Thursday, December 31, 2009

Spicy cheese straws

As I was planning my post for this week, I overlooked a critical step in the process —checking in with my fellow writers to see what they were planning for the week.  Had I done so, I would not have planned my pulled pork recipe to follow on the heels of GoodFountain's yummy barbecue sauce.  Oops.  I plead temporary insanity resulting from the sinus infection and bronchitis which I've been battling. (I'll post the pulled pork another time; mine's more of a southern/Carolinas style, vinegar-based barbecue.)

Searching for some inspiration for a new recipe, I cracked open the box of cook books and recipe boxes I'd packed away to go in my mother's attic.  I did find the krumkake recipe I'd been looking for.  But I digress. 

Feeling a bit nostalgic, I opened up my Nana's battered grey recipe box and began to thumb through the decades and generations' worth of recipes within.  I confess to getting a bit weepy over the memories they evoked of long-ago visits to my grandparents' home in northwestern Connecticut.  Early morning smells of homemade brown bread baking in the oven as we ate our oatmeal at the wooden trestle table nestled against the large fieldstone hearth.  *sigh* It's been so many years since my grandparents passed away and the cabin's long-since been sold out of the family. Yet, the sight of Nana's spidery writing on those cards brought it all flooding back.

There is a treasure trove of culinary history held within that small gray box; I'll endeavor to share some of it in the coming year.  Recipes for my great-grandmother's tea cake and her pie crust recipe which is so amazing my sisters still ask me to send it to them every year (they don't seem to keep too many recipes).  Recipes for homemade egg nog and my grandfather's secret chicken marinade.  So many recipes to choose from and each with a story.

I'm not sure where this particular recipe came from originally.  In fact, I'm not even sure if it's correct!  I guess that's one of the hazards of cooking by "feel" or by instincts; the course corrections may not always be recorded for posterity!  I tried to make the recipe as Nana wrote it but it didn't seem right to me so, I confess, I searched some recipes online to find ways to tweak it to get the right consistency. 

I don't mind telling you that, had I not committed myself to blogging about these delicious little cheese straws, I was so frustrated that I would've gladly scrapped the whole thing!  My husband and son are both glad I didn't as they gobbled up the results with gusto!  (Yes, I broke my dairy-free rule in order to allow Nik to try a few.  Now the challenge is on to find a suitable casein free replacement so I can make these again! When I do, I'll substitute a non-dairy shortening and coconut milk for the other dairy ingredients.)

Here is the recipe as I made it—

2 C flour (I used my GF sorghum blend)
1/4 lb butter (room temp)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 lb shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 1/2 Tbsp milk*

*Nana's recipe didn't call for any liquid but it just seemed too dry and crumbly so I improvised with great success.

Mix all the ingredients until you have a dough the consistency of thick cookie dough.  I used my stand mixer but recommend using a food processor instead.

Take small portions of the dough and roll it out on a lightly floured cutting board —much the same way you would for rolled cookies. Trim the rolled portion into a neat rectangle then cut the dough into strips about the width of a pencil.  Cut strips to desired lengths (I made mine about four inches long. Any longer and they seem to break apart when I transfer them to the pan).  Arrange them about an inch apart on the tray for baking.

Bake at 325F for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Remove to cooling racks and allow to cool completely for a delectable, crunchy, spicy treat!

NOTE:  Some recipes I found indicate that you can use a cookie press to make uniform sized extruded straws/cookies.  I did not have any luck with this method as the dough was a bit too thick for the press.

Do you have a favorite appetizer or snack recipe?  We'd love to have you share it —or any other recipes—with us.  Just drop us a line and let us know you'd like to be a guest blogger.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy new year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Homemade limoncello

Here's what you need to know about this limoncello recipe: It takes a reallllly long time to 'finish' (like, months), and it's TOTALLY worth it. Plus, it totally makes me feel like a risque Ma Ingalls. Which, you know, is sort of my life's dream. Score!

Since the lemons in my backyard are just now ripening, I'm starting a batch tomorrow. Well, that...or going to Urgent Care to see if the elephant sitting on the bridge on my nose is actually a sinus infection instead. One of those. (I'm voting for limoncello; Baroy, who is no longer finding my sudden-onset snoring 'cute,' votes for the drugs. He may win. But I'll get to the limoncello sometime before I go back to work next week. It's my promise to myself.)

A little bit about this recipe's provenance: I got it (a couple of years ago) from Cindy at Figs, Lavender and Cheese, and then supplemented it a little bit with other versions of the recipe on the web. Truthfully, though, they all seem to have the same basic ingredients: lemons, alcohol, a simple syrup (or something much like it), and time.

For more info, keep reading.

20 lemons (approximately)
two bottles of vodka, 750 ml each (80 proof or higher)
4 cups sugar
5 cups water

1. For this first step, all you'll need are the lemons, one of the bottles of vodka, and a glass jar to put them in. This last bit was my biggest challenge; the jar I use (above), doesn't quite do it for me.

Here's what you do: Peel the lemons. This takes FOREVER, because you not only want to get as much of the skin as possible, but you also have to try to get as little of the pith (the white stuff underneath the yellow skin) as possible, too. I use a sharp peeler, and a paring knife to scrape off any pith I happen to peel along with the thin skin. Place the peels into the glass jar along with 750 ml of vodka. Cover tightly, and store in a cool, dry, dark place. For 40 days and 40 nights, as if it were an ark and you were Noah. Except, you know, you're not traveling a flooded earth with all the surviving wildlife; you're making lemony booze. Personally, I think that's a lot more fun.

You don't need to do anything to the mixture, though I tend to check on it every week or two, and swirl it around a little, to get the peels on the top further down into the vodka.

(An aside: After I peel the lemons, I juice them, then pour the juice into ice-cube trays until frozen. This way, I have lemon juice for cooking with throughout the year. I mean, if you're going to buy--or in my case, pick--20 or so lemons, you might as well get full use of them!)

2. A few days before you're ready for the next step, make the simple syrup. Every recipe seems to give a slightly different ratio of water to sugar; some do it like a "regular" simple syrup (1:1), but I find even the 4 cups sugar to 5 cups water to yield an extremely sweet liqueur, and am actually thinking of going to 4:6 for this next batch, so I wouldn't want to up the amount of sugar, personally.

To make the syrup, simply add the sugar to the water in a pot, then heat just to boiling, making sure all the sugar has dissolved. Let the mixture cool, then store in the fridge. (I wouldn't make it more than a week in advance; I usually do it the day before I'm ready to move on.)

3. Open the jar and add the syrup and the other 750 ml of vodka. Give it a quick stir to get everything mixed up, then put the jar back in its hidey-hole (mine's in my garage). Cindy's recipe suggests you leave it for another 40 days; some of the other recipes say you can pull it out after two to three weeks. I guess it all depends on how impatient you are for a taste! (What do I do? I generally strain one bottle full at a time--see next step--starting two weeks after I add the vodka and syrup, then let the rest sit for a few weeks until I'm ready to refill the bottle.)

4. When the waiting is over, strain the limoncello through cheesecloth to get rid of the peel. You can store the bottles in your pantry or cupboards, but keep one in the freezer, because this stuff is best when it's icy cold. (Not that I'm not perfectly happy drinking it lukewarm, mind you. But really. Icy cold is the best.)

Not only is it a great summertime apperitif (whatever that means), but it makes an awesome hostess gift. I brought bottles of it with me last September when we had to evacuate to two different friends' houses during the Station Fire, and everyone let us stay! I'm positive it was the booze that tipped the balance.

Do you have a homemade liqueur recipe? My friend John has one for amaretto (or is it kahlua? I think it might be kahlua) that I have to get my hands on and try. Let me know if you've got something to tempt me, too!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Superb barbecue sauce

One of the Christmas traditions I've had since getting married is making pulled pork barbecue with homemade sauce on Christmas Eve. Add some homemade coleslaw and a few potato chips and it's a pretty simple meal.

This year, however, Christmas Eve was just the four of us, no extra guests, so we decided to forgo our tradition in lieu of something we were certain both kids would want to eat.

I've not yet modified this recipe to be free of dairy, although I think a simple dairy-free butter substitution would do the trick. As long as gluten-free ingredients are chosen, it should be naturally free of gluten.

I'd also like to make this recipe using only organic ingredients, especially the ketchup. That will require some tweaking as the taste difference between organic ketchup and regular ketchup is substantial (the organic stuff is awesome, I otherwise don't touch ketchup). I once made this recipe using organic ketchup and realized I would need to make a few more alterations before making it as positively delicious as the original.

The original recipe comes from an old Better Homes & Gardens cookbook of my mom's that she claims she bought around the time my older sister was born over 40 years ago.

Superb Barbecue Sauce
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp prepared mustard
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 thick lemon slice
1 onion sliced
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp liquid smoke (optional)

In saucepan mix vinegar, water, sugar, mustard, pepper, salt, cayenne, lemon, onion and butter.

Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

Add ketchup, Worcestershire and liquid smoke.

Bring to boil. Pour over pork and mix well.

Note: I usually triple this recipe to make sure that I have enough to cover 2-3 lbs of Boston butt (or shoulder) pork (the best for pulling) and plenty leftover for those that like extra sauce.

Another note: This recipe also works great with ribs.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chocolate bark with peanuts and orange zest

I'm sure you are probably tired of the holiday cooking and the baking—I know I am. I'm tempted, in fact, to toss what's left of the cookies and the cupcakes and the rich desserts. But New Year's is coming, and if you have been invited out for New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, or even if you are planning quiet time at home, you might be in the market for something sweet and different and well, chocolate to go with your champagne toast.

This recipe is ridiculously easy. So easy, in fact, that it is my new go-to hostess gift. It's a Martha Stewart recipe, found it in the new issue of Holiday Sweets. And it is beyond delicious.

The original recipe calls for 1 pound of good chocolate for melting. I couldn't figure out how to measure that, so I used a package of Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips. It was definitely less than a pound because it took a much smaller pan than the recipe calls for, but it was enough for what I needed. I made two batches in the days before Christmas. I gave away more than half as gifts and still had plenty left over for us.

I'm going to give you the amounts from the original recipe, but if you decide to use less chocolate, it's simple enough to scale back on the other three ingredients as well.

Here's what you need:

Seriously, that's it. Four ingredients and a jelly roll pan.

1 navel orange
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/3 cups of chopped unsalted peanuts
1/4 teaspoon of coarse salt

Line the jelly roll pan with aluminum foil and chill.

Zest the orange and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (I improvise here. I use a small aluminum bowl that fits nicely inside the rim of one of my saucepans. I'm sure you could melt the chocolate in the microwave, but I find it easier to control the heat and the melting time stovetop.)

When the chocolate is melted and smooth, stir in about 3/4 of the chopped nuts and half of the orange zest. Pour the mixture onto the chilled jelly roll pan and smooth it into a nice even layer. You can rock the pan back and forth or use the back of a spoon to help even the chocolate, but remember, this will set fast because the pan is chilled. Sprinkle with the rest of the nuts, the zest and the salt.


Chill for 30 minutes or until set. Break into pieces. And enjoy!

The chocolate keeps in a refrigerated airtight container (I put wax paper between the layers) for three days, according to the original recipe, but trust lasts much longer. We've been snacking on it for days!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Roasted brussels sprouts

I feel sorta bad. I mean, here it is, Christmas Eve and all, and here's me, the Jew of the group, up to bat.

Truth is, although we don't celebrate Christmas as "our holiday," Baroy and I (and the kids, once they arrived) have spent every single Christmas since 1994 with two of our closest friends. Over the years we've developed a list of must-not-deviate-from traditions, several of them involving food. And so, tomorrow night, we will feast on eggplant parmesan made with home-made sauce that is to die for. (Plus, I might make some latkes, since our friends didn't get any this season. And maybe even a little applesauce to go with. But that's a whole other holiday...which has already passed!)

Here's the problem with my trying to share that menu: Marc makes the eggplant, and Glen makes the sauce, and I have neither recipe on hand. I'll get them; I promise. But for now? You get brussels sprouts.

Now, I realize that sounds awfully Scrooge-y. I mean, there you are, visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads, having spent weeks on end baking scores cookies and pies and figgy pudding, and here I am, pushing veggies.

Trust me on this one, though. World's simplest recipe. World's most delicious veggies. We're eating them twice a week here (although by "we" I most certainly do not mean N, who eats nothing green, even going so far as to refuse Granny Smith apples). Em, who only recently refused to even smell brussels sprouts, now requests them. Frequently. The other night, while waiting for dinner to finish cooking, we ate them like popcorn, straight out of a bowl, as delectable hors d'oeuvres, giggling in delight the whole time.

Besides, you know you need something green to put on the table, if only for color balance in the family photos.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts

brussels sprouts (as many or as few as you like, depending on how many people will be eating them)
salt (I prefer Kosher salt for most of my cooking, and this recipe is no exception)
olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Wash and pat dry the brussels sprouts. Trim the stalk end of each sprout, and remove any dirty or discolored outer leaves. Cut each sprout in half.

3. Place cut brussels sprouts in plastic baggie; pour in enough olive oil to coat the brussels sprouts you've prepared, and add in a generous amount of salt. (I like my brussels sprouts a bit salty; you may want to be less generous.)

4. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then pour oil-coated brussels sprouts out of plastic bag. Place them in single layer, cut side down, on the parchment.

5. Roast (or is it bake, since it's on a baking sheet? I really need to learn my cooking terminology) for 10 to 15 minutes. You want them to get really, really brown on the bottom, and even for some of the outer leaves' edges to burn a little; this seems to caramelize the sugars in the sprouts, takes any bitterness out, and makes them taste more than a little bit like toasted veggie marshmallows. (Don't believe me? Try 'em.) Serve.

Like I said: Couldn't be simpler.

For those of you who are brussels afficionadoes, I'm sure this is all old hat to you. In fact, you're probably saying, "Oh sure, TC, those are nice, but you've gotta try my favorite brussels sprout recipe." And I do gotta try it. Which means you have to leave me the recipe. In the comment section, below. And thank you.

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate. Can't wait to hear all about your day!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guest post: Homemade cucumber sushi

Of all the so-called "ethnic" foods one can serve up, homemade sushi seems to strike a good share of fear into the hearts of cooks who otherwise have no qualms about dishes that require trips to foreign markets, or strange spices, or presumably difficult techniques. But honestly, sushi is so simple to make at home, and so delicious, I can't figure out why more people don't do it. Even some cooks here on NTMC claim they'd "never" attempt it, so here's my brief pep talk—and tutorial—aimed to prove sushi simple.

Here's (all) you'll need:

Two cups cooked short grain, "sushi" rice. This can be purchased in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets. I cook mine in a rice cooker. Two cups of rice will make about three rolls of sushi.

One English cucumber, sometimes called hothouse cucumbers. These have more meat on the cucumber, and less seeds, and, in my opinion, better flavor. But honestly, a regular old cucumber will work too.

Sushi nori. Again, many supermarkets sell this. It's simply sheets of nori, the right size for rolling sushi. If you buy your nori in an Asian market, ask specifically for sushi nori, as many Asian markets also sell Korean style nori which is far saltier, and spicier, and greasier, and well, delicious on its own but it won't roll up right at all.

Mirin. This is a sweet rice seasoning—not vinegar!

Bamboo sushi rolling "mat". You can buy these in all Asian markets, or even on Amazon.

Small bowl of warm water.

Getting started:

First, peel and seed the cucumber, then cut into long, thin strips. Next, sprinkle the cooled rice with the mirin and toss. The mirin lightly seasons the rice, and makes it a bit less sticky when rolled. Next, lay the sheet of nori on the bamboo mat, then spread an even 1/4 to 1/2 inch layer of rice along all but about two inches of the nori, leaving a bit of nori free at the top for sealing. You'll have to play with the thickness of the layer of rice to get the amount right, but after a few rolls, you'll get the hang of it. My local sushi chef also compresses the rice between his hands before he lays it on the nori. This makes the roll nice and tight, so go ahead and try!

 Next, layer strips of cucumber into the middle of the nori. I usually cut the cucumber into 1/4 inch strips and use about three to four of these per roll.

 Begin rolling:

 The goal here is to keep the roll right. Use both hands and don't be afraid. The mat will prevent you from breaking the nori. When you get to the end, wet the edge of the nori with the warm water, and seal the roll.

Moisten a sharp knife with water, and cut the roll into inch wide pieces. Serve with soy sauce and wasabi.

 See how easy? And so much better than supermarket sushi!

Leightongirl blogs at

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gluten-free snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles are one of my all-time favorite cookies (and also one of my favorite words to say!) C'mon, say it: Snickerdoodle. Snickerdoodle. Snickerdoodle. You have heard of Snickerdoodles, right? I was shocked a couple of days ago when a friend said, "What are those?" when I mentioned this cookie.

With the holiday baking spirit starting to take over in my house, I decided now is the time to find out if gluten-free Snickerdoodles would be just as delicious as the traditional ones.

I searched the web looking for recipes, thinking that I might try several, but one in particular kept surfacing time and again with rave reviews. There were other GF recipes that were for variations on the original, but I was looking for the tried and true cinnamon/sugary delight known as Snickerdoodles.

The recipe is from The Gluten Free Baker by Robin Ryberg

Gluten-Free Snickerdoodles
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup potato starch
3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp corn starch
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xantham gum
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp water

Cinnamon-Sugar Coating
Mix together
3 Tbsp sugar and 3/4 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together shortening and sugar. Add egg and vanilla. Mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together potato starch, corn starch, baking soda, baking powder, xantham gum and salt.

Add the dry ingredients along with the 2 Tbsp of water to the sugar/shortening. Mix very well to eliminate any lumps in the dough.

Lightly oil hands or spray with cooking spray (I sprayed) to handle the dough as it is quite sticky.

Shape into small balls using a slightly-rounded teaspoon of dough for each cookie. Roll each ball in the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet (again, I used cooking spray). The original recipe calls for each ball to be pressed to about 1/3-inch even thickness, but I forgot to do that after the first batch and didn't notice a difference.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. A single cookie should be removed at the shortest baking time to test for doneness. Browning is not a good indicator for these cookies.

This recipe made 3 dozen, 2 dozen of which were consumed practically on the spot. The remaining dozen were nibbled away all day.

Now that I've shared one of my favorite cookies, please share yours! I looooove cookies!

Oatmeal cookies with cranberries and white chocolate

God, I love these cookies. I guess it's the cranberries and white chocolate that make them holiday-ish, but the truth is, they're good whenever and easy to make, and did I mention that I love them? The basic "oatmeal cookie" part of the recipe is pretty much straight off the lid of the Quaker Oats container, but instead of raisins, I kind of go my own way here. And, of course, I use butter (though I think the original calls for margarine).

Here's what you need:

2 sticks of butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups of oatmeal (I prefer the quick oats—it's a texture thing—but the old fashioned oats are also fine)
1 cup of cranberries (I use the Craisins)
1 heaping, generous, big cup of white chocolate chips

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare your cookie sheets. Parchment paper is a lifesaver here.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, set aside. With a mixer, cream the butter and slowly add the two sugars. Add the eggs and vanilla. Beat well.

Now add the combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the oats (I use the slowest mixer speed for this one). You'll need to mix in the Craisins and white choc. chips by hand. As a little aside, one of my most favorite kitchen tools is my cookie scoop. It looks just like an ice cream scoop, but smaller. Look at those fabulous uniform balls of dough!!

Okay, back to the recipe. Drop the dough onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes, until just lightly golden.

You want to seriously pay attention to the bake time here. The cookies will overcook very fast!! Let cool on a wire rack. I get about 5 dozen cookies from this recipe.

These are great packaged for gifts in fancy tins or boxes, or will keep for about a week in a ziploc bag. They also freeze beautifully. And I hear they are one of Santa's favorites!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Guest post: Sugar and spice pecans

Because I can't resist anything that combines sweet, salty and spicy flavors, I found I could not keep my hands off these amazing sugar and spice pecans when I first had them at a friend's house last year. I immediately got the recipe and made several batches as gifts for teachers and friends.

Nearly everyone who received them emailed me for the recipe and I knew I had a hit on my hands.

That, and the fact that my husband, Chris, pleaded with me to get the extras out of the house lest we both need to order new pants with bigger waistbands.

This year, I'm making them again for teachers and staff at my son's school. I thought it might be a nice recipe to share as a guest post here since some of you might be looking for a simple way to give some homemade holiday goodness.

Here's what you'll need:

1 egg white
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
4-6 cups of pecan halves (this recipe is very forgiving of the amount)
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (More or less, to taste)
1/8 tsp nutmeg (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees

Lightly beat egg white with water and vanilla. Add pecan halves to egg white mixture and stir until pecans are coated with the egg white mixture.

Combine the sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne pepper and nutmeg (if using) and add to the pecan mixture. Mix well. At this point, the pecans should be nicely coated with a sticky, sugary goo, but not swimming in goo.

Cover two baking sheets with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Now comes the tedious part (because after all, holiday baking has to be just a little bit fussy, right?). Transfer the pecans individually, making sure that the pecans are separated and dispersed evenly on the baking sheet. It's best to just do this with your fingers and get a little messy. Listen to a podcast and hold a nice glass of wine with your non-dominant hand.

Bake for 25 minutes or until pecans are crisp and bubbly, browned and toasty-smelling. Let them cool, then transfer them from the foil and let them cool for a few more minutes on a flat surface.

I've been packing them in festive tissue and holiday-themed Chinese take-out boxes as gifts. They make a lovely addition to a cheese plate and will make a salad a little more dramatic. My favorite way to eat them, though, is crumbled over ice cream with chocolate sauce.

And, yes, my new pants are on the way.

By day, Christa is a consultant and writer in the area of training and learning in the workplace. She blogs at Hyperlexicon, writing about parenting on the spectrum, hyperlexia and life with an atypical kid. She enjoys cooking and trusts that someday her six-year-old son will eat more than four things.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mandelbrot (No, not the mathematician)

In what is apparently, though inadvertently, an ethnic cookie bakeoff between me and Niksmom (are you dying to try her krumkake as much as I am?), I present to you what may well be my favorite Jewish dessert.

You call them biscotti. But we? We call them mandelbrot, which literally means almond (mandel) bread (brot). Are they the same thing? Oy, if I had the time to research that, I'd be a rich woman. (OK, not really. Unless some ridiculously rich person was just dying to know the answer, and too lazy to Google.) So instead, let me put it this way. They sure taste a lot alike.*

Anyway. The best thing about mandelbrot, from a Kosher perspective, is that they are naturally pareve. (Pareve means neutral--made with neither meat or dairy or their derivatives. Somewhat confusingly, eggs are not considered dairy when you're talking Kosher, so the fact that these have eggs does not make them dairy.)

When I say they're 'naturally' pareve, I mean that you don't have to mess with the original recipe to omit butter or milk in order to serve them with a meat meal. They are perfect just the way they are. And while I don't keep Kosher myself, I have friends who do, and I attend potlucks at a temple where Kosher laws need to be obeyed. Knowing that bringing mandelbrot will never be a problem, no matter what is being served? Priceless.

They fact that they are simply delicious? Priceless-er.

Mandelbrot (from my mother's recipe box to my own, though I'm guessing this one came from further up the family tree)

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil (use a neutral one, like canola)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup ground almonds (I ground the whole almonds shown here in my food processor)

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix the first four ingredients in a large bowl, starting with the sugar, then add the last two (dry) ingredients a little at a time, until wet.

Prepare two cookie sheets. (My mother's instruction is to grease them. I would be literally lost, baking-wise, without parchment paper to line my cookie sheets. Parchment can be hard to find in the grocery store--only one of the two big-name grocery stores around here carries it--and that surprises me, because whereas I used to burn stuff ALL THE TIME, I now pretty much never burn anything I'm baking. Miracle stuff, I tell you. Miracle stuff. But, hey. Do whatever you want. I'm just sayin'...if the mondel burns, don't come crying to me.)

Wet your hands with cold water, and divide the dough (it's STICKY) into four parts. Keep wetting your hands as needed as you spread the dough out into thin 'loaves,' two on each cookie sheet.

Bake the loaves at 350 for about 25 minutes. They should be, as my mother instructs, "quite golden" when you take them out.

But wait. Not so fast. Take them out one tray at a time, because you need to cut the loaves while they're still soft, and this dough hardens quickly once it's out of the oven.

Slice each loaf into strips. (For some reason, I always do them on an angle, almost like they're little London broils. I have no idea why, except that it's the way my mom did them. I think. And if not, it's because that's the way I think my mom did them.) Now bring out the other tray, and slice those loaves.

Turn each strip onto one side, then return the tray to the oven, toasting the mandelbrot for about 10 minutes.

Remove, and let cool. Eat. And eat. And eat.

These are really mild tasting, but unbearably delicious. So delicious, in fact, that even though this recipe makes probably upwards of three dozen 'brot,' I often double it. I bring them as hostess gifts to holiday parties, potlucks, etc. They're somehow just a squidge classier in feel than regular old cookies, and yet they're even easier to make, in my opinion. Win win!

*Hey, does anyone out there have a homemade biscotti recipe they'd be willing to dig out? We could probably settle this by comparing recipes, methinks. Or we could have a mandelbrot/biscotti taste test. Yeah! That's the ticket...The ticket to obesity, I mean.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gluten free Norwegian krumkake (waffle cookies)

(Image courtesy of LefseTime)

When my husband, who is part Norwegian, first introduced me to krumkake, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. This delicious little waffle cookie —slightly similar to Italian pizelle cookies but with a much more delicate flavor and texture— is a traditional holiday staple in my husband's family. What sets krumkake apart from other waffle cookies is that it's made using cardamom and the flour is sifted so it's super-fine which helps to give the batter a nice light consistency. The batter is then cooked on a special griddle engraved with beautiful designs.  If you don't own one, you can easily purchase one for around forty dollars, or you can simply cook them in a small crepe/sautee pan or flat griddle.  The batter will spread as it heats and you can flip them with a spatula for sort of crunchy wafers.  You won't have the pretty lacey pattern but you'll still have the yummy treats!

These delectable little babies are so light and delicate, so beautiful and so tasty I could eat, ahem, well, let's just say...a lot. My husband has made krumkake for many, many years using his grandmother's original recipe which uses wheat flour. Ever since I started eating gluten free (and casein free in many cases for my son's sake), I've missed having krumkake at Christmas. We decided to remedy that this year and set out to modify Grandma's recipe. Which, ahem, it turns out is packed away with some other cookbooks in my mother's attic. (Did I mention my kitchen is tiny? I'm sure I did.)

The recipe below comes from LefseStore; we substituted a GF flour blend for the regular flour but split the difference on casein by using butter and rice milk. We were so pleased with this recipe that we'll use it again and substitute something else for the butter, perhaps coconut butter or palm shortening.

The basic recipe (with GF or CF substitutions in parenthesis after):

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened (not melted) (coconut butter or palm shortening)
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 cup flour, sifted (GF sorghum blend, recipe at the end of this post)**
1 scant cup milk (rice milk)
1 pinch salt (moderate) (not in the original recipe but my husband remembered that from Grandma's)
**1/4 tsp xanthan gum (omit if using regular flour)

Beat the eggs well. Add sugar, butter and cardamom, beat well.
Add flour and milk in equal parts at a time and beat until smooth. (Confession: I tossed the flour and milk in together in my Kitchenaid stand mixer and it was fine. If you are mixing by hand you should definitely follow the recipe's instructions.) The key is not to overmix the flour; too much can make the final product more coarse than you want.

Using a tablespoon or large mixing spoon, spoon the batter onto the griddle just behind the center of the design. When the lid is closed, the weight of it will push the batter forward to fill in the design. Cook for about a minute and check for doneness. The cookies are done when they are a light golden color and the pattern is just discernable. Use a wooden or synthetic spatula (for non-stick cookware) to lift the edge of the cookie off the griddle while rolling it. Tradition calls for rolling them, while still hot, around a cone-shaped form. If you don't have a cone form it's perfectly fine to use a round handled whisk or a broom stick. Or simply lay them flat to cool.

The krumake will cook very quickly and will have a very light, delicate wafer-like quality (whereas a pizelle is generally heavier or thicker— and made with anise). Dust them with powdered sugar or fill them with your favorite fillings. Eat them plain or dip one end in melted chocolate. You can't go wrong. They can be prepared so many ways. It's been suggested that Norwegian settlers to the Midwest introduced the light little krumkake which was quickly adapted into what is now the ice cream cone.

In addition to the traditional cone shape, krumkake can also be rolled into narrower straight rolls which make them more stable for shipping. If I'm going to ship some to my in-laws, I'll leave them flat; the last time I shipped some that were rolled, my in-laws ended up with a lovely parcel of krumkake crumbs— which are fabulous for topping sundaes, by the way.

True statement: my husband was wary of the GF alteration to this well-loved cookie; he thought the batter too thin at first. When the krumkake were done and he'd eaten some, he proclaimed them so good that he doesn't see the need to ever go back to using wheat flour! How's that for an endorsement?

(Image courtesy of ChefsChoice)

Honesty clause: We haven't made any of these yet this season because our young son has been battling some significant respiratory illnesses for the past month— but we plan to remedy that this weekend. The pictures accompanying this post are from other sources (attributed).

Sorghum Flour Blend:
2 C sorghum flour plus 2/3 C potato starch flour and 1/3 C tapioca flour. 
I recommend using sorghum for this recipe simply because it similar to wheat flour in its properies and behavior.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jalapeno dip

Since 'tis the season for entertaining and being entertained, I thought I'd share one of my favorite appetizers. Very easy and great for taking to parties or serving up at your own. It's always a crowd favorite with rarely any left by party's end.

I've not been to a holiday party in some time and have not made this recently, so I must ask that you forgive my lack of pictures.

Jalapeno Dip
Bring to room temperature:
2 8-oz packages of cream cheese
1 8-oz package of cold pack cheddar cheese

Once they are room temperature, mix (with a mixer) the cheeses together.

Add diced jalapeno peppers and mix again. I usually use half a jar of jalapenos and I like things fairly hot. One time my grandmother accidentally used an entire jar of jalapenos. Let me just say that I do NOT recommend that.

Serve with tortilla chips.

Note: The longer this sits, the hotter it gets. So if you make it the night before to serve at a party, you may want cut down the jalapenos.

Another note: There is absolutely no way to make this dairy free.

Lastly, my mouth is watering. I may have make some of this just for me and my husband.

Chicken parmesan

I don't make this dish nearly as often as I should. It's the kind of meal that has everything going for it. It's easy. It's delicious. My husband and son love it. And it's the sort of thing that works well for company. A green salad, a little pasta, a bottle of Chianti—perfection!

Here's what you need for about 4-6 servings:

1 package of thin-sliced boneless/skinless chicken breasts
1 egg, lightly beaten
bread crumbs

For the sauce:
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
1 small onion, diced
garlic to taste
Fresh or dried basil

sliced or shredded mozzarella cheese

(Sorry not to give you exact amounts here, but so much of this can/should be done to taste.)

After you rinse and dry the cutlets, dip them in the egg and then dredge in breadcrumbs. Place the cutlets on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan (if your pan is not non-stick, you may want to spray a little Pam on there, or use a sheet of parchment paper to prevent sticking).

Now, here's where we can enter a debate about frying or baking. Frying is outrageously delicious, no doubt about it. But baking is perfectly fine and usually my choice for a couple reasons: it's healthier and easier. I typically bake the cutlets in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Toward the end of the baking time, I drizzle the cutlets with olive oil and switch the oven to broil for a minute or two.

While the cutlets are cooking, make the sauce:

Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a heavy pan and saute the onion. When the onion is translucent and soft, add the can of crushed tomatoes and season with basil, garlic, salt and pepper. (If you like oregano, toss some of that in there too.)


Heat through, and then let the sauce simmer while the cutlets cook. This is an easy sauce, one that cooks quickly (and certainly don't be afraid to substitute your own recipe for marinara sauce—you can use fresh tomatoes or open a jar, you'll get a good result either way.)

Cover the bottom of a casserole dish with a little sauce. Layer the chicken on top. You can make a single layer or overlap, depending on the size of the pan and the number of cutlets you have. Top with more sauce (and again, use as much or as little as you like. The beauty of this dish is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Lottsa sauce? Great. Easy on the sauce? Okay too.)

Ditto for the cheese. A thin slice on top of each cutlet or heaping handfuls of shredded cheese—whatever you like.

Now put the whole thing back in the oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly.

Serve with hot spaghetti (be sure to reserve some sauce for the pasta!), a salad, Italian bread—and wine.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Guest post: Scallop risotto

One of my favorite things to cook, for family and friends, is risotto. I always loved ordering it when we went out to eat, but I figured it was one of those dishes I'd only get to enjoy in a restaurant. What did I know? It's easy to make, is a wonderful comfort food, and, whenever I make it for friends, they're always impressed because they think it's too hard to make. I've even blogged about risotto before over here.

Anyway, here's what you'll need for approximately four servings:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion—finely chopped
2 cloves garlic—finely chopped
1 red pepper, chopped


16 uncooked scallops (if they're really big, you can use fewer. I usually cut them into halves or quarters)
6 sun-dried tomatoes—cut into small pieces (or more!)
½ teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

COOK THROUGH and set aside (I usually keep the heat on low).

Meanwhile, bring 5 cups fish, chicken or vegetable stock (I usually use chicken or vegetable—low sodium versions) to a simmer.

To make the risotto you need:

1 ½ cups arborio rice
½ cup white wine

Now the fun stirring begins. In a large pot, heat one T. of unsalted butter and some olive oil (probably 1 T. but I just pour in a glug). Saute 1/4 c. finely chopped onion and then pour in the uncooked rice, and stir to coat all the grains well. Keep the heat on medium (you want it to bubble/boil softly) and add the wine, stirring occasionally until most of the liquid is absorbed. Basically, when you can draw a wooden spoon through the rice and it leaves a "clear" path/streak for a second or two, you're ready top add more liquid. Now, add the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring occasionally until the liquid is absorbed (just like with the wine--when you can draw spoon through the rice mixture, add the next half-cup of broth).

Continue adding the simmering broth to the risotto until there's only 1/4-1/2 cup broth left in the pan. Add the broth and the scallop mixture, remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients:

1 cup tightly-packed spinach leaves, cut into slices (I know there's a fancy term for this but I don't know it).
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
fresh tomatoes

Give it another good stir to mix everything together and voila! You just made risotto.

One of the great things about this recipe is once you get the basics down (how much broth to how much rice), you can mix it up with the rest of the ingredients. Do you like mushrooms? Go for it (me, personally, I detest them). I've made this with smoked salmon and dill. Yum. Or chicken. Whatever. All you've really got to know is the basic formula of rice and broth and how to let it simmer/cook.

Guest blogger Judy Larsen is used to cooking for one husband and four kids who love everything she cooks (or at least are savvy enough to not say otherwise) and one kid who for years lived on only "white" foods.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let's Talk Latkes

The first night of Hanukkah is...yikes!...tomorrow. Friday, December 11th. Did I mention YIKES?

I mean, sure, I'm not ready present-wise. And I don't have enough candles to get us through more than a day or two. (Especially since we light a minimum of three menorahs: one is mine and Baroy's, one is Em's, one is N's.) But, really, that yikes is about latkes. Specifically, the fact that I don't know when I'm going to be able to make them. And IT IS NOT HANUKKAH until I have eaten myself sick on latkes. Latkes that I have made myself. With applesauce that I have made myself.

(Yes. It's all about me.)

But, hey. The fact that I'm so overwhelmed by life that I haven't managed to schedule the making of latkes, much less done any actual making of latkes...that shouldn't impact you guys. Or at least not beyond the lack of cool latke-related photos on this post. (Sorry.)

And so, let's talk latkes.

Now, making latkes? Ridiculously easy. There are fancy latke recipes out there (relatively speaking), but me, I'm a simple kind of gal. In fact, you can't even really call this a recipe; what follows is really a list of obvious ingredients, and some tips on how to make the process of latke-izing as painless (and delicious) as possible.

Latkes =
pepper (optional)

OK. So. First, let's talk potatoes. I am almost embarrassed to admit that, until a year or so ago, it never occurred to me that there was an easier way to do latkes than the spend-seventeen-hour-peeling-russets routine. Now? I'm all about the Yukon golds, or just plain old white potatoes. Because, dude! You don't have to peel! The skins on these potatoes are so thin, you can just grate them into the batter along with the potatoes themselves (after cleaning well, of course). It cuts the latke-making time down to almost nothing! Trust me. It's totally worth it.

Now, let's talk proportions. My mom taught me to make latkes, and she told me to use a more-or-less four-to-one ratio of potatoes to onions. But the potatoes she used were huge russets, whereas the potatoes I use, well, we just talked about that. So I just sort of eye it; I probably use about one small onion (or half of a larger one) for every six to eight potatoes I put through the food processor.

On to the actual making. First, wash the potatoes. Next, grate them. What I do is put a bunch of potatoes and the onion through the grater apparatus on my food processor, then put aside about half of the coarsely grated mixture into a collander, so the liquid can drip off and the batter will be less runny. I take the other half and put it through the food processor again, using the blender blade (if that's what it's called, the blade that sits on the bottom of the mixing bowl) to turn that half of the batch almost into a puree.

Once that's done, mix the two halves of the potato-onion batter together in a large bowl, adding in one already-beaten egg.

Next, add enough flour to firm up the batter, and then season with kosher salt (I prefer kosher salt for cooking) and pepper (if you like to give your latkes a little kick) to taste.

As you're doing these last couple of steps, you'll want heat a quarter-inch or so of oil (the more neutral the oil, the better; I prefer canola) in one or more skillets. When the oil is hot, drop the batter in by large spoonfuls; turn the latkes once, when the edges start to brown, adding more oil as needed.

Remove cooked latkes from skillet and place on a plate or platter lined with at least two layers of paper towel; cover each single layer of latkes with another layer or two of paper towels, to soak up excess oil. Serve hot, or freeze in single layers on cookie sheets lined with wax paper; once the latkes are frozen, they can be put into plastic bags and stored pretty much indefinitely. (God, I wish I'd done this a few weeks ago. I'd be all ready now!) When you're ready to serve them, pop them into the oven on the same cookie sheets at 300 degrees or so, until warm and crisp.

And that's pretty much it. Or, rather, that's almost it.

If you know anything about latkes, you know what I'm going to ask: Applesauce, sour cream, or both? You already know my answer. (And no, it's not "both." One does not adulterate the perfection that is homemade applesauce...not even with the creamy near-perfection of sour cream.) But you might (I shudder to think) have a different opinion. And so I ask...When it comes to latke accompaniment, what's your pleasure?

And to all who celebrate, via latkes, presents, or prayers: Happy Hanukkah. May your days and nights be a feast of lights.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cabernet Sauvignon: a special vintage

Have you heard of One Hope? The California wine company is donating 50 percent of its profits on bottles of its award-winning 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.99) to charities supporting autism awareness and therapies.

Needless to say, this is a cause near and dear to us over here at (Never) Too Many Cooks. So when TC showed us the link, we agreed it was worth a mention. Let's face it—excellent wine, good food, family and friends, there's no better way to spend the holidays.

And I have to admit, there's something about this story that speaks to my heart and it's not just the fact that they are supporting autism causes. "Our name symbolizes the idea of a group, no matter how small or big, coming together as ONE and working towards HOPE for the future."

Hope for the future. God, I love that.

I can't wait to place my order.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Breakfast crepes

Finding the new and different for breakfast is something I'm always interested in. Breakfast is definitely the least varied meal of the day at our house. Nearly every day it's cold cereal for myself and one daughter, hot cereal for the other, and oatmeal for my husband. Borrrring.

On weekends we mix it up with organic eggs and organic bacon. Incidentally, if you've not yet switched to organic bacon - hurry and do so now. So delicious!! I will never go back to that overly-processed, filled-with-nitrates bacon that lines the shelves at the supermarket. The taste is awful compared to what we like to call "the good stuff."

Imagine my delight upon seeing that Living Without has a recipe for gluten-free, dairy-free breakfast crepes. I have always loved crepes, and enjoyed them often when my sister and I were roommates, but I had never tried making them myself.

They turned out to be one of the easiest things I have ever made. And now I'm thinking a crepe pan is in my not-too-distant future.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Breakfast Crepes
1 cup brown rice flour
3 Tbsp sugar
1 cup milk (plain-flavored rice, soy, hemp or almond milk)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp oil

Mix flour and sugar in a blender or mixing bowl.

Add milk, eggs and vanilla and combine well. Batter should be thin, like cake batter. If it's too runny, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time.

Place oil in a heavy skillet or non-stick pan and heat skillet to medium high.

Pour enough batter into the skillet to coat the bottom of the pan.

Tilt the pan until batter is evenly distributed.

Tip: If, like me, you have too large of a non-stick pan, it's not necessary to tilt the pan to coat the entire bottom. I did that on the first one and it didn't turn out well. For the rest I just tilted the pan to spread out the batter a little bit (crepes are meant to be thin).

Cook until bubbles cover the crepe.

Peek at the bottom; crepe should cook until bottom is lightly browned.

(Patience is key here. If you flip too early, you’ll split the crepe). Flip crepe with a spatula and cook briefly until done.

Repeat until all batter is used.

Immediately after removing the crepe to a plate, I spread (dairy-free) butter on it and sprinkled with sugar and then rolled them. Heavenly. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

There would have been quite a few more on the plate, but while I was making them a certain "chef" and her husband couldn't stop eating them. We managed to hold back so I would have enough for a pretty picture.

Just think how much prettier that picture will be when I get that crepe pan and they are all the same size.

Next weekend I think we'll try adding fruit or something else delicious to them.

Do you like crepes? What's your favorite way to serve them?

Pear banana yogurt smoothie

I am a terrible breakfast person. I never do the right thing. Most of the time, I skip the meal completely, only to find myself starved and reaching for whatever is quick and easy (and often loaded with carbs) sometime before lunch.

And so when my mother introduced me to the idea of a breakfast smoothie (yes, I can be slow to think of some of the more obvious solutions on my own), I jumped at the idea. When I was in California for the summer, we kept the fridge loaded with frozen berries and bananas, yogurt and that really expensive pomegranate juice. But back home in NY, and once the weather began to turn, the idea of an icy cold breakfast loaded with berries was a bit hard to take. I needed to figure out a seasonal solution.

I got the idea to substitute frozen pear for the berries and pear nectar or apple juice for the pomegranate juice. Yes, it's still an icy cold breakfast in the middle of winter, but it's delicious and loaded with cinnamon and nutmeg and honey and a generous serving of fruit (something I often forget to eat later in the day). Best of all, the kids will love it, too (call it a milkshake!). And it's absolutely portable—so whether I'm rushing off to help build sets for the class play or to do a little last minute Christmas shopping, I can sip and go!

Here's what you need for one generous serving:

1 chopped and frozen pear (I do this task myself ahead of time)
1 banana (can also be frozen, but not necessary)
1 cup of pear nectar or apple juice (white grape would also work well here)
1 container of yogurt (I like to use Activia vanilla)
1 teaspoon of honey
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon

Put everything in the blender: first the liquid, then the frozen fruit, then layer in the other ingredients. Blend until smooth. Pour into a tall glass, garnish with a bit more cinnamon, insert straw, and you're good to go.