Monday, March 26, 2007

Are you smarter than a 5th the kitchen?

There has been a dearth of cooking posts here of late because I have been having more bad luck and frustration in the kitchen--you know, those periods where nothing seems to go right for you? For the past week or so, either it's something as annoying as not having the ingredients that I need on hand to recipes just not turning out right to me simply being an idiot in the kitchen. It started with the macaroni salad last week. I noticed that, for some strange reason, the most consistent hits to my website come from the search terms, "Hawaiian Macaroni Salad." When I read that, it put me in the mind that I wanted some! So I asked my roommate to make it one evening while I was still at work. I just wanted it to be a very plain version with elbows or salad macaroni (ditalini, if you will), mayo, and grated carrot. But we didn't have the right pasta, and we didn't have any carrots. Very annoying.

So I stopped at the store the next day to get carrots, but by the time I added them, it still wasn't right. (I think it was that we used campanelle pasta.) So I decided to add some hard-cooked egg to the party, but then it still tasted sort of...unfinished. Then I remembered a pasta salad that someone brought to a potluck that I attended several years ago with tuna, egg, and peas. So I threw a can of tuna in there, and guess what? No peas! AARRRGH! By this time, I had almost made the "house macaroni salad," so I just went ahead and added some chopped olives, chives, and seasonings and called it done. It was good--not what I really wanted--but we enjoyed it for the next couple of days with our lunches.

Next, I tried my hand at more candy-making this past weekend. No, no, nothing Frito-based, but proper candy that my pal, Anna, calls Scottish Fudge. As we all know, if it's no' Scottish, it's crrrrappp! So I was game to try, but it called for golden syrup, superfine sugar, and I also wanted to add walnuts to mine. Usually, being this close to Canada, we can find Lyle's Golden Syrup (a British staple) in our local grocery stores, but not this time! I'll have to pick some up the next time I'm across the border. So I settled for brown sugar-flavored Karo syrup, as golden syrup is sort of halfway between light and dark corn syrups (and is delicious used in pecan pie, I might add). But if you can believe, none of the stores had superfine sugar either! So I just whizzed up some regular granulated sugar in the food processor, and that worked fine. But then there was the dilemma of when to add the nuts to the candy. I decided to toss them in at about 230F (which took the temperature back down to 220F), and then it took quite some time for the candy to get up to the end point of 245F. The nuts toasted properly, and the overall result was good, but I wonder about the effect on texture. When the candy was fully cooled, the outside edges were more like soft caramel, and the inside parts were were more like a soft toffee. And the whole thing tasted like a nutty, dulce de leche confection. None of these things in and of themselves are undesirable, but I wouldn't liken the product to "fudge." I'll have to consult with Anna about this issue and get her invaluable feedback. (You don't win the Pillsbury Bake-Off for nuthin', you know!)

Nutty Scottish Fudge

1/2 cup salted butter
1/2 cup golden syrup (or substitute brown sugar-flavored syrup)
3 cups superfine sugar
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Line a 10x13 pan with parchment sprayed with baking apray.

Melt butter over medium-low heat. Add golden syrup, sugar and condensed milk. Cook, stirring gently, over medium-low heat to 245 degrees. Remove from heat, add vanilla and beat with a wooden spoon for 1 minute. Dump into lined pan and let cool. Lift from pan and cut into pieces.

I also tried to make ice cream over the weekend (no, I didn't go into a sugar coma--the candy was for my trivia night treat, and the ice cream was for ME!). When I took the pistachio muffins to trivia last week, my friend Tom remarked that one of his favorite ice cream flavors was pistachio, and told me about some place near where he used to live that made the best version. And this reminded me of a little place down the road from where I used to live in Kankakee, IL (actually, Bradley, IL, to be more precise) that made the best caramel cashew ice cream. So I decided to make my own at home. I started the recipe, mixing up the eggs with sugar and milk and so on, but when it came time to stir in the cream, I realized that we were out of cream! (And I am not the sort of person to ever be out of cream!) But I really wanted that ice cream, so I went ahead and made it with half-and-half, figuring that it just wouldn't be quite as rich. WRONG! The texture was icy and awful, and it just didn't taste like anything, probably because I always pull back on the sugar in ice cream recipes, believing cream to be sweet in and of itself. Sigh. I guess it's called ice CREAM for a reason. Never one to be wasteful, I melted the mix back down, stuck it in the fridge, and the next day, I split it into two portions, added newly-procured heavy cream to one half, corrected the sweetening and other ingredients and rechurned a batch. And darn, if it wasn't one of my best ice creams ever! So all was well that ended well...or so I thought.

Caramel Cashew Ice Cream

2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup caramel sauce (preferably, homemade--up to 6 tablespoons)
1/8- 1/4 teaspoon salt (I used 1/8 because my caramel was salty. As Cyd would say, "Maybe YOUR caramel is salty, b*tch! What a stupid thing to say to me!")
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream

1 to 1/2 cups whole cashews, roasted and salted

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until pale yellow and thickened, a minute or two by hand. Add the sugar and whisk until the mixture looks smooth and not grainy, at least another minute (maybe two). Then whisk in the caramel sauce, salt and vanilla until thoroughly blended in. Switch to a spoonula-type implement and gently stir in the milk and cream (beating as little air in as possible!). Pour mix into your ice cream freezer and churn until the consistency of soft-serve, adding the whole cashews in the last five minutes or so. Transfer to another container and harden in the freezer for at least a few hours before serving.

This leads to the biggest debacle of all, my attempt to make buckwheat crepes. You see, I had recently purchased the April issue of Saveur magazine, and in it, there is a delightful article (and glorious pictures) about Brittany and their signature food, the buckwheat crepe. We are lucky enough to live six miles from the border of Quebec, and we have sampled several creperies in Montreal over the years. Our very favorite is a Breton creperie called Ty-Breiz on Rue Rachel north of downtown. Cyd prefers what the Bretons call a crepe complete, a buckwheat crepe with ham, gruyere, and egg. But I always opt for one with house-made sausages, crimini mushrooms, and bechamel. YUM! And we never eat there without having their amazing house salad. They bring you an entire head of Bibb lettuce perched on top of a bowl and drizzled with their thick, very garlicky house-made dressing. You eat the salad by peeling the lettuce leaves off of the head. DEEEEEEE-LISH!

Anyhoo, this lovely article inspired me to try making my own buckwheat crepes at home. Again, being this close to the border, you can easily acquire buckwheat flour in our grocery stores. So I mixed up the batter with an egg and some water as directed by the recipe in the magazine, and then left it to relax in the fridge overnight. The next day, the batter looked pretty thin to me, but I continued with the recipe that called for adding milk and even more water! I had a feeling that something wasn't right (and don't think I wasn't going to write in to Saveur to complain!), but I heated up my crepe pans and soldiered on. When I poured the mixture into the pans, it just sizzled around, evaporated, and left a sticky goo behind. So I decided to add another half cup of buckwheat flour to the mix, but it was still too thin. Then I cut bait on the buckwheat and added another cup of white whole wheat flour, plus another egg to give the batter more body. It finally looked like crepe batter should, so I started cooking them. They stuck to the pan a bit even with a liberal amount of butter, and I had to use a spatula to turn them. Even so, most of them broke apart (you can see in the picture how the bottom part stuck and came off and how the end of one of the crepes is torn). Even though they weren't very pretty, and certainly weren't thin-and-crispy like a genuine Breton crepe, they were tasty enough. We had the "complete" version for our dinner with egg, cheese, and ham, and I even made Cyd a dessert crepe filled with sweetened strawberries and whipped cream.

It wasn't until later when I was rummaging around in the fridge and found the (now very thick!) buckwheat batter that I realized my error. I had tried to make crepes using the leftover caramel ice cream mix! It was comprised only of half-and-half, eggs and lots of sticky sugar and caramel, so no wonder it evaporated in the pan and left a gooey mess behind! GEEZ! Am I DUMB or what??? So if you've ever felt like a moron in the kitchen, remember, you're not alone. Moreover, I guess I'll have to report back about the buckwheat crepes another time, eh? ;-)

This weather is NUTS!

I owe you people some food-related posts...of this I am well aware. I promise, they will come shortly. In the meantime, you have to see these pictures. I fell asleep on the couch the other night, and woke up to let the dogs out just as the sun was coming up. I grabbed my camera and snapped these beautiful shots while I was waiting for them to do their business. Mind you, the day before, a pair of doves was sitting on the back fence, starting to build a nest in the big tree. And then this happened, on the 25th of March, I might add! The really crazy part is, when I got up just a few hours later, the new snow was completely gone, the birds were back in the tree, and you could even see some green peeping through all the brown in the "lawn." BIZARRE! It reminds me of the expression, "Don't like the weather? Wait five'll change!"

Monday, March 19, 2007

Green Muffins and Greek Potatoes

I know, I know. I'm a little tardy on this (which could be my Native American name!), but I wanted to make some goodies to take to school today to welcome everyone back from spring break. And since no one was around for St. Patrick's Day, I decided to make holiday-themed treats. King Arthur Flour sent this recipe in an e-mail awhile back, and I just had to try these muffins. I love pistachios, and the green color was cute for St. Pat's. My roommate asked me if these were muffins or cupcakes? If I were Rachael Ray (heaven forbid!), I might call them cupkins, as the texture is more like a cupcake but they are not as sweet (like a muffin). Whatever you call them, they are mighty tasty, and would be appropriate to bake year-round.

Wearin' O' the Green Muffins

1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) butter (oops--I just realized that I accidentally doubled wonder mine were more like cake!)
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
3 1/8-ounce package instant pistachio pudding mix*
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon pistachio flavor (I used almond extract instead)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) milk
1/2 cup (2 ounces) + 2 tablespoons shelled, coarsely chopped pistachios

*You may find that national brands give you better green color than store brands.

3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) melted butter
1/4 (1 3/4 ounces) sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon pistachio flavor, to taste (I omitted this)

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper or silicone muffin cups, and grease the cups with non-stick vegetable oil spray; this will ensure that they peel off the muffins nicely.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and pudding mix until smooth. Add the eggs, beating for several minutes and scraping the bowl, till the mixture is smooth and shiny. Beat in the baking powder, pistachio (or almond) flavor, and salt.

Gently beat the flour into the butter mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour and making sure everything is thoroughly combined. Stir in the 1/2 cup of pistachios. Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups, sprinkling with more nuts.

Bake the muffins for 20 minutes, or until they're starting to brown around the edges and a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Remove them from the oven, and let them cool for a couple of minutes, or until you can handle them. While they're cooling, melt the butter (this is easily done in the microwave). Combine the sugar and pistachio flavor in a jar with a lid, and shake vigorously to combine thoroughly (I just poured vanilla sugar into a bowl).

Use a pastry brush to paint the top of each muffin with the butter (or dip the top of each muffin in the butter--but I used a brush myself), then sprinkle with the sugar (or dip muffin top in--Cyd dipped them for me). Allow the muffins to cool on a rack.

Yield: 12 muffins.

I have one more recipe to share today, though no picture. I got the idea from another blog, but forgive me, I can't remember which one (though there are lots of recipes and variations for this dish that you can Google). Instead of baked or regular oven-roasted potatoes for dinner last night, I made some Greek-style oven roasted potatoes that were just wonderful! I realized too late last evening that the recipe I was following called for an hour and a half of baking...and we were hungry! So I actually nuked six medium-sized potatoes halfway (about eight minutes in my microwave), then cut them up into big chunks and tossed them with the following:

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (or 1 teaspoon granulated garlic will work)
1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably, Greek!)
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper, to taste (I probably used 1/2 teaspoon)

Then instead of roasting the potatoes at 350 degrees for an hour and half, I cranked the oven up to 450 and roasted them for maybe 45 minutes or until they were browned. (I turned them over with a spatula a couple of times while they cooked to promote even coloring.) When they were done, I squeezed another half of a lemon's worth of juice on them before serving. DEEEEE-lish!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A "traditional" St. Patrick's Day meal...

And a Happy St. Patty's Day to ye! I hope everyone has been lucky and found their pot of gold today? Well, I'm no richer, except that I got to sleep in late and catch up on some old Martha and Oprah tapes. Of course, I was supposed to go into school and work on midterm grades today, but there were two problems. One, we had another sizable snowfall and the roads were bad, and two, it's still spring break, and I just didn't feel like going in! Hmph!

In between switching tapes in the vcr, I prepared a lovely, though admittedly eclectic, St. Pat's meal. I decided that the boiled dinner that we have every year sounded less than appealing today for some reason, so I went a different way, while still trying to be true to the essence of the holiday's cuisine. First of all, I threw the corned beef and a sliced onion in the crock pot earlier this afternoon, covering them with water and a palmful of pickling spice. After 5 or 6 hours, it was threatening to fall apart, so I fished it out. Then I added a half of a small head of cabbage that I cut up to cook in the broth along with a good glug of cider vinegar. In the meantime, I cut up a pound of carrots and 6 or 8 potatoes and began roasting them in the oven with some olive oil, cider vinegar, granulated garlic, celery salt, and black pepper. When the veggies were close to being done (tender and browned), I glazed the corned beef with some jalapeno honey mustard that my neighbor brought over this morning from a trip to the co-op (thank you!), and put that in the oven for 20 or 30 minutes, just until the mustard had cooked on like a glaze. Then, I must confess, I baked up a can of biscuits that I discovered in a bin in the fridge when I was looking for the cabbage, and that was that! Not exactly traditional, but then again, they apparently eat turkey and smoked salmon on St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, so I guess anything goes!

Because I went a bit off-sides with the meal, I decided to go completely traditional for dessert. So I made.....RUSSENZOPF! (As my darling friend, Phil, would say: "You do, and you'll clean it up!") Sounds totally Irish, right? Tee hee. What the hell is russenzopf, you ask? And why in the world would I make such a thing? Well, I blame Jen the Bakerina. She had a most interesting post recently about how, suddenly and mysteriously, many people were googling the word "russenzopf" and ending up on her site. Russenzopf is a European sweet bread (literally, "Russian braid or plait") made with a yeasted, laminated (Danish-like) dough and a delectably nutty filling and is now available for order from the bakery at King Arthur Flour. But leave it to the blessed Bakerina to teach us how to make it for ourselves at home! However, I would advise that you have plenty of time, patience, and emotional fortitude saved up before attempting this advanced pastry. It took me more than two days, and I almost gave up several times along the way, until the Bakerina talked me down off the ledge. It's really not that hard, just time-consuming. And my greatest concern was that the dough never seemed to be rising (especially compared to Jen's pictures on Flickr). But the Bakerina assured me that it would make up for it during baking, and right she was! The other thing that had me panicked was that my loaves took 15 extra minutes to cook, and I was very concerned that they would scorch on the outside before the middle got done. But they turned out beautifully, despite my lack of skill and courage. Thanks, Jen!

(Source:, adapted from King Arthur, and converted from the original metric measurements by yours truly, which should explain the odd amounts)

For the Danish dough:

scant 4 cups all-purpose flour
3 generous tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons + 1 ¼ teaspoons (or 2 ½ tablespoons!) granulated sugar
2 3/4 teaspoons (or scant tablespoon) salt
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 large eggs
7 ounces whole milk (but I needed a whole cup=8 ounces)

3 sticks plus 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Either by hand or in a stand mixer, combine the detrempe ingredients and knead to moderate gluten development (about 3 minutes in a stand mixer, a little longer by hand). Cover and refrigerate four hours (it won't hurt it to let it go longer than that).

Shortly before the dough is ready to come out of the fridge, make beurrage by pounding butter and flour together until they are amalgamated and form a rough 7"x 7" square. Butter should be cool and pliant, but not too soft. Remove dough from fridge and roll into a square. Roll edges out until they are long enough to cover the beurrage when it is placed in the center of the dough. (If you go Flickr and search for russenzopf, you'll see the Bakerina's very helpful pictures!) Incorporate the beurrage into the dough by folding the edges over the beurrage, then roll the whole thing into a long rectangle, less than 1/4-inch thick. Give the dough a single turn (folding in thirds, like a letter), roll again, give it another single turn, wrap in plastic and return to the fridge for about 1/2 hour, or until butter is rechilled and gluten relaxes a bit. Take it out and roll it again, give it a double turn (folding the two sides in to meet in the middle, then in half like a book), wrap well and let ferment overnight in the fridge (or up to 2 days).

For the filling:
1 1/4 up to 1 1/3 cups hazelnuts, roasted, skinned and cooled (I only had 1/2 cup hazelnuts, so I swapped out almonds to make the 1 1/3 cups)
1 1/4 up to 1 1/3 cups walnuts, roasted
1 1/8 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup (about 4) egg whites
generous tablespoon (3 1/4 teaspoons) ground cinnamon
finely grated zest of one lemon
generous tablespoon (3 1/2 teaspoons) vanilla extract

Grind hazelnuts and walnuts together with a little of the sugar, to keep them from turning to paste. Decant into a bowl, add other ingredients and mix. That's it. It might take a little elbow grease to make it all come together, but it will.

To assemble and bake:
Preheat oven to 425F and place rack in center of oven. Remove Danish dough from fridge and cut in half. Roll one half out to rectangle that is less than 1/4-inch thick, as you did during the rolling/turning of the dough. Spread half the filling (or less, if you prefer a lighter filling/crumb ratio) on the dough, keeping about a 1-inch border clear. Roll it up lengthwise, cut the roll in half lengthwise, and twist the halves together into a plait. (Be sure you can see some of the cut ends on the outside of the plait.) Place on either a parchment-lined baking sheet or in a buttered bread tin into which the loaf fits. Repeat with other loaf. Cover and let rise until dough just meets the top of the tin (only about a 50% rise).

When risen, brush the loaves with an egg wash and place on the center rack of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 35 minutes (mine took another 15 minutes beyond that!). Be sure to rotate the position of the loaves at least once, and keep an eye on them. The trick is to get them baked through without burning the bottoms. The bottoms will get a little dark, but if you catch them in time, they won't scorch; they'll just be very well caramelized. You may also need to cover the tops with aluminum foil if they start to get to dark (I had to do this after the first 15 minutes at 425!).

Let the loaves cool in the pans on a wire rack until they are no longer too hot to touch on the bottom. Loosen the loaves around the edges with a thin knife and turn them out to cool completely on the rack before cutting and devouring. (You may wish to freeze one of the loaves for a future date, if you have that much restraint and willpower.)

Friday, March 16, 2007

At least there was ice cream pie...

I wish I had something more exciting food-wise to report, gentle readers, but alas, we spent the better part of the day in town. I had lots of errands to run, mostly involving the procurement of animal feeds for all these creatures who have no jobs and yet expect me to continually provide free room and board! At least the chickens have eggs to offer, but what do these lazy dogs and cats do around here? Buncha scrubs, if you ask me! Anyway, we also took in a movie, or rather, it took us in for over three hours of a story that went absolutely nowhere! The movie was "Zodiac," and I strongly encourage you to save your money. Despite the fact that everyone and his brother is in the film, including my beloved Robert Downey, Jr., the whole premise is a long, fruitless search for a serial killer that lasts almost forty years, which is just how long the film seems to run! And there is zero payoff at the end, I assure you. Thumbs down, we say. After the film, we grabbed a bite to eat at the new Quizno's in the mall. Now I can readily give a thumbs up to their prime rib with mozzarella on garlic bread! Have them add some banana peppers, and the juicy, savory satisfaction will drive all memory of pointless, boring movies right out of your head! ;-)

So no real recipes to post about, although I am working on something special that I hope to share with you tomorrow, if all goes well. In the meantime, here is a quickie dessert that I threw together from leftover tidbits and tucked away in the freezer that really hit the spot when we got home tonight after all our running around. I made an ice cream pie starting with a pre-fab Oreo crust, a layer of salted caramel that was left over from the Sweet and Salty Cake, some toasted, buttered pecans left over from the crust for the Creamy Lemon Pecan Bars, some shaved chocolate left over from the Chocolate Icebox Cake, lots of Breyer's vanilla bean ice cream, of course, and topped with a generous slathering of my homemade fudge sauce. Yummy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

One confit short of shaving my head....

SOMEONE HELP! I've gone over into going crazy with the onion-based condiments! Last night at some obscene hour, I got it into my head to make different version of oignons confits. This one comes from my blogging neighbors to the north in Montreal, An Endless Banquet. Michele is my (Canadian) idol when it comes to preserving, and she and her partner, A.J., have been selling their sweet and savory confitures at flea markets and outdoor festivals for, I believe, a few years now. Currently, their oignons confits are even being sold at a vendor called La Depense at the famous and fabulous Jean Talon market.

The first confit from eGullet was rich and beefy with a deep, carmelized color and flavor. The one that Michele and A.J. make is reduced with red wine, red wine vinegar, and pomegranate (grenadine) syrup, resulting in a preserve that is sweet (you are basically candying the onions), tangy, a lovely ruby-red in hue, and lighter overall (it is actually made without any kind of fat, so it doesn't congeal upon chilling). I'm not saying one type is better than the other; they are both excellent--just different--and might warrant different uses. For lunch today, I made sandwich wraps with roasted garlic mayonnaise, turkey, ham, roast beef, leaf lettuce, Campari tomatoes, Gorgonzola crumbles, and the Endless Banquet oignons confit. Delish!

Sweet-and-Tangy Oignons Confits
(Source: adapted from

about 2 1/2 pounds onions, peeled and finely minced (I prefer mine finely sliced for more texture)
2 cups grenadine syrup*
2 cups red wine
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Cook the minced onions in a non-stick saucepan for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat.

Add vinegar and red wine to the onions and reduce over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Lower the heat and add sugar and grenadine syrup*. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and simmer over medium heat for about an hour. The mixture will reduce considerably until it thickens and takes on the consistency of a proper confiture (like jam). Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Place in jars and refrigerate. Yield will be between 1 1/2 to 2 pints.

*Because most manufactured grenadines that are commercially available (like Rose's) are mainly corn syrup and citric flavorings, I decided to make my own with real pomegranate juice. It's super-easy. I brought two cups of juice (Knudsen's all-pomegranate juice that I found in the organic section of Hannaford, a local supermarket) to a boil with one cup of sugar, turned it to low, and let it reduce down a bit while I softened the onions.

Then, of course, it's trivia night, so I had to make a treat to take along to the pub. My teammate, June, is the Queen of Lemon Bars, but I thought I'd make a slightly different kind to share with everyone. I love lemon--perhaps more than most--but I enjoy it most when the lemony goodness is cut with something creamy, be it cream, sour cream, yogurt, or cream cheese (cream, cream,'s a theme). So when I spied this recipe on the Culinary in the Desert/Country blog, I knew I had to try it. To gild the lily, the shortbread base is made with toasted pecans; it's a wonderful combination. And if you use a food processor, this recipe can be put together lickety-split. Give it a try.

Creamy Lemon Pecan Bars
(Source: adapted from

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh grated lemon zest (I doubled this!)
confectioners' sugar to dust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, powdered sugar and vanilla (I did this in the food processor). Mix in the whole wheat pastry flour, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, salt and toasted pecans until crumbly. Scoop mixture into a 9" x 13" baking dish coated with nonstick spray. Pat the mixture down to form an even layer. Bake for 15 minutes (or until lightly browned). Remove and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese and granulated sugar until smooth and well blended (again, I did this in the food processor). Mix in eggs, one at a time, until combined. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup flour, lemon juice and zest.

Pour mixture over the baked crust. Bake until set and very lightly browned around the edges - about 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Place in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. Dust with confectioners' sugar on top before cutting into bars. Store in the fridge.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Condiment of the Month: Onion and Shallot Confit

What do food bloggers do on their vacations? Things like staying up until 4am (well, it was really only 3am before the time change) reading 19 pages of a thread on eGullet containing some 600 posts on a wonderful condiment known as onions confit. I don't even know what I was trying to look up, but I got sucked into the onion confit thread, and before I knew it, dawn was approaching! But before I went to bed, I threw together an inaugural batch of the stuff in my trusty crock pot. And faithful readers know how much I LOVE letting my crock pot do the work for me!

I read every post on eGullet and took each cook's advice into consideration before deciding on the following recipe and method:
Onion and Shallot Confit

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (you could swap this out with sherry or port or cognac or red wine)
1 tablespoon beef base (demi-glace would be better, or some reduced homemade stock)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon pepper jelly (optional)
freshly-ground black pepper (to taste)
6 medium onions, peeled and sliced (ironically, the harsher-tasting the better, as they will yield the sweetest confit)
3 ginormous shallots, peeled and sliced (probably the equivalent of at least 6 regular ones)

*You may also choose to add some herbage such as thyme and/or bay leaves or even rosemary, but I wanted to keep mine simpler for this first attempt.

Add the olive oil, butter, vinegar, beef base, brown sugar, pepper jelly, and black pepper to the bottom of a crockpot set on high. Once the butter has melted, stir the ingredients together, and then add the onions and shallots. Mix until well-coated. Cover and cook on high overnight (about eight hours). You might be able to cook it all the way on high in less time, but after eight hours, I turned mine down to low and let it go another eight hours or until it reached a thick, jammy consistency, and a deep, brown color. After you eat a few spoonfuls and use some on whatever you're having for dinner, you'll end up with about a pint of the lovely stuff, which reportedly lasts a very long time in the fridge (but use a glass jar to keep everything else in the fridge from smelling oniony!).

Now that you have a pint of delicious and savory onions confit, what will you do with it?'s Sunday night, which is often steak night here at my house. So I decided to season some ribeyes lightly instead of marinating or heavily rubbing them, as is normally my way. Then when they were seared but still quite rare, I topped them with a generous amount of the onion and shallot confit and some Danish bleu cheese and ran them under the broiler for two minutes. WOW! I served the steaks with some twice-baked style mashed potatoes, a potato mash that was augmented with a tablespoon or two of mayo and a couple of chopped green onions and a handful of shredded cheese with a little more cheese melted on top. Delish!

Below are some other ideas for using onions confit, pilfered from the eGullet posters. As you will see, you can use it on pretty much anything that would benefit from soft, sweet, richly-flavored, caramelized onions. So fire up that crock pot and get to slicing!

accompaniment to grilled meats

base for Alsatian onion tarts (pate brisee topped with onion confit, gruyere cheese, perhaps a few Nicoise olives, and/or anchovies)

accompaniment to baked brie or fried goat-cheese

heat up some canned beef bouillon and add a tablespoon of confit for "instant French Onion soup"

mixing a portion with some blue cheese (Stilton is good in this) and smearing it on a baguette

killer topping for pasta after adding some (more) balsamic vinegar

on a baked potato

in some sort of heavenly sandwich or a ploughman's lunch kind of thing, with some exceedingly ripe cheese

over scrambled eggs

with runny cheese, crackers, and a salad

with a crumbly cheese of some sort and pears

poached eggs crowned with the confit

as a topping for bruschetta

with gnocchi

on a pissaladiere

on top of focaccia

portobello mushroom tarte tatin, optional chopped anchovies added near the end

atop a french bread slice, of which has been liberally spread with boursin cheese, and then topped with about a tablespoon of confit - toasted until the bread is crunchy

onion confit mixed with 2 tab of cream and 2 egg yolks as a filling for an onion tart

with pork chops

burgers off the grill topped with confit and sharp cheddar

over pirogis

on some rustic style pizza with roasted peppers and a sprinkling of gorganzola

over some smashed red potatoes with butter

with brie and crackers

a couple of all-beef hot dogs, lathered with a layer of onion confit along the bottom edge of a toasted roll, and the upper half topped with sauerkraut

as a garnish on some sliced-steak canapes

scoop of them spread over some rare london broil slices with some wonderful bleu cheese crumbles over top

duxelles in combination with the onion confit and shredded meat to make a filled bread roll

combine the onions with loads of garlic (perhaps up to several heads) and several crushed and chopped tomatoes... could take on a very nice garlicky, oniony, saucy texture

the onions, garlic, some cayenne, and maybe an assortment of fresh and dried chiles

in mashed potatoes

eaten by the spoonful!

*Follow-up: I found a new and wonderful use for this stuff. We had cube steaks for dinner, and I made the most delicious pan gravy using the onion and shallot confit. I whisked in a few tablespoons of flour into the pan drippings and added a couple of tablespoons of the confit. After I cooked this roux for a minute or two, I whisked in a cup of hot beef broth, and then once the sauce came together, I added enough half-n-half to reach a desired consistency. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, and that was it. It truly was the best gravy ever!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Post about French Toast (and a Weather Roast)

Though the Republicans--and/or the scientists on the oil company payrolls--work hard to disavow global warming, you can't tell me that there's not something weird going on with the weather. It was 50 and 60 degrees here until the latter part of January (unheard of). Since then, we've had blizzards and an unprecedented three snow days at school. And here it is almost mid-March (spring break, even!), and we're still experiencing record-breaking cold, a deep freeze that we have been enduring for two loooong months. That is, until today when we enjoyed a veritable heat wave of 40 degrees! My washing machine even thawed out long enough for me to do a load of clothes--yippee. Mind you, just the other day, I'm chilling my cake layers out on the front porch at 18 below (and no, that wasn't a euphemism...though it could have been). That's a differential of 60 degrees in two days! Of course, now they are gearing up for the inevitable flooding that will come when you combine the massive snow pile-ups around the area with days in the mid-40's next week! Sheesh.

During the winter, anytime it warms up for a second (that is, when it's even slightly above zero), we try to get out and take care of the poor chickens who are literally cooped up for months. You can always tell when it's time to clean and change the bedding material by monitoring the eggs. When the eggs get dirty, it's time. Big props must go to Cyd who got out there and did the first spring cleaning recently, and when she did, she found some surprises buried in the old bedding. We thought it puzzling that the girls hadn't given anything up for us in a few days (or more likely, it was too cold for us to spend much time out there gathering!), and then we found all of these! I had to wash them, of course, but they were still very good eats.

So now we have a surplus of eggs. I decided that I wanted to use some of them up by making a whole mess of French toast, as I always seem to do when I finally get some time off from school. And my friend, Martie, at work gave me a terrific tip. She makes a whole loaf of Texas toast at one time, freezes the leftover slices, and then her daughters pop them in the toaster during the week for a quick breakfast. Clever, huh? (Shout out to Martie's daughter, Anna, a lover of all things Oreo and a faithful reader of this blog, I'm told. Hi, Anna!) The problem is, Cyd does not love sweet things in the morning, so I often end up going to all that trouble to eat French toast alone. Boo hiss. So today, I had a brainstorm about a savory use for French toast. Behold what I am calling the Breakfast Monte Cristo! On top of French toast slices, I placed a piece of honey ham, some cheese (preferably, swiss), a fried egg, and a little raspberry jam to top it off. She loved it! And I didn't have to eat the beloved French toast by myself. It's a win-win! Plus, I have more than half a loaf left to toast up over the next week for my breakfast. Thanks for the tip, Martie! (And thanks for the eggs, chickies!)

Friday, March 09, 2007

TGIF/Spring Break Kickoff Potluck

Despite arriving home in the early afternoon due to my first ever migraine (wow--how do people live through those things?), I was down for the count, recuperating until about 5pm. When I finally arose and after I had consumed a medicinal portion of Haagen-Daz (tee-hee), I realized with horror that I still had to prepare something for a potluck the next evening at my dear friend June's house. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone (which is a terrible expression--why are people killing innocent little birdies with rocks?!) and make a double batch of something for dinner, perhaps a casserole that would hold well until the next day. I have been wanting to make a recipe that I saw on two of the blogs that I regularly read--Culinary in the Desert and then Randi at 2 Girls in the Kitchen made it, and that was enough of a recommendation for me to try it as well. The dish turned out quite delicious, although I made it with five-cheese tortelloni instead of orechiette, Emmenthal instead of Gruyere (although Gruyere might have been better, more flavorful--so I added some shredded parmesan to the top of my dish), and halved the amount of cayenne (that Joe likes stuff HOT!). The only thing that I might change when I make it next time--and there will definitely be a next time!--is to work some onion into it somehow. It's also undoubtedly better with fresh shrimp, but I only had frozen on hand. So I just thawed them under running water and did not cook them ahead of time. That is, I just sauteed the garlic in butter with the cayenne and then added the wine, leaving the shrimp out of it until I combined everything before baking. And it turned out well, though fresh shrimp is always preferred.

Creamy Gruyère and Shrimp Pasta

(Adapted from
and Cooking Light)

8 ounces dry orecchiette (I used a nice five-cheese tortelloni instead)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
5 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese, divided (I used Emmenthal)
1 tablespoon butter
24 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined (I used about a pound of medium frozen cooked shrimp which was plenty!)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (I used 1/4 and it was almost too spicy for me..and I like spicy!)
1 1/2 cups frozen green peas, thawed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions - drain well when done.

Gradually whisk together flour, salt and milk. Pour into Dutch oven and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until slightly thick, whisking constantly - about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 ounces of cheese.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and garlic - cook just until the shrimp are beginning to turn opaque - about 1-2 minutes. Mix in wine and pepper - cook until the shrimp are almost done - about 1 minute. Toss together the pasta, shrimp mixture, and peas into the cheese mixture until well coated.

Scoop mixture into a 9 x 13" baking dish lightly coated with nonstick spray. Scatter the top with the remaining 2 ounces of cheese. Bake until cheese melts and begins to brown - about 20 minutes.*

Makes about 6 servings (um, or four at my house!)

*For the potluck, I made the casserole up to the point of baking it last night, then covered and refrigerated the dish overnight. Then I will bake it off at June's house later this evening. I suspect it might take upwards of a half hour or more from the cold state, but I will report back to confirm that. (Follow-up: It did take longer to reheat, maybe even longer than 30 minutes. I would guess 40? Who knows! There was much merry-making in the kitchen, and I wasn't paying close attention. Plus, I was sharing the oven with Angela's yummy Fresco Chicken.)

As you can imagine, I was quite pleased with myself, having managed to make a fine casserole while still in the post-mortem stages of my migraine. But then I made the mistake of opening up my e-mail and reading that June had assigned me to make a dessert! Yikes! My first thought was to throw something simple together, like the Black Forest Tart that I read about on the Baking Sheet blog. But since I made those Oreo Truffles for Valentine's Day--not to mention two chocolate icebox cakes--I was completely out of chocolate cookies for the crust. Still, be assured that I will be making that tart at some point, because my people love sour cherries, and I have a jar of Morellos from Trader Joe's eyeballing me in the pantry!

So I needed a new vision that would only involve the items that I had on hand. (No way was I making a trip into town with my head still throbbing and the temperatures dropping to 20 below or some such ridiculous number!) Then I made a decision that was probably unwise considering my physical (and mental/emotional) state. I foolishly committed to make what is perhaps the most complicated, involved, time-consuming dessert on record, second only to laminated doughs and croquembouches! But I had been wanting to try it for so long, that I screwed my courage to the sticking place and jumped right in. Some six or seven hours later, and behold (below) the fruits of my labors: the divine SWEET AND SALTY CAKE!

I caught sight of this bad boy on Martha awhile back. The pastry chef was from a bakery called, aptly enough, Baked in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. It was on my list to get down there during our last NYC adventure, but you may recall what a debacle that was, so we didn't make it. Then again, I don't have $46 to spend on an 8-inch cake (or if you prefer, $56 for a 10-inch or $72 for a 12-inch--WHOA!). I probably could have scraped up four bucks for a sampler slice, which would have been nice to be able to compare, but oh well. Come to think of it, the money may have been well spent, considering how much effort I had to put into making this thing at home! The cake layers themselves took me 45 minutes to get in the pan (is 14-plus minutes of beating really necessary??), though they baked up beautifully, turned right out of the pan, and they were pretty much level so that I didn't even have to trim them up. And I must confess that I overcooked the first batch of salted caramel (turned my back on it for two seconds...learn from my mistake!), so I had to redo that. Then you have to make a second, unsalted caramel to add to the ganache for the frosting. And there was a lot of chilling time during assembly. The recipe doesn't call for it, but when the salted caramel started to drip down the sides of the cake and/or the frosting started to squish out, I just popped the layer that I was working on out on the porch for a minute or two (it was -17 out there when I checked the temp at one point!) to firm it up before continuing with assembly. Plus, I'm just a slow froster in general because I hate it. There...I said it. This is why I could never have a cake business.

Nevertheless, I must say, it turned out GORGEOUS! Just look at the thing! Isn't it amazing?? I even tried to make it look similar to how they do it at Baked (check it out at their website under menu, and then cakes and juniors, and then Sweet and Salty Cake--and look at all of the other wonderfully whimsical cakes they make there while you're at it). Now, I don't know how the finished product tastes once it's all put together, though I did sample each part as I went along (=DIVINE!). But I suspect, like with the Trashy Toffee, that people are going to need an intervention and/or a 12-step program to break this habit. Then again, it's not the kind of cake that one would make very often, so we might be okay. Actually, come to think of it, you could certainly bake the layers ahead of time and make the salted caramel in advance, too--those two things alone would really speed the process along. In any case, I will post a follow-up after we try the cake tonight. In the meantime, I invite you to bask in the beauty of it! ;-)

(Follow-up: The cake was delicious, and it sliced and served up so beautifully. It was definitely worth all the effort!)

Sweet and Salty Cake

Makes one 8-inch 3-layer cake

3/4 cup cocoa powder (try to use a fine quality of cocoa--it's so worth it! I used some Scharffen Berger)
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (I used butter-flavored Crisco)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar (I used light)
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
1/2 cup Caramel with Salt (recipe follows)
Whipped Caramel Ganache Icing (recipe follows)
Fleur de sel, for garnish (I was out of Fleur de Sel, so I used Hawaiian red salt--gotta love Trader Joe's!)

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Butter three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a parchment paper round, butter parchment paper and flour; set aside. (I used a floured baking spray and parchment rounds.)
2. In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and sour cream; set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.
3. In another large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until smooth and it appears to create strings inside the bowl, about 7 minutes. Add both sugars and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and mix again for 30 seconds. Add flour mixture alternating with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
5. Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 18 to 24 minutes (mine took a little longer, about 30 minutes). Let cool completely.
6. Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate. Using about 1/4 cup of the caramel, spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing some of the caramel to soak into the cake. Follow the caramel layer with a layer of about 1 cup of the ganache icing. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another layer of caramel followed by a layer of ganache icing. Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer bottom side up. Spread entire cake with remaining ganache icing. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

Caramel with Salt
Makes enough for two to three 8-inch 3-layer cakes

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel (I used fine sea salt instead)
1/4 cup sour cream

1. Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350° on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, mix together cream and salt. Bring cream to a boil and cook until salt has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. When the caramel mixture has reached 350°, remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 minute. Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Whisk in sour cream. Cool, and store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

Whipped Caramel Ganache Icing
Makes enough for one 8-inch 3-layer cake

1 pound dark chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chips, as is my way)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, softened but still cool

1. Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350° on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
2. In another small saucepan add cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. When the caramel mixture has reached 350°, remove from heat and allow to rest for 1 minute. Add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Let cool 5 minutes. Place chocolate in the bowl of an electric mixer and pour caramel sauce over chocolate. Let sit 1 minute before stirring from the center until chocolate is melted.
4. Attach bowl to electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Add butter and increase speed to medium-high until mixture is well combined, thickened, and slightly whipped, about 2 minutes.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Red Velvet Redemption

I just couldn't go to my pub trivia night tonight with only those awful Kit Kat things to offer my team, so I needed a Plan B that would restore my mojo in the kitchen. And I also needed something that I could throw together somewhat quickly, as I get home late on Monday nights due to choir practice. (I've joined the Champlain Valley Oratorio Society this semester. They're doing all Gershwin tunes....such fun!) I decided to try my hand at some Red Velvet cupcakes. The problem was deciding on a recipe, as there are many, many versions. But I knew that I wanted to try a more traditional recipe--not the flaming red cake achieved by dumping in two full bottles of red food coloring into a white cake batter, but the kind with a small amount of cocoa, though not so much to make it a chocolate cake per se.

I have read that the cake was originally named for the chemical reaction between the cocoa and baking soda, but I do like to enhance the natural reddish hue by artificial means, just for fun. The other mandatory ingredient to my mind has to be buttermilk. It is a southern cake after all! The recipe I ultimately chose has both buttermilk and a little vinegar, and I must say, I just adore the tanginess in the cake that it produces! Normally, a little buttermilk and/or vinegar might not stand out in the final product, but this recipe calls for a whole cup of buttermilk, and it makes the cupcakes have a real kick. Pair them with a supple, super-creamy, double vanilla cream cheese frosting, and what more could a human being possibly need? I think my trivia team will be quite pleased! (They may need that extra enticement to come out tonight when the thermometer currently says -7, and the Weather Channel says it "feels like" -29! HELP US! )

Red Velvet Cupcakes
(Source: adapted from Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers Desserts Cookbook via

1/2 cup shortening or butter (I used butter-flavored Crisco because it was already room temp.)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 to 2 ounces red food coloring (I used about a third of a small container of paste food coloring)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vinegar

Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans or spray with a substance such as Baker's Joy (or line two 12-cup muffin tins with papers). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream shortening, sugar and eggs. Make a paste with the food coloring and cocoa and add to mixture (I added the cocoa and then my paste food coloring separately). Add salt and flour alternately with buttermilk and vanilla. Alternately add soda and vinegar, but don't beat too hard, only to blend. Divide batter between the two prepared pans (or fill muffin cups about two-thirds full). Bake 30 minutes (about 15 for cupcakes) or until done. Remove from oven. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and cool completely. Frost with cream cheese frosting (recipe follows).

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese
16 ounces powdered sugar (I used about 3 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I added the scrapings of a vanilla bean, too)

Beat softened butter and cream cheese until well blended. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until creamy. Will frost a two-layer cake.

Note: For generous frosting, increase recipe by half.
(But one recipe is more than enough for cupcakes!)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Cursed in the Kitchen?

YIKES--a whole week without a post! And I was going to have a good one for you, too. I had been looking forward to spending some quality time in the kitchen this weekend, and I had a couple of new recipes to try. But today's ingredients seemed mostly to include frustration and disappointment. First, I was absolutely thrilled to find a recipe for Jim Lahey's potato pizza that I am so obsessed with. It was on Martha's site, though I must have missed the episode where he was on to make it. (I surely would have remembered that.) Nonetheless, the thought of being able to make a reasonable semblance of that amazing pizza at home had me beside myself with joy. However, the end result was just okay, in my opinion.

First of all, I had trouble with the recipe. I have to take partial responsibility for not reading all the way through the recipe before starting it, but still, I just HATE poorly-written recipes. It lists 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt in the ingredient list without telling you that that amount is to be divided. Seriously...doesn't that irk you? So I ended up having to fish out most of the salt along with a little sugar and some flour and remeasure and add those things back in. No biggie. But then there was also a problem with the amount of water added to make the dough. It calls for 1 3/4 cups, but that seems like way too much. I should have added, at most, 1 1/2 cups and then wait to see if I needed more. As it was, I had to add about an extra 1/4 cup of flour, and it still looked too wet. But Lahey seems to favor a wet dough (consider the infamous no-knead bread!), so I didn't push it. I thought something magical might happen as it fermented. But no, it was still too tacky to even work with when it was done rising. So I ended up having to turn the dough in some more flour and knead it a little bit before pressing it in the pizza pan.

Then there was a more minor issue with the potato topping. I believe it needed even more potatoes which should have been achieved by overlapping them slightly like they do at the Sullivan Street Bakery. As it was, I fully and evenly covered the crust with potato slices as directed, but as it baked, they shrunk a little and the dough rose and spread, of course, and there ended up being gaps. Still, I will definitely try this recipe again with some adjustments, because it was good--just not out of this world like what you get at the bakery. No doubt some of the quality is lost if you don't have a wood-fired oven, but that doesn't explain why I got small, even holes in the crumb, instead of big, bubbly, ciabatta-like ones that Lahey achieves.'s a puzzlement. Feel free to give it a try and report back on your experiences with the recipe. I would appreciate your input.

Jim's Potato Pizza

Yield: two 8-inch pizzas or one 14-inch pizza

3 cups all-purpose flour (I used half whole-wheat white)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, DIVIDED
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 3/4 cups cold water (start with 1 1/2 cups and then see if you need that last quarter cup)
vegetable oil, for bowl and pans
1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
2 potatoes, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon chopped onion
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, DIVIDED
*a sprinkling of rosemary would be great on this, too

Combine flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer, and slowly add (up to) 1 3/4 cups cold water. Mix on low speed until ingredients begin to combine. Increase speed to medium high, and continue to mix for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic and cleanly pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, and allow to rest for 2 to 4 hours until it has doubled in size.

While the dough rests, prepare the potato topping. Slice potatoes very thin using a knife or a mandoline. Then soak them in several changes of ice water to remove excess starch and prevent discoloration. Drain slices in a colander, toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and set aside for 10 minutes. Drain any accumulated water. (At this point, I drained the slices on paper towels.) In a medium bowl, combine potatoes, chopped onions, and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 440 F. Prepare two rimmed baking sheets (or one big one) with vegetable oil. Divide dough in half. Place each piece on its own baking sheet. Using the palms of your hands, flatten dough out to the edges of the pan. Evenly spread potatoes over the surface of the dough up to the very edge, or about 1 inch from the edge if you desire a crust on your pizza. Season with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil.

Bake potato pizza until it has shrunk away from the edges of a pan and the bottom is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, and allow to cool slightly; slice into pieces, and serve. Potato pizza is also delicious served at room temperature.

And if the pizza difficulties weren't enough, OY, wait until you hear about dessert! Anna over at Cookie Madness blogged about an interesting recipe called Kit Kat Bar Cookies recently, and it sounded interesting. (Plus, it would continue my snack food-based dessert motif...tee hee.) It was supposed to taste like either Kit Kats or Twix bars, and although it was a strange, no-bake creation involving Ritz crackers, I felt confident trying it, as Anna has never steered me wrong before. But the process vexed me and darn near made me cry, and the result was very unappetizing. First of all, I guess I must have been rummy this morning when I was reading my recipes, because I somehow saw brown sugar listed but not white sugar. Once again, if the recipe had said to add the SUGARS instead of sugar, it would have been helpful! So I accidentally left out the granulated sugar then couldn't figure out why the mixture wouldn't boil. By the time I figured it out and added the other sugar, the mixture could not be revived. I'm not sure what it was supposed to look like, but I knew it wasn't this, a big, sticky glob that the butter had leeched out of and was definitely unspreadable:

So I threw that batch out and started again, but I really shouldn't have bothered. The resulting cookie was just dry and crumbly and all but inedible. In fact, when I went to cut the bars, a good many of them fell apart, and I was left with a pan of crackery shrapnel. UGH! I am not even going to bother and post the recipe, because I can't recommend it. However, here's the link if your curiosity gets the best of you. So this is my first post in over a week, and I have precious little to offer you, dear readers. Oh well. There can't be successes in the kitchen without some failures along the way, right? (Holla back if ya hear me on that one!)

*Follow-Up: I wandered into the kitchen last night, hours after I removed the hateful cookie bars from the fridge, and discovered something surprising--they aren't bad at room temperature. Not great. I wouldn't even say good. But not hideously dry and tooth-breaking either. So if you do make these--and I am not saying you should--make sure to serve them at room temp. Just FYI...