Monday, December 24, 2007

Yule Log for Dinner

After months of making a cake a week to practice for the wedding, I haven't baked a cake since THE CAKE back in August.

With Christmas fast upon us, I decided that a cake for the celebration would be in order, so I decided to try doing a Yule Log -- my own variation.

I used a plain white cake mix (ok, I confess, it was one of the boxes left from the wedding!), and baked it in a jelly roll pan.

The tricky thing with jelly roll cakes is that you must deal with the rolling part as soon as they come out of the oven otherwise they just break if you try to roll them.

So, as soon as the cake came out of the oven I dusted it with powdered sugar, covered it with a clean tea towel, inverted a rack over the top and flipped the whole "sandwich" over.

After removing the pan, I slid the rack out and peeled off the parchment from the bottom of the cake.

Next I quickly brushed the cake with liquified raspberry jam and using the towel as an aid, rolled the cake gently into a log shape. I kept it wrapped in the towel and put it in the refridgerator overnight.

Next morning, I trimmed the ends then cut a diagonal piece off one end of the cake so I could put a "branch" on one side.

I used some of the frosting to "attach" the branch, then frosted the whole thing.

One of the nice things about doing a cake that you want to look like bark is you can skip the whole "it has to be perfectly smooth" step and go directly from slapping on the frosting to using this cute little tool to make the "bark" ridges.

If you don't have one of these, you can cut a piece of cardboard for a one time use one (and actually you could get a lot more variations if you do that).

Since I had a lot of roses left over from the wedding cake, I decided to use roses and poinsettias (I had done those in cake class) then added rose leaves and pine as the decorations.

When I got all done, I sprinkled the whole thing with luster dust (edible glitter) for that "just snowed on" look.

On the whole I'm pretty pleased with the look of this and with the fact that it didn't take me all day (just over an hour), so I haven't lost "the touch" -- guess I'll have to do some cake thing every 3 or 4 months just to keep my hand in.....

Merry Christmas!!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Mashed Potato Tutorial

Mashed potatoes are a staple cooking technique that every home cook should be able to do.

Yes, I know there are those tubs in the refridgerator section of the grocery store that will try to lure you in with the instant gratification of just "heat and serve".

Worse yet are those bags of dry flakes in among the canned goods --- "instant mashed potatoes" --- only in a dire emergency folks! They are good to add to soups for thickening and for some other things, but not to serve in a bowl bare naked.

Nothing tops a really well prepared batch of mashed potatoes from SCRATCH!

So, in response to requests, here is a tutorial on how to do this.

Good mashed potatoes begin with good potatoes! (Ok, DUH, it seems so obvious) Here it helps to know about potatoes. When I was a kid (back in the "dark ages"), there were White Rose potatoes, Red potatoes, Baking potatoes, New potatoes -- but there were no Gold potatoes or Blue potatoes. You can make mashed potatoes from any variety, and which you use will largely depend on what you find in the store where you are and what you like (and at our house, which one is on sale).

Red, White and Gold potatoes have a somewhat "waxier" and firmer texture. The skins of these kind of potatoes are smooth and really thin. A lot of these look almost round. Blue ones fit in this catagory too, I personally just can't get my head around the idea of blue mashed potatoes. If you want to give it a try though, I can't think of any good reason to say no (someone let me know if you do this, I'd love to see the pictures!)

Baking potatoes are generally used for -- well, baking -- but they make excellent mashed potatoes too, and they need to cook less time. These potatoes are more of what most of us think of as "potato shaped" and the skins have a rougher feel to them.

Either way, just pick good firm ones, and if you're going to buy a whole plastic bag full, give that bag a real looking over. Don't buy one that looks wet on the inside. And give it a sniff too -- it should smell like good clean dirt -- you'll know a bad one when you smell it -- and unless you really want to make your own vodka in your kitchen, don't buy those. Stay away from potatoes that have a greenish tint to the skin -- those haven't been stored properly, and they won't taste as good.

Generally I try to find large, regularly shaped ones with no cuts or black spots on them. The shape helps when peeling, and you just have to throw away all of those areas that are already damaged, so don't pay for that and take it home.

When doing mashed potatoes, there are some other ingredients that you will need. They are: salt, butter and milk (you'll also need water, but I'm assuming here that you've got indoor working plumbing)

And then there are the tools -- two different sets of tools for the two stages of this process.

These are the tools needed for prep and cooking:
*potato peeler of your choice (this is not absolutely necessary, my grandmother used to peel potatoes with a paring knife, but I don't recommend it)
*a good sharp knife (my favorite is a small chef style) the important thing is that its long enough to cut through the length of the potato in one stroke so you aren't "hacking" at them
*a large pan for cooking with a lid (the more potatoes you're cooking, the bigger the pan needs to be. Don't try to crowd them, they don't come out as well)
*a section of newspaper (even if you have a good garbage disposal, potatoe peels are notorious for plugging up the plumbing, so unless you have a plumber instantly available and want to spend a couple of hours dealing with backed up sinks and mopping, just don't go there. Besides, potatoe peelings are a great addition to your compost bin!)

And this is the set for the mashing part:
*potato ricer -- this is the tool with the flat bottom that has holes in it
*hand mixer and beaters -- you can make mashed potatoes without this step, but there will probably be lumps, and its harder to make the whole batch consistant

A lot of you will have seen this tool and perhaps believe this is the way to mashed potatoe nirvana, but don't be fooled -- it will only produce a pale shadow of the lovely consistant texture that a ricer will, so you'll have to work harder with your mixer, but it will do in a pinch. (You DESERVE a good ricer! Go find yourself one!)

Step One

Peel the potatoes.

Here you can see the pile of peelings on the newspaper all ready to go out.

and here are the peeled potatoes in the pan waiting for the next step.

Step Two

Cut up the potatoes.

Cutting the potatoes into pieces is good for two reasons:

1. they will cook quicker and more evenly if they are cut into pieces that are roughly all the same shape

2. its easier to mash them if the pieces you start with are smaller to begin with

I usually slice the potato in half down the length of the potatoe, then cut them into about 4 pieces across so I have 8 half "circles" of potato from each medium potatoe.

The main thing is that it leaves each piece about 3/4 of an inch thick.

Step Three

Cover the potatoes with water.

Some people will tell you that you have to start with really cold water, but I think that as long as the water isn't warmer than the potatoes are at the start you'll be ok.

Using water that is a lot warmer than the potatoes are at the beginning may turn them dark brown which is pretty disgusting. That's why you start the water heating with the potatoes in it instead of boiling the water and adding the potatoes afterwards like you do with pasta.

Notice there is head room in the pan for nice boiling without trashing your stove top with water and potatoe starch.

Add salt.

Yes, this is REQUIRED!

There's nothing worse tasting than a flat, unsalted potato, and if you try to add the salt after they are cooked, it takes a lot more salt to do the same job. There's something about the whole cooking process that makes the entire batch take on just the right amount of taste from the salting.

Personally I use sea salt because I like the taste, and you actually get less sodium than from other kinds.

Step Four

Put your pan on the biggest burner on the stove that the pan covers (this makes the most efficent use of the energy you're using to do the cooking), put on the lid and turn the burner up to high.

When the potatoes come to a boil, turn down the burner so they continue to bubble, but not so low that it is only a simmer -- you're not making soup, you want these to cook fairly quickly but not make a huge mess on your stove.

Here's where the cooking instruction gets less precise -- you cook these until they are at over 6000 feet in elevation it takes about 20 to 25 minutes from the time I put the pan on the stove until they are done, but this all depends upon what your elevation is, what variety of potato you used, how warm the water and potatoes were when you started, how small you cut the pieces -- you get the idea.

Here's how I test to see if they are done.

Use a regular table fork and insert it into the middle of a piece of potatoe. If they are done the fork will go in easily and the potato will split into two pieces, leaving the little "fork marks" when it does.

If this doesn't happen, give them a few more minutes and test again.

If it does, its time to drain -- PRONTO! Don't leave fully cooked potatoes sitting in the water or you will have potato soup!! Drain them right away.

CAUTION! Draining a lot of boiling water out of a pan of potatoes can be a scalding hazard. If you are at all unsure, use your colander in the sink and pour the whole batch of potatoes and water into it, then put the potatoes back in the pan to move on to the next step.

Step Five

Set the pan on the counter on a hotmat or a folded towel.

Add butter. This is largely a "to taste" issue. In the pictures here, I had 5 medium potatoes and I used about 3 tablespoons of butter.

Cut the butter into chunks and drop it into the pan and put the lid back on.

While you're getting out the mixer and the milk, the butter will be melting, which makes it easier to mix into the batch than trying to mash really cold chunks.

Using your ricer (or the masher if you haven't gone out for that ricer yet), break the potatoes into fine pieces.

The smaller the better for the next step.

Step Six

Using your hand mixer on a medium speed, start beating up the potatoe (and butter) pieces.

Add just enough milk to make the mixture smooth. For those 5 medium potatoes that I did in this batch I used about 1/4 to 1/3 cup milk.

A lot of the "how much milk" depends on rather you used one of those "wax-y" potatoes, or a baking potato. The baking potatoes will need less milk.

When you are done, the whole batch should look smooth.


At our house potatoes always went in an oval bowl, but whatever you serve them in, you can do it with pride!!


Monday, October 08, 2007

Potato Lovers Unite!

I have yet to find a recipe that includes potatoes that I don't like.

My dad will eat potatoes 3 meals a day and a couple more thrown in for snacks! It must be the Irish blood in us.

And from time to time, my Irish heritage meets something from my husband's background and we have a perfect match. So it is with this recipe.....a match made in potato heaven....

The title of this recipe comes from the tradition among Latter Day Saints of having a meal at the church after a funeral that is provided by the good sisters of the ward. Usually these funeral dinners include baked ham, a green salad, a jello salad (or two or three), rolls and butter and this recipe (or one of its variations).

And so, today we have the famous

Funeral Potatoes

The pictured recipe is just half of what the full recipe makes, and I took some other liberties as well -- all described below.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9 x 13 glass pan with Pam.

In a mixing bowl combine the following:
1 24 ounce bag of hash browns
2 cans cream of chicken soup (or cream of mushroom)
2 cups sour cream (or IMO)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 tbls of dried works well too)

Spread the mixture in the 9 x 13 pan

Over the top sprinkle 2 cups crushed corn flakes (I used potato chip crumbs on the one in the picture) and 2 tbls melted butter.

Bake for about 30 minutes.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

chocolate malt cookies

I guess after months of sweet stuff with the wedding cake preparation, we're still having a hard time breaking out of the baking mode. This time, however, it was the man of the house having his way with the flour and the baking pans!

These lovelies were quite tasty, so I thought we'd share his recipe:

for the cookies
1/2 cup butter flavored crisco
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup splenda
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/3 cup unsweetened dutch cocoa powder
1/4 cup malted milk powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup dark chocolate morsels

for the frosting
1/3 cup white chocolate morsels
1 tbls canned milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (if you are above 5000 feet, heat to 375 degrees).

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter and sugar until smooth.

Add vanilla and egg substitute and mix until well blended.

In a seperate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, malted milk powder and salt. Stir to mix well.

Add dry ingredients to wet to form dough. Stir in dark chocolate chips.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Let cool on the pan for 2 minutes then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

In a small, microwave safe bowl, combine white chocolate and canned milk. Microwave on high in 30 second intervals (be sure to stir each time) until melted and smooth. Drizzle over cooled cookies.

My husband made these as "birthday cookies" for my dad (who loves chocolate). Now my mom wants a white chocolate version!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Let us entertain you!

Mama Hattie Rose has invited her Gypsy to post here too!

No doubt you'll soon see some postings from my daughter about her own excursions into the kitchen at home and at work.

It should get really interesting!

Friday, August 24, 2007

the final chapter of the wedding cake.....

and now the final chapter can be written!

just over a week ago (last Thursday, to be exact) this is how the cakes looked.

On Wednesday I had taken them all out of the freezer and put a glaze layer on them all after trimming so the tops were flat.

Thursday morning, I did the "fill", putting in the raspberry jam (seedless, of course) and stacked them up.

So far so good!

and so we begin to ice.

Three full batches of buttercream frosting (all faintly flavored with almond).

The tier that I expected to be a problem (the chocolate one) went quite well, the jam glaze served well and the icing went on easily.

The same could not be said for the smallest layer. In fact, at one point I wondered if we would end up having to bake a whole new top tier, but it finally came together.

We used mostly white -- a shell border around the bottom and a sort of star border around the top. Then scroll work across the top and cascading down the front of the cakes. Lots of the white roses that I had spent a Sunday afternoon creating, then little "vines" of pale green and tiny lavendar dots here and there.

And so on Saturday afternoon we began to set it all up.

Each tier had traveled in its own individual box lined with "non slip" rubber matting. The traveling was actually safer than being in our kitchen as all of the layers arrived safely in the car and I had actually put my fingers into the icing on one of them in the kitchen and had to repair it before we packed the box.

Using 3 risers of different heights all covered with a piece of lace fabric, we set it up as a kind of spiral of cake.

But the top layer was not done giving us trouble.

In the kitchen we had made an imprint on the top of where the cake topper needed to go so we would know how to place it. Just one problem....that tier was so tender that the topper began to actually sink into the cake!

Fortunately, we traveled with a repair kit -- containers of buttercream, pre-loaded bags (with the same tips) of the colors we used, spatulas, etc., etc., but in the end it was the creative use of a broken off plastic fork that saved the day -- we broke it the right height (just a bit shorter that the cake) and inserted it into the cake just behind the flowers and scroll work on the top. It supported just enough of the weight of the cake topper that everything stayed level.

And so the saga of the wedding cake is complete. Some time I might be willing to do this again, but there are definately things I would do differently!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wedding Reception Mints

While I'm waiting for really good pictures of the wedding cake all set up to arrive, I thought I'd share the recipe for the mints we made for the reception.

We didn't have any real plan to do these, but when my friend from California was here she was talking about it and almost before you could say "how do we do that?" a phone call was made to her house and her son was digging the recipe out of her "wedding recipes" file in her kitchen.

Actually, this was a fun project, something that wasn't so crucial to the success of the day as the cake and the flowers, so there was really no stress involved. (something that was desperately needed at that point in last week!)

We did these in the colors we used for the wedding, and I sprinkled them all with the edible glitter that is available from Wilton.

So then, here's the recipe:

Wedding Reception Mints

1 egg white
1 tbls water
2 tbls canned milk
5 cups (1 pound) sifted powdered sugar
1/8 tsp mint
1/2 tsp vanilla
color as desired

Blend egg white, water, canned milk and flavoring, mixing well. (If you're making a batch that is all one color you could add the color here as well.)

Add sugar slowly and kneed the mixture well. Cover bowl with a damp towel.

Pinch off small balls (about the size of a marble) and pat them out in small circles on waxed paper. Allow to set for about 5 minutes then make imprint on top with a damp fork.

1. If you don't want to get food color on your hands, wear disposable gloves to do this project.
2. You could use a clean rubber stamp to make an imprint on the top of the mints.
3. After the imprint, sprinkle with edible glitter if desired.
4. These transport best if you leave them on the wax paper in a flat pan until you are ready to put them in the dishes at the reception. After that, store in an air tight container to keep them from absorbing moisture.

We got about 80 mints out of this recipe.

Friday, August 10, 2007

its just Peachy, thank you.....

Last Saturday we went up to Denver and picked up 2 boxes that looked like this.

MMMMM, nothing quite like the sweet smell of FRESH peaches in a hot house in August.

Yesterday we hauled up the necessary number of pint jars.

I love the look of those jars all lined up and waiting to receive the peachy, syrupy goodness.....

And here they are .... we got 18 pints of peach halves in medium syrup.

The point of this exercise is our own little family canning project: my sister gets the peaches from the Knights of Columbus in their parish that use it for a fund raiser every year; my DH & I (mostly the DH, his hands handle the heat much better than mine) put up the peaches and we give a lot of them to my folks, especially my dad....

There were a few of the peaches that had major bruising. We never throw anything away that we can use, so the bad spots get cut out and the rest get made into peach jam.

There are 13 half pints of this yummy stuff! We'll be taking some of that to my dad too.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

When Shares gives you zucchini.....

you just have to make pickle relish!

First a bit about Shares. The whole point of Shares is to help families cut their grocery costs by becoming part of a buying co-op. Sponsored in our area by Catholic Charities, it is open to ANYONE. To get more information and to join the group, you can go here. (This particular group covers Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota and Wyoming. There are other Shares groups in other parts of the country, so you may want to check it out)

Anyway, when we picked up our package on Saturday, there was a large zucchini, a large yellow squash and two large cucumbers in the box. Now we eat squash and cucumbers, but we prefer our zucchini to be about an inch in diameter by about 6 inches long, and these were WAY bigger than that!

A quick read of the pickle relish recipe revealed that we had everything we needed in the house to whip up a batch, so that produce wouldn't be wasted.

So here's what we used
from our Shares box: 1 large zucchini, 1 large yellow squash, 2 large cucumbers -- all of these got grated on the biggest hole of a standard hand grater

from the drawers of our 'fridge: 1 red onion, 3 small yellow (sweet) peppers -- these were chopped in very fine dice

Put all of those veggies in a large crock (yup, I have an OLD McCoy crock that was my grandmother's that we use for this purpose). Cover the whole batch with a mixture of 1/4 cup salt and 1 quart of water. Let soak for 3 to 4 hours.

Drain. Cover with 1 quart of fresh water and sprinkle 2 teaspoons of tumeric over the top. Let soak for another hour.

Drain completely (we pressed it into a sieve to squeeze out the water).

from the cupboards: mustard seeds, brown sugar, cinnamon stick, whole cloves, vinegar

In a sauce pan, combine 2 cups vinegar, and 3/4 cup brown sugar. Create a bouquet garni by using a piece of cheese cloth (or part of an old, clean dishtowel) tied with a piece of thread or kitchen twine and include: 1 cinnamon stick, 2 teaspoons of mustard seed and 1 teaspoon of whole cloves. Drop the bouquet garni into the sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pour mixture (including bouquet garni) over the veggies. Let stand for another 12 to 18 hours.

At the end of the "steeping", remove the bouquet garni and pour the remaining crock contents into a large pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for at least 10 minutes.

Pack into hot glass jars and put on seal and ring. Set jar on a towel UPSIDE DOWN for 5 minutes, then turn right side up.

Let cool completely before moving. Test jars for seal before storing.

And this is the result.

Oh yes, because we had so many yellow veggies in the mix, it just didn't look quite right, so I dropped in 2 drops of green food color....yellow pickle relish just looks wrong to me!!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

it looks like a flower shop.....

Lillies, morning glories, petunias and poinsettias. All created from Royal Icing!

We learned how to use a lilly nail in class, and these were all done in the next to largest one. There is one that came in the kit that is the size to make lilly of the valley, but I have no clue how that is done. Someday we'll play with that idea. The lilly nail should also make for some awesome poppies!

This class was a lot of fun. I'm going to play with doing some more flowers with the frosting left from class, then its into the roses for the wedding cake again.

Making the royal icing this time was much easier. And I think I will forever associate royal icing with angel food cake. All of the flowers for the wedding cake are almond flavored, and since royal icing is egg whites (meringe powder), water, sugar and flavoring, the only thing missing would be the flour!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pizza, Pizza

I love pizza. I've loved it since I was a kid, and I've used it for feeding guests as well as breakfast (yes, COLD!), lunch (slightly reheated on a paper towel in the microwave) and dinner (fresh out of the oven).

I've given my daughter the addiction too....sorry kid!!

When we lived in California the place we usually ordered from had a slick system. They had caller ID on their phone system and a computerized list of what folks had ordered before. So ordering a pizza was a conversation sort of like this:

As soon as I dialed the number I'd hear: "Mountain Mike's Pizza"
ME: Hi, I'd like to order a pizza
MOUNTAIN MIKE: You want the medium half and half with mushrooms and sausage on one side and pepperoni and black olives on the other?
ME: Yup
MOUNTAIN MIKE: That'll be $14.95 and it'll be there in about 40 minutes
ME: Sounds good
MOUNTAIN MIKE: Thanks for calling, enjoy your pizza
ME: Thanks, we will
and usually in less time than they said, the pizza delivery guy would be at the door and we'd give the fellow a $20 and go off to eat our pizza (I think the delivery guys used to fight over who delivered to our house!)

Here in our new abode, we haven't ever found any place with pizza as good as we got there, so when we have pizza, we usually make it at home. I use some shortcuts along the way, but it is pretty good.

1 loaf frozen bread dough
1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend (or more if you want extra cheese)
1/4 cup pasta sauce (or more if you like really saucy pizza)
2 tbls corn meal
1 tsp olive oil
toppings (see listing below)

on the morning of the day you want to have pizza, take the frozen bread dough out of the freezer and put it in a pan to defrost (be sure to oil everything so it doesn't stick and cover it with plastic wrap so it doesn't dry out)

in the evening:
Organize all of your toppings. If something needs to be precooked (like hamburger or sausage), do it first. Once you start messing with the dough, you need to be ready to put this all together.
Preheat oven to 475 degrees
Prepare a large pan to bake pizza on (I use a jelly roll pan), use the olive oil over the entire surface of the pan, then sprinkle with the cornmeal

In the prepared pan, spread the bread dough to make a crust the thickness you like. Be careful not to put holes in it. Use a fork to prick the dough (otherwise it will make big bubbles as it cooks).

Bake dough for 4 minutes -- this gives it a chance to start forming a crust so the toppings won't make it soggy

Remove dough from oven. If any air bubbles have formed, use the fork again to poke holes in them.

Using a pastry brush, spread the pizza sauce evenly over the dough. Arrange toppings over the entire surface of the pizza. Finally put an even layer of shredded cheese over everything.

Bake for an additional 8 to 12 minutes (time depends on your oven, how much stuff you piled on, and how brown you like your finished product).

Cool for about 5 minutes before cutting.

Eat with caution -- that first bite will still be HOT!

Suggested toppings:
bulk italian sausage, "scramble fried" and drained
hamburger, "scramble fried" and drained
pepperoni slices
canadian bacon
thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
sliced black olives
thin slices of green pepper (or any other color you like)
sliced water chestnuts
pineapple (goes with the canadian bacon)

For toppings just put on whatever YOU like!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

practicing for the BIG day

As I'm starting to pack tubs full of things we'll need for the wedding, I decided to test my risers and make sure that the size cakes I'm making will fit on the risers (figuring that having a mismatch on the big day would be a major faux pas!)

This was my little "test shot" complete with testing to be sure that the cake top would fit properly on a 6 inch cake.

Lovely isn't it? The plan is to drape all of those lovely plastic risers in a piece of white lace (which was in the laundry when I took the picture) I think it looks pretty good!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Maison de Gateau -- verse 2

See? Its another cake!

Class on Friday nights for some reason is more difficult for me than on Tuesday. Maybe the fact that I had spent almost all day Friday working on wedding stuff had something to do with it!

At any rate, I got to class and had forgotten to bring some of the stuff that was on the list and had to borrow from my classmates. {sigh!} Fortunately, by this time we get along quite well and borrowing back and forth is pretty common.

This cake is covered with fondant. It does have that wonderful smooth finish that only fondant can provide, but our main complaint is that it doesn't taste all that good.

It was fun to learn how to do this, but unless someone someday specifically asks me to make one with fondant, I won't be doing much with this stuff.

We did fondant roses in class too, and I'll have to spend some time this week making a few more of those.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer "Smell" Patrol

It can be fairly said that summer can stink. Or at least that the heat of summer can make your kitchen smell bad.

There's nothing like walking into your home sweet home after being at work all day and being assaulted by that unmistakable reek of something “dead” in the kitchen.

There are several likely culprits for this problem and our kitchen (and possibly in yours too) and this is how we deal with trying to keep them under control.

Dishes in the sink
I know, it’s a pain, and you’re running late for work, but take the time to RINSE! If you make a habit of emptying your dishwasher right after the load is done drying, you can rinse those dirty dishes and use the dishwasher to stash them in until it’s full enough to run it again. By rinsing those dishes you’ll get rid of all the little pieces of food that spoil quickly and smell even faster. Special culprits for “the stink” – anything with a dairy product involved (you know, milk, yogurt, ice cream). Be sure to wash the dish rags frequently and throw your sponges into the dishwasher about once a week (or more often if they smell sooner) to further eliminate the “sink stink”

Mop up that spill
Remember the Petri dish? Nothing is quite so close to that perfect thin layer of growing medium as a spill of something on the counter, stove top or floor. We keep a stack of bar towels (those 15” x 15” terry squares) on the counter so we can easily grab and wipe whatever gets spilled. (I know, you could use paper towels, but I just hate adding to the land fill that way, so bar towels are my substitute for just about everything short of bacon grease and pet barf). Be sure to rinse the towel out or toss it into the washer right away or the bar towel becomes one more stink machine!

The Trash
Empty milk containers, packaging that meat was wrapped in, empty food cans, watermelon rinds and corn cobs are all major players in the Stinky Trash Can Syndrome. Empty that can frequently! No standing on it like a semi-automatic trash compactor just to get one more milk carton in there! And a little spray of Lysol or some citrus based air freshener after every emptying helps too.

Grog (aka: the garbage disposal)
I can’t remember when it was that we first started calling our garbage disposal Grog, but it just seems to fit. The garbage disposal is a wonderful thing, and it’s also a great incubator for “summer stink”. One of the very best things to clean the blades and freshens the air in the whole kitchen as well is any kind of citrus peel. I like to cut them into about ½ inch strips and feed them down one at a time (I’ve even been known to cut the strips and lay them out on the window sill to dry then use them one a day in the times I don’t have any citrus – just watch them carefully for infestations of mold or 6 legged friends). Failing the citrus peel, try this: first run some really HOT water down the disposal, then pour in a good dose of baking soda and let sit for about 5 minutes, finally, take a tray of ice cubes and run them through the disposal. Here’s how that works: the hot water will melt away any lingering greasy deposits, the baking soda neutralizes the smells and the hard ice will clean away any little particles that are still laying around in there.

So, that’s my list for today…..anybody got any additional tips?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Maison de Gateau reprise.....

This week will begin the marathon of cake baking for the wedding, so over the weekend I decided I should try out some of the new techniques I have been reading about.

One of my issues with one tier of the wedding cake is that it will be chocolate, and as such creates a major issue if crumbs show through the white frosting.

This week's cake was used to test the idea of a jam glaze over the cake, and I can tell you it worked wonderfully.

So, here is how I did it.

Bake cake in normal way, and chill in the 'fridge overnight.

Select jam of choice (I used raspberry). Bring jam to a boil in a small sauce pan. Strain out the seeds (I didn't do this step and it was a problem -- minor -- later).

Take cake from 'fridge and rest on a rack over a jelly roll pan. Be sure the tops of the cakes have been trimmed to level.

Using a pastry brush, spread strained jam over tops and sides of cake.

Return to 'fridge for at least 24 hours.

The jelly sets up like a firm, slightly sticky shell over the cakes, seals in the crumbs and is sticky enough for the frosting to cling to.

I forgot to do the strain part, so I had little bumpy seeds to deal with, but it still worked well.

I will definately use this for the wedding cakes!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Stuffed Flank Steak

This is a recipe that began with a dish my mother used to make, and has been liberally "tweeked" over the years.

The prep work takes a bit of time, but there is really nothing very difficult in any of the steps.

Set aside about and hour and a half (from start to table) and try this one, you'll be amazed at just how elegant a dinner you can make!

1 1/2 to 2 pound flank steak
1 large carrot
1 shallot
1 cup raw rice (I use Basmati)
2 cups warm water
2 tbls olive oil
2 tsp beef bullion
4 to 6 medium mushrooms

Mix the bullion with the warm water in the measuring cup.
Peel the shallot and the carrot (or just scrub the carrot), cut both into fine dice (about 1/4 inch pieces).
Clean the mushrooms and slice very thin
Heat oil in heavy sauce pan; saute shallot, carrot and mushrooms slightly
Add raw rice and "toast" for about 3 minutes -- keep the rice moving so it doesn't burn
Add bullion/water mixture to pan and simmer until rice is cooked and all the liquid is absorbed (about 10 to 15 minutes)
Cool rice mixture for about 10 minutes

While the rice is cooling, heat oven to 350 degrees

On a cutting board, lay out steak covered with plastic wrap (the plastic wrap keeps the mess level down while you beat it)

Use a meat pounder WITHOUT teeth (those just tear the fibers). If you don't have one of these, a wine bottle will work, or the edge of a heavy pottery platter.

Pound the meat to tenderize and thin it out.

Once the meat has been pounded, spread a layer of the cooled rice mixture over the meat.

Roll the meat with the rice mixture inside like a jelly roll and tie with string.

(There will be extra rice mixture left, save it to use as a side dish)

On the stove top, heat a heavy skillet (I use my large cast iron one)

Transfer meat to the pan and brown

Be sure to brown all sides of the roll. Use tongs or a large spatula to turn the meat so you don't poke holes in it and let the juices "leak" out.

Once all sides are brown, bake for about 30 to 40 minutes (depending on how rare you like your beef and how thick the roll is -- we like our beef pretty rare)

When the meat comes out of the oven, let it rest for about 5 minutes, then slice in about 3/4 inch slices for serving.

You can make a pan gravy with the juices and serve the extra rice mixture on the side.

A green veggie or a nice salad (or both!) go well with this and make a very attractive and healthy meal.

The left overs reheat nicely in the microwave. From time to time I've cut up the left overs and made "at home" TV dinners for the freezer for those evenings when we don't feel like cooking.