About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Star Brioche

I know Christmas is over but I was so busy making these, I didn't have time to post this.  It's a wonderful Christmas morning baked good or any time brunch item.  I cranked out quite a few as gifts and they make for "WOW" impression.  My hairdresser said he had to sit down he was so thrilled.  They can be filled with either cinnamon/sugar, Nutella, fruit jam, lemon curd or cheese.  If wrapped well, they freeze nicely too.

My big secret is I have a bread machine to make the dough in. It's a time saver and makes for a consistent dough with the right environment for the dough to rise in.  While there is a heating element in the machine which enables baking, I always prefer baking in a conventional oven.  I used the  1 1/2 pound recipe for brioche from Fleishmans's Breadworld and use the dough setting on the machine.

The recipe calls for bread flour but it can be made with all purpose flour successfully.  All purpose doesn't rise as much.

Layer in order in the bread machine:

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons water
3 large eggs
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), cut into pieces
3 tbls sugar
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups bread flour
4 1/2 tsp active yeast (2 packets)

Layer ingredients in order in the bread machine
Remove dough after the course in completed (mine takes 1 hr and 50 minutes) onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 4 equal parts.  I also have a scale to ensure each is the same size.  Roll the first piece of dough into a 10 inch circle, using a cake pan to as a guide to trim the edges.  Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  Spread 1/4 cup filling onto the dough leaving a 1/2 inch bare border around the edge.

Do the same with the next two quarters of dough.  Don't spread anything on the top layer of dough.  Take a 3 inch cookie cutter or small jelly jar and make an impression in the center of the dough.  Then make 16 cuts with a sharp knife around the edge of the circle impression.  It may help to chill the dough for 15 minutes before cutting.
Stretch and twist twice
Tuck the ends under

Lift two wedges of dough at a time, give them a slight tug and then twist them away from each other, twice and then tuck the ends under. Continue the same technique all the way around.  Cover and let rise 1 hour.  Brush with 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of cream and bake in a 350 degree oven for
35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Be creative with your filling but remember not to spread too much between layers.
Ham & Cheese version

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Salt Encrusted Whole Snapper

I had watched this preparation of whole fish a couple of times by Martha Stewart and Sara Moulton and found it intriguing.  I recall ordering a whole herb stuffed Branzino in Italy and forgotten they present the whole fish to the dining patron then remove it to be filleted by the server.  There's a formality and ceremony about this and, without thinking, picked up my knife and fork to tackle the task myself.  The waiter swooped in to rescue the fish from my butchery and probably muttered something under his breath about stupid Americans.

The salt crust is even more dramatic as the cracking of the crust reveals a whole fish with some flourish.  Brush away the excess salt, then carefully peel back the skin to reveal silky, moist flesh  perfectly seasoned.  It's struck me as a great company entree that had a "ta da" moment to it.  I practiced on a striped bass and then a Branzino before purchasing a near 6 pound snapper.  The fish monger trimmed off the fins, scaled, gutter and gilled the fish. The snapper didn't have as big a cavity for stuffing because of a bone but it was tasty anyway.  It's not too hard to do but try a smaller fish like trout first.  If you want a dish that impresses, try this.  The drawback, may be the pin bones depending on the fish, so warn your guest and pick out as many as you can before serving.  The Branzino had too many, the large snapper had more flesh, less bone.

All it takes is a box of kosher salt and egg whites. Use 1 cup of salt and one egg white per pound of whole fish, remembering you will lose half the fish's weight to waste (head, bones, tail).  Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix the egg whites, salt and any other spices until it feels like wet sand. Add more of either to get the right texture. Rinse the fish under cold water and pat dry. Stuff the cavity with fennel fronds, sliced lemon, leek and  thyme.

Make a half inch bed of salt for the fish after stuffing the cavity, then lay the fish on top of the salt and pack remaining salt mix tightly over the fish leaving just the mouth and tail exposed.  Bake at 400 degrees, 10 minutes to the pound until golden. Remove from the oven and let rest 10-15 minutes. Rap the salt with the back side of a spoon and break away the salt crust.  Brush away the excess salt and carefully peel back the skin. Remove as many pin bones as possible and fillet. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon.  Heaven!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Every Grandmother Should Know How to Make "Wanilla" Cake with "Camel" Icing

A small voice behind me asked, "Can we make wanilla cake with camel icing?"  Usually, he only asks for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I only hesitated a second as I quickly calculated the ingredients I had on hand.  "Yes", I replied, never wanting to discourage anyone from cooking.  My pantry is deep into the basics so I knew I could come up with ingredients that would make his "wanilla" preference. I asked if he might want to try a chocolate icing but he was adamant, he wanted "camel".  Me too, it runs in the genes.  I just happened to have a jar of my caramel sauce in the refrigerator and knew when warmed and blended with some powdered sugar it would make perfectly good icing.  I fashioned a little apron for him and let him stand on a step ladder.

I pulled out my big standing mixer, assembled the ingredients and let him help measure and pour.  No   box mixes for this granny.  I'm scratch all the way.  What a joy!  Can you remember making a cake with your mother or grandmother?  I can.  I remember it was a Betty Crocker box mix of "pink lemonade" flavor.  I was about the same age when my mother let me stir and lick the spoon and with that, the fire was lit.  I know he's made cup cakes and pizza with his mother so this request wasn't without some prior experience.

I let him pick from my selection of sprinkles and he really got into the decoration part.  He asked me, as he worked hard at scraping all the batter up, if I had gone to school to learn to make cakes.  I said, no, but there where cooking schools that taught all sorts of things. He said he might like to go someday.  Hmm, maybe we lit a little spark here.

If you have a small child around who wants to bake a cake, be ready!  It just flour, eggs, butter, milk, salt, a little "wanilla" and a big dash of love.  The reward is priceless.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Plum Chutney, Plum Good

I love chutney.  It's an artistic blend of sweet and savory with a hint of spice.  It can be as complex as you like and plum chutney marries a late summer stone fruit with a fall flavor.  I love the rich color and taste with a pork tenderloin or smoky pork chop. I'll serve it throughout the holiday season.  Easy to make, it's a nice gift for a culinary friend and better than cranberry anything.

1 1/2 lbs purple skin plums, split, pit removed and roughly chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled and diced
2 tbls spoon olive oil
2 tbls shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup ruby port
1/4 pomegranate juice
2 tbls fig balsamic
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 whole cloves
pinch of salt

In a large sauce pan heat the oil over medium heat and add the diced shallot.  Cook, stirring frequently until softened.  Add the plums and apple, stirring and cook 2-3 minutes making sure the fruit does not stick.  Add the brown sugar and salt, stirring to coat the fruit.  Add the port, pomegranate juice cinnamon stick, anise and cloves.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce the heat and allow to cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened, about 30-40 minutes .  Remove from heat and stir in the fig balsamic.  Cover and let sit until cooled.  Remove the cinnamon stick, anise and cloves.  Store in a jar and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

How Does A Working Girl Cook? Heat & Eat

"Ahead", is the correct answer.  After a day chained to the desk, what's the best way to avoid the uninspired, if not resentful, trip to the grocery or take-out?  Plan, cook and freeze in advance of the working week for a heat and eat dinner.  I know spending Saturday shopping and Sunday cooking may not be your idea of a great weekend but it sure pays off.  I've recently been pulled back into the working ranks as my husband's office is shorthanded for a few weeks.  It trashes my ritual of coffee, morning meditation and emails, then exercise, errands, shopping, research then cooking.   I had to really plan, organize, double up recipes and make a lot of freezer space.  Well, it has paid off as the work day is more like: coffee, quick breakfast, pull something out of the freezer to thaw for dinner, battle traffic, work, work, eat my brown bag lunch (which is pretty good), head to the gym after work (not the grocery store) pick up the dog from day care, heat up dinner and pack my lunch for tomorrow.  At the most I've steamed some broccoli or made up some salad dressing.  All this to say, effort and organization takes some of the sting out of that 9 to 5 stuff.

The problem I see is, make ahead dishes are limiting.  I can't pull off my Monday night roast chicken at 6:30 much less clean up. I'd have to move that to Friday or Sunday.  So I've pulled out the stews, pot pies, meat loaf and a few tricks with the sous vide and vacuum sealer like pork chops and chicken breasts.  The multi function set on pressure cooker helped out with turnip greens and lady cream peas, the rice function turned out rice pilaf.  I threw in a casserole or two and the bread machine will keep us in fresh bread and rolls for a couple of weeks.  There's more but you get the idea.

As I've preached from the beginning, good food takes time and a working girl does't get to spend that much time in the kitchen.  I've got all the gadgets to help but as a slow food person I'm glad to know I've still got the chops to work and feed us at the same time.  I'm rather proud I'm up to the challenge and could shift gears to accommodate the need.

This will be a short lived thing and I'll be back in my kitchen restocking my freezer and making ridiculously complicated recipes with too many steps and ingredients.  I'll be driving here and there tracking down the exact ingredients and making a total wreck of my kitchen.  I'm realizing I don't care so much what or how I cook, it's that I cook.  A friend once said, "You must be bored."  Not at all.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Cold Zucchini Soup from Union Square Cafe

It started so innocently.  We were in New York on a hot summer day and thought we'd try to get in the Union Square Cafe for lunch. We wanted something light; soup and salad with some of their wonderful bread.  After a few tastes, we looked at each other and I said, "This is perfection."  Perfectly light but flavorful cold zucchini soup and a simple salad perfectly dressed with a perfect vinaigrette rounded out by delicious bread and fresh cream butter.  One of the better meals I've had in a restaurant in recent memory. It may sound strange to order just soup and salad at one of the more notable New York restaurants, but it was just right at the right time.  I tracked down the vinaigrette made with grapeseed oil but had to tackle the zucchini soup as best I could.  I'm not a big zucchini fan but I'm obsessed with this soup.  It's so simple and doesn't take long to make. The basil is my idea.

2 tbls olive oil
3 cups grated zucchini, about 3 medium.
1 cup diced sweet onion
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 cup fresh packed basil leaves
2 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred)
1/4 cup heavy cream

Heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the zucchini, onion and crushed red pepper flakes.  Add the salt and pepper and cook until vegetables are soft but not browned and the vegetables  have released their liquid. Take off heat and let cool for 15 minutes.  Transfer to a high speed blender or food processor and add basil and chicken stock.  Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning, add cream and blend. Chill throughly, 6 hours or over night. Garnish with fresh basil or coutons.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Cool Idea on a Hot 4th of July, Grilled Corn Salad.

Here we are at the midpoint of summer with all the earmarks of sun, sand and casual dining.   My husband will be sweating it out with a beer over a hot grill and I'm not sure the homemade ice cream  will make it from spoon to mouth without melting.  It's really a day for salads and my new favorite is grilled corn.  It's just the right summer thing to go with a cook out meal.  It's got the flavor of the grill, bringing a nuttiness to the sweet corn and a savory balance of tomato, shallot, feta and basil.  Dressed with a bright lemon vinaigrette it's a crowd pleaser.  If you don't have a grill, improvise with a gas flame cook top.  It take a bit more time but works just a well.

8 ears sweet corn shucked and cleaned of silk and lightly brushed with 1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
1 large shallot finely diced
1 cup feta cheeses crumbled
1 cup basil leaves torn
Chopped flat leaf Italian parsley to finish

Place the corn over hot coals and turn every two minutes until about half the kernels are a nice brown. Keep a close eye they do not burn.  Allow corn to cool and wipe off any remaining silk with a paper towel.  Cut the kernels off the cob into a large bowl.  Slice the cherry tomatoes in two and add the shallot and feta.  Add the dressing to taste. Don't use all of it.  Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.  Add the basil and parsley just before serving.

For the dressing:

1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine ingredients and whisk or shake vigorously.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Granola Retirement Plan

I get in a rut with breakfast sometimes; smoothies, toast with avocado spread on it, hard boiled eggs, etc. Last weekend we took a road trip with my son and his wife's family to Oxford, Mississippi and I noticed my son ordered fresh made granola and yogurt for breakfast.  So I came home and whipped some up.  Easy to make along with yogurt in my multi function cooker, both fairly passive recipes.  I gave a bag to my son and he texted me later, "Think this granola may be your retirement plan."
Be sure to use Old Fashion oats, not quick cook.

  1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup light brown sugar
4 tsp  vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup oil
5 cup Old Fashion Oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds
                                    2 cups Trader Joes Golden Dried Fruit Mix

 Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Whisk together the maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and oil  in a large bowl.  Add the oats, almonds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds and stir until blended and the oats are throughly coated.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread the mixture evenly on the baking sheet using a spatula pressing it down to make it as flat as possible.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through baking. Then remove from oven and cool for one hour.  Break into coarse pieces and mix with the dried fruit.  Store in a zip lock bag or air tight container. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

It Must Be Spring, Bunnies, Carrots and Eggs

Easter has come and gone but I'm looking back on what I've cooked in the last few weeks and it's definitely showing signs of Spring.  I went to Williams-Sonoma to get a minor thing and came out with a cute bunny cake mold for Easter.  I've been obsessed with timbales lately and a carrot/parsnip
version has been on my dinner menu frequently with rave reviews.
Ah! Eggs are a seasonal theme and a new way to use them is in the sensational soup Avgeolmono. A Greek version of chicken and rice soup thickened with a puree of rice and eggs then seasoned with dill and coriander.  It's a new fav.

Carrot Timbal

1 lb carrots peeled and grated
1 parsnip peeled and grated
4 tbls butter
1 egg
1 cup chicken broth
2 oz heavy cream
grated nutmeg
salt to taste

Saute grated carrots and parsnip in butter until softened, about 5 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes then transfer to a blender or food processor.  Add remaining ingredients and puree' until smooth.  Spoon puree into timbal molds sprayed with cooking spray. Place in a roasting pan and add hot water half way up mold.  Bake until set about 30-40 minutes. Invert onto a plate and serve hot or cold.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Tea and Sympathy

Sometimes you just need a good cup of tea and a little sympathy when things aren't going your way.  I invited a couple of close friends one grey afternoon for tea, along with cinnamon scones and gougrères. If that and some girl talk doesn't improve things, I don't know what will.  We all felt better and brighter.  The scones and gougères(see Alex Hitz's, My Beverly Hills Kitchen) in bite size are just the right thing to go with a cup of Harney's Darjeeling.

Cinnamon Scones:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place oven rack in bottom third of oven.

1 cup cake flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups cold butter cut in cubes
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp soda
3/4 tsp coarse salt
2 tsp cinnamon

Pulse the flour, sugar, salt, soda, cinnamon  and baking powder to mix.  Added the cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas.  Pour into a bowl and make a well in the middle. Add:

1/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup cream

Fold the dry mixture into the wet with a spatula a mix to a shaggy mess. Turn dough onto a floured counter and shape to an 8x13 inch rectangle. Fold over in thirds like you are folding a letter.  Dough should be 1 1/4 inches in height. Cut with a 2 1/4 inch floured biscuit cutter.  Brush tops only with cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar in desired.  Bake 18-20 minutes, rotating half way through baking.  Serve immediately.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Every Beet of My Heart Ravioli

They say you eat with your eyes first. Then what could send a more poignant  Valentine message from the plate to the eyes and then your mouth than beet colored ravioli in a heart shape.  There's nothing subtle about this plate with asparagus spears as cupid's arrow.  They'll get the message. Adding 1/2 cup of roasted beet puree to a basic pasta dough makes for a strong color which is what you want since the color will leach out a bit when you cook the ravioli.  These are filled with ricotta, parmesan and chive.

This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart. Makes 1 pound of pasta dough.

8 oz. red beets, washed and trimmed of greens
coat with vegetable oil and wrap in foil
roast at 375 degrees for 45 mins or until soft
let cool and rub skins off with paper towel
Puree in food processor then drain in a fine mesh strainer. Save the juice for a smoothie.

For the pasta dough, beat together :

1 large egg yolk
2 large eggs
2 tsp olive oil

Add to the food processor (don't bother to clean it out)

2 1/2 cups "00" flour (White Lily all purpose is acceptable)
1 tsp salt
Pulse to combine

Add the egg mixture and 1/2 cup beet puree and process until the mixture comes together, about 20 seconds. Remove dough and wrap in plastic and let the dough rest for 1 hour.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, rewrapping the pieces you aren't working with.
Pass the dough through the pasta machine beginning at setting #1 10 times folding it over itself after each pass until the dough is smooth and pliable. Adjust with a little flour if too sticky or spritz with water if too dry. (If you prefer, knead the whole ball of dough on a well floured surface 10 minutes.) Continue until you are at #8 and have two long sheet of pasta.
Cut heart shapes, place 1 rounded tsp of filling in the middle and place a second heart shape on top.
Seal the edge with the back side tines of a fork pressing firmly to ensure a seal.  Keep covered with plastic or toss with semolina and freeze.

To Cook:

Add ravioli to 4 quarts rapidly boiling water and 1 tbls salt and cook 3-4 minutes. Drain and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with grated parmesan or something of your choice (not a tomato sauce).