Update…

I was inspired by my recent trip to New Mexico to make a Green Chili Stew and of course, I had to make sopaipillas.

As is prone to happening with home renovation projects , our window replacement is going on much longer than we had anticipated. We probably should have learned this lesson with the kitchen remodel 2 years ago but we didn’t. This time around it wasn’t pesky knob and tube wiring hidden away that’s the source of delay.

Our hope was that the project would be completed while we were in New Mexico, but alas it was not. As we stand now, all the windows have been replaced, but the screens did not arrive. Which may seem a pretty simple thing to slap some screens on some windows but not so. All the screens are custom fitted to each window and a finish carpenter has to hand finish all the mill work. Once that’s done the painter needs to come through and stain/paint each window and screen frame.  After that then the crank and lock hardware needs to be installed. Then at some point, stucco repair has to be done. This is the fun of living in a nearly 100 year old Spanish Revival and the price one pays (financially, emotionally and physically) to try to restore it to its previous glory.

On the good side, they don’t work on the weekends so we get a bit of a reprieve from folks other than us being in and out of our house all day. We’ve been ordering a lot of take out because it’s a huge pain to tarp and un tarp everything or do dust abatement to be able to use the kitchen. Which ultimately is why there has not been any new posts, because not a lot of cooking has been getting done.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the kitchen will be 100% complete by the end of this week.

3 Easy Marinades for Meal Prepping Chicken

Some of you may be aware that I’m not a huge fan of chicken, but I acknowledge that chicken breast are super easy for cooking during the week and can usually satisfy even the fussiest of eaters. They’re versatile but can get pretty boring especially if you’ve meal prepped a bunch for the week.

So this week I’ll share with you 3 easy marinades to change up that boring chicken. Personally I prefer chicken thighs over chicken breasts, but feel free to use which ever chicken cut you wish. You can marinade the chicken for as little as an hour or overnight. The chicken can be roasted in the oven, grilled or fried in a sauté pan.

Spicy Citrus Marinade

⅓ cup grapeseed oil or olive oil

½ cup orange juice

2-3 pineapple spears or rings or ½ cup pineapple juice

1 jalapeño or serrano

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp coarse salt

½ tsp ground cumin

¼ achiote powder

1 TBS dried oregano

2 green onions

Put everything into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour over chicken pieces and let marinade at least 1 hour up to overnight.

 

Spicy Southern Style

½ cup plain greek yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream

¼ cup of your favorite hot sauce

1 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp garlic powder

Whisk all the ingredients together in a large bowl and pour over the chicken. Marinade at least 1 hour or over night.

 

Mediterranean Marindade

¼ cup olive oil

½ cup plain greek style yogurt

Juice of 1 lemon

zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp salt

½ tsp ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves finely minced or ½ tsp of garlic powder

½ tsp dried dill

1 tsp dried oregano

Whisk all the ingredients together and pour over chicken.

 

Easy Lemon Scones

Lemon Scones paired with a whipped lemon honey and raspberry compound butter

It’s still Lemonpalooza around here. Our lemon tree is going crazy and we’ve got a lot of fruit ripening right now. So we’re scrambling to find things to do with all the fruit. Our tree produces grapefruit sized lemons with really thick peels which are ideal for cooking, because they produce a lot of juice and the peels are perfect for resting.

This weeks recipe is for lemon scones. Scones are a really easy and simple dessert and as we discussed last week, just by swapping ingredients here and there you can really change to flavor profile of scones. Scones are essential a type of biscuit, my recipe calls for baking powder as the leavened. I use the food processor for cutting the butter into the dough, but if you don’t have one, you can use a couple of butter knives, a fork or a pastry blender.

Ingredients

2 cups all purpose flour

6 TBS chilled butter

½ cup kaffir (can sub sour cream, plain yogurt or buttermilk)

⅓ cup granulated sugar

½ tsp lemon extract

½ tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp salt

1 TBS lemon zest

1 tsp baking powder

1 TBS sanding sugar

¼ cup milk

Place all ingredients except milk, zest, kaffir and sanding sugar into the bowl of the food processor. Pulse 20 to 30 times, add the zest and slowly drizzle in the kaffir while pulsing the food processor. Dough should look like wet sand this should take about 10 pulses and should look like this:

Flour, salt sugar, baking powder, butter, zest, extracts and kaffir have been pulsed in a food processor until it is the consistency of wet sand.

Turn dough out onto a floured work service and form into a 1 inch thick disk like so:

Scone dough has been formed into a 1″ thick x 7″ round and will chill in the fridge for an hour before cutting and baking

The dough may still be slightly crumbly and that’s ok. Wrap the dough in wax paper or plastic wrap and place into the fridge to chill for at least an hour.  Remove the chilled dough from the fridge and cut into wedges.

chilled dough cut into wedges

Place wedges on to parchment lined baking sheet and brush with milk

unbaked scones being brushed with milk

Dust the milk brushed scones with sanding sugar.

scones being dusted with sanding sugar

Bake scones in an oven preheated to 400F for 15-18 minutes. Scones should be golden brown on the bottom and starting to turn golden brown on the edges.

 

The Best Laid Plans…..

 

Special occasion cookies from custom stencils made using 7mil mylar from Amazon and a Silhouette Portrait

I teased in last weeks post that I’d share a recipe this week that makes a good use of homemade fruit curd. But this is one of those weeks where it seems that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get all the things done that I’d like to/need to.

This blog tends to be a casualty of that. I’ve got a cookie project that I’ve been working on for the past few weeks, that needed to get shipped out, so that has priority. I have a little bit of time off coming up at the end of this week and will hopefully be able to get that promised recipe up plus do some planning ahead for some future post.

Now some of you may be aware that I’ve got a thing for decorated sugar cookies. In fact, I wooed my wife with sugar cookies, I even used a sugar cookie demo as my final in one of my classes in college (the same class that required that I have this blog). So I expend a lot of time and thought designing cookies and related materials, I have 3 future cookie projects already in the works. I’ve been planning a project for my Mother-In-Law’s 75th birthday celebration. I came up with a motif, I opted for FLA-centric theme because that’s where my in-laws live and found some really cool cutters at my favorite local cake shop (shout out to Classic Cake Decorations in Westminster, CA) to form the basis of the theme and planned to use stencils to help embellish the design and to make backgrounds on some of the cookies. I use stencils for practical reasons, its faster than piping and well to be frank, I just don’t have the hand strength and stability that I once did to do that level of detailed piping.

In the past, I hunted online for something close to what I wanted or that I could make work to augment the theme, then waited however long it took to get to me if it wasn’t available on the Amazons. I’ve had a Silhouette for a couple of years now and one of the reasons I got it was to make my own stencils for various projects and in particular cookies. I’ve made stencils for etching projects and such, but haven’ dealt with thicker material like that of re-useable cookie stencils. My plan was to do that with this project.

There are a multitude of reasons to make your own stencils, for me, the ability to design my own stencil and not have to pay for someone else’s designs is huge, and there are limitless design possibilities with custom stencils. Then there’s also the ability to monetize the stencil making by selling them and getting ROI for the materials and equipment you use, versus tacking that cost into cookie pricing and such.

I ordered some 6″ square 7 mil mylar from Amazon because they’d fit perfectly into a stencil genie. The cost in material is $.45 each for stencils that can be reused and washed multiple times. And at 7 mil thick, the material is thick enough to not get blown around by the airbrush and misshaped when using thick royal icing. There’s also a workflow argument to have multiples of the same stencil so you can reduce the washing time between color changes and such.

The material arrived a few days ago, and I found that there’s not a lot of references online for what settings to use to cut mylar at this thickness. There was a lot of frustrating troubleshooting and trial and error to finally get decent cuts. I wound up losing an entire afternoon that was supposed to be spent baking to troubleshooting. Some of my patterns are really detailed so not having deep enough cuts, made weeding a nightmare (weeding is removing the negative/positive space from a stencil) and put a lot of undo strain on my eyes, many X-acto blades and the Portrait’s cutting mat. One of the patterns took nearly an hour to cut only to find out that it didn’t cut all the way through the material for most of the pattern, rendering it so tedious to weed that its not useable.

Now I realize this is a bit esoteric for some of you that came here to see decadent desserts or get some quick and easy recipe. But I know that some of you are also cookie and cake decorators that have die-cut machines like my Silhouette Portrait (the original not the 2 which would have eliminated this problem because it automatically sets the depth) and might be able to learn from my miss adventures.

So the take aways:

  • allow plenty of time for the stencils to cut, the more intricate the stencil the longer the cut time.
  • Keep a new blade for you cutter around
  • Clean the blade between stencils
  • have a cutting mat and craft knife handy to cut out the areas that didn’t cut cleanly
  • go over your stencil pattern thoroughly before sending it to cut, to make sure the lines are clean and any containers (the negative space that is formed by looped style letters like b, a, e, etc) are attached to the pattern, otherwise they will fall out during cutting.
  • and finally, the cut settings for the Silhouette Portrait are depth 10, speed 3, force 33, passes 7 (I’m unfamiliar with any other dye cutter so not able to provide guidance on their operation or what settings will work for them)

Here are the various stencils I made, the material is strong enough to stand up to airbrushing and thick heavy icing.

a leaf motif for the background, an island with palm trees and another leaf motif

And now that that’s all sorted, I can get back to the actual baking and decorating of the cookies. Stay tuned.

Secrets to a stress free Thanksgiving Dinner

It’s hard to believe but Thanksgiving is this Thursday. There is not going to be an actual recipe this week as I’m planning and prepping for T-day. But I thought I’d share with you how I plan for a stress and drama-free Friendsgiving.

The best advise I can share is plan plan and plan ahead. I start deciding on what I’m going to prepare in late September. Now this may seem odd, because you may assume that the menu is already decided with it being Thanksgiving after all. Well not so fast. I actually don’t care for Thanksgiving food it’s not something I grew up eating and as I’ve mentioned in past posts on the subject, I’m not a fan of turkey. In fact I just cooked my first whole turkey in 30+ years of cooking this past summer.

Ok so back to the planning. I decide my menu, Then I start to send out reminders to my friends and co-workers via the social medias letting them know if they don’t have other plans they’re welcome to come over. I also set the expectation if they’re unfamiliar with how Thanksgiving works here that I don’t serve typical Thanksgiving food. That way if they have visions of that perfect Rockwellian Thanksgiving dinner they’re not gonna find it here. The other reason we prefer a more casual non-traditional menu and meal is our dining room only sits about 8 comfortably we just don’t have the room for a large formal sit down dinner.

So now that I’ve got people thinking ahead about what their plans may be I start making a shopping list. I frequently have vegan and vegetarian friends over so I start to think about what menu items I can make vegan as well as entree ideas that are fully vegan.  This year we’re going to have BBQ. I’m going to smoke a pork shoulder and a couple of turkey breasts and grill a couple of sides of salmon. For vegan options I’m going to make a dish with butternut squash, corn and black beans in the style of bbq baked beans.

When I grocery shop starting back when I first plan my menu through the weekend before Thanksgiving, I will buy bits and pieces for the meal and store them in the pantry and freezer and cross the items off my list as I go. This prevents us from blowing our entire grocery budget for the month on a single meal and allows me to spread out purchasing the more expensive items. The week leading up to Thanksgiving I will try to grocery shop in the early morning just as the grocery store opens or late at night just before closing. This allows me to avoid the crazy lines. Alternately, try home-delivery its a bit more expensive but if you don’t want to deal with the crowds its a life saver.

If you are planning to roast a large cut of beef or pork or a turkey and have purchased it frozen or been storing it in the freezer like I have, remember that to properly defrost a bird or large roast it takes 4 hours per pound in the refrigerator. so if you have a 20lbs bird thats almost 5 full days to defrost, which means you have to start thawing that bird the Friday or Saturday before turkey-day. So make sure you’ve cleaned out the fridge and have enough space to properly thaw a large bird or roast.

I plan to brine my pork and turkey and cook them the day before Thanksgiving so I actually need to push my thawing schedule ahead by 2 days. This will make sure that the pork and bird are thawed on Tuesday so I can brine them for at least 24 hours before I go to roast and smoke them.

Another area that becomes a problem when cooking for the holidays is leveraging limited cooking space and oven access. One way I avoid the fight for the oven is that I don’t usually make a Thanksgiving dessert. I will take advantage of store bought options or ask my guests to bring desserts. The other advantage of this is I don’t have to have those items compete for fridge storage. I also invested in a turkey roaster and take advantage of my grill and smoker for additional cooking options. Granted the fact I live in Southern California does make that option easy. But the turkey roaster is pretty inexpensive and big box stores often have them on sale this time year. You should be able to pick one up for under $50. Also some models have an insert for warming trays so you can use them like chaffing dishes.

Since we’re doing bbq, I decided that I will do cold sides like salad, Cole slaw and elote. This way I don’t have to worry about reheating  a bunch of dishes for service. I also plan to use the turkey roaster and smoker to cook my pork and turkey. This will leave my stove top and oven free for other uses. I plan to smoke the pork shoulder the day before. Then I’ll heat it with bbq sauce just before service.

Well that’s my $.02. I hope ya’ll have a great holiday surrounded by your loved ones and good food.

All Purpose BBQ Rub

  • 1 ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup coarse sea salt
  • 3 TBS Spanish Paprika
  • 3 TBS Ground Cayenne
  • ¼ garlic powder
  • ¼ onion powder
  • 3 TBS dry mustard
  • 3 TBS freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and store in an airtight container

The almost Butternut Squash Loaf

As the title above sort of teases, the recipe this week is for a Butternut Squash Loaf. Or rather it was going to be. Even as a seasoned cook I experience kitchen mishaps. And I’m choosing to write this post about the ability to fail and acceptance of failure because I think that its important for all cooks especially newer cooks to realize that sometimes stuff just doesn’t work out and that’s ok. Especially with recipes that you find online or videos which make it seem that everything comes out perfect all the time. It doesn’t, most of us either are publishing recipes that we’ve cooked dozens if not hundreds of times and have been thoroughly/sort of tested. And even when I’m not creating recipes to post here, sometimes stuff in my everyday cooking doesn’t work out. I hosted a dinner party once with the intent of making falafel only to have the little balls of wonderful chickpea goodness disintegrate in the fryer. We all just laughed about it and noshed on salads and olives and commiserated. Sure I was dying a little on the inside mostly from embarrassment but there wasn’t really anything I could do to change the outcome so I just made the best of it.

Anyway the first part of the recipe goes perfectly fine. I got a couple of smallish maybe 1lb each butternut squash from the store. Sliced them in half and seeded them. Then I made a paste with brown sugar and butter and pumpkin pie spice and roasted them in the oven and then made a puree. Check out the video below to see the walk through.

I did that part a few days ago so I could use the homemade butternut puree in my bread. I got up excited to play around in the kitchen and started to measure out all the ingredients and doing all my prep. Everything is going perfectly fine, I get everything filmed and I get the loaves in the oven. But then I smell something burning so I check on the loaves. They’ve over-flowed out of the pan and one of them has even made it over the sides of the baking sheet (note to self clean the oven).

butternut squash loaf fail

Time for the recipe post-mortem. First it looks like I over-filled the pans. No worries, I still have some batter left over so I can fill another pan and try again. Well this time it doesn’t over flow but it won’t come out of the pan and it tastes off. Like too much baking soda off. In my laziness/haste earlier in the day I couldn’t be bothered to find the Tablespoon measuring spoon so I just poured baking soda into the batter willy nilly. Well of course that’ll turn out fine. What could possibly go wrong?

Lessons we’ve learned today. Don’t over  fill your loaf pans. Use metal or glass loaf pans and don’t be lazy with measuring while baking.

such promise…

Turned Over

Fig Turnovers with a lemony glaze drizzled over the top

We’ve known for a few weeks that we were going to hit a mother-load of figs from the two fig trees out back. Well this week it happened. So we’re going to make fig and plum turnovers and then figure out some other stuff to do with all of figs ( fig jam and fig bars probably).

To keep things simple, I’m going to use store bought puff pastry to make the turnovers. Perhaps someday I’ll show you how to make puff pastry by hand, but its one of those things that’s extremely time consuming and takes a couple of days. I’m not a professional pastry chef and I actually have a 40 hour a week job that has nothing to do with cooking and baking so I know I don’t have that kinda time and I don’t know too many people that do. Store bought puff pastry will be just fine.

The store bought stuff is easy to find, you can find it in the freezer section in the grocery store. It’s usually next to things like frozen cream puffs, pound cake, pie shells and phyllo dough (all great things for quick easy desserts). To use, you just need to let the puff pastry thaw for 30-45 minutes at room temperature.  I rolled it out until it was about a ¼ thick then cut it into squares.

Squares of puff pastry with a tablespoon of fig and plum filling and egg wash on the edges

Then I brushed adjacent edges with egg wash, folded over corner to corner so non egg washed edge is touching the egg washed edge. To seal the edges, work the tines of a fork along the entire length of the two short edges.

You should have something that looks like this:

Turnovers with edges crimped and vented for baking

I brushed the turnovers with milk then I baked the turnovers in an oven pre-heated to 400F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Turnovers backed to a golden brown and cooling on a wire rack.

Plum and Fig Filling

1 cup each of diced figs and plums

¼ cup sugar

½ tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp lemon zest

Juice of ½ lemon

pinch of salt

¼ corn starch sifted

Place all the ingredients except the corn starch into a medium sized bowl and let sit for an hour or in the fridge overnight. You should see a pretty decent amount of liquid has come out of the fruit. Sift in the corn starch and stir slowly until the clumps work themselves out. It should look like this:

figs and plums with corn starch to form a slurry.

Let stand for 15 minutes. Cook on low in a heavy bottomed pan until mixture comes to a boil. Let boil for 3-5 minutes while continuously stirring.

Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. To cool mixture to workable temperature more quickly, put the fig mixture into a clean heat safe bowl and then place that bowl into larger bowl that’s been filled with ice. Once the mixture cools down its ready to use or you can store it in the fridge for later use.

filling cooking on stove top on low.

This same process works for making all kinds of pie fillings but will work best with fruits that are high in pectin like stone fruits and apples.

Lemoney Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar

1 TBS lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon finely chopped

2 – 4 TBS whole milk

In a small bowl combine powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Gradually add the milk and mix with a fork or whisk. You’re looking for a texture that allows the glaze to easily run down the tines of a fork.

Salad Days (some assembly required)

boiled eggs, olive, fingerling potatoes, green beans, shallots, tuna and tomatoes make up this salad

Its another hot one here in Southern California, which puts me in the mood for some lighter food and given the richness of last weeks duck tacos a few salad days might do me some good. Keeping with the Mediterranean theme that was discussed a few posts back, Salad Niçois with Seared Tuna seemed like a good way to make use of some of the freshly ripened tomatoes from our garden and produce that we’ve received this past week from Imperfect Produce. My local Sprouts has a decent selection of frozen sustainably caught fish and we try to keep some tuna and salmon in the freezer for leaner, lighter protein options.

Salad Niçois is a composed salad with greens, olives (usually Niçois), scallions, tomatoes and boiled eggs with either anchovies or tuna and dressed with olive oil. Sometime back in the 30s recipes started to appear for Salad Niçois with boiled potatoes and green beans. Which I’ve added to my version as well.  Putting the salad together involved a little bit of chopping, making the vinaigrette and searing the tuna. I used some leftover fried fingerling potatoes and then boiled eggs for about 6 minutes. During the last few minutes of the eggs boiling, I tossed in some chopped green beans along with a teaspoon of salt to blanch. Then I drained the eggs and green beans and put them into ice cold water to stop the cooking. After a few minutes, I drained the water and added more cold water.

Salad Niçois with Seared Tuna 

(serves 2)

6 cups cleaned and chopped greens ( we had hearts of romaine so that’s what I used)

2 scallions chopped

1 cup sliced and cooked fingerling potatoes

⅓ cup olives

2 tomatoes cut into quarters

2 boiled eggs

½ cup cooked chopped green beans

2 4-6 oz tuna steaks

salt and pepper

1 garlic clove

1 tsp dried oregano

1 TBS olive oil

lemon juice

4 TBS Vinaigrette (see recipe below)

To start, put the garlic clove, salt and pepper, oregano and lemon juice into a mortar and pestle and crush together until a paste forms.  Put into a  zip top freezer bag and then add the olive oil. Place the tuna steaks into the bag and rub with the marinade until all sides of the tuna are coved and set aside.  Lightly dress the tomatoes, green beans and potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette and let sit while you sear off the tuna. Using a dry non stick skillet on medium high (or on the grill if you have a wire grilling basket), sear the tuna. Don’t try to move the tuna around, when its sufficiently seared it should easily come off the pan to flip on a gas flame this is usually after about 2 minutes. Sear the other. side for about a minute if you prefer your tuna medium rare. Remove from heat and let rest on a cutting board. Assemble the salad either on individual plates or in a large bowl and dress the greens with the remaining dressing. Slice the tuna and add to the salad and serve.

 

Vinaigrette 

1 part cider vinegar

2 parts extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil

Juice of ½ a lemon

½ tsp anchovy paste or 1 anchovy filet

1 crushed garlic clove

1 tsp mayonaise

1 tsp dijon mustard

1 tsp peppercorns

½ tsp dried oregano

In a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic, oregano and salt together until a past forms. Then move to a small bowl and whisk with all the other ingredients until everything is well combined.

 

Ahi Poke (pronounced poh-keh)

Authentically traditional, Ahi Poke with ogo, alaea salt, kukui nut, onions, scallions and sesame oil.

So a few weeks back there were several reports about a midwest company that does business under the name Aloha Poke, trying to enforce their trademark of the phrase Aloha Poke. There was a bit of an inter-web brouhaha because this same midwest company, sent cease and desist notices to Native Hawaiians that use variations of the phrase aloha and poke for their food related business. You can read more about this story here. There are a couple of Change.org petition which you can check out here and here.

I did my ranting and raving about the gall of that company and their profiting off of the cultural appropriation of Hawaiian Culture a few days ago, So I won’t rehash that here. Though the issue has made me realize that many of you may not know what authentic poke (pronounced po-keh) is or how to make it. ‘Cause the stuff they sell at places like Aloha Poke is not authentic.

At its core, poke was a way to preserve the day’s catch before refrigeration was available and it put to use things that were in abundance like salt, seaweed and kukui (also called candlenuts) nut oil and meat. Ogo which is a dark reddish brown thread-like seaweed as well as alaea salt are used. Alaea salt is sea salt that’s been mixed with red volcanic clay. Chopped kukui nuts are roasted and then salted to make inamona. Alaea salt is then added to the inamona and is the seasoning for the poke. Since kukui nuts are hard to find here on the mainland, my local Tokyo Central sells both Noh Brand and Ohana Flavors brand poke seasoning*, which is basically ground up kukui nuts and Alaea salt (and sometimes furikake and red chili flakes). They also sell dried ogo. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

1 lb sashimi grade fish or tofu cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 TBS Poke Seasoning* (see above)

1/4 cup chopped scallions

1/4 thinly sliced sweet onion

2 TBS sesame oil

2 TBS chopped and rehydrated ogo

Combine the fish, scallions, onions, ago and oil in a bowl and slowly add the poke seasoning. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour to let the flavors marry.

You can eat poke over cooked rice (sticky white rice ideally), with crackers or if you really want to get authentic, with poi. There are other varieties of poke out there, but this particular one predates the arrival of Chinese, Japanese and Koreans workers who brought soy sauce, salmon and rice to Hawaii.

Shoyu Poke

1 lb fish or tofu

¼ cup chopped scallions

¼ cup thinly sliced sweet onions

2 TBS sesame oil

1 TBS shoyu

1 tsp toasted sesame seeds or sprinkle of furikake rice seasoning

pinch of alaea salt

1 tsp brown sugar or honey

1 tsp garlic chili paste (optional)

In a bowl, mix the shoyu, sesame oil, salt and sugar/honey until both the salt and sugar/honey are dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Shoyu Poke with tako cucumber and avocado and wonton chips