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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

Tasty, savory, spicy, and piquant, this chicken piccata is far too good to be so easy. (Blue Kitchen)

Chicken piccata, buttery and lemon bright

By Blue Kitchen / 04.09.14

It’s week three of Butterfest at Blue Kitchen. Last week, my Hake with Lentils and Sage Mustard Butter had 5-1/2 tablespoons of butter. And while Marion’s Chevre Cheesecake with Hazelnut Crust two weeks ago only used two tablespoons, dairy was otherwise well represented, with cream cheese, goat cheese, and sour cream.

Based on the classic Italian dish veal piccata, this chicken piccata recipe requires a rather modest half stick of butter, four tablespoons. And requires is the operative term here – the buttery richness plays beautifully against the tart brightness of the capers and lemons. 

The lemons in question are Meyer lemons grown by fellow blogger Christina, whose A Thinking Stomach is loaded with useful information and thoughtful observations on gardening and food. These are not armchair tales. The stories all come from her own experiences in her bountiful Southern California garden. What comes through in Christina’s eloquent writings is her love of growing things as well as a clear-eyed recounting of just how much hard work is involved.

We’ve “known” Christina for at least seven years now, although we’ve never actually met or even spoken on the phone. This is the second time she’s generously shared her harvest with us, shipping us beautiful Meyer lemons she picked from her own trees. 

Meyer lemons are a hybrid of true lemons (either Lisbon or Eureka) and mandarin oranges. They’re popular as ornamental trees in California, having a compact shape, fragrant flowers and shiny, dark green leaves. Increasingly, though, chefs and home cooks are bringing their fruit into the kitchen. It is sweeter and less acidic than standard issue lemons, with a slight floral quality. The skins are thinner and may have a hint of orange color when ripe.

For this recipe, you can substitute regular lemons. But if at all possible, track down some Meyer lemons. They’ll deliver loads of bright, tangy kick with less mouth-puckering sourness.

The term piccata, when referring to Italian cooking, specifically means cooked, sauced, or served with lemon and parsley (and often capers). Descriptively, it means “tasty, savory, spicy, piquant.” Veal piccata is probably the best known version, but chicken piccata is popular, too. You can also use turkey or pork cutlets.

In all cases, the meat is sliced and/or pounded very thin, then dredged in flour and sautéed in butter or a mix of butter and oil. It is then topped with a lemon butter parsley caper sauce. Variations can include shallots, garlic, wine, and paprika. However your piccata dish comes together, you’ll end up with something that tastes far too good to be so easy. When you serve it, be sure to eat the lemon slices – and encourage others to do so. You will be rewarded with citrusy bursts of wonderfulness. (Here is where the Meyer lemon’s thinner skin is a definite advantage.)

Chicken piccata
Serves 2

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound total)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Flour

4 tablespoons butter, divided

2 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 cup white wine [optional, may substitute cooking wine]

3/4 cup chicken broth

1 Meyer lemon, thinly sliced (or a regular lemon)

1/4 cup capers, drained

1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice (or, again, regular lemon)

1. Butterfly chicken breast halves (you’ll find a step-by-step guide here) and divide each into two thin fillets. Place fillets between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4-inch thickness. You can use the flat side of a meat tenderizer or the bottom of a skillet (work on top of a cutting board to protect your counter surface).

2. Season chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Heat a large skillet over medium flame and melt 2 tablespoons of butter with the olive oil, swirling to combine. Working in batches, brown chicken fillets, turning once, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm (you can also place it in a warm oven).

3. Add wine to pan and cook until reduced by half, scraping up any browned bits, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add stock and lemon slices to pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, 4 to 7 minutes. Add remaining butter, capers, parsley and lemon juice. Stir until butter is just melted and everything is combined. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately.

Related post on Blue Kitchen: Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

Try in this fantastic smoothie which has the taste of a delicious slice of apple pie à la mode! (The Gourmand Mom)

Apple pie à la mode smoothie

By The Gourmand Mom / 04.08.14

As you know, I love food. Food is so much more to me than just sustenance and nutrition. It’s more than just putting a meal on the table and feeding my family. It’s an experience. It’s a pleasure-inducing event. It satisfies me in a manner much deeper than just quenching my hunger. But this love of food comes at a great cost, not only to our waistlines, but also to our piggy banks.

I admit that, in the past, I have never been very conscious of shopping grocery sales or monitoring the prices of individual ingredients. I typically plan our grocery trips based on what we feel like eating or what looks fresh and delicious in the store, rather than basing our meals on sales or what we have in the pantry. This approach is deliciously satisfying, but puts our normal grocery spending off the charts. Lately though, I’ve been trying to become more conscious about our grocery spending; buying meats in bulk, planning a few less expensive meals each week, and even using coupons!

Now, using coupons is something I’ve attempted in the past and never had much success with. I’d diligently clip my coupons, only to arrive at the store with a stack of savings on things I wouldn’t normally purchase anyway or things which would end up costing me more than other similar items, even after the coupon was applied. But, this time has been different. This time, I’ve started following a few coupon-using blogs, which have made things so much clearer. I get it now. Not sure why I didn’t get it before, but I get it now!

I’ve learned about sale cycles, stocking up on items at their lowest prices, and matching up manufacturer coupons with store coupons and sales to get things for mere pennies or even for free. Yes, free! Why in the world have I been paying full price for toothpaste and toothbrushes when stores are giving away my preferred brands for free almost every week? Silly, silly me!

I’ve become a little obsessed. I’ve even set up a binder to neatly organize my coupon collection. I refuse to sacrifice the quality of the foods we eat for savings, but why wouldn’t I try to save money on the things I’d normally buy anyway … money which I can put in my vacation fund for some grand, luxurious trip to a tropical locale, where I’ll overindulge in food, drink, and naps. I’ve already picked the place.

Now, on to the a recipe! One of my family’s favorite ways to enjoy yogurt, aside from straight out of the container, is mixed into smoothies. And this smoothie is a good one. So, use a coupon to pick up some yogurt and then give it a try in this fantastic smoothie which has the taste of a delicious slice of apple pie à la mode!

Apple pie à la mode smoothie

4 granny smith apples

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1-1/2 cups vanilla yogurt

1/4 cup apple juice

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ginger

Peel and core the apples. Cut the apples into small pieces, then toss in the lemon juice. Freeze for a few hours in a covered container. To prepare the smoothie, blend the frozen apple pieces with all other ingredients until smooth. Garnish with a fresh slice of apple and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Related post on The Gourmand Mom: Strawberry Spinach Smoothies

Most cheese will work wonderfully in quiche, but for this recipe try smoked gouda. (A Palatable Pastime)

Quiche with broccoli, mushrooms, and kale

By A Palatable Pastime / 04.07.14

Filled with a basic custard mixture of beaten egg, cream, and seasonings over a filling of cheese and other ingredients, quiche is the sublime and perfect French pie. It can be served warm or cold, although I prefer mine around room temperature. And although you can serve this warm, it slices best after it has had about 15 minutes to settle and cool just a bit.

And although the quiche is French, it was originally German, and evolved out of recipes for kuchen, brought over the alps in the Alsatian regions. You may have heard of Alsatian Quiche, which is similar to Quiche Lorraine. Both have a love of cheese, bacon, and shallot, although many different types of vegetables can be used, as well as different types of meats and seafood. Everyone will have their own favorite combinations.

I enjoy varying the ingredients in my quiche, especially the cheese. Most cheese will work wonderfully, especially if it is a semi-hard or semi-soft cheese. Although I don’t tend to bake with ripened cheeses, many of those are at their best alongside quiche with a platter of fresh fruit and crackers, flat bread or a baguette.

Quiche is wonderful for breakfast or brunch although I will eat it anytime. Made into a tart and sliced into manageable pieces, or alternatively baked into mini-quiche in a small muffin pan, it makes a great food for entertaining. This savory vegetable quiche can be made as a tart or more like pie, whichever you prefer. The baking time won’t be affected by that at all, so whichever pan you have or like should do just fine.

As for the saying, “real men don’t eat quiche," don’t be fooled. Some guy out there obviously has himself a plan to scare all the other men away and keep their share for himself. And it is possible that after you taste this quiche, you will be tempted to come up with a ruse of your own. Quiche is really simple to make, as well as make-ahead and reheat, so make all you want and invite your friends for a quiche party. Show them what real people eat. 

Quiche with broccoli, mushrooms, and kale
Serves 5-7

1 prepared quiche pastry or single pie crust

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup chopped shallots or mild onion

4 ounces fresh mushrooms, chopped

1 cup chopped fresh broccoli

2-1/2 ounces baby kale leaves or fresh spinach

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream

3 large pastured organic eggs, lightly beaten

5 ounces smoked gouda, shredded

1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Place pie crust into a pie plate or tart pan and crimp edges.

3. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet and cook shallots, mushrooms, and broccoli until soft, seasoning with salt and pepper during cooking.

4. Add kale and stir until it just begins to wilt.

5. Whisk together beaten eggs and heavy cream.

6. When sauteed veggies have cooled a little bit, spread them on top of the pie crust. Top that with the shredded cheese, then pour the custard mixture over all. Dot with butter.

7. Place pie pan on a cookie sheet or other supportive sheet and bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes or until puffed, golden, and set in the center.

8. Cool 15 minutes before slicing; can be served warm or at room temperature.

Related post on Palatable Pastime: Bacon Quiche with Spinach and Mushroom 

A quick marinade and the pressure cooker produce a savory dinner in no time. (Tastes Like Home)

Umami pork

By Tastes Like Home / 04.03.14

This pork dish is something I threw together a couple of weeks ago. I had gone to the market on a Friday after my class and the butcher brought out some fresh pork. There was a pre-cut 2-pound slab of pork flap/pork belly sitting there saying, "take me home with you." What? You didn't know meat could talk?!

There are no exacting measurements for this dish, it is all based on individual taste. Add the marinade ingredients to a bowl, whisk together and taste, adjusting to suit your taste. Don't worry if you have more marinade than you need. Save the excess in a bottle in the refrigerator for baked chicken or pork.

I cooked the meat in a pressure cooker so by the time I was finishing dilly-dallying around the house this was done. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can make this on the stovetop in a heavy-bottomed pan or pot with a tight lid.

2 pounds pork flap/pork belly or pork shoulder/butt

Regular soy sauce 

Oyster sauce 

Kecap Manis - Indonesian sweet soy sauce (the ABC brand I think is the best)

Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black vinegar. Substitute with balsamic or malt vinegar or dry sherry)

Hot pepper sauce

Salt (taste the marinade before adding salt as it my not be necessary for additional salt)

2 tablespoons oil

3/4 cup hot water

1. Cut the meat into 1 to 1-1/2-inch cubes.

2. Mix together the rest of the ingredients to make a marinade. You want a little more than 1/2 cup of marinade.

3. Pour the marinade over the pork and let it marinate for about 20-30 minutes at room temperature.

4. Add the oil to your pressure pot and place on medium heat until very hot.

5. Add the meat and juices to the pot and spread in an even layer. Let it brown for about 2-3 minutes, do not turn it before. At the end of the 2-3 minutes, give it a good turn/toss and cook for another 2 minutes.

6. Pour in the hot water and using your spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any stuck bits. Cover the cooker and let it come up to pressure. When it comes up to pressure at the first whistle, reduce the heat to low and cook for 22-25 minutes.

7. Remove the cooker from the heat and release the pressure. If there is any liquid other than the oil in the pot, return the pot to the heat and let cook until the liquid has dried out.

8. Remove the meat from the pot, garnish with sliced green onions and serve with rice, mashed ground provision, buttered noodles, or make sandwiches or wraps.

Notes

  • Reserve the oil from the cooked meat to roast potatoes. So good!
  • If using a regular pot or pan, you will need 1+ 1/2 cups of hot water. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to low and let cook for 40-45 minutes until meat is tender. Remove lid, raise heat to high and let cook until all the liquid has dried out.

Related post on Tastes Like Home: My Char Siu & Siew Yuk

Freezing a banana will give your smoothie a more creamy texture and keep it cool. (Beyond The Peel)

Smoothie recipe: Grapefruit avocado ginger smoothie

By Beyond the Peel / 04.02.14

Though I’ve always loved a good smoothie, I have to be honest, it’s only in the past six months that I’ve really gotten into them. I used to like them, but most days the thought of making a smoothie never even occurred to me.

Now I have them almost every day. Yup. Every. Single. Day. It’s the perfect lazy man’s meal in a glass. It’s like a salad without having to worry about the dressing – or chewing for that matter.

Which means it’s in my belly in just a few moments and I’m off to get on with my day. As my husband can attest, it doesn’t take me long to drink a smoothie. I would say how long, but that would be far too embarrassing.

I like changing up the flavors almost daily since it gives me a wider range of nutrients.

OK, that’s not true. I just lied.

It’s because I get bored quickly and like to try new things constantly. Getting a better variety of nutrients just happens to be the added benefit. It sounded good though, didn’t it?

Grapefruit avocado ginger smoothie

1 grapefruit, peeled

1 banana (frozen will give a creamier texture)

1/2 avocado

2 cups spinach

3 inch segment cucumber

1/2 centimeter segment ginger, peeled

1 cup water

1 tablespoon hemp seeds (optional)

1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.

Note: If you’re using a white grapefruit you may want to add a little honey or agave to sweeten it up. I used a pink grapefruit which is plenty sweet for me. If you want to reduce calories, only use 1/4 avocado. Since I drink these as my breakfast, this amount seems to satiate me longer.

Some things I like to put in my smoothie to up my game are (but not all of them everyday):

Turmeric

Gelatinized Maca

Ground flax seeds

Chia Seeds

Hemp seeds or hemp hearts

Almond butter

Cinnamon

Lemon juice (helps take away the bitterness of kale)

Related post on Beyond the Peel: 9 Incredible Fruit Smoothies To Jump Start Your Day

Sage is present in every bite of this dish, giving small hints of spring. (Blue Kitchen)

Butterflies and a taste of spring: Farfalle with peas, bacon, and sage butter

By Blue Kitchen / 04.02.14

Circumstances converge, synapses fire. And sometimes, recipes happen. Recently, we were at the International Home + Housewares Show here in Chicago. We try to go every year, looking for new kitchen tools and trends. 

There are always big, exciting discoveries and great conversations at the show. But there are also little asides, quiet incidental moments that we almost miss. One happened at Eataly’s booth. The giant purveyor of all things food and Italian opened a Chicago outpost this winter, as Marion reported here. At their Housewares Show booth, they were showcasing some of their wares and brewing up cups of amazing espresso. As Marion chatted with the barista, I picked up a recipe card. It was for squash-filled ravioli in a sage butter sauce. I ignored the ravioli and stowed the simple sauce (sage leaves browned in butter and mixed with reserved pasta water) away in my head for a future pasta dish idea. 

Next came the lovely gift of Meyer lemons from Christina over at A Thinking Stomach, followed closely by mentions of the first peas of spring in various food magazines. A recipe started coming together. I added bacon and threw in some Parmesan to take this from interesting side dish to satisfying main course.

This being spring (although last night’s snow insists otherwise), I chose farfalle for my pasta. Here in the United States, we often mistakenly call it bow-tie pasta. Farfalle is actually Italian for butterflies, a much more poetic name, I think. Certainly more springlike.

I used a Meyer lemon because I had them on hand – and because they are delicious – but a regular lemon will do just fine here. And I used frozen peas because the fresh haven’t shown up yet, at least in my neighborhood. If you can get fresh peas in the shell, they will be wonderful and worth the effort of shelling them. If not, frozen peas are still beautifully green and taste like the promise of spring. As does the sage. I wondered if two tablespoons would be enough to even notice. Its presence flavored every bite, reminding me why sage is part of our tiny garden every year.

Farfalle with peas, bacon, and sage Butter
Serves 2

8 ounces uncooked farfalle (or other short pasta – see Kitchen Notes)

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 strips bacon, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch matchsticks

Salt

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

1 cup peas, thawed if frozen (see Kitchen Notes)

1 cup pasta cooking water

Freshly ground black pepper

Zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra

1. Start a large pot of water to cook the pasta. While water is coming to a boil, heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium flame and cook bacon until crisp, stirring occasionally. Drain bacon on a paper towel-lined plate. Drain fat from pan and wipe with paper towel, but do not wash.

2. When water comes to a boil, salt generously and cook pasta one minute less than package instructions call for. Two minutes before pasta is done, melt butter in sauté pan over medium flame and add sage, peas, bacon, and 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain pasta and add to pasta to pan, season generously with black pepper and stir to combine. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in lemon zest, lemon juice and 1/2 cup Parmesan. Taste and adjust seasonings. Divide between two shallow pasta bowls and top with additional grated Parmesan. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Go for the butterflies. Yes, you can use other short pastas. Shells will nicely capture peas and bits of bacon. But fanciful farfalle look so fun and springlike on the plate. And in this case, their almost meaty chewiness adds substance to the dish.

How many fresh peas? A generous pound of peas in their pods will yield about one cup of peas. Buy more. Eat the extras raw, straight from the pods. Trust me on this.

A moist, light, banana cake is topped with a cream cheese frosting and a sprinkle of cinnamon. (The Pastry Chef's Baking)

Banana dream cake

By The Pastry Chef's Baking / 04.01.14

Over the past few years I've talked intermittently about my love for the banana cake from Icing on the Cake from a bakery in Los Gatos, Calif. I go there every year around my birthday and buy myself a piece as my birthday cake. There's a hiking trail near there that I sometimes go to and, after a long hike, I have no problem justifying a stop at Icing on the Cake to get my favorite slice (good thing they sell it by the piece). I've even built into my pre-retirement, post-corporate America plans that I'm going to apply for a baking job there just so I could learn how they make their banana cake.

I've tried endless recipes of different banana cakes to replicate it. There have been a few where I've come close on taste but not on the fluffy texture. Most banana cakes I've made have been too moist or too dense or both. The fluffy has eluded me. So when I saw the picture of this cake from The Novice Chef, hope sprang eternal again as the pictured cake looked close to my Holy Grail of banana cakes. Could this be it? Could this be the one?

Just by looking at the original recipe, here are a few things I knew right off the bat before I even baked it: this would be moist, not just from the amount of liquid ingredients (the milk) but also from the sour cream. It would not taste lemony even though there's lemon juice in it. The acidity of the lemon juice is needed to activate the baking soda and add to the leavening of the cake. It would not likely be greasy because the applesauce allows for a smaller amount of butter to be used. I actually thought it might not be banana-y enough because a cup of bananas didn't seem like much for a three-layer cake. I admit I erred on the side of banana and added a generous cup of it. Beyond that, I followed the recipe to a T. Final result? This was so close to the cake texture I was looking for. Close. Really close. But not quite. And still not as fluffy as what was pictured on The Novice Chef.

RECOMMENDED: 17 heavenly pies

However, it did set my baking wheels turning. With a few tweaks, I felt sure I could come even closer. The first thing I had to accept is: It is not the recipe that makes the cake. Or at least not just the recipe ingredients. It's the technique. This was a great recipe to start with but I had to make some adjustments. First, remember that bananas add a lot of moisture to a cake. More moisture means denser cake if you don't compensate with additional baking time. I'm always terrified of overbaking so I underbake more often than not. And that's a big part of my problem.

But let's tackle one problem at a time. Because I use very, very overripe bananas, flavor wasn't going to be an issue if I used a little less banana. Instead of a generous cup, I used a scant cup. So not as much moisture going in. Second, to achieve a fluffy texture, the batter has to have more air beaten into it. I don't like to overmix batter because that'll develop the gluten from the flour and make the texture tough. So the time to beat more air into the batter is before you add the flour. It's also before you add the eggs. If you overbeat batter with eggs in it, you inadvertently can make a meringue texture from the foaminess of the eggs and get a crust on top. So the time to beat air into the batter is when you're creaming the butter and the sugar together. Most recipes say to beat until "light and fluffy" but that leaves so much room for interpretation and I often interpret that incorrectly. This time I beat it a little longer than I normally do. I normally only beat for a minute, this time I beat for 3 minutes.

Finally, my biggest weakness – baking time. With this cake, it was actually hard to tell when it was done because the toothpick did come out "clean" so you'd think it was done. But while it wasn't too underbaked the first time, I knew I could've baked it a little longer and that would've been a huge factor in getting the fluffy texture I've been obsessively looking for. The second time around, I factored in not just whether the toothpick came out clean, but also how easily it went in. A denser cake will provide more resistance while a more baked cake will let the toothpick go in more easily. It's hard to describe unless you have a comparison at the same time, but I've been a Monday morning quarterback for a lot of underbaked cakes so my baking instincts can usually tell me when something needs to stay in the oven a little longer. I just usually second guess myself and ignore those instincts, but this time I muffled my baking insecurities and just let the cake layers bake. And bake.

Result of the second cake? Still close, but still not quite right. Sigh. I thought I was on the right track, but I don't think my changes made a discernible difference in the fluffiness. And, one of my coworkers confessed she liked the first cake better than the second cake. But no experiment is wasted. Now my baking wheels keep on churning on the next things to test. I think I need a recipe that uses cake flour (lighter texture) as well as baking powder (more leavening). So the search continues and my pre-retirement plans to work at Icing on the Cake still remains on my bucket list.

Banana dream cake
Adapted from The Novice Chef

1 scant cup mashed overripe bananas (2-3 bananas)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter

2 1/8 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sour cream

4 ounces applesauce

Frosting

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1-1/2 packages (12 ounces) cream cheese, softened

5-3/4 cups confectioners' sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cinnamon, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Spray 3 round 8-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment rounds.

2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla, sour cream, and applesauce. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk. Stir in banana mixture.

4. Divide batter (about 2-1/2 cups batter in each pan) into prepared pans. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and immediately place in freezer for 45 minutes. This keeps the cake moist by immediately stopping the baking so the cake does not continue to bake when you remove it from the oven. Note: I skipped the freezer step because I didn't have room in my freezer; instead, I ran a spatula around the sides of the cake and overturned them onto plates lined with wax paper as soon as I took them out of the oven to stop the baking from the heat of the pans.

5. For the frosting: In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in vanilla.

6. Add confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high until frosting is smooth.

7. Assemble the three layers with a thick layer of frosting in between each layer. Then apply a thin crumb coat on the top and sides. Place in the refrigerator to harden the crumb coat for 10 minutes. Then apply a thick, even layer around the outside of the cake. Sprinkle on a little cinnamon on top and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

RECOMMENDED: 17 heavenly pies

Related post on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Banana Pecan-Coconut Bread Pudding

Kaya is best served spread on toasted bread with coffee, tea, or Milo. (The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook)

Easy kaya (coconut curd)

By The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook / 03.31.14

I’ve been thinking about kaya a lot lately – that creamy, unctuous coconut egg jam that was the foundation of many a childhood breakfast. I ate kaya at home between toasted sandwich slices (Gardenia, of course). I ate the holy trinity of Singapore breakfasts – kaya toast, soft-boiled egg, and iced Milo – at the neighborhood kopitiam (coffee shop). And I ate kaya swirled into soft loaves of bread that my mom bought from the local bakery.

I was definitely craving kaya. Unfortunately, the store-bought specimens looked like jam only E.T. could love but maybe even he would be put off by the fluorescent yellow or green hue. And not surprisingly, it tasted bad, too.

So I did a little research to see what it would take to make kaya at home. After skimming a few recipes that required freshly squeezed coconut milk, 10 eggs, and/or hours of stirring over a hot water bath, I all but gave up.

Then it hit me. Kaya’s ingredients and texture are similar to a curd! So I looked up the recipe for lemon curd in "Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook" and realized it would be so easy to tweak to make kaya. The ingredients are surprisingly similar. The biggest difference was that instead of whole eggs, only the yolks are used. And it takes only about 10 to 15 minutes from start to finish!

To be honest, I was a little skeptical. But the recipe was easy to follow and the curd/custard turned out perfect in taste and texture the very first time! Thank you, Martha Stewart!

Easy kaya (coconut egg jam)
Makes: 1 cup
Time: 15 minutes 

Martha Stewart didn’t really come up with a kaya recipe but her lemon curd recipe was the inspiration for my version. Instead of palm sugar, you can also use brown sugar – light or dark, it doesn’t matter – and/or use a mix of white granulated and brown. And feel free to adjust the amount of sugar to suit your taste. If you can’t find pandan leaves, don’t fret, just leave them out. Or you might want to try vanilla. Personally, I don’t find vanilla to be an adequate substitute for the complex flavor and aroma of pandan leaves. But, if you didn’t grow up with it, you probably won’t care. Just sayin’.

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (not light coconut milk, please!)

4 egg yolks

3-1/2 ounces palm sugar (2 discs), crushed, or 1/2 cup sugar

pandan leaves, cut into 3-inch lengths

1. Combine the coconut milk, egg yolks, and sugar in a medium heavy-bottom saucepan and whisk until smooth. Add the pandan leaves and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, 8 to 10 minutes. To be doubly sure the custard is cooked, it should register 160 degrees F. on an instant-read thermometer. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides!

2. Remove the saucepan from heat and discard the pandan leaves. Strain through a fine sieve into a small glass bowl or jar with a lid. Leave uncovered until completely cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Kaya toast

The authentic way to make kaya toast is to grill your sandwich slices – white bread is best, Gardenia or WonderBread is even better – is over coals. Since this is not always possible, just toast it. Slather a thick layer of butter (at least 1/2-inch according to some sources), followed by a hefty layer of kaya. This is not meant to be diet food!! Remove the crusts, halve, and serve with coffee, tea, or Milo.

For something a little different, sandwich kaya and butter between two Jacob’s Cream Crackers.

The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook

Related post on The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook: Technicolor Vietnamese Pickles

This risotto has a bright, zingy color and flavor. (The Runaway Spoon)

Carrot and dill risotto

By The Runaway Spoon / 03.28.14

Risotto for me was, for many years, solely a restaurant dish. I had only eaten it at fancy eateries at a time when it was ubiquitous on menus as the trend of the minute. I did not understand that it was something a normal human could make at home. But when I discovered that there is no real mystery, that it is quite a simple dish to make, one that takes only patience, a whole world of flavors opened up to me. 

I started with a champagne risotto, which I served at fancy dinner parties and felt very sophisticated about it too, because most of my guests had never had homemade risotto either. Then I read in a lovely cookbook that the author’s Italian husband considered tomato risotto his childhood comfort food – like we might think of macaroni and cheese or chicken noodle soup. She shared her recipe, well, his mother’s recipe, for the food he always wanted when he was feeling poorly. And it was basically risotto made with tomato sauce. That really opened the flavor floodgates for me. And eventually, with some carrot juice in the fridge and dill in the herb garden, I came up with this version.

I love the bright, zingy color and flavor of this risotto. It immediately perks up an plate. Carrot and dill are made for each other, so you have this amazing harmony of flavor to go with the vibrant color. I eat this on it’s own as a meal, but it is stunning on a plate with pork or chicken and a vibrant green vegetable. It would also make a beautiful starter. Make sure you buy 100 percent carrot juice, which I find in the refrigerated juice section of the produce department. You don’t want orange or mango or any other fruity flavors mixed in.

Carrot and dill risotto
Serves 4 

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

3 cups carrot juice

6 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cups Arborio (risotto) rice

1 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth, room temperature (may substitute cooking wine)

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, plus more to garnish

1. Combine the broth and carrot juice in a small saucepan and bring just to a simmer.

2. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan or skillet over medium-low. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent. Do not brown. Raise the heat to medium high and add the rice. Stir to coat well in the butter and cook until the rice grains are translucent around the edges, about 4 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until it is completely absorbed.

3. Add 1/2 cup of the broth/juice mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until it is absorbed. Continue to add the liquid 1/2 cup at a time, cooking and stirring until each addition is absorbed and incorporated. Add some of the chopped dill with each addition, reserving 2 tablespoons to stir in at the end. Continue cooking the risotto until all the liquid is absorbed and the risotto is creamy, about 20–25 minutes. Stir in the last of the dill and the remaining butter and season with salt and pepper.

4. Risotto is best served immediately, but can be kept, covered, over very low heat for about 20 minutes. Garnish with a shower of chopped fresh dill.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Roasted Vegetable Stracciatella

Top your goetta dog with mustard and sauerkraut. (A Palatable Pastime)

Cincinnati's goetta dogs

By A Palatable Pastime / 03.27.14

In the Queen City of Ohio, Cincinnati, we love our wursts and we take it to an art form.

Bratwurst, mettwursts, bockwurst, knockwurst, Italian sausage, Portuguese sausage, Kielbasa and other smoked sausages make up the greater part of those “art supplies,” but perhaps none so distinctive of us here in southwest Ohio than Goetta, a name that simultaneously frightens the uninformed and whets the taste buds of the experienced.

Have you eaten goetta? First it helps to know how to say the word so that when you ask your butcher for some, you won’t get "a look." Here in Ohio, we call it “get-uh”, as in “get a load of this,” “get a life,” and of course, as in this post, “get a dog.”

The major manufacturer of commercially prepared goetta in Ohio is Gliers, who sell their product in one pound bulk packages in the meat section of the market, near the bacon and breakfast sausage. If you are lucky, you might find goetta dogs packaged there as well, with the mixture inside of casings, as hot dogs are.

To be sure, even though it is sold near the breakfast sausage, this item isn’t really intended for breakfast. Of course, you can have it that way if you like, commonly sliced into thick coins and fried. And even though the heritage of the area is predominately German, Germans actually have "no idea" what goetta is, as it is a creation of southwest Ohio among other things (like Cincinnati chili).

We can eat goetta on the plate, in a goetta dog, made into “cheesesteaks,” on pizza, the list goes on from here into eccentrically delicious territory.

Annually, there is a goetta fest down on the levee in Newport (the Kentucky side of downtown Cincinnati). We in Ohio, southeast Indiana and Northern Kentucky wrack our brains trying to figure out new ways to celebrate food. Beginning in late summer, you will see towns dot the maps with a whole spectrum of different food festivals, because we love a good reason to get out in the fresh air, have a bite to eat, and something to look at and listen to, such as fine art and live music. And the goetta fest is one of many ways we do just that.

Of course, if you live in southwest Ohio, you probably already know all that. And have eaten goetta, and can buy it at the local Kroger market. But if you don’t, and find yourself in a food desert devoid of all things Cincinnati, you can find recipes on the internet for making goetta yourself. Traditionally, goetta has been made since the 1880′s as a mixture of steel-cut pinhead oats, beef, pork, onions and seasonings. It tastes like sausage with a bit of grain in it, but the grain is very mild tasting. It is quite savory and has a softer texture that bulk pork sausage, although it can be a bit firmer if it is casings.

I don’t put the goetta in casings to make the goetta dogs. They are shaped, and if you can brown them with a gentle touch, all they will lack from the goetta dogs in the casings is that pop when you bite them, but some people don’t like casings anyway. The taste in the end is still just the same.

I do hope you aren't too timid to try these. They are quite a bit like brats with kraut if you like those. They make a great snack or sandwich for a casual meal or for die-hard football fans (Go Bengals!)

Goetta dogs
Serves 4

1 pound prepared goetta (such as Glier’s brand)

1/4 cup German mustard or Dussledorf mustard

1/2-3/4 cup hot drained sauerkraut

2-3 tablespoons oil

1. Cut open roll of goetta and slice into four pieces lengthwise.

2. Use your hands to roll into a smooth cyclinder

3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet, and brown goetta dogs on all sides, turning very carefully to avoid breakage, and keeping them separated so they don’t try to stick to each other.

4. Serve on hot dog buns with mustard and sauerkraut.

Related post on A Palatable Pastime: Irish Banger Dogs

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