22 December 2010

Simply Cheesecake Experimenting

During the fall (it is now winter!) I enjoyed spending some time turning this . . .

. . . into this (okay, so I've only tried it twice).

The recipe for this chocolate pumpkin cheesecake is from a cookbook called "Simply in Season". I've had some problems with it. First off, I couldn't get the thick chocolate-y part to swirl very well.

So I thinned that part of the batter, with this result.

Hmmmm . . . still not getting the swirling part down. I may have to try layering it--pumpkin, chocolate-pumpkin--then swirling.

My second complaint with the recipe is that it isn't pumpkin-y enough for my taste. Too much chocolate, too little pumpkin. To remedy this (once the cake was already made) I came up with a pumpkin sauce to drizzle over it. Yummy! But not a permanent solution for the cheesecake itself. I've still got some work to do . . .

I was pretty pleased with the pumpkin sauce for its own sake though. Good on pancakes. French toast. In coffee. Over cheesecake. Over ice cream . . .

Once I nail either the cheesecake or the sauce to my liking, I'll post some recipes. Until then, happy experimenting! Let me know if you've got any tips!

Ginger Brew

A few months ago I bought some ginger root and club soda with the idea that I wanted to try making my own ginger brew. A few weeks ago it finally happened. There are scads of recipes on the internet, and I'm not even sure where my original came from. Basically, you just make a ginger/sugar syrup and add club soda to it by the glass. Not authentic maybe, but simple and yummy!

Here's what I did:

1/2 cup minced ginger (I whizzed it in the food processor)
2 c. water
2/3 c. sugar
zest of one lemon

Mix everything but the lemon zest together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Once it boils, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, add lemon zest, strain and cool.

To mix soda:

Place 2-4 TBSP of ginger syrup in a glass with ice. Add mint sprigs and a squeeze of lemon if desired. Fill with club soda and stir to mix. Lots of pretty, frothy bubbles! Taste and add more ginger syrup as desired. I also added in some of the strained-off minced ginger for some extra bite!

Cook's Word: I definitely need to at least double the amount of minced ginger for the syrup. I had to keep adding syrup to my soda to make it pungent enough!

Long Beans

Here's one from the "archives" (of pictures I hadn't sorted and made use of yet). Long beans which I found at our local farmers market back in November. And cooked shortly thereafter. They were too beautiful to resist (though they look a little snake-y in the pan)!

I didn't want to break them up, because that would make them look just like normal green beans. So, into the pan with a little oil, then pesto. If you remember my post a while back on pesto, I had forgotten to mention that one of my favorite ways to use it is on green beans.

Sprinkled with a bit of parmesan cheese and served up with some steaming "black bean-butternut-rice-etc. casserole" and mixed greens.

Cook's Word: A bit crunchier than your normal green bean--I kept cooking them but they never got truly soft. Which is okay, because I don't mind an "al dente" bean. The length definitely made them a bit of a choking hazard, though, so I would probably cut them into small pieces next time. The flavor combination of beans with pesto? Winner!

21 November 2010

Salad in Season

The plot. I am assigned to bring salad for a dinner with two friends.

I headed to the farmers' market on Saturday with pretty low hopes for finding salad greens. And my hopes were met. Only arugula and kale. Hmmmm . . . I tasted and was offered a deal for two bags. I picked up a bag of each plus some radishes and broccoli. A bit letdown, I was.

At the grocery store later, I found some beautiful red pears, green onions, a bit of bleu cheese, and pecans (for pie, but I thought I could steal some for salad).

Assembly time. The stems of the arugula and kale came off, and the leaves torn a little. I threw these into my shallow blue bowl with fancy rim. Next, a layer of thin radish slices and broccoli florets. Finally a swirl of pear slices and sprinkling of toasted pecans, chopped up a little. I waited to add bleu cheese until I was sure my friends would like it.

Dressing. This I got from my friend Barbara. Simple. Not the healthiest, but delicious and all-purpose. Two parts mayonnaise (I use "lite") to one part each of sugar and vinegar. Yum! I added a bit of freshly-ground black pepper too.

And don't you know. That salad was a hit. And I'm seriously thinking about re-creating it right now . . .

14 November 2010

Pumpkin French Toast

With a shift in my schedule at work, I've been enjoying a bit more morning time at home and have been happily breakfasting some of those mornings. Last week I tried this creation--adding pumpkin puree to a french toast batter. I layered some bread in a dish, poured over the stuff, let it soak a bit, then microwaved for six minutes. I finished it off under the oven broiler (a little longer than I should have!) for a toasty top. This was truly delicious with my pumpkin caramel sauce and whipped topping all over it! Mmmmm . . . Next time, I think I'll up the spices and put even more pumpkin in. Only problem is, I don't really know how much I added the first time. =)

11 November 2010

Broccoli Soup

Don't think I haven't been cooking just because I've been lax about posting here. I have so many little pieces of paper with scribbled notes and lots of photos floating around. Making time to grab hold of the right notes and the right pictures together just hasn't been at the top of my "To Do" list recently. My list from this morning--for example--included: calling a massage studio, cleaning my bathroom, putting canning jars away, and collecting money from a few people. But it said nothing about blogging (or laundry, which desperately needed putting away--see how that was past tense? I actually did that even though it hadn't made the list!).

Well, this isn't a blog about my life. It's about cooking. And I was able to find the scrap of paper that goes along with these pictures, so here you have it . . .

Creamy Curry Broccoli Soup

3 cloves garlic, smashed open
1/2 onion, chopped
glug of olive oil for sauteeing
1 TBSP butter (or just use more olive oil if you want vegan)
2 chicken and one vegetable bouillion cube (or all veg again)
4 cups water
5 cups broccoli pieces (I use stems too, since it will get pureed)
1/2 tsp. green curry paste

Method: Saute onions and garlic in olive oil/butter until soft. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until broccoli is tender. Process in blender or food processor until smooth. YUM!

Here's a picture of the curry paste I used. I suppose you could use red or yellow paste too with similar results. Sorry it's a bit blurry.

Cook's Word: I love pureed soups! So easy to throw everything in a pot and not worry about chopping just so since it'll all get whizzed to oblivion anyway--and I love the way the flavors meld when you blend a soup! I definitely like adding curry paste to this to make it a bit more interesting than a classic broccoli cream soup, and I'm thinking of doing this with pumpkin too. Beware, it gets hotter each day!

Special thanks to Mr. Froggy for helping to stir the soup!

29 October 2010


Sarma is a Turkish word meaning "a wrapped thing". You might be more familiar with the Greek term "dolmathes". More often than not, I call them "dolma", but that is a much broader term for a variety of stuffed vegetables. What they are is grape leaves filled with rice, currants, and spices. No meat this time, though I've tried with venison before. I'm still playing with how I like them, so no recipe yet. Just some play-by-play for fun . . .

about a TBSP of prepared filling is placed on a leaf

each bottom wing gets folded up like so . . .

then the sides are folded in as you roll it all up

done. (expect for steaming!)

steam in pan about 1.5 to 2 hours . . . they're worth the wait

As you can see, not a fast food. Rather time-consuming and tedious, a food well-suited to a cooking party with lots of friends around. The up-side is that they're yummy and fun to eat (finger food!). AND since you've gone to all the trouble and made a HUGE pot, there are leftovers for snacking!

I think this is a love affair that will continue to be refined with time.

Fish and Mango Burritos

I can never resist a just-ripe mango at a good price. Unfortunately, I often think they're too special to eat right away and end up waiting until a few over-ripe spots appear before taking the plunge. On this occasion, it was with fish. The mango was diced into a fresh salsa of onion, red pepper, lime juice and basil, spooned over cooked tilapia filets, topped with cheese . . .

. . . and rolled into a flour tortilla, drizzled with olive oil, and placed in the toaster oven at 350F for about 30 minutes.

I had some leftover mango salsa, so I stir fried it quick and we ate it over our rice at dinner.

20 October 2010

Butternut Pie

Nothing novel here. Just take your favorite pumpkin pie recipe and substitute an equal amount of butternut squash puree for the pumpkin! This is for those of you who are lucky enough to have an abundance of butternut in your garden. Or for those of you who don't want to mess with cooking a whole pumpkin.

I just cut my butternut into small pieces, peel, and cook them with minimal water. When soft, I mash them roughly with a fork and let them cool a bit. When you're ready to make pie filling, lob all the ingredients into a blender. This ensures that the squash will get smoothly pureed.

Happy autumn cooking!


Taste-tester reports that the pie is yummy but a little too spicy. Cook's note-to-self: hold some of the cloves next time!

18 October 2010

Pumpkin Gnocchi

While my husband re-heats leftovers, I have a few minutes to do a quick post before we enact "Computer-free Monday Evenings". (I'm getting reports that something bad might happen to me if I go around violating computer-free nights too freely). Yikes!

So, quick . . .

Pumpkin Gnocchi

I got this recipe from Martha Stewart. She e-mailed it to me. Just kidding! It's right here if you want to check it out. Since I pretty-much followed the recipe, I won't re-post it on this blog.

The gnocchi itself was fairly simple--flour, pumpkin, nutmeg, and cheese--while the sauce was a bit more involved.

Once this is mixed together, you roll it into ropes, cut into pieces and then boil them. It's a dumpling-pasta thing that is very soft and a little chewy. See a very poor picture below of the gnocchi emerging from the boiling pot.

First impressions: sorta flavorless with an overly-rich sauce. I think I would have preferred them with a tomato-y sauce, make it more like pasta.

Taste-tester says: "It's really gnocchi--like gummy bears with gravy." (to understand this comment better, you really should look up a pronunciation for "gnocchi")

Cook's Word: I think I'd make them again because it's a simple, fun, fast pasta thing to do. We liked them better lukewarm, and the texture kinda grew on me after a few days. I should try the more traditional potato variety too.

Now. Leftovers are hot, and "Computer-free Mondays" start in "one", "two" . . .

30 September 2010

Southern Summer

Now if fried green tomatoes and corn cakes don't make a grand southern summer-time meal! And the smell of frying! I've got kind of a love/hate relationship with that smell. I love it fresh when I'm snitching hot fried green tomatoes from the draining plate, but after an hour or so if I leave the kitchen and get a whiff of that burnt/fried smell in the air, it can about turn my stomach. Ugh.

The corn cakes are topped with some homemade yogurt and salsa, while the fried green tomatoes are accompanied by some of my tomato chutney from earlier in the summer. This meal, while somewhat deficient in color and variety, was chock-full of veggies (corn, tomatoes--red and green, onion, green pepper). I started off by just making the fried tomatoes, then used the leftover soaking mix (milk, egg, salt pepper) and dredging mix (cornmeal, flour, cayenne) as a base for some corn cakes. They were a bit too wet, but delicious none-the-less. Thanks, Tabitha, for the inspiration!

One parting shot of the 'maters. . .

Now, doesn't that plate of fried food and bright yellow table look just like a true southern diner?

20 September 2010

Fig Birds

I came across this idea on the Martha Stewart website when I was hunting inspiration for the rest of my fresh figs. Of course, I could have just eaten all of them fresh and loved every bit of it. But hey, figs with soft cheese . . . sounded too good not to try. While Martha used blue cheese and pecans in her figs, I went for goat cheese because I love goat cheese and would rather have that left over than blue. What can I say?

Once the figs are washed and the hard bit of stem removed from the top, cut them open as seen in the picture above and stuff a little nugget of cheese inside--I have to admit, the pungency of blue cheese probably would have tasted fabulous with my mildly sweet figs, but no regrets!

After the cheese is in, wrap with a slice of prosciutto and secure with a toothpick. I drizzled mine with a teeny, teeny bit of both balsamic vinegar and olive oil, then dashed them with some fresh-ground black pepper.

I did this twice in the same week. The first time I baked the figs in my toaster oven, but I thought the prosciutto got a little tough that way, so the second time I broiled them just until they sizzled a bit and I could see some juices dripping.

Don't they look like darling, hungry little birds?!? I loved the sweetness/juiciness of the fig along with creamy goat cheese and subtly wine-flavored meat. Mmmmm . . . I'm a hungry little bird!

14 September 2010

Fig and Sausage Borek

"Borek" is a Turkish word meaning a stuffed phyllo pastry, usually in a triangle shape. But this is not a Turkish recipe. It is one of my own creation, born of the delight of finding fresh figs at one of my favorite quirky grocery stores.

The first time I tasted a fresh fig, I was nothing less than transported. I remember the grocery store I found them in, my curiosity and hesitancy. The first bite through the soft skin and into the succulent center burst onto my tongue and into my brain like stepping out of a dark house into a sweetly warm summer afternoon. The fresh fig does not blow you away with an intensity of flavor so much as it softly, surely seduces you. That first bite is forever branded into my physical memory, such that no other fig experience can some close to it.

The figs I bought this week were, predictably, shipped in from California. Bruised and battered from the long trip, they bore some resemblance to my "primal fig" but tasted watered down (though they did photograph beautifully, no?).

I decided it wouldn't be a travesty to cook them into something. Something worthy of that half-bottle of white wine waiting to be finished off. Quick check of available ingredients:
phyllo dough: check
figs: duh
sausage that also needs to be used very soon!: check
onions: check
olive oil: check
goat cheese: sorry (oh, so very sorry!)
old labaneh: check
egg: check
sage: check
salt and pepper: check, check
other cheese: check (mozzarella)

So! Sausage and Fresh Fig Borek with Sage and Mozzarella. Sounds like a title fit for any gourmet cookbook.

I got some onions sizzling in olive oil on the stove to which I added the sausage. Meanwhile, into about a cupful of old labaneh (a thick strained-yogurt cheese, if you're new to the blog) I whisked an egg along with some salt and pepper. I read the instructions on the phyllo dough box. Time sensitive stuff apparently, so I assembled (as suggested) all my ingredients in small bowls. Quartered fresh figs. Shredded mozzarella. My labaneh stuff and the sausage/onion mix, to which was added some fresh snipped sage.

Working as quickly as I could with my unskilled phyllo fingers, I dabbed a bit of this and some of that onto a sheet of phyllo dough folded in half and brushed with olive oil. It looked like this:

I then proceeded to clumsily fold them into triangles, along the length of the dough with the final little endpiece tucked under to (hopefully) hold it all together. They went onto a baking stone. When all were assembled, it was into the oven at 350F for about 30 minutes.

They came out looking like this:

Not bad for a novice, huh?

I loved the flavor, which improved as they cooled and you could actually taste the individual ingredients rather than just burning your tongue. I loved the sweetness and juiciness of the figs alongside the pungent sausage/onion/sage flavors. I might add more cheese another time and a bit more pepper, but for a first time these little pastries were delectable. They re-crisp rather nicely in the toaster oven the next day, too!

13 September 2010

Zippy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

While waiting for the pictures of my sweet potatoes to load, my spider solitaire win rate took a one percent dip. Grrrr . . .

But here I am in my cozy little house, the dishwasher humming in the kitchen from company dishes last night and a rapid-fire dinner put together this evening in honor of the half bottle of wine that was left over. But more about that another time.

For now, I want to talk about sweet potatoes. Peeled, cut, tossed with butter and spices and roasted for about 30 minutes. Delish! I served them up with some tomato and basil sauce-less pizza and a bowl of olives. No plates. No utensils. Just fingers and good food!



Let me attempt a recipe:

2 cups peeled and cut sweet potatoes (mine were like thick home fries)
2 TBSP butter, melted
1/4 tsp powdered rosemary
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
salt and pepper to taste

Toss all that, add some fresh oregano or thyme sprigs, and throw it in a 350F oven. Check them periodically with a fork to see if they're soft enough. I think mine were in about 30 - 40 minutes. When they're cooked through, broil them a few minutes for some crunchiness. Let them cool a bit, then dump into a bowl and have at it! Forget the forks.

31 August 2010

Beet the Heat

We've been throwing these in a pot, cooking, peeling, and slicing them to put in the fridge and eat on over the course of a few days. Great alone or with a little salt. I love beets! Today I fancied them up a bit with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, and fresh oregano. Mmmmmmm . . . perfect afternoon snack for a hot summer day.

30 August 2010

Patio Picnic

Sunday night, my husband conceived of a torch-lit back patio picnic in which we would have various friend over, cook al fresco, and talk late into the night. We got two takers, and David and one of them did indeed talk late(ish) into the night by flickering torch and candle light.

We spread quite an impromptu feast on our elegant folding table turned buffet: chicken, pepper, and onion stir-fry (which David cooked al fresco over the Coleman camp stove); fresh tomato-basil bruschetta (a cooperative effort between me and Tabitha); leftover fried rice; black olives; pesto potato salad (more about that later); delicious local watermelon (compliments of Tabitha); and party mix (leftover from a movie night I put on last week with some friends).

David dishes up

scary blurry pic of me

mood lighting

So, this is a post about pesto. See, I don't forget my promises. These past few weeks (before my friends re-claimed their generously long-term loaned food processor) I'd been having quite a time of it with the pesto, throwing a handful of basil, a glug of olive oil, some garlic and what-not into the processor and banging out a batch every few days. I added parmesan cheese once, but I like to keep things simple (and inexpensive), so it was mostly the short list of ingredients: basil, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and nuts (usually walnuts).

The most recent batch I made, I took pains to actually write down amounts so that I could post it here. But each time is truly a new and unique manifestation. Cheese may be added. Your taste for garlic may not be as pungent as mine. Perhaps, the more traditional pine nuts appeal to you. Go for it! But for the record, here's one incarnation:

In no particular order, place in your food processor:

4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 cups basil
4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 tsp fresh-ground black pepper

Whiz until smooth! You may have to scrape down the sides a time or two. If you prefer a wetter pesto, add more oil.

I've found lots of delicious ways to use pesto, and it doesn't last for more than a couple of days in our fridge. Spread on bread and toast. Add a tomato for a twist on the classic summer tomato sandwich. Stir into pasta for light summer fare. And my favorite so far this year: use as a "dressing" for potato salad. As in, cook diced potatoes, drain them, and add pesto. No more needed! Got any other great ideas for pesto uses?

*I added the label "CSA Dinner" to this post because the peppers, onions, and potatoes were all from our CSA box! This week we got a pumpkin that I'm looking forward to cutting into--I just have to decide whether to turn it into pie or curry!