Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cranberry Bars

If you’ve been wondering why anyone would need a huge 7-cup batch of Jellied Cranberry Sauce, this is the reason.

You’ve got to have enough cranberry sauce leftover after Thanksgiving to make at least a couple of batches of these bars.

Shortbread base and cranberry filling, topped with clouds of shortbread. They’re delicious, exceedingly easy to make, and perfect for the holidays.

Cranberry Bars
Printable Recipe

12 ounces (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced, plus more for greasing the baking dish
15 ounces all-purpose flour
3 ounces sugar
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups Jellied Cranberry Sauce

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish and line with parchment paper. Combine the butter, flour, sugar, and salt in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low for 8 to 9 minutes, or until the dough comes together. Transfer about 2/3 of the dough to the baking dish and press into an even layer. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool for about 15 minutes.

Spread the cranberry sauce evenly over the crust and then crumble the remaining third of the dough evenly over the cranberry layer. Bake for 30 to 32 minutes, or until golden brown.

Let cool to room temperature. Using the parchment paper, lift the bars out of the pan and transfer them to a cutting board. Cut into portions and serve.

Makes 12 large bars. Bars keep for several days in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Flavored Butters for the Holidays

How’s your holiday shopping coming along? Do you need some last-minute gift ideas? Well, people are saying that Flavored Butters would make a great gift. Check out these reader reviews. Get the cook or foodie in your life a copy of the cookbook critics call “wizardry”, “festive and flavorful”, “inspiring”, and “the perfect answer for taking common dishes and kicking them up a notch”.

And how about whipping up some of the recipes in the book and giving them as hostess gifts? A basket containing a log of homemade flavored butter with a pretty butter dish and spreader would be perfect to take to at any holiday get-together.

In the spirit of the season, here’s a new flavored butter based on the Bed & Breakfast Butter recipe in the book.

Enjoy and happy holidays to you and yours!

Cranberry Bed & Breakfast Butter
Printable Recipe

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup Jellied Cranberry Sauce, at room temperature

Blend together the butter and cranberry sauce in a medium bowl. Form into a log and refrigerate until firm before slicing and serving, or use another shaping method described in Flavored Butters.

Makes 8 servings. Serve with muffins, scones, pancakes, waffles, toast, or other breakfast fare.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Food Snobbery and Seasoned Salt

Few prepared items ever make it into my grocery cart. I’m OK with certain brands of store-bought mayo and ketchup and some other basic condiments, but nearly everything else I use is homemade. I make my all of my own sauces, salad dressings, spice rubs, and seasoning blends. Cajun spice, chile rub, curry powder, Chinese five-spice—I make all that stuff from scratch.

Well, nearly all that stuff. There is one store-bought item that I’m almost embarrassed to admit I use. You know the seasoned salt with the big L on the label and the dark orange cap? I love it on burgers and chicken fried steak. But every time I use it I feel sort of guilty.

I know, I know—I’m a food snob. I can’t help myself.

So I finally decided to make a homemade knock-off. It tastes almost exactly like the bottled kind but a little less salty and much less harsh. (Makes me wonder if the stuff in the bottle is made with iodized salt.) The best part is that my version contains zero mystery ingredients.

Now this is a seasoning blend I can feel good about using. So good, in fact, that I used it in the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner. Game hens (remember, I live in a family of turkey haters) stuffed with fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme and seasoned inside and out with my very own homemade Seasoned Salt. It gave the little birds a lovely color and delicious savory flavor…which is nothing to be embarrassed about!

Before I get to the recipe, I’d like to thank Babble for featuring my Beef with Dang Myun in their World Pasta Day recipe roundup.

Seasoned Salt
Printable Recipe

3 tablespoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon celery seeds, ground
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a spice jar. Cover and shake until well blended.

Makes about 1/3 cup. Keeps for several months tightly sealed in the pantry. Don’t be afraid to use lots, it’s not too salty.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Turkey Day and Tradition

Are you a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, or do you like to mix up the menu every year? Like more and more people these days, I’m generally of the to-hell-with-tradition persuasion. But when it comes to Thanksgiving, I want the usual. Save the experimentation and creativity for the other 364 days of the year. Just give me my big turkey dinner with all the trimmings. And don’t dare try to change a thing.

Unfortunately for me, my family is a bunch of turkey bashers. They don’t even want to consider the possibility of having the prescribed meal on the fourth Thursday of November. Because of the anti-turkey contingent, we’ve had Thanksgiving dinner starring pork, beef, lamb, game hens, duck, and even goose. It may be delicious, but it’s not right.

Why must they be so staunchly opposed to turkey? It’s not like I’d subject them to overcooked, desiccated white meat turkey. Even if it’s not their favorite, would it kill them to eat a turkey dinner just once in the course of a year? I mean, Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving without the roasted turkey in the center of the table and the tryptophan-induced drowsiness at the end of the afternoon.

Turkey or no turkey, there’s one traditional thing that’ll be on our Thanksgiving table no matter what anyone else has to say about it.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Jellied Cranberry Sauce
Printable Recipe

3 cups sugar
2 ¼ pounds (3 12-ounce bags) cranberries

Combine the sugar and 3 cups of water in a large, heavy pot. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries, bring to a boil, and simmer, stirring constantly, for 18 to 20 minutes, or until thick. Puree in a food mill using the finest disc. If the puree has seeds, strain it through a fine mesh sieve to remove them. Transfer to jars and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or until set.

Makes a large batch, about 7 cups. This sauce is less sweet than the ubiquitous canned stuff, and it’s also slightly softer. If you’d like a thicker sauce suitable for molding, simply cook it a few minutes longer. Keeps for several days tightly sealed in the refrigerator.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pine-Mouth-Proof Pesto

Have you ever heard of pine-mouth? My husband had it once, and it was terrible. Pine-mouth is a mysterious taste disturbance caused by consuming pine nuts that makes everything you eat taste bitter and gross. It lasts for an indefinite length of time, possibly days or weeks, and I’ve even heard horror stories of cases that never clear up. My husband’s pine-mouth lasted for nearly a week. There has been some speculation that old or rancid pine nuts are to blame. Or that the variety coming from China is the culprit. But nobody really knows why it happens and when it might strike. (For the record, the pine nuts that caused my husband’s pine-mouth tasted normal and had no off odor. Strangely, I had eaten from the same batch of pesto and suffered no ill effects.)

I’ve always loved the unique taste and texture of pine nuts, but ever since my husband’s experience with pine-mouth I’ve been a little less enthusiastic about cooking and eating them. I still do it on occasion but every time feels a bit like a game of Russian roulette for the palate. Even if I didn’t rely on my sense of taste to make a living, it would be cause for hesitation.

Then one day Hubby and I were wandering through the aisles of Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store, which carries a huge variety of unusual grains and seeds, when we stumbled across hemp seeds.

They were relatively expensive, but you know I can never pass up an opportunity to try something new, so we decided to splurge on a package. Lo and behold, the tiny little seeds reminded me a lot of pine nuts, right down to the waxy texture!

Sometimes I still risk it, but when I don’t feel like jeopardizing my taste buds, I make pesto with raw hulled hemp seeds instead of pine nuts. It’s quite delicious and tastes very much like the real thing. By the way, hemp seeds are also good sprinkled on salads.

Before I get to the recipe, I’d like to thank The Commercial Appeal and for jumping on the butter bandwagon!

Basil-Hemp Seed Pesto
Printable Recipe

2 ½ cups fresh basil leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup hulled hemp seeds
½ cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth.

Makes about 1 ¼ cups. Use just as you would classic basil pesto with pine nuts: toss with pasta, stir into soup, spread on sandwiches, or spoon over grilled steak or fish. If not using right away, minimize browning by transferring the pesto to a jar and pouring over enough olive oil to generously coat the surface. It’ll keep for a couple of days tightly sealed in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Chuck's Produce Event

If you happen to be in the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington area, please come out for a Flavored Butters demo, tasting, and signing at the brand new Chuck’s Produce in Salmon Creek at 1PM on Friday, October 11. I’ll be sharing tips and tricks on how to up your fall entertaining game with flavored butters and making a couple of recipes from the book, including this Pie Spice Butter.

In other cookbook news, I’d like to thank The Republic for calling flavored butters “the perfect answer for taking common dishes and kicking them up a notch” and featuring the Red Chile Butter, Curry Butter, and Salted Caramel Butter and Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker for the wonderful review.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Weeknight Cook and a Cake

The fall issue of Cooking Club magazine, which features several recipes by yours truly in the "Weeknight Cook" column (on page 46), has arrived! It was a fantastic surprise to see that I share a by-line with cookbook author extraordinaire Marie Simmons. Marie has been a friend and mentor to me since my days as an intern at Copia, and I never dreamed I’d see my name next to hers in print. What an honor! My recipes are the Pork Cutlets with Black and Green Olive Sauce, Italian Sausage and White Bean Stew, Pasta with Smoky Angry Tomato Sauce, Veracruz Baked Fish Fillets, and Mini Chipotle Meat Loaves. They’re quick and easy yet tasty and satisfying, so I hope you'll give them a try. The pasta has especially become a favorite at my house, and we had it for dinner again last night.

And for dessert, here’s a summer recipe inspired by the stops on a recent trip to the Hood River Valley. Visit a lavender farm…

A u-pick peach orchard…

And this is what you get!

Peach-Lavender Cake
Printable Recipe

3 ounces (¾ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
5 ounces all-purpose flour
2 ounces almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon dried lavender flowers, ground
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
4 ½ ounces sour cream, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces sugar
3 ounces light brown sugar
3 large peaches, peeled, pitted, and diced

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter a 9×3-inch round cheesecake pan, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Whisk together the flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, lavender, and salt. Whisk together the egg, sour cream, and vanilla.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar, and brown sugar on high for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg mixture until thoroughly combined. Add the flour mixture and mix on low until just combined, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Do not overmix. Transfer to the cake pan and spread evenly. Spread the peaches evenly over the batter, pressing them in slightly. Bake for about 1 hour and 25 minutes, or until the edges of the cake start to shrink away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and finish cooling completely. Cut into portions and serve.

Makes 1 9-inch cake, serving 8. Use a springform pan if you don't have a cheesecake pan. If the diced peaches exude any appreciable amount of juice, drain it off and whisk it into the egg mixture. Also try cinnamon, nutmeg, or tonka bean instead of lavender.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Passion Fruit-Yogurt Cake

I’ve been meaning to make a passion fruit variation of my favorite Lemon-Crème Fraîche Cake forever, and I’ve finally gotten around to it.

Now I’m having trouble deciding if I like the lemon or the passion fruit cake better. Hmm…It seems I prefer whichever one I’m eating at the moment. Which would you rather have?

Before I get to the recipe, I have to say thanks to the Knoxville News Sentinel for this fantastic review of Flavored Butters!

Passion Fruit-Yogurt Cake
Printable Recipe

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
10 ounces cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
5 large eggs, at room temperature
10 ounces sugar
6 ounces plain yogurt, at room temperature
5 ounces passion fruit puree
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9×3-inch round cake pan, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

In a mixer fitted with a whip attachment, mix the eggs and sugar on high for 4 to 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy and doubled in volume. Add the yogurt and mix on low until just combined. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the butter, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the passion fruit puree, and then the remaining 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing on low for only a few seconds after each addition until just combined, and stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Do not overmix. Transfer to the cake pan and spread evenly. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the edges of the cake start to shrink away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Invert onto a cooling rack and finish cooling completely. Dust with plenty of powdered sugar, cut into portions, and serve.

Makes 1 9-inch cake, serving 8. You will need about 10 passion fruits for this recipe. When buying passion fruits, look for fruit that's shrinkled—that's my word for shrunken and wrinkled—and trust me when I say there's no better way to describe a ripe passion fruit. To make passion fruit puree, halve the passion fruits, scoop out the flesh using a spoon, and strain it through a fine mesh sieve. You can also use frozen passion fruit puree. This cake is best the day it’s made.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Perils of Cherry Picking

Have you noticed that the rules and regulations pertaining to cherry picking are getting more and more stringent every summer?

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest about a dozen years ago and first sought out u-pick cherries, we were able to do practically whatever we wanted on the farm. We would wander through the orchards and our dog was welcome too, no leash required. Then one year, dogs were banned altogether. The owner told us that liability insurance was becoming too expensive.

A slightly more off the beaten path cherry grower that we frequent surprised us this year with news that the use of ladders was no longer permitted. Imagine that—cherry picking without cherry ladders!

And I know of one farm whose unsmiling employees do nothing but bark orders at visitors. “No open-toed shoes on ladders!” “No mixing cherry varieties!” Doubtless they were drill sergeants in a previous life. They go so far as to make you fill out a liability waiver before they let you climb their ladders. The visit to that particular farm didn’t exactly meet my expectations for an idyllic country outing. Needless to say we never went back.

Of course it’s the insurance companies who are responsible for this proliferation of rules. They know cherry picking is perilous, and they’re just looking out for your well-being. They wouldn’t want you to fall off a ladder and break your neck.

They have yet to eliminate all of the perils, however, like the porta potty positioned on a hill. I can tell you from personal experience that the precarious angle of the facility makes falling in when answering the call of nature a real and credible threat. And the most serious peril of all, which is that they would allow you off the premises at all with over ten pounds of cherries per person. The endless gastrointestinal distress brought on when you can’t stop eating those cherries, now that’s a serious peril indeed.

Before I get to the recipe I created using this year’s cherries, I have to thank Nici for including me in this HCP Dishes! post about her favorite food-related internet resources. I know since she works for my publisher she’s biased, but her support still made my day! Also, thanks to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for spreading the word about Flavored Butters.

Cherry Hand Pies
Printable Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, shredded
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons, or more, cold water
1 ¼ pounds cherries, pitted and quartered
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon milk
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together the flour, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water and stir until just combined. Test the dough by squeezing a small amount together with your fingertips. If the dough holds together, it’s ready. If it’s crumbly, stir in up to 1 more tablespoon of water. Transfer to a work surface and knead a few times until the dough just holds together. Bring the dough together into a ball and then flatten into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425˚F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 13×17-inch, 1/8-inch thick rectangle. Trim the edges of the dough and cut it into 6 5 ½×6-inch rectangles. Transfer the rectangles to a parchment-lined baking tray and refrigerate for about 10 minutes.

Toss together the cherries, remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and cornstarch in a large bowl. Using a fingertip, lightly moisten the edges of each dough rectangle with water. Divide the cherry mixture among the dough rectangles, mounding it over half of each one and leaving a 1-inch border at the edge. Fold the other half of each dough rectangle over the filling, forming a smaller rectangle, and lightly crimp the edges together with the back of the tines of a fork to seal. Pierce the top of each hand pie several times with the fork. Refrigerate for another 10 minutes.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the hand pies to a rack and let cool to room temperature.

Whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla and drizzle over the hand pies.

Makes 6 hand pies. Work quickly and with a light touch to prevent the butter in the pastry from melting.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Oregon Berry Festival and a Guest Post

It’s berry season, the very best time of year! Do you love berries as much as I love berries? Then join me at the Oregon Berry Festival to celebrate the luscious little fruit. I’m thrilled to be one of the presenters this year! At noon on Saturday, July 13, I’ll be on the main stage demoing and sampling berry recipes from Flavored Butters. Then I’ll be signing books and answering your cooking questions from 1PM to 2PM at the Healthy Berry Booth. Hope to see you there!

I’m also excited to be featured on Plum Deluxe! My guest post is all about how you can use flavored butters to effortlessly wow your guests at your 4th of July cookout. It includes the Gorgonzola-Chive Butter and Whipped Chocolate Butter recipes from the book. Please check it out!

Here’s wishing everybody a fun and delicious Independence Day!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Frying a Better Razor Clam

Hubby would not be discouraged by previous unsuccessful clamming expeditions. And his perseverance finally paid off this spring.

It took him only an hour to reach the legal limit of 15 clams.

If I wasn’t so busy working on my next cookbook Marinades, I would’ve gone with him and bagged another 15 in no time at all.

The usual way to prepare razor clams is to coat them whole in breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs and then pan-fry them, like this. It’s quite delicious. But after trying it, I reasoned that deep-fried clams would be even more delicious. Clams have a tendency to be chewy no matter how expertly they’re cooked, and submerging them completely in hot fat would minimize the cooking time, thereby lessening any chance they’d get tough. Cutting the clams into strips would further ensure tenderness. But it would also expose a lot more surface area, and that much breading would have been heavy and overwhelmed the clam meat. Switching to a light flour coating would create a nice balance of clam to crust. Finally, adding a bit of cornstarch to the flour would make for a super-crisp coating. All that reasoning proved to be correct—the result was the best fried clams ever, even if I do say so myself.

But before I get to the recipe, Flavored Butters continues to get positive mentions in the press. I have to thank Food Republic for endorsing it and featuring the Caramelized Onion Butter, the Red Chile Butter, and the Caviar Butter. Thanks to Mommypage for the interview about the book and for featuring the Tarragon Butter. I’m ever so grateful to The Spokesman-Review for calling the book a “mouth-watering gem” and featuring the Bed & Breakfast Butter. And finally, thanks to Mother Earth Living for sharing the lessons on how to form a log of butter and how to shape compound butter and featuring the Gorgonzola-Chive Butter, the Radish Butter, and the Whipped Vanilla Bean Butter. I love that so many are getting on the butter bandwagon—it feels amazing!

Deep-Fried Razor Clam Strips with Buffalo Dipping Sauce
Printable Recipe

3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
¼ teaspoon onion powder
Generous pinch celery seeds, ground
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil, for frying
5 razor clams, cleaned, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 3/8-inch wide pieces

Blend together the mayonnaise, Tabasco, and Worcestershire in a small bowl and refrigerate.

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder, celery seed, cayenne, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper in a large, shallow dish. Add enough oil to a large, heavy pot to come to a depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil to 375°F. Meanwhile, add the clams to the flour mixture and toss to coat, separating any pieces that stick together. Shaking off any excess flour mixture, add the clams to the oil and fry, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Using a skimmer, remove to a paper towel-lined plate and immediately season to taste with salt. Arrange the clams on individual plates and serve immediately with the buffalo dipping sauce.

Serves 2. When frying, be sure to use a pot that's large enough to accommodate the displacement of the oil from the clams and also the bubbling of the oil. Serve with Classic Coleslaw and corn on the cob or fries.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fifth Blogiversary!

Hungry Cravings is celebrating its fifth blogiversary this month. Back when I started it, I never would’ve guessed that I’d still be at it five years later. This little blog has seen me go from aspiring writer to published cookbook author, and it has taught me a thing or two about the art of food photography. Though work keeps me busy and posts here are less frequent than they once were, I look forward to each opportunity to check in more than ever.

So I dug through the freezer for the last of the huckleberries we gathered last summer. I’d been saving them for a special occasion…a special occasion just like this one!

Lemony Huckleberry Crumb Bars
Printable Recipe

6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, shredded, plus more for greasing the baking dish
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup powdered sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen huckleberries
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish and line with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, powdered sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer about half of the dough to the baking dish and press into an even layer. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes. Toss together the huckleberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Spread the huckleberry mixture evenly over the crust and then spread the remaining half of the dough evenly over the huckleberry layer. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.

Using the parchment paper, lift the bars out of the pan and transfer them to a cutting board. Cut into portions and serve.

Makes 12 bars. Huckleberries have a short summer season. Use frozen huckleberries the rest of the year, but do not thaw them. Small blueberries make a fine substitute if huckleberries are unavailable. These bars are best on the day they’re made.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Blog Touring and Guest Posting

Flavored Butters is on an “I Can’t Believe it IS Butter” blog tour! Today’s stop: I’m Denise’s guest over at Chez Us. Please come join me there. My guest post is all about making and using sweet flavored butters and includes the Passion Fruit Butter recipe from the book.

Also on the blog tour…

· Creative Culinary featured the Citrus-Vanilla Bean Butter.

· A Little Loveliness highlighted the Whipped Vanilla Bean Butter.

· A Well Crafted Party posted the Whipped Vanilla Bean Butter.

· Willow Bird Baking presented both the Coffee Butter and the Salted Caramel Butter.

· Celebrations at Home offered up both the Gorgonzola-Chive Butter and the Bed & Breakfast Butter in apricot.

· Divine Party Concepts spotlighted the Whipped Chocolate Butter.

So it looks pretty safe to say that the Whipped Vanilla Bean Butter is becoming a crowd favorite! To go with all that vanilla, I’ll leave you with a little bit of chocolate!

Of course, the recipe for this Whipped Chocolate Butter appears in Flavored Butters.

Thanks to all of the wonderful bloggers for hosting a stop!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bonus Butter

My new book is part of The Harvard Common Press’s 50 Recipes series. I tried to sneak in 53 recipes thinking there’s no harm in giving people more than what they paid for. But I was busted. My editor caught me and made me do some cutting—when they say 50 Recipes, they mean 50 Recipes. It wasn’t easy deciding which three had to go. One recipe that ended up being sacrificed was the Black Garlic Butter, not because it’s somehow inferior to any of the others, but because black garlic is a bit hard to come by. The butter is in fact quite delicious, so I thought I’d offer it up here as a bonus recipe. (By the way, if you’re wondering why in the world anyone needs 50, let alone 53 recipes for flavored butters, here’s an explanation.)

Before I get to the recipe, I have to say how grateful I am for the warm reception Flavored Butters is getting in the media and blogosphere. I’ve been called a “butter goddess” and a “butter genius”, and it might just go to my head! (But more likely, it'll go to my butt!) But seriously, I have to thank The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for the shout-out, the Chicago Tribune for the great review (and the dozen or more other media outlets that picked up the story), The Kitchn for another fantastic review, and the Akron Beacon Journal for the mention in this article on herbs and gardening. I also want to show my appreciation to The Best Cookbooks List, Magnolia Days, and Fake Food Free for jumping on the butter bandwagon—the support means so much! And while this has nothing to do with Flavored Butters, I owe one more thank you to HuffPost Taste for including my Passion Fruit-Coconut Bars in their passion fruit recipe roundup.

And now to the Black Garlic Butter. Black garlic, which seems to have originated in Korea, is a product of fermentation.

The ink-colored cloves have a soft, gelatinous texture and a complex sweet and mellow garlic flavor with candy-like hints of molasses, caramel, smoke, and fruit. Roasted garlic fans would certainly love it. Blend black garlic with butter to use as a spread for crostini or as a sauce for seafood such as grilled or seared* scallops.

Black Garlic Butter
Printable Recipe

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
4 cloves black garlic
2 teaspoons soy sauce

Combine the butter, black garlic, and soy sauce in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Form into a log and refrigerate until firm before slicing and serving, or use another shaping method described in Flavored Butters.

Makes 8 servings.

*For everything you ever wanted to know about searing, plus dozens of fabulous searing recipes, check out my first book Seared to Perfection.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Must-Have Ingredient

When he returned from his first business trip to Taiwan, Hubby raved about the food there. He described at length the flavorful fried rice, the toothsome noodles which were always freshly made, and the spicy, aromatic soups. He told me about the pristine sushi and the enormous shrimp. He talked about the abundance of cheap luscious tropical fruit. There was this juicy sweet and sour fruit he bought for three for a dollar from a friendly vendor on the street. He said he’d never had anything like it before. My husband is not a man of many words, but this tropical fruit he went on and on about—if there was such a thing as nectar and ambrosia, this was it.

He informed me as he unpacked his suitcase that he had managed to smuggle one home. He wanted me to be able to try this wonderful exotic fruit. With a broad smile on his face, he held out the shriveled black specimen.

“That’s a passion fruit,” I said with that funny feeling you get when something you know to be an irrefutable fact is suddenly called into question. You see, after eight years of marriage it’s not unusual to feel like you and your partner share a single brain and that everything you know he knows. So it seemed incomprehensible to me to think my husband didn’t know what a passion fruit was. “It’s a passion fruit, right?” I repeated, this time speaking mostly to myself. And despite all my years in food and cooking, for a split second it somehow seemed more likely that it really was some strange tropical fruit previously unheard of in the United States. Those eight years of marriage flashed through my head, and I realized why he thought it was something completely new—I had never introduced him to it before. Denying my husband passion fruit all those years? What a failure on my part.

I’m going to blame it all on the price of passion fruits. At three or four dollars a pop, I never considered bringing them home to play with. But with my husband’s newfound love of passion fruits, I would have to make up for lost time with a steady stream of passion fruit baked goods.

Luckily, to make passion fruit goodies you don’t need cases and cases of the expensive and hard-to-find fruit. You simply need a tub of relatively affordable Les Vergers Boiron frozen passion fruit puree. It’s 100% pure passion fruit pulp with no added sugar that's every bit as good as freshly made passion fruit puree. The fact that you don’t have to spend time processing the seedy fruit is a bit of a plus too. You just stash the tub in the freezer and saw off what you need (it’s easy to do safely with a serrated paring knife) whenever the inspiration to create a passion fruit treat strikes. Frozen passion fruit puree—it’s a must-have ingredient. (In case you’re wondering, I get mine from Provvista, a local wholesaler of specialty foods.)

Now here’s a must-have recipe to use it in.

Passion Fruit-Coconut Bars
Printable Recipe

For the shortbread crust:
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, shredded, plus more for greasing the baking dish
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup shredded coconut
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

For the passion fruit-coconut layer:
4 large eggs
¼ cup coconut milk
6 ounces passion fruit puree
1 ¼ cups sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

To serve:
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Make the shortbread crust:
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish and line with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, powdered sugar, coconut, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer the dough to the baking dish and press into an even layer. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Make the passion fruit-coconut layer:
Blend together the eggs, coconut milk, and passion fruit puree in a small bowl. Whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Add the passion fruit mixture to the sugar mixture and whisk until smooth. Pour over the shortbread and bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until just set. Let cool to room temperature.

To serve:
Using the parchment paper, lift the bars out of the pan and transfer them to a cutting board. Dust with plenty of powdered sugar, cut into portions, and serve.

Makes 12 large bars. If frozen passion fruit puree is unavailable, you will need about 12 fresh passion fruits for this recipe. When buying passion fruits, look for fruit that's shrinkled—that's my word for shrunken and wrinkled—and trust me when I say there's no better way to describe a ripe passion fruit. To make passion fruit puree, halve the passion fruits, scoop out the flesh using a spoon, and strain it through a fine mesh sieve. For a professional-looking presentation, cut the bars using a hot knife and wipe it clean between cuts. Bars keeps for a couple of days tightly sealed in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Release Day!

Today’s the big day! It’s the official release day of my second cookbook. Flavored Butters is now out there for all the world to see and to cook from.

What a happy day! (And since just a few days ago I submitted the manuscript for my third cookbook, what a happy week!)

I hope this little book brings you tons of inspiration in the kitchen. Here’s a little sampling of what you’ll find inside the pages…

Caramelized Onion Butter for melting over a juicy steak—it’s sauce by the slice!

Shrimp Butter for anointing seafood bisque or making an outrageous seafood marinara.

Bed & Breakfast Butter for topping pancakes and waffles and biscuits.

And countless ideas for how to shape and serve flavored butters.

Want to know more? Check out this mention in Publishers Weekly. Better yet, let’s talk butter in person! I’m giving a Hands-On Flavored Butters cooking class at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington on Saturday, April 13. And I’ll be at the IACP Book and Blog Festival in San Francisco on Sunday, April 7 to sign books and at the Portland Williams-Sonoma on Sunday, May 5 for a demo and tasting. Please come join me!

Speaking of Clark College, the spring class schedule just came out. I’m also offering Hands-On Fresh Egg Pasta and Hands-On Galettes and Crostatas. Current class listings can always be found in the Cooking Classes, Book Signings & Appearances sidebar on the right.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Consuming Oaxaca

It was Hubby’s turn to pick our vacation destination this time around. More than anything, he’s drawn to chiles, the spicier the better, so he picked Oaxaca. For years I’ve read that Oaxaca is one of the world’s best destinations for fooding, so I agreed it was high time we travel there to see what all the fuss is about. We fortified ourselves with several vaccinations and packed two bottles of Cipro and an English-to-Spanish dictionary, and we were off.

For the first day of our trip we organized a private lesson with Zapotec cook Reyna Mendoza, who teaches students traditional recipes out of her open-air home kitchen in Teotitlán del Valle.

Reyna welcomed us as if we were close friends and wowed us with her dedication to the labor-intensive techniques of her ancient cuisine, though I did spy an electric blender hidden in a corner.

Chocolate atole, a beverage of a hot and thick masa-flavored liquid topped with a cool, cloud-like chocolate foam, was first on the menu.

For the espuma, raw cacao beans, pataxle, wheat, rice, and canela are toasted separately on the comal and then ground together on the metate, formed into bricks, and dried. Pataxle, by the way, is also known as cacao blanco.

It’s cacao that has been buried in the earth until it turns white, and it’ll set you back a whopping 500 pesos per kilo (that’s like $20 per pound to you and me). The dried cacao bricks are reground on the metate.

The powder is blended with cold water, whipped with a special molinillo until every last drop is transformed into tiny bubbles, and then lightly sweetened with raw sugar.

If there was a theme in the class, it was the metate.

Reyna and her family own more than half a dozen, some deeply worn from decades of use by previous generations.

And as one of Reyna’s sisters proved making a batch of salsa, they’re all put to use on a daily basis.

Metates are traditional gifts to the bride at weddings. Many bear the word “recuerdo” along with the year, signifying that it’s a memento. You must have separate metates for processing chile, cacao, and masa preparations since metates are porous and absorb odors. Though I had always suspected this to be the case, I was dismayed to finally learn it for a fact—I knew that convincing my husband to lug just one metate back home, let alone three would be difficult. If you do manage to get it home, there’s a lengthy process of seasoning the metate and chipping down the mano, or rolling pin, to a more effective shape. I got to try my hand at grinding both cacao and chiles on Reyna’s various metates—let’s just say it was quite a work out. When I didn’t last more than a few minutes, I was told that no Oaxacan man would ever want to marry me. I suppose it’s a good thing I managed to snag a husband who’ll settle for blender use.

Reyna also made mole negro, probably the most famous dish of the region, from beginning to end with us. It's another labor of love which involves toasting countless ingredients…

And—what else—grinding them on the metate. Three different types of dried chiles, sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, peppercorns, ginger, thyme, oregano, avocado leaves, bay leaves, garlic, onions, tomatoes, tomatillos, and bread and/or tortillas de maíz all go into mole along with a healthy dose of chocolate. The most unusual and surprising step of preparing mole negro, and the one that contributes most to the color, is toasting the chile seeds until they are jet black and then actually lighting them on fire. The seeds are left to burn until the flame dies out and then ground and incorporated along with all of the other ingredients. Reyna's mole negro was rich, spicy, and perfectly balanced, with the bitterness of the charred chile seeds providing the perfect contrast to the sweetness of the chocolate.

The final treat of our cooking class was drinking chocolate. Reyna toasted the cacao beans, which made them easy to peel. She placed a bowlful of hot coals under the metate that was reserved just for chocolate. Once the metate was properly preheated, she ground the cacao with canela until it was a shiny brown liquid.

Lots, and I mean lots, of coarse raw sugar was added and ground with the smooth, melted chocolate, and then little logs were formed to dry in the sun. This preparation is what's blended with hot water (not milk) to make hot chocolate.

Reyna offered up the chocolate with a selection of pan dulce, which included some really memorable conchas.

Quite a bit of our time was devoted to grazing our way through the markets in the different towns of the valley. They’re a riot of color, a hive of activity, a cacophony of vendors calling out what they have on offer. In short, it’s sensory overload. Every square foot is packed with shoppers, arms loaded with crinkly plastic shopping bags and live turkeys destined for mole, and if you don’t watch out you’ll be run over by one of the dozens of hand trucks darting up and down the aisles at high speed making deliveries of pillowy bread or tropical fruit or enormous blocks of ice. People negotiate the crowds however possible—it’s not uncommon to see a woman skillfully balancing her purchases on her head.

The Sunday Tlacolula market seemed to have the best goods and freshest produce. It definitely had the biggest selection of molinillos and other cooking utensils.

Tlacolula also had the most impressive fried pork rinds. The enormous pieces of chicharrón must have been made from whole pig skins. I can only imagine the size of the cauldron they were fried in! There we tasted the famous chapulines.

It’s been said that if you eat chapulines when visiting Oaxaca, you will always return. Even if I do return, I doubt I’ll be eating those grasshoppers again because the smell reminded me of something you’d feed your pet fish. The gelatinas were like stained glass, too pretty to eat.

Vine-ripened native tomatoes, known as criollo, were typical.

We also sampled the seeds of the guaje pod.

They taste green and vegetal and slightly pungent like garlic, and the flavor lingers with you for hours. Incidentally, the name Oaxaca comes from guaje. The piloncillo looked much darker and less refined than what I’m used to getting at my local Mexican tienda.

Perhaps Hansel and Gretel’s house was built of these bricks? Apparently, January is strawberry season in Oaxaca.

A fact that makes me very jealous since we have to wait until July in our neck of the woods. Fried peanuts tossed with plenty of chile and garlic are a favorite market snack.

The chickens at the market are sold with their heads and feet intact, and though they are gutted, immature eggs are left inside.

We also hit the markets in Etla and Ocotlán, and since Oaxaca City was our base, we visited Mercado Juarez and Mercado Sánchez Pascuas several times. The meat vendors at all of the markets display everything in the open air at room temperature.

Fish is kept on ice. Baskets overflow with dried shrimp.

Oaxaca is known for its cheeses, and quesillo is available everywhere.

Essentially a flavorsome string cheese that’s stretched and wound into balls, it’s shredded by hand and often used in quesadillas along with epazote and fresh squash blossoms. Quesillo is known as queso de Oaxaca outside of Oaxaca. Chiles de agua are displayed in pretty stacks and used for rajas and rellenos.

They are the same shade of green as New Mexico green chiles and mild like poblanos. Dozens of varieties of dried red and yellow chiles are sold in bulk.

I recognized many of them, but varieties such as Onza and Catarina were new to me. The dried chiles were so fresh, supple and flexible and aromatic. Chile vendors also offer up bulk spices and crumbly, fat sticks of fragrant canela that are over a foot long. Squash is another mainstay of the Oaxacan diet, and it comes in every shape and size.

Bananas come in a number of varieties.

Some are yellow, some are red, and they all have distinctly different flavors. Papayas are a favorite, and there are many types of unfamiliar tropical fruit, including mamey.

Another common sight is the rows of molinos, where locals who have given up the metate have their chiles, corn, and chocolate ground.

We planned to explore Central de Abastos. It is the largest market in Oaxaca, sprawling across several city blocks. Everyone told us that it was overwhelming and that it was crawling with pickpockets. We were warned time and again they would take our wallets, they would take my camera, they would take our hats and socks if we blinked. Still, we were confident in our instincts and took a taxi over. It was true that there were people loitering about, seemingly for no other reason than to look for potential marks. I certainly felt the eyes on the back of my head. But I don’t wear jewelry or carry a purse, and Hubby buries his wallet in a zippered pocket within a pocket. So everything was fine. Thank goodness we ignored the warnings and went. It was the only place we got to see colorfully painted metates and molcajetes for sale.

Sadly, I couldn’t work out how to get one of those heavy things home (shipping would’ve have cost a fortune—I checked), but it was fun to see them for sale. It was also interesting to see the livestock at Abastos. People can purchase a baby goat to fatten up for barbacoa. My most precious find at this market was a set of three different stamps for making conchas.

The markets really made me wish I had access to a kitchen, but since I didn’t, we took breakfast at our B&B and most of our other meals at street food stalls. We picked Casa Ollin because of its reputation for delicious breakfasts. Each morning we were treated to a multi-course meal of freshly squeezed orange juice, hot chocolate, coffee, a goblet of fresh tropical fruit with yogurt, a selection of pan dulce, and a main dish of mole negro tamales, entomatadas, enchiladas with salsa verde, or rajas Oaxaqueñas. Everything was superb, but the rajas dish was my absolute favorite. It consisted of strips of onions and fire-roasted poblanos with cubes of squash and chunks of barely-melting queso fresco in cream. We sopped up the sauce with fresh corn tortillas. The vegetables were especially welcome because it seemed like every other meal was a big hunk of meat.

On the street and in the markets, we tried everything from empanadas, which were made with corn tortillas rather than a flakey pastry, to freshly fried potato chips, to the regional pastries and beverages. Churros were part of our diet at least once, if not twice a day. Icy nieves were sort of similar in texture to Italian granitas, but flavors like queso and corn were purely Oaxaqueño. I ordered the leche quemada, which I thought would be some sort of caramel concoction, but it tasted precisely like scorched milk—ick. Though it was incredibly tempting, we passed up the tamales.

We avoided the rainbow of aguas frescas and steered clear of the cut and prepared fresh fruit.

It was so hard to resist.

But you see, delicate tourists are cautioned to eat only hot food. Aside from the aguas frescas, which are popular all over Mexico, Oaxaca has many unique beverages, and our tour guides insisted we try them all. Tejate is a foamy drink made of corn, cacao, rosita flowers, mamey pits, piloncillo, and water. We were told that it takes hours to prepare. Pulque is the sap that collects and ferments naturally in the center of a maguey plant that has been hollowed out. It has a milky appearance and is pleasantly sour and fizzy. Pulque that is mixed with pineapple juice, onions, and chiles becomes tepache.

We tried a number of restaurants. Without exception, the most humble ones were the most enjoyable. And they also had the best freshly-made corn tortillas. I’ve been told that the sign of an expertly-made tortilla is when it puffs up on the comal.

Caldo de Piedra utilizes a rather curious main ingredient.

The stones are heated in an open fire until they are red hot and then added to a bowl of shrimp, fish, water, and flavorings. The whole thing bubbles up furiously and cooks in a matter of moments. The rocks are removed from the bowl before the soup is served, but I couldn’t help but think that such a thing would never fly with the health inspectors and lawyers here.

Another memorable meal was at Mercado 20 de Noviembre, if just for the bureaucratic hurdles we had to jump in order to get it. We wandered the smoke-filled room trying to figure out how to order and where. Luckily, one of the guys behind the counter at the produce stall spoke English and gave us an overview of how it all worked. We were to order our raw chiles and onions from him. We were to take these and order meat of our choice from the butcher. The butcher would pass the meat to the grill cook, who would also take our chiles and onions and cook everything up. We would pay everyone separately. This was a particularly important detail to know as we took the tortillas offered by the grill cook and walked away. She gave chase as we had to pay her for those separately too. We sat down, at which point the produce vendors took back our cooked chiles and onions and offered us a trayful of different salsas and salads to choose from. Eventually the chiles and onions reappeared peeled, we settled our accounts with each of the vendors, and we could eat. Which was good because all that back and forth really worked up a hunger. This was Hubby’s favorite meal, especially the little links of chile-laden chorizo. Interestingly, all of the grill cooks in Oaxaca seem to be women.

They fan the flames furiously as they cook over the flaring grills breathing clouds of smoke, and they have scarcely an arm hair—or lung cell—left. Also interestingly, the preferred method of butchering meat is into thin pieces with the grain. The meat is usually cooked through and through, and the results are of course predictably chewy.

To my surprise, the best meal of the trip for me was at Tlayudas Libres (Libres 212). Oaxacan food experts always sing the praises of tlayudas, but they never sounded too exciting to me—I mean, what’s so special about a giant tostada? It turns out that a tlayuda isn’t at all like a tostada. It isn’t fried but rather griddled on the comal until it’s quite dry and shelf stable. The dry tlayuda is spread with a generous spoonful of savory asiento, the sediment-heavy lard that’s left at the end of rendering, and a layer of bean puree and then heated on a grill until softened. It’s topped with a sprinkling of cheese and shredded lettuce, and at Tlayudas Libres, folded in half and served with red salsa and your choice of grilled beef, pork, or chorizo on top. It was a revelation—the slightly leathery texture of the tlayuda, crisp in spots where it was licked by flame, the flavor of the smoke of the grill, the savory, porky asiento, the salty cheese, and the picante salsa together are truly greater than the sum of the parts. If you ever have a chance to go, keep in mind that Tlayudas Libres is open only at night.

When we spotted fresh huitlacoche on a menu, we seized the opportunity to taste it. Huitlacoche is a fungus that takes over corn during the rainy season. It mutates entire ears, causing them to have overgrown, greyish mushroom-like kernels. This prized delicacy is sometimes referred to as the Mexican truffle, and I’ve always wanted to try it. Unfortunately, the huilachoche was overpowered by the massive quantity of onions it was sautéed with. I could tell that it had a slight bitterness, but beyond that I couldn’t get the flavor of it. This was one of the disappointments of the trip. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to give it another shot.

One of the highlights was hanging out in tiny bread bakery in Etla. The bakery was so small it didn’t have a name, and even our tour guide had trouble finding it. Inside, we discovered the truly artisan operation of an elderly couple working harder and faster than most people half their age.

José and Juana were tickled at the prospect of having visitors and gave generously of both their time and their bread. Their adobe oven was built by hand and fueled by wood.

They mix the dough each morning and form it in a variety of shapes, some pretzels.

Some rolls and rabbits.

Juana would spread each piece with melted manteca.

The savory pan amarillo was topped with sesame seeds. Sweet hojaldras were sprinkled generously with sugar. Juana would carry the racks of bread, which were longer than she is tall, over to the oven, where José would score them.

And load them into the oven.

And then bake them to perfection.

The hot rolls were irresistible, with a lovely char from the hearth on the bottom.

The hojaldras were barely sweet.

The granulated sugar topping turned into a crackling caramel crust.

Just as the last batches came out of the oven, the locals started trickling in—they knew exactly what time to come to stock up.

We journeyed to a mezcal distillery. This producer was off the beaten track—certainly not a place any tourist would just stumble upon. There, the agave hearts are baked in pits underground until they are a caramel color and intensely sweet and smokey. The cooked agave is mashed with Fred Flinstone-style clubs. The agave pulp is fermented in barrels and then distilled in clay stills over fire.

It’s surely a rustic operation, some might call it moonshine, but it was the best, most nuanced mezcal we tasted. And after a couple of shots, the world looked a little different…

The craft artisans of Oaxaca are as famous as the food artisans. We visited the village of San Marcos Tlapazola to see the famous red pottery being made. As you already know, I’m pretty single minded about all my travels having to relate to food in one way or another. This fit the bill because the pottery is largely utilitarian rather than decorative. These potters make comales, ollas, and other cookware.

They do everything by hand, from mining the earth and producing the clay, to forming each piece…

To firing, to burnishing. They lack even a potter’s wheel, instead relying on crude tools such as a corn cob for rolling out the clay.

The workshop of knife maker Apolinar Aguilar was another must-see destination. Apolinar carries on the generations-old family tradition of forging knives.

His claim to fame is that he made the swords used in the Conan movies. His demonstration of forging, polishing, and etching techniques was so practiced that it almost seemed scripted. In Apolinar’s hands, car parts and other recycled materials become cooking knives, sporting knives, or ceremonial knives for witch doctors. He showed off an ostrich foot that was destined to become the handle of a knife for a shaman. A beautiful turkey carving set that Apolinar signed and dated for us is a souvenir of our visit.

Thus we consumed all of Oaxaca, and we were definitely ready to get back home for some rest from our vacation.

Postscript: One thing we didn’t get to do is observe the cheese makers in Etla, only because they do most of their production in the wee hours of the morning before we could even roll ourselves out of bed. If and when I ever make it back to Oaxaca, they’ll be at the top of my to-do list.
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