Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Poppyseed Dressing

Today marks the official start to Summer 2017 and there's cause to celebrate; strawberries abound at our local farmers' markets and TV weathercasts predict warm, sunny days for the rest of this week. Weather forecasts aside, freshly picked berries can brighten any day with their distinctive floral aroma, and sweet/tangy bursts of flavor. No doubt about it, in-season strawberries sing "Summer!" and will brighten a variety of dishes. 

Strawberry/spinach salads rank high on my list of favorite June lunches. A recent salad bowl featured my version of Poppyseed Dressing, a trial-and-error experiment that I'll definitely make again. 

The same Poppyseed Dressing was delicious with a mixed bowl of fruit featuring strawberries (of course), plums, cantaloupe and grapes. The dressing highlighted the individual flavors of the fruits without masking or overpowering the various tastes.

More of the same sauced fruit won raves as a perfect waffle topper, along with a portion of cottage cheese. Forget the maple syrup and butter and pile your waffles with Poppyseed Dressing and fruit... really!

This dressing might not win any awards for appearance, but it does merit high marks for taste and versatility.

Poppyseed Salad Dressing

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard (Coleman's)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (Best Foods)
1/2 cup canola oil (divided)
1 teaspoon dried mint
2 teaspoons poppyseeds

Blend together (with blender or a whisk and small bowl) the honey, vinegar, dry mustard, and mayonnaise. Add half of the oil in a very thin stream while blending or whisking. Check the consistency; add the remaining oil as desired to thicken slightly. Note: this will be a very loose dressing.

Stir in the mint and poppyseeds. Taste; add salt if desired (I don't). 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sweet Potato - Fully Loaded

Inspired by a photo in Diana Henry's cookbook Simple, one lone sweet potato hanging out in the crisper became 'Breakfast for Dinner'. Containers of caramelized mushrooms and braised kale already lurked in the fridge along with several links of chorizo sausage, making this a quick cook. The recipe called for an accompaniment of baby spinach leaves, but the earthy bite of braised kale better balanced the potato's sweetness and the mushrooms' savory umami. Topped with a soft-yolk cooked egg, each bite was an ooey-gooey, savory-sweet delight.

This deceptively simple, boldly flavored dish was nearly effortless to construct, reflective of Henry's desire to offer a book of low-effort food ideas.
"What we mostly lack are ideas. That's what I tried to give... here. You don't have to be a chef. I'm not. You just need some inspiration to help you turn the ordinary--the building blocks of meals--into something special."
Simple inspiration comes through text and photos, most of Henry's recipes offering suggestions of alternate ingredients, plating notions or food pairings. So far I have played with recipes in chapters on Toast, Pasta & Grains, and Vegetables, adapting each to suit our palate and available ingredients. 

Loaded potatoes are nothing new, but this loaded sweet potato was indeed 'something special', perfect for any time of the day, even Breakfast for Dinner.

Cooking notes (suggestions rather than a recipe)

Bake or microwave a sweet potato in your regular manner. Split lengthwise and squish slightly to open up the inside (I sliced lengthwise into halves for 2 portions). Place on serving dish.

While the sweet potato is cooking, or ahead of time:

 - Heat butter and/or olive oil in a saute pan; add mushrooms (cut into thin wedges or slices) and cook until they give up their juices; continue cooking until liquid evaporates.   

 - Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat; add 3 cloves of garlic and 1/4 cup diced onion and cook until soft. Add 1/2 bunch of destemmed lacinato kale, coarsely chopped and 1/2 cup stock or water. Toss to coat greens, then cover and cook until softened and wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove cover and cook until liquid evaporates. Toss with a heavy splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. 

Top the cooked sweet potato with a generous amount of the mushrooms and kale.

Add cooked coins of chorizo, or your favorite spicy sausage. 

Top with an egg or two, cooked with the yolk left soft and runny. This egg was fried...

...and this egg was poached. Mmmmm, good either way.

Monday, June 5, 2017

In My Kitchen - June 2017

It's that time again! time to see what's new with kitchens and cooks all 'round the globe via the links found at Sherry's Pickings. Currently hosted by Sherry, an active food blogger in Brisbane, Australia, this monthly IMK event is not to be missed whether you link your own post or just enjoy reading the notes from other cooks.

In my kitchen...

...Spring blooms transform the view from the kitchen windows, something to appreciate when gray days linger on, so I'm reluctant to cut too many for indoor display. Instead, you'll find odd containers repurposed as vases to hold herbs and miscellaneous greenery. Rosemary roots readily, and often moves outdoors to fill empty spots in the southside flowerbeds, so I don't mind cutting it. Now I'd better get busy planting some colorful annuals along with a few veggies; with any luck the local ducks and geese will eat the slugs and not the tender plants.

...friend Charlene sent me this bragging apron, just because. BFF Char is my oldest friend, not in age but in length of friendship, and we have had decades of cooking adventures together. Some of the more memorable events may have included a lot of wine (for the cooks if not for the recipes). Swipes of flour and dough down the sides of my jeans remind me that aprons are useful, functional items only when worn. Sigh.

In my kitchen...

...I have been a lazy cook while RL traveled, existing on fresh fruit, light snacks, and an occasional lunch out. Then foodblogs and cookbooks nudged me back into action. Several IMK cooks have recommended recipes from Diana Henry, a British cookbook author previously unknown to me. The local library had her A Bird in the Hand available for checkout; I skimmed it but meh! wasn't thrilled. A newer Henry cookbook, Simple, sounded more promising, so I became number 57 on the reserve list. It was worth the long wait. I began by exploring some of Henry's meals for one - Toast Toppers. Success, and a lot of fun creating my own variations. Now I'm eager to try some of the many other Simple recipes I've marked with PostIt notes.

Recent adventures with savory asparagus hand pies spurred renewed interest in this rediscovered little cookbook, a resource for inspiration if not actual recipes. Pie crust skills still terrify elude me, but frozen premade dough removes the intimidation factor. It's strange that breadlike pizza, calzone and stromboli seem effortless, but rolled pastry anything is daunting. Hmmmm I might be missing the pastry gene.

Tanya shared some enormous lemons from her yard in Yuma, Arizona. They are super juicy with incredibly aromatic zest; special treats from a special friend. Lemon Poppyseed Cookies disappeared rapidly when I shared several dozen with a group of medical professionals. I'll credit the lemons, and the appetites at UWMC for this success.

RL returned from the boat with an empty food jar, requesting a homemade version of his newly discovered favorite food. Ja, right. I'm on batch #3 and haven't quite matched the flavor yet, but each attempt has been... well, interesting. Think Goldilocks progress: #1 was too sour,  #2 was too sweet, so it follows that #3 should be "just right". Right? Na. If only my Austrian Mom and Grandma had recorded their red cabbage recipes. 

Now that official summer is mere weeks away, it's time to seek out some fresh local rhubarb, sweet strawberries and more asparagus and get cooking. Maybe it's time to whip up that batch of Moscow Mules that didn't work out earlier.(link) What's happening in your kitchen?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies with a Lemon Glaze

When life gives you lemons... bake cookies! Once again girlfriend Tanya gifted me with a bagful of gigantic lemons from her tree in Yuma. Besides smelling divine, these juicy monsters yield oodles of zest - perfume with a purpose.  

Ooooh, the possibilities; lemon cookies, lemon cakes, lemon sauces, Hollandaise of course, fresh lemon zest in everything... No contest! Let's celebrate Spring-almost-Summer with a batch of lemon cookies. 

RL was out of town and I never rarely bake cookies just for myself, so this first, experimental batch was purposed as a thank you treat for a medical office crew I've visited lately. An upbeat, supportive group of professionals, I expect them to sample with enthusiasm and provide honest feedback on taste and texture.

Lemon sugar cookies, dropped not rolled, sounded sunny and flavorful but I turned to some online resources to fine tune the recipe.  A Cooking: NYTimes post for Basic Sugar Cookies did cover the basics, but I wanted more flavor "pop" to highlight the essential lemonyness.

Lemon Sunshine Cookies at Serious Eats made claims to "melting away on your tongue into a burst of lemon". Yeah, that's more like it, and a dip in a lemon glaze upped the sweetness factor. This recipe had possibilities, but I kept searching.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies at Two Peas & Their Pod added poppy seeds, just because, and that sold me. Who doesn't love Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins?! (My Costco Copycat version is a winner around here.) link

One of Tanya's Arizona lemons, plus a couple of tablespoons of poppy seeds, transformed ordinary sugar cookies into soft, sweet, lemony bites of sunshine. Thanks to Maria and Josh for posting the recipe. Now I can't wait for the taste test feedback. I will update soon.

6/5/2017 update: the cookies were a major hit with the clinic staff (plus a few incidental other folks who heard there was food in the break room). Two dozen Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies and three dozen Cruising Cookies tied for "favorite cookie" honors. I consider that a baking success.

Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies
from a recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod
yield: 24-30 cookies
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 heaping tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds


  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4-5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat to line 2 insulated cookie sheets. Set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a small bowl. Whisk and set aside.

In another small bowl, blend together the sugar and lemon zest.

Use an electric mixer, stand mixer or handheld, and beat the softened butter and lemon zest/sugar mixture together at high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, lemon juice, vanilla and lemon extract; mix until smooth.

Add the dry ingredient mixture; use low speed and beat until just combined. Stir in the poppy seeds by hand. Drop walnut-sized blobs of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, placing them roughly 2-inches apart.

Bake until the cookies are just set and the edges are golden brown; approx. 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool cookies on baking sheet for 2 minutes. Then remove to baking racks to cool completely. (Don't glaze until the cookies have cooled!)

For the glaze: whisk powdered sugar and 2/3 of the lemon juice together in a medium bowl. Whisk together to remove lumps, adding remaining lemon juice as necessary to achieve desired glaze consistency. Dip each cookie top into the glaze; return to baking rack, glaze side up, and let rest until the glaze sets up. (You will have extra glaze - get creative with the leftovers.)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Root Beer Floats... surprise!

"Why the surprise notation in the title?" you ask. Ah, there's a long history behind this all-American classic, and a short tale behind my root beer float today. 

Some sources claim that root beer was first manufactured, bottled and sold in 1880 and the first root beer float followed some thirteen years later. Frank Wisner of Cripple Creek, Colorado noticed that the snowy peaks on Cow Mountain looked like ice cream floating in soda. The following day he floated a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the top of his glass of root beer and invented the "black cow."

OR, on a particularly hot day in Philadelphia in 1874, Robert McCay Green ran out of ice as he served soda to his customers. He substituted ice cream instead to chill the drinks. However, many others claim to have made this creation, including one of Green's employees. No matter who first served this fizzy, foamy concoction, it has been a favorite treat for many generations. 

Today it was an unplanned surprise in my kitchen. I frequently order groceries online, specify a convenient delivery time, and free up my schedule to do other things. Today's delivery should have included a 6-pack of Bundaberg ginger beer, a necessary ingredient for a batch of Moscow Mules. Instead the grocery mistakenly substituted a 6-pack of Bundaberg root beer, an entirely different flavor of soda, more sweet and less spicy, and definitely not what I had in mind for Moscow Mules.

Okay, switch over to a taste-test of dueling root beers, not a bad plan for lazing about on the deck in 80-degree weather. It only took a few sips of each to reaffirm my preference for Henry Weinhard's root beer. Bundaberg tasted sweeter, maybe too sweet, and a bit thin in flavor. Henry's, pleasantly smooth and creamy, had a somewhat stronger flavor (honey, vanilla and maybe some licorice or wintergreen) with a hint of a bite . Both root beers fizzed nicely when combined with ice cream. So, sip, taste, switch samples. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Yes, a valid taste test requires much sampling.

The crystalized ice cream foam remained the star of the show, frothy bubbles of carbon dioxide released when carbonated root beer and ice cream meet. The fat and foaming agents in the ice cream coat the CO2 bubbles, increasing surface tension, which allows the the bubbles to expand and produce a longer-lasting, foamy head. Technique gurus dispute the order in which ingredients should be added to a chilled glass. 

  • Begin with root beer, filling the glass 3/4 full, and carefully add ice cream to allow foam without overflowing. 
  • OR add scoop(s) of ice cream to the glass, then tilt the glass and gently pour the root beer down the side. This prevents a wasteful splash when you drop the ice cream in. Detractors say it results in a murky-looking liquid from the ice cream melting more quickly as the soda is poured over it.

Pick your method, or experiment with both. Enjoy the original, a two-ingredient classic float of root beer with vanilla ice cream, or get creative and try a few flavor additions. Maybe a splash of bourbon and a dollop of whipped cream, or kahlua with coconut ice cream, or just skim Pinterest for a gazillion more tempting combinations. Myself, I'm happy enough with the classic... with Henry Weinhard's root beer, of course.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Fresh Apple Upside-Down Cake

Apple Cake. Made with fresh apples, not dried. Bursting with appleness. Hinting at apple pie flavors, but truly a cake. How difficult can that be? Damned difficult, it seems. My search for a satisfying apple cake began with Dorie Greenspan's Fresh Apple Custard Cake which won honors for aroma but seriously underperformed in flavor. I thought my Swedish Apple Custard Cake was an improved appley version of the same, but it was still somewhat between a cake and a custard. My hunt continued.

The latest cake came from a Martha Stewart recipe for an apple upside-down cake. Pineapple upside-down cakes are certainly a classic American dessert, one made popular in the 1920s soon after James Dole introduced pineapples precut into rings. Martha's fresh apple version sounded tempting.      

My first attempt yielded a dry interior and over-caramelized bottom (flipped to become the top). Adjust the baking time/temperature and try again. The second cake was an improvement, adequately moist but still not appley enough. Add a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream and no one would turn down a slice or two. I might make this recipe again, though a box cake version would tempt me, but THE apple cake recipe remains one of my dreams.


Fresh Apple Upside Down Cake

based on a Martha Stewart recipe

Makes one 8-inch cake

½ stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted
¼ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ cup walnut bits, chopped 

1 large tart apple, peeled, cored & sliced thin
1 TBS lemon juice

2 large eggs
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla

½ cup AP flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom

sweetened, flavored  whipped cream or vanilla ice cream as an optional topping or accompaniment

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Pour the melted butter into an 8-inch round cake pan, tilting to cover the entire bottom, and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Scatter the nuts over the top.

Core, peel and cut the apple into thin slices; place in a small bowl and toss with lemon juice to retard browning. Arrange in overlapping circles over the surface.

 In a medium bowl use an electric mixer to mix the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Blend for at least 3 minutes or until the mixture pales, thickens and forms a ribbon when lifted.

Place a mesh strainer over the bowl; add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cardamon to the strainer and sift into the egg mixture, folding gently but thoroughly until incorporated.

Pour the batter evenly over the apple slices; bake in the middle of a preheated 400 F oven for 25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven, run a butter knife around the side of the pan, and invert onto a serving dish. Best served warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar or accompanied by a bowl of whipped cream or ice cream balls.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Savory Hand Pies with Three Fillings

Random thoughts as I played with more filling combinations for Savory Hand Pies and a Minty Cucumber Sour Cream Sauce.

Photo: Savory Sausage Hand Pie with a side of Minty Cucumber Sour Cream Sauce

More Savory Hand Pies? Well, why not? my Asparagus Mushroom Hand Pies were a success (after tweaking the recipe and adding some lemon zest) and I was on a roll with some new filling combinations to try. Once again frozen pie dough made for a quick and easy baking session. 

Asparagus starred as a repeat ingredient, of course, since it was local and fresh. This time I severed the tips, halved each thick spear lengthwise and then cut them into short pieces. Tossed with oil and minced garlic, all of the pieces were sauted in a cast iron skillet until softened and lightly browned. Sprinkled with lemon zest they were tempting to nibble on "as is".

Caramelized onions should add a sweet/savory backnote to each of the three filling combinations. The thin slices of white onion cooked low and slow in a dash of oil and butter until lightly caramelized. Some recipes call for a finish of brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, but this batch did not require any flavor boost.

Sweet Italian pork - crumbled, cooked and drained - joined the party as a savory meat option. Yum! a flavor-packed spicy sausage, asparagus and onion mixture would be perfect for a cool-weather Spring treat.

Sausage and kale pair well tastewise in any season, so a bowl of braised kale joined shredded cheeses and toasted pine nuts as the remaining filling choices. 

Left column: skillet roasted asparagus, caramelized onions pies topped with mozzarella.
Center column: braised kale, Italian sausage, caramelized onion pies topped with mozzarella.
Right column: all of the above ingredients plus lemon zest and pine nuts.

All three of the fillings rated high marks, though my personal favorite was the everything hand pie. I love my pizza slices loaded with ingredients and evidently prefer hand pies the same way. That said, next time I'll simplify the ingredient mix, experiment with new flavor combos, and make a sweet hand pie or two for RL to enjoy.   

The simple asparagus/caramelized onion filling surprised me with its overly sweet flavor punch. A quickly mixed faux tzatziki sauce tamed the sweetness, balancing sweet and savory with some light flavor pops. The same sauce boosted the appeal of the kale/sausage/onion filling.

...and what do you do with leftover spoonfuls of filling? I tossed it all into a ramekin for a delicious baked snack. Once again... Yum!

Minty Cucumber Sour Cream Sauce - faux Tzatziki

1/2 English cucumber, shredded and wrung dry in a tea towel
2 green onions, green and white parts minced
2 Tbs fresh mint leaves, minced
1 tsp dried dill
1/2 cup sour cream 
1 Tbs lemon juice
dashes of green Tabasco, to taste (optional)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Asparagus Mushroom Hand Pies

It's Spring! and that means local asparagus is finally available. Grill it, roast it, steam it, or bake it; serve it plain or sauced with hollandaise. Mmmmm, I do love that vegetable during the few months it's availableAn asparagus and mushroom galette spotted at a local bakery counter looked intriguing, so I purchased one as a taste treat. Gulp, $3.99 for a single-serving little pastry! 

The crust was crisp and flakey on top while the bottom tended toward soggy. The galette's generous mound of filling underperformed on taste, bland and lacking much flavor beyond the earthy essence of asparagus and mushrooms. Where was the punchy tang of goat cheese? "Hah!" I thought, "I could do this at home and pop that flavor."

Savory pies tempt me to indulge; sweet pies, not so much. What's more satisfying than a savory little homemade pie, it's flaky crust filled with seasonal vegetables and complementary seasonings? Answer: the same pie made with frozen pie crust dough. But that's just me, facing reality because I'm missing the requisite pie-crust making gene. No matter, a reliable red box of Pillsbury Pie Crusts had my back for this adventure.

Green onions, fresh parsley, dried tarragon, lemon peel and Parmesan cheese joined the basic filling ingredients of asparagus, mushrooms and feta cheese. Sour cream plus one egg added a moist binder to the mix. One circle of pie crust yielded four irregular squares, and the Hand Pie adventure was ready to roll.

The short version of the recipe is:
       Cook down the mushrooms
       Soften the asparagus
       Combine the filling ingredients
       Fill dough squares, shape, add egg wash for shine
       Bake at 400 F until golden brown

The first hand pies emerged from the oven with light, crisp crusts and mildly seasoned filling, an improvement over that purchased galette, but still not quite there flavorwise. Neighbor Marcie, recruited as a taste tester, suggested adding lemon zest, an acidic element to better balance the heavier mushroom and asparagus. Yes! swapping a lot of lemon zest for a little lemon powder made a subtle but noticeable difference in the second batch. Thanks, Marcie. Now I'm eager to play with some other Spring ingredients and flavorings in more hand pie or galette experiments. Sigh, elastic waistbands could become necessary wardrobe adjustments.

Asparagus Mushroom Hand Pies

Yields 4 individual hand pies

1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, cleaned & thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon dried tarragon
5-6 asparagus spears, trimmed and chopped
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt)
6 green onions, green and white parts, chopped
1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon powdered lemon peel grated zest of 1 lemon 
1 premade pie crust (Pillsbury recommended)
1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) goat cheese ( Greek feta), crumbled
beaten whole egg wash to brush dough
2 Tablespoons fresh Parmesan shreds

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet and saute the mushrooms until they brown. Add the pepper, vinegar and tarragon; cook until all liquid evaporates. Remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl to cool.

Snap off & discard the woody stalk end of each asparagus spear. Keep the tender heads intact and chop the rest of the stalks into 1/2 to 1-inch pieces. Place in a microwave-safe container with a Tablespoon of water; cover and nuke for 1 minute or until barely tender. Drain and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl use a fork to whisk together the egg and sour cream. Add the green onions, parsley and lemon zest; stir to combine. Add the cooled mushrooms and asparagus. Gently stir to combine, coating all ingredients with the eggy sour cream.

Unroll a single piecrust sheet onto a lightly floured surface; roll out to 1/8-inch thickness (if necessary) and cut into four squares, roughly 5.5-inches per side. (Use a straightedge if neatness matters to you - I went irregular and rustic).

Onto each pastry square place 1/4 of the filling mixture, typically a mounded 1/2 cup. Top each pie with 1 Tablespoon goat cheese crumbles. Fold each pastry corner onto the center of the filling, keeping the tips apart, and crimp the outside edges slightly. Brush the exposed dough lightly with some beaten egg wash and sprinkle with 1/2 Tablespoon fresh Parmesan shreds.

Place the hand pies on a silpat or parchment-covered baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up the dough. Preheat the oven to 400 F while the pies chill.

To bake, place the baking sheet in the center of the preheated 400 F oven and bake for 15-17 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown. Rotate the baking sheet after 10 minutes to encourage even browning. Remove the hand pies to a wire baking rack to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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