Monday, February 28, 2011

Pretty Healthy

I always laugh when I hear things like “I have the body of a 20-year-old”. Well, I have the back of an 85-year-old. Now and then it just decides to wreck me for a few days, thus curtailing things like exercising and… cooking.

Luckily, before I got hit with Vertebrae.Fail I had a chance to make these bars for Offspring #1. She has thrown off all vestiges of her mother’s way of cooking and opted for a more totalitarian healthy approach. Ok, so maybe not totally wheat grass and lentils, but at least a more wholesome approach to food, which I applaud her for.

Anyway, I thought I’d help out in my own way and get a handle on granola bars, which I intend to eventually morph into more of an all-out health-food-centric energy type of bar for her. But I wanted to at least be able to get proportions down correctly for everything before getting too crazy with bee pollen and wheat germ add-ins.

And actually, I will have to say that I ate a few of these myself. What I really like is how completely customizable they are.

Now, I did use actual butter in these. Like I said, I was looking for proportions, and I had butter on hand. You can feel free to substitute whatever canola-oil-whipped-into-a-solid-form-and-sold-as-butter product you prefer. There’s also a decent brown sugar substitute out there if you’re looking to cut back on sugars.

Go crazy.

I used all of her favorites in these, and they were a huge hit. They will most definitely be on the list of things to make the next time we camp or go on any lengthy car trips. And I’ll keep you posted on any bee pollen/wheat germ renditions in the future.

Strawberry Coconut Mac Bars

1 ½ cups old fashioned oats
½ cup macadamia nuts, chopped
½ stick butter (or equal amount of butter substitute)
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup Rice Krispies
½ cup yogurt covered pretzels, chopped into small pieces
¼ cup dried strawberries, chopped
½ cup unsweetened dried coconut flakes
½ package white chocolate chips
2 tsp butter
1 Tbs milk

Heat oven to 350˚. Spread oats and nuts evenly out on baking sheet and toast in oven, just until oats begin to turn golden, about 10 minutes. Lightly butter a 9 x 13” glass baking dish.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar and honey and allow to come to a simmer. Continue to simmer about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats and nuts, Rice Krispies, pretzels, strawberries and coconut flakes. Slowly pour butter mixture over the top. Using a spoon, mix slowly to combine.

Pour mixture into baking dish. Press down firmly with hands (it might help to use a little butter on them, too!).

Allow to cool. In a microwave safe bowl, combine chocolate chips and 2 tsp butter. Microwave about 30 seconds, stir, and microwave another 30 seconds. Stir until chips are completely melted. If mixture is too thick, add a little milk. Drizzle chocolate mixture over bars and allow to set. Cut into bars.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Just the Basics

This was the view out my window this morning.

I always take anything that an Oregon meteorologist says with a grain of salt. They seem to get it wrong almost as much as they get it right. So, when they started talking about snow this week, I was skeptical. However, the Farmer’s Almanac apparently had it right all along, when it predicted we’d have snow by the end of February in spite of having enjoyed a very mild and unusually dry month up to that point.

Here in the Valley, we get relatively little snow. And it’s amusing to watch people throw themselves into high gear over the anticipation of a bit of the white stuff. Stores are packed with people laying in supplies. Seems like a lot of hullaballoo when a loaf of bread and a few slices of lunch meat are about the extent of the ‘supplies’ you really need (in case of a power outage resulting in no use of your electric stove).

Me, I kind of go into ‘nesting’ mode. I want to put on a pot of soup that will stave off a sometimes unreliable heating system in my house.

Nothing fancy, mind you. Just good, simple food. So, in addition to revisiting the Cheddar biscuits from the other day (although this time I just used my standard biscuit recipe and added cheese to it), I threw together a batch of your basic potato soup.

Couldn’t ask for more on a cold day.

Potato Soup

3 strips lean bacon
1 Tbs butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes (the smaller they are, the quicker they cook!)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ tsp dried thyme
2 Tbs dried parsley flakes
2 Tbs flour
1 32 oz carton low-sodium chicken broth
¼ - ½ cup half n’ half (or milk, whipping cream, etc)

In a large saucepan or soup pot, melt the butter. Cut bacon into ¼” strips and add to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon is beginning to crisp. Add onion and continue to cook and stir until it becomes translucent. Add diced potatoes, the thyme, parsley and flour. Cook and stir a couple of minutes to allow the flour to cook somewhat. Add broth. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally to keep potatoes from sticking to the bottom. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through. With the back of a spoon, ‘mash’ some of the potatoes against the side of the pot (This helps to thicken the soup. If you like larger chunks of potatoes and a more liquid consistency, leave them be).

Add your half n’ half and mix thoroughly. Serve warm.

**  My opinion is that every child should have an understanding of how to make basic soup, pasta, and vegetable recipes before they leave the loving fold of their parent'(s) home.  From there the possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chocolate Craze

I don’t know why I’ve had such a writing block with this post. Maybe it’s because every time I think about our chocolate dinner, I go into a post-hypnotic stupor just thinking about it.

Or maybe I’m just being lazy.

I will have to say that I think that Carley and I need to come up with a more creative term for the ‘Dinner of the Month’ thing we do (Carley is the Artist Formerly Known as ‘C’ or ‘Chip’). We’re just enjoying ourselves too much to not give it a better moniker. I’m also thinking we should start inviting people to partake since we seem to make a TON of food between us, and it’s generally only being enjoyed by four people.

While the name thing is floating around waiting to be resolved, I’ll move along to the food. Being February, we opted to go with a chocolate theme. In other words, everything had to have chocolate in it. And while I knew it wouldn’t be a far stretch coming up with main dishes (such as this molé), what I didn’t realize was how difficult it would be to come up with the SIDES.

But ultimately, I think we did pretty well.

And no, we didn’t sit down to Oreos and Hershey bars.

I won’t share all of the recipes here, but everything was delicious. Every dish had chocolate in some form but you didn’t get hit over the head with it (other than the desserts, of course, which were no-holds-barred in-your-face chocolate delights). I once heard someone say that if you can get past thinking of chocolate as a candy or dessert and think of it as another spice, then it’s easy to make the transition from sweet to savory.

This was the lineup…

Carley’s Menu (from "Enlightened Chocolate" by Camilla V. Saulsbury)

Cocoa Rubbed Chicken
Spiced Pumpkin Soup
Shrimp and Rice Salad with Chocolate Vinaigrette
Zinfully Chocolate Mousse Cakes (which I don't have photos of, sorry - SOOO good, though!)

Carri’s Menu

Braised Italian Pot Roast
Cocoa Dusted Roasted Potatoes
Butternut Squash with Cacao Nib Vinaigrette
Chocolate Meringues with Nutella and Frangelico Buttercreams (we’ll call this one ‘in development’, so no recipes for now)

OK, first up is the vinaigrette recipe that Carley used to dress this shrimp and rice salad. 

Chocolate Vinaigrette

1 Tbs toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp dried tarragon
1 ½ Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ Tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp water
1 ½ tsp sugar
½ tsp paprika
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Combine ingredients in a bowl and whisk well to combine.

** Carley tossed this mixture with some cooked shrimp, which she then added to some rice with chopped cucumber, red pepper and mango.

So good!

The chicken was the first thing my eyes gravitated to.  So pretty, and the smell was just amazing!

Cocoa Rubbed Chicken

½ cup chile powder
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
3 Tbs brown sugar
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 7-lb roasting chicken

Preheat oven to 450°. Combine spices thoroughly in a small bowl. Rub all over chicken, coating well.

Place chicken on a rack in a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature of oven to 375° and cook for an additional 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest portion of the thigh reads 180°.

Remove from oven, tent with foil and allow to rest 10 - 15 minutes before serving.

Zinfully Chocolate Mousse Cakes

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
2 Tbs flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 ¼ cups sugar, divided
¾ cup Zinfandel
5 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 large egg white

Preheat oven to 350º. Spray 10 4-oz ramekins with cooking spray and place in a 9 x 13” pan. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine cocoa powder, flour, salt and ¾ cup of sugar. Add wine, whisking to combine. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Place chopped chocolate in a large bowl. Pour liquid mixture over chocolate; stir until chocolate melts. Stir in vanilla.

In a medium bowl add eggs, egg white and remaining ½ cup of sugar. Beat with a mixer at high speed 6 minutes. Gently fold egg mixture into chocolate mixture. Divide batter between prepared ramekins.

Bake mousse cakes 23 - 25 minutes or until puffy and set. Serve warm.

Kind of the Italian version of a molé

Braised Italian Pot Roast

About 2 ½ lbs beef pot roast
1/2 bottle of a robust Italian red wine
Clove of garlic
Sprig of rosemary
Cinnamon stick
2 cloves
A few juniper berries
Black peppercorns
1 leek, cleaned and chopped
1 carrot, chopped
Beef broth
1 oz unsweetened chocolate (90% cacao) or a heaping tsp of unsweetened cocoa

The night before put the wine in a bowl with the garlic and spices. Add the meat and marinate at least 12 hours.

Pour a little olive oil in a casserole and brown the meat on all sides. Remove from pan and add carrot and leek. Sauté until softened and then add the meat. Filter the solids from the wine and add to pan. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 2 ½ hours, adding a little stock if the liquid evaporates too much. Remove from oven and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium heat and allow the liquid to reduce (about 30 minutes).

Add chocolate and blend with immersion blender.

Cocoa Dusted Roasted Potatoes

1 Tbs cocoa powder
3/4 Tbs smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin
3/4 Tbs coarsely ground Kosher salt
1 1/2 lbs baby potatoes
Olive oil to coat

Heat oven to 400º.  Wash potatoes and remove any blemishes.  Dry on paper towels and place on foil lined baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. 

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl.  Sprinkle evenly over potatoes and toss.

Place in oven and cook about 20 minutes until golden and cooked through.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Cacao Nib Vinaigrette

1 4-lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1" slices
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1½ tsp cacao nibs, coarsely chopped
1 shallot, finely minced
3 oz thinly sliced pancetta, cooked until crisp and drained
Freshly cut Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 450º.   Line baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.  Lay squash on baking sheet and drizzle with oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roast for about 20 minutes, until golden brown and soft

Meanwhile, combine 1/3 cup olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper.  Whisk briskly to combine.  Add cacao nibs and shallot.  Stir to combine.

Pour mixture evenly over squash, tossing gently to coat.  Sprinkle with cooked pancetta and parsley.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cake and a Rant

No particular reason why I’m putting these two pieces together. As far as the cakes go, I’ve been wanting to make something like this for a while. And I’ve used my usual testing grounds… the office. So far, they’ve been pretty popular. Although next time I’ll make more glaze, make it more liquid (in other words, not completely reduce it to a syrup), and allow the cakes to stew in their own juices, so to speak, for a while. The glaze didn’t really soak in the way I wanted it to, in spite of everything being warm (cakes and glaze) and my helping them along a bit by poking little holes in the them.

Now for the rant. I find it disturbing how many ‘celebrity’ chefs are lending their names and faces to endorsing products that are just total crap. Almost as disturbing are the number of people who will blindly purchase said products without doing one bit of research because they firmly believe that these celebrities would not endorse products that they wouldn’t dream of using themselves.

Oh, I beg to differ.

I don’t tend to go for endorsed products. Don’t want to be told by someone else what I should do/like/buy/use. But I had been asked by a friend if I had any knowledge of a particular brand of cookware. I didn’t, but I told them I’d check into it for them. Didn’t take much digging to find out that this chef should be ashamed of themselves for attaching their name and face to something so inferior. This stuff was aluminum based, made in China, and distributed by, where else, Wally World (ick ptooey).

There’s your first clue.

Did some reading, and the “don’ts” associated with this particular brand reads like one of those commercials for a prescription drug whose potential side effects sound worse than the original condition in the first place.

My favorite one was that it didn’t recommend using them over a high heat.

Pots and pans.


By the way… I made the glaze for these cakes in a saucepan over high heat.

See how I tied it all together there at the end? Impressive, eh??

Coconut Rum Glazed Cakes
Adapted from

3 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter mini Bundt pan or muffin pan (I made two batches of the mini bundts and still had enough for full batch of mini cupcakes as well); dust pan with flour. Sift flour, baking powder and salt onto a sheet of wax paper. Beat butter in stand mixer on medium until fluffy. Gradually add 2 1/2 cups sugar, beating until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then extract. Beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with the coconut milk. Transfer batter to prepared pans.

Bake cake until top is golden brown and tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool cake in pan 5 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack.

Meanwhile, prepare glaze.

Coconut Rum Glaze

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup coconut rum

Bring butter, water and sugar to a rolling boil in a saucepan over high heat.  Reduce heat and allow to simmer until mixture thickens slightly.  Remove from heat and add rum.  Stir well.

Spoon glaze over warm cakes, making several passes as the cakes soak up the liquid.  Allow to cool.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Steak and Biscuits

I'm generally not a big fan of sandwiches.  Nothing against them, per se, they're just not very... exciting.  But it was Friday night, and I was just in the mood for a sandwich.  On a biscuit.

Don't ask me.

And since it makes no sense to get all giddy over massive grocery savings if you let the stuff sit around and go bad, I thought I'd start with a package of 'cubed steaks' I had gotten for pennies.

Biscuits, gravy and chicken fried steak (which I would have normally made with this) kind of evolved into something a bit different.

The Pioneer Woman site gave me a good starting point.  Her 'Cowboy Food' section offered up a couple of items (using tenderized round steak), and I combined the two, added a bit of my own and came up with what I think I would consider the best use for this particular cut of meat.

This wasn't, by the way, easy to eat.  At least not in sandwich form.  The biscuits, hot out of the oven, were too flaky to hold up well (not that that's a bad thing).  So on round two (and yes, there was a round two), I went for an open faced application and used a fork.

Round Steak Sandwiches

1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 lb tenderized round steaks
1 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter, divided
1 small red onion, cut into slices
1 1/2 cups crimini mushrooms, cut into slices
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs Sherry (you could also use bourbon, brandy or another kind of whiskey)

Combine flour, garlic powder, peppers and salt on a shallow dish or plate.  Dredge the steaks in the mixture and allow to sit while heating a frying pan (I used cast iron) on medium.  Add olive oil and 1 Tbs butter.  When butter melts and begins to sizzle, add steaks to the pan.  Cook until browned, about 3 or 4 minutes, then flip over and brown the other side.  Remove to a plate.

Add onion and the remaining Tbs of butter to the pan.  Cook until onions begin to soften, then add mushrooms.  Continue to cook and stir until the mushrooms begin to brown.  Meanwhile, cut steaks against the grain into strips.

Add steak strips to pan with onions and mushrooms and top with Worcestershire sauce and Sherry.  Cook just long enough for liquid to evaporate somewhat.

Cheddar Black Pepper Biscuits
Adapted from Ina Garten's recipe

2 cups flour, plus more for dusting board
1 Tbs baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 - 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar

Preheat the oven to 425º.

Place flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix with a pastry cutter until the butter is the size of peas.  Stir in cheese.

Combine the buttermilk and egg in a small measuring cup and beat lightly with a fork. Add to the flour mixture and mix only until moistened and the dough begins to come together.
Dump out onto a floured surface and knead lightly about 6 times. Roll the dough out to a rectangle 10 by 5 inches. With a sharp knife, cut the dough lengthwise in half and then across about every 2 - 3", making rectangles. Transfer to a sheet pan.  If desired, brush with a bit more buttermilk and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (although I don't think mine took this long to bake, but oops, I forgot to set the timer), until the tops are browned and the biscuits are cooked through. Serve hot or warm.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Plan A

I read somewhere that when it comes to things created by your own hand, you should never apologize. Mostly because people will think you’re fishing for compliments. And so I will not apologize for the rather unfortunate color of this Romesco. Basically, the orange peppers were $1 each, and the red ones (which I would normally use) were twice that. I didn’t really think much about it at the time until I ladled some of the sauce over the chicken.

I can assure you that it didn’t affect the taste in the slightest.

Romesco is one of my go-to sauces. It’s nutty, tangy and has that zing of vinegar. For this recipe, I used up the last of the Spanish sherry vinegar I received from some friends after they were lucky enough to go there on a trip. It’s hugely versatile, and I’ve used it as a dip, a spread for crostinis, and on any number of meats (it’s really nice with shrimp).

The quinoa is still a new thing for me. I did read up some more on the preparation of it, and I will have to say that I nailed it this time. My first attempt, although tasty, was a bit heavy because I went by the amount of liquid called for in the recipe, and then tried to stir the additional ingredients into it with a spoon and managed to just turn it into a clump. A tasty clump, but a clump no less.

This rendition was feather-light. If I wasn’t an absolute fan of the stuff before, I surely am now.

I also wanted to use some of the preserved lemon I had on hand. If you don’t have this, just zest one lemon and squeeze some of the juice into the quinoa. I think the flavor will be a bit brighter. Because I used the preserved lemon, it had more of an exotic, deeper flavor. Also, if you’re looking for something a bit less tart, use Kalamatas rather than green olives as I did.

Quinoa with Preserved Lemon and Green Olives
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
2 cups quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1 1/2 cups water
2 Tbs preserved lemon, rinsed and finely chopped
1/4 cup green olives, chopped
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan.  Add garlic cloves and sauté briefly.  Add quinoa and water and bring to a boil.  When water begins to boil, reduce heat to medium low and cover.  Cook for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and vent slightly.  Allow to sit another 5 minutes.  Using a fork, fluff the quinoa until light and fluffy.  Add the preserved lemon and olives and carefully mix together.  Can be served immediately or at room temperature.
Romesco Sauce
1/2 cup whole natural almonds (about 3 ounces), toasted
1 cup drained roasted red peppers from jar (or roast your own)
2 tsp sherry vinegar
1 large garlic clove, peeled and chopped
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Add olive oil, vinegar, garlic and almonds to blender.  Top with roasted peppers.  Blend until of desired consistency.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to small bowl. (Dip can be made 1 day ahead. Cover  and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Yeah. I Went There.

Let me first say that I considered these an epic failure.

Actually, let me back up a bit. I’ve been putting brown sugar on my bacon way before the current ‘bacon as a sweet’ craze kicked in. It’s really not much of a stretch if you think about it. How many times have you shoveled pancakes drowned in maple syrup and a big bite of bacon into your mouth? See? Not that weird.

Anyway, I work with a bunch of guys, and I just thought they might enjoy something like this. So I dove in and made a batch of, yes, bacon caramels. Everything seemed to be fine until the next morning when I tried to cut into them. And they were hard. As. A. Rock.

Epic fail.

But I wanted to at least be able to pass out a few samples to get some feedback on taste, so I popped the dish into the toaster oven just long enough for the glass to heat up and the caramels to soften a bit.

And then I passed them out.

I received two declarations of love, and a “I don’t care how much it costs, will you make these for me for my next party?”

So maybe they weren’t a complete failure after all. I did, however, change the temperature on the recipe here so that the end result is softer and doesn’t put you in danger of extracting teeth when you try to bite down on it.

I know Valentine’s Day is over, but if you’re looking for something a little offbeat and fun to give your guy, try these. Judging from the moans, I’d say they were a hit.

Go figure.

Bacon Caramel

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1 cup heavy cream, divided
2 Tbs maple syrup
4 strips of crisply fried, meaty bacon, crumbled and fatty portions removed
1/2 tsp fleur de sel

Reserve 1/2 cup of the heavy cream. Combine all the other ingredients in a medium sauce pan. Stir to combine. Set on medium high heat. Stir occasionally and cook until 234°. Remove from the stove and carefully stir in the remaining 1/2 cup cream. Place back on the heat and continue to cook to 240°. Immediately remove from heat and stir in a portion of the crispy bacon. Pour the caramel into a buttered dish (I used an 8×8 glass dish). Scatter the remaining bacon and fleur de sel on top. Let set for at least 3 hours before cutting.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Plan C

This post was supposed to be about something altogether different. You see, Offspring was tearing out the door for a basketball game, and we also had a theater obligation. So I had planned a quick, but light and healthy meal. But once again, I was thwarted by a grocery store. Not only were they out of a key ingredient (and totally common, mind you - we're not talking Peruvian pigeons here), but when I headed to the meat case for Plan B, I couldn't get the attention of the 12-year-old who was supposed to be working there. So in frustration, I headed home and moved on to Plan... C.

All my thoughts of light and healthy went out the window as I surveyed the fridge. Not much in the way of salad greens.

But there was bacon.

And while I could have put together a 'breakfast for dinner' kind of thing, I was in the mood for more traditional fare. And there was also that hunk of Parmesan that my mom brought back from Rome.

Fifteen minutes later I was sitting down to a plate of creamy carbonara.

And order was restored to the universe.


½ a box of angel hair pasta
3 strips bacon
2 large cloves garlic
½ tsp dried chile flakes
2 eggs
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
½ - 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
½ tsp salt
2 Tbs freshly chopped Italian parsley

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. While the water is heating, chop bacon into ½” strips and place in a sauté pan over medium heat.

While the bacon cooks, slice or chop garlic cloves. Beat eggs in a bowl and then add the Parmesan and black pepper. Whisk to combine.

When water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to directions (mine took 4 minutes).

When bacon is almost cooked through, add the garlic and chile flakes and cook just until garlic begins to brown. Remove from heat and add cooked pasta** (I pull it straight from the water using a spaghetti strainer so that a bit of the pasta water comes along with it). Stir to combine.

Pour egg mixture over top of pasta and stir quickly, coating the pasta and allowing the egg to cook (but not scramble). Add a bit of the pasta water if the sauce isn’t creamy enough.

Stir in salt and parsley, top with more cheese (if desired) and serve.

**The recipe I was using as a basis said to add the pasta to the bacon fat, but I just couldn’t in good conscience do that, so I drained the bacon fat, just leaving a light coating of it in the bottom of the pan, and added a bit of olive oil for the ‘fat factor’, which I figure was at least a LITTLE better than full blown animal fat.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Heart Risotto

After buzzing through some of my favorite food blogs, I see that I am once again in danger of having my food blog credentials revoked. I see all sorts of desserts, cutesy little V-Day stuff, declarations of affection, and an alarming number of marshmallows.


So, while I DO have a chocolate post to share, it really has very little to do with the holiday, which I’ve always found to be a bit… much. My firm stance on the subject is that if you need an official holiday to remember to tell the one(s) you care about THAT YOU CARE ABOUT THEM, then you need to do some reevaluating of your life, my friend. Hallmark will get along just fine without you.


Sometimes Sundays are a good excuse to go all out and spend hours putting together something for dinner. Our Sunday evenings tend to be spent at home with me sorting through coupons and Offspring working on the homework she has put off all weekend.

But since I had all sorts of fabulous leftovers from the previous night (can’t wait to share!), all I was really looking for was a side dish, and this one had been floating around in my head for a while. Really could have gone either way making this a side dish or a dessert with just some minor adjustments, but I opted for the savory version.

Just a word of warning… This is not a light-on-the-hips dish. There’s butter. There’s cheese. There’s more cheese. But it’s, well… just try it, ok?

Brandied Peach Risotto

1 carton (about 4 cups) low-sodium chicken broth (or use homemade)
1 small lemon
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs butter
1 shallot, chopped finely
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
¼ cup brandy
1 large peach (firm), cut into small wedges
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 pinch nutmeg
1 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs mascarpone cheese
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Optional: garnish with toasted almonds and/or hazelnut oil

Pour the broth into a large saucepan and warm over medium heat. Cut lemon in half and add juice to broth. Toss in the lemon halves as well.

In a large sauté pan, heat butter and olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add shallot and garlic and allow to sauté for a minute (don’t burn), then add the rice. Stir for a minute or two until rice is coated and has begun to take on a pearly sheen. Deglaze pan with brandy and stir until liquid has almost evaporated/reduced. Add a ladleful (about ½ cup) of the broth and stir the rice until the liquid is absorbed into the rice. Repeat. After about the fourth ladle, add the peach segments and season the rice with salt and pepper. Continue to stir, adding more broth as it is absorbed into the rice, until the rice takes on a creamy consistency. If you run out of broth, just add a ladle or two of water, or more broth. The rice should still maintain some firmness.

At this stage, add all of the remaining ingredients and stir until they are thoroughly combined. Serve immediately.

Makes about 6 servings.

**A note about seasoning: I usually season the rice about halfway through the cooking process and then taste it again at the end and adjust accordingly. The Parmesan will add a bit of saltiness, so you may or may not need to add additional salt.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Anti-Snooze Button

If I could have hot biscuits waiting for me every morning, I might be able to convince myself to get out of bed early enough to enjoy one or two. But since I’d have to be the one doing the creating of said biscuits, well, it just ain’t gonna happen. As I’ve said (a time or twelve), I am not a morning person.

More a morning ogre.

Anyway, I was looking for something not-too-sweet to go with my morning espresso, and I think these fit the bill. Not a lot of sugar (relatively speaking when it comes to traditional gooey type breakfast pastries) and using a bittersweet chocolate (although you can certainly go for a semi-sweet if you need that extra boost of sweetness) really put these just on the edge of savory and sweet.

Of course, feel free to douse them in a vanilla glaze if that’s the way you roll.

Vanilla sugar is, of course, optional here. It did add a nice extra ‘note’, though. You can substitute regular sugar or brown sugar, add nuts, etc. Go crazy. You may see these again later in a totally savory rendition.

Chocolate Morning Biscuits

2 cups flour
1Tbs sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
½ tsp salt
5 Tbs cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¾ cup half & half
3 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
3 Tbs - ¼ cup vanilla sugar
4 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate, cut into small chunks

Preheat oven to 350º. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until well blended. With a pastry cutter (you can also use a couple of knives in a pinch), cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly but pea-sized pieces of butter still remain. Pour in half & half and stir until mixture is combined. Turn out onto floured surface and knead just until mixture comes together. Using a rolling pin, roll into a 13” x 11” rectangle.

Spread softened butter evenly over dough, then sprinkle vanilla sugar and chocolate chunks evenly over entire surface. Beginning with one long side, roll up jellyroll style and pinch loose edges when finished. Push in both ends to even up edges.

Using a sharp knife, cut into 12 equal portions and place cut side up on a baking sheet, about 2” apart.

(option: You can brush the tops with a mixture of egg and milk, then sprinkle with sugar if desired. I left this out.)

Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 18 minutes. Best served warm.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Taking Back the Kitchen

I have terrific friends. I have the kind of friends that will pull out a stove and dishwasher and delve into other dark places in the kitchen in order to find and eliminate the cause of SCAMPERERS. They will also come over and crawl around in the attic and on the roof looking for leaks and fixing said leaks.

Oh, and clean out the gutters while they’re up there.

And ask for nothing in return.

I even offered food as a paltry thank you but both politely declined. I sent them home with some, anyway.

I ran across this recipe several years ago. It’s just one of those dishes that’s perfect on a rainy day when you need something to stick to your ribs and make you feel cozy on the inside. Offspring 1 and 2 both love it, and I actually had the two of them together when I made this, so it was kind of a nice reminder of the days when we were all together.

It has a pretty lengthy list of ingredients, but it goes together quickly, especially if you prep a few things in advance and use some of the cooking time for the chicken to prep other things. Then it’s just a matter of dumping everything into the pot and letting it simmer.

As an added bonus, your entire house will have this spicy, Indian market aroma wafting through the air (for some reason I thought the origins of this were African, but I see more reference to British India).

Mulligawtawny Stew
adapted from Emeril Lagasse

4 Tbs ghee or clarified butter
1 1/2 pounds diced boneless, skinless chicken
2 tsp garam masala
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cups onions, diced
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
2 Tbs garlic, crushed
1 Tbs minced ginger
2 cups peeled, cored and diced Granny Smith apples
1 cup peeled and diced Yukon gold potatoes
1 cup peeled and diced sweet potatoes
4 cups chicken stock
3/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 small zucchini, diced
1 cup tightly packed baby spinach
1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3 cups steamed white basmati rice
1/2 cup toasted, finely ground cashews

Set a 4 or 5-quart soup pot over medium heat and add the ghee. Season the chicken with the garam masala and 1/4 tsp of the salt. Once the ghee is hot, add the chicken and cook, turning often, until golden brown and fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside to cool.

While the chicken is cooling, add the onions, carrots and celery to the hot pan and sauté until lightly caramelized, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and apples to the pan and sauté until the apples are caramelized, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the potatoes and sweet potatoes to the pan, along with the chicken stock. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook the soup until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved chicken, the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, the pepper, zucchini, spinach, coconut milk, and tomatoes. Continue to cook the soup at a simmer until the chicken is tender, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and stir in the cider vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve over rice and garnish with chopped cashews.

A Little Chocolate Love in the Morning

I am not a morning person. Ask anyone who knows me at all. They would probably also tell you that I’m not always very pleasant-tempered before my morning espresso. I’m not saying it’s a particularly charming aspect of my personality.

I am also not a breakfast person. Perhaps those two facts are connected…

Anyway, my theory on breakfast is that its purpose is to provide some buffer between my stomach lining and the quad espresso I’ve just tossed down my gullet.

But saying that kind of discounts how yummy these scones were. And they were just as good two days later for breakfast (although next time I won’t glaze all of them right away so I can reheat - because they’re just awfully good warm).

These would be a really nice Valentine’s Day breakfast surprise along with some strawberries and a mimosa.

I mean for you. Not for me.

Chocolate Scones with Vanilla Bean Glaze

2/3 cup heavy cream
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp (4 grams) pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chips

1 large egg
1 Tbs heavy cream


1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped into a bowl
1 cup (approximately) powdered sugar
4 tsp (approximately) heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 375˚ and place rack in center of oven.

In a small bowl whisk together the whipping cream, egg, and vanilla extract. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the chocolate chunks (chips). Add the cream mixture and stir just until the dough comes together (add more cream and/or flour as necessary).

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead a few times. Shape the dough into an 8 inch circle. Cut into pie-shaped wedges (about 12). Brush excess flour from the bottom of the scones, and place them on a baking sheet. Make an egg wash of one well-beaten egg mixed with 1 Tbs cream and brush the tops of the scones with this mixture.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until they are firm around the edges but a bit soft in the center. A toothpick inserted into the center of a scone will come out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

In the meantime, prepare glaze. Add powdered sugar to a bowl with the scraped vanilla bean. Mix in cream, 1 tsp at a time until you have a glaze that is thick (about the consistency of maple syrup). Drizzle glaze over scones or pour glaze into a plastic sandwich bag, cut a small corner out of it, and ‘pipe’ over the scones).

Makes about 12.

One Sandwich, Two Ways

To go along with my cool tropical breeze kinda drink, I wanted to make something quick, meaty and low maintenance (one pan). And as you can see by my choice of dinnerware here, I go all out when it comes to pampering myself.

And sparing myself dishwashing.

I have two ceramic coated cast iron cooking pans. I absolutely love both of them. For this I used the grill pan, which I’m finding is fantastic for cooking burgers and steaks (as well as flatbread). It even comes with a handy panini press.

Anyway… I whipped these up on Friday night and since there were leftovers, I reinvented them for lunch the next day (because I have a notoriously short attention span and well, wouldn’t have wanted a repeat).

These would be tasty using a variety of cuts of beef. My current ‘go to’ cut is a tri-tip. But flank or skirt would also work fabulously.

Pan-fried steak sliders with grilled peppers

½ lb. tri-tip steak
1 tsp salt (I used a course ground kosher)
1 tsp pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp ancho chili powder
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp brown sugar

Olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp horseradish sauce
¼ cup light sour cream or mayo

Slider buns or potato rolls

In a flat-bottomed dish, add all of the seasonings. Mix well. Coat steaks with mixture, turning several times and gently pushing the seasoning into the steaks. Allow to sit.

Place pan over medium-high heat and allow to become hot. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil onto it and then add onions and peppers. Sauté until vegetables begin to soften and then add garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until onions and peppers are slightly charred. Remove to a plate and add steaks. Cook about 4 minutes per side (adjust depending on how well you want your steak cooked). Remove steaks to a cutting board and allow to rest.

Meanwhile, combine sour cream and horseradish sauce. Season with pepper. Spread on rolls and add onion/pepper mixture (I also used a smoked gouda).

Cut steak into strips going against the grain. Pile onto sandwich.

**Variation:  For my sandwich the next day, I used an Asiago French bread, added a little steak sauce, piled on the leftover steak and veggies, and topped with some Fontina cheese.  Placed under the broiler until the cheese was melted and just turning golden.

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's 5:00... Somewhere

If I were to visualize my perfect vacation getaway, it would not be of me lying on a beach with a fruity cocktail in my hand.  No little umbrella in a tiki cup for me.  My drink of choice is generally served in a martini glass (preferably in front of a roaring fire).  But I had this bottle of coconut rum that had been sitting in the cabinet for ages (and I haven't gotten around to making those rum glazed pound cakes I've had in mind), and so I decided to try a little experiment.

I'm sure there's a proper name for it somewhere.  I'll just call it a Guava Mist.

Now I just need to find an umbrella...

Guava Mist

1 part coconut rum
1 part guava nectar
1 part lemon-lime soda

Pour over ice and stir gently.  Listen to the waves crash.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

That Other Thing I Do

I came up with the name for my blog because of the two interests that occupy most of my free time, namely, cooking and theater. And so, I guess it only makes sense to actually include INFORMATION regarding local theater doings here in the Mid-Valley, just to get into the habit.

Currently up at Willamette Stage is Yasmina Reza’s “Art”, with shows on February 4, 5, 6, 11 and 12. For more info, check out Willamette Stage’s website.

Albany Civic Theater will soon open “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” by William Finn (directed by Mat Genuser). Shows are 2/18, 19, 25, 26, 27 and March 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11 and 12. For more info, check out ACT’s website.

Corvallis Community Theatre is bringing to the stage “The Comedy of Errors” by ol’ Will Shakespeare himself (directed by Robert Leff). Shows are February 25, 26, 27 and March 3, 4, 5 and 6. Their website is

OSU Theatre Dept opens this weekend with “Glengarry Glen Ross” by David Mamet. It shows February 4, 5, 6, 10 and 12.

“The Odd Couple” by Neil Simon and directed by Lucas Hill has been playing at the Pentacle Theater and will continue through the next few weekends. Remaining performances are February 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18 and 19.

We have a really strong theater community here in the Mid-Valley.  Come check us out!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Going Solo

Cooking for myself does not necessarily mean cooking a simple meal. I'm every bit as likely to coax a risotto and pork roast along on a Wednesday night as I am to toss a bag of popcorn in the microwave. But for the most part, my solo meals fall somewhere in between.

I picked up some shrimp when I was at the store because... well, just because. I had a vague idea of what I wanted by the time I made it to the produce department. Peeling the shrimp actually took longer than putting the whole thing together, especially since I decided to forego the side of rice I had planned.

It's still a step up from eating Häagen-Dazs over the sink.

Honey Sesame Shrimp

1 small onion, chopped
1 small head of broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup snow peas
1 Tbs canola oil
½ tsp chile flakes
2 Tbs sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
¼” chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined, rinsed and then patted dry
1 Tbs sesame seeds (I used a combo of regular and black)
2 Tbs Sake
3 Tbs Soy sauce
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs Thai sweet chile sauce
½ tsp Chinese 5-spice powder

In a wok or large frying pan, heat the canola oil over medium high heat until it begins to smoke. Add the onion, broccoli and snow peas and stir fry just until onions begin to turn translucent. Remove vegetables to a bowl, leaving the remaining oil. Add chile flakes and sesame oil to the pan. Allow to heat briefly and then add garlic and ginger. Sauté, stirring frequently, just until garlic softens and begins to turn golden. Add Shrimp and continue to sauté just until the shrimp begins to turn opaque. Add the sesame seeds and continue to cook for another 30 seconds or so. Deglaze pan with sake. Add soy sauce, honey, chile sauce and 5-spice. Cook and stir until liquid reduces slightly, making a glaze. Add vegetables back to pan.

Serve with rice.