Monday, January 26, 2015

Revisiting an Old Favorite

We're on vacation this week, which means while our friends and family back home are getting blizzard conditions and up to 3' of snow ... we are not.

Because the weather is so ideally suited for something tropical, I've put together a batch of hibiscus sangria.

The recipe can be found in 101 Sangrias and Pitcher Drinks, a book I'd never laid eyes on until Sunday, when I found it in a gift shop in one of the local tourist traps. (I love tourist traps, by the way. I shouldn't, but I do.)

While I won't do a full review, I will say that, aside from a fairly pricey and kind of quirky ingredient (um, Hendrick's Gin anyone?), the assembly is simple, fast, and I can do it practically from memory.

There's a lovely batch steeping in the fridge and it will be ready for imbibing, poolside, tomorrow afternoon.

When in Rome, right?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Pumpkin Recipes!

Yes, I realize it's mid-January, but here's what ended up happening:

(1) During "pumpkin season," I saw a "You're Doing It Wrong" column re-run at Slate for an interesting recipe for pumpkin-beer quickbread that I've been looking at attempting for at least a year. This inspired my purchase of River Horse Brewery's "Hipp-O-Lantern Imperial Pumpkin Ale" - a seasonal beer from a local brewery, featuring pumpkin, spices, and a nifty hippopotamus graphic on the label. 

(2) Disney Junior has been running these short segments in the evenings featuring "Dishes Inspired by Disney" ... and they had a waffle recipe "inspired by" Cinderella. And, well, considering Perrault's telling of this shoe-losing young lady in disguise, of course, it featured pumpkin puree.

(3) At TJ's, they sell a very affordable (organic!) canned pumpkin puree during pumpkin season. It's perfect for adding to chili, making pies, or ... trying out new pumpkin recipes. So, I bought a can every other visit.

Considering the fact that the Cinderella Waffle recipe also called for canned light coconut milk, which I already had on-hand for the AB Indian Rice Pudding I made the other day, and my 4-year-old has been begging me to make these waffles for months (and I had three-quarters of a package of bacon to use up!), we had "breakfast for dinner" last night.

Recipe Review - Cinderella's Dreamy Pumpkin Waffles

How easy was the recipe to follow?

The recipe is very easy to follow, but in at least one online version, it contains a misprint - it would appear to be calling for 11 (!) cups of AP flour, when it only needs 1. Poor form, Disney Junior, poor form. (I've already informed them on their Facebook page, but it doesn't seem to be particularly well-monitored.)

The most challenging ingredients are the pumpkin puree and canned coconut milk - you won't use a full can of either, so either plan to freeze the remainder or work on another recipe that calls for pumpkin puree at the same time. (I still had a full cup of puree left over after opening two cans; I froze this for another time.)

Could my sister follow this recipe? Yes, absolutely. It's not hard.

Specialty Equipment?

Yes. You absolutely cannot make waffles without a waffle iron, though you can try. (I'm not about to try using a meat tenderizer myself. Sorry, Mr. Brown.)

I happen to have what works out to be two waffle irons - one that's an actual waffle iron (which I love, because it makes Perfect Waffles, but I also hate it because it's Nearly Impossible to clean) and waffle plates for my Cuisinart Griddler (which I don't love for their waffle-making properties, but do love for the ease of cleanup) - but I opted to use the actual waffle iron.

It's more easily accessible than my blender, which is good.

How did my husband and daughter like them? 

Since I also made regular waffles, my husband didn't try the pumpkin ones, but my daughter loved hers.

They tasted OK to me, but I think I'll change up the mixing method next time.

Was it too much work to add to the regular rotation?

Not really - it doesn't take much more time to mix these up than to use a box-mix, so there's no reason why I couldn't incorporate them into my go-to recipes in the future.

Verdict: We'll make these again.

Recipe Review - Pumpkin Beer Bread

How easy was this recipe to follow?

While it has a lot of steps, including a segment on the stove, this is an easy recipe. Most quick-bread recipes are Very Easy - this one was no different.

I almost forgot to add the beer, though, but that was more because I was trying to juggle two recipes at once. Oops!

My sister could definitely follow this recipe.

Does it require specialty equipment? 

Yes and no.

It requires a 9" loaf pan, which I actually do have but I was unable to find in my cabinet, so I had to use my 8.5" loaf pan.

It makes a difference in cooking time, so definitely use the 9" pan. (If you haven't got one, get one. Having the right tool is never a bad thing.)

How did my husband and daughter enjoy it?

To the best of my knowledge, neither of them have tried it yet.

But, it kind of tastes like banana bread to me, so I think they'll come around.

Is it too much work to add to my regular rotation?

Well, this is a hard one - it's not a meal, but rather a treat. It's easy to follow, not overly sweet, and I like it, but it really is season-dependent. Pumpkin ales aren't brewed year-round, so it's really going to be an autumn-only recipe. Unless I can find a way to keep pumpkin ales from going skunky.

Verdict: Sure, I'll happily make this again, but my husband will have to stop refrigerating my pumpkin beer!!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Recipe Review: Ted Allen's Belgian Beef Stew

How easy was the recipe to follow? 

Ted Allen's recipes in In My Kitchen are very clearly written, so I found this one very easy to follow. The skill level required for the steps is a little beyond a beginning home cook, but for someone who's self-described as "competent," it wasn't that bad.

I do recommend doing all your prep work before you turn on the flame, so you have mise en place - which is a fancy way to say "everything ready to go beforehand." 

I also recommend photocopying the pages on which the recipe appears so you don't have to flip back-and-forth between steps to check an ingredient amount with greasy or salty hands - it ended up starting on the odd-numbered page and finishing on the reverse, which I found a little distracting. (It's my preference to tape recipes above my work area so I don't need to turn my back on an active stove to check the next step.)

Aside from that, the recipe came together more quickly than I'd anticipated - I allowed myself 45 minutes for prep and stovetop cooking before placing the Dutch oven into the heated oven, but I didn't need it. 

Does it require specialty equipment that I don't always have accessible? 

Yes and no - it requires a Dutch oven, which I have, but don't use often enough. It's not as difficult for me to access as my food processors, coffee grinder, or blender.

On the plus side, it's great to have another dish I can use my lovely Le Creuset enameled cast iron to cook!

How did my husband & daughter enjoy it?

This is also a mixed bag.

My husband enjoyed it, but the recipe as written calls for 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, so it was a bit too spicy for our palates.

The kid tried it, which was great, but she was very upset by the strength of the cayenne. (Luckily, I still had whole milk in the house!)

This kind of makes me wonder if it's a misprint; we want to make it again, reducing the amount of cayenne or substituting another spice. I was thinking that smoked paprika might be complementary to the other flavors in the dish.

Was it too much work to add to my regular rotation? 

Again, a mixed bag.
It's too much work for an everyday weeknight meal, but it would be nice to have as a Sunday treat every now and again.

Verdict: Will make again, with noted substitution of smoked paprika for cayenne.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bonus Recipe - Rice Pudding

Now, I know what you're going to say, because I, like you, also despised rice pudding as either too sweet or having a weird texture - who wants to chew "pudding" ?

So, after catching a repeat of the GE episode "Puddin' Head Blues" on TV the other day, AB's recipe for Indian Rice Pudding started to call to me.

How fortunate (while the recipe was calling) for us to order takeout Chinese? 


Having the main ingredient (1 cup of cooked-and-cooled long-grain or Basmati rice) in the fridge, albeit a bit older than I probably ought to have used, meant I needed to create a shopping list - it calls for whole milk, heavy cream, and coconut milk, none of which I had on-hand, as well as pistachios, golden raisins, and cardamom.

So, here's the compacted version of a week's worth of posts:

Shopping List

  • whole milk (I bought a half-gallon, because my daughter and I will drink it, but a small "single serve" bottle from your local convenience store would be fine)
  • heavy cream 
  • canned coconut milk (I used "light" from TJ)
  • ground cardamom
  • UNSALTED pistachios
  • golden raisins

Recipe Review

The recipe worked as expected (near perfectly - I'm fortunate to never have had an AB recipe fail) though it is a little involved. Anything where you're bringing milk to a boil is going to be involved, in my opinion, so it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Mr. Brown's meticulous step-by-step instructions really break everything down so I'd expect that my sister could follow them, but she likely wouldn't - she's kind of a picky eater.

I've never cooked with cardamom before, though I've eaten dishes that feature it, and I think it might be my new favorite spice. It smells kind of lemony, with a hint of pepper, and tastes like real vanilla with a hint of nutmeg. 

My husband enjoyed the flavor, but the texture from the rice, which had been in the fridge for 5 days, was a bit off-putting - it was still a bit "crunchy" and it shouldn't have been.

My daughter, on the other hand, wouldn't even try it. Whatever; she's 4.


Despite the kid turning up her nose at it, I'm still going to add this to the regular rotation, with the caveat that it needs to be made within one day of having takeout.

It's also not too complicated to do on a weeknight if everything's already in the house. Now that I've got the spice, nuts, and raisins, I'll only have to get the milk & cream next time.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Which Recipe Did I Pick?

On Wednesday (14 January 2015), I'll tackle my first new-to-me recipe, "Belgian Beef Stew (with beer, onions, and herb spaetzle)"

Our copy is personalized from Mr. Allen himself, who we met at our local Barnes & Noble during the summer of 2012. 

Even if you don't cook, you'll notice that the photographs are lovely, the recipes thorough and well-written (no surprise - one of the first non "30-minute" recipes I ever attempted was a Ted Allen recipe for a puffy oven-baked pancake), and most of them aren't out of reach for my current skill level.

Sadly, we hadn't taken the time to really sit with the book and flag our "ooh! this looks great!" recipes because we were both working full-time, keeping rotten hours, and, well, the kid was only 2. 

Ted Allen's book was calling my name this week. I love him on TV, really appreciated the time and patience he took with our family (how many TV personalities will stay patient with a 2-year-old?), and have been itching to try these recipes since bringing this gorgeous book home.

Because it's supposed to remain rather chilly here this week (in the 30's F), I wanted to do a lot of comfort-food recipes this week. (Tonight's dinner, for example, is "AB mac-and-cheese," while tomorrow will be slow-cooker chicken & dumplings.)

This all played into selecting a variation on beef stew - hearty, comforting, and not too fussy. (It's basically a sear-and-braise recipe.)

Today was my main shopping day - picking up stew beef, beef stock, and onions. (I had everything else in the pantry & fridge.)

Tomorrow, while the kid's off at preschool, I'll have time to grab the beer - trying to choose a Belgian or Belgian-style golden ale that suits both my husband's and my palates is going to be a challenge, but I'll happily do it!


  • stew beef (3 lbs)
  • beef stock
  • onion (1.5 lbs)
  • Belgian-style beer (golden ale, lambic, or abbey; I don't particularly care for lambic, so I'm looking at golden ales)

Glossary of Liz-Terms (Part 1)

Why should you need a quicklist of terms I use? If you're going to follow this blog, you'll need to know how I short-hand a few people, ingredients, grocery stores, or random things.

Chances are good, I'll need more than one of these over the course of the blog, so this is "Part 1."

  • AB - Alton Brown, whose show Good Eats is part of the reason I'm half the cook I am today. 
  • AP - all-purpose, as in "all-purpose flour" 
  • FN - Food Network
  • Giada-chicken parm - Giada DiLaurentiis's recipe for chicken parmesan, which is a weeknight staple in our house (even if I cheat and use jarred sauce; sorry Giada)
  • GE - Good Eats
  • Mr. Brown see AB
  • Weggies - Wegmans (a Rochester, NY-based local chain of supermarkets; if you think it's insane to rave about a grocery store, you've never been to Wegmans)
Still with me? Good.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What Is This Blog About?

My name is Liz; I'm a competent home cook, temporarily out-of-work editorial professional, and an out-of-practice writer. It's a new year and I'm trying to get back into the swing of writing for fun.

I also have what feels like eight thousand cookbooks, many that still have that "new book smell." Wow. My cookbook shelves have all these wonderful references, but I'm not using over half of them! 

Sure, my husband, daughter, and I have our favorites, and those are currently part of our regular rotation, but what's the point of having great cookbooks if I'm not going to use them?

In 2015, I'm committing to trying at least one new recipe per week.

This is the plan:

(1) I will select at least one new recipe to try every Sunday or Monday.

(2) As I usually have a fairly well-stocked pantry, I'll need to assess its contents to determine whether or not I need to grocery shop before attempting the recipe. If grocery shopping is necessary, I'll post my shopping list on shopping day (Monday or Tuesday.)

(3) On Wednesday, I'll make the recipe exactly as it's written in the cookbook or magazine. I'll likely make notes in the margins about whether the technique worked, or if I had trouble understanding what was supposed to happen during a step, which will be part of my recipe review.

(4) On Thursdays, I'll post a recipe review to answer the following questions:

  • How easy was the recipe to follow? (Could my sister, a non-cook, follow it?)
  • Does it require specialty equipment that I don't always have accessible? (Stuff like a stand mixer, blender, food processor, or coffee grinder - all of which I have, but don't use regularly.)
  • How did my husband & daughter enjoy it?
  • Was it too much work to add to my regular rotation? 
(5) On Fridays, or any non-cooking days, I'll define random cooking terms I use frequently for those of you who don't watch as much Food Network/Cooking Channel as I do. 

Does this sound fair and really do-able? I think it does. 

Wish me luck!