Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cake Pops - They're Big on the Internet

My musically-inclined friend has been having a big couple of weeks, what with her thesis defense last week and her senior recital yesterday. Because she didn't need to worry about all sorts of refreshments (and because we've already established that I'm a stress baker, and this is the last hurrah of the semester), I volunteered to make a treat.

At first I didn't quite know what to make. Then, walking either in or out of the library on Wednesday morning, I thought "Cake Pops!" I called my mom that night and explained what I was talking about. I got a rather tepid response even after explaining them, but rest assured. For quite some time now, they've been all the rage on the internet.

Since even stress bakers realize that time allowances must be made for things like final papers in your major seminar, I made these babies in the do a step - homework - do a step fashion. Turns out, cake pops lend themselves to process baking, as you need to let cakes cool, let cake balls chill, let chocolate solidify... They are perfectly conducive to the last week and a half of classes.

My musically-inclined friend's recital went really well. She played a handful of really great pieces, including one written specifically for her by her former horn teacher. That piece, which concluded the concert, ended rather spectacularly. Let's just say someone left the church doors open and, turns out, squirrels are curious about French horn sounds.

Several people at the after-recital reception, upon having a cake pop or two, told me I should skip library school and think about something culinary, maybe have a bakery. Flattering, yes, but as you all know, I am all too happy to give away my secrets (or not-so-secrets) that no sort of cooking career would be viable for me. And besides, with library school under my belt, I can be that girl who can answer the really random questions who will always bring something to a dinner party. Not a bad type of girl to be.

Cake Pops
inspired by the Pioneer Woman, Bakerella, and Confections of a Foodie Bride

a 13" x 9" cake of your choice
a can of frosting, your choice (or an equivalent amount of homemade frosting)
melting chocolate
wax paper
sucker sticks

Bake the cake and let it cool completely, preferably overnight. Crumble the cake into a large bowl and stir in almost the entire can of frosting. This process might take a little while, but make sure the cake and frosting are completely mixed. Take spoonfuls of the cake mixture and roll them into balls, placing them on a wax-papered baking sheet when you're finished. Place the cake balls in the refrigerator for a few hours until they are sufficiently chilled and firm.
Melt your melting chocolate carefully. Sticking each cake ball with a sucker stick, dip them into the chocolate, being careful to let the excess chocolate drip back into the bowl before sticking the cake pops top-end-up to dry. (A block of styrofoam would, I'm sure, be great for this. If you have any.)
Note: If the sticks fall out, use a spoon to coat the cake ball in chocolate anyway. Ta da! Now you have a cake truffle!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Celebration Dinner

On Friday, my musically-inclined friend defended her honors thesis. The two of us have stuck together throughout the year-long research-and-writing process, and we've established a regular weekly work night -- a time when we know we'll get things accomplished in good company. It seemed only natural, then, to celebrate the completion of her thesis as well as mine. Lending a nice bit of symmetry to everything thesis-related, I chose the recipe for our celebratory dinner from my thesis community cookbook.

The recipe, poppyseed chicken, is from a very good friend of mine who actually works within our honors program here at my school. She had touted it to me as a "great (EASY) dish to serve when your boss is coming to dinner"; having no real boss, at least one that I would be inviting to dinner, I figured our Friday dinner could be reason enough to try out the yummy-sounding recipe.

Now, I for one am not usually a "cream of" cook; I don't normally cook from recipes that include cans of "cream of" soup. This proclivity is for two reasons: 1) recipes including "cream of" soup often result in relatively large yields, and leftovers, not matter how good, aren't really my thing; and 2) many of the "cream of" soups available are not particularly healthy. If this second concern is one of yours also, I'm sure you can find a recipe online to replace canned soup with homemade. You really should consider it.

I cannot tell you how simple this recipe was, and with what great results. My four dinner companions all said they heartily enjoyed it, and that was even before the wine kicked in. Once the wine kicked in... well, that's another story.

Poppyseed Chicken
from Amy Welch

3-4 chicken breasts, cooked and torn/cut into pieces
1 c sour cream (choose your preferred level of fat)
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 tbsp poppyseeds
1 c Ritz crackers, crumbled
4 tbsp butter

Mix the chicken pieces, sour cream, cream of chicken soup, and poppyseeds and dump the mixture into a 9"x13" casserole. Sprinkle the top of the mixture with the Ritz crumbs, and slice the butter evenly over the top. Cover the casserole with foil, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Serve over rice.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Fiftieth Post: Breakfast for Dinner

Welcome, all, to my fiftieth post here at Americana Kitchen! I've enjoyed what's been the beginning of this food blog, and I hope you have, too. Seems like I've been chatting about food for quite some time already. And goodness! It's just dawned on me that I should start thinking about a blogiversary post. After all, May 25 is really just around the corner. Yikes.

I've decided to share with you this evening what I've been eating for dinner a lot over the past few weeks. Actually, what I've been eating up until tonight is the meat-free version of this dish, as I started cooking it as a Lenten dinner. Breakfast for dinner is wonderful for that; you really can adjust it to whatever dining situation you have in front of you. And I must say, I was rather happy this evening to have the slight addition of bacon to the mix. Thanks, Kroger, for the coupon for a free package of bacon. =)

I'll admit that, in writing, this recipe doesn't seem like much of anything. When you're eating it, though, it's quite tasty and so comforting. (Or maybe the comfort just comes from me remembering my dad making a weekend breakfast on occasion while I was growing up? Whatever.) Try it!

Potatoes, Eggs, Bacon, and Cheese

Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Cheddar Cheese

Peel your potatoes, cube them, and boil them until tender but not falling apart. While the potatoes are boiling, cook the bacon according to your favorite method. When the bacon is done, set it on a paper towel to drain.
Drain the boiled potatoes. In a large nonstick skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the potatoes to the hot oil, sprinkling them with sea salt and pepper. The point here is to get the potatoes browned and starting to get crispy. Keep turning the potatoes every once in a while until they reach your desired degree of crispiness and color.
When the potatoes are perfect, crack your eggs into the skillet. Scramble them around in the pan with the potatoes until they are fully cooked. Crumble in the cooked bacon, and top the whole thing with cheddar cheese.
Note: I haven't provided precise amounts for ingredients. The beauty of this dish is that you can suit it to your specific tastes. Be free!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Very Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

I know what it looks like. After a few weeks of mediocre posting, during which I only gave you one (one!) recipe, I am trying to make it up to you with another cookie recipe. The audacity that is me and my food blogging self!

I don't mean to offend, really. And the only reason I'm not sharing a cute and pastel Easter feast with you is that, frankly, I'm not having one this year. But let me assure you of two things before you decide to be mad at me for my food blogging failings: 1) this is the last cookie recipe I'll give you for a while; and 2) this really is the best chocolate chip cookie recipe I've ever made. And that's coming from someone who in general doesn't like chocolate chip cookies.

Last summer, finding the consummate chocolate chip cookie was all the rage. After an article in the New York Times, which supposedly had found the chocolate chip cookie recipe to end the decades-old ccc quest, the food blogging community tested the recipe. Yummy noises ensued from practically ever corner of cyberspace. Who even knew that could happen?

So I tried the cookies. My mom took them to a block party. She said people ate them and enjoyed them. I, however, didn't like them.

I prefer to stick with the recipe I adapted from Leah Eskin in her pre-Trib Mag food writer days back in the eighth grade. After all, it's this chocolate chip cookie that I made every week for marching band trips so as to quell my section's frustration with my mellophone anal-retentiveness. It's this chocolate chip cookie that, in all actuality, got me to take cooking seriously.

I'm not promising it'll work such wonders for you, but if, at the very least, you enjoy chocolate chip cookies, you should try this one. My secret is melting the butter. The residual heat from the butter causes the chocolate chips to start to melt in the batter, making the cookies a blend of brown-sugary goodness and chocolate instead of smooth cookie with chunks of hard chocolate. I think this balance makes all the difference.

Amy's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 stick butter
3/4 c brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
6 oz chocolate chips

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Remove the pan from heat once the butter is melted. Add the sugar and eggs to the saucepan and blend well. Mix in the flour, salt, baking soda, and vanilla. Pour in the chocolate chips, then mix the batter well. Scoop the still-warm dough onto a parchment-papered or Silpat-ed cookie sheet. Bake each sheet at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for fifteen minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet.
Note: This recipe can be easily doubled. I usually get 16-20 cookies from this single recipe depending upon how much dough I can keep myself from eating.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What I've Been Up To

Due to a variety of circumstances including returning from spring break, attending an Easter egg hunt, and turning in my thesis (!), I have not been cooking anything new lately. Oh, I've been cooking, all right, because I can only buy meals to a certain point before I feel badly about myself. But everything I've been cooking I've already posted.

But things are looking up. My thesis defense is Thursday, and then I'm done done done with that baby. Which means, at the absolute least, you should have a tasty chocolate chip cookie recipe come next Sunday. For now, however, all I can do is leave you with a new concept in cooking:

stress baker (n.) - a person who engages in baking activities as a means of lowering stress associated with attention-demanding tasks of all sorts
i.e. How did Amy find time to bake and decorate Easter-themed cookies while finishing her thesis? She must be a stress baker!

I suppose I can leave you with some pictures as well.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who Frosts the Watchmen?

I may not document the cooking process for my recipes as well as Ree over at The Pioneer Woman Cooks.

And I may not bake such cutesy delectables as Bakerella.

But by golly, I can make a cookie to go with pretty much any literature discussion, Alan Moore's Watchmen included.

Sugar Cookies

1/2 c shortening
1/4 c butter
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

In a medium bowl, mix the shortening, butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla thoroughly with an electric mixer. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Blend the flour mixture into the shortening/sugar mixture. Put the dough into a plastic bag and chill at least one hour.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide the dough into thirds. Roll one third to 1/8"-thickness on a lightly floured surface (make sure to use enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and surface). Cut the rolled dough with a cookie cutter and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 6-8 minutes or until cookies are just starting to brown on the edges. Cool the cookies on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before removing them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Frost the cookies with Butter Frosting. Let the frosting set overnight before putting the cookies in a container, with layers separated by waxed paper.

Butter Frosting

2 1/2 tbsp butter, softened
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 1/2 tbsp milk or cream
3/4 tsp vanilla

With an electric mixer, blend all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Add a tsp or two of milk if the frosting is too thick, and a tbsp or two of powdered sugar if it is too thin. Color the frosting as desired to decorate the cookies.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Grazing Food and a Recommended Read

Today, amidst all the thesis work -- and perhaps even because of it -- I had my first catering gig. About a week ago I got the request for a "grazing" menu from a favorite lit professor of mine; and after some initial wondering about how I could possibly be qualified for such a task, I accepted.

So, happily, I spent today cooking. I made my favorite onion tart, ever-popular pesto rolls, and an ale and cheese spread with toasted French bread for savoury options, and I rounded out the menu with fruit kabobs and a taffy apple dip and my mother's aunt's cherry cheesecake tarts. Everything smelled delicious, let me tell you. I hope all the party guests enjoy.

Before I leave you with the cherry cheesecake tart recipe -- one you'll surely want to try, especially as it gets warmer and more toward picnic season -- I want to recommend Molly at Orangette's fantastic new book. I've loved her blog since I started reading food blogs about a year ago, and I've tried a few of her recipes from Bon Appetit, so it's really no wonder I essentially devoured her food memoir. I cannot wait to try some of the recipes, all of which sound fabulous. Read it, I know you'll love it.

Cherry Cheesecake Tarts
from my mom's Auntie Emagene

vanilla wafers

cheesecake filling:
2 8-oz pkgs cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 c sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs

cherry pie filling

Put one vanilla wafer, flat side down, in the bottom of a paper liner in each cupcake pan section.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla, mixing with an electric mixer until well blended. Blend in the eggs. Pour the cheesecake mixture over the vanilla wafers, filling each cup 1/2 to 2/3 full. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
Let the tarts cool completely before dalloping pie filling on the top of each. Chill until ready to serve.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Potluck on Paper

Back when this blog was only weeks old, I posted about random cookbooks. Two of the cookbooks I listed as part of my random cookbook collection are, in fact, community cookbooks, a genre I am exploring in one of the chapters of my thesis. I collected several community cookbooks, did a bit of research on their history... but still I was curious about the genre. So, being the industrious person I tend to be (maybe it's more like "biting off more than I can chew"), I decided to make my own.

And thus was born the idea for Beyond Alphabet Soup, the Honor Scholar community cookbook companion to my Honor Scholar thesis. The process was drawn-out and time-consuming, but I must say I am so proud of my final product. It's fun to flip through -- lots of good, creative recipes, as well as some fantastic illustrations by my aspiring cartoonist friend. And I had 150 copies printed so anyone in the Honor Scholar community can have one to cook from, as a memento of being at this university, etc.

And guess what? Now you can make a community cookbook, too!

Community Cookbook

recipes submitted by community members
editing skills
a working knowledge of recipe basics (e.g. soups require at least one liquid ingredient)
a computer with word processing and document formatting capabilities
food images and/or illustrations
funds to pay a printing service (unless you're going the self-publishing route)
patience (as needed throughout)

Collect your community members' submitted recipes and order them according to your liking. Read through each of the recipes for spelling, grammar, and logical errors. Once the recipes have been checked for accuracy, begin laying out the cookbook on the computer.
Assemble your images and/or illustrations and decide where they will be included in the cookbook; insert them into the cookbook layout file. Make sure your final layout file meets the specifications of your printing service, as each service may be different.
With your printing service, discuss your preferences for the cookbook's final appearance (types of paper, binding, etc.), agree on a payment plan, and submit your layout file for actual printing. Make sure the first copy comes out correctly.
Have the batch of cookbooks delivered, or pick them up on your own. Dive in.
Note: Leftovers will never go bad, so share with the community!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Auntie Fran's Cheese Log

Sorry for the delay, folks; I realize it's Tuesday night and I usually post Sundays. I have a good excuse, though: I was cat sitting with a friend for some professors. It was splendid. I broke past the minimum page requirement for my thesis (80 pages!!), read a lot, finished watching Arrested Development, and I wasn't even allergic to the cat! It was a weekend simultaneously busy and relaxing, and since I know you must have a lot going on weekends too, I'm sure you can excuse my tardiness concerning this week's post.

Especially since the recipe I'm offering you is a tried-and-true tasty hors d'oeuvre that's so so easy. It's my Auntie Fran's cheese log. Yes, cheese log, that quintessential American appetizer of cheese spread rolled in chopped nuts. I say it's quintessentially American for two reasons: 1) it's my Auntie Fran's recipe, and she was a Memphis cook through and through even after moving to Florida, which means she excelled at foods for potlucks and picnics; and 2) I made it for an event at which I knew an Australian woman would be present because I thought it a quirky food-based welcome to the US.

Why am I suddenly feeding random Australians, you ask? Well, first of all, let me sure you that this was no random Australian whom I shared hors d'oeuvre and conversation with this evening. The Australian woman is Anne Orford, Australian Professorial Fellow and Director of the Institute for International Law and the Humanities at the University of Melbourne and panelist at this weekend's Humanitarian Intervention Symposium at my university's ethics center. I read her book on humanitarian intervention in a class last semester, and several of my classmates got together this evening with Professor Orford, our class professor, and the former president of the university to discuss some of the issues in her book. And what's a little heavy conversation without snacks?

The event went well, and I'm greatly looking forward to this weekend's symposium. Professor Orford also enjoyed the cheese log (as well as the pesto crescents I made). I'm sure you will, too, as an Auntie Fran recipe simply cannot steer you wrong.

Auntie Fran's Cheese Log
from Fran Hunt

1 lb cheddar cheese, finely shredded
1 8-oz pkg cream cheese
1/2 tsp garlic, grated
1/4 tsp season salt
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 c chopped nuts

Cream together the cream cheese, garlic, season salt, and Worcestershire sauce. Beat in the cheddar cheese until the mixture is uniform. On a sheet of plastic wrap, form the cheese spread into a log shape; refrigerate 4-24 hours.
Before serving, remove the cheese log from the plastic wrap. Mix the chopped nuts with a bit of paprika, just enough to add a bit of flavor. Press the nut mixture into the cheese log. Serve the cheese log with a knife for slicing and an assortment of crackers (water crackers are my favorite).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jamie Oliver's English Onion Soup with Cheddar

Go ahead, accuse me of cookbook monotony. I know what you're thinking: Another Jamie Oliver recipe? After you just gave us one last week? Goodness gracious, woman, you haven't been blogging long enough to start so blatantly cooking from a single cookbook. What's the deal?

The deal, I tell you, is twofold:
1) There's only so much time a girl can spare for sifting for new recipes when the big thesis is due in T-minus 6 weeks.
2) Jamie at Home is that fantastic of a cookbook.

Plus, this recipe is all about slow cooking a variety of onions until they are soft and flavorful. I can't resist onions like this -- and, in my opinion, you should love slow-cooked caramelized onions, too -- so really, you have no legitimate reason to fault me for blogging this particular treat of a soup recipe today. None at all.

It's snowing here again. Silly Punxsatawney Phil and his ability to accurately predict more winter. Oh well; at least I've given you a hearty, tasty onion soup to brave the coming weeks.

English Onion Soup with Cheddar
adapted from Jamie at Home

olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 red onions, sliced
2 large white onions, sliced
6 oz leeks, sliced
sea salt and ground pepper
1 qt beef stock
bread for croquettes
fresh grated Cheddar
Worcestershire sauce

Sweat the onion in a heavy-bottomed French oven in the butter and olive oil, with the herbs, salt and pepper, for 50 minutes with the lid barely ajar, then an additional 20 minutes uncovered. When the onions are right (soft and getting translucent but not really coloring too much), add the beef stock to the pot and bring it to a boil. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes.
Toast the bread, then use it as a lid for the bowled soup. Top the bread with a bit of Worcestershire and some grated Cheddar, then broil it (only if your soup bowls are broiler safe) until bubbling and golden.
Note: Jamie's recipe calls for shallots as well, but try as I might I can't find them at my Kroger. And I refuse to shop at WalMart. I'm sure the wonderful flavor of this soup would be even more complex with the shallots, so let me know if you use them!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jamie Oliver's Pasta with Broccoli and Oozy Cheese Sauce

Happily, this week did not explode with sudden things to do like last week. In fact, I've been able to have a rather pleasant weekend after finishing more of my writing work on Friday than I had planned. I was even able to start reading a magazine over breakfast this morning. Can you believe it?

This past week has been utterly lovely -- my friend with red hair and I have been going on walks through some of the older neighborhoods in town, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather before it all turns to winter again this week. Nothing like a week's dose of sunshine to brighten early February.

Also, I made a really tasty meal on Monday. So tasty, in fact, that I knew right then and there, as it was sitting on the table, that I had happened upon this week's blog entry. I love when that happens on a Monday! It makes cooking the entire rest of the week seem so much more relaxed and enjoyable.

Like I said last week, I've been leafing through a tremendous Jamie Oliver cookbook. The recipes and their accompanying pictures are mouth-watering, and in particular one recipe has given me a hankering for some Pimm's. (I miss Scotland.)

But anyways, yes, this recipe. It's creamy. It's warm. It's got veg. It's wonderful. Enjoy.

Pasta with Broccoli and Oozy Cheese Sauce
adapted from Jamie at Home

1 c whole milk
8 oz grated/chopped fontina
2 oz grated Parmesan
sea salt and ground pepper
1 lb broccoli
2 large organic egg yolks
pasta to serve about 4 (I used about 1/2 lb)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Put the milk and cheeses, along with salt and pepper, in a double boiler to melt together.
When the cheese sauce is oozy, remove it from the double boiler. Dump the pasta and broccoli into the boiling water and cook until done, 2-3 minutes (longer depending upon your choice of pasta).
Whip the egg yolks into the cheese sauce. Drain the pasta and broccoli, reserving a bit of the cooking water in case the sauce is too thin. Mix the pasta and broccoli into the sauce and stir. Top with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil if you like, then serve.
Note: The original recipe calls for creme fraiche, not whole milk, and purple sprouting broccoli, no regular green broccoli, but I've never been able to find either of those ingredients in the US, let alone here in Greencastle. Also, Oliver suggests 5 oz fontina and 5 oz Parmesan; I just used what I had on hand to make up the 10 oz of cheese.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Don't Start Preheating Your Oven...

...because I have nothing tasty to offer you today. The insanity that is the beginning of a semester has kept me from any significant kitchen escapades this past week. Sure, I made things to eat. But all of those meals, unfortunately for you readers, were either straight-from-the-refrigerator salami-and-string-cheese plates or heat-and-microwave V8 soup with a pita-style grilled cheese. Satisfies the hunger, sure, but nothin' special.

I promise to try my darnedest to make something tasty to share with you next Sunday. It shouldn't be too hard, considering I've been perusing an absolutely lovely Jamie Oliver cookbook. But who knows if this week will explode like the last. Oh, senior year deadlines.

I will leave you with a picture, though. I saw this truck with a message written in the wintry dirt on the back of its trailer. It made me smile, because I happen to believe that the message is true.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Beef Stew for a Snowstorm

I've had an interesting relationship with beef stew. I only remember my mom making it for family dinners starting in high school, so in a way it's a relatively new food for me. Make it she did, though, and I got burned out on it after a while to the point where I never requested it as one of my home-from-college meals. As far as I was concerned, my family could indulge their beef stew tastes while I was away at school. And for a while they did.

Then, camp. Have I told you yet that I spent two of my summers in college working at my childhood summer camp? It was wonderful. And there was campfire food. Somehow, everything tastes better cooked over a campfire. Everything like beef stew from an industrial-sized food services can.

Once a week for ten weeks each summer I went on a campout with my cabin, and we cooked pudgie pies and beef stew over the fire for dinner. I think the combination of wood smoke and little burned bits from the bottom of the pan made this particular beef stew out of this world. I loved it. I hope I didn't hurt my mom's feelings too much when I said I loved camp's beef stew and she pointed out that I wouldn't eat hers anymore.

I didn't work at camp last summer, and let me tell you, I've sorely missed my beef stew. I decided that, in conjunction with my thesis (which is currently killing my spirit, if you were interested in an update), I would give myself the task of finding a recipe for homemade beef stew that I liked as much (or almost as much) as I liked camp beef stew. I like to give myself projects, especially ones that reap tasty rewards.

So last semester I tried out the New Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book recipe for beef stew in a crock pot. It was mediocre, especially when compared to my standard of perfection. Unimpressed, I froze the other half of my beef stew meat and stored away the rest of my vegetable juice to await a more inspiring recipe.

Then came the snow.

My car is still under a foot of snow, and surrounded by a foot of snow on all sides for at least a four foot perimeter, so needless to say I haven't gone anywhere for a while, let along the grocery store. So, one day last week, my plans to await a better beef stew recipe were cast aside. I was cold and hungry and living off my reserves (of which I have plenty, but right now a lot of them are cold foods). Beef stew it would be.

I e-mailed my mom for her beef stew recipe, which I doctored a bit based on my preferences and pantry contents. I left out carrots because I don't like them; I substituted her tomato juice for my vegetable juice; I added a few spices. Turns out, that made all the difference. While this beef stew wasn't the same as the one I remember from camp, it was just as good and hit the spot wonderfully. I will most definitely be making it again. Thanks, Mom.

Beef Stew
adapted from Mary Koester

beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 onion, cut into wedges
potatoes, peeled and chunked
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
3 5.5-oz V8 Low Sodium Vegetable Juice
spices to suit your tastes (I used The Spice House's Old World Central Street)

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour enough of the vegetable juice to coat the bottom of a heavy-bottomed French oven, like a Le Creuset. Put the meat in next, followed by the onion wedges and potato chunks. Sprinkle the salt and sugar over the top, then cover with the rest of the vegetable juice, trying to wet all of the ingredients. Sprinkle as much of your preferred spices as you'd like. Cover the pot tightly and cook in the oven for 4 hours.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Anything-But-Bland Birthday Cake

I'm starting to realize that, unintentionally, a lot of the foods I cook and then choose to blog on this site are rather bland in color (like this and this and this, for starters). And it doesn't help that the plates on which I serve and photograph the food aren't remarkably colorful themselves. As far as the plates go, I'll try to work something out. But where the appearance of the food is concerned, don't let a limited color palate influence your perceptions of tastiness; they simply are not related.

Case in point: this cake I made for my dad's birthday. Yes, color-wise it doesn't look that interesting. But I've tasted all the constituent parts (various shades of white to taupe), and they are yummy. The color does not make the cake, the flavors do. And this one is a winner.

Banana Cake with Praline Filling and White Chocolate Ganache
adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

for 3 9"-cakes:
3 c cake flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c milk
1/2 c mashed ripe bananas
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
2 c sugar
7 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter three 9" round cake pans, lining the bottom of each with a round of parchment paper and buttering that as well.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set the dry ingredients aside.
Blend the milk and mashed bananas in a blender until smooth. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. On medium-high speed, beat in the egg whites 2 or 3 at a time until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.
With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and banana puree alternately in 2 or 3 additions, beating until just blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Divide the batter among the cake pans.
Bake 20 -25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely.

for white chocolate ganache:
8 oz white chocolate, chopped
2 1/2 c heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Put the white chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 c cream to a boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, letting it stand for 1 minute before whisking to a smooth consistency. Let the white chocolate cream stand until cooled to room temperature.
In a chilled bowl with chilled beaters, beat the remaining 2 c cream and the vanilla until softly whipped. Stir in the white chocolate cream and beat until fairly stiff, taking care not to overbeat the mixtures, which would cause the ganache to separate.

for praline filling:
1 c pralines
1 1/2 c white chocolate ganache

Chop the pecans with a food processor or large chef's knife. Set aside about 1 tbsp of the chopped pralines, adding the rest to the white chocolate ganache and stir to mix well.

to assemble the cake:
Put a dallop of white chocolate ganache in the center of the cake stand or serving plate to keep the cake in place. Place one layer, flat side down, on the cake stand or serving plate. Cover the top evenly with half of the praline filling, leaving a 1/4" margin around the edges. Place the second layer on top, flat side up, and cover it with the remaining filling. Place the third layer on top, flat side up, and frost the top and sides of the cake with the white chocolate ganache. Sprinkle with the reserved tbsp of chopped pralines.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Movie Night Pizza

My friend with red hair and I have been rather into hockey as of late. We went to an Indiana Ice game on Friday night at the Pepsi Coliseum (that's right, the three-time home of the World Pork Expo!), where we found some pretty decent hockey, lots of children clapping along to the music, and great snow cones, all for half-price admission. It was a terrific outing.

So, naturally, we were in the mood for some more hockey come Saturday evening. In the spirit of movie nights all over the country (and probably the world, for that matter, if my time in Scotland was any indication), we picked our movie and decided to have pizza for dinner.

Our movie: Miracle
Our pizza: Chicken Alfredo on a Cornmeal Crust

I must confess I've watched this movie a few times in the last week and a half, but it's fun to watch again with a hockey-loving friend anyways. And mmm, that pizza was good. So good, in fact, I'm rather glad that I have leftover toppings and that the crust is so easy to make. I love this KitchenAid.

At the very least, I think everyone should add this pizza to their repertoire of homemade pizzas; really, it's deceptively simple. And if you want a little something more? Share it with friends and watch a movie. Satisfying evening complete.

Chicken Alfredo Pizza on a Cornmeal Crust

for the crust:
1/2 c warm water
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 c flour
3/4 c cornmeal

Combine the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl. Melt the butter and pour it into the dry ingredients along with the water and lemon juice. Mix using the dough hook attachment of your mixer, or knead by hand, until the dough forms a ball. If the dough isn't forming a ball, add a bit more cornmeal to reach the desired consistency. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes. Wrap the finished dough in plastic, and let it rest for 30 minutes.

for the alfredo sauce:
1 stick unsalted butter
1 c heavy cream
1 c shredded Parmesan

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the heavy cream and Parmesan cheese, whisking until the sauce becomes smooth. Continue cooking until sauce is reduced and thickened so it will coat the back of a spoon. Stir frequently to prevent burning.

for the chicken:
boneless skinless chicken breasts

Cook the chicken breasts in a 350-degree-Fahrenheit oven until done and juices run clear; the time will depend on the thickness of your chicken breasts. Use two forks to shred all the cooked chicken.

assembling the pizza:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out your cornmeal crust on a pizza stone or baking sheet; it does not have to be a perfect circle. Once the oven has reached temperature, bake the crust until the edges no longer look raw, 5-7 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and set on a cooling rack while you assemble the toppings.
Spread about 1/2-2/3 c of the alfredo sauce on the pizza. Place the shredded chicken on top of the sauce. Top the entire pizza with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan. Return the pizza to the oven and cook until the edges are browning and the pizza toppings are bubbly, about 13-18 minutes. Slice the pizza and enjoy.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Indian Food Experiment

I love Indian food.

I've loved it since I did a group project in high school and another group member and I went to our local Indian restaurant to immerse ourselves in the cuisine. So what if the project was on Hinduism? Background information is important.

I only slightly burnt out on Indian food after I was in India for two and a half weeks my sophomore year of college. After eating nothing but Indian food for days and days, I thought it would be a long time before I craved it again. Wrong.

As I contemplated aspects of my own food life during the initial stages of my thesis preparation, I considered making a few changes to the ways in which I eat the foods I want. One of these considerations was making at home foods that used to be homemade -- crackers, cookies, cereals -- but are now uber-processed. A noble and doable idea, indeed, but for a college student working on a year-long thesis in addition to regular class commitments, the cost-benefit analysis turned out in favor of going to the boxed cracker aisle of my Kroger on the rare occasion I wanted these treats. While I know I can make my own crackers (I pretty much always make my own cookies anyway), it's just not practical for my life right now.

But then I got to thinking about the cost-benefit analysis of restaurant food, ethnic food in particular. I love going out for some good Italian or Indian food. Luckily there's a good Italian place in town, but in order for me to get a tasty Indian meal I'd need to drive to Indianapolis or Bloomington and then pay for food on top of everything else. Not practical, even though I love Indian food a lot. Making the Indian food, though? I could do that.

By the time I got around to buying an Indian cookbook, it was after Thanksgiving, which means I violated my family's no-buying-things-for-yourself-before-the-holidays rule. (Sorry, Mom.) By the time I actually tried out some recipes, though, it was already after Christmas, so I'm going to go ahead and say the rule-breaking was inconsequential. At any rate, the result was tasty indeed.

Makhani Murgh, or Velvet Butter Chicken
adapted from Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni

1 1/4 lb Tandoori chicken, cooked (recipe below)
3 c canned tomatoes in puree, measured with puree
1/2 tsp red pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
8 tbsp butter
4 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp paprika
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 1/2 c whole milk
2 tsp garam masala

Cut the cooked chicken into 1"x1" cubes. Put the tomatoes, red pepper, and ginger in a blender and blend to a fine puree (an immersion blender would work, too).
Place 6 tsbp butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. As the butter melts, tilt the pan in all directions to coat the bottom. When the foam begins to subside, add the chicken pieces and brown them. Remove the chicken when all pieces are browned.
Add the cumin and paprika to the butter in the skillet and cook, stirring rapidly, for 10-15 seconds. Add the tomato puree mixture and cook, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened, about 5-8 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent sticking and burning.
Add the salt, milk, and chicken pieces (with any juices that may have accumulated). Gently stir the chicken to coat the pieces evenly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Check and stir the dish often, but only 1 or 2 stirs at a time, to ensure the sauce does not burn.
Sir in the remaining 2 tbsp butter and garam masala. Turn off the heat and let the dish stand, covered, for half an hour before serving. The dish should still be hot enough to serve, but you can reheat just before serving if you want.
Serve with rice.
Tandoori Murghi, or Tandoori Chicken
adapted from Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni

2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/3 c lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp red pepper
1 tbsp paprika
1/3 c plain yogurt

Prick the chicken all over with a form and make diagonal slashes on the meat without cutting through it. Place the chicken in a bowl with the lemon juice, rubbing the juice into the slashes. Cover the chicken and marinate 30 minutes.
Put the remaining ingredients into a blender and blend until reduced to a smooth sauce. Pour this marinade over the chicken pieces and mix to coat all the pieces well. Cover the chicken and marinate in the refrigerator overnight (you may want to transfer the chicken to a plastic bag to marinate).
Take the chicken from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature. If you are roasting the chicken indoors, roast for 25-30 minutes in a very hot oven, at least 500 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are using an outdoor grill, make sure the grill is very hot. Let the chicken cook about 10 minutes per side, longer if needed to fully cook the chicken. Serve the chicken immediately.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Thesis Namesake

The way I see things, what better way to begin 2009 -- the year in which I will (happily) finish my thesis and shortly afterward graduate -- than with a food that I love and that is integral to at least the idea of my food thesis (which was the impetus for this blog)? I really cannot think of a better food for a first post of 2009 right now. Mmm, pierogi.

That's right, the Polish dumpling dish that seems readily available where I live (thank you Eastern European immigrants to the Chicagoland area) but that I've heard is a mere myth in other regions of the United States. Trust me, you don't know what you're missing if you're from one of these pierogi-free regions. Especially if you love all things noodle-y.

The concept is simple, really: pierogi are dumplings stuffed with fillings, traditionally things like potatoes, sauerkraut, or sweet cheese. The beauty of making pierogi yourself is that you can choose WHATEVER FILLINGS YOU LIKE. In my house, when I'm the pierogi-filler, that means some sweet cheese and some mashed potato with a little piece of Velveeta mixed in. I'm rather sure the possibilities are near endless; you have only your personal tastes to limit you.

Yesterday my mother and I took my Christmas-new Kitchen Aid mixer out of the box and gave it its inaugural task. The pierogi dough is so easy with that thing! So easy, in fact, that with two people working to mix dough, cut shapes, fill pierogi, and boil them, we made two modestly-sized batches in an hour. Beautiful.

When you've made your pierogi, you can cook them any number of ways: reboil; microwave; fry in a little bit of butter; fry in butter and onions. And you can serve them in a number of ways, too. Some people like potato pierogi with some sour cream; some people like sweet cheese pierogi with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Honestly, go to town. Really make the pierogi yours. They're so easy to make and so tasty to eat that you'd be remiss not to.


2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 c warm water

Beat the egg into the water, then add the wet mixture to the flour and salt to make a soft dough. (A dough hook works well.) Remove the dough to some plastic wrap (so it won't dry out) and let it stand for ten minutes.
Roll the rested dough thin on a floured pastry cloth or clean surface. Use the open end of a cup to cut your pierogi shapes. Put a small amount of filling in the center of each dough circle, wet the edge of the dough with warm water, and fold the pierogi into a half circle and seal. Make sure your seal is tight, otherwise the pierogi can split and leak in the cooking water.
Drop the sealed pierogi into salted boiling water in small batches. Cook until the pierogi have come to the water's surface, which shouldn't take more than a few minutes. Drain them in a collander, and then remove the boiled pierogi to a cooling rack to completely dry and cool. Keep them from touching, as they can stick.
Choose your preferred method for cooking the pierogi when you're ready to eat them. The last about five days in the refrigerator, or up to three months in the freezer. As if you have that much patience.
Note: Boil a few batches of your dough scraps for some tasty, plump homemade noodles. Hey, you could even use them to make this tasty dish!


Potato and cheese: Make a small batch of mashed potatoes according to your preferred method, then spoon a bit of the potatoes into each pierogi along with a small slice of Velveeta.
Sweet cheese: Mix 1 c dry cottage cheese (farmer's cheese), a dash of salt, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1-2 tbsp sugar, and 1 egg yolk.
Pie cherries
Sweet cabbage and cheese: Saute shredded cabbage in butter until cooked, then spoon a bit of the cabbage into each pierogi along with a small slice of Velveeta.