Tag Archives: cooking


It was time to bake something sweet, so I settled on brownies. My usual recipe is one from Recchiuti made with melted unsweetened chocolate. But I uncovered some Callebaut cocoa that had been in the back of a cupboard for way too long, and decided to find something to use it in. Hence, Mexican Brownies, courtesy of Aaron Sanchez from the Food Network. They’re spiced with cinnamon and cayenne pepper. I also added a teaspoon of espresso powder to boost the chocolate flavor, used white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, and added a half-cup of bittersweet chocolate chunks because I could.

Mexican brownies

Mexican brownies

I was reluctant to bake with cocoa because I assumed the flavor would be weak. But these brownies are really good. Different flavor because of the spices, with the cayenne pepper adding just a touch of bite. I added the 1/4 tsp that the recipe stated, but if you like really spicy chocolate, you could add 1/2 tsp. Or as much as you wanted, because you have thumbs.

Pear preserves

After some delays, on Monday I finally got around to my first attempt at pear preserves.

I love pears, but I’ve usually been disappointed in preserves and jams made from them. Price doesn’t matter. Supermarket or boutique, the pear flavor has been weak to nonexistent; even added flavoring like ginger has been flat. I wasn’t optimistic about these pears, either. The neighbors had left them on the tree for a while waiting for them to ripen, but it stayed cool for so long that they had to pick them while still unripe. I think the prolonged chill adversely affected the flavor–after I let them ripen in a paper bag for a couple of weeks, they were okay, but lacked the usual rich pop you get from a tree-ripened pear.

Anyway, went with this recipe from Emeril because it looked simple. Then, I made changes. Added 5 small apples leftover from my other neighbor’s donation because I wanted to add some pectin for thickening. Together with the pears, that resulted in 8 cups diced fruit. I read the recipe comments, and decided to cut back on the sugar because the pears were so sweet. So, 3 cups instead of 4. Added a couple of teaspoons of salt** because salt reduces the need for sugar and helps bring out the flavor of the fruit. 1/3 c chopped candied ginger instead of 1/4 c. Zest and juice of two limes because no lemons. And a tablespoon or so of fresh diced thyme because I thought the lemony taste would work well with the pears.

You’re supposed to boil this stuff until the mixture “sheets off a metal spoon.” I may have let it go too long because I wasn’t sure how sheety the sheeting needed to be. In any case, the stuff thickened until it entered the marmalade/borderline candy realm, with pears, apple, and ginger all turning translucent. I shoveled it into 4 Bonne Maman jars–yes, I reuse them–and stuck it all in the fridge to cool.

pear-ginger-thyme preserves

It’s good. Different than anything I have ever had before. I’ve eaten it smeared on bread with Brie, on toast with butter. On a turkey and cheddar sandwich. It has a combo flavor–not quite any single thing, but a mix of the ginger, thyme, and pear. It’s waaay thick, like commercial preserves. I would make it again. Might even reduce the sugar a little more.

**thinking back, not 100% sure whether I added 1 tsp, 1.5, or 2. I used a half-teaspoon measuring spoon, so I know I shoveled a couple of times. I’m afraid I cook like my mom–a little of this, a little of that, and how much of this did I add again? So, salt to taste. Not too salty.


Lots of apples.

Last week, one of my neighbors gave me a shopping bag full of apples from their tree. 17 pounds worth.

Yesterday, I dealt with them. A couple quarts of applesauce. Apple crisp. Today, apple nut bread.

I recommend the crisp recipe. I did substitute white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose when making the crumbs, and added a couple tablespoons of wheat germ as well. The crumbs may have turned out a little dry as a result, but they do have a nice, nutty flavor.

Lots of cooking over the last week. Autumn food, Jacques Pepin’s tuna w/ pasta (best tuna casserole ever, imo, and yes, I add the raisins), butternut squash soup and maple-brined pork loin roast (result: a very juicy roast that tasted a bit like ham).

House stuff took up a lot of my time. The basement guys came and fixed the window wells and filled All The Cracks. I cleared lava rock from a patch next to the deck, and planted some shrubs. Raked leaves. Set up appointments for more estimates.

Downloaded Gimp, which is freeware photo manipulation software. I’ve heard that it’s difficult to learn, but I would like to use it and try my hand at ebook covers for some short stories. I can understand paying to have a novel cover made, but it’s a little more difficult to justify the expense for a short story. I’ll see how well I do. If it proves a disaster, I’ll look into alternative coverage.

Raining now. Cool, dreary autumn. Trees that were still mostly green seem to have changed over the last two days–maples are either vermilion or a gorgeous deep gold, like butterscotch. Oaks aren’t as flashy, all tarnished brass.

Some folks have already put up their Christmas decorations. That just staggers me. Not ready for that at all.

There and back again

Spent a week in the Portland Oregon area. Visited good friends. Did some research. Experienced the joy of driving twisty, winding roads. Really twisty. And winding. After a drive, my right leg ached from tension and brake-hitting.

This time, I actually visited scenic vistas.

Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park:

A view of Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park

A view of Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park

NB: Haystack Rock is that vaguely conical rock way in the back, on the far right of the photo. The other haystack-looking rocks are mere impostors.

The Columbia River Gorge (view from Crown Point Vista House):

View of the Columbia from the Crown Point Vista House

View of the Columbia from the Crown Point Vista House

Multnomah Falls:

A gorgeous day at the Falls

A gorgeous day at the Falls

Had lunch at Elephants Deli.

It was good to get away.

Came home yesterday–saw the Great Plains snowfall from the plane, and found 2.5 inches of wet stuff in the backyard rain gauge. Also found a very clean deck–the deck guy had powerwashed it on Monday. Tomorrow, he repairs what needs repairing. He thinks he’ll be able to coat/seal on Friday.

Also tomorrow, plumber installs new water heater. Meanwhile, I am planning the decluttering. It’s going to be All House All The Time for the foreseeable future.

Before I left, I picked the last of the tomatoes. Most were pretty green, so I bagged them and stuck them in the closet to ripen. Checked the bags yesterday and found about half were ready to go, so today I roasted them with garlic and balsamic vinegar. Had some for lunch with rigatoni, goat cheese and arugula. So. Good.

Busy days ahead.

Peach chutney

I walked over to my neighbor’s the other day to return the empty peach basket, and he said “Don’t you want some more?” So I filled said basket again–5.5 pounds of mixed white and yellow. I wanted to make another batch of something different, and found a relatively simple recipe for chutney. I eat a lot of chicken, and thought a new type of sandwich spread/relish might be something nice to have around.

As usual, I tweaked. Used dark brown sugar instead of light. About 1/4 tsp salt instead of a pinch. A shallot and a small wedge of sweet onion instead of red onion.

I like a little heat, but not too much. So, I used two dried peppers. The bag wasn’t labeled–it just read “Dried Chili Peppers.” They’re about the size of my pinky and dark red, so I think they’re cayennes.

After blanching/peeling/pitting, I figured I wound up with a little under 5 pounds of usable peach. Because of that, and also because I found the white peaches a little tart, I bumped up the brown sugar from 1 2/3 cup to 2 cups.



I wound up with 7 half-pints, although the 7th is about half juice. I tried a little of it, and I really liked it. Just enough heat. Sweet, but not too. Nice bite from the ginger, and that special something from the cardamom. I’m planning on roast chicken for Sunday, and will try it then.

In other news, I will be at UW-Waukesha tomorrow for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. I have two programming items, a panel and a signing:

How a Book Gets Made (w/ Alex Bledsoe, John Klima, James Lowder, Steven H Silver)
Sat, 10:45 AM, N140

Signing Time: Sat 1:30 PM (according to the program pdf, signings are in the Commons Student Lounge)

Supposed to be a pretty nice day tomorrow, sunny and cool. Looking forward to the drive, and to seeing folks.


Don’t ask me where in hell the year has gone, because I don’t know.

Gaby is at playcare today, running with the pack (cue Bad Company). I was going to clean, but wound up doing laundry and baking instead. Neighbor-with-fruit-trees gave me a basket of white and yellow peaches, and while they tasted fine fresh, there were so many that I didn’t want to risk them going off, so I made a cobbler.

Sidebar to say that my absolute favorite Donna Noble line comes during her wedding, when her friend Nerys (sp?), who does give off a Bitch Vibe, complains that Donna made her wear peach. “But you are a peach,” Donna replies. “Fair of skin. Stone inside. Going off.”

Anyway. I had been planning to make the usual Bisquick cobbles, but I tripped over this recipe online and decided to give it a go. Blanched and peeled the peaches using the tomato method–which I guess is the peach method, too–by cutting an X on the bottom of each peach, then sticking them in boiling water for a minute or so, then shoveling them into a bowl of ice water. Let them cool for a few, then peel. Skin came off nice as you please:

skinned peaches

Peeled and sectioned the peaches:

Prepped peaches

Poured the melted butter and lightly mixed batter into a 13×9-inch baking dish. Added a few drops of Fiori di Sicilia to the batter because it really freshens the taste:

Butter batter

Brought the peaches to a boil with vanilla, cinnamon, sugar, and a few teaspoons of Grand Marnier, just to see if it would make a diff:

cooked peaches

Baked for about 45 minutes at 375F:

We have achieved cobbler!

House smelled great while it baked. Haven’t tried it yet–fruit and spices taste better after sitting a few hours, for all the recipes tell you to eat fresh/warm from the oven. I’ll have some tonight, with coffee.


It’s going too fast, but that’s life in general, isn’t it?

The house smells good. I had dug some round and flank steak out of the freezer and threw together some not-quite-beef-bourguignon. Sort of followed this recipe–I just lacked carrots, button mushrooms, or pearl onions, and I was supposed to use chuck, not round or flank. But I did have dried porcini mushrooms. So I soaked them in beef broth and added them.

Verdict? To a complete lack of surprise to some of you, I’m sure, the meat came out dry. There’s a reason one needs a stew-friendly, fatty cut of beef for this recipe. Lesson learned. At least I have plenty of sauce left–if I mince the meat and add barley, I’ll have a decent soup.

Had it with some leftover not-quite-colcannon, which consisted of halved Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes fried with lotsa onion and a little fresh thyme. That came out surprisingly well. Tasted good cold or warm, especially earlier this week when added to tuna, wilted spinach, and mustard-caper vinaigrette for a not-really-salad-nicoise.

Yes, I do often make it up as I go along. And sometimes, like today, I pay a price.

Sunny this morning, but chilly. High 30s. Long walk with Herself along the wooded trail. Signs of the week’s heavy rains abound. Mushy ground. Standing water. Grooves cut into the ground by fast-flowing water. Much of the water flowed east, toward the wetlands, which was a great place for it. Marsh life may do well this year as a result. I have seen cranes fly over. Heard them, too. Honk, honk.

There’s a different sort of goose hanging with the Canadas that congregate at the nearby park . Not a swan. Looked a little like these guys. Snow goose? Whatever it is, I hope that it finds some of its own. The Canadas seem to have accepted having it around, but come breeding time it may find life a little lonely.

On the way home, Gabster and I walked through the neighborhood. A couple of homes had deer figurines, large and tiny, in their front yards. Gaby would stiffen as soon as she saw one, and try to approach it until the stillness or lack of smell or something told her that they weren’t real deer. Such a huntress.

Looking forward to a long weekend in the city next week. I will drop by C2E2 for one day, my first comicon. A massage and tea at the Drake may also happen, though not at the same time. Got a little black dress for tea. Big girl shoes, which I will carry in my purse and put on in the lobby because they are about as stable as a toothpick bridge in a gale. They’re not even that high–kitten heels. 2 inches, maybe? It’s the style. Shoes made for sitting and sipping.

Coconut Macaroons

I’ve always liked them, but had never made them before. But I had an 8 oz bag of shredded unsweetened coconut in the cupboard that I needed to use,

I used a combo recipe, the NYT for proportions and the Serious Eats for the chocolate idea. I was a little short on coconut, but I figured I would likely wind up with a more moist cookie.


2.5 cups dried unsweetened coconut (8 oz bag)
3 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
couple pinches of salt, maybe 1/8 teaspoon
3 ozs bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Mixed everything in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Dropped the dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet with a 1.5 inch scoop. Baked at 350F for 20 minutes. That took the cookies a little past golden brown into brown, but that’s how I like ‘em.

These cookies don’t spread. At all. If you want a flatter cookie, dampen your hand with cold water and pat down the mound gently. Hit it too hard, and it will fall apart.

Coconut macaroons

They’re good. Not too sweet. Very, very light, in contrast to store-bought macaroons that I have had that had the look and consistency of very sweet, moist hockey pucks. The chocolate is a nice addition, but I think I will try lemon zest and a bit of juice next time. That should result in a very light, tart cookie. Good with coffee, and maybe vanilla ice cream.

Too short

Saturdays. Always.

Cold morning, windy with a bit of sleet. Ice crystals. Took Gaby for a walk, then to the pet store big box, which she handled like a little champ. Very gentle play with the smallest dog I have ever seen, a 6-month old Yorkie that couldn’t have weighed more than a pound. A Great Dane pup that was all knees and paws. And, to my surprise, a warning grumble at a rambunctious Aussie-shepherd-like pup that tried to sniff too much too quickly. Left her in the car as I made a short grocery run. She kept dozing on the way home.

House smells of roasted vegetables, asparagus w/ garlic, carrots w/ onion. Cooked up some bulgar wheat with raisins and basil, which doesn’t taste as weird as it sounds. It’s cold and gloomy, with more to come tomorrow and with possible added snow on Monday. Getting tired of it. Warm sunshine. Want.


I can’t believe the day is shot already.

Judging from my headache, we’re in for a weather change. We got about an inch of snow on Thursday/Friday, so it actually looks wintry. More precip headed this way, but it will arrive in the form of freezing rain, which means possible ice accumulation. Downed branches and power lines. A good day to stay home. Hope the power doesn’t go out.

Spent the afternoon cooking. I’m always on the lookout for one-pot meals that combine protein and veg–I like making enough for the week because come Wednesday, shoveling something in a bowl and sticking it in the microwave is about all I can handle. Lately, I’ve been having some success with curried veg & bean recipes, with or without added meat.

A couple of days ago, I caught an episode of Jacques Pepin’s Fast Food My Way on PBS-Create. He made a delicious-looking pizza using a round of flatbread as the crust, and mixed up a popover which he filled with apricot jam. He also made Orecchiette with Fennel and Tuna, which caught my attention because 1) fennel and 2) tuna.

This guy made it as well. He followed the recipe more closely than I did–I made it from memory, and forgot the pine nuts and raisins. Didn’t bother with the cheese or the additional pasta water. Instead I added dried tarragon, capers, and the zest and juice of half a lemon. Broccolini. I only added half as much pasta, and an additional can of tuna. Served it atop a bed of fresh baby spinach, which is my way of combining the hot food and salad on one plate.

All I can say is, damn, it was good. Many times I will make something and know it’s okay-but-not-great. This stuff, though–I would have happily paid for it in a restaurant. The tarragon really boosted the flavors, and fennel works well with fish. As for the tuna, I refuse to pay for the really fancy ventresca, but I do splurge on canned stuff from American Tuna. It’s line-caught, and doesn’t need to be drained. I used a can each of the plain, garlic, and jalapeƱo–it stayed chunky and had a nice taste. If you’re looking for canned tuna that actually tastes like tuna, give this place a try.

Anyway, this recipe is a keeper. I can see adjusting veggies depending on mood. The broccolini was a nice addition, but baby spinach or another type of green leafy veg might work

I even made dessert. Last year, I bought a mini-pie maker. I haven’t used it that much, but I did fall for a couple of the recipes. My favorite was the blackberry-ginger pie, a simple as breathing filling:

3/4 pint blackberries, rinsed and patted dry
1/3 cup granulated sugar
5 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon finely-chopped crystallized ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt

You just combine everything in a bowl and stir until the berries are lightly crushed and evenly coated. I found three 6oz containers of blackberries at the store, so doubled the other ingredients. Put them in a glass casserole and let them boil away in the oven at 425F for about 20 minutes. Then I topped them with cobbler dough made with biscuit mix, and baked for another 20 or so minutes. Had it with vanilla ice cream. So good.

I am very full now. Just wish my headache would go away.