Archive for March, 2011

Sweet Potato Dumplings in Havarti Cream Sauce

You have to understand, I was sick. I mean take two Nyquil and don’t bother me unless the apartment is on fire sick. So what possessed me to drag my delirious self out of bed and declare my intention to make gnocchi is beyond me.

I made something. It was pretty good. It was not gnocchi. I really don’t recommend cooking under the influence of powerful antihistamines. Of course, when under said influence, lots of things seem like good ideas.

The first hitch came with the fact that I generally assume about two potatoes makes a pound. This logic does not hold if you are using the biggest sweet potatoes known to man. These suckers were about a pound each. So I had to double the recipe. Feel free to cut it back down to normal proportions if you aren’t cooking for a largish family.

Ingredients (serves about 6)

2 pounds sweet potato

2 eggs plus 2 yolks

1 cup grated parmesan

1/2 of a grated nutmeg (1 or 1 1/2 t, I think.)

2 t sea salt

2 1/2 cups flour, or as needed


Sorry about the glare.


Rub the sweet potatoes with olive oil and salt the skins. Make a nice long slice across the top, and bake at 425°F for about 45 minutes, until a fork poked into them meets minimal resistance. The one long slice makes it easier to break them open and scoop out the innards.

The insides of these were so oozingly soft that I didn’t even need to scoop out the flesh. I just grabbed the skin and pulled, and it lifted right off. It was also nice and crispy from the olive oil, so I may have noshed on the skins while making the rest of dinner. Maybe. You can’t prove a thing.

Mash or rice the potato flesh, add the parmesan, nutmeg, and salt, and mix well with a fork. Don’t use an electric mixer. Potatoes turn to glue rather easily when overworked.

Add a cup of flour, and mix that with a fork too.

Then the eggs and yolks. Then you’ll just add flour about 1/2 a cup at a time, mixing as you go, until the dough is firm enough to lift out of the bowl in one piece. I kept getting impatient and reaching in (wondering why I needed so much flour when I only used two potatoes. Not the best judgment that night, let me tell you.)

Once it is a dough instead of a sticky mess, plop it onto a nice floured surface and chop it into logs.

Then you’ll roll those logs into long snaky shapes about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. And chop those into inch long bites. At this point, all hope of gnocchi was lost, because I was tired and hungry and I was not going to form each little cylinder into a happy little shape on the back of my fork. I didn’t care that half of them were misshapen horrors. I got out my pot of boiling water and dumped them in.

Boil the dumplings, in batches if you have too many, for about 5 minutes. Once they float, you’re good to go. Set aside while you make the sauce and announce the change of dinner plans.

“We’re having dumplings,” I said. Mr B, to his credit, just blinked and asked if I was okay. “Yes.” I said (not true) “I just hate gnocchi.” It’s a good thing he understands that I am incurably weird. Though I bet he’ll be confused next time I announce that I’m making gnocchi. Because it will happen.

But hey, I promised you sauce! And what a sauce, sharp and bitter to counter the sweetness in the potato, creamy and sticky enough to cling to the dumplings that I didn’t bother to shape, and so good I wanted to renounce alfredo sauce forever. Until I remembered how much I love alfredo sauce. But still.

Havarti Cream Sauce Ingredients

1 T flour

1 T butter

1 cup cream

1/3 pound havarti, grated


Melt the butter and whisk in the flour for a bully little roux. Add the cream and whisk a minute so that it incorporated the roux and heats enough to melt the cheese.

Add the cheese. Once everything is thick and melty, toss in the dumplings. Incidentally, I usually make sauces in my wok, because it makes tossing the pasta in the sauce ten times easier. But somehow, even in my little one-and-a-half-quart pot, we managed.

You could be done now. Just serve. You could, like Mr. B, hate all that is good in life. Or just peas. (Seriously, who hates peas?) I boiled some peas with the second batch of dumplings (hooray for multitasking) and added them to my bowl. Then garnish with a bit more nutmeg.

Lovely. They add color and texture and a different kind of sweetness to the mix. Maybe next time I’ll just make the sauce and pour it over a whole plate of vegetables. It’d be easier. That said, this was exactly the sort of thing I needed for a sick day. I think I just needed someone else to cook it. Oops.


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Malted Chocolate Coffee Milkshake

I’m sick. It’s just a cold but I am not going to stop whining about it until I can stop coughing. When I’m sick, I have all the maturity and stoicism of an exhausted four-year-old. And I wanted a milkshake.

You can see where this is going. I do have a milkshake making contraption. Mr. B’s mother gave it to us years ago and it’s been collecting dust in three different kitchens all that time. But today I thought, how hard can it be?

So I made a milkshake. A proper, grown-up malt with dark chocolate and fantastic coffee ice cream.

It is not what I was craving. I wanted a Wendy’s frostie like my mom used to get me after the orthodontist tortured my poor teeth. I wanted a too-sweet vanilla concoction like Mr. B sometimes picks up for me at Braum’s after a bad day. I made a great milkshake. I just didn’t want a great milkshake. I wanted something less good prepared and brought to me by someone else.

Did I mention that sick me is also a world-class brat?

Anyway, if you are in the mood for a really good milkshake, here it is.

Ingredients (Serves one. No sharing.)

Start with a heaping cup of coffee ice cream. I mean heaping. Okay, let’s just call it a cup and a half.

1 1/2 cups coffee ice cream

1/2 cup whole milk

2 T chocolate malt powder

1 T cocoa powder


Combine all ingredients in a milkshake making contraption (or a blender. A blender would probably work.) . . .

. . .and mix.

Keep mixing until it’s a nice uniform consistency.


Pour into your favorite goblet (Oh come on, I go to the renaissance fair at least twice when it’s in town. Of course I have a goblet.) and top with a dark chocolate coated malt ball (or whopper) and dig around your cabinets until you find a straw. You can’t drink a milkshake without a straw. It’s illegal.

The day’s second dose of Nyquil is kicking in, so you have to wait until I feel better to find out the abominable things I cooked last night. I’m not proud. But they were yummy. You’ll see.

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Oh Honey Blueberry Pie

Orange and blueberry do wonderful things together. Today, they’re going to join together in the glorious medium of pie. Because who doesn’t like pie?

As with all pies, this one starts with a crust. A delightful, flaky, orange-flavored crust. I know a lot of people don’t care about the flavor of the crust, and treat it more as a textural foil to the filling, but flavor is everything. I add sugar to my pie crust (unless I’m making chicken pot pie or something else savory). I try to flavor it to meld with the filling. A maple tart might get a pile of vanilla extract. A nut pie might get a nut extract. And berries love citrus, so this pie gets both orange extract and a healthy dose of orange zest. In other words, this crust stands out as all crusts deserve to do.

This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.

Crust Ingredients (makes one top-and-bottom crust for a 9-inch pie, with enough spare for a couple of single serving tarts)

2 1/4 cups flour

1 t salt

2 T sugar*

16 T butter (two sticks) cut into chunks and frozen

7-8 T ice cold water

2 t orange extract

zest of one orange (I know my orange looks a bit red and infected. Don’t be alarmed, it’s only a blood orange.)

*You can use brown sugar if you like. You may recall that I almost always prefer brown sugar, because it has a lovely complex flavor with which simple sweetness cannot compete. However, I sweeten this pie with honey rather than refined sugar, and in this instance I didn’t want the crust’s sweetening to compete with the flavor that honey brings.

Crust Directions

Pour the flour, sugar, salt, and zest into the bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly to combine. The goal is to avoid any large clumps of sugar or salt or zest that could be distracting.

Add the butter and pulse until the whole mixture looks like damp sand, as above.

Add the orange extract and then begin adding water just a bit at a time, pulsing continually, until the dough comes together into one great shaggy mass. Divide the dough into two balls and chill them in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes. We want that butter to never reach its melting point until it goes into the oven.  Next, roll out half of your dough until it’s really thin. Don’t worry if it breaks off, just patch it with a bit of dough and a drop of cold water and keep going. Roll it bigger than you think you need. It’s easy to trim edges, not so easy to stretch out a crust that doesn’t fit.

Trim off that excess until you have only about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of overhang around the edge of the pie tin. Put the lined pie tin in the fridge while you make the filling.

Filling Ingredients

5 cups blueberries

Juice of one orange

1/2 to 3/4 cups honey* (depending on how tart your berries are. Use more for tiny, sour, wild-type berries, less for plump, sweet, cultivated ones)

2 T cornstarch

2 T cream plus a bit for the top of the pie

2 T butter

*If you have orange blossom honey, you’re in for a treat. If not (I didn’t) it’s still delightful, just a bit less orange-themed.


Mix the blueberries with the honey and orange juice by turning gently with a spoon. You don’t want to bust up those berries. Mix the 2T of cream and cornstarch and add to the berry mixture. Fold that in as well.

Sorry about the close ups; those berries are just so pretty! Even after being bruised with a spoon. Pull the bottom crust out of the fridge and fill with a generous amount of filling, heaping it toward the center. I had a bit more than I wanted to use, so I saved it back. Dot the top of the filling with bits of butter.

Then roll out the other half of the dough for the top crust. This was the moment when I realized that I had no eggs, not even one, in the fridge.  So no egg wash for me. It was the perfect excuse to actually trust Mr. Bittman about the use of cream as a wash instead, which I did try, but I think I prefer an egg wash in the end. Anyway, fold in the edges of the bottom crust so that it will overlap slightly with the top one. Drape the top crust over the pie, trim the edges, and pinch it down to seal it to the bottom one. (put an egg wash or at least a brushing of cold water between the two to glue the seal! I didn’t, and I got a great big mess out of it.)

Now cut a vent or two for steam, decorate with little crusty stars, brush with cream (or egg wash!) and bake at 400°F for 45-50 minutes.

But what about the extra dough and filling? I had enough extra dough for two individual tartlets, but only enough filling for one. That took care of the small blueberry pie for Mr. B, who would have been very sad to not get any pie because I took it all to work otherwise.

For the other one, I quickly chopped half of a granny smith apple, tossed it with one or two tablespoons of brown sugar and a drop of vanilla, and plopped a top crust over it. No real measuring, but my boss (who says he doesn’t care for blueberries. Weirdo. ) said it came out just fine. Even though I forgot the cinnamon.

The small pies have the same bake time and temperature as the big one, so just throw ’em all in the oven together and enjoy!

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Brown Sugar Waffles with Blueberries

I won’t lie. Waffles are finicky beasts, and you need to be prepared to spend an hour in the kitchen if you’re planning on making these. On the other hand, I made eight, and the recipe is easily doubled, which means you can make a week’s worth of breakfast from one annoying morning. Plus, what can beat a waffle? Nothing else has that crisp exterior, the almost ethereally soft interior, and the syrup-holding squares on top. Waffles may be the most annoying breakfast I make, but I can’t deny that they’re worth it. This recipe is adapted only slightly from the Culinary Institute of America’s Breakfast and Brunch.

Ingredients (makes eight waffles)

1 3/4 cups flour

1 t salt

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

4 t baking powder

4 eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups milk

8 T butter, melted


Combine flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a mixing bowl and mix well. I had to reach in with my fingers and pinch a few recalcitrant clumps of brown sugar to get it fully mixed, so maybe it would have been better to sift it in, but I already had to use three whole bowls on this recipe, and I was leery of dirtying yet another dish.

Melt the butter and add the milk and egg yolks to it in a second, smaller bowl.  Mix them well. If the milk is too cold and un-melts your butter, microwave it just a bit. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients and whisk just to combine.

Now the egg whites. I apologize for the pictures. I don’t have the knack of left-handed photography while using the hand mixer yet. But the fact that I can take pictures at all while doing this should tell you that it really isn’t all that hard. The egg whites go in bowl #3, and you’ll need a mixer.

Mix a bit . . .

And some more . . .

Until it looks like this:

This is soft peaks, when the egg whites pretty much hold their shape, but aren’t stiff or hard yet.  Don’t let your local owls get the egg whites alone. They’re obviously plotting something.

Mr. Owl plotting to jump in.

Now you want to gently fold the whites into the batter. Use a silicone spatula and just be patient and keep folding until the batter is mostly uniform and nice and fluffy.

Your waffle iron may be more or less complicated than mine. Just do as it says and it’ll all be all right. Plop a scant 3/4 cup of batter into the waffle iron, give it a second to spread out, and slam that sucker shut.

My waffle iron beeps when it’s done, because it’s considerate like that.  It only takes about 5 minutes a waffle. I don’t use butter or oil or nonstick spray on the iron anymore, either, because it’s completely unnecessary. Pile the waffles high, topping with a bit of butter and a pile of fresh berries, which fit neatly into the squares. Serve with syrup or honey and devour.

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Miso Risotto

I love miso paste. So I hope you’ll forgive my using miso instead of broth for this risotto. You see, it’s so savory and creamy I couldn’t resist.

I decided to make it as plain as possible, because I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. Next time some vegetables are going in, but I won’t complain about how it came out. I served it with braised sweet potatoes, which are absolutely delightful.


For the miso risotto:

1 T sesame oil (I used olive oil. It was a bit too strongly flavored in the end.)

3 T miso paste

2 1/2 cups hot water

1/2 cup sake

1 cup sticky rice

For the braised yams:

1 yam, peeled and sliced no more than 1/4 inch thick

2 T soy sauce

1 T mirin

1 T honey

1 cup water


First, make miso soup. Mix the miso paste into the hot water until it completely dissolves. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and cook the rice a minute or two, until it’s translucent.

Add the sake and stir the mixture until the liquid is almost entirely absorbed or boiled off.

Add the miso half a cup at a time, stirring after each addition until the liquid is almost gone. You don’t actually have to stir constantly, just remember it every couple of minutes.

When it’s done, it will be sticky and thick, but still have a bit of crunch in the center of each kernel. Sorry about the picture; my camera got steamed up.

Meanwhile, the yams are waiting for attention and braising.  Mix the soy sauce, mirin, honey, and water in a small pot and bring to a boil.

Add the sliced yam and cover to simmer for ten minutes.

Remove the lid and simmer another five minutes uncovered to  reduce the cooking liquid. Serve with steamed vegetables.

Enjoy steaming hot. I hesitate to even call this sort of cooking fusion, but it certainly isn’t Japanese. Its texture is too similar to an Italian risotto. This is comfort food at its best and simplest.

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Candy is Dandy: Don’t be afraid of caramel

A lot of people are afraid to make their own candy. I’m here to tell you that it just isn’t scary. Yes, it’s temperamental, and yes, it likes to burn. But if it does, you just throw it out and start over. You’ve wasted what, eight minutes and a cup of sugar? Maybe I’m not scared of it because I made my first hard candy at the age of eleven, and my grandmother didn’t seem to think we needed to worry about my eleven-year-old self alone in the kitchen with 320°F sugar, so I didn’t either. And we ended up with bright, tasty lemon hard candies, only a few of which were burned. I think, actually, that worrying about it makes it harder. So here are a few tips, from someone who isn’t afraid to get burned.

1: Don’t use a candy thermometer! I can’t stress this enough. If you can see the sugar, you know what’s happening. By the time a candy thermometer registers the right temperature, it’s too late. Your candy will burn because you were looking for a number instead of a caramel color.

2: Be prepared. If you’re adding cream or butter to the caramel, have it measured and ready next to the stove before you begin to heat the sugar. You do not have time to measure a cup of cream between the time you take the caramel off the heat and the time it burns. If you’re adding nothing, have a pan of ice water waiting on the counter. Before you start the caramel, make sure the base of the pan you are using fits into the ice water pan. Fill it with at least 3/4 of an inch of ice water before you start making caramel. Seriously, once you turn the heat on under that sugar, you cannot look away. This happens fast.

3: Use a bigger pot than you think you need, especially if you’re adding cream. I used a 3-quart pot to make 1 cup of sugar into caramel, because when this stuff bubbles it goes absolutely crazy and you do not want it spilling over the top. Especially if, like me, you’re dumb enough to use your hands to try to stop it. We’re not gonna talk about that.

4: It’s okay if it burns. Just clean the pot by bringing some water to a boil in it (this loosens the caramel), scrub it out, and start over!


Sugar. About 1 cup should do for most purposes.

3/4 cup of cream for later

add salt, spices, or colorings to the cream, not the sugar


Pour sugar into a nice deep pot. Turn the burner on high, and stand ready with silicone implement in hand.

Just when you think nothing’s ever going to happen (after maybe 90 seconds), you’ll notice a bit of amber liquid in the bottom of the pot.

I won’t call what you have to do here stirring, just scrape things around, always toward the center, as more and more sugar melts.

Once it’s mostly melted, I get a little impatient and start squashing the clumps of sugar that stay behind with my spatula. That deep amber color on the edges is what we’re looking for.

As soon as it’s all nice and amber, remove from the heat and pour in the cream, stirring madly as you do. If I hadn’t hamstrung myself with a camera, I might have even switched for a whisk. Because that would have been smart. This picture was taken after the hissing, steaming bubble pile subsided, by the way. This stuff damn near explodes.

Stir until it’s a nice smooth consistency. Any recalcitrant sugar lumps can easily be plucked out with a spoon.

Use to top ice cream or yesterday’s stout cake or really any other dessert you can think of.

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Chocolate Stout Cake with Caramel

All right, I know St. Paddy’s day was yesterday. Which is why I made this cake yesterday. But I bet there are some people out there with an Irish stout or two left in the fridge and no desire to ever drink again. And frankly, this cake is fun to make. You get to stand over the stove cackling and inhaling the chocolate infused fumes of Guinness. Okay, maybe I have too much fun in the kitchen. The recipe is pretty nuch Nigella’s–I think. Her website is all metric and by weight, so instead of using a simple internet converter, I guestimated the ratios based on my own devil’s food cake and increased things to make it a two layer mostrosity rather than Nigella’s relatively moderate single layer. I subbed in some brown sugar, as usual. I thought about using molasses instead as well, but I worried the bitterness of the stout didn’t need any help. I was actually wrong about that, so next time molasses is in.

Ingredients (Makes 2 eight-inch rounds, and serves more than you’d think. This sucker is rich.)

1 1/2 cups (1 12-ounce bottle) stout (I used Guinness extra stout)

12 T (1 1/2 sticks) butter

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar

3/4 cup sour cream

3 eggs

2 T vanilla

3 cups flour

1 T baking soda


Put a good stock pot (let’s say 6 quarts at least) on the stove and heat it up to medium.  Pour in the stout and let the foam subside while your husband mutters something about “crazy” and “sacrilege” and “cooking beer.” Ignore him, he doesn’t know any better. Add the butter in chunks and whisk until it melts.

Stir in the cocoa powder. I couldn’t get a good picture of this because it steamed like crazy. This, incidentally, is when the cackling happened. Those fumes smelled awesome. Awesome and evil. Add in the sugars and whisk vigorously until it is fully dissolved.

I whisked little waves of the mix up the sides of my pot to see if there were still any granules holding out. It seemed to work. Turn off the heat now, you don’t need it anymore and it could mess with your eggs. Stir in the sour cream and beat the eggs in a little bowl while the mixture cools a bit.

When the mixture has cooled enough that you aren’t afraid to touch it with your fingers, whisk in the eggs and vanilla. I can’t stress enough that the batter can’t still be steaming. You do not want scrambled eggs mixed into your batter, so it has to be cool enough not to cook the eggs on contact.

Sift in flour and baking soda, and whisk again. The completed batter should be thick and fairly smooth.

Heat the oven to 350°F while you prepare the cake pans. Butter both 8-inch pans, then line them with parchment paper. Then you butter the parchment paper, too. This used to drive me crazy, until I figured out how to do it without crumpling the parchment.

Yep, I put the cake pan on a hot burner and let the butter get a bit melty. Works like a charm. Though I’m guessing no one else has ever had this particular problem before. Now divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

The pans end up being quite full, so be careful when transferring them to the oven. Bake at 350°F for about 40 minutes.They will rise to be rather domed. We’ll handle that in a bit.

Let them cool completely before flipping them out onto plates. Level at least one of the cakes, pour about half a cup of caramel over it, top with the other cake (I didn’t level it, just plopped it dome side down.) and add another half cup of caramel.

It is dense and moist and dark and sweet all at once. Everyone seems to want to top stout cakes with thick, fluffy buttercream or cream cheese icing, “to mimic the head on a stout beer,” but I say this way is better, the rich caramel soaking in to every bite without being to cloyingly sweet. It brings out the hint of stout flavor–and despite the whole bottle of stout in the recipe, it is only a hint–and adds its own near-burnt complexity to the mix. Did I mention that I always let my caramel almost burn? The last moment between caramel and charred mess is the most delicious. If you’re using jarred caramel, we’re done here. If you want to make your own, though (and you should!), join me tomorrow and I’ll show you how.

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