Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Banana Chocolate Cake

     Well, I still haven't run out of baking recipes in the Taste of Home Everyday Light Meals cookbook.  We wound up picking this recipe because the local market was selling entire bunches of bananas for 49 cents. They were in moderately sad shape and usable mostly for cooking. We took the couple good ones and used them with blueberries in a honking big bowl of corn flakes for breakfast. But I digress. It just so happened we had everything in the house for this cake. We even had the powdered milk, which had been hiding in a cabinet for about five years.  No harm done. This particular cake was a big hit. It is really good heated up with a big dollop of ice cream on it. As always, and changes or notes will be in blue.

Banana Chocolate Cake
via Taste of Home Everyday Light Meals

  • Sugar substitute equivalent to 3/4 cup sugar (DECIDE: Cancer or Diabetes? We went with diabetes and used 3/4 cup of real sugar)
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 3 tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon confectioner's sugar
  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar substitute (or actual sugar), brown sugar and butter on medium speed for 3 minutes (I wasn't aware I had actual speed settings other than "hurried" or "sedentary." I'm guessing the recipe assumes we have a mixer for this step, which fortunately I do.)
  2. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add bananas and water; mix well. 
  3. In another bowl, combine flour, milk powder, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to sugar mixture, beating just until blended.
  4. Pour into a 9" square baking pan coated with nonstick cooking spray (as I am writing this I just realized I didn't do that. I used a bundt cake pan. I did so because there was a picture of a different chocolate cake from a bundt cake pan on the opposite page. Whatever, the cake came out fine), bake at 375F for 23-28 minutes (As always, ours took longer; closer to 40 minutes. Just use the original times and keep an eye on it. Cooking times will vary), until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean and the edges of the cake are just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.
  5. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with confectioner's sugar (fun trick for easy dusting: put the sugar into a fine mesh strainer. Hold the strainer about 6-8" above the cake and give the edge of the strainer a tap with a spoon. Just go over the whole cake doing this).
Good times!

Monday, July 29, 2013

BBQ Jalapeno Peppers and Onions

     Every year, the garden produces jalapeno and banana peppers faster than I can use them. Desperate times called for desperate measures. I turned to Allrecipes.  After digging around, I found one of my favorite recipes for working through surplus peppers. I've tweaked the recipe to add in more of my produce. This recipe makes a LOT of extra sauce, so don't be shy about loading in extra peppers and onions. Even if you do have extra sauce, it's vinegar based, so it will can well.
     I'm not joking when I tell you that this sauce is the bomb-diggety. True story, I gave a pint to a co-worker because he liked it so much. Somehow, it fell out of his mailbox in the workroom and shattered. He came to me literally on the verge of tears. I brought him a quart the next day. He cradled it in his arms and smiled tenderly at it. I'm fairly sure he showed more affection for that quart of sauce than his own kids. Either way, this sauce is beyond good and will bring any meat to another level entirely. As always, notes and changes are in blue.

BBQ Peppers and Onions
via Allrecipes
  • 2 cups corn oil 
  • 2 cups cider vinegar 
  • 2 cups white sugar 
  • 4 cups ketchup 
  • 1 pound fresh jalapeno peppers, sliced into rings 
  • 1 pinch dried oregano (in this case, a pinch is a teaspoon)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced 
  • 1 pound fresh Banana Peppers, sliced into rings
  • At least 1 large Yellow Onion, sliced
  1. In a large pot, stir together the corn oil, cider vinegar, sugar, and ketchup until sugar has dissolved completely. 
  2. Bring to a boil, then add the jalapeno peppers (any other peppers and onion go in at this step, too). Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with oregano and garlic. 
  3. Ladle into sterile pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top. Wipe rims with a clean dry towel. Seal with lids and rings. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes to seal (I can't say I agree with the time of the water bath here, especially not for a full pint. As a rule of thumb, I do 12 minutes for a half pint, 15 for a full pint. I've done it my way for three years and haven't killed anybody yet)
  4. Refrigerate any unsealed jars.
Good times!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pique Sauce via Hot Sauce!

     We're still looking for fast and simple ways to use up the peppers that are starting to pile up. Naturally, I turned to Hot Sauce! for some inspiration. I found a base recipe for Pique, a Puerto Rican style hot sauce that couldn't be easier to put together. If you've eaten at Steak & Shake, you've no doubt seen that jar of peppers and vinegar on the table. Fundamentally, that's Pique. It's just peppers and some herbs floating in white vinegar. There's a lot of freedom to pick and choose the peppers and herbs. It's also nice because it's not likely to spoil, seeing as the liquid is entirely vinegar!
via Hot Sauce! by Jennifer Trainer Thompson


  • 10-12 fresh chiles (try different colors, lengths, and shapes, such as green serrano, red Tabasco, and yellow habanero) (we went with cayenne on one batch and jalapenos for another)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 4 cups distilled or white wine vinegar
  • 5 or 6 sprigs mixed fresh herbs (we used lemon basil and oregano with the cayenne and cilantro and parsley with the jalapenos)
  • Whole peppercorns in assorted colors
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut off the stems and a bit of the top of the chiles (or if you prefer the look of the stem, make a slice in the chiles) so the vinegar can get inside (we like the look of the whole pepper and went with the slice)
  2. Add the chiles and garlic to the boiling water, leaving them there for a few minutes to soften up the chiles. Divide the garlic and chiles between sterilized bottles that will hold 6 cups total. 
  3. Heat the vinegar to just below boiling in a non-reactive saucepan.
    Remember our talk on reactive pans?
    Pour the vinegar into the bottles. Add a few sprigs of herbs to each for flavor and looks (add the peppercorns at this step if you're using them), making sure to push them down below the surface of the vinegar (or just add the herbs first and pour vinegar in carefully). 
  4. Seal the bottles and allow to sit for 2 weeks in a spot that's not too sunny, turning occasionally (the bottles, not you) before using. The longer the sauce sits, the hotter it gets. 
Good times!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Lemon-Pepper Chicken and Squash with Lemony Couscous

     The garden is in full swing. We are starting to bring in around 3-5 pounds of produce daily. More importantly the wife is successfully keeping the squash bugs at bay.
I question her methods, but there's no denying their effectiveness.
     This has led to the problem that we now find ourselves struggling to find uses for the veggies before they go off or we are forced to can them. I suppose there are worse problems to have, like accidentally inhaling a bug while bike riding, but I love to complain. Anyways, we decided to just freestyle a recipe to burn through some surplus squash and zucchini and a container of leftover chicken. The end result had just the right hints of sweet and tangy. It was super easy to make and I would certainly make it again.

Lemon Pepper Chicken & Squash
with Lemony Couscous

  • 8 ounces shredded cooked chicken
  • 8 ounces (about 2 small or 1 large) zucchini or yellow squash, cubed (we used both. We like to live on the edge)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper or pepper melange
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
  • 1 inch piece candied ginger, minced
  • 3/4 cup uncooked couscous
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • A little less than 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  1. Melt butter in a large skillet. Sautee garlic and ginger until garlic just starts turning brown. Add zucchini/squash and sautee 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add chicken, and remaining ingredients from chicken section. Mix and sautee another 3-4 minutes.
  3. Set aside and keep warm.
  1. Put lemon juice in a one cup measuring cup. Top with enough water to make one cup. 
  2. Put water and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil; stir in couscous, cover. Turn off the heat and let stand at least 5 minutes. Fluff before serving.
Throw a scoop of couscous on a plate and top with a scoop of the chicken mixture. 
I found that adding a couple of dashes of Tabasco really made for some
Good times!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jalapeno Sauce via Hot Sauce!

     Our garden is producing peppers at such a rate that we have had to get creative in using them up. I can only freeze so many peppers. It was only a matter of time before I turned to a book the wife got me for Christmas. She knows I love hot sauces, so she figured she'd be irresponsible and give me a manual on how to make them at home. That manual, Hot Sauce!, is indispensable to someone starting out making hot sauces. Up to this point, I have only ever really made a couple pepper pastes, fondly called Master Ridley, Latimer (bonus points if you understand why I used these names), and a concoction known as Shrieking Anus Paste. It was time to branch out. My first attempt at a new recipe would be the Jalapeno Sauce from the book. It made sense since the garden is dropping a dozen large jalapenos a day. So how is this sauce? It has a very bright flavor, almost like salsa verde, but with a fierce punch of heat right up front. The flavor and heat play well together.
This is a fairly accurate depiction of my wife trying out the sauce.
     In the end, the overall flavor of the sauce is more than worth the initial burn. I popped a can of this when a friend came over for dinner. He and my wife ate over half a pint of this stuff, just scooping it up with nachos. The thickness of the sauce will vary from batch to batch, depending on the size of the peppers you use. The larger the peppers, the more this will lean toward a very thin salsa. Smaller peppers and it becomes more of a straight sauce. As always, any changes or notes will be in blue.

Jalapeno Sauce
via Hot Sauce! by Jennifer Trainer Thompson

  • 12 fresh jalapeno chiles, stemmed and cut into chunks (use bigger peppers if you want a thicker sauce)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled
  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves (we worried the cilantro would overpower the sauce, so we went with a little over 1/4 cup)
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and puree.
    Fire in the hole!
  2. Transfer the puree to a nonreactive saucepan (if you're not familiar with the term, enameled or stainless steel pans are nonreactive. What happens if you use a reactive pan?) 
    It's probably better if you don't use a reactive pan.
    Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Let cool, then pour into bottles. You can eat it right away or place in sealed bottles for future use (we packed ours in half pint jars and processed in a boiling water bath for about 15 minutes. Again, read up on canning if you haven't done it before. I will continue to state that I'm not responsible when you inevitably poison yourself.)
Good times!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pumpkin Cheesebread Muffins

     Once again I have dug into the abyss of Allrecipes. This time it was to find a use for half a can of pumpkin that was in the fridge and threatening to go off. The recipe I found was listed as Pumpkin Cheesebread II: The Reckoning. This Time, It's Personal. Okay, maybe the last part wasn't on there, but it should have been. If you're slapping Roman numerals on your recipe, it needs to have a tagline attached. Just wait until I redo my Shoofly Pie recipe. It's going to be amazing.
"Yippie-Pie-Yay, Motherf****r."
     Anyway, this recipe has you making it in loaf pans. We decided it would be far more amusing and time consuming to do them as muffins. They took just as long to cook as the loaf time, so it's all coming down to a matter of which you prefer. As always, notes and changes are in blue.

Pumpkin Cheesebread Muffins
via Allrecipes

  • 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened (we used neufchatel to keep the fat down)
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1-2/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest (we didn't feel like zesting an orange so we used 1 scant tablespoon of dried orange peel from a jar)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground clove (I always worry clove will overpower a recipe; we used 1/2 scant teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (I'm hoping that's the same thing that's in the can, because that's what I used)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (optional) (omitted)
  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly grease two 8x4 inch loaf pans (we decided, based on a suggestion in the comments to make these in muffin tins.)
  2. In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, 1 egg and orange zest; beat until smooth (this could have been done by hand but we let the Kitchenaid take care of it), set aside.
  3. In another bowl, sift together remaining 1-2/3 cups flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and pumpkin pie spice; set aside.
  4. Place pumpkin, vegetable oil, remaining 2 eggs, and remaining 1-1/2 cups sugar in a large bowl; beat well (yes, you're going to have bowls all over the counter. Take a few extra out and just scatter them about the kitchen to complete the scene). Stir pumpkin mixture into flour mixture until just combined. Fold in pecans (if using). 
  5. Pour half the pumpkin batter into the loaf pans. Spoon cream cheese mixture on top of this layer, then pour on remaining batter (if you're doing muffins, you're going to have to eyeball measuring out the batter and cheese. I ended up with a lot of leftover cheese. I just saved it to use as a spread on pumpkin bread I made last week. Don't overfill when making the muffins or they're going to come up over the top and spread about in an alarming fashion. Be on the safe side and put a drip pan on the next rack down to catch any spillover)
    Next time I make these as muffins, less batter and more filling.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean (we cooked ours according to the suggested muffin time, which was 25 minutes. No dice. We kept adding time in 5-7 minute intervals and ended up needing about an hour. As always, keep an eye on them; cooking time will vary). Cool bread in pans for 10 minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely. 
Good times!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Skillet Apple Brownie via All Recipes

     I have mixed emotions about All Recipes. It's kind of like the YouTube of recipe sites. People put their best efforts into creating something, then the people in the comments ruthlessly dismantle the person who posted. Some of the comments are just downright mean. However, there are some fairly good recipes lurking about. I actually subscribed to the All Recipes magazine to allow the recipes to be pre-screened for me. That's how I found this recipe. This was a very dense and rich dessert and would benefit greatly from a nice vanilla ice cream melting across the top. As always, any notes and changes are in blue.

Skillet Apple Brownie
via All Recipes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I used 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (omitted)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I substituted a tablespoon of French Vanilla syrup from Java & Co.)
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 2 cups apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I used a pint of my home canned apples in bourbon and clove)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (No pecans in the house. I substituted chopped walnuts)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place an 8-9" cast iron skillet in oven to preheat.
  2. Whisk together flour, white sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves (if used) in a bowl; set aside.
  3. Beat together eggs, vanilla extract (or syrup), 1/2 cup of melted butter in a mixing bowl. (I used the Kitchenaid. Eventually Kitchenaid has to give me a sponsorship)
  4. Toss apples and nuts in flour mixture, then stir into egg mixture until combined (again, the Kitchenaid was used to combine the dry and wet ingredients. ARE YOU LISTENING, KITCHENAID?)
  5. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to hot skillet, coating pan evenly. Pour batter into pan and place in oven. Bake until sides are dry and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes (as always mine took a bit longer, closer to 50 minutes. Cooking times may vary)
  6. Cool in skillet 20 minutes before removing to slice (as you can see from the picture, I left it in the pan to slice. Rebel to the end, that's me)
Good times!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tiramisu Parfaits

     I really need to start posting more dessert recipes. Dessert is the final challenge of the meal! For my father-in-law's birthday, the wife and I cooked him Italian pinwheel rolls, linguine with white clam sauce, escalope of chicken, and zucchini boats. He made a herculean effort to get through dinner, finishing off a big helping of everything. Then came dessert. Like a champ, he powered through it, leaving nothing but a napkin stuffed into the glass. It's subtle signs like that which let you know a recipe is a good one! This particular recipe is another winner from Taste of Home Everyday Light Meals. As always, notes and changes are in blue.

Tiramisu Parfaits
via Taste of Home Everyday Light Meals

  • 4-1/2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups cold fat-free milk (2% for me, same as always)
  • 2 packages (1 ounce each) sugar-free instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 4 ounces fat-free cream cheese
  • 1 package (3 ounces) ladyfingers, split and cubed (could not find the soft kind ANYWHERE. We used half a package of the cookie-style ladyfingers. It was about 3.5 ounces.)
  • 2 cups fat-free whipped topping (we used an entire tub of Cool-Whip. That's like 2 cups, right?)
  • 2 tablespoons miniature chocolate chips (not only were the chips not mini, I didn't measure them either. I just sprinkled them completely at will)
  • 1 teaspoon baking cocoa (again, I didn't measure. I just eyeballed it)
  1. Dissolve coffee in boiling water; cool to room temperature.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk milk and pudding mixes for 2 minutes.
  3. In a larger mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth (you're also going to want to make sure the cream cheese isn't cold. It needs to be a bit soft for this to work) Gradually fold in the pudding. (this recipe doesn't mention that the cream cheese does not easily incorporate into the pudding. It sort of breaks up into little balls. I had to put this all in the Kitchenaid with the whisk attachment and whisk the crap out of it for 2-3 minutes. It eventually blended smoothly)
  4. Place ladyfinger cubes in a bowl; add coffee and toss to coat evenly. Let stand for 5 minutes. Divide half of the ladyfinger cubes among five (may vary depending on size of glasses) parfait glasses or serving dishes. Top with half of the pudding mixture, 1 cup of whipped topping and 1 tablespoon of chocolate chips. Repeat layers.
  5. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Just before serving, dust with cocoa.
Good times!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Linguine with White Clam Sauce

     There are some recipes that are so deceptively simple it defies logic. This linguine with clams from The Everything Quick Meals Cookbook is one of them. The flavor of this dish is outstanding and it comes from a simple handful of ingredients. I made this for my father-in-law a few years ago for his birthday and he gets so excited every time I make it. He says it's as good as his mother made. Why is that a big deal? He's Italian. His parents came from Palermo, Sicily. This is just a fantastic recipe. When I make it, I generally just double off the recipe, just to be safe. As always, notes and changes are in blue.

Linguine with White Clam Sauce
via Everything Quick Meals Cookbook

  • 1/2 pound linguine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons white vermouth (I used dry vermouth)
  • 2 6-1/2 ounce cans clams, juice reserved (minced or chopped depending on how big you like your clam bits)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (I ended up just eyeballing a reasonable amount of dried)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cook linguine according to directions, drain. 
  2. In a large skillet, heat the oil and saute the garlic until lightly golden, not burned (I can't imagine there is a recipe that calls for you to incinerate garlic)
  3. Add the flour, vermouth and juice from clams; stir, bringing to a boil. Add the clams and parsley and simmer a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with drained cooked pasta and serve immediately. 
Good times!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Completely Odd Cooking Habits

     I think everybody has an odd cooking habit or two. A certain way they stir, a special pan. That sort of thing. Not in my family. My family's odd habits are a bit more esoteric and idiosyncratic (BONUS FOR ADVANCED LANGUAGE SKILLS).

Toothpicks in cakes
I'm not talking about the time-honored tradition of using a toothpick to check if a cake or bread is done through. I'm talking about my grandmother's (my dad's mom, henceforth referred to as "Loretta") predilection for hiding toothpicks INSIDE the cake. I remember she made a pretty awesome Fred Flintstone cake for my birthday when I was little. I also remember nearly choking to death on a toothpick buried in the cake. My dad pierced the roof of his mouth with another toothpick hidden inside. I recall exactly what he said to his mom: "JESUS LORETTA, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY ARE THERE TOOTHPICKS INSIDE THE CAKE?" She went on to explain that she needed the toothpicks to support the cake and keep it from collapsing. She apparently had special load-bearing toothpicks. The problem was, you never knew if you had a piece with a toothpick until you speared one through your cheek.
Eating Loretta's cakes was very much like playing Minesweeper.
Cooking without a recipe
In all my years living at home, not once did I ever see either of my parents consult a cookbook or recipe. No exaggeration here. Never. I'm assuming they memorized recipes and then burned the paper copy in the interest of National Security. My dad's chili varied from batch to batch. Apart from his standard 1lb meat=1 can tomato sauce=1 can kidney beans, it was up for grabs. My mom had a recipe that consisted of putting a load of rice and water in a baking dish, throwing in a bunch of chicken breasts, onions and green peppers and covering the whole thing in tomato sauce. Everything was wonderful, but to this day, I still have no idea how to exactly replicate anything from them. Maybe that was the point.

Cryptic Names
Many recipes in my family had really goofball names. "Fall-apart Chicken" was fairly self-explanatory, but somewhat ominous. Was my grandmother (my mom's mom, henceforth referred to as Bubby, not the toothpick grandma) referring to chicken cooked so long the meat simply fell from the bone, or was the chicken leprous? "Wally's Dressing" was another classic. No indication as to what is in there. This sounds more like a reason not to go into Wally's room than a recipe.
"Stay out of the bedroom, dear. Wally's dressing."
Possibly it was referring to bandages for a wound on Wally. Actually, it was a combination of oil, elbow macaroni and chicken livers.

Horrifying Jell-O Suspensions
I'm not talking about the fun fruit and marshmallow in a Jell-O mold we all know and love. My mom made a great one with whipped cream that was layered. Very picturesque. No, I'm talking about the occasional Jell-O that made it to our table from some of the more damaged members of my family and their friends. Specifically, I remember a story of someone serving my Bubby a Jell-O with gefilte fish suspended in it. Green Jell-O no less. As the story goes, Bubby blew a gasket. It is said she announced, "WHO PUTS GEFILTE FISH IN JELL-O?! FUCKING [the religion of the person in question. I'll just go ahead and leave that part out as to not offend anybody]." My Bubby was a firecracker.

     I'm sure if I take some time and work with my therapist I can dredge up more alarming memories for you for another day.

Good times!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Steamed Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)

     Some days a simple idea completely explodes into a full-blown project. This was one of those days. I wanted to make a simple Chinese pork and cabbage soup. The thing is, when I have soup, I want bread to go along with it. Since this was a Chinese soup, I wanted a Chinese bread. I made the mistake of using the first recipe I found. I found a recipe for char siu bao. For thirty-plus years I just called them steamed pork buns. I figured I would give them a go. I loved them when I was a kid. Don't get me wrong, they came out great and tasted absolutely fantastic. The problem was that this recipe was a Colossal Pain In The Ass. I should have known I was in for trouble when the recipe book didn't have any pictures. What book you say? I set the Way-Back Machine and consulted my copy of The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines. I didn't let small problems like not having the right ingredients or even the right equipment stop me. Some people suggested baking these, but I grew up eating them steamed, so that's how I was going to make them, at least this time. They came out exactly as I remembered. Soft and chewy, the dough a bit sweet and the filling a bit savory. Was it worth the effort? I'd say so. The wife and I ate 10 of them between us for dinner. As always, changes and notes are in blue.

Steamed Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)
via The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines
Bread Dough

  • 2 packages fast-rising yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup milk, lukewarm
  • 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 pound Chinese Barbecued Strips (char siu), chopped into medium-small dice (I was feeling industrious, but not industrious enough to make a separate pork dish for this. I just browned up 1/2 pound ground pork)
  • 2 green onions, chopped (accidentally used some of the green onions I needed for a soup recipe. I wound up using 4 green onions here)
  • 1/4 cup fairly finely chopped Chinese celery cabbage (Napa) (this totally didn't seem like enough cabbage. I used a full cup)
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce (none in stock. I used an equal amount of black bean and garlic paste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • pinch of salt (omitted)
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce (I used regular soy sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water or cold chicken stock
  1. Sprinkle yeast over the lukewarm water and then add the sugar. Allow to stand and then stir in the yeast (this was pretty amusing to watch. I stood there like a total dope watching the yeast foam up for about five minutes)
  2. Add the milk. Be careful that it is lukewarm or tepid, about 90F. Stir in the flour and knead until smooth (much like I always do, the recipe suggests using a Kitchenaid if available).
  3. Place the dough on a plastic countertop and cover with a large metal bowl. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, around one hour. When properly risen, punch the dough down and allow to rise another 30 minutes (be ready, this dough inflates spectacularly when it rises. I lifted the bowl after an hour and feared I would be overwhelmed with dough). 
  1. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. Combine all the ingredients in a wok, except for the dissolved cornstarch and chow (stir-fry) just until the mixture is hot (I didn't use a wok. I just stir-fried everything in my non-stick skillet) Thicken with cornstarch and allow the filling to cool.
    Totally not the filling the recipe calls for.
  1. Punch the dough down and knead for 1 minute. Roll the dough into a snake about a foot long and divide the dough into 24 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and then roll out into a 4-inch circle.
  2. Fill each bun as you roll it. Place a little more than a teaspoon into the center of the dough circle. With your fingers, gather the sides of the dough around the filling in loose folds, meeting at the top. Pinch the dough so it will hold (I wasn't terribly detail-oriented at this point. I just sort of flattened out each ball by hand, dropped in the filling and pinched it closed) 
  3. Please make note of the lack of uniformity of size and the fact that I have not laid them on the waxed paper the right way. I can say with total sincerity that I gave not a single damn regarding these inconsistencies. 
  4. Place the filled bun upside down on a 2-inch square of waxed paper and place in a bamboo steamer (not only do I not own a bamboo steamer, I didn't turn those little bastards upside-down. Totally forgot. I have no regrets. They just sat on the counter for a while)
  5. When all the buns are finished, cover the steamer with the lid and allow the dough to rise until not quite doubled in size. In about 30 minutes, the dough should spring back slowly when pushed gently with your finger (yeah, still don't have a bamboo steamer. Fortunately, the kitchen was hot and humid as hell, so I'm counting it. The dough did spring back when pushed, so it was all good.)
  6. Steam them for 15 minutes (I totally faked the bamboo steamer. I took a big pot and filled it a quarter of the way with water and brought it to a boil. I then hung my Dollar Store Chef Basket over the boiling water. Working in batches of 6, I just loaded the dough balls on their wax paper into the basket and balanced the lid on top)
    It worked, too! So there.
Good times!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Raisin Pumpkin Walnut Bread

     As always, last Sunday was all about baking. As I am nothing, if not predictable, I pinched another recipe from Taste of Home Everyday Light Meals. This bread could not be more simple to prepare. I did think the recipe seemed to be missing something so I took it upon myself to chuck some raisins in there. In the end, we ended up with a nice rich bread that is suitable for dessert! It's also good in the morning with a schmear of cream cheese. As always, any changes or notes will be in blue.

Raisin Pumpkin Walnut Bread
via Taste of Home Everyday Light Meals

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute (we substituted 2 large eggs)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup canola oil (we used corn oil)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  1. In a bowl, combine the first eight ingredients. 
  2. In another bowl, combine the pumpkin, egg substitute (or 2 large eggs), water and oil. Mix well. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in walnuts. (I'll be honest here. I just loaded the first 8 ingredients into the Kitchenaid mixer bowl and gave them a quick stir. Then I just dumped everything else in and used the beater blade at power level 2 until it was all mixed up. I live on the edge.)
  3. Spoon into a 9x5x3" baking dish coated with non-stick cooking spray. Bake at 350F for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean (ours took 65 minutes on the button). Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.
Good times!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Spaghetti with Olives and Capers

     We had someone over for dinner last weekend who has started trying his hand at cooking. He seemed to be lacking confidence, so I let him pick a recipe out of a The Essential Pasta Cookbook and I would show him how to make it. He wound up picking this recipe, which is good because it is very simple. It's a good lesson to see that it only takes a few good ingredients to put together a great meal. Granted, I have a hard time relinquishing control in the kitchen. I did let him chop the tomatoes. He did a fine job. We served the pasta with my wife's Zucchini Boats and had a delicious dinner. As always, any changes or notes will be in blue.
Spaghetti with Olives and Capers
via The Essential Pasta Cookbook
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (true story: I tried to explain what "extra virgin" meant regarding olive oil to my wife. I told her that most olive presses are worked by a single virgin. When they want to get the last, choicest drops of oil out, they bring in an extra virgin to work the press. Needless to say, she didn't believe me.)
  • 1-1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs (believe it or not, we didn't have any white bread. We used a scant 3/4 cup of Italian bread crumbs from the cardboard tube.)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1-1/2 ounce can anchovies, drained and finely chopped, optional (anchovies are never an option for me. I only used a few though, as I wasn't sure how everyone else would like it. They seemed pretty grossed out when I started eating them straight from the can.)
  • 10 oz black olives, finely chopped
  • 6 Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped (we still had some tomatoes with basil and garlic we canned last season. We just used a whole quart jar.)
  • 2 tablespoons tiny capers (in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit my capers were not tiny. They were simply below average.)
  • 1 lb spaghetti
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium frying pan. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring continuously, until golden brown and crispy. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool completely (yeah, totally didn't do that. I took the jar of bread crumbs out of the pantry, took the lid off and poured out the amount I planned on using.)
  2. Add the remaining oil to the pan and heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic, anchovies and black olives and cook over medium heat for 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes and capers and cook for 3 minutes (since I used my own canned tomatoes, I let it cook a little longer than that to get out some of the excess moisture.)
  3. Cook the pasta in a large pan of rapidly boiling water until al dente (I went to school with an Al Dente. Nice guy.) Drain and return to the pan. Add the tomato mixture and breadcrumbs and toss to combine. Serve immediately, with herbs as a garnish if you like.
Good times!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Zucchini Boats

     I do most of the cooking in the house. This is by design. The wife doesn't approve of my cleaning methods, which consist largely of wiping everything off the counter on to the floor. We have struck a bargain. I cook, she does the bulk of the cleaning apart from my non-stick pan and cast iron skillet. There was an incident years ago in which her enthusiasm with a scouring pad resulted in the untimely demise of my Emeril non-stick egg pan.
     There are times when I insist the wife step up and cook. I have a couple of meals that, even though I am fully capable of cooking them myself, I prefer that she make them. I consider them her recipes. She made them first. It's only right that the onus of cooking them always fall to her. Among these recipes are a wicked good tuna casserole, zucchini bread, potato casserole and zucchini boats. She found the recipe for these zucchini boats on an ancient CD-ROM: "Easy Chef's One Million Recipes." She actually made a couple of modifications (a girl after my own heart); the changes and notes will, as always, be in blue.
Zucchini Boats
  • 3 lg. zucchini
  • 2 tbsp. onion, minced
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 c. soft bread crumbs (she uses an equal amount of dry Italian bread crumbs. You know, the ones in the cardboard tube)
  • 1/2 c. tomatoes, cooked and chopped (she just sauteed them in a little olive oil for a few minutes)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (she subs in cheeses at a whim. Hardcore. Sometimes she'll use Mozarella. This time she used a 6-cheese Italian mix.)
  1. Cook zucchini in boiling salted water 10 minutes. 
  2. Cut in halves and scoop out centers. Mix pulp with remaining ingredients. 
    Don't completely gut the zucchini.
    You're just scooping a trench down the middle to hold the filling.
  3. Fill zucchini and top with cheese. 
  4. Bake in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. 
These are great served with marinara sauce!

Serves 6.

Good times!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Spicy Won Ton Soup via Foodista

     I had planned on making this soup recipe for my wife's birthday. I let her sift through my recipes and pinboard and pick out what she wanted. She found this recipe for Spicy Won-Ton Soup on Foodista. I made a fair amount of changes to this recipe out of necessity.  I didn't have a couple of the ingredients in stock and made substitutions. I also ended up doubling the recipe because I used a pound of meat. Plus, we had an unexpected guest so I needed to pad out the broth to make sure there was enough for everyone. Fortunately I had a bunch of chicken stock in the freezer. The soup was a big hit and very tasty. As always, notes and changes are in blue.

Spicy Won-ton Soup
via Foodista



1/2 pound ground chicken or ground turkey (I didn't have any ground turkey or chicken in the house and didn't feel like grinding it myself. I did, however have a pound of ground pork, which I used instead)
1/4 cup carrots,  minced
2 stalks spring onion, minced (I used green onion. I figured it was the same thing. I also used 4)
1 teaspoon fish sauce (I used 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper(optional) (hot peppers are never an option. Stop living in fear. However, in this case I left them out because my wife didn't want a super spicy soup. If mama ain't happy, nobody's happy)
salt and pepper to taste
won-ton wrappers (Didn't have these either. However, I did have egg roll wrappers which I ran though the Kitchenaid pasta roller on the thinnest setting. *POOF!* Instant wonton wrappers)

2 cups chicken broth (I ended up using double this amount because I had so many won-tons. Please use your own chicken stock. Don't use boullion unless it's an emergency)
1 teaspoon  fermented soy bean paste or black bean paste or chili (I found a jar of black bean sauce with garlic at the grocery store that looked promising. I used that instead)
1 teaspoon sliced ginger (I went berserk and used over 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon soy sauce or fish sauce (season to suit your taste)
1 stalk spring onion, sliced diagonally for garnish (totally forgot to do this)
Baby bok choy or Chinese broccoli (Accidentally bought Chinese CABBAGE instead of broccoli. I just cut up some of that and used it. No harm done)

  1. Mix filling in a bowl. Place one teaspoon in center of won-ton wrapper and fold in half, sealing edges with water.
  2. Boil 2 cups of chicken broth. (Or however much you ended up using) Add fermented soy beans (or black bean and garlic sauce) and ginger . Drop won-ton balls and continue cooking until won-tons starting floating. 
  3. Add baby bok choy (if large, cut in half lengthwise) or sliced Chinese broccoli (Or Chinese cabbage). Cook until vegetables are blanched.
  4. Remove from heat. Season with extra soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste (Yeah, there's probably enough sodium in here already. Maybe skip the extra soy sauce and salt unless you're a huge fan of hypertension.) Garnish with spring onions and serve.
Good times!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Raisin Breakfast Pretzels

     Eventually the cover is going to fall off my Taste of Home: Everyday Light Meals cookbook. I just can't get enough of the great baking recipes in here. I've been eyeballing a Cranberry Breakfast Pretzel recipe for some time, but had been skipping it because it was a bit labor intensive. I'm glad I finally made it. These are a great quick breakfast, clocking in at only 170 calories a piece. The wife and I were in the process of spreading some cream cheese on these when we realized that this recipe would also make a decent bagel! I think we may do that next time. As always, I'll give you the original recipe with any changes or notes in blue.

Raisin Pretzels
originally Cranberry Breakfast Pretzels
via Taste of Home Everyday Light Meals
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries (I used an equal amount of raisins. You could probably substitute just about any dried fruit you'd like)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce (I used an equal amount of my highly sweetened Bourbon Apple Butter)
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar, divided
  • 1 package (.25 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm milk (110-115F)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3-1/2 to 4 cups all purpose flour 
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  1. In a food processor or blender, place the dried cranberries (raisins), applesauce (apple butter), and 1 tablespoon sugar; cover and process until finely chopped (I just went berserk and let it go until it was a paste.) Set aside.
  2. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm milk. Add remaining sugar; let stand for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the fruit mixture, oil, salt and enough flour to form a soft dough (I used the full 4 cups. The dough is still a bit sticky)Turn out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes (being lazy, I used the Kitchenaid with the dough hook for 7 minutes). Place in a bowl coated with nonstick cooking spray, turning once to coat the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 90 minutes.
  4. Punch dough down. Turn onto a floured surface. Divide dough into 15 balls. Roll each ball into a 14" rope and form into a pretzel shape. (A great video showing the process can be found on YouTube from Pastry Chef Online, please note how her pretzels actually look like pretzels whereas mine are more "reminiscent" of pretzels.)
  5. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Drop pretzels, one at a time, into water; boil for 10 seconds on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.
  6. Place pretzels on baking sheets coated with nonstick cooking spray. Cover and let rise in a warm place until puffy, about 25 minutes. 
  7. Brush pretzels with egg white. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over tops of pretzels. Bake at 375F for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown (mine took 20 minutes. Cooking times may vary)
  8. Serve with honey or cream cheese if desired
Good times!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Chicken Vindaloo

     Many moons ago, when I was in college, I used to eat Indian food all the time. There was a tremendous buffet that opened up my world to this fantastic food. Once I got back from college I sort of forgot about Indian food. Since I've been doing this food blogging thing, I've started to see the familiar recipes again and the urge to indulge in Indian is back.
     I started looking around for a recipe to try and eventually decided on vindaloo. I settled on a chicken vindaloo recipe from Currytastic.  This recipe would be my starting point. I have to say I was terribly pleased with the results. There was plenty of heat, but there were so many layers of flavor that you were willing to work past the heat. The wife and I sat at the table pouring sweat and moaning (I assure you, we were having dinner), and slopping up the vindaloo sauce with some tremendous naan bread I made from a recipe from Allrecipes.  This was truly a fantastic meal. Was it truly authentic? I have no idea, nor do I care. It tasted great and the wife loved it. That's all that matters. As always, any changes from the original recipe and notes are in blue.

Chicken Vindaloo
Vindaloo Paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3/4" cube of peeled ginger (no fresh ginger in the house, I used 1/2 tsp grated ginger)
  • 1 or 2 tsp Garam Masala (I never have this in the house. I used 1/4 tsp each of ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, cumin, coriander, nutmeg and ground cloves. These amounts are on top of the already listed amounts above)
  • 3 tbsp white wine vinegar (I used malt vinegar at the suggestion of several other recipes)
  • 1 tsp sugar
Vindaloo Base
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 4-8 garlic cloves, crushed or blended (We used 8. No sense in screwing around)
  • 3 red onions, sliced finely, preferably blended (Our red onions were freaky big, so I only used two. I also went ahead with just slicing them)
Everything Else
  • 4+ red chilies, finely chopped (I changed this up. I wound up using 2 jalapenos and 1 naga jolokia. The naga alone would have provided a fair amount of heat.) WARNING: If you're messing with hot peppers, make sure to wash your hands afterwards. If you have open cuts on your hands, wear gloves. I assure you that if you get naga jolokia in your eyes or cuts you will wish you were dead.
    The naga jolokia is around 1 million Scoville units. For comparison, a cayenne is  50,000 at the high end. So this one pepper is equivalent in heat to about 15-20 cayenne.  Rectum? Damn near killed 'em. 
  • 4 skinless chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces (I used 3. I don't normally skimp on breasts, but these breasts were HUGE. *snicker*)
  • 1 pound good quality chopped tomatoes or canned tomatoes (don't drain the canned)
  • 1-2 tsp tomato puree to taste (I used about 3 tablespoons of tomato paste)
  • 1-4 tsp hot chili powder (optional) (no it's not optional. Don't even put it in there if you may not want people to do it. I used 4 tsp. I didn't even tell my wife. Granted, she suspects. She'll know for sure once she reads this. Wish me luck.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste (HILARIOUS. If you need to augment the flavor at this point just give up)
  1. Grate or slice the ginger finely and add the cumin, cinnamon, mustard, coriander turmeric, garam masala and cayenne pepper into a bowl and add the vinegar and sugar and mix thoroughly.
  2. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan. (There's going to be a lot of stuff in here. I used my 6 quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven) Add the garlic and the onion and cook over a medium heat until they have softened for approx 5-7 mins, but take care not to let them burn or brown too much.
  3. Once the onion and garlic have softened, add the chicken pieces and cook for approx 2-3 minutes until the chicken starts to color. (If you're using the Dutch oven, everything may be a bit crowded at the bottom. The chicken took closer to 10 minutes before it was all colored. Cooking times may vary.)
  4. Now add the chilies, tomatoes, tomato puree, and begin to stir in the pre-prepared Vindaloo paste.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste, and bring to the boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer whilst stirring occasionally for approx 1 hour. During this period, it’s important not to let the chicken vindaloo dry out, so add a 1/2 cup of water as necessary (I didn't need it. At least I don't think I did. I'm pretty awesome, so I probably got it right). If you do want to make it hotter than the recipe (HELLS YES I DO), then during the simmering time is the right time to gradually add the chili powder to taste.
Good times!