Friday, October 30, 2009

My Plate Spoke To Me - #PLATESWAP

I love ideas, and I love an idea person. It may explain my background in Improvisational Theatre. Give me an idea and I'll run with it, build it, research it, and expand it further. That can be a good thing, and it can also drive people crazy.

A few weeks ago, a couple of talented Food Writers ( Elise at
CowGirlChef, and Cheryl at Tiger In The Kitchen) came up with an idea for a blogger #Plateswap. I put the "hash" mark on the word because it was an idea hatched on Twitter and that's how they denote a topic. As Food Writers and Photographers of Food, we Bloggers often end up using a lot of our own props, dishes, backgrounds, etc... So, why not have a "Secret Santa" style Plateswap; each person will send another person a new plate, and in return will receive a new plate. Brilliant - and I don't know what was more fun: waiting to hear the response from the gift I sent to Kelsey at The Naptime Chef, or getting a gift in the mail from the adorable
Steff at Omaha Chronicles and opening it.
Here's the beautiful vintage plate I received from Steff.

The idea was simply to prepare a food, photograph it on your new plate and blog about it on the appointed day (today). Here's where my "running with it" starts. I couldn't just prepare
something/anything for my gorgeous new present - I wanted the PLATE to tell me what to prepare. OK, guess this is also where my "actress-side" shows up, too. I held the plate, examining it's well worn glaze, it's multi-valued blues, it's pattern that suggested both Asian influence and Puritan background. Then I flipped it over; Torbrex, Burslem, England.

So, off to Google and Vintage Cookbooks I go, and a few hours later I emerged with a whole world of knowledge about the importance of Oatcakes to the people of Staffordshire/Burslem England. My plate and it's pottery is well known there, and the oatcakes are taken very seriously; so-
The Oatcake is like a flat pancake, or a thick French Crepe and has been sold for over 200 years from little windowed shops along the streets. One worker in the area described these as "the national dish for the Potteries". Not very many of the small shops that served these from 6am til afternoon are still open; large Potteries and businesses have taken over the real estate. Like a lot of regional dishes in the world, the recipes and their exact amounts are held very close to the chest and families have guarded and passed their own recipes down through the years; sometimes with heated discussions about whose recipe was better.

The Staffordshire Oatcakes are served with jam and butter, or eggs and bacon/ham, and cheese, or filled with Nutella or other lunch meats. The filling part seems to be personal.

The recipe I used was a combination of several that I experimented with until I could find the right consistency for me (something that reflected the warm, healthy oat meal, but was still light and lacy).

This was so fun and I learned about a whole region and its foods that represented more than just "something to eat on the go" to them. That's one of the most amazing things about food - to me. It's why I'm interested in preserving and celebrating the source of foods, the farmers and the dairies, and the time spent together building our own traditions. It was a great honor to learn about the history of this Pottery, the people from that area, and the food that probably was served on this plate before the idea of sending it was even thought up.
So, when's my next plate arriving? Huh?

Staffordshire Oatcakes (as tweaked by me)

1 cup of oat flour (I ground oats in a food processor til fine)
1/2 cup of AP flour
1/4 cup of whole wheat flour
1 cup warm milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 envelope (1/4oz) dry active yeast
salt to taste

In a bowl, add warm milk, sugar and yeast - stir to mix
Let sit for about 10 minutes til a bit frothy on top
Mix in the flours and salt well - cover with a towel and let sit for 1 hour.
Heat a crepe pan or wide (preferably stick-free) pan on medium heat. Butter or oil the pan slightly. Ladle a small amount of batter onto the pan and swirl the pan to create a plate size, thin pancake/crepe.
Cook for a couple minutes and flip with a spatula. Cook for just a moment more and empty onto a warmed platter to hold while making other oatcakes.
Serve with your choice (and experiment): jam/butter, cheese, eggs, meats, cinnamon and sugar, nutella, etc..

Here are a few more lovely food bloggers who are participating in the **PLATESWAP**
What's Cookin' Chicago?
Bodacious Girl Blog
Our Best Bites

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mah-valous Macarons - Daring Baker's October Challenge

Let's just say it: these are a bitch, n'est pas? So of course, only the most DARING BAKERS would try them.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Having made several different Macarons for catering events (including the CITY TEAS for Fete du The with Algabar), I added the personal challenge of using Muscavado Sugar (a moist brown sugar) and a Banana Cream for my filling. It took two trials before these worked. Oh, those finicky egg whites!
What else can be blogged about Macarons, at this point, that hasn't been blogged before? For those of us who read food blogs, think of food and recipes as stories, or find fascination in the world defined by what we eat; Macarons are touted as "the beast to be conquered". When we DO create these chewy, yet crunchy disks of bliss and they have FEET (a term used for the soft insides that bubble out as they rise and cook and are very desired as a mark of success), even quiet cooks will let out a "YES!" from their kitchens. That being said, there are plenty of people who have never heard of these sweets and haven't tumbled on the difference between these and the coconut yummies also pronounced "Macaroons". Just in case you are one of those, here are a few "quik notes" for you:
Both Italy and France claim origins for this cookie that traditionally used egg whites, sugar, and almond powders. Originally these cookies were single shells; crunchy on the outside and meringue like chewy on the inside. In the 20th Century the famed pastry chef, Laduree, created the idea of using ganache to make a sandwich of two Macarons. A couple of the most famed Parisian Pastry shops, including Pierre Herme and Laduree, experiment each season with both savory and sweet ingredients and colors for their famous Macarons. People line up on the streets to buy these examples of the most perfect Macarons. Although Italy, France and most of Europe love and know these cookies, the United States has only recently began to appreciate their exquisite design and taste.
I love a challenge, so even though the recipe as given for this month's Daring Baker's Challenge is not my favorite way to make these "bad babies", I stayed fairly close to it. My flavor changes were to incorporate the brown sugar to the powdered sugar ( I used half and half of each), and also half and half of brown sugar for the granulated sugar. In the first trial I think I used too much brown sugar (it contains a lot of moisture) so the egg whites fell flat. I also made sure the egg whites were fully whipped before I added any of the sugars to them. I also added a twirl of Banana syrup on the top of the shells as they dried. By far, the easier way to make Macarons is to use dried flavoring (teas, powders, and dried fruit flavoring) to sustain the volume in the egg whites, but with careful and patient timing some moisture (liquid or puree flavors) can be incorporated.
In the oven - feet rising - a yelp of "yes" is heard.

Baked, cooled and ready to fill

Banana Cream Filling

2 ripe bananas, puree
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. banana syrup
Whip together, adjust as needed for taste.
Pipe onto every other cookie and sandwich with another plain Macaron.

MACARON RECIPE (as given for Daring Baker's October Challenge)

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)


1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Yield: 10 dozen. Ami's note: My yield was much smaller than this. I produced about two dozen filled macaroons.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Virtual Pot of Green Beans; Park Avenue Potluck

One of my favorite things about blogging is the people you meet. OK, not actually "meet", but virtually speaking, you "get to know them" through their Blogs, their Twittering, their Face Book pages - you get my electronic drift. I've only been blogging, at this point, for about 3-4 months; yet I've already been in several Cooking Challenges (preparing certain recipes, certain ways, for a certain time), a Plateswap (sending a new plate to another blogger ala: Secret Santa style), and now "Blogging for a Cause." It's an honor to be invited to prepare a recipe that will help bring awareness to a place that has helped so many. The recipe I prepared is called: Green Beans That Cooked "All Night".
These Green Beans were slow-cooked (no fuss-unattended) in caramelized bacon, onions and tangy sauce. Can it get any easier or more flavorful? They reminded me of my Southern Grandma's Snap Beans cooked in Fat-Back and Onions. This is a perfect side-dish for a busy dinner (maybe Thanksgiving) when you need to prepare so much in so little time. Another plus; they taste even better the second day after the flavors have marinated. The recipe was chosen for me by Kelsey, The Naptime Chef. The idea is extremely clever; promote a new cookbook, Park Avenue's Potluck CELEBRATIONS (written by The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and award-winning author and contributing New York Times columnist Florence Fabricant) by preparing recipes from the book and posting them like a virtual POTLUCK online. The cause is very worthy - "A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will provide funding for The Society's patient care, research, and education programs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center." To see the other beautiful and delicious foods that are a part of today's Park Avenue Potluck, check out The Naptime Chef. AND, order your copy of Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations: Entertaining at Home with New York's Savviest Hostesses" so you can actually taste these goodies for yourself - in the real world, real time, really.

Green Beans That Cooked “All Night”

Makes 8 servings

2 ounces smoky bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
6 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Place the bacon in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until the bacon and onion are lightly browned. Stir in the beans, vinegar, and 1 cup water and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer to a baking dish, place in the oven, and bake, uncovered, for
at least 2 hours, basting from time to time, until the beans are very tender.
Serve immediately or remove from the oven and reheat just before serving.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nutella Toaster -Tarts

It's one of those mornings; what happened to the alarm? I know I set it. Now everyone is late (my son for school, my husband for work, me for a meeting) and we're all scrambling around in our own improvised French Farce. The doors are opening and shutting, water on and off, the dog sits in the hallway watching the chaos whining for his food. FOOD! There's no time for breakfast? Then, I remember; Homemade Nutella Toaster Tarts.
I made them 2 days ago, froze them on a sheet pan, then bagged them and placed them in the freezer for a day just like this one. I'm almost glad the alarm didn't go off, just so I can gloat in my own uber organizational skills (which don't happen that often). I trot downstairs, grab a few Nutella Toaster Tarts out of the freezer and place them on my toaster oven rack. I turn the toaster on to 300F, set the timer for 15" and run back upstairs to finish the express version of my morning prep. About the time the buzzer rings, my son is downstairs and hits the toaster button one time for a good crispy outside - it dings and we're all standing there ready with our napkins for a healthier version of fast food. I say healthier because I've added a little whole wheat flour and a pinch of flaxseed into the pastry for the Toaster Tarts, and although Nutella isn't like a plate of egg whites; it does have nutritional value (by far more than skipping breakfast would at least). Is it the BEST way to eat a breakfast? NO. Does it match my support for SLOW FOOD? Not really. Will it do in a pinch, supply some nutrients and taste amazing? ABSOLUTELY! In fact, these are so tasty my son's friends ask for them every time they come over. They'll never know that with each one they scarf down (and believe me those boys can put a few away) they are also getting a day's worth of fiber and nutrients.

These are simple; made with the basic 3-2-1 pie pastry, dolloped with nutella, covered and poked, then frozen.
I first experimented with these for a monthly Nutella Challenge that started a few months ago with Paula at Bell'Alimento. Nutella is so loved and versatile that many talented food bloggers have joined in the fun of developing new recipes each month using this chocolate/nutty spread. Check out the other recipes right here: Nutella Challenge Players Obviously, these Toaster Tarts can be filled with jam (I used my own Plum and Cinnamon and it was rich and warm). I've also loved them with a filling of: 1 Tablespoon of Brown Sugar, a sprinkling of raisins, and a pinch of cinnamon. Let me know if you have other ideas. By the way, these make a great breakfast actually placed on a plate beside a cup of coffee, still in your pajamas and the morning paper spread out, too.
Nutella Toaster-Tarts

4 oz. All Purpose Flour
2 oz. Whole Wheat Flour
3 oz. Butter (chilled, cubed)
1 oz. Flaxseed milled
3 oz. cold water
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1 egg beaten for wash

Combine the flours, salt, sugar and flaxseed milled thoroughly. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips til you have the texture of course meal.
Add the water and mix just until the dough comes together. Pat into a thick disk, wrap in plastic and chill for about 20 minutes (or up to 1 day).
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and roll out to a rectangle, and about 1/8 inch thick.
Cut even squares about 4inch (or you can use a large cookie cutter).
Place a dollop of Nutella in the center of every other square (it will take two squares to make a tart).
Brush the edges of the squares with egg wash, and cover with the matching pastry square. Press slightly to secure the Nutella center.
Using a fork, press around the edges to secure a seal, and poke a few holes into the tops.
** At this point you can freeze the Pocket Tarts for several weeks, and bake straight from the freezer***

If baking now, brush the tops of each tart with egg wash (optionally: sprinkle with cinnamon)
and bake 350F for 10-15 minutes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

PHO is "Fuh?" - Daring Cooks October PHO-N!

This month's cooking challenge with the Daring Cooks was to make the Vietnamese Chicken Soup known as PHO (pronounced "fuh?") GA. I'm not sure how you say "OH MY GOSH THIS IS TASTY" in Vietnamese, but you get my point.
The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

I've been getting to know Jaden in the virtual world of blogging and twitter, and hope to meet her in person soon. She's one of those gals who makes you feel that you're in her circle of friends immediately; never too busy to answer a question, return a gesture, offer generous help. Her experience and talent is obvious and I'm betting her new book will be hugely successful. So, it was no surprise to find this PHO GA recipe to be simple, authentic and full of warm flavor.
There are a few secrets to this dish: toast the spices, roast the onion and ginger, use real fish sauce, and simmer on low for a good length of time.

Your reward will be a light amber pot of cozy soul-full soup that you and your friends/family can customize with the fresh add-ons: chicken, cilantro, mushrooms, carrots, chilies, bean sprouts, lime slices, etc.

Living in Los Angeles, there are many Pho Noodle Bars or Restaurants for me to choose from; some better than others. This was my first experience in making my own and it may have ruined me for many of the trendy places I used to think worth their over-priced over-cooked Pho (rhymes with DUH.)
After reading a little about the history of this centuries old dish, I can appreciate how many variations have evolved. In the poorest of times and villages this soup often had no meat, or used less cuts, and certainly was served in smaller bowls than Americans are used to. I feel sure this will become a go-to for my family and friends.

The recipe below is a quick version (included in the book), and the longer version (which I made) that includes making your own Pho Chicken Stock (which I think makes all the difference in SO many foods) can be found on Jaden's site here: Steamy Kitchen.

Chicken Pho
- Pho Ga

Servings: Makes 4 servings


For the Chicken Pho Broth:
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or homemade chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
½ onion
1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce

1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)


2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
Fresh cilantro (coriander) tops (leaves and tender stems)
½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce
Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice


  1. To make the Chicken Pho Broth: heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.
  2. In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.
  4. Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.
  5. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
  6. Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.
  7. Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.
  8. Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.
To go along with the October Challenge; an original Dessert WonTon Recipe (or 2 or 3).

Cinnamon WonTon Choc-Sticks -

12 wonton wrappers
2 tbls. butter melted
1/4 cup cinnamon and sugar equally mixed
1/2 cup dark chocolate, melted
Canola oil for frying

Brush each WonTon with melted butter.
Sprinkle just the centers with a large pinch of Cinnamon/Sugar.
Roll up tight, from corner to corner; just before the end, brush the edges again for a good seal (you may opt to replace using more butter with water at the end for a seal).

In a large, deep, heavy skillet; heat about 2 inches of canola oil to 325F.
Fry each WonTon stick, turning to brown evenly, just for a few moments.
Using tongs, remove and drain on paper towels.

Dip tips in melted chocolate and place on parchment to set.

WonTon Pickup Strips
Cut each Wonton Wrapper into strips of about 1/4 inch wide.
Drop into 325F oil for just a few moments, then remove with tongs onto paper towels to drain. While warm, sprinkle with Powdered Sugar and serve. (Optionally, sprinkle with salt, pepper, or spicy rub for a savory garnish on soups)

WonTon Blueberry Bonnets
Using a 1 1/2 inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles from each WonTon wrapper.
Fold each circle around a blueberry and secure with a toothpick.
Drop the toothpick skewered WonTons into the heated oil at 325F til gently toasted.
Remove with tongs and drain on paper towels. Remove the toothpicks.
While warm, sprinkle with Powdered Sugar and serve.

I've typed myself into hunger - MO-PHO-Fuh-ME!

And check out the other amazing Daring Cooks right here: DC#6

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


One of the one million reasons I love Italian and generally Mediterranean cooking is the simplicity. A familiar attitude of the Italian Chefs is; Use fresh, simple, whole ingredients and try not to screw it up. In other words, let the food speak for itself and don't get in the way. When my local seafood market had a special on this gorgeous Red Snapper - I knew Dinner was a cinch.Red Snapper is a hardy white fish that can take hot or sweet spices and fresh or dry herbs and make them sing. The thicker skin on the Snapper keeps the fish well intact and makes it great for grilling, barbecue, roasting and frying in a whole form. The taste is nutty, filling and oh so healthy. And nothing could be easier than placing the fish inside a parchment envelope, throwing in a few aromatics, olives, lemons and a dash of white wine, closing it up and within minutes - Dinner is served! This is a perfect dish for working folks on a time budget, and it has enough WOW-factor for a dinner party. Ask your butcher/fish monger to gut and scale, but leave the rest to you. Choose a specimen that has bright eyes, tight skin and a fresh smell (good advice for a date, too, right? ) Stuff the fish with lemon slices, dash of salt, pepper, a few olives and a couple wedges of tomatoes or a squash vegetable is good. Preheat the oven to 375 F. On a large baking sheet, place an equally large sheet of parchment paper down and drizzle a little olive oil in the center. Then place the fish in the middle. Add, to your tasting, a few sliced onions, olives, capers, tomatoes, chopped parsley or dill and/or large chopped squash veggies on top of the fish. Season all over with salt and pepper (add a few red chili flakes too, if you like.) Then loosely drape another sheet of parchment paper over the fish and begin to fold three of the four sides up twice into an envelope. Before closing up the last side, add a couple tablespoons of dry white wine (or use lemon juice) to the inside. Fold up the last side twice. At all four corners, fold the corners over toward the middle creating a security lock for the side folds. Place the whole pan with the enveloped fish into the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the pan and let the fish and steam settle unopened for about 5 minutes. Carefully tear the parchment open from the middle. The fish can be served table-side and the au jus spooned over rice, or pasta - OR remove the fish from the bones and serve presented with the roasted olives and veggies. You may also want to pour the pan juice off into a sauce pan and reduce by a third, then whisk in a tablespoon of butter for a nice sauce. One last idea: save the bones for making fish stock - you'll love yourself later. You go! Snap, snap, snapper!

Friday, October 2, 2009


The Italian Caprese Salad takes on a California Fall twist with the peak of the season's PEACHES and a Balsamic/Almond Reduction Drizzle. Confession: I ate the first plate of these all by myself. It was supposed to be a taste, but oh those peaches were just so full and the basil balanced the sweet so well.

I made my LET'S LUNCH FALL SALAD a few days ago, because I knew I'd be so busy this week. I have a girl-friend visiting me. Not just any friend, but a friend that I haven't seen in over 20 years. We were baton twirling Majorettes together in High School - yep, you guessed it, I'm from the Southern United States. My friend, Teresa, and I lost contact and then one day found each other on Face Book (where else). Instead of the usual, "oh sure, I'll accept the friend, I think I remember her" - we actually continued emailing and discovering we had more in common now than ever and it turned into a visit that has been full of laughs, memories, creating new memories and forming a wonderful bond that I look forward to having forever.

I didn't want to miss posting this Let's Lunch Fall Salad event as I have so enjoyed meeting new food-friends like TIGER IN THE KITCHEN, BONVIVANT, COWGIRL
The Peach Caprese is a simple and colorful salad, and I hope you'll give it a try or be inspired by the taste combinations.

PEACH CAPRESE: uses equal slices of Buffalo Mozzarella fresh cheese and Peach.
Overlap those and add fresh basil leaves along the way.
The Balsamic/Almond Reduction is made with 1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar, 3 Tbls. sugar in a saucepan, cooking on Med/High and reduced by at least 1/3 til it coats the back of your spoon. Then, add 1TBLs of almond extract and continue to stir to mix. Drizzle over the composed salad. Can be chilled or served room temp.

So, forgive the short post, while I reconnect with a wonderful friend that reminds me that life can be a healing and magical circle.