Sunday, June 29, 2008

When you don't pick your artichokes in time ...

... you get these beautiful thistle flowers. From my community garden plot. Now sitting in a vase.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rotisserie Chicken Stock

I am mighty pleased with myself, with just a very basic chicken stock! I was reading a cookbook this week which pointed out something so obvious, it really never occurred to me:

"Every time you buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, eat the chicken and throw away the carcass, you've just thrown away a pot of chicken stock."

I've never made my own stock even though I know it isn't terribly complicated just because I didn't feel like playing with an entire chicken. But I've thrown away plenty of rotisserie chicken carcasses before, and the recipe was dead bang simple. It never occurred to me to use one, other than a turkey carcass every November.

So, with a Safeway grocery store rotisserie chicken sacrificed for the cause, here is my pot of stock waiting to cool, and be divided into one quart freezer bags.

1 rotisserie chicken
1 onion
1 handful of carrots
1 handful of celery
1 garlic glove
Handful of herbs as you like
Whole Peppercorns

Strip the chicken of all the meat you wish to eat, leaving the skin, bones, and meat you don't want (I don't like dark meat, for instance), intact.

Put the entire carcass into a large stock pot and fill up with as much water as the pot will hold, and covering the carcass.

Throw in a handful of celery stalks with leaves intact, a handful of carrots (I only had shredded, so I added a cup of shredded), a whole onion cut in half, several tablespoons of various herbs, whatever is complimentary or you have on hand, 1 large elephant garlic clove, and about 10 peppercorns.

Bring to a rapid boil, then reduce heat, keep the pot covered, and simmer for 2 hours. As the liquid reduces during that 2 hours, replace with more water to keep the level up. For the second two hours, remove the lid, and let the stock reduce by half or until it reached a rich, dark golden color. Remove any fat or scum which floats to the surface (I had none, really).

Strain the whole pot into a large pan to remove bones, skin, veggies, meat. Then strain again through a smaller mesh strainer, as many times as you like, to get the broth clear.

I picked out a lot of meat from that pile you see and just nibbled on it, but most of the meat had been removed prior to the stock making.

It was really easy, really rich, really delicious, and so much better than ANY canned stock I've ever purchased.

Now I just need to make room for a bunch of bags of stock in my freezer. I think I'll be eating sugar free popsicles all night.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Sandwich de Parmesan Chicken with Lemon Vinaigrette Salad

Twice each month, the Barefoot Bloggers select and make a recipe by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, and post our results on our blogs, and then discuss it on the group blog. This group is a welcome option for those of us who don't necessarily turn out the prettiest cakes, brave and daring confections, or bakery wonders. Sometimes a challenge is terrific with just simple, good food, with a stick of butter.

Challenge Two for June 2008 was a Parmesan chicken recipe, selected by Megan of My Baking Adventures. At first I had a less than gung ho reaction because I pictured breaded chicken in tomato sauce and cheese. But no, Ina's recipe is lighter and livelier (unusual for her!) and, as soon as I read it, I thought would make a wonderful little sandwich.

My contribution to the challenge is Sandwich de Parmesan Poulet avec Citron Vinaigrette Salade. I don't speak a lick of French, so that's a total affectation.

Away we go!

First, we're going to bread the chicken. I wanted thin, tender strips, so I just used two chicken tenders, and flattened them a bit more. I set up a small plate of flour, bread crumbs seasoned with Penzey's and fresh Parmesan, and a beaten egg. Dip the chicken in flour, then egg, and finally bread crumbs and Parmesan. In the pic below, I've already got my salad greens chopped and dressed, with a bit of extra lemon vinaigrette on the side.

Add the breaded chicken tenders to a pan with a pat of butter and a splash olive oil. Pan fry on each side until golden brown. These cooked very quickly due to the thinness. First one side ...

... then the other. Hey, these are looking pretty good! I'm pleased with myself.

I had a toasted rosemary baguette ready, and I'd already made the lemon vinaigrette and chopped salad greens. I lightly dressed the greens, put them on the toasted roll, added a chicken Parmesan tender, and then sprinkled the chicken liberally with more vinaigrette. I put the remainder of a small portion in an egg cup.

Voila! A sandwich of Parmesan chicken with lemon dressed salad greens. It was QUITE good and I'm pleased I made it. I changed the original recipe by presenting it as a sandwich instead of an entree, however, the biggest adaptation I made was with the lemon vinaigrette. It's quite a simple recipe really, just olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. When I read it, I thought "well you know, I *just* made Preserved Meyer Lemons (May 2008 issue of Gourmet magazine), which are loaded with salt and olive oil, so I thought why not use some of my newly preserved lemon? The ingredients are spot on.

I poured a splash of olive oil in a small blender cup, added 1/8 of a preserved lemon slice (half of a lemon quarter), the juice of half a lemon, lots of ground pepper, and a tiny smidgen of garlic aoili to emulsify it. No added salt because the preserved lemon was salty. I blended it up and it was just excellent. That salty preserved lemon contrasted nicely with the rich oil and tart lemon juice, and barely any was needed. I'll use that again for sure. Mmm, on fish!

Verdict: Simple and delicious
Skill: Not much of any, really
Repeat: Definitely

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Roasted Prawns

Butterflied, roasted with lemons, garlic, olive oil, and Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle, until the shells turn red. Served with iced tea. Tasty!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I love Penzeys. They are good to me.

I'm really impressed with Penzey's. I "discovered" this spice store (online) a year ago while reading other blog love stories, and I love most of their blends, and especially the Sandwich Sprinkle, which I keep on my stove and use just like Paula Deen uses "house seasoning."

I recently ordered my favorites, didn't spend much at all (less than $10), but even so, in my box was a recipe for Southwest Salad and an entire complimentary jar of their Southwest Seasoning. It tasted like a very fresh taco seasoning. Free is fun, but a full jar for a small order? And good stuff? That makes me love them even more.

I pounded flat a small piece of beef into a sandwich steak, and sauteed it with the Southwest Seasoning for Carne Asada, and then just mixed fat free Greek yogurt, fresh pico de gallo, and Penzey's southwest seasoning in the dressing, for a "Salsa Ranch" dressing that was really good.

15 minutes from fridge to table and it was really delicious. If I ever come back east, I'm heading to one of these stores.

In Search of Pretzel Croissants

Technically, I already have access to them, but still. I'm not sated.

Pretzel Croissants recently came to Northern California. At last. My town, outside of the Bay Area, just last year opened its first cupcake bakery, to give you an idea that we lag WAY behind New York and its cupcakeries, or City Bakery andtheir pretzel croissants, pictured at right, and other food cities -- despite being a short distance from San Francisco.

Anyway, we finally got Pretzel Croissants by way of OctoberFeast (what a great name) German Bakery, which sells them at our Farmer's Market. They are darker than your average croissant -- the exterior flaky layer is a deep, caramelized brown. The interior tastes exactly like any other croissant. This happens to be GOOD, moist, flaky croissant, but only an average Pretzel Croissant, because there is only a hint of that pretzel flavor. No salt or sesame crunch on the exterior. Worse, they are very expensive -- $3.00 per croissant means I can' t just buy a bag of them and freeze them.

So. In preparing to thaw and bake off what I consider to be a very good frozen croissant dough from Trader Joe's (which I understand uses the same baker who makes frozen croissants for Williams-Sonoma), I had an idea.

Hey. I've made Pretzel Bread before and that wasn't hard. The secret to good pretzels and bagels is to boil them in a baking soda and water bath, first. Why not try it on frozen croissants?! If it worked, I could salt them and everything!

I was willing to throw myself on that grenade for you people, my foodie friends, to find out if I could achieve a Pretzel Croissant Flavor, without the Pretzel Croissant Price. I got out two frozen croissants, brought a big pot water to a boil, threw in some baking soda, and as I started to boil them, I figured one of a few things would happen:

A) It will have no effect whatsoever. You have two Pretzels for which you did nothing more than add an extra step to what otherwise is a pretty simple process: Thaw, Raise and Bake.

B) You will ruin two pieces of frozen croissant dough by boiling what was supposed to be tender flaky dough, and turn it into strands of gooey white yeasty smelling mucus.

C) You will make two Pretzel Croissants using nothing more than your above-average imagination and ingenuity. People will exclaim "Why didn't *I* think of that? Man, I'm never buying a $3.00 croissant again. I'm going to write about this and link to Kate's blog. If Tastespotting were still available, which it isn't, which depresses the shit out of me, I would submit Kate's picture of her basket of Pretzel Croissants because it is nothing short of FOOD PORNOGRAPHY.

The results are in, my friends and the answer is.... ?


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Pasta, Pesto and Pea Salad

For my first participation in the fairly new Barefoot Bloggers group, we made Ina Garten's Pasta Salad with Pesto and Peas.

I wasn't expecting this to be an interesting dish for me -- pasta and pesto and peas -- eh, it's okay. For that reason, I actually made a couple of salads tonight, to take to work for my lunch tomorrow. While I wasn't wowed by these traditional flavors, I was pleased with the result of combining traditional pesto with spinach, lemon and mayonnaise. The heavy, oily flavor of just straight pesto on pasta was made more light and lively by mixing in pureed spinach and adding a bit of lemon juice and mayo. I liked it well enough to use it as both a dressing for leaf salads in the future, and a more lively-than-pesto pasta sauce.

Original recipe here, but I modified it by removing a fair amount of the fats (I didn't toss the pasta with oil, and used much less mayo than called for, and I note most of my Barefoot Bloggers did the same), and I could easily scale the recipe down for two persons by just eyeballing it. Finally, rather than tossing it with additional pine nuts, I used chopped walnuts.

My lunch tomorrow: A trio of salads, including Shrimp Louie, Pasta with Peas, and Broccoli Coleslaw, with a few crackers and tangerines.

About this challenge:
The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Our Next Challenge: Ina's Parmesan Chicken. Hungry? Please join us at the table!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Coriander Chicken

This is a simple supper adapted for one or two persons, from Best Ever 30 Minute Cookbook by Jenni Fleetwood. Simple, tasty and fast. Coriander / Cilantro Haters -- look away now before you are traumatized.

Step One:

Pound out a chicken breast to desired thinness, and add to a hot pan with a bit of olive oil and butter. I like mine particularly thin because a) it cooks more quickly and b) it gets nice and chewy. I'm not a fan of wet or moist chicken. As the chicken breast is cooking ...

Step Two:

... I heat a pannini press that I found at a garage sale for a buck. I use it to weight down just about anything I want flat in a pan, from sandwiches to bacon. This is optional of course, but by heating it on that back burner you see peaking out back there, and placing it on the chicken, it browns evenly and ...

Step Three:

... develops these nice grill marks which are more attractive in pan fried meats. Get your chicken nice and sizzling, and then ...

Step Four:

... begin to break it up with a sharp knife and fork. Yes, you could dice it up in advance, but I like to shred my chicken AS it cooks in the pan, and not before, because it gives more interesting shapes, different sizes and textures, chewy brown edges and bits and pieces, and prevents it from looking like those uniform chunks you see in a can or frozen meal.

Step Five:

Now, add a knob of creme fraiche. I used a little over 2 tablespoons, and added it right to the pan. I should have scooped out a bit more of the olive oil than I did -- I had a bit too much for my liking. Act accordingly. Begin to stir right away to melt it and ...

Step Six:

... quickly add a big handful of chopped cilantro, stirring quickly to wilt.

Step Seven:

If you take the pan off very quickly, you'll have a somewhat creamy sauce. If you leave it a moment or two and really melt and wilt the creme and cilantro, you'll see it disappears into a rich, buttery tasting fat, like this, below. Grind fresh salt and pepper over all, and serve hot.

Granny Boyd's Chocolate Biscuits

I have yet to make the infamous World Peace Cookies, but I plan to do that this summer. From every description I've ever read, I'll declare them to be the best cookie, ever. Until then,

These chocolate biscuits may be the very best cookies I've ever made.

They are Granny Boyd's Biscuits by Nigella Lawson, which I first saw on Amanda's blog.

I'd like to say they were simple, and they probably are, but I made them more difficult by being an American with a dearth of education in the metric system. I really wish I knew it. I have brain power, I should teach myself, somehow. Because the recipe was given in grams, which measures mass and not just volume, conversion can be tricky. I used a cooking calculator which promised to simply and quickly calculate common baking ingredients from grams to cups, but I don't feel it worked very well.

For instance, a cup full of feathers will weigh significantly less than a cup full of sugar, and for these reasons, I think the Euro method of measuring baking ingredients to be probably much more accurate. You can't simply say "how many American cups is the same as 150 grams?" It depends on what it is. Flour? Butter? Sugar? Herbs? Eggs? Different mass for each.

I had confidence in a particular calculator I found because it listed the conversations BY FOOD PRODUCT. Ah hahh! Butter Converter! Flour Converter! Sugar Converter! Perfect.

I thought.

The recipe is simple enough. Only four ingredients. But when the recipe called for me to form a stiff dough and roll it into balls the size of a walnut, I knew I had a problem. My dough was light and fluffy, almost like mousse. There was no way it was a dough, and certainly was not stiff enough to roll in my hand. It fell off the spoon like whipped mousse, so I kept adding flour in 1/4 cup ingredients and still it was light and fluffy but could hold a ball. Because I'd added so much flour, I lost confidence in the cocoa, and added double the amount of that, too. In the end, I did get a product which I was able to scoop up with a finger and roll into a rather moist ball, and flatten with a fork, but it was so light I was nervous. I thought surely they'd flatten out to a bitter, black pancake and burn.

They didn't. In fact, they retained their shape despite being comprised of nearly 50% butter. Oh they spread just a bit, yes, but by no means did they turn into pancakes.

I made a test batch and ate a few and to my surprise, they were simply exquisite. I need to describe them, but it's difficult. Imagine this: A soft, very very very sandy beach, where the grains of sand are chocolate. The water laps in over the sand, but the water is made of salted butter (well it is sea water after all). You scoop up a finger full of this salted, buttered chocolate sand, and bake it in the sun just long enough to dry the butter. That's what these cookies are like. Salty Chocolate Sand, but no grit. Like fairy dust sand.

The edges crumbled and broke on the plate, from my not being gentle enough, and picking them up while still too warm. Once they were fully cool, I could easily lift one to my mouth to eat, and it just held together long enough to be modest and ladylike. When I put it on my tongue and pressed it to the roof of my mouth, it dissolved into soft sandy chocolate and disappeared.

It was quite simply, an awesome taste and an awesome sensation. Nigella Lawson calls them dark and smokey. I thought they were far too delicate and lady like for that kind of masculine description. If they are smokey at all, it's more like the fog rolling in on that beach I told you about, and dancing on your tongue. That's what they were.

And they were damn, damn good.

Because the gooey, soft batter was too difficult to scoop and place, and the few cookies I did make were so rich, I rolled the batter into wax paper and refrigerated it overnight, in a log. The next day, I simply ran a hot knife through the loaf, and cut off small shards, like little chocolate ice bergs, and baked them in that rough shape. They spread somewhat in the pan, but you can tell some of the angles are still there. Floating in that buttery sea, waiting to dissolve on impact. When I got to the end of the roll, it was soft enough to just slice off like butter, and plop onto the pan. Those turned into more delicate looking cookies, easy to use a fork to mark.

Make them. You won't be sorry.

I'm going to give you the original recipe in the original grams, and then put in my notes as to what happened with my recipe. Any assistance from UK bloggers as to what I did wrong (although with happy results) would be most appreciated.


300g Self-Raising Flour
*My converter gave me 2 cups of flour, but my batter was just fluffy, pudding-like mousse, so after using 2 cups of self rising flour, I added 1/4 cup of softassilk cake flour, at least three times, for a total of 2-3/4 cups of flour.

30g Cocoa Powder
*Converter gave me 1.5 tablespoons of cocoa, but because I added so much more flour than called for, I didn't want to dilute the flavor. I added a full three tablespoons of cocoa.

250g Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
*Converter gave me 1.5 cups of butter or three entire sticks. Was this right?!

125g Caster Sugar
*Converter gave me 2/3 cup of sugar. I used Vanilla Bean Infused Sugar and did not increase it as I didn't want it overly sweet.


Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Sift flour and cocoa powder and set it aside.
Cream butter and sugar till light and pale in color. Mix in sifted flour mixture, and continue working until it forms a dough. Roll into walnut-sized balls and arrange on a buttered baking sheet. Flatten dough balls with the back of a fork and bake for 12-15 minutes at 170 degrees C.

*I baked the cookies at 350 degrees for approximately 12-15 minutes and the texture and baking time was perfect.

Any input on my amounts UK bloggers?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pretzel Bread Baguettes

I saw sandwiches tonight at My Sweet and Saucy, and I instantly wanted to crawl through my screen and eat them. The post reminded me that I've been meaning to bake a batch of pretzel bread which I saw on another blog not too long ago. It will have to do. It will have to do.

Pretzel Bread / Baguettes (Small Batch)
Makes 4 Medium Sized Pretzel Rolls

Pretzel Dough:

2-3/4 cups bread flour
2-1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast or SAF instant yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup hot water

Water Bath:
1/4 cup baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar

coarse sea salt
egg white

I adapted this recipe from Desert Candy, to use my bread machine, which calls for adding the dough's liquid ingredients first, followed by dry, yeast on top. I set it to "dough only" and let it knead and rise first in the machine, and then removed it to a pan lined with parchment. I slashed into the bread dough with scissors, covered, and let rise again for approximately 15 minutes while I prepared the water bath. I brought a soup pot of water to boil, and added the baking soda and sugar when I was ready to add the rolls. Boiled the rolls on each side for 30 seconds (they float, so flipping is in order).

Removed to a pan lined with parchment paper, brushed with egg white, and salted. Baked at 375 for 30 minutes.

I found them to be quite tasty, but not as "pretzel tasting" as I would like. Very good, make no mistake (all homemade bread is good), but not quite what I'm looking for yet. I thought they were more like bagels than pretzels, and the baking soda flavor was more pronounced than I anticipated, so perhaps I added too much or the ratio of water to baking soda was off. Still, I have a chicken breast roasted and this will make a lovely sandwich tomorrow.

The action shots:

Hello, My Name is _________

At what point do our recipe make-overs, substitutions, swap-outs, and stand ins, take a recipe "title" out of the equation, and create a whole new animal?

I’m one of the newest members of the Barefoot Bloggers, who plan to cook Ina Garten recipes twice monthly and compare recipe notes and impressions. One of the questions asked, is how literally the recipe has to be followed. Tara, the founder, responded:

"Add nuts, omit nuts, use pecans instead of walnuts…all of that is fine…but if the recipe is for Ina’s lemon cakes and you turn out a chocolate pound cake, I think you’ve gone too far. Amending recipes to your own tastes is what cooking and baking are about but we’re all baking the same recipes here and I feel like our end products should be fairly similar - how can we rate Ina’s recipes if we change them so much?"


I’ve seen quite a few recipe swap-outs and stand-ins recently which just confuse me. I’m not talking about using Splenda in place of sugar, or pecans in place of walnuts, removing an allergens and replacing them with non-allergens, converting something to gluten free because one must do so, using applesauce in place of oil, or using vegan ingredients in place of non-vegan ingredients. In fact, there is one substitution I will always make: Best Food's Mayo in place of Miracle Whip. This should be mandatory for every person, in every case.

Anyway, I understand and even sympathize when one of more of these swaps are necessary for health reasons, and I always give those efforts a pass -- but if many or even ALL of these steps are taken -- plus several more -- is it still the same dish?

As Tara pointed out, when do we draw the line when a recipe for Ina’s lemon cake comes out as a chocolate pound cake, but it’s still titled "My Version of Ina’s Lemon Cake"? When the "appearance" of something is the only similarity? For instance, Bread Machine Soft Pretzels which are nothing more than white bread dough shaped into a pretzel shape and salted? Or when someone bakes up a Pillsbury tube biscuit, sugars the top, and calls it Homemade Shortcake. This same person sliced pre-made sugar cookie dough into rectangles, brushed them with butter and almond extract and called the recipe Scottish Shortbread.

I spotted a post today on a blog I enjoy, regarding a makeover for a very specific, very regional, very beloved tea beverage – Thai Iced Tea – which uses a different type of tea altogether, a different sweetener, a different (non)dairy, added a non-traditional flavor extract, but still calls itself Thai Tea. Why? I truly applaud the creativity, and what the cook has made here sounds like a really interesting beverage – but it isn’t Thai Tea. Admittedly she does say it’s "a decent approximation", but I think it deserves it’s own name, like Cashew Milk Rooibos Tea – which is what it is, and there is no shame in calling itself that. One could even say "Inspired by the appearance and viscosity of Thai Tea, but going in a whole new direction."

Similarly, pureeing an ingredient to a fine paste and serving it with pita does not a hummus make. The blogger Desert Candy has a GREAT opinion on the subject, and wrote a really interesting post about hummus which stuck with me a long time and actually influenced and changed my marketing habits. I started identifying, buying and thereafter making the "proper kind of hummus" and appreciating it so much more, than say, tubs of goo at Trader Joe’s marked "Tuscan White Bean Hummus." It’s Tuscan flavored White Bean Spread. Why not call it that?

So, folks, where do you stand on Recipe Makeovers which make a whole new animal out of something familiar? When should it be retitled? When does a makeover because Extreme Makeover: Food, or worse a Gender Reassignment?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Soup and Salad Bento Lunch

No cooking or baking posts, so here's a peak inside my Mr. Bento Box for tomorrow. Typically, this will represent breakfast (the fruit), lunch, and sometimes a wee bite in the afternoon.

Beluga Lentil Curry soup
Tuna Salad with Lite Mayo and Chives
One slice of toasted brioche
Wee Brie
Vanilla Wafers
Strawberries and Grapes

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dozen Flours: Cream Sherry Bundt Cake

Sometimes simple is best, and Dozen Flours is right: Certain cakes do NOT need frosting, and this is one of them. I have fond memories of this cake, made by my best friend's mother every Friday, when I spent the night. We had it with tea. I'm delighted to see the recipe again (and if you sniff in disdain that it starts with a yellow cake mix, well, to hell with ya!)

Dozen Flours: Cream Sherry Bundt Cake