Category Archives: Cooking

Cooking successes and failures and in between

Hello, Gougères, Where Have You Been All My Life?

We got an invitation to a wine dinner in California, but we were not going to be anywhere near California at that time and we didn’t want to pony up the cash to attend. (Side note–is it called an invitation if you are paying to attend?) But the menu looked intriguing and one thing stuck out. They were having Truffled Gougères. I had never heard of them, so I Googled them.

Baked cheesy dough.

How could that be bad?

I was having a party soon, so I pulled up a recipe (Alain Ducasse’s Recipe to be specific) and tried them, since I’m at least astute enough not to make a new recipe for a party without a pre-party trial.

And my taste buds said “Yay”.

Philip tasted them. More Yay!

These were a definite winner. Sort of like a savory cream puff, little hollow cheesy balls that people loved as an appetizer.  Easy to make, tasty, a traditional tidbit with wine, adaptable and wowed the crowd. While we used Gruyere cheese, which I believe is traditional, I have read several recipes that say you can switch flavorful cheeses, so I’m looking at trying it with a blue cheese and with a sharp cheddar. And I haven’t even begun thinking of filling ideas.

So, have you had these, and why didn’t you tell me about them?

Cry Me a River

I like caramelized onions and onion jams and other savory condiments, but making caramelized onions always seemed like a lot of work for a little payoff. Then I had an “Aha!” moment and Googled “Crock pot Caramelized Onions” and hit the jackpot.There were dozens of pages with more or less the same recipe (if one can call what is involved a recipe). And I’m going to offer you the quick and dirty on a tasty tidbit that is easy to make and goes with many things.

My version requires very little – Onions, of course, a little salt, a little oil (your choice—could be butter could be olive oil, could be Wesson—you decide) and, if you want, a little balsamic vinegar and a little brown sugar.

I use as many onions as my crock pot will hold, usually between 3 and 4 lbs. I use about a half teaspoon of salt, but you can adjust for taste(we just don’t use much salt for various reasons). I use a tablespoon or so of oil or butter or a combination. Some recipes call for up to half a cup of oil, but I have not gone with that much—though really, more butter usually doesn’t hurt anything.
Peel the onions, slice them thin (I’ve just used a sharp knife (cried more)  and I’ve used a mandolin (cried less)—you could use a food processor if you prefer) pile them into the crock pot.

Add the salt and oil, toss a little put the lid on and cook all day while you are at work, or all night while you are in bed—10 hours on low works for me, but if you have a fast crock pot, maybe a little less time.

Then, check out your onions. They will be cooked down and yummy. I usually will stir in a little balsamic vinegar (a spoonful you choose the size of spoon ; 0) and maybe a soup spoon full of brown sugar.  I put the lid askew so steam can escape, and cook them down some more. The balsamic and brown sugar add a bit of richness and color. I have not tried adding them at the beginning, but that would probably be fine. I cook them down until I like the color–another hour or so– and there isn’t much liquid left. I drain what liquid there is to use in cooking (Yummy in rice) and store the onions in the fridge in jars. I hear they can be frozen in various serving sizes, but so far we have gone through them fast enough that just the jars work.

We’ve used these on burgers, with fajitas, with chicken, with steaks and on crackers with cream cheese. We’ve put them on sandwiches and beside omelets. I am thinking I’ll add beef stock this fall and make French onion soup to top with croutons and cheese under the broiler. People we’ve served them to have all asked how to make them. I may use them on occasion as a hostess gift!
Philip is a huge fan of these and believes our house should never be without them again. And, as easy as they are, that may turn out to be true.

Note to Self

Dear Self,

A gentle reminder.  Next time you are rushing out the door and remember you need to take some creamer to the office, please grab a plastic container.  Or a canning jar.  Or even just bring the enomous cannister of Coffeemate you bought at the big box store.

Whatever you do, do not use the jar that previously contained Kalamata Olives.  Do not use the Kalamata Olives jar, even if the jar and lid have both been through the dishwasher a couple of times. Do not use the Kalamata Olives jar even if it is just the right size and can go in your bag easily.

Do not use the Kalamata Olives jar again, unless you decide you truly enjoy the flavor of coffee with with a nice strong hint of Kalamata Olives in every sip.

Sincerely,

Me.

A Good Time was Had by All

It was a nice evening, still too cool to spend much time outside, but the promise of spring was there. Our host made a perfect version of Julia Child’s Lamb Stew–and our hostess made a Buttermilk Lemon Panna Cotta. The wine flowed, the conversation carried the night, we got to know our hosts and the other couple they had invited better. After dinner there was coffee and conversation and friendly dogs wanting to be petted.

As much as I like to entertain, there is a different kind of pleasure in being the guest at a friend’s home. We go out so often with business associates–many of whom we are very friendly with–but there is a difference. No matter how friendly the relationship, when there is an ongoing business relationship in the mix there is always a bit of a shadow. I notice that when former clients have retired the relationship changes just a tiny bit, and becomes just slightly more comfortable.

Friends by choice instead of business colleagues just made for a more relaxing evening, and I can’t wait to try to make Panna Cotta at home!

Fork This

We’re getting older. Or at least Philip is. He had a birthday. Which means that for the next 6 months, he’s two years older than me. But, to make up for that, there are certain benefits—gifts, cake, food that will shorten your life—you know, the things that make life worth living.  And, lucky me, I’ve been sharing in the benefits.

First off, there are the free meals—as restaurants try to make you feel better about aging by giving you free comfort food. We are signed up for several restaurant email lists, and get a variety of coupons at through the year, but at birthday time—well, we don’t go hungry. Philip scored 3 meals this year. A big national chain, a smaller national chain and a local chain emailed Philip with free meal deals. So raise a fork to honor the birthday boy!

Over the last 10 days we shared a Balsamic Chicken dish, a really great Stuffed Chicken breast and a seriously yummy, mid-afternoon brunch of Eggs Benedict.  We usually supplement our half meal with a house salad each, and we get plenty to eat, and two side salads usually add up to the cost of a second entrée, so we aren’t really hurting anyone economically.  We don’t split to save money, though we have nothing against saving money, we do it to save calories. Per the restaurant web page, a full order of Eggs Benedict has 591 calories—toss in the sides, and the plate has over 800 calories.

Given that we spend our days as desk jockeys as opposed to digging ditches or tossing hay bales off a truck, we never need an 800 calorie meal! However, even half was so satisfying.  It had been a very long since I had Eggs Benedict, and the first bite was yummy.  We enjoyed Philips “free” birthday meals.

I also get to benefit at what Philip picked as he birthday gift. He is our breakfast cook and what we eat for breakfast is Eggbeaters, usually with some chopped veggies tossed in and either a lite marinara sauce or salsa, with a side of fruit or V-8.  Whole breakfast is usually about 100-150 calories, as opposed to 800.  And Philip is the morning chef.

He has been making more omelets, lately, and while we had a pretty good ceramic nonstick surface pan, it had finally worn out, after once or even twice daily use for quite some time.  The handle was loose, the finish was damaged and thus no longer truly nonstick and it just wasn’t working out.  So when I asked him what he wanted as a gift, he chose—new nonstick skillets. We looked at the ceramic, as we had loved it, but he was wanting something a little heavier, so he picked out a set of anodized aluminum that seem to be great—not that I’ve cooked with them yet.  But, Philip has, and has even been practicing air flipping his omelets.  So, he has fun and I get breakfast. So happy birthday to us!

And raise a fork!

Laissez les bons temps rouler

I had a small dinner party for Mardi Gras over the weekend.  We had just returned from 9 days on the road for work, and while I have wanted to have a big Mardi Gras Party for the last couple of years, this was not going to be the year.

So, I did a bit of research online and came up with an easy menu.

Blackened Chicken Breasts

Broccoli (sounds Cajun, doesn’t it?)

Hoppin’ John ( a simplified version  I sort of made up as I went along, with  no ham hocks or bacon, just green pepper, onion and celery sautéed, then cooked with a can of black eyed peas and some Cajun seasoning, then mixed this into rice, which I’d prepared using low sodium, fat free chicken broth instead of water.)

King Cake

Making the King Cake was my treat for myself, as I’ve heard about it for years, but beyond the name had no idea what it was.

What I discovered is that it is not so much a cake as a cinnamon ring or sweet bread.  I googled  “easy King Cake” and ended up at the Rhodes Bread  website and went with their recipe for a lemon cream cheese filling.  I had cream cheese and powdered sugar, and I was happy to think that I could buy the frozen dough and make this –No muss no fuss.   I just followed the recipe, with my only change that I didn’t use colored sugar sprinkles, instead made 3 colors of glaze.  So click here to see the King Cake you can order from New Orleans for 35 dollars  and below is the picture of mine that cost me $2.25.

King Cake Blog

It has some imperfections, but other than the Rhodes Bread page, it seems imperfections are allowed if not embraced when it comes to decorating King Cakes.

Most importantly, it tasted good and was very easy. I can see making this again with lemon or other fillings for a breakfast or brunch for houseguests, sans the purple frosting.

I had considered making special cocktails–Hurricanes or Sazeracs, but the ease of just opening a bottle of wine won out.  We did have Community Coffee with Chicory to try to carry a “New Orleans “theme.” 

Maybe next year I’ll be able to pull off a big Mardi Gras Bash.  But this was an easy, fun, low key, low cost and low pressure substitute.

And now I have a year to find Hurricane glasses on the cheap!

 

Adventures in Candyland

I have made rum balls and some truffles that I rolled in cocoa or coconut, but had never dipped any candy. But I came across a recipe that looked so easy, I thought—I could do that for gifts this year. It was basically as follows:

Bake a cake
Crumble it up while still warm and mix in a package of frosting
Chill, make into balls, freeze the balls and dip in candy coating.

How easy is that? I’ve never used candy coating, but I’m about the last person in the USA who hasn’t, so how hard can it be?

I made spice cake, added the frosting and, when the time came, melted a slab of the white bark stuff from the store and dipped my little cake balls. And it was pretty easy. But what I did notice (and, gentle reader if you are a gentle reader, you may want to skip this part) is that, as the white candy shell hardened, and the cake ball thawed, it became evident where any little gap in the shell was, from the toothpick I’d used or just from a failure to get a complete thick coating. Because tiny little spices cake extrusions appeared on about half a dozen of the cake balls. The color and size was very much what you’d see dragging behind a gold fish that a quick needed a quick swim in a bidet….. Charming image, I know, but that is what it looked like!
So, I cleaned that up and stuck them in the fridge. And later the freezer, so I could then take them off the tray and freeze them in a container.
But Philip and I each sampled a couple and our take on it was:

Way too sweet.

The coating is just overpoweringly sweet—and not flavorful in any other way. Which was not helped by what I’ve decided is too much frosting in the cake. The texture isn’t cake, it isn’t truffle, and it is sort of frosting. It tastes ok, but combined with the sweetness of the coating it is too sweet and not flavorful, and I’d not want to feature it in a gift basket. I’m not tossing these, since we do have a family thing to attend with 12 children under the age of 10 and said children are known to have no limit called “too sweet.”

My next batch will include a smaller proportion of frosting, which I’m inclined to make myself instead of using store bought, and I will be hitting the Wilton aisle and find some better candy melts to see if any of them are more flavorful. If not, I’m going back to tried and true recipes that don’t require dipping.