I’ll be making more of them in the future. Next time I am going to try using hard wheat flour too, and do my best to do less kneading. This version doesn't have quite the sourdough flavor the no-knead (18-24 hour) bread does, but it's certainly a worthy competitor.

Cook’s Notes: be sure to use ample cornmeal under the formed loaves so they don’t stick to the pizza peel. A pizza peel is ideal. Most peels are made of wood, but mine is a lightweight metal with a plastic edge (the peel is a big, wide, flat kind of spatula the pizza makers use to slide pizza off of onto the hot oven floor), but you could also use a cookie sheet that has no lip.

Vermont Cheddar Cheese Bread
Recipe By: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day -- Hertzberg & Francois
Serving Size: 24
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast -- granulated type
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup grated cheddar cheese -- sharp, or New York
1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast, salt and sugar with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
2. Mix the dry ingredients and the cheese, without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment) or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with dough hook). If you're using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.
3. Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately two hours.
4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next seven days.
5. On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a grapefruit-sized piece (if baking one loaf). Alternately, weigh the entire amount and divide into 4 equal portions, about 1 3/4 pounds each. Dust the pieces with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Allow to rest and rise uncovered on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel for one hour (or just 40 minutes if you're using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).
6. Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a baking stone placed on the lowest rack. Place an empty broiler tray on any other shelf that won't interfere with the rising bread.
7. Sprinkle the loaf liberally with flour and slash a cross, a scallop, or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife. Leave the flour in place for baking; tap some of it off before eating.
8. Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone. If it sticks, gently coax it off the pizza peel. Pour one cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until deeply browned and firm. Smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments to baking time.
9. Allow to cool on a rack before slicing or eating. Makes 4 approximately one pound loaves.
Per Serving: 147 Calories; 2g Fat (12.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 430mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 1/2 Grain (Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
Printer-friendly PDF recipe.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Monterey Scalloped Potatoes

You’d think . . . a scalloped potato . . . is a scalloped potato. But I’m here to tell you that not all scalloped potato recipes are created equal. This one is definitely different – it uses Monterey jack cheese, for one. And that may be about the only thing that’s truly unusual about it, although this version also requires you to make a cream sauce – one made with cornstarch and milk and cream. The recipe came from a woman who used to work for me, in the ad agency I used to own.
Occasionally, usually around the holidays, we’d have a potluck, and as years went by, it was just accepted fact that Kathy would bring her scalloped potatoes. These are just so incredibly good, and I’ve never – ever – made another kind since she introduced me to them. I’ve changed her recipe just a little over the years (adding salt and pepper, and cooking the onions before starting to layer the potatoes). And I’ve altered the ratio of milk and half and half depending on what I have on hand. Kathy’s original recipe called for all half and half, but I changed it some years ago to half milk, and maybe just a touch of heavy cream if I happen to have it.

Cook’s Notes: be sure to use Monterey jack cheese – it is what makes this recipe. And don’t skimp on the baking time – it does require a full 90 minutes of baking. I salt and pepper the cream sauce to suit my taste (making it saltier than you’d make a sauce because after all, it has to salt the entire dish). If you have it, substitute a bit of heavy cream for an equal quantity of half and half.

Monterey Scalloped Potatoes
Recipe By: Kathy S, a former employee
Serving Size : 8
5 large Idaho potatoes
10 ounces Monterey jack cheese -- sliced
1 whole onion -- sliced thinly
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 ounces butter
1 teaspoon salt -- or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper -- or to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350. Select a 3-quart baking dish with lid. Spray the dish with vegetable spray.
2. Slice onion and place in a microwave-proof dish. Cover with plastic wrap and cook for about 4 minutes, until onions are just barely tender. Remove from microwave, discard plastic wrap, drain and allow to cool to a handling temperature.
3. Slice potatoes (with or without skins) to fill halfway up the dish. Cover with half of the slices of cheese and half of the onion. Repeat potato layer, cheese and onions, until dish is filled.
4. Make white sauce with half and half, milk, cornstarch and butter. Heat until somewhat thickened and pour over the potatoes. Place lid on potatoes. Bake for 90 minutes, removing lid during last 20-30 minutes.

Per Serving: 348 Calories; 23g Fat (59.7% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 70mg Cholesterol; 561mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain (Starch); 1 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 1/2 Non-Fat Milk; 4 Fat.
Printer-friendly PDF recipe.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Applesauce Spice Cake with Caramel Icing

My mother used to make a simple applesauce spice cake, so when I ran across this recipe (from Gourmet, December, 2005) it took me back to my childhood. Reminded me of coming home from school and the house would be perfumed with spices. Those apple-pie kind of spices. I don’t have my mother’s recipe, so this offered an opportunity to try a similar one. I think my mother used to add chopped apples and raisins to hers. They would be an easy addition, even to this recipe.

This is a simple cake to make, including the frosting. Once you get all the ingredients together in one place, it’s quite simple to mix up and pour into a greased springform pan to bake. Once the cake is cool, it’s frosted with an easy cooked frosting flavored with rum. The cake has a couple of teaspoons of rum in it too (you could easily use rum flavoring instead). If you go onto
epicurious, you can read reviews of the cake. By and large, everyone who made it enjoyed it. A couple of cooks thought it needed more spices, and a couple of people thought the frosting was too thin, so I added a bit more powdered sugar than was called for. You pour the frosting all over the cake and let it drip down the sides.

My family went absolutely nutso over this recipe. I believe more than one piece was consumed the next day with breakfast (ah, I am guilty, your honor). It was that good. But, having read some of the reviews on epicurious, my supposition is that the frosting makes the cake. It’s not a normal frosting – but kind of a cross between a frosting and a caramel sauce. And maybe it’s the turbinado sugar too that makes such a difference too, although turbinado can be interchanged with brown sugar.

Cook’s Notes: use your own choice of spices, but what’s in the recipe gives the cake a pleasant, light spicy flavor. Add more if you like a highly spiced cake. The recipe calls for turbinado sugar (which I had), but you can substitute brown sugar. I added another tablespoon of powdered sugar to the frosting.

Applesauce Spice Cake
Recipe By: Gourmet, December 2005
Serving Size: 10
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg -- freshly grated, if possible
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup turbinado sugar [or brown sugar]
1 stick unsalted butter -- (1/2 cup) softened
2 teaspoons light rum
1 large egg
1 cup unsweetened applesauce -- plus 1 tablespoon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup turbinado sugar [or brown sugar]
6 tablespoons evaporated milk -- canned
1 teaspoon light rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1. CAKE: Place oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter pan and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in a bowl.
2. Beat together sugar, butter, and rum with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until combined well, then add egg and beat until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes with a stand mixer or 5 to 6 minutes with a handheld. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients, mixing until combined well. Add applesauce and mix until combined well. Spread batter evenly in springform pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Start testing the cake at 25 minutes so you make sure you don't overbake it.
3. Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then remove side of pan and cool completely.
4. ICING: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, then add sugar and evaporated milk and simmer, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in rum, vanilla, salt, and remaining tablespoon butter, then whisk in confectioners sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Cool to warm, about 20 minutes, then spread over cooled cake.
Per Serving: 374 Calories; 14g Fat (33.4% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 60g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 58mg Cholesterol; 226mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain (Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 2 1/2 Fat; 2 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Kurobuta Ham and Mustard Sauce

When I first started watching the TV Food Network, in its infancy, I really enjoyed David Rosegarten. He had a half-hour show every day around noontime, and regularly I tuned in while I had my salad or half a sandwich. He no longer has his own gig, although I guess he’s still a guest on some of the other Food Network shows. He’s moved on to bigger and better things, I suppose. He had a monthly food (mailed) news magazine, but now it’s an e-zine (The Rosegarten Report - available for a fee online). But you can subscribe (free) to his e-newsletter called Tastings, which arrives in your inbox every week. He scours the hills and dales of the world for the best food things, whether it’s caviar, olive oil, or in this case, ham. His endeavors tend toward the very high end, and I’ve reluctantly deleted most of the e-newsletters because of the costs.

But the story behind this ham was different. It hit a strong note with me. I’ve been, just like David Rosengarten, very unhappy with the state of the ham industry in the last 20+ years. Once the processors began injecting hams with water, I knew we, as consumers, were on a downhill spiral toward something that really isn’t ham anymore. I kept looking, but everywhere it was injected with water (with salt, surely, or sometime sugar too). Hams tended to be excessively salty – to me, at least. And yes, I’ve bought Honey Baked Ham multiple times. It’s okay if you like a really sweet ham. Somehow I think the sweet – the sugar and spices – just masks whatever taste there is underneath. And with my DH being a Type 1 diabetic (60+ years and counting), pouring sweet sauces or glazes on a ham make it very undesirable for him.

So, when I got
David Rosengarten’s epistle recently, about ham, my ears (so to speak) perked up. I read avidly through the article about ham. Got to the bottom line and found that one ham, a half ham at that, was $100.00 plus shipping. Once again, I was ready to delete the message. $100 for a half ham? You’ve got to be kidding? But somehow my fingers just couldn’t press the delete button. I decided to think about it.

David Rosengarten was disappointed in the ham industry too. He kept seeking out hams everywhere he could find them. He read up about the pig farmers around our nation. He called and spoke to some of them. He bought hams everywhere from small farmers, hoping to find that elusive taste he remembers from his childhood. Nothing. But he kept working at it, and finally decided 3 years ago to go into business with a pig/hog farmer in Idaho called Snake River Farms, willing to raise the animals with his specific standards. I don’t now remember all the details, but it’s back to the basics, grass feed, no additives whatsoever, no hormones, butchered differently, smoked differently, but fresh, always fresh. Here’s what David Rosengarten’s e-zine had to say about this Kurobuta pig:

About Kurobuta Ham: The breed actually arose in England, where it’s called “Berkshire” pork. But the English, in the 19th century, sent off a shipment of Berkshire hogs as a gift to Japanese diplomats—and the Japanese really flipped out. They gave the breed the name “Kurobuta,” meaning “black pig” (its coat is basically black), and developed an international reputation for Kurobuta pork, much as they did for Kobe beef. And Why Are These Porkers Superior? As you might expect, Kurobuta pigs yield meat that is indeed fattier than American supermarket pork. But—here’s the really cool thing—Kurobuta, though richly endowed with intramuscular fat, is not among the fattiest of breeds, which means that you never get a fatty, greasy taste when eating the pork. Instead, the real distinction of Kurobuta pork is a shorter, rounder muscle fiber—which, incredibly, leads to a much higher retention of moisture in the meat.

A week or so went by and I conferred with my DH about splurging on a special ham. He liked the story I conveyed about David Rosengarten’s Kurobuta hams too. So, I did splurge and buy one of these babies. It arrived on Thursday and into the refrigerator it went, where it sat until Easter Sunday.

Included in the box was a brochure with some of David Rosengarten’s favorite holiday recipes (to serve with a ham), and details about how to prepare this ham, this very special ham. My daughter, Dana, made the mustard sauce on Saturday – a very easy preparation, although it does have to be cooked. It thickens some once it cools off, but it’s best served warm. There’s nothing unusual in it at all – dry mustard, sugar, vinegar, cream and egg yolks. It was just delicious. David Rosengarten’s recipe came from his grandmother-in-law, Mrs. Hitchcock, so I continued with the name. Need to give proper credit here, where it’s due.

The ham, well, what can I say. It was absolutely wonderful. Worth $100? Yes, it was. Certainly more expensive than a whole chicken for Easter Dinner. We paid upwards of this amount for our kosher turkey just before Christmas, so spending $100 for the ham doesn’t seem quite so exorbitant. But yes, it was expensive. Too bad all the pig producers don’t learn a lesson from this, but their greed for more poundage and speed to market, means we’ll never have pigs like this unless someone like David Rosegarten produces them. Will I order it again? A resounding YES. The family is clamoring for leftovers.

Cook’s Notes: This combo – ham and mustard sauce – is pretty straightforward. The ham is nothing but easy. It’s heated in a 275 degree oven for several hours. That’s one of the “secrets” to the pork – you don’t want to heat it in a hot oven. Slowly, you bring it up to 135 degree internal temp and that’s it. No added seasoning. No glaze. How much simpler could it be?

David Rosengarten’s Kurobuta Ham with Mustard Sauce

1 half or whole Kurobuta ham

Grandma Hitchcock's Mustard Sauce
Recipe By: David Rosegarten's grandmother-in-law
Serving Size: 12 [this is just a guess, no servings were shown on the recipe, although it makes 2 cups]
1/4 cup dry mustard -- Colman's preferably
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 cups heavy cream
4 whole egg yolks -- beaten
1. Combine the dry ingredients in a saucepan.
2. Whisk in the vinegar, cream and egg yolks (beaten), blending well to combine. Place over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and smooth. Serve warm.
Per Serving (just the mustard sauce): 197 Calories; 17g Fat (74.9% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 125mg Cholesterol; 331mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 3 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter (about an article in Cooking Light)

I read the most interesting article in the March 2008 issue of Cooking Light. Written by David Bonom, a chef, it's about the four groups of tastes that comprise the food we eat. And why it's important. He tells the tale that when he was in culinary school he presented to the instructor a creamy broccoli soup for review. The teacher, Chef Pardus, tasted it and said "Good. Now take it back to your station and put a drop of white wine vinegar in a spoonful [of the soup] and taste. Compare the two." Bonom says that lesson was a lightning moment for him. He did as Pardus suggested and said the soup just tasted . . . better. He couldn't taste the vinegar, but there was a difference. He said the components (cream, broccoli, shallots) became more distinct. It taught him to consider the effect of acid, and that familiarity is how we learn to balance dishes.

Actually, the experts have added a fifth taste beyond the sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It's called umami, best described as savoriness. Umami is what happens when you add a touch of sugar to a vinaigrette, and when you slow roast onions.
The instructor-chef recently prepared a ham sandwich for the author - and commented that it had good balance. He said it's "the sweetness of the basil, saltiness of the ham, the acid in the tomato and pickled jalapeno, the umami in the bread, tomato and ham.

The article went on to give examples of how to flavor dishes we make with the different components. Here's the Cooking Light list:

  • Salty: soy sauce, fish sauce, cured meats such as bacon, pancetta or prosciutto, anchovies, olives, mustard, capers, bring or aged cheese such as feta or Parmesan.

  • Sour: vinegar, lemon and lime juice, wine, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt, tamarind, rhubarb, pickles, cranberries, mustard, lemongrass.

  • Bitter: radicchio, endive, watercress, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, dark chocolate, campari, brussels sprouts, grapefruit, coffee, walnuts, black pepper.

  • Sweet: sugar, honey, maple syrup, fruit juice, molasses, many fruits, chocolate, ketchup, caramelized onions, roasted bell peppers, hoisin sauce.

  • Umami: aged cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, vine-ripened tomatoes, mushrooms, corn, cured pork such as prosciutto or serrano ham, smoked or cured fish, shellfish, asian fish sauce, soy sauce, miso.
The article included several recipes, demonstrating these combinations of tastes. It also listed a short cheat sheet, of sorts, for what to consider when you're preparing a dish and know it needs SOMETHING, but you don't quite know what. Bonom says it's a nuanced skill. Sour likes sweet. Salt is constant. Bitter tastes should not dominate and can be balanced with salt and fat. Here are his strategies:

  • Too sour? Add sugar, honey, or another sweet ingredient.

  • Too sweet? Try a dash of vinegar, lemon juice or another sour ingredient. Salt will also tone down sweetness.

  • Too bitter? Add salt, if possible. Fats can also take the edge off bitter ingredients.

  • Too bland? Start with salt. A touch of an acidic ingredient also brightens flat flavors. Even a pinch of sugar might help round out the taste.

So, there's your culinary school lesson of the day. I clipped out this article and plan to tape it to the inside of a cupboard door near my range, so when I'm contemplating "what's missing," I'll have a reference.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Beef Stew with Currant Jelly & Cream

When I saw this recipe I was very skeptical. Beef stew with currant jelly? And cream in the sauce? But Cherrie, my friend, had just raved about this dish, said she and her husband both craved seconds, and leftovers. So finally, I got around to trying it. And yes indeed, it is very good.

Apparently it’s a Wolfgang Puck recipe. And if you’re not of the school that likes all those soft, soggy vegetables that usually accompany stew, then this version will float your boat. There are no carrots sticks or celery pieces, nor potato cubes either. There is, however, a mirapoix (that’s French for the mixture of finely minced onions, celery and carrots, pronounced meer-a-pwah) that’s part of the flavoring agents used in much of French cooking. And, it happens, that Trader Joe’s (at least in our area) is now selling a quart container of fresh mirapoix. That’s what I used for this, and it made the prep work on it so very easy. In this case, the beef stew meat is marinated in wine and herbs (overnight, preferably), then you quickly sear the beef and mirepoix in some oil to bring out that wonderful fond flavor (the brown stuff that sticks to the bottom of the pan). Then you add a bit of flour to help thicken the sauce, and add broth and the marinade before simmering for a couple of hours.

Since this didn’t have any veggies, to speak of, I should have added some mushrooms. I think they would have made a nice addition. And I served it on a bed of linguine. Probably not traditional, but was very good with the wine gravy. This recipe is a keeper.

Cook’s Notes: Allow the beef to marinate overnight if at all possible (I gave it about 7 hours). You can use any kind of red wine, although I wouldn’t use anything sweet, since the gravy is sweet enough with the addition of the currant jelly. Be sure to bring the stew JUST up to a simmer and let it bubble very slowly (below a simmer) for the rest of the cooking time (otherwise the meat will dry out). And next time I’ll be adding some small button mushrooms toward the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Beef Stew with Currant Jelly & Cream
Recipe By: Cherrie S's recipe adapted from Wolfgang Puck, via Our House cooking school in San Juan Capistrano.
Serving Size: 8
4 pounds beef chuck -- cubed 1-inch
6 ribs celery -- coarsely chopped
6 large carrot -- coarsely chopped
3 medium onion -- coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
2 whole bay leaves
1 tablespoon rosemary -- chopped
1 tablespoon thyme -- chopped
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 quart beef stock
2 cups button mushroom -- cleaned & trimmed [my addition]
6 tablespoons currant jelly -- red type
1/2 cup heavy cream salt and pepper -- to taste
1. THE NIGHT BEFORE: In a large bowl, toss together beef, celery, carrots, onions, wine, bay leaves, rosemary and thyme. Cover and refrigerate overnight, stirring a few times.
2. THE NEXT DAY: Drain meat & vegetables and save marinade and set aside. In a large, enameled cast-iron pot, heat 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering, add meat & vegetables in batches and cook over moderately high heat until lightly browned on bottom, transfer to large bowl. Repeat with remaining oil and meat/veggies. Return meat and veggies to pot, stir in flour and cook, stirring about 2 minutes. Add red wine vinegar and scrape up browned bits, add reserved marinade, tomato paste and simmer about 2 minutes. Add stock and red currant jelly, season stew and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally about 2 - 21/2 hours until meat is very tender.
3. Ten minutes before serving add the mushrooms. Just before serving, stir in heavy cream, season and simmer for just a minute to heat through.
Per Serving: 738 Calories; 48g Fat (61.7% calories from fat); 39g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 152mg Cholesterol; 1327mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 5 Lean Meat; 2 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 6 1/2 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cilantro Chicken

After having beef, corned beef, a casserole and crab, we were ready for some chicken. I flipped through more of my to-try recipes and this was the ticket. I had all the ingredients, which made it an instant winner! And it had citrus (it calls for lime juice; I had lemons instead), garlic and cilantro. If I’d started it several hours ahead, or even overnight, it likely would have been even better. But I did it at the last minute. It was delicious. I really enjoyed the garlic (6 cloves for 4 servings . . . wow), and the tang of lemon juice.

The recipe came from Sunset, in March of 2006, submitted by Cheryl Brown of Englewood, Colorado. The recipe blurb said Cheryl and her husband Rick once owned a restaurant in Littleton, Colorado, and this dish was a popular favorite.

Cook’s Notes: Start this a day ahead to get the best garlic flavor. Remember to pound the chicken so it’s mostly an even thickness (you’ll get more evenly cooked chicken). Use the remaining lemon juice in some rice to give it a nice zip too. A great combination.

Cilantro Chicken
Recipe By: Sunset, March 2006
Serving Size: 4
2 pounds boned and skinned chicken breast halves -- 4 pieces
1/4 cup lime juice -- or lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
6 whole garlic cloves -- chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1. Pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness (about 1/2 in.) and place in a shallow baking pan.
2. In a small bowl, mix lime juice, cilantro, garlic, honey, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour over chicken and turn pieces to coat evenly. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or overnight.
3. Lay chicken on a grill over medium heat (you can hold you hand over the surface only 4 to 5 seconds) and cook, turning once, until no longer pink in the center, 4 to 6 minutes per side.
Per Serving: 307 Calories; 6g Fat (18.9% calories from fat); 53g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 132mg Cholesterol; 416mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 7 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1/2 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
Printer-friendly PDF recipe.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Corned Beef for St. Patrick's Day

There are years when I don’t do anything special for St. Patrick’s Day. I may not even wear green. Even though part of my genealogy is Irish. I certainly wouldn’t ever drink green beer, but then I’m not a beer drinker anyway. What tilted me over the edge this time was seeing a Niman Ranch corned beef round at Trader Joe’s. You’ve heard it from me before, Niman Ranch makes some mighty fine meat products. The corned beef I bought was called a “corned beef round,” so I’d guess it was a slightly different cut. It had absolutely NO fat on it at all, and cost me about $14.00 for 5 pounds.

I also knew exactly what recipe I would make, too. My friend Linda T, a very good cook, has told me about her recipe for a couple of years, and I’ve been meaning to make this, so it was time.

The ingredients in this version aren’t all that different, but the cooking method IS a bit unusual: you simmer (always below a boil) the corned beef for 3 ½ to 4 hours, then cool the meat in the water until it reaches nearly room temp. (My guess is that time allows time for the meat to reabsorb some of the liquid it lost during the long slow simmering time). You remove the meat, spread it with a glaze and bake it for about 45 minutes before serving with vegetables you simmered in the cooking water from the beef. So you need to plan ahead with this – it’s not that it takes much hands-on time (it doesn’t), but you need to watch over the pot on the stove so it doesn’t boil (a very important aspect of this dish). It’s like braising – long, slow cooking at just under a boil. Keeps the meat more moist and succulent.

I wasn’t totally successful keeping the pot below a boil – I needed to run a couple of errands, and left the pot on the stove during that time. When I got back and lifted the lid, it was bubbling away. Perhaps a safer method would be to put the corned beef in a crock pot and pour boiling water over it, add the pickling spices and turn it to low right then and there. I’m not certain what temperature a crock pot on low is, but the beef might need a few more hours of that slow cooking than normal. With my crock pot (which is very old) on high it is boiling. I should measure the temp of the food one of these times when I use it.

If you use regular potatoes, just cut them into 4-6 pieces so everything will be done at about the same time. My favorite part of the vegetables is always the cabbage, especially simmered in that flavorful water. All the vegetables were done at the same time (I used fairly small carrots – if larger, you might want to give them an extra 5-10 minutes before you add all the other veggies).

The beef was moist and juicy. Easy to slice into thin pieces. The flavor? Outstanding. I’d make this again soon. If I could get more of Trader Joe’s corned beef, that is. I’ll have to look and see if they still have some and I might just buy one to make in a few weeks.

Cook’s Notes: remember to keep the corned beef below a boil during the 3-4 hours of simmering. Time the vegetables so they’re just done when the corned beef comes out of the oven. And save the cooking liquid – you use it for the veggies.

Corned Beef for St. Patrick's Day
Recipe By: From my friend Linda T. and she got it from her friends Jane & Auggie R.
Serving Size : 6
5 pounds corned beef brisket -- flat cut, if possible (more meaty)
1 tablespoon pickling spice
10 whole cloves
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 cup Madeira
10 small potatoes
8 medium carrots
1 whole cabbage -- cut in quarters
1 whole onions -- peeled, cut in half
1. Remove corned beef from package and discard all spices (if any) from the package. Trim off all visible fat, then place in a large, heavy pot. Fill with water to barely cover the corned beef. Bring it to a boil, cover and reduce to a bare simmer. Do not let the water boil at any time during this cooking process. Check the pot frequently to make sure it isn't boiling. Cook the beef for about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
2. Remove pot from heat, remove lid and allow the mixture to cool to just above room temperature. This is an important step. It will take about 1 1/2 hours. Remove brisket from the water and place in an open roasting pan. Keep the liquid you used to boil the meat, as you'll use it to cook the vegetables. Stud the beef with whole cloves.
3. Preheat oven to 350. Combine in a small bowl the dark brown sugar, dry mustard and Madeira. Rub all over the brisket and place pan in heated oven for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven twice (15-minute intervals) and baste the meat with the glaze.4. Reheat the cooking water from the meat. Prepare vegetables and after the beef has been in the oven for 15 minutes, add vegetables to the pot on the range. Do not overcook the vegetables. Serve the meat hot with horseradish and hot/sweet mustards, and with all the vegetables around it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mace Cake

With family visiting this week, and needing to get much bigger and easier dinners on the table every night, I flipped through the to-try recipes and this cake was the perfect solution. Easy. Made in a 9x13 pan with a oh-so-easy sugar topping. No frosting needed. I probably would have passed by the recipe except for the write-up about it. From Gourmet in 2005 (April), the brief blurb about it said that it’s a family favorite of Cynthia Knauer, the mother of one of Gourmet’s cross-testers, Ian Knauer.

I really, really liked the cake. Lovely, subtle, soft flavors of the mace. I don't think I've ever made a cake or anything where the predominant flavor was mace. You know what mace is, don't you, other than just one more little jar on your spice rack? It's from a covering on nutmeg pods. They're beautiful looking, these coverings, in a kind of whorly-swirl, a kind of husk.

I read the recipe over at epicurious also, as well as the reviews of the cake. All but one person liked it a lot. One person mentioned she'd made it with some new mace she'd ordered from Penzey's. Gave me an idea, since I'm certain my little jar of mace is many years old. The cake is nearly white-white, and with the sugar/mace icing, it's still a very light-looking cake. So serve it with strawberries (recommended by the author) to give the plate some color. She also said that it never lasts very many days in her house as everybody stops by the pan and has a little slice every time they go through the kitchen. I understand. I had to laugh - our family has done the same thing, slicing off just a little bite here and there. A tiny snack.

It comes together in a jiffy. You first make an egg and sugar batter, but you beat the heck out of it until it’s really fluffy and ribbony. Meanwhile, you melt milk with a cube of butter until piping hot. After adding a flour and mace mixture to the eggs, you stir in the hot, hot milk and butter, pour that into a pan and bake, after sprinkling the top with a mixture of sugar and mace. It probably took a max of about 15 minutes to prepare the cake, and another 25 minutes to bake.

Cook’s Notes: I used half Splenda in the cake batter, all sugar in the topping. Test the cake starting at 20 minutes, and remove when the cake tester comes out clean. It needs nothing else with it, unless you want to serve with fresh strawberries and either whipped cream or ice cream.

Mace Cake
Recipe By: Cynthia Knauer, mother of one of Gourmet Magazine's cross-testers, Ian Knauer
Serving Size : 12
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mace
1 cup whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter -- (1/2 cup)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon mace
1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 13- by 9-inch baking pan, knocking out excess flour.
2. Beat eggs with 2 cups sugar in a large bowl using an electric mixer at high speed until tripled in volume and thick enough to form a ribbon that takes 2 seconds to dissolve into batter when beater is lifted, 7 to 8 minutes in a stand mixer or 14 to 16 with a handheld.
3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and 1 tablespoon mace.
4. Bring milk and butter to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, then remove from heat.
5. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring until just combined. Stir in hot milk mixture until combined (batter will be thin).
6. Stir together remaining 1/2 cup sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon mace in a small bowl.
7. Pour batter into baking pan and sprinkle evenly with mace sugar. (Sugar will form a crust as cake bakes.) Bake until pale golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.
8. Cool cake in pan on a rack until warm, at least 30 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature. Cake keeps in an airtight container at room temperature 3 days.

Per Serving: 334 Calories; 10g Fat (27.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 56g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 94mg Cholesterol; 206mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain (Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 2 Fat; 2 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Fumi Chinese Chicken Salad

I remember it so vividly, the first time I had Chinese Chicken Salad. It was about 1977 or 1978. Regularly, I was flying from Orange County to San Jose, to supervise and train people in an office I managed (from a distance). I usually flew one morning, spent one night and returned home the next night. The office staff would take me out to lunch one of the days I was there, and a favorite place, close by, was Ming’s in Palo Alto. It’s still there, likely serving much the same menu as in the 70’s and 80’s. I tried the Chinese Chicken Salad, and was mesmerized. Most likely it was the fresh cilantro and the dressing that hooked me. Whatever it was, I’ve been a convert ever since. I believe that was the first time I’d ever been served a salad with nuts in it. What a revelation.

I must have missed the Sunset issue when
Ming’s recipe was published. Nevertheless, I’ve collected Chinese chicken salad recipes by the dozens ever since. One year, attending a women’s luncheon, I particularly enjoyed the salad served, and was able to procure the recipe. I hadn’t made this for years and years and years, until the other night. Friends had been invited to dinner, and they requested I make salad, something light, and easy. First, we had cheese (fontina and manchego with some pear jam on the side) for appetizers, with some wine, then the salad, served with ciabatta. Followed by the pumpkin custard I posted yesterday.

The salad is quite simple in its construct. Cabbage, head lettuce, green onions, cucumber, almonds, cilantro and the noodles (dry) from Top Ramen (without the seasoning packet). The dressing is nothing by oil, seasoned rice wine vinegar, dark sesame oil, a little sugar, salt and pepper. It does take some time to chop and mince, but this salad is not as complicated as some I’ve had or made. The guests, and the family, raved about it. One guest said he thought the salad had the perfect proportion of cabbage and head lettuce, and that they were sliced just right. DH and our son-in-law Todd asked me to make it again, soon. No problem. I’ll be happy to.

A note about steeping the chicken: It was many years ago I read an article in Sunset about the Chinese (Asian) method of poaching chicken, used for any cold chicken dish you wish to make. It’s so very easy, and produces a much more tender and juicy piece of chicken than you can do by baking or even using a rotisserie chicken from the market. If time permits, bring a pot of water to a boil and add some carrot, celery and onion (otherwise just use water), allow it to simmer for 15-20 minutes, then add the boneless chicken breasts. Allow it to simmer very slowly for about 5 minutes or less. Put a lid on the pan, turn off the heat and allow the chicken to just sit (steep) in the liquid for about 30 minutes. Save the broth for another use, if you want, then allow chicken to cool a bit so it’s easier to handle, and chop or slice.

Cook’s Notes: The produce can all be chopped and diced ahead of time. The Top Ramen (or Sapporo brand, which is what I used) needs to be hand-crunched – you don’t want big chunks of it in your finished salad. If you have trouble with it, put it in a plastic bag and whack it multiple times with a lid or pan to break it up. I used all Splenda for the sugar, and poured on all of the dressing. It takes more dressing than you might think. Be sure to use the thick, dark sesame oil.

Fumi (Chinese Chicken) Salad
Recipe By: Adapted from a luncheon I attended some years ago.
Serving Size: 8 (lunch sized portion; 6 for dinner)
1/2 head cabbage -- chopped
1 bunch green onions -- minced
2 packages Top Ramen -- noodles only, not seasoning packets
5 each chicken breast halves without skin
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
1 bunch cilantro -- minced
1/2 whole English cucumber -- chopped
3 cups lettuce, iceberg -- sliced
2/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
3 tablespoons sugar -- or Splenda
1 tablespoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon peanut butter -- optional
1. Chicken: If you have the time, steep (cook) the chicken by bringing a few cups of water to a boil, add a cut-up carrot, an onion, a bay leaf and some celery, simmer for a few minutes, then add the chicken to the pot. Bring to a boil again and gently simmer for 5 minutes (yes, five minutes). Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside for at least 30 minutes, then remove chicken to cool. Save broth for another purpose, if desired. When chicken is cool, chop into small bite-sized pieces. You may also use leftover chicken for this. This steeping method will give you a very tender and moist piece of chicken. If the chicken is very cold (or partially frozen) you will need to simmer it longer. If using any chicken pieces with bones, make sure when you chop the chicken, it is cooked through before adding to the salad.
2. Dressing: In a jar heat the rice wine vinegar and sugar in the microwave just hot enough so the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool, then add other ingredients, shake well, and set aside until ready to serve.
3. Salad: chop up the cabbage, lettuce, onions and cucumber. Toss these things in a large salad bowl until well mixed, then add in cilantro and chicken and mix a little. Top with almonds, sesame seeds and Top Ramen noodles. Pour dressing (you'll use most of it) over and toss well. If desired, you may sprinkle some more toasted sesame seeds on top.
NOTES : If you don't add lettuce to this dish, it will keep for a few days, but the lettuce wilts, obviously, within a few hours. If you choose to do that, add twice as much cabbage. If you want to make this lower in fat, switch the proportion of oil and wine vinegar. This salad requires a surprising amount of dressing. The Top Ramen adds even more fat to the dish, so I usually make it without it when making it at home. The recipe indicates it serves 8. It will, if in moderate, lunch-sized servings. For a dinner entree, this served 6.
Per Serving (not accurate because you don't use the high-sodium seasoning packet in the Top Ramen): 462 Calories; 32g Fat (60.4% calories from fat); 22g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 996mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 2 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 5 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
Printer-friendly PDF recipe.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pumpkin Praline Custard

I’ve been promising you, all my loyal readers (thank you, by the way), that I’d post this recipe. I mentioned it way back last Fall, saying that I had this low calorie, low fat dessert, perfect for the autumn months. I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I’m a big fan of anything pumpkin. Pumpkin pie is my most favorite pie. But I don’t make it, really, except at Thanksgiving. My will power is about zilch when it comes to pumpkin pie. I have an entire stack of recipes in my archives devoted just to all-things-pumpkin. Pies, cakes, tortes, breads, muffins, cookies, tarts, pudding, etc. But I try to stay away from them as much as possible.

The recipe came from Cooking Light, back in 2001. And the writer/developer raved about the flavor, telling readers it was worth making. I couldn’t agree more. This little number satisfies my yearning for pumpkin pie, but without all the calories, without the crust, and with a lot less fuss. And with very little fat. And it’s easy on top of it.

You’re wondering . . . where’s the praline? I ran out of time, so this time I served the custards with just a little covering of heavy cream (less than a tablespoon each). I make these in custard cups, espresso cups, or ramekins. If you use small cups, rather than ramekins, you’ll be able to serve more.

Whipping this together takes all of about 10 minutes (yes, really), then you bake them in a water bath for about 50 minutes, cool, serve. You whiz up the custard in the blender, to make sure the cinnamon gets distributed (ever noticed how cinnamon kind of floats everywhere it goes, especially liquid?). You definitely want it to disburse in this custard, so do use a hand mixer or a blender. But the ingredients can all fit in the blender bowl and takes but a few seconds to combine. Then you pour it into spray-covered ramekins and bake. I started the tea kettle to boil before I started the custard prep and by the time the water was boiling, I was all ready. But be sure to preheat the oven first – my oven wasn’t even hot when I was ready to put these in. That’s how quick they are to make.

A little bit about nutmeg here. I can’t stress enough, that there is real value (taste value) in using freshly grated nutmeg. Here’s a photo of a nutmeg pod. It’s about ½ inch in diameter, and I’ve had my nutmeg for years and years. I don’t think they go bad as long as they’re still in the whole form. So I bought this little gizmo, a nutmeg grinder, some years ago. It’s nothing fancy, comes apart in a jiffy, and contains the whole pods in a compartment in the top (you can see one pod inside) and the bottom part is the grinder. The flavor is so enhanced with fresh nutmeg. If you like to bake, you’ll find it worthwhile to have one of these grinders. As an aside, I went online and was going to give you a recommendation of a grinder, but having read reviews of several brands, I’m not sure which one I’d buy. They range in price from about $15 - $75. My little plastic one was under $10 when I bought it. Do read the reviews, though, before deciding on any of them. It appears the William Bounds ones get better write-ups.

Cook’s Notes: Make these enough ahead so you can cool and chill them. I serve them at room temp sometimes, and they’re fine, but the recipe indicates chilling time. You can make the praline pecans ahead of time.

Pumpkin Praline Custards
Recipe: From Cooking Light, 2001
Serving Size : 6
1 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk -- or vanilla soy milk
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg -- freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1. Preheat oven to 325°. To prepare custards, combine the first nine ingredients in a large bowl and stir well with a whisk, or combine in a blender. Divide the mixture among six 6-ounce custard cups coated with cooking spray. Place the cups in a 9x13 pan, add hot water to a depth of one inch. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove cups from the water bath and cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill.
2. To prepare the praline: combine the sugar and water in a small skillet (nonstick is preferable). Cook over medium heat for about 4 minutes, or until the mixture has turned a golden brown color, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and add the chopped pecans and stir to coat them. Then, QUICKLY scrape the mixture out onto a baking sheet that's been coated with cooking spray, spreading out as thinly as possible to cool completely. Break up the pralines into small pieces and use about 1 tablespoon on top of each serving.
Serving Ideas : If you don't have time to make the praline, you could also serve the custard with a thin film of heavy cream.
NOTES : This custard - or almost a pumpkin pie filling - is really, really good. And it's surprisingly very low in fat too. It's hard to believe it has so few fat grams! And the best part is that you can whip this up in such a short time. If you have the pralines on hand (or even candied walnuts would be fine too) it's a snap to make this. If there is any leftover batter, just pour it into another larger dish and bake a little longer than the cups.
Per Serving: 221 Calories; 6g Fat (23.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 73mg Cholesterol; 163mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 1/2 Non-Fat Milk; 1 Fat; 2 Other Carbohydrates.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Protect Your Brain with a Book

Did you know . . . according to Prevention Magazine (December '07) . . .

  • "Cozying up with a good book shields your brain from decline. Baltimore's Center for Occupational and Environmental Neurology studied 112 factory workers with similar blood levels of lead, a known mental health hazard, and those with an 11th grade reading level or lower did half as well on cognitive tests as better readers. Researchers theorize that bookworms develop a brainpower reservoir that's tapped when disease or aging threatens their gray matter." And, the article also says:

  • The average number of books a person has read in the last year . . . 4.
I read waaaay more books than that. I read a lot - not just books, but also magazines and a variety of things online. Puzzle type games are supposed to be good for our brains too. Well, with those statistics, I'm likely to live to at least 120 or more. ;-)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Beef Tenderloin Tips & Mushrooms in Puff Pastry with Horseradish Chive Sauce

Certainly you've had Beef Wellington at some time in your life, haven't you? I've even made it a couple of times in individual servings. Very good. This recipe is kind of like a Beef Wellington except the beef is already cut into cubes, and it's combined with a mushroom sauce inside, then served with a wonderful spicy horseradish sauce on the side.

The recipe is Phillis Carey's, from a recent cooking class. The subject of the class was "entertaining entrees." And yes, they were. Are. For entertaining. Two other recipes from the class I probably won't make (a pork tenderloin with port fig sauce and a chicken breast stuffed with spinach) as they weren't very "wow," in my book, anyway. If the recipes don't wow me, I don't even enter them into my recipe software program. But the orange roughy with leek sauce and this one I entered immediately.

The best thing about this beef tenderloin in puff pastry is that you can make it up ahead - like a week or so and freeze it (and bake it 10 minutes longer) - or you can make it up to 4 hours ahead and keep refrigerated until you're ready to bake for your guests. I like those kinds of options when I'm entertaining.

The origin of the horseradish chive sauce is interesting. Phillis loves the jar of similar sauce made by Rothschild, and she looked at the ingredients on the jar and created a sauce very, very similar to it. Certainly cheaper. And really quite easy. She combines sour cream, mayo, chili sauce (not the hot type, more like a thick spicy catsup), garlic, horseradish and chives. Everybody in the class was "mmmm"-ing while we ate it. I made these for a dinner party last weekend. Got lots of ahhhs. And I promised to post the recipe for our guests so they can make this themselves.

The beef: gorgeous tender tips of fillet mignon briefly browned; a sauce with mushrooms, onion, garlic, dry sherry, broth; puff pastry cut into quarters and rolled out to a larger square. Beef and sauce in the center, pastry edges brushed with egg then pressed together into a kind of envelope. Then it's baked in a hot oven. Have your dinner all ready during the last 5 minutes of baking - maybe even get your guests seated at the table. Whisk out the pastries and serve them immediately.
I did learn something in making these myself . . . I had a box of puff pastry in my freezer already. I also bought another one, because we had 9 people for the dinner party. I hadn't looked at the dates on either package, but the newer purchased one was actually older than the one I had in my freezer. I could tell the difference. Some of the dough stuck to itself. I managed, but it was a little bit difficult. So, my advice is to buy fresh (well, it's frozen) puff pastry and don't keep it long. I also didn't buy the recent package at a regular grocery, but an independent market, so it had been there in their freezer for nearly a year. The more recently frozen the puff pastry, the more likely it will be easier to roll out and manipulate.

Cook's Notes: be sure to defrost the puff pastry a day ahead - in the refrigerator. Don't do it on the kitchen counter, or the pastry sheets will stick to themselves. The beef cubes need to be ever-so-quickly browned. That's it. Just browned. They need to be still very, very red inside since they bake for an additional 15 minutes, and you'd like the meat to still retain a bit of pink. If you freeze the pastries, they are baked differently - don't defrost them. Bake from a frozen state, at 400 for 25 minutes. And I'm being repetitive here, but serve them immediately. No dilly-dallying even 5 minutes.

Beef Tenderloin Tips & Mushrooms in Puff Pastry
Recipe By: Phillis Carey, author & instructor
Serving Size : 6
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds fillet mignon -- cut into 1" cubes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pound button mushroom -- sliced
1/2 cup onion -- diced
2 cloves garlic -- minced
1/2 cup beef broth
1/4 cup dry sherry -- or pale sherry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 whole egg -- whisked with 1 T. water
1 package puff pastry -- thawed in refrigerator
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chili sauce -- "Homade" brand
2 cloves garlic -- minced
1 1/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons chives -- chopped freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Melt the 2 T. butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add beef cubes, in batches if necessary, and brown well, leaving the center of the meat very red. Season beef with a bit of salt. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Add 2 T. butter to skillet and cook the mushrooms, onions, garlic until mushrooms are beginning to brown. Remove to bowl with the beef. Add the sherry and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and reducing by half. Add the beef broth and bring to a boil. Mash together the other 2 T. butter and flour, and add to the broth, boiling until thickened. Stir sauce into the bowl of meat and mushrooms. Cover and chill the bowl for at least 2 hours, until the meat is very cold. (This refrigeration is necessary, otherwise the beef will overcook during the baking process.)
3. Cut each puff pastry sheet into 4 squares. Roll out 6 pieces into 6-inch squares. Divide the meat/mushroom mixture evenly among the squares. Brush edges of pastry lightly with the egg/water wash. Bring two opposite corners over the filling and overlap to seal. Bring remaining two corners over the others and seal well.
4. Turn pastries over, onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cut decorations from the remaining two squares. Brush the pastries with egg and decorate. Brush decorations with egg and chill until ready to bake, up to 4 hours. Poke two small holes in the top of each pastry to allow steam to escape.
5. Meanwhile, make Horseradish Sauce: combine all ingredients and chill at least one hour and up to 24 hours.
6. Preheat oven to 425. Bake for 15 minutes, or until well browned and heated through. Serve IMMEDIATELY with a dollop of sauce on the side.

Per Serving: 694 Calories; 61g Fat (79.2% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 161mg Cholesterol; 324mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 3 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 8 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
Printer-friendly recipe, click title at top.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Provolone Pesto Torte (an Appetizer)

One year, many years ago, my DH and I took a driving trip up to Wine Country, in northern California. We stopped here and there, wineries, the Napa Valley Olive Oil Company, restaurants (Mustard’s was my favorite), and a darling little gourmet market that’s located on Highway 29. I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s still there, on the east side of the highway. They carried mostly gourmet jars, cans, and a lovely selection of cheeses and olives, tapenade, grilled peppers, fresh bread and snacks. I was in heaven shopping in that little store. The clerk behind the counter recommended a cheese torte thing, to make a little picnic lunch we planned. He sliced off a wedge and off we went. Well, since you’re getting a recipe here, you can guess the torte was out of this world.

Once home, I researched a few cookbooks, and found nothing. I knew it had provolone cheese in it, some cream cheese and pesto, but I couldn’t pick out anything else. Weeks and months went by, and then one momentous Thursday morning our local paper (this was in 1989) featured an article about cheese tortes. Aha! I made it immediately, with just a couple of little alterations to it.

It's layers of provolone cheese, a cream cheese mixture, and pesto. It takes about half an hour to assemble it, maybe less, then it needs to rest in the refrigerator overnight. The instructions may seem a bit elaborate, but it's not difficult to make. Honest. It looks like something you'd buy in the gourmet deli, but I assure you, you can make it yourself easily enough.

Leftovers (left): I almost always have some leftovers of this torte, and we can only eat so much of the appetizer night after night. So one time I cut what was left into little chunks (I used a chef’s knife and just chopped and chopped, then tossed it into a piping hot pot of pasta. It’s almost good enough to combine these ingredients without making it into a torte. Everything melts when you toss it with piping hot pasta.

Necessary items: a 7-inch round bowl, flat bottomed, or non-metal bread sized pan or dish. It needs to have sides that are about 3 inches high. You also need cheesecloth - not something every home cook has in her repertoire. But it really is necessary. I suppose you could use plastic wrap, but the torte oozes a little, and the cheesecloth absorbs the fluid.

Cook’s Notes: This is easiest using thinly sliced provolone – maybe thinner than you get as sandwich slices at the grocery store – so ideally buy from a butcher who can do that for you. It makes the molding of the slices a lot easier if they’re thinner. Allow the provolone to sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before starting the assembly, as it's easier to mold it. As you arrange the cheese in the mold, try to press the cheese edges together to keep the pesto from oozing through as you construct the torte. The cream cheese mixture needs to be at room temp in order to spread it easily. Have everything ready and at hand when you begin the layering, and it will come together quickly. For ease, buy ready-made pesto, rather than making your own.

Provolone Pesto Torte
Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe in Orange County Register, July 1989
Serving Size: 30
1 pound provolone cheese -- sliced
1 cup pesto sauce
8 ounces cream cheese -- softened
1/4 cup butter -- softened
1 clove garlic -- minced
1 dash white pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 c fresh basil
1/4 c pine nuts
1. GARLIC CREAM: In food processor, blend cream cheese, butter, garlic and pepper. Stir in pine nuts and set aside.
2. TO ASSEMBLE: line a 9x5x3 loaf pan (or 7-inch round dish with moderately high sides) with clean, dampened cheesecloth, leaving excess to hang over the sides. Line the bottom and sides with HALF the provolone, slightly overlapping slices and pressing edges to seal. This is important because the pesto will leak through otherwise. Also, arrange the cheese on the bottom layer as neatly as possible, because when it's unmolded, it becomes the top.
3. Divide the remaining cheese slices into 3 portions. Spread half the pesto on top of the provolone in bottom of dish. Make a layer of cheese slices and spread evenly with HALF of the garlic cream. Make another layer of cheese slices, garlic cream and pesto. Cover entire surface with the last of the sliced cheese. Fold cheesecloth over the pan/dish and press firmly to compress it. Refrigerate loaf at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.
4. PRESENTATION: Unfold cheesecloth. Holding cheesecloth edges like a sling, gently lift loaf up a little to loosen from pan and release it back into the pan. Invert pan onto a serving platter or suitable tray. Shake pan gently to ease the loaf out and remove cheesecloth. Garnish with branches of fresh basil and pine nuts. Accompany with thinly sliced French bread, Table Water Crackers or other cracker. NOTES: IF you have leftovers, this is absolutely wonderful melted into fresh pasta - it just becomes the pasta sauce all by itself, and it also can be crumbled up in a big green salad, too. You can use pistachio nuts instead of pine nuts, if preferred. I prefer my own pesto - because I use less oil than prepared sauces. In a hurry you can substitute jarred pesto and Boursin-style cheese for the garlic cream portion as well. It will keep several weeks.
Per Serving: 147 Calories; 13g Fat (79.0% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 226mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 1 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
Printer-friendly PDF recipe.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spinach & Strawberries Salad

We’ve had an informal and infrequently-meeting gourmet group for a few years. Initially we met every couple of months, but then traveling got in the way of more than one gathering. Now we seem to meet only when one of us can manage to get everyone’s schedule to jibe. And initially the group was also a “healthy” gourmet group. We called it – and still do – the HGG (Health Gourmet Group). The healthy part lasted about 2 years, I’d say, and now it’s more like a “try to be healthy if you can” group. But when we do get together, we have a great time.

My friend Sue brought this salad to one of our dinners, and everybody just loved it. I’ve served it more than once since then, always to raves. There is an elusive flavor in this salad, or maybe it’s just the combo with the strawberries, which isn’t often seen in salads. Sue said the recipe came from one of her Junior League cookbooks. I’ve altered the recipe a little – reducing the amount of greens to serve 6 – it served way more originally, and I always had leftovers which didn’t keep, of course.

I made this as a separate course the other night for a large dinner party, while the main entrée finished off its cooking in the oven. I liked doing that because this salad is just so darned good to get diluted with more intense flavors from the beef we had for our entrée, or the seasoned vegetables either. Know what I mean?

Cook’s Notes: Get everything all ready ahead of time and it’s but seconds to get the salad mixed and served. Sprinkle some of the toasted almonds in the salad, then add a few more on the top of each serving (or if you’re passing the salad, just sprinkle them on top). Be sure to use baby spinach, as full-leafed spinach is too cumbersome to eat easily and a bit too tough in my estimation.

Spinach & Berries Salad
Recipe By: from my friend Sue, from a Junior League cookbook
Serving Size: 10
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 cloves garlic -- minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 cup slivered almonds -- toasted
12 ounces spinach leaves -- baby spinach if possible
1 head butter lettuce
1 bunch green onions -- chopped
1 pint strawberries -- thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh dill -- minced
1. Mix salad dressing - olive oil through onion powder - and allow to sit to mellow flavors.
2. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl and pour dressing (taste to see how much is needed) over.

Per Serving: 198 Calories; 17g Fat (72.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 75mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 3 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.