The importance of Hope

From the start of Monday, the week has been frought with bad news. All sorts. Job loss. Friends losing homes. A divorce. It’s not a surprise to hear the words of despair, the temporary absence of optimism, of hope that the situation will improve.

Hope is an emotional lifeline. When I told Rog I intended to write about it, he says “No, what right do you have to pontificate to others?” It was then I reminded him it was I who’d experienced divorce, single parenting, bankruptcy, foreclosure, the freezing of my assets and an expanding arse to boot. “Who better to write on hope that me?” He krinkled his face when I recalled it was my hope we’d have children someday…a glimmer of light on the horizon that kept me going seven years after he said NO! “Ok,” he mumbled as he walked in to the office. “Write it. Just don’t be sappy.”

I make no such promise.

Hope is found when a stranger smiles at you on the walk home.
Hope is given to a foster child turns 18, and a business owner takes a chance and gives a job.
Hope is what remains inside a woman, long after her man has walked out the door.
Hope is rewarded when a new man appears, one far better and more deserving then the one who left.
Hope is felt when a mother tells her daughter her son will one day return.
Hope is rewarded when the daughter broke it off, right before saying “I do.”
Hope is rewarded when the son goes to college on his own accord.
Hope is a person wronged will forgive, and a friendship will be regained.
Hope is the crowd will cheer, not boo.
Hope is going on again the next night, no matter what happened the evening before.
Hope is the light in a newborns eye.
Hope is the enemy of despair.
Hope sees me through the tears and heartaches.
Hope is within, ever present.
Hope is life.

Unexplained hair loss

cousin_it01thumb.jpgAhh, what a topic for a Thursday morning. Yet, unavoidable. After showering, I brushed my hair with a pick, and it seemed as though an 1/8 of an inch closest to the handle was covered in a wet, black mat. Don’t gasp in horror. For me, this is not unusual. Rog’s nickname for me is “cousin it.” I suppose telling the world gives everyone the right to yelp out “Hey! Cousin It!”at the grocery, and be rewarded with a smile and a cheery hello. It’s a compliment after all, to have hair sprouting out the top of my nose (ok, not really), but close. I’m one woman who must get a full facial wax every few months, or look like Grizzly Adams without the Adam’s apple. The saving race is I’m relatively blond, which is helpful for arm hair, for I could never wax such a large part of my bod. Yet, as follicularly blessed as I am (was that a word?), even I suffer from weird bouts of hair loss. So let’s address this subject head on (sorry) and get to the root of matter (sorry again. this subject is just so ripe with funnies).

Normal, explainable hair loss…these would be age, genetics, menopause…things that have been proven to affect a person’s hair quality and quantity. I don’t look forward to dry, brittle, thinning hair as I age that won’t take color, but I think I’m doomed. What women escapes this…kind of like the imminently balding man. It seems that every article I look up on the subject of hair loss discusses to DHT, which stands for Dihydrotesterone and is a chemical that is five times more potent than testosterone and blocks the pathway of certain nutrients getting in to the hair, causing the hair to fall out. That’s all well and good, but it’s silly to think that extreme events in ones life doesn’t play a huge role.

Stress and eating
Work stress, life stress, baby stress, are all major, disruptive events that can cause hair loss. A dear friend suffered a late-stage miscarriage and her thick, auburn hair fell out in clumps. Another girlfriend went on a radical diet, and she too, lost hair, though it was in the front–around her hairline. A relative changed jobs and gained weight—she lost hair, also in clumps around her entire head, her hair thinning and her body expanded. Life changes, like moving can take a toll on the hairline, and of course, eating badly. In October, I read a piece that covered how bad eating habits lead to hair loss…processed foods take a toll on hair, as does drinking soft drinks and eating too much sugar. The short version….processed foods strip out nutrients, as does high quantities of sugar. With the system out of whack, the adrenals go in to overdrive, leaving skin and hair to show the damage.

What to do…what to do….beyond surgery for those wanting transplants, changes in diets are a no brainer. If not for the body and waistline, for the hair. It’s the first thing people see isn’t it, and the one part one can’t hide with clothes (though I have male friends who wear hats out of bed and take off as they slip the covers over–or so their wives tell me). For the rest of us…

Nature Made Super Vitamin B-Complex with Vitamin C - 300 TabletsSupplements…Omega 3 fish oils, Biotin and Vitamin B. In our stash, we also have Prenatals, which I’ve been advocating for years thanks to positive fingernail, hair and skin results. Now, in this wild and wooly search for things hidden in the cupboard, I found a few other things Rog has been sneaking in…

  • Garlicin for cardiovascular health
  • Glucoasime-highest potency for joint care
  • Cranberry tablets, for a healthy urinary tract (always important when “peepsing” as my daughter says)
  • Cholesteral Shield “proven to help reduce cholesteral’
  • Maximum Strength Resveratrol with red wine extract, a “protective antioxidant”

This was more enlightening than finding out Rog is eating a cup of nuts a night for good oils. In any case, whatever voodoo the man is injesting/doing, is working. He keeps getting younger looking I age. He’ll be glowing like a yellow flashlight in three-thousand years but no matter. At least he’ll have his hair.

Spiced Pecan Cake w/Marscapone Cream Cheese Frosting

Pecan pie is divine. Great hot or cold, for breakfast or dessert. But every so often, it’s nice to mix it up. Do so with style this year. Get a twist on pecans. The following is outstanding, and perfect for any type of party–it can be dressed up or down, dependng on how it’s served. For feeding a crew, serve in the fla sheet. For a cocktail party, chill, then cut in to bite size squares or triangles and serve on a cool platter. Using fine ingredients, the party members will adore you.

Spiced pecan Cake
Ingredients
4/12 cupes candied pecans (recipe at bottom)
8 oz (2 sticks) soft sweet butter
2 1/4 cups cake flour
2 1/ cups all-purpose flour
3 TBS baking powder
1 1/2 tsps salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 TBS vanilla extract
4 egg whites
Three 9-inch cake pans or 1 large sheet pan (or you can mix it up and use both)

To make the cake
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Line the bottoms of the cake pans with parchment paper
Put 3 cups of the candied pencas in a food processor and finely grind.
Reserve the remainig 1 1/2 cups of pecans for decorating the top of the cake.

  • Put the butter and 2 cups of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. With paddle attachment, cream on medium high speed until light and fluffy.
  • Sift together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • Combine the milk and vanilla. On low speed, alternately add the milk and the dry ingredients to the butter mixtur. Fold in the ground candied pecans.
  • Put the egg whites in a clean blow of the electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip the whites on medium speed until frothy. Increase to high speed and whip the whites until soft peaks form. Continuing to mix, add the remaining egg whites. The batter will be quite stiff (don’t worry though. It’s supposed to be this way).
  • Spread in to prepared pans.
  • Bake the cakes for about 40 minutes, until a prick comes out clean. Cool the cake layers before unmoding them.
  • Frost the sides, tops and center with the marscapone cream cheese frosting (recipe below). Decorate with reserved pecans.

Marscapone Cream Cheese Frosting
*Note on this–do NOT overbeat. Did this once, and the entire cake slid off in layers, right in the middle of my fridge, and right before I was going to take it out to serve at a wedding shower!!! I later learned that overbeating breaks down the composition of the marscapone. Who would have known?

Ingredients
3/4 pound cream cheese
4 ox (1 stick) soft sweet butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 pounds marscapone

Directions
To make the frosting, put the cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium until smooth. Decrease to low speed and add the marscapone. Beat JUST UNTIl incorporated, about 30 seconds, or it will separate. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Candied Pecans
These are also wonderful plain, over ice cream or in cakes.
Yield-4 1/2 cups
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 TBS ground cinnamon
1 large egg white
2 TBS vanilla extract
14 ounces pecan halves

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  • Combine brown sugare and cinnamon until frothy. Stir in vanilla extract, the pecans and then the reserved brown sugar mixture.
  • Spread the pecans evenely on a baking sheet and bake them for 30 secons until they are dry.

Sorry no photos. I really to start taking more photos as I’m making dishes, but usually what happens is I don’t think about writing the blog until the food is eaten, and a guest says–hey! write a blog on this one! Will add later (I think!)

Lift the Spirits Oyster Stew

Joy of CookingOne of the easier soups is oyster soup, or stew. Never could figure out why this particular soup is called a stew, for my experience with actual stew with oysters (stew being defined as a nice, thick, rich concoction) is rare. Instead, the soup texture is typically thin, the broth lacking in the richness I associate with a stew.

After playing with a lot of recipes, The Joy of Cooking‘s basic stew recipe as the forerunner, then a myriad afterward, I’ve yet again created my own concoction. I still don’t believe is should be called a stew, but it has the Sarah-come-Swedish approach that rests of sauteing, butter and more cream. If you love the latter two ingredients, this recipe is for you (and btw, this doesn’t mean a layer of yellow, floating fat. It means flavorful. There is a difference).

First, let’s debunk a myth. Most recipes, Joy’s included, says one must have a double boiler. Pashaaa. (pronounced, Pushaaa, an eight grade carry-over from my older brother, the 80’s version of ‘whatever,’). I’m always using one or two of my double broilers on other recipes, and found that simmering it on a low temp directly on my Caphalon pot works just fine. Granted, just fine might work only for Rog, since I hate stewed oysters, and only for the love of my father and Rog do I chug the stuff down, as fast as possible so I don’t have to taste it. Evenso, 12 years of making this soup-posing as a stew has taught me a few things.

Hungarian Hot Paprika, 5-Ounce Tins (Pack of 6)
My favorite Paprika

1-saute the onions more than directed (in the Joy recipe). Oyster soup connoisseurs always comment on the rich flavor of my soup, and I ‘think’ this is one of the reasons. (and I double/triple the onions. Iodine is good.
2-substitute regular paprika for Hungarian paprika, still using a dash of the white pepper
3-rog LOVEs Tabasco. He’d put the stuff on oatmeal if he didn’t think I’d vomit. I throw a dash in. Once again, the comments are very different when put a few drops in–and the comments are positive btw

PS–A set of Tobasco is a really cool stocking stuffer. I got this for Rog one year, and you would have thought I got him a unmentionable.

TABASCO Family of Flavors Gift Box
Great gift set

Ingredients
4 Tbls butter
1 grated (or chopped onion)
1-1 1/2 pint oyster with liquor (the liquid inside)
1 cup whole, organic milk
1 cup whole, organic cream (use the regular stuff if you don’t have organic)
1/2 Tsp salt
1/8 Tsp white pepper
1/2-1 Tsp Hungarian Paprika

Directions
Sautee very well, 8-10 minutes or more, depending on heat of the stove.
Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until the milk is hot and the oysters float.
Just before serving, add chopped parsley.

Now that I’ve made this for Rog, I’m going to bake Talapia to go along with my smoked oysters, cheese and dill pickles.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

In an attempt to ween myself from all things chocolate, I can’t quite give up the most wonderful cupcakes in teh world-red velvet. Confetti Cupcakes, a local joint in our micro-town of Issaquah, WA recently opened, reviving my passion for a dessert I traditionally saved for Valentines. Now, with the resident evil among us, Barb, the owner and fellow former San Franciscan, has cursed and blessed me. I go in, nosh on the food, banter about her amazing decorations (she had a retail boutique in the city by the bay), and talk food. It’s awesome. Were it not for the other customers and my kids, I’d be there more frequently, which is a probably a bad thing in the long run.

Five years ago, it was the Curves franchise that was taking up retail space, (an ironic name choice I always thought, since working creates straight, hard lines on the hips where Aphrodite-esque roundth used to exist). Today it’s, Sprinkles and the like, using buttermilk and Valhrona chocolate to hide any evidence of a workout.

Red velvet afficianados know that a true red velvet boils down to good chocolate (Valhrona), buttermilk, nice butter, European if possible, but if not, regular, salted butter (even she uses salted butter, so I’m not alone). We agreed that that chocolate used wasn’t even as important as the butter.

“No lard or shortening,” she said, puckering her nose. “The aftertaste is horrid.”

As fate would have it, a mom’s event earlier this week featured red velvet cookies, using the same topping and were equally as good (just less of it to eat).

With that, I’m on a mission to publish a no-fail recipe. (BTW-most are the same, mine as a bit of vinegar, which makes all the difference in the world, IMHO).

Red Velvet Cupcakes
(Print this Recipe)
Time to completion: @50 min
Servings: 11-18 cupcakes depending on size

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup buttermilk (organic if possible, the texture/flavor is different)
1 Tbs red food coloring
1 Tsp high quality vanilla extract
1/2 Tsp baking soda
1 Tbs distilled white vinegar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tsp salt

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 degrees C). Prepare the muffin tins. I prefer to use baking cups, tinfoil are fun at this time of year (silver and red can be found in most grocery stores or markets)
Beat the butter and sugar w/an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
Stir in the backing soda and vinegar.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder and salt; reduce the speed on the batter, or turn it off, and hand stir in the flour mixture until just blended. (Over stirring kills the fluff, and the rise is not as good).
Pour or spoon the batter in to the cups and bakefor 20-25 min, depending on the level of moistness you desire.
Cool on a wire rack.

For the cream cheese frosting, I’ve used a ton, and always go back to Barefoot Contessa (though sometimes this is a bit buttery for some folks), or Martha Stewarts (because it’s on line) recipe for Cream Cheese Frosting. The only change I make is using salted vs unsalted butter.

My only counsel is this: the day you are going to make these curve-producers, go workout in the morning. You’ll feel slightly less guilt. (Emphasis on ‘slightly.’)

20 min home made sausages

We are a nation of hot dog consumers. I’m not talking a few weiners here and there. The average American eats 70 hotdogs a year. More than 730 Million packages of hot dogs were sold in retail stores in 2009, about 20 Billion weiners per year. This doesn’t even include the largest chain in the world, Wal-Mart. Forget the $1.6B in sales. Not quite the national debt in zeros, but close, and a whole lot healthier.

We’ve got kosher. Beef. Pork. Chicken. Vegetarian, and then the cultural layer. Polish. Italian. German. Swedish. Let us not forget the wonders of spices and sauces, herbs and powders, and then regional styles of hotdogs and sausages. There is the Red and White (Rochester, NY, known as “hots” for the petters and slaw), Slaw Dogs (the south), slathered with sweet, finely chopped slaw and can include chili), Sonoran (Arizona) which are bacon-wrapped, grilled and placed in steamed bolillo rolls and topped with beans, tomatoes and other other burrito-like toppings. The list goes on. Of all, the New Yorkers should be proud. The group is the largest single demographic ($108M worth) with Los Angelinos a distant second, at a mere $90M.

The filling–meat, potatoes and spices
Why, I wonder, don’t we make these ourselves? And really, why am I writing about this on Workout Wednesday. Two reasons actually. The first is I’m not in the mood and reserve the right to veere off topic. Part and parcel to this is I figure if I ate healthier hotdogs (a type of sausage), I’d be able to workout less (see my logic? it’s wisted but works for me). Last but not least, my 5 year old daughter removed all doubt in my mind that the average Joe can make a sausage.
The ingredients—
Start with your favorite sausage recipe. This can be anything, and great ones are free, on line. The Olson family favorite, Potato Sausage, is simple. Ground pork and beef, potato and onions, salt and pepper.
That’s it. Walla.
Over the years, I’ve veered from the amount my Swedish forefather’s prescribed, dramatically reducing the potatos. My version has a lot more meat (protein) and less carbs. Thus, it’s healthier and I can eat a lot more of it. I also add more salt a pepper than my relatives, which is nice, but not overwhelming. One last variation includes cooking the potatoes part-way before adding it to the mixture. This shaves off another half-hour from cook-time.
Once you have the recipe, you need to get the ingredients, which is mostly meat. This year, I truly went to the dark side. I purchased ground meat (oh, for shame, my mother will say when she reads this). Seriously folks. Cutting the pork (or buffalo, whatever carnivorous tendency of choice), takes a while, then it must be run through the grinder. With a mixed sausage, like the one I make, that’s 2 different run-throughs with meat, then onion, then potatoes. All in, 4 different grinding processes. 
No thanks.
This year, Rog brought home ground meats, I chopped the onions fine, boiled the potatoes for 15 minutes. It literally saved me 2 hours.Then the fun part began! 

Hold on to the casing outside the funnel

Cue kids. Porsche has never had such a good time cooking, outside making cupcakes (or any dough-subject). First, one gets to mix the batch up. Squishy. Gooey. Awesome. Adding the spices is fun as well.Next is grabbing handfuls of insides to place in the grinder. Most kitchen mixers have an attachment for sausage making. If not, it’s a bit spendy (around $100) but these can be had on Craig’s list or other places used. They are worth the price, believe me. 10 packages of good hotdogs and you’ve paid for the thing.

Using the large attachment (funnel) and placing one of the blades within, the skein, or sausage casing, is placed on the outside. Casings can be found at any butcher or meat market, and if you don’t have one local, the supermarke can order some in. Be sure to identify how many pounds of sausage you intend to make, as the butcher will give the casings accordingly.
Last week, T-day, we ran out because the guy gave Rog enough “to feed a family.” By that definition, we would have been mutant dwarves. Three, 10 inch sausages were all it made. When I explained to Rog the math about casings, Rog realized he’s be weinerless for the evening, and thus, made the special trip for more.

Worried? Don’t be. Whip out that machine in your kitchen a put it to the test. Well, in fact, for thirty years, my family did it my hand, with a modified shoe-horn (yes, I am serious), until I got smart, and realized KitchenAid makes an attachment for sausage-making.
As the meat mixture (or vegetarin for that matter) is put in the top, use the wooden handle (or stomper) to push in down through the opening. This visual is a bit, um, interesting, but that’s was sausages are all about. And at 5, it’s an innocent.

When stuffing the sausage, the most important part is to leave air pockets every few inches. This is done by gently squeezing the mixture down the casing. This must be done repeatedly, or the casing will burst in such a way as to make you wish you were wearing a full-face hockey mask (I’ll loan you one of Rog’s).

Once full, with air-pockets in the casing, stop the blender and tie off the casing. It usually takes me 3 knots to make sure it doesn’t come apart.

Cooking—btw–place the finished casings in cold water until ready to cook. Once ready, the sausages can be cooked a variety of ways. The potato sausage recipe calls for cooking in hot water. Not boiling, but simmering. About a half hour in, the casing will become hard and full. Taking a pin (or needle) prick holes in the sausage and the water/air will be released. This also reduces the risk of the casing bursting.

The cook-time is somewhat of an art form-or trial by error, depending on the meat to vegie ratio. Generally, it’s an hour. Take one out and test it for texture. Like vegetables, come in our family like the sausages over cooked, and some under (yick).

That’s it. About 2 hours start to finish, very fun, and a huge monetary savings. They also freeze well (raw or cooked).

Biscuits the Swedish way

Today is a fire day, which makes me yearn for my mother’s buttermilk biscuits. Fattening, rich, divine. Hot out of the oven, cold, or lovingly warmed within a thin towel inside a steamer on the stove. (Heathens use a microwave. It hardens the biscuit and toughens the texture, when then turns to rubber. retreat! retreat!)

I like to call these the 10-minute wow food. Not sure why guests are so incredibly impressed with a food product so simple. Perhaps it’s because these divine little beasts are as flakey and beautiful as they are delish. If I were my sister, I’d whip up a batch right now so I could show pics. Sadly, I’m out of buttermilk, as well as the substitute (sour cream+milk). My party the other night consumed all three, and I’m not wanting to venture out. sorry. next time I make them-in a few days I’ll post shots. Otherwise, I’ll wait until my sister and mom give it a whirl and I’ll steal the photos.

The key ingredients-butter of course, high-quality salted is my preference, organic buttermilk, fully leaded (none of this low fat stuff). The key tool is a divider (see pic). I have several types, it doesn’t make a difference in the outcome. I use what’s clean at the time.

Baking is key. While golden brown top is cosmetically appealing, these babies are more moist when barely a hint of color is on the top. Unlike most dinner roll recipes, that call for a thin swipe of butter on the top, these don’t need it. They are loaded with the stuff and flake perfectly.

To be fair, this recipe came from the Olson Family Cookbook (an internal document, guarded with the secrecy of Microsoft’s code set). I have three pages turned: the buttermilk biscuits, Swedish pancakes, the  Giblet turkey stuffing, swedish holiday potato sausage (double yum) and cornstarch bread pudding. What this really means is that I’ve used all five so many times I’ve memorized the pages, and actually have to use the book for all other recipes.

Now that I’m on page itself (pg 30, if you can’t rip one from the hands of a dead relative) was actually submitted my none other than my mom. I hope she doesn’t get mad.

Ingredients
5 Tbs butter, cold
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda

This makes about 12 or so. Double the recipe. You’ll eat 6 yourself.

Process
Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl (don’t sift). Cut in the butter, mix with the divider until the pieces resemble peas.
Turn the though on to a floured board. Keep additional flour handy.
Knead it gently for about a 1/2 minute.
Pat the dough to the thickness of 1/4 inch.
Cut with a biscuit cutter (the round, metal cookie cutters sold at every Target or cooking shop)
Bake 10-12 minutes.

NOTE: A righteous debate has evolved in our immediate family about the merits of rolling vs not rolling. It’s equivalent to heresy. For generations, the dough has been “patted,” not flattened with a rolling pin. The logic was that the more “movement” of the dough, the higher likelihood that the biscuits will turn out more like hockey pucks, hard and flat, than a nice, flakey bread product. So, for years, I’ve abided by this simple rule, invariably patting vs rolling, only failing when I over-handled the dough.

Along comes my sister, who bettered us. She defied tradition, and kneaded the bread for a solid 5 minutes, about as long as one would need dinner rolls. Mind you, she didn’t use a rolling pin at all–hand-kneading is the skill of moving the bread together on either side, flipping it, pushing down, then flipping it again, so all corners/sides of the bread are engaged. Hence, the requirement for the flour.

Her results were amazing. Not only did the biscuit rise higher, it was also flakier.

When I have time, I’ll go with her method. All other times, I whip these up when guests have already arrived, pop them in the oven when the other food is resting or cooling. Just before guests are going to sit down at the dinner table, I’ll put the biscuits in the oven and serve piping hot biscuits with dinner.

A word to the wise–these don’t do well when sitting on the counter, pre cooked. It’s sometimes a pain, but the prep and cook need to be done one after the other, not with hours in between. The result are hard, crusty biscuits–the anti-biscuit if you will.

Make sure to have lots of soft butter and jam available. I almost always sneak in 1 or 2 of these before I serve them, because I love them piping hot. Enjoy.

Good eats Thursday- Ebelskivers, a Swedish Favorite

Norpro Ebelskiver Stuffed Pancake Pan 3113Ebelskiver, the wonderful Swedish popover is now possible for the masses. How happy was I when I got the latest Sur la table catalog in the mail and found a gift set on page 20 ($49.96). Personally, I’ve been


without a ‘true’ set for years, making do with a cast iron skillet that is a similar form and function. Of course, my delight was short-lived. In the text it gives credit to “The Danish Tradition” (Denmark?? Land of cheese and clogs? come on–they could at least have gone Holland), adding insult to injury by coupling the pan with a mix from Stonewall Kitchen and Wild Blueberry Jame from Maine.  Maine? WTF? Could they have least have gone northwest, and put something edible in the gift set, like Marionberry from Washington or at least Chokecherry from Canada?

This is forcing me to digress on a minor culinary pet peeve. Why is it that all things gourmet food-stuff seems like it must have a “from Maine,” tag, title or reference, like it’s the manna from heaven coming down to us foodies. I get the whole Maine lobster thing, sure. It’s like northwest Salmon, Wisconsin cheese, Idaho potatoes, Vermont Maple Syrup, Texas bbque and southern grits (although writing that sentence gave me hives, especially the grits part, but whatever). But Maine blueberry jam put me over my morning, no-caffeine, non non-bro self, as if that state has the corner on blueberries. As far as I know (and that’s not a lot, but go with me, it’s early yet), Vermont maple syrup is the real deal, found only in and around Vermont. Never heard of a Kentucky Maple Syrup, although we have lots of maple tree varietals in Washington, but none must have that special marketing power to give rise to entire industry.

Now that I’m on the subject, I’ll have to stop what I’m doing and go check this out. It could be a new career. Instead of cutting down trees with wanton diseregard (for to ‘us’ Washingtonians, Maples are considered a weed), I’ll strike up a one-woman industry around Maple syrup, draining trees dry like a leech on a leg in my Grandmother’s lazy river (after I’ve stepped in a rabbit-size pound of cow-dung).

In the meantime, I’m going to go make some Ebelskivers, sans blueberry jam.

Addictive Chocolate Dessert aka Best Krinkle Treats

It’s time. I’ve made my people wait long enough. To follow is the recipe for “my” version of Krinkle Treats. I suspect the word Krinkle is used because dough is rolled in a ball, then placed in powdered sugar (confectioners sugar), rolled around/covered completely. When it bakes, the white breaks apart, or krinkles, like a chocolate earthquake.

chocolate_crinkle_cookies.jpg

Note to all: you have read, sympathized and laughed at my obsession with these cookies. These are highly addictive; the dough moreso for me than the actual baked cookie. I believe it’s because the dough is thicker than a mousse before it’s been chilled, and has a different texture than chocolate cornstarch pudding, which is also divine to eat when warm. The picture and trend is clear: warm, chocolate and dense.

Another minor note: The heavyweight, tastebudless, caffeine freaks in the northwest like the darker stuff, as in, the original recipe calls for 100% bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened cocoa and coffee. However, I puke on that recipe. A single bite of the dough or half a cookie literally flies me to the moon from the caffeine rush. Within fifteen minutes, I get a splitting headache, and I’m morally opposed to spending money on rich butter and expensive chocolate only to let others eat my wares. Thus, I cut this down for myself, making my guests eat my own concoction. Guess what? It’s been beloved for years now.

Note to the ‘true lightweights’ e.g. those that don’t eat a lot of chocolate. I’ve found that no matter how much “sugar” a person eats, chocolate brings forth a very different reaction. Thus, I suspect persons like my mother will go so far as to substitute out the bittersweet chocolate for a 100% semi-sweet recipe. That’s OK. Part of being a great cook is knowing your own tastes, the preference of your family/friends, and adjust the recipe accordingly.

To give proper credit where credit is due, the original original recipe can be found on page 155 of my all-time favorite chocolate cookbook, The International Chocolate Cookbook by Nancy Baggett. The book is unreal. I’ve made every recipe in the thing, resulting in a book that should be replaced every other year, but I can’t let go of it, much like Rog’s bball jersey from the state basketball finals. (mine book isn’t as stinky as his jersey fyi).

Below is my recipe and it eliminates 4 items in the above and changes a few other items (like mine btr of course!)

Krinkle Treats

Time to make dough: @20 min
Time to freeze dough: 4 hours
Cooktime: 9-9.5 min

Ingredients
7.5 oz salted butter (I love Tillamook)
4 oz Bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 oz Semisweet chocolate, chopped
*Note: use a high quality, Ghiradelli or better. If you use Baker’s, the dough will be rougher/corser and lack the smooth, silky texture.
3 eggs
2/3 cp superfine sugar (if you have none, you can use regular, but it dramatically changes the dough and cookie. It will turn out a bit more like cake versus a wonderfully dense product). A word to the wise-if you have only Baker’s chocolate and regular sugar, this notches the recipe way down to being ok-good, not spectacular-great.
1 tsp good vanilla (see note above. Real vanilla creates a superior taste. Imitation vanilla is not half as good, and actually changes the flavor).
1 1/2 cup flour
salt to taste (in other words, it’s up to you. I always put in about 1/2 tsp or so)
1/2 tsp baking powder

Preparation

  • Place butter in a metal bowl over boiling water. 
  • When the butter is half-way melted, add the chocolate. Continually stir so as not to burn the chocolate. When the chocolate is nearly melted, remove the bowl from the stove and place on the counter. Let the mixture cool slightly. 

*Baker’s tip: when a recipe says “let cool slightly” what it really means is that the mixture can’t be burning to the touch, but still warm enough to dissolve the other ingredients, like sugar. The best way to test this is to dip your index finger in a bit of chocolate and place on your wrist (like a baby’s bottle). It should be warm but not burning.

  • Add the eggs one at a time, mixing with a fork. Don’t overbeat. Overbeating adds air in to the mixture, creating a fluffy, cake experience which is the opposite of a nice, dense cookie. Just stir enough to mix the eggs. 
  • Add superfine sugar and let stand for 8 minutes. This is required for the sugar to dissolve.
  • Combine the flour, salt and baking powder first (do not sift, as the result will be cakey-not dense)
  • Once the entire batter is mixed, place in a covered container, like a Ziploc plastic container, and place in the freezer for 4 hours.
  • Remove, and using a spoon or small ladel, scoop out the batter is equal sizes. 
  • Roll in your hands, then place in the sifted powdered sugar.
  • Coat completely
  • Place on a non-stick pan (with or without parchment paper but do NOT use non-stick spray of any kind as it will utterly ruin the recipe.
  • Cook for 9-10 min.
When you are ready to cook- 325 degrees

Baker’s tip: this last part is absolutely critical–and I’m talking the cook time. If you bake for more than 10 min, these little babies will harden up like hockey pucks within 15 minutes of being out of the oven. You must, I repeat must, slightly undercook. They will be slightly gooey when removed. That’s what you want. The cookies cool, and then can be placed in a container once cooled. When eaten, either cold or room temperature, the inside is moist and divine. The cookies can last up to 4-5 days if stored in the fridge or someplace cool. 

There you have it. Go forth and attempt to remain unaddicted.

Asian Style Crab Crepes

If you want an incredible tasting appetizer that is also beautiful, holds until the next day AND is fun to cook, this is it. For the carnivores at my gourmet cooking class a few weeks ago, this won top awards. (The vegetarians loved the artichoke bruschetta that best). When I say ‘hold until the next day’…to be clear, the batter must be separate from the filling.

Ingredients
½-3/4 cooked white crabmeat, shredded
7 scallions, both white and green parts, chopped
3 fresh hot green chilis
2 ½ cups chopped cilantro
¼ cp canola or sunflower oil
1.5 tbsp dark sesame oil
1/3 cup lime juice
1 ½ tsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp chopped or grated fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped or crushed salt
For garnish, peeled shrimp, orange, lemon and lime wedges, dill sprigs and basil leaves.
Preparation
  • 1.     Toss together the crabmeat, scallions, chilis and cilantro (and yes, you will use ALL the cilantro)
  • 2.     Stir together the canola or sunflower and sesame oils with the lime juice, soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Toss with the crabmeat mixture. Add salt to taste.
  • 3.     Cut the crepes in half. Warm them in a pan or in the oven at 350 degrees.
  • 4.     Fill and fold the crepes, arrange on the platter and serve immediately.

Crepes

1 1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp salted butter (melted)
½ tsp salt
¾ cup plus 2 tbsp butter all-purpose flower
Preparation
  • 1.     Sift dry ingredients together
  • 2.     Combine milk and melted butter
  • 3.     Add wet to dry, blend with old-fashioned egg beater or electric mix.
  • 4.  For a thin crepe, use 1/4 cup batter. For a thicker crepe, a bit more-like 1/3.
  • 5.     Pour in crepe pan
Note: to make the crepes look extra exotic, add chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, parsely, tarragon or chervil to the batter just before making the crepes. When serving…cut the round crepes in half. Spread the filling in the center–a little goes a long long way. Start at the corner, fold in, and make a nice folded crepe. If necessary, use a toothpick to hold the crepe together for a finger food. Looks great!!
The intimidation factor….
A few special notes on making the crepes, which freaks people out, but is very easy. If the few first attempts look terrible, read the a few times.
At the class, I used a full-size crepe pan. It’s about 9″ round. This was perfect for cutting the crepes in half, as noted above. I thought that was fine for a dinner, but for a party, the crepes and serving sizes needed to be smaller. So for a baby shower I was giving, I used my small omelette pan as well as the crepe pan, (any non-stick pan works fine) and made crepes about 3-4″ in diameter.
One last note of notes. With or without a non-stick pan, melted butter is a far superior substance than Pam, or even the expensive non-stick products. Better taste aside, the butter simply works the best. My trick is to melt some butter in a small bowl, place on a plate my the stove along with a tablespoon and a paper towel. After putting a tbs of butter on the surface of the pan, I spread with the papertowel, thoroughly coating the bottom and all sides of the pan. THEN pour in the batter, swirl around the bottom and sides of the pan. 
Unlike breakfast crepes, you don’t want the edges to turn brown before turning. Keep an eye on the crepe. It takes only a minute or two so on med-to-low heat on each side. The goal is to have the crepe cooked, but not brown.
When you are done, slide the crepe on to a dinner plate to cool. It will burn your fingers if you attempt to put the cold filling directly in the hot crepe. It will also change the flavors slightly. Of course, you can eat this app warm or cold, and it’s divine either way.

Emergency Preparedness-The First 24 hours

I must have a death wish. Or a desire to be near a catastrophe. Nothing else explains why I live in a veritable Bermuda triangle of potential natural disasters.

Day 1-fun times, great pics

“We have potentials for an earthquake (the fault lines), volcanic eruptions (Mt. Rainier), mudslides and flooding (everywhere) and tsunamis (the coastline),” said the Fire chief of the City of Issaquah. Twelve of us women sat with pencils and notebooks, as if we were going to save our communities and selves if any of these were to occur. “Worse, we aren’t allowed to get to you if you happen to live in a small neighborhood.”

At that point, I should have got my sweatpant-wearing self off the chair and left the room. For what was the point? I thought. My tiny 16-home community wasn’t even officially incorporated. We are on a community well that barely has enough power to satisfy daily requirements.

When me and my siblings earned our driver’s license, my mom put a 72-hour backpack in our car. It was for “emergencies,” she said. It had food, one of those shiny blankets that could withstand arctic temperatures. Wipes. Toilet paper and scissors. Aspirin and gauze. You name, that backpack had it. I kept in my car for twenty years, periodically changing the battery on the flashlight and rotating out the food.

Mom also had a two year supply of food in the basement, ready to go at a moments notice should the next seven-year drought occur (next following the first, as noted in the Bible a’la Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors fame). That too, was good advice. I keep a three-month supply of food in the downstairs laundry room and have three fridges. Rog is a supporter because he grew up with little food, and as a result is a bit of a food horder, thus the recent addition of a squat freezer in the garage.

I had my 72 hour kit, I told the chief, a generator and some food. I felt pretty good, I said.

The first chief looked at me with a bit of pity. “We won’t get to your home for at least two to four weeks if we have a real emergency.” In that time, he said, I’d likely have no heat, no water, no gas, run out of food, the gas stations would be dry, the grocery stores locked due to no lighting, and we’d be in a world of hurt.

“Get yourself a first response program,” he advised all in the room. “Do it now.”

Day 9-irritating, have to move
to the trailer-out of wood for the stove
and gas for the generator

That lecture was given six years ago, and in that time, the area has indeed had flooding and multiple power outages, some lasting nearly three weeks. We were lucky, as in, prepared. We had a lot of gas, two generators (a primary and a backup) but we learned a few things. The first is that our home cranks through a LOT of gas on a generator. We cut down heat everywhere, lit our handy-dandy camping lights and used the ovens sparingly. However, two weeks in to a power outage two years ago (where we had 3 feet of snow btw), we’d have been toast had it not been for a travel trailer we’d purchased on a whim. That thing ran for weeks on two small tanks of propane. We ditched our home to live in our driveway, cozy and cramped, until the state of emergency had ended.

The fire chief had been right on everything else. We had no gas (it eventually ran out), and we heard that no gas stations were open due to lack of electricity. The grocery stores were closed, the motels full up (those that had electricity that is) and entire swaths of high-rise apartments requiring propane were ice cold. Our small community had one more challenge, and that was we couldn’t make it down our steep hill, paved though it was. As an unincorporated road, the city was under no obligation to maintain it. It was over a week until the first cars made it down. (Side note: we have tractors up here, almost all homes have at least 1 4wheel drive, but it didn’t matter. The road was simply dangerous).

Day 15-no snow melt and we
are stir crazy but warm in the trailer
watching Disney movies

As uncomfortable as we were, some neighbors had it worse. At least we retained the wood burning fireplace in our home, and it while we remained inside, the house was very toasty. (but we were dumb. We hadn’t stocked up enough wood and went through what we had within days). Neighbors with neither wood-burning nor another alternative were literally freezing, and huddled up with us and one another. It was quite an eye-opener.

Since that time, State of Washington created a program called Map Your Neighborhood. Statistically speaking, most deaths occur in the first 24 hours after a disaster–the very time when response crews and personnel are completely overwhelmed.

MYN created a video to talk about the ways a “neighborhood” defined as 15-25 homes, can prepared. Although not all states have such a program, this one is easy to implement anywhere in the world. Actual materials can be purchased–and by materials, I’m talking the booklet that is a step-by-step checklist of the neighborhood requirements (e.g. chainsaw, generator etc).

Imagine if the folks in Chile had been able to band together after the recent disaster. This inevitably happened when the looting and rioting took over as the disaster overwhelmed the police and fireman. Much of the world lives in areas prone to the devastating forces of nature. Being prepared now can save lives.

A few highlights of the program and how-to:
1-hold a mtg w/the neighborhood homeowners/renters etc. (this works just as well w/apartments/condos/etc)

2-go through the checklist and identity the available tools and skills (who is handy with a welder, who has chainsaws to cut down trees etc)

3-assign “leaders” for critical check items. For instance, one person double-checks all the natural gas in the homes have been turned off. This is a huge risk factor that can wipe out homes and families in one explosion. Another key assignment is a ‘safe home’ suitable for the elderly or children, if relevant. Back-up power, heat, food storage etc are other critical components.

4-review when and where to place the Need Help sign found in the MYN booklet. This page can be torn out and pasted on a window in front. It immediately identifies to other neighbors and/or emergency personnel if you are in need.

5-hold annual meetings to update the information, ensure tools are working and in good condition (generators in particular).

It’s not very time consuming, and I’m a major advocate of this program. I’m currently working to deploy this through community associations and church organizations as a means to getting neighborhoods on board. It’s a small effort for a major, life-saving result. The key is to do it before the disaster strikes.

Preventing break-ins with 9 solid home security tips

This morning Porsche ran upstairs, screaming about the deer in our yard, alerting the house to the intruder at exacty 6:34 in the AM.

“Is that all?” I yawned. Thankfully so. I needed to get up anyhow, so down I went, in to her room that once held a cougar (the previous owner had a pet cougar, and the room as a 20×20 cage. we’ve turned it in to a bedroom, and it offers great views of the surrounding wilderness). In remembrance, we lovingly call it ‘the cage.’ (though admittedly, this is in-family only. Otherwise we’d come across all S&M)

Sure enough, a wonderful buck with four points (as Rog verified) stood right outside her window, eating what was left of my 2010 garden. I took a few pictures, then put on my slippers and helped it get out of our enclosed acreage. It now has only one path of entry, up three acres of six foot high blackberry bushes. Anything that can make it through that terrain deserves to eat my food. Nonetheless, I supposed this to be the same buck that previously came on with his dearess and fawn, got confused and we had to help off before my dog got in on the act. This was done by slowly walking behind the animal, encouraging it to find the only exit.

our breakfast companion
Mission accomplished, I remembered that I’d recieved a text yesterday suggesting I blog on home security.
Sadly, we’ve been violated several times since moving in to this area. It’s not prestine mind you; more Beverly Hillbillies than Hills. Yet it’s not trailer trash central either. Without giving rise to would- be stalkers, we are within five miles of mass civilization, but the proximity to land preserves means we have bears, deers, wolves, foxes, and an occasional burglar on the property.
When we purchased this home, it was a dump. Five acres of horse poop surrounding a home with an indoor outhouse (I’ll dig up some pictures in case you don’t believe that). It was all we could afford, and figured we had to start somewhere. In any case, we had no need for a fence or gate. The house was worth less than the land, and we couldn’t give our natural compost away. It wasn’t until four years later that we had to erect a gate. I’m all for freedom of speech, and the Jehovah’s Witness marauders are really decent people (plus quite creative: they pair a man with a young girl to remove the threat). They weren’t as bad as the weird breed of Sunday drivers (aka looki-loos) who mistake Private Property signs for Come-on-In, that put us over the edge. Instead of a much-needed trip to Hawaii, I got iron bars with spokes.

That kept out visitors well enough, but not the neighbors. We were cursed with a pond dug by the previous owner. It fills on its own, thanks to being at the bottom of our property. Nonetheless, the old codgers in the neighborhood are vigilant about water usage. A few have feuds dating back decades, a modern day version of the Hatfields and McCoys. These are the same folk that stew about our pond having more water than it ought, (thereby leaving their man-made horse pond dry), then redirect run-off gulleys directly in to a down-road neighbors driveway, just to flood it water. (For no other purpose that being an evil). But I digress.

I grew tired of having my garden hose ‘mysteriously’ turned off in the middle of the day. My solution was to head to Home Depot, purchase green stakes and some fenching material, a hammer, and erect a flimsy barrier. It wouldn’t keep out a determined person, I knew, but figured it would deter a seventy-something busy body.
In truth, it deterred neither.
One winter night, I left Rog in the bedroom and descended to the bottom floor where I could turn the heat up to temperature of the sun without nary a complaint from Rog. Our home is odd, constructed by a Boeing engineer and a few logs, the thing has two internal doors, lots of open space and at its base, is surrounded by concrete. I can’t hear Rog snoring from the depths below, another reason for my choice of leaving him that particular night.
At one in the morning, I noticed the light was on, and I woke up, bleary eyed, telling Rog to turn off the light, then promptly went back to sleep. A while later, three am by my clock, the light was off, but I saw Rog standing right in front of my bed.  I asked him why he was still awake, and if I anything was wrong. He said not a word, left to go upstairs, or so I thought. That pissed me off. I yelled at him to get back and talk to me (and I’m big enough to admit this) sitting up just in time to flick on the lights and see a man dressed head to toe in black running out of our home.
My immediate reaction was a) that’s not Rog b) he’d been in our home at least two hours, c) he’d been standing over me for who knows how long.
I could barely breath I was so terrified. I tried to scream and nothing came out. It was like those horror movies and bad dreams come true. I literally had no voice eventhough I was ‘giving it all she got’ (captain) (Sulu/Star Trek). Rog finally heard me, rushed downstairs but the figured was long gone.

When the detective arrived, we asked lots of questions and we learned a few things.

1-pay attention. Sounds obvious, but it wasn’t. The light on the garage had been unscrewed, as had the lights on all the backdoors. Rog, in his infinite, money-saving wisdom, had been known to unscrew the light(s) himself during the day, (not using the switch so I wouldn’t notice). For the last few days, I’d been screwing them back in, irritated, but thought nothing of it. Turns out, the night we got hit was one where I’d not bothered.

2-check the footprints. Also, the nights prior to this event, the ground had been hard with frost. I’d noticed footsteps around the backdoor, but once again, thought it was Rog. No one was ever that close to our doors. The detective walked us around the house, showing how the intruder had clearly cased the joint.

3-check wiring. At the time, we had one string of low watt flourscent path lights. That night, they’d been cut. The detective showed us where the intruder had hidden his handywork, placing a bunch of pine needles on the cut itself.

His conclusion? “Anyone who got this close to the property was watching you for a while.”

That wasn’t the worse part. Remember I wrote I’d been lying in bed and saw the person at the baseboard? He’d taken our cookie jar, a squat, red-faced porter figure, removed the head and positioned it right in front of me.

“He’s telling you he’s watching you” said the detective with that “straight-from-CSI Miami-look.”

our beast, Penelope the pitbull,
aka, lapdog on a friends lap
Not good.

4- get a dog. That was it. Rog and I stopped fighting about whether or not to “commit” to one another and went to the dog pound. (this was pre-kids. commitment btw, didn’t mean home ownership. anyone could do that. true love meant buying a dog together).

“Even a ‘yap-dog’ is a deterent,” said the detective. I don’t recall the statistical numbers he threw ou at us, but the likelyhood of an burgler (or worse) entering a home with a dog drops over 80% when a dog is present. Here that all. GET A DOG!

We went to the animal shelter, looked at every four legged dog present, then asked for the one with the best ‘ratings.’ In King County, dog shelters are required to test a dog on 8 traits–such as obedience, interaction with cats, other animals/dogs, kids, etc. This was where we found our pitbull. She was a mush (that’s pronunced mah btw), and she went home with us that day. I’ll save my love of this dog for another time. Turns out this pure bred dog was dropped off by a warring couple w/three kids going through a divorce, and couldn’t decide who kept the dog. Thus, they opted out of Salomin’s choice to cut the beast in half and instead, donated it to the local shelter. Suffice it to say she barks at anything around our perimeter, otherwise, she considers herself an 80 lb lapdog. We didn’t set out to get any kind of dog: we just lucked out with her. 7 years later, she’s proven a defender against other attack dogs (I was attacked by 3, with a newborn/another blog), identified a would-be intruder (another blog). Sorry-can’t help myself. love this animal.

5-use your security system. Dumb us. We had one. one of the best in fact. Didn’t have it on. In fact, we’d never turned it on at night. The area hadn’t had a breakin for twenty years. Little did any of us know the largest meth lab west of the rockies had been discovered a mere five miles from our home the month earlier. Nice. Think of the property value increase if we publicized that one.

6-get a real fence and more light. The detective also informed us two second and third detractors to an intruder are lighting and fencing. The lights because they have no where to hide. He pointed out the number of trees close to our house providng plenty of room to hide. Gone. Had those removed. The fencing had to wait, but now we have six foot high fencing. It keeps the dogs in and the deer out-mostly. Of course, if someone really wants to enter and get past my dog then I’m a dead person anyway.

7-hide your passport. Once again, dumb me. I had my laptop and passport in my briefcase. I’d recently traveled and not separated one from the other. It was gone. Fortunately, the passport was found in a ditch, but my briefcase was gone (I’d rather have lost the passport frankly. I loved that hand-stitched work of art. I’m still pining…)

8-post warning signs. I’d never thought this was a deterent, but statistics once again proved me wrong. We now have signs around the property.

Sadly, I’m in the majority of the population that does nothing ‘active’ about protecting the home until after the first breakin. That said, since that time, we’ve had zero break-ins, but homes in neighboring areas haven’t been so lucky. In each case, they shared some of the above items–no dog, no security system, no lights. OH–they were also hit during the day.

IMPORTANT: The #1 time for a home to be hit is between 3-4 in the morning, when the family is dead to the world (sleeping). The trait for this type of intruder is the person that likes a thrill, but isn’t “aggressive,” or in other words, they aren’t looking to kill anyone. They tend to hit homes with two stories (or more) and only go in and out on the bottom floor. In our case, the intruder didn’t make it upstairs for whatever reason.

The second most common time for a break-in is in the morning, when the dad is gone to work and the mom is off taking the kids to school. The detective told of a recent event where the mom came home early, as she forgot an item, and surprised the burglers. They tied her up, ransacked the joint, took her car, and she wasn’t found until her husband got a call from the school her children hadn’t been picked up.

9-mix up your daily routine. Even stay at home moms get routines. If you are in the middle of suburbia, change up the times for the gym, coffee at Starbucks and visiting the neighbor. Get a dog, use the security system, and watch the lights.

In my case, the detective was worried because someone who took the time to get the cookie jar, hover over me and place the figurine by my feet has a sick agenda. We (I) consider myself extremely fortunate. I also feel the Good Lord was watching over me, woke me at that particular moment, for had I not awoken, I know for a fact I’d have been bound, gagged and Roger wouldn’t have heard my screams. The concrete walls assured that, and this intruder probably knew it.
Knock on wood, we’ll be good for a while. Investing in the small stuff is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes with good security.

Perfect Chocolate Mousse

It’s only 11 am (PST), more than enough time to have the best tasting chocolate mousse for dessert tonight.
This recipe is the easiest, fastest and best mousse recipe I’ve concocted. While the original version is in The New Best Recipe cookbook, (page 973), I’ve made significant changes.
For mousse connisouers, if you prefer a dark-dark version, that’s heavy on the liquor and coffee, go with the original version (you have to buy the book!). I prefer something a bit less dark, since the ultra-dark chocolate gives me a headache. Also, call me kooky, but I’m also particular about the texture. Some mousse recipes make it super airy and fluffy-hence mousse. I, on the other hand, like a creamier texture, less air. Almost between a pudding and mousse.
The New Best Recipe: All-New EditionBy now you’re thinking I have more time than necessary on my hands, and have made far too many mousse recipes. Reality is that this takes less than 20 minutes, and impresses the heck out of guests, so I it’s my default dessert. Really.
As a side note: I’m a cookbook addict. I love to cook. Love cookbooks. Once I buy a cookbook (and it’s sub 200 pgs) I’ll go through each and every recipe, making most (save things I’m allergic to or despise). One of my pet peeves is that I close the book finding only a half-dozen I truly like. The New Best Recipe defies all odds. Not only have I found ways to improve my already-decent meatloaf through cooking techniques, but the smothered pork chop recipe is as divine as the chocolate mousse I based my recipe upon. The flan is outstanding, the roast–i could go on and on. This isn’t to say I don’t make a lot of changes in each one, because I do. But dollar for dollar, this is by far, the most superior, general cookbook I own. (if you have a friend/wife/sister who likes to cook, see if she/he has this book. If not, it’s an awesome gift. I bought for my sister, mom and cousin one year).
Cooks note:
For an extra creamy chocolate mousse, fold in 1 cup of heavy cream that’s been whipped (instead of the ½ cup called for below). Make this mousse at least 2 hours before you wish to serve it to let the flavors develop, but serve within 24 hours, or the flavor and texture will deteriorate.
Ingredients
3 oz bittersweet chocolate (Ghiradelli or better) (found a coupon here)
3 oz semisweet chocolate (Ghiradelli or better) chopped
4 tbs (1/2 stick) salted butter
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs orange flavored liquor or light rum (this is optional. I use it only when I know the guests like liquor, but 99% of the time, I don’t put it in. It doesn’t affect the texture)
4 large eggs, separated (room temperature)
2 tbs sugar
½ cup chilled organic heavy cream (see my previous recipe blogs on the diff between organic heavy cream and reg under 9 cooking rules to live by)
Note: the original recipe calls for coffee, but I leave this out. I’ve found many guests either don’t like coffee or don’t like mocha/coffee flavor in the dessert. If you want to add it, substitute the 2 tbs alcohol for the pre-made coffee.
1.     Melt the butter first, and then the chocolate in a double boiler (I use a round, metal dish above a small pan. This allows for better control)
2.     Lower the heat, and add the salt and vanilla.
3.     Whisk the yolks in one at a time. This is very important. You need to make sure that each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Set aside.
VERY QUICKLY
4.     Stir the egg whites in a clean mixing bowl on high, 1-2 minutes.
5.     Beat until soft peaks form (if the eggs or cold, you need to put the whites in a bowl over warm water to warm first).
6.     Which a quart of the whites into the cooled chocolate mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining whites.
VERY QUICKLY
7.     Clean and dry the mixing bowl, making sure not a drop of water is in the bowl.
8.     Beat the whipping cream on high until soft peaks form. DO NOT OVERBEAT, since hard whipping cream (almost like butter) won’t fold into the mousse, and it will be ruined.
9.     Try not to eat the entire thing as you spoon into your serving glasses.
10. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
11. Before serving, add a dollop of whipping cream to top.

Award winning Brownies

With halloween festivities fast approaching, my award winning brownies are a great, easy to make dessert. It can feed an army but is equally perfect for a nice party. This basic brownie recipe is from the original Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, Ina Garten, (pg 172/173), though it took only two times for my guests to reject the brownie as overly-sweet.

I had hope however, and started playing around with the ingredients. I’ve cut back on the overall amount of chocolate, substituted sweetened, salted butter (Tillamook) for unsalted, changed the type and the amount of salt slightly (small chunk Kosher), removed the coffee altogether, and am particular about the recipe size and pan. If this ISN’T chocolate enough for you, a) you have a bigger problem and b) you need to purchase her book!

I’ve made this recipe dozens and dozens of times. It was frustrating to me that it required a lot of trial and error to understand the “why’s” behind a few of the originally recommended techniques. At the same time, it’s been fun to change the recipe, and improve the outcome based upon my modifications. (sorry Ina!) The result is a brownie recipe you can serve at a nice dinner or fancy party. See the end of the recipe for serving tips.
Tip and techniques:
Metal bottom sheet cake pans are really the only ones that work with this recipe. Ceramic and glass don’t work. The center will be raw and the sides burnt. Trust me. Not good.
The quality of vanilla is important as well. Most folks probably can’t taste the difference, but cooks and discriminating eaters can. 
A last tip on this recipe. A single batch is too much for a regular size pan. Again, it has cooking issues. I happen to have 2 professional size sheet cake pans. These can be purchased at most cooking supply stores. Increase the batch to a double, and you will have enough for a party, your family, the neighbors…..
Ingredients
1 lb salted butter
1 lb, plus 6 oz semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra large eggs, room temperature
2 tbs pure vanilla
2 ¼ cup sugar
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 cups chopped walnuts
Note: I leave the walnuts out, or add it to half the pan, since a lot of people are allergic or don’t like nuts.
Preparation
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter, 1 lb of chocolate chips and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water.
  3. Remove the bowl from the water, and allow to cool slightly. “Slightly” means that the mixture is warm to the touch, but not burning. (the reason? the mixture must be warm enough to melt down the sugar. If it becomes cold, the mixture won’t blend and the recipe becomes more like molten lava).
  4. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat, very important) together the eggs, vanilla and sugar. (the reason behind not beating? This is because over beating puts air in the eggs. The result is a brownie that is fluffy, more like cake, instead of a dense. 
  5. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
  6. In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder and salt.
  7. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture.
  8. Toss the walnuts and 6 oz of chocolate chips with ¼ cup of flour, then add to the chocolate batter. (very important—if the batter is too hot, the chips will melt and the entire recipe ruined. Make sure the batter is very cool but not hard)
  9. Pour into a baking sheet.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove, and rap the sheet against the shelf or counter. You can’t skip this step!! It forces the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough.
  11. Bake for 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  12. DO NOT OVERBAKE!! You will have hockey pucks instead of brownies.
  13. Allow to cool thoroughly. In fact, I like these warm, or better after they’ve been in the fridge.

Serving tips:

For parties, allow to cool, then put on a Saran Wrap, very very tightly, and refrigerate overnight. This hardens the brownies without drying, ensuring the brownies settle, are very dense, and easy to cut in to all types of shapes. Remove from the pan and use fun cookie cutter shapes.
Your guests will love you!!

Best appetizer: Best crab cakes

With the holiday season fast approaching, I’m getting hit up for some great app recipes. The following recipe for crab cakes is a sure fire winner for any occasion or holiday in any season.

What makes this recipe so good you might ask? A large portion of the decade I spent in San Francisco was at Fog City Diner. The diner was located within walking distance of my first office, and was a key decision making factor when I searched for a bigger office space. Every lunch for six years was spent at the diner, and my ever-expanding waistline bore testament to my addiction. When Rog and I started dating, he predicted I was on the fast-track to a heart attack. I either needed to start running along the Embarcadero or “cut back on the crab cakes.”

I started running along the Embarcadero.

The key to great crab cakes is having a high proportion of crab, as well as enhancing the flavors of the other ingredients. The way to do this is by sautéing the onion, garlic, celery and peppers in a metal-bottomed pan. This blends and folds the flavors in a way that is not accomplished by adding the ingredients together cold.
This particular recipe is a Sarah special. In other words, it’s a blend of a southern, creole recipe, a northwestern recipe and my additional ingredients I’ve incorporated over the years as I’ve served (and listened) to guest response. It’s always the first appetizer to go. I hope you love it as much as I do. (PS-I’ll post a pic after I make them again this wknd)

Crab cakes

1 lb fresh lump crabmeat (costco has a pre-packaged/fresh that is a great buy at $13/lb)
½ cup butter, some oil (depending on preference)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped orange and yellow each
1 chopped sweet onion
¼ cup minced sweet red onion
½ jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tsp minced garlic
1 cup chopped celery (inner stocks)
2 tsp fresh chopped tarragon
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp cayenne
½ tsp Hungarian paprika
Bit of cayenne pepper
Bit of tobasco sauce
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs (I prefer parmesan or garlic)
1 1/3 cup mayonnaise
Preparation
1.     Heat butter and oil in a large skillet.
2.     Slice both red and sweet onion finely. Sautee a few minutes.
3.     Slice the peppers and chile and add to the sautee. 3-5 minutes depending on heat.
4.     Near the end, add the garlic.
5.     Remove from heat and let cool.
6.     Add the crab and all other ingredients except egg, mayonnaise and bread crumbs.
7.     Lightly beat the eggs and mayonnaise. Add to the mixture
8.     Add the seasoned bread crumbs to the point where the mixture holds together but is not dry.
9.     Note-if the mixture is runny and you are out of bread crumbs, press the moisture out of the mixture, either through a strainer. If it’s still runny, chop more bread crumbs to reduce the moisture. If the mixture if runny when cooked, the cakes won’t stay together, and will fall apart.
10. Using a small round tablespoon scooper, cantelope scooper or such item, scoop, round and place in the hot skillet.
11. Note: To ensure a nice, even crab crake, use a fork (or other object) to slighty flatten the crab cake. If I am in a rush, I use a bacon press. This ensures the cakes are even and cook very fast.
Sherry-Cayenne topping:
1 cup mayannaise
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Preparation
1.     Mix all three items together
2.     Place a dollop on each crab cake

Tofurkeys and other strange turkey alternatives

We recently accepted a dinner invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner with some friends and dine on a fabulous, man-made concoction, a “Tofurkey.” As my mom reads this, I imagine her first looking up and asking my father “what’s a Tuforkey,” as though it’s a new swear word.

Mom. Not so. We are talking about an actual turkey, made of tofu and molded in to the shape of a Turkey. And because you don’t know what tofu is all about, it’s a non-meat based substance that you wouldn’t deign to taste. If you did, you’d swirl it around in your mouth, then spit on the floor. We have been informed the entire tofurkey with all the trimmings are available at Whole Foods.

Rog and I are pretty excited. After all, how often do I get to experience anything new at 42? And since we’re going to deflower our tofurkey selves, we’re going all in. This means having the vegetarian  stuffing, or whatever vegetarians substitute for stuffing, since it can’t have innerds in it, potatoes (sans butter or cream) and some type of vegetarian pumpkin pie. I did propose a desert or two, just in case the experiment goes bad, like Jeff Goldblume in The Fly. That idea got shot down hard and fast. As Roger later remarked, “you gonna gamble with your life, do it all the way.”

It got me thinking about other Thanksgiving dinners where we felt on the edge. During one Thanksgiving meal at another friends home, we ate some type of other white meat, but it was unidentifiable. It was complimented with cherry rice stuffing and walnuts (odd), roasted bell peppers and blueberry cobbler. Even immigrants to this country know it was pumpkins, not blueberrys. We said nary a word, ate as much as decorum dictated, then hit the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home. The friendship was short-lived.

Tofurky, non-molded kind

The year after, we figured we’d play it safe, and invited friends over. The couple were Australian, and came on the condition they cook in our kitchen. No problem. We knew them both to be carnivores. To whit, she spent three hours turning over little hens that turned out beautifully. The other food was an odd jumble of items I didn’t eat and don’t recall. This was because I was so famished after four hours I’d snuck Ritz crackers from the pantry to avoid starvation. 

This year, our next door neighbors are going to have venison, but this is a part of deer if I’m not mistaken. Sounds gamey, anti-bambi and wild in a barbaric, I-have-to-go-kill-something type of a way. Then there is the fish alternative, Salmon being an obvious. Can’t think Washington without conjuring up a salmon. Having arrived on the other side of “Salmon Days” festival this last weekend, it’s time to give the slippery critters a break so they can mate and die as God intended.

If we go strictly vegan, we could get a  roast, made of butternut squash, apples and mushrooms, a vegan turkey breast from Whole Foods, and then other strange things I’m not even going to mention.

For the pie recipe, I found this one from Nava Atlas. It sounds pretty strange, and haven’t made it myself, but as long as you (MOM) are reading, I figured I’d get crazy and put it in. You’ve tried fifteen different bread pudding recipes lately, so you might as well try a new pumpkin one!



2 cups well-baked and mashed butternut squash or sugar pumpkin (see Notes)
3/4 cup silken tofu (about half of a 12.3-ounce aseptic package)
1/2 cup natural granulated sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or 1/4 tsp. each ground nutmeg & ginger)
9-inch good quality graham cracker or whole grain pie crustPreheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the pumpkin or squash pulp in a food processor with the remaining ingredients (except crust). Process until velvety smooth.
Pour the mixture into the crust.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture is set and the crust is golden.
Let the pie cool to room temperature.
Cut into 6 or 8 wedges to serve.

NOTES: To bake butternut squash or sugar pumpkin, halve the squash or pumpkin (you need a really good knife to do so!) and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place the the halves cut side up in a foil-lined, shallow baking dish and cover tightly with more foil. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the pulp and discard the skin. Use any leftover squash or pumpkin pulp for another purpose.If you want to make this in a hurry, you can use a 16-ounce can of pureed pumpkin.

In the meantime, I’m going to get all ready for my first tofurkey, and let you know how it goes.

Taquito bite appetizers

Last night was Apple Celebration, a wonderful adoration of children, fall colors and all things that fall from trees. My task was to prepare an appetizer and I willfully rebelled against the inclusion of apples. It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s that my husband, and men in general, want meat in addition to, or instead of, one sweet dessert and app after another. I made three dozen, the first plate was emptied in between the I put it down and turned around to get the other serving dish and put it on the table. 

Layered Taquio Appetizer



This is always sell-out recipe of my own concoction. It’s fast, easy and inexpensive.

Sarah’s double-layer Taquito bites

Time to prep: 20 min

Kitchen needs:

  • Sautee pan

Ingredients to purchase

  1. sweet onions (1)
  2. small chicken (pre-roasted) is fastest
  3. 1/2 red bell pepper
  4. 1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper (see note below)
  5. Good olive oit
  6. Salted butter
  7. Corn tortillas
  8. Sour cream
  9. Salsa
  10. Seasonings:
    1. chile seasoning
    2. tobasco (optional)
    3. hungarian sweet paprika
    4. kosher salt
    5. cilantro (but can use parsely if you don’t care for cilantro)

Note: (I have a thing against green bells. I’ve found guests don’t like the stronger taste of greens, so I opt for the other colors. The flavor is a bit sweeter. You can substitute at will).

Prepare the chicken. I was in a rush yesterday, so I cheated a purchased an organic, pre-roasted chicken for $6.75 at the local market.
    Sauteed ingredients
  • Sautee in a few tbls oil the onion for @3 min, just until it starts to turn transulcent. Add the bell peppers (remember, it’s only half of the large ones. Anything more overwhelms the amount of chicken).
  • Sautee it all for another 5 min, enough to soften the peppers but retain some stiffness.
  • 

    Cookie cutter rounds
    a must for every cook

    

  • Add a tbls or more of butter. I almost always add some butter to the sautee. It gives the onions a lot more flavor and richness that oil doesn’t.
  • A minute or so before you pull it off the range, add the chopped chicken, chile, tobaso and salt.Mix it all together so the flavors blend.
  • Take it off the stove to let cool.
In a skillet (preferably the kind that’s metal, not non-stick), drop enough oil for the corn tortillas. Since the smallest tortillas are taco size, I use metal cookie cutters to reduce the size. It’s witnessed that larger apps don’t get eaten because it’s too big for a guest to hold and manage. Smaller apps are called finger foods fo a reason. This doesn’t mean a guest will eat less–in fact, a guest will eat more of a smaller thing. 
Cutting the tortilla rounds

  • Take the round and cut into the tortilla. The larger round you choose will be the bottom for the taquito. Place the rounds in the skillet until lightly browned on each side.
  • Place the rounds on your serving dish, and place a spoon full of filling in the center.
  • Add a drop of salsa and sour cream (I don’t add sour cream all the time, just in case someone has a dairy allergy).
  • Cut smaller rounds, place in skillet, brown and layer on the top of the taquito.
  • Layer the taquito
  • Finish with either sour cream, cilantro or other garnish like sprinkle (grated) cheese, if you don’t have to transport somewhere. Last night, I had to transport the dishes, so skipped everything but the grated cheese.