Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fromage Fort

Dear Ryan and Tracy,

I intended to bring baked brie to your house for new years eve but it blew up in a big way and all the cheese drained out of the bread. See:


So, remembering #42 (coincidentally the answer to life, the universe and everything) in Saveur's  "The Saveur 100" list I made Fromage Fort from exploded baked brie. You're welcome!

To make:

Fill the bowl of your food processor with leftover cheese. For me that was the melted insides of a wheel of brie, some leftover white stilton with cranberries and some syrah soaked toscano from Trader Joe's. Add 1/4 cup dry white wine (I had cava so that's what I used) and a clove of garlic. Pulse until it looks like this:

I am going to serve this with raisin rosemary crackers from Trader Joe's but whatever you have will be fine. I didn't measure the cheese and it worked out really well. If you are not a kitchen gambler you can follow this recipe here.

Christmas Ham

My husband purchased this spiral sliced ham for me:
I cooked it entombed in foil for about 3 hours (following package instructions of 12-15 min per pound at 250F)

I let the ham rest, still entombed, while I made a glaze. I also increased the oven temperature to 375F.

1/2 cup orange juice plus 1/4 cup bourbon (cheap is fine) cooked in a small sauce pan over medium heat until syrupy. This will only take a few minutes. While you are cooking the oj and bourbon mix together 1.5 cups of brown sugar, 3 tablespoons dry mustard (or 1/4 cup dijon or other nice mustard if you don't have dry) and 1/4 cup molasses*. Mix oj-bourbon syrup into sugar mustard mixture.

Pour the glaze mixture over the ham sort of gently massaging it into the spiral slices and piling the glaze as much as possible on top of the ham. Then bake for about 30 min or so uncovered until glaze is set and delicious looking.

We enjoyed the ham slices in Martin's dinner potato rolls with mustard.

*I only had black strap molasses on hand which is really dark and strong. The dark molasses gave the ham a beautiful dark color but the outer edges were a bit too molasses-ey.  Light molasses, honey or light corn syrup might have been better choices.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I like cookies. A lot. I've never met a cookie I didn't like. My husband and son play by a different set of rules.

Husband and Son Cookie Rules:
#1 All cookies must contain chocolate. 
#2 White chocolate is not chocolate.

In Christmases past, I would pour over cooking web sites and cookie magazines for new and interesting combinations. I would create elaborate plans involving lists, charts, graphs and spreadsheets (OK, maybe just lists and spreadsheets) so I would be prepared for a two-day long baking extravaganza the weekend before Christmas.

This year I didn't. This year I made a few batches of tollhouse chocolate chip cookies and stored the dough in the refrigerator making cookies a dozen at a time so we could eat them fresh from the oven.

Find the original recipe here.

To make you need:

Parchment Paper (NOT waxed paper)
Heavy Aluminum Rimmed Baking Sheet (Dark or coated sheets over-brown cookies, though a parchment paper lining can help with this)

2 1/4 cups flour  (If you can find white whole wheat flour, it gives the right taste and texture along with the added health bonus of fiber. White all-purpose flour is, of course, delicious. Regular whole wheat flour tastes fine right out of the oven but becomes gritty once cooled.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

2 Sticks REAL Salted* Butter (no margarine, no light butter, no weird engineered butter-like product) at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar (I like dark brown sugar but light brown is fine)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
A lot of semi-sweet chocolate chips** (12 oz or more)

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375F. A hot oven is important to preventing your cookies from spreading.
  2. Mix together flour, salt and baking soda. I don't bother sifting. Set aside.
  3. Cream butter, both sugars and vanilla with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. This will take longer than you think. Don't skimp on this step, as it is critical to cookie texture.
  4. Add eggs and again mix with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. The batter should look like cake frosting.
  5. Add flour mixture in thirds and mix well in between additions
  6. Add chocolate chips (nuts, dried cherries, sunflower seeds if you must.)
  7. Make critical decisions about whether you have the patience to let the dough rest or if you must have a cookie right now.
    • If you must have a cookie right now, dish ping pong ball sized globs onto a parchment lined pan and accept that this first batch is going to spread into pancakes as they cook. Stash the rest of the batch in the fridge while the first dozen is baking so all of your cookies don't end up as pancakes.
    • If you have the patience of a saint (I do not), refrigerate dough for 15-20 minutes. This allows the flour granules to fully hydrate giving you the ideal chewy in the middle crisp on the edges texture. It also prevents the cookies from spreading.
  8. Baking time will be about 12-15 min depending on your oven. Usually I set the timer for 7 min initially then rotate the tray and bake an additional 5-7 min until golden brown on the edges and lighter but still browed in the center. 
  9. I think that cookies turn out better when you bake them one sheet at a time. For me, making multiple sheets at a time has led to inconsistent texture and color.
*One year, I used the fancy european sweet cream butter in place of salted butter. Instead of being better, the cookies tasted flat. Salt makes sweet taste better.

**I know there are tons of high quality chocolate options out there but basic semi-sweet chips taste best. Milk chocolate chips will not taste the same.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Best Syrup Ever

I think the inspiration for this syrup went something like this:

Me: I hate that cold (real) maple syrup makes my warm waffle cold.
Myself: So then heat it up, duh.
Me: Yeah, and I can add some browned butter to it. It will be the best syrup ever!!
Myself: Whatev. Did you make coffee yet?

To make you need:

1 Tablespoon of REAL BUTTER. Fake "buttery spread" will not work. Don't even try.
1/2 Cup REAL Maple Syrup (Grade B* if you have it, but other grades work as well).
1 Stainless Steel Pan like this.
Salt to taste.

  1. Place pat of butter in pan over low to medium heat. (Somewhere around 4 on a scale of 1-10 on my stove)
  2. Let it melt, then foam, then separate into yellow liquid with white bits in it.
  3. Continue cooking until color is pale golden brown and smells nutty. The pan is important here because stainless steel allows you to judge the color of the butter. If you only have dark pans then you have to rely on smell alone. Butter goes from browned to burned somewhat quickly, so pay attention.
  4. Add maple syrup to butter and reduce heat to low. 
  5. Add a small pinch of salt if you used salted butter. Add a slightly larger pinch of salt if you used sweet cream butter.  The salt doesn't make the syrup savory. I feel that it makes it a tastier sweet.
  6. Leave syrup over lowest heat setting until ready to serve. Butter may separate slightly. Whisk to combine before serving.
So what can you serve this on:
Pancakes, Waffles, Roasted Sweet Potatoes; the possibilities are endless!

*About Syrup Grades: Grade B maple syrup isn't inferior to Grade A. It's darker and more flavorful. See here for more information. 

Pancakes I made for my boyfriend's best friend

For the first 30 years of my life, I had pancakes for breakfast on nearly every Sunday morning. For the past 5 years or so, we have been converted to waffle eaters -- but that story is for another post.

Early on, my father was the pancake cook which meant corn pancakes: drained whole canned corn mixed into the basic Bisquick pancake recipe.

The exception was when apples were in season in the fall. Then he would peel and cut up fresh apples and add them in place of corn.

In college, I was the pancake cook so I made apple. The weekend of my boyfriend's graduation, some friends from his time growing up in Pittsburgh, including his best friend Scott, helped celebrate and crashed in my apartment. That Sunday, I made these apple pancakes.

It was one of those moments where you set down a heaping plate of food, turn around for one second and when you look back all that's left are a few crumbs. Were they that good? Maybe. Were we all a little hung over and in desperate need of some carbs to settle our stomach? (sheepishly) Yes.

Lately when we do have pancakes (as I said earlier, we are a waffle family now) I make them from scratch instead of from Bisquick. I like to avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils when I can, cooking from scratch allows me to do that. The recipe is adapted from here.

To make you need:

1 Egg
3/4 plus 1/4 cup of buttermilk*
2 Tablespoons melted cooled butter or vegetable oil
1 cup flour
1 Tablespoon Sugar
3 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Stuff to mix in to your pancakes like 2 apples (peeled, quartered and sliced into thin triangle-ish shapes) or chocolate chips.

  1. Pre Heat Oven to 200F and insert a baking sheet.
  2. Add all dry ingredients, including sugar, in a large bowl. Whisk briefly to combine.
  3. Whisk (you can use the same whisk as in step 1 if you don't want to make too many dishes) egg and 3/4 cup buttermilk until combined.
  4. Add slightly cooled melted butter while stirring just to make sure you don't cook any of the egg.
  5. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine. 
  6. If batter seems stiff add in a little buttermilk to loosen it slightly. You don't want a watery batter but you do want it to be liquid enough that it will spread a little when you ladle it into a pan.
  7. Gently fold your apples into the batter and let it rest while you prepare your pan.
  8. Set a non-stick pan over medium high heat (6 on a scale of 1-10 for my stove) with a pat of butter. 
  9. Spread the butter around in the pan to make sure it it liberally greased.
  10. Accept that your first batch of pancakes may stick and turn out funny looking no matter what you do. Once you have a sense of the right temperature setting on your stove and how much your pancakes spread in the pan subsequent batches will turn out perfectly.
  11. Once the pan is nice and hot (a droplet of water splashed in the pan bubbles and cooks off quickly) but not smoking pour a soup ladle full of batter into pan. If you added apples or other extras make sure to give your batter a little stir and scoop from the bottom incase all of your add ins are on the bottom.
  12. Periodically check the cooking side of the pancake to make sure it isn't burning. Cook on first side until there are a lot of bubbles on top then flip. If your pancake is browning before bubbles form, then you heat is too high.  Turn the heat down and pull the pan off the burner for a minute to let it cool.
  13. Cook pancake on the other side for another 1-2 minutes until cooked through.
  14. Transfer pancake to the cookie sheet in the warm oven.
  15. Repeat steps 11-14 until you use all the batter. The batter won't keep but you can refrigerate and reheat (in a toaster) extra pancakes.
  16. Enjoy with lots of real maple syrup or The Best Syrup Ever (recipe link coming soon).
*I never have buttermilk on hand. I usually have fresh lemons since they can be used in so many sweet and savory applications. I usually use a buttermilk substitute which is made by squeezing 1/2 of a lemon (no seeds please) into milk and letting it sit for 15-20 min. This will make pancakes that aren't too lemony. I happen to like lemony pancakes so I juice the whole lemon and zest the rind of the lemon into the batter for added zing.

Monday, December 19, 2011

White Bean Sausage Soup (or just Sausage Soup so my 5-year-old will eat it)

I took this recipe from my mom, who adapted it from a recipe from the magazine Bon Appetite. Click here for the original recipe. The original version contained escarole, which my 1996 sister would probably not eat. I'm not convinced I would have been thrilled to eat it either. I've never been a fan of mushy soup greens. Our version has potatoes instead of escarole, which makes it thick and more stew like. It's essentially meat and potatoes in a soup bowl.

To make, you need:
  • Sweet Italian Sausage, maybe a pound or so of the usual package size at the grocery store is what I get. You can get pork or turkey or whatever you are in the mood for. I tend to get turkey.
  • A 32 oz container of Chicken broth or stock, beef is fine, if that is what you have. You can also use the equivalent of bouillon cubes. 
  • 1 medium to large white or sweet onion chopped. Don't use red onions, it will look weird.
  • 3-4 large potatoes peeled and chopped into 1/2-1/4 inch pieces. I like a thin skinned potato for soup. Yukon gold works well. I don't typically use russet since I find their texture in soups to be mealy. 
  • 1 15 oz can of cannellini beans 
  • 1 large bay leaf or 2 medium or small bay leaves. (Note from husband: Amanda actually uses like 4 bay leaves)
  • 1 bottle of good white wine. Some for the soup, more for the cook. I like an oaky Chardonnay but use whatever you like. 
  1. Cook the sausage whole in just enough water to cover on medium heat in a pot large enough to hold the whole batch of soup. (Did I mention this was a one pot meal?) Pay close attention since the sausage will burn pretty quickly after the water boils away. It will take about 20 min or so for the water to just about cook off and the sausage to cook through.
  2. Once the water has entirely boiled away and the sausage has released some fat and cooked through, remove the sausage to a bowl or cutting board to cool temporarily. Don’t brown the sausage.
  3. Add onions with some salt (1/2 tsp or so) and the bay leaves to the pot and sauté.
    1. Before adding onions you should assess the fat that has rendered from the sausage. If you used pork sausage and it released enough to cover the bottom of the whole pot, I would suggest removing some. If you used turkey sausage and the pot seems dry go ahead and add some olive oil or butter back into the pan so you can sauté.
  4.  Once onions are translucent, add the potatoes and wine. How much wine? That depends. If your wine rack is full, go ahead and add a ½ cup. If this is the last bottle in the house and no one is willing to make a wine run, just a splash or so will be fine. Save the rest for drinking with the soup.
  5. Cook for a few minutes to allow wine to soak in and then add the 32 oz broth with an additional 2 cups of water.
  6. Slice sausage into coins and  add it back into the pot along with any juices.
  7. Simmer until potatoes are soft, approximately 20-30 min. Smash the potatoes with the back of a spoon or a hand-held potato masher if you have one.  You don’t want a smooth puree. This just releases more of the starch into the soup and helps to thicken it.
  8. Drain and rinse the beans and add them into the soup.
  9. Continue cooking for another 20-30 min at low heat until reduced and thickened. At this point it is up to you how thick or thin you want your soup. Keep in mind that the soup will thicken as it cools.
  10. Once you are at the thickness you like, taste and season with salt and pepper.
  11. Serve with bread and cheese (Baked Brie if you have it) and a glass of wine*.
  12. Tell your friends and family that it is good luck to find the bay leaf in their bowl.

*As I said before, I like a buttery oaky chardonnay with this. Something like Toasted Head Chardonnay or Cupcake Chardonnay are both reasonably priced wines ($12 and $8 respectively) that I cook and drink with this soup. Pretty much whatever you like drinking will go well with this, including Beaujolais Noveau, Sancerre, Pinot Noir or Prosecco.  Just don't use a red wine in the soup or it will end up pink.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Baked Brie

My first baked brie was based on an appetizer served at Reading, PA’s somewhat famous Peanut Bar*.  The Peanut Bar version was a brie en croute, a small brie wheel baked in phyllo with nuts and drizzled with honey. It was delicious but it was served with only a few crackers and begged for more bread. Shopping with my mom, we found similar wheels of brie at BJ’s and decided to marry them with frozen bread dough since I didn't then and don’t now have the patience for home made yeast bread. The first one exploded in the oven. The following recipe has been tweaked over the years and is beloved by many.

To make you need:

1 6” diameter brie wheel** plus one loaf worth of frozen bread dough. 12” diameter brie would need two loaves worth of dough. Pillsbury French or Italian loaf in a can works well as does Wegman’s pizza dough since it is nice and bready. Trader Joe’s pizza dough is gross, don’t ever use it. Puff pastry is traditional but I think it ends up too greasy.

Also honey, salt and fruit of choice, I like grapes.

  1. Thaw dough and let rise in an oiled bowl based on package directions.
  2. Allow cheese to come to room temperature. Cold cheese has caused dough to be brown on the outside and raw on the inside on more than one occasion.
  3. Preheat oven to 350F or whatever temperature your package of dough suggests.
  4. Punch it down and form into a circle. (Don’t use flour, you want the dough to stick together and seal in the brie.)
  5. Place brie wheel in center of dough wheel and wrap like package by joining opposite ends.
  6. Place brie seam side down on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. This is critical. Even if you follow the next step to a tee the brie can still explode and leak out the side. The parchment will keep exploded brie from sticking and the rim will keep it from dripping all over your oven.
  7. Pierce the top of the dough penetrating into the rind of the brie a few times using a small knife. You can make a pretty pattern if you are feeling festive or just poke at random. 
  8. Bake according to dough package instructions, which will be something like 30-40 min at 350F.
  9. Baked brie is finished when it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. (Or when an instant read thermometer reads about 190F when inserted in the bread part.)
  10. Remove from oven and drizzle immediately with honey and sprinkle with salt.
  11. Allow brie to cool for at least 30 min to an hour before serving or molten cheese will run everywhere.
  12. I like to garnish with grapes for a party but it also goes well with White Bean Sausage Soup on a cold day.
 *Back then the Peanut Bar kitchen was run by my dad's friend Judy Henry. She is no longer there and now has a nearby restaurant Judy's on Cherry.
**I typically use President brie wheels. You can use Camembert or other brands but keep in mind that you would loose the nuance of a higher quality brie once you wrap it in dough and drizzle it with honey. If you can’t find wheels you can use wedges. I cut the wedge into two equal triangles and marry the longest sides to make a rectangle then wrap and bake as before. 

Here are the baked brie's I made for Christmas. One exploded, one didn't. Good times were had by all!


My mother was an adventurous cook who gave me free reign in the kitchen at a questionably young age.  I love cooking things based on something I ate or read about. Frequently there is no recipe. When there is a recipe, the finished product only loosely resembles the original intent. This is a collection of stories about how and why I cook and serve the things I do.