Saturday, May 30, 2009

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham

Either the folks at Taste of Home have a genius choosing their covers, or I'm lazy (maybe both.)  Brett's mom sent me a copy of Cooking for 2 magazine recently and I was immediately set on making the Scalloped Potatoes with Ham that was featured on the cover.  Brett and I had just been talking about how much we like potatoes, but how rarely we make them, so this seemed like a natural thing to make.

I followed the recipe almost exactly (we had half a leftover red onion that I used instead of white onion).  I love the flavor of Worcestershire sauce, but have hardly any recipes that call for it.  I got a big laugh when I pulled the tiny bottle out of the cabinet and read the "best by" date: 11/26/04!  I had Brett guess what it said and he actually got the correct year! Anyway, I smelled it, and it still smelled yummy, so into the recipe it went!  I also love anything with Cajun seasoning, so I knew this would be a good one.  The only other change I made was omitting the 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of sherry or chicken broth. 1 and 1/2 teaspoons hardly seemed worth it since I didn't have sherry and only had chicken broth granules.

The thinly sliced potatoes and onions (thank you mandoline!) got layered with the cheesy, creamy sauce and cubed ham and went in the oven.  It was definitely a keeper!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Brett's "Okami" Birthday Cake

For Brett's cake this year, I had a few ideas, but by far the coolest was an Okami cake.  Okami is a video game that we got for Christmas (thanks again TKOM!) that we have been obsessed with.  We've played it for hours...I could tell you exactly how many, but I must say it's an embarrassingly high number.  In the game you are a god in the form of a white wolf fighting evil and restoring beauty to Japan.  New skills called brush strokes are conferred upon you by other gods throughout the game.  One of the first techniques you learn is blooming cherry trees.

I drew out my design and, as I always do, I took it with a grain of salt.  Usually the actual cake barely resembles the sketch.

I iced the strawberry cake (always Brett's request) and got it as smooth as I could.  This is obviously a skill I have not mastered. Then I drew my design into the icing using a toothpick so I wouldn't have to freehand the piping.  This was a new technique for me, and at first I was a little heavy handed (around the ear) but for the most part this really helped with the overall success of the cake.

Then I set about piping over the lines and filling in some of the bigger portions.  Okami is supposed to look like a Japanese painting, so I bought a stiff, flat paintbrush and went over some of the thicker parts so it wouldn't look like a bunch of rows of piped icing.

I wanted the writing on the cake to resemble brush strokes, which I achieved, however, it came out crooked and with strange spacing.  I also put six of the actual brushstrokes from the game around the side of the cake.

Next I made some pink icing.  Now I know you are thinking, "Why is she putting pink flowers on her husband's awesome wolf cake?!" Well, the cherry trees play a huge role in the video game and I thought it would be pretty.  I also wanted to practice piping with the tiniest writing tip in the world!  My hand was stiff after about 1/3 of the flowers, but they turned out really cute. I was briefly reminded of my 3rd grade soccer team called "The Carnivorous Carnations."  We were gray and pink, and absolutely terrible!

The cake exceeded my expectations.  It turned out almost exactly as I had envisioned!  And most importantly, the birthday boy was pleased.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rice Pudding Mess

I love my mom's rice pudding, but (if I ate it regularly it would be a big butt) it contains a TON of butter.  You can actually see golden pools of it in every serving. Once you get past the fact that every bite is clogging your arteries, it is amazing.  Needless to say, I rarely make it, and when I do, I seriously cut back on the butter.

I was flipping through Elie Krieger's The Food You Crave and saw a butter-free recipe for rice pudding. Of course this caught my eye and immediately went on the menu. There were a couple of red flags that really should have stopped me from making this.  Obviously the first was no butter. The second, which Brett did point out while giving me the, "Yuck! Are you kidding?" look was vanilla soy milk.  We have tried soy milk before and found it undrinkable. Who wants to drink beans? While the vanilla is far superior to the regular, it still tastes like vanilla flavored beans.
But instead of saying, "You're right, honey." I proceeded to read from the cookbook, "The vanilla soy milk imparts a richer flavor and texture than regular milk."  I was sold.  Brett was not.

The recipe was incredibly simple. I threw everything together, put a lid on it, put it in the oven, and set the timer.  Toward the end of our wait, we heard a noise coming from the kitchen.  That is never a good thing in our household.  Sure enough the frothy milk mixture was bubbling over the pan, escaping from under the lid, and splashing down onto the bottom of our oven.  All I had to do was remove the lid and all the foam went down, but the damage was already done. 

We let it continue cooking until the timer beeped and then I gave it a good stir and let it cool to thicken up a little bit. Nutmeg and cinnamon got sprinkled throughout and it did smell pretty good.  We started eating.  It was okay.  The nutmeg was its saving grace... for about four bites. I put down my bowl and said, "I don't think I want to eat any more." A couple of minutes later, Brett put his down too.  As much as I hate throwing food away, this one went in the trash.  I think the picture may help you understand.

I better go clean the oven now.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Day Blueberry Baked French Toast

I hope everyone had a great Mother's Day!  Our Mother's Day celebration started the night before, when Brett made the Challah I would be needing for breakfast the following morning.  My mom hung out in the kitchen while he worked and we all visited.  We had the extra egg for egg-wash this time and it turned out so shiny and golden and perfect!

On Mother's Day, Brett slept in and I got to work.  I saw this recipe on Giada at Home two weekends ago.  It was the Mother's Day brunch show.  I watched and said, "Yum, I'll make that for my mom." But when I went to find the recipe online, I couldn't find it!  So I had to catch that episode again and take notes on all the measurements, baking time, and temperature.

Giada's Blueberry Baked French Toast
6 eggs
3 cups milk
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
zest from one lemon
1/2 loaf of Challah
2 cups blueberries

Topping: 3 T sugar mixed with 1 T cinnamon

Whisk together the  first six ingredients to make the batter then gently stir in the blueberries and chunks of bread.  Pour into a large buttered baking dish.  Sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar topping.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

This recipe will feed a crowd, so I halved it and it was still plenty.  I'm not sure about the measurement on the bread.  I cut a few large slices of bread into chunks, put them in the batter and then decided to add some more because it looked way too wet.  I just kept adding until there was only a little bit of liquid still in the bottom of the bowl.

I was a little worried that there would be too much cinnamon, but it tasted delicious.  The most surprising taste was how strong the lemon zest was.  I really liked that unexpected zing.  Yum Yum Yum!  I highly recommend this one for a special occasion breakfast!  And the most important thing was that my mom liked it.  I love you Mom!

Thursday, May 7, 2009


It has been a few months since Brett, the resident yeast expert, has made anything with yeast.  In fact, I've been making some serious strides to match his expertise by making lots and lots of pizza dough. But finally, inspired by Giada at Home and a Mother's Day breakfast we are planning for my mom, Brett got the urge to get up and make some Challah, which is a traditional Jewish bread made with eggs.

If I were the one making the Challah, I would have talked about it for a couple of days.  However, I was just watching T.V. and assumed that Brett had got up to get a drink of water.  When he took a little longer than water requires I asked, "What are you doing in there?"
"Making Challah," came his matter of fact response.

As he prefers for his yeast projects, I stayed out of the way. He came and showed me his fist imprint after he punched down the risen dough. I watched him cut the dough into thirds using the bench scraper he got for Christmas. And he required my "girl skills" when it came time to braid the bread. I pretty much just pointed and told him what strand to put in the middle.  One strand was way longer than the others, so he made three little knot rolls.

Before rising:
After rising:
We did not having any extra eggs, so Brett had to forego the egg wash that gives Challah its characteristic sheen.  The final product looks dark and dull, but believe me, it was perfect on the inside.

The little knot rolls were my favorite.  If we ever have some big special occasion meal, I think we should make Challah knots. Of course the actual loaf was delicious too.  I'm looking forward to having this again soon ... in a very different form.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp

Last summer, on our grand tour of the USA, I bought a cookbook at City Tavern in Philadelphia. I've been wanting to make the Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp from that cookbook ever since we got home in July, but I have not been able to find rhubarb in the store, and I wasn't about to use frozen. After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I learned that rhubarb is a springtime plant so it reminded me to start looking for rhubarb again.  Sure enough, I found it on the first try. It was one of those, "I'm pretty sure this is rhubarb, but I don't see a sign confirming it" kind of moments. I just knew that it looked like red celery. I was relieved when the cashier agreed that it was indeed rhubarb.

As you probably know, I'm a very picky eater. I have to take deep breaths before tasting something new. I had had rhubarb once in a pie as a child, but I couldn't really remember it. And my mom had had a strawberry rhubarb pie that she said was delicious. But other than that, I have to admit that I was a little scared. I kept assuring Brett, who was very wary of the rhubarb, that it would be good, but I didn't tell him that I was also trying to reassure myself.

I cut up two cups of strawberries, and two cups of rhubarb, drizzled them with 1tsp lemon juice/2T water/1/4 cup brown sugar/ 1/2 cup white sugar mixture. Stirred that up and then dumped it into a baking dish. I made a traditional streusel topping- no oats or nuts- and sprinkled that on top.  I let it bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes (instead of 30) because the recipe was for individual servings and I thought it might need longer.

When it came out of the oven it was bubbling and beautiful, but very liquidy.  I think that maybe it didn't need the extra cooking time after all.

It turns out that I stressed out over rhubarb for no reason, because it was delicious. Brett claimed he couldn't even taste it.  The truth is, that anything would be good under all that sugar!