New England Clam Chowder

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As a kid I LOVED Campbell’s New England Clam Chowder.   As I began cooking more for myself, there’s no comparison between canned soup and homemade.  Gumbo is the biggest example of this disparity.  Canned gumbo and actual gumbo are two entirely different species.  Would homemade New England Clam Chowder be that much better?  I had to find out.

I also vividly remember the moment when I, as a child,  ordered Clam Chowder at a restaurant and something very much not New England Clam Chowder was put in front of me:  Manhattan clam chowder.    For the longest time, I just thought it was me who found the Manhattan version awful.  When searching for a recipe to try for New England Clam Chowder, I came across James Beard’s opinion on the Manhattan Version.  In his introduction to Miss Farmer’s Recipe for Rhode Island Clam Chowder his American Cookery:

This is the closest bridge I have found to that rather horrendous soup called Manhattan clam chowder.  It is a sensible recipe and takes away the curse of the other, which resembles a vegetable soup that accidentally had some clams dumped in it.

Pretty much sums up my feelings on the non-New England version.

Now, I am usually all about using the traditional old recipes.  But in this case, a slightly more modern version ended up being more simple and easily done.  Traditional clam chowder has the following narrative:

Cook clams, chop clams, reserve cooking liquid.  Render fat from salt pork, sauté onions in salt pork fat.  Parboil potatoes for 5 minutes.  Arrange onions in the bottom of a heavy sauce pan and top with a layer of half of the potatoes.  Add the salt pork pieces, chopped clams, second layer of potatoes and salt and peppers.  Cover with boiling water and cook.  Add scaled milk, bring to a boil, add crackers soaked in milk and the reserved clam liquid.  Lastly, add a bit of flour and butter that have been kneaded together, return to the boiling point and serve.

You can find the above version in Fannie Farmer and other famous New England cookbooks.  I agree with James Beard that it appears this recipe allows the clams to cook for too long.  Plus, I would worry the onions would burn.  I’m sure they wouldn’t, but didn’t see the point of testing it out.

So, I came across a little recipe in Beard’s American Cookery that seemed easy, yet captured the spirit of the New England Clam Chowder.  As a plus, it is cracker (and gluten) free!  As an extra bonus, this recipe is shockingly cheaply made.  At Whole Foods, I grabbed a pound of frozen clam meat for $6.99.   Heavy Cream was an additional $4.99 for a quart (I don’t use it all), add a couple of potatoes, an onion, few stalks of celery, and a few strips of bacon and you are good to go!    The recipe below was inspired by Beard’s “My favorite Clam Chowder” recipe from American Cookery.  The family loved it and I’ll never eat canned chowder again.  It was really, really good!! It also makes a great weeknight dinner!

New England Clam Chowder
Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

3 slices of thick slab bacon
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 cups of water, salted
2 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
Salt and Pepper
1 pound frozen clam meat with frozen clam juice (or cooked clam meat with juice)
3cups heavy cream (may substitute half and half)
Butter
Thyme
Chopped parsley

Cook the bacon in a sauté pan over medium heat, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove bacon and add the onion and celery and sauté until translucent, or just slightly brown and remove from heat. In a 4 quart sauce pan, bring the salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes, cooking until just tender. Add the bacon, onion, celery, salt and pepper to taste, and the clams and heavy cream, simmering until the clams are no longer frozen. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Correct the seasoning. According to Mr. Beard, serve with a “dollop of butter, merest pinch of thyme, and a bit of chopped parsley”.

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

Dutch Baby

Dutch Baby

I first saw this dish made on Alton Brown’s show Good Eats and I thought it was pretty cool.    It’s not really a good entertaining dish in that it doesn’t serve a bunch of people and for breakfast, and it’s pretty labor intensive.  However, if you are serving a smallish group or a family, this is a pretty impressive dish.

This dish resembles a few others.  When eating this dish, you get hints of the influence of German Pancakes and Yorkshire Pudding.  Crispy in parts, soft and soufflé-y otherwise.   On the whole, a fantastic addition to your breakfast regime, if you are eating carbs/gluten/other stuff that is likely not good for you.

As for the history of the Dutch Baby, the recipe supposedly has its origins in Manca’s Cafe in Seattle.   A recipe for the Dutch Baby from Manca’s ran in Sunset Magazine in 1971, making it a popular dish.  There are LOADS of recipes now for this dish.  I stick to a fairly classic version that uses a cast iron skillet.  In order for this recipe to work, you have to preheat the pan, not just the oven.  Also, as you’d like to remove the Dutch Baby from the pan when finished, you want to employ pans or methods that aren’t prone to sticking.    I like cast iron for this task for a variety of reasons.  It’s naturally non-stick if seasoned correctly.  But most importantly, I don’t trust coated non-stick pans in high heat environments.  I won’t say I never use non-stick pans, but I especially don’t use them with heat over medium.  With cast iron, no worries.  And, while I could use my stainless steel and lots of oil, I really don’t want to take a chance.  It’s not like you get any redos on this recipe.  It’s pretty much a one shot deal.  It’s an easy one shot deal, however.

My recipe was inspired in part by a recipe I found on Food Network.

Dutch Baby
Serves 6
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes

3 tablespoons clarified butter
3 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk, warm (heat 20 to 30 seconds in the microwave)
1 tablespoon sugar,
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch salt

Confectioner’s Sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place clarified butter in a cast iron skillet (about 9-10 inches) and place skillet into the oven.  You may ask if you can substitute butter.  I’m leery of butter for this recipe, as this cast iron skillet will get hot (see the 400 degrees above) and you’ll really not be watching the butter melt as you are making the batter.  Clarified butter is the safer choice.  You could easily end up with burned butter here.  Any other high heat tolerant fat would be fine here as well.

Place remaining ingredients in a mixer and mix at medium speed until well combined.  Remove skillet from the oven (with an oven mitt!!!) and swirl butter completely around the pan (again, with oven mitt!!).  If the butter is excessive, whisk surplus into batter.  Pour batter into pan and bake until golden brown and puffy, about 20-25 minutes.  Serve sprinkled with confectioner’s (powdered) sugar.

Love my Kitchen Aid mixer!!

Right out of the oven.  CAUTION HOT!!!

Right out of the oven. CAUTION HOT!!!

Wild Goose

Wild Goose

My husband has taken up waterfowl hunting, and he loves it.  He brings home at least one goose every time ventures out.  Unlike the geese in the grocery store, these come in slightly battered and scarred by shot.  Also, unlike farmed geese, these are “working geese”.  These aren’t farm animals standing around all day.  These are flying geese!   As a result, the meat tends to be a bit tough and there’s no awesome leftover goose fat.   His hunting buddies relayed to him that the goose legs and thighs were inedible and most of them just use the breast meat.  I determined that this was a personal challenge to me to see if I could make them edible.

About the same time, my wonderful friend Pam gave me a pressure cooker.  There are many kitchen appliances I have used, but a pressure cooker just isn’t one of them.  They’ve always intrigued me.  It’s the opposite of a slow cooker, but with the same result!  You want tender pot roast in an hour?  The pressure cooker is your device.  The price, however, is this slight, remote chance that there could be an explosion if something goes wrong with the cooker.   Besides burns and cuts, we can add explosions to the dangers of cooking!!

So, I thought this my fortuitous acquisition of a pressure cooker at the same time my husband started to come home with these tough little birds couldn’t be a coincidence.

A few years ago, I made a goose recipe from Epicurious.com with Armagnac and Prunes and it was amazing. I know, I know. Prunes. I get it.   But, the pressure cooker dissolves these suckers into nothing and they leave behind a slightly sweet and distinct taste. Really. It is good. No one will know you put prunes in this dish, they will just know it’s awesome. As mentioned above, this goose was too tough to roast outright, so I just could draw flavor inspiration from that recipe for this one.  The prunes and red wine were an amazing combination with the rich goose meat, so I used that part of the recipe to create this one.

The pressure cooker wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be.  I didn’t fill it up too high, made sure the steam was escaping and didn’t let the pressure get too high and we got this amazing goose dish!  The thighs and legs were completely tender, as was the breast.  Mission accomplished!!!  So, if you are faced with game meat, I would seriously consider a pressure cooker to make game meat tender and amazing!  This recipe was incredibly easy to execute!

As a disclaimer, please follow your own pressure cooker instructions to ensure the safe cooking of this dish.

Goose in Red Wine and Prunes
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 75 minutes

¼ cup duck or goose fat, or vegetable oil or clarified butter
1 onion, medium dice
1 cup of diced celery
3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
8-10 prunes, sliced in half
1 cup full bodied red wine
1 cup water or chicken broth
1 Wild Goose (5-6 pounds), skinned and quartered (2 breasts, 2 leg quarters)

Heat duck fat in pressure cooker over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrots and cook until the onion is translucent. Add salt, pepper, thyme and prunes. Sauté for a minute. Add wine and chicken broth. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a pressure cooker, the alcohol does not boil off. Obviously, we need to do that before beginning to pressure cook the goose. Add the goose parts, legs first, breasts on top. Add the lid of the pressure cooker and, following your pressure cooker’s instructions, bring the pressure cooker to high pressure for 60 minutes. For my cooker, I need to lower the temperature to medium low to maintain a safe pressure level after the ideal pressure level is reached. At the end of the 60 minutes, remove from the heat and allow pressure cooker to cool until the lid can be safely removed.

Wild Goose

Hunted by my husband, butchered and skinned by me. Very primal.

Wild Goose

New Year’s Day Black Eyed Peas

New Year's Day Blackeyed Peas

Blackeyed peas, or cowpeas, or black-eyed peas are a Southern Tradition for New Year’s Day.   I learned this from my wonderful grandmother.   Every New Year’s Day my parents would take us to my grandparent’s house where we would have black eyed peas and ham for the holiday dinner.    Whether we wanted to or not, we had to eat the beans for good luck.  Mostly, being a kid, I didn’t want to eat the beans.  In hindsight, I wish I would have been a tad more excited about the prospect.

There are a variety of reasons for the inclusion of the black eyed peas on the New Year’s Day menu.   Various sources link the practice to the influence of Jewish immigrants to Georgia in the late 1700s.  Black eyed peas are traditionally served as part of the Rosh Hashanah celebration, which is the celebration of the Jewish New Year.  As the black eyed pea was a plant that was among the few not looted by Union soldiers, it was available.  As the South was left little else to eat, these peas were precious and appreciated.

I wasn’t excited to make this recipe, initially.  Not surprisingly, my northern cookbooks didn’t have any recipes for this dish.  My southern ones did, but the older ones said to soak the beans all day, change the water, boil for an hour.  Nothing else.  Beans boiled in water.  Um….  Not sounding great.

So, I “smothered” them, in the Southern food vernacular.  Onions, celery, garlic and a ham hock joined the party.  My son is dying for me to make them again and my husband took the leftovers to work. So, it was a bit of a hit! As usual, my daughter politely tried them and left them on her plate.  I’m going to say not picky eater friendly.

I had a blast reliving our New Year’s family tradition.

New Year’s Black Eyed Peas
Serves 6-8
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes

¼ cup bacon drippings, vegetable oil or lard
1 medium onion, small dice
3 stalks of celery, small dice
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pound dried black eyed peas (usually 1 bag, rinsed and picked over)
1 ham hock (or other smoked meat part)
water to cover beans (not considered “lucky” to use chicken stock)

In a large 8 quart stock pot, heat fat over medium heat. Sauté onions and celery until the onions are translucent. Add the salt, cayenne and garlic, sauté for another minute. Add beans, ham hock and enough water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower the heat to a slight simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the beans are tender and most of the water is absorbed. Remove ham hock and shred the meat. Return meat to the beans. Check seasonings, adjust if necessary, and serve.

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Hot Cocoa

Hot Cocoa

Hot Cocoa.  For my chocolate milk loving daughter, this is her favorite drink.  The temperature could be 65 degrees at night in July and that would be cold enough to inspire her to declare that “this would be a perfect night for hot cocoa”.   She needs very little in the way of excuses to ask for the rich, chocolatey drink.

There are two phrases that are used interchangeably:  hot chocolate and hot cocoa.  Technically, hot chocolate is literally chocolate that is melted and added to warmed milk.    Hot cocoa is a warm milk drink made with cocoa powder and sugar.   Both drinks are particularly delicious, but would you consider killing someone for access to such a drink?  In Chiapas, Mexico, during the 1600s, the ladies of Chiapas drank hot chocolate during mass.  According to Thomas Gage, the bishop (rumored to be Bishop Bernardino de Salazar y Frias) threatened to excommunicate the women if they continued to disrupt services with their chocolate drinking.  The ladies found other places to worship, but shortly thereafter, the bishop perished, allegedly from poisoned hot chocolate, but not before uttering:  “Beware the Chocolate of Chiapas!”

Hot chocolate is a very old drink.  Brought over to Europe from Mexico by explorers, it was praised for its medicinal qualities.   It was also a handy medium for poisoning, as show above.  Hot chocolate was rumored to be used to attempt to poison everyone from Napoleon to Frederick the Great.  Chocolate was heavily spiced and frequently considered medicinal, so it wouldn’t taste the same every time it was served.  Very handy quality for a poisoning medium. What an ugly side to such a truly enjoyable drink!!!

Today, when most people make hot cocoa, they use a packet of cocoa mix.   Many years ago,  I used the ubiquitous packet.  I don’t have the original list of ingredients, but here is the modern day list of ingredients for Swiss Miss (source):

Ingredients

Sugar, Corn Syrup, Modified Whey, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, Nonfat Milk, Calcium Carbonate, Less than 2% of: Salt, Dipotassium Phosphate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Carrageenan Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose, Artificial Flavor.

I really wouldn’t have expected to see the milk so far down the list.  I also wouldn’t expect to see Splenda in what is packaged as a “regular” packet of hot cocoa.   Overall, another scary rendition of a processed food item.

Also, I’m not really sure I’m getting my money’s worth here.  Sugar, whey, and corn syrup aren’t exactly high dollar items.  The cocoa isn’t likely high quality cocoa, as it needs to be boosted by “artificial flavor”.

But, when you just throw cocoa into milk, you just get a clumpy, powdery mess.  Many of those unpronounceable ingredients are designed to encourage a smoother incorporation of the dry ingredients into the liquid.    If we are going to make our own hot cocoa, we need to overcome this particularly nettlesome issue.

When I mix cornstarch or flour into something liquid, I have to make a paste with water first.  So, I used this particular logic and made a paste by adding water to my homemade cocoa mix.  I then added the paste to warmed milk and miraculously had smooth, hot cocoa.  No chemicals needed to keep the cocoa from lumping!  As a bonus, the paste is amazing on its own.  Sort of like a raw brownie.

Hot Cocoa
Serves 1

6 ounces whole milk
3 tablespoons high quality unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of cinnamon (optional)
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of water (may need more)
Marshmallows (optional)

Heat milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium low heat. Stir occasionally to avoid burning.

In a small bowl, combine the cocoa, sugar, cinnamon (if used), and salt. Slowly stir in water until the cocoa mixture is thoroughly moistened. There should be no dry cocoa remaining. Add more water, if needed.  Whisk the cocoa mixture into the warming milk. Heat the milk to the desired drinking temperature. Pour into mug, top with a marshmallow, and enjoy!

Hot Cocoa

Hot Cocoa

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Peanut Butter Blossoms

Peanut Butter Blossoms

I remember making Peanut Butter Blossoms when I was a kid.  Sure, it was a trans fat nightmare way back then.  But, what wasn’t?  Now, I look at the recipe for Peanut Butter Blossoms helpfully provided on the back of the package of Hershey’s Kisses and think:  I can do better.  Shortening?  No thanks.    I don’t have anything against vegetable shortening, per se, I’m just skeptical.  Vegetable shortening is pure white and kind of waxy.  What vegetable has this kind of fat?  If it’s soy, I’m out.  Too many GMO issues.  Ditto corn.  I’m just at a loss to explain how a vegetable has fat that is pure white.  So, I don’t use it.

Reese’s Peanut Butter?  Eek!  Have you seen the ingredients list?

ROASTED PEANUTS; SUGAR; CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (RAPESEED, COTTONSEED, AND SOYBEAN OILS); SALT; PEANUT OIL; MONOGLYCERIDES; MOLASSES; CORNSTARCH

Pass.  So, I subbed out lard and butter for the shortening and a “no stir” natural peanut butter for the Reese’s brand.  Jif Natural Peanut Butter has Palm Oil for the stabilizer and while that particular ingredient has environmental issues, it’s not hydrogenated.  Every ingredient can’t be completely perfect!

The result?  Well, I was really nervous.  As much as trans fat is bad for you, it does serve a purpose in the baking world.  There are entire cookies that are based on trans fats because of their specific mouth feel.  I avoid them like the plague, but was concerned with what would happen with my little cookie.  Would they crumble?  Be too dry?  Not hold the blossom?

The cookies didn’t make it more than a few days in the house.  They were actually better than the normal recipe!  The cookies were crispy on the outside, tender on the inside.  My husband, who is not a peanut butter cookie person loved these.  The kids were  scarfing these down.  Lastly, the blossom stayed in place!!  Success!!!

By using old world ingredients, I remade this cookie to be not so lethal.

Peanut Butter Blossoms
Makes 34-48 Cookies (depends on side of cookie created)

48 HERSHEY’S KISSES Brand Milk Chocolates, unwrapped (mileage may vary here, I got about 34 cookies)

¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup lard
¾  cup Natural, No Stir (I used Jif) Peanut Butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
⅓  cup granulated sugar
⅓  cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-½  cups all-purpose flour
½  teaspoon salt
Additional granulated sugar

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
    In a mixing bowl, combine the butter, lard and peanut butter.  Mix until well combined.  Add the sugars and the baking soda.  Mix well until fluffy.   Add the egg and mix.  Add the whole milk and mix again.  Add the vanilla extract and mix until all ingredients are incorporated.
    In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and the salt.   In 3 separate additions, add the flour to the sugar mix, mixing well between additions.
    Shape dough into roughly 1 inch balls.  Roll the balls in granulated sugar and placed on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.  Bake 8-10 minutes until lightly brown.
    Upon removal from the oven, immediately press a chocolate kiss in the center of the cookie.  Expect the cookie to crack.
    Remove cookies from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.
Peanut Butter Blossoms

Careful not to burn yourself while you put the kiss in the screaming hot cookie!

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies

I tell people my kids decorate the cookies.

I’ve pretty much always hated gingerbread, in all forms, until about 2 years ago.   Maybe I had bad gingerbread in the past.  Maybe I didn’t want to waste the calories on a non-chocolate cookie.  Who knows.  I had no interest in gingerbread.  Plus, my attempts at icing a cookie would probably get me a star spot on a pinterest fail website.  In other words, while I can cook, I cannot decorate.  I don’t think I have the fine motor skills required for such precision work.  So, these cookies were never on my “to make list” because they lacked chocolate and required decoration.  One day I was looking at traditional Christmas fare and, well, gingerbread is pretty traditional and old.  It should be something I tried.   I tried making it, and… it was awesome, for a non-chocolate cookie!!  While I still can’t decorate them well (see above), poor optics is a small price to pay for good cookies.

Despite all the grand varieties of Christmas cookies I am willing to make (and eat!!), the kids request this cookie first every year!

Gingerbread is a rather old food, some think as many as a thousand years old.    It can be a crisp cookie or a thick bread.  It can be dark in color or light.  There’s really no one gingerbread.  What I love about these cookies is that they aren’t particularly sweet, but very crisp and are bursting with traditional Christmas spices.  Also, no mixer is used in the making of these cookies, allowing multiple cookie doughs to be prepared at one time!

As this is a very old fashioned recipe, it lacks a certain level of fussiness.  No need to refrigerate the dough for an hour (or overnight).  The dough is incredibly easy to roll out.  It’s not sticky at all.  It won’t mess up your hands or completely coat your dough roller.  It doesn’t need to rise.  You make it, you bake it.    I cannot speak highly enough about this recipe.

Typically, I try to use historical recipes for my blog.  However, when I looked through all of my historical recipe books for a really old gingerbread cookie recipe, the measurements were a bit scary.  A peck of flour.  Um, say again?  A dozen eggs.  How many cookies are we making?!?!  So, I found a recipe on epicurious.com that used traditional methods but had actual measurements I could follow.  I tweaked it and came up with the one below.  I cannot stress how easy these are to make, but more importantly, how awesome they are to eat.

Having made this recipe lots of times, you really need to Martha Stewart the prep work and have it all done and ready to go before you begin. The recipe moves very fast. Again, it’s not hard, just fast.

Gingerbread Cookies
Yield: Depends on size of cookie cutters
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 9-10 minutes per batch (turn cookie sheet halfway through at the 4 minute mark)

2/3 cup molasses (not robust)
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar (I used light brown with no adverse consequences)
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 3/4 all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a heavy bottomed 4 quart sauce pan, bring molasses, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and cloves to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once a boil is reached, remove pan from the stove and add the baking soda. The mixture will foam and “grow” at this point, as well as lighten in color slightly. If you have kids, this part is really cool. After the baking soda is incorporated, add the butter 2-3 pieces at a time. Butter should be completely incorporated prior to the next addition. Add the egg and combine well. Stir in the flour and salt.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Knead until the dough is soft and easy to handle. You may need to add some flour if the dough is too wet (no more than ¼ cup). I’ve never really had to add much more than an obligatory sprinkle on top, no where near the ¼ cup. Unfortunately, this isn’t an exact science, so I can’t give you a precise amount.

Divide the dough in half. Wrap half of the dough in plastic wrap and set aside. Roll the remaining dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/8th of an inch. Use your favorite cookie cutters and cut shapes. Transfer the cookies to a lined baking sheet (with a silicone liner or parchment paper, etc.), and bake about 9-10 minutes. The directions of the original recipe advise to bake “until the edges are slightly darker”. Well, the cookies are really dark to begin with, so I never see much of a difference. They just look done at somewhere around the 9 to 10 minute mark.

Cool on wire racks and decorate. I use cookie icing products that have the tips built in. I know, it’s processed “food” and bad. I’m already eating a cookie loaded with gluten and sugar. We are beyond bad at this point. Besides, these products don’t taste that much different than homemade and are so much easier to clean up!!

Gingerbread Cookie Spices

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookie Dough

GIngerbread Cookie dough

Soft and ready to roll!!

Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake

My son LOVES red velvet cake and asked for his birthday cake to be red velvet.  As a person who is rather opposed to artificial flavors and colors, red velvet cake presents a conundrum.  It’s a really good cake with my favorite cream cheese icing.  But… the dye.   It’s a horrible ingredient.  The birthday boy picks his cake, of course, but can I make it without the dye?  Red velvet red just isn’t a natural color.  All over the internet there were recipes with beets or pomegranate used in place of the dye.  Neither one is really going to wow my son.  However, I thought beets might add some moisture and deep color, so maybe that was a better choice if it needed to be a really red cake.

I looked for red velvet recipes in my older cookbooks and found plenty of “velvet” cakes, but nothing specifically “red”.  Across the internet, there are various origin stories for the red velvet cake.  One is that it became popular when Adam’s Extract included a recipe for the “red” velvet cake in order to promote the sale of various extracts and dyes.  The original recipe from Adam’s Extract can be found here.  If I’m hesitant about using red dye, the artificial butter extract and vegetable shortening wasn’t too appealing in this recipe.  Other stories said the “red” was really more of a reddish brown and only recently came to mean food color red.  So, the old cookbooks were of little help, because my son wanted “red” red velvet cake.

I came across several recipes for red velvet that used beets and had no artificial ingredients, which was exactly what I was looking for!  My son gave his ok to use beets for the coloring, but I had to guarantee that if it was terrible I would make a “regular” red velvet cake.  A money back guarantee, if you will.

I found a very simple recipe from Domino Sugar and tweaked it ever so slightly.   The cake came out rich and extremely moist.  It’s a deep red and simply divine.

Red Velvet Cake
Makes:  two 9 inch layers or 24 cupcakes
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes

1 ¼ cup – Granulated Sugar (Domino recommends Domino’s)
¾ cup – (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 – large eggs
1 ¾ cup – cake flour or all purpose flour
¾ cup – unsweetened cocoa powder (NOT dutch processed)
1 ½ tsp. – baking powder
½ tsp. – baking soda
1 tsp. – salt
1 cup – buttermilk
1 tsp. – white vinegar
2 tsp. – vanilla extract
2 cups pureed roasted beets or canned beets*

*Beets: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash 6 medium beets and trim off the tops. Roast beets for 75-90 minutes until soft. Cool and then remove outer skin. Puree in food processor until completely smooth. I can’t speak to how well this recipe works with drained, canned beets that are pureed. I’ve only used fresh roasted beets.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease two 9-inch cake pans with butter and coat with flour. If you would prefer to make cupcakes, line two cupcake tins with paper cups and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter until fluffy and lightened. Add each egg, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another medium bowl, combine buttermilk, vinegar, and vanilla. Whisk to blend well. Fold pureed beets into buttermilk mixture.

Add sifted dry ingredients and buttermilk-beet mixture alternately to creamed butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing well after each addition. Pour into prepared cake pans or cupcake tins. (Fill cupcake tins 2/3 to 3/4 full.)

Bake about 25 minutes (cupcakes) to 30 minutes (cake layers), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake or cake comes out clean.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before frosting with Cream Cheese Frosting, without the cocoa powder!!

Red Velvet Cake Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet CakeRed Velvet CakeRed Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake Red Velvet Cake

Pumpkin Cream Pie

Pumpkin Cream Pie

As I mentioned in my post on stuffing, I love Thanksgiving.  It’s a food extravaganza.  People aren’t shy about carbing it up.  Stuffings, breads, pies, and potatoes of all varieties grace the table.  Unfortunately, most of the time, pumpkin pies are either bought from the supermarket bakery or reheated from frozen.  Sad.  Why?  Because the hardest part of a pumpkin pie is deciding when it’s finished in the oven.  It’s a dump and bake proposition, otherwise.

Most people will make the Libby’s recipe for pumpkin pie on the back of the can of canned pumpkin.  While it’s perfectly fine, that’s kind of the problem, it’s fine.  I discovered this other pumpkin pie recipe several years ago and just found it to be so superior to the Libby’s version, I had to try it.  It’s from the New York Times Cookbook (the Craig Claiborne version). First, it had cream.  Real, heavy, cream.  NOT evaporated milk.  It had me at cream, really.  Then it had 3 cups of canned pumpkin, which is a LOT more than one 15 ounce can.  I was intrigued.  If you are familiar with the New York Times Cookbooks, there are no pictures, you are on your own.  I tried it and it changed our family’s pumpkin pies forever.  This is a rich pie with lots of creamy pumpkin flavor, not wan or thin.  It’s truly amazing.  Many people who didn’t like pumpkin pies, like this version.

This recipe just cannot be easier, for the amazing dessert you end up presenting.  Get a store bought crust (I prefer the frozen ones to the refrigerated roll out kind), and it’s super easy.  I like making my own crust, which presents a variety of challenges, all of which end up in deliciousness.

Now, the hard part:  when is the pie done.  Generally speaking, it’s done when the center jiggles just a little.  Helpful, no?  How much is a little?  When is a jiggle?  Why has my pie cracked open?  I avoid these issues with a low temperature baking.  This varies from Claiborne’s instructions.  If I follow his instructions, it comes out pretty cracked and sort of not done in the center.  Could be my oven.

Pumpkin Cream Pie
Serves: 8
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour and 15 minutes (approx.)

Pie Crust
3 cups canned pumpkin
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon powdered ginger (or 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

If using a homemade crust, roll out crust and place into pie dish. Prick holes in the crust all around with a fork to prevent bubbles. Add pie weights. Blind bake (bake with no batter) the crust for 10 minutes at 450. Remove the weights and reduce heat to 375 and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Blend well over medium speed. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and place in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Check crust for signs of browning, if brown, cover. Bake for 45-55 minutes more, or until the center is just slightly jiggles when the pie is slightly jostled. You may want to check often after the 40 minute mark, as oven temperatures vary.  Cool and serve.

Pumpkin Cream Pie

Pumpkin Cream Pie

Pass the Prosciutto- Thanksgiving Stuffing Featuring Parma Ham

Pass the Prosciutto

Yes, you can make stuffing with no bread and have it look this awesome!

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There are few holidays that really excite me food-wise as Thanksgiving. First of all, you have the tradition. You can go full bore and serve exactly what the pilgrims ate, or you can do the modern classical Thanksgiving: Turkey, stuffing, various potatoes, token green veg, rolls and pumpkin pie. It’s a virtual carbohydrate bonanza! Over the years, however, various dietary needs have arisen and several beloved family members have been diagnosed with diabetes. The traditional Thanksgiving meal is a disaster for your typical diabetic. Instead of “going without”, I am all about making something equally good from more low carb friendly fare.

My most favorite dish on the Thanksgiving table is stuffing. As a kid, there was nothing better than the box of Stove Top Stuffing, amended with sausage and mushrooms and placed on the table. Nothing. Sure, I can laugh now, but back then, you angled to get a seat by the stuffing.  Stuffing by its very nature, however, is a high carb endeavor.

So, I started looking at all the stuffings from the yesteryear for inspiration.  Stuffings with sage or chestnuts or oysters! Oh my! So much to try. So I stumbled upon the recipe below quite by accident. I wanted a touch of richness, a bit of history, and a whole bunch of easy.  One of my go to ingredients when I’m looking for rich and clearly special is Prosciutto di Parma.  It gives a fantastic, complex, flavor without the excess, and rather random amount of fat and smoke that bacon brings.

Initially, I came up with a stuffing with sausage, chicken livers, oysters, prosciutto di parma, seasonings and bread crumbs. There wasn’t a single drop of stuffing left. Everyone ate every last bit and wanted more.  However, the carb count was likely crazy high.  So, I had to turn my focus to the low carb version.   Then, I got an assignment that asked me to concentrate on gluten free cooking that included the amazing Prosciutto di Parma, or parma ham. Could I adapt the my high carb, gluten riddled recipe recipe? Would it work? These questions kept me up at night.

First, my philosophy for low carb is not to make a thin imitation. While you’ll never convince me that pureed cauliflower is mashed potatoes, the dish is really quite good in its own right.   And, more importantly, I don’t miss the potatoes.   My goal for this dish was: good and you don’t miss the original.  How can you go wrong with Prosciutto di Parma, sausage and oysters.  Right?

Let me caution: this stuffing is full bodied and full fat. It’s a go big or go home type stuffing. Everyone who has tried this stuffing in either high carb or low carb form have raved about it. Some people have declined to try it due to the ingredients.   Chicken livers and oysters can lead some to take a pass. More for me, honestly.

The technique I use is really rather unique. I was making the stuffing and decided to take a short cut. I didn’t want whole oysters or pieces of chicken livers in my stuffing for texture reasons, so I figured I would just chop them for a bit in the processor, because, well, isn’t that what it’s for? I quickly learned there’s no level of “a bit” that doesn’t turn the livers or oysters into liquid. So, instead of minced shellfish or livers, I had a lovely red puree.  However, I wasn’t wasting my money by not using the livers or oysters, so I included them in the stuffing. Because these overtly odd ingredients didn’t appear in the stuffing, people were more inclined to try it. And, by extension, love it! Huzzah!  I just got back from Williamsburg, so that celebratory phrase stays!

So, dear reader, I am giving you my famous stuffing recipe. My kids cried that I was using a recipe from the secret family recipe book.  But I will share this one.  Kick the boxed stuffing habit and make your own stuffing.  It will be miles better than anything from a box.  You can make it ahead too! And, depending on the version below you choose, you can actually label this a vegetable side.  You’ll get the joke when you read the ingredients.

Sausage and Oyster Stuffing
Serves: Thanksgiving Crowd (10 or so, easily doubled if you need more)
Prep Time: 15-25 minutes, depending on version made
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes

Note: Low carb/Gluten free version requires cooked cauliflower, see Cuban Rice and Beans for full prep instructions.

5 chicken livers
6 oysters, shucked
1/3 cup bacon drippings, lard or other high temperature suitable oil
1/2 pound Prosciutto (parma ham), medium dice
1 pound sage sausage
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sage, rubbed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Low Carb/Gluten Free Version:
1 large head of cauliflower, cut into florets, roasted at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes until soft and slightly brown, chopped fine

“Regular Version”:
4 cups bread crumbs (gluten free, if needed)

2 hard boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

Place chicken livers and oysters in the container of the food processor and process thoroughly. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator.

Heat fat over medium heat in a large skillet. And prosciutto and sausage and cook until the sausage is cooked through and both are rendered of fat. Add the onions, celery and mushrooms and cook until the onions and celery are translucent and the mushrooms have lost some of their liquid. Add the garlic and saute until soft. Add the sage and liver mixture. Cook until the mixture is no longer reddish. Add the butter, cauliflower or bread crumbs, eggs and salt and pepper. Place in an oven dish, cover and refrigerate. To serve, heat in a 350 degree oven until the top is brown and the stuffing is warmed through.

Follow Parma Ham on Twitter for a chance to win $50 worth of the world’s most famous ham. Click on the banner below to participate. This post is a collaboration between the blogger and Parma Ham. 

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Pass the Prosciutto

Pass the Prosciutto

Pass the Prosciutto

Pass the Prosciutto