Monday, December 31, 2012

Chocolate Fondue: A New Year’s Tradition

For the last 20 years we have rung in the new year in the quiet of our own home, preferring to stay clear of the drunken hordes (although we often drink a bit too much bubbly ourselves). We start off with cracked crab, sourdough and a salad, move to a selection of movies (often a trilogy of some sort), and then top it off with chocolate fondue and champagne. Not a very heart healthy way to celebrate, but this kind of spread only happens once a year, so we indulge and pay for it later.

This year we were invited to a New Year’s Eve game night at the Resort at 292, neighbors of Brilliant Daughter. We thought we would break tradition, as they are a fun-loving bunch, we can walk home from their house, and we love games! Because they had already decided on having a taco bar, the cracked crab got nixed, but I was adamant about the chocolate fondue. Gotta preserve at least one thing from this annual celebration.

This year I decided to try using the crockpot to melt and serve the fondue, since a crowd was expected. I have two Pound Plus Dark Chocolate Bars from Trader Joe’s and 2 cups of whipping cream. After breaking up the chocolate and adding it with cream, I turned the pot on low, covered and checked every 20 minutes with a quick stir. It was ready in a little over an hour, at which time I turned the pot to warm and it sat patiently waiting for another hour or so.

I brought much of the traditional dipping items: fresh pineapple chunks, Cutie mandarin wedges, banana slices, fresh strawberries, Sara Lee pound cake and, new this year, homemade chocolate marshmallows.

I’ve made marshmallows several times this year, usually to pair with homemade graham crackers and dark chocolate for s’mores, but wanted something different. And you can never have too much chocolate. The recipe I pulled was from Saveur, and differs from my vanilla marshmallows in that it had no egg whites. The texture and consistency is definitely different. The egg white version is a bit fluffier, less dense. But both are tasty. I definitely suggest you give them a try. 

Michael Kraus,
I’ve included the recipe for the chocolate marshmallows below. The one trick I can impart to make the process easier: once you have taken the marshmallow out of the pan, use a piece of dental floss to do the cutting. I slide the floss under the brick and then cross the two hands over each other, which cuts a nice slice. Move the cut log away from the brick and dust with the chocolate powder mixture. Repeat until you have 5 or 6 logs. Then you can either use the floss to cut individual marshmallows, or use a knife or kitchen shears to do so.

These are also heavenly floating in a cup of hot chocolate.

Canola oil, for greasing
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup honey
½ cup water
3 tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin, softened in ½ cup cold water
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted

Dusting Powder
¼ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Grease an 8x8-inch baking pan. Line bottom and sides with parchment paper, and grease paper. (I use small banana clips to secure the paper to the edge of the pan.) Grease a rubber spatula; set aside.

2. Combine sugar, syrup, honey, and 1/2 cup water in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer; cook, without stirring, until syrup reaches 250 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat; let cool to 220 degrees.

3. Sprinkle gelatin over ½ cup of water and then bring another 1⁄2 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan. Place bowl of gelatin over the boiling water; whisk until gelatin becomes liquid. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk; add 1⁄2 cup sifted cocoa powder and cooled sugar syrup to gelatin; whisk on high speed until mixture holds stiff peaks, 5–6 minutes. Pour mixture into prepared pan; smooth top with oiled spatula; let cool until set, 5–6 hours.

4. Combine ¼ cup cocoa powder and cornstarch in a bowl and transfer to a strainer; dust work surface with mixture. Slide a knife around edge of pan to release marshmallows; remove from pan. Dust cocoa mixture over top. Using a slicing knife dusted with cocoa mixture, cut marshmallows into squares. Toss marshmallows with remaining cocoa mixture.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

An Unconventional Way to Serve Morning Oatmeal

I like my morning bowl of oatmeal on cold winter mornings. It warms my soul, fills my belly and is a healthier alternative to most breakfast foods. I can also doctor it in a myriad of ways: fresh fruit, dried fruit, crystallized ginger, chocolate chips, brown sugar, chai spices….the list could go on forever. So I was pleasantly surprised to happen upon a recipe on Pinterest—a hazardous time suck—for baked oatmeal. Even better, it is baked in muffin tins so it is portable and reheatable. It's one of those recipes you could make on Sunday morning for the family and then have leftovers for the week to come. Bonus time saver and you can feel good about feeding these to the family (and yourself).

One unusual but important ingredient is the vanilla almond milk. The sweetness of this product is key to the flavor of the oatmeal. Almond milk has 50% more calcium than dairy milk with roughly the same calorie count as skim milk. It contains no saturated fat, cholesterol, dairy or lactose ingredients and it is a healthy alternative for everyone, save those with nut allergies. And for those who do not use it on a regular basis, you can purchase 8 ounce (1 cup) individual tetra paks, which is the perfect amount for this recipe.

I tried this recipe with both dried wild blueberries (a Trader Joe’s must-have with their intense blueberry flavor) and mini chocolate chips. I think it would also work well with The Ginger People’s Bakers Cut Crystallized Ginger Chips, although younger palates may not appreciate the substitution. I loved both, as did Mr. B. I am waiting for the rest of the family to weigh in.
hot and steaming right out of the oven

So, think about simplifying life a bit, and whipping up a batch of these over the weekend once or twice a month and providing a healthy alternative to a bowl of cereal or morning toast. Your taste buds and waistline will be happier for it.

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup vanilla almond milk
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 cups old fashioned or rolled oats
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup dried wild blueberries or mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix all ingredients except the chocolate chips together, and allow to site for a few minutes.

Prepare 16 muffin cups with paper liners or non-stick spray.

Stir the blueberries or chocolate chips into the oatmeal batter, incorporating well. Spoon batter into the prepared muffin cups. (I found that a large ice cream scoop uses the perfect amount of batter).

Bake 20-25 minutes. The edges should just be starting the brown and the muffins will be firm to the touch.

Remove from pan. If using paper liners, let the muffins cool for several minutes so they do not stick to the liner.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Eating Suburbia Spawns a Cookbook


Three years ago, Brilliant Daughter and I embarked on a journey to document all of our favorite recipes and publish a cookbook. Hence Eat Drink Merry was born. That volume contained many of the recipes on this blog. Some were handed down from my grandmothers or shared by my mother-in-law, others came from food blogging friends or published sources, and then there were the creations of our own design. We were touched by the immense response and gratitude from those we gifted with a printed copy. So, we decided to do it all over again, just for them.

This time around we wanted to personalize the book in a different way, a way that would be recognizable to the wonderful people who have sat down to a meal with us, cooked in our kitchen, and shared our lives.  They all know that for us, as it is for many families, the center of our household is the kitchen. Whether scrambling eggs for a simple family breakfast or serving Christmas Eve tamales to 50 guests, we naturally gravitate to this space on a daily basis. For fifteen years, the focus of our kitchen was a 4x6-foot standard schoolroom chalkboard. Our “communications center,” this utilitarian wall décor served us well, keeping track of shopping lists, phone messages, chore duty, family contact information, and, during holidays, became an oversized greeting card for our guests. And although it was retired when we remodeled, the fond memories linger and became the inspiration for the cover of our new cookbook, which we named after this blog.

The blog, born in 2006, has always been a labor of love, a way for me to share not only great recipes with friends and family, but to allow a glimpse into our personal—and fairly typical—suburban life.  I firmly believe that those of us in suburbia need to break out of the roast chicken, barbequed ribs, pork chop mentality and spice up our kitchens with the food of the world. We need to leave the canned veggies, packaged cookies, and oversweet jams on the shelves, and dig into the garden and flour bag and treat our families and ourselves to something better. Hence the blog and these cookbooks, which keep me happily covered in flour and bacon grease much of the time!

Perusing through my posts, I find that my cooking style and habits have evolved over the years. I now experiment with higher-end ingredients, adapt recipes to suit what comes out of my garden rather than the store, and I no longer have the pressing need—due to school and athletic activities—to prepare the majority of our food in advance or in a rush. Our lives have slowed down a bit, as I now work from home, and I relish the time I can spend in my renovated kitchen, in the large suburban garden that my son helped build, and take the time to share new recipes with my family during our weekly Sunday dinners.

I am aware that not everyone has such luxuries; life, children, work get in the way and minimize the amount of time in the kitchen.  To that end, the cookbook still contains quick and easy-to-fix recipes, and we’ve found new tricks to make life a bit easier when time is short. For time-crunched cooks, whole roasted chickens and conveniently chopped vegetables are available at almost every grocery store and can be used in several of the recipes.

New this year is a section of appetizers—tried and true recipes–like our holiday ceviche, quick caprese skewers, and our new favorite gazpacho shooters (first served this summer at our son’s engagement party). Ten lunch items also grace these pages; several tasty sandwiches and salads, as well as a really simple Asian Noodle dish with a Thai flair.

But we haven’t forgotten the basics: Breakfast, Dinner, Sides and Sweets, not to mention our free-for-all miscellaneous section—titled Other Flavors this time around—that contains the best 5-minute artisan bread that will ever come out of your kitchen. (No kidding!) We’ve tried to cover a lot of bases and provide you with some lip-smacking ideas.

For a limited time, you can download an e-version of the new cookbook free. Just click here. In late January, the book will be available on Amazon in both hard copy and e-version for $14.95. 

So delve in, try a few things, and let us know what you think. We’re not above criticism or praise and we appreciate the feedback.

—Mrs B and Brilliant Daughter

Friday, December 14, 2012

Caprese ala Chrismukkah

On the first night of Hanukkah, I was invited to a Chrismukkah party in my neighborhood. He’s Jewish, she’s not—thus the hybrid. My neighbors know my foodie nature, so I knew I had to bring something good. Problem was, I was feeling uninspired.

The hostess actually found the perfect item on Pinterest (don’t you just love that site?). I took the caprese wreath just one step further, because this isn’t just a Christmas party, after all! Instead of the wreath shape, I decided to do it in the form of a Star of David (which is most appropriate, since the host’s name is David).

1 12-ounce package grape tomatoes
2 packages Ciliegine mozzarella, drained
Balsamic glaze (available at Trader Joe’s)
1 bunch basil

12-inch Styrofoam circle, 1-inch thick
Small hand saw with fine blade
Woodsies craft picks, toothpicks

The 12-inch Star perfectly held 45 skewers. To create a Star of David, all you need is a triangle template. Just remember that all sides have to be the same length to make a perfect triangle. Do this twice. Invert one triangle and place on top of the other, so that their centers align. Trace out the shape and cut with a fine-blade hand saw (though a knife will do in a pinch).

Cover the star in foil. Take the largest leaves of basil and place over the foil-wrapped Stryofoam. Angle the tip of the basil outward, and overlap as needed. I broke toothpicks into thirds and used them to tack down the leaves. Just make sure to push them in almost the whole way.

Rip the remaining basil leaves into pieces roughly the same size as the tomatoes. Skewer a mozzarella ball, followed by a tomato, and finish with a basil piece. Starting with the point, insert the pick into the Styrofoam until the basil leaf is touching. Repeat this with each point of the Star (should fit six). Place a dipping bowl in the center and then fill in the remaining gaps (I fit another 9). Add in the balsamic glaze and serve.  

It was a hit—not to mention, delicious!

Need more Chrismukkah ideas? Check out the tree toppers over at

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Summertime Ceviche

We love, love, love ceviche and it’s a great summertime staple. Fresh, healthy, low in fat and calories, it’s a great appetizer and can be served with tortilla chips, atop a crispy tortilla, or in a fancy schmacy martini glass as we did this week.

It’s a perfectly acceptable diet food and fits in well on the whole foods diet I am trying to maintain. Full of bright flavors from lime, cilantro and peppers, it only takes a few minutes to make (and then several hours to marinate). Most of the effort is in the chopping of ingredients, but it is well worth it. 

I just assemble all the ingredients, spend a little time with my knife and a chopping board, and pour it all into a large, non-reactive bowl. A few hours in the refrigerator and you have a tasty treat. So what are you waiting for?

Mrs. B’s Ceviche

½ pound bay scallops, diced
½ pound raw, peeled and deveined shrimp
½ cup red onion, minced
2 peppers, seeded and diced (jalapenos, pasilla, Anaheim)
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup chopped cilantro
8 ounces fresh lime juice (approx. 8 limes)

Mix all ingredients in non-reactive bowl (ceramic, glass, plastic). Cover with lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4+ hours, stirring occasionally.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Monday, August 20, 2012

Getting Back on Track with a Healthy Diet

Sometimes life gets in the way. I’ve been neglecting a lot these days, probably from an overdose of obligations that took me in unexpected directions or maybe from a lack of focus. I don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter to me why. What does matter is that I need to get back on track, take more control of my life, and particularly my health.

I find myself pulled in too many directions, not able to settle on specific tasks at hand; not a good thing when you’ve started a new job. So I need to buckle down and concentrate on the things that matter. So in addition to working again, I need to find the time to exercise and return to a healthier eating regimen. Not that I’ve been dining on pizza, burgers, and processed junk food, but I also have not been getting my allotted fruits and veggies (despite my healthy backyard garden). So in an attempt to rectify, I have borrowed Brilliant Daughter’s juicer and stocked up on a glorious bounty of fruits and vegetables.

I’m going to make my body happier and healthier with what I call a whole foods diet. That doesn’t mean that I only shop at Whole Foods, it just means that the food is unprocessed, fresh, lean, and healthy. You know, fruits and veggies, whole grains and legumes, lean proteins. Cut out the processed crap, sugar, and a fair amount of dairy. It takes a bit of thinking and preparation, not to mention cost, but if I can reconnect with all these good foods on a regular basis, then I can slowly introduce some whole grain breads, some cheese, and the occasional sweet treat and end up with a more balanced diet.

My first stop was Sigona’s, our local greengrocer. You can find just about any kind of fruit or veg here, and I loaded up the cart, walking out $100 lighter. In fact, I had a hard time finding room in the fridge or on the counter for all I bought. But it brings a smile to my face seeing all the good fresh fruit (and makes me want to go on another canning binge!).

The goal is to have freshly pressed juice every morning, occasionally made into a smoothie with some nonfat plain Greek yogurt. For lunch, another glass of juice and a whole foods salad of some kind. Dinner will be grilled, poached or roasted lean protein (fish/seafood, poultry, beef filet) or grain-legume combo (brown rice and beans), along with vegetables.  I’ve got some nice fresh fruit and raw almonds for snacks, and some home-brewed decaf and herbal iced tea to sip on. I’m not giving up my morning coffee and see no need to.

Today’s breakfast concoction consisted of a mixture of blueberries, kiwi, apples and pear. Blueberries have a very high antioxidant component, kiwi contains a high level of vitamin C and potassium, apples have high levels of polyphenols that contribute to their antioxidant capabilities, and pears bring a nice sweetness and mellowness to this breakfast cocktail. It was quite a tasty beverage, if I do say so myself.

I have also purchased a Tuscan melon, grapes, papaya, mango, pineapple, oranges, bananas, ginger and limes, and have strawberries from the garden. I can also add in coconut water, almond milk, or the yogurt for variation. I also bought celery, carrots, kale and avocado for more savory drinks, and can pull beets and chard from the garden. (Too bad I don’t like cucumbers, because I have an overabundance of lemon cucumbers in the garden that could easily be used in a veggie juice. )

Today for lunch I made what is labeled a Superfood Salad. The recipe is pretty easy to make and makes 4 one-cup servings. It has a base of quinoa, with onion, avocados, black beans, fresh corn, orange, cilantro and pomegranate arils (seeds) and is tossed with a lemon vinaigrette (from my own Meyer lemons). I whipped it up and divided the salad into four Tupperware containers for lunches. (Both Butcher Son’s girlfriend and Mr. B will be taste testers.) My daughter has eaten this with poached prawns, and I think you could also add grilled fish or chicken if you wanted the extra protein. And it’s something even kids should like, not to mention it is a pretty salad, full of color and flavor.

Superfood Salad

1/2 cup dry quinoa
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1 orange, peeled and segments chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup pomegranate arils (about 1 pomegranate worth)
1 cup fresh corn kernals (can use thawed frozen as well)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
salt & pepper

Lemon Vinaigrette:
¼ cup lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, microplaned or finely minced
dash of sweetener (agave nectar, stevia or white sugar)
salt & pepper
6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cook quinoa according to package directions. Set aside to cool.

Make lemon vinaigrette by combining all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to combine.

Assemble remaining salad ingredients in a large bow. Add quinoa once cooled. Toss gently.
Reshake vinaigrette and pour over the salad. Stir to combine.

Refrigerate and eat within 48 hours.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Taste of Summer: Simple Strawberry Cake

When it comes to food there are few things I like more than strawberries. During my college years I worked for Carriage House, a cannery in San Jose that my godmother’s family owned. Their bread and butter, so to speak, was jams, jellies, peanut butter and pie fillings. I loved working on the days they were running strawberry jam; the scent heavy in the air made my workday all that more pleasant.

Because of my love of strawberries, we planted several varieties in our raised beds last year and since early May, they have been producing some really yummy berries. Often when I harvest the garden, they don’t even make into the house; they go no further than my mouth. But I was able to save enough this week to make a very simple strawberry cake, one that has a dense base with halved berries covering the top. Quick to make and served with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream, it is a delicious dessert, sure to please everyone.

This recipe, which originated with Martha Stewart, does not require any special ingredients and reminds me a bit of clafouti, although without sooooooo much butter. Using really ripe berries, they will almost melt into the cake like jam; firmer berries will retain their shape but soften up nicely. And although I have yet to try it, I think this cake would be really good with any type of berry.

Simple Strawberry Cake

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a standard 10-inch pie pan, deep-dish 9-inch pie pan, or 9-inch springform pan. (I used a fancy quiche pan.)

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into prepared pie plate. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack.

Serves 8

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Pork Belly to Pancetta: Taste in the Making

I’m no stranger to pork belly. Butcher Son regularly brings me home slabs to turn into bacon, which I happily do. I’ve experimented with various rubs: brown sugar, molasses, pepper. I’ve smoked the slabs in a converted Weber and an electric smoker, and used several species of wood chips. But I have never attempted to make anything harder with that pork belly than bacon. Until now….

I decided I wanted to try to make pancetta. I read up on the process in several books I own, and finally chose to follow the directions in Charcuterie, The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Then Butcher Son brought me home two 10-pound slabs of pork belly. I cut out the choicest 5-pound piece for the pancetta, and cut the rest to make bacon.

After skinning the slab*, I assembled the ingredients for the curing process. The dry cure used for pancetta is different than that which I use for bacon. The recipe called for pink salt. Initially I thought this meant pink Himalayan salt, but after thinking about it for awhile, I began to wonder why such a specific salt was included, so I did some searching and found that “pink salt” is the trade term for “curing salt” and is actually pink. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it at any local stores and had to send Mr B off to Williams Sonoma to pick up a jar ($9.50).

Once he returned I mixed the pink salt with garlic, salt, brown sugar, fresh ground black pepper, crushed juniper berries, bay leaves, freshly grated nutmeg and sprigs of fresh thyme from the garden. 

After massaging it in vigorously, I vacuum sealed the slab and placed it in the refrigerator. Every other day I took it out, massaged the belly (called overhauling), and put it back in the fridge. 

After 10 days it was firm and considered cured. At this point it was time to rinse, dry, smear with fresh ground pepper and roll that sucker up for the drying process. Butcher Son asked around and got some good tips on rolling and tying, one of which was that if he didn’t end up with blisters, he was doing it wrong. I thought that was a bit extreme, but shame on me for doubting the experts.

The goal when rolling is for the belly to be as tight as possible with no air in the middle. Rolling the belly isn’t the hard part, it’s the tying that requires brute strength. You start in the middle and work your way out, so that there is little to no air between the interior rolls. After the 4th tie, Butcher Son found himself with missing skin off both his pinkies from tying so tightly. Apparently he just skipped the blister stage.

Once the pancetta is rolled and tied it needs to go into a cool humid place. The book suggests between 50 and 60 degrees and 60 percent humidity. We happen to have an old wine refrigerator that works fine, but is noisy as all get-out. We had to remove it from the dining area due to the issue and it now resides in a corner of the garage. So we plugged it in, placed a pan of ice cubes in the bottom and laid the roll on one of the shelves.

Every afternoon (when it was warmest) we dumped the pan of water and added more ice. Every other day we turned it a quarter turn and checked to make sure that the pancetta was not getting too hard and drying out too much. It takes approximately two weeks to dry sufficiently. You may notice small white dots of mold on the end pieces. This is fine, it will be cut off before eating.

What you want is a semi-firm roll. Too hard and you know you’ve gone too long. There is some shrinkage due to the drying process, so the five-pound pork belly you started with will end up being closer to 4 (and a squosh).

I have to tell you it was mighty hard to wait two weeks to taste it. And Butcher Son wanted to wait three! So we compromised. I cut off one dry end and then 1/2 pound to make some pasta carbonara. And we have stowed the pancetta in the wine fridge for one more week. Meanwhile, it looks gorgeous and tasted heavenly in the carbonara dish. (Served with a salad straight out of our garden and fresh artisan bread baked with our own herbs!)

I think I might use a bit more herbs in the initial curing, and definitely use more pepper prior to the rolling process, but as pancetta goes, this is a winner. Can't wait for the next taste test.

*NOTE: Always ask for skinned pork belly – it will make your life sooooo much easier.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blueberry Breakfast Biscuits

Sorry about that title, I just love alliterations. Couldn’t help myself. Anyway, I have been experimenting with a Blueberry Cream Biscuit recipe that I saw in Better Homes and Gardens. It is a new family favorite, not only for breakfast but topped with some additional berries and whipped cream for dessert, or Mr B’s personal favorite, reheated in a bowl and topped with some half-and-half.

These biscuits are quick to make, don’t require any fancy ingredients, and can be served with lemon curd, blueberry jam, or all on their own. What appealed to me was the basic biscuit dough. I have yet to find a good basic biscuit (buttermilk or otherwise) and am constantly on the search. Unfortunately this is more a cross between a biscuit and a scone, but my disappointment was tempered by their delicious flavor.

I have tried the recipe with different spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger), amounts of sugar, both whipping cream and half-and-half, topped off with sugar or not, and different baking times. I’ve come to the consensus that my small alterations to the original recipe improve upon the taste and it got big thumbs up from everyone in the household.

I happen to like a sweeter dough, so I increased the amount of sugar. This makes them perfectly edible on their own, without the need for the original blueberry sauce the recipe called for, or even butter, jam or curd. By sprinkling white or raw sugar over the top, you also get an extra bit of sweetness and crunch.

I also tried to make the recipe with half-and-half, as I was out of cream on one occasion. But the cream is significantly thicker and richer—a bridge between the traditional milk and butter called for in recipes like these. The half-and-half required an additional ½ cup of flour, which diluted the sweetness. Even with the additional flour, the dough was a bit hard to turn, as it was still a bit sticky. The result was a somewhat tough outer biscuit, not as light and fluffy as the cream-based version.

I also found that the baking time of 17 minutes from the original recipe was just too short. It was closer to 22-25 and my oven is well calibrated. Had I turned on the convection it might have been done in 17, but be warned. Taking the biscuits out too early means raw dough in the center.

These take about 5 minutes to make, and with cooking time can be on your table, piping hot, in less than 30. So what are you waiting for?

Blueberry Breakfast Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ginger
1 cup blueberries
¼ cup diced crystallized ginger*
1½ cups whipping cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl thoroughly mix flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and ginger. Toss blueberries and crystallized ginger with the flour mixture. Stir whipping cream into the flour mixture until just moistened.
Turn out dough on a floured work surface. Gently lift and fold dough four or five times, making a quarter turn between each fold. Place dough on the cookie sheet forming it into an 8-inch square, approximately 1 inch thick. Using a floured pizza cutter or knife, cut 12 to 16 squares in dough, leaving biscuits intact. 

Bake in upper half of oven for 22-25 minutes. until golden brown. Cut through or pull apart biscuits.

*The Ginger People make baker’s cut crystallized ginger chips, which are perfect for baking recipes (as well as to put in oatmeal, granola, etc). This is what they look like, although they are significantly cheaper (by half) at Cost Plus.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Going Whole Hog

Well, not really WHOLE hog, just the belly of the beast. Yep, last week we cured, rendered, smoked or ate 20 pounds of pork belly. Now before you get on your high horse about how unhealthy that is, let me tell you that it wasn’t all consumed in one sitting. But I have found that when I am doing anything homemade, more is better. Like canning. Why make 5 jars of jam, when 10 jars are just as easy. Same thing with the belly.

It all began because we ran out of our home-cured bacon. Bacon that we not only enjoyed as a breakfast item, and in soups and other savory dishes, but also in bacon fat caramels. (More about that later.) So it was time to rub some belly and get the smoker out. And because we donated homemade bacon (and a box of those delish bacon caramels) to a fundraiser, more was required. We also share the bounty with Brilliant Daughter and Electrician Son.

So, two 10-pound pork bellies made their way to my kitchen. I cut the choicest 5-pound slab for my first foray into pancetta, for which I will dedicate a whole post to next week. Then I cut four slabs for bacon, and had one small slab leftover that I slow-roasted.

I wrote a post about “Makin Bacon” last year, when we first started making our own. We have since graduated from a repurposed Weber to an electric smoker that belonged to my godfather and is probably 15 years old. It takes a bit less tending and has 3 racks, making the smoking process more efficient and the end result is just as good.

As for the slow-roasted pork belly, I can tell you it’s not for everybody. Butcher Son’s girlfriend doesn’t like fat, and there is definitely a good amount on a belly, so we made it on a night when she wasn’t sitting at the dinner table.

The slow roasting, with nothing more than a few herbs and a finishing glaze, completely changes the texture of the fat. It just melts in your mouth. One caution: you cannot eat much of this and a small 1.5 pound slab feeds 6 easily. It also needs to be served with a starch, like rice, couscous, polenta, potato.

While it takes a significant amount of time to roast pork belly, it is so worth it, and requires no tending. You rub it up, stick it in the oven and voila! Topped with a Makers Mark bourbon glaze and you have one delicious serving of heart-clogging proportions.

I found the recipe on the Maker’s Mark site, which encourages cooking with bourbon, obviously. But the glaze added just the right amount of flavor and complemented the pork perfectly. 

So next time you are feeling adventurous, stop by your local butcher (there is a really cute one at Robert’s of Woodside!), and pick up some pork belly for dinner.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly

1/2 cup Maker’s Mark® Bourbon
2 pounds pork belly, skin on
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons garlic, crushed and minced
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons sherry or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 275°F. Using a sharp knife score the skin of the pork belly in a checkerboard design.

In a bowl combine the salt, pepper, sage, thyme and garlic. Rub the pork belly on both sides with mixture until evenly coated. Place pork belly in a roasting pan skin side up. Place in the oven and bake for 3-1/2 hours, turn oven to broil and cook for 10-12 minutes until the skin puffs up evenly. Remove from oven and let rest for 30-40 minutes at room temperature.

Using a serrated knife, cut the meat into 1/2-inch-thick pieces and reserve.

Place the honey, Maker’s Mark® Bourbon, vinegar, butter, salt and pepper in a large sauté pan. Place over medium high heat and reduce by a third. Place the pieces of crispy pork belly in the pan and increase to high heat. Cook until syrupy and glazes the pork belly. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Plate the meat, drizzling the remaining sauce atop and on the plate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Strawberry-Lemonade Babycakes

I’m a fanatic when it comes to cupcakes. The reason being that I cannot make a layer cake. Well, I can make the cake, but it never lays flat and the frosting never looks like the magazine or cookbook picture. In fact, they end up looking like a five-year-old made them. So I gave up long ago and switched to cupcakes, which are easier to share with others anyway.

My latest creation is a strawberry-lemonade cupcake, which I made for a baby shower, and appropriately called “Babycakes.” These little mini-cupcakes are bold in flavor, not too sweet, and adorable as all get-out.

The idea was born out of the fact that the impending arrival will be a girl and I wanted pink cupcakes. Not just tinted white cupcakes, but something pink in flavor. And because my new favorite frosting is lemon meringue, I paired the lemon with strawberry for a refreshing spring-like melding of flavors.

I started with a box mix for strawberry cake. Now I know some of you may be purists and make your cake from scratch—and I do, too, sometimes—but cake mixes are quick, easy and have a good consistency for the small cupcakes. I buy the box mixes on sale for under $1, which leaves no guilt when I want to try out mixing in different flavors.  But, I digress…..

I started with the box mix, which required oil, eggs and water. I substituted ½ cup frozen lemonade for ½ cup of the water and added in an additional tablespoon of strawberry extract, as I wanted the flavor to pop and not be overwhelmed by lemon. The mix made 48 mini cupcakes and three 4-inch layers (one for tasting and two to make a daddy-to-be cake—which turned out slightly better than a five-year-old’s attempt).

Once the cupcakes had cooled I piped homemade lemon curd into the centers for a surprise treat. Because I have two lemon trees, I regularly can lemon curd. You can, of course, skip this step or use store-bought.

Then I made the lemon meringue frosting. (Recipe here.)  What I like about the frosting is that it only takes ¾ cup of sugar, is very light, holds up to piping or creative decorating with the back of a spoon, and tastes divine. Much better than a cream cheese-based or buttercream frosting. I even added a little pink gel color to match the cupcakes and piped it on with a star tip.

To top off the little gems, I used miniature rattles, safety pins and pacifiers. If you would prefer, you can buy miniature candy ducks or other edible decoration and avoid the hassle and waste of the plastic versions. But they just looked so darn cute. And, they tasted great.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

And Baby Makes Three: Assembling a Food Hamper for the New Family

I’ve been inspired by the spate of babies due this Spring. Primarily it is the crafty part of me that has been at work, learning new patterns for baby blankets and designing some very cute felt and fleece monsters. While I was clearly on track to finish the latest blanket and have a coterie of homemade stuffed monsters for the two due in May, Mother Nature clearly had other plans. Friday the first of the babies arrived, almost four weeks early, and the blanket intended for the wee one is just not ready yet. In fact, it probably won’t be done until the original due date of May 17th. But I still found a way to celebrate the blessed event by providing a food hamper for the new parents, friends of Butcher Son.

Upon hearing the news that the mother-to-be was in labor, my mind raced. Knowing I could not knit fast enough to finish the blanket, I went into full-on chef mode. I sketched out meals, and on Saturday went shopping. Starting Saturday night and working all Sunday morning, I was able to cook several meals for the happy little family, and pack them up in a hamper to be delivered. One thing new parents don’t need to worry about is trips to the grocery store or standing in front of a stove. And who wants to eat microwaved food or take-out every meal? There’s nothing like a home-cooked meal, filled with love and goodness to keep up the energy a new baby requires.

The weather here is vacillating between hot and cold, so I made sure the meals could accommodate both. There is banana bread and yogurt parfaits for breakfast, some quinoa salad for lunch, a creamy French lentil soup and Rocky Mountain brisket and pasta salad for dinner. I also baked a batch of triple ginger cookies and boxed up some of my super tasty bacon caramels for a sweet treat. I also threw in a dog chew for the puppy, so he is not left out, as well as a mini-bottle of champagne for mom and a bottle of Jameson for dad (in honor of the new baby’s name). And peeking out amongst it all are three of my new best friends, soft stuffed monster mates.

I utilized canning jars for much of the food, as the quart jars contain enough for two. I labeled everything, not so much to be cute, but more in the interest of allowing them to avoid anything they may be allergic or sensitive to. The food itself is pretty healthy, with grains, vegetables, and fruit predominant. The parfaits are made from Greek yogurt and fresh berries, providing protein, calcium, vitamins and antioxidants. The banana bread provides some B6 and potassium (not to mention tasty mini chocolate chips!).

Quinoa, an ancient grain that is hitting mainstream markets, is high in fiber, has about 15% protein, and 9 essential amino acids. Paired with a healthy serving of avocado, I add in ponzu, sesame oil and a dab of sriracha, making it a tasty main or side dish. The pasta salad, made with whole wheat pasta, has carrots, celery, zucchini and olives, along with a balsamic dressing, meaning fiber and vitamins packed into that jar. The base of the soup is lentils, which are high in protein and iron. It also contains onion, garlic, carrot, celery, tomatoes, all good vegetables, plus a dose of cream (some good fats are required to help mom with milk production).

The Rocky Mountain Brisket is a lean cut of beef, slow cooked in the oven, sliced and topped with my homemade barbeque sauce. I really made this dish for dad—hearty and flavorful. And who doesn’t like a BBQ beef sandwich?

The triple ginger cookies contain three kinds of ginger, good for settling stomachs and quelling a sweet tooth. Made with molasses, raw ginger, ginger powder and crystallized ginger, these soft rounds are a family favorite and pack easily without breaking. The bacon caramels were made a few days before, with the fat from our home-cured bacon. They have garnered rave reviews from everyone who has tried them and they deserve to be shared with everyone, especially new parents.

The Brady Bunch sends the hamper with heartfelt congratulations to Meghan, Chris, and their new son Jameson.

(NOTE: The cute little stuffed monsters will be featured on Crafting Suburbia in an upcoming post)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Party Planning: Untraditional Wedding

So Brilliant Daughter has friends who underwent an amalgamation (euphemism for wedding) last weekend. In a very non-traditional gathering, family came to town for what was ostensibly an engagement party. They holed up at the gorgeous CordeValle Country Club in San Martin, and the blended families spent two days enjoying a slew of events. From a hands-on dinner party with a local chef to a morning sojourn to Point Lobos, the beautiful couple capped off their time together with what they called a “ceremonial amalgamation.”

Because the wedding was to be a surprise for their families, and due to work constraints, Brilliant Daughter and I pitched in to help make the weekend less stressful, by preparing food and the welcome packet. (See this post on Crafting Suburbia for the printed welcome packets.)

Saturday, the official amalgamation day, started off with a drive to Point Lobos on the California Coast. There was a hike in to a knoll at Whaler’s Cove, where all enjoyed a picnic lunch—which is where we came in. Given that there are 18 people, and we needed to keep things to 3 backpacks, we tried to think creatively. We packaged bags of trail mix for the walk itself, and Parisian walking sandwiches, gazpacho, and mini fruit crisps baked into 4-ounce canning jars and topped with an oatmeal mixture.

Once the families returned to CordeValle, and after a brief respite, they made their way up a short trail to a yoga deck overlooking the foothills and the golf course; a beautiful outdoor setting that seemed perfect for this active couple. Amongst loved ones, and with the help of a minister-friend, they officially joined their families with personalized vows and a kiss to seal the deal.

Upon returning to their luxurious fairway homes, they celebrated with champagne and chocolate truffles. (In lieu of a traditional wedding cake, we made champagne truffles, boxed up in pairs of two, and wrapped in special Just Married bands, found at the most adorable store in the Cedros Avenue Design District in Solano Beach.)

To get ready for the event, the last week has been spent in the kitchen preparing all the yummy goods. I started on Tuesday, mixing and packaging the trail mix. Eighteen clear bags, tied with twine and a personalized label. Walnuts, sunflower seeds, cashews, coconut and dried fruit should sustain the families during their hike.

Wednesday I made the batch of dark chocolate champagne truffles, which are rolled in cocoa powder, nestled into purple paper cups and placed side by side into ballotins. A purple ribbon overlaid with the Just Married bands (originally intended to make a daisy chain) enclosed the sweet treats and keep them safe. 

I also decided to provide a bonus treat for arrival day. Using my nanny’s shortbread recipe, I zested and juiced two of my Meyer lemons to add in, and rolled the dough out. Cut into various sized heart shapes, some with a cushion design, they are simple and tasty—perfect for a cup of tea, a cappuccino from the couples’ famed “Miss Sylvia,” or even a glass of wine.

Thursday was spent making gazpacho. This is a fresh and lively soup, full of multiple types of vegetables and healthy ingredients, and makes a great picnic item. We had originally intended for the gazpacho to be put in 8-ounce canning jars, but felt that 18 canning jars in a backpack was an accident waiting to happen. Instead, we poured the soup into a large-mouth plastic container with screw top, and provided plastic cups. Lighter in weight and less bulky.

Friday morning was the last push. Bringing home fresh baguettes from our favorite bakery, Pamplamousse, I assembled Parisian walking sandwiches. Fresh mozzarella and pesto (some with prosciutto, some with homemade sundried tomatoes) and dry coppa with Emmenthaler. Bound in parchment, we slipped them into plastic sleeves, twisted the top close and sealed with twine and label. 

The fruit crisps also got made. Pear/blueberry (with a touch of crystallized ginger) and apple/dried cranberry, topped with a cinnamon-cardamom infused oatmeal mixture and cooked in 4-ounce canning jars, which were sealed and got the same twine/label treatment.

Both Brilliant Daughter and I were honored and grateful that we could help make this special family weekend a little easier on our friends. It gave me a chance to keep busy, test some new recipes, and let the creative juices flow a little bit. We wish them nothing but the best in life and love.

Recipes on Page 2