Saturday, March 31, 2012

I eat and talk (a review)

When I got an email from Chuao Chocolatier asking if I wanted to sample and review some of their Easter and Mother's Day chocolates, I said a most emphatic no.

Yeah, right.

Of course I said yes. Yummy chocolates? Bring 'em on.

The Easter chocolate they sent was the Hopping Popping Bunny. He wasn't hopping, but he was most definitely popping, since the chocolate was studded with popping candy.

The cool thing about the popping candy in the chocolate is that to really experience the effect, you end up eating the chocolate much, much slower. Little pieces of chocolate at a time that you savor, rather than inhaling a less amusing candy.

Whimsical chocolate bunnies are a heck of a lot of fun in the Easter Basket, but the Mother's Day selection they sent me was much more elegant.

A pretty white box tied with a white ribbon, the selection was called Breakfast in Bed.

The flavors were reminiscent of things you might find on a breakfast tray starting with a coffee-flavored chocolate. Because of course you want to start your day with coffee, right?

The other flavors were maple bacon that included smoked salt; orange bliss (because you need your orange juice); French toast that had a hint of cinnamon and maple, and rose garden that's filled with a rosewater caramel.

And did I mention that the packaging is kind of spiffy? The box closes with a magnetic latch. I can imagine using the empty box for ... hmmm ... I don't know for sure. But it would be nice for something. Small tools, teabags, jewelry.

If mom likes fancy chocolates, this little box would look great on the breakfast tray, right along with coffee, orange juice, French toast with bacon, and a rose in a small vase.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Whole Foods Friday: Cole Slaw

I decided that I needed a side dish to go with the sausage and polenta. Cole slaw sounded perfect - the texture is a perfect contrast.

Personally, I think cole slaw is best when it's made the day before and has plenty of time to rest in the refrigerator. But if you don't have the time, it's still good after a shorter rest.

This cole slow includes the usual cabbage, but it also has endive. Green endive is fine, but purple endive adds a bit of accent color. Meanwhile, scallions add a splash of darker green.

Cole Slaw

1 small head of cabbage, shredded
4 scallions, thinly sliced
3 small or 1 larger head of endive, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine the cabbage, scallions, and endive in a large bowl. Add the salt and stir to combine. Let this sit for 5-10 minutes, until the cabbage starts looking wet. Add the remaining ingredients, and stir to combine.

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving - overnight is even better.

Whole Foods Friday: Italian Sausage with Polenta

When I first moved to Colorado, one of my great disappointments was that I couldn't find the same kind of Italian sausage that was common in Chicago. I looked for it all over. I even brought some back from Chicago last time we went there to visit.

The big surprise was when I bought some at Whole Foods, and it was exactly what I was looking for.

My favorite way of preparing Italian sausage is with tomato sauce and bell pepper. From there, the rest of the ingredients can change a lot. Sometimes the sausage goes into a sandwich, and sometimes it gets paired with pasta. This time, I paired it with polenta.

Instead of buying cornmeal specifically for polenta, I bought a coarse-ground cornmeal. I tried using that cornmeal for cornbread, but it was a little too coarse for my liking. It worked really well for polenta, though.

Italian Sausage with Peppers

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 links sweet Italian sausage
1/2 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
2 bell peppers, cored and cut into strips
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 14.5 ounce petite diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
pinch of hot pepper flakes

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the sausage and brown on all sides. Add the  onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften.

Add the bell peppers, tomato sauce, tomatoes, black pepper, salt, oregano, marjoram, fennel, and pepper flakes.Stir to combine and cook on low until the peppers and sausage are cooked through.

This is ready to serve as soon as the meat is cooked through, but if you have time, it's even better if you let it simmer on low until the sauce thickens a bit. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as desired.

Slice the sausage and serve over polenta along with the peppers and tomato sauce.

Rice Cooker Soft Polenta

A rice cooker does a great job cooking polenta - no worries about the polenta sticking to or burning. No need for a lot of stirring. You can walk away from it and ay attention to something else. If you don't have a rice cooker, you can certainly make this on the stove. Just stir more often.

A rice cooker cup is actually 3/4 cup, soif you're making it on the stove, keep that in mind.

1 rice cooker cup of coarse ground cornmeal
4 rice cooker cups of water
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 ounce parmigiano cheese, grated
2 ounces cream cheese

Put the cornmeal, water, salt, and butter in the rice cooker. Set it to the porridge setting and cook, stirring once or twice during the cooking cycle. When it has finished cooking, stir again, and cook on the porridge cycle a second time.

After the second time through the porridge cycle, it should be cooked through and no longer chewy or gritty. If it needs to be cooked longer, let it continue cooking.

When it's done to you liking, add the cheeses and stir to combine.

For more information about Whole Foods Friday, see the tab at the top.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Savory Spice - Brisket now, more to come!

When I got an email from Mike at Savory Spice Shop saying that he was interested in working with Virtual Potluck, I was waaaaaaaay excited.

First - SPICES!!!! I can get lost for hours in a spice shop. Sniff, sniff ... testing all the different spices and blends and imagining what I can do with them.

I know that some people would be astonished at the number of spices I have. And then they'd get woozy at the idea that I might want more.

But think about it. 

Way back when ships were wooden and navigation was by the stars, there were people who got on those ships and sailed to strange lands just for spices.

They weren't looking for building materials or the cure for diseases or technology. They were looking for spices. THAT's how important spices were.

Now, you don't have to go as far. Maybe, if you're like me, you can drive to Savory Spice Shop and pick up what you need. Or, you can travel even less, and order from your computer.

The second reason I was excited about working with Savory, I already hinted at. It's a local business. Right here in Colorado, with a store in Boulder. I aways like working with local companies.

On April 16, all 12 of the Virtual Potluck bloggers will be using Savory spices in at least one recipe. But we're not all using the same spices. We each chose spices from different sections of the store. It's really unlikely you'll see many similar recipes. How great is that?

Oh, but we're not going to forget you. Each blogger will have a gift box of spices to give away. And, yes, they're all going to be different. Woah. You're going to LOVE US in April. Amazing spices, amazing recipes, and an amazing giveaway!

Want a little teeny little peek at what we're up to?

  • Heather from Farmgirl Gourmet will no doubt have something spicy, since she's working with Chilis. I saw photos of her chili choices - looks like a lot of fun!
  • Jay from Bite and Booze will be working with blends from the Chicken and Seafood section. I'm betting seafood. Or maybe chicken. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
  • Marnely from Cooking with Books will be getting seedy with things from the Seed section. You know, like sesame, caraway, annato ... I'm sure she'll surprise us.
  • Matt from Thyme in Our Kitchen will be getting crazy with spices from the Exotics section. You might find a few things here that you've never heard of.
  • Milisa from Miss in the Kitchen will be getting salty and saucy, since she's working with Sauces and Salts. If you don't think salts are interesting, you should see what Savory has.
  • Rachel from Rachel Cooks (and yes, she does) will be working with herbs. I don't know which ones she chose, but I'm sure she'll be cooking up a storm. Or maybe dinner.
  • Shelby from Diabetic Foodie will be working with blends from the Curry section. Another spicy gal with a spicy selection. I can't wait to see what she makes.
  • Susan from 30AEATS will be having some fun in the barbecue section  It's pretty amazing how many different types of barbecue there are, and I have no idea how she's going to narrow it down.
  • Tara from Foodie will be getting spiced up with Chili Blends. What will she make? Chili? I'm sure that whatever it is, you'll be drooling.
  • Theresa from Food Hunter's Guide to Cuisine will be working with extracts. You know, like almond, vanilla, lemon ... so many flavors to choose from. Which will be her favorite?
  • Vanessa from GrooVy Foody will be working in the Baking section. Rumor has it that chocolate will be involved. She'll rock this one out.
  • And me, Donna, here from Cookistry - I'm the dippy one this time. I'll be working with dips and also with peppers. Sure, I might make some chip dip for munchies, but my recipe might surprise you.

So ... would you like a little look at what's possible with spices from Savory Spice Shop?

Besides the recipes we'll be working with for our recipes, we each received some extras. Bonus! I got the four spices you see above, which was in a gift box labeled "Seafood Lovers."

So what did I make? Not seafood. The first thing I made was a dip for some asparagus using California Citrus Rub.

And then the Pearl Street Plank Rub starting calling to me with its pretty red color.

I decided to use it on some brisket. Oh, but it wasn't just any brisket. It was smoked brisked. I rubbed the brisket, put it in the smoker, and let it cook for half the day, until it was tender smoky and delicious. The rub added some heat and extra flavor. Highly recommended.

Have I whetted your appetite? I hope so. I'm getting hungry thinking about all the great recipes you'll see from this group!

So, just curious - what's your favorite herb/spice? And do you prefer the single-ingredient herbs and spices, or do you like blends, like an Italian mix, or a curry blend, or something similar? Or both?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Frozen Chocolate Wind - a molecular gastronomy dessert

Recently, I made honey pearls using kit from Molecule-R Flavors. That was a lot of fun. And I liked the way they turned out. So I flipped through the other recipes and found something called Frozen Chocolate Wind.

Okay, they had me at chocolate. The chocolate wind recipe is in the emulsification section. Basically, emulsification is a process that combines two ingredients that don't normally mix - like oil and vinegar to make salad dressing, or oil and egg yolks to make mayonnaise.

In this case, chocolate and water combine, and when the mixture is whipped with an egg beater, the bubbles stay stable for long enough so you can freeze the mixture. The result is a light, airy, frothy chunk of chilly chocolate.

The photo in the recipe showed a lumpy chunk of the chocolate, but I froze mine on a cookie sheet to make thinner slabs of bubbly chocolate that I could stack up. Maybe next time I'll try the bigger chunks.

It's a good idea to serve this chocolate on a chilled plate, since it begins melting pretty quickly on a room-temperature plate. This would also be interesting as a garnish on a cold dish, like ice cream, where it would stay chilled longer.

This was easy to make, but the beating process was pretty messy. I'd suggest using an over-sized bowl, or something deep and narrow, to contain the splatter.

Use a chocolate that you like as-is, since it's all you'll taste.

Frozen Chocolate Wind

2 grams (about a teaspoon) soy lecithin
85 grams dark chocolate
1 cup water

Combine the water and chocolate in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to make sure all the chocolate melts. Refrigerate the mixture for 10 minutes.

Dissolve the soy lecithin into the chocolate mixture and beat with a hand blender or eggbeater. The idea is to create foam.

I'm thinking about trying this in my stand mixer with the whip attachment next time, just to see if it works, and to see if it's any less messy.

Stop and gather the foam and put it into a bowl or another container that will fit in your freezer. Stash it in the freezer while you continue beating the remaining mixture to get as much foam as you can

I found that early on I was getting big, delicate bubbles, then they got smaller as the mixture cooled, until at the very end I had tiny bubbles more like what you'd see in whipped cream.

Put the foam into the freezer for at least an hour before you serve.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reuben Danish

Three words that rocked my world: rye puff pastry.

In the immortal words of my mother-in-law, "I never heared of such a ting."

I had never seen a rye puff pastry before the idea took root in that nagging part of my brain where recipes grow, and I had no idea if it was possible.

Okay, maybe someone has done it before - I'm sure most ideas have been done at some point - but I'd never seen or tasted rye puff pastry before I went into the kitchen with the idea firmly stuck in my head.

It took a little tweaking to get it to work right. You see, rye flour doesn't have the same amount of gluten as wheat flour, so it has trouble stretching thinly around the butter. But that can be fixed with a little extra gluten.

This isn't a true puff pastry - it's based on my "cheater" recipe that uses the food processor to cut in the butter, just like you'd do for pie dough.

Sure, you can do it by hand. It's probably not worth hauling the food processor out of a cabinet just for the few minutes of processing time, but mine lives on my counter, and I throw it all in the dishwasher so cleanup isn't a big deal, either.

I might try a real puff pastry using rye flour soon. Meanwhile, I have this recipe, and a perfect use for it - Reuben Danish. Yes, a Reuben sandwich wrapped up like a danish pastry.

No corned beef left? Then make it with ham and cheese instead. Or anything else you like on rye that you'd eat warm. Because really, this is at its best when it's warm from the oven.

If you've never made pie dough or puff pastry and you're a little afraid of the recipe, let me put you at ease. If you mess up and the butter gets incorporated into the dough rather than forming thin layers, you'll end up with a really buttery rye bread, which isn't such a terrible thing.

And if you don't want to make all four Danish, you can let the dough rest another day, or make croissants from the dough. Yes, rye croissants.

And just for the record, when I made these sandwiches, I used my home made sauerkraut, my home-cured corned beef, and my own Thousand Island dressing.

Reuben Danish

For the pastry:
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 cups cold water
2 cups (9 ounces) medium rye flour
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) bread flour
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks very cold unsalted butter
Eggwash (1 egg, plus 1 tablespoon water, beaten together)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (more as desired)
For the filling:
Corned beef, thinly sliced or chopped
Thousand Island dressing
Swiss cheese, grated

To make the pastry:
Combine the yeast and water in a medium bowl. Stir to combine.

Place the rye flour, bread flour, gluten, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your food processor. Pulse several times to combine.

Cut the butter into chunks and add it to the food processor. Pulse until you have pieces about the size of a garbanzo bean. It's fine if there are some larger and smaller pieces.

Add the flour/butter mixture to the bowl and mix gently until all the flour is moistened. Try not to break up the butter any more. At first the mixture might seem too dry, and after it is mixed it might seem too sticky. Don't worry about it. Cover the bowl with a plastic bag and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the bowl from the refrigerator, flour your work surface generously, and turn out the dough. Flour the top of the dough and pat it into a rough square shape. Roll the dough to about 10x18 inches. The exact measurement isn't critical - what you're trying to do is flatten the pieces of butter so that you'll end up with very thin layers of butter and very thin layers of dough. Flour the dough as needed to keep it from sticking to the counter and the rolling pin.

Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter, so it is now about 9x10 inches. Roll and fold the same way two more times. Do this quickly, so the butter doesn't soften. If you do feel the butter getting squishy, put the dough in the refrigerator for a while before continuing. After the third roll and fold, fold the dough in half so you have a square, flatten it a bit, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour - you can leave it until the next day, if that works better for you.

To make the Danish:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Flour your work surface and cut the dough into 4 pieces. (If you work fast, you can leave them on the counter. Otherwise, refrigerate them until you're ready for them.) Roll the first piece into a rectangle about 9x12 inches. Layer the corned beef, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and cheese on the sandwich in the proportions you like, keeping it within the center third of the dough, lengthwise and leaving about an inch uncovered at each end. If you're a big fan of the Thousand Island dressing, I suggest being less generous on the sandwich and having some at the table to add as needed. If you use too much, you risk having a soggy sandwich.

Using a sharp knife, pizza cutter, or pastry cutter, make slits about an inch apart along the long ends of the dough, up to the filling. I make the cuts at an angle, but you can make them straight.

Fold on of the uncovered ends over the filling, then begin folding the strips over the filling one at a time, alternating sides and crossing them at the top. If they look a little too short to reach, don't worry - they'll stretch. When you get to the far end, fold the end over the filling first, before you fold the strips over.

Transfer the Danish to your prepared baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and continue with the other three pieces of dough.

Let the Danish dough rest until it feels puffy when you touch it - about 30 minutes. It won't rise a lot, but it will feel soft and puffy.

Remove the plastic wrap from the dough, brush with the egg wash, and sprinkle with caraway seeds. Bake at 400 degrees until the pastry is nicely browned, about 35 minutes.

Remove from the oven, and put them on a rack (this keeps the bottoms crisp. Serve warm.

This has been submitted to YeastSpotting.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pierre Hermé Pastries (and a bunny!)

I'm not a big fan of the phrase "food porn." Like so many other superlatives, it's thrown around a little too freely.

There are a lot of nice food photos. But not that many of them rise above great - or even good - and reach that level where your mouth waters and your tummy rumbles.

The photos in Pierre Hermé Pastries by Pierre Hermé are definitely food porn. Not only that, but the words are beautiful. Take this quote about Chou Infiniment Citron (Infinitely Lemon Choux):

"I put all my efforts working on various flavors and textures into this lemon choux, each mouthful of which should resonate like a game of Ping-Pong: from creamy to bitter, from acid to sugar."

It's not a thousand words, but it paints a picture, doesn't it? It makes you want to actually make the recipe ... or hope that someone makes it for you.

While that particular recipe looks a little complicated with different components that combine at the end, the individual parts of the recipe are clearly written and seem a lot simpler when you look at them one at a time.

I'm not saying all the recipes are multi-part (and seriously, I'm considering making this particular choux with fewer components the first time) or that they're all complicated. The cheesecake is no more complicated than some others I've made. Simpler than some, really. And the blueberry muffin recipe is dead-simple.

Meanwhile the two-page photo of the croissants is making it difficult for me to concentrate. They are spectacular.

It's not all baking. Ice cream, anyone? No ice cream maker? How about a frozen coffee parfait?

Sigh ... it all looks so good. It looks so good that even desserts that I normally wouldn't be excited about look appealing. And of course I want to make everything in the book. Everything.

More on that later.

But in the meantime, I've got a little something to give away. A bunny!

No, I'm not going to be shipping live animals. This kind of bunny:

It's a 3D cake pan. Cute, huh?

I picked this up a while back when the local kitchenware store was going out of business. With Easter just around the corner, I thought it would make sense to do a quick giveaway, and get this guy a new home in time for the holiday.

To win the bunny pan: Contest is CLOSED
and the winner is ... DEB

Leave a comment telling me what your favorite cake flavor is.

For a bonus entry, tweet a link to this contest and mention @dbcurrie in the tweet. Come back here and leave a comment telling me that you tweeted.

And that's it. Two methods of entry. The contest starts when this post goes live and ends on Wednesday, March 28 at midnight, mountain time. Valid for US mailing addresses only.

I received a review copy of the book at no cost. I purchased the bunny pan. There is no relationship between the book and the bunny.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Portuguese Daisy (a cocktail) #SundaySupper

My friend Isabel at Family Foodie hosts a Twitter party called #SundaySupper every Sunday, and it's fun to participate - talking about what you're making or what you're eating.

Many of the suppers are a free-for-all; sometimes there's a theme. Today's theme is Portuguese food. When I found out the theme I took a quick look though my cookbook collection - no Portuguese cookbooks. Uh oh. Hard to believe, considering I have a cookbook on Mayan cooking.

I do have a few cookbooks that cover multiple cuisines, so I browsed through those. I found a few possible recipes, but none of them really appealed. And for some, I knew the ingredients would be hard to find.

Then I had a brainstorm. What about a drink?

I found a few recipes online that purported to being Portuguese drinks, but for one reason or another, I was skeptical. But there was one recipe that I found over and over again with multiple variations - a drink called the Portuguese Daisy.

And I learned something. Port wine is a Portuguese drink. Even the bottle I had came from Portugal. I never really thought about it.

The Portuguese Daisy is a dark red drink - I mean, the major component here is port wine. The flavor is much like a sangria, with the flavor of citrus mingled with the wine. This was a good find.

Many of the recipes called for superfine sugar, but that's not something everyone has on hand. Simple syrup makes more sense. Sure, you're adding a teeny bit of water, but you're also adding water from the melting ice, so it's not going to make that much of a difference.

Portuguese Daisy

2 ounces port wine
1 ounce brandy
1 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup
1 teaspoon grenadine

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake-a-shake-a-shakie it up. Strain into a glass and serve.

If I was making this for guests, I'd be tempted to garnish it with an orange slice. I have no idea if that's ever done with the classic drink, but I think it would work well. Or maybe a twist of lemon rind, since you're already using lemon.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Salad Days - a simple creamy dressing

Remember back in January when I said I was getting onboard with the Build a Better Me healthy blogging challenge? Have you noticed I haven't mentioned it much since then?

Yeah, I haven't done a whole lot of building.

It's probably time to start making a few improvements. Little things. I'm starting with salad.

I know that salad is not necessarily a low-calorie food. It depends on what you put in it and what you put on it.

But even if it's not crazy low-calorie, salad has one advantage: it takes a while to eat. You see, I like eating salad with dinner instead of having it before dinner, so eating salad slows down the meal. And the slower you eat, the less you eat. It's like magic.

And for people who take their "done eating" cues from other people at the table, having that salad to munch on might keep them from grabbing more fried chicken.

I like making my own salad dressing. Usually it's a simple vinegar and oil dressing with whatever herbs or flavors I'm in the mood for. I'll usually start with a ratio of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil, but it depends on how strong the vinegar is as well as what else I'm adding. If I'm adding something sweet, like a raspberry syrup or honey that will temper the acidity, I'll use less olive oil.

This particular dressing was a little different since it was a creamy dressing. Here's the basic recipe, which is infinity adaptable.

Creamy Dressing

1 part white balsamic vinegar
1 part mayonnaise
1 part yogurt
2 parts olive oil
Salt, pepper, and herbs, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to combine. Taste and adjust it to your personal preference.

Serve on your salad.

As far as the salad that you're looking at, there's lettuce, zucchini, roasted red peppers, and olives. It's what I had at the time. Pretty soon, after the farmer's market opens, there will be all sorts of interesting things in my salads. For now, they're much more simple.

Speaking of olives, I recently got an email from Lindsay Olives about a promotion they're doing for 30 Days to a Healthier You. It's a pretty simple promotion, and you could win $500 from them (not from me - I got no influence in this giveaway.)

All you have to do is Like them on Facebook and post a health tip - and based on what I've seen there so far, it can be pretty simple. And let them know that Cookistry referred you.

You don't even have to mention olives.

I'm not really sure what olives have to do with a healthier me, but it's a nice thing for Lindsay to promote. On the other hand, olives are pretty good on my salads, so I guess it makes some sense.

Speaking of hands, sometimes when no one is looking, I'll put an olive on my little finger. Some kids never grow up, huh?

Admit it, now... do you ever do that?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Whole Foods Friday: Pumped-up Grilled Cheese, Spring Pasta, and Strawberries with Creme Fraiche


I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but when I saw Skillet Bacon Spread on a shelf at Whole Foods, I knew I had to try it.

So far, I've tried it in a couple dishes, but I really, really like it on sandwiches. It adds a punch of bacon flavor along with some sweetness.

The idea for this sandwich started with grilled cheese with tomato, but then I decided that scrambled egg would put it over the top,

This isn't a light breakfast, by any means. That's okay. Lunch is a little lighter.

Pumped-up Grilled Cheese

2 slices bread
1 tablespoon Skillet Bacon Spread
1 egg, scrambled
1 slice tomato
1 slice mild cheddar cheese
Butter, as needed

Spread the bacon spread on one slice of bread. Top with the scrambled egg, then the tomato. Top with the cheese. Add the second slice of bread on top. Butter the outsides of the bread. Heat a skillet and place the sandwich in the skillet. Cook until one side is nicely toasted, then flip it and cook it on the second side.

Serve hot.


I have to admit that the weather influences my shopping. Since it was a bright, warm, sunny day, I couldn't help thinking about springtime foods. Sure, there's nothing growing here yet, and we could still see some snow. but I wanted a spring-like salad.

The heirloom tomatoes were calling to me, and a chose a bright orange one. The scallions (aka spring onions) looked fresh. Then I found some baby cucumbers.

I decided to make a pasta salad  I started with some tri-color orzo, but in the end there were more vegetables in the salad than pasta.

Springtime Pasta Salad

1/2 cup tri-color orzo
Juice of 1 lemon, divided
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 baby cucumber, thinly sliced
6 marinated baby artichoke hearts, quartered
1 tomato, diced
1 fire-roasted red pepper, diced
4 basil leaves, sliced in thin ribbons
1/2 cup pearl-sized fresh mozzarella balls
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil

Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain and rinse it, and put it a medium bowl. While it is still slightly warm, drizzle the juice of 1/2 a lemon over the pasta.

Add the remaining ingredients, and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice, as desired.

Refrigerate until serving time. Serve chilled or at room temperature.


Dinner's up to you, but I like a little sweet something to finish off the meal. You can use whatever ratio of creme fraiche to berries as you like. If you don't manage to use all the syrup, it would be nice over ice cream or drizzled over cake.

Strawberries with Creme Fraiche

1 cup cherry juice
1/4 cup orange liqueur
1/4 cup sugar
Creme fraiche

Put the cherry juice, liqueur, and sugar in a saucepan. Cook, stirring as needed, until the syrup has reduced to 1/4 its original volume and has thickened.

Let the syrup come to room temperature, then refrigerate.

Serve the cream under or on top of the berries - your choice - then drizzle with the syrup.

Want the whole scoop about Whole Foods Friday? Check the tab at the top.

This has been submitted to YeastSpotting.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lemon Curd - made in the microwave. Yes, it works!

I like to think that I know a lot about different ethnic and regional cuisines, and I've cooked multiple dishes from most of them - at least the ones that are popular. But when I was thinking about making a Jewish dish prior to Passover, I realized that I really don't know that much about traditional home-style Jewish food.

Most of my Jewish friends over the years have either not been cooks, or they weren't very traditional in their food choices. Oh, I'd hear about how grandma made kugel, but they weren't interested in making those sorts of things themselves.

And to be very honest, most of them didn't keep kosher except for specific holidays, if that. So my knowledge of traditional Jewish food is terribly lacking and comes with several grains of misinformation, I'm sure. And please, if I've managed to mis-state or mis-phrase anything religious, ethnic, or cultural, please forgive me. And then email me, so I can correct whatever it is.

When I got a review copy of The New Compete International Jewish Cookbook by Evelyn Rose, I figured it would give me a little more insight into what my friends' grandmothers might have been making. The book has many of those traditional foods I heard about but never tasted, as well as Jewish-friendly versions of foods that you wouldn't consider traditionally Jewish, many of them adapted to today's lifestyle rather than expecting cooks to use the same tools grandmother did.

At the back of the book are recipes for foods that are specific to certain holidays. I was sort of surprised to see that lemon curd was something the author particularly associated with Passover. It's not something that I associated with Jewish food, but the author said that this lemon curd was something her mother and grandmother made before her, and original recipe dated back to the early 20th century in her family.

There's some question of whether lemon curd is actually appropriate for Passover given that it contains butter. The microwave version calls for a type of a finely-ground sugar common in the UK, but the American substitute I used - confectioner's sugar - is probably also an issue, considering it contains cornstarch. But who I am to argue with family tradition? The recipe looked good, so I made it.

Browsing through the book, it reminded me of The Joy of Cooking. This is a very comprehensive book, but it's also homey. There are traditional dishes, family dishes, holiday dishes ... as well as some completely unrelated dishes that the author just happened to like a lot. I wouldn't suggest using this book as the last word on what's strictly kosher, but the recipes looked appealing.

And for many recipes, there are variations. With the lemon curd, there was one recipe for curd made on the stove top, but what I found most interesting was a recipe for making lemon curd in the microwave. The microwave version was for a smaller amount of curd than the stove-top version, which makes sense. Less work, so you wouldn't mind making it more often.

Lemon curd is something that a lot of people think is finicky to make on the stove, so making it in the microwave seems crazy. I had to try it.

While the book gave one flavor variation - for lime curd - any citrus should work just fine. I started with Meyer lemons, but didn't have enough juice. So I rooted around in the fridge and emerged with a couple clementines and a blood orange.

Instead of a lemony yellow, the curd I made was a pretty peach color because of the blood orange. The predominate flavor was lemon, though.

Lemon Curd in the Microwave
Adapted from The New Complete International Jewish Cookbook by Evelyn Rose (revised by Judi Rose)

Zest of 3 lemons, finely grated
6 ounces (3/4 cup) lemon juice
3 ounces unsalted butter
8 ounces* (1 cup) confectioners sugar
3 whole eggs

Let the zest soak in the lemon juice in a large microwaveable bowl for 2 hours to extract the flavor from the oils in the skin. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve. Discard the zest and set the juice aside.

Place the butter in the bowl and heat in the microwave at 100 percent power for 30 seconds to melt the butter. Add the juice and sugar, and stir to combine. Cook at 100 percent power for 1 1/4 minutes and stir again to make sure the sugar is completely melted.

In a food processor or blender, process the eggs for 10 seconds, then slowly add the hot butter/juice mixture, while the machine is running. Return the mixture to the bowl and microwave at 100 percent power for 1 3/4 minutes, stirring the mixture about halfway through the cooking.

Take the mixture out of the microwave and stir vigorously to make sure the curd has an even texture. It should be thick, but not as thick as your finished curd - it will thicken more as it cools. If it's not thick enough, cook another 30-40 seconds at 50 percent power.

Transfer the curd to a container for storage. Store in the refrigerator.

*When I saw that 8 ounces, by weight, of confectioner's sugar was supposed to equal 1 cup in volume, I was surprised. One cup of water weighs 8 ounces, but other ingredients weigh different amounts. A cup of flour, for example, weighs anywhere from 4-6 ounces depending on how much you fluff or pack. I thought the volume/weight conversion for the powdered sugar must be a mistake. But no, that cup of powdered sugar actually weighed 8 ounces. It's a good day when I learn something new.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cider-braised guinea hen

You might recall that a while back I was in a recipe contest over at Marx Foods. I came thisclose to winning the contest - only four votes separated me from some glorious tomahawk steaks.

Four votes.


But Justin Marx is a really nice guy. Shortly after the contest ended, he sent me an email and asked if I would like a couple of guinea hens that he had left over from a photo shoot. He added that there was no obligation to review or post about the birds. He didn't say it was a consolation prize, either. Just - hey, I've got these birds - do you want them?

Um, yeah.

Right after that I started looking up recipes, because as far as I know, I've never even eaten a guinea hen. I found a lot of recipes for roasting them, with the caveat that they're very lean so maybe you want to lay some bacon over the top.

A few people told me they were sort of gamey.

And coq au vin came up. "Braise them in wine," people said.

But of course, I went my own way.

Cooked this way, I didn't notice any gaminess at all. The dark meat was darker than a typical chicken, but the taste was very much like chicken.

Guinea hens aren't big birds. I didn't weight them, but the average guinea hens are supposed to weigh about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds. I'm guessing the ones I got were about that size.

But even though they were small, we got a quite a few meals out that one bird I cooked. We got two meals from the braised bird, then I used the carcass of the hen to make a stock and used that and leftover meat to make soup.

Apple Cider Braised Guinea Hen

1 guinea hen
1 tablepoon olive oil.
2 onions, peeled and quartered
4 potatoes,peeled and cut in large chunks
1 cup tart pie cherries
2 cups dry apple cider
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
White pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Rub be olive oil over the guinea hen and put the hen in a cast iron dutch oven. Arrange the onions, potatoes, and cherries around the hen. Pour the cider around the hen. Sprinkle the thyme, sage, salt, and pepper over everything.

Cover the dutch oven and cook at 350 degrees until the hen is tender and the juices run clear, about 2 hours. Cut the bird apart to serve, along with the vegetables. Skim the fat off the juices, and serve the juice on the side.

I was pretty happy with the braised bird - I think I'll try roasting the second one.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sniffle, sniffle, sneeze. Allergies, anyone?

You might have read my review of the WaterPik Ultra WaterFlosser yesterday. Well, part of the review package was another item called the SinuSense, also made by WaterPik. This device performs the same function as a neti pot or nasal spray, but it runs on batteries.

To be honest, I'm not awfully fond of the idea of liquid going up my nose. I blame my mother. I still have vivid memories of her trying to get nasal spray up my nose when I was a little kid. Even now, the idea of that medicated goo makes me squeamy.

But I still had to review the product. Who could test it for me? I glanced at the dog, and she was glaring back at me with a slightly raised lip. Not a likely volunteer.

Then my husband came home. "Hey, look, honey! I got you a present!"

Mister Cookistry had been dealing with some stuffy nose issues, and he was more than happy to trade his squeeze bottle nose spray for something a little more high-tech.

That went better than I expected. Hehe.

I explained to him that he was going to have to give me his opinions of the product because I wasn't going to hang around and watch the process. I'm pretty sure I would have been saying "eeewwww" the whole time, which probably wouldn't have been helpful.

At this point, he's been using the SinuSense for a few days.

The verdict? So far so good. The SinuSense pulses the water just like the WaterPik Ultra WaterFlosser, but at a much gentler flow rate, which makes perfect sense. You're not trying to wash your brain, after all.

At the same time, it pushes through a much larger volume of water than the squeezey-bottle my very willing volunteer had been using previously. He said that so far, it seems to be doing a much better job keeping him un-stuffy and the powder that was included to mix with the water is soothing. I checked the ingredient list, and it's basically a saline mix with a few extra natural ingredients.
He also said that the device was easy to use, the instructions were clear, and overall, he didn't see any potential problems with it. He's giving it two thumbs up. The dog and I have no opinion at all.

If you're interested, WaterPik has a coupon for you.
There's also a Facebook page for this product.
And a YouTube video.

For this review, I received this produce free of charge, along with a small monetary compensation. 

Note: I got a comment from one of my regular readers that said that my previous WaterPik post might have been too commercial and too far from food. Well, maybe. It's something I thought about, too. But when I finally agreed to do these two posts (and it was a two-fer so I couldn't just pick one) my first thought was that I absolutely love the waterflosser, so I've got no qualms about recommending it, either in person or on this blog. My second thought was that Mr. Cookistry had been having some sinus issues, so I figured that this second product might be useful for him. If not, then no loss here.

My third thought was about whether my readers (see, I do think about you) would be interested in these sorts of products. Obviously, it's not food-related, but it seems to me that people who like the recipes I make are also probably interested in health-related products of this type.

I joined the "Build a Better Me" event way back in January, and I have to admit that I haven't posted a lot about it since then. These posts could easily fit that category. Some of the other folks have posted about personal trainers and exercise. Good oral/sinus health seems just as related. I don't think I'll be doing a LOT of non-food posts, but if I find a product that I really like and I want to blab about it, I will, whether it's compensated or not.

Cinnamon Swirl Cereal Bread

I've been on a search for breakfast cereals that I like, and it's been difficult. Most of them - even the ones labeled  "healthy" seem way too sweet for me. A little sweetness is fine, but I don't want candy for breakfast.

Truthfully, I never liked sweet cereals, even as a kid. Not even the ones with cute marshmallows.

Recently, I tried Erewhon, a puffed brown rice cereal. It passed the not-too-sweet test, bordering on the savory. It reminded me of Rice Krispies, except much less sweet and flatter. Like everything else edible in my kitchen, it got me thinking about what I could do with it that would be different.

Sure, most people eat their cereal with milk, but that doesn't mean that's all you can do with it. I had a couple ideas for baking with the cereal, then had the bread brainstorm.

The result was interesting. The cereal lost its crispness and became a little bit chewy - like soft nuts or maybe bits of dried fruit.It added an interesting texture to the bread, and it seemed to gather up cinnamon flavor around it as well.

This bread isn't heavy on the sugar or the cinnamon. You could easily double the amounts of both if you prefer a stronger-flavored or sweeter filling. You could also double up on the cereal, but I liked the idea of having it dotted in the swirl rather than being a filling.

Cinnamon Swirl Cereal Bread

For the dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup lukewarm water
2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons butter, divided
For the filling:

1/2 cup Erewhon brown rice cereal
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar

Combine the yeast, sugar, and water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Let it stand for a minute or two, then add the bread flour. Knead with the dough hook until the mixture is smooth and elastic.

Add the salt, vanilla, and 3 tablespoons of butter and knead until all are fully incorporated.

Cover the bowl and let the dough rest until doubled in size, about an hour.

Flour your work surface and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Turn out the dough and form in into a rough rectangle.

Close-up of the cereal. Just because I can.
Roll the dough to about 9 inches by 18 inches. Sprinkle the cereal, cinnamon, and sugar over the dough, leaving about an inch uncovered on one of the short ends.

Roll up the dough, jellyroll style, starting at the short end opposite the end you left uncovered. Don't roll it tightly. When you get to the end, seal the seam and the ends and put the dough into a 9x5 bread pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled in size, about 40 minutes.

Remove the plastic wrap and bake at 350 degrees until the loaf is nicely browned, about 40 minutes. About 10 minutes before the bread is done baking, brush the top with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.

Let cool completely on a rack before cutting.

Disclaimer: I received some samples of this cereal from Attune Foods, but was not required to write about it, review it, or use in recipes. Just samples, folks.

This has been submitted to YeastSpotting.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Chew, chew, chomp chomp

I have deep pockets. They're not as deep as they used to be.

No, I'm not talking about money. I'm talking about dentistry. Teeth. Those things you chew with. (See how I got that related to food already. Sneaky, eh?)

I recently got an opportunity to review the WaterPik Ultra Flosser and I leaped on that opportunity. You see, I've been using one for a while, and what-the-heck, it's good to have a backup.

Let's go back a few years, shall we? When I moved to Colorado, I had a bit of a hard time finding a dentist that I liked. Tried one, wasn't happy, tried another ... again ... not so great. Had a really bad dental experience at one place ... So I kept dentist-hopping.

I really liked my previous dentist, the one I was going to before I moved here, but for some reason I had trouble finding someone I was comfortable with here. 

And I'll admit that in between dentist-shopping excursions, I might have skipped an appointment or two, until I landed at my current dentist who told me. "You have some deep pockets."

I can guarantee that he wasn't talking about my ability to pay. Behind my back teeth, way back there where it's hard to brush, there were some spots where my gums weren't quite doing the job they were supposed to do. Pockets. Not good.

A WaterPik was recommended, and it was suggested that I add a good antiseptic mouthwash to the water to help clean out below the gum line, because there's no way to floss there. Uh uh. Nope. Floss just doesn't do the job. So I followed his advice and got the WaterPik Ultra Flosser, and used it daily.

And, gee, surprise, little by little, those deep pockets became shallow pockets. I still have some work to do, but it's great to be seeing improvement with each visit to the dentist. It would have been better if I'd been using a WaterPik three or four dentists ago. But none of them suggest it. Good thing I finally found this one.

A WaterPik would have been great way back in the stone age when I had braces, too. The pulses of water would have made it sooooo much easier cleaning around that mouth full of metal, that's for darned sure. Are braces still metal these days? Maybe not, but I'll bet they're still not fun to keep clean.

So if I've been using a WaterPik for a while, why did I want to do a review to get another one?

Well, things break. Or they wear out. Or clumsy people drop them. After a lot of use, my original WaterPik is still running strong, but I know that sooner or later I'll need to replace it.

And doing this review was a no-brainer. It's a product I know and I like, so I've got NO PROBLEM recommending it.

You need your teeth to eat. You wanna take care of 'em, right? I know I do.

The funny thing is that I knew this device existed years ago, but until the dentist recommended it, I never thought about buying one. To be honest, I thought it was some sort of gimmick. I'm here to tell you it isn't - it really works. And it's cheaper than dental work.
  • There's more info from the manufacturer here.
  • If you want to do a little shopping, WaterPik coupons and promotions are here.
  • You can follow the company on Twitter at @waterpik.
  • Find them on Facebook.
  • And here's a video on YouTube.

For the purposes of this review and post, I received a WaterPik Ultra Flosser and a small monetary compensation.

Maple Pudding

Ah.... maple syrup!

I'll admit that I probably didn't have real maple syrup until I was an adult. When I was a kid, we had pancake syrup. It had maple flavor, but I doubt there was much real maple in it.

Real maple syrup isn't cheap. But it's real.

So when Virtual Potluck got a deal to work with Coombs Family Farms, I was happy to sign up. I can always use extra maple in my life. We were offered our choice of maple syrup or maple sugar, and I opted for the sugar. It takes a little less space to store. And, since the liquid is removed, you can get more concentrated flavor from it.

I made a few different recipes before I settled on this one. I think you'll like it.

But I'm not the only one cooking. For a roundup of all the VP bloggers participating, Matt at Thyme in our Kitchen has all the information.

Maple Pudding

1/2 cup maple sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 quart milk
3 egg yolks

Combine the maple sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a pan. Whisk to combine and break up any lumps. Add the milk slowly, stirring as you add it to keep lumps from forming. Add the eggs and whisk to break them up.

Heat the mixture on medium heat, stirring until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Continue cooking until you see big blurping bubbles and the mixture is thick.

Strain the mixture through a fine strainer into a storage container. Cover the top of the pudding with plastic wrap, directly on top of the pudding to keep a skin from forming on top of the pudding as it cools. Refrigerate the pudding until it is well chilled.

Whisk or stir the pudding before serving to smooth it out.

I served this with a sprinkle of kosher salt, a dollop of home made whipped cream and a sprinkle of more maple sugar for a garnish.

About Coombs Family Farms:
All of the syrups and maple sugar from Coombs Family farms is organic and certified by Quality Assurance International (QAI) and carry the USDA organic seal, and all of the maple products are naturally gluten free and made without artificial flavors, preservatives, or thickeners. Besides the syrup and sugar, the company also sells maple candy and pancake mix.

Want more info? Visit Coombs Family Farms on Facebook.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Brandy Alejandro #PartyLikeaMadMan

A week before the official Twitter party for the book The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, I was all ready with my steak tartar recipe, and pleased with the choice. I made the recipe (and it was good) and the photos were nice, and I posted it earlier today.

But then ...

Everyone was talking cocktails, and the Brandy Alexander started calling my name. I had some pretty glasses and a shaker. I had the cream and the brandy.

But I didn't have the cream de cacao. Bummer. Three ingredients in a recipe, and I was missing one.


So I did the only thing a sane person would do. No, I didn't go out and buy creme de cacao (although I might put it on my shopping list for next time). Instead, I substituted some of my home made coffee liqueur and some simple syrup for the creme de cacao.

And then, because I didn't want to confuse anyone, I changed the name of the drink.

Brandy Alejandro
Adapted from The Official Mad Men Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin
From The Diner's Club Drink Book

1 ounce brandy
1 ounce cream
1/2 ounce coffee liqueur
1/2 ounce simple syrup

Combine all ingredients along with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake like a madman. Strain into a cocktail glass and serve.

Steak Tartare

It's a virtual Mad Men party here, celebrating the launch of the Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook and the season premiere of Mad Men next week (March 25).

The book is filled with classic recipes - very classic recipes - from restaurants with names you might remember from the old days ... or old movies.

Some of the recipes have gone out of style, some have continued their popularity, and some went out of style and have come back again. But they're all fun.

You'll find the wedge salad, chicken kiev, turkey tetrazzini, and sole amandine. How about a drink? Would a rusty nail or a sidecar or a mai tai interest you?

You can't have a virtual dinner party without food, and I decided to make the Steak Tartar. Yup, a big old hunk of raw ground meat. I've made tartar before, but never quite like this - mine doesn't have nearly this many ingredients. But since this was a restaurant recipe - from Sardi's - I guess you'd expect something a little more complicated.

There's a little error in the ingredients list in the book - the capers were omitted. But I've got it all right here. Oh - and I ground my own meat for this.

Steak Tartar
From The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin
Recipe courtesy of Sardi's Restaurant, NY

Note: All ingredients should be cold before you begin.

2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons red onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons anchovy paste
1 tablespoon English mustard
1 teaspoon pasteurized egg yolk
Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon olive oil
5 dashes Tabasco sauce (mild)
2 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
8 ounces steak (5 ounces sirloin steak and 3 ounces filet mignon, finely ground
Salt, to taste
2 slices black bread, toasted (optional)
1 tablespoon egg yolk from a hard-boiled egg (finely chopped), for garnish

Stir together capers, red onions, anchovy paste, English mustard, pasteurized egg yolk, black pepper, and olive oil in a medium bowl until semi-paste-like. Add Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces and mix until evenly blended. Mix in the beef.

Once evenly mixed, roll the tartar in the bowl until it has a firm consistency. Serve on a cold plate with toasted black bread, and garnish with finely chopped egg yolk.

And there you go - my contribution for the party. Okay, I'll admit it - I might have had a cocktail as as well. But I'm not telling.

Want to party some more? Check out the "Party like a Man Man" photo album on Facebook. Or go check out the book website or Facebook page.

The Twitter party, where the book folks will be tweeting from @DineLikeDraper will start at At 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific. Come join the party (it's just an hour) and enjoy some of Roger’s Martini and Joan’s Blue Hawaii.

The hashtag for the Twitter party is #PartyLikeAMadMan.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher at no cost to me. I was not required to say nice things about it.