27 December 2012

Gluten-Free Pancakes and Equipment Review - All-Clad Hard Anodized Nonstick Griddle

Gluten-Free Pancakes - Can't Tell the Difference! / www.delightfulrepast.com
 
Though just a small percentage of people have celiac disease, a lot of people are sensitive to gluten or simply choose to forego gluten for any number of reasons. Since several people in my circle fall into that last category, I've developed a number of gluten-free recipes over the last few years. Gluten-free pancakes had just worked their way to the top of my to-do list when All-Clad sent me their All-Clad Hard Anodized Nonstick 11-Inch Square Griddle for review.

I was thrilled! I've always preferred a square griddle, but have been making-do with a round one for the past few years. You can only make three pancakes at a time on a round griddle, but you can make four at a time on a square one. Most of my All-Clad pans are the plain, uncoated stainless steel; but I prefer nonstick in a griddle. This one, along with their new B3 Hard Anodized collection, is sold exclusively at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It is very similar to the All-Clad LTD Griddle

This is the heaviest nonstick griddle I've ever had, and that makes a huge difference. I've never gotten such even browning with any of the griddles I've tried! And the PFOA-free nonstick coating is very effective and will, I'm sure, hold up for many years to come. 

The enclosed information sheet said the use of nonstick cooking spray is not recommended as it may reduce the performance of the nonstick surface. I never use the spray on a griddle anyway - I like to brush on just the thinnest film of butter right before ladling on the pancake batter.

My recipe can be made with regular milk (I use 2%) and the buttermilk powder as written below; or with 1 cup regular milk and 1/2 cup buttermilk, sour cream or plain yogurt; or with regular milk alone. I keep buttermilk powder in the fridge at all times so I don't have to buy a quart of buttermilk when I only need 1/2 cup.

Of course, you can use 1 1/2 cups of regular unbleached flour (leave out the xanthan gum) or 1 1/2 cups of your favorite gluten-free blend in the recipe. I use all sorts of combinations, depending on what qualities I want for a particular recipe or, in some cases, what gluten-free flours and starches I happen to have on hand. I do not recommend garbanzo bean flour for many things (don't ask!). Tell me about your gluten-free pancake successes and failures.


Gluten-Free Pancakes


(Makes fourteen 5-inch round pancakes)

2/3 packed cup quinoa flour
1/2 packed cup brown rice flour
1/3 packed cup potato starch or gluten-free cornstarch
1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
3 tablespoons buttermilk powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups milk, room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled


1 If you want to serve everyone at the same time, preheat oven to 200 degrees (actually, I now have a warming drawer) and, as each batch is cooked, place the pancakes slightly overlapping on an ovenproof platter, cover loosely with foil and keep in the oven.

2 In medium bowl (I use a 2-quart Pyrex glass measure), whisk together flours, starch, flaxseed meal, xanthan gum, buttermilk powder, sugar, baking powder and salt.

3 In small bowl (I use a 4-cup Pyrex glass measure), whisk together eggs, 1 1/4 cups milk and melted butter. Pour into dry mixture and whisk gently until just combined, adding as much of the reserved 1/4 cup of milk as needed for proper consistency. Let batter stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before using.

OR just make a well in the center of your thoroughly whisked dry ingredients and pour your individual wet ingredients into it; whisk them together in the well and work out from there, combining wet and dry; do not overmix.

4 During last 5 minutes of batter resting, heat griddle over medium heat. Preheating the griddle properly is the key to good pancakes; it takes about 5 minutes, not a minute less. Don't try to speed it up by turning the heat on high, especially if you're using a nonstick griddle.

5 Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup, ladle batter onto hot griddle (preheated for 5 minutes over medium heat, drops of water should dance and disappear quickly). Cook about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side. Don't rush it (like I often do!); wait for the bubbles to appear and break.

Serve with butter and real maple syrup that has been warmed. Or with fruit and/or fruit syrup.

Note: Check out my Recipes index page for more gluten-free recipes.

19 December 2012

Caramel Cake - Book Review and Giveaway - Basic to Brilliant, Y'all


When the ever-charming Virginia Willis sent me her Basic to Brilliant, Y'all for review, I couldn't decide which recipe to make first. Of course, the Mini Country Ham Cheddar Biscuits caught my Southern-on-my-father's-side eye. And the Southern Salad Macedoine. And lots of wonderful seafood dishes. Then I came to page 252 and my Southern grandmother's cake jumped out at me! 

The version in Basic to Brilliant, Y'all is the one Virginia's grandmother made. It's a three-layer cake, but since my grandmother made hers with just two layers, I used only two. It's always nice to have a layer in the freezer for a rainy day, isn't it!

Never much of a candy fan, I've never bought a candy thermometer for my well-equipped kitchen. But my trusty Splash-Proof Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer works beautifully for this; no need for a thermometer that clips to the pan, but you will need a thermometer.

Besides wonderful recipes, each with an optional "brilliant" touch to add to the "basic" recipe, you will find lots of stories about the author's Southern childhood and her time in France. 

The drool-worthy pictures by photographer Helene Dujardin next to Virginia's delectable recipes make this book hard to read without getting hungry!

Dede's Burnt Caramel Cake

(Makes three 9-inch layers)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for the pans
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature, well beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Burnt Caramel Icing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with waxed or parchment paper. Butter and flour the paper. Sit together the flour and the baking powder.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture [and the wet mixture] to the butter-sugar mixture, alternating between the dry and wet ingredients in three portions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean and the cakes start pulling away from the sides of the pans, about 25 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Invert onto the rack to cool completely.

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cardboard cake round. Spread with the still-warm frosting. Repeat with remaining layers, placing the final layer bottom side up. Working quickly, use a small off-set spatula to spread the icing gently around the cake. Let stand for 2 hours to allow the icing to set before serving. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Burnt Caramel Icing

(Makes about 2 cups)

2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream, plus more if needed to loosen
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

In a heavy cast-iron skillet, heat 1/2 cup of the sugar over medium-high heat. Stir until dissolved, then do not stir again; simply shake the pan occasionally until the mixture reaches the caramel stage, 320 to 335 degrees, on a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan, combine the remaining 2 cups sugar, the butter, and the cream. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

When the sugar reaches the caramel stage, immediately pour it into the cream mixture and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring once or twice, until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage, 232 to 240 degrees. Remove from the heat; add the vanilla and salt and stir to combine. Place on a rack and set aside until just cool enough to touch, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until creamy, 5 to 7 minutes. Place the bowl of icing in a bowl of warm water to keep it loose and fluid while frosting the cake. If it starts to set too firmly, you may need to add warm heavy cream to loosen it.

Recipe reprinted by permission from Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress them Up for Company, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. Photo credit: Helene Dujardin © 2011. For more information visit www.virginiawillis.com.

That's the "basic;" you'll have to buy the book to get the "brilliant"!


Basic to Brilliant, Y'all Giveaway

One winner will receive a copy of Basic to Brilliant, Y'all from Ten Speed Press. All residents of the continental United States (apologies to my international readers) who enter before 11:59 pm Eastern time Wednesday December 26 will be put into a random drawing. Two additional ways to enter below - three chances to win! Winner will be announced here in the comments before noon Eastern time on Thursday December 27. If I don't hear back from the winner of the random drawing by 11:59 am Eastern time Sunday December 30, another drawing will be held and a new winner selected from the original entrants (those who commented before the giveaway deadline).

Buy It Now Basic to Brilliant, Y'all is available online at Amazon. 

To enter the contest, please:
  • post a comment below (and please include your email address in the body of your comment); also, it would be gracious to post a comment on the author's blog.
Two additional ways to enter (for a total of 3 chances):
  • follow @VirginiaWillis on Twitter and post a comment below that you have done so.
  • follow @delightfulrepas on Twitter, tweet about the contest by copying and pasting the following: Entered to win a copy of Basic to Brilliant, Y’all @delightfulrepas http://delightfulrepast.blogspot.com #cookbook #giveaway - (AND post a comment below that you have done so.)
Disclosure: The book for this giveaway is being provided by Ten Speed Press. I was given a copy of Basic to Brilliant, Y'all for review, and all opinions shared are my own.

13 December 2012

Roasted Tomato Soup - Made with Canned Tomatoes


Winter is the perfect time for rustic casseroles, robust stews and satisfying soups. Though I love the hearty soups made from the fresh, local ingredients available at this time of year, there are days when what I really want is a bowl of tomato soup. End of summer, early fall, I make my roasted tomato soup from garden tomatoes. But now the choice is out-of-season "fresh" tomatoes or canned tomatoes.

No contest! I'll choose quality canned tomatoes every time. If you don't have home-canned tomatoes on hand, be sure to buy a brand that is organic, non-GMO and BPA-free. Roasting the tomatoes and vegetables gives this soup a deeper flavor. If you find yourself in the mood for tomato soup, don't wait for summer. And, for goodness sake, do NOT resort to canned soup (especially one that contains high fructose corn syrup)!

I've found that really good canned tomatoes (I always use Muir Glen organic) make better soup than the less-than-stellar fresh tomatoes available. If I couldn't get Muir Glen's fire-roasted tomatoes, I would get the canned whole tomatoes and roast them along with the other vegetables as directed below.

This is a recipe I developed years ago, and I love it when made just as written. But, you know how it is. You're in the mood to make something and you don't have all the ingredients. By the time you go to the store, you're either out of the mood or out of time. That's the beauty of soup--you can leave things out, add things in, it's all good. This time I was out of celery, so I just added 1/8 teaspoon of celery seed, something I always have on hand. 

Of course, you can eat it right away, but it tastes even better the next day. So make it a day ahead if you can. What is your favorite soup?

Roasted Tomato Soup

(Serves 6)

1 medium or 1/2 large red bell pepper, quartered and seeded
1 medium stalk celery, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 small onion, cut into 2 pieces
1 small shallot
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper
1 28-ounce can organic fire-roasted diced tomatoes (Muir Glen)
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups lower-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On foil-lined half-sheet pan, spread out bell pepper, celery, onion and shallot. Drizzle oil over vegetables; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until browned and tender about 30 minutes. Remove from oven. (If using regular canned whole tomatoes, drain and reserve juice; cut tomatoes in half; and arrange cut side up on baking sheet along with the other vegetables.) Cool slightly, about 45 minutes, before putting in the blender.)

2 Put tomatoes and roasted vegetables and any accumulated juices in blender. Press the liquefy button and process until smooth; strain through sieve set over 2-quart glass measure (adding some of the broth, if needed to make the soup easier to strain). Cover and keep refrigerated (up to 1 day ahead) until ready to finish soup.

3 In 3-quart saucepan, heat soup to a simmer, adding sugar, marjoram, crushed red pepper, broth and cream. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Ladle soup into 6 warm shallow bowls. Top each with a dollop of sour cream, and garnish with homemade croutons. 

Optional: The best way to add garlic to this soup is in the form of homemade croutons, easily made in a skillet with 2 cups of 3/4-inch cubes of sourdough bread, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, a little salt and 1 clove fresh garlic, halved. Cook the garlic for a few minutes, then discard. Toss the bread cubes in the garlic-infused oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and cook until crispy, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

06 December 2012

How to Make Perfect Pie Crust - A Flaky All-Butter Pastry


Pie crust is the thing I get the most questions about. I'm here today to take the mystery out of homemade pie crust. Once you "get it," you'll never use store-bought pastry again. Today's tutorial utilizes a food processor, but I'll give the strictly by hand version next time.


I make different amounts of pastry, depending on what I'm making. But if you're new at making pie crust, I'd suggest you stick to making the same recipe in the same amount every time, until you've mastered it. The recipe below calls for 2 1/2 packed cups (12.5 ounces) of unbleached all-purpose flour and makes enough pastry for one 9-inch double crust pie or two 9-inch pie shells.

It's also important to use the exact same ingredients every time until you've mastered it. The same brand of flour, butter, etc. I use organic unbleached all-purpose flour and organic unsalted butter. A lot of excellent pie makers use lard or shortening in their pastry, but I always use butter (except for those occasions when I've been called upon to make a pie at someone else's house and used whatever they had on hand--including a wine bottle for a rolling pin!).

I've still not tried the recipe that calls for vodka in place of some of the water. It might work, it's just that I've never had the problem that the method is supposed to solve, so ... And then there are recipes that call for an egg or sour cream, milk or buttermilk. You might want to try them all eventually. But, as I said, it's best to master one before branching out.

I always use glass pie plates, the classic 9-inch Pyrex pie plate to be precise, for which you need to roll the pastry out to 13 inches for the bottom crust and 11 inches for the top. The easiest way to roll it out is between two 12-inch squares of parchment paper. Always roll from the center to the outer edge, doing quarter-turns to make it round. There are three different types of rolling pins: the kind with handles and ball bearings, the straight (or baker's) pin, the tapered (or French) pin. I have one of each, all wooden, and can't quite decide on a favorite. There is a fourth kind--handles but no ball bearings--and I'm looking forward to trying one of those soon. (Tried it--fabulous--read about it on Pie Crust By Hand tutorial.)

Pastry for One 9-Inch Double-Crust Pie or Two Pie Shells (food processor* method)

2 1/2 packed cups (12.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen for 15 minutes
2 tablespoons lemon juice or cider vinegar
Ice water to make 3/4 cup liquid


1 With metal blade in place, add flour, salt and baking powder to work bowl of food processor. Turn on for three seconds to combine. Add half the frozen butter and pulse for six 1-second pulses or until the frozen butter is the size of large peas. Add remaining butter and pulse for three 1-second pulses.

2 In cup, combine lemon juice or cider vinegar and ice water. Pour 1/2 cup of liquid over all of flour mixture and pulse for three 1-second pulses. If needed, add a tablespoon at a time, over all of flour mixture, doing a 1-second pulse after each tablespoon, or just until dough forms large clumps; do not over-process. (The amount of water you will need depends on your climate and the moisture content of your flour.)


3 Turn dough out, dividing onto two pieces of plastic wrap and flatten each slightly into a 4-inch round disk; wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes. If you're making two pie shells, make the disks the same size; if you're making a double-crust pie, make one disk a little larger for the bottom crust.


4 Place a disk of dough on a lightly floured 12-inch square of parchment paper; save the piece of plastic wrap as you'll be using it again. Lightly flour the top of the dough and top with second 12-inch square of parchment paper. Roll the dough into a roughly 12x9-inch rectangle. If it is too crumbly, sprinkle it lightly with a teaspoon or two of water. Using a bench scraper or just the paper, fold the dough into thirds like a letter (it won't look neat), then fold it into thirds the opposite way, to form a rough square. Wrap it well with the reserved piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate again for at least 30 minutes or up to three days. Repeat with second disk of dough. If you've chilled dough for just 30 minutes or so, you can roll it out without waiting. You'll need to let thoroughly chilled dough stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before rolling.




Note: You can even freeze the dough at this point, wrapped well, for up to a month. To defrost dough, move it from freezer to refrigerator for one day before using it. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling.

5 When making a two-crust pie, save the plastic wrap again (yes, again - I'm pretty fanatical about using as little of the magic stuff as possible) and roll out the bottom crust between two 12-inch squares of parchment, rolling from center to edge a few times and rotating by quarter-turns to attain round shape. (And you don't really need to worry all that much about getting it perfectly round as you'll be trimming off the excess anyway and can make it round then.) It should be 13 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. Remove the top paper and transfer dough to pie plate, paper side up; remove paper, cover with reserved plastic wrap and refrigerate. Roll out top crust (again, save the plastic wrap) and place it on a rimless baking sheet; cover with reserved plastic wrap and refrigerate. Make pie filling. Then assemble pie and bake as directed.



6 When making a single-crust pie, roll out and transfer to dough to pie plate, pressing dough (but not stretching it) to fit pie plate with a half- to one-inch overhang (trim with knife or scissors), crimp edge, cover with  reserved piece of plastic wrap and chill until ready to bake. If blind-baking crust (baking the empty pie shell), preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put a pie tin inside the pastry-lined pie plate and bake for 25 minutes. If partially baked crust is needed, remove pie tin and proceed with recipe. If fully baked crust is needed, remove pie tin and continue baking another 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown.

* I've had my Cuisinart DLC-10E since I was a girl, so as you might imagine, it was discontinued long ago. Check out the Cuisinart DLC-10S Pro Classic 7-Cup Food Processor

29 November 2012

Chicken Pot Pies - Classic Cold-Weather Comfort Food


I'm not really a collector, and I don't like to accumulate a lot of "stuff." But kitchen and dining things (oh, and books) are my one weakness. As if I needed any more of it, on a recent reconnaissance mission to a new thrift store in town, a couple of things jumped out at me and had to be purchased. Two lovely crystal goblets and four circa-1960 CorningWare (the original Cornflower pattern) 1 3/4-cup capacity Petite Pans. 

Of course, they were just screaming "Chicken Pot Pies," so I swung by the grocery store on my way home and picked up some organic chicken and vegetables. Turns out, the Petite Pans make the perfect size main-dish serving. I'm going to keep my eyes open, hoping to come across at least four more. I'll be using them next for my Shepherd's Pie or Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie.

Once I find four or eight more of these or similar pans (like these 16-ounce round Corning French White), I can take advantage of the next chilly, stay-at-home kind of day, making a double or triple batch and freezing them. It's so nice to be able to pull a homemade comfort food meal out of the freezer on a day you can't, or don't want to, cook.

What is your favorite cold-weather comfort food? Favorite vintage, or new, find?

Chicken Pot Pies


(Makes 4 main-dish pies)

Pastry (see below)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
2/3 cup diced carrots
2 cups halved and sliced mushrooms (1/2-pound package)
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons dry sherry, optional
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas


1 In 12-inch skillet, heat oil. Season chicken with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper; brown on both sides, cooking for a total of 20 to 30 minutes or until done. If you prefer your pies with shredded chicken, shred it now using two forks. If you prefer diced, set the chicken aside to cool a bit for neater dice. (Or you can use 2 1/2 cups or so of leftover shredded or diced cooked chicken, in which case you would skip this step.)

2 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In same skillet, melt butter and saute onion for 3 minutes, scraping up the brown bits from cooking the chicken. Add celery, bell pepper and carrots; saute for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt; saute for 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for a minute or two. Gradually add broth, cream and sherry; cook, stirring constantly, until bubbly and thickened. Season with remaining salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Stir in the chicken and peas. (It's easy to forget about the peas because all the other vegetables went in at the beginning. But don't! The peas are wonderful.) Adjust seasoning. Divide mixture among four 14-ounce ramekins.

3 Roll out the pie crust to nearly 1/4-inch thick. Using your ramekin as a template, cut out 4 circles (or in my case, squares) about 1/2 inch greater in diameter than the ramekins. Top each ramekin with a circle (or square) of dough, fold excess under, press down the edges or crimp with a fork, and cut a 1-inch slit, or prick with fork, to vent. Place on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

If you like, prepare ahead of time. Chill filling, assemble, cover pies and keep refrigerated until ready to bake. Preheat oven to 400 degrees 50 minutes before serving time. Put pies in oven 35 minutes before serving time. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.


Pastry 


(food processor* method)

1 1/2 dip-and-sweep cups (7.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen for 10 minutes
1/3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon lemon juice or cider vinegar


1 With metal blade in place, add flour, salt and baking powder to work bowl of food processor. Turn on for three seconds to combine. Add half the frozen butter and process for 10 seconds or until mixture has the consistency of coarse meal. Add remaining butter and pulse for six 1-second pulses, or until the frozen butter is the size of small peas.

2 In cup, combine lemon juice and ice water. Pour, a tablespoon at a time, over all of flour mixture, doing a 1-second pulse after each tablespoon, or just until dough forms large clumps; do not over-process. (The amount of water you will need depends on your climate and the moisture content of your flour.)

3 Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and flatten slightly into a 4-inch round disk; double wrap; refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to three days. (Let thoroughly chilled dough stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling.)

* I have the Cuisinart DLC-10E, which (understandably after all the years I've had it) is no longer available. Here is the Cuisinart Pro Classic DLC-10S, a similar current model.

Note: This recipe is only slightly different than my smaller appetizer-size Chicken Pot Pies, for which the ingredients must be more finely diced.

22 November 2012

Afternoon Tea Review - The Grand Tea Room in Escondido

Photo courtesy of The Grand Tea Room
As you know, I never go on a business trip or holiday without researching afternoon tea venues first. On a recent trip to the San Diego area, I had the pleasure of checking out a new venue, The Grand Tea Room at 145 West Grand Avenue in Escondido. The three of us splurged on The Grand Tea, which included a soup starter in addition to the traditional British-style three-tiered afternoon tea. Usually I don't hold with departures (like soup or salad) from the traditional afternoon tea menu, but I made an exception in this case and was glad I did. That house-made tomato basil soup, served with a Parmesan toast, was extraordinary!
 
But let me digress from the food to the decor for a moment. Long a fan of the posh hotel tea, I often find tea rooms much too froufrou for my taste. You know what I mean--every surface swathed in cutesy. I just find all that sweetness cloying. I needn't have worried. The proprietor of The Grand Tea Room, clearly a woman of taste, has designed a tea room that has all the sweet touches one might expect of a tea room but without overdoing any of them. Even the bathroom was both charming and pristine. But back to the menu ...

 
The tea was properly made in beautiful 6-cup teapots, one for each of us. (Please don't ever bring me a tea bag and some tepid water in one of those silly little 1- or 2-cup pots; I came here for some tea!) One friend appreciated their having a decaffeinated black tea on the menu, something often lacking. The sandwiches and savory, a zesty little house-made crustless quiche, did not disappoint. The scones were delicious, but the bright pink glaze on their tops struck the only jarring note on the table. The tiny desserts were works of art. With no more serious cause for complaint than that pink glaze, we felt it was a fabulous tea all around!
 
The gift shop at the front of the tea room had a marvelous selection, everything from teapots to fascinators! My small collection of tea hats did not include a single fascinator (even after the Royal Wedding in January), and it was high time something was done about that! No photos yet, but believe me, it is fabulous. I'll be wearing it to the next afternoon tea, wherever that may be. And I expect to cause a sensation!

For reservations (not required at all times) or further information, call The Grand Tea Room at 760-233-9500 or visit The Grand Tea Room website. For tea at home, see How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea, Tea and Scones, and my review of the Zojirushi Water Boiler and Warmer.

Note: What are your favorite places for afternoon tea? I'm especially interested in tea rooms in the US, UK and Canada; but, wherever you've found a great afternoon tea, I'd love to hear about it! 

15 November 2012

Equipment Review and Giveaway - Wusthof Classic 3.5-Inch Paring Knife


Looking for gift ideas? Good cooks should have good equipment, right? Better than a whole drawer (or block) full of cheap knives that are going to frustrate you every time you use one, three good knives are really all most of us need most days: an 8- or-10-inch chef's knife, a 10-inch bread knife and a 3- to 4-inch paring knife. Start with those, and then gradually add to your collection as needed.

I've tried all kinds of paring knives over the years, and what I've learned is this. Give me a blade that is sharp and holds an edge for a long time, thick enough to be sturdy and thin enough to maneuver, short enough for fine work and long enough to be versatile. And, despite what some manufacturers and "experts" might say, a full-tang blade forged from a single piece of steel is a must for me. If you've ever had a paring knife break in two in your hand, as I have, you know what I mean.

As important as the blade is, almost more so is the handle. It doesn't matter how perfect the blade is if the handle doesn't feel right in your hand. I've had handles that were too long, too short, too narrow, too wide. One that was specifically designed for comfort is so bulky it's impossible to use. Another handle is so thin and narrow, every time I use it my fingernails dig into my palm. 


I had been on the hunt for a better paring knife, when the Wusthof Classic 3.5-Inch Paring Knife 4066/9cm was sent to me for review. Wusthof has a range of blade sizes, and this one is just right for me--large enough for any task, but not so large as to be hard to handle. And I love the way the Wusthof Classic handle feels in my hand.

This paring knife is extremely versatile, perfect for: peeling potatoes and apples, coring tomatoes, hulling and slicing strawberries, peeling and dicing shallots and garlic, dicing unpeeled avocado halves, deveining and butterflying shrimp, and making decorative garnishes (citrus crowns, fluted mushroom caps, tomato roses, radish flowers, strawberry fans).

Note: See my chef's knife review, bread knife review and 10 Favorite Kitchen Gadgets post for more gift ideas.
 

 

Wusthof  Giveaway

One winner will receive a Wusthof Classic 3.5-Inch Paring Knife 4066/9cm from Wusthof. All US residents who leave a comment about knives (one entry per person - and please include your email address in the body of your comment) on this post before 11:59 pm Eastern time Wednesday November 21 will be put into a random drawing. Winner will be announced here in the comments before noon Eastern time on Thursday November 22. If I don't hear back from the winner of the random drawing by 11:59 am Eastern time Sunday November 25, another drawing will be held and a new winner selected from the original entrants (those who commented before the giveaway deadline).

Buy It Now This knife is available online at Amazon.

08 November 2012

Fresh Cranberry Sauce - The Jewel of the Autumn Table


Fresh cranberry sauce is the jewel of the autumn table. Even if it didn't taste better than canned, I'd prefer it just for its beauty. Besides, the canned whole berry sauce contains corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup--so no thanks--and always seems to be full of stems I feel compelled to laboriously pick out by hand.

Some people insist they prefer the jiggly jellied cranberry sauce that comes out of the can in one piece and is then sliced (traditionally, with the can lid). I don't think anyone really does think it's better, though. I think it's just one of those nostalgia things, and I of all people understand that. If that's what you grew up with, then that's what you want. So I like to serve both.

Cranberry sauce goes with any meat or poultry, especially rich ones like goose and duck. And, of course, it's classic with turkey. I love it on a turkey and dressing sandwich. (And, yes, I say "dressing" rather than "stuffing" for two reasons: 1. that nostalgia thing, and 2. I always bake it in a dish rather than inside the bird.)

Another cool thing about homemade cranberry sauce: People who don't make it have this crazy idea that it's a big deal. So you take 15 minutes to make this simple dish with half a dozen ingredients, and people think you're some kind of culinary genius. Gotta love that! Make it really easy on yourself and cook it a day or two ahead. It thickens as it cools. The sauce below was room temperature, and the firmer sauce above was slightly chilled.

(And make your turkey gravy ahead -- a month ahead, if you like -- with my Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy and Turkey Broth recipe.)

Where do you stand on the great cranberry sauce debate? (PS Be sure to come back next week to enter the giveaway of an essential kitchen tool.)


Cranberry Sauce

(Makes about 3 cups)

3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon mace, optional
1 12-ounce bag (3 cups) cranberries
1 medium orange, chopped


In 2-quart saucepan, dissolve sugar, salt and mace in water. Bring to boil; add cranberries (I used organic). Return to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in chopped orange and the juice that came out while you were chopping. Cool completely at room temperature. Chill. Serve in a pretty clear glass bowl.

01 November 2012

Swiss Steak - Rocky Mountain Organic Meats Giveaway


Technically, Swiss steak is round steak that has been put through a meat tenderizing machine or pounded with a tenderizer mallet and then braised in a tomato sauce. So I guess you could say, technically, my Swiss steak is not really Swiss steak at all because I don't tenderize the round steak and there's very little tomato in my recipe. But this is what we called Swiss steak in my family, so I have to go with it. 

Though the words "comfort food" often conjure up a picture of less-than-healthful eating, I'm pretty careful about what I eat, avoiding foods produced inhumanely, unsustainably, unethically, or with GMOs (genetically modified organisms), hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or any other "-cides." I look for non-CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation), pastured or grass-fed and grass-finished meats; and if they are also certified organic, that's even better. 

This recipe always tasted good, but never better than this batch, made with 6 eye of round steaks kindly sent to me by Rocky Mountain Organic Meats, a great company you've read about here before, one that meets and even exceeds my requirements. And they are going to ship 6 eye of round steaks to one of my readers! See bottom of the post for giveaway details.

Swiss Steak

(Serves 8)

4 pounds round steak, cut into 24 pieces
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 1/3 cups chopped onion
3 cups water, divided
1/2 cup catsup 

4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons marjoram

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup each diced green and red bell pepper

1 Cut beef into serving pieces; pat dry with paper towels. Using up to 4 tablespoons of the flour, lightly flour one side only. If you have a 12-inch slope-sided skillet, brown the meat in 3 batches. If you have a 12-inch straight-sided skillet, brown the meat in 2 batches. In large skillet, heat 1 or 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add first batch of the meat to the pan, floured side down first, season with salt and pepper and brown very well on both sides. Put browned meat in Dutch oven. Repeat once or twice, depending on pan size. It's important not to put too much meat in the pan at once; crowding prevents proper browning. 

2 Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet, and sauté onion about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Add 2 1/2 cups water, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, marjoram and crushed red pepper flakes to skillet; heat to boiling and pour over beef in Dutch oven. Heat to boiling, reduce heat, cover Dutch oven with lid and place in oven to cook for 2 1/2 hours at 300 degrees. 

3 Move Dutch oven to stovetop. In jar, shake 2 tablespoons flour and 1/2 cup water until smooth. Stir flour mixture into gravy, cooking for about 5 minutes until thickened. Can be made ahead up to this point. If serving next day, let it cool, and refrigerate until 2 hours before serving time; stir in diced bell pepper and reheat slowly for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. For same-day serving, stir in diced bell pepper and continue cooking in oven at 300 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Note: Naturally, you'll want to serve this with Perfect Mashed Potatoes!

Another Note: You could also make out-of-this-world Chicken Fried Steak with these beautiful steaks!
 
Rocky Mountain Organic Meats Giveaway

One winner will receive 6 grass-fed organic beef eye of round steaks from Rocky Mountain Organic Meats. (Though the steaks are labeled as 8 ounces, which would total 3 pounds, they actually totaled nearly 4 pounds!) All continental US residents who leave a comment (one entry per person - and please include your email address in the body of your comment) on this post before 11:59 pm Eastern time Wednesday November 7 will be put into a random drawing. Winner will be announced here in the comments before noon Eastern time on Thursday November 8. If I don't hear back from the winner of the random drawing by 11:59 am Eastern time Sunday November 11, another drawing will be held and a new winner selected from the original entrants (those who commented before the giveaway deadline).

Disclosure: Product was sent to me for review purposes. I was not required to post about it and received no compensation for doing so. And, in case you don't know me, there is no amount of money or free product that can induce me to say something I don't mean!

25 October 2012

Sausage Pinwheels - A Delightful Savory for Cocktails or Teatime

As you know, one of the most delightful repasts for me is a traditional British-style afternoon tea. A beautiful table laden with sandwiches, savories, scones, pastries and a big pot of properly made black tea is truly comfort food to those of us who have developed the habit. I made these for an afternoon tea party last week, and they were a hit!

These savory spirals are also a perfect little cocktail bite to go with your preprandial beverage of choice. Made with frozen puff pastry (homemade or storebought), they're quick and easy to put together. I wasn't able to find any sausage that day that met my requirements (ethically, humanely, sustainably produced pastured pork), but I found pork shoulder that did. So I bought a pound of it and made my own homemade sausage. Made it a little spicy since each pinwheel has just a couple teaspoons of sausage.

If you're using a sausage you haven't tried before, be sure to cook up a bite of it to see how it tastes. Then season it to suit yourself before proceeding with the recipe. What kind of sausage do you like? Mild or spicy? In casings or not? Pork, poultry, game?  


Sausage Pinwheels


(Makes 24)

1/2 pound bulk sausage, cooked and cooled
1 sheet (1/2 package) frozen puff pastry
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

1 In small skillet cook sausage, breaking it into small pieces, until browned. Drain any excess fat on paper towels. Set aside to cool. While sausage is cooling, thaw pastry at room temperature for 40 minutes.

2 On very lightly floured 12x12-inch square of foil, roll out the 10x10-inch square of pastry to 10x12-inch square. With long side toward you, sprinkle Parmesan evenly over pastry, leaving a 1-inch border on the long edge farthest from you. Repeat with the cooled sausage

3 Roll evenly toward the clean edge, wet that edge lightly with water and seal the roll. Wrap it in the square of foil. Place in freezer for 45 minutes before slicing. If you're as persnickety as I am and want to ensure perfectly round slices, split an empty paper towel roll and place your wrapped pastry roll in it, holding it closed with a couple of rubber bands or pieces of kitchen string.

4 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet (I use an 18x13x1-inch heavy-duty half-sheet pan) with parchment paper. Whisk together egg and water. Cut the partially frozen roll into 24 1/2-inch slices. Place slices about an inch apart on prepared baking sheet; brush with egg mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Can be reheated at 300 degrees for about 5 minutes just before serving.

Note: Another cocktail or teatime savory made with puff pastry is this Tomato Tart. 

18 October 2012

Perfect Mashed Potatoes - The Perfect Accompaniment to, Well, Everything!


It is no exaggeration to say that I love mashed potatoes (aah ... fluffy, buttery comfort food) and could happily eat them every day. I can't tell you how many meals I've been served where I've said to myself, "This would be sooo much better with mashed potatoes" than whatever side dish the chef had chosen. But you might be saying ...

"Mashed potatoes? Who needs to read a blog post about, or get a recipe for, mashed potatoes? You just make them, right?" Well, judging by all the bad ones I've eaten in my life, No! Though, truth be told, I even rather like some of the bad ones. But plain old mashed potatoes--not a fancy, enhanced version--can be stellar.

If you grew up with really good mashed potatoes, as I did, you know what I'm talking about. My mother made them so well that when I had them away from home I was stunned to discover mashed potatoes could be bad in any number of ways: bland, watery, lumpy, gummy, gluey, gooey, runny.

Of course, there's nothing difficult or even tricky about making mashed potatoes. It's just a matter of making them with care. I learned that from my mother, who had a way of making everything taste better than anyone else's version, even something with identical ingredients. Just taking an extra few seconds to dry out the boiled potatoes, an extra few strokes of the masher to get out those last lumps, another moment to taste and adjust the seasoning--a little care makes all the difference.

Apologies to many of you, I'm sure, but why put garlic in mashed potatoes? I'm sure there's garlic in the main dish. A meal should have a variety of flavors. If one dish has garlic, the others need not. I've been disappointed by many an expensive meal where everything--bread, main dish, side dishes and salad--was loaded with garlic. C'mon ... there are other flavors! 

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

3 pounds russet potatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
1/3 cup milk, perhaps a little more
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 Peel, rinse and quarter the potatoes (cut large potatoes into 6 pieces). Put them in a 3-quart saucepan and add 1 teaspoon salt and cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer, loosely covered, about 20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender.

2 During the last 5 minutes, heat the butter and 1/3 cup of milk until the butter is melted. You may need to add up to another few tablespoons of milk at the last to get the proper consistency, but don't heat it with the butter as you might not need it.

3 Drain the potatoes and return them to low heat to dry the moisture out of the potatoes. Remove from the heat. Put the potatoes through a ricer or food mill, as I used to do when I was really fussy, or use a potato masher to mash them thoroughly. With wooden spoon, beat in the heated milk and butter and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and coarsely ground black pepper (maybe start with 1/4 teaspoon). You may need to add a little more milk to get the consistency you like. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Note: A few things that go beautifully with mashed potatoes: Chicken Fried Steak, Boeuf Bourguignon, Braised Brisket, London Broil, Pan-Seared Ribeye Steaks, Pork Chops and Gravy, Short Ribs Braised in Wine.

11 October 2012

Chicken Fried Steak - The Southern Comfort Food Classic


Though I don't subscribe to the old Southern saying, "If it ain't fried, it ain't food," I do occasionally indulge. But only if it's worth it. And a properly made chicken fried steak is definitely worth it. Also known simply as CFS among those who really love it, it's the ultimate comfort food in certain parts of the country.

I don't think it deserves its reputation as a greasy, high-fat food. At least not the way I make it. I use organic grassfed beef, all organic ingredients, and shallow-fry it. The oil needs to be good and hot (or you will end up with greasy steaks!), but you can't really get a temperature reading on such a shallow depth of oil; just aim for something less than smoking hot. I add back just 3 tablespoons of the pan drippings for 2 cups of gravy. Sounds pretty healthy to me!

Of course, my Southern grandmother used Crisco, bacon grease or lard for all her frying. But I like to think she'd be on board with my healthed-up versions of her food.

Chicken Fried Steak

(Makes 4 servings)

The Steak
1 pound top round steak
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt plus more 
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper plus more
1/4 teaspoon cayenne 
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup organic canola oil

The Gravy
3 tablespoons pan drippings
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (or replace 2/3 cup with beef broth)
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 Cut the round steak into 4 pieces. With the textured side of a meat tenderizer (OXO Good Grips Meat Tenderizer), pound each piece (on a meat-only dishwasher-safe cutting board) until almost double in size and about 1/4 inch thick. 

2 In shallow dish combine the flour with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt, coarsely ground black pepper and cayenne. In another shallow dish beat together the egg and milk.

3 Working with one piece at a time, season both sides with salt and pepper, dip into the egg mixture, dip into the flour mixture, dip into the egg mixture again, dip into the flour mixture again. Really press the flour in. This really goops up the hands, so just use one hand and keep one hand clean; you'll need it.

4 When all meat is coated, heat oil to a depth of not more than 1/16 to 1/8 inch. You just need enough oil to cover the pan generously. In my All-Clad Stainless 12-Inch Fry Pan, that's 1/2 cup. When the oil is hot, put in two pieces at a time; don't crowd the pan. Cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, or until well browned and crunchy. With tongs, turn steaks and cook second side for about 3 or 4 minutes. Turn carefully so as not to lose the crust; chicken fried steak is all about the crust.

5 Drain on a paper towel-lined plate (wad up the paper towels; don't just lay them flat on the plate). Repeat. Then proceed to the most important part of chicken fried steak--the cream gravy! Pour off the fat in the skillet, then measure back into the skillet 3 tablespoons of the pan drippings. Use the ingredient list above, but go to my Cream Gravy post for the directions (and a little story about a real pioneer woman, my great grandmother).

6 Plate up the steaks with a generous serving of Mashed Potatoes on the side. Pour the gravy over both. Biscuits and a bowl of collard greens on the side round out this classic Southern meal.  
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