30 December 2008

kitchen katastrophe: vin chaud and puppy chow

each year, my extended family gets together to celebrate christmas. in a new twist this year, everyone was asked to bring something to eat or drink - a christmas potluck, if you will. my aunt (hosting the event) agreed to take care of the turkey and main dishes with the family (28 of us in total) bringing appetizers, desserts, deliciously drinkable alcoholic drinks, etc. my original goal was to make the ULTIMATE christmas dessert: the buche de noel. this might just be the most complicated thing i have ever heard of. i chickened out at the last minute. instead, i opted to get my family drunk with vin chaud (hot wine, direct french translation) or as we know it in the US, mulled wine, and feed them with puppy chow.

i was at the grocery store when i made my decision and having only ever made vin chaud one other time, did not know a recipe off the top of my head. so, i called my dear friend, JaBootaay, who happily looked up a random vin chaud recipe online and read me the ingredients. this was chosen for a number of reasons: 1) easily found online and 2) not a ton of ingredients. so, here is the very basic mulled wine recipe:

Mulled Wine (Vin Chaud)
  • 2 (750 ml) bottles merlot
  • 3 cups orange juice, freshly squeezed
  • 3 cups pineapple juice
  • 1 1/2 cups lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 36 whole cloves
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 3/4 cup water
  1. In a large stainless steel stockpot, combine all ingredients.
  2. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
  3. Reduce heat to very low and keep warm for about 30 minutes to let the flavours blend.
  4. Strain out the cloves and the cinnamon before serving.
  5. Ladle in to heatproof cups.
sounds easy, right? in fact, it wasn't too bad. a few things, though: i only had one bottle of merlot on hand, so i combined it with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. i have always heard that if you have a bottle of red wine you don't like, make mulled wine to mask the taste. i think this is still true. in addition, it's kind of hard to find nice, squeezable oranges at this time of year in north dakota, so i used 100% pure orange juice and lemon juice from a bottle.
JaBootaay suggested i use north dakota snow as water, but it took too long to melt, so i just used tap water (drinkable here, no one uses brita). the only other issue i had with this was the transporting of it. we filled two thermoses (thermi?) and brought the rest in a slow cooker. it went fast, so it almost wasn't worth it. if you're making this for a party of 8+ people, you could easily double the recipe.
apologies, i forgot my camera at home, so i don't have a final picture in a glass. but pretty much it looked like above. but in a glass. mmmmm...

in addition, one of my brothers made puppy chow - this is a great meal that almost everyone likes.

Puppy Chow
  • 9 cups Corn Chex® cereal
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  1. Into large bowl, measure cereal; set aside.
  2. In a pot, melt chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter until smooth.
  3. Stir in vanilla.
  4. Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated.
  5. Pour into paper bag.
  6. Add powdered sugar. Close bag; shake until well coated.
you may notice that the above recipe is slightly altered from that on the chex website. this is because my mom cut out the chex mix recipe from about 15-20 years ago to put into her recipe box and that is the actual recipe we use - no microwaving here (although i am sure it would work), but i wanted to give the good folks at chex their claim to the recipe.

so you can measure your success, here is our melting on the oven:
then we poured the completely smooth (not burnt - be sure not to melt at too high a temperature, this will entail lots of stirring and monitoring) over the cereal in a turkey roaster, quite appropriate.
this allowed us to shake the mix, rather than stir it. i feel this gives it a better coating.
finally, we pour the chocolatey cereal into a brown paper bag with powdered sugar as below.
then shake it like a polaroid picture. you can put into the fridge or walk-in cooler to harden and then enjoy. again, no final pictures, although you can click on the puppy chow wiki link above to see a nice picture. the powdered sugar is important. i once lugged a huge box of chex all the way to europe to make this for my friends. catch was, they don't have powdered sugar in france (that we could find), so we used regular sugar to coat. no go. it was horrible and everyone thought i was crazy for even liking the idea of this meal. anyway, made properly, this is enjoyed by everyone! AND this, combined with the wine, is a fully-balanced meal: carbs, dairy, fruits, alcohol, and chocolate!

since it's the holidays, i believe the kitchen gods have smiled down on me in making a fabulous few meals for my family: no huge katastrophe here. however, there are still a few things one can learn:

  1. bring a camera to all family events.
  2. no matter what, you will always underestimate the alcoholic needs of family members when forced to spend 6 hours together.
  3. this type of puppy chow is NOT for dogs unless you want to clean up you-know-what...

29 December 2008

When it rains, it pours: Morton Salt logo throughout the years

Many foods and condiment logos have been with us for years and have become familiar household images. The Umbrella Girl from Morton Salt is one in particular that I have always admired. Pictured below is an evolution of the Umbrella Girl logos and a brief history provided by their website:

The original Morton Salt Umbrella Girl appeared in 1914 with the now familiar slogan 'When It Rains It Pours".

The second Morton Salt Umbrella Girl danced on the scene 1921. The twenties were roaring and the little Morton girl was still pouring.

In the post-Depression years from 1933 to 1941, jazz was king. And as it reigned, our little girl kept pouring.

The fourth Morton Salt Umbrella Girl was introduced to America in 1941. While our boys were off to war, our little girl was serving at home.

Rock and roll was starting to shake things up in 1956 and our little girl was still filling salt shakers.

Since her most recent makeover in 1968, the current Umbrella Girl has been with us through moon launches, hip hop and the growth of the Internet.

27 December 2008

Easy Earthy Chicken and Spinach

Minimum Effort---Maximum Result---Satisfaction guaranteed

Truly this is not a fling. The love affair with my slow cooker continues with this earthy spinach and chicken dish.

Serves 6 with plenty left for lunch the next day.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2.5 hours - 7 Hours (in the slow cooker)

• 1 large red onion, sliced
• 2 cups carrots chopped (use the baby ones, they are already peeled)
• 1 bag frozen spinach
• 3.5 Tbs garam marsala (if you can’t find this spice mixture use yellow curry powder)
• 2 teaspoons nutmeg
• 2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
• 2 teaspoon chili powder
• 2 Tbs chopped garlic
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 4 pounds boneless skin less chicken of your choice (legs, thighs, wings, breasts---I used breasts)
• Salt
• Black pepper
• Onion Powder
• 1 (15-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
• 1/3 cup red wine (optional)


Dump onion, carrots and spinach into a slow cooker. Add garam marsala (or yellow curry powder), nutmeg, red pepper flakes, chili powder, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir to mix. Season chicken with salt, pepper and onion powder then place on top of vegetables.

Dump tomatoes on top of chicken and pour in wine.

Cover and cook
Dark Meat: low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours.
White Meat: low 4-5 hours or high for 2.5-3 hours


26 December 2008

Bun’s Breakfast Casserole


Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook: 30
Serves 6

• 8 Slices Turkey Bacon cut crosswise into 1/8 inch strips
• 1 Bag(12 oz) has browns
• 1 large white opinion chopped
• 3 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
• 3 Eggs
• 4 Egg Whites
• ¾ cup skim ricotta
• 2/3 cup shredded low fat Swiss
• 3 TBS asiago
• 3 TBS flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon black pepper
• ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
• Dash of Cayenne

1. Preheat oven to 375 and grease a 7*11 inch pan

2. Cook bacon in a non-stick skillet until crisp. Add the potatoes and onion then cook until potatoes are golden (about 6 minutes). Remove the skillet from heat to let cool.

3. Beat eggs and egg whites in a large bowl. Stir in the ricotta and 1/3 cup of the Swiss cheese, Asiago, flour, salt , black pepper, red pepper, and cayenne. Once well blended stir in the cooled potatoes and bacon. Pour mixture into greased pan. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top.

4. Bake 30- 35 minutes until cheese is melted and golden.

COMMENTARY: You can replace the bacon with your favorite veggie breakfast meat or 3/4 cup sun dried tomatoes.

24 December 2008

baby bak choy & bean fritters

So, a short post. I tried to make fritters like the mushroom ones I made, but using the remains of the bean salad from my last post. I was unsuccessful. There wasn't that 2:1 ration of "stuffing vs. batter" and in trying to make them more "substantial," I undercooked them and the middles were mad doughy.

However, the baby bak choy I sauteed with garlic and butter came out very yummy. (I served it with Spanish-style rice pilaf. Don't tell anyone.)

23 December 2008

Hot and Bothered Chipotle Chicken and Silky Coconut Cous Cous

Minimum Effort---Maximum Result---Satisfaction guaranteed

Low-Fat---Higher Fiber--- Delicious

I have a confession (baby I know you read this don’t get jealous) I’m falling in love with my slow cooker. I just dump a bunch of stuff in then head out come home take 5 minutes to make some whole wheat cous cous and serve a plate of deliciousness. This chicken will have you all hot bothered in the best way possible.

Serves 6 with plenty left for lunch the next day.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2.5 hours - 6 hours (in the slow cooker)

* 1.5 cups sliced onion
* 1 cup chopped celery
* 1.5 cups chopped carrots
* 5 pounds boneless skin less chicken of your choice (legs, thighs, wings, breasts)
* Salt
* Black pepper
* Onion Powder
* 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
* 1/3 cup lime juice
* 2 tablespoon minced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce with 1 teaspoon sauce from can
* Dash Chili powder
* 1.5 Tablespoon Chopped Garlic
* Fresh Cilantro Leaves


Dump onion, celery and carrots in bottom of slow cooker. Season chicken with salt, pepper and onion powder then place on top of vegetables.

Mix together tomato sauce, lime juice, chipotle chiles with sauce, chili powder and garlic. Pour mixture over chicken.

Cover and cook
Dark Meat: low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours.
White Meat: low 4-5 hours or high for 2.5-3 hours

Cous Cous
I use whole wheat cous cous as it has plenty of fiber and protein. You can use regular

Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes

* 1.5 cup light coconut milk
* .5 cup water
* 1 bullion cube (veggie or chicken)
* 2 cups whole wheat cous cous
* ¾ cup chopped tomatoes
* ¾ cup chopped scallions (green onions)

Boil coconut milk and water in a medium pot. Once boiling add bullion and stir until dissolved.

Next, turn off heat and stir in cous cous, tomatoes and scallions.
Then cover and let sit for 5 minutes.

Finally, fluff with a fork (stick the fork in and flip the cous cous around) and serve with Spicy Chipotle Chicken

22 December 2008

Pumpkin Pie Jello Shots

For a pot-luck party we decided to save time and combine the dessert and the cocktail together. Though most of us equate "Jell-O Shots" with "Fraternity Hazing" these are much more adult. Of course, no one ever said adults don't do shots...

Pumpkin Pie Jell-O Shots

from Tasting Table

1 or 2 Crumbled Graham crackers
1 envelope Knox gelatin
1/3 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 tablespoon cold heavy cream
Fresh whipped cream, for serving

1. Arrange the mini cupcake cups on a baking sheet. Place 1 cup cold water in the top of a double boiler and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let stand for three minutes.
2. Heat the gelatin mixture over a gentle simmer until the granules have dissolved. Add the pumpkin, sugar and spices and heat, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin and sugar are completely melted. Remove from heat and cool for 30 minutes.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the vodka with 1/4 cup cold water and the heavy cream. Whisk in the pumpkin mixture and immediately divide it among the cupcake cups. Chill until firm, at least 4 hours. Sprinkle each with crumbled Graham crackers, top with whipped cream and serve.

21 December 2008

Southern Style Honeybun Cake

Cake Ingredients:
  • 1 Yellow or Butter sytle cake mix package
  • 3/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 8oz sour cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla flavor
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 Tbls ground cinnamon
Glaze Ingredients:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla flavor
  • 4 tbs carnation milk (or half/half, whole milk)
  1. Preheat oven at 350 deg
  2. In a small bowl mix together brown sugar and cinnamon
  3. In a large bowl mix together cake mix, oil, sour cream, eggs and vanilla flavor and beat until well mixed
  4. grease your cake pan
  5. pour half of the cake batter and half of the sugar/cinnamon mixture into your greased pan and lightly mix in pan until evenly mixed then repeat with the rest of both mixtures (don't over mix! you don't want the sugar to dissolve into the cake batter.)
  6. bake for 25-30 minutes or until a knife can be inserted in the middle of the cake and removed without cake batter sticking to it
  7. mix glaze ingredients into a small bowl making sure everything is well blended
  8. pour glaze over hot cake and let cool for 15-20 minutes before serving
I love this cake! The first time I had it was at Thanksgiving '08 at my cousins house. My dad and I almost devoured half the cake before dinner was served. My dad liked it so much he guilted my cousins into making him another cake so he could bring it home with him. Needless to say that once it was cool enough to eat half of it was gone before he could put tin foil on it! Everyone should try it because it is SOOO GOOO! Enjoy!

20 December 2008

parnsip chips, pan-fried zuchinni & salad

This meal was kind of all over the place.  I had oil left over from making mushroom fritters, so I wanted to make parsnip chips, which are a nice alternative to the usual potato standard.  The rest of the dishes just arose from wanting to serve a salad and then needing to make a veggie dish that would look sizable.  Yeah, that was the idea.  "Sizable."  Vague, I know.

  • three biggish parsnips
  • a few inches of oil
  • seasoning
Basically you just cut the parsnips into strips and drop them in oil until they look yummy.  I seasoned mine with rosemary and oregano. 

  • two zucchini
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed chili peppers
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed garlic
  • liberal amounts of bijola
For the zucchini, I carefully cut them into flat slices.  They'd have the same taste either way really, but there's something nice about digging in to a nice slab of zucchini.  They take about 8 minutes on high heat.  As usual, go oil then garlic then onion. 
signature salad variation #934  
(its more of a bean salad really) 
  • no spinach!  (shocking, i know)
  • liberal sprinkling of organic pea shoots
  • 1 can cannelini beans
  • 1 can butter beans
  • 4 spring onions
  • feta cheese!
  • vinaigrette
What'd I do?  Chop chop chop, dress and serve.
They went together okay.  I didn't time the whole thing very well and the parsnip chips weren't really hot by the time I served.  I loved the zucchini but JaBootaay was uninspired by it.  Ah well.  I ate his.

19 December 2008

Bun's Sexy Curry Coconut Chicken Squash Soup

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minute
Servings: 2

This is a sexy exotic feeling soup. But the main ingredient is SQUASH, a wintertime staple. So you wanna make some sexy soup for you and your main squeeze? Give this one a whirl

  • 1 10-ounce package frozen pureed winter squash
  • 1/3 cup lite coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced
  • 1TBS Ginger
  • 1 6-ounce bag baby spinach
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Heat squash, coconut milk and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally, until the squash defrosts, about 10 minutes. Add chicken and ginger, reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in spinach, lime juice, sugar, curry paste to taste, cayenne and salt and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through, about 3 minutes longer.

18 December 2008

Peppermint Bark

So this is a super easy recipe that you can experiment with and it makes a great holiday gift for co-workers or for those that didn't "make it" on your actual shopping list. I experimented and made 4 different types of bark.


  • 18 oz (which makes about 1 cookie sheet) of chocolate (milk, white, bittersweet, or dark)
  • Peppermint candy (I used about 22 candy canes for 4 trays of bark)
  • Peppermint oil
  1. Use a double boiler to melt down chocolate
  2. Add peppermint oil to taste
  3. Line a cookie sheet with borders (or any baking pan will do) with wax paper
  4. Use a food processor to pulse peppermint (if you don't have a food processor, you can put the peppermint in a ziplock bag and use a rolling pin to crush candy)
  5. Pour chocolate onto wax paper and sprinkle crushed peppermint over chocolate (you can also put the peppermint on the bottom of the pan but it will be "eaten up" by the chocolate and you won't be able to see it well)
  6. place in fridge to chill (about 10 minutes)
  7. Remove from pan and separate from wax paper. Break bark into pieces (any size you want) and you can place in cookie tins, use cellophane wrapping, or any other way you want.
Note: I made a milk chocolate bark, a raspberry milk chocolate bark, a dark chocolate orange bark, and a dark chocolate raspberry bark. I added raspberry truffle cocoa powder (about 1.5 teaspoons) to get the raspberry flavor. I added orange juice to get the orange flavor, but it made the bark too thick and lacked enough orange flavor. I would probably try grating orange zest to get more of a citrus flavor. I also melted down white chocolate, added peppermint oil to it, and drizzled it over some of the bark. You can really be creative and use any flavors you want and just experiment. Be creative and enjoy!

17 December 2008

mushroom fritters

So these fritters came about one evening when I'd invited Jeanette for dinner and wanted to make something with mushrooms because mushroom-hating JaBootaay was out of town.  We went through loads of my cook books, nothing was quite right or we didn't have the ingredients until we saw some write-up on corn fritters with a mushroom variation from Bittman's tome.  
  • 16 mushrooms (button mushrooms were on sale, that's what we used)
  • 4 spring onions
  • liberal handfuls of fresh parsley
  • 1.5 cups wheat flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of milk
  • teaspoon of baking soda
  • salt and pepper to taste
So I started by chopping mushrooms and spring onions.  Jeanette made a batter with two cups of wheat flour, some baking soda, an egg and some milk.  The amount of mushrooms should seem a lot in comparison to the batter, maybe a 2:1 ratio.  It all got served together, so we had balls of mushrooms/onion held together by batter.  These balls get dropped into a couple of inches of oil like this:

Using wheat flour meant it was a little harder to tell when the fritters had "browned" but you can still pretty much just tell when they're done.  Basically just have about 4 on the go at a time.  Your yield should be about 20 or so.  I'd encourage you to make them not that big or they won't cook through.  Also, we served them without a dipping sauce, but I would definitely make up either a marinara or a chutney to serve these with.  They had a nice moist center, and a good one-two flavour punch from the batter and then the mushrooms.  We plated with the second zucchini au gratin I made, and overall they were a good pairing.

16 December 2008

Bun’s Cheesy Beany Stew (Crockpot Cookin’)

Calling all vegetarians, in my previous veggie based life. I use to love to whip up bean stews as an inexpensive form of nutritious yet super satisfying comfort food. This is made mostly from pantry items if you’re like us, entirely (we ALWAYS have cheese and sun-dried tomatoes in the fridge).

Great on it’s own for a stormy day or use it as a dip (with pita chips it delicious).

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours, 30 minutes
Yields 5-6 servings as stew or a heck of a lot of dip

  • 2 cups Great Northern beans, sorted
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3.5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2.5 cups water
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
  • 3/4 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes (if in oil drain and rinse)
  • 1 cup shredded Havarti cheese (truthfully you can use whatever non-hard cheese you like)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Asiago or Pecronio Romano work great here too)


Set tomatoes and cheeses to the slide. Dump everything else into a 3-4 quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 3-5 hours or until beans are tender. Mash some of the white beans while in the crockpot to thicken mixture (you can use a wooden spoon, my favorite tool, or a potatoes masher). Stir in tomatoes and cook 10 more minutes until thoroughly heated. Stir in both types of cheese and serve!

15 December 2008

kitchen katastrophe: fudge

every year for the holidays, my father makes homemade fudge to give to his customers. growing up, i used to "help" him make this delicious diabetic-coma inducing goodness. [helping in my family includes opening jars, licking spoons, and sneaking marshmallow fluff without anyone seeing or noticing the jar has been opened.] this year was no different; however, i tried to take a bit more control so i could document any plunders for others to avoid.

in my family, we are not skilled enough to "create" our own recipes - those printed on the backs of boxes and packages have always suited us well. to this end, we make "Never-Fail-Fudge" from the back of the marshmallow fluff container. i could write a whole other post about the deliciousness of fluff, but since fluff can be polarizing (you either love it or you hate it), i won't. for now, anyway. for now, enjoy this recipe and pictures. (i have copied the recipe from the internet below, although our recipe is slightly different - explained with the pics)
2 1/2 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 5.33 oz. can evaporated milk (3/4 c.)
1 Jar (7 1/2oz) Marshmallow Fluff
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 12-oz. package semisweet-chocolate pieces

Grease a 9-inch square baking pan; set aside. In large saucepan combine first 5 ingredients. Stir over low heat until blended. Heat to a full-rolling boil being careful not to mistake escaping air bubbles for boiling. Boil slowly, stirring constantly, 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and chocolate until chocolate is melted. Turn into greased pan and cool. Makes 2 1/2 pounds.
I actually really dislike the smell of melting butter. If you are the same, make sure someone else is around to stir (in this case, my father). We have a slightly different recipe (copied from an older version of fluff) which indicates that one should melt the butter in the pan first

then add the sugar and evaporated milk and bring that to a boil for at least 5 minutes as seen below.
we then remove the mixture from heat and stir in the chocolate chips until melted. at that point, we add the fluff and vanilla. (we don't actually add in the salt as called for in this recipe from the internet.)
continue stirring quickly until all ingredients are mixed in.
then pour into greased cookie sheet
slightly different than the directions on the website, but this one works well. mmmmm... delish!

rather than explain ALL that went wrong, as is always the case when i stand for too long in the kitchen, i thought i would put together some things we've learned or could've learned (you can guess which actually happened in this kitchen katastrophe and which didn't):

1. when asking someone to stir, make sure he / she knows for how long he / she is expected to stir. a constant stir for five minutes should be clearly noted as a CONSTANT stir rather than OCCASIONAL or OPTIONAL.
2. do not use a plastic spoon to stir unless the stirring is occasional. in any case, do not leave an unattended spoon in the pot. if you only have a plastic spoon, try not to use one that is the same color as your mixture. for example, if mixing chocolate, do not use black or brown. if mixing blueberries, do not use a blue plastic spoon. if the spoon melts to the bottom of the pot, it is hard to separate the "food" from the "plastic" if it's all the same color.
3. melted chocolate is hot hot hot. do not spoon onto partner's hands. if this is some sort of fetish of yours, make sure that it is between (or among, if that's your thang) consenting adults.
4. our recipe says to cool "at room temperature." do not try to speed up the cooling process by putting the cookie sheet on the deck in the middle of a blizzard. i don't know how to begin to describe the problems this could lead to.
5. do not try to sneak some sugar free vanilla syrup into the mixture, no matter how much you like vanilla-flavored things. the recipe does call for vanilla extract.

in any case, enjoy!

12 December 2008

in support of danielle ...


the folks at overheard ... have witnessed a similar situation to danielle's second kitchen katastrophe:

Hello? I'm Eating a Cucumber Sandwich With No Crusts!
Guy #1: What are those, zucchini?
Guy #2, with sandwich: No, they're cucumbers.
Girl: Oh please, they're like the same thing.
Guy #2: No, they're totally different. Not every phallic-shaped green vegetable is the same thing.
Girl (pauses): Why does everything have to be about penises with you?

San Diego, California

11 December 2008

Cinnamon Rolls, Eau de Vie and Limoncello

We're big fans of breakfast for dinner, so tonight we opted for cinnamon rolls. These come from Cook's Illustrated, so you know they're perfect.

3/4 c packed dark brown sugar
1/4 c granulated sugar
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter, melted

2 1/2 c flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 c buttermilk
6 tbsp butter, melted and cooled

Since you're going to use 8 tbsp of butter anyway, melt a whole stick now and take out one spoon at a time whenever you need it. Preheat the oven to 425 and move a rack to the upper middle position. Coat a round cake pan with 1 tbsp melted butter.

For the filling: Combine sugars, spices, and salt in a small bowl. Add 1 tbsp butter and stir with a fork until it all looks like wet sand. Set aside.

For the dough: whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Separately, whisk the buttermilk and 2 tbsp butter in a measuring cup. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir until liquid is absorbed (about 30 sec). Transfer to a floured surface and knead until soft.

Pat the dough with your hands into a 9 x 12 inch rectangle. Brush the dough with 2 tbsp of butter and top with the filling*, leaving a 1/2-inch border of dough around the edges. Pat the filling lightly into the dough. Roll the dough from the long side up, pressing lightly, to form a log and pinch the seam to seal.

Cut into pieces (the book suggests 8, but ours were a little narrow so we cut more, smaller slices), dust them with the remaining 2 tbsp of butter and fit into prepared cake pan. Bake for 23-25 min. Cool and enjoy.

There is a recipe for icing with cream cheese, buttermilk, and powdered sugar, but we skipped it. These don't need to be any sweeter than they already are, but you can dust a little powdered sugar or whipped cream over the top.

These cinnamon rolls were great, but the standout of our evening was long-form vodka preparation. Tonight was the fateful night that our months of toiling came to fruition (pun intended) in the form of limoncello.

This drink probably takes longer than anything else we've made. But it's worth it. Like K + J's apple and cinnamon infused vodka, it takes fairly basic vodka and makes it something much more amazing. The only problem is that once you taste it you realize you haven't made enough.

Limoncello is an Italian, lemon-flavored liqueur. To make it yourself, first buy some 100-proof Vodka (we used Smirnoff, just because it's what we found first). Then peel the skins off 10 lemons per bottle (we made two bottles). Be careful to only peel off only the yellow skin, and not the white pith beneath, which will make your liqueur bitter (it is basically impossible to avoid all pith, but keep it in mind). Take all these peels and stuff them into the bottle of vodka.

Now here's the hard part: take these bottles of vividly colored liquor and hide them away for 2 to 3 months. This is a long time, we admit. But it's worth it.

At the end of your dry period, open the bottle up and take a whiff. It should smell great, a lot like a lemonhead candy. Pour the liquid into a bowl.

Because neither lemons nor high-proof alcohol are sweet, you're going to want to add some simple syrup. Dissolve some sugar (demerara, preferably) into an equal amount of water on the stove and then let it cool. Add the simple syrup to the raw limoncello, tasting constantly (as if you weren't already) until it has achieved the right amount of sweetness. We used less than a cup of simple syrup for each bottle. The darker color comes from the Demerara sugar, so if you're planning to give this drink as a gift then you should use white sugar to keep the color bright yellow.

Traditionally, limoncello is served as an ice cold shot. But we shook it up with ice and added a cherry. It would also go great with a little club soda or sparkling water.

Now, originally we hadn't planned on making eau de vie. The term refers to almost any fruit-infused brandy. Since we used vodka ours wasn't technically a true eau de vie, but we don't think anyone drinking it will complain.

When you make the limoncello, the lemon peels are going to displace some of the vodka, which you'll have to pour out. Have another glass container handy, and just pour this extra alcohol over a few sliced pieces of fruit (including the skins). We used plums.

After six weeks (or two months, if you're forgetful like we are) you can add more simple syrup to taste. For us, at least, we didn't end up adding any sugar, and we ended up with a sweet, fragrant liquor.

*We forgot to brush the dough with butter before adding the filling, but all that happened is that a tiny bit more filling fell out than it otherwise would have. No matter, it caramelized on the bottom of the pan, so a couple of our rolls were on a crunchy bed of something like cinnamon rock candy - awesome.

10 December 2008

Roasted Squash Seeds

After trying out Miss Kookla's amazing roasted squash, cranberry, and sage recipe, I decided to try my hand at roasting the squash seeds. The process is pretty easy.

First, do your best at separating the "guts" of the squash from the seeds. Don't drive yourself crazy... you won't remove it all, and that is ok. Boil the seeds in salted water until they are grayish - bout 5-10 minutes, and then drain. I have read that allowing the seeds to dry overnight is a good idea, but I decided to let them dry only for a little while.

I laid them on parchment paper on a pizza stone although you could use a regular cookie sheet. I sprinkled them with some sea salt and roasted them in the oven on 350 for about a half hour, flipping them around with a spatula about halfway through.

The final result was pretty much what I expected, although next time I will go easy on the salt. I certainly reccommend making these if you have the opportunity instead of throwing the seeds away, although if you decide to try Kookla's recipe (and I think you should... it is incredible, I have already done it twice) then save yourself the hassle of peeling the squash and buy it pre-skinned instead.


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