Sunday, December 23, 2012

Leaving the Kitchen

To save money on gas, I’ve started riding the bus to work. Because it takes twice as long to get to and from work, now, my wife and kids have started to take over cooking supper.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I know, I know. In almost every other Mormon household it’s expected that the ladies do the cookin’ while the men-folk work in the fields. That stereotype is a bunch of crock, by the way, historically as well as modernly, but we’ll go into that later. Maybe.

The point is they’re not used to it. From the day my wife and I got married I’ve done the bulk of the cooking and grocery shopping. She hates cooking and is frankly better at fixing most broken stuff around the house than I am, and it’s worked out pretty well for us so far.

Now I’m worried. Remember, my wife hates cooking. My kids know a little about it. My 11 year old has taken to it pretty well, but her repertoire is limited. When people don’t like to cook, they tend to rely on premade stuff. More expensive. Less tasty.

So far, it’s been okay. The only thing I’ve had to do is ask for more vegetables. “Yes, dear, I enjoyed the things you called “chicken enchiladas,” but it would have been nice to have something green to go with it.” My wife caved into my wishes by steaming some broccoli the next evening. I only hope that they will continue this trend of making things better and better as time goes on.

My other concern is grocery shopping. Out of necessity, I’ve gotten pretty adept at finding ways to lower our food budget. Some things are still worth paying more for, but other items are not. I’ve been teaching my daughters how to calculate a deal. They know how to compare cost per ounce, not just what seems to be the cost based on the sticker. “On Sale” doesn’t always mean a better deal. In fact, my local grocery store is notorious for putting things “on sale” for the regular price, right before they raise it. Because my daughters know how to check this, I’m not too worried about them. The trouble is that my wife is going to be doing most of the shopping. She hates grocery shopping as much as she hates cooking, maybe more. Consequently, she’ll go for convenience and expediency as much as checking the value and price. Case in point, the last time we went shopping she stocked the cart high and paid out about half again as much as I would have. I’m not saying we couldn’t use the things she bought. She just makes me nervous.

The real reason for all this concern is that, whether I like to admit it or not, I’m a control freak when it comes to the kitchen and pantry. At least I have been. The kitchen has been my domain for so many years; it’s hard to give up its daily control. Letting things go is good, though. Or so they tell me. It’s not like I won’t still be cooking on the weekends. I just have to get used to the idea that my kitchen is being occupied by a well meaning alien invasion force.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Broccoli and Garlic Alfredo

Alfredo sauce is a rich, delicious, creamy classic for pasta. Sometimes it can get boring, though. It can be a bit much as a main course, too. Some people will kick it up by adding a cooked chicken breast. Not a bad choice, but white on white seems a bit much for me, most days. What about adding a bit of green and use up some leftover broccoli, instead? Some garlic would be nice, too. Traditional Alfredo sauce doesn't have any.

Equipment needed
rasp grater
measuring cups and spoons
Dutch oven or large pot
large nonstick skillet

1 small head of broccoli
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups heavy cream
1 pound spaghetti or other pasta
2 tablespoons butter
pinch of nutmeg
salt and ground black pepper, as needed
chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Remove the florets from the broccoli, cutting any large ones in half. Remove the tough outer layer from the stem. Cut the peeled stem into 1-inch pieces.

Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot or Dutch oven.

In the meantime, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the broccoli and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about  30 seconds. Add the cream to the skillet and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until thickened, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and keep warm.

When the water comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the past is tender but still a little firm, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

Working quickly, whisk the butter, nutmeg, and Parmesan cheese into the cream mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss to coat. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water, just a little at a time, to loosen. Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese, ground black pepper, or chopped parsley, if desired

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Making a Pinky Pie

Making food should be fun. Sometimes it’s not much fun, I’ll admit. Creating food that is fun to see, and eat, can be rewarding, though, even if making it presents a few problems.

One of our family’s traditions is that I make my kids a special birthday cake, decorated according to their interests and personality. For better or worse, my 20 year old son is a Brony. For those who don’t know, a Brony is an adult fan of the My Little Pony show. Yes, Virginia, my son watches a show  designed for little girls. He’s not alone. There are plenty of adults from all walks of life that love that show. With that in mind, I had to figure out how to make the Boy a My Little Pony themed birthday cake.

The Boy is not a huge cake fan. Neither is his younger sister. His favorite My Little Pony character is named Pinky Pie. In a state of punnific inspiration, I threw out the cake idea and make him a birthday pie, instead.

I didn’t have a lot of time with this one so, I did the only thing a sensible person would do. I turned to the baking shelves in the grocery store and bought a cheese cake mix, adding a bit of red food coloring to make it pink.

Next came the pattern. I’d found a Pinky Pie t-shirt for sale on the web, and downloaded a picture of it, copying the stylized portrait of that particular little pony onto a sheet of paper to make a pattern for the top of the cake.

Fortune smiled on me in the form of left-over fondant in the freezer. I mixed more red food coloring with some of it to fashion the mane, and left the rest white for the eyes. For the iris, I mixed up some blue food coloring with granulated sugar and sprinkled it on top. The rest was a combination of red and black decorating gel.

A word of warning about decorating gel. Don’t apply it until just before serving. It will separate and seep a colored sugar-water over the rest of your project if you let it sit very long. Blech.

I’m not going to kid you. It was fun, but it was a pain. I had trouble with the pattern. It stuck to the top of the cheesecake when I was trying to transfer the outline. The fondant kept getting way to warm to handle way too quickly and didn’t want to behave, especially for the mane. The blue sugar didn’t want to lay down where I wanted it to. (In retrospect, I should have made the irises from blue fondant). I had to make it a day prior to my son coming for a visit, due to scheduling problems, and so I was mopping up red and black seepage from the gel before showing it to him. ARRRRGGGG!

The work was worth it, though, at least in retrospect. It really was fun to present, and eat. My wife and daughters were impressed. My son was ecstatic. How could he not be? I’d make him a Pinky Pie for his birthday.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Classic Reuben

Sometimes, you just want a big sandwich. I’m not talking about peanut butter and jelly, although I enjoy those quite a bit. I’m talking lots of deli meat, cheese and other stuff hot off the grill. Enter, the Reuben sandwich.

The classic Reuben is a hot sandwich, chock full of corned beef, with swish cheese, thousand island dressing and sauerkraut, served on rye bread and then grilled. Several variations exist including the Rachael, substituting pastrami or turkey for the corned beef and coleslaw for the sauerkraut. On the west coast and in Vegas they substitute Dijon mustard for the thousand island dressing. In Florida they really get weird, substituting grouper for the corned beef and using coleslaw.

The origin of the Reuben depends on who you talk to. One account credits Reuben Kulakofsky, a Lithuanian-born grocer from Nebraska. It may have been a group effort by Kulakofsky and his poker buddies. They held a weekly poker night in the Blackstone Hotel between1920 and 1935. The sandwich first gained local fame when Charles Schimmel, the hotel’s owner, put it on the Blackstone's lunch menu.

Another account credits Arnold Reuben, the owner of the once-famous Reuben's Delicatessen in New York. According to an interview with Craig Claiborne, Reuben invented the "Reuben special" around 1914. A few others are around as well, blaming different culprits and celebrities. Whatever story is true, this is a filling and satisfying sandwich.

Equipment needed
mesh strainer
measuring cups
non-stick skillet
dutch oven, stockpot, or cast iron skillet
cooling rack
rimmed baking sheet

1 pound sauerkraut
2 tablespoons butter, or more as needed
8 slices rye bread
3/4 cup thousand island dressing
8 slices Swiss cheese (8 ounces)
1 1/5 pounds corned beef, thinly sliced

Rinse the sauerkraut in a mesh strainer under cold running water. Drain well and squeeze out as much excess moisture as you can.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Assemble the sandwiches by layering the ingredients as follows:
1 slice rye bread
1 tablespoon dressing
1 slice Swiss cheese
1/3 cup sauerkraut
another tablespoon dressing
6 ounces corned beef
another slice of Swiss cheese
1 more tablespoon of dressing
1 slice of rye bread on top

Press gently down on the sandwich to set everything together.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Spread 1 teaspoon butter over one side of each sandwich and put them in the hot skillet, butter-side down. You should be able to do two sandwiches as a time. Place a dutch oven, stockpot, or a cast iron skillet over the top as a weight to press them down. Cook until crisp and golden, about 3-5 minutes. Remove the weight and spread more butter on top. Flip the sandwiches, replace the weight, and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet in the oven to keep them warm while you cook the remaining sandwiches. Cut them in half if desired. Serve with pickle and potato chips.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

If you have an electric grill, or pannini grill, the process is much simpler. Butter both sides of the sandwiches and cook until crisp and golden.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cuban Black Beans – Not Just for Ricky Ricardo

When Lucy Ricardo got in trouble in the I Love Lucy TV show, she might have less “splainin’ to do” if she’d softened up Ricky’s heart with this Cuban black beans and rice recipe. Sauteed vegetables, bacon, cumin, and chorizo, give these beans an authentic Cuban flavor. Serve them with plain white rice and lime wedges. You can add sour cream or hot sauce, if you want, but I don’t think they need much dressing up.

You’ll want to use dried, Spanish style chorizo in this dish, not the fresh Mexican kind. My local supermarket doesn’t carry it, but they do carry a chorizo sausage made by Colosimos, an excellent local sausage company. I cook it that up to use in place of the Spanish chorizo.

The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup minced cilantro. I like cilantro, but not enough to buy it. It has a kind of  “soapy” aftertaste to me, so I’ve substituted dried parsley.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Garlic press (optional)
Measuring cups and spoons
Dutch oven or large pot.
Large spoon

2 slices bacon, cut into small peices
2 onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound chorizo sausage, cooked or dried and cut into 1/2 pieces
2 cans (15 oz) blacks beans, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon oregano
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon dried parsely
Ground black pepper
Cooking oil

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Stir in the onions, bell pepper, cumin, and salt. Continue cooking until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, red pepper, and oregano. Cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

Add the broth, bay leaves, beans, parsley, and sausage. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the broth reduces and thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Season with salt and black pepper, to taste. Spoon the beans over rice and squeeze a bit of lime juice over them.

Makes 8 servings.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Peanut Butter Ravioli with Raspberry Sauce

My good friend and cookbook author, Mark Hansen , issued a challenge from his Dutch oven cooking blog some time ago to deconstruct/reconstruct a peanut butter sandwich. He made a killer desert in the Dutch oven, of course. Not being a Dutch oven guy, I took a little different route. My version takes it’s inspiration from the Italians: peanut butter ravioli with a raspberry jelly sauce.

For those who don’t know, deconstructing a dish is a way of learning more about how the ingredients work by tearing a dish down into its component parts. In this case: bread, peanuts, fruit and sugar. Bread can be further subdivided into wheat flour, eggs, water or milk, and oil. Reconstruction is taking those components and putting them back together in new ways to create a new and original dish. When I do deconstruction/reconstruction, my goals are to create a magic experience as people enjoy familiar flavors in new ways. Not all of my experiments work out. This one is a keeper.

I’m not going to kid you. This dish takes a bit of work, mostly because I make my own pasta dough. You could use commercially prepared pasta doughs such as fresh lasagna noodles, egg roll wrappers, or wonton wrappers. If you use my pasta dough recipe, you won’t need the whole thing. 1/4 to 1/2 will make plenty of raviolis.

Special thanks to my “sous chefs,” a.k.a. my children: Art Girl and the Boy.

Equipment needed
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing bowls
Large spoons
Pasta roller (optional)
Pastry brush
Spray bottle with clean water (optional)
Kitchen knife
Pastry/bench cutter (optional)
Large pot or Dutch oven
Small strainer or sifter

1/2 batch of fresh egg pasta dough
1 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup confectioners sugar, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup raspberry jam
2 tablespoons water

Working with about 1/4 of the dough at a time, roll it out into long rectangular strips using a pasta roller. Work your way down to the next to the last setting. You want these to be thin and flexible, but not too thin. Lay the dough out onto slightly damp towels to keep them moist until you need them. This post about rolling and cutting pasta dough will help you.

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the peanut butter and confectioners sugar to create a kind of soft dough. It’s okay if it’s a little sticky, but not too much. You may need to adjust the amount of sugar to compensate for the varying oil content in different peanut butters. Refrigerate for 5 minutes.

To assemble the raviolis, roll the peanut butter mixture into small balls, about 1-inch in diameter. If the peanut butter mixture becomes too soft to work with, put it back in the refrigerator for a few minutes to firm up.

Lightly flour your work surface and lay out one sheet of pasta. Position the peanut butter balls on the pasta sheet in two rows, about 1 1/2-inch apart. Using a pastry brush, moisten the spaces between the peanut butter with a bit of water. Drape another pasta sheet over the top and gently press down between the peanut butter to seal. If the dough is too dry and starts to crack as you lay it out, or doesn’t stretch well over the filling, spritz it with a bit of water from the spray bottle to loosen it.

Using a sharp knife or pastry cutter, cut the raviolis apart and trim the ends. Knead the trimmed dough back into the rest so you don’t waste it. Using a pastry knife or thin spatula, transfer the raviolis to plates and refrigerate about 5 minutes, or until ready to cook.

Now it’s time to make the jam sauce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix the jam and water. Remove from heat and allow to cool while you cook the raviolis. You may need to adjust the mount of water to create the desired consistency. You want to be able to pour it well, but not be too thin.

Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Reduce to a simmer. Remove the raviolis from the refrigerator and gently add them to the water. Simmer for about 3 minutes, until the ravioli is all floating on top and the pasta is cooked. Remove from the pot and drain on clean kitchen towels. (Don’t use paper towels. The pasta will stick to them and them you’ll have bits of paper on your pasta.) Work in batches so you don’t crowd the pot. Let them cool to room temperature.

Now it’s time to assemble the plates. Place 5 or 6 raviolis on each plate. Using a small strainer or sifter, dust the top of the raviolis and the plate with confectioners sugar. Drizzle the jam sauce over the raviolis and serve. Stand back and watch the magic as your family and friends devour them.

Makes 8 – 10 servings.

You can drizzle honey over the ravioli if you’d like, but it isn’t nearly as good. The acidity of the raspberry jam provides a balance for the sweetness of the rest of the dish. In fact, I’ve been thinking that adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to the jam sauce might be even better. Other fruit jams would be tasty as well.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spicy Beef Nachos

When I was in my early 20’s, nachos from the local convenience store were a staple food in my bachelor's life. Little did I know how much more they could be, beyond stale tortilla chips and hot cheese sauce. Little did I know how much better they would taste if I made my own. Being older and wiser, I’ve learned how to make killer nachos. Tasty, spicy, cheesy beef nachos that won’t last long once you set them on the table. They’ll be gobbled up too fast for any left overs.

Make sure to use very lean ground beef in this recipe. There’s a lot of cheese, and lots of cheese means lots of grease, if you’re not careful. I think these nachos have just the right amount of kick for a family dinner or gathering, but you can certainly spice them up more, or serve hot sauce on the side, if you like.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Box grater
Measuring cups and spoons
Large skillet
Large spoon
9” x 12” baking dish, glass is preferred
Garlic press (optional)

1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced
4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound lean ground beef (90% or leaner, preferred)
8 ounces tortilla chips (2/3 of a large bag)
1 1/2 cup tomato salsa
1 cup sour cream
Cooking spray

Place an oven rack in the center position and preheat to 400 degree Fahrenheit.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the yellow onion and a dash of salt. Cook until softened, occasionally stirring, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, and salt. Cook about 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Add the ground beef and green bell pepper. Cook, breaking the meat up with a  spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Spray a 9” x 13” glass baking dish with cooking spray. Spread half the chips, evenly, over the bottom. Sprinkle half the beef mixture evenly over the chips, then sprinkle half the cheese over the beef. Repeat with remaining chips, beef mixture, and cheese. Bake until cheese is melted, about 9 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Dot with the sour cream and salsa. Sprinkle the sliced green onion over the top and serve warm.

Makes 6 servings

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lemon Asparagus

Some summer days are too hot for hot food. Cold food is definitely in order, but raw vegetables can get boring after a while. Fortunately, chilled asparagus can be just the thing on those occasions.

One of the great things about this dish is that the two major components, the asparagus and the lemon dressing, can be made in advance. Just don’t mix the two prior to serving.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Large cooking pot or Dutch Oven
Measuring cups and spoons
Garlic press (optional)
Paper towels

2 pounds asparagus
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon salt for the boiling water
1/2 teaspoon salt for the dressing
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion

Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set aside.

Remove one spear of asparagus from the bunch. Bend at the thicker end until it breaks. Use this as a guide to trim the tough ends from rest of the asparagus.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large cooking pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the asparagus. Cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the asparagus immediately and transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Refrigerate in a sealed container until needed.

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, 1/2 salt, honey, and black pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil to create and emulsion. Stir in the green onion. Refrigerate until needed.

When ready to serve, toss the asparagus with the dressing and arrange on a serving platter.

Makes 8 servings.

Monday, July 16, 2012

American Potato Salad, Revisited

Potato salad is a summer party tradition in our house. Of course, we don’t always wait for family parties to make it. Sometimes we just make it for ourselves, party or not. 

One of the fun things about potato salad, like other dishes, is that there are so many variations. Trying different recipes of the same dish can lead to some interesting discoveries. Some discoveries are that you never want to make that variation again. Others, like this one, make you change the the way you make. Some traditions are meant to be broken.

Peeling the potatoes is strictly optional. Don’t use sweet pickle relish as a short cut. The potato salad will be more mush and the pickle flavor too strong.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring cups and spoons
Sauce pan
Mixing bowls
Rubber spatula

3 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into 3/4” chunks.
2 stalks celery, finely diced
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet pickle
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 teaspoons dried parsley

Add the potatoes to a large pot with 4 quarts of water. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander. Toss the warm potatoes with the vinegar, salt and pepper. It’s easier for the warm potatoes to soak up the vinegar, increasing their brightness and flavor. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, mix the mayonnaise, pickles, celery, onion and mustard together in a large mixing bowl. Fold in the chilled potatoes and eggs until evenly coated. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

Makes 8 servings.

Juice of the Gods

Sorry, true believers. I’m not talking about chocolate.

A few months ago I came across a movie, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” This described me pretty well so I decided to watch it. Here was a guy from Australia, with a rare auto-immune disorder, documenting a two month juice fast. He talked about the science behind it, why he needed it, and showed his results. Starting out rather chubby, he ended up looking really good by the end of the movie. I was intrigued.

About halfway through, he encountered a guy about twice his size at a truck stop who had the same auto-immune disorder he was suffering from. This guy was bigger than me. These days, that’s saying something. He had a tough time at first, but in the end he was looking trim, fit, and happy. I was impressed. Eventually, I got my wife to watch it with me and we decided to try it, sort of.

Researching various juice fast sites and plans, we settled on a compromise plan. Instead of just having juice and water all day, this one lets us eat dinner with our kids. I’m a firm believer in the benefits of eating dinner at the table with your family, regularly. I didn’t want to miss that if I didn’t have to.

This plan recommends only vegetables for dinner. That’s not going to happen. I might inflict weird dietary rules on myself, but I’m not going to force my family to follow me. I’m also not going to sit at the table with a glass of juice while the rest of my family is

After three days I’ve not lost much weight, but weird things are happening. For starters, my daily diet cola has lost is savor. Most soda has, actually. I don’t feel as well when I drink them and I actually get a headache. I tried eating tater tots one night and I felt like I had a lump of clay in my gut. No more tater tots. Yuck.

Overall my desire for certain kinds of food is waning. I find myself more interested in vegetables than other kinds of food, now. I think this is a good thing. It’s made me more willing to buy a wider variety of vegetables, even those that seem more expensive.

Which brings me to my next point: the finances of it are interesting. Juicing all day isn’t all that cheap, but it’s not actually that expensive (unless you go completely organic). It’s made me realize that vegetables aren’t as expensive as some of them seem. Those that seem expensive, like kale, beets, parsnips or leeks, are certainly more money than lettuce and celery, but not really any more than other kinds of foods we were buying. Certainly they’re less expensive, and better for you, than most process foods.

I’ve dedicated myself to trying this for at least 5 days. After that, we’ll see. With only two days to go, I’m suspicious I will continue for a while longer. Even if I don’t continue with the juice fast, though, juicing in general has become part of my life. More vegetables and legumes will be hitting my table. Pigs and cows everywhere will rejoice. Vegetables are fruit will live in fear. The Mormon Foodie has shifted his palette.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cool and Spicy Tomato Dilly Drink

Ah the dog days of summer. We’re sure in the think of them where I live. We’ve not seen enough rain, either, just to compound matters. It’s nice to have something cold and light to drink on days like these. Soda and punch are easy first choices, but some days it’s nice for adults to get away from the sickly sweet kids drinks. It’s nice for the kids, once in a while, too. You may remember my musings on the challenges of adult non-alcoholic drinks, “Mormon mixology,” a few weeks ago.

Lemonade is a great first choice, but that’s not what I’m sharing today. Instead, we’re going to look to the Lion House Restaurant for some inspiration. This is my take on their “Hot Zippity Tomato Dill Drink.” I prefer the name, Tomato Dilly.There’s no hot involved in my variation, unless you mean the Tabasco sauce.

Equipment Needed
Large pitcher
Large spoon
Can opener

48 oz. canned vegetable juice (like V8) or tomato juice
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 - 4 drops Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup dill pickle juice
1/3 cup lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients together in a large pitcher. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours.

Makes about 8 cups, or 4-6 servings.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Shrimp Po' Boys Made Easy

Looking for a hot sandwich for a summer day? Let’s take a trip to New Orleans. Yes, I know they have luxurious restaurants, but more humble fair, even street food, is excellent there, as well. One of the most basics is a po’ boy shop, serving red beans and rice, jambalaya, and shrimp po’ boys.

A Po’ Boy (poor boy) is a traditional submarine sandwich of Louisiana. They almost always consist of meat or fried seafood, stuffed in a baguette or similar crusty bread. The bread is an integral part of the sandwich, using a crusty bread similar to a baguette. It’s so popular, there’s a po’ boy festival each year. I don’t want to wait until late fall, though, so I thought I’d get an early start.

There are many stories relating the origin of the po' boy sandwich. One popular theory sayd that "po' boy" was coined New Orleans restaurant owners Benny and Clovis Martin, who were former streetcar conductors. In 1929, during a four-month strike against the streetcar company, the Martin brothers served the strikers free sandwiches. The Martins' restaurant workers referred to the strikers as "poor boys", and the sandwiches took on the name.

 A “half po’ boy” is six inches long, and about the right size for me. Baguettes can vary in size. I used one that was about 2 feet long, and 2 1/2 inches in diameter. All kinds of meat and sausage can be used, but this version features fried shrimp. Sort of.

As many of you know, I like to cook, but I don’t always like to cook from scratch. You’re more than welcome to make your own breaded and fried shrimp for this, but I used frozen breaded popcorn shrimp, cooked in the oven. Some days the extra work is worth it. Some days it’s not.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Paring knife
Serrated knife
Rimmed baking sheet
Chef’s knife

1 pound frozen breaded popcorn shrimp
1 long baguette
1 large tomato, cored and thinly sliced
1 large dill pickle, finely diced
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
4 green lettuce leaves
Cooking spray

Spray the baking sheet with cooking spray. Spread the frozen shrimp evenly on the sheet. Sprinkle with the Cajun seasoning and bake according to package directions.

In the meantime, cut the baguette loaf into four 6-inch pieces. Slice each piece crosswise to open the sandwich like a hot dog bun, being careful not to cut all the way through. Use your fingers to hollow out the inside of the baguette pieces, removing some of the inside crumb from both top and bottom crusts. Save the removed bread crumb for making fresh breadcrumbs, later.

Spread the mayonnaise evenly and liberally inside each hollow crust. Sprinkle with lemon juice and season with a bit of salt and pepper. You can add more Cajun spice at this point if you like it spicer.

When the shrimp is done cooking, spread the pickles and shrimp into the bottom crusts. Top each sandwich with tomato slices and a lettuce leaf and fold the sandwich back up to make it whole.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Baked Ziti

Baked ziti is a perfect example of how versatile pasta can be as a base for casseroles. In this recipe, mozzarella provides the binding agent. Fresh mozzarella is preferred for moisture and creaminess, but regular block mozzarella can be used. If ziti can’t be found, other kinds of  short, tubular pastas such as macaroni, rigatoni, or penne will work nicely.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Garlic press (optional)
Box grater
Rasp grater or micro-plane
Measuring cups and spoons
Dutch oven or large pot
Large skillet
9” x 13” glass baking dish
Large spoon

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon salt, for boiling water
4 quarts water
1 pound ziti
2 tablespoon olive oil, separated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, for sauce

Placing a rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Begin bringing the water to a boil in a Dutch oven or large cooking pot to cook the pasta.

In the meantime, make the sauce. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the canned tomatoes, crushed and diced, along with their canning juice. Cook until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the basil, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove from the heat.

When the water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and the ziti. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the ziti is mostly tender, but still a little firm, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and return to the Dutch oven. Stir the tomato sauce into the ziti, tossing to coat.

Grease a 9” x 13” glass baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Spread half the ziti mixture evenly into the dish. Sprinkle half the mozzarella cheese and half the Parmesan cheese evenly over the pasta layer. Repeat, layering with the remaining ziti and cheeses.

Bake until the cheeses turn golden brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mocktail Obsessive

Lately I’ve become obsessed with the idea of non-alcoholic mixology. Booze drinkers have all kinds of fun mixing bits of this and that with their favorite liquid fermented by-products; maybe I’m feeling left out. I’m not going to start breaking the Word of Wisdom just to be part of the “in-crowd,” though. I’m too much of a rebel for that.

Yes, I know. You’re laughing at me. That’s okay. Being “Mormon” means “conformity” to most people, but if you compare us to the rest of the world, we’re pretty peculiar. Those who stand apart from the masses are rebels. If you think about it from the standpoint of the institutions surrounding Jewish authority during Christ’s time, he was kind of a rebel, too.

But I digress. I don’t think I should feel left out. Many of the older cookbooks I’ve got have tons of recipes for various drinks and punches. I’m not just talking lemonade and hot chocolate. I’m talking about drinks like shrubs. No, I’m not trying to juice the foliage in my front yard! A shrub is a sparkling drink made with fruited vinegar that was popular during the 1700’s. You see, I’m not looking for another drink that’s perfectly acceptable for my kids. I want to find, or develop, non-alcoholic drinks for adults.

Thank goodness I bought a new blender.

Do you have any non-alcoholic drink recipes you’d like to share? Feel free to post them, or links to them, in the comments.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Broccoli with Garlic

Sometimes simple recipes are the best. They allow the flavor of just a few ingredients to take center stage. As much as I like to experiment and blend flavors, sometimes I just want to savor the pure flavor of a single perfectly cooked vegetable or fruit.

This recipe highlights broccoli’s natural savoriness with a bit of garlic. The technique is simple, combing braising and sauteing, leaving a tender, satisfying side dish. This technique can be used with other vegetables as well.

The size of the skillet is vital to cooking the broccoli evenly. For this recipe, a 12-inch skillet is ideal. You don’t want to overcrowd the pan, no matter what you’re cooking.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Garlic press (optional)
Measuring cups and spoons
Large skillet (preferably non-stick)
Large spoon
Mixing bowls

1 bunch broccoli (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper

Cut the florets off the broccoli using a chef’s knife. Slice the larger florets in half by slicing through the stem. Break off the woody bottom portion of the stalk and discard. Peel away the tough outer layer of the remaining stalk. Slice the peeled stalks into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Place the cut broccoli florets and stems in the skillet with the water. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until the water is simmering and the broccoli turns bright green, about 2 minutes. Uncover and cook until the water has evaporated and the broccoli is tender, about 5 minutes.

Push the broccoli to the sides of the pan, clearing a space in the center. Add the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes, if using. Mash the garlic into the pan using the back of a spoon, mixing into the oil. Cook for 10 seconds and then stir into the broccoli. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 servings.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Broiled Asparagus

Asparagus is not one of the inexpensive vegetables and it’s no wonder. Farmer’s have to devote two years to it’s initial harvest; it doesn't come up the first year. It’s incredibly tasty, though. As such, you want to make sure you get the most flavor out of it. Broiling asparagus is one way to concentrate it’s delicate flavor and add a lovely caramelized touch. It’s also incredibly fast and easy.

When choose asparagus, try to find stalks with even thickness. I prefer thinner spears, around one-half inch in diameter. This is young asparagus and has the sweetest flavor.

While this recipe calls for extra-virgin olive oil, regular olive oil can be substituted. Served warm or at room temperature, broiled asparagus is a wonderful side to most any meal.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring spoons
Rimmed baking sheet

1 pound asparagus
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Lemon juice

Adjust an oven rack to 6 inches under the broiler element and heat the broiler.

Remove one asparagus spear from the bunch and bend it at the thicker end until it snaps. Use the broken asparagus as a guide to trim the woody ends from the remaining asparagus.

Put the trimmed asparagus onto a rimmed baking sheet. Toss the asparagus with the olive oil, and salt and pepper. You can add more salt and pepper, if you like, to taste. Arrange the spears into a single layer on the baking sheet. Broil the asparagus, shaking the pan every few minutes, until they are tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle with lemon juice before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Try sprinkling sesame salt on it along with the lemon juice for an extra hit of nutty flavor.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sesame Salt – Wonder Condiment

I came across this simple recipe when looking at a beef soup recipe from Thailand. It’s a simple condiment of toasted sesame seeds and a little salt. To be honest, I liked it better than the soup. It’s an amazing condiment, using only two ingredients. Together, they become super heroes in the kitchen. (Wonder Twin powers, activate!)

 Sesame salt is perfect for any time when you want to add a bit of extra savoriness to a dish. It’s great over soups, salads, or whatever. Give it a try, and kick up your next dish, sesame style.

 Equipment needed 
Mortar and pestle, spice grinder or food processor
Small skillet
Mixing bowl

1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt

Coarsely grind the sesame seeds in a spice grinder, food processor, or mortar. Cook in a small skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the salt. Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container in a dark cupboard. Use liberally.

 Makes about 1/3 cup.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Corn Chowder

Corn chowder was one of the first Mexican soups I tried. I really liked it. They say you can tell the quality of a Mexican restaurant by it’s soup. So far, that rule of thumb has worked out for me. The best soups I’ve had seem to come from great Mexican restaurants.

Eating out all the time to get corn chowder, or any other soup for that matter, is ridiculously expensive, though. I had to learn to make my own. I think this recipe stands up pretty well to it’s restaurant relatives.

A hot corn chowder might be best suited for Autumn nights after harvest time, so freshly harvested corn can be used, but it works pretty well for cool spring evenings, too. This recipe specifies two pounds of frozen corn, but ten ears of fresh corn can be easily substituted. I don’t recommend using canned corn. Blech.

Freezing the bacon for about 15 minutes will make it easier to cut, or you can cook it first and cut it later.

Equipment needed
Mixing bowls
Blender or food processor
Cutting board
Measuring cups and spoons
Dutch oven or other large pot
Garlic press (optional)
Large spoons

2 pound frozen corn, thawed
4 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups whole milk
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 table dried parsley
1 cup heavy cream

Put half the corn and all the stock into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Set aside.

Cook the bacon in a large Dutch oven or kitchen pot over medium heat until crispy, about 8 minutes. Stir in the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes more. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the broth mixture and the milk, scraping up any of the browned bits (fond) off the bottom of the pot. Stir in the potatoes, bay leaves, thyme, and parsley. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes and just starting to get tender, about 15 minutes. Add the remaining corn kernels and the cream. Keep simmering until the corn is tender, but still has a bit of resistance to it, and the potatoes are cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Discard the bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Canned Soup: The Real Story

As a foodie I would never admit to ever making canned soup. That would be a blasphemous affair just short of the sort of things you have to confess to your Bishop to fully repent of. Fortunately, the Atonement makes any times I may have accidentally opened up a soup can and heated up the contents, with the intent to consume, something I don’t have to admit to.

According to Doctrine and Covenants, Section 58:42, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” If the Lord isn’t going to remember them, I’m certainly not going to bring them up.

With that in mind, I want to reveal to you the real directions for making canned soup. These have been gleaned from countless experiences doing so. By other people. Don’t ask is they were my experiences. Then I’d have to repent for lying.


  1. Laugh at the directions on the can. Openly mock those involving a stove while merely ignoring those describing the microwave.
  2. Open the can by either using a can opener or pulling sharply up on the pull tab. If using a pull tab, use colorful language as the pull tab breaks before the lid comes off. Attempt to pull the lid off using a multitude of inappropriate kitchen tools before giving up and just grabbing the darned thing
  3. Immediately slice open thumb on lid. Curse more while cleaning and bandaging the wound. Ignore the blood in the soup. Throw the lid forcibly into the garbage can to punish it for what it’s done.
  4. Dump the contents of the can into a microwave safe (meh) bowl. Loose appetite while looking at the congealed mess that bears little to no resemblance to soup. Add water, as desired, to thin the mess down. Never use more than half of the recommended amount.
  5. Microwave on high until it reaches the temperature of molten lava and burns to the sides of the bowl.
  6. Remove from the microwave and eat directly from the bowl, trying to avoid burning yourself until it cools, but failing.
  7. Ignore the mess left in the microwave from the exploding soup and let someone else clean it up.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chunky Slow-cooker Chili

Many of you already know of my love affair with the slow-cooker. I have a slow-cooker with a removable pot. I particularly enjoy setting things up in the pot on a Saturday night, then pulling the pot out of the refrigerator Sunday morning and letting it do it’s thing all day until Sunday dinner. It certainly makes my Sunday’s less stressful.

I wanted to figure out some way to cook chili in the slow-cooker, but I couldn’t find any recipes that really got me excited. Instead, I modified a stove-top chili recipe that I really like. The original recipe uses ground beef. I had some cheap cuts of beef hanging around my freezer, so I substituted them to make a chunkier version. You can  certainly use hamburger, if you like. Knowing I wasn’t going to get as much of a reduction in the liquid using the slow-cooker, I decided to drain the tomatoes, first. I think the results were pretty tasty.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring cups and spoons
Garlic press (optional)
Large skillet
Large spoon
Paring knife
Mixing bowls

2 onions, peeled finely chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (15 oz.) dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds stew meat or other beef, cut into small chunks
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
1 can (20 oz.) tomato puree

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the meat and cook until just browned. Transfer to the slow-cooker.

Return the pan to the heat. Add more oil if needed and reduce heat to medium. When the oil is shimmering, add the onions, chili powder, cumin, bell pepper, cayenne pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 15 seconds more, until fragrant. Remove from the the heat and transfer to the slow-cooker. Turn off the stove. Everything else will be done in the slow-cooker.

To the slow-cooker, add the beans, diced tomatoes, tomato puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir together. Cook on high for 6 hours, or low for 8 hours. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.

Makes 8 servings.

Garnish with sliced scallions, sour cream, grated cheese, chopped onion, or diced avocados as desired.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

TNT: A Dynamite Tuna Recipe

One of many questions that plague those of us who attempt to rotate our one-year’s food storage is, “Just what am I supposed to do with all this canned tuna?” That question is second only to “What am I supposed to do with all this hard wheat?”

I dislike canned tuna. You wouldn't know it, considering the number of recipes I've got that use canned tuna. You see, the rest of my family loves it so, I’m stuck trying to figure out how to cook with it in ways that won’t make my stomach revolt all over the kitchen table.

Fortunately, I understand culinary genius. Not mine, thank you. Everything I know, that works, came from somewhere else. I’m not talking about celebrity chefs, either. I’m talking about the true guardians of the ultimate in culinary creations: Italian grandmothers.

If anyone can take something horrible and turn it into something delicious, it’s little Italian grandmothers. Say what you want about the influence of French cuisine (and I often do), it’s the Italians who make food worth eating. Fortunately for me, I have a couple of cookbooks written by Italian grandmothers. One of them even includes a recipe for tuna noodle casserole that actually tastes great.

Based on a recipe by Juilia de la Croce, this version goes way beyond school cafeteria fare. I've simplified it a bit for everyday cooking. The addition of sour cream gives it creaminess and helps it stay moist in the oven. My wife calls it "T-N-T:" tuna, noodle and tomato. For a tuna dish, I think it's dynamite.

Equipment needed
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Dutch Oven or other large cooking pot with lid.
Medium saucepan
9 1/2 x 13 inch baking dish
Aluminum foil

14 oz. canned tuna, drained
Milk (as needed, optional)
2 1/2 cups Tomato Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dried Basil
Salt and Pepper, to taste
3/4 pound Egg Noodles, or dried taggliatelle
4 quarts Water
1 tablespoon Salt
2 1/2 cups Sour Cream
Cooking Spray
1 teaspoon Dried Parsley
1/3 cup Grated Romano Cheese, or other hard cheese (optional)

This first step is optional, but will reduce the "fishiness" sometimes associated with canned tuna. Put the drained tuna into a small bowl and add enough milk just to cover. Let sit for 5 minutes and drain off the milk.

Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer in small saucepan. Add the basil and tuna. Lightly simmer for 3-4 minutes to marry the flavors. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a Dutch Oven or other large cooking pot, bring water to rolling boil Add salt and pasta. Stir the pasta and cover the pan. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until halfway done, about 4 minutes. Reserve 1/3 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and rinse in cool water to separate the noodles. Drain well and set aside.

Add reserved pasta water to sour cream and blend. Set aside.

Generously spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Pour 1/3 of the tuna/tomato mixture on the bottom and spread evenly. Arrange 1/2 of the cooked pasta, evenly, over the top. Smear half the thinned sour cream over the pasta. Cover with another 1/3 of the tuna/tomato sauce. Spread remaining pasta over that and cover with remaining sour cream. Finish with the remaining tomato sauce and use a spatula to smooth and blend slightly. Sprinkle parsley evenly over the top. Cover with grated cheese, if using.

Spray the reflective side of the foil with cooking spray first, to help avoid sticking, and cover the pan, reflective side down. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 10 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until bubbly, about 5 minutes more. Remove from the oven and allow it to settle for about 5 minutes, then serve.

Makes 8 servings.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Flax Muffins Recipe

Want to add more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet? Need a bran boost for fiber? Step away from the fish counter and the cereal section, brothers and sisters. Head over to the baking aisle for some flax seed meal, instead.

Flax, both seeds and oil, are great sources of fiber and alpha-linolenic acid, the plant version of omega-3. In fact, it contains 150% more fiber than oatmeal, and 500% more omega-3 than the next highest plant based sources, canola and walnut. With all health benefits, you’d think it would takes like a box of cardboard. Instead, flax has a wonderful nutty flavor.

Flax meal, oil, or whole seeds, can be added to a wide variety of baked goods, cereals, or fruit smoothies.. One of my favorite things to do with flax meal  is to make tasty whole-grain muffins. Who said you can’t have your whole-grains and enjoy them, too?

This recipe is chock full of tasty stuff that just happens to be good for you. For sweetness and moisture we add brown sugar, carrots, apples, and raisins (optional). For increased nuttiness and texture you can add chopped nuts or sunflower seeds. The addition of oat flour adds even more robust flavor. In spite of all of this, these muffins won’t weigh your gut down. They’re actually quite light.

Equipment needed
Measuring cups and spoons
Muffin pans
Paper baking cups
Mixing bowls
Large spoon
Cooking spray

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup flaxseed meal
3/4 cup oatmeal or oat flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 /2 cups shredded carrots
2 apples, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1 cup chopped pecans, walnuts, or sunflower seeds
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease muffin tins with cooking spray, or line with paper baking cups and set aside. Grind the oatmeal to a fine powder in a spice grinder, or use oat flour.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the different flours, flaxseed meal, oat flour, brown sugard, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in the apples, carrots, raisins (if using) and chopped nuts or seeds. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until all is well moistened. Do not over mix!

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full with the batter and bake for 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and transfer to cooling racks to completely cool.

Makes approximately 15 muffins.

I like to eat them with jam or cream cheese.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Super Easy, No-Cook Fondant

Fondant is an amazing confection. It can be used to decorate cakes, or rolled into balls and dipped into chocolates to make delicious candies. It’s also a pain to make, at least it used to be. Many fondant recipes I’ve found use marshmallows, melted in a double boiler and put through their paces to finally come up with something that can either be tasty, or disgustingly bland. This recipe is different. It requires no cooking and a minimal mount of work. It also tastes good. The secret is using a ready made product as it’s base: marshmallow fluff.

Equipment Needed
large mixing bowl
large spoon
plastic wrap

1 7.5 oz. jar marshmallow fluff
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 - 3 cups confectioners sugar
Cooking spray

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Pour in the marshmallow fluff. Add the vanilla and confectioners sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, mixing until it loses its stickiness.

Dust a clean counter with more confectioner’s sugar. Pour out the fluff and sugar mixture and knead like dough, adding more sugar as needed to make a stiff dough. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Keep in the refrigerator up to 3 days, until needed.

This makes a bright white fondant, but food coloring or other flavorings can be used as desired for different flavors and colors. It also freezes well.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cranberry-Raisin-Spice Biscotti

The holidays, and first part of this year, have been a rough and tumble time around the Mormon Foodie house. Family health issues, along with the normal stresses of the holidays, really slowed down my output. Consequently, you missed a few things I made over the holidays. On the tasty treat front, was a tasty holiday themed Cranberry-Spice Biscotti.

In case you don’t already know, biscotti is made by baking an over-large cookie, cutting it into long, relatively thin slices, and then cooking it again, making them hard as rocks by design. They’re supposed to be dunked in some hot drink or other. In my house that means hot chocolate, herbal tisans, or Pero.

The trouble is, I still think they’re too hard. My solution? Don’t cook them for as long. I prefer my biscotti to have some “give” when I bite into it.

This recipe uses ginger, coriander, and cardamom to bring out the flavor of dried cranberries and raisins. Feel free to substitute other dried fruit as inspired. A combination of white and milk chocolate add a bit more complementary sweetness and flavor depth. This recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies, making it perfect for a cookie exchange, or a gift for your home/visiting teaching families.

Equipment Needed
Large baking sheet
Parchment paper
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Hand mixer
Plastic wrap
Sandwich bags

1 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
1 cup raisins, finely chopped
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 teaspoons light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

for the glaze
4 ounces white chocolate chips
4 ounces milk chocolate chips
4 teaspoons vegetable shortening

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, coriander, cardamom, ginger, and salt. Mix well.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter together, using a hand mixer at medium speed, until light, fluffy, and well blended. Add the eggs, lemon juice, corn syrup and vanilla. Beat until blended.

Warning! The mixture may look curdled. This is perfectly normal. Don’t freak out.

Gradually add the flour mixture into the egg mixture, beating just until blended. Stir in the chopped cranberries and raisins until evenly distributed.

Divide the dough in half. Roll one-half on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Shape into a 15 inch x 2 inch log, rolling it up in the plastic wrap like sushi to help you shape it. Remove from the plastic wrap and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Arrange the logs as far apart as possible on the baking sheet and press down to 3/4 inch thickness.

Bake for 30 minutes on the center rack of the oven or until browned and slightly cracked. Remove from the oven and let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes. Remove from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Keep the oven on.

Transfer the flattened logs to a cutting board. With a serrated knife, cut diagonally into scant 1/2-inch thick slices. Lay the slices cut side down back on the parchment lined sheet. You may need a second sheet, or you can do this in batches. Bake for 5 to 7 more minutes in the oven, or longer if you want them hard. Turn them once. Remove from the sheets and let cool completely on wire racks. You can turn your oven off at this point.

Once the biscotti are cool, place them on a flat surface, like a table or a cool baking sheet, lined with wax paper.

Now to make the glaze. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the white chocolate chips and 2 tsp of the shortening. Microwave on medium for 1-2 minutes, stopping and stirring every 30 seconds until the chocolate is almost melted. Continue stirring until the chocolate mixture is completely melted and smooth. Pour into a small, disposable plastic bag, a sandwich bag works great, and push the chocolate to one corner. Snip a tiny bit of the corner off with a pair of kitchen scissors and pipe the melted chocolate over the cookies in thin lines. Repeat this with the regular chocolate chips, melting, mixing, and piping.

Alternately you can melt chocolate and dip the ends of the biscotti in it. I just like the way this technique looks. It’s quite impressive, but super easy to do. For more tips on how it works, see this recipe for Holiday Orange-Spice Sugar Cookies.

Let the biscotti stand for 20 minutes until the glaze hardens. Store in and airtight container at room temperature and they will keep for up to 3 weeks, assuming they aren’t eaten before then.

Makes just about 4 dozen cookies.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Making Hal 9000 – Part 5: It’s Full of Stars

Read part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 of the Hal 9000 Cake Project

Now that the base cake was done and the difficult, if somewhat lacking, candy eye were completed, it was time to add the details and finish the cake.

First, I needed to add a grill texture to the bottom of the cake to simulate Hal’s speaker grill. I put the frosted cake back in the freezer, saying another “thank you” to my wife for that tip, and let the frosting harden up a bit. Removing it from the freezer, I took my chef’s knife and make very shallow cuts in the frosting, horizontal and vertical, creating a passable speaker grid.

Next, I shaped a piece of blue colored fondant for the name label at the top and put the candy eye in place. I used white cake gel to add the trim and write HAL 9000, as well as cover up the seam around Hal’s eye.

I’ve decided I don’t like cake gel for these kinds of things. It was too gooey and didn’t give me great results. I had already resigned myself to getting whatever I got with this cake, though. The mission was finished. It’s degree of success had yet to be measured.

I don’t know if the result was worth all the trouble or not. The cake impressed my wife and kids, even if it wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind. I did learn a few things along the way. I keep telling myself, “Next time, I’ll know this and can try that,” but I’m not sure they’re be a next time. Not with Hal, anyway.

Maybe I can make candy lightsabers. Hmmm …

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Making Hal 9000 – Part 4: I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That, Dave

Read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of the Hal 9000 Cake Project

Then next problem in the mission came from the cake, itself. Or, rather, from it’s covering.

Black fondant would have given me a smoother finish, but I don’t like to completely cover cakes in fondant. I don’t like eating that much fondant in one sitting. I prefer butter cream frosting so, I settled on chocolate frosting and a brown Hal.

I cut the cooled cake in half, placed one half on top the other, and glued them together with frosting. I next trimmed the sides to get the correct dimensions and a smoother edge. So far so good. The trouble was, the frosting wouldn’t stick. Or rather, it stuck too much. The crumb of the cake was so tender that whenever I tried to spread it over a trimmed side, it would tear the cake apart. It didn’t matter how much I whipped and mixed and soften the frosting, every stroke with the knife tore piece after piece of cake away from my beautiful rectangle.

Unlike David Bowman, my shipmates weren’t dead. My wife knows that when she sees me sitting at the table with my head in my hands and swearing, it’s a pretty clear sign that something is wrong. Responding to my distress call, she came over, assessed the situation, and suggested I put the cake in the freezer for a little while.

My wife has taken one more cake decorating classes than I have. That’s not hard to do, considering I’ve never taken any. The point is, she knows of what she speaks. She just doesn’t like the actual work involved in decorating cakes, so doesn’t do it very often She happy to let me be the glutton for punishment that I am.

The freezer trick worked wonders. Unfortunately, I had to make a run to the store to pick up more supplies. I ran out of chocolate frosting 3/4’s of the way through.

Things were looking up, though. I had the frosted cake, and a defective candy eye. The rest was just details.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Making Hal 9000 – Part 3: Open the Pod Bay Doors, Hal.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the Hal 9000 Cake Project

As you can see in the picture, the set up on the scoops isn’t very solid. I needed a way to make them as level as possible while the candy cooled and hardened, so I put them on top of two bowls. As I stuck the red eye into the candy goo from the second batch, the scoop tipped, pouring molten candy over my cupboard. Speaking in tongues, I worked as fast as I could to pour more candy in the scoop and move the red light piece back to the center without burning myself. This worked great until pushing things around upended the ice cream scoop, dumping more candy.

The third time was not the charm. This time I tipped it over trying to clean up the candy that had spilled. It was like a little kid. Get something clean just in time for the kid to make another mess.

Finally I got things settled, with the red light buried much deeper than I’d hoped. By that time I was tired of it, though. Sometimes projects aren’t finished so much as they are abandoned. I would live with whatever the result was, or trash the candy eye altogether. Hal would not get the best of me any more than he did David Bowmen.

If that had been the only problem, I might not have lost my mind.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Making Hal 9000 – Part 2: Would You Like to Play a Game of Chess?

Read Part 1 of the Hal 9000 Cake Project.

The tricky part was going to be Hal’s eye. I knew that, going in. The plan was to make a clear candy shell for the outside, and a red tinted shell for the glowing center. I hunted around town a bit and found two ice cream scoops that I thought would work for molds. Next, I found a couple of recipes for “stained-glass candy” and counted myself set.

The first batch of candy worked pretty well. I poured the outer layer of Hal’s eye first, then tinted the candy red and poured the “red light” piece. Unfortunately, the candy didn’t behave as I had hoped. It had caramelized slightly, giving the clear candy a yellow-tan tint instead of being crystal clear. I also had trouble making it a shell. I couldn’t pour the inner candy out of the mold, and still have it stick enough to the sides, to make a shell. I was stuck with two solid pieces, each half of two different spheres.

Like any good astronaut, I had a back-up plan, using only colored fondant to make a 2-D version of Hal’s eye. In the end I decided that wasn’t good enough. I would try again with another recipe that would give me better results.

I didn’t find one.

In the end, I settled on embedding the “red light” I had made in the first batch into the outer clear shell of the second batch. This is where the real nightmare began ...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Making Hal 9000 – Part 1: A Cake Odyssey

January 12th is the birthday of HAL 9000, the computer installed in the Discovery spaceship from 2001: a Space Odyssey. Why anyone but a die-hard science-fiction fan-boy would care is beyond me. Being a die-hard science-fiction fan-boy, I decided to celebrate Hal’s birthday by making a Hal cake and watching 2001 with my kids. They were happy to do it. They're suckers for chocolate cake.

I was nervous going into the project, although I knew I could do the main body pretty easily. The iconic face of Hal is just a long rectangle, after all. It was the eye that bothered me. That glowing, red, menacing computer eye! I had three goals in mind. It had to be 3-dimensional, recognizable and above all, edible.

Cue “The Blue Danube”

I started by making a single-layer chocolate cake in a 13 inch by 9 inch cake pan. I bought a commercial cake mix, knowing I had quite a bit of work cut out for me with the decorating. This was going to have to take place over a couple of week nights, and I wouldn't have that much time in the evening.

The cake was baked the first night, and then cut and shaped the next. I cut the full cake in half, setting one half on top of the other, and trimmed it to make the sides and top even. So far so good. The second night, I would make Hal’s eye.

Little did I know, this part of the project might prove to be as doomed as the Discovery mission.

To be continued ...