Monday, December 21, 2009

I hope you still find reasons to be my friend after I share this

because I know a lot of you only hang out with me in case it happens to be one of those nights I make ceviche tostadas. I know it. You know it. Louie knows it. Let’s just be honest here.

So I’m going to tell you how to make it, but promise you’ll still be my friend? Yes? Good.

Ceviche is a very beachy dish--one I ate a million times during the many trips we took to see my mom’s family in Mexico. It's kind of like a cold salad made with fish that marinates and essentially cooks in citrus juices. That’s right. There is no heat in this process but you wont be eating raw fish. Don’t be scared. If you use prawns, like I did, they will go from this:

To this:


And yes, I like making ceviche in the dead of winter. Reminds me what it’s like to sit out on the beach near my mom's and feel warm...

Mismaloya Beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I’ve made ceviche with lobster, halibut, red snapper, and scallops but my favorite recipe includes shrimp. Fresh or frozen. Prawns are more widely found in the UK (they aren’t shrimp, but do look and taste similar) so that is what I used the other night. Almost any firm, mild-tasting fish works in this recipe, though. My friend Jenny even used defrosted tilapia once and said it was delicious!

You know what else is delicious? Ceviche de Soya. It’s the vegetarian version. I’ve never made it personally, but I have had my mom’s. (Sorry for holding out, Kate. I will make some for you and Dyl next taco party--I promise!) It’s been all the rage for the past few years amongst health fanatics in Mexico (including, like, all of my aunts who are always on a constant mission to lose weight) since it’s even healthier than fish ceviche. I’ve included instructions for that version, as well.

Yield: 4 mains
We eat ceviche atop tortilla chips and tostadas and serve it with extra Tapatio sauce for those who like theirs even spicier.The shrimp will need to marinate about 8 hours or overnight, so plan accordingly.

• 1 lb raw shrimp, peeled, de-veined and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
• The juice of 10 limes (enough to fully submerge the shrimp)
• 5 medium firm tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
• ½ medium red onion, finely chopped
• 1-2 jalapeno peppers, cored and seeded, minced
• 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
• 1 tablespoon mint chiffonade
• 1-2 tablespoons Mexican hot sauce (preferably Tapatio)
• Sea salt and pepper, to taste

In a large non-reactive bowl, marinate shrimp in lime juice 8 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally. When fully cooked, shrimp will look pink on the outside and opaque when sliced down the middle. Drain lime juice.

Add the next 6 ingredients, and salt and pepper, to taste. Stir gently with a large spoon. Serve with extra wedges of lime, sliced avocado and homemade tostadas.*

Ceviche de Soya
In place of fish and 10 limes, use an equal amount of rehydrated dried soya meat and 3 limes: cover soy with water (about 2 quarts) add a bay leaf, a smashed glove of garlic, a vegetable bullion cube and some salt and pepper. (In Mexico people use chicken bouillon cubes, but I guess that kind of defeats the purpose if you’re a vegetarian.) Boil for about 10 minutes, remove from heat, and let stand for 15 minutes longer.

Strain soya removing as much water as possible (squeezing between paper towels helps), and mash up with a spoon. There’s no need to marinate in lime over night.

Add the remaining ceviche ingredients, per instructions above. Dress the ceviche with the juice of 3 limes.

*Make your own tostadas: Heat a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with vegetable oil. Fry corn tortillas, about 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side, until puffy and golden.

Cook's Note: My friend Stephanie asked me a few very good questions about this recipe. I'm posting them here in case anyone else was wondering the same things.

1) What the heck is mint chiffonade (and where can I get it) and 2) what does in a "nonreactive bowl" mean?

A chiffonade is a method of chopping that produces thin ribbons of mint or other leafy vegetables. You simply take a stack of mint leaves, roll them up like a cigar from end to end, and slice short ways. "Chiffonade" in this recipe is linked to a wiki explanation with pictures... This type of cutting is purely for show--the ribbons of mint make for a nicer presentation. You may also rough chop the mint instead.

A nonreactive bowl is a bowl made of a material that won't react with the food that's in it-- especially citrus. Stainless steel, glass and ceramic are non reactive, copper and other metal bowls are not.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gracias, Burro Market

Oh man. Remember how I said I missed chipotles en adobo? (In my profile? si? no?) Well anyway, I FOUND SOME at Borough Market at a stall called Cool Chile.

Do you know what these are?! They're smoked jalapenos in a dark spicy smokey red sauce. Super-yum. I chop these bad boys up and put them in soups, chili, and all kinds of tomato sauces. I'm feeling less food-homesick now.

Anyway, I started smiling when we found the stall. Like, a lot. The girl behind the register noticed me and immediately started rattling away in Spanish... And then without thinking I answered all her questions in English. UGH! I hate when I do that. My mom would have totally given me a super-dirty look if I did that in front of her. Next time I will force myself to stop and think about which language we're conversing in...

The girl was super nice, though. And she spoke English at least, so whatever. We also bought these

FOR 2 POUNDS A DOZEN! Seriously, in LA, I'd get these for like 50 cents. And they'd be super fresh. Sigh. Whatever. I still desperately wanted them.

Okay, you can expect that I will post on these awesome items in the coming weeks. In fact, my world-famous ceviche is marinating in the fridge as we speak. I'm thinking some ceviche tostadas are in order for Sunday dinner.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Yes you CAN make marshmallows

Feeling better today!

LOOK I made marshmallows. You should make some too.

Wait wait wait... You don’t think you can do it? And that you might as well buy those machine-sliced cylindrical sponges instead? Well I’ve got news for you, friends; you can totally make marshmallows. And just so you know, the primary ingredient in those Nerf-ball-like machine-cut "marshmallows" is ground up puppy ears.

Maybe I’m a little off in my calculation about the puppy ears. But once you try homemade marshmallows, you’re probably going feel angry towards your mom for ever feeding you those gross little sponges in your champurrado when you were little, and the puppy-ears thing wont seem that far-fetched after all. Real marshmallows are soft and pillowy and just melt in your mouth.

(Sorry, Mama. I know you were too busy feeding our 20 turtles and finding our run-away dogs to make me marshmallows too. I’m not actually angry.)

There are just two tools one must own to make marshmallows: a stand or hand mixer, and a candy thermometer. And you aren’t a complete kitchen savage, right? You own those two things?

Good. And if you don't, make haste and purchase them! (I used this and this to get the job done.)

It's snowing here. So I'm going to go sit by a window and drink some hot chocolate with melty vanilla marshmallows now. Cheers, everyone.

Vanilla Marshmallows
Adapted from Ina Garten
In the US we use corn-syrup in homemade candy instead of liquid glucose. They aren’t exactly the same, but for the purposes of keeping sugar crystals at bay in this recipe, one can be substituted for the other depending on where you live.

• 3 packages unflavored gelatin
• 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
• 1 cup light corn syrup or pure glucose
• 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/2 of a bean pod (about 3 inches in length), sliced lengthwise and scraped for seeds, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• Powdered sugar, for dusting

Grease a non-metal 9x13 inch pan with oil. Line bottom and sides with parchment paper. Dust with powdered sugar.

Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of cold water in a large bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) and allow mixture to sit while you make the syrup.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup or glucose, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to high and cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat. (And for heaven's sake, don't even think about touching that syrup.)

With a mixer on low speed, slowly (and carefully!) pour the sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin. Put the mixer on high speed and whip until the mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes. Add the vanilla beans or extract and mix thoroughly.

Spread the marshmallow mixture evenly into the prepared pan using a spatula and dampened hands. Make sure to lick spatula and fingers when done.

Dust the top of the marshmallow with more powdered sugar and allow mixture to sit out uncovered over night at room temperature.

Peel marshmallow from pan and turn over onto a powdered sugar-dusted cutting board. Using a large sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut into squares. Roll sides of marshmallows in powdered sugar.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Faux Phở

I’m sick. Apparently my immune system is no match for the tube. Not even with the gallons of hand sanitizer I slather all over my hands all the time… I can't believe this. I haven’t had a cold in like 2 years.

I guess it’s not that dire though. I mean, I haven’t lost my appetite. (Why does that never happen to me?) And I’m still cooking. Tonight I made pretend Phở inspired by a noodle bar that serves Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese noodles near our house.

I know my speedy noodle soup is totally not authentic. And I know the stock from the noodle shop down the street probably simmers for hours before it’s served (uh--and is made from scratch for sure). But my version tastes pretty close, and it took well under half an hour to make. This stuff really hit the spot tonight.

Here’s to hoping this cold is on its way out! I'd really like get crackin on some homemade candy and gingerbread...

Rice Noodle Soup
serves 4
I made mine clear-your-sinuses spicy with over 2 teaspoons of chili flakes. I’d recommend about a teaspoon for moderate spice, and even less if you don’t like spicy food. I chose to make my soup with seared beef, but you can also use chicken, tofu or nothing! I added a couple of generous handfuls of baby spinach because I had it in my fridge but other yummy additions might include bean sprouts, basil and onions.

• 10 ounces beef sirloin, optional
• 2 tablespoons olive oil for searing meat, optional
• Salt and pepper
• 6 cups good quality chicken, vegetable, or beef stock
• 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
• 2 tablespoons minced garlic
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
• ½ lb. chopped baby bok choy
• 2 cups baby spinach
• 6 ounces shitake or oyster mushrooms, sliced
• ¼ lbs rice noodles
• Tamari soy sauce, to taste
• Cilantro for serving

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Season beef with salt and pepper and sear about 3 minutes on each side. (The meat doesn’t need to be fully cooked—it will finish off in the stock.) Place beef on a cutting board and allow to rest for a couple minutes before thinly slicing.

In a 3 quart pot or dutch oven with lid, bring stock, chili flakes, garlic, ginger, bok choy and mushrooms to a simmer. Add sliced meat to stock, if using. Continue to simmer for a couple minutes longer, until meat is cooked through.

Add rice noodles to pot, cover and remove from heat. Allow the noodles to sit for 5 minutes in hot stock until tender. Sample soup and add tamari soy sauce to taste. (Start out with a couple of tablespoons and go from there.) Serve with cilantro.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Since it may get a little sugary over the next few weeks,

how about I tell you what we had for dinner? Because, as much as I wish sugar cookies and banoffee pie could take up the highest percentages of my daily caloric intake, they just can’t. At least not every day. My half-ass attempts at pilates and walks to the grocery store can only take me so far before I stop fitting into my clothes.

Right--so thanks to Ellie Krieger, Garden Risotto has become a staple in our house. It’s creamy. It’s fairly quick. It’s good for us. It’s easy.

That’s right, I said risotto is easy. And no, I’m not going to take it back. The only thing difficult about this recipe is stirring the Arborio rice without a break. It does get a little tedious, especially when your kitchen is the size of a shoe box and you feel like you might pass out from heat exhaustion, but it’s totally worth it in the end. Frequently stirring short-grained rice like Arborio helps the grains shed their starches and in turn, thicken the rice’s cooking liquid. Thusly does one achieve creamy rice without the addition of actual cream!

Let me tell you, I didn’t want to like Ellie Krieger initially. When I saw ads for her show on Food Network, I figured she’d be the token “health food” show-host that would try to convince me with a plastered smile that food without salt or butter or chocolate tastes just as good when in fact, it does not at all. And, given that I’m one of those people who thinks everything in moderation is better than completely eliminating certain foods from one’s diet, I wasn’t really interested in hearing anything of that sort… But that kind of ‘all or nothing’ mentality isn’t her style at all. She won me over with this recipe. It eliminates nothing and instead allows healthier ingredients—like spinach, asparagus and peas—to share lead roles with otherwise more crave-worthy items, like creamy rice. Also, those healthier ingredients in this recipe just taste good. It’s that simple.

The one thing I’ve changed about this recipe is roasting instead of steaming the asparagus before adding it to the risotto. If you don’t think you like asparagus, you just might after roasting it. I won Dad-in-law over by cooking it this way, and that’s really saying something. And it’s hardly any added effort since the asparagus can roast in the oven while you stir your rice.

This risotto is great on its own, but since my lumber-jack, meat-and-potatoes husband never feels satisfied without a hearty piece of animal protein on his plate, I like to serve it with a link of spicy Italian chicken or pork sausage on the side.

Garden Risotto
Adapted from Ellie Krieger
Yields about 6 servings, but can be halved easily to make 3
Add more or less vegetables according to what you like. I added more asparagus and baby spinach tonight. You’ll know the risotto’s done when the rice looks creamy and tastes al dente. The whole process should take a little over 30 minutes.

• 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
• 3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 3/4 teaspoon salt, plus extra for seasoning asparagus
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 3 lightly packed cups baby spinach leaves
• 1 cup frozen peas
• 1/2 pound asparagus
• 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat oven 425° F. Cut asparagus into ¾ inch pieces, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss with a teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over moderately low heat and cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 3/4 cup of the hot broth, the salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper and simmer, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding hot broth, about 3/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing the broth to be absorbed before adding more, until rice is almost tender and creamy-looking, about 18 minutes.

Add the spinach and peas and cook until the spinach is wilted. Add the roasted asparagus and cook just until the vegetables are hot. Stir in the Parmesan and more broth if the risotto seems too thick. Serve with extra parmesan, if desired.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Just before flying out to London, Adam and I stopped in Wisconsin to have an early Thanksgiving with his uncle and to visit his grandparents’ home one last time before it’s sold. (Adam also lost his grandma earlier this year; his grandpa passed a couple years ago.)

It made me think of how warm and inviting that house was during Christmastime. They lived in a quiet town in good old Northeastern Wisconsin where it’s beautiful in the winter. Christmas guests could count on hot toddies and popcorn balls, and best of all, Grandma Alyce's sugar cookies. She'd make hundreds (yes, literally) of decorated sugar cookie cutouts in the weeks before her Christmas visitors arrived, and then feed half of them to Adam and me for breakfast...

I know. For breakfast. But if a sweet little 86 year old grandma wants to feed me sugar cookies in the early hours of the day, who am I to stop her? Besides, homemade iced sugar cookies dipped in coffee are delicious, I tell you.

This Christmas, Adam's parents and uncle are flying out to visit us and I thought it might be nice to make lots of sugar cookies in preparation for their arrival too. (But by lots, I don’t mean varied lots—I only brought one Christmas tree and one candy cane cookie cutter! Grandma Alyce used like 15 different cutters.) And what better way to feel all warm and Christmas-y than to decorate cookies! I cranked up the Christmas music and made an extra large batch of dough and froze most of it (wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and placed in a freezer-proof ziplock) until the week before everyone arrives. The rest I baked up and decorated for Adam to share at work!

HAHA--I'm sitting here typing and Adam just ran out of the kitchen with a plate of cookies and some milk and yelled OH YEAH like the kool-aid man.

Uh anyway, as for the background to this sugar cookie dough recipe, Mom-in-law gave it to me, which is to say it’s a good one. And you don’t have to limit yourself to decorated cutouts either. You could shape the dough into a log, chill, slice, decorate with colored sanding sugar and bake. Or you could press the cookies into a special pan. Or you could add cranberries and pistachios to the dough and essentially make a new cookie. Or you could press the dough into a tart pan and use it as a base for a fruit tart. Ooooh or you could make cutouts and sandwich chocolate ganache between two cookies and top with sifted powdered sugar... And so on and so forth.

If you do plan to roll out and cookie-cut your dough, let me give you a few pointers. It’s a fairly easy process but if your dough sticks or you have trouble rolling it out evenly, it can be very frustrating. I’ve had plenty of meltdowns before while trying to spread the Christmas cheer.

Make your life easier with a few super-awesome baker’s tools. I like to roll any kind of dough on a Silpat using a silicone rolling pin to prevent sticking. As a bonus, you can also bake the cookies you've rolled out directly on the Siplat. Simply remove the negative dough from the cut cookies (you know what I mean by negative? The excess dough that doesn’t include the cookie shapes?) and slide the Silpat with your cookies directly onto a cookie sheet and bake. Also, check out these cool rubber rings that guide you in your dough-rolling so that you get a correct and even thickness.

Okay—but if you’re short on cash or just don’t want to go through all the hassle of buying excess kitchen gadgets, go old-school and roll out your dough between two pieces of plastic wrap. It works beautifully in preventing sticking. (This method is much more efficient than powdering your work surface and rolling pin, in my opinion.) As far as even dough goes, practice makes perfect. Start from the center of your dough, and push outward with even pressure in every direction, always restarting at your dough round's center. Eyeball it. After a few tries, you'll be able to tell if it's even. And remember, unless you're BFFs with Martha Stewart, no one will notice if your cookies aren't completely level.

Speaking of Martha, she says you should chill your cut cookies for at least 15 minutes before baking… And I believe her. Your cookie dough will spread less and you’ll get more precise cookie shapes (that is, shapes that look more like your cookie cutters) if the butter in your dough is colder.

Try not to fuss too much over cookies that don’t look perfect. Once you ice them and share them, they’ll look delicious and beautiful no matter what. This is supposed to be fun, right? I’ve never given anyone a crooked cookie and gotten any other response than love.

Right then--hop to it! (Yeeeah--you see what I did there? I'm turning all British on you guys.)

Go be a Christmas-cheerasaurus before Christmastime runs out!

Sugar Cookie Dough and Easy Decorator’s Icing
Makes about 5 dozen 2-3 inch cutout cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt

Cream together butter, sugar, egg and extracts with a wooden spoon. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Use your hands if you have to!

Divide dough into 4 even pieces, pat each into a disk and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using.

If making cutouts, work with one piece of dough at a time and roll to 1/8 inch thickness. (Roll even thinner for crisper cookies.) If dough gets too soft, send it back into the fridge for 15 minutes to harden up. This will make the cookies easier to cut and transfer.

Cut dough into 2-3 inch shapes, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate for 15 minutes. (Note: you can re-roll your dough scraps but I recommend only doing it once; more than that and the dough starts to get tough. Make sure to re-refrigerate the dough for 20 or so minutes before rolling.) Preheat oven to 375°.

Bake cookies for about 7-8 minutes or until very lightly golden along the edges. Depending on what size cookie you’re baking, cookies may finish slightly earlier or later. Keep an eye on them to prevent browning.

Remove cookies from oven and place on wire racks to cool before icing.

Easy Decorator’s Icing
This stuff is super easy to work with and dries to a hard shine. Drizzle the cookies with the icing, paint the icing onto the cookies or dip the cookies into the icing. (I dipped and drizzled with a spoon, but if I had a paint brush, I would have made all kinds of elaborate designs. It's almost like painting with a thinner version of puff-paint. Have fun with it!) Let the icing dry overnight before stacking for best results.

2 cups powdered sugar
4 teaspoons milk
4 teaspoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract
Food coloring of your choice

Combine sugar and milk and whisk until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until icing is glossy.

Divide icing into different bowls and add food coloring to desired intensity. If icing seems too thick add a few drops of corn syrup. If too thin, add a little more powdered sugar.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Doorbells and sleighbells and schnitzel with noodles

I love popcorn so much that I even get excited when we get tin buckets of the bright orange cheesy stuff from neighbors at Christmastime. Adam wont ever go near it. Actually, no one else in my family will either. Popcorn snobs. I could eat popcorn all day, everyday.

My favorite popcorn of all time, however, has to be homemade parmesan popcorn. In fact it’s on my list of favorite foods. Why yes, I have a list. Not necessarily in order of preference:

1. Mom’s enchiladas

2. Mom’s chile relleno

3. Roast chicken with vegetables

4. Peanut butter (Natural and creamy, please. I’ll never be too old for PB&J)

5. Vegan chocolate mousse/pie (Dead serious.)

6. Parmesan popcorn

7. Shrimp ceviche (Rock shrimp, wherever possible)

8. Espresso brownies (two of my favorite foods in one dish!)

9. American bacon (I’m talking farm stand, thick-cut, fresh, high-quality streaky bacon made from pigs that eat normal pig food and have room to run around and act like pigs. A parallel statute applies to the chicken at number 3.)

10. Sliced cold cucumber with sea salt, Tapatio and lime (eaten out of a small plastic bag on a beach in Puerto Vallarta with a Corona, preferably)

11. Guacamole with freshly made tortilla chips (I like the kind they make at King Ranch in M-town)

12. Guinness gingerbread with cream cheese frosting (Yes, it has Guinness beer in it. And yes, it’s extremely delicious.)

13. Aunt Jesse’s carnitas

14. Fried cheese curds from Wisconsin (and in Wisconsin)

15. My mother-in-law’s dark chocolate cake with 7 minute frosting

Notice that many of the foods on this list are directly connected to a person or place. So, in addition to these items appealing to the taste buds in my mouth, I have an affection for them that extends beyond what I can physically experience… But perhaps these types of physical and psychological attractions to food are intrinsically intertwined and almost interchangeable as we progress along in our histories anyway—i.e., food physically tastes good because it recalls a fond memory and one can recall a fond memory because of food that tasted good.

Does anyone else have a list? Share, please!

I’m kind of bummed that I can’t really make half of the things on mine for the next 6 months for mere lack of acceptable ingredients. (No Tapatio, no cheese curds, very few Mexican chilies--Hubby says he saw jalapeños but I have yet to witness one with mine own eyes… what kind of place IS this?) But maybe I’ll be inspired to add new things to my list while we’re here!

Anyway, back to the popcorn--because there is a short story behind it that puts it on my list. (And they do sell popcorn in London!)

When I was little my parents would buy parmesan cheese in a green can. (Remember?) My dad would dump a few handfuls of this stuff into a giant bowl of stove-top popped popcorn and I’d get to help toss it with my grimy little-kid hands as he poured buckets of melted butter over the mix. Then the four of us (my parents, and brother and I) would cuddle up in my parents' bed and watch movies. Sometimes we were even able to move my mom's big 80s hair aside long enough to actually see what was playing.

I've updated my family's popcorn recipe. I thought, instead of parmesan cheese out of a can, how about some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano instead? And a little bit of sea salt? And maybe instead of vats of butter (not that I’m always against vats of butter per se), how about a half and half ratio of good quality olive oil and butter? Done and done. I also recommend you pop the popcorn yourself over the stove like my folks did. Few things smell better than freshly popped stove-top popcorn.

Parmesan Popcorn
Makes 4 cups popped popcorn, enough for roughly 2 generous servings
Reduce calories by not reading this blog... oops... I mean... by using air-popped popcorn instead. It is healthier and air-poppers aren't too expensive either. We own this one.

• ¼ cup popcorn kernels
• 1/3 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 tablespoon melted butter
• sea salt to taste
• vegetable oil to coat the bottom of a large pot

Over low heat, pour vegetable oil into a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Test the pot to see if it’s hot enough by dropping in one popcorn kernel. If it pops, carefully add in the rest of the kernels. Place lid on pot and shake pot back and forth over burner frequently until all kernels are popped.

Place popped popcorn in a large bowl and top with cheese and sea salt. Mix lightly. Drizzle over butter and olive oil and mix again. Serve immediately.

Stay tuned for Christmastime baking! Hooray!

Monday, November 30, 2009

RIP Kitchen-Aid

Sorry I plugged you into a wall with incorrect voltage and you blew a fuse that made all the lights go out in our apartment on Thanksgiving. I could smell you burning. My bad.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ban… off… ee?... I don’t… What is that…

Well if you don’t know, you should. Banoffee Pie is awesome. But hold onto your knickers whilst I explain; the recipe is beyond decadent.

Banoffee Pie is a traditional British pastry filled with a sticky toffee pudding and topped with rounds of sliced banana (hence the silly name) and freshly whipped cream. Some are made with a pastry crust; some with a cookie-crumb bottom. Some are drizzled with chocolate, some sprinkled with cocoa powder, and some with powdered coffee. All, however, are so wickedly rich and stick-to-your-teeth sweet that you might want to plan on hitting the gym after having a slice. Consider yourselves warned.

I made this delicious masterpiece for Thanksgiving after trying a slice at a local cafe… And yeah… I know... I made a traditional British dessert on an American holiday. My citizenship should be revoked for not posting a recipe for pumpkin pie instead.

But friends, I was planning on making pumpkin pie. And I was planning on telling you all about it. But alas, there is no canned pumpkin in London. I checked. And whole pumpkins (as in gourds that sprout up from the ground which require roasting and pureeing) weren’t available either. So I thought, when in Rome…

But before I give you the recipe, I’d like to talk a little about the toffee pudding filling. The first thing you should know is that in Latin America, the exact same filling is called Dulce de Leche. The second thing you should know is that there are A LOT of ways to make it. All, however, involve one key ingredient: sweetened condensed milk.

The most traditional way to make the toffee (and the most fun it seems), involves immersing entire sealed cans of sweetened condensed milk into a pot of boiling water and poaching for 2-3 hours. Like magic, the creamy milk within the can turns into a dark, rich toffee (or Dulce de Leche, depending on who you ask). British (and Latin American) cooks say this is the simplest method one can use.

There is one major problem with this method, however…. The cans occasionally EXPLODE. People say that if you keep the cans fully covered with water at all times, this wont happen. But because I still want to be friends with all of you after you try the recipe, I’m not going to recommend you do it this way.

There are other methods that involve pouring the condensed milk into a pan and baking in a water bath for 3 hours. There is also the Martha Stewart method of cooking the condensed milk on a double boiler and stirring every 15 minutes for FIVE HOURS. (Heck no!) Alton Brown also has a recipe that essentially produces sweetened condensed milk, then Dulce de Leche, by reducing 1 quart of milk and sugar to 1 cup of the sweet stuff.

I decided to go with another approach that seems to be somewhat on the rise, given that many cans have exploded in people’s kitchens, and given that it’s quite easy: sweetened condensed milk with dark brown sugar and butter boiled on the stovetop. Almost like making a caramel, only no candy thermometers or babysitting. Easy as pie, people. And no third degree burns.

English Banoffee Pie
Serves 8-10
Many Brits use a crumb bottom made of digestive biscuits. (Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? They’re actually just lightly sweetened cookies.) I decided to use my go-to pastry dough. Make haste by purchasing a frozen pie crust or a graham cracker crust instead.

½ recipe pastry dough from Almost American Apple Pie recipe, enough for a single crust pie
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup butter
3 large ripe bananas
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped semi-sweet chocolate

If using pastry dough, preheat oven to 400. Roll pastry dough into a 12-inch round and ease onto a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edges leaving a 1-inch overhang and crimp decoratively. Place pie in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
Line pie shell with foil, and top with beans or baking weights. Bake for 10 minutes and remove foil and beans. Bake for 15-18 minutes longer, or until shell is golden. (If the bottom begins to puff up while in the oven, press it back down with a spoon.) Set aside to cool.

Make the toffee filling by combining the dark brown sugar and butter in a nonstick saucepan over low heat. Stir until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved. (It is important to use nonstick, as the mixture can brown along the edges and produce little brown bits in your toffee. It wont taste bad, but it also wont look as pretty.) Add the sweetened condensed milk to the mixture and raise the heat to medium, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils. The moment it begins to bubble, remove the pan from heat. Pour filling into prepared pie crust, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

Beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract until whipped cream makes soft peaks. Slice 2 of the bananas into roughly 1/3-inch rounds and gently fold into the whipped cream. Top the toffee base with the whipped cream/banana mixture making sure to completely cover the pie. Slice the last banana over the whipped cream mixture.

In a heat-proof bowl, heat chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals over 50% power until melted, stirring at every break. Using a large spoon, drizzle over finished pie. Serve immediately.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chocolate chip pumpkin(asaurus) cookies*

Apparently there was a pumpkin crop failure this year. I went to Albertson's and found one lone can of Libby's pure pumpkin puree along with a note from the manager apologizing for their lack of canned pumpkin. Tragic. I grabbed the last can and wasn't sorry!

Whenever I make chocolate chip pumpkin cookies, EVERYONE and their mom asks me for the recipe. They taste like pumpkin muffin tops--they have the same soft and puffy texture--and are flavored with classic pumpkin pie spices and milk chocolate chips. I made 5 dozen a few nights ago for our bon voyage party, and had no leftovers!

As you can see, my husband thoroughly enjoys these cookies. Louie wishes he could enjoy these cookies.

Kate took an artsy shot of a pile of pumpkin cookies with Pauline holding a small pumpkin in the background for added drama. And Jason looks like he's about to fling one towards the lens. Ah, I'm going to miss my friends while we're in UK.

Anyway, if you can get your hands on some canned pumpkin (or if you aren't as lazy as me and would like to peel, cook and puree the pumpkin yourself!), you should make these for Halloween or Thanksgiving... because I wont be here to make them for you!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies
Adapted from
makes 5 dozen

• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
• 1 cup white sugar
• 1 cup light brown sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 2 cups (12-ounce bag) milk chocolate chips
• Nonstick cooking spray or parchment paper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick spray or line them with parchment paper.

Using a mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Beat in the white and brown sugars until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, then mix in the vanilla and pumpkin puree. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Slowly beat the flour mixture into the batter. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the cookie dough by large tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the cookies are browned around the edges and spring back lightly when touched. (They'll look like golden muffin tops.) Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and let them rest for 2 minutes. Take the cookies off with a spatula and cool them on wire racks.

*The -asaurus suffix adds grandeur and emphasis to any word or combination of words, according to my husband, Adam. Consider calling your spouse or significant other a giveupasaurus on a game night during which they are failing, or telling your friends that you are a hungryasaurus at dinner time, and a stressasaurus during finals.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

To Dorothy

To Dorothy; or as I knew her, Grandma. Neat, huh?

She loved Julia Child. So by extension, I love Julia Child too.

My grandma passed away recently and my Grandpa gave me her cookbook. I am so sad that she's gone, but at the very least, I can remember her with Julia Child madeleines and tea from some of her very best bone china English tea cups.

So here's to you, Dorothy. Thank you for singing at our wedding, thank you for always exaggerating my talents to extended family members and anyone else who would listen (no, I've never actually been contacted by the CIA to come work for them, I'm not a member of MENSA, I don't really write for the LA Times, and I don't actually wake up each morning and make home-made croissants for my husband), and thank you for never EVER missing a soccer game, birthday, holiday, bring-your-grandparents-to-school day, or big test. I couldn't have asked for a better Grandma.

Madeleines, or
little shell shaped tea cakes
Adapted from The Way to Cook, by Julia Child
makes 24

• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten in a 2-cup measuring cup
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus 1 Tbs for preparing molds
• 5 ounces (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
• a pinch of salt
• the grated rind of half a lemon
• a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice
• a few drops of vanilla extract (this is what Julia says; I say, use a capful)
• powdered sugar for dusting

Special equipment: 2 madeleine pans

Preheat oven to 375 ̊ and set the racks in the upper and lower middle levels.

Measure 1/4 cup of the eggs into a bowl, then beat in the sugar and the cup of flour. When thorougly blended, let rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 6-cup saucepan, bring it to a boil, and let it brown lightly. Place the 1 tablespoon of flour in a small bowl and blend in 1 1/2 tablespoons of the browned butter; set aside for preparing the madeleine pans.

Place the rest of the butter in a small bowl. Fit the small bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice. Stir the butter over the ice until cooled but still liquid; blend it and the last of the eggs into the batter along with the salt, lemon rind, juice, and vanilla.

Paint the madeleine cups with the reserved flour-butter mixture. Divide the batter into 24 lumps of a generous tablespoon each, and drop them into the madeleine cups.

Bake until the cakes are lightly brown around the edges, humped in the middle, and slightly shrunk in the cups, about 15 minutes. Unmold onto a rack.
When cool dust with powdered sugar.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mom's Carnitas

My mom and aunt make outstanding carnitas. And until now I thought I'd never be able to come near them in quality. But you know what? Last night I did... My friend Dan is above there to prove it. And what's more is that it wasn't even that hard. All one needs is the correct method--the rest is nearly impossible to screw up.

Carnitas are chunks of pork that are slow cooked until rendering their own fat and caramelizing. They should be savory, juicy, and falling apart. We like to use country-style pork ribs (boneless) but any fatty, boneless cut of pork will do. (For this reason, I would not recommend tenderloin.) Serve in tacos, burritos, or in a sufficiently large mound all on their own. And I personally think one should not eat carnitas without guacamole!

I called my mom the other day asking her for her "recipe." I put that in quotes because my mom doesn't follow recipes. Rather, she remembers basic formulas, hand-measures ingredients, and drops them in a pot. (And that's why she doesn't care for baking so much.) Anyway, the conversation went something like this:

Me: Mom, I want to make carnitas like yours and Jesse's.

Mom: Well the first thing you should do then is get an electric skillet.

Me: What? No... I doubt Mexicans in Mexico use those, Mom. Do they even sell them there?

Mom: Well, no. People wouldn't buy them!

And now you know where my love for kitchen gadgets comes from. Anyway, she says you can use a large dutch oven or a heavy-bottomed pot. That's what I did and it worked beautifully.

Mom's Carnitas

Adapted from Mom
Serves 6-8

• 2.5 lbs country-style pork ribs, cut into 2-inch chunks
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon coriander
• 2 cloves garlic, smashed
• the peel of 1 lime, green zest only
• 2 cups water
• flour tortillas, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, chopped onion and cilantro for serving

Place all ingredients in a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, stir and bring to a simmer. Cover pot and allow pork to braise on low heat for 2 hours or until the meat is tender. (Check for tenderness by prodding the meat with the tines of a fork. If it begins to spread and fall apart into a ropey pile, it's tender enough.) Remove the lime peel.

Remove the cover from the pot and raise heat to medium-high. Boil water and juices from the meat until only pork fat remains, about 45 minutes. Allow meat to caramelize in its fat for about 15 minutes longer, watching to make sure it does not dry out. Serve with flour tortillas, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, chopped onion, salsa and cilantro.

Wait you read this far down? Good for you! You get a bonus recipe then!

Grilled Chiles Rellenos
makes 12 peppers

• 12 large Jalapeños
• 12 ounces cream cheese
• 6 slices thick cut bacon, cut in half
• 24 toothpicks

Slice the jalapeños lengthwise to create a 1.5 inch cut, from the stem to about a quarter inch above the tip. Use a 1/4 teaspoon to wedge inside the cut, gutting the seeds and membrane from the inside of the jalapeño to hollow it out. (I like to recruit my husband for this step.)

Cook's note: Be VERY careful when handling jalapeños! Do not touch your eyes, or face, lest you'd like to spend the next the next few hours dipping these body parts in a bowl of milk. If you don't think you can be careful, use rubber gloves.

Slice bricks of cream cheese cross-wise to create long blocks that are slightly smaller than the size of the jalapeños, about 1 ounce each. Squeeze the peppers open. (It's okay if they break a little.) Stuff with cream cheese using 1/4 teaspoon if necessary.

Wrap jalapeños with bacon strips being careful to cover holes and openings. Secure with two toothpicks each.

Grill on low heat, turning often, until bacon is crisp and jalapeños are slightly charred, about 25 minutes.

I'm thinking I might need to get this someday...

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I come from a family of hungrymonsters.

My brother is 7 feet tall (no really, he's that tall) and that little hungrymonster above there is my nephew, Nathan. We have yet to confirm that he's not actually a clone of my brother.

Anyway, whenever we have my family over for dinner we plan the menu accordingly--there needs to be plenty of food.

My favorite dessert for feeding a crowd (or a small group of hungrymonsters) is bread pudding. I've taken a cue from my mom on this one, as she always likes to make capirotada on occasions that call for a lot of servings. (Capirotada is a Mexican bread pudding with cinnamon and piloncillo, by the way-- a recipe that I promise to post at a later date!) But tonight, in order to satisfy a week long craving for chocolate, I made chocolate bread pudding.

It's one of the easiest desserts I've ever made given the amount of praise it gets. See Nathan? That's chocolate bread pudding love. It's all over his face, his hands, his shirt (our floor, the top of Louie's crate for some reason), and I think a little even got in his hair. Yes--it's magic given that this pudding was made from day old bread (it's actually
better when it's a day old) and given that most of the ingredients are things I already have in my pantry. I like to serve this melty chocolaty dish warm from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate Bread Pudding
adapted from (Southern Queen) Paula Deen

• 1 (1-pound) loaf French or Italian bread, cubed
• 3 cups milk
• 1/4 cup heavy cream
• 1/2 cup coffee flavored liqueur, or brewed coffee
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup packed light brown sugar
• 1/4 cup cocoa powder
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 1 tablespoon almond extract
• 2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 6 eggs, lightly beaten
• 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips for topping, optional
• chopped walnuts (optional)
• Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Lightly grease a 13 by 9-inch baking dish and place the bread in the dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, and liqueur. Using another bowl, combine the sugar, brown sugar, and cocoa powder and mix well. Add the sugar mixture to the milk mixture and mix well. Add the vanilla and almond extract, and cinnamon to the beaten eggs. Combine the egg mixture to the milk mixture and mix well.

Stir the chopped chocolate and walnuts into the mixture. Pour the mixture over the cubed bread in the pan. Let the mixture stand, stirring occasionally for at least 1 hour or until bread absorbs most of the milk mixture. Scatter chocolate chips on top of pudding. Bake for 1 hour or until set. Check pudding by inserting a knife through the middle and it should come out clean.

Serve the pudding warm with ice cream, or refrigerate and serve chilled if desired.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Almost American Apple Pie

I don't think I ever had a slice of homemade pie until I was invited for dinner at my husband's parents' during college. Sad, right? Well... not really, I guess.... I was too busy eating homemade carnitas and tamales to really know what I was missing.

Anyway, who doesn't love apple pie in the fall? My favorite version's a bit different though. It's made with Mexican pilconcillo (also known as panela or panocha in other Latin countries), boiled-down cane sugar juice that's been left to crystallize in a cone or disk shape. It basically tastes like deeply molasses-flavored brown sugar and, in this recipe, is boiled into a dark syrupy sauce in which the apples are drenched before baking. The result is a rich molasses and caramel flavored filling that turns the old American apple pie standard upside-down.

You can usually find Piloncillo in the "Latin" section of the regular grocery store here in California. (Sometimes they have a shelf of Mexican spices in bags, which is where I found mine, at Albertson's.) Otherwise, you're going to have to visit your local Mexican specialty grocer. It's also for sale online at Gourmet Sleuth, here.

And, see that pretty lattice top in my picture (which isn't very good quality--sorry--I took in on my iphone)? It wasn't as terribly hard to achieve as you might think. The trick is to never let your dough get warm. Yes, this takes time and tons of patience. You may have to run back and forth to the fridge if your kitchen gets warm. I'm telling you though, it's worth it. Happy Fall.

Lattice Apple Pie with Mexican Brown Sugar

adapted from epicurious
If the top crust looks too scary, halve your dough recipe (or purchase refrigerated dough or a frozen crust) and try an easy streusel topping instead: with a pastry cutter or two knives, mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup softened butter, 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon until crumbly. Sprinkle over pie. (Streusel recipe adapted from Betty Crocker.) Another great spin, per another epicurious user's delicious advice, might include adding a handful of rum-soaked raisins to your filling before baking.

  • 1/2 pound piloncillo (unrefined brown sugar; also called panela)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 4 (1-inch-wide) strips orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 1/2 pounds medium apples (I used 2 medium Granny Smith, 2 medium Winesap, and 2 medium Honey crisp)
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Pastry dough (for a double-crust pie), below
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Put a large heavy baking sheet in middle of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.

Bring piloncillo, water, zest, spices, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, covered, stirring occasionally until piloncillo has dissolved. Remove lid and boil over medium-low heat until syrup is thickened and reduced to about 3/4 cup, 6 to 10 minutes. Discard zest and cool syrup slightly.

Meanwhile, peel and core apples, then cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges.

Toss apples with flour, then with syrup.

Roll out 1 piece of dough (keeping remaining piece chilled) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round, then fit into a 9-inch pie plate.

Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, and chill shell.

Roll out remaining piece of dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 16-by 11-inch rectangle. Cut dough crosswise into 11 (1 1/4-inch-wide) strips.

Stir apple mixture, then spoon evenly into pie shell. Weave a tight lattice pattern over pie with pastry strips. (If you've never woven a lattice crust before, watch a handy how-to video, here.)

Trim all strips flush with edge of pie plate. Fold bottom crust up over edge of lattice and crimp. Brush lattice (but not edge) with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake pie on hot baking sheet 20 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 375°F and bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes more. Cool pie to warm or room temperature, about 1 1/2 hours.

Pastry Dough

adapted from epicurious

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 7 to 9 tablespoons ice water

Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.

Drizzle 5 to 6 tablespoon ice water evenly over mixture. Gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated. Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn’t hold together, add more water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.

Turn out onto a work surface and divide into 8 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one. Press into a ball, then flatten into 2 (5-inch) disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

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