Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thai Fried Rice

With Christmas safely behind us, I needed to figure out what to do with the left over Christmas ham. Ham fried rice is a favorite around our house, but I thought I'd give it a Thailand twist. It was yummy. Even my wife was singing my praises for this one. The vegetables are cooked, but still crisp. creating an tantalizing texture difference between the soft rice, tender ham, and the lightly crunchy vegetables.

Fried rice recipes aren't only great for using left over meat, but also left over rice. In fact, they work better with day old cooked rice rather than fresh. The rice absorbs more of the flavors and liquids that way.

Equipment needed
Kitchen knife
Cutting board
Large wok or skillet
Spatula or Wok tools

4 cups cooked turmeric rice
1 cup cooked ham or pork, cubed or ground
1 jalapeño pepper, finely minced (optional)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dry ground ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon chili powder (optional)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cups chopped mixed vegetables such as celery, bok choy, carrots, or bell peppers
3 eggs, beaten
3 green onions, thinly sliced
Parsley or mint leaves for garnish

Chop, cut, slice or otherwise prepare all the ingredients as noted above.

Heat oil in wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Heat ham or pork until it starts to brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Re-heat the pan. Add more oil if needed and swirl the pan to coat sides. Add the onions, ginger, jalapeño (if using), and turmeric. Stir fry until the onions just start to get soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir fry for 2 minutes more.

Add the fish sauce and soy sauce. Mixing well. Stir in the vegetables and stir fry 3 to 4 more minutes, just until the vegetables are heated through and crisp tender. Add the rice and ham and cook until heated through.

Beat the eggs and add a small dash of salt. Push the rice mixture to the sides of the wok or skillet and pour the eggs into the center. Cook the eggs for 2 or 3 minutes more, lifting and stirring to scramble. It's okay if some of the rice mixture gets into the eggs. Once the eggs are cooked, but are still a bit glossy, stir the rice into them, and stir fry 1 or 2 minutes more.

Remove from the heat and stir in the green onions. Garnish as desired.

Serves 4.

This recipe feeds four people, but there are six of us. Seven if you count my teenage son's stomach as a separate entity. Be careful if you double it, though. You don't want to crowd the pan and there's plenty to crowd it with. I ended up making two separate batches.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Cookies: Tangerine Dainties

Christmas and cookies just go together, don't you think? I sure do, which is why, every year at Christmastime, I make up a bunch of different cookies. My long time readers know this, of course. I've already got a few other cookie recipes here that you may want to check out.

This weekend, though, it was time to do something with the large number of tangerines my mother had given us for Christmas. Even though the family was doing it's best to devour them, there were quite a few left. They certainly weren't eating themselves. Then I remembered this recipe.

I really like these tiny, bite-sized cookies. Their small size may be part of the charm. They pack a surprisingly full flavor for their small size. The actual cookie has a buttery, mildly orange taste, not too sweet. The icing adds the perfect amount of sweetness, with a touch of tartness, to this elegant cookie.

If you don't have any tangerines on hand, use oranges instead.

Equipment Needed
Box grater or Microplane Grater/Zester
Several Baking sheets
Mixing bowls
Hand mixer
Measuring cups and spoons
Wire cooling racks
waxed paper


for the cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, plus two more egg yolks
2 tablespoons freshly grated tangerine zest
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
non-stick cooking spray

for the icing
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon tangerine juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated tangerine zest
1 drop each, red and yellow food coloring
1 tablespoon water, more as required

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray the baking sheets with cooking spray and set aside.

To prepare the cookies:
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar together with a hand mixer, at high speed, until well combined. Add the egg, extra egg yolks, tangerine zest, vanilla, and lemon extract. Beat with the hand mixer on medium speed until well blended.

Add the flour mixture to the bowl. Switch to dough hooks, it you have them, and mix until well blended and the dough comes together well. Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and place in the refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes to stiffen the dough.

Roll the dough into 3 /4 inch balls and place on the baking sheets. Better yet, get your kids to do it for you. Make sure you've got around 2 inches of space between them. You'll can easily do this in batches so, don't worry if you run out of baking sheets before you run out of dough. Just put the dough back in the refrigerator between batches.

Place the baking sheets in a single layer in the upper third of your oven.* Bake for 5 minutes and then turn the baking sheets around, so the cookies that were in the front of the oven are now in the back, and vice versa. This helps ensure even cooking. Bake for 5 more minutes.

Remove the baking sheets from the oven. Using a spatula, carefully remove the cookies and place them on wire cooling racks. If the cookies are too soft, and squish in when you try and remove them, let them sit on the baking pan for about 5 more minutes to firm up. Let them cool completely while you put the next batch in the oven.

To prepare the icing:
In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, tangerine juice, zest, food coloring, and 1 tablespoon of water. Using a fork, or the hand mixed, blend until well combined. Add additional water, a little at a time, until the icing is just a little runny. Set aside until all the cookies are completely cooled.

Once the cookies are cool, cover part of your counter or kitchen table with wax paper. Dip the tops of the cookie into the icing, and let the excess run off. Place the cookies, iced side up, on the waxed paper and let stand until the icing completely sets, about 45 minutes.

These cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week, or in the freezer for one month, assuming you don't eat them all first. A better option is to give any you don't think you'll eat in time to your neighbors as a Christmas gift.

Makes about 4 to 6 dozen cookies.

I know that icing each individual cookie can be a pain, but trust me. This cookie is worth it. Enlist your family members or friends to help you make them.

*Placing the baking pans this high in the oven ensures the cookies are well cooked, but the bottoms don't get too dark. Don't try and bake them on two different rack levels. I've tried it, and the cookies never cook evenly that way. It's safer just to do them in batches.

Friday, December 18, 2009

By Their Fruit Juice Shall Ye Know Them

The vending machine lied to me. That vile temptress took my money and ran.

Well, it didn't exactly run. More like it stood there, mocking me with it's quite hum. I'm not sure why I fell for it's trap. Thirst will do terrible things to a man.

The second half of my work day was well underway. My water bottle was empty, and I'd already downed a can of soda during my lunch break. The stresses of the day and a dry mouth had taken their toll. Something had to be done to quench my thirst and pick up my spirits.

Knowing I had a a few dollars in change, I decided to take action. With deliberate strides I left my chair behind and walked stalwartly down the aisle, entering the small break room. There it was. The vending machine. It's sleek, rectangular shape, promised more than just a snack. It's window revealed a world of cold beverages, some sophisticated, some simple. All were tempting to me with their shapely plastic bottles and colorful labels.

“Pick me,” they said. “I'm refreshing and tasty.” Oh, they knew their professions well.

“Buy me and I will make you feel better,” they promised. I shouldn't have listened.

I had already finished soda that day, so I was looking for something else. Something a little sweet, but healthy. Orange juice!

“Drink of my citrus flavor. I am healthy and good for you.”

I had been tempted by bottled orange juice before, though. Much of it promised sweet, yummy flavor, but much of it had been picked and juiced too green, giving it a horrible taste. I wasn't sure I wanted to risk it.

A coworker came in, so I knew I had to decide quickly. What would she think, finding me here gazing over these lovely liquids with such indecision? I noticed an orange like liquid in one corner, looking like faithful orange juice but not quite. Maybe this was a combination of juices. Perhaps orange mango, or orange pineapple. Maybe something more exotic.

“I won't let you down like some juice will,” it promised. “I will love you more than your regular juice.” It was exciting, extravagant. I found myself wanting it.

Embarrassed to be caught ogling such fruity forms, I hurried and pressed the buttons, A-1. My chosen beverage dropped from it's high perch and into the gaping hole below.

“You're choosing something healthy!” my co-worker said. “Good for you. I, on the other hand, need caffeine.”

I had barely escaped being caught and been complimented on my choice in one fell push of the button! Feeling triumphant in my wickedness, I returned to my workspace. As I walked, I turned the bottle over. Success! Orange Pineapple juice! Or so I thought. I opened the bottle and took a swig, drinking deep of it's bright, orangey essence.

Something was wrong. I could taste it. It was too sweet, and not really fruity. What was wrong? Looking again at the front of the label and then at the ingredients, the full horror of what I had done hit me. High fructose corn syrup! Natural flavors! Noooooo!

I had chosen a fruit flavored drink with only 10% juice. It was nothing more than expensive fruit punch!

I had cheated, and been cheated. I had found titillation in sordid images of other fruit, but it was all flash, and no substance. It's love for me was not real. It had only the semblance of juice, but not the power, thereof.

I had learned my terrible lesson. Never again would I choose the quick and tempting fruit drink. I would make sure it was pure, 100% juice, and not some Jezebel in fruit's clothing. I would not put myself in temptation's way with the evil vending machine, again.

Until tomorrow, anyway. I just might want an afternoon soda.

Photo by Vera Reis

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Making Chicken (or Turkey) Stock

Times being what they are, with the economy kicking us in the wallet, we need to take stock of our finances. Why not save some money by turning the bones of all those roasted turkeys, chickens, hams and whatever other animals my you're planning on devouring this holiday season, into stock? It beats buying stock it at the grocery store, and it tastes better too.

I've been doing a lot of reading on making stock, recently. Of course, that means something that used to be a simple procedure for me has suddenly become more complex. According to Jacques Pépin, the French create several kinds of stocks and glazes through reduction. Brown stock, white stock, demi-glace (half-glaze), glace de viande, jus, broth ... it's enough to make your head spin.

I've been experimenting with these things and to be honest, it still confuses me. The best I've been able to figure out so far is that if you reduce a regular stock by about half, you get a demi-glace. Reduce by half again (or more) and you get glace de viande. If you cook fresh bones, you get a white stock. If you roast them in the oven until they turn brown, before you boil them, you get a brown stock.

I'm not going to go into all the variations until I feel more comfortable with them. Instead, I'm going to share a simple way to make a chicken or turkey stock.

Whenever I have a left over chicken or turkey carcass, I save the bones to make stock with. It's okay if there's a bit of meat left on the bones. I don't know if you're really saving money, given the cost or the electricity or gas used to make it, but home made stock has better flavor, and a lot less sodium, than the store bought kind. I've still not gotten the hang of making a perfectly clear stock, but I'm working on it.

A good stock will actually have very little flavor. Stocks serve as a vehicle for other flavors when cooking. Some purists tell methat stock should have no flavor at all. I think they're daft. If you want no flavor at all, why go to the trouble and expense of stock? Just use water.

This is the simple way to make a white stock using chicken or turkey, so there's no cooking the bones beforehand. The fact that they've been cooked a bit in the bird doesn't seem to matter. You'll notice that there's no salt in the stock. That's so if you reduce it, it won't become too salty.

Equipment needed
Stockpot, Dutch Oven, or other large cooking pot
Kirtchen Knife
Skimmer or large spoon

1 left over chicken or turkey carcass
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
1 celery stalk, rough chopped
1 medium carrot, rough chopped
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 bay leaves

Break the carcass up so it will fit in your largest pot. The last turkey I had was so big, I ended up cooking the bones in two batches. Add the vegetables and herbs. Add cold water to cover the ingredients.

Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Skim off any foam or other scum (albumin) as it forms. Reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for at least three hours. If you cover the pot, or boil it too fast, much of the fat and albumin will be emulsified back into the liquid, making a cloudy stock that is less digestible and nutritious.

After 3 hours, remove the pot from the heat and strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve or colander. A chinois is the best option, but a sieve works fine for home cooking. Refrigerate overnight. Left over fat and albumin will separate from the liquids and solidify, making fat removal easier.

Put the stock in freezer bags or other air-tight containers and freeze.

If you want, you can boil the bones again. The resulting stock won't be as strong, but it's almost like getting a second batch for free.

This last time I made stock this way, I was able to make about 2 gallons of stock, a quart of demi-glace (the stock reduced by half or more), and a half cup of glace de viande (the stock reduced until all or nearly all of the water is gone). All of them tasted delicious. Not too bad for one left over turkey carcass and a few vegetables. I guess I was just stocking up for Christmas.

I've been trying to save the vegetable trimmings when I'm cutting up vegetables, to make vegetable stock with, but I'm not as good at it. I never get enough vegetables together to make stock before they start to go bad. What I ought to do is freeze them. Over time I'm sure I'd have enough to make vegetable stock with.

Photo by Mathieu Bernadat

Yes Virginia. If you click on the equipment links and buy something, I make money. You knew that already, though.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hot Buttered Cider for Cold Christmas Evenings

With winter's cold evenings moving in, not to mention the Christmas season, a warm drink inside can be a wonderful thing. Hot buttered cider is a perfect drink for those chilly winter evenings. Normally, this drink is made with rum. This non-alcoholic version is great for children, Mormon's, and other people who tend to avoid alcohol. If you want to imbibe, pour 3 tablespoons of rum into each mug before pouring in the cider.

Equipment Needed
Large Pot or Dutch Oven
Measuring cups and spoons
Strainer or Colander
Kitchen knife

2 quarts apple cider
8 cinnamon sticks
8 whole cloves
8 allspice berries
3 slices peeled, fresh ginger
4 slices lemon, halved
1/4 cup brown sugar
8 teaspoons butter

Cut the peeled ginger into thin slices, about the size of a quarter. Cut the four slices of lemon, 1/8 inch thick.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, combine the cider, cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, ginger, lemon and sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, to develop the flavors.

Remove from the heat and strain through a sieve or colander. Reserve the lemon slices and cinnamon sticks, if you want to dress it up.

Ladle 1 cup of hot cider mixture into each mug. Put one reserved cinnamon stick and one lemon slice into each mug, if desired. Float a 1 teaspoon butter pat on the surface of each mug, and enjoy.

Serves 8.

You can prepare this ahead of time, if you want. Just refrigerate it, then reheat before serving.

If you really want to get lazy, make this one cup at a time by preparing instant hot cider mix, and dropping in the butter. A few drops of lemon juice and a dash of ground cinnamon, won't hurt it, either.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pastry Tools

A little known fact of the Holiday Season is that it's also Pastry Season. That includes Cookie Season, by the way. I can't think of a better excuse than the holidays to bake pies, cakes and cookies.

Making good pastries is an art of precision. A few special pasty tools can go a long way in helping you find success.

Marble Pastry Board
Pastry doughs can be easily worked on a floured work surface of almost any kind. A marble board is ideal, though, because it helps keep the dough cool, making it easer to work with.

Pastry Brush
Used for sealing and glazing, the flat, paint brush, kind are much easier to use than the rounded varieties. Specialized ones are nice, but to be honest, I bought soft, 2 inch wide paint brush at my local hardware store, and it works great for me.

Pie Funnel
These can be fun, but aren't necessary. They sit in the middle of a pie, holding up the top crust and letting steam vent. If you want to spend the money on one, great, but you really don't need one. Cutting vent holes in the center of the crust, and perhaps a few others around the top, with a sharp knife will work just fine.

Cookie Cutters
There are so many varieties and shapes of cookie cutters, it would be hard to list them all, here. They range from simple round cutters, to pretty fluted ones, to hearts, alphabet letters, cartoon characters ... you get the idea.

Rolling Pin
A heavy wooden rolling pin, without handles, is the easiest to use, and will give good results if you know how to use it. The best way to roll pastry is to roll the whole pin under your palms, sliding your hands from the center to the edges to distribute the weight evenly. I have a large, marble rolling pin with handles, but it is a little heavy, and the handles aren't really necessary. Some people prefer a French rolling pin because the tapered ends allow you to turn the pin as you roll out the dough.

Pie Weights
Whenever you prebake a pie shell, it's best to weigh down the bottom to keep it from rising too much. Dried beans are a good alternative, but ceramic weights are heavier and will give you more consistent results.

Pastry Scraper
I love my pastry scraper. It really helps manipulate delicate pie doughs. It's an incredible tool that's uses go way beyond just pastry dough. I use mine to scoop up chopped herbs, vegetables, and just about everything else. It's also great to help me scrape up food residues on my counter and cutting boards, helping me keep everything clean.

Photo by Karen Barefoot

Monday, November 23, 2009

Baked Acorn Squash with Cornbread Stuffing

In keeping with our vegetarian Thanksgiving theme, let me suggest this wonderful alternative to the traditional stuffed turkey. Acorn squash is my favorite for this dish, but any good winter squash will do. This dish is simple, and tasty enough, that you may decide to make it more often, instead of saving it for just Thanksgiving.

Prepare the stuffing first, and let it come to room temperature, about 2 hours, before using it to fill the squash.

Equipment Needed
Baking Sheet
Aluminum Foil
Kitchen knife
Large Skillet

2 large acorn squash (about 2 pounds, each)
cooking spray, or 1 tablespoon canola oil

For the stuffing
1/4 cup butter or olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
5 cups dried cornbread cubes
1/2 cup vegetable broth, or water

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium low-heat or, if using olive oil, heat the olive oil until it starts to shimmer in the pan. Add onion, celery, seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the corn bread and toss to coat. Taste, adjusting the seasonings, as desired.

Remove from the heat and drizzle the vegetable brother over the top. Set it aside to cool while you cook the squash.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and spray with cooking spray, or coat with canola oil.

Cut the squash in half; remove the seeds and stringy bits. Place the cut squash, cut side down, on the prepared pan. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until tender, and remove the pan from the oven.

Turn the squash over and fill the cavities with the stuffing, dividing the stuffing equally between each squash half. Return to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes, or until topping starts to brown. Remove from oven and let cool, slightly. Cut each squash half in 2 pieces and serve.

Additional extra-virgin olive oil can drizzled over the top for an extra punch of flavor. A pinch of kosher salt or fresh ground pepper can be added, as well.

If you're not a vegan, you can use 1/4 cup of melted butter, instead of the olive oil, if you prefer.

Makes 8 servings.

Serve with mushroom and leek stroganoff, garlic and rosemary mashed potatoes, and other yummy side dishes for a great holiday meal.

Don't forget the sweet potato pie.

Photo by Greencolander. Used by permission.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Homemade Poultry Seasoning Mix

Many stuffing and poultry recipes traditionally made around Thanksgiving call for poultry seasoning. Vegetarians may shy away from it, but they don't need to. It's just an herbal blend commonly used with stews, casseroles, stuffings, and other poultry related dishes. Poultry seasoning is perfectly wonderful in vegetarian versions of such things, as well.

Sometimes, commercial herbal blends leave a little to be desired, though. Here's a way to make your own poultry seasoning. I use a spice grinder for this, but you don't have to. You could just as easily use a mortar and pestle or just a bowl and a fork.

Equipment needed
Spice Grinder (optional)
Mortar and Pestle (optional)

1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon ground clove (optional)


Put all the ingredients in a spice grinder and grind until uniform and thoroughly mixed. (Like I mentioned, before, you can also use a mortar and pestle or mixed them up some other way.)

Store in an airtight container. Use to season dressings, stuffings, and other dishes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Garlic and Rosemary Mashed Potatoes

I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as creamy mashed potato. The classic boiled potato, mashed with milk, butter, and salt, is hard to beat. Still, I've always loved thinking of mashes potatoes as a blank canvas that I could paint flavors on ... er ... in.

Now that I've murdered enough metaphors, it's time to get down to Thanksgiving business. I really like this variation, not only for the garlic and rosemary, but for the extra edge given to it by adding goat milk cheese (chèvre). Chèvre can be kind of expensive, so this isn't something you'll want to make all the time. For a celebration, though, the extra flavor is worth it.

If you can't find chèvre, or it's price is beyond your pocket book, you can substitute it with cream cheese or American neufchatel cheese. Not only is this lighter on your budget, it has a lighter flavor, as well.

This recipe can easily be scaled down for an intimate evening for two, or up for a large army, otherwise known as extended family. If you're making these garlic and rosemary mashed potatoes for a large Thanksgiving get-together, the cream cheese option may be needed. You don't want to break your bank account just to feed mashed potatoes to your grumpy Aunt Matilda, even if they are delicious. She's never appreciate your cooking anyway.

Equipment Needed
Large pot or Dutch Oven
Kitchen Knife
Cutting Board
Measuring Spoons
Garlic Press

8 medium potatoes (about 3 pounds of russet, Yukon gold, or a combination of both)
15 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Milk, as needed
3 1/2 oz. chèvre (goat milk cheese)
2 teaspoons of chopped, fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Peel the potatoes and cut into roughly 2 or 3 inch pieces. Put the cut potatoes, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the salt into a large Dutch oven or pot. Add enough water to cover the potatoes. Bring the pot to the boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

Drain the liquid, returning the potatoes to the pot if needed. Add the goat milk cheese, rosemary, pepper, and the remaining salt. Mash, adding milk a little at a time as needed, until creamy. Adjust seasonings as desired.

Serve as a side dish or smothered in Mushroom and Leek Strogonoff.

Makes 8 servings

Shepherd Dairy in Erda, Utah, makes an excellent chèvre cheese. It can now be found in many local supermarkets. It's my favorite goat milk cheese. Use a rolling pin to crush dried rosemary, and it won't poke you in the gums when you eat it.