Friday, January 30, 2009

Stuff Which Cracks Me Up: Zombies

Whoever these pranksters were, bless them, for giving motorists a hearty chuckle or two, on the way to work. Local officials were not amused, but, I was.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Best Breakfast Burritos EVER

I love this breakfast burrito so much, I've had it for dinner three times in the past week. It's so delicious, so simple, and so fast, it's my current love. I was inspired by the version made by Muneeba at An Edible Symphony, because as soon as I saw it, I knew it was the answer to what I disliked most about most breakfast burritos: The over-cooked scrambled egg and often greasy breakfast meats. I love the concept of a breakfast burrito, but I often dislike the end result for those two reasons.

As soon as I saw Muneeba's version, I smacked myself in the head and said "Of Course, use a softly fried egg, don't use a scrambled egg, silly, and that problem is solved! Who told you they have to include scrambled eggs?"

I had all the ingredients I needed on hand, and set to work.

Above: For my version, I started with a fresh tortilla, from dough. My local Costco sells the uncooked tortilla in paper thin sheets. The only require a quick heating (perhaps 1 minute or less per side) in a dry skillet to cook. Naturally, you can use a plain, cooked tortilla, but do heat it first, in a dry skillet, so that it warms the ingredients as you build. Here, I just place the uncooked tortilla in a pan, no butter or fats required, and turn it on high. Note it is slightly translucent.

Above: In about 30 seconds, the tortilla begins to puff, and turn white as the dough cooks.

Above: When the first side is browned and bubbly, turn it over with tongs and cook the other side very briefly, perhaps 15-20 seconds. The second side should be less brown -- we're going to be working on that side again in a little bit, below. Keep your pan warm, but not hot -- you'll need it again in a minute.

Above: Lay the tortilla on a paper plate or towel, and on the darker, more grilled side of the tortilla, quickly spread a thin layer of cilantro dip and sprinkle with shredded cheeses. Mine is my favorite -- Trader Joe's Roasted Pecan Cilantro Dip (basically a cream cheese and cilantro spread). Muneeba's version used Cilantro Chutney. I have that as well, but this dip is my preferred taste -- it's milder.

Above: Add another layer of your preferred toppings. Here, I used just a scattering of black beans, and a scattering of diced green onion. You could certainly add Spanish rice here, or avocado slices, or even shredded pork or carnitas. Here, I'm just keeping it simple to show you my base burrito. Set this stage of your burrito aside, and return to your warm pan.

Above: Lightly butter the skillet and softly fry an egg. You want the whites cooked gently, and still a somewhat loose yolk (but no runny whites, yuck).

Above: Just before it's ready to come out of the pan, I quickly break the yolk with just a swirl or two. I don't want it hard or cooked through -- I just want the yolk to be more evenly distributed with the egg white. Keep the pan warm, but not hot. Do not wipe it out.

Above: Quickly slide the egg from the pan onto your waiting tortilla. All photos from this point forward will be blurry because I dropped it right in my egg yolk! I tried to get the yolk off the lens. I think I need a q tip and alcohol.

Above: Fold up the sides and roll up like a burrito.

Above: Place the rolled burrito back in the warm pan, and using the trace amount of fat still left, begin to brown/crisp the outside of the burrito. Remember I told you that I spread the dip and toppings on the browner of the two sides? That's because when it goes into the pan again to warm up, the less brown side will catch up. This also helps melt the cheese a bit inside, and finishes cooking the soft egg.

Above: Slice in half, take a bite, and enjoy the best, most flavorful, unique, and definitely NOT greasy and heavy, Breakfast Burrito.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chores, Drawers and More

I had one of those busy kitchen-task oriented days this weekend. I got some energy and tackled many niggling organization problems which were bothering me, and as I was in the kitchen, whipped up some basics for the coming weeks.


Chiefly, I organized my Bento Lunch supplies. I’m am avid lunch packer and use of several different types of Japanese styled lunch boxes. Some thermal, some not, some large, some small. When I was new to the Bento Hobby, which I adopted after following the wonderful Mr. Bento Group on Flickr (and related Bento Box groups) I naturally went hunting for every type of accessory and cutesy tool I could find. As time has passed, I find I rely on my tried and true boxes, and, as I’m packing for myself and no children, I don’t find I use many of the cutesy decorating or garnishing tools – my lunches are colorful and varied and usually healthy and that’s good enough for me.

I wanted my extra supplies, many of them new and unused to go to a bento-packing mother who was hopefully new to the hobby and enthused about waste-free lunches for her child. Biggie of Lunch in a Box to the rescue! This Bento Packing Queen, who receives a great deal of press for her lunch packing skills and tips, digitally introduced me to a new bento enthusiast here in my city, who will be the benefactress of my extra supplies.


Next, I prepared for my year of BYOB. I need to be prepared for bread making as an organized science. This means not hunting for the yeast, the gluten, that little box of cornstarch, and darn it, where is the baking powder? One complete shelf was organized with all baking supplies, including flours, rising agents, and more. Hooray for the 99 Cent Store and its wealth of plastic containers. I have the new Artisan Bread in 5 book, but I wouldn't even open it and enjoy reading it until I’d organized my bread making pantry. Done, except for one thing. I need to head over to Smart and Final and get a food service plastic bin for my fridge for my basic starter dough. I’ve seen those over and over and I want one.


Next, I dealt with some leftover ham. I made Alton Brown’s City Ham on Saturday because Kat’s version looked so darn good. I am but a solo diner here, so I couldn’t make the whole hog (no pun intended), even though ham (well -- any pork) is my favorite sandwich meat. I just followed the method for making just a small boneless ham (not the canned kind, blecch – just the half-cut shrink wrapped boneless ham you find in the butcher aisle which I typically buy to shave into lunch meat). While I liked the recipe, it didn’t knock my socks off any more than other sweet and salty ham glazes. Good, but not a must-repeat for me. Granted, I suspect this would be much better on your traditional, bone-in baked ham, for the wow factor. So, I have a container of sliced ham for sandwiches, soups and the like, but ended up with a big hunk of ham from the round end after I got tired of slicing. Hmmmm. Let’s make ham salad and talk about mirepoix.

Kate’s Ham Salad

Hunks of baked ham
Handfuls of mirepoix (diced celery, onions and carrot)
Lots of Green Herbs
(I used Thyme, Parsley, Oregano)
Salt and Pepper

First I whirled the ham in a bullet blender in short pulses. I did not want ham paste. I just wanted it to shred, so with every few pulses, I opened the cup and emptied the shreds, and repeated until the entire chunk was reduced to nothing but a big bowl of pink shreds about the size of long rice.

Next, I took several handfuls of mirepoix, and added fresh and dried green herbs, salt, and pepper, and mixed thoroughly. I blended the chopped ham and mirepoix, added a few dollops of mayo, and mixed gently. Serve on toasted bread as a sandwich or on crackers.

Let me tell you ... this stuff is good and if you even consider buying Underwood Deviled Ham Paste after trying this (assuming you did beforehand), I’ll personally have you over for lunch and convince you to stop buying that stuff. Unless it’s for your bomb shelter.


Next, I worked on my expiring mirepoix. It wouldn't keep fresh for much longer, but cooked, I will get another week or so out of it. So, about mirepoix. I use it not just for stews and other entrees, but for sandwiches, so I keep Trader Joe’s finely chopped fresh mirepoix on hand. It’s a 14.5 oz medium size tub in layers – one layer of celery, one of carrot, and one of onion, in a rough chop. Just Jenn has a picture for us. Now, before you judge me for buying a convenience produce item, when you live alone, buying small size bags of produce and fruit is a challenge, unless its Farmers Market Weather. I hate wasting produce and buying smaller bags and pre-chopped mixes is actually more economical and convenient for me.

The tub has neat and pretty layers, and this is nice, but not useful when I want to dip into it. The first thing I do, is empty out the entire contents in a big bowl and mix it up with herbs, and then put it back into the tub and keep it in the fridge.

When I use a handful of mirepoix for sandwiches, I run another rough chop through it, to make it a bit smaller. Don’t overlook chopped carrot as an excellent salad addition in your tuna, egg and chopped meat salads – its just as crunch as celery and lasts a lot longer in the fridge. You get that little burst of color and sweet taste and it really comes in handy when the celery has gone dodgy. To make up for the lack of celery taste, just add celery seed.

So that brings me to this weekend, after the Ham Salad. I could tell the last of the mirepoix wasn't going to last much longer as it was past its prime. I didn’t want to waste it, so I melted some butter in a pan, and flash fried several thyme stalks. I removed the stems, kept the leaves in the pan, threw in the last of my mirepoix, and sauteed the heck out of it until it was deeply browned and caramelized (even the celery). I then added the last knob of Roasted Garlic Meyer Lemon Compound butter I had in the fridge -- perhaps 2 tablespoons from a container -- and browned it all to a liquid. When I had nothing but a pile of buttery brown veggie goodness, I emptied it from the pan into a sealed container for the fridge. As soon as it chilled, the butter sealed the veggies. Now, a quick scoop into my precooked, buttered, roasted veggies will help me spruce up any number of quick entrees –

– A spoonful in a pan, with an egg for a fast omelet
– A spoonful in any lackluster soup or stew
– A spoonful in any rice or pasta for a fast side dish
– A quick bit of intense veggie flavor to any pan-fried fish or chicken
– Or heated in a pan with other meats and then folded in tortilla for a quick wrap.


Finally, I handled a nagging Drawer Organizing task. I found all my plastic containers, their lids, and organized those into an easy to reach spot. I then took an empty box and took out every extra fork, spatula, unused ice cube tray, salt shaker missing its mate, unused ugly coffee mugs, a glass candy dish I never use, a plastic thermos that I dislike, and, finally, that awful Tupperware container that gives me so much grief by refusing to cooperate with its lid. Yes, it was costly, but the grief it gives me wasn’t worth it, I can’t be bothered to exchange it, so why am I burdening myself with this?! NO more! I boxed up all my kitchen orphans (32 items! Hooray), posted the box on Craigs List in the "free" column and 1 hour later, it was all gone to a happy bachelor for his apartment. As my mother puts it "Look at how much real estate you just cleared." It feels wonderful.


So there you have it! How I spent my Sunday in the kitchen! I was so busy working I didn’t photograph my efforts, not that you’d find it interesting to see. Except that ham salad, I’m going to make a sandwich and photograph that tomorrow.

I deserve a cake or pie or something, don't I? I have a vintage cake recipe on the menu for this week, for just that reason.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Roast Chicken Chutney Sandwich

This was a fast one! I'm now a member of the BYOB Group (Bake Your Own Bread) so I'm busy clearing the freezer of my store-purchased baked goods. I am down to just a few frozen bread products, including these ciabatta rolls. I was in the mood for a spicy, flavorful, and warm sandwich today, to perk up the grey drizzling atmosphere around here. All of these ingredients came from Trader Joe's. Not intentionally (although I do shop there more than any other store), but it just happened to turn out to be a Trader Joe's Concoction.

1 ciabatta roll
1 fully cooked roasted chicken patty (cut in half, see note*)
1 slice of Black Diamond Sharp White Cheddar Cheese (one of my favorites, I am never without it)
Tomato Chutney
Cilantro Leaves

I split and toasted the ciabatta roll, placed one slice of white cheddar on one warm side, and spread TJ's tomato chutney on the other. It's a very spicy, curry-tasting ketchup, quite good. I was out of lettuce, so I just layered cilantro leaves on the cheese, and then quickly flash heated 1/2 of a roasted chicken patty* in a pan and added it. The warmth melted the cheese and released the cilantro's aromatics very quickly. This was a very flavorful sandwich. I quite liked it.

*Chicken Patty Note: In the deli case, TJ's has a few pre-cooked, pre-formed chicken patties. I believe one has feta and herbs, and this newest one is just roasted chicken. It is high protein and low fat, so I gave it a try. I was not terribly pleased with how "dense" it was. Like it was squashed and very firm, and too thick for my taste. I like thinner, panini style sandwiches and thin or shaved meats. So, using my slice-a-slice tool, I simply cut the patty in half, through it's horizontal middle. What you see then is a thinner, half patty, which I liked much better. Plus, the patties come 2 to a pack, and this method gives me 4 to a pack). The chicken was "true" in its flavor -- like a patty of rotisserie chicken.

The jury is out as to whether I'll buy the patties again - I'm leaning to "no" simply based on the dense texture -- but I will most definately make this sandwich again, with simple, moist grilled chicken. It would also be terrific with chicken salad.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Quiznos Bait and Switch


Quiznos Fail

There is a reason I seldom eat at "fast food sandwich shops" like Quiznos or Subway. They are just generally foul, toasted or not. I was stuck with no choice recently, and the sandwich on the board outside of the restaurant of a Quiznos looked reasonably tasty, so I decided, why not. Well ... there was a BIG reason why not.


Quiznos Pile O'Meat with Mustard Bath

In realty, the Pastrami Sandwich, advertised above, was the most foul looking sandwich I've ever seen. When I unwrapped the paper, I couldn't believe my eyes. You are NOT being deceived, here. I received a roll with meat in a mustard bath. I just gaped at it, appalled, and threw it in the trash. I wrote to Quiznos Corporate with pics of this sandwich. They sent me a $5.00 coupon for a free sandwich, which I gave to a homeless man who sits outside our office building most days. I hope he enjoyed his lunch, because I'm never eating in a Quiznos again.

Friday Five: 5 Food Questions

1) Describe a recipe you’re still chasing.

That’s easy. Until recently it was the perfect cornbread, but I’ve found that. The other is a muffin. I was traveling by air many years ago and had a layover in Kansas City. The only vendor open for food was a bakery counter. For some reason I remember it as being Marie Callender’s, but I’ve never seen that restaurant in any airport, ever, so I don’t know why I associate MC with that airport. Anyway, I bought a cup of a coffee and muffin. The muffin was Pineapple Coconut. Ordinarily, I never order coconut flavored anything. I love fresh coconut, but artificial coconut flavors or scents are repulsive to me. It’s all they had, however. To my surprise, that muffin was the best muffin I’d ever had. Light, fluffy, airy, with bits of shaved coconut and pineapple. Probably closer to cake than muffin (it had no fatty or greasy taste at all) It was exquisite. I’ve chased that muffin recipe for probably ten years. I’ve never found it, despite countless muffin books. ::sigh::

2) Describe your speciality in the kitchen.

Soups. I am the queen of soups. I do NOT eat canned soup. I’m convinced none of them are good. I did buy a can of cream soup recipe so I can make King Ranch Chicken (because of this blog post I read), but I’d never heat it as soup, ever. Unfortunately, I don’t follow the same recipe every time, and it can be a pain to recreate it and forget important last minute additions. My most repeated "soup style" dish is my Collard Greens. It’s my go-to soup when I’m sick.

3) What would get you kicked out of the foodie community?

Wow, so many things. Here are the top contenders: 1) I love Oscar Meyer bologna, fried until it’s practically black, slapped on plain white bread, with nothing else. 2) I have never made a cake that is as moist and reliable as a boxed cake mix. When I find one, I’ll admit it freely, but until then, I have to admit that I like cake from mixes better than hard, dry, overrated from scratch cakes. Oh! One exception! My favorite cake IS from scratch – oatmeal cake with broiled coconut pecan topping. Nothing is better than that. But otherwise, I make cakes from a box. 3) I've tried very hard over the years to really enjoy wine, but honestly, I can take it or leave it. I love champagne and cocktails, but wine doesn't add to or detract from a good meal for me. 4) I don't like chocolate that much. I think it's overrated. It always tastes like chocolate. Wah hoo. ::yawn:: I prefer vanilla and all its varieties.

4) What was mother’s best and worst dish?

Worst: My mother used to get raves for her Steak Spaghetti. It was just spaghetti with a ragu sauce which had chunks of steak, instead of ground meat. Why everyone raved about it, I have no idea. For one thing, she boiled the noodles to death, and the steak was always tough. She still claims, to this day, that the tomato sauce tenderizes the meat. That may be true for others, but not in her version. I hated that dish. I tell her that frequently to make sure she never, ever, makes it for me.

Best: Soup night. I guess that’s why I’m the soup queen, because I inherited the skill from my mother. Long before soup and salad night was popular, my mother would make a huge pot of navy bean soup, or potato soup, and have fresh, hot bread and butter, salad, and pitchers of iced tea. That was fabulous.

5) What basic, well-known food have you never eaten? Why not?

I’ve never had tripe. I suppose just because it looks so nasty in the packaging. Ditto brains, sweetbreads, and tongue. I love certain pates and liverwurst, but dislike liver generally. Organ meats as a whole, I guess?

6) BONUS ROUND! Dish on a Food Network Star that you love or hate.

I can't stand the way Sandra Lee speaks. I won't bother debating the concept of her semi-homemade recipes. There isn't a thing she does with grocery store ingredients that we have not all done, over time. EVERYONE does what she does, and there is nothing novel about the concept. The few times I've watched the show, I have to turn the channel because of her speech. She has this habit of drawing out several words, and usually the last syllable on most words, until it begs for a fast death. Example:

You and I would say "And then spread the icing on top, like this."

Sandra Lee says: "And thennnnnnn spread the icing on top, like thissssssssssssssssssssssssss"

You and I would say "Swirl it all around in the pan. Doesn't this look good?"

Sandra Lee says: "Swirrrrrrrrl it aroundddddddddddd and aroundddddddd, like thisssssssssssssssssssssss. Oh it looks soooooooooooooo gooooooooooooooooooood."

You watch and pay attention. You'll see what I'm talking about and it will drive you crazy, too.

Those are my Friday Five Foodie Questions (with a bonus round) answers. I'd love to read yours, readers. Comment me with a link to your blog and Friday Five list, please!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Easy Sticky Buns

This week on Barefoot Bloggers, we made Ina Garten's Easy Sticky Buns, as chosen by Melissa of Made by Melissa. This recipe was so fun, and so easy, and so tasty, I'm surprised it never occurred to me to try it before. This recipe and method is a natural for any kind of breakfast pastry. I can easily see substituting dried cherries and crushed almonds for Cherry Almond Pastry, or perhaps Maple Butter and Pecans. The varieties you can use are numerous.

As with all Ina Garten recipe, butter figures prominently. I didn't follow any of the recommendations for amounts. Because the *base* for this recipe is puff pastry, which by itself is quite fatty enough, I just used the *idea* of her recipe, and adapted accordingly as I went along, using far less butter.

These rolls were superb! I was particularly happy that the butter melded with the dough to create a more traditional feeling dough, rather than a shattery-flakey roll that disentigrates when you bite it. These held together nicely. It would be very easy to make these rolls, cut, and freeze the cut rounds for baking off on rushed mornings.

Butter and brown sugar is combined to make a loose slurry.

A dollop of the sugar butter is placed in the well of a cupcake tin. I only used six wells, because I only used one square sheet of pastry from Trader Joe's. Pecans are sprinkled over the dollops of sugar butter, and the pan is then set aside.

One sheet of puff pastry is spread thinly with melted butter, onto which cinnamon and sugar are sprinkled. I also added a bit more brown sugar, as well as more pecans.

The pastry is rolled up, jelly roll style, to make a log.

Ina's recipe calls for cutting off the ends and discarding them. How silly and wasteful is that? (said in her own style). Puff pastry melts, spreads and puffs, so trimming uneven ends is completely unnecessary. Cut the log into six equal pieces.

Place one roll on each dollop of sugar butter, in the cupcake pan. Bake for 30 minutes until the roll are well browned and caramelized.
Cool for a few minutes, and turn the rolls out onto a sheet pan lined with parchment. Serve while still warm.


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. Hungry? Please join us at the table!

Cilantro Pepper Jack Biscuits

After I made the Easiest Sticky Buns ever (already posted) I was left with one square sheet of Trader Joe's puff pastry.

I spread it with TJ's Roasted Pecan Cilantro Dip (which I love so much I could eat it with a spoon), and layered a few thin slices of pepper jack cheese, and rolled up jelly roll fashion.

Sliced into equal pieces, and baked for 30 min (it takes surprisingy long to get the centers done on this kind of dough) in a lightly buttered cupcake tin.

Mighty fine!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ice Water Saltines

This recipe is so simple and delicious, it's going to ruin you for regular saltine crackers. I found this recipe in a cookbook by Marion Cunningham called "Lost Recipes" suggesting it's an old technique which has gone by the wayside. Pity!

This unusual treatment for saltines would be delightful if you are stuck with soup or salad for supper, but you forgot or don't have good bread and butter.

When I started, I followed the beginning of the recipe exactly, but that quickly proved very frustrating. First, the recipe called for WAY too much water (8 cups), and soaking the crackers in it for 3 minutes, and then soaking them in a full stick of melted butter. Nonsense. The water soaking alone made Cracker Goo and I didn't get any further then a pan of white paste.

My second attempt a few minutes later, with adaptations, was a very tasty success.

NOTE: This dish comes together very quickly and you must be ready. To begin, assemble 1) a pan of of ice water; 2) a dish of saltine crackers; 3) melted butter; 4) salt and herbs; and 5) paper towels.

1) The original recipe was to fill a small pan with ice water...

2) ... and then place 24 crackers in the ice water, and soak them for 3 minutes. Do NOT do this. You will waste 24 crackers, and the ice water.

3) Instead, I removed the ice so that I had icy cold water, and simply dunked and held each cracker in the cold water for a slow count of ten --- one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand -- to ten for me worked great -- and then removed and soaked on a piece of paper towel.

4) You can use a strainer to remove the cracker, but honestly, once I began to dunk with my fingers, I found I had more control by just holding them under water and removing them. They are too delicate when wet to handle much with tools, and holding them under water let me "feel" when they were ready to take out -- strong enough to still hold, but wet enough to be very moist. Monitor this carefully. Also, choose only crackers which are whole and do not have cracks. That will lead to disaster. Once soaked, let the crackers drain slightly on a paper towel or piece of parchment paper.

5) Meanwhile, heat your oven to 400 degrees. I poured the ice water out of my pan, dried it, and melted a few tablespoons of butter in it (the next time I make this, I'm just going to have a small bowl of icy cold water for dunking, and have the pan already heated with butter in it, waiting for the post-dunk). The recipe called for a full stick of butter for 24 crackers. I thought this was madness and just used a few teaspoons (maybe 3, tops) for 9-10 crackers.

6) Carefully pick up the moist crackers from your towel, and ease them into the buttery pan. You can add more butter to the top as the recipe directed, but I found the butter bubbled up through the holes just fine, and no additions were necessary. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, monitoring carefully to assure they don't burn, but do let them get well browned so the crispness returns.

7) These were my crackers after 15 minutes. Perfect. Some of the salt came off in the ice water, and I used unsalted butter, so I sprinkled a bit more. If you used unsalted butter, you may wish to season as I did, but if you used salted butter, it probably won't be necessary. I quickly sprinkled thyme leaves on mine, and as soon I did, the heady aroma of thyme released on the hot cracker. It was a taste sensation, so next time, I'd add the thyme to the butter in the pan, to infuse the cracker.

The crackers were very crisp and delicate, like buttery, salty pastry. They were not fall-apart flaky -- you can easily top them and use them as a crostini or bruschetta, or just serve along side a bowl of tomato soup (basil leaves on the crackers would be fabulous for this).

As for me, I just topped them with some cold shrimp salad and blissfully munched on this tasty, vintage, treat for my own little Tea Party For One.
Your diners will not know these are store-purchased crackers. The transformation is unique, delicious, fast, and easy. Be prepared for your ladies-who-lunch-friends to say "Ooooooooooooooooh, I'm going to try this myself!"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Go To Recipes: Aunt Elfred's Magical Cornbread

It has been a long journey, for me -- finding a cornbread recipe that meets my rigid demands. It has been a long and hard search, fraught with peril, disappointments, lowered expectations, and more.

I didn't think my demands were that high. I want my corn muffins or bread to be slightly sweet (I do fall on the sweet side of the debate -- but I don't want it to be corn cake). I want it to be grainy, but maintain its integrity when you break it apart. I want the muffin to be crispy and toothsome on the crust, but that crust has to be thin and the inside should be high and fluffy.

I want it to be golden yellow. I don't want it to be wet and dense. I just want my corn muffin to be a big, yellow, grainy cloud.

I've tried many recipes over time, but none met my expectations. I finally gave up making my own, and just relied on ::head lowered:: an instant mix by Marie Callender's. In the restaurant, the bread is light and fluffy, so I began using cans of MC mix a long time ago. This add-water-only recipe was quick and fast. I wouldn't say it was great (it's actually too sweet) but it was the best of the mixes, I thought. Something happened recently, though. I bought a very large bag of the mix from Costco (previously I'd be using the smaller cans of mix from the grocery store) and I've made it several times, including very recently, and each time I found it was heavy, short, and dense. Nothing like I've been used to. I wondered if the mix was just old and ulimately I just assumed the formula had changed or cheapened and it wasn't going to the bread I ever remembered.

Fortunately, within days, I stumbled across a recipe on a blog called LunaCafe (don't get your hopes up -- it isn't a restaurant that I can see, darn it all) for cornbread where the blogger described it perfectly.


Does she understand this delicate balance required between bread and cake, muffin and biscuit? Dare I hope?

I gave LunaCafe's recipe for Aunt Elfred's Magical Cornbread a try, and, it was a complete success. My search is over. I say that with emphasis, so much so, that I've created a category called "Go To Recipes" to house those recipes which end the game for any others.

This recipe has an interesting distinction -- oil and sugar are whisked together into a paste into which eggs, milk and cornmeal are then added.

After the wet ingredients and corn meal are mixed, its added to the dry ingredients...

... and mixed just until it holds together. No longer.

LunaCafe uses a popover pan for high, proud muffins, but I'm quite fond of this squared off muffin pan, because they make perfectly sized muffins which fit in my bento box lunch container, and the shape makes for an interesting sandwich base.

This recipe also serves double duty for me. It ended my search for the perfect recipe, but, it qualifies for the BYOB (Bake Your Own Bread) Challenge I recently joined (more on that in my next post). While not a yeast-raised bread, it neverthless qualifies because it puts me back in the kitchen with a whisk and an array of ingredients which ordinarily would come out of a pre-made pouch of mix. That pouch Marie Callender's mix? Yeah, I threw it out, without one second of angst.

See the recipe here, and trust me on this. You'll love it. I followed it faithfully, but skipped the additions the first time out. Perhaps in the future I may add them (peppers, or onion, or more), but for me, a good corn muffin recipe can stand on its own without embellishment. This passes the test.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Breakfast for Dinner: Baked Eggs

No recipe for this, just a method basically. Line a cupcake tin with your choice of thin meat -- lunch meat ham, or perhaps proscuitto. I used shaved ham, and it was rather delicate, with many gaps, so I used quite a few shaved slices to plug gaps, and I lightly buttered the cupcake tin in order to make sure the egg released, if it leaked through the ham. One the ham was layered, I grated a bit of Gruyere over the ham, and sprinkled about 1/2 teaspoon of cream. I cracked one egg into each cup, and added another 1/2 teaspoon of cream, and a bit more Gruyere. I topped each egg with crumbled bacon bits and seasonings, and baked at 350 for about 15 minutes.

I guess that *is* a recipe, isn't it?
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Leek and Carrot Mashed Potatoes with Pot Roast on the Side

The simple supper above, Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes, and caramelized Leeks and Carrots, has spawned the best potatoes, EVER. What you see above was night one: I had a small knob of pot roast, cooked, to defrost and eat for supper, and a frozen bowl of leftover mashed potatoes. Perfect comfort food for a cold and foggy night. Brrr. I quickly heated the pot roast and potatoes, but I wanted the traditional veggies with it. I quickly shaved a carrot and a pre-trimmed and cleaned leek with a handheld mini mandolin (a $1.00 gadget from Daiso Yen Store in San Francisco -- the most beloved tool in my kitchen) into paper thin pieces, and roasted them with garlic butter in order to serve them along side my supper.

As I began eating, I quickly gobbled up the roasted veggies and ignored the pot roast. They were crispy and delicious. On top of the potatoes, they were sublime. This gave me the idea to recreate the specialty mashed potatoes -- Mashers with Leeks and Carrots -- the next night.

On night TWO, below, I mixed it up and the pot roast became completely secondary.

It was Potato Night! They were, in a word, spectacular. That's why it became "pot roast on the side" because by then, roast-schmoast. Pass the potatoes!

Using my mandolin, I shaved one leek and one carrot, paper thin, and sprinkled with seasonings, a knob of garlic butter, and a splash of olive oil.

I roasted the veggies at high temp until they were golden brown, black in some parts, and the leeks were crispy.

I heated and stirred my mashed potatoes until they were creamy and warm, and then gently folded in the veggies, mixing, but not beating or being too harsh, because I didn't want the veggies to break up. I wanted them to nestle inside the potatoes. And, just because I used butter and oil on the veggies, is no reason not to add more butter on top of the finished product. Whatyoutalk? Above, a macro shot of the best potatoes on the planet. I mean it. Serious, SmackDown Good.

Another shot, just because.

And another shot, with thyme, just because. Because it's so damn good. Make some and call them Kate's Potatoes. You'll thank me.