Friday, December 21, 2012

Lemon Bellinis for the Solstice

This year three friends and I celebrated renewal and new beginnings with a lemon themed meal. Introducing a smart young lady to two smart ladies further into their adventures over three courses and conversation.

We had so much fun I forgot to take a single photo, nary a one of any dish. And it all tasted so good, is so simple to prepare I'm going to share the recipes with you anyway...I have complete faith these will turn out perfect for you.

It is hard to go wrong when kicking off any gathering with Bubbly. By using alcohol free champagne and omitting the Limoncello kids can join in the toasts. I hope you enjoy these between now and Epiphany.

Lemon Bellinis

1 bottle of Sparkling Wine - I prefer Gruet or Fre if going alcohol free
1 pint lemon sorbet (see below for a recipe)
Limoncello - I love Paula's of Austin

Place a melon ball scoop of sorbet (1/2" sphere) into the bottom of each flute
Cover with Limoncello
Complete by filling the glass with Champagne

Lemon Sorbet

8 oz water
8 oz lemon juice
5 oz agave syrup
1 tsp Penzey's lemon peel powder

Blend all the ingredients together. Pour into ice cream maker for a cycle. Transfer to storage container and place in freezer until use. Much easier than battling the lines at the grocery store!

Adapted from See Girl Cook:

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Right now lots of delicious things are evolving in the kitchen, good but not just-so, heady scents lacking bread that rises yet is brick-ish, too sweet dark beer chocolate cake, biscuit style one vs biscuit style two, chocolate mousse resembling a melted milk shake that churns into a decent ice cream, cherry marmalade epic fail via operator error. Eventually they'll all be ready to share, just not yet.

It is a bit discouraging when a string of recipes don't come together perfectly on the first, or even third, attempt. The fun of playing in the kitchen fading, making it time to bake a no-fail treat. This means an old standard or anything ever tried from David Lebovitz. Today, it might mean both.

Starting with these Baci di Dama cookies - hazelnut with a kiss of chocolate on David Lebovitz's blog.

And some simple savory cooking, like sausage & lentil stew.

Monday, November 19, 2012

My Favorite Pots & Pans are on Sale this Saturday

Celebrity pans are ubiquitous, expensive, and unnecessary. Nameless, heavy bottom stainless steel pans populate both professional and civilian kitchens. As do anodized aluminum. Long ago I worked retail and managed to buy most of my Calphalon pots & pans on sale, plus an additional 40% off employee discount. At the time Calphalon was made in Ohio, and one of the very few pots & pans that were oven & stove-top safe. Which in my mind meant less stuff in my tiny kitchen, less to clean up after a meal, and with the warranty something I would buy once in my life. They’re decades old now, and only a couple have ever merited shipping back for replacement. Lifetime Warranties are a beautiful thing, but perhaps not a necessary thing.

If I had to restock a kitchen now, without working-in-retail-discounts and sales, I’d head straight for Ikea.

Ikea can be a hit or miss. For me their 365+ white dishes are a hit. After spending a winter cooking on a set I can’t rave enough about their 365+ plain, stainless cookware. The sauce pans even have measurements engraved onto the interior pan wall, removing the guess work when gauging reductions, making adding fluids a snap. A 15 year warranty isn’t a slouch either. The wide, hollow handles are solidly attached, comfortable, and oven safe. The plain stainless is also incredibly easy to clean and maintain.

Even better, for Black Friday Weekend (Saturday November 24th) Ikea has their 7 piece starter set on sale for $19.99, usually $49.99. Only the sauté pan is Teflon coated, which is convenient for making pancakes, crepes, and other delicate foods or caramelizing pineapple. The 5qt pot & lid works well as a small dutch oven; the 3qt pot and lid makes risottos, soups; the 1qt is perfect for reductions, water baths, soup for one, rice for two. One set provides all the basic pots, pans and lids to stock a kitchen capable of cooking all the recipes here. Two sets will accommodate cooking for a crowd, like during the holidays, and still cost less than a regular price single set.

Add in the 11qt dutch oven/stock pot on sale for $29.99 for big batches of pasta sauce, large roasts, canning, mulled wine, etc.

As much as I loath crowds, this is one time it is worth braving the madness. $50-$70 to completely stock a kitchen in good, versatile pans…Sold.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pear Brandy & Apple Brandy

Fruited Brandies are wonderfully simple to make and cost far less than flavored brandies in the liquor store. Unless the funds are available to buy Calvados or other well-known brandies the cheaper varieties can be contaminated with corn alcohol, corn syrup or imitation flavor of unknown origin.

everything necessary to make fruited brandies at home

Crapabble brandy being my absolute favorite, even over peach brandy. The taste is quintessential apple pie packed into a thimble-size glass. Plus crabapples are often free for the picking. This year when the crabapples ripened I was too sick to take advantage of the tree’s bounty. Which means my cupboard is bare of fruited brandies, and winter is coming. This is unacceptable, untenable. So while I was brandy poaching a couple pears I started a pint jar of pear brandy, and another of apple brandy.

Making fruited brandies is one of my favorite uses for old, crystallized honey. I scoop it into the jars first, add the spice, fruits and then top with brandy. With swirling, over the infusion time, the honey dissolves. No waste, and no sticky dribbles down the jar sides.

Follow a vegan diet? Agave works in place of honey. I've used both in different batches with success.

For 2013, wish me good health, so I can return to making gallons of crabapple brandy, apple pie brandy, and plum spiced brandy as Yule Gifts.

Pear Brandy
1 medium sized, ripe pear, such as Bosc or Bartlett
2 cloves
2” cinnamon stick
Pinch of nutmeg
1 oz of honey
Brandy – inexpensive like Korbel

Stem, core and slice pear into sixths, leaving the peel on. Place in pint mason jar with other ingredients and cover with brandy.

Swirl 2-4xday for the first week, then daily for another week. Let rest in a cool, dark place for another two weeks minimum, two months preferably.

Strain and pour liquid back into the jar. Use in pies, tarts, or as an aperitif. I keep some of the fruit in my freezer to mince and use a dollop of to season those same pies and tarts.

Apple Brandy
1 small, tart apple, such as Granny Smith or Crabapple
1 sliver of lemon zest if using non-crabapples
4 cloves
2” cinnamon stick
¼ tsp mace
Pinch of nutmeg
2 oz of honey
Brandy – inexpensive like Korbel

Stem, core and slice apple into sixths, leaving the peel on. Place in pint mason jar with other ingredients and cover with brandy. When unable to use crabapples I add a strip of lemon zest to boost the tartness.

Swirl 2-4xday for the first week, then daily for another week. Let rest in a cool, dark place for another two weeks minimum, two months preferably.

Strain and pour liquid back into the jar. Use in pies, tarts, or as an aperitif.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Man Catcher Brownies

There is a long tradition of handy single men doing projects in exchange for food. In my case, specifically of barn roof’s being repaired, paddock fences mended, and hay moved for fresh baked brownies and lemonade. Since my teens the one bowl brownie recipe on the Baker’s© Chocolate was the go-to recipe for an excellent cake-y brownie.

Three Bowls to create Brownie Bliss
Then in 2007 I read a Boulder Daily Valentine’s article on Leigh Lambert and her quest for the perfect brownie, entitled Man Catcher Brownies. Given brownies caught guys for barn repairs and home maintenance tasks, the title had me giggling. Reading the recipe reminded me of my chocolate chip cookie recipe with equal parts sugar and brown sugar, a hefty slug of vanilla, the dash of salt. Then the mixing directions made mental connections…techniques elevate the results, so even so-so ingredients make a better brownie:

Mixing the cocoa into the melted fat releases more of the cocoa polyphenols maximizing the flavor.

Brown sugar enhances the caramel & bourbon notes…substituting vanilla infused bourbon for the vanilla extract is pretty tasty too; as is having a finger of bourbon with a warm brownie!

The large grains of kosher sea salt prevent too-sweet with piquancy in each bite.
Unless you’re buying generic store brand cocoa, higher-grade cocoa isn’t necessarily more expensive cocoa, and makes a tremendous difference. The higher grade will contain more cocoa butter fat, have a deeper color, and more phenols (chocolaty smell.) To a chocolate fiend the bigger, rounder, richer taste experience will be readily apparent. I keep a stock of Mama Ganache (Natural and Dutched), Penzey’s (High Fat), Savory (Midnight), Guittard (Rouge) or Scharffen Berger cocoa’s in my freezer.

Once you bite into these, dirtying three bowls will never seem like too much effort. Hand mixing them is still as simple as the old one-bowl recipe.

moist and dense with a crackle top
8 oz / 227 grams coconut oil or palm shortening
5.86 oz / 167 grams dutched cocoa powder
5 eggs
4 tsp vanilla
9.42 oz / 267 grams light brown sugar
9.42 oz / 267 grams sugar
5.88 oz / 187 grams of Gluten-Free All-Purpose flour
2/3 tsp kosher sea salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9x9 pan with parchment paper.
In a small bowl whisk together the flour and salt until no lumps remain.

In a medium bowl heat the coconut oil until just melted. Immediately whisk in cocoa powder until smooth. Let cool. Don’t give into the visual temptation to lick the whisk…straight fat & cocoa will be an unpleasant junior high Home Economics flashback.

In the largest bowl, while the cocoa mixture cools, whisk eggs together and add in sugars. Then whisk in the vanilla. Stir in cooled cocoa mixture. Now the whisk is perfect to swipe a dab from…sticky with sweet, intense chocolaty goodness.

Fold flour and sea salt into wet mixture until just mixed…hand mixing these is the easiest route to not to over-mixing and ending up with rubbery, tough brownies. The dough is thick. It won’t spread while baking, so push it into the pan corners and level all over with the mixing spatula.

Bake 40-45 minutes or until a crust forms and toothpick comes out mostly clean. Completely clean will be an over baked brick.

Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Then it is safe to lift the parchment out of the pan and divvy up warm brownie bliss.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Brandy Poached Pears

I’ve been craving brandy poached pears ever since Grace Burrowes latest heroine reminisced about eating brandy poached pears in childhood. Pears poached in red wine, orange juice and spices are robust; a winter staple, especially served with elk steak with more of the reduced sauce over vanilla ice cream for dessert. Brandy poached are entirely different…delicate and heady, a memory of late summer.

Soft Focus

This week the small, locally owned grocer’s had red Anjou pears on sale…a lovely bin of fat, fragrant pears. Add in a windy, snowy, cold autumn day and these are the results.

The only problem…I used the last of my brandy! Will have to run out tomorrow for another bottle so I can have a small snifter with my bowl of poached pears…or open a bottle of Fre non-alocholic bubbly and eat the pears swimming in bubbles…or in reality, Both!

2 big, fat, ripe pears
6oz / 180ml brandy
6 oz / 180ml water
3-4 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla
2” length of cinnamon stick (break a longer stick on the counter edge)
4 whole cloves
Nutmeg, freshly grated, 3-4 swipes aka not very much (optional)

Put the water, brandy, honey, vanilla, cinnamon stick, and cloves into a 1-1 ½ quart sauce pan on low-to-medium heat. I use my smallest burner, 5,000 btu.
While the sauce begins to heat, peel pears, core, quartering each half.
Place in sauce pan so all the slices are in the fluid. They don’t have to be completely covered.

Snifter o'Bliss

Cover pan with lid, or a saucer (darn it, sometimes those wee sauce pans don’t come with lids) and poach for 15 minutes. Halfway through, gently shift the pears so the uncovered part are moved down into the fluid.

At 15 minutes, check for tenderness. Pears go from just-right to pear sauce in a blink…I like mine tender yet still solid. Remove the pears with a slotted spoon to serving dish. Turn the heat up to high and reduce the liquids to syrup. Down to about ¼ the volume. Add the bit of fresh nutmeg.

Pour over pears and serve immediately. If storing, cool the syrup in the pan. Once cool, spoon over pears in storage container and place in the fridge. Otherwise the hot syrup will cook the pears a bit more.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

'Tis the Season for Mixers & Food Processors

For an avid baker the two most expensive and necessary tools are a stand mixer and a food processor, making them the second and third 'expensive' priority after buying good knives. If you use the tips and guidelines in the October post in Tools, combined they will most likely cost more than the basic knives.

The stand mixer is invaluable for achieving breads and cakes with the desired crumb, texture, moisture level...that difficult alchemy without gluten’s elasticity. Creaming fat and sugar to ribbons or fluffy clouds. Turning egg whites into meringue without arms cramping up, and in no time flat. There is a reason many Americans grew up with their mother's beastly heavy, decades sturdy, white Kitchenaid workhorse holding pride of place in a counter corner…they perform and are hard to kill!

The food processor makes chopping nuts into meal/flour possible, and cheaper than store-bought nut flours. Smooth, flawless ganache a simple matter of pulsing a button. Ice creams, purees for fruit sorbets, all faster and less mess than any other preparation method. Cuisinart is currently doing a model change, with the 'old' styles at 50-66% of the usual retail price...

Each of these is a couple hundred dollars, or more, and worth every penny. Here are ways to find them at the best price possible.

Bowl-Lift 6 quart Mixer

Costco and Sam's both carry Kitchenaid mixers and Cuisinart food processors in sizes that will accommodate almost every recipe found in baking books, for significantly less than mainstream, big box retailers or department stores. They tend to have better prices, plus sales and rebates, before major food-centric holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter) and Mother's Day…which means right Now! As in an 11 cup processor for $149 or less.

Since the late 90s Kitchenaid has aggressively pursued becoming the most desired mixer in the US with a plethora of designer colors, three different sizes of bowls, two styles of mixer (beater-lift or bowl-lift). This increased production means they have an online outlet for factory refurbished units. Ones returned & repaired (rare), others that didn't pass the initial QC to leave the factory & had to be tweaked to be saleable, and are warrantied.

There are also authorized refurb retailers online and in most outlet malls (Kitchen Collection to name one) who will have a different selection of colors & sizes. The online factory outlet is how I acquired my 6qt empire red mixer…partially funded by selling my decade old 5qt white mixer to a girlfriend wanting her first Kitchenaid on a budget. Another friend acquired hers via Craigslist at a divorce sale. Another has her grandma's hand-me down Kitchenaid; her only expense was having a repair shop oil & tune it up. A friend who is Thrift Queen found one for her daughter at a thrift store.

I'm comfortable advocating buying used or refurbished Kitchenaids & Cuisinarts because they are difficult to kill, easy to check before buying, and are often sold/discarded for reasons that have nothing to do with their functionality. Some people don't use them, received them as an unwanted gift, or like me upgrade to a large mixer or want a different color.
Testing a used unit before buying: plug it in, go thru the levels of speed, listen to it for clicks or grinds. Look at the bowl for dings indicating the beater needs adjusting. Or if a dime placed in the bowl doesn’t move when the mixer is turned on the beater needs adjusting down. To see how easy it is to adjust the beater, watch this video from KitchenaidTV:

When Cuisinarts die usually the motor goes in a hot, smoking death, never to turn again. Easy to spot and simple to plug in to check. Does it turn on, without excess heat, smoke, or weird noises? Time to bargain!

Beater-Lift 5 quart Mixer

A second stand mixer bowl is almost as valuable as the mixer itself. My second bowl is pretty much a dedicated egg white/meringue/whipped cream bowl. It saves precious time in recipes like the Regina de Notte Torte. For additional bowls, beaters, blades etc nothing beats the internet sources of Amazon and eBay. To spot over pricing on used opportunities, spend a bit of time rummaging the internet to be familiar with current prices.

Mixer and Processor acquired? Fantastic! You're ready for decades of seriously delicious baking...German chocolate cake & filling? Apricot brandy pound cake? Lavender chocolate truffles? Kona Inn banana bread? Shortbread? Fig Newtons? Pop over to recipes and get mixing!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pumpkin Pancakes & Waffles

For me, pumpkin takes pancakes and waffles from being too sweet to just right. Don't get me wrong, I still have a sweet tooth, but after more than a decade of no corn syrup laden food products, my sweet tooth is more of a rich-intense flavors tooth.

Usually I make these waffles all through autumn and winter, freezing the bulk of the batch for quick, hot breakfasts or snacks. Most often I eat them plain. On very cold mornings I'll add a dollop of maple syrup to my plate, then have extra strong tea or coffee to balance out the flavors.

This makes about 16 or so 5" pancakes or individual waffles.

7.4 oz / 210 grams Gluten-Free all purpose flour or brown rice flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp    pumpkin pie spice
4 large  eggs
8 oz      pumpkin puree
3.5 oz / 100 grams brown sugar (plain sugar works too)
2 oz      vegetable oil
1 tsp     vanilla
16 oz    plain soy milk soured with 2 tsp lemon juice

Whisk together the dry ingredients until blended. In a separate bowl whisk together the wet ingredients. Blend the two sets together until no lumps remain.
Pour 1/3 to 1/2 cup increments onto preheated griddle or into waffle iron. Cook until bubbles break in the center, then gently flip to cook the other side.
Freeze cooled extras between sheets of wax paper. To reheat, pop a pancake or waffle on a plate and microwave for about 45 seconds.
No pumkin pie spice on hand? Here is a quick way to blend your own:
2 tsp    cinnamon
1 tsp    ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves 1/8 tsp anise (optional)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tortilla-less Chicken soup from Paleo Slow Cooking

Paleo Slow Cooking: Gluten Free Recipes Made Simple by Chrissy Gower caught my eye at the library...the Paleo diet is an excellent refuge for allergen free-food. The big, glossy images, clear directions, and generally short ingredient lists induced me to pick it up and try a couple recipes.

Before my food allergies manifested my slow cooker was a favorite kitchen tool, a bit of chopping, turn it on before leaving for work or school and come home to a fragrant home and ready meal. Yet all the recipes relied on condensed soups, cheese, cream, flour. So the big slow cooker was given away, and a small one entered the kitchen to make organic beans affordable again, because even organic canned beans often contain wheat flour, corn starch or "natural flavorings" of unknown origin.

One of the foods I miss in winter is a bowl tortilla soup full of chicken shreds swimming in a thick red sauce. It usually has kernels of corn, strips of tortillas, and corn starch thickener.  So when I flipped to page 94 in the book and read Gower's note on turning this soup into a 20-30 minute stove-top quickie, I had to try it.

Tortilla-less Chicken Soup

1 medium yellow onion
4 celery stalks, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, diced
16 oz chicken broth
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (I prefer fire-roasted for this recipe)
14.5 oz can of enchilada sauce (unavailable where I live, substituted a can of tomato sauce, a little can of diced green chilies, and a heaped tsp of Penzey's Taco Seasoning)
1 1/2 tsp each cumin & chili powder
1/2 cup coconut milk

1 rotisserie chicken (Whole Foods has one that is gluten-corn-dairy-soy free)


In  a dutch oven over medium heat saute the carrots, onion, celery in a bit of olive oil until translucent.
Add the remaining ingredients to the pain, simmer for 20 minutes. While the sauce and veggies simmer, pull the rotisserie chicken apart & drop into the pan.

Ladle into bowls and serve with a sprinkle of cilantro. This makes 6-8 servings. Perfect for freezing a quart, lunch with a friend and then leftovers the next day...or feeding a hungry horde.

To prepare in a slow cooker: Saute the veggies, chunk 3-4 boneless-skinless chicken breasts or thighs, and add everything to the slow cooker. Cook for 8-10 hours on low.

Based on the success of this meal, I'm excited to try more recipes in this book. Highly recommend this book for folks who are new to cooking, don't enjoy cooking or don't have much time to spend cooking.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Torta de Regina de Notte

Alone a chunk of bittersweet chocolate is redolent with night blooming floral scents, of garden paths still warm from the sun's kiss, expressing passions that unfurl only during night's dark embrace. For me citrus fruits grant the ability to taste sunshine. Bursting and bright, it is no wonder humans have long heralded oranges as symbols for the sun's rebirth. The perfect globes contrasting the scant arch of a Northern hemipshere's winter day, especially an overcast, grey day like today.
In this torte the contrasting & complimentary are wedded together by earthy hazelnuts, resulting a sensory experience exceeding the sum of its parts. It tastes better than the recipe reads, better than the gorgeous photo by Helen Dujardin, which is no small feat as her photos are always lush...Queen of the Night fits this torte.

Since citrus isn't in season yet I cheated with a premium organic store-bought marmalade. I always use bittersweet chocolate, not semisweet, use either. The simplicity of baking by weight, not volume means you can grind your own hazelnuts or buy flour/meal at the store. Ditto the chocolate - ground chocolate (not cocoa!) also makes this recipe faster to assemble. Otherwise use the standard grate side of the box grater, it will result in a fine grate chocolated, not chunks or the melted mess the fine side will make (ask me how I know that...) Prepping each ingredient before starting to mix the cake helps maintain the egg-based structure.
Each winter one new-to-me cookbook becomes 'the' cookbook of the season. Winter 2012 will be Marmalades Savory & Sweet. In a few months when citrus peaks I'll make a batch and repeat this recipe. May even cheat again so I can dally with this Queen again. Waiting for good citrus to have this cake was not an option. Despite cheating on the citrus marmalade, the cherry marmalade cannot be ignored, especially as twelve ounces of fat Bing cherries in my freezer are chorusing in siren song. By next week there will be a post extolling another pleasure awaiting between the covers of Ellen's delightful book.

Here's how I made the Queen of the Night: it took only one ingredient change to make this safe for me to eat, and I think the coconut oil enhanced the main ingredient floral notes.

Cake Ingredients
7.06 ounces / 200 grams ground hazelnuts, plus half an ounce more to dust the pan
9.52 ounces / 270 grams granulated sugar
8 large eggs, separated
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
4 ounces orange juice (the juice of 2 oranges)
1 tbsp hazelnut liqueur or vanilla extract
7 ounces / 225 grams semisweet chocolate - ground or finely shaved
pinch of salt

Glaze Ingredients
8 ounces marmalade
1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur
1-2 tablespoons orange juice

Lightly grease a 9" springform pan with coconut oil. I like to parchment the bottom of the pan then oil the paper & sides. Dust with extra ground nuts.

Combine the egg yolks and sugar, mixing until ribbons form...about 5 minutes with a stand mixer. Add in the orange zest, ground hazelnuts, chocolate, orange juice, hazelnut liqueur and the pinch of salt. Blend until fully incorporated and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees - 325 if you have a convection oven.

Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/4 to 1/3 of the egg whites into the rest of the ingredients. Gently, this is where the cake's crumb and texture comes from. Repeat until all the egg whites are folded in. Pour into the prepared springform and set in the oven.

The book says to bake the cake for 55 minutes, mine was done in 40 minutes. Keep toothpicks handy and pay attention to the baking scents. Once a pick comes out mostly dry, pull the cake and set to cool for 10-15 minutes. Run the back of a knife edge around the outer rim, pop the spring form off and make the glaze.

While the cake baked I cleaned up and made the glaze. If you like the rind in marmalade, just combine the marmalade, liqueur and orange juice, warm in a small pan until runny. I'm not a fan of the rind, so I strained the glaze, let it cool to room temp and then brushed the top and sides, using a silicone brush.

The first sliver was slightly warm when I devoured it. The second  cooler slice was just as good...and the house smells delicious. Whipped topping & chocolate shavings complete the presentation. Coffee or champagne or prosecco are the ideal accompaniment to this rich, yet not too-sweet cake. The book says 8 servings from the 9" round, at my table it is 16 servings/decadent slivers.

If the cake isn't going to be consumed within a day, wrap servings of the completely cooled cake in plastic wrap, and freeze it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Knives: Selection, Care and the Feeding of...

A good knife is one tool universely acknowledged as a kitchen necessity. Also usually acknowledged as one of the expensive tools. One year the best Yule gift I received was a set of Henckels knives. Finally, my very own set of good, will-never-need-to-buy-replacements knives. Grown Up knives. I hugged the box, kept in my lap for hours, then proceeded to spend the rest of the winter making only recipes requiring lots and lots of chopping.

The surprise? Good knives mean more chopping with far less pain for arthritic hands. In hindsight it seems only logical, self evident, without diminishing the wonder of experiencing it after years of making do with cheaper Ginsu-esque knives It also means once you've spent time with a good set of knives there's no going back to lesser knives. At least not without much muttering, grumbling, and snarling imprecations.

More recently I had the pleasure of helping a young friend who enjoys cooking begin assembling his kitchen. After he'd spent months as my kitchen minion...using my knives, and other tools acquired over a couple decades, which created the challenge of how to get him 'the basics' on a budget. Deconstructing this dilema required assessing what he had, what he was cooking & baking most often, and which items he tended to use.

One part is understanding it doesn't take many knives to fulfill most tasks. That ostenatious set of 12, 14 or 30 knives is plain old conspicuous consumption. A good 8" or 10" chef's knife, a 6" utility knife, and a paring knife will more than suffice. When baking cakes & breads, add a bread knife, and a sturdy set of kitchen shears to the must-have list. If budget allows a Santuko is a useful splurge. The wee sharpener is a necessity, dull knives being more dangerous than boiling sugar and more frustrating than a cheap knife...more on caring & feeding knives below.

The solution to owning those good knives without waiting for years or a generous gift is a restaurant supply store. Most likely they won't carry a known brand, or sets with excess pieces. What they will have, without fail, is solid selection of individual cold-forged, full tang knives for far less than the usual retail big box or boutique chains. Why? Because commercial kitchen staff need quality, durable tools to use in the grueling environment of a restaurant. You can buy your perfect chef's knife this knife or a couple at a time as budget allows.
Plus most restaurant supply stores are locally owned, family businesses. They'll be staffed by knowledgeable, friendly adults, not sullen retail drones. Knives will be easily available to handle, feel the balance, the handle shape, how it weighs in hand. I fondled many a knife before I decided long ago exactly which knives I planned to buy once and then use for a lifetime.

As someone with small hands, slight wrists, and not much heft to bear down behind the blade, Henckels and many of the Victorinox work beautifully for me. An 8" chef knife the one I automatically grab. Burly friends with large hands and no lack of forearm or shoulder to quarter turkeys or tame monsterous squashes enjoy using Wustoff and certain Victorinox blades. A 10" chef knife is their default knife.

The discovery of our common ground, Victorinox, arrived thanks to Cresco restaurant supply here in Denver. Professionals with knowledge providing service with quality retail. I tend to sing their praises often. If you live in the West, there are Cresco's in Reno, Fresno, Denver, Santa Maria, and Sacramento.

Another knife tip they imparted: buy 2-4 inexpensive paring knives instead of one full-tang paring knife. It saves time while wrist deep in a recipe with many small ingredients: like ginger, strawberries, peaches and chilis. Since then while cleaning up I've noticed often I used all my paring knives...again.

Unless you have a burning desire to learn the ever so precise technique, skip the honing steel, and buy one of these: 

Victorinox Sharpener
Never ever get an electrical sharpening machine. Having used both the steel and this wee sharpener, I prefer the sharpener for ease of use and just as consistent results. By the time I'm done playing with my food (cooking) I've very little energy left to clean up. Accomplishing that with minimal energy expended isn't optional...pots may soak until the next day, but knives cannot, should not ever wait. 3-5 swipes of the washed & dry blade, followed with a gentle wipe of lintless towel to remove shavings, solves the energy vs proper care dilema.

My wish for you is a good knife or three in your kitchen.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Feeding the Witch while Baking

Inevitably while I'm baking I get hungry, peckish at the very least, for something savory. And it needs to be something I can graze on while working, substantial enough to keep me from eating the ingredients for whatever I'm playing with, and often feed a friend or three perched on the other side of the kitchen work table. Hummus and cucumber slices or baby carrots are a long-time standby. When David Lebovitz posted this recipe for a white bean dip I had to make it. Everything I've ever made from one of his recipes turns out exactly as described, tastes great, and often are quite simple. This recipe has that additional rare quality of not requiring a single substitution or tweak.

After soaking the beans over night and cooking them in my wee crockpot for the morning, my IV nurse and I each enjoyed a small bowl garnished with warm olive oil and a sprinkle of parsley. Add in a pot of gun powder tea for a delicious, light mid-afternoon meal.

Not in the mood for dill or mint? Use paprika and a hefty pinch of chili and cayenne instead.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Marmalade Cook Book Give Away

I recently won a copy of this gorgeous cook book, and now Tartelette is holding a giveaway for two copies.

Marmalade Savory & Sweet Spreads for a Sophisticated Taste by Elizabeth Field, photographed by Helene Dujardins aka Tartelette.

Today I'm making the Torta de Regina de Notte...hazelnuts, bittersweet chocolate, oranges; autumn decadence in a pan. The lamb recipe, the cherry marmalade, rhubarb marmalade, and more are vying for priority on my kitchen.

For now, pop over to Tartelette and leave comment to try and win a copy of your very own. Later this week I'll post photos and an update on how the torta comes out.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Daily Ritual

A little over three years ago, when my life completely changed, and I do mean completely, doing a daily ritual kept me going. Some days when I was very ill my practice was simply lighting a candle with the prayer:

North, South
East and West
May all within the Circle of my heart Be Blessed.

It also corresponds beautifully with signing an equilateral cross from Third Eye to Heart Chakra to just above the left shoulder, then right shoulder, enclosing all four points with a deosil circle parallel before your body. End with hands clasped in prayer position over the Heart or Third Eye.

I list what I'm grateful for that day, opening my hands into an open V as I end my ritual with
So Mote it Be.

Teo Bishop's piece for the autumnal equinox in yesterday's Huffington Post describes the ease and benefits a daily ritual gives. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and that you too experience the bright blessings of daily practice.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mabon - a Savory Sabbat

Celebrating this season's Sabbat of balance and harvest is the perfect day to start a batch of Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom's Worscestershire sauce...after a breakfast, second breakfast, then elevensies of Savoy Scones for Hobbit Day.

Part of the fun is tossing ingredients into a sauce pot, and more ingredients, then still more! Simmer 10 minutes, add a final ingredient, simmer again, then pour it all into a hinged glass top mason jar with rubber seals. Remeber glass top for vinegar-based mixes or use a piece of wax paper between the jar and metal lid to prevent corrosion.

Here's the recipe link:

Want to make it vegan? Simple, delete the anchovy.
Today's bit of kitchen witchery will be ready to annoint grilled elk steaks on Samhain. Plus it solves the dilema of making allergen free condiments, marinades and sauces that include Worcestershire sauce; which seems to be 90% of the options from pre-allergy life. Now if someone would leave a zuchinni or three on my doorstep....

Friday, August 31, 2012

Blue Moon

For Wiccans full moon nights are a time worship, giving thanks for the fullness of blessings in our lives, spelling for something to come to fruition. This can be done in a coven, like going to church or a prayer group to worship with like-minded individuals; or as a solitaire, similar to a Buddhist's individual mediation practice. Spells are the Craft's prayers...we ask the Divine for guidance, assistance, respite, hope, give thanks for answers received, unexpected blessings.

Another full moon habit is cleansing and recharging crystals & stones used as focal points. All faiths rely on symbols, focus objects, and ritual to help shift our consciousness from the whirl of day to day. For some Wiccan's crystals are held in hand during a spell or placed on the altar by a lit candle as locus for the practioner's intentions. ie. smokey quartz crystals are associated with prayers for deceased loved ones. Tonight crystals will be gently washed with salty water, patted dried, and set on the window sill to rest in the moonlight. Others will simply be set in the moonlight. For newly acquired & heavily used crystals the cleansing ritual can be done for three nights in a row, full moon eve-full moon-waning full moon.

A Blue Moon is the second full moon in a calendar month. They happen every couple years. Various Pagan and Shamanistic lore classifies Blue Moons as a time of greater energy...a bigger spiritual spotlight. Sharing my faith, and my kitchen knowledge is what I'm seeing highlighted in my life. From the August 2nd full moon to tonight's, friends of friends are popping up in emails and in social networks with questions about going gluten free and one who is considering the Witchy Way. These opportunities to share a good dish or a book to light a path, are wonderful gifts they each give me.

My hope for you is tonight you'll walk with the moon, soak up the beauty of our world bathed in moonlight, a count the myriad of limmed blessings.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


If there is one thing all food allergies seem to have in common is it the loss of simplicity. Simply grabbing a meal from a drive-thru, or a chain restaurant is gone. Chinese delivery - gone. Pizza delivery - gone. Most pre-packaged staples become a distant memory... like that blue box of Mac-n-Cheese. But our desire and need of simple food isn't gone. Whether from lack of time, lack of energy due to health, or a comfort craving, simplicity persists.

The most common question I hear from those newly diagnosed with food allergies is how can they retain basic dishes-recipes-favorite foods. So as I ease back into blogging I'm going to focus on items I keep in my pantry, my freezer, tools that make kitchen life easier, and simple recipes.

Personally, the past eighteen months illness and mending a broken arm & wrist has ruled my life, most notably my kitchen life. If it couldn't be prepped with almost no chopping, stirring, or other effort it didn't happen. The good part is it forced me to focus reclaim nutritious versions of basics. Smoothies, raw nut & dried fruit blends, rice & bean dishes, and pasta. This month in particular I've been craving pasta, and thanks to Tinkyada, Lucini and Applegate Farms, fulfilling my cravings.

There isn't a photo because I ate it all.

Tinkyada makes brown rice pasta that passes for semolina pasta. No added starches or gums, no weird texture, just good pasta in a multitude of shapes.

Lucini Italia has wonderful pasta sauces in jars and small bags that can be heated in the bag. The Spicy Tuscan is my current favorite. As a singleton I especially enjoy the bagged sauces, sized for three servings it means no jars going stale in the fridge. They are a dedicated gluten-free and vegan producer using BPA free tomatoes.

Many sausages contain gluten, corn syrup, casein, and other things that induce anaphylaxis. Applegate Farms is another dedicated gluten free producer. Their Sweet Italian is a natural for tossing together a quick pasta dinner.

I top mine with a vegan Parmesan recipe I found on the internet about a decade ago. A batch makes a quart size jar. For everyday use I refill a shaker top jar from Penzey's Spice Shop. It requires blending your own seasoning salt, as I've yet to find one that doesn't have a corn-based anti-caking ingredient or some other allergen. The rest of  seasoning salt goes into its own shaker jar.

Vegan Parmesan
Ingredients :
  • 3 cups raw cashew pieces
  • 2 cups nutritional yeast
  • 3 Tblsp seasoning salt
  • 3 Tblsp garlic powder (NOT garlic salt)
  • 3 Tblsp of onion powder (NOT onion salt)
  • 8 Tblsp of arrowroot powder

Using a VERY dry food processor, blend the nuts till they are very fine, but not too much or you'll have cashew butter! The end goal is a texture similar to the Parmesan in a pizza shop shaker jar.Then, blend in everything else until thoroughly mixed.

Seasoning Salt
Ingredients :
  • 6 tablespoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
Put all ingredients into a food processor or small blender container and pulse on low until thoroughly combined. 

Now you're set for tossing together a dish of pasta:

Boil a serving of pasta, brown a sliced sausage, warm a serving of sauce with the sausages for lunch or dinner in 15 minutes. Simple. Enjoy.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Still being a Medical Mystery (tour)

but this tempting treat may lure me back into the kitchen for a smidge. Just need the energy to make it (the continual challenge...)

Saturday, March 3, 2012


CVID is Common Variable Immune Deficiency, I have it, and it tends to play one of my life's defining roles, along with my faith, kitchen time, and other more private pieces.

Here's a quick introduction to CVID:

'One person out of fifty-thousand has it. It's rare. For comparison, one in thirty-one-thousand has cystic fibrosis, one in seven-hundred has multiple sclerosis, and seven in one-hundred have diabetes. It's probably congenital, though symptoms tend to first appear in adolescence and early adulthood rather than at birth. It affects the B-cells and to a lesser extent T-cells, and makes the body unable to create certain antibodies (IgGs) against capsular bacteria and certain other microorganisms. People with CVID get lots of chronic and severe respiratory infections, and tend to get joint pain, digestive problems, and debilitating fatigue. Many vaccines, including the pneumonia shot, fail to produce any antibody response: they don't work for people with CVID.'

From a well written and accurate rant by Z.A. MacCallum