Thursday, December 24, 2009

Spicy Peanut Sauce²

So what would Fresh Wraps be without a really good peanut sauce? I have two that I use. One is easy and quick, the other a little more complicated. Both are very yummy and versatile…so without further introduction, here they are.

This first recipe I got from Auntie May who say’s this is how they do it in Thailand. It's fairly uncomplicated, and perfect for the dump cook as it doesn’t have precise measurements. Feel free to experiment with the proportions as all are approximate...just keep tasting until you get it how you like it.

Thai Spicy Peanut Sauce

1 tsp Thai red curry paste
1 can coconut milk
½ cup sugar
½ cup peanut butter
½ tsp Paprika
½ tsp salt (or to taste)

Sauté the curry paste for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the coconut milk, sugar, peanut butter and salt. Stir constantly until thickened slightly (burns easily). It will thicken up more as it cools. Serve warm or cold. Enjoy!


The second recipe I have for you was adapted from a recipe I found on It’s a little more complicated, has a proper ingredient list, and is quite tasty. Serve it with fresh wraps, over chicken and rice, on noodles or as a dressing for spinach salad.

Spicy Peanut Sauce

2 Tbs vegetable oil
3-4 scallions, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 Tbs gingerroot, grated fine
1 cup water
½ cup peanut butter
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup distilled white vinegar
3 Tbs firmly packed brown sugar
¼ tsp dried hot red pepper flakes, Thai preferably if you have them

In a saucepan heat oil with garlic and ginger, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add scallions and cook additional minute. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, stirring until smooth and thickened.
Serve warm or chilled. It will also keep in the refigerator for 3 days if you want to make it in advance.

Fresh Wraps

First, apologies to anyone who wanted this recipe up earlier this week…life has been crazy busy. Second, I wish you all the very best Christmas, and fondest hopes for a blessed New Year!

Moving on…

I adore spring rolls or “fresh wraps” as we call them at my house. There is nothing more delightful than having my entire salad rolled up into a neat little package…add a little spicy peanut sauce or some Thai red chili sauce and I am in heaven.

You can make spring rolls year around but for some reason I find I make them more around the holidays…they are a big hit at parties and I always get requests for the recipe…(thus the reason for this post.)

Spring rolls are very easy to make in themselves. Most of the work comes in prepping the ingredients. Also, the wrappers can sometimes feel tricky to work with but don’t give up…it takes a little practice and in the end it is well worth your effort!

A couple of special ingredients you’ll need:

Wrappers…these can be purchased at Asian markets and some upscale groceries that carry specialty Asian items. They can also be purchased online. There are a couple of varieties and some work better than others. They also come in several sizes—appetizer to main entrée. If you’re new at making them, choose the 8-12 inch wrappers for easier assembly. When you pick up the package give it a squeeze, if there is any give at all…keep looking. The best ones are hard, flat, and completely smooth (no bumps).

Rice noodles…again purchased either online or at an Asian grocery. You want thin noodles…approximately the size of angel hair pasta or a little thinner. They will be labeled bean threads, rice vermicelli, or sometimes ‘oriental style instant noodles’. It is nice if they come in little bundles like in the picture but I can't usually find them like this. Most often they just come in a large package. Bean threads do come in smaller individual packages.

Thai Fresh Spring Rolls
1 pkg Spring roll rice wrappers
1 pkg bean threads or vermicelli rice noodles
2-3 carrots—grated
1 avacado—sliced
lettuce—rinse and spin dry
½ cucumber—sliced length wise
¼ onion—slice thin
protein of choice—crab, marinated tofu, chicken, prawns, shrimp, pork loin (optional)

Start by prepping your ingredients, laying them out for easier assembly. Place your noodles in boiling water for 5 to 8 minutes and then fill pot with continuously running cold water to stop the cooking process. You want your noodles to be bundled into thick ropes, so when they are cold, still in the water, reach in and with a dipping motion, dip the noodles back and forth in the cold water to align them. When you have a fair number aligned and smooth, place them on a spatter screen to drain and dry a little. Continue until you have all of the noodles out of the water and on the screen. (You can skip this step and just drain the noodles, but making ropes gives you a more beautiful product, and makes the noodles easier to work with.)

Once you have all your ingredients prepped, you are ready for assembly. Fill a large bowl with warm water, dip your wrapper several times to wet it completely. Lay wrapper on a cutting board or work surface. Add your ingredients. I don’t have a particular order but usually start with the lettuce. Be creative. Once your ingredient are assembled on the wrapper, fold the sides in and roll up like a burrito.

Serve with a spicy peanut or Thai sweet chili sauce.

It takes a little practice. Don’t worry if the wrappers tear a little, sometime you can roll over the tear to cover it or if tearing is a big problem, try a little less water when dipping or different wrappers.

Here are a couple of video's that will help if you get stuck. The first is how to dip the rice papers and the second will show assembly and rolling. (Use a bigger bowl of water than the one she uses in the's easier) Best of luck and Enjoy!

Photo credit for the noodles.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thai Noodle Soup

Yep…I’ve been on a soup kick lately so you’ll just have to bear with me…it’s what I crave when fall and winter turn the weather chilly. One of the quickest and easiest soups to make is ramen noodles—the quintessential fast food. In college it was a staple, and it never fails to be the perfect canvas for the creative ‘dump cook’—see sidebar. Also, it’s a perfect way to use up that leftover turkey from Thanksgiving.

My sister-in-law, May, taught me to make this delightfully easy version for more sophisticated pallets. I love the versatility of this recipe and hope you will too.

Thai Noodle Soup
Serves one

1 package Ramen Noodles
½ Cup Fresh or Frozen Vegetables of choice—carrots, green beans, scallions, kale, pea pods, broccoli, asparagus etc.
¼ Cup Protein of choice…Cooked chicken, turkey, beef, pork, or egg—optional
½ tsp Fish Sauce
1 Tbs Fresh Cilantro-minced
Lime—cut in wedges
Dried Red pepper flakes or spice of your choice

In a small stock pot, boil water for noodles as per the package directions. Slice vegetables and protein into bite size pieces. When water is boiling, add vegetables and cook 1 minute before adding noodles. Cook 3 minutes and remove from heat. Pour off some of the water, if you like a stronger broth, and then add seasoning packet, fish sauce, protein, and cilantro. Squeeze lime juice (or lemon in a pinch) over noodles and garnish with pepper flakes to taste. Enjoy!

Dump Cook Notes: as a traditional dump cook, I don’t measure anything that goes into this soup so all measurements are approximate. Fish sauce is fairly strong (don’t smell it…it tastes way better than it smells) and I usually use just a splash or two from the bottle. Experiment. In Thai cooking it is used the same way we use salt…so start with a little and don’t be afraid to use more if you want a stronger flavor. The same goes for the lime juice…I usually use a wedge or two…it blends well with the fish sauce and cilantro to meld the flavors nicely. For spice we use Thai Fried Chili Paste—photo here, but dried pepper flakes—preferably Thai chili flakes, work just fine also.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fresh Cream of Tomato Soup

More Soup…
I got this recipe from the kitchen ladies at work. It comes from an institutional cookbook—or maybe more accurately described as a booklet, which was published sometime in the 1940’s. It was missing its cover, so I don’t have a clue of its name or publisher…all I know is that it makes a great pot of soup. The recipe has measurements for 10, 50, and 100 servings and if you want to make it for more than the 10 serving batch I’m posting here, let me know. I’ve always loved tomato soup but never come across a recipe I really loved until I stumbled upon this one. Of course being a good 'Dump Cook’(see sidebar) I tweaked it a little. I think you’ll love it as much as I do.

This recipe is also a great one to make with kids...the perfect little science experiment—watching what happens when you mix an acid (tomato) with a base (baking soda). They love it.

Fresh Cream of Tomato Soup

2 14 ½ oz. cans Tomato’s—pureed
1 tsp sugar
½ Cup celery (about 3 stalks)
½ Cup onion (about ½ a medium sized onion)
¼ tsp baking soda
½ Cup butter (see notes below)
4 Tbs flour
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp paprika
1 tsp white pepper
3 Cups chicken broth
3 Cups half and half
2-3 Tbs fresh basil, minced
Tomatoes, fresh diced (optional)

Combine tomato puree, sugar, celery, and onions in a large stockpot. Simmer covered for one hour. Add baking soda.
In a separate pan, melt butter, add flour, salt, pepper, and paprika. Whisk in chicken broth and stir until smooth and thick. Add thickened broth mixture to your tomato puree. Stir in half and half. Heat for about 10 minutes but, Do Not Boil. Stir in basil, taste and adjust for seasonings if necessary. Serve garnished with fresh chopped tomato if desired.

Notes: The original recipe calls for the celery and onion to be minced and cooked with the tomato puree. Usually I puree all three ingredients in the Cuisinart, and cook them that way. This gives a creamy soup with lots of body. If you want a chunkier soup, follow the original recipe and mince the onions and celery. It also calls for one bay leaf instead of the basil. If you want to use bay leaf, add it to the tomato puree and let it cook for an hour to release its flavor. Remove before serving.

To make this recipe a little healthier—back in the 1940’s I don’t think they were so concerned with a heart healthy diet; I usually decrease the amount of butter I use. You really just need enough to moisten all the flour in making your roux…so 3-4 Tbs would probably do it. Also, I have substituted both low fat milk and whole milk for the half and half, and thought the recipe tasted just fine. If you’re wowing guests however, and have no care for their hearts, make it as the recipe calls for…it’s sinfully delicious.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Soup's On...

Remember this?

Soup has always been a comfort food for me. Rich, creamy, warm, and delicious…there is nothing better, in Fall, than a cup of soup to warm you all the way down to your toes. When I was living in Portland, there was an old European Bakery on Morrison St. that served the most delicious Hungarian Mushroom soup. The Three Lions Bakery, (which I hear has unfortunately gone out of business) served this soup with crispy bread sticks. The soup is creamy, a little spicy, and will lead your imagination to faraway lands.

I’ve adapted the Three Lions Bakery recipe, that I clipped from the Oregonian newspaper back in 1994. To get the best flavor be sure to use real Hungarian Paprika—other types won’t taste nearly as good.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup
Makes about 8 cups

6 Tbs butter
1 ½ Cup chopped onion
4 tsp Hungarian paprika
4 tsp dried dill weed (fresh is better, if you have it available)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2/3 Cup all-purpose flour
1 2/3 Cup milk
2 2/3 Cup chicken broth (original recipe calls for water)
2 Tbs Tamari (or soy sauce)
2 Tbs lemon juice
½ Cup sour cream
3 Tbs minced fresh parsley
4 Cups sliced mushrooms

In a large saucepan, melt butter and sauté the onion along with the paprika, dill weed (unless you use fresh, in that case add the fresh dill weed just prior to serving and decrease the amount to 3 teaspoons), salt and pepper until the onion is tender. Whisk in the flour and then the milk and chicken broth. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the soup begins to thicken, then add the mushrooms and cook for additional 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Tamari, lemon juice, sour cream and parsley. Serve immediately.

Note: If your local grocer doesn’t carry real Hungarian Paprika you can get it here. Penzey’s Spice Company is where I get most of my spices. Their selection and quality is hard to beat. For this recipe I use the Hungarian Half Sharp.

Also, because I think it's hilarious, here is The Best of The Soup Nazi…enjoy!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nana's Fresh Fruit Pie

Summer is in full swing here in the North. Our county fair is next week. My garden is producing green beans by the bushel, zucchini, sweet peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce. As for fruit, we are still picking raspberries and huckleberries and peach season is coming soon. Strawberry and blueberry seasons are finished and the jam is in the freezer.

I think that aside from my garden, fresh fruit defines summer for me. Watermelon, blueberries, and juicy ripe peaches capture the very essence of the season, in all its glorious splendor, and nothing does a better job of showcasing that splendor than a fresh fruit pie.

Not just any fresh fruit pie…but Nana’s extraordinary fresh fruit pie…a pie with an amazing secret—its cheesecake middle. (For those of you who had this at Kevin’s client appreciation luncheon and have been awaiting this post, I apologize for being so long in getting it up.) The pie can be made with any fresh fruit you like…softer fruits work best for obvious reasons—all berries, and peach are wonderful. I’ve never tried banana, pear, apricot, plum, or cherry, so if you do, let me know how it turns out. Enjoy!

Nana's Fresh Fruit Pie
(Recipe make 2 small pies or 1 large pie)

4-6 C Fresh Fruit

1 Pkg Graham Crackers, or equivalent (6 oz/~2C) Vanilla Waffers or Animal Crackers
½ C Sugar
½ C Melted Butter

8 oz Cream Cheese—low fat is OK but will give a softer set
1 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk
1/3 C Lemon Juice
1-2 tsp. Vanilla

2 C Cold Water
1 C Sugar—or if fruit is sour, more sugar to taste
1 Small Pkg. Jello
5 Tbs Corn Starch

Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place graham crackers and sugar in food processor and blend into crumbs. Add butter and mix until crumbs are moist. Press crumbs into pie pans or baking dish. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until crust turns slightly more brown. Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Middle: Place cream cheese, and sweetened condensed milk into food processor and blend until smooth and without lumps. Add in vanilla and lemon juice and blend until mixed. Pour immediately into crust and allow to set (10 minutes).

Glaze: The type of glaze you make will depend upon the fruit you use to make the pie. In most cases you can match the jello to the fruit and make the glaze as follows:

Place water, sugar, cornstarch, and jello into a small saucepan and whisk until cornstarch is disolved and there are no lumps before placing over med-high heat. Heat until glaze is thickened and you can see a ‘faint line’ after pulling the spoon through the glaze(runny pudding consistency). Glaze should be clear.

For certain types of fruit, the pie is better if you use fresh juice and lemon jello. This is true of blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries etc. For these fruits, cook approximately 2 cups of berries in 1 cup of water until boiling and fruit is mushy. Strain through a cheese cloth to get juice. Then take: 1 cup juice, 1 cup water, 1 small pkg. lemon jello, cornstarch and sugar and prepare as above.

If using peaches as your fruit, add ¼ tsp. almond extract to glaze mixture.
If using blueberries or huckleberries, add ¼ tsp. vanilla to glaze

Make sure berries or fruit is well drained and heap onto pie. Allow glaze to cool about 10 minutes before pouring over fruit. Chill well before serving or until glaze is set.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Microwave Caramel Corn

This is for Valerie…

Remember Cracker Jacks? There was no mistaking the box with its bright red and white label, little blue sailor and dog. As a kid, I wasn’t overly fond of caramel corn but I loved the peanuts. Of course, the hidden toy was the biggest draw and I would always dump a little out, and then dig through the rest, until I found it. Invariably it was at the bottom. It didn’t work to open the box from the bottom either—the toy would be on the top! You never knew what you would find—tattoo or stickers, maze and ball puzzles, rings, toy cars or animals. Compared and sometimes traded, it was magical to get the coolest one.

These days the toys that come in Cracker Jacks aren’t nearly so fun. I asked my husband this morning if he had liked Cracker Jacks as a kid. His reply; “you bet. But now the prize is just some stupid riddle on a piece of paper.” Clearly, I was not alone in my love of those little prizes.

This recipe for caramel corn came from Nana. It’s been in our family practically since the invention of the microwave. Now you too can make Cracker Jacks at home…the prize at the bottom as creative and cool as your imagination will allow.

Microwave Carmel Corn

6 quarts Plain Popcorn—no salt or butter

1 cube Butter

1 Cup Brown Sugar

½ teaspoon Cream of Tarter

¼ Cup Karo Corn Syrup

1 teaspoon Baking Soda

1-2 Cups nuts—your choice (Almonds or Peanuts work well) optional

Pop corn and place in a brown paper grocery bag. (We use an air popper to pop our corn, and 6 quarts is about two poppers.) Add nuts to popcorn. In a 3½-quart saucepan, melt butter. Add corn syrup, brown sugar, and cream of tartar. Bring to a rolling boil. Add soda and stir like crazy for 10 seconds. (The caramel will foam up so be ready to pour over popcorn in a hurry if it looks like it might overflow your pot.) Immediately pour onto the popcorn and mix well.

Fold top of bag down tightly and place in the microwave for 6 minutes, stirring after each minute. Dump the cooked caramel corn out on to parchment paper and spread to cool. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


What’s not to love? A crunchy, chewy crust, loaded with cheese, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes and feta. Just writing those words sets my mouth to watering. On the other hand, maybe you prefer the Combo, loaded with spicy pepperoni, sausage, olives, and mushrooms, the Hawaiian, or the simplicity of fresh basil, garlic, tomatoes, and mozzarella—whatever your pleasure, pizza never fails to entice the soul to rapture.

We have always made pizza at home. This is not to say we don’t order in now and again, but for the most part, it is a homemade labor of love. Fresh ingredients and the freedom to be creative have given us a better pie than any a chain pizza store could produce, and that quality, taken together with our current economy, makes homemade pizza an awesome choice.

Homemade pizza is not hard. The crust is simply flour, water, oil, salt, and a little yeast—or if you’re feeling very creative, as I have been lately—sourdough. Often we will make pizza the night after having spaghetti and use the leftover sauce on our pizza. The toppings can be as simple or complex as your imagination allows. You don’t even need a red sauce if you don’t want—Italian herbs and garlic in olive oil is just as tasty. Here is a simple but wonderful recipe for pizza dough. It makes four small pies (~8 inch).

Pizza Dough
1 cup warm water
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil—can us any oil really
1-2 tsp honey or other sugar
3(+/-) cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt—less if you use table
1 package yeast (2 ½ tsp)

In a small bowl, mix the yeast and honey with ¼-cup warm water –let sit for 5 minutes. In a mixer with a dough hook, combine remaining water with the flour, salt and oil and your yeast mixture. Mix on low until the dough comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes. Place in oiled bowl and cover with a piece of plastic wrap or damp tea towel. Allow to rise for 30 minutes.

After rising, divide the dough into 4 pieces, shaping it into smooth ball like clumps. Allow to rise for another 20 minutes. Your dough is now ready to use. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven to heat.

We use ‘no-stick’ tin foil or parchment papers to prepare our pizza’s as it makes for easy cleanup. Gently stretch your dough into a circle. Add the toppings of your choice—be as creative as you like. Bake for 10-13 minutes or until crust is nicely brown and cheese is melted.

(This recipe can also be made in a bread maker. Put the ingredients in your bread maker in the order in which they appear. Use dough setting. Rise for 30 minutes, shape into balls and rise additional 20 minutes.)

One other note: Sometimes it is too hot outside to use the oven. We have used this recipe and baked the pizzas successfully on the grill. If you want to do this, my best advice is to limit the amount of toppings so they cook quickly and to use the no-stick tinfoil. You'll have a super crispy and delicious crust. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sour Reconnections

What is this longing to reconnect and acknowledge the past and those who came before? Is it a quest to understand—to remember? We study history. We read books about the past and try to place ourselves in the lives of the characters who lived there. We imagine what it would have been like to be a gold miner on our way to Alaska, a baker living in San Francisco before the Great Earth Quake, or a fur trapper in the wilds of Montana. We might imagine our great, great, great grandmothers on homesteads throughout America and wonder what delicacies were created in their pioneer kitchens. In some instances, we are lucky and those recipes are handed down through the generations. In others, they are forever lost. What fun then, to rediscover recipes long forgotten?

With that in mind, I’ll tell you about my new pet. It lives on my kitchen counter and is very well behaved. Aside from needing to be fed once or twice a day, it requires very little in the way of love and affection. I never have to take it out for a walk or do the pooper scooper thing. In all, not a bad pet. In return for my care, my yeasty beasties give me wonderful baked goods—the most delicious sourdough imaginable.

No one knows who first discovered the process of leavening bread with yeast but historians think it happened in Egypt. Imagine you are an Egyptian chef in the palace of the pharaoh. One bright summer morning, you’ve combined water and flour, maybe a little milk and oil to make the pharaoh’s hard, flat dinner cake, when in rushes a messenger.

“Baker,” he yells at you, “you must come quickly! There has been an accident. You are needed urgently at home.” The pharaoh’s dinner forgotten, you rush home. While you are away, natural yeasts present in the flour and milk, and maybe others floating in the air which land in your bowl, begin to ferment in the warm summer sun. The yeast uses the flour and water as food and produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct of their reproduction. When you finally return, hours later, you barely notice the bubbles now present in your mixing bowl. You go about making your flat cake as usual, mind preoccupied by the crisis at home. When you pull your cake out of the oven, you are horrified. Pharaoh is expecting his dinner and his cake looks nothing like it usually does. It is abnormally thick and deformed. However, you haven’t anything else to replace it, so with trepidation and remorse you set it before the king and hope for the best.


(Fabulous!) He shouts. “Promote this baker to head chef.” You sigh and return to the kitchen thankful to have escaped death and clueless as to what you did to make the cake so delicious. Thus began a series of experiments that gave us yeast and sourdough today, thousands of years later.

Sourdough and bread made with beer barm, (the yeast 'overflow' that rises to the top of fermenting beer or mead and obtained from the dregs when the beer is racked) were staple foods for the next 5000 years. It wasn’t until the mid 19th century that commercial yeast was introduced by Charles Fleischmann at the Centennial Exposition (Philadelphia, 1876). This marked the rise of modern bread making, and some would argue the decline of good flavor in our bread—think ‘Wonder bread’—as the incredibly complex flavors of sourdough and the techniques used by our great grandparents disappeared beneath the increasingly busy schedule of the modern family.

There are hundreds of strains of yeast and all give different flavors to bread. Wouldn’t you like to make a loaf of bread made with the yeast native to Egypt? Bread that would taste very much like the one you served to pharaoh all those many years ago. Since my pet was given to me, I have made innumerable loaves of breads, a batch of cinnamon rolls, and loads of hotcakes. I’m still learning…experimenting with ingredients, rise times, and reconnecting to the breads made by my great grandmothers. I don’t have a recipe for you but here are several links I’ve found helpful in my own explorations. If you don’t want to hassle with making bread yourself, I would at least encourage you to visit an artisan bakery and experience the wonder of great bread made the old fashioned way.

Sourdoughs International : a good place to get starters from around the world starters, instructions, and recipes
The Basics
History of Bread Yeast

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Creamed Eggs on Toast and the Cheese Mystery

Left over Easter eggs—some are so pretty you almost hate to use them. They sit in their basket, beautiful reminders of the rite of spring. Renewal. Nevertheless, use them you must, so you’ve made deviled eggs, egg salad sandwiches, and potato salad and you still have more to use. What to do?

The start of my families Easter egg breakfast ritual is unclear but after much research, here is what I know. My grandmother took home economics in 1942. Her curriculum included making many recipes, among which was Creamed Eggs on Toast. My mother and her sisters all grew up eating this delightful dish on Easter morning and it was one of my favorite breakfasts as a child. It was a hard and fast Easter ritual—after the Easter egg hunt, everyone brought their eggs to Mom (saving out the prettiest) and she would make Creamed Eggs on Toast for breakfast. No one I talked to however, remembers whose idea it was to add cheese. My grandmother says she never made this dish with cheese and her eldest daughter, my aunt Vickie, does not make it with cheese. My mother, who is second eldest and her younger sister, my Auntie Pam on the other hand, both use cheese. My mother does not remember a time when she did not make this dish with cheese thus for my family, it has been made this way for at least forty years.

I can still remember the first time I made this for my husband and his ho hum attitude at my mention of our beloved Easter ritual. It only took seconds for him to embrace our favorite breakfast as he too had grown up with no cheese in his ‘Eggy Toast’. I searched the internet today for possible origins for our recipe and found that none of the recipes I looked at contained cheese—thus the mystery.

My internet search did bring to light many interesting facts about the history of food. The base for this recipe is a basic Béchamel sauce whose primary ingredients are a 1:1 ratio of butter to flour, making a roux, and milk. Adding cheese to this turns it into a Mornay sauce often used in soufflés and gratins. Béchamel Sauce or white sauce has long been considered one the four basic ‘mother’ sauces of French cooking. Chefs have used it since the mid 1600’s. (If you are interested in reading about its history I found a very interesting web site, you can view here.) For our Creamed Eggs on Toast we start with the béchamel and use it as the base for my favorite Easter breakfast and the best way to use up those extra Easter eggs.

Note: Traditional Béchamel sauce contains butter, flour, milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. For this recipe, we are going to leave out the nutmeg and add onion and garlic powder.

In addition, followers of this blog please note: This is another ‘dump’ recipe in which I usually do not measure exactly…feel free to play around with the proportions as needed.

Cheesy Creamed Eggs on Toast
(Serves 4-6)

1/3 C butter
1/3 C flour
4 C milk
1/8 t or fair sized pinch garlic powder
¼ t onion powder
Fresh ground pepper
Seasoning salt to taste—can add either while cooking or allow people to add their own at the table
1 ½ C Cheddar Cheese (usually don’t measure…this morning it was three large handfuls)
4-6 hard-boiled Easter eggs—sliced
Hearty whole-wheat toast (to be healthy…)

To make your béchamel, melt butter over medium heat, in a saucepan and add flour, stirring to mix with butter—this is your roux. Allow roux to cook, stirring continuously for about 1 minute. Do not allow it to brown. Whisk in milk and continue whisking until roux is dissolved. Sauce will thicken as the milk warms. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. (To thicken quicker, warm milk in microwave prior to adding to roux.) Add garlic and onion powder, pepper and seasoning salt if desired. When béchamel is thick and beginning to bubble, add cheese and stir to melt. Sauce should be smooth and creamy. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from heat and add eggs. Serve over toast.

My husband and children like to add Baco bits to their ‘Eggy Toast’. My parents and I eat it with seasoning salt sprinkled at the table. Crisp bacon bits are also tasty. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Confessions of a Dump Cook

Ok, I confess. I’m a dump cook. I rarely use a recipe unless I am baking. I think it’s genetic—an inborn trait written on my very being at birth. My very first memory bears this out. I am about two years old and it is an early morning in spring. My mama is still in bed. There is a white Formica table pushed up against the wall beneath the dining room window. The bright sunshine backlights the curtains a brilliant yellow. It is dazzling and I crawl up on the table entranced by the beauty of the sunshine. How lovely—there is a tub of strawberry jam left up here from supper last night. It is a very pretty red. I’m hungry. Dipping my fingers into the jam, I bring them to my mouth. It is sweet and yummy. How pretty, I think as I take another scoop and this time smear it across the brilliant yellow curtains. The sun shines through illuminating the jeweled pictures I create. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and I turn to get more jam.

I do not remember my mothers’ reaction upon finding me—just how beautiful the red jam was on the yellow curtains with the sun behind—but it was my first experiment in ‘dumping’. She tells me that when she found me, I had the entire jam tub, upended on top my head like a hat. Many such experiments followed. Playing with food was fun. One memorably spectacular disaster involved a bag of melted chocolate chips, peppermint oil and coconut. I was nine. You cannot imagine my disappointment as I dumped the whole mess down the garbage disposal so my mother would not find I’d wasted food.

Playing with food is still one of my favorite activities—a little of this, and a little of that. Sometimes it works and sometimes I again dump the whole mess in the trash. The following recipe is a ‘dump’ recipe. I don’t have measurements—it’s a little of this and a little of that. The nice thing about ‘dump’ recipes is that they can be the canvas for many dishes. Here I offer an easy Alfredo pasta sauce that can be used as the base for Pasta Primavera, Chicken Alfredo, or Chicken Artichoke Penne. Be as creative as you like. It’s fun.

Easy Alfredo Sauce
Measurements are approximate.

1-2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3-5 cloves garlic—pressed or minced very fine
1 package low fat cream cheese (for richer sauce use full fat cream cheese)
1-1 ½ C half and half (can also use fat free half and half)
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp fresh ground pepper

Put olive oil in skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cream cheese. Smash cream cheese and garlic together. Cheese will begin to melt as it gets hot. Add half-and-half and whisk gently until sauce is smooth and thick. Add nutmeg and ground pepper. Sauce can now be added to any pasta dish. (If the sauce is too thick, add more half-and-half.)

For Auntie Eileen:

Chicken Penne Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Artichoke Hearts

1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts—diced
½ onion—cut in half and sliced thin
1-2 tsp dried thyme (fresh basil would be good too)
Salt and pepper
1-2 jars marinated artichoke hearts-drained
6-8 oz sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil-drained
1 recipe Alfredo sauce (above)
2 C penne pasta
Parmesan and/or Romano cheese

Prepare Alfredo sauce as above and set aside. Boil water for penne and cook until al dente. While pasta is cooking, sauté diced chicken, thyme, and onions in olive oil until chicken is cooked through and onions are tender. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Combine cooked chicken, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and pasta. Pour Alfredo sauce over pasta and mix to combine. Garnish with parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Photo Credits: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

(From commons,)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring Scramble

Spring has, and always will be, my favorite season. I love the way the trees come to life with new buds and the brilliant purple of crocus growing valiantly through the snow. The countryside slowly turns from white and brown to a verdant landscape radiant with new life. It is a time of renewal, in every sense of the word.

Spring is also the time of one of my favorite vegetables—asparagus. Growing up in Montana, asparagus would grow wild along the road and I remember walking by these green shoots, standing as soldier sentinels, on my way to school. How my mother loved when my brother and I would pick, and bring it home to her. At the time, my tastes had not matured enough to appreciate what a treat it was. Now there is practically no way in which I do not enjoy asparagus. Smothered in garlic butter, stir-fried, steamed with cheese sauce or in a scramble for breakfast, it delights my soul with the promise of spring.

My mother-in-law, Ruth Detwiler, taught me this delicious recipe.

Spring Scramble

Serving for one

2 Eggs
5-6 Spears Asparagus—cut on the bias
2-3 Fresh Mushrooms—sliced
1 T milk
1 tsp. butter
1 Tbs Cheddar Cheese—grated (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a small bowl wisk together the eggs and milk. Add salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, swirling to coat pan. Place asparagus and mushrooms in skillet and immediately add eggs. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese if desired. Using a spatula gently push, lift, and fold the egg mixture until
Enjoy with a piece of whole-wheat toast for a nutritious breakfast.

Monday, March 9, 2009


This is actually one of Marguerite's recipes, but I enjoy it so much that I thought I'd post about it. I believe the original recipe came with my grandma's (Marguerite's mom) waffle iron years ago. Marguerite doctored it up a bit to make it even tastier. Here's what you need if you wish to make these yummy waffles at your house:

1 1/4 cup flour (we use unbleached, but any white flour other than self-rising should work)
1 tsp. +/- cornmeal (optional--makes the waffles a little crispier)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg (we use white eggs, but I'm sure brown would also do the trick; we've never tried this with egg substitutes, but I don't see why you couldn't)
1 cup milk (we use whole milk)
1/4 cup oil (I like canola because it doesn't have an overpowering flavor)
1/2 tsp. vanilla (Marguerite likes to go easy on the vanilla because it is kind of pricey, but I think a whole teaspoon adds a little something)
Powdered (confectioner's) sugar (optional)

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside; crack the egg into another bowl and beat it with a fork or spoon; add milk and oil to beaten egg; stir; stir in flour mixture; add vanilla last (for stronger vanilla flavor); bake in waffle iron according to iron's directions (ours clicks when the waffle is done, but yours may differ). Sprinkle powdered sugar or top, if desired (I think it tastes just like a funnel cake, only healthier, with the powdered sugar), or add waffle toppings of your choice. Makes approximately four round waffles in a standard waffle iron.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

For the Love of Pad Thai

As you know it all started with my love of Thai food—how to replicate the dishes I so loved. Chief among these was Pad Thai. It was a mystery. When I realized the recipe in my Thai cookbook didn’t come close to approximating the dish we were served at our local Thai restaurant I almost gave up hope. A search of the internet turned up nothing at the time, but I found a noodle recipe that came close, and for about a year, we made do with it. Delicious though it was however, it was not Pad Thai.

One day while visiting a large Asian food store, I happened upon a jar of Pad Thai sauce. Hallelujah! Of course, there were about six different versions to choose from—all expensive—so I chose two and went home to experiment. The results as you might expect, were mediocre at best, but it was better than nothing. Consequently, we would have Pad Thai only as often as I got to the Asian market to stock up, which was infrequently.

This is where I would probably still be if not for my Thai sister-in-law May. Her recipe for Pad Thai was simple and easy to make. It had the added benefit of not having a bunch of fancy ingredients that would be hard to come by and the recipe tasted like what I had come to expect of Pad Thai. I was delighted. While this recipe bears little resemblance to the street food so common in her homeland, I think you will find it a supreme comfort food.

A word about creativity: Noodle dishes in most Asian cultures are incredibly versatile. They take the “kitchen sink” approach, using whatever happens to be fresh and on hand. With that in mind, feel free to experiment with ingredients that go beyond those listed here. Street Pad Thai often includes tofu, soybeans, egg, bean sprouts, chives, red pork, fresh or dried shrimp, salted radish, carrots, scallions, lime, peanuts, pickled turnip, garlic, tamarind, and dried chili. We’ve also used crab with good results. Bottom line, be creative. I also wanted to include a very nice YouTube video of street Pad Thai which you will find here.

Auntie May’s Pad Thai

First, we make the sauce—much better than the expensive jarred version.
I usually make a double batch and then keep it handy in a quart jar ready for use in the pantry. This recipe makes about 1½ C of sauce which is enough for one package of noodles—it generously serves four and does not need refrigeration.

½ C Brown Sugar
½ C White Sugar
½ C Seasoned Gourmet Rice Vinegar
½ C Water
1 tsp Fish Sauce
¼ tsp salt

Place all of the above ingredients in a small sauce pan and cook until it comes to a boil and all the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

1 package of Rice Stick noodles.

Rice noodles usually come in packages of 14-16 ounces and a variety of widths. We like the wider noodle (about 5 mm) but any rice stick noodle will do. Soak the noodles in cold water for 1-3 hours if you can. Soaking in cold water will give you a nice, non-sticky noodle. (You can soak them for about ten minutes in hot water just prior to using but they will be sticky and you will have to watch that they don’t get too soft or they will turn to mush in your wok.)

Other ingredients:

2-4 Tbs Peanut or Canola Oil
4 Eggs
2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, diced
1 16 oz. can Chicken Broth
1 bunch Scallions-julienne into 1” pieces
1-2 C Bean Sprouts
Peanuts, roasted, ground
1 Lime, Cut into Wedges
Crushed red pepper flakes or Thai chili powder

Now to the cooking…we make Pad Thai in two batches.

Heat your wok or large non-stick skillet to high. Add 1-2 Tbs of oil and heat until it shimmers. Add two eggs to the oil and scramble quickly, add diced chicken (1 breast) and cook for about 2-3 minutes. (Chicken will not be fully cooked.)

Next, add half of your presoaked rice noodles, ¾ C sauce, and 1 cup Chicken Broth to wok. Stir-fry until your noodles are soft and the liquid is absorbed. (About 6-10 minutes depending upon the intensity of your heat source and thickness of your noodle. If all the liquid is gone before your noodles are completely cooked, add more Chicken Broth or water.)

About 30 seconds before your noodles are done (taste them to see), add the scallions and bean sprouts, stir to mix and wilt the scallions.

Serve immediately.

Garnish with roasted peanuts, lime wedges, and Thai chili powder to taste.

Repeat process with second half of the ingredients.

Also, a note about fish sauce: In Thai cooking, fish sauce is, as you taste your noodles, if you like saltier dishes, add a splash or two of fish sauce as your Pad Thai cooks.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Lowly Lentil

Lentil. For many this word conjures images of dry inedible vegetarian casseroles or disgusting stews. The other day my husband asked what I was making for dinner, and when I replied, “something with lentils”, he groaned. His only memories of “something lentil” are that of his grandmothers inedible ‘roast’. While I admit I have had my fair share of these inedible creations at potlucks and grandma’s house, I do not believe the lentil deserves this reputation.

The lentil is considered one of the eight first domesticated crops grown by Neolithic cultures in the Fertile Crescent and they have made up an important part of the diet of humans ever since. This ‘practically forever’ time period, may account for why there are lentil dishes in almost every culture since Adam.

The Lentil is highly nutritious with a protein content of 26%, is one of the best plant sources of iron, and is very high in fiber. It may not be pretty but it can be delicious. Here is a recipe for a hearty lentil soup that my family loves and we hope you will too. I usually make this recipe in a Crockpot or slow cooker in the morning so it is ready and waiting by dinner. Serve it with a crusty loaf of French bread, a dollop of sour cream, and freshly grated parmesan cheese on top.

Smoky Lentil Soup

3 T Olive Oil
1 lb Smokies or German style Sausages, sliced on the bias
1 C Carrots, diced
1 Onion, diced
1 C potatoes, diced
½ C Flour
1 ½ C Lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones
3 Quarts water (for added flavor, subtract 1 cup water and add 1 cup of your favorite red wine)
4 T beef base
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
2-3 Bay leaves
1 tsp Thyme

1. In a non-stick skillet over medium high heat, brown the sausage in a tablespoon of oil, then remove, and place in slow cooker. Add the onions, carrots and remaining oil to the skillet and sauté until al dente, about 5-8 minutes. Add flour to the carrots and onions and mix until it has dissolved and creates a paste-like consistency. Put in slow cooker with sausages.

2. Rinse Lentils and add to slow cooker along with the potatoes, nutmeg, pepper, bay leaves, and thyme.

3. Mix beef base with water and wine and add to slow cooker. Give it all a quick stir and you’re done. Cook until lentils are soft and soup is thickened. About 3-5 hours. For a creamy texture, puree about half the soup and remix before serving.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...