Monday, April 30, 2012

Lake Como Heaven

Top Of the World by The Carpenters
This post involves memories of a trip my husband and I took to Italy a couple years ago.  Our very first night in Italy was in the little Lake Como town of Varenna.  We arrived in the evening and dined on our hotel's front patio.  The food was the BEST.  The weather was perfect.  And we were serenaded by the locals singing strains of . . . .  THE CARPENTERS?!  BARRY MANILOW?!  What the heck?  There was a little town park by the hotel in which a karaoke event was taking place.  It appeared to be some sort of a founder's day celebration - or perhaps this is just how the locals spend their weekends.  But participant after participant got up and sang their heart out to all these American standard pop tunes.  Did we get upset?  No way.  We started giggling - just a little.  It's funny how when you're in a setting such as we were - mountains, the moon and stars, the waters of the lake lapping against the banks, and it's ITALY for crying out loud - it just added to the charm.  The singing continued as we made our way to bed and we lay there wondering which song would be next.  It was a very memorable first night.  And it's why I chose this song to accompany this recipe - because I truly felt like I was on top of the world.  With a little word adjustment, the first verse suits perfectly - "Such a feelin's comin' over me, there is wonder in most everything I see, not a cloud in the sky, got the moon in my eyes, and I won't be surprised if it's a dream."  Actually, I could probably quote the whole song because it was me being where I'd dreamed to be, with the person I'd dreamed of being there with . . . . and it was heaven.
While on vacation in Italy with my husband, we took a ferry across Lake Como to Bellagio.  Yes - it was exactly as romantic as it sounds!  We spent part of the day exploring the little enchanting town and found a market among the shops on the hillside.  Being a new chef, I was curious to see how the locals shop and about all things food so we went in.  It was quaint and I fantasized about what it would be like to come to market each day to get my fresh supplies for my meals.  I would be like Belle in Beauty and the Beast where everyone would call out my name as I passed each merchant.  They would each know my personal preferences and hold back special acquisitions just for me!  Yep - I fantasized that whole scenario in probably five seconds flat while admiring the beautifully packaged pastas.  

What interrupted my blissful reverie was this!
  You HAVE to see my mug in this because I had to hold the jug up next to my head for a size reference!
HOLY COW!!!  I think I'm in heaven!  I've never even seen a container of Nutella this size in Costco!  They'll only give you a two-pack of a fairly large size but not this!

My family loves Nutella.  My youngest daughter is mildly obsessed with the product.  I immediately thought, "I've found the perfect souvenir for her!"  And so the debate began in my head:  

"It's PERFECT!"  
"It's too big!  Do you want to lug that around the rest of Italy for two weeks?"  Or that should read, "Do you want to ask your husband to lug that around for two weeks?"  He's all gentlemanly like that.
"You're going to regret not getting this!"
"They probably have this in every store all over the place.  You can get it at the end of the trip!"
"You know your luck!  You'll never see it again!  Get it now!"

In the end, the blue voice won.  But the green voice was right.  Grrrr!

Nutella can be a nice switch-out for peanut butter - lower in fat but higher in sugar - take your pick.  It was my youngest daughter who came up with the brilliant idea that if we have peanut butter cookies, then why can't we have Nutella cookies?!  It was a new idea to me at the time.  Hmmm.  Why not, indeed?

A while ago I was in Seattle at Pike Place Market and found these at one of the stalls.
Thank you for doing the chopping for me!  I knew good things were going to happen!

I had already decided upon the recipe for today's post before the news came involving a lawsuit regarding the star of the show.  I pondered long and hard about whether or not to change it - or at least add a disclaimer.  But I'm making a cookie here - and hopefully nobody will get the idea that it's supposed to be high on the "good for you" ladder.  It's good - terrific, actually - and it's for you - and that's as far as I'm taking any claims!  

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies
Printable Recipe Card
1/2 c. butter-flavor Crisco (100 g)
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened (114 g)
1 c. chocolate hazelnut spread such as Nutella (296 g)
1 c. sugar (200 g)
1 c. light brown sugar (220 g)
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour (300 g)
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder (25 g)
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 c. chopped hazelnuts (230 g)

In a mixer bowl, combine the shortening, butter, chocolate hazelnut spread, and the sugars and cream together until light and fluffy - about 3-5 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating well after each addition.  Add the vanilla and stir.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add all at once to the wet ingredients in the mixer bowl and mix on slow just until ingredients come together.  Add the chopped hazelnuts and let the mixer paddle make a few passes through the dough to combine.

Scoop out the dough onto a parchment lined sheet tray - about the size of a golf ball.  I used a  #24 ice cream scoop.  Cover and chill or freeze the dough.  When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for 12 minutes - rotating pan halfway through baking time.  Be careful not to over bake.  They should still be moist in the center.  Let them cool.  Eat as they are or, when cool, heat 1/4 cup of Nutella in a disposable pastry bag for about 20 seconds in the microwave, snip off the tip and drizzle over the tops of the cookies.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Grab Your Maracas!

Tijuana Taxi by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
I really hope that, if you don't know this song, you will find a way to sample it!  This is a blast from the past - the 60s - when instrumental songs were all over the billboard hit charts.  Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass were extremely popular and this song was one of their best - in my opinion!  There's lots of songs out there about Mexico but they didn't have the perky driving beat I was looking for to go along with this chicken.  It's a festive chicken in many ways - it's super easy (clap your hands!), it's super fast (stomp your feet!), and it's fit for special occasions (celebrate THAT and shout hooray!)  You might want to locate your maracas before you start the song.  You're going to want them!

I'm excited to share this recipe with you today because I have TWO occasions in mind where you'll want to prepare this moist and tasty chicken.  First, it's an excellent choice for a Mother's Day BBQ - remember I told you I had your back for food options that will help you give Mom a day off on May 13th.  The second occasion can actually serve as a dry-run because it's Cinco De Mayo!  May 5th!  It's a Mexican holiday but it is widely celebrated throughout the United States.  We love a reason for a party, right?

I got the idea for this chicken from my thousands of trips to our Red Robin restaurant.  They have an entree called the Ensenada Chicken Platter.  It's my "go-to" dish there because I love it and it's fairly figure friendly!  The chicken breasts are juicy and tangy but not too spicy.  It's served with a green salad with thin and crispy tortilla strips.  It's also served with a dressing of your choice and pico de gallo.  I skip the dressing and get an extra serving of pico de gallo and use that to dress my salad.  They also give you some lime slices, which I woefully forgot to add to the photo above.  A fresh squeeze of lime really boosts the flavor!

I tried for years to figure out how they made this chicken.  Then one day, a few years ago, I got a chatty server who promptly spilled the beans -  
 You know when someone speaks the truth - the lightbulb goes on in your head and everything makes sense.  This made all the sense in the world to me. 

So I went home and promptly tried it.  And it was spot on!  I was soooo happy!  Now I could have my delicious Ensenada Chicken any time I wanted!  And I have!  I like to pair the chicken with my Black Bean Salad.  They are perfect together!

You can grill this chicken indoors on a grill pan on your stove or outdoors on the patio.  You're going to love how easy it is!  Que aproveche!

Ensenada Chicken
4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
1 pkg.  dry Enchiliada sauce mix
2 - 3 limes
2 T. vegetable oil

Place the chicken breasts in a gallon-size storage bag and sprinkle in the enchilada powder mix.  Squeeze the juice from the limes into the bag and add the vegetable oil as well.  The oil acts as a facilitator, helping the spices and juice work into the flesh of the meat.  Work the air out of the bag and seal the top.  Squish the ingredients around with your hands on the outside of the bag, making sure the chicken gets a good coating.  Place on a plate and put in fridge.  Let marinate for at least an hour but not more than 8 - the acid from the lime juice will actually start to cook the flesh of the chicken making for a less then optimal finished product.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Prep your grill by heating to high and applying oil to the grate.  I like to use one of these rubber brushes that are treated and able to withstand the high temperatures.
To get the pretty grill marks, lay your chicken out on the grill slanted diagonally.  
Don't move them around.  Wait until there's a good sear mark then reposition them the other diagonal direction -
Flip them over and repeat the process.  This will take roughly 15 minutes, depending on how hot your grill is. 

Now your chicken has beautiful grill marks but it is not fully cooked.  In culinary school they taught us to take it to this point, then transfer the meat to a pan and finish it off in the oven - another 15 - 20 minutes.  Make sure they have achieved an internal temp of 165 degrees - juices should run clear but try not to poke too much as this will drain the moistness right out of the chicken.  You can also reverse the process and par cook the breasts in the oven and then throw them on the grill to give them the grill marks at the end.  Let the chicken rest a few minutes then serve!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mama Said

Mama Said by The Shirelles
I get a little choked up about this song.  Sure it's got this snappy tune and upbeat tempo but the message is profound.  There's going to be days when you really, really wonder what it's all about - if there isn't maybe a little or a lot more waiting for you out there.  Patience, child.  Patience.  "There'll be days like this."  Or weeks.  Or months.  When the song says "someone will look at me like I'm looking at you one day," I think it's assumed she's talking about how the girl looks at this Billy Joe guy, who apparently isn't returning her affection.  But, being a mom, and having five fantastic children, I can truthfully say that all mamas want their sons and daughters to find a companion who looks at them the way SHE, the mama, does - sees the wonder of their being and adores them for the unique individual they are.  Someone who will cherish their existence as she has from day one.  Well, I can safely say that that's what THIS mama hopes for.  "Don't you worry now!"  Patience, child.  Patience.

Last fall, when I started writing this blog, I was always trying to get people to brainstorm with me for ideas for recipes I could share.  My son and daughter-in-law were here for a visit and my daughter-in-law and I had some great fun coming up with ideas.  Today's post is one of them!

With Mother's Day looming around the corner I thought I'd start sharing ideas for meals you could make for your mama!  I'm starting out with breakfast - in bed or out!  

Erin and I thought of these pancakes - a tribute to Almond Joy candy bars.  Yum!  I've taken a basic buttermilk pancake recipe and doodled them up a bit.  I've added some coconut flour to the mix along with mini chocolate chips and almond extract.  I then toasted some shredded coconut in the oven at 350 degrees for about 6 minutes on a sheet tray, stirring after each minute.  I also toasted some sliced almonds in a sauté pan on the stove top, stirring frequently.  The thing with toasting nuts (this includes coconut) is that when you're done toasting you have to remove them from the hot pan immediately.  They will continue to cook as they are very thin and have a fair amount of fat in them.  You could remove them from the heat of the oven or stove top, set them aside, and then turn around only to find they've burned!  Remove them from the heat source AND the pan - onto a cool plate.

Our brainstorming on this recipe was probably the result of going to a local mercantile and finding a jar of this:
Being able to add another layer of the almond flavor really amps the whole Almond Joy experience!

You can probably find the coconut flour in the baking section of your grocery store - or find a store that carries the Bob's Red Mill brand of products.  Or you can order some here from my Amazon store.  I store mine in the freezer.  I also use coconut flour to dust my fish.  That recipe will be coming shortly!

So, with plenty of time to get your ingredients together, consider making this for your mother's breakfast or brunch.  Let me know how they turn out!  Warning:  serving this may be followed by episodes of hugs and kisses!

Coconut Almond Buttermilk Pancakes with Chocolate Chips
Printable Recipe Card
1 c. all-purpose flour (130 g)
1/4 c. coconut flour (30 g)
1 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 egg
1/2 t. almond extract
2 T. vegetable oil
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. mini chocolate chips
1 c. shredded coconut, toasted
1/2 c. sliced almonds, toasted
1 c. almond syrup, heated

Whisk together the dry ingredients - flours through the salt - in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the egg, almond extract, vegetable oil, and buttermilk.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just until combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Heat a non-stick griddle until a splash of water skittles across the top.  Ladle or pour the pancake batter into rounds the size of a large grapefruit.  When bubbles start to appear on the surface and pop, flip the pancakes and cook the other side until golden brown.

Stack pancakes on a plate and butter each layer.  Pour the heated syrup over and sprinkle the top with the toasted coconut and almonds and a few extra mini chocolate chips.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Let's Do the Alfajores Tango!

La Cumparsita by Cantovano and His Orchestra
I made these darling little cookies for a friend of mine whose birthday is tomorrow.  She's from Argentina and recently returned from a long overdue visit to her family there.  She literally glowed from the joy of seeing her family again!  Well, in truth, she is one of those people that glows all the time - takes her sunshine with her everywhere she goes and lightens up the path of all those she meets.  My knowledge of Argentina pretty much comes from the musical "Evita."  Sad, I know.  But knowing Vanina has made me want to learn more and so I did some digging and discovered that Argentina gave us the tango!!!  I stumbled across this little fact because, in choosing a song, I decided to go with something snappy because I'm betting that Vanina enjoys dancing - with all that bottled up sunshine she HAS to like to dance, right?  And the tango!  Si!  We are doing the tango today, people.  Feliz Cumpleanos, Vanina!

Yeah - I don't think there really is an Alfajores Tango.  I just made that up.  But there should be if there isn't.  And instead of a rose clenched in your teeth - yep, you guessed it - you will have one of these sweet Argentinian cookies.  Only you won't get far because they literally melt as soon as they hit your lips.  You're going to want a napkin and/or plate under your chin.  Or I guess you could just shove the whole thing in your mouth because it does melt fast enough that it's not a problem.  This last option has been road-tested.  True story.

Well, it's time I got around to telling you about what I call the "monkeying around" factor.  I've been wanting to almost since my first post but have managed to put it off.  No longer.  

The "monkeying around" factor came to me from my parents - not in any sort of intentional way.  It's just one of those things I gleaned from my childhood and I'm not sure if my sibs came away with it or not.  My parents are/were the most efficient people I know.  When accomplishing any task they were quick to determine which steps were necessary and which were just "monkeying around."  "Messing around" can also work.  This approach has helped me be able to get a lot of things done in NOT a lot of time.  I value this lesson.  But I have learned that sometimes a little monkeying around is necessary.  Getting a lot done is rewarding - but so is doing fewer things with finesse and details that create a masterpiece.  

Case in point:  I learned to sew from my mom way before I had Home Economics in junior high.  As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I was wearing a jumper I had made myself the day we started the sewing part of class.  The teacher would hear nothing about how I already knew how to sew.  I was to do it right along with the rest of the class.  My mother scoffed at the pattern directions.  She had never used the directions.  It was the first part of the pattern she threw away.  She showed me the shortcuts proclaiming that a lot of those steps were just monkeying around - such as sewing the side seam and setting the sleeve after.  She showed me how to attach the sleeve along the shoulder and arm seams and then sew the entire side seam of the garment from bottom hem to end of sleeve hem.  Slick.  The teacher wasn't happy.  Oh well.  

These shortcuts got me through sewing most of my adolescent and young adult and family wardrobe.  But then I started coming across other seamstresses and noticed the garments they were producing for their families.  And I saw that their articles had a little something extra about them.  That finesse I talked about earlier.  I started asking questions and paying attention.  For instance, I noticed that they took the time to attach lace and ribbons to their clothing by carefully stitching down each side of the ribbon - instead of hammering down the middle with a huge zigzag stitch - another shortcut to all that monkeying around.  Light bulb!  Sometimes monkeying around was OK.  I soon learned the joy one gets from creating something beautiful - heirloom.  Instead of getting praise for how MUCH I could accomplish I got praise for how WELL I accomplished something.  Huh.

Any why do I need to tell you about this NOW?  Because the "monkeying around" factor with these cookies is kinda up there.  I know recipes have "difficulty" ratings.  I'm always at a loss for words when people ask me how difficult something is to make.  I don't think of things in levels of difficulty.  I look at things in levels of how much monkeying around is involved.  Few things are difficult, I find.  It's just a matter of how much time you're willing to put into it - this goes for cooking, sewing, knitting, reading, gardening, etc.  This recipe isn't difficult - but I've found there's some monkeying around involved.  And, as I would have kicked it to the curb at one time, I decided that it was well worth every minute of it.

The dough is tricky in that it is super "sandy" and hard to get to come together.  But that is what is necessary to give you that melt-in-your-mouth end result.  I found it impossible to roll the dough like a sugar cookie.  I did have success by working with a small portion of dough at a time and flattening it by hand - monkeying around.  I was surprised, though, how quickly I filled a sheet tray by using this method.    Take heart - and get to work!  Tango, anyone?

Printable Recipe Card
adapted from a recipe at all recipes
makes 24 sandwich cookies
1 2/3 c. flour
2 1/2 c. cornstarch (this is not a typo - just go with it)
1/2 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder
1 1/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. rum flavoring (or real rum)
1 can dulche de leche
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1 c. desiccated coconut ( I found mine in the health food section of my grocery store)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line sheet trays with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and baking powder.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks and egg one at a time, mixing after each addition until incorporated.  Add the vanilla and rum flavorings and stir.

Add the dry ingredients all at once and fold until it comes together.  Add a little water a tablespoon at a time, if necessary to get it to come together.  It should just start to clean the sides of the bowl.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Using as little flour as possible, start working the dough.  Take pieces of dough the size of a large walnut and flatten by hand until 1/8 - 1/4" thick.  Use a round 1 3/4 - 2" fluted edge cutter and cut out shape.
You should get about 2 cuts from this much dough.  Transfer to the sheet tray.  Don't try to pull them off your work surface if they stick.  Use a small flat metal spatula.  Don't cuss them!  You are creating a masterpiece!  You can place them very close together as they do not expand.

Bake for 7 - 10 minutes until set.  You don't want them to get much brown on them at all.  Carefully remove from sheet tray and let cool.

Fill a pastry bag with the dulche de leche.  Pipe onto the underside of half of the cookies.
VERY CAREFULLY, top with a blank cookie and gently press, using three fingers across the top so you evenly distribute the pressure.  Press until the dulche de leche oozes out a bit.
Gently roll the edges of filling in a bowl of the coconut, pressing lightly to get it to adhere if needed.
Place cookies on a work surface and lightly dust with powdered sugar.

Sit back and admire.  And where you have odd ones left around, do this little shortcut that's equally delicious!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Picnic Season Is Here!

Grazing In the Grass by The Friends of Distinction
I was down at our Community Center on Saturday for my friend Erin's reception.  The inside was decorated so beautifully - it was a sight to behold!  But one of the best features of this center is that the one wall is floor to ceiling glass and affords a view of our small metropolis' crowning feature - the slow and graceful Columbia River.  There is a stretch of green between the center and the river bank with trees and picnic tables and play areas and, as the day was absolutely perfect in every imaginable way, the place was crowded with friends and families out with their picnic baskets, soaking it all up.  Picnic season is here at last!  Time for backyard BBQs, patio parties, and deck shin-digs!  Suddenly I'm in the mood for salads again - and songs that make me want to sink my toes deep into lush, green grass.  Cue the Friends of Distinction!  Any song that can say "dig it" about 60 times in less than three minutes makes me happy. I'm sure you'll have fun trying to sing along and saying "dig it" without becoming tongue-tied.  Make this yummy salad, have some friends over to share, and then make a game out of it!  Let me know how it goes!

We have a little cafe down the road that is perfect for our neighborhood.  She offers breakfast and lunch and delicious baked goodies.  My friends and I like to meet there for lunch and, when my family is in town, we look forward to a Saturday morning breakfast trip.  We moved here about ten years ago and I'm pretty sure this place has been here the whole time, although it has changed owners and has expanded quite a bit.  It's a popular place.  Know why?  Because the food is simply good and the service is friendly.  And, as far as I'm concerned, it's because she has this Black Bean Salad offered as a side option to her sandwiches.

Not many places offer Black Bean Salad as a side option.  I was intrigued the first time they rattled off the list - "Pasta Salad, Potato Salad, Black Bean Salad, ...."  Now, wait a minute!  Black Bean Salad?!  I'll try that, thinking along the lines of my Mom's Three Bean Salad.  When they assured me that it was delicious and even offered to change my side - for free - if I didn't like it - well, that yells confidence to me and I can't resist a helping of a confident dish!

It was beautiful!  Yes, she made black beans beautiful!  And it was super delicious as well - AND I have had it every single time I've gone there ever since.  That's almost ten years of Black Bean Salad!  Plenty of time to taste and decipher it's goodness and come up with what I think is a decent copy.  The dressing took the longest time to figure out - it was slightly sweet.  My friend served this dressing
on another salad once and I shouted "Eureka!" (in my head, of course) as I knew it was perfect for the black beans project.  And it makes the prep for this salad even easier!  The avocados are my own addition.  The cafe's version doesn't use them, but I like the creamy element they add.

So start planning picnics and parties because you've found something quick, delicious, and tasty to share! "Can you dig it?"

Black Bean Salad
Printable Recipe Card
2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 small can corn niblets, drained
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped ( I use orange for the color presentation)
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, chopped (optional)
1/2 - 3/4 c. of Briannas Blush Wine Vinaigrette Dressing
Salt and Pepper to taste

Empty the cans of black beans into a colander and drain and rinse.  Add to a serving bowl.  Open the corn and drain the liquid off and add to beans.  Chop your tomatoes, bell peppers, white onion, and cilantro and add to the bowl.  If you add avocado, wait until right before serving to chop and add them so they don't discolor.  Pour the dressing over the ingredients and stir to coat.  Taste and add the salt and pepper as desired.  You're done!  Enjoy the compliments and the food!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Happy Pudding

You've Made Me So Very Happy by Blood, Sweat & Tears
"I love you so much, you see.  You're even in my dreams.  I can hear you, I can hear you calling' me.  I'm so in love with you!"  Who doesn't think these words when they're eating pudding?  Nobody I want to know, that's for sure!  It can be any kind of pudding - vanilla, tapioca, pistachio, butterscotch - it doesn't matter - but if chocolate is around, well, you know who's gonna be all over that!  Several people have recorded this song since being written and recorded by Brenda Holloway in the 60's.  But Blood, Sweat & Tears' version is the one I like best.  You know, there's just something about trumpets that really grab a girl's heart.  I'm serious!  I was in band in high school and, you see, there was this guy in the trumpet section . . . 

So I'm in the process of making over 100 little Parisian Macarons for my friend's wedding reception.  You remember Erin?  Yep, this is her wedding week!  Yay for Erin!

Well, when you make the french version of macarons, you are left with TONS of egg yolks.  Ok - I've got more like 28 on hand as we speak but it felt like a ton when I was separating them from their highfalutin' whites.  So with all these yolks hanging around I'm thinking that all sorts of good things are about to come our way.  Today, the goodness is coming in the form of pudding!  Chocolate Pudding!

I do use pudding mixes (gasp!) at times.  And I can be happy with them.  But, oh baby, there's nothing like homemade pudding!  Nothing coats the tongue quite like it.  Every time I make it I wonder why I don't do it more often.  Why do I even have those mixes in the pantry?

Here's the point.  Making pudding from scratch doesn't take that much time.  From the moment I decided that that's what I was going to make, I had it made and was pouring the velvety darkness into the serving dishes 15 minutes later!  Fifteen minutes!  That's not that much longer than whipping up a mix!

So go ahead and show a little love for yourself and your family today and make some pudding.  A helpful tip for you - when you're slowly, slowly stirring the hot chocolatey milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture, and having to whisk continuously - you're minus one hand to steady the bowl.  If you don't have a rubber-based bowl like this one
then simply dampen a washcloth or towel and form a little "bowl" in which to rest the bowl containing the yolk mixture.  
It will act like a hand and keep the bowl from moving around while you're slowly, slowly whisking in the hot mixture!

I'm curious as to how many other pudding lovers are out there.  Write in and tell me what your favorite pudding is - and maybe come up with a flavor combo for which you'd like me create a recipe!  That could be fun!  I love a challenge!  It's something to think about while I'm busily going nowhere on the elliptical or treadmill!  Leave your comments and ideas in the comment section or email me at

Chocolate Pudding
2 c. whole milk
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. cocoa powder
4 t. cornstarch
3 egg yolks
1 t. vanilla extract
2 t. Torani coffee-flavored syrup
1/4 t. salt
3/4 c. whipping cream
1 T. sugar

Put 1/2 c. of the milk, cornstarch, yolks, vanilla extract, coffee-flavored syrup, and salt in a bowl with a sturdy base.  Mix and set aside.

Put the remaining 1 1/2 c. milk, 3/4 c. sugar, and the cocoa powder in a saucepan.  Stir and bring to just a simmer over medium-high heat.

Very slowly, whisk the hot milk mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly.  You are slowly bringing up the temperature of the yolks and this is called "tempering."  If you add it too fast you will curdle the yolks, giving you lumps.  I think it's impossible to add it too slow, though, so easy does it!  As the temperature of the yolks equals the temperature of the milk, you can add the hot mixture more quickly.  

Return the mixture to the saucepan and, over medium-high heat, whisk constantly until it comes to a full boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to whisk for 2 - 3 more minutes until it becomes thick and velvety.  Pour into serving dishes and cover the bowls with plastic wrap, being sure to press the wrap flat against the surface of the pudding so a skin doesn't form.  Chill.

To serve:  Whip the cream with the sugar until peaks form and add a dollop or two to the top of your pudding!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Deep, Dark Secrets

How Deep Is Your Love by The Bee Gees
Last night I returned home to Washington from a trip to Utah to visit my kids and grandkids.  My daughter traveled with me and it was her car we used to drive home from the airport.  Before she started the car she gave an impromptu, albeit short, speech about how she had come to find great value in "signs" - those little nods from the universe that suggest importance in the usually mundane happenings of the day to day.  I knew something was up.  It was late.  I was tired.  She said she was but wasn't acting tired at all.  The car starts and the inside is filled with the ethereal music of . . . . the Bee Gees, namely, Barry Gibb . . . asking me about the depths of my devotion.  My daughter busted up laughing but then proceeded to sing along, word for word.  This "sign" had been planned days in advance.  Days!  

I'm not ashamed of my love, nay, reverence, for the brothers Gibb.  They are an important part of my adolescence with extremely fond memories attached to every song.  I have endeavored to pass this love on to my children but most have resisted.  I don't get it.  But, with this particular daughter, I have a hard time telling if she has truly embraced the Bee Gee love or if she is mocking me.  

Nevertheless, as I planned what I would make for today's post, these long-loved treasures came to mind and the only song that seemed to fit was Barry Gibb's breathless yet earnest query - "How deep is your love?"  Be.  Still.  My.  Heart.

My initial plans for Culinary school were to open my own bakery/cafe and it occurred to me that I might want to start guarding some of the recipes I'd want to use in that bakery.  My own little secrets.

The recipe for these soft and moist chocolate cookies have resided in my recipe stack for a couple decades now, I'm sure.  I can't remember where they came from even.  All I know is I've messed with the recipe on and off for years now, making the final adjustments while in Culinary school.  I used to give it out willy nilly but then stopped, putting a big note (to myself and family) on the card saying, 'DO NOT GIVE THIS RECIPE OUT!!!"

Over the course of my training I realized I wasn't going to want to spend the time required to build the type of establishment I had in mind so I started dreaming about my second, yet equally fascinating and compelling choice - a food blog!  Had I known how much fun this would be, it would have been my first choice all along!

No longer guarding my recipes so closely, I'm sharing my favorites with you all - and this one is one of my absolute favorite cookies - ever.  It's almost like a brownie inside, it's so moist.  There's a slight crunch on the exterior as you bite - perfect.  You can leave out the nuts, if you'd like, as I usually do when making them for others.  You never know where a nut allergy might be lurking.  But, today, I loaded them up with toasted walnut bits.  Mmmmm.  Heaven help me!
Yes - this cookie has my deep, deep love and is the "door to my very soul."  It has also been the "light in my deepest, darkest hour" on occasion.  And, today, it's yours.  You're going to swoon, you're going to dance, you're going to do whatever makes you happy - but, first, you're going to have to make these cookies - now.

Soft Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies
printable recipe card
makes 3 dozen
1 c. butter, softened (227 g)
2 c. sugar (400 g)
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 T. Torani coffee-flavored syrup
2 1/4 c. flour (333 g)
3/4 c. cocoa powder (70 g) (I use Valrhona)
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. kosher salt
2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips (390 g)
1 c. chopped nuts, toasted, optional

Cream together the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy - about 5 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure to mix well after each.  Add the vanilla and coffee flavoring and mix.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt until well-combined.  Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix on low.  After the paddle makes a few turns and the ingredients just start to come together, add the chocolate chips and nuts.  Let the mixer make just enough turns to bring the ingredients together.

Scoop out cookies onto a parchment-lined sheet tray and cover with plastic wrap and chill for about an hour.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove plastic wrap and bake for 12 minutes, turning the sheet tray halfway through the baking time.  Let cool.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Eggs-cellent Idea!

Pocketful of Sunshine by Natasha Bedingfield
I'm a big fan of eggs.  Always have been.  I love the whole egg and feel just a little bad for the yolk.  It gets such a bad rap - tossed aside while the white is then put through all sorts of tricks to try and make you think you're still getting the yolk.  It IS the "pocketful of sunshine" inside a most perfect food.  Yolks bring us velvety puddings and thick, rich custards.  Mix them with sugar and beat until full of air and they're light and fluffy and the perfect base for a moist cake, a 'sponge,' upon which all sorts of loveliness can be piled.  In this recipe, the cooked yolks meld with the cheese and heighten the cheese's melty mouth-feel.  They are a friendly duo.  You can try it without the yolks, I suppose.  Oh, but that makes me sad to even consider it.  

Chances are you're going to have several extras of these laying around next week.
I have a tasty way to use up those orphans left behind after the initial thrill of the hunt is over and you can't bear the thought of another deviled egg.

I came upon this recipe when my children were still quite little.  I had gone to a friend's house so we could work together on planning a party for the children at our church.  The planning took us into lunch time and our children were letting us know that they were staaaarrrrving!  My friend offered to fix us a quick lunch as we lived about 30 minutes away.  I gratefully accepted, not looking forward to a half hour chorus of whining hungry bellies.

It was the week after Easter and my friend pulled a tray of Easter eggs out of her fridge and began peeling them.  "Ah!",  I thought.  Egg salad sandwiches!  Yum!  But then she proceeded to shred some cheddar cheese, slice up some black olives, dice some onion and bell pepper, and chop up the eggs.  She worked swiftly and I watched, intrigued, as she combined them all together and squirted in some ketchup and vegetable oil!  I finally asked what she was up to.

She explained that this dish had become a family favorite for the week after Easter to use up the hard-boiled eggs.  I watched as she stirred the mixture together and then spread it on hamburger buns that had been pulled apart at the joint.  She then broiled the open-face sandwiches until bubbly and warm.  They looked wonderful!  I hoped my kids would like them - and they did!  I couldn't wait to fix them for the rest of my family.  They were a hit all around and, like my friend's family, this became an Easter tradition for my family as well.

I haven't made them for a few years as we have become empty-nesters and, therefore, don't boil mass quantity of eggs at Easter time any more.  When I decided to do a post on this recipe, however, I got to make them again!  My husband was surprised to see them when he got home for dinner.  We were both surprised as we had forgotten how good they were!  Golden bubbly tops cover a lovely, oozy, cheesy underneath.  It's really delicious - both in flavor and texture.  You forget you're eating hard-boiled eggs!
If this sounds like a strange idea to you, I hope you'll set aside your hesitations and give them a try.  I'm quite sure you'll be pleasantly surprised!  I did an experiment and prepared half of the batch with split croissants, trying to dress them up a bit.  I was not impressed.  The hamburger buns provide a more stable foundation for the eggy spread.  With something this yummy you want a proper stage on which to present it!  You'll definitely be thinking you've hit a pocketful of sunshine - oh!

Eggy Bun Spread
printable recipe card
6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 c. chopped black olives
4 T. vegetable oil
1/4 c. ketchup
2 T. diced onion
1/4 t. garlic powder
1/4 of a bell pepper, diced
2 1/2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 t. salt
6 hamburger buns, separated

Mix all ingredients except the buns in a large mixing bowl.  Use a spatula and spread about 1/3 c. of the mixture on each flat side of hamburger bun.  Place on a sheet tray and turn broiler on high.  Position the oven rack on next to highest shelf.  You don't want them to get too brown before they have a chance to get warm and gooey on the inside.  If they brown too fast you can turn off the broiler and just cook them about 5 minutes longer in a 350 degree oven.  Serve warm.

Monday, April 2, 2012

More Mac 'N Cheese, Please!

Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye or by Walk Off the Earth
A friend on Facebook shared this video of Walk Off the Earth's version of this song on my wall.  It is amazing!  Five people sharing one guitar, all with amazing and captivating voices.  It's addicting!  Learning that it was a cover, I knew I had to track down the original artist, Gotye, and watch his video as well.  An equally compelling video of him singing the song as he is painted into a wall painting.  His voice is haunting and strong at the same time, some likening him to Sting on the chorus.  All I know is I love this song no matter who performs it.  But it's a sad song and all this singing of heartache got me to thinking that somebody needs to get these people some lovin' - some comfort - some mac 'n cheese!  Stat! 

My son married a wonderful girl.  I've talked about her before - she's the one of the roasted half-chicken fame.  A truly remarkable young woman that we feel completely blessed to have as part of our family.

About a year ago my son proclaimed that his wife made the best macaroni and cheese he'd ever had!  Did I get my feelings hurt - wishing that MY mac 'n cheese was his favorite?  No way!  Other than a few half-hearted attempts at homemade, all I'd ever fixed while he was growing up was out of a box!  Although the folks at Kraft do a great job, I would never try to hold my box attempts up to the makings of a good cook!

I was intrigued, though, because I HAD tried to make it from scratch only to meet disappointments.  If my daughter-in-law did indeed have a secret, I was anxious to discover it!  So, the next time I visited, I requested the famed dish.  I was not disappointed!  It was creamy and flavorful and cheesy!  I loved how it wasn't dry but not watery either.  I could detect herbs and spices but wasn't sure exactly which ones were in there.  When I asked her about her recipe I found out that there wasn't one - she just sort of tossed in whatever strikes her at the moment.  Hmmm.  This was going to be difficult trying to pin down how I was going to recreate this goodness!

When I started this blog I asked her if maybe she would be a "guest" some time and make her tasty mac 'n cheese while I look on and try to come up with a recipe.  She said, "Sure!"  What a good daughter-in-law!

I've been visiting her this week and the long-awaited mac 'n cheese event came to be!  

She started going through her cupboards and refrigerator, choosing the ingredients for her masterpiece.  I got excited when I saw the lineup -
While the pasta cooked she got busy shredding the cheese by hand.  I was impressed.  I hate to shred cheese and told her I usually buy the pre-shredded.  She feels that shredding your own lends a better texture.  Could it be whatever is added to keep the cheese from clumping?  I intend to investigate.  She says she also prefers the Tillamook brand.
  She started getting out ingredients to create a roux:
Then she mixed together her herbs and spices:
I noted how gently she approached her preparations.  
I still fight the tendency to want to just throw stuff together except when I'm baking.  She treated her ingredients with respect.  Ah!  Perhaps her biggest  "secret" of all!
So delicious!  I'm so happy she agreed to share it with me - and all of you!

Erin's Mac 'N Cheese
printable recipe card
serves 6
12 oz. macaroni or other pasta - Erin likes to use Barilla multi-grain
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 1/2 c. half and half
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. poultry seasoning
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. dried dill or 1 t. fresh dill

Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain.

In a separate pan, melt the butter over medium low heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple minutes making a blond roux.  Slowly whisk in the half and half and cook for a few minutes until it starts to thicken.  Add the seasonings and stir.  Add the cheese while stirring, a handful at a time, reserving a handful for garnishing.  When the cheese has been added and the sauce is velvety smooth, stir the pasta in until well-coated.  Place each serving in their dish and top with some cheese and sprinkle with the dill.  Goodness!