Thursday, December 31, 2009


When I was growing up, Christmas
was about eating. But it wasn't about cooking.

In fact, my earliest memories of Christmas morning breakfast is of the fabulous cakes my mom would make weeks in advance and park in the freezer, marked "Do Not Open Until December 25."

Her first Christmas standard was a Danish Pastry Wreath, which came to be known as "Huber's Christmas Wreath." As mom notes in the family cookbook, it "fell out of favor ... since it is very time and labor intensive." So when mom started working full time, she began making this "Bubble Wreath." I added the pecans this year, since not even mom's tried and true recipe can escape my need to make it up as I go along.

Bubble Wreath
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups flour, divided
1 package active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm milk
1 tsp. salt
8 T butter, divided
2 T light corn syrup
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
Cinnamon sugar
3/4 cup almonds, divided (optional)
In the large bowl of a stand mixer, combine 2 cups flour and yeast. Add 1 cup sugar to warm milk and salt and stir until dissolved. Add to flour mixture and begin mixing, scraping the bowl often. Add egg and slowly add remaining flour until it comes together in a ball (I used a total of 3 1/2 cups, but the amount will vary depending on your flour). Knead until dough is smooth. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and let dough ball rise until doubled in volume (about two hours)

Heat oven to 350 F. Put 4 T butter in a tube or bundt cake pan and place in oven until melted. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, corn syrup and pecans, if using.

Melt remaining butter. Cut do
ugh into walnut to golfball size pieces and roll into balls. Roll balls in butter, cinnamon sugar and then place in prepared pan. Let rise until dough fills the pan, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake wreath until cooked through, about 35 to 45 minutes. Immediately turn out onto a plate and cool.

May be wrapped tightly and frozen.

If you are feeling ambitious, here's the recipe for the original "Huber Christmas Wreath." I've made it, and it is a labor of love. But well worth it, especially since it makes two
wreaths, and you can have the second one for New Year's.

It appears to me that the first part of the recipe is making your own puff pastry, and maybe one of these days I would consider substituting frozen.

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
2 packages active dry yeast
4 cups flour, divided
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup very warm water
1 egg

In a bowl, beat butter and 1/4 cup flour until smooth. Spread on wax paper into a 12x8 rectangle. Chill on a cookie sheet.

Heat milk, add sugar and stir to dissolve. Cool.

Put water into a large bowl, sprin
kle with yeast and stir to dissolve. Add milk mixture, egg and 3 cups flour. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Mix in remaining flour by hand until dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Cover dough and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 16x12 rectangle. Place chilled butter mixture on half of the dough, remove wax paper, fold dough in half to cover and pinch to seal edges.

With fold at right, roll out from center to a 16x8 rectangle. From short side, fold in thirds. Seal edges and chill 1 hour. Repeat rolling and folding. If butter breaks through, brush with flour. Seal edges again and chill 30 minutes. Repeat, wrap in foil this time and chill 3 hours or overnight.

Cut dough in half. Cut each half into thirds.

2 cup almond paste
1 1/2 cup crushed zwieback (about 8 biscuits)
1 cup melted butter
2 egg
1 tsp almond extract
Mix together to make filling. Divide filling evenly and fill center of each dough strip with about 1/3 cup filling. Close edges and
seal. Take three strips and braid together. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment, form a wreath, 6" in diameter in the center (repeat with remaining three strips). Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly on rack.

2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 T milk
Mix together to form a glaze. Drizzle over breads.

Decorate with red and/or green sugar or candied red and green cherries (if desired).

I must admit, this year we took the"no cooking on Christmas" mantra to new heights. For lunch I put out cheese, meat and crackers. And for dinner, while friends of mine slaved over hams and turkeys and fixings all afternoon, we watched movies, took naps and feasted on frozen pizza....

Sunday, December 20, 2009


The kids finally got a chance to play outside in the snow today.
While the rest of the East Coast was buried under a foot or more of snow, we managed just 3 inches. But it was enough to make snow forts and have snowball fights.
And when everyone came inside to warm up, we made more snowballs. But this time we made them out of soap, to give to the teachers at school as Christmas gifts.

4 bars Ivory soap, grated on a cheese grater or in a food processor
1/2 cup warm water

Drizzle water over soap and mix until it becomes a clay-like mass. Shape into balls. Set on a baking tray to dry. Package in holiday wrapping.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Better than Betty

I think it was 8-year-old Diana who first said my cooking was "Better than Betty Crocker." It's since become the standard compliment if they like the dinner I make.

If they only knew that sometimes I cheat off Betty.

I hate to bake. It's far too much of an exact science, and I'm much more of a "Oooooo, think I'll throw in a little of that" kind of a cook. But when I was growing up, Mom always made batches and batches of Christmas cookies, and I want these kids to have the same. So I compromise, using Betty's mix as the base for all kinds of cookies. Each of these recipes starts with a bag of sugar cookie mix, prepared according to package directions (unless otherwise noted) and baked at 375 F. for 9 to 11 minutes.

White Chocolate Pistachio
Add to the mix:
1/2 bag of white chocolate chips
An equal amount of shelled pistachios.
Form into a ball or drop on cookie sheet and bake.

Mint Chocolate Almond
Add to the mix:
1/2 bag mint chocolate chips
An equal amount of chopped almonds
Form into a ball or drop on cookie sheet and bake.

Almond delight
Add to the mix:
1/2 tsp. almond extract (or to taste)
Form into a ball and place on cookie sheet.
Press 1 almond into the top of each cookie and bake.
Make a glaze with
2 T milk
1 cup powdered sugar
almond extract to taste
Drizzle over cookies after cooled

Lemon chocolate
Add to the mix
1/2 tsp. lemon extract (or to taste)
Form into a small log and place on cookie sheet and bake.
While still warm, top with 3-4 semi-sweet chocolate chips. Return to oven for 30 seconds. Use knife to spread chocolate over top of cookie.

Cream cheese and jelly thumbprints
Eliminate butter from cookie dough mix and add 1/2 cup cream cheese (I used whipped because that's what I had in the 'fridge)
Form into a ball and push a thumbprint into the top of each. Fill thumbprint with jam or jelly (I like seedless raspberry) and bake.
Make a glaze with
2 T milk
2 cups powdered sugar
Vanilla extract to taste
Drizzle over cookies

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mmmmmmmm mushrooms!

Once upon a time, green olives were my pizza topping of choice. But for complicated reasons, I had to switch favorites, so I tried their sauteed mushrooms and was immediately hooked. I've since moved away, but when I visited yesterday I stopped by for a slice. And while chatting with the new pizza guy, he told me the secret behind the mushrooms, which they make in the restaurant's Newport News kitchen every day. In fact, they are so good that the pizza guy said he puts them on everything he makes for himself.

I'm going to tinker with the recipe a bit, I think. But here's the basics:

Mushrooms (pizza guy said they slice theirs in quarters so they are nice and thick)
Dry red wine
Salt, to taste
Melt the butter and add the quartered mushrooms. Sautee slowly over low heat until brown. Add wine, stir, and let continue to simmer over low until liquid is cooked into the mushrooms. Season with oregano, salt and pepper.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Inside-out Pizza

Every other Saturday here is movie night. Part of the fun is the mystery of the movie: Scott and I pick it, and it's a secret until the house lights go down and the screen lights go up. So far we've seen everything from classics like "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Dark Crystal" to new movies like "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" and "Up."

But the other part of the fun is the special dinner and/or drinks we have in front of the TV, which is also a mystery until movie time.

Last week the mystery dinner was Inside-Out pizza, deemed by the kids as good a delivery from Papa John's. And at $2.50 a serving (vs. a minimum of $5.50 a serving for delivery), it was a hit with mom and dad too. And best yet, you can fill it with your favorite toppings.

Inside-Out Pizza

You can either use prepared pizza dough available in the refrigerator section of many grocery stores, or make your own:
1 2/3 cups to 2 1/4 cups flour
1 package yeast (Fleichman's has a pizza yeast, and I used that. But any yeast would do)
1 T sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 T olive oil
1 cup warm water
In a stand mixer with a dough hook, mix together 1 cup flour and the rest of the ingredients. Add remaining flour until dough forms a ball. Remove from mixer and kneed until smooth, about 5 minutes. Form into a ball and let sit 10 minutes.
Stretch/roll dough to form a rectangle that's about 12"x8"
Spread toppings to within an inch of dough.
Working from long end, roll dough slowly. Pinch seam together and tuck and pinch ends.
Let sit 10 minutes.
1 egg
1 T water
Whisk together and brush over top of bread
Preheat oven to 400 F. Bake until bread is cooked through and golden on top, about 20 minutes.
Slice into 1" pieces and serve with bottled pizza sauce (for dipping)

Topping suggestions:
-- Pepperoni, sweet Italian sausage (remove from casings, break up while cooking through), mozzarella and Parmesan
-- Mozzarella and Parmesan (for the kids who like their pizza plain).
-- Mushrooms (saute in butter, cool completely); chopped spinach (1 box frozen, thawed and squeezed throughly dry), mozzarella, feta or goat cheese (optional)
-- Deli ham, salami and cheese (Swiss, American or mozzarella).
-- Your favorites!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another Thanksgiving sauce

I've never been big on cranberry sauce. Truth is, I never really tried it. I think the wiggling cylinder of red good in a bowl on my grandmother's table scared me when I was young (heck, my grandmother scared me, which is probably more to the root of why I never had it). But here, everyone craves the stuff. So I decided to try something new for everyone and actually make the sauce from fresh berries. When one of the kids saw it bubbling on the stove, she was surprised it was possible to actually make cranberry sauce. What did she think? That the cans grew on trees??

Here's a basic recipe:
1 bag of cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Bring everything to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer until berries pop and sauce thickens, about an hour.

However I decided that if I was going to go to all the trouble, I would add extra layers of flavor to my sauce. So here's what I did:
1 bag of cranberries
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
3/4 cup orange juice
2 T water or rum
1 cinnamon stick
Bring everything to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer until berries pop and sauce thickens, about an hour. Remove cinnamon stick.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving apple sauce

When some people hear I make my own apple sauce, they look at me with the one raised eyebrow that says: isn't that the stuff that you buy in a jar at the Giant?

But anyone who has had homemade applesauce knows it's as different from the bottled stuff as pizza is from Pizza Hut. Sure, there is a similarity. But where as the store bought stuff tends to be shallow and runny, sauce made from fresh apples is rich and thick. And if you're going to be home and can stir the pot from time to time, it's one of the easiest recipes out there.

P.S. -- the apple sauce keeps in the fridge for about a week, so it's one you can make ahead. But I do like it served warm, which you can accomplish with a quick zap in the microwave.

1 bag apples (your choice. The sweeter the apple you use, the less sugar you need)
1 T butter
Sugar, to taste (see Note)
Splash of lemon juice
Cinnamon, to taste
Nutmeg, to taste
Dash of salt
Peel and dice apples. Put in a saucepan set over medium and add butter. Stir regularly until apples begin to break down and release their juice. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and continue cooking until apples are almost completely broken down. Add sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to taste (I typically use about twice as much cinnamon as nutmeg).
At this point you can either use an immersion blender to make a smooth sauce, or leave the chunks that remain to make a chunky sauce. I let my mood be my guide on that one.

Note: I typically use golden delicious apples and find they don't need any added sugar. But a more tart apple like granny smith will need some.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving starts early here

Sometimes, you have to ignore the calendar. Like when old friends and new family visit, giving you an opportunity to give thanks five days before the calendar tells you to. Which is why this year we had our first Thanksgiving on Saturday.

My soon-to-be Mother In Law and Sister In Law made these mashed potatoes (from a recipe by the J.M. Smucker Co. and found in the newspaper) for our turkey feast. And while I usual prefer my potatoes to resemble potatoes and not shredded paper before they are cooked, the add ins here make this a rich and flavorful alternative to my traditional mashed potatoes.

P.S. -- since this is arguably one of the biggest cooking weeks of the year, I'll be posting a collection of Thanksgiving recipes all week.

Make-Ahead Party Mashed Potatoes
(serves 20)
7 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 tsp. garlic salt
2 tsp onion salt
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, cubed and softened
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1 16-oz. container sour cream
1 15-oz. package instant mashed potatoes (9 cups)
cooked, crumbled bacon (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 13x9" baking pan with cooking spray.
In a large sauce pan, bring water, butter and salts to a boil. Remove from heat and add cream cheese, evaporated milk and sour cream. Stir until cream cheese is dissolved.
Add potato flakes and stir until combine. Spread mixture in prepared pan. Bake until golden and bubbling around the edges. Top with crumbled bacon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Muffin mood

Around here, school mornings are like a cross between Lord of the Flies and Survivor. The kids get themselves up, dressed and then the hunt for food begins. By the time I wander into the kitchen, it looks as though a herd of starving beasts have been and gone: all that's left are bowls filled with soggy uneaten cereal and the last crumbs of the last loaf of bread scattered about the floor, the counter, the table.

Then one night before bed, Old Mother Hubbard looked in the cupboard and.... well... there was some dust at the bottom of a cereal box, and a heel or two of bread, and two very black bananas. And this Old Mother decided she would rather bake than go to the Chow Tiger. First I made banana bread, and then I decided that muffins were a better choice -- less likely for the kids to take more than they could eat since portion control is baked right in.

So I used this muffin mix as the base for the Apple Crumb muffins the kids found on the table this morning. For tomorrow I'm planning Chocolate Chip. After that... I'm looking for suggestions, so please post!

Basic Muffin Batter (makes 12)
1 egg
1 c. milk
1/2 cup oil
2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Mix everything together. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray muffin cups with cooking spray, or use muffin tin liners. Bake until muffins are cooked through and golden on top, about 20 to 30 minutes.

For Apple Crumb muffins:
Add to batter, 1 large apple, peeled and diced
Pour into prepared muffin tin.
In a separate bowl, mix together 1/2 c. brown sugar and 1/2 c. flour. Add 3 T butter and cut in with knives or a pastry knife until forms a coarse meal. Use a spoon to divide crumb topping over muffin batter. Bake until cooked through.

For Chocolate Chip muffins:
Add to batter: 4 to 6 oz. chocolate chips.
Pour into prepared muffin tin.
Top muffins with a generous sprinkle of cinnamon sugar (optional).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not knots?

I know there's little nutritional value to most of the bread we eat. And I'm all about feeding the kids healthy foods. But some meals -- including anything covered in an Italian tomato sauce -- just can't be served without some sort of soft-in-the-middle white bread. Lots of Italian restaurants have perfected the garlic knot, and serve it with everything. I think I finally came up with a good at home recipe. And based on the fact that the plate was empty when dinner was over last night, I think I'm right.

Garlic Knots (See Notes below)
1 ball pizza dough (See Notes below)
4 T butter, melted
1 tsp. chopped garlic (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. dry oregano (optional)
Grate Parmesan cheese

Let dough come up to room temperature, about 30 minutes on the counter.
Meanwhile, melt butter, add garlic and oregano and remove from heat (the longer you leave the garlic and herbs in the butter, the more flavorful it becomes, so you can do this earlier in the day and let it sit).
Preheat oven to 425.
Remove from bag and cut into 3- to 4-inch strips. Loosely tie each into a knot. Toss in butter to coat (leaving most of solids behind). Roll gently in Parmesan cheese and place in a prepared baking dish (see Notes below).
Bake until bread is cooked through and golden, about 20 minutes.

1. You can use this same recipe to make a Cinnamon Monkey Bread. Omit garlic, oregano and Parmesan cheese. Add cinnamon sugar. Roll dough nots in butter and cinnamon sugar and proceed as above.
2. I've found pizza dough in plastic bags in the refrigerator section at Giant or Trader Joe's. If you can't find it, I've heard of people who have had success buying raw dough from their local pizza joint. The dough freezes beautifully, so buy several balls and store them until you need them.
3. Use an 8x8-inch pan if you want the knots to form a pull-apart loaf. Use a 9x13-inch pan if you want them to stay separate.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chicken and dumplings

I loved my grandma. Still miss her, and have questions I wish I had asked her. She raised twins, and she died in 2003, weeks after Niko and Lena came home and without having a chance to meet them.

But one thing I wouldn't have asked her about was cooking. Because while I loved her, we all did what we could to avoid eating her cooking. One dish I remember in particular was a chicken and dumplings that was more like a pile of floury goo than something I would want to eat if I didn't have to be polite to grandma.

So I was a little nervous about trying the dish myself. But I invented this one day because I raided the 'fridge and the pantry and the ingredients were what I happened to have on hand. And it went over so well that everyone requested I write it down so I could do it again. So here goes:

Chicken and dumplings
(this recipe serves eight, but leftovers reheat nicely)
4 chicken leg quarters (legs and thighs), skin removed
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
4 white potatoes, quartered
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, sliced
2-3 handfuls baby carrots
2 bay leaves
Put everything but water in a pot. Stir. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until chicken is just falling off the bone. Separate liquids from solids. Remove chicken, separate meat from bone and discard bones

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
5 T butter
3/4 cup milk
Splash of vinegar
Mix together milk and vinegar (or use buttermilk. But since I never have buttermilk, this is an easy substitution). Mix together flour, baking soda. Add butter and use pastry blender until forms a coarse meal. Add milk/vinegar and mix until forms a sticky dough.

Bring chicken liquid to a low boil. Pinch off quarter-size pieces of dough and drop in broth. Make sure to drop each dumpling away from other dumplings and let boil a little before they touch. Boil uncovered for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and continue to cook until dumplings are cooked through. Use tongs to place dumplings over chicken and vegetables. Remove bay leaves and pour broth over the mixture to serve.

*Note: Next time I think I'll try rolling each dumpling in extra flour before dropping it in the broth. I'm thinking that may keep the outer edge of the dumpling from getting sticky.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Meaty" butter sauce

My friend Julie, who as a farmer has plenty of access to fresh vegetables, passed on this recipe for a flavored butter that she said she uses on "anything green." I tried it on green beans last night, and am planning on serving it over broccoli tonight. It gives the vegetables an hardy, almost meaty, flavor. Which I guess is a strange endorsement from a (mostly) vegetarian. But I LOVED it!

Green vegetables of choice
3 parts butter (I used 3 T)
1 part soy sauce (1 T)
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Melt butter. Add soy sauce and vinegar and stir to combine.
Steam vegetables to desired doneness. Drain any remaining water and return vegetables to pan. Pour butter sauce over vegetables, cover and let sit 1 to 2 minutes before serving so flavors can be absorbed.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A cheap date for nine

Well, I did it. I emptied the 'fridge of leftovers, spent about another $8, and put on the table a Chinese buffet that the family rated as better than the last Chinese dinner we had out (which cost us about $100).

Here's the leftovers I had:
-- Boiled cabbage and carrots. These were leftover from the Corned Beef and Ca
we had the previous night and became the base of the filling for spring rolls.
-- B
arbecued pork. This started as a pork loin that I cooked in the crock pot in beer and chicken broth and served with a sour cream gravy, mashed potatoes and peas. I turned the leftovers into pork barbecue sandwiches later in the week (I just shredded the port and mixed it with bottled barbecue sauce) with cole slaw one day this week. I turned those into the barbecue base for Egg Foo Young.
-- Fresh mushrooms. Half a package left over from a salad earlier in the week. Chopped.
-- Cold white rice. There was probably two to three cups there.

Here's what I bought:
1 package frozen broccoli ($2), cooked according to package directions and cooled.
1 packa
ge frozen peas ($1.25), cooked according to package directions and cooled.
1 ca
n water chestnuts ($1)
1 bunch spring onions ($1)
1 package won ton wrappers ($2.50)
1 can beef stock (50 cents)

Here's what I used from the house staples:
Three Steak-Eze steaks
Vegetable oil
Chopped garlic
Chopped ginger
8 eggs
Soy sauce
1 sma
ll can
chunk portabella mushrooms, drained
Corn Starch
White rice

After dinner I took a poll of what people liked best. These SPRING ROLLS won hands down.
Mix t
ogether mushrooms and equal amounts of cabbage (chopped) and carrots (chopped). Moist
en slightly with soy sauce.
Separate won ton wrappers and place a few tablespoons of filling along the center fold in the two short sides. Moisten one remaining edge with warm water and roll, using water to seal shut.
(May refrigerate at this point, separated with was paper, until just before serv
Heat oil in deep fat fryer. Working three at a time, fry spring rolls until golden and crispy, 3 to 4 minutes, using tongs to make sure all sides cook evenly. Drain on paper towels.

nd favorite among both the meat and vegetable eaters, was also a meat-free dish: this VEGETABLE FRIED RICE.
In a large saute pan or wok, heat enough vegetable oil to coat the pan. Add garlic and ginger to taste (I used 1 to 1 1/2 tsps. each) and saute over medium heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Add cold rice and saute until golden. Add soy sauce to taste. Remove from pan and keep warm.
Gently scramble three eggs. Remove from pan and add to rice.
Add more oil and another round of garlic and ginger to the pan. Add mushrooms and saute until softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Add 1/3 of prepared broccoli and 1/4 of prepared peas. Saute about 5 minutes. Add soy sauce to taste.
Return rice/egg mixture to pan and saute together, adjust seasoning as necessary.

This EGG FOO YOUNG was a gamble. I wasn't sure how it would turn out, or if anyone would like it. But since the platter was empty at the end of the meal, I guess I won.
eat leftover pork barbecue. Add soy sauce to taste. Mound on a serving platter.
Gently whisk five eggs. Add soy sauce (to taste. I think I used about three shakes.)
Coat the bottom of a non-stick pan with oil. Heat on low and add eggs, stirring to scramble. Top pork with scrambled eggs.

Last up was BEEF WITH BROCCOLI, a traditional favorite.
Coat bottom of a saute pan or wok with oil. Add garlic and cook until golden.
Add three Steak-Eze steaks. Cook 5 minutes on first side, turn. As the second side cooks, separate meat. Once all the pink is gone, remove from pan. Add remaining broccoli and saute. Remove from pan and add to beef. Whisk together beef stock and 1 T corn starch. Add to pan, continuing to whisk. Add soy sauce to taste. Bring to a boil and reduce to thicken. Pour over beef/broccol
i mixture and toss to combine.
Serve over white rice.

Of course, it's unlikely you'll have the same leftovers in your 'fridge as I did. But each of these dishes was good enough that I would make them again even if I had to start with everything from scratch.

But more important, I hope my challenge to myself inspires others to look in the 'fridge and see what might be the start of an entirely different meal. And don't be surprised if the cabbage and carrots from your Irish corned beef become Chinese spring rolls.
Today I have a challenge for myself.
I have a refrigerator full of leftovers.
I want to turn them into the base of a Chinese buffet dinner for carnivores and vegetarians alike.
I'm thinking:
Spring Rolls (from the cabbage and carrots from yesterday's corned beef and a half a package of fresh mushrooms).
Egg Fu Young with Pork (from the fresh eggs and the crock pot pork loin that already reappeared once as barbecue sandwiches).
Vegetable fried rice (from the veggies in the crisper and the rice I made this morning).
Beef with Broccoli (using more of the Steak-Eze in the freezer).
Check back later to see how I do.....

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Salmon two ways

Neither of these recipes are mine. And they are so good that believe it or not, I'm not changing either in any way. Both recipes are probably technically a "sweet-and-sour," since they combine sweet and salty/spicy flavors. But they're nothing like the orange goo that you get on a traditional Chinese restaurant sweet-and-sour dish.

Credit for the first goes to mom. She served this salmon to the adults when we visited her last night (kids got fish sticks. I think we got the long end of that stick!).

Credit for the second goes to my dear friend Holly, who served this salmon rub to me in April of 2002. And the fact that I still have the recipe seven years later and use it regularly must be saying something!

* Note: While these are both recipes for salmon, I imagine these would work well on chicken as well.

Bourbon Glaze
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 T soy sauce
Combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer until marinade turns to a medium syrup.
Reserve half of the marinade and use other half to glaze salmon (or chicken). Bake, broil or grill until desired doneness. Remove from heat and brush with reserved glaze

O'Rink Salmon Rub
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 T allspice
1 T dry mustard
1 T dry grated ginger
Mix all ingredients together. Rub on both sides of the fish and let sit in the 'fridge for an hour (I'll admit, I sometime skip this step). Grill, broil or smoke to desired doneness (I think my favorite way to do this one is on the smoker, which adds another layer of flavor).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Potato bread

I didn't set out to change the recipe this time. I mean, everyone knows "Beard on Bread" is a bread baker's bible. But I'm just not organized enough to start bread rising in the refrigerator the day before I want to eat it. And I didn't realize that's what this recipe called for until the dough was mixed. So I tried a more typical double rising on the counter, and the result was a dense, low crumb bread that the kids voted the best potato bread they ever had. It was wonderful warm, with a little salted butter. But it was just as good the next morning, toasted (with a little salted butter). And in my dreams it'll make a wonderful French Toast (with a little salted butter). In fact, the next time I make mashed potatoes, I plan to set aside enough to make several loves of this bread.

1 pkg yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 T sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk or potato water (I used milk this time)
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 T salt
2 eggs
1 cup mashed potatoes (I used the real thing, but the recipe says you can use prepared instant)
6 cups unbleached flour

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water and let sit until foams, about five minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add milk/potato water, butter, salt and eggs and mix to combine. Add potatoes and flour, one cup at a time, and mix using a dough hook until forms a sticky but stiff ball of dough (alternately you can mix the ingredients together and then kneed about 10 minutes to form the dough). Shape into a ball. Coat a large clean bowl with olive oil or butter and place dough in bowl, turning to coat with oil or butter. Spray plastic wrap with cooking spray and loosely cover bowl. Allow to rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about two hours.
Punch dough down, kneed lightly and cut into two pieces. Form into loose logs and place in a loaf pan coated in cooking spray. Cover loosely again and let rise another two hours.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and continue baking until done, about another 15 minutes. Remove from pan, knock lightly on the bottom to make sure bread is done (it will sound hollow). Return to the oven without the loaf pan to crisp crust, about five minutes. Let cool 30 minutes before slicing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

They do call it CORN bread, right?

Remember what I said yesterday about following directions? Well, apparently it holds true of prepackaged mixes. Putting actual corn in corn bread?? How arrogant, eh?

Prepackaged corn bread mix
1 small can of corn
1/3 cup sour cream
2-3 T butter
Drain corn, reserving water in a measuring cup (you need 1/2 cup liquid, so add water or pour some out as necessary). Mix together everything except for the butter. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place butter in an 8x8" baking pan and put in oven to melt. Tip pan to cover bottom and sides with butter. Pour in batter and bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes.
Serves four.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Don't-Call-Me-Salsa Chicken (serves 4)

Call me arrogant, but I consider recipes suggestions, inspirations, but not something to necessarily be followed to the letter. I don't exactly measure -- or I don't measure exactly. And I almost always change something -- even this one, the inspiration of which won the $1 million prize in the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest in the late 1990s. Pretty arrogant, eh?

5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 T olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. chopped garlic
1 cup salsa (*See Note)
1/4 cup water
1 T honey
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (I used light sour cream)
Rice or couscous -- cooked according to package directions.
Heat olive oil in large saute pan, add garlic and cook over medium until golden, about five minutes. Add chicken and saute, turning to lightly brown on all sides.
Meanwhile, mix together everything but sour cream. Add salsa mix to chicken, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover, simmering until chicken is cooked through (about 20 minutes). Remove chicken to a serving platter (you'll want one with sides to hold the sauce in) and keep warm.
Add sour cream and stir with a whisk to combine. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.
Serve with/over rice or couscous (is yummy with the sauce)

*Note -- With more shelf space in the grocery store devoted to salsa than ketchup, you have plenty to choose from and whatever you have (brand, heat, etc.) works in this dish. But don't worry, the honey, cinnamon and cumin change the flavor so dramatically that you won't recognize the salsa. In fact, this tastes more like a dish from Morocco than one from Mexico.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Let them eat steak!

Yes, I'm a vegetarian. But the other eight people around our dinner table are not. Since majority rules around here, I often find myself in search of new ways to cook meats that I find on sale.

This week it was London broil (you could substitute flank steak in this one, if that's what you find on sale), which is economical even at full price and a downright steal when you find it for half price. I spent about $6 for a hunk of meat that fed everyone (except me, of course). If you're only feeding four, I recommend cooking whatever size steak you can find. The leftovers make a fabulous steak sandwich for lunch the next day (or so I'm told).

1 London Broil
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 T lemon juice
3 T brown mustard
1 1/2 T Worchester sauce
1 T soy sauce
1-2 tsp. chopped garlic
Mix together everything but meat in a gallon-size zipper bag. Add meat and turn to coat. Marinate in refrigerator, turning every hour or so, for at least two hours.
Preheat broiler to 500 F. Remove meat from bag, shake to remove excess marinade and place on broiler pan in the middle of the oven. Broil for 5 minutes, flip, broil another 5 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with foil and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Slice thin against the grain to serve.
** Note: I served this with baked potatoes, steamed frozen green beans and a salad.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Stir fry two ways (serves 4)

This recipe starts out as one large stir fry, and then right at the end I separate it into two: one with beef, one without. But you could also choose to make it all meat (add an extra steak and eliminate the vegetable stock), or all veggie (eliminate the beef stock and double the veggie):

2 tsp. crushed ginger
2 tsp. chopped garlic
Vegetable oil
1 bag frozen mixed Chinese vegetables
6 oz. mushrooms (optional)
1 can water chestnuts, sliced
2 Steak-eze steaks (*see note)
1 cup beef stock
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tsp. corn starch
2 T soy sauce (or more to taste)
Rice, cooked according to package directions (*see note)
In a large fry pan, saute ginger and garlic in oil until golden, about 5 minutes. Add frozen vegetables and mushrooms and saute until cooked through and golden. Remove from pan. Drain and reserve half the pan juices (skip this step if making all meat or all veggies). Add Steak-eze and cook according to package directions, separating meat after turning steaks over. Remove cooked meat from pan. Add beef stock and 1 T soy sauce and whisk to combine. Add 1 tsp corn starch and whisk to remove any lumps (I never get the lumps out, so I often will strain the sauce and return it to the pan). Bring to a boil and reduce slightly. Add back to pan half of vegetables and all of meat and stir to heat and combine. Remove from pan, wipe out pan and add remaining pan juices, vegetable stock and 1 T soy sauce. Repeat process with corn starch. Add vegetables, stir to combine and remove from pan. Serve both stir fries over rice.

* Steak-eze. I found this product the last time I was at Costco, and figured it had potential in recipes. It looks like pressed steaks, but when cooked the meat comes apart into layers designed to make steak sandwiches. I saw a picture on the box of the meat used in a stir fry, and was inspired to create this dish.
* Rice. I can't cook it according to package directions. It either comes out underdone, or mushy and overdone. So after much trial and error I have learned how to cook rice like you would cook pasta. It comes out fluffy and perfect every time. Fill a pot with a generous amount (two to three times the amount the package calls for) of lightly salted water and bring to a boil. Add rice, stir and boil on low for 16 minutes. Drain.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When you don't want to cook...

OK. So generally this blog is going to be the recipes for the real meals we put on our rather large dinner table.
But sometimes, even a mom who likes to cook needs a break.
And if you need a break, what's better than a $5.99 large pizza from Dominio's. For more information on the takeout only deal, check out the pizza company's web site here.

The ultimate in comfort food

After spending Sunday at the beach flying kites, it's now suddenly comfort food weather. And this one tops my list of favorites. The nutmeg and onion add subtle background flavor, but should not even be really recognizable.

Bakes Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb. elbow noodles, cooking according to package directions (if the package give a range of minutes, cook for the shortest time recommended as the noodles will cook slightly more in the oven)
1 small onion (or half a large onion), diced
3 T butter, divided
2 T flour
2 cups milk
1 lb. Velveta cheese, diced
Ends of whatever other cheese is in the fridge
fresh nutmeg to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a baking dish (see Note below) with non-stick cooking spray.
Melt 1 T butter in a small fry pan and saute onion until very soft. Set aside.
Melt remaining butter and whisk in flour, continuing to whisk over medium heat for a minute or two. Continue whisking while adding in milk (to remove any possible lumps). Bring to a simmer and add Velveta, stirring occasionally until cheese is melted. Add any other bits of cheese you have in the 'fridge (this time I had a handful of cheddar and mozzarella, parm and provolone). Continue stirring until smooth.
In a large bowl, mix together noodles, onion, cheese and nutmeg (I used probably 15 or so scrapes of a fresh nutmeg). Pour into baking dish and bake, about 45 minutes to an hour.

Note: Some people really like the crunchy top parts of the mac and cheese. Others prefer the soft inside parts of the mac and cheese. If your family likes the former, bake in a big flat dish -- more top means more crunchy -- and vice versa.

Lentil Soup, beer bread and fruit cobbler

This soup has been Gregory's favorite since he started eating table food. And I figure, it we're having a light soup dinner, it's a good time to splurge on cobbler for dessert:

Lentil soup
1 lb dry lentils (any color)
3 qts. stock (I use veggie, but you can also use chicken)
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 T chopped garlic
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
1 T dry oregano
1/4 cup lemon juice
salt/pepper to taste
Combine everything but lemon juice in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer and cook until just before lentils break down (I usually let it go a few hours). Add lemon juice and salt/pepper if necessary.

Beer Bread
3 cups flour
1 T baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. (+) caraway seeds
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 (12 oz.) bottle or can of beer, any kind
Preheat oven to 375. Combine everything except beer. Add beer and mix thoroughly. Pour into greased loaf pan and bake until cooked through, about an hour.

Fruit of choice (I used three large peaches and a container of strawberries)
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
1 3/4 cup flour, divided
10 T cold butter
nutmeg, cinnamon to taste
1 T baking powder
1/3 cup boiling water
Cinnamon sugar
Preheat oven to 350. Combine fruit, 1/4 cup sugar and brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour. Pour into a large baking pan.
In the same bowl, combine remaining flour, sugars, baking powder and cinnamon/nutmeg to taste. Cut in cold butter until forms coarse meal. Add boiling water and stir until forms a batter. Spread over fruit. Top with cinnamon sugar. Bake until bubbly, about 30 minutes.
Serve topped with whipped cream or ice cream.