Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I have been making scalloped potatoes wrong my entire life.

Until now.
So I decided in case there was any one reading this blog who is also making the same mistakes, that I would share my new found love.

I am already obsessed with potatoes. I don't know if it comes from my Irish background or just because I love hearty filling carbs, but its there. Until now my favorite has been twice baked. I think that was only because they actually turned out delicious and smooth.

Not like my scalloped, which have always been overcooked and runny. I would boil the tots, cut them as thin as I could with a knife by hand, and mix them with cheese and cream. Eatable but not that great.
I tried slicing them thicker. Mixing the cheese with egg whites. Making them from raw potatoes. Nothing worked!

Flipping through the new edition of Cooking Light I saw an Au Gratin article listing all the different types you could make. They had the regular potato, squash, sweet potato, carrot, and some others. But what caught me was how they prepared them.

The key, I have found, is pre-baking in the liquid. Of course! We have some wonderful cheese from the CSA and it goes perfect with the potatoes from my mom's garden. The simple recipe is just this:

2-3 medium potatoes, washed and sliced thin (I use a mandolin)
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup milk (1% in our house)
1 tbsp flour
1/2 c cheese (gruyere or a flavorful cheddar mix)
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
1 tbsp butter

Heat potatoes, onion, garlic, milk, and flour over heat until partially cooked through and mixture thickens, not too fast or milk will curdle. Flavor with salt and pepper.
Spread butter over dish. Pour potatoes into dish, coat with shredded cheeses.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes or until top is brown and bubbly. Let cool slightly.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Malomakarona - Greek Chrismas Cookies

Melomakarona - Greek Christmas Cookies

My new favorite little cookies.

Cookie Dough - makes 50 to 60 cookies
2 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup Sugar
2 eggs
1 cup Orange Juice
1 tsp lemon juice
4 cups Plain Flour
2 cups semolima flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
Mix wet ingredients together well. Slowly stir in dry ingredients until well incorporated. Knead with more flour until moldable. Shape into rectangle-like cookies. Place on a non-stick surface and bake at 350 degree for about 20 minutes or until just golden.
Remove and let cool COMPLETLY.
2 cups sugar
1.5 cups water
1.5 cups honey
1 tsp. cinnamon
8 cloves
Heat all together on a stove until bubbly, about 10 minutes. Remove cloves. Pour over cooled cookies in a pan. Flip cookes and let liquid soak in, for about 30 minutes.
Remove and coat in topping. Let dry.
8 cloves, from syrup
1 cup walnuts
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Grind together and toast till dry.
This recipe does make a lot. But you can store them in an air tight container up to two months... if they last that long.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Seasons Greetings

This year I decided to decorate our Christmas tree with some handcut paper snowflakes.
Each one is a little different and unique. They were a challenge starting out, I haven't done them since I was in middle school, but after a few ugly square ones I got the hang of it. Here's a quick sequence to make a pretty circle shaped one...
First fold a square peice of paper over into a triangle, then fold again. Fold into thirds, over each other and cut off the end to a straight section. Either cut shapes into it from here or follow this pattern to get a cute little swedish style snowflake:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pumpkin Popcorn

With the turning of the leaves comes the mounds of squash. The are wonderful in soups, roasted, whipped or for decoration. But what about the pumpkins? Oh the pumpkins.

You get them for the carving, but the filling is rarely used. This year, from a tip (thanks mom!) we decided to try roasting them.

Mixed with butter, olive oil, thyme, sage, salt and pepper they were roasted on a pan in the oven till golden, similar to how I roast seasoned nuts. They popped just like corn kernels and tasted amazingly the same! We can't wait to try out different flavors with the next few halloweens to come.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Yes it's fall. But I'm still hanging onto the last of summer here in Minnesota. It seems we've gotten the warmest months right here at the end.
Hot, blustery days (yes that's a word) followed by storms and oppresive humidity. Lovely.
So with all this warm weather, it doesn't quite 'feel' like fall yet. When my in-laws came into town last weekend, I just couldn't bring myself to make my normal Apple Pie. Too fall too soon. I'll hang onto summer.

Peaches. mummm.... there were some beautiful peaches in the store which I thought would go well with the raspberries we got in our CSA cache that week.
My mom said she'd been going through a bunch and canning them into pie filling by blanching them. So I tried that. OMG she was right! The skins just slide right off and they are so easy to slice up.
Just boil the peaches in water for about 5 minutes and then dump into ice water to let cool.

They turn out just right, baked slightly without falling apart.

Slice them up, mix with tapioca filling, sugar and a little lemon juice, then stuff them in a pie. Sprinkle some raspberries on top and cover with your favorite pie recipe.

And hold onto summer.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Great Minnesota Get Together

It's that time of the year again. When the weather starts cooling down, the friers start heating up, and you get excited to find out what the newest "on-a-stick" item is.... It's the Minnesota State Fair!
We have our own little traditions for yummy greasy salty sugary things to eat, animal barns and art expos to visit, various beer gardens to relax at. But the big question is... how large will the giant pumpkin be this year?

Mini donuts hot off the frier. Cheese on a stick? why not.

Pretty rides and Grandstands.

Blue ribbon winners and isles filled with honey. The giant pumpkin was 1186 lbs this year, a new record for the sizes we've seen!

Visit the Butter Princesses in the Dairy Barn. Ah! to have your face carved out of a block of butter. Congrats Princess Kay of the Milkyway, you have arrived.

Horse, Cow, and Fowl barns. It was getting late at this time so the sheep had on their jammies. Sheep in pajamas. A new State Fair tradition.

And the midway. Nothing like the night time sounds of rides and walkers in the cooling air. So much more to see. Day #2 here we come!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Happy (Thomas the Train) Birthday!

The scene: A dappled sun filled park with pavilion, playground, fields, and a pond.
The players: One happy four year boy, one excited younger brother, one beautiful baby princess, a dozen friends and their various guardians.
The plot: A Thomas the Train birthday party.

Me: "Can I make the birthday cake?!?!?"
B: "OMG, are you nuts? I would so rather have you make something than buy something from a store!"
Me: "Consider it done."

The plan: A sculpted Thomas the Train with three additional box cars, or tenders as I have learned. That equals four cars, numbered 1-4, for four year old Ethan's b-day. Place on a liquorish/pretzel track with graham cracker and coconut landscaping.

Four weeks before the party I made a test cake; it was a fish with a Canadian flag, made for the hubby's work trip to said Can-aid-ia. It was my first try at fondant. I figured if I watched enough 'Ace of Cakes' I'd get the general idea. I learned a lot about what not to do. Don't let it dry out. Don't add too much milk. Don't roll it out too thin. Don't use too much frosting. Don't rush. Do not use liquid coloring for red, it turns out pink. I highly recommend doing a small practice cake with sculpting if you are planning on trying this.

Two days before the big party I started prepping the butter cream frosting. I made a double batch, guessing on the amount based on mr. fish. The day before I got all my cakes baked, carved, butter creamed, and covered with the mass amounts of fondant I also made that day. I made way too much! Better more, than not enough. I started with the easiest shape first, the boxcar, and worked my way up to the more difficult pieces. Painting the face on Thomas was my favorite part. Just add a smidge of vodka to coloring gel to make a paint consistency; don't worry the alcohol will evaporate, 'Ace of Cakes' said so.

The morning of, I literally had to drag myself out of bed from a Saturday night GNO and start doing the final decorations. A little detail here, a little frosting piping there. Opps! missed the 'h' in birthday. Redo.

Carefully transferred the cakes onto the large decorated tag board with crushed graham crakers and green colored coconut for grass. Nervously drove to the park. Why are there so many bumps and turns in the road? I've never even noticed how many potholes and hills there are. Worst case disasters are going through my head at this point. All the cars piled up in a cakey-messy heap in the back seat. Thomas' face fallen and smashed on the tracks. No fix if that happens.

After a slight miscommunication in location we made it to the park. The party was great! Kids running around in semi-organized fun, a nice spread of pasta salads, sandwiches, and chips, an absolutely perfect sunny day. The cake was a big hit. When it came time to dish it out (after a impromptu game of hide-and-go-seek with the birthday boy) all the kids screamed for Thomas. They wanted a piece of that train. Poor Thomas, he never saw it coming. At one point I looked over to see Ethan devouring the face with help from dad, so happy.

The end.

How to make a Thomas the Train Birthday Cake
(estimating 2 days prior for proper drying and setup steps)

Day1 - Bake cakes, let cool. Make frosting. Carve cakes and frost. Let chill overnight.
Day2 - Make fondant and roll out to cover cakes. Let chill overnight. Prep all the serving decorations. Make Thomas face.
Day3 (day of party) - Place onto final serving tray. Decorate with frosting and candy within 2 hrs of the party.

Cake Instructions:
Use box cakes, do not make your own. There is a science to this and they have it down.
Cook to instructions and let cool completely. For box cars and Thomas cut in half and reattach layers with medium consistency icing (this way the inside will have frosting too) I used one bread pan for each of the cars and two for Thomas to have enough height and extra pieces for carving.

Square off sides with serrated knife (bread knife) or carve to correct shape for Thomas. (In the coal car I also made an indent on the top which later was filled with smashed oreo cookies for coal)
Cover final shape with frosting and let sit in refrigerator for at least 2 hrs to chill or overnight. Roll out colored fondant and cover shapes, taking care to not rip the fondant (just past back together with water if you do) Layer any colors, attaching with water to stick. Cut out shapes and place for more decorating with a sharp knife. Let chill again for at least 2 hrs or overnight.

Place onto final serving tray. With thin consistency frosting, decorate the cars and fill in any breaks. Be sure to do this as your last step and either keep in a cool location or serve within the next couple of hours as the frosting will dry out or things may melt if the weather is too warm (just like any cake :) )

Thomas Face Instructions:
Roll out a sheet of white fondant and cut into a round shape, the size that you will need to fill in your sculpted cake (make sure to measure) Using coloring gel, water down with some Vodka (it will evaporate, don't worry) paint the circle to resemble Thomas' face. Let dry out over night, may need to help it along by placing in a 200 degree oven to dry out. Do this slowly, allowing for a lot of time because it will crack if you go too face or still be wet if you don't let it dry out completely. I suggest cutting out a back up just in case and practicing on paper before you paint if you are not comfortable.
Alternitive is to scan out edible paper and attach to the cake or non edible attached to cardboard and just don't let anyone eat it.

Fondant Instructions:
(most can be found at a grocery store or in the cake specialist isle at a craft store like Michael's)

1 Tbsp of unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup of cold water
1 tsp of almond extract
1/2 cup of light corn syrup (If a corn syrup is not available, you can substitute it with a sugar syrup made with 1-1/4 cups sugar and 1/3 cup water, boiled together until syrupy)
1 Tbsp of glycerin (some recipes say it’s optional, believe me, it’s a must)
2 lbs confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp of white vegetable shortening

Sprinkle the gelatin over cold water in a small bowl and let it rest for 2 minutes to soften
Place the bowl in a microwave for 30 seconds on High, until the gelatin dissolves
Add the Almond extract

Add the corn syrup and the glycerin and stir until the mixture is smooth and clear (if the mixture is not turning smooth and clear, microwave it for an additional 15 to 20 seconds on high and stir again)
Sift 1 1/2 pounds of the sugar into a large bowl
Make a hole in the sugar and pour the liquid mixture to it
Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes sticky
Sift some of the remaining 1/2 pound of sugar onto a smooth work surface and add as much of the remaining sugar as the mixture will take
Knead the fondant, adding a little more sugar if necessary, to form a smooth, pliable mass
Rub the vegetable shortening on your thumbs and knead it into the fondant
Wrap the fondant in plastic wrap and place it in a tightly sealed container to prevent it from drying out
If the icing dries out and harden it can often be revived by popping it into a microwave oven for a few seconds and then kneading it back to life
TIP: use coloring Gel, not drops and the color will be truer (especially for red and black) To make white add 1/4 tsp of Cream of Tartar

Butter Cream Icing Instructions:
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine softened
1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approximately 1 lb.)
2 tablespoons milk
Makes: About 3 cups of icing.
I used a triple batch with different colors and some left over. Make a large batch and color as needed.

(Medium Consistency)
In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla.
Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry.
Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.

For thin (spreading) consistency icing, add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk.
For Pure White Icing (stiff consistency), omit butter; substitute an additional 1/2 cup shortening for butter and add 1/2 teaspoon No-Color Butter Flavor. Add up to 4 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk to thin for icing cakes.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Corn Dressing

It's been raining for a good 3 days straight. Cloudy and dark clouds are constantly blowing across the sky, threatening to burst open at any moment. The poochie does not like this weather. It means no long walks, no laying on the grass, and no yummy smells coming from the grill.

Like I've said before, during the summer if we're not grilling it's because it's raining. So instead I've been doing a lot of salads. The lettuce out there is amazing right now. So many great varieties and veggies to throw in. Back in January I posted about some easy homemade dressings, it's a great time to use up all that grilled corn that ends up as leftovers.

Our CSA share has the most amazing cheeses with it also. Experimenting with cheeses and nuts on salads is our new favorite cuisine thing to do. It's a great way to use up all those packages of frozen nuts which we all have at the bottom of the freezer door. That and roasting in butter and honey for a chewing snack, but that's for the dessert pictures I have to upload....

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer Cool Down

Hot summer days require many cool salads. And it's been h-o-t (hot!) here. I started making this salad for Indian dishes that called for more than 5 chili peppers (with seeds, cause in Indian cooking you never remove the seeds, that's just blasphemy) It goes really well with warm menus and after just a couple spice substitutions I've made, it can be worked into any cuisine.

There's nothing better than a cool, watery side dish to go with a 97+ degree Minnesota night. Well either that or ice cream. But I like grilled fruit or simmered berries on my ice cream and sometimes that's just too warm.

Speaking of berries.... the blueberry bushes are doing well. Despite all the efforts of the bunnies and Japanese beetles to destroy everything else in my yard, the new bushes are holding in there. I should be getting some additional bulbs to put in for Autumn and spring. I'm still walking around the neighborhood and looking at all the gardens, filled with constant flowers and growing hedges. Why did it take me over 3 years to finally plant something (besides those stupid blackberry lilies) that will come back each year? It baffles me. I baffle myself. Self-baffling, never a good thing.

Cabbage and Cucumber Salad
(bund gobhi kakadi nu salade - Raghavan Iyer)

1 small head of cabbage
1 cucumber
1/4 cup peanuts
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp crushed mustard seeds
2 tbsp shredded coconut
1/4 tsp cumin
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lime juice

Wash cabbage head and slice into small ribbons. Set aside in a large bowl. Peel cucumber, halve, remove seeds with a spoon, and slice into small cresents.
In a pan on medium heat, toast peanuts until just brown. Let cool and crush up. Add to cabbage mixture.

Add salt, pepper, sugar, mustard seeds, and coconut to the cabbage, mixing well. Drizzle olive oil and lime juice on top, mix. Let cool in fridge until ready to serve.

Can add fennel fronds or black sesame seeds for detail.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Backyard Grocery Store

A trip home to my parents recently involved some berry picking. My mom has a wonderful garden set up this summer. There is everything from raspberries and blueberries, to red onions and pole beans. She has pumpkins and grapes, herbs and hot peppers. It's like having a grocery store in your own backyard! So jealous... you can see the greenhouse and beds here in the late winter before any work has been done...

...and then here in early spring when the lettuce is just coming up. The berry patch is in the upper right corner.

But the raspberries needed to be cut back my grandpa said. And the blueberries where full on drooping with purple bunches. So I decided to try out a Clafoutis I'd seen online. Eventhough I can't pronouce this French dessert, for my first try it turned out pretty yummy. It's a nice eggy flavor and I just love raspberries!

Since the weekend also involved a bluberry bush adventure, (basically searching all over the Coulee region for some onsale) I might be able to make my own.

Some day I'll have a grocery store in my backyard. We'll start with the dessert section for now.

Raspberry and Blueberry Clafoutis
*addapted from the post by Posie Gets Cozy

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup raspberries
1/2 cup bluberries Confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 10 by 3 by 1 1⁄2-inch round baking dish and sprinkle the bottom and sides with 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar.

Beat the eggs and the 1⁄3 cup of granulated sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Slowly mix in the flour, cream, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, wash and dry the berries. Pour berries into the bottom of the dish, spreading out evenly. Pour the batter over the berries and bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is firm, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with confectioners' sugar.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


So I've had a bout of bad luck with bees lately. Seems I can get stung by just walking out the front door. I don't mind the Honeybees, but the wasps are out to get me this year.

If all flowers could be pollenated by butterflies my life would be easier :) This pretty blue guy was helping my already overgrown Blackberry Lillies propegate even further.

On a visit to my parents over the weekend, I picked up some blueberry bushes. I'm excited to see how they do over the winter. They are a Northern variety, so I would hope the snow and frost won't do too much damage. We'll see in the spring....