Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sneaky Kiwi Guacamole

I love a challenge, particularly when it comes to cooking. Sometimes the best challenges come in the form of contests that I enter.

In this case, it was a Kitchen Play contest sponsored by ZESPRI kiwi fruit. The deal with these contests is that you have to recreate/revise/riff on a recipe that another blogger created for the month's menu, using the sponsor's product.

In this case, the recipe was for the appetizer course and it was a bruschetta with kiwi and avocado.

The more I thought about kiwi and avocado, the more it sounded like the perfect combo for a guacamole. I usually add a bit of lime juice to my guacamole. I figured that kiwi could play that some role.

I wasn't sure it would work, but oh yeah, it really worked. Really worked. The flavor of the kiwi was perfect in the guacamole.

The reason I named it "sneaky" is that the kiwi is about the same color as avocado and the texture is similar, so it's not like adding mango or some other fruit where there's a huge color contrast. Sure, you can see the little black seeds, but many people would assume they're some sort of spice. So, if you think avocado has too much fat ... hehe ... the kiwi helps reduce the fat per serving of guacamole.

Of course, if you eat the whole darned batch of it in one sitting, like I did, that's another story.

Sneaky Kiwi Guacamole

1 avocado
1 kiwi fruit
1 tablespoon finely diced onion
Pinch of salt

Slice the avocado in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into a bowl.

Peel the kiwi and dice. Add to the bowl with the avocado.

Add the onion and salt.

Stir well, breaking up the avocado as you go until it's the size you prefer.

Serve immediately.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hello, New Blue!

Imagine my surprise when I got a call from Culture Magazine telling me that I'd been selected to be on a cheese tasting panel. My tastebuds were so proud!

As soon as the package arrived I opened the cheese package, took a test sniff, and wrapped it up again. For a blue cheese it seemed really mild.

I checked the clock and realized that if I was going to have a test-taste before dinner, it was perfect timing - the cheese was supposed to sit at room temperature for an hour.

So it sat. I stared at it. But I didn't touch it.

And now it's time for my confession. Although I love pretty much all cheeses, and I've been a fan since I was a little mouse, blue cheeses are relatively new on my cheese platter.

My earliest introduction to blues was when I was a kid and restaurants served blue cheese dressing. I was so traumatized by those bad bottled blue cheese dressings way back then that it took me many years to come around to the world of Real Blue. Granted, those dressings probably came from a bottle and didn't have any real blue cheese in them. But that was the only blue I knew for quite a long time.

So while I eagerly explored the world of hard and soft and goat and sheep and every other variation, I avoided the blue cheeses. There were so many others, so I didn't feel like I was missing anything.

Then, some years ago, I decided to throw aside my prejudices and sample some of the things that I said I didn't like, but that I hadn't actually eaten in years. The result? I still dislike coconut, but blue cheese is back on the menu.

tick ... tick ... tick ... DING!

When the time was up, I sampled the cheese. One more sniff. Even after an hour out of the fridge, it still smelled mild. Aged, yes. But not very blue. It reminded me a little of a young Parmigiano.

The center of the cheese was very creamy. A little bit buttery and a little more nutty. Very smooth. The flavor reminded me a little of Manchego, but much creamier. There was just a little hint of the typical blue flavor. As I moved closer to the rind, the texture changed. It was still creamy, but a little bit firmer. And the flavor got stronger.

The last bite had a slight aroma of ammonia - not in a bad way - and it wasn't really a scent, since it wasn't evident when I sniffed the cheese. But there was a sharpness in the back of my throat and up my nose when I ate that last little bit.

I've got to say that this would be a perfect "beginner" blue for someone who is a little bit afraid of sharper or more pungent cheeses. That beginner could start at the center and nibble towards the rind. And then save the outside for people who like a stronger blue cheese flavor.

Then again, it's not JUST a beginner cheese, because it would pair so well with foods where you wouldn't want that strong flavor. In cooking, I could imagine it with chicken. Maybe stuffed inside a breast or as a creamy sauce with a side of pasta. Or smeared on crostata and topped with ... tomato, maybe? Fire roasted red peppers?

On its own, I might pair it with pears, some candied walnuts, and maybe a bubbly wine. Then again, we nibbled our way through it over the course of several days, all by itself. So if it went on sale, that's probably what would happen to it.

So, a name? At first I thought that something like Blue Light might work, referencing the fact that it's a fairly mild blue. Or maybe Blue Lights. But as I was writing this, I had a better idea - Denim Blue. For the color of the blue veins, the variation from center to rind - like old jeans that are more aged in some places than in others, and for the fact that it's a comfortable cheese that could be paired with a wide range of foods.

Like a nice pair of jeans, you could dress it up or dress it down.

Disclaimer: Point Reyes sent this cheese to me free of charge with the understanding that I'd post about it on Culture Magazine's blog. I wasn't obligated to post it here, but I thought it was interesting enough to warrant a post.

On the Kale Chip Bandwagon - and off again

Seems like everyone's making baked kale chips these days, and it sounds like a great idea - turn a super-healthy food into something that seems like a snack food. What's not to love?

And the basic recipe is simple - remove the tough rib from some kale, tear the leafy stuff into pieces, then drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and maybe some flavorings. Then bake until the kale is crisp. It takes about 10 minutes for the kale to get dry and crisp. The hard thing is that it can go from crisp and done to crisp and burned in very little time.

As far as oven temps, I saw a wide range of temperatures, but I went for a lower temperature - 325 degrees. I figured it would cook more evenly and save me from overcooking the kale.

I ended up with kale chips, for sure. Thin, shattery, green. I liked the flavor.

I hated the texture.

So I found something else to do with the chips that would take advantage of the flavor and obliterate the texture. Salad dressing. Oh yeah. It was gloriously green.

And tasty.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Italian-Style Bread with White Whole Wheat

When I was a kid, bread fell into several categories. First, and most common, was plastic-bagged grocery store bread. Second was paper-wrapped skinny loaves of French bread. Third was paper-wrapped fatter loaves of Italian bread. And last, bakery bread, which meant there was a special event of some kind.

What always confused me was that we always had French bread with spaghetti. The Italian bread, on the other hand, had a little more flavor. Yeah, even back then I was a bread connoisseur.

Now I know that there's more to real Italian bread than being a fat loaf that isn't sandwich bread, but I still like that style of bread. Semolina is my secret weapon for flavor, but this time I decided to add some white whole wheat as well. The more I use that stuff, the more I like it, and a half-cup of white whole wheat in a loaf of bread is nearly undetectable to those people who are skittish about bread that's even vaguely healthy.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Almond Butter Cream Cheese Tart

You might have seen the chocolate hazelnut tart I posted for my first post sponsored by Whole Foods.

This is similar, but without the chocolate - or the hazelnuts. This uses almond butter instead of the chocolate hazelnut butter.

The result is something like a nutty cheesecake, but there's no baking involved (unless you opt to bake the crust - it's up to you.)

The flavor is a little lighter than the chocolate version, as well. It's is perfect for a summer event when you don't want to turn on the oven.

I garnished it very simply with just a few Marcona almonds, but a little whipped cream would be nice, too.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Quick-Pickled Fennel

First, a confession. I don't like licorice. I was the kid who was always trading the black jelly beans for any other color. So when people said that fennel tasted like licorice, I avoided it. For many years.

Funny thing is that I always loved fennel seeds in Italian sausage, but that still didn't sway me. Seeds and plant parts don't always taste like each other - like coriander and cilantro - so I wasn't convinced that fennel bulbs would ever be my food friend.

I don't know what it was that made me pick up a fennel bulb one day at the grocery store. Maybe it was that they look so pretty with the bright white bulbs and the feathery fronds. If celery and onion and dill had a matter transporter accident, the result might look a lot like fennel.

Once I had the fennel home, I had to deal with it. The green part is almost useless (unless you want to put it in soup stock) although some people peel off the tough outer layers and eat what's left. The feathery fronds make a nice fresh garnish but don't add a whole lot of flavor. What you're after is the white bulb. There's a core in the center - like a cabbage - that can be a bit tough, so that's often trimmed off.

My first adventure with fennel was sliced and cooked and the result was much better than I expected. Like onions, the harshness - and in this case the licoriceness - was muted and the flavor was sweet. Okay, I'm a convert.

But why stop at cooking? Fennel makes a great quick pickle, perfect for dressing up sandwiches, slaws, or as a garnish for other dishes. Perfect for picnics, and a great conversation starter. It stays crunchy after pickling, and the licorice flavor gets subdued, so it pairs well with most foods. (Try it on a hot dog!)

If you don't have enough fennel, add some onion or fine shreds of carrot for color. Thinly sliced bell peppers would make a nice accent, as well.

For this recipe, I used a white balsamic vinegar, but you can use what you like. This isn't a canned pickle, so you don't need to worry about the preservative qualities of the vinegar - just the taste. Keep in mind that a colored vinegar will color the fennel. The white balsamic turned my fennel a pretty golden color. Red wine vinegar would be interesting, as well.

Quick-Pickled Fennel

1 medium fennel bulb
1/3 cup vinegar
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Trim the fennel, quarter it, remove the core, and slice thinly. Place it in a non-reactive container or a canning jar. The fennel I had fit perfectly into a 1-pint canning jar.

Combine the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. Give it a taste, if you like. This is how tart your pickles will be, so you can add more sugar if you like, or add more vinegar or water to change the ratio. Since these aren't meant for long-term storage, the acidity level isn't critical, so you can adjust the flavor the way you like it.

Heat the liquid to boiling. Pour it over the fennel. If you don't have enough liquid to cover the vegetable, you can add more hot water or vinegar. Cover the container and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

These are ready to eat as soon as they are chilled, but I prefer them after a day or two.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Well, this is a-peel-ing (and a GIVEAWAY!)

When people talk about using baking stones for pizza or bread, the one issue that consistently rears its ugly head is the need to get the pizza - or bread - onto the stone. Pizza peels are made for the task, but it takes a certain amount of practice - and confidence - to get the unbaked item off the peel and onto the stone.

Cornmeal and semolina under the dough will act like tiny ball bearing and help "lubricate" the movement of the dough. But some folks don't like the taste or texture of those. And whatever isn't directly under your baked goods might burn. If you're baking several items in sequence, the burned bits could end up under the new item going in.

Let's be honest. Even if you bake a lot, there are times when the dough is a little too slack or the bread has over-risen just a bit, and pizza peel maneuvers become difficult. The pizza ends up misshapen or the bread collapses a bit from too vigorous movement off the peel. Or your aim is bad and the baked item ends up partway off the stone, Or you place that first loaf of bread wrong and there's not enough space for the second loaf.

Using a peel takes confidence, but if you don't bake a lot, it's hard to gain that confidence. And some people are naturally clumsy. You can have all the confidence in the world, but a little gracefulness also helps.

Some people advocate using parchment paper under the pizza, but my recent tests show that it has some affect on the crispness of the crust. Baking sheets are fine for many breads, and for some styles of pizza. For others, it's not recommended. Pizza screens are another option.

But sometimes you just want naked dough directly on a hot stone.

When I first heard of the Super Peel, it seemed a little - silly - to me. Do we need another gadget? Well, if you don't already have a peel, it's not another gadget. So maybe it's not that bad. Or is it?

The concept of the Super Peel is that there's a loop of fabric that acts as a sort of conveyor belt that moves the dough on and off the peel. It takes a little practice to get the movement right for a smooth transition onto and off of the peel, but it's not a steep learning curve.

The first instinct is to move the conveyor-belt-thing to pull the dough up, but that tends to stretch the dough. If you move the peel under the dough while keeping your other hand (holding the conveyor-belt-thing) in the same place, the dough slides up onto the peel.

Moving the dough off of the peel and onto the stone is the opposite motion. Once you get the hang of it, it makes perfect sense and it gets easier.

I have to admit that I like the showmanship of getting a pizza off of a peel and having it emerge from the oven perfectly round. Then again, my overconfidence with a peel recently sent a perfectly good pizza into the ashes of a wood-fired oven, so I'm not nearly as flawless as I sometimes think I am.

Really, though, the benefit of the Super Peel isn't just that you can get the dough on and off the peel, but that you can do it slowly and gently. That's a huge benefit if you're dealing with a puffy loaf of bread that might be just a little bit fragile. And if your pizza is about the same size as your stone, you can place that pizza much more precisely with a lot less practice.

Is the Super Peel for everyone? No, obviously not. If you're moving pizzas around like an expert, there's no need to invest in this sort of peel. Like parchment paper and pizza screens, it's a bit of a crutch. But unlike the parchment and the pizza screen, this particular crutch doesn't affect the crispness of the crust.


The nice people at Super Peel have just now offered me a Cherry Super Peel Gift Set to one of my lucky readers. This sells for $76 on their website.

Two ways to win. First, leave a comment here telling me what, besides pizza or a standard loaf of bread, that you could use the Super Peel for. If you need some hints, check out the videos here.

For a second entry, follow Cookistry on Twitter (if you don't already) and tweet this:

@dbcurrie at @Cookistry is giving away a @superpeel. Enter here:

Contest is open to residents of the US and Canada. If you happen to live in Canada, shipping may take a while due to some postal issues in Canada. Contest ends  July 4 at noon.

The contest is over and the winner has been notified. Thanks for participating!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Salmon Steaks and Fennel

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

This week's recipe starts with fennel, a vegetable that I have a love-hate relationship with. For years, I avoided fennel because everyone said it tasted like licorice. I've always loved fennel seeds, though, in Italian food.

But still, I was the kid who would trade the black jelly beans for any other color. It took me a while to get used to the idea that sweet licorice is not the same as savory licorice flavors like star anise. So one day I bought some fennel and bravely decided to give it a try.

What I found out was the cooked fennel is nothing like licorice candy. The flavor becomes much more subtle. The texture is like cooked celery, and the flavor becomes sweet like onions, but there's another flavor in the background that makes it more interesting than either one.

The fennel needed some vegetable friends, though, and I decided that some zucchini would add some nice dark green while red bell peppers would add a pop of color. Okay, I had the base of my dish, but I still needed the main component.

After cruising the meat department, I ended up looking at seafood and decided that salmon would give me the perfect pop of color on top of my fennel. I left it in the experts' hands. What kind of salmon would be best on the grill?

Salmon steaks, of course. Big, meaty salmon steaks hold together better on the grill than fillets, which can be a little more delicate. I've grilled fillets, and most of the time I don't have too many problems. But when you need perfect presentation, steaks are just a little easier to work with.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Feijoa, what are you?

While I was scurrying down the aisles of Whole Foods looking for items for my second sponsored post, I spied these odd little fruits. About the size and shape of a kiwi, but with a green skin that looked something like the outside of an unripe and very green avocado.

I flagged down someone who worked in the produce section and asked what it was. He said it was a little like a kiwi, and asked if I would like a taste. He pulled a little knife out of somewhere, cut the fruit in half, cut out the center section, and handed it to me.

It had a citrusy flavor, but not that tart. A pleasant taste overall. I grabbed three of them and decided that I'd figure out what to do with them later.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

White Whole Wheat Buns

Buns are so versatile. You can serve them with breakfast to sop up your egg yolks or make a breakfast sandwich, you can make handy little lunch sandwiches, or you can serve them with dinner. If you make too many to use all at once, freeze some. They thaw quickly for bun emergencies.

This bun recipe uses white whole wheat flour, which is a bit confusing. White flour is one thing and whole wheat flour is entirely different. So, what is this stuff? White? Wheat? Whole? Partial?

It’s not as complicated as it seems. Most of the flour that’s milled for baking comes from what’s called red wheat. The outer portion of the grain is a reddish brown color and it’s what makes regular whole wheat bread so dark. The red pigment also has a bitter flavor. Some people like that flavor, but many don’t.

White wheat is a lighter color. Not white, but tan. Since the red pigment is what carries the bitter flavor, white whole wheat flour is not only lighter in color, but milder in flavor. It still has a stronger flavor than white flour, though, because it includes the whole grain.

White wheat could be refined into regular white flour (and sometimes it is), but it doesn’t make any difference that people would care about. So the only flour you’ll see labeled “white wheat” will be the whole wheat product – white whole wheat.

White whole wheat flour is usually milled a little finer, so it doesn’t have the rough and uneven texture typical of standard whole wheat flour. That makes it much easier to substitute white whole wheat for white flour in most recipes.

There are differences, however, so if you’re experimenting, I’d suggest swapping no more than half of the white flour for white whole wheat on the first try. Then you can try increasing it. For some recipes, you may need to increase the amount of liquid or reduce the amount of flour when you swap white whole wheat for white flour.

The benefit of using white whole wheat is that it adds more fiber and nutrients, just like regular whole wheat. Since the flavor is milder, it’s perfect for people who aren't crazy about the flavor of regular whole wheat.

If you don’t have white whole wheat flour, you can use regular whole wheat in this recipe - or use all white flour.

The potato flakes are simply instant mashed potatoes. Look for the ones with no additives or flavors for the best results. If you read labels, you’ll find some that are little more than dried potatoes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Savory Tomato Scones

After the blogging event at King Arthur Flour, I realized that I hadn't fiddled around with scones very much. There's no good reason why - I mean, they're not that much different than biscuits.

So of course, I went into the kitchen and started messing around with scone formulas.

Most scones I've eaten have been somewhat sweet. I decided to go the other way and make a savory scone. The sun-dried tomatoes I used are the ones you can find in the dried fruit section. I like those better than the ones in jars for this sort of recipe. This way, you're just adding the dried fruit and not any oil or other liquid.

For even more savory flavor, I added some goat cheese. You can use a plain one, or for something more interesting, use one that includes herbs or other flavorings.

This recipe is based very loosely on the recipe from the King Arthur Flour class I attended.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Different Kind of Mousse

When I came across a recipe that used water to make a chocolate mousse, I was fascinated. Common wisdom says that water and chocolate are enemies, and if you’ve ever melted chocolate and had a drop of water fall into it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

However, if you have enough water, the chocolate behaves itself. Interesting, no?

Removing dairy from the mousse changes the flavor. A lot. All you taste is the clean chocolate flavor without the richness of the dairy. Of course, you can add a few other flavors to enhance the chocolate. But in the end, you’re going to taste a lot of chocolate.

If you’ve ever thought that good-quality chocolate was a waste in desserts because of all of the competing flavors, this is the recipe where that favorite chocolate indulgence of yours will be the star.

And of course, if you’re cooking for someone with dairy issues, this dessert can be completely dairy-free, if you read some labels. Not all chocolate is dairy-free, so read the labels and check with your dairy-free friends and see if the little bit of dairy in some chocolates is a problem.

This dessert comes together in very little time, so you can make it and serve it right away. Or make it ahead and refrigerate it.

Most of the recipes for this type of mousse suggest that you should whisk by hand. You can do that, if you want to. But you can also use a hand mixer. It makes it a little easier to beat more air into the mixture and is a little less work, particularly if you whip too long and have to start over. And that’s another benefit of this recipe - if you mess up, the fix over is easy.

As you whip, the chocolate will transform from a runny liquid to a thicker liquid, to a pudding-like mixture, and finally to a fluffy mousse. Once it begins thickening, it happens pretty quickly. Just as quickly, it can get a little too thick because it’s fascinating to watch it change and pretty soon you’ve gone beyond fluffy into something else. But that’s not a problem. Warm it up again and start over.

Salt acts as a flavor enhancer in sweets, just as it does in savory dishes. If you’re watching your salt intake, you can leave it out. If you want a little extra boost in flavor, you can use some brewed coffee for some of the water.

Dairy-Free Chocolate Mousse

8 ounces (by weight) good-quality chocolate
8 ounces water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Powdered sugar (to taste – only if needed)

Sample your chocolate. This is what your mousse is going to taste like. Ponder a moment or two whether this is going to be sweet enough, or whether you might want to add just a bit of sugar.

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place them in a medium bowl. If you’re working with a large bar of chocolate, the easiest way to do this is to cut it with a serrated knife. It will break and crumble into small bits.

Have a second, slightly larger bowl ready, with ice in it. You don't need a vast amount of ice - a tray of ice or about a dozen cubes should be fine. The bowl with the chocolate should fit into the larger bowl so the bottom of your work bowl touches the ice.

Add the salt to the chocolate.

Heat the water to boiling and add it to the chocolate in the bowl. Let it sit for a few seconds, then whisk until the chocolate is melted. Add the vanilla extract, if you’re using it.

Place your work bowl into the second bowl and begin whisking the chocolate - or beat it with an electric mixer. It won’t take long before the mixture begins to lose its shine and it becomes lighter in color and a little thicker. Give it a taste and see if you want to add a bit of sugar. If so, add the powdered sugar a tablespoon at a time, whisking (or beating) to combine it with the chocolate.

Continue whisking/beating the chocolate until it thickens to your desired consistency. If it gets too thick, just place the bowl with the chocolate in it over a pan with simmering water and re-melt the chocolate. Then place the bowl back on top of the ice in your second bowl and whisk again until it thickens.

You can refrigerate the mousse in the bowl and serve from that when you’re ready, or scoop it into individual serving bowls.

If you don’t need to keep the dessert dairy-free, it’s nice with just a bit of whipped cream on top. Or you can serve it plain, or with a non-dairy whipped topping, if you prefer.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sweet & Saucy Frosty Blitz

I've launched a little food-related project in conjunction with the folks at Fooducopia, a site where small food producers sell their products. My part in this is that I'll be creating recipes specifically for products sold on the Fooducopia site. This is one of those recipes.

You know how it is – you open a few jars of Sweet & Saucy products to drizzle over ice cream or garnish a pie – and then you’ve got leftovers. The ice cream is gone, the pie is gone, and you’re ready to dive into the jar with a spoon.

But then you think that maybe there’s something a little more creative you could do with the sauce. But you don’t want to buy more ice cream …

It’s pretty easy to whip up a shake or smoothie using almost any flavor of Sweet & Saucy that you might have on hand. This time I used Frank’s Whiskey Caramel.

The beauty of a recipe like this is that you can start with the basics and add whatever you like. Have a banana that needs to be used? Toss that in! One last scoop of ice cream? Use it up! Want a thicker drink? Add more ice! Want to feel virtuous? Add some flax meal! Need to use up the last bits of heavy cream (and not feel virtuous)? In it goes! One miserable teaspoon of peanut butter left? Add that! Other fruit? Go for it!

Sweet & Saucy Frosty Blitz

The easiest way to measure the ingredients is to start with a 2-cup measuring cup, add the milk first, then add the remaining ingredients and watch the liquid level rise. If you add a little too much of something, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a precise formula.

1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup Sweet & Saucy Frank’s Whiskey Caramel
1/4 cup ice cubes
Optional add-ins

Toss all the ingredients into the blender and blitz until the mixture is smooth and the ice is destroyed. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, if you like.

To be clear, I'm not reviewing or endorsing the products in this recipe. I've created the recipe for Fooducopia to post its site and I'm re-posting the recipe here for my readers as well. Then again, since I created the recipe, rest assured that I liked it. I don't cook stuff that we're not going to eat.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pizza Stones: the Roundup Finale

The path to pizza enlightenment
Whenever the subject of pizza baking stones comes up, people chime in with their favorites. But how many people have owned more than two - or maybe three - pizza stones?

And how many have tested them with exactly the same recipe in the same oven baked for precisely the same amount of time? Now I can say that I have.

Over the course of 12 weeks, I tested a variety of baking surfaces with the same pizza recipe, photographed the results, judged the textures, and ate the pizzas. After making and eating the same pizza every week for 12 weeks, I'm ready to wrap up this series on pizza baking surfaces and eat some different pizzas.

Thanks to Serious Eats for letting me tackle this madness and to the SE readers who suggested even more stones and baking surfaces as the tests went on. I've got to say that it was enlightening. Some of the results were different than what I expected.

And of course, I expect your results would be different in different ovens making different pizzas. But this should give you a good idea of which stones would give you the results you're hoping for.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Seafood Frenzy

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

I don't know what it is about seafood, but when I decide to make any kind of seafood for dinner, I immediately start thinking about other kinds of seafood to serve as appetizers or some other supplement to the meal.

I don't do that with anything else. I mean, I don't go buy a roast and then think that a pork chop would make a good appetizer.

Well, okay, maybe cheese. When I need to buy one cheese, it's a good bet that I'll come home with three. But it's not like I'm compelled to work all three of them into dinner right away.

It's not like we have appetizers all that often, either.

I can't explain it - I want one kind of seafood, but then can't resist another one. And then I see something else. And pretty soon my simple dinner is a lot more ambitious.

So there I was in the seafood section at Whole Foods, buying some scallops. I was planning on searing them ... and doing something with them. Wasn't sure yet, but then I thought about making scallop ceviche as well. Scallops two different ways - why not? That's not so extreme, right?

I went looking for chips to serve the ceviche on, and found my favorite wheat tortilla chip things that Whole Foods sells. They're evil good and make a nice presentation because there are different-colored ones in the bag - green, white, and orange.

Three colors? Maybe I could do three appetizers! Uh oh, back to the seafood department.

I'm all about making everything from scratch, but the lobster salad looked pretty appealing. I was offered a sample, and I could imagine it on a cracker right next to my scallop ceviche.

And then I spotted the pickled herrings in cream sauce. My mother occasionally made her own pickled herrings, but it's something I've never tackled. Maybe one of these days.

Meanwhile, I'm perfectly happy to buy them.

But ... sigh ... herrings didn't seem right on the tortilla chips. Time to visit the cracker aisle.

Have you realized yet that I shop like a pinball, bouncing from one section to another and back again?

There are times when I'm a little more organized, but when I'm creating a recipe while I'm shopping, it can be a little bit like a treasure hunt. One item leads to another and then I think of something else I need to make the recipe perfect.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

King Arthur Flour Blog 'n Bake: Going Wheaty

Susan Reid discusses the anatomy of wheat.
Two days at the King Arthur's Blog 'n Bake event was packed with information, and a lot of hands-on baking. We had some solo projects and some partner/group projects.

Different classes were taught by different people. The really cool thing about that was that some of them had different methods for doing things and different preferences when it came to equipment.

That fits my theory that there are many different ways to get good results - it just depends on what's right for you. Or what's right for you at the time.

It kind of annoys me when someone says there's one ONE way do do cook or bake something. There may be faster or slower ways, or more efficient ways. Of course you might get slightly different results, but it's a matter of opinion which result is the best. But there aren't a whole lot of times where there's just one right way. So it was cool to have one instructor tell us to use a pastry blender and another one tell us to use our fingertips. It said as much about the company as about the instructors.

And it was great to have different people teaching different things just because it was fun to see all the different personalities. Susan Reid was great to watch - she really showed her passion for baking.

One of the things I found really interesting wasn't cooking at all - it was the discussion about wheat and about flour. I've always thought that the flour from King Arthur was more consistent from bag to bag than other brands, but that was just a gut feeling.

What we learned was that King Arthur has the strictest standards in the industry when it comes to protein content - plus or minus one-tenth of one percent. They said that they've rejected trailer loads of bagged product that were out of spec, and the suppliers unbagged that flour and sold it elsewhere. Other brands don't have such strict requirements, so protein levels can vary by a lot more from one batch of flour to another.

But why do we care?

Well, for one thing, the protein is what forms gluten. If you're making bread, you want more gluten. When you're making cake, you want less.

But the other thing is that the amount of protein in flour affects the way it absorbs water. And that's a huge deal if you're trying to perfect a recipe. It also explains why several people can make the same recipe and one will say the dough was too wet and another will say the dough was too dry.

And if it explains why something might work once and not work the next time - when you open a new bag of flour. If the protein content is different from bag to bag, it could affect your recipes.

How much different? Let the photo tell the tale:

Clockwise from top left we have semolina flour, cake flour (bleached), bread flour, and pastry flour. These are identical weights of flour and water in each bowl. The only difference is the type of flour. Interesting, hmmm? And these weren't all the flours we tested. And every one of them was different.

We also got to check out some muffins made from different flours. Same recipe, different types of flour, different results. None of them looked terrible, but there were visible differences. And a whole lot of muffins:

So, what now? Want another King Arthur Flour recipe?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Half-Whole White/Wheat Bread

Has the title confused you? Me too. This one is a bread that's half regular white bread flour and half white whole wheat flour. It's all wheat, but half is whole wheat and half is refined flour. The half that's made from whole wheat is white wheat. The other half is made from red wheat, but since it's not whole wheat it's white flour.

If none of that makes any sense to you, don't worry about it. It's just two types of flour. Both are easy enough to find.

This recipe makes 2 loaves. It's easy enough to divide in half if you only want one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dried-Blueberry Muffins

The great thing about muffins - compared to bread or buns - is that they're fast. You can decide you want muffins for breakfast and you can have them done in about a half-hour. I mean, I we all know that I love bread. But good bread takes time. Muffins are now.

This time, I decided that I wanted blueberry muffins. But of course I didn't have fresh blueberries. Why would I? And I didn't have frozen ones either. What I did have was dried blueberries. Even better, they were the tiny wild Maine blueberries. If you don't have any dried blueberries, any other dried fruit would work just as well.

On the other hand, I didn't want to overwhelm the muffins with blueberries. I wanted muffins with blueberries, and not blueberries surrounded by muffin.

I also decided to make these in fancy shapes instead of in plain muffin tins. If you're making these in regular muffin tins, a little bit of sugar sprinkled on top before baking would add some glitter and some crunch as well.

This recipe results in a very tender cake-like muffin, even though I used white whole wheat flour, which can sometime result in a denser product. You can use all white flour for this recipe, or up to half of it white whole wheat.

If you prefer, you can use something other than water to hydrate your blueberries. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Gadgets and a Giveaway

Old spreader on the left, shiny new one on the right.
You might have read my post about the King Arthur Flour event I went to. While I was there, I did a little shopping. But I had to consider that anything I brought home would have to go on the plane with me.

That eliminated sharp or pointy things. It also eliminated large quantities of liquids, like that giant bottle of vanilla that looked so enticing.

If I lived nearby, I probably would have come home with a 25-pound bag of bread flour, but I set my sights a little ... lighter.

Honestly, though, I have a lot of things from the catalog already. So I ended up buying something that I already had - the catalog calls them nylon spreaders, but I use these things for a whole lot more than that.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Blog & Bake: Two floury days with King Arthur and the Bloggers

Bread, bread, and more bread.
I don't always think of myself as a blogger. Most often, I think of myself as a writer (who likes to cook and bake) who happens to have a blog.

I mean, this blog is only about a year-and-a-half old, and I've been writing since before ... well ... before there was an Internet. I wrote for newspapers and magazines and trade journals and catalogs. And I wrote press releases and advertorials company newsletters and fiction. I even wrote two plays. I've spewed a lot of words into the universe.

I got around to the blogging thing a little bit late.

So when things happen because I'm a blogger, it strikes me as a little bit funny. People really read this stuff, huh? Who knew.

Apparently King Arthur Flour knew. The ever-friendly Allison Furbish, media guru from King Arthur Flour, invited a bunch of bloggers to visit the company and take some classes. How could I refuse? When the King invites, you attend, lest he send a dragon to fetch you.

And besides, I'm always interested in learning new things about floury things. And they have a store filled with all the cool stuff that's in the catalog. I love baking stuff. Even though I knew I couldn't haul 25-pound bags of flour back with me on the airplane, I figured it would be fun to see the 3-D version of one of my favorite catalogs.

Airport food. Not bad at all.
So I packed my bags and off I went to Vermont by way of Boston and New Hampshire. I left home at 10 a.m. and arrived at the Denver airport in time to grab some lunch before I boarded the plane to Boston.

I opted to go to the Denver Chophouse and Brewery where I had a burger and a beer. I figured that would tide me over.

It was going to be a long time before I reached my final destination, and I knew that airline snacks weren't going to be very exciting. What I didn't realize was that there was going to be a lot of food coming my way over the next few days.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Technique: Cooking Surfaces for Pizza (Part 12)

The same stone, unseasoned and seasoned.
The first time I was aware of All Clad was when a company I worked for sent me to Pittsburgh for a few months. I visited the nearby(ish) All Clad factory for business and later went to their factory sale. When I got home with my new toys, people were unimpressed. No one had heard of All Clad. But I didn't care. I had seen inside those pots, and I knew very well what I had.

What does this have to do with pizza stones? Well, when I was researching stones, I saw that All Clad had a pizza stone. And unlike all the man-made products, this one was a hunk of soapstone. The stone itself is 13 inches in diameter, 3/5-inch high, and weighs 9 pounds, 10 ounces. It comes with a metal ring with handles that the stone fits into for transport. It also came with a pizza cutter.

What it didn't come with was a care and use sheet. Apparently there's supposed to be one in the box, but there wasn't one in mine. No matter. I contacted All Clad and they emailed a PDF of the instructions.

Meanwhile, I did some research about soapstone, and thought I had just about all the information I needed, even without the official company brochure. But when I got the information from All Clad, some of what they said conflicted with what I found on other sites.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Great Grilling

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

The weather pushed me outdoors to the grill, so that was my goal when I went shopping. First on the agenda was meat, and I decided on some ribeye steaks. I knew that I wanted to cook them very simply, but also wanted something a little special to go with along with them.

I considered a compound butter or a bit of cheese, but I wasn't set on anything in particular. Then I spotted Urbani Truffle Thrills in the cheese section. I'd heard that Urbani was a reliable brand of truffle products, so I was intrigued. There was a white truffle version and a black truffle version. I opted for the white.

I cruised through the produce section for vegetables and picked up a few more supplies. I decided that my dinner deserved a special drink to go with it, so I went to the Whole Foods liquor store where I presented the staff with a challenge. I was grilling red meat, but red wine and I don't always get along. If I was buying a bottle, I wanted a white wine.

After a short consultation between staff members, I was led to the Sauvignon Blanc section where we discussed the options. I was asked if there was a particular price point I was after. I said no, but I was always looking for a good value. I was really pleased that the wine suggested was a mid-priced wine rather than one at the high end of the range.

A rather inexpensive wine was also in the running, but the ribeyes deserved something a little better. I figured I could come back for the more frugal choice for a different meal.

Meat Grilling Tips:

There are two schools of thought when it comes to grilling meat. One is to sear first and finish cooking on low heat. The other is to cook slowly first to the proper temperature, then crank up the heat and sear it last. I'm not going to weigh in on that controversy at the moment, since I haven't tried them both side-by-side. All I have to say is that I've grilled both ways and either way works.

There are a few things, however, that I think are important.

First, let the meat come up to room temperature before grilling. How long this will take depends on the thickness of the meat. If you don't have time for this pre-warming, you won't ruin the meat, but it's something I always try to do when possible.

Second, salt the meat before cooking. It seems to work best if you salt a little early rather than right before grilling. Fifteen minutes is sufficient. Some people like to salt the meat a day in advance. A good steak doesn't need much more than salt, and then some pepper, if you like it. The pepper doesn't need to go on early, but it's convenient to do the seasoning all at once so you're not running out to the grill with the pepper mill after the steaks are already on the fire.

Third, and particularly when you're cooking a thick cut of meat, use a meat thermometer. It's a little more difficult to control the temperature on a grill than when you're cooking on the stove or in the oven. Even if you're using a gas grill, setting the grill to medium doesn't mean much if there's fat dripping from the food and you have flare-ups adding to the heat.

Fourth, for a thick cut of meat, you might want to treat it a little bit like a roast. A thin steak can cook completely through on an open grill in a very short time. But a thicker cuts need the heat to penetrate to the center of the meat without overcooking the outside, just like a roast. The best way to accomplish that is to lower the heat and cover the grill and let the meat come up to temperature more slowly and gently.

Fifth, remove the meat before it reaches your target cooking temperature, and let it rest before cutting. The meat temperature will continue rising after you take it off the grill, so you need to account for that. Figure that the temperature will rise by at least another five degrees before it begins falling again. And just like a roast, you want to let the meat rest or risk having all the juices run out when you slice the meat. That's true whether you're slicing the steaks for serving, or whether you're serving whole steaks.

Resting time depends on the thickness of the meat, but figure anywhere from 5-15 minutes. Five minutes is a little short, but better than nothing. If you want to be very precise, wait until the temperature in the center of the meat stops rising and begins dropping.

Grilled Ribeye Dinner

2 ribeye steaks, about 1 1/2 inches thick
4 yellow squash
1 pound baby bella mushrooms
Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Urbani Truffle Thrills
Salt and pepper, to taste

If you'll be using wooden skewers for the vegetables, soak them in warm water ahead of time. If you're using metal skewers, just have them handy. You don't need skewers, but it makes turning the vegetables much easier.

Bring the meat out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. If you didn't pre-salt the meat earlier, do so now. Add pepper to taste.

Clean the squash and mushrooms. Cut the squash into chunks approximately the same size as the mushrooms. Place the mushrooms and squash into a plastic bag (or you can use a bowl, if you prefer). Drizzle with just enough balsamic vinegar to coat the vegetables. (Note: this is not the time to break out your super-expensive balsamic. An inexpensive balsamic is just fine.) Add an equal amount of olive oil. You don't need to drown the vegetables - just coat them. Add salt and pepper to taste.

The longer you leave the vegetables marinating, the more flavor they will take on. Fifteen minutes is sufficient; a few hours will add much more flavor. You can let them sit overnight, but the vegetables will take on a more "pickled" flavor and texture.

If the vegetables are in a plastic bag, turn them over occasionally to make sure they're marinating evenly. If they're in a bowl, stir as needed. If you're marinating over night, put them in the refrigerator; otherwise you can leave them at room temperature. Before grilling, put the vegetables on skewers (if you're using them). Skewers aren't necessary, but it makes turning the vegetables much easier.

The nice thing about grilling on a large grill is that you can have hot zones and cooler zones. My gas grill has three burners, and it's not unusual for me to have one completely off and use that as a resting zone where food can stay warm without overcooking. On a small grill, you can still set up hot and warm zones, but you'll have less space and probably less temperature variation.

The nice thing about the vegetables I chose for this menu is that they can be served at any doneness, from briefly warmed to fully cooked. You can put them on at the last minute to get grill marks and just a little cooking, or you can leave them on the grill much longer to get fully cooked. It's up to you.

If you're opting for the high-heat-first cooking method, sear the steaks first on high heat, then move them to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking. Put the vegetable skewers on to get grill marks on both sides of the vegetables, turning as needed. Then move them to a cooler area (or, if you're using a gas grill, lower the temperature.)

If you have a remote temperature probe that is grill-safe, insert it into the center of one of your steaks. Close the grill and cook the meat to your desired temperature and the vegetables to your desired temperature. If the vegetables are cooking too quickly for your taste, you can remove them from the grill and put them back on to warm up just before serving.

If you want to try starting at a lower heat, the instructions are the opposite. Start everything at a lower temperature, cook until just done, then sear very quickly at high heat.

Don't wander too far from the grill - be ready to move the meat and vegetables if you get flare-up and hot spots, and move them around as needed for even cooking. Even thick steaks cook quickly, depending, of course, on your preferred doneness. It could be as little as 10 minutes, including searing time. Check the steaks early and remember that the temperature will continue to rise after you take them off the grill.

When the meat and vegetables are done remove them from the grill cover with foil, and let them rest before serving. Okay, the vegetables don't need to rest, but it's convenient to take them off the grill while you're working on other things away from the grill. Cover them with foil and they'll stay at serving temperature for quite a while.

The Truffle Thrills simply needs to be heated for serving. It's a complete sauce, with cream, mushrooms and truffles. Serve on the side or drizzle over the meat before serving.

And yes the white wine paired very nicely with the meat.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Almond Breeze Freeze

I had a container of Almond Breeze - an almond milk - left from a previous project. This one was chocolate flavored. And I needed to do something with it.

I decided to make a frozen dessert out of it. Like ice cream, but obviously a dairy-free dessert isn't ice cream, so I named it Almond Breeze Freeze.

Right off the bat, Almond Breeze is thinner than milk, so I knew I wanted to thicken it a bit before I froze it. I decided to use eggs as my thickener, sort of like custard-based ice creams.

It didn't thicken to a custard consistency, but it was a thicker than what I started with.

The resulting dessert isn't as icy as a granita, but it's not as rich and creamy as an ice cream. It has a thinner mouthfeel than ice cream, for lack of a better description. It's more like a "light" ice cream that's made with lower-fat dairy products. Do they still sell ice milk? That's sort of what it's like.

Adding a heavy non-dairy creamer might be an option for some folks, but most of those are thickened with all sort of odd stuff. I decided to go a more basic route, and I'm pretty pleased with the result.

This isn't going to replace my favorite ice cream recipe, but it's an interesting frosty dessert, and perfect for anyone who needs to stay away from dairy products.

Almond Breeze Freeze

1 quart chocolate-flavored almond milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla

Combine the almond milk, sugar, egg yolks, and salt in a heavy-bottomed pan. Whisk until combined. Heat on medium heat, stirring as needed, until the mixture thickens. This doesn't get thick like a custard, but it will be thicker than when you started. It's fine if you get a few bubbles breaking to the surface, but you don't want it to boil. Take it off the heat, add the vanilla, and stir to combine

Pour the mixture through a strainer (to catch any curdled bits of egg) and into a storage container. Cover and refrigerate until fully chilled - several hours or overnight.

Churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer directions. Serve immediately or store in the freezer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Quick Pickled No-Fuss Spicy and Sassy Mushrooms

I've launched a little food-related project in conjunction with the folks at Fooducopia, a site where small food producers sell their products. My part in this is that I'll be creating recipes specifically for products sold on the Fooducopia site. This is one of those recipes, and this time I'm using Captain Spongefoot Steak Wash.

Hi, my name's Donna, and I'm a mushroom-aholic.

When I was a kid, I loved mushrooms, whether they were canned or fresh. Yes, I was the weird kid who loved all sort of vegetables.

Later, When I was off on my own, I found a mushroom farm not to far from where I lived. I'd go there just about every week and pick up three or four pounds of mushrooms. Every week.

I've cut back on that a bit. In fact, I don't buy mushrooms every week. But although I've cut back in volume, I've increased the diversity of the mushrooms that I use. Back when I had the four-pound-a-week habit, it was mostly white mushrooms, and sometimes there would also be some brown ones. But no exotic varieties.

Now, there's a stand at the farmer's market that sells a pretty interesting variety of mushrooms. And of course I have my stash of dried mushrooms.

But even though I've expanded my mushroom horizons, I still like standard white or brown mushrooms for many things. The top of a pizza for example. Cream of mushroom soup.

Or for pickling. Particularly for pickling.If you're going to pickle a mushroom, you're going to add a LOT of flavor from the pickling liquid, so there's no sense in using an exotic (and expensive) variety.

When it comes to pickled mushrooms, you can opt to slice your mushrooms, leave them whole, or cut them in halves or quarters. I depends, in part, on how big the mushrooms are. Slices will pickle faster than whole mushrooms, so if you need them soon, slicing or quartering makes sense. It also depends on what you plan on using them for. If they're destined for a tray of nibbles, the whole ones make sense. But if you're using them as a condiment, slices might make more sense.

These pickled mushrooms have a nice kick to them and a slightly smoky flavor. They make a great topping for sandwiches, burgers or tacos. You can also add them to a stir-fry, scrambled eggs, or cook them briefly with the rest of your fajita ingredients.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cinnamon ... Pizza?

I was at meeting, munching on the freebie cinnamon breadstick/pizza/thing that came with the pizza we ordered, and it dawned on me (the meeting wasn't particularly compelling) that this was basically pizza dough topped with cinnamon and sugar.

Just about everyone I know would say that I'm something of a bread snob. Heck, I'll admit that I'm a bread snob. So it should be no surprise that mid-munch I decided that I could do a whole lot better than this rather plain pizza dough. The topping was fine, if a little sweet. But the dough could be improved.

It only took a couple tries before I got what I wanted.

This isn't pizza. Not even close. Even though the inspiration was pizza, now it's a sweet cinnamon bread with a hint of almonds.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Bee Problem

This is a first - the first post on Cookistry that wasn't written by me. This appeared in the Left Hand Valley Courier and was written by my friend Liz Emmett-Mattox. She gave me permission to republish it here.

Although the article was written about a local beekeeper, the story is relevant world-wide. The bee population in many areas is declining and beekeepers are struggling to keep their hives viable.

Bees aren't important just for their honey (which, I'll admit, is tasty) but we need those darned bees to pollinate our crops. If we lose too many bees, we're going to lose a lot of human food.

Here's the article:

Many people love to see the cornfields growing in this area. It's part of what gives Niwot that rural feel. But it's entirely possible that these cornfields are a source of a toxic insecticide that is responsible for devastating honeybees in our area and across the country.

Tom Theobald has been raising bees for over 35 years and has watched his hives suffer tremendous winter losses over the last few years. When he got curious and started looking for the cause, the trail led him to a particular class of pesticides called neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides that disrupt the central nervous systems of pest insects. But since they are systemic, the insecticide is released into every part of the plant, including the pollen and nectar that honeybees consume.

Theobald became convinced that this group of insecticides was a serious threat to the honeybee population and published his findings this summer in Bee Culture, calling clothianidin the "Deepwater Horizon" of agriculture.

In his article, he took the EPA to task for both bad science and bad policy, arguing that this pesticide should never have been granted approval because the safety studies were flawed, and the EPA's own regulatory process failed to catch a harmful product before it was put into widespread use.

After the publication of his article, an EPA scientist contacted Theobald and told him that the EPA had come to the same conclusion about the original study and sent Theobald a copy of a November 2010 memo about the issue. This is the so-called “leaked” memo put Theobald at the center of growing network of organizations calling on the EPA to pull clothianidin off the market until scientifically sound studies can be completed.

photo by Liz Emmett-Mattox
The story actually began nearly a decade ago when Bayer (the German chemical company) submitted an application for clothianidin, a new kind of neonicotinoid. Clothianidin was granted conditional approval in April 2003 on the basis of a study that was very limited in terms of assessing the impact on honeybees.

The company was supposed to complete a more thorough study by the end of the 2003 to receive full approval. This full study was not completed until 2007, during which time more and more farmers were using the pesticide on their crops.

Theobald criticized EPA management for the delays in getting a full assessment of clothianidin, but he is even more disturbed that the study itself, once it was finally completed, was deeply flawed.

First of all, instead of testing the pesticide on corn, and in the United States (as required by the original EPA conditions), it was tested on canola in Canada.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Technique: Cooking Surfaces for Pizza (Part 11)

It's hard to believe I haven't tested every possible pizza cooking surface yet, but I'm still at it. This time, we're talking heavy metal. As in cast iron. Specifically, the Lodge cast iron pizza pan.

This pan came highly recommended by several loyal Serious Eats readers and right off the bat, it's got several things going for it. Like the fact that it's not breakable. One complaint that comes up about just about every other stone is that they can crack from thermal shock or from general clumsiness. It takes a lot of dedication to break a cast iron pan.

Because it's so heavy duty, it can be used on the stovetop, under a broiler, or on your grill. Heck, when you're not making pizza, you can use it as a griddle. In fact, that would help season it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Raisin Story

I can't believe this blog is almost a year-and-a-half old and I haven't told you sordid details of The Raisin Story yet.

And yes, the Story has reached the status where it must be capitalized.

The tale starts long, long ago on the day before Easter when I was still a small and impressionable (and believing in the Easter Bunny) child. Like in the photo to the right. With less lipstick. Which was not actually on my face, but was applied by the photo studio.

On that day before Easter, as I did every year, I carefully placed a sheet of paper towel outside the front door and set a pristine carrot on top of the paper towel. Mom didn't believe in using paper napkins for anything, including as napkins. It was always paper towels.

I have no idea if the carrot offering was a gift or a bribe, or even a part of an elaborate rabbit-trapping scheme. All I know is that the carrot had to be there before I went to bed. The odd thing is that we never left anything out for Santa or his reindeer, but we always left a carrot for the Easter bunny.

On Easter morning, no doubt due to my carrot offering, I was rewarded with an Easter Basket outside the door, full of chocolates and jelly beans. Inside, I knew there would be Easter eggs hiding, which was pretty illogical, if you think about it. I mean, if the bunny could sneak in and hide eggs all over the place, why did he leave the basket outside?

Salmon Tacos with Homemade Yuzu Mayonnaise

I've been sooooo busy lately that I almost didn't enter this month's Kitchen Play contest. Then I spied a recipe for salmon and I thought, heck yeah, I've got leftover salmon from a post I haven't published yet.

The original recipe was for a salmon salad with a bearnaise sauce, but I was more in a taco state of mind. The sponsor of the contest is Safest Choice Eggs, so I needed eggs in the recipe, right? Those eggs are pasteurized, so they're perfectly safe for raw use. Pretty cool idea, hmmm?

So anyway, I decided to make a mayonnaise instead of a bearnaise with my eggs.

A long, long time ago I decided to jump out of an airplane. You know, with a parachute. For sport. And before we were allowed to jump, we all had to take a class that explained all the horrible things that could possibly go wrong, and what to do if one of those things happens.

Then the instructor explained that it's pretty rare for a student or new jumper to get hurt because they follow all the rules. If you're supposed to release the main chute and deploy the spare the student will do that because that's what you're supposed to do and you're scared out of you mind NOT to do what you're told.

But an experienced jumper will sometimes try to fix a problem or do things that aren't recommended, because they think the know it all. And the the ground comes up and hits them really hard.

My mayonnaise was sort of like that. I've made plenty of mayonnaises before. Whipping by hand, with a food processor, with a blender, or with a stick blender. I should be able to make mayonnaise in my sleep. It's been a while since I made any, but how much could I forget?

Yeah, well, I guess I must have forgotten something because the first few times I tried, it didn't work. And I made one heck of a mess. Let's just say that I have mayonnaise in my hair, and leave it at that, hmmm?

Duh. It's not that hard. If you ... you know ... follow the very simple directions.

The recipe here is just for the mayonnaise. The tacos were just blue corn tortillas, lettuce from the farmer's market and leftover grilled salmon. The yuzu mayonnaise added a nice citrus note to the tacos.