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.

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.

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.

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