Friday, December 28, 2012

Brown Gravy from Pan Drippings with Ale and Cider

The perfect accompaniment for roasted meat is gravy made from the pan drippings.  My favorite recipe, below, is from the 1981 Joy of Cooking book.  Besides, what else would you use the pan drippings for?  It's free gravy!  No preservatives and it goes with everything.  This works for roasted chicken, turkey, beef, pretty much any meat that gets roasted.

For this recipe I roasted a small chicken, generally following the Winning Turkey recipe from Thanksgiving.  It did not need thawing and I didn't have a ton of planning time so I put the salt on and let it rest on the counter at the same time for about 45 minutes.  This was enough to give it perfect crispy skin.  I stuffed the cavity with quartered onion and apple, and used apple juice for about a third of the cooking liquid. 

After roasting is when the gravy begins!  Carefully remove the meat from the pan.  That part isn't strictly necessary but it makes it a ton easier to get the drippings out of the pan without trying to tip the pan on its side while holding the hot meat in place.  Place the meat where it will remain hot.

Take out 2 Tbsp drippings and put in a small saucepan.  (Note, SAVE the rest, you will need them too) Using a wire whisk, blend in the flour until the mixture has thickened and is well combined and smooth.  Congratulations, you just made a roux! 

Cook slowly and stir constantly, while adding 1 cup of liquid: as much of the pan juices as possible, plus either milk, beer, stock, cream, or water.  I used 1/4 cup of Cutthroat Pale Ale (mostly for an excuse to open one) and the flavor blended perfectly with the apple-stuffed chicken.  Add an extra Tablespoon of flour to increase the total liquid to 1 1/2 cups - I really like gravy so extra is always good. Add spices to taste, if desired.  The spices will vary depending on what the gravy will be served with.  I didn't add anything extra for this version.

Continue to simmer while stirring until the gravy has reduced a little, then turn off the heat.  It will thicken as it cools. 

Brown Gravy from Pan Drippings with Ale and Cider
from Joy of Cooking, 1981 edition
Makes 1 cup

Pan drippings from roasted meat (as much as is available, up to 1 cup)
1 to 2 Tbsp flour
Additional liquid to make one cup including the pan drippings: milk, beer, stock, cream, or water (enough to make 1 1/2 cups total if you want extra gravy)
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Fresh or dried minced herbs
Grated lemon rind, etc.

1. Remove the meat from the pan.  Place it where it will remain hot.
2. Take out 2 Tbsp drippings and put in a small saucepan.  Using a wire wisk, blend in the flour until the mixture has thickened and is well combined and smooth.
3. Cook slowly and stir constantly and stir constantly, while adding 1 cup of liquid: as much of the pan juices as possible, plus enough liquid to total 1 cup. Add spices to taste.
4. Continue to simmer while stirring until the gravy has reduced a little, then turn off the heat.  It will thicken as it cools. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Homemade eggnog is thick and creamy and rich, scented with nutmeg and with a custard-like flavor. 

Sure, store-bought is easier, but it is also very different.  This is what eggnog is supposed to taste like.  One of the healthy things I did for myself this year included avoiding high fructose corn syrup whenever possible.  This is the reason I read the labels on every brand of eggnog at the store... then left without purchasing any of them, disappointed that I would be going without this year.  Not so!  No corn syrup or GMO-related anything in the homemade version!  Now I'm not saying that eggnog is healthy but it is amazing and goes perfectly with everything holiday-ish.

Thanks to Martha Stewart for the recipe, no adjustments needed.  It doubles and quadruples well too if you want tons of eggnog.  A double recipe makes almost half a gallon.

Some tips:
- Use a stirring spoon to alternate with the whisk to make it easier to tell when the sugar is dissolved.
- Adding the milk to the eggs prevents the eggs from cooking - pouring the eggs into hot milk would basically poach the eggs instead of mixing them together smoothly.
- Mine took about 30 minutes to get to the right thickness.  It happens pretty quickly, the mixture is thin like milk during most of the cooking time then suddenly it's eggnog.  Take it off the heat as soon as the shift happens or it will overcook.
- You will need a fine-mesh strainer, preferably one that can latch onto a large bowl to make it easy to strain the hot eggnog.  Straining separates out any bits of egg that separated from the milk, to keep the consistency smooth.

Local highlights:
Eggs from Clifford Farm
Milk and cream from Winder Farms

Homemade Eggnog

        4 cups milk
        1 1/3 cups sugar
        12 large egg yolks
        1/2 cup bourbon, (optional)
        1 cup chilled heavy cream
        Grated nutmeg

1. In medium saucepan, whisk milk and sugar over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks. Whisking constantly, pour hot mixture into yolks in a slow and steady stream.
3. Return mixture to pan; cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until thick enough to coat back of spoon, 20 to 25 minutes; do not let simmer. Quickly strain into a bowl.
4. Stir in bourbon, if desired, and cream. Cool completely; cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled. Garnish with nutmeg, if desired.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sweet holiday nuts

These sweet crunchy meringue-coated nuts are something I've been wanting to try my hand at for a while now, and I am very pleased with the first couple of batches.

Start with preheating the oven to 325 and put the stick of butter in a 9x13 pan in the oven.  Keep an eye on it so it does not burn, but it needs to melt. Waiting until the last step to do it seems to take a long time, watched pots and all that. 

WASH the eggs.  Even though they will be cooked, precaution is best.  Separate the eggs - put the whites into a large bowl, with high sides if you have one, and the yolks in a covered container in the fridge for another recipe.  Eggnog is an excellent companion recipe to use the yolks (I'll have that one ready for you soon!).

This is the mixture forming stiff peaks.  Do not eat them.
Beat egg whites until soft peaks begin to form. I used my great little hand mixer on high speed.  Watching the clear watery egg whites turn frothy is neat!  They expand quite a bit too.  This was my first time making anything meringue-related that did not involve a microwave (which I don't recommend by the way).  Add sugar, salt and vanilla; beat until stiff peaks form and turn glossy. Fold in nuts and coat well with the egg white mixture.  Stir in cinnamon.

Fold in nuts with a spoon.  I just wanted to show off my hand mixer.  :)

Evenly spread coated nuts over melted butter in pan and put the pan back in the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes, stirring and turning nuts about every 8 minutes, or until butter no longer remains in pan. Place hot nuts on foil and allow to cool.  Get them out of that pan as soon as they come out of the oven, once the sugar starts to set they do not want to come out.  Wait until they cool completely before eating or packaging them.

Baked nuts just out of the oven!

Sweet holiday nuts, ready for gifting

Sweet Holiday Nuts
Makes 1 pound of nuts

2 egg whites
1 cup white sugar
1 pinch salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound walnut halves
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2. Beat egg whites until soft peaks begin to form. Add sugar, salt and vanilla; beat until stiff peaks form and turn glossy. Fold in nuts and coat well with the egg white mixture.
3. Melt butter in a 9x13 inch baking pan by placing pan in the oven. Evenly spread coated nuts over melted butter in pan.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring and turning nuts about every 8 minutes, or until butter no longer remains in pan. Move hot nuts to foil and allow to cool. May be stored in an airtight container for several weeks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jessica's Scalloped Potatoes

Seasons greetings, my wonderful blog readers!  One of the first family recipes I remember helping with in the kitchen was making Scalloped Potatoes for the Christmas gatherings.  I loved sprinkling the layers of cheese and flour and laying out potato slices in designs, to be hidden under more cheese.  Sometimes I got a little carried away with the flour and ended up with clumps of dry flour in the finished dinner, but even that was fun.  That led to the important lesson that handfuls are different than a light sprinkle.  I even loved peeling the potatoes over a big spread of old newspapers, once I was old enough to use the sharp metal peeler.  Two dishes were always made: one for the gathering and one for us so that there was no temptation to sneak bites out of the casserole dish for the extended family, which I'm sure happened on more than one occasion.

Here in Utah they are called "Funeral Potatoes", referring to the gatherings that people usually bring them to.  They are very easy and make great leftovers, so it's a nice dish to have on hand when people don't have the focus to cook dinner for themselves.  I prefer to keep the dish associated with more happy times though so I am sticking with Christmas. Besides, my family never really did the food thing for funerals. 

The first step is to slice the potatoes as thinly and uniformly as possible.  This will prevent unexpected crunchy bites of uncooked potatoes.  Nothing in this dish should be crunchy, and if it is, be worried, and see how guilty the kids' faces look.

Four potatoes does not seem like enough for a whole casserole dish, to me anyway, but with the space between the slices and all the cheese, it is plenty. It is better to not cut up enough potatoes than to cut up too many, unless you have other plans for extra potato slices.  They do not store well. 

Buying a bag of pre-grated cheese is a huge timesaver and I never had that option as a kid so I like taking full advantage of it now.  Costco-size?  Yes please! 

In a 1.5-quart glass casserole dish, thinly layer flour, salt/pepper, potato slices, and cheese.  About halfway up the dish, sprinkle in a little savory and onion powder.  This makes the flavor a bit deeper and more complex. 

This is not a 1.5-quart glass casserole dish.  Nope, I wanted to make LOTS so this is a 9x13 pan.  It took about 8 or 9 smallish potatoes. 

Repeat the flour, salt/pepper, potatoes, and cheese until they are 1" from the edge of the pan, then top with cheese and slowly pour the milk over the entire top.  The milk is there to moisten the flour.  This makes the delicious gooey bits of goodness in between the potatoes.  Un-moistened flour... stays flour. That being said, I've been known to go a bit overboard with the milk, which makes everything too soupy to cook properly.  If you do that, a turkey baster works well to pull the extra milk out, even if you don't notice until halfway through cooking. 

Keeping it uncovered the whole time makes the top layer of cheese bake into a beautiful browned color.  Put a foil-covered cookie sheet under the casserole dish in case the cheese bubbles over, as it often does for me because I like to fill the casserole dish too full.

The finished product!  I never seem to snap a shot before the first person digs in.

Scalloped potatoes in a casserole dish
Scalloped potatoes in a 9x13 dish (double-ish the recipe). 

Jessica's Scalloped Potatoes

4 thinly sliced medium-sized russet potatoes
1 lb grated cheese (medium cheddar or colby-jack)
Salt and pepper to taste 
Sprinkle of Savory
Sprinkle of Onion Powder
1 cup flour (have available; won't need the whole cup)
1 cup milk (may not need the whole cup)

1. In a 1.5-quart glass casserole dish, thinly layer flour, salt/pepper, potato slices, and cheese.  About halfway up the dish, sprinkle in a little savory and onion powder.

2. Repeat the flour, salt/pepper, potatoes, and cheese until they are 1" from the top, then top with cheese.

3. Pour in the milk - the purpose is to moisten all of the flour, so pour slowly and evenly over the entire top.  It should not reach more than halfway up the sides once it all settles in.  (use a turkey baster to pull some out if needed)

4. Bake in 350 degree oven for about an hour until the potatoes are soft. Do not cover. Put a foil-covered cookie sheet under the casserole dish in case the cheese bubbles over.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Special: Perogies

Ahh, morning after Thanksgiving.   The turkey coma has faded and it's time to do something other than cook.  Time to write about cooking!  :)

My husband's family has a Thanksgiving tradition of making perogies and I am happy to embrace this.  Perogies are dough pockets (like big ravioli) filled with cheesy mashed potatoes and sauteed with sweet onions.  They are delicious!

This recipe is especially good for Thanksgiving because the work is much easier with many hands and an assembly line.  I broke out the directions by assembly-line task.  It's a lot of fun to be in the kitchen with loved ones!  Mashed potatoes and onions can be prepared in advance, and a bread machine with a dough setting saves a lot of kneading time.

This year it was just the two of us for turkey day and my rolling pin skills aren't quite up to par, so we discovered that parchment paper keeps the pre-boiled perogies from sticking to the plate so all of the filling step can be done at once with a layer of parchment paper in between each level of perogies.  Don't let them touch each other though, the potato-filled dough pockets are very very friendly with each other and tough to separate.

The recipe was passed down from my husband's grandmother and has morphed a little over the years.  The full recipe is here but we cut it in half since my bread machine only does a half-batch of dough at a time.  Whether doing the dough in the machine or by hand, the amount of milk will vary depending on the humidity and elevation.  If the dough is dry and crumbly it needs more milk; if it's sticky it has too much milk and some added flour will help balance it out.

Additional recipe instructions involve throwing handfuls of flour at siblings, trying to eat the hot just-cooked perogies while keeping everyone else away from them, hoping to still have room for turkey later, and eating cold leftover perogies with onions on top straight from the fridge for day-after-thanksgiving breakfast and lunch.


Perogie-maker (these can be found at kitchen gadget stores)
Heavy rolling pin
Bread machine (not a necessity but very helpful)


6 cups flour
2 eggs
2 tsp salt
1 to 2 cups of milk

6 large potatoes (half russet and half yukon gold), peeled and cut up
Grated cheddar cheese - sharp white if available
1 large sweet onion, diced
Milk, to taste
Butter, to taste
Salt & Pepper (1/2 tsp salt per lb of potatoes)

Extra milk in a small cup for sealing perogies
2 large sweet onions, sliced (these can be sliced and frozen in advance and used straight from the freezer)
1 to 2 sticks of butter

1. Slice onions.  These should look like a bag of smiley faces.  Every good recipe should start with smiley faces.

2. Prepare mashed potatoes: Saute onion with a little butter.  Boil potato pieces until fork-tender.  Drain.  Mash potatoes with sauteed onions, cheese, milk, butter, and salt & pepper.  This should be a little saltier than one would normally make mashed potatoes for serving.

3. Make dough: Knead together all dough ingredients, starting with 1 cup of milk and adding more as needed until the dough is not crumbly and not sticky.  If using a bread machine, use the dough setting.  No rising cycle is needed.

4. Make circles: Using a heavy rolling pin on a lightly floured flat surface, roll out dough to about 1/4" thick.  Cut out circles that are smaller than the perogie-maker using a round cookie cutter or the top of a glass.  Roll these circles flatter so they are the size of the perogie-maker with a little bit hanging over the edges.  They need to be thick enough to hold potatoes through boiling and frying but not so thick they won't cook through.

5. Fill perogies: Carefully lay the prepared circle of dough on the perogie-maker.  Drop a spoonful of mashed potatoes in the center; it should be plump but not enough to squish out the sides.  Dip a finger in milk and run along the edge, then crimp the perogie-maker together.  Make sure it's sealed before moving on to the next one.  Put these on a parchment-paper-lined plate *not touching each other* until there are enough to boil.

6. Boil: Fill a large stock pot about halfway with water and set to a boil.  In small batches, drop in the filled doughy perogies so they have some space to float and not be on top of each other.  Boil for a while until the dough is cooked through.  Remove carefully from boiling water with a slotted spoon and place in a waiting area for the frying.  When all are removed from the water, add the next batch.

7. Final cooking: Heat a very large frying pan with a teaspoon or two of butter.  Add a handful of sliced onions and let soften for a few minutes.  Add a batch of boiled perogies in a single layer on top of and in between the onions.  When that side is browned, flip them over.  When both sides are nicely browned, remove to a plate and try to keep everyone from eating them so some will make it to the table.  The onions can stay for a batch or two depending on how cooked you want them.  Add a little more butter for each batch and more handfuls of onion slices as they get cooked and moved off to the serving plate. 

8. Serve and Enjoy! 

Thanksgiving Special: Cranberry Sauce

Once you make your own cranberry sauce you may never go back to the canned kind.  Warm fresh cranberry sauce is incredible and takes very little effort.  The basic recipe is on the back of most bags of cranberries; the zest and cinnamon take it over the top.  Frozen berries can be added when the cranberries are too for a different twist; cherries and blueberries are great, strawberries did not work so well.  When the cranberry skins pop it can be a little messy so this is not the time to wear a favorite white shirt. 

Cranberries are hard to get most of the year but they freeze very well.  I suggest stocking up with as many as your freezer can hold while they are on sale for the holidays to use throughout the year.  In addition to cranberry sauce, they are great in bread, smoothies, and syrup. Keep an eye out for those recipes during the year as I get cranberry cravings!

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

1 package cranberries (12 oz)
1 c sugar
1 c water
1/2 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp to 1 tsp cinnamon

1. Pour cranberries into a bowl, rinse to get rid of any bits of stems or leaves, and sort out any bad ones.  No need to thaw them out if they were frozen.

2.  In a medium saucepan, mix together the water and sugar and bring to a boil.

3. Add cranberries, zest, and cinnamon.  Bring back up to a boil then turn down to a simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The cranberry skins will pop as they heat up.  When most of the skins have popped, remove from heat.

4. Optional: For jellied cranberry sauce without the whole berries, put a fine mesh sieve over a container and pour the sauce into it.  Use a spoon to press the liquid through.  Discard the skins and seeds that will be left in the mesh.  Chill if desired.

5. Pour sauce into a pretty serving dish!

Thanksgiving Special: Winning Turkey

This recipe for a perfect roasted turkey has moved to my new website!  Please visit it at Winning Thanksgiving Turkey!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Crockpot: Hot Buttered Rum

Crock pots are truly wonderful inventions, and there is no need to limit their use to meals.  This toasty warm drink simmers for several hours and fills the kitchen with a welcoming holiday aroma. The rum is added just before serving so it doesn't cook off.  I cut the amount of rum in half from the original recipe (2 cups) since that was too overwhelming for me, but it's nice to have some extra on hand for guests who like it stronger. For the non-alcohol-drinking crowd, the rum can be skipped or experimenting with adding apple cider would be a nice twist.

Some tips on this recipe:
Crock pots don't all go to the same temperature at "Low" so if it seems too buttery, bump it up to high for a little bit and see if that helps. Stir just before serving.
Straining out the spices isn't absolutely necessary but it does prevent people from accidentally eating them.  :)

Hot Buttered Rum, Crockpot-style
Adapted from
8 servings

2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup butter (only real butter!)
1 pinch salt
2 quarts hot water
3 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
1 to 2 cups rum (I use the spiced kind)
1 cup whipped cream, for serving
Ground nutmeg for garnish

1. Combine the brown sugar, butter, salt and hot water in 5 quart slow cooker. Add cinnamon sticks and cloves. Cover and cook on Low for 5 hours. Stir in rum.
2. Use a fine mesh strainer and fish around to get the cloves and cinnamon sticks out.
3.  Ladle from the slow cooker into mugs and top with whipped cream and a dusting of nutmeg.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Preserving: Freezer Apple Pie Filling

Tis the season to preserve the last of the local apples!  It's also time to start thinking about the upcoming holidays, guests visiting, parties and potlucks.  I love this season!  Always up for trying something new, I wanted to know if it's possible to make apple pie filling and freeze it... and it sure is!  I have a nifty apple peeler/corer/slicer contraption that makes preparing the apples a snap (only about $20 on Amazon if you don't have one yet, they are amazing!).

Use some cheap aluminum pie plates for this, the ones that are a little smaller than a regular pie size, and line them with aluminum foil for easy filling removal.

The amount of water in this recipe is variable depending on how juicy your apples are and whether you want extra "apple syrup" to put over pancakes or waffles or ice cream... or to eat with a spoon... we made some into pie-flavored ice cream!   For no extra syrup, about half to two-thirds of the ten cups of water will probably work fine, and cut the corn starch down proportionally. 13 small apples makes enough for 3 pies. 

Freezer apple pie filling, ready for pies!

Freezer Apple Pie Filling

18 cups thinly sliced apples
3 tablespoons lemon juice (optional, to prevent browning)
4 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 to 1 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 to 10 cups water

1. Prepare pie tins: line aluminum pie tins with foil. (13 small apples makes 3 pies)
2. In a large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice and set aside. Pour water into a large pot over medium heat. Combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Add to water, stir well, and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
3. Add apples and return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until apples are tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes.
4. Ladle into prepared pie tins. Cool at room temperature no longer than 1 1/2 hours.
5. Freeze, then transfer frozen discs out of pie plates into zip-lock freezer bags. Can be stored for up to 12 months.

Baking the frozen pie filling is a lot like baking a pie from the store except you can proudly announce that it was homemade.  I like the frozen pre-shaped pie crusts, and the frozen filling discs fit perfectly inside!  I use a crumbly oat topping instead of a top crust.  Bake in a 350 oven for 45 minutes and test for done-ness.  This made the crust a little soggy so I might play with the time and temp a little, but the apples were completely thawed and cooked through and it's always nice to have the house smell like apple pie.  Only thing better is having the house smell like apple pie and hot buttered rum. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cheesy Zucchini Biscuits

Cheddar Zucchini Biscuits
This weekend I had a baking spree!  One of the clear winners was these biscuits.  They remind me a little of the great cheese biscuits at Red Lobster, except of course those don't have zucchini and these are smaller.  Smaller means they last longer!  I can't taste the zucchini (maybe I should add more next time?) but I love the nice green color to keep them from looking like normal boring biscuits.  The flavor of sharp white cheddar comes through loud and clear and the texture is outstanding.

I put most of them into the freezer for future enjoyment when I am craving cheesy bready things.  This would be another easy and delicious recipe for autumn potlucks.  The original recipe was published in a magazine but I don't know which.

Cheesy Zucchini Biscuits
Makes 12-18 small biscuits

        3/4 cup shredded zucchini
        1/2 tsp salt, divided
        1 cup shredded aged cheddar cheese (sharp white cheddar is excellent)
        1/4 cup sliced green onions (optional)
        2 cups plus 1 Tbsp flour, divided
        2 tsp baking powder
        6 Tbsp butter, chilled, cut up
        1 cup milk

Heat oven to 450.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil (or spray with cooking spray).
Combine zucchini and 1/4 tsp salt in small bowl; let stand 20 minutes. Place zucchini in strainer; press on zucchini to drain any liquid.
Combine zucchini, cheese, green onions and 1 Tbsp flour in medium bowl.
Whisk remaining 2 cups flour, baking powder and remaining 1/4 tsp salt in medium bowl.
With pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles small peas.
Stir in zucchini mixture.
Stir in milk just until soft dough forms.
Drop dough by Tablespoonfuls onto baking sheet.
Bake 10-13 minutes or until light brown on top and bottom (13 minutes in my oven). Serve warm.

Make extra to wrap in plastic in the freezer, they are great re-heated.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Polenta (Northern Italian Style)

I am a food collector.  I like buying food and don't necessarily have any intention to cook it or eat it, I just like having it in the pantry.  Sometimes I fight this by picking an ingredient that has been ignored and finding a dish that I can use it in.  Today's winner: coarse corn meal from Bob's Red Mill!  After reading about things to do with corn meal, I decided on Polenta.  I have had it fried in little sticks at restaurants but it's a lot more like oatmeal or malt-o-meal if you don't fry it.  Also, super easy!

I served it sprinkled with Parmesan and paired with a basil tilapia (thanks Costco) and Moscato wine (the Barefoot winery has a great one) to round out the Italian theme.  Getting the consistency I wanted meant undercooking it a little, so it was perfect for spooning out of the pot rather than something slice-able.  Why?  Well, it tasted good and I was hungry so that usually means declaring it dinner time.

Later note: This made great leftovers!  Not everything tastes good reheated but this one does so make extra.

Northern Italian Style Polenta

5 1/2 cups water
dash of salt
1 3/4 - 2 cups coarse yellow corn meal

Pour water into large heavy pot, add salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat so water is just simmering. Pour the corn meal slowly in a steady slow stream, while churning the corn meal and water with the whisk to minimize lumping of corn meal. Stir with whisk a few times, then cover and cook at low temperature. Stir mixture thoroughly every few minutes for about 30 to 45 minutes or until mixture stiffens and pulls away from the sides of the pan. The polenta is ready.

Slowly invert the polenta on to a wooden or plastic serving board or large dish, shaping to resemble a cake. Using a double strand of white sewing thread begin slicing polenta into "bread slices" by cutting from one side and then from the other side. To keep polenta warm, cover with a clean, white dish towel. Serve.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pad Thai

It is a new and different experience cooking something when you don't know the end result.  I'm not talking about "will this recipe be good" results.  I had never tried Pad Thai or any non-curry Thai dish and would not recognize it other than knowing not to eat it (I have allergy issues).  What is it supposed to look like?  What is it supposed to taste like?  The strangest part was that at the end, I didn't know if it had come out well or not.  Most things you know when they are right.  Does it look like a cookie and taste good?  Success!  Does it look like something you've never seen and taste like nothing you have ever tasted?  Yes, but are those good qualities?

Thankfully my husband, whose birthday the Pad Thai was for, declared it great with a few minor recipe tweaks.  I made it without lime juice so that I could eat it too and was pleased to not be allergic to any of the other ingredients.  I've been avoiding limes for so long that I forgot what they smelled like.  Of course that is one of the best parts, so I've read, so I made sure to have a fresh one on hand so my husband could drench his in lime juice and beam with pleasure. I also learned a trick to enjoying it *almost* the way it should be: smell is very closely related to taste, so I can smell the fresh cut lime wedges and take a bite of Pad Thai, which is darn close to drenching it in lime juice and won't kill me.  Hooray!

The original recipe came from

Pad Thai
Makes 6 servings

16 oz rice noodles
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 tablespoon crushed red pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-sized pieces*
1/4 cup safflower oil (or vegetable or sesame)
4 eggs
2 tablespoon white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
6 tablespoons white sugar
2 tsp peanut butter
1 tsp paprika
1/2 cup grated carrots and/or bean sprouts
1/4 cup crushed peanuts or cashews (for serving)
2 green onions, chopped (for serving)
1 lime (for serving)

NOTE about the chicken: To use frozen chicken, cook it part-way until it's soft enough to cut to bite-size.  Cut up then use in the recipe as called for.

1. Make Noodles: Follow the instructions on the package of noodles for cooking. Finish cooking noodles before starting on the chicken. Rinse noodles well under cold water to prevent sticking together.

2. Make sauce: Mix together in a small bowl: vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, peanut butter, and paprika.
3. Cook chicken: Heat olive oil in a wok or large heavy skillet. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and chicken; saute chicken until browned. Remove from wok and set aside.
4. Heat safflower oil in wok over medium-high heat. Crack eggs into hot oil, stirring to break the yolks and half-scramble, and cook until firm. Stir in chicken and cook for 5 minutes. Add cooked noodles and sauce. Adjust seasonings to taste. Add carrots and mix for 3 minutes until they are warm; do not over-mix or the noodles break into little pieces.
5. Sprinkle crushed nuts and chopped green onions over the top and serve with a lime wedge.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October Chicken Soup and Stock

One autumn in Portland, I discovered a magic place.  I was taking a tax preparation class and needed a good place to study, and happened upon a little deli/restaurant downtown that played soft jazz music, had beautiful wooden tables, and made the best soup.  I never got around to trying the sandwiches, they looked great but I couldn't bear to trade the soup for anything else.  The combination of squash, cabbage, and turmeric stayed in my mind and I am pleased with my best duplication of it.  This brings to mind the dark stormy afternoons of bright wet yellow leaves, and of running in the rain with my books under my bright red raincoat, with the pleasing soft jingle of the bell on the door and reading the entire chalkboard menu before ordering my favorite soup. 

October Chicken Zucchini Soup
I am still enjoying the bounty of October vegetables and being sick this weekend (again! ugh!) was a perfect time for chicken soup. Using a pre-cooked game hen from the grocery store not only saves a ton of time, it makes a pot of chicken stock for future use.  If you make anything with veggies at other times, save the discards (peels, ends, etc) in a zip-lock bag in the freezer and throw them into the stock pot.  The more veggies, the better!  Onion peels are my favorite because they give the broth that nice brown color. 

October Chicken Soup

*NOTE: Save all of the cuttings from the veggies for making stock!
1 Pre-cooked cornish game hen
4 cups chicken broth
1-2 yellow crookneck squash and/or zucchini, cut in half-slices
5 small white potatoes, cut to bite-size
3 handfuls of baby carrots, cut to bite-size (in thirds is a good size)
3 handfuls of fresh spinach leaves, washed
1 round slice of cabbage, broken into large bite-size pieces
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt & pepper to taste
Additional water to cover ingredients

Strip the meat off the chicken bones and break or cut meat into bite-sized pieces.  Add meat, broth, all veggies, and bay leaf to large soup pot.  Add enough water to cover the ingredients and stir carefully.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until all veggies are cooked.  Add turmeric and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with a big chunk of crusty bread. 

Chicken Stock or Vegetable Stock

1 poultry carcass, all good meat removed (obviously leave this out to make vegetable stock)
Veggie discards: This includes onion peel, garlic peel, ends of zucchini or carrots, stems from broccoli or kale, etc.  The more the merrier, this is all flavor! 
Enough water to cover everything, and as much as you want to make into broth
** Ingredient note: Don't use potatoes.

Put everything into a large soup pot and cook on low to medium for several hours.  Do not add seasoning other than what may have been on the poultry skin.  Refrigerate or freeze until needed.
This can be used to make future chicken soup or anything else that calls for chicken stock - pumpkin soup, pot pies, risotto, etc.

(Photo by me)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Autumn Risotto with Kale and Acorn Squash

Autumn in Utah is too short.  The leaves start to change, the weather cools down, and before you know it there is snow on the ground, so I have to get to celebrating it as soon as I can tell the seasons are changing.  The farmers markets are going strong and are full of beautiful colors and a wide variety of late-summer veggies.  Kale and acorn squash are a great combination of colors and textures.  Autumn is the perfect time to eat them, when they are both fresh and locally available.  Everything tastes better straight from a farm!

Don't be intimidated by the fancy-sounding name of risotto, it's far easier than it sounds.  This recipe is adapted from one I found on   I used a dry sake for the white wine and the flavors combined beautifully.  I only used half of the squash since it I was rushing off to a potluck and forgot to allow it time to cool from the oven.  Half seemed good but one can always use more squash.  This is best fresh and hot and also made delicious leftovers. I paired it with an apple cobbler to continue the autumn fruit/veggies theme. 

The original recipe did not call for pre-cooking the squash but I don't think it would be fully cooked otherwise, although my biggest reason for making that change is that squash are hard to cut in half let alone into bite-sized pieces while raw.  Baking it first makes this far easier (in fact I did it using a spoon).  Swiss chard would be another great winter greens option. 

Later edit: Banana squash works very well in this dish too!  I have added the variation below.

Autumn Risotto with Kale and Acorn Squash
4-6 servings


1 acorn squash or about 1/4 lb banana squash
4 1/2-5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup minced onion
2 -3 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
3 cups stemmed and chopped kale, packed (about 1/2 pound before stemming)
1/8-1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt & fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (for serving)

1. Heat the oven to 350.  Cut the acorn squash in half  (do NOT remove the seeds, they help retain moisture) and place cut-side-down on a foil-covered baking sheet.  Bake for 30 to 45 minutes until almost cooked.  Remove from oven, allow to cool, remove seeds/pulp, and cut the orange flesh into bite-sized pieces.  Note that this is needed part-way through the risotto cooking, so prepare the squash before starting the rice.
Variation:  For banana squash, cut it open and clean out the seeds.  Bake a nice big chunk with a tablespoon of butter at 375 degrees for 40-60 minutes, until soft.  Let cool and slice into butter-pat sized pieces.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a boil then reduce it to a simmer.
3. In a large wok or heavy saucepan, preferably nonstick, saute the onions in 2 tsp oil for about 5 minutes, until softened but not browned.  Add more oil if needed to prevent sticking. 
4. Add the rice in small portions, stirring until it is well coated with oil.  Add the wine and stir.  
5. When the wine is absorbed (it won't take long), ladle in 1/2 cup of the simmering stock at a time, stirring frequently for 2 to 3 minutes between each addition, until the rice has absorbed the liquid.  Do this until 2 1/2 cups of the stock have been absorbed.
6.  Add the cut squash and kale and stir. 
7. Continue adding 1/2 cup of broth every few minutes, stirring often, until all of the stock has been added and absorbed and the rice is tender but firm. 
8. Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat, sprinkle with parmesan, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Candied Lemon Peel

Let me begin this post by saying how much I love my gas stove. I was hesitant (okay let's be honest I was pretty freaked out) at the concept of a gas stove when we were in the beginning stages of buying this house. I had only used a gas stove once before and after much frustration burned the crud out of some Kraft mac and cheese. Why yes that was before I learned how to cook, how did you know? :) I love the complete control this stove gives me. No blinking between hot and warm, no getting progressively hotter if I go overboard with the quantity of French toast, and no rearranging pots to keep the right one covering the most recently hot burner. I turn off the burner and the boiling stops instantly. I could not have imagined it would be so neat.

My point is that now I feel extra adventurous in my cooking and was recently inspired by a photo in a cookbook (of lemon fudge) to make candied lemon peels. The process was pretty simple. I combined several recipes.  I used a vegetable peeler and tried for long strips. My peeler does wider strips than I wanted to use so I just cut them in half lengthwise.

Next time I'll repeat the water discard a second time - the peels turned out excellent but the syrup was a bit bitter still. The water replacement cuts down on the bitterness. I would also love to experiment with adding a small cheesecloth bag of lavender or ginger in the last batch of water. 

Candied Lemon Peels

Peel of one medium lemon
1 1/3 cup water, divided in half
2/3 cup sugar plus more for coating

Boil half the water in a small saucepan. Add lemon peels and boil for five minutes. Drain water and discard. Bring the rest of the water to a boil. Add lemon peels and boil for five minutes. Set peels aside and add sugar and ginger to boiling water, stir to dissolve. Put peels back into the sugar water, bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer on medium low until translucent (about ten minutes). Remove peels from water and spread, not touching each other, on a cooling rack to cool, 10-15 minutes.
Next, cover the strips in sugar. This was a little tricky since they are very sticky like honey. I found the easiest way was to pile sugar on a cookie sheet and press the sugar on top. Keep them separated so they don't clump.

Use as a delicious garnish for anything related to lemons! 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Food Art: Cherry Pie

Sometimes it isn't about the recipe, it is all about the act of love to create food for someone.
Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day.
Sometimes my sweet husband points to the kitchen and says, "Make me pie, woman!" ... to which of course I giggle and run to the kitchen... and may or may not end up making pie depending on how distracted I get by other shiny things in the pantry.  I do love cooking for him though. 

One of the most important parts of a pie is the presentation.  Okay it better taste good too but first impressions can make all the difference!   Little cookie cutters are wonderful for this.  After putting the top crust on, there always seems to be some leftover hanging over the edges that needs to be trimmed off.  Just ball that up, flatten it out, and make little cookie-cutter shaped pie crust to decorate the top with.  Cut slits in a decorative pattern and you have one amazing looking pie!  An egg wash with granulated sugar sprinkles, is a great touch too and makes a very impressive presentation.

Well, it came time for pie.  I had refrigerated pie crust calling to me from the drawer in the fridge.  You know, the kind you just roll out and it's already a circle?  It is two steps above the frozen pie crust in that you actually have to own a pie plate to use it, and have to use it before it goes bad.  This crust had been reserved to become a chicken pot pie but the store was out of the chicken I like (which happens far too often)... so it became cherry pie.

Something that amuses (and frustrates) me when using a can of pie filling to do a quick pie is that the directions on the crust usually say to follow the directions on the pie filling... and the directions on the can, if there are any at all, say to follow the directions given on the crust package.  These companies should communicate.  They might even be owned by the same corporation.  My directions in these cases are always found using Google for a recipe that sounds kind of close but it seems silly to have to do that.

Quick and Easy Cherry Pie

1 can of cherry pie filling
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
1 refrigerated pie crust (two crusts, top and bottom)
SPECIAL: Small cookie-cutter

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Put package of pie crust on the counter to bring it to room temperature, then roll it out into a pie plate.
3. Pour pie filling into a bowl and mix in the extract.  Pour filling into crust.
4. Carefully roll out top crust onto the top of the pie.  Crimp the edges together so it looks pretty and the cherries don't leak.  Use the excess from the edges to make crust-cookies to decorate the top of the pie.  Cut slits in the crust.
5. Bake pie for 45 minutes, watching to make sure the edges don't over-brown.  (If the edges cook too fast, cover them with a ring of aluminum foil)
6. Serve pie and mumble about slaving over the stove for hours.   

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Zucchini Fritters

Zucchini fritters are a great side dish for fall... or appetizer, or breakfast, or snack.  They are earthy and green, use in-season vegetables, and make a lovely colorful contrast with the pumpkin soup I posted. They are also pretty easy.  I don't have a serving size listed because I can't get a complete count of how many are made - before the last batch is done the first batch doesn't have many left.  I'd guess that it serves about three, so the official servings is probably close to six... but why would anyone discourage the eating of delicious vegetables?

This recipe is adapted from versions from both Martha Stewart (who is totally one of my idols) and Cooking Pleasures magazine.  I make it a little bit differently each time, mostly because I tend to have zucchini when I have misplaced my recipe book, but now I have it typed in on and can access it from my phone.  So much easier!  Someday maybe I'll get an iPad and use that for cooking instead. 

I find it easiest to put all of the ingredients into a 9x13 casserole dish after draining the zucchini and onions, draw a grid in the mixture, and scoop up one forkful-sized square for each fritter.  This keeps the scoops from getting bigger and bigger until the last ones I make are twice the size of the first ones.  This trick works for cookie dough too!

Zucchini Fritters
Serves 3-6 as a side dish, depending on how hungry you are

        3 medium zucchini
        1/4 tsp coarse salt
        1/2 to 1 medium onion
        1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (1 oz) (optional)
        1/2 cup flour
        1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (optional)
        1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
        Salt and pepper
        2 large eggs, lightly beaten
        Olive oil, for frying
        Plain yogurt or sour cream (for serving)
        Applesauce (for serving)


1. Grate zucchini on the large holes of a box grater, then toss with 1/4 tsp coarse salt. Let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, grate the onion.
2. Squeeze zucchini dry in a clean kitchen towel or press in a ricer. Repeat with onion.
3. Mix together zucchini, onion, cheese, flour, and herbs. Season with 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Stir in eggs just before frying.
4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, coat skillet with 1-2 Tbsp oil. Scoop mounds (2 Tbsp each) of the mixture into skillet; flatten slightly using a spatula. Cook until golden brown and cooked through, 2-3 minutes per side.
5. Transfer fritters to paper-towel-lines plates to drain. Serve with plain yogurt and apricot jam or sour cream and applesauce.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tartar Sauce

I love fish.  I especially love crunchy breaded baked fish.  I haven't gotten to that section of my recipe book yet so I buy it at Costco.  Of course, I think fish isn't quite as good without tartar sauce, and the bottles at the store include unnecessary ingredients and end up with a few tablespoons used then the rest of the bottle taking up room in the fridge until it expires and my husband makes me throw it out because he knows I won't really eat it.  I can't be the only one, right?

Recently I had the brilliant idea that I can MAKE tartar sauce.  The recipe is pretty simple.  It can also easily be made as small portions so there is no waste and no taking up of fridge real-estate.  It's also pretty good and even better the next day. (cold fishy leftovers YES!)  So far I have been able to stop myself from eating it with a spoon, but just barely.  I really like tartar sauce.  I am also very happy to have a reason to use this adorable tea-cup in a food photo. 

Tartar Sauce
Recipe from

1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced onion (I didn't add this)
salt and pepper to taste (I didn't add this either)

Mix everything together.  Refrigerate.  This is best if prepared at least an hour in advance to let the flavors settle together, but pretty good even if you don't wait. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Spicy Pumpkin Peanut Soup

The weather isn't cooling off much yet but already I am craving soup. Having a guest this past weekend gave me a great excuse to make one of my favorites, Spicy Pumpkin Peanut Soup. This is something that can be put together pretty quickly or more fancy depending on how much time and energy you want to put into it. The more time spent, the deeper and more complex the flavors get.

Roasted red peppers can be purchased in a jar to save time but they are even better when done fresh. To do this: lay a sheet of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet. Halve a red pepper and put it skin-side-up on the foil. Put this under the broiler until the skin turns black. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Peel the skin off (should be very easy to do by hand) then chop.

Pumpkin Peanut Soup
Homemade chicken stock, fresh lemon juice, and fresh ground pepper are completely worth the extra effort. Homemade pumpkin puree didn't make a huge difference so if you aren't already making it for something else, the canned is just fine.

If you don't have an immersion blender, chop everything finely so it keeps the smooth consistency. Do not be crazy and put hot soup in a regular blender.  It's tough to learn things the messy way but the lessons sure do stick!  Anyway, onward to the soup!

Spicy Pumpkin Peanut Soup
From Women's Health Magazine
Makes 4 servings

2 tsp butter
1 small onion, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili pepper flakes (adjusted because I like it a little spicier, use half for not-spicy)
1 can pumpkin puree (15 oz)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
7 oz roasted red peppers, chopped (reserve 1 Tbsp for garnish) (1 whole red pepper)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (Adams brand or something organic)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sour cream (optional, for serving)
2 Tbsp chopped roasted unsalted peanuts (optional, for serving)
2 Tbsp chopped scallion greens (optional, for serving)

1. Heat butter in a 4-quart NON-STICK soup pot over medium-high. Add onion and cook, stirring, until golden, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.

2. Add turmeric, paprika, and chili flakes; stir. Add pumpkin puree, broth, peppers, and peanut butter; whisk to incorporate and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer for 5 minutes (or until ready to serve), then stir in sugar, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Remove from heat.

3. Using an immersion blender, carefully puree until smooth. Divide among 4 bowls and garnish with sour cream, peanuts, chopped peppers, and scallion greens.

Per serving: 270 cal, 18 g fat (4 g sat), 22 g carbs,
450 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 10 g protein
(Nutrition Facts from Women's Health)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Jessica's Potato Salad

Labor Day weekend was excellent! We had a guest visiting from Portland and it was lovely weather for using the new grill (thank you to husband's parents!). My husband is the grill-guy and made delicious burgers with BBQ sauce and diced onions cooked in. What do burgers need? Potato salad! This is a family recipe so I don't measure anything and it's a little different each time. Nope, no eggs, which means all those people who hate eggs can eat this salad and also means I don't have to peel a bunch of eggs and prevent myself from immediately eating them.  Putting eggs into potato salad takes far too much willpower and it seems like double the work.  This recipe does double-duty too, because if you swap out the potatoes for diced hard-boiled eggs it makes a great egg salad.

No photos for this one... it's hard to take pictures of potato salad when there is a burger in my hand.  Still, I am amazed that I managed to sit down and eat without taking a picture first!

Jessica's Potato Salad

Potatoes, peeled is best (1-2 per person)
Sweet pickle relish
Yellow mustard
Mustard seeds (optional, gives a nice little extra crunch)
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish ideas: Paprika, fresh parsley sprigs, cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper slices

Cut potatoes into bite-size pieces. Boil in a large pot until soft but not mushy. Strain and let cool.
Add mayo, pickle relish, mustard, and mustard seeds. Stir and taste, then add salt and pepper as desired.
Garnish and serve!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Maple BBQ Baked Beans

I found my "thing."  You know how it seems like everybody has a specific food that they bring to every potluck and picnic?  People who find their thing don't spend hours agonizing over the perfect complimentary dish to bring or worry about doing something different every time. Okay, I admit, I am still pretty likely to do those things, as I do love cooking new foods, but this time was easy.  Work potluck today, and my thing is Baked Beans.  And they are Darn Good.

Of course, I don't do things the easy way.  Last time I brought baked beans to a party I made a double batch and brought home an empty dish.  This time I wanted to make sure to have more leftovers, so I made a triple batch, which entailed switching pots a couple of times and ended up with our big stock pot full of beans... but I suspect they will disappear quickly.

Recipes are for sharing so here it is!  Many of my recipes are from magazines, and this one is from the Cooking Club of America (which by the way is completely worth the lifetime membership to get the magazines!).  

Maple BBQ Baked Beans


        8 oz. bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
        2/3 cup chopped onion
        1 (15-oz.) can navy beans or white beans, drained, rinsed
        1 (15-oz.) can pinto beans, drained, rinsed
        1 (15-oz.) can black beans, drained, rinsed
        1 cup mesquite- or hickory-flavored barbecue sauce
        1/2 cup water
        2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1. Cook bacon in large saucepan over medium-high heat 8 minutes or until partially cooked and almost crisp, stirring occasionally.
2. Add onion; cook 3 to 5 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring occasionally.
3. Stir in all remaining ingredients; bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes or until flavors are blended.... or a couple of hours for extra goodness. (For saucier beans, stir in an additional 1 to 3 tablespoons water.)