Monday, January 31, 2011

Taking the first steps as a dog chef

I knew it was just a matter of time before I would start cooking for Hootie.  When he first came into my life late last May, the previous owners gave me some kibble that he'd been eating along with several cans of dog food.  He didn't seem to like either one, but I thought his rejection of the food may be part of the adjustment period to my home.  After all , he'd been one of seven dogs in his previous home, and his mother had just been killed.  I'd lose my appetite in those circumstances so I thought he might have done the same.

But time went on and he didn't like the offerings.  By the end of summer, the vet found Lyme disease in his blood sample, so I started giving him pills.  He rejected peanut butter on the first, second, and third tries.  Friends recommended that I hide the pills in little raw ground meat balls, which I did.  He practically inhaled those.  And that's when I started giving him people food.  For a few months, actually until just yesterday, I fed him cooked chicken, pork, beef, and fish, and he ate all of it.  I mixed the food with kibble so he wouldn't get foul breath, but he cleverly flicked out the kibble while eating the real food.

But I began to worry about a balanced diet.  About a week ago I made a delicious Peruvian chicken soup that had pieces of chicken along with rice, peas, and carrots.  When I put the chicken in his bowl, I added a few of the vegetables and he ate them.  Which got me to wondering how I could cook balanced meals for him.

And then I came across a recipe for doggie meatballs, which he scarfed down in nanoseconds.

They're unbelievably easy to make, and give a better mix of food than just plain ground beef.  Here's the recipe:
1 lb ground beef, chuck, or sirloin
3/4 c shredded cheddar cheese
1 carrot, minced fine (I shredded mine)
1 c bread crumbs (I used Panko)
3 T tomato paste
2 eggs whisked

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix together all ingredients and form into small meatballs. 

Place on cookie sheet or its equivalent (I use Slipat on my half-sheets) and cook 15-20 minutes.

Store in plastic container and refrigerate.

I made the meatballs quite small but since Hootie is a small dog, I found I had to cut them in quarters for him to eat easily.

I ordered two "cooking for pets" cookbooks that should be here in the next day or two.  Stay tuned for more doggie suggestions.  Woof!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sharing a superb soup when the temperature is in the single digits

Years and years ago, back before wild rice was easily found in grocery stores, a relative in Minnesota would send me wild rice.  Once the package arrived with a recipe for wild rice and mushroom soup.  And the earth moved.  Simply the best mushroom soup I'd ever tasted, let alone made.  I cooked it up for our own dinners and for dinner parties, too.  I made it often, and it was always good. 

Back then, though, I didn't make my own chicken stock, and I hadn't figured out that making a broth with the mushroom stems would enhance the flavor.  Even so, it was pretty delicious.  And now that I've learned a few tricks in the kitchen, it's even better.

Particularly when the temperature is in the single digits, and we've already had more snow by January 23 than we had last year by the end of April.  Daunting thought, that.

Just two notes about the recipe.  Now I usually make it with the Lundstrom's wild rice mix, which means the cooking time is less.  Wild rice takes much longer to cook than white or even brown rice, but using the mix makes it easier.  And, more importantly, doesn't diminish the taste or texture.  Plus it freezes well. 

So have at it...

Sherried Mushroom Soup

1 c wild rice or 1 c wild rice mixture
1 oz dried porcini soaked in 2 c boiling water
1/4 c butter or mild tasting oil (regardless of instructions, I use extra-virgin olive oil)
1/2 c celery, finely chopped
3 c sliced mushrooms, preferably mixture of cremini and shittake
1/2 c flour
1/2 c sherry
5-6 c chicken broth (if you made broth from your mushroom stems, make this part of the 5-6 cups)
1 t dry mustard
1 t salt
2 t curry powder
2 t chili powder
2 t paprika
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 T or more good Sherry vinegar

If using raw wild rice, bring 4 c water to boil in 3 qt pot. Add raw wild rice and 1 t salt. Boil, stirring, for 5 minutes. Lower heat slightly, cover, and cook rice 30-40 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed.  If using wild rice mix, follow package instructions.  When done, set aside until needed.

Drain dried porcinis, reserving liquid for use below.

Chop mushrooms (saving stems and making stock from them if you feel like it)

In Dutch oven melt butter or oil over medium heat, add onion and celery. Cook and stir until soft. Add the 3 lb mushrooms, cook about 2 minutes.

Mix in flour. Stir in sherry. Gradually add chicken broth and liquid from dried mushrooms, stirring constantly, 10 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Stir in cooked rice, salt, chili powder, curry powder, mustard, paprika, and pepper. Reduce heat to low.

Taste and add vinegar for flavor enhancement and balance.

Bring to simmer, stirring occasionally, until desired doneness. Ladle hot soup into individual bowls.

Makes 3 quarts and freezes well.

Along with some good bread and a suitable spread for it, this makes a perfect meal.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"The word 'muffin' was invented to give us permission to eat cake in the morning."

So said Aaron Cohen, a house guest this weekend.  Aaron and his wife are good friends of my son Greg and his wife, and their boys are inseparable.  The heavy snow up here midweek proved to be too great a temptation for Aaron and Greg and their boys to resist, so up they came for a weekend of skiing, snow boarding, serious sledding, and for Aaron, at least, serious eating.

Soyer jumping off a neighbor's dock onto Lake Garfield on Saturday

Dinner was late Friday night, due to the traffic they encountered leaving the city.  Dinner's highlight was the oft-requested double-baked potatoes, which I enjoy as much as anyone else.  Saturday morning Greg made the guys eggs and toast to prepare them for the morning ski jaunt.  Soyer opened the foil package containing half of the banana bread I'm requested to make for each visit.  It's not just any old banana bread.  It's heartbreakingly delicious.  Aaron had never had it, and once he tasted it, he moaned with pleasure.  And made the comment that entitles this blogpost.

The recipe comes from my daughter Debbie, a caterer in San Francisco, whose baked goods have no peer.  Her chocolate truffle cookie recipe is in one of my first posts, and you could do a lot worse than checking it out and making them for yourself.

But in honor of my weekend guests, here's the decadently delicious banana bread recipe:

4 c bananas (approx 8 bananas)
3 c flour
2 1/2 c sugar
1 1/4 c veg oil
4 eggs
1 T vanilla
1 t salt
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 bag chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350. Grease a long loaf pan .  I use my pullman pan, which is 13" long.

Mix flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder together in a large bowl and set aside.

In food processor, mix bananas, eggs, vanilla and veg oil together until smooth.

Whisk banana mixture into dry ingredients and mix well. Add chocolate chips (or nuts or anything else you care to throw in.

Transfer mixture to greased long loaf pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until done.

Can also be made into muffins.

You simply can't believe how delicious this is.  It makes a very big loaf, but since it freezes well, you can always just serve half of it and freeze the other half for the next time the family visits.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My New Kitchen Toy -- Demy

About 2 weeks before Christmas, Susan Sellew, the famed Monterey Chevre maven, emailed me to ask me about Demy, a small electronic device for recipes.  Her daughter Tarsi wanted a collection of family recipes, and Susan had found Demy in her search for an appropriate recipe storage machine.  I'd never heard of it, so I googled it right away and within 20 minutes I'd ordered one for myself.

It's small, about the length and width of a Kindle, and can move around your kitchen with you as you prepare whatever.  Recipes are easily loaded onto a computer program called  Once the recipes are in place on that site, it takes just a minute or two to sync with your Demy.  So it seemed as if it would be a cinch to use.

"Seemed" is the operative term here.  If you're the type, like me, who has clipped recipes for years and stashed them in files and boxes, and you want to clean up your act, the Demy gives you good reason to do so.  The kicker is that you have "to do so."  Luckily I'm a fast typist so it didn't take me too long.  And since I live alone and don't have access to television, I have lots of time to engage in such mindless activity.

Both Demy and have significant glitches, but their online help staff is patient and helpful.  The major drawback, about which I've yet to get an answer, is why the screen jumps back to the menu list if you're not using the recipe after a few minutes.  If your hands are wet or dough-smeared or bloody from dicing meat or whatever, it's not a good idea to start punching away at the Demy screen.  Perhaps the device is just a bit too new, and once users like me and Susan bombard them with questions, they'll clean up their act.

Nonetheless, I like having the Demy by my side to make sure I'm following the recipe correctly.I did a lot of cooking over the holidays, and have had several dinner parties to enliven the darkness of winter.  So I've had time to experience the Demy.  Although I'm glad I own one, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to everyone.  They're not inexpensive (close to $300), take a lot of time to get ready to use, and suffer from the inevitable glitches of new technology.  Still and all, though, it's fun to have.  More later.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book Review -- Orangette's "A Homemade Life"

I'm an off-again on-again food blog follower, even the ones I really like.  For some months now I've been faithful to, the great blog produced by Amanda Hesser and Melissa Stubbs.  Maybe it's because they're both really bright and highly educated in food matters or because their blog is relatively new so they've been able to fix a lot of the issues that have arisen with earlier food blogs--whatever, their blog is first-rate and worth checking every day.

Other ones to follow, albeit less frequently, include smitten kitchen, orangette, blue-kitchen, oneforthetable, gastronomer's guide, chow...and so on.  Suggestions are always welcome.

Heidi Swanson of 101cookbooks has parlayed her blog into several books.  And now Orangette (aka Molly Wizenberg) has published a book, "A Homemade Life," based on her blog.  I'm a sucker for books written by passionate food lovers about their food preferences and experiences, so it didn't take me long to order her book.  And to read it during last night's snow storm.

It's good, particularly if you like to bake cakes, cookies, and other desserts.  If you're more interested in vegetables, meat, chicken, and fish, well, not so much.  It's not that I don't love to read about good sweet stuff, but I've already got an enormous collection of sweet bread, cakes, and cookie recipes and don't really need any more.  Although I must report that I can't wait to bake her banana bread with chocolate chips and candied ginger. Or when the right season comes along, her blueberry-raspberry bread.

She's a good writer so it surprised me when I got fidgety after a few chapters.  As I pondered my reaction, I wondered if it was because she's quite young and I'm not.  I began to feel that she simply hasn't lived long enough to write a book about her life thus far.  Her family sounds interesting, and one certainly understands that her parents' love of cooking helped develop her own adult pursuits.  But too many of the reminiscences were simply too young to be of interest to an older person.  I'd be curious to know what younger readers think of the book.

Despite my disappointment with the book, I'll continue to click onto her blog regularly, particularly if I'm looking for new desserts.  One of the reasons I like her sweet recipes is that she is hard-nosed about ingredients--she simply doesn't allow low fat or nonfat yogurt or milk.  Brava!

When I started this blog, I was determined not to publish a recipe I hadn't made.  But I'd like to leave you with a good sense of Wizenberg's skill with sweet recipes--her Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger (pp 26-27):

6 T unsalted butter
2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 c sugar
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3/4 c semisweet chococolate chips
1/3 c finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
1/1/2 c mashed banana (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
1/4 c well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt (not lowfat or nonfat)
1 t vanilla extract

Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350.  Grease a standard-sized (9 x 5) loaf pan with cooking spray or butter.

In a small bowl, microwave butter until just melted.  Alternatively, put the butter in a heatproof bowl and melt in preheated oven.  Set aside to cool slightly.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Add choc chips and crystallized ginger and whisk well to combine.  Set aside.

In medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork.  Add mashed bananas, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well.  Pour banana mixture into dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined.  Do not overmix.  Batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy, but there be no unincorporateded flour.  Scrape batter into prepared pan, and smooth the top.

Bake until the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 minutes-1 our.  If the loaf seems to be browning too quickly, tent with foil.

Cool loaf in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes.  Then tip it out on rack, and let cool completely before slicing.

Freezes beautifully.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Grandmother's Applesauce Cake

I envy the people who are able to go on and on and on about their favorite family recipes, the ones they watched their mothers/grandmothers/aunts make on holidays, the raucous family dinners that followed with everyone wallowing in good food and cheer--those types of families.  Mine wasn't like that.  'Tis true my maternal grandmother was a fabu cook, but we were never encouraged to cook with her.  My mother was a wonderful woman, bright and funny and talented, but she detested cooking, which was clear after eating even one of her meals.  So I'm almost always at a loss to contribute to conversations where family food memories are the topic.

But just the other day I was chatting with a friend, and heard myself tell her about my applesauce cake, the one my grandmother used to make and how I got the recipe from her.  My grandmother, like most of the other Eastern European immigrants who arrived early in the last century, was an instinctive cook, using her memory as her guide.  Certainly there weren't any cookbooks in her house.  Nor was anything written down.

My husband and I lived in St. Louis after we were married, and my grandmother had moved there to be near one of her daughters.  As I started cooking for my own family, I remembered her delicious applesauce cake and asked her for the recipe.  She said she didn't have one, that she just made it from memory.  But because she loved me (and most of all loved her new great-grandson), she said I could watch her make one and write down the ingredients.  Which is what I did.  And to this day when I make it I think of my grandmother and smile. 

I just made this the other night to end a dinner party, and it was quite the hit.  So don't be afraid to try it soon.

For years when I made it I used my own applesauce, but now, with arthritis, I can't spend a lot of time peeling apples so I buy a good jar of applesauce instead.  But if you can still make your own, by all means do so.

Grandma's Applesauce Cake

1 c white sugar
1 c brown sugar
3 eggs
1 c oil (using a flavored oil, such as hazelnut, is a nice touch)

3 c flour
2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

2 c applesauce
1 t cinnmon
2 heaping T cocoa

Mix together first 4 ingredients.  Add next 3 ingredients.  Add next 3 ingredients.  Add nuts, raisins, chocolate chips or whatever or don't add them.  Bake in fluted, well-greased pan for 1 hour at 325.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Casual but delicious late December dinner party

You know how this kind of thing goes.  You have a friend who has a longtime interest in a subject (in this case, WWII), and he's enlightened you over the years from what he reads.  Then you find out another friend has the same interest, so you want to get these two guys together and just listen to their conversation.  And then yet another couple comes to mind because of their similar interests.  Well, it's a lot easier finding people with similar interests than it is to get them together because all of them have Very Busy Schedules.  But finally, you find a date when everyone is available.  But it's three days before Christmas.  People are already sated from a lot of holiday parties.  And even though your guests don't really celebrate Christmas, still and all it's a time of major eating.  So how to plan a menu?

KISS.  That's right.  Keep it simple, stupid.  Just make sure that every entry is delicious.  Or hope that's the case.  So I decided to serve a fabu meatloaf, whipped parsnips, and braised Brussels sprouts...with's sensationally easy and delicious chocolate bundt cake.  A small endive, pear, walnut, and gorgonzola dolce salad. 

Oh, lest I forget, in my quest to make an acceptable focaccia, I made one with rosemary, sauteed onions, and roasted garlic.  My theory here is that the more often I make it, the easier it will be over time.

The result?  Perfection itself.  Each element of dinner was simple, elegant, and related well to the other dishes.  Best of all, I had an appreciative audience, which makes any cook feel much better.

Okay, here goes with the recipes.  They're all quite easy.  Honest.  Just the way I like my recipes.

The Best Meatloaf

Makes: 8 to 10 servings
3/4 cup packed fresh, plain, torn bread pieces, crusts removed
1/3 cup whole milk
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 medium celery ribs, finely chopped
2/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup finely chopped roasted red peppers
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, whisked until smooth
2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds ground pork
1 pound ground turkey
1/4 cup ketchup
Heat oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Combine torn bread and milk in a small bowl; set aside. Heat oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add celery, onion, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook until no longer raw tasting, about 4 minutes more. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside to cool slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Add soaked bread, half of the roasted red peppers, parsley, eggs, Worcestershire, salt, mustard, and pepper to the vegetables and stir together until evenly combined. Add pork and turkey and using clean hands mix until combined (don’t squeeze or overwork).
Form meat into a loose loaf and transfer into a 9-by-5 1/4-by-2 3/4-inch metal loaf pan (don’t press down). Mix together the remaining roasted red pepper and ketchup and brush it over the top. Place meatloaf in oven and bake until internal temperature is 150°F, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and let sit about 15 to 20 minutes, before slicing.
MY NOTES:  In lieu of the 2 lb pork and 1 lb turkey, I bought 3 lb of Guido's meatloaf mix, which is, I believe, equal parts beef, veal, and pork. 

In lieu of the chopped roasted red peppers, I used the appropriate amount of a delicious red pepper condiment I had in the refrigerator.

The ketchup I used until it ran out was homemade by Julia Erickson from a recipe by Carole Murko.  I can't make it myself until next summer when tomatoes are at their peak because it calls for 50 lb of tomatoes.  And I don't think Carole meant them to be the type of tomatoes available in winter.

Pureed Parsnips

3 pounds parsnips, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups whole milk

Cook parsnips in water until a knife goes through a parsnip easily.  Drain, put in bowl, add butter and start mashing with a potato masher.  Add milk and continue mashing.  Add salt to taste. 

You can make these earlier in the day and reheat before serving.

Braised Brussels Sprouts
3 ozpancetta, small dice (about 1/2 c)
3 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 c)
2 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/4 c dry white wine
1 c chicken broth

Line a plate with paper towels and set aside. Place the pancetta in a large frying pan with a tightfitting lid and cook over medium heat until browned and crispy, about 10 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the prepared plate, leaving the fat in the pan.

Add shallots and garlic to the pan, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and edges begin to brown, about 3 minutes.

Add Brussels sprouts, season with salt and pepper, stir to coat, and cook until just browned, about 3 minutes.

Pour in wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook until wine reduces by half, about 5 minutes.

Pour in broth, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook until Brussels sprouts are knife tender, about 20 minutes. Taste, adjust seasoning as desired, transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with reserved pancetta.

I'll have to post the recipes for the chocolate bundt cake and focaccia later.  But this should tickle your palate enough to get you going.

Happy new year!