Monday, December 28, 2009

Well-stocked near-the-stove kitchen toolbox

It’s the New Year, and time to look around at “stuff.” I have 70 spoons, spatulas, spoonulas, ladles, canning magnets, strainers, whisks, tongs, crab mallets, rasps, and pancake turners in three containers on my kitchen counter. While I don’t use them all the time, few are dusty, so I will keep them. None get the workout of the seven sets of measuring spoons, four sets of metal measuring cups, and uber sharp knives, but they are in a story for another day.

Were I just starting out, I would want the following tools near my stove. You can spend a fortune -- or not. Never overlook restaurant supply stores for good quality at moderate prices. Professionals give their tools a daily workout, and their standard for toughness is “weapons’ grade.”

  1. 2 silicone spoons (look like wooden spoons and are indestructible)
  2. 2 silicone spatulas or spoonulas (stir everything and are indestructible)
  3. 1 potato masher (electric mixers or a food processors risks glue-ish potatoes)
  4. 2 rasp graters (1 fine for airy mounds of Parmesam; one for coarse grating)
  5. 1 long handled (9-inch) metal slotted spoon
  6. 1 long handled (9-inch) metal spoon
  7. 1 ladle (with at least a 4 oz. bowl, for soup, stew and chili)
  8. 1 offset spatula (your frosted brownies will love you)
  9. 1 small strainer (keeps the lemon seeds out of your drinks)
  10. 2 whisks (1 small for drinks, 1 large for pancake batter)
  11. 1 set of locking tongs (long handled if you grill, short if you work on top of the stove)
  12. 2 pancake turners (for pancakes, burgers or fish; 1 metal, 1 silicone)
  13. 1 set of metal measuring spoons (plastic will melt)

If you decide to give some or all of these as a gift, duct tape them to a large sturdy (“weapons’ grade”) sheet pan from the restaurant supply house ($9.00). Unless your gifts get tossed by accident, these tools will live forever.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

NY Times "Fiery Sweet Potatoes" & What do do with leftover turkey

Thanksgiving is coming. Really soon. If you are going to cook any part of the meal you ought to be shopping today or very very soon. Two things to add to your list: red curry paste for Fiery Sweet Potatoes (adapted recipe below) for Thanksgiving Day, and tomato paste for Mom's Chicken (or Turkey) Creole when you have lots of leftover turkey and not the slightest interest in turkey-stuffing-cranberry sauce sandwiches.

Lucky me. I read "Show-Off Sides to Rival the Pull of a Drumstick" (NY Times, 11/11/09) which included Fiery Sweet Potatoes, which I have made twice -- just to be sure that they are good enough for my friends on Thursday.

Lucky you. This is ridiculously easy. It spices up or down. It requires three tools: a knife to poke the sweet potatoes; a can opener for the coconut milk (light will do), and a potato masher.

For my taste, I increased the curry paste, added molasses and cayenne, and omitted the added butter and sugar crust at the final baking. For for some milder Minnesota tastes on Thursday, I will back off of the cayenne.

FIERY SWEET POTATOES (adapted from the NY Times)

5 # sweet potatoes
1 c coconut milk (light will do)
1 T red curry paste (Buy a new jar, please. The one in the back of the fridge from an unknown time period won't do.)
1/2 c dark brown sugar (divided)
4 T unsalted butter (divided)
1 t salt
Optional: 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 T molasses, up to 1 T additional curry paste)

1. Poke the potatoes with a knife to prevent explosions in your clean oven, and then bake for an hour in a 375 degree oven until they are soft. When they are cool enough to handle, peel and mash in an oven safe casserole dish.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the coconut milk, curry paste, 1/4 c sugar, 2 T butter, salt, optional cayenne and molasses. Add this liquid to the potatoes in the casserole dish. Mash.
3. Three choices at this point: (a) mash, microwave for a minute to re-heat and serve; (b) cover and refrigerate up to two days; (c) create a sweet and crusty topping -- see #4.
4. For a sweet & crusty topping: At least 30 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and top with the remaining 2T butter and 1/4 c brown sugar. Broil until brown and crusty. Check every two minutes so that it doesn't burn.

Leftovers: Heat some butter in a small non-stick pan and make a potato cake. Be patient and cook this on medium heat to create a crust. Flip. More patience = yummy crust.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Tomato, Potato, Carrot Soup - for winter

I have loved this thick-without-dairy tomato soup since 1972 when a colleague introduced it to me as the sophisticated Tomato Soup Parmentier from The Gourmet Cookbook, Volume 1 (Gourmet Distributing Corporation, NY, 1965, p. 123). My Useful Kitchen Tool Collection began when when I bought a food mill to make it correctly.

Busy people need recipes that are based on pantry items, and with potatoes and carrots on hand, you are ready to go. The technique is simple: saute some aromatics and vegetables for the caramelization that deepens flavor, add liquid, bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer until you (and the soup) are ready.

Like so many of my favorite recipes, after the three main ingredients, the ingredient list is infinitely flexible. Mushrooms? Chili? Fresh or canned tomato? Your choice. If you loathe thick and smooth soups, serve this as broth-with-vegetables. Although tarragon has a particular affinity for the three main ingredients, You Are The Boss of Your Pantry, and you may omit it. This is, by the way, virtually fat-free.

Although I have owned the cookbook since the early 1970s and the recipe is imprinted on my brain, I had forgotten its name. In the lexicon of my friends and family, it is "Tomato, Potato, Carrot Soup."

Tomato, Potato, Carrot Soup, adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, Volume 1.

2 T butter or oil (to be dairy-free)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4 oz button (or other) mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 to 1 t crushed red peppers (or to taste)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1# baking potatoes, coarsely chopped (I like Yukon Gold)
1# carrots, coarsely chopped
1/2 t salt
1 t fresh ground pepper
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes in juice
1 t dried tarragon
1 t dried basil
1T sugar
salt & pepper to taste

  1. Heat the butter or oil in a large soup pot with a lid. On medium heat, saute the onions, mushrooms and crushed red peppers for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are golden. Add the garlic, and saute until you can smell it (1-2 minutes). Do not let it burn.
  2. Add the potatoes, carrots, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, for about 5 minutes. The goal is to get some caramelization onto the vegetables.
  3. Add the tomatoes and their juice, tarragon, basil and sugar. Add enough additional water to barely cover the vegetables.
  4. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 25-35 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft enough to go through the coarse disk of a food mill. Add additional water if you prefer a thin soup. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.


  1. For broth-with-vegetables, decide when the vegetables are soft enough for you, add salt and pepper and serve.
  2. If your original vegetable cuts are small, your soup will cook faster.
  3. In the summer, use two pounds of peeled, seeded and chopped fresh tomatoes instead of canned.
  4. Combine the leftovers with Split Pea Soup to make an interesting version of Puree Mongole, J. Edgar Hoover's favorite.
  5. Make fish or vegetable cakes with the leftovers.
  6. If your soup is particularly thick, use it as topping for Shepperd's Pie. Although I love Shepperd's Pie, I have never made it. A quick check of the web shows a dizzying array of versions that make me long for an Irish Grandmother to set the record straight. The pies' bases range from complex mutton, lamb or beef and vegetable stews to ground beef and canned vegetable soup. The one consistent characteristic is that they are all topped with mashed potatoes.
  7. The 1965 edition of The Gourmet Cookbook Volume 1 is very old-fashioned in that it has a lot of text and few photographs. Most of the recipes have fewer than three paragraphs, but they are densely packed with directions. I can't wait to try Brandied Dates, Tipsy Pudding (each serving is topped with 2 tablespoons of rum and some shaved coconut), and most of the 22 sandwich fillings look that they should be rolled into phyllo and baked into tasty appetizers.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

First snow = pea soup

It snowed last night in St. Paul -- October 10 is early even for Minnesota. It's odd that I connect the first snow and the first pot of pea soup -- I grew up in the Washington DC suburbs, and the season's first snow was not particularly predictable. Perhaps this is a fantasy memory...

In any event -- my Mother's Spit Pea Soup was wonderful. She vaguely followed the directions on the bag of split peas, and, when we added Hebrew National Hot Dogs at the end -- it was heaven in a bowl. I also loved to mix leftover pea soup with Campbell's Tomato Soup to make our version of Puree Mongole (from the back of the long-ago soup cans, and, apparently no longer claimed by Campbell).

My pea soup recipe slightly less vague than my Mother's, and it has more ingredients, included dried and frozen peas, and roasted, peeled and seeded jalapeno peppers. It is a very thick pea soup -- not a broth. You -- on the other hand -- can put anything you want into your pea soup.


2 tsp vegetable oil
1 pound beef short ribs
1/2 cup cut up Kosher hot dogs or beef summer sausage (small dice)
2 cups onions, roughly chopped (3/4 inch pieces)
2 cups carrots, roughly chopped
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 pound dried split peas (rinsed and picked over for pebbles -- you never know)
1 pound frozen tiny peas
6 to 8 cups of hot water
1 tsp good quality garlic powder
2 roasted, peeled and seeded jalapeno peppers (optional)
salt and pepper

1. In a large soup or stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the short ribs on all sides. Don't hurry this -- go for the caramelization that makes good flavor. Add the hot dog or sausage pieces when the short ribs are almost all browned.
2. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally for 3 to 5 minutes. You are looking for some color, not completely browned onions.
3. Add the carrots and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, for an additional 3 to 5 minutes to get some brown color onto the carrots (that's where the flavor is.)
4. Add the dried and frozen peas and hot water. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer and cook, partially covered for about 20 minutes.
5. Skim the scum that will float to the top. Really. Get rid of the gunk.
6. Add the garlic powder. Taste the soup before you add salt and pepper. The hot dog or sausage gives the soup a salty and smokey flavor, but you may want to be more generous with salt that you would otherwise expect. Continue to cook partially covered on very low heat for another hour or until the dried peas are soft. Stir occasionally. Add more water if it begins to stick.
7. Before serving, pull out the short ribs -- or what's left of them. Dice the meat and return to the pot; discard the bones. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

1. This really tastes better on the second day.
2. Grill or broil hot dogs and cut them into bite sized pieces before serving.
3. Apparently, Puree Mongole was J. Edgar Hoover's favorite soup.
4. Now that Nathan's Hot Dogs are widely available, I wouldn't hesitate to put them into my soup, especially because my parents grew up near Coney Island.
5. You can freeze pea soup.
6. A note about garlic powder: that odorless, powdery stuff at the back of your pantry is not "good quality garlic powder." My favorite source: Penzeys.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Really good meatballs and a meatball mistake

There are hundreds of methods for making great meatballs. While I hope that you find one you love and stick with it, you may want to experiment. A warning, though: "Healthy," Crunchy, Dampened Flavor Meatballs are a particularly bad idea.

Without an Italian Grandmother, my Spicy Meatball Odyssey took decades. Finally, I gratefully borrowed a method from generations of Nonnas, who take sturdy white bread and make a panade (paste) with milk or buttermilk. I made it my own by adding teeny tiny dice of sautéed pepperoni, onions, mushrooms, garlic and hot peppers, and learned that hot Italian sausage is the secret to a spicy meatball. Finally, because fresh meatballs give up their flavor when cooked in sauce, I now bake them and then add them to cooked sauces. They also make great meatball sandwiches.

Why mess with a good thing? Sometimes the urge to experiment is overwhelming. Learn from this: just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

I wanted a “healthy” meatball, and armed myself with a Healthy Hearty Whole Grain Bread That Was Fully Packed with Nuts, Seeds and Berries. Perhaps because it was a very tiny and very heavy and because I toasted it to enhance the "health," the texture and flavor of the meats and the spices were whomped by dead bread. Worse yet, crunchy nuts, seeds and berries are not friends to meatballs.

My meatballs are always different from one another, based on what was in my fridge or pantry or what meat combination was appealing. But one thing is certain, I'll always stick with plain bread...

Really good meatballs (freely adapted from Cook’s Illustrated The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles, Clarkson Potter, 2000)

4 slices of sturdy white bread, cut into small pieces
1 cup of buttermilk (fresh or made with butttermilk powder)
1 cup total after cooking (your pantry’s choice: tiny dice of pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, garlic & hot peppers)
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
2 T minced fresh or 1T dried parsley
1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk
½ tsp salt
1 T fresh ground pepper
2 pounds of mixed ground meats (your choice: ground beef, ground beef/pork/veal meatloaf mixture, with at least one-third Spicy Italian Sausage)

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Cover a large sheet pan with foil, and Pam™ a rack that fits into or over the pan.
2. Soak the bread in the buttermilk for at least 10 minutes. Stir it vigorously to make a paste. Add the pepperoni-vegetable mixture, the cheese, parsley, egg, salt and pepper.
Add the meat and mix thoroughly.
3. Make meatballs as large or as small as you like.
4. Bake for 10 minutes. Check for doneness (are they cooked through?) and turn them and bake for 5-10 additional minutes. Add to sauce right away or cool on the rack.
5. To freeze, lay them out on a clean baking sheet. When frozen solid, pack into freezer bags or containers.
Recommended reading: Carol Field's In Nonna's Kitchen: Recipes and Traditions From Italy's Grandmothers. I read this straight through like a novel. Even if you never cook from it, you'll be inspired by the stories and you'll treasure the history.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The 5th Question: Why don't we eat Charoset all the time?

For more than 5000 years, Jews have gathered around the table at Passover for a meal and a service (Seder) to celebrate deliverance from slavery in the time of the Pharaohs. Charoset – a mixture of fruit, nuts and wine -- is an integral part of the Seder and it stands in for the mortar for the bricks that were used to build the pyramids.

Four questions are critical to the Seder service, yet there is a traditional 5th question: “Why don’t we eat Charoset all the time?” No reason. Really, there is absolutely no reason not to have a jar of chopped fruits, nuts and wine in your refrigerator all the time. You probably already have an $8.00 jar of someone else’s chutney.

Charoset is Jewish Chutney, and it’s not just for Passover (and not just for Jews). Charoset is better for you than queso and the charoset that you make at home is cheaper than commercial chutney and it can taste exactly the way you want it. Need comfort from home? If you grew up with Apple and Manischewitz Concord Grape Wine Charoset, you can have it all the time. On the other hand, you may use any fresh or dried fruit, roasted or unroasted nuts, and the sweeteners and spices of the condiments of your choice. And you can use any fruit juice, wine, liquor or liqueur – whatever tastes good to you.

How can I eat Charoset without matzoh? It is a friend to cream-cheese-and-a-bagel; a great addition to virtually any meat sandwich; thin it a bit and glaze your chicken or meatloaf; throw it into pancake batter; stuff it into phyllo triangles or dumplings. Heat it in the microwave or thin it with water, wine or liqueur and pour it over ice cream or pound cake. Eat it with a spoon.

Cooks’ Notes: (1) Charoset makers either chop a lot (you’ll need very good and very sharp knives) or they use food processors (highly recommended.) My first Cuisinart lasted more than 20 years. My second one is going strong. (2) No food processor? Get good knives and keep them sharp. If you are in the Twin Cities, a great source for knives is Eversharp, 344 Taft Street NE, Minneapolis. It is an outlet for the justifiably famous German Wustof knives and it is a great place to have your knives sharpened.

I found the two recipes below (and others) uncredited on the web, and then found them in actual books on my shelf.

The ebullient Grandma Doralee Patinkin’s Jewish Family Cookbook (St. Martin’s Press, 1997) is a treasure trove of Jewish-Grandma recipes (Blintz Souffle, Carrot Pudding), intriguing modern food (Linguine Limon with Salmon) and useful tricks (specific herbs to replace salt and the correct amount of vinegar to create “sour milk.”) Gloria Kaufer Greene’s The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook tracks Jews and their recipes from all over the world, and shehas several charoset recipes, including Ashkenazic, Date, Isreali, Moroccan, Turkish and Yeminite. I can't wait to try Meat, Fruit & Peanut Curry and Dried Fruit Lokshen Kugel (noodle pudding).

Mandy Patinkin’s Grandmother’s Charoset -- This may conjure up your family Seder.

12 large McIntosh Apples
3 c pecans
1/3 c Concord grape or Malaga wine
1-½ T ground cinnamon
1/3 tsp ground cloves½ tsp ground ginger
1-½ T honey (optional)

1. Core the apples and cut into chunks.
2. Place all the ingredients in a food processor. Using steel blade, pulse on and off. At Passover, this is supposed to remind you of mortar between the bricks of the Pyramids, which means grainy, not mushy. If the mixture is too watery, add more nuts. Granny Patinkin never uses the honey.

Turkish Charoset This is a goof-proof cooked charoset, and it is delicious. I can't wait to put it into dumplings, puff pastry or phyllo for appetizers.

½ c pitted dates
2 c peeled and chopped apple (use Granny Smith or some other firm apple. Do not use Macintosh, or you will have apple sauce)
½ c dried apricots
½ c lightly toasted chopped walnuts

1. Cook fruits together with water (or a combination of water, apple juice and/or apricot liqueur) just to cover, until apricots and dates are tender enough to mash with a fork. Watch this mixture carefully. You want fruit that has texture -- not fruit sauce.
2. Add the nuts. Mix well. Cool and serve.
Makes about 3 cups.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Appreciating Sheila Lukins and Pasta Sauce Raphael

I can’t remember when or how I heard about The Silver Palate Cookbook (Workman Publishing Company, Inc. 1982), but I know that I had it while I was in law school (1981-1984). After reading of Sheila Lukins’ death, I looked at the book and realized that I wanted to cook almost everything. I also wanted to thank her and her partner Julie Russo, for opening the door onto really interesting food that has become deli fare (ratatouille, spinach pesto, salmon mousse, phyllo triangles, etc). We have made progress.

Much of the memorial chat about Lukins has centered on Chicken Marbella and how it changed the world for a generation of cooks. With respect, the life-changing recipe for me was Pasta Sauce Raphael, a spicy tomato-and-artichoke sauce which you can serve hot, cold or at room temperature. It freezes like a dream. If you omit the Romano cheese, it is vegan.

Armed with a tasting spoon the first time I made it, I was about 80% finished when I called my best friends all over the country with a news flash. In my best Bossy Imperative Voice, I said “Drop everything. There is nothing more important for you to do today than to make this sauce. It is fabulous.” I stand by that directive.

The Silver Palate was written before the discovery of cholesterol and the demonization of butter. The original recipe is true to Lukins’ and Russo’s ethic of using the largest possible quantity of oil or butter that could be absorbed by any food group. For this sauce, I recommend cutting the oil from ½ cup to 2 T. While Lukins calls for 1 small dried red pepper finely crushed, the sauce benefits from additional hot pepper. I use ½ tsp of cayenne and at least 1 T of crushed red peppers. Finally, please, please if you don’t have a functioning pepper mill, get one now. I once crushed the 3 T of black peppercorns with an improvised crushing device (perhaps a wine bottle). It was a mistake: the sauce was crunchy.

Pasta Sauce Raphael (adapted from The Silver Palate)

1 # boxed, strained tomatoes or canned petite diced tomatoes
2 6-oz jars marinated artichoke hearts
2 T best quality olive oil (or neutral canola oil, if you prefer)
2 c finely chopped onions
4-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
¼ c dried basil (yes, really)
½ c finely chopped Italian parsley (or 1/4 c dried parsley -- there is no Parsley Police)
1 T crushed dried red pepper
½ tsp cayenne pepper
3 T fresh black pepper, finely ground (not ground to dust)
1 T salt
¼ c grated Romano cheese (omit for vegans)

1. Drain the artichokes and reserve the marinade. Trim any tough artichoke leaves. Roughly chop into small bites, keeping in mind that the onions have been finely diced.

2. Over medium heat in a large saucepan sauté the onions, garlic, basil, parsley, dried red pepper and cayenne for five minutes.

3. Add the ground pepper. Stir for a minute.

4. Add the tomatoes and 1 tsp of the salt. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Stir occasionally.

5. Add the artichoke marinade and simmer, stirring often, for 30 minutes.

6. Stir in the artichokes and continue to simmer until the sauce is very thick.

7. Add the Romano cheese. You may need to add some additional salt at this point – taste first.


  • Marinated artichoke hearts: The best jarred artichoke hearts used to come from California. They now come from everywhere, and when they are good, they are very good, and when they are nasty, they re-define the term. Don't even think of using artichokes in a fat-free marinade. Taste the artichokes and the marinade before you add it to your sauce.
  • If you love mushrooms... Chop fine one pound of mushrooms and make duxelles, which is the immensely pleasurable task of cooking the mushrooms (and shallots if you insist) slowly in butter until they resemble well-cooked and dry finely ground beef. Duxelles taste like the concentrated essence of mushrooms. If you can resist eating this treasure from the pan with a spoon, add them with the artichokes in step 6. NOTE: Ignore any duxelles recipe that says that this can be made in under 30 minutes. The authors are fooling themselves -- don't let them fool you.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


THE BALL FOOD GROUP Beloved by caterers, small children, dedicated snackers and fun-loving adults, the “Ball” food group looms large in the world of appetizers because they use the toothpick delivery system. During the past 35 years, I have made thousands of Spinach Balls with my Mother, my sister and friends. I almost always have a bag in my freezer. Always seeking new horizons, I spent a good deal of the 1990s trying to perfect a really really spicy meatball (hot Italian sausage is a key ingredient and baking them seals the deal), and I’ve found that you can store balls of leftover Pimento Cheese in the freezer, as well.

Thanks to Minnesota Trial Court Judge Susan Miles, one of my many friends who see interesting cookbooks and think “Susan Gainen should have that,” I have discovered a new member of the “Ball” Food Group -- Broccoli Balls. The Junior League of Owensboro’s first cookbook, To Market, To Market is charming and even without its inspirational recipes it is worth getting because of its enchanting illustrations of a very elegant family of pigs. The Junior League also sells a second cookbook, Home Again, Home Again, and greeting cards with the pigs. Check it out.

BROCCOLI BALLS (adapted from To Market, To Market by the Junior League of Owensboro, Kentucky, Inc.)

My goal was to recreate the broccoli-cheese dip experience, so part of the cheese mixture had to be good quality sharp orange cheddar and other sharp cheddars. Cheese and broccoli are the major flavors, so don’t stint on the cheddar and roast the broccoli (see below). If you double or triple this recipe, freeze them for 3-4 hours on a parchment covered baking sheet and pack into freezer bags. Place frozen Broccoli Balls in the freezer next to your stash of Spinach Balls.

Roast the Broccoli Roasting the broccoli adds critical punch to the flavor. Slightly defrost frozen broccoli and roast on parchment at 400 degrees until some of the edges are crisp and brown. Cool and chop fine in your food processor. If you use fresh, coarsely chop it and roast as above.

Broccoli Note: Chopped Broccoli used to be sold in 10 ounce boxes. In my local market I can find 16 ounce bags.
Alternate Flavor Note: There is no Broccoli Ball Police, so feel free to add curry powder, soy-hoisin, basil/oregano, or lots of garlic.

16-20 oz frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and roasted OR 2 cups of fresh chopped broccoli
8 oz grated sharp cheddar or the very full-flavored cheeses of your choice
2-1/2 cups stuffing mix or 6 slices of bread, toasted and processed to crumbs
1 stick of butter, melted
2 eggs
2-4 green onions, or a small red onion or shallot
1 tsp red chili or cayenne
salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Roast the broccoli as above. Let cool and chop fine in the food processor after grating the cheese.
2. Reduce the oven heat to 350.
3. In the food processor: grate the cheese. Remove to a large bowl.
4. In the food processor: process the stuffing mix or toast to crumbs. Remove to the bowl and mix.
5. In the food processor: process the eggs, onion or shallot with chili or cayenne and salt and pepper. Pour over the cheese and bread mixture. Add the melted butter. Mix thoroughly.
6. Add the broccoli. Mix well and form into small balls that hold together. One well rounded, packed tablespoon makes a good-sized Broccoli Ball.
7. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until they are brown and crisp-looking. Bake 30 minutes if frozen.
8. Dipping sauces: honey mustard, wasabi mustard...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Berry Crisp...if not now, then when....

If not now, then when? This is high cherry and berry season and berry crisps are versatile and foolproof.
If you like pie but don’t want to make pie crust , you can add some flour to a pile of cherries or berries, spread on the crisp topping, and you’ve got CRISP in an hour or so. If you want baked and still juicy cherries or berries with crunchy topping to layer with ice cream, pile in the fruit, spread the crisp topping and bake.
My Apple Crisp topping comes from a former colleague whose grandmother’s recipe fortunately was not in the hand-written notebook that I mistakenly recycled years ago. It is a brown sugar crisp and works well with apples and pears. For berries and cherries, I use white sugar, and pulverize roasted unsalted almonds and candied ginger in the food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Both recipes are below.
1. Put a lined baking sheet or a sheet of foil on the rack below your baking rack or else plan to clean the oven after this dessert boils over.
2. Crisps are fully baked when four things happen: your kitchen smells fabulous, the crisp looks crisp and brown, you can see bubbling juice around the sides of the pan, and you can hear the sound of the bubbles.
3. You may take enormous liberties with the type and amount of fresh and dried fruit, berries and cherries that you put into a crisp. Your friends and family will compliment you on your creativity.
4. You can make crisps out of frozen fruit – and now is the time to buy perfect fresh berries and to freeze them. Lay them out in a single layer to freeze, and then pack into freezer bags.
5. No one will complain if you double the amount of crisp topping.
Missy’s Grandmother’s Apple Crisp
1. Spray or butter a 9x13 Pyrex pan. Use parchment or silicon to line the pan if you like. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Peel and core 10 Granny Smith Apples; slice thin into water with a few T of lemon juice.
3. Drain the apples and layer them tightly up to the top of the pan.
4. Sprinkle the top with 2-3 T lemon juice.
5. For the Topping: Mix 1 cup brown sugar, ¾ flour, 1 stick of butter, 1 tsp cinnamon, pinch of salt. You can buzz this in the food processor, or do it the old fashioned way – either with two forks or a pastry blender. The crisp should look and feel like crumbly sand.
6. Spread the topping over the apples.
7. Add ¼ cup of liquid – a little bit in each corner. You may use water, apple juice, apple jack, Calvados or the liquid of your choice.
8. Bake at 375 for 50-60 minutes or until you can see and hear bubbling juice.
Cherry or Berry Crisp
1. Butter or spray an 8x8 or 9x9 pan. Use parchment or silicone to line the pan if you like. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Mix 5-6 cups of berries and or cherries (Optional: include up to ½ cup of dried berries or cherries) in the pan. If you are aiming for a pie-like dessert, mix in 2 T flour with the fruit. If your goal is juicy berries and crispy crisp (for ice cream or because that’s the way you like it), omit the flour.
3. For the Topping: Mix ½ cup almonds; ¼ cup candied ginger, ¾ cup white sugar, ¾ cup flour, 1 stick of butter, ¼ tsp salt, ¼ tsp cinnamon. Buzz this in the food processor until it looks like crumbly sand.
4. Spread the topping over the berries.
5. Add ¼ cup of liquid – a little bit in each corner. You may use water, tart cherry juice, or cherry or berry liquor. If there are cherries in your dessert, and you remember to do this, reduce 2 cups of tart cherry juice to ½ cup. Put ¼ cup in the dessert and the rest into a glass of something sparkly for the cook.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Never fail fruit (and beet!) torte: Thank you, Marian Burros

After mistakenly recycling a treasured 20-year collection of handwritten recipes, the first one that I recovered and entered into a large, heavy leather-bound journal was Marian Burros’ Plum Torte, which she first published in the New York Times on August 14, 1984.

It was one of the most requested Times recipes – ever -- and she republished it along with some great reader stories and questions in The Best of DeGustibus (1988, Simon and Shuster). Between the torte and the recipe for plum jam in Laurie Colwin’s More Home Cooking (1995, Perennial), Italian Prune plums are market prizes for me now.

But this torte is a treasure because it isn’t a One Trick (fruit) Pony. While it sings with Italian Plums, it welcomes all plums, stone fruits, strawberries, blueberries (fresh and dried), and, especially good news for beet lovers – roasted beets. It is also very good with roasted carrots. Beets and carrots may be surprises in dessert, but, trust me -- they will be welcome surprises.

Among this torte's other sterling qualities are its limited tool requirements (bowl, spoon, small baking pan: no stand mixer required), flexibility (although it calls for two eggs, one will do nicely), multiplicity (double, triple, quadruple to your heart’s content), and the fact that it freezes easily and thaws beautifully.

A note on baking pans: this works in a spring form pan, in 8 or 9# square pans or in 8 or 9# rounds. If you have silicone liners, use them, but butter or spray the silicone and the pans well.

All Purpose Torte (adapted from DeGustibus)

For one 8x8 or 9x9, or two six inch rounds

1 cup sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
2 eggs (1 egg will work just fine)
Choice of: 12 plums, pitted and cut in half
10 oz strawberries, trimmed and cut in half
1 pint of blueberries
1 cup of dried blueberries, reconstituted in blueberry vodka or water
2 cups of roasted beets or carrots, cut into bite sized pieces
Topping: 1 T sugar, 2 T lemon juice, dusting of cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Butter or line a pan (see note above) with silicone liner.

2. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and mix until the egg is combined.

3. Whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Add to the butter and sugar mixture and mix until all of the flour has disappeared.

4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Add the fruits or vegetables in rows or circles. If you are using stone fruits, put them in skin side up.

5. Top with sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon.

6. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

7. IF FREEZING: cool completely, wrap tightly in double plastic and then in double foil. Reheat at 300 for 20 minutes.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ginger Lemon Oatmeal Bars: your rasp is a flavor blaster!

Let me be clear: I love crisp, spicy oatmeal cookies. My Mother made wonderful oatmeal cookies. Lots and lots of them. I have a taste memory that has never quit.

What I have no patience for, however, is actually making cookies. One at a time; one by one. No way. No how. With the exception of some marathon Ginger Bread Snowflake and Person events and a delightfully crazy stint with some dear friends and their Spritz device, I haven't made cookies for three decades.

But when the urge for the oatmeal taste comes over me, I can make Oatmeal Bars. And, with all due respect for my Mother's memory and the memory of her cookies, my oatmeal bars are turbo-charged with lemon and ginger. They are quick and easy. The turbo-flavor tool is a Microplane zester, which makes quick work of the lemon zest and grates the ginger, too! You should you should have at least one.


1 stick of softened butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (see note below)
1/4 cup candied ginger
2 T milk (1%, 2%)
1 large egg
zest of one lemon (1-2 T)
juice of one lemon (1-2 T)
2 T grated fresh ginger
1-1/4 cup rolled oats (regular or quick)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp dried ginger
1 cup raisins or dried cherries

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Butter or Pam an 8x8 or 9x9 square pan.
2. Cream the butter, sugars and the candied ginger for 4 minutes. The ginger will thump in your mixer and remain lumpy. Ignore the thumps and lumps.
3. Add the milk, egg, lemon zest and juice and grated ginger to the butter/sugar mixture, which may curdle. Beat for two minutes and ignore the curdling.
4. In a small bowl, mix together the oats, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger. Use a fork or a small whisk. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in two additions. Beat until just combined -- don't beat this to death.
5. Add the raisins or cherries. You may need to mix these in by hand.
6. Spread into the prepared pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes. There are two tests for doneness: the clean toothpick test (after 50 minutes) and the really brown dark oatmeal cookie test (after 60 minutes). If you like your oatmeal cookies on the deeply brown side, expect the longer baking time.

Dark brown sugar: I grew up in the Washington DC metro area, and because it is in the culinary South, dark brown sugar is really dark brown and has a strong molasses flavor. For the first 10 years that I lived in Minnesota, I thought I was imagining a brown-sugar-flavor deficit. About six years ago, I began importing really dark brown sugar from DC (5 pounds at a time in my luggage). No more: I can get really, truly molassesey dark brown sugar at the Super Target near my house. Thank you, Target Sugar Buyer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More time-saving bread-baking books

In late 2006I joined thousands who cheered Mark Bittman's a life-changing New York Times piece about uber-crusted-full-flavored bread from blazing hot pan in hot home ovens. In early 2007 I put that bread into French Toast.

While Publishers Weekly has a laundry list of new bread books in the pipeline, I have already made a space on my shelf for Jim Lahey, who had instructed and inspired Bittman, and his My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste (Norton, Oct.). I can't wait.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Buy this book: "Baked" by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito

My friends in the University of Minnesota Law School Alumni office have perfect pitch: at a great farewell party, they gave me the amazing Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, New York, 2008). I opened the book to the picture of Butterscotch Pudding Tarts (p. 104), and, for the first time in my life, I said "food porn" and meant it in a good way.

Kelsey Dilts McGregor did the right thing -- she made the Banana Cupcakes with Vanilla Pastry Cream (p. 70) just to make sure the book was good enough to give as a gift. I absolutely believe in testing and in preview. Thanks, Kelsey.

I've had this book for a week, and I am two-for-two -- both are winners. Because it was her birthday, my former colleague Stacey Tidball got the first pick of cakes. Mindful that one person is the office is violently allergic to chocolate, she steered clear, and picked Lemon Lime Bars (p. 119), the aforementioned Butterscotch Pudding Tarts, Pumpkin Whoopie Pies (p. 151) and Peanut Butter Pie (p. 100). Even saying these things out loud is a pleasure. Because Lemon Bars are practically a State Food of Minnesota, I went for the Lemon Lime Bars with the graham cracker-toasted coconut crust. Unable to leave well enough alone, I now add candied ginger to the crust. Making the filling requires a candy thermometer. Don't flinch -- just buy one.

But Baked isn't just about sweet baking. If you crave a cheese biscuit that's loaded with cheddar and has a real kick, Chipotle Cheddar Biscuits (p. 35) are for you. They require no special equipment. Bake them and pop the leftovers into the freezer. While you can defrost them in the microwave, they are best reheated in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. You will amaze and astonish your guests, and I guarantee that these biscuits will be Best Friends to your winter chili, summer salads and to year-round tomato soup.

Lemon Lime Bars
(adapted from Baked)
Several people I know will skip the crust and make the filling, which is a lemon-lime curd and cries out for a spoon. While I love the crust, especially with ginger, I fully endorse that plan.

Tools: food processor to grind graham crackers and ginger
9x13 baking pan
candy thermometer
fine mesh sieve and a spatula

Graham-Coconut-Candied Ginger Crust
1 c. sweetened shredded coconut
2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c. candied ginger, chopped or processed with the graham crackers
2 T. firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted

Lemon Lime Filling
11 large egg yolks*
3 large eggs
1-3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c.fresh lemon juice
2 T fresh lime juice
2 T grated lemon zest
2 T grated lime zest
1-1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup heavy cream

Make the Crust
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Butter or spray the bottom and sides of a 9x13 inch baking pan.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment and toast the coconut until it starts to turn golden (7-10 minutes). Remove from the oven, toss the coconut and return it to the oven for 3 more minutes, or until it starts to smell and is dark gold. Check it every minute after 2 minutes. Burnt coconut is not good.

3. Use a food processor to crush the graham crackers into crumbs. Process the ginger in the same bowl.

4. Put the graham and ginger mixture in a bowl. Using your hands, add the coconut and the brown sugar and mix well. Add the melted butter, and still using your hands, firmly press the crust into the prepared pan. Using a measuring cup as a press will help make an even crust.

5. Refrigerate the crust for 15 minutes, and then bake it for 10 minutes. Cool the crust before adding the filling.

Make the Filling

1. Increase the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

2. Mix the egg yolks, eggs, sugar, lemon and lime juices and zests in a deep clean metal pot. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture reaches 180 degrees. This may take 10 minutes. Do not walk away from this mixture -- if it burns, you will have to start over.

3. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and the cream. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve directly onto the cooled crust. Make certain that you scrape the underside of the sieve to capture ALL of the filling. Tap the pan to make an even layer. NOTE: Fully strained lemon lime curd is smooth and silky. If you don't have a fine-mesh sieve, use a spaghetti strainer and know that you'll have some lemon and lime zest in your bars.

4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the filling is just set. Test for "set" by shaking the pan. When it barely wiggles, it is done. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for a least two hours. Cut into squares.

* What about the egg whites? You can make a lot of omelets or Pavlova. While New Zealanders and Australians continue their dispute over the origin of the Pav, you can make this giant meringue and top it with summer fruits.

Buy this book for yourself or for a baker who loves you.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Carrot Cake: the last "official" office birthday cake

After 16 years at the University of Minnesota Law School in the career office (it had four names in 16 years), I have taken advantage of an opportunity and changed careers. Beginning in June 2009, I will sit at the helm of three enterprises: Pass The Baton llc, which manages generation shift by capturing and transferring mission critical information; nanoscapes llc, a launching pad for tiny and giant watercolors and needlepoint designs; and a modest cooking school called "Susan-Cooks!" which will have its official opening in late June 2009. Question about the cooking school? ( or 651-917-0219)

While there were many things that I loved about my work (work with students, alumni, administrators and employers, learning about individual students and their dreams and goals), I especially cherish my colleagues for supporting my Baking Explorations.

After declaring my 50th birthday year the Year of 50 Cakes, when I baked on Sunday and delivered a cake for critique on Mondays, I continued the project to about 120 (that list will be published shortly). I imposed on my friends to vet eight versions the Lemon Ginger Pound Cakes for a Minnesota State Fair Entry (which didn't survive freezing that was required by my Off Campus Interview Travel Schedule) and they sat in judgment of my first five pecan pies, favoring the 2-cups-of-pecans-and-bourbon version and, in a complete surprise to all, they voted Mark Bittman's Custard Pecan Pie from the first (yellow) edition of How to Cook Everything, a strong second place.

So long as they didn't mind my spirit of experimentation, anyone who spoke up got his or her choice of birthday cake. In April 2009, we celebrated Director Alan Haynes, whose favorite is carrot cake. And, because many people asked, I made an an extra bowl of cream cheese frosting.

This recipe is particularly easy if you have a food processor with a fine grating blade to make quick work of the carrots. Because this is a sheet cake, the "frosting" skill is ultra-simple -- "dump and slather." Note that you need two cups of pecans, one for the cake and one for the top of the frosting.

Carrot Cake III (adapted from an posting by Tammy Elliott.

4 eggs
1-1/4 cups canola or other neutral oil
2 c white sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 c all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 c grated carrots -- the fine grind in a food processor or on a hand grater
1 c chopped pecans, toasted

1/2 c butter
8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 c confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c chopped pecans, toasted (optional addition to the frosting or sprinkled on the top of the cake)

1. Preheat the over to 350. Grease and flour a 9x13 pan.
2. Toast the two cups of pecans on a flat pan in the oven while it heats to 350. (10 minutes or until they are fragrant.)
3. Using a stand mixer if you have one, combine the eggs, oil, sugar, and vanilla. Beat for 3 minutes.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk (or stir) the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together. Slowly add the flour to the sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined. If you dump it in all at once, the flour will be on your ceiling.
5. Add the carrots, and beat at slow speed until just combined. Stir in the pecans by hand.
6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then flip it onto a wire rack to cool completely. For easy frosting and transport, pop the cooled cake back into the pan.
7. To make the frosting, combine all of the ingredients except the pecans. Beat until smooth. Use the "dump and slather" method to frost the cooled cake. Top with extra pecans if they you haven't eaten them.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Homemade Salami?

If you read cookbooks or food blogs more than once a year, you may have a mild-to-moderate curiosity about food. If you have a vast collection of cookbooks (I have more than 800) or you subscribe to multiple food blogs and newsletters, you may be moderately-to-extremely interested or obsessed with food. Wherever you fall on the cooking continuum -- enjoy yourself!

Because trips to my favorite Chinese Restaurant (Shuang Cheng in Minneapolis) often require stops at one of Dinkytown's two used bookstores (Cummins and the Book House), the ultimate bill for $7.00 worth of Chinese food is often north of $25. Last Friday was no exception. I came away with very excellent Singapore Noodles, The King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book and The Aveda Cookbook (no authors, no title page, no date -- just a small three-ring notebook with recipes from Aveda staff from around the world).

I expected whole grains with a side of cucumber for facials -- instead, I found a very typical "Church Lady" cookbook with bars, hot dish and dips. There was, however, one surprise, and it was on the first page I turned to. Homemade Salami (contributed by Jennifer Schrepfer from Blaine).

I'm no expert in charcuterie, and what I know about sausage and salami-making consists of knowing that it is a technical and often mysterious process. I also have a finely honed ability to find those products at a butcher shop or grocery store when I need to -- which is about once a year.

But Homemade Salami? I was intrigued. As intrigued as I've always been with Laurie Colwin's Spiced Beef from More Home Cooking: A writer returns to the kitchen, (HarperCollins Publishers, 1993), which requires you to make room in the fridge for 12 days for a hunk of beef that you rub each day with brown sugar, sea salt, black pepper, juniper berries and allspice and then bake for five hours at 290 degrees. I apologize to all of the guests for whom I have wanted to make this dish since I first read the recipe in 1993.

Compared to Spiced Beef, which, admittedly doesn't sound too time consuming, Homemade Salami is a snap. The recipe is easily multiplied or divided. You'd be welcomed at any buffet with a roll of this salami, some good bread and spicy mustard, and it makes a great meatloaf-like sandwich. Season this to your taste. The original recipe called for a good quantity of mustard seeds, which I didn't have. I substituted Penzey's Ancho chili powder, upped the crushed red pepper and added more black pepper. The umbrella flavor here is the liquid hickory smoke -- everything else is a supporting player.

Tools you will need:
1 bowl which will hold the entire recipe and which will fit into your refrigerator
1 large sheet pan
1 rack on which to bake the salami
1 set of tongs for turning the salami as it bakes

Homemade Salami

5 pounds ground chuck
4 T Kosher salt
2 tsp garlic powder
1 T chili powder (I used Ancho)
1-2 T coarse ground black pepper
2-3 t Wright's liquid hickory smoke
1-2 T hot crushed red pepper

1. Mix all ingredients well. Pack into a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Form into rolls. I have a kitchen scale and I was able to weigh out 12-oz rolls.
3. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Spray a rack with vegetable spray. Lay the rolls onto the rack.
4. Bake at 170 degrees for 8 hours, turning about every 30 minutes.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Ginger-Chili Krispee Treets (Updated)

A few years ago I began to add chopped candied ginger to krispee treets (no copyright infrigement here), and they were well received. Never willing to leave well enough alone, and always willing to add chili and cayenne to backstop ginger, I found that these are great surprise on the snack table and terrific with rum drinks.

March 2009 updates:
1. Forget the 9x13 pan. Use a full sheet pan and a silicon mat. Stir everything with silicon spatulas.
2. Buzz the candied and dried ginger, chili powder, cayenne and salt (new!) in a small food processor and add the mixture to the melted butter.

5 T butter (yes, butter, not margarine or oil)
1/4-1/3 cup of chopped candied ginger (not minced -- but a small chop)
3/4 tsp chili powder (not Texas Chili powder)
1/8 tsp cayenne powder
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp salt
1 10-oz bag of marshmallows
6 cups of rice cereal

1. Line a 9x13" pan with parchment or butter it well.

2. Put the butter, chopped ginger, chili, cayenne and powdered ginger into a large (preferably non-stick) pan. Stir occasionally while the butter melts, then add the marshmallows. Stir until the marshmallows are melted and the mixture is a consistent color. Unlike the traditional recipe, in which you just melt the marshmallows and butter, you want to cook this mixture for at least a minute -- let it bubble but not burn.

3. Add the cereal, mix it well , dump it into the pan, and press the mixture to make flat, even bars. Cut into cubes or bars with a sharp knife when cool.

4. ANOTHER WAY: Flatten the mixture on a silicon mat in a large sheet pan. Imagine that they are Cheese Straws and cut into long narrow strips.