In Someone Else’s Kitchen, 4 of 4

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes, that is.

This is a crowd pleaser, which is to say that I have never met anyone who did not like it!  But the best thing about this recipe is how forgiving it is.  I have made it with broth, milk, half-and-half, cream… heck, I have even used water!

In this particular case, it was the perfect dish to make – even without basic tools, you can wing it. Really!  (Since I was in someone else’s kitchen and I was too shy to ask where the measuring cups and spoons were, I really did wing it!)

8 to 9 medium potatoes, sliced very thinly (you can peel them, or not, just make sure they’re scrubbed clean!)
a couple of fistfuls of shredded mixed cheese (I just bought a pack of pizza cheese and did not really measure)
butter
200 ml pack of half-and-half
a splash of milk (I just “stole” some from the fridge)
salt and pepper, to taste (or a couple of large pinches of rotisserie chicken spice)

Preheat oven to 375F.

Butter a baking dish (for this project, an aluminum disposable panmine is about 6 by 8 inches.  Arrange half the sliced potatoes in the pan, sprinkle the shredded cheese all over.  Top with the remaining half of potatoes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper or spice.  Top with more cheese.  Pour the half-n-half and milk over the dish.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are done.  Cover with foil if the top gets too browned.  Serve while hot.

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In Someone Else’s Kitchen, 3 of 4

Mixed Mushrooms, Watercress, and Pine Nuts was the vegetable dish for the night.

The original recipe had cashews instead of pine nuts.  But I knew our host had a history of gout and I knew that nuts were on the no-eat list due to its effect of heightening uric acid so I substituted pine nuts.

Except that (I didn’t know) mushrooms were high in uric acid too.  Sigh…

About 500 grams mixed fresh mushrooms (shitake, button, and oyster)
about 300 grams fresh watercress
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
crushed garlic
soy sauce

Clean the mushrooms, cut into more manageable pieces if needed.  Toss in about a tablespoon of soy sauce; marinate for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile crush about 10 cloves of garlic in a mortar with a pestle.  (The beauty of someone else’s kitchen is that I get to use stuff I don’t have in my kitchen.  And learn something new!  Like how pounding garlic in a mortar with a pestle is so much more satisfying that a knife and a chopping board!)

Then, trim the watercress of tough stems and ends.  Rinse and pat dry.

Heat some oil in a pan.  Sauté the crushed garlic until soft and fragrant.  Add the mushrooms; stir fry several seconds.  Add the watercress and a splash of soy sauce (add as desired but be mindful not to make the dish too salty).

Cook until the vegetables are soft but still crunchy.  There will be a lot of liquid.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the watercress and mushrooms to a serving dish (my watercress shrunk and got hidden under all the mushrooms), then scatter pine nuts over the top.

(Our gracious host enjoyed this dish the most, he said.  Even with my faux pas, and his rising levels of uric acid.)

 

 

 

Homemade Vanilla Extract

There are many recipes for homemade vanilla extract.  Basically, there are 3 ingredients – vanilla beans, vodka (or brandy, rum, bourbon, as long as it is at least 80 proof), and TIME.

The most important ingredient in the recipe is – TIME.

How I made mine?

I started in 2014.  December.

With 1 liter of vodka and 14 Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans.

I split the beans and scraped the seeds out.  I placed all the seeds and pods into the bottle of vodka, capped the bottle, and then wrapped the bottle in brown paper.  The bottle got named and tagged then into a cool cupboard it went… where it stayed for 3 years.

I opened it today and took a whiff.

Heavenly.

Mmmmmm….

 

In Someone Else’s Kitchen, part 2 of 4

Let’s talk about apple crisps.

I started making apple crisps when I realized that the very real possibility and probability that I would never succeed in making my mom’s apple pie.  I got the filling right but somehow my crusts were always wrong.  So apple crisp was what I came up with.

The recipe that got me started is Dorie Greenspan’s, from her book “Baking My Home to Yours”.  As always I adjusted to suit my taste… which meant I skipped some and added others…

Anyway, this was the dessert I made for our host last week.  Why?  Because it is easy to make, with ingredients commonly available, and impressive, too.  The best part?  It bakes while we have dinner and when it is served, it is perfect straight out of the oven!

The ingredient list is fairly easy too.  The beauty of modernization is that virtually anything can be found anywhere. So even when I am 250 kilometers away from home, I can find the ingredients that I need.  The nearby supermarket and specialty shop had everything, even real cinnamon sticks and whole nutmeg!  Dishes aren’t a problem too, since there were plenty of disposable aluminum pans – in various sizes and shapes at that.  But silly me, I forgot to buy the oats…

(truth time – the pic above is NOT the apple crisp I made in someone else’s kitchen.  I forgot to take a pic of that one)  The one I made in friend G’s house is one I made from memory and I somehow got the sugar amount wrong – I put in waaayyy too much, so it was a tad on the (really) sweet side.

picture courtesy of friends G and J. The topping is all flour, no nuts

Like I said, it is easy to make –

First, generously butter a 6-inch square baking dish.  Preheat the oven to 375F.

Peel and core 2 large Fuji apples and 3 to 4 small Gala apples.  Slice into wedges.  I slice mine in varying thickness because I like a bit of crunch and a bit of mush at the same time.  Toss the apple wedges with 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar, 1 teaspoon apple pie spice ( or cinnamon), 1 cinnamon stick (broken in half), 1 tablespoon melted butter, 2 tablespoon whipping cream, juice from 1 fresh calamansi, and 2 tablespoons flour.  Place the apples in the buttered baking dish.

(a short note here – the original recipe called for maple syrup, which is a rare find in my country, so instead I use a mix of vanilla sugar, butter and cream)

Stir together 2/3 cup of flour, 2/3 cup oats (not instant), 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or cashews (optional), 4 to 6 tablespoons vanilla sugar (I usually use 5 tablespoons), a pinch of salt, and a dash of freshly grated nutmeg.  Plop 75 grams of soft, unsalted butter in the mix.  Use a pastry blender, 2 knives, or a food processor, as you prefer but I personally use my hands!  Mix until just clumpy; don’t overdo it.  Scatter over the apples.

Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes or until the topping is a lovely brown.  If the topping gets too browned, cover with aluminum foil.

Best served with cold whipped cream or vanilla ice cream!

 

Roast Chicken over Scalloped Potatoes

My little electric oven is such a treasure!  While my gas-fired baby oven is my ultimate favorite (after all I have been baking with it for more than 3 decades – so now you know how old I must be!), my little electric is really more convenient since there’s usually just 4 or 5 of us.  It is just a bit larger than a toaster oven (but yes, it is a fully functioning oven, with rotisserie too!). The largest sized pan that can fit in it is a 9-inch square and even that is a bit pushing it.

Still, it is absolutely perfect for half a batch of cake, 6 cupcakes, a regular brownie or a dozen cookies or so. And for meals? It is just right! A whole chicken with the rotisserie function (but no, a turkey or a super jumbo chicken won’t fit) or half a chicken in a baking pan.

Take this roast chicken meal… quick and easy, and best of all, tasty!

6 pieces chicken legs, cleaned and patted dry
salt and pepper, to taste

5 to 6 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced very thinly
1/2 cup shredded mixed cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan mix)
butter
1/4 cup 35% whipping cream
3/4 cup milk
salt and pepper, to taste

Make slits on the chicken legs.  Rub the chicken legs with salt and pepper (I like using sea salt), place some between the skin and meat as well.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 375F.

Butter a baking dish (mine is about 6 by 8 inches.  Arrange half the sliced potatoes in the pan, sprinkle the shredded cheese all over.  Top with the remaining half of potatoes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Pour the cream and milk over the potatoes.

Arrange the chicken legs over the potatoes.  Bake for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is done, at 165/170F internal temperature.  Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

 

 

Brioche Dinner Rolls

Who doesn’t like freshly baked bread?  Brioche at that.  No one, that’s who!

But my oh my, the work that goes into making brioche!!!!!!!

While I (used to) love kneading, my increasingly severe RSS prevents me.  So when I found that it is possible to make brioche without kneading… I literally did a dance of joy!

There are quite a few recipes online but the one I decided to try is this one.  I halved the recipe though, simply because I did not have a bowl large enough, nor the fridge space to store it (more on this a bit later).

The method couldn’t be any easier!  First step – mix all the dry ingredients together –

3-1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Then, in a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients together

4 eggs
1/4 cup whey (from draining yogurt)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup (melted) browned butter

(Okay, here is where I admit to mucking up a few things – blame it on my short attention span and carelessness.  But all is well that ends well, right?  Anyway, I forgot to halve the yeast and I mixed up the measurements for the water and milk.  Only, I used whey instead of water…)

So, going back to the procedure… pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well, making sure no trace of flour remains.  Cover (with plastic wrap) and leave a couple of hours at room temperature.  I left mine out for about 3 hours.

Then, grab a chunk with your hand and give the dough a stretch by pulling up and returning the dough into the bowl.  Fold the dough over on itself (still in the bowl) about 3 times, turning the bowl partly after each time.

Cover again and place in the refrigerator for 12 hours, up to 46 hours.  (A note here, the original recipe called for leaving the dough out at room temperature, but I live in a tropical country and leaving the dough at room temp, which in my country is pretty hot, presents a problem because of the fresh eggs so my dough goes into the fridge.)

To bake the bread, brush butter into an 8 or 9-inch square baking dish.

Divide the dough into 16 balls (in my case working very fast while the dough is still cold – a warmed dough is more difficult to handle) and arrange the balls in the baking dish.  Cover again and leave about 90 to 120 minutes for the dough to rise until it is doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375F.  Bake about 20 to 30 minutes, or until an instant thermometer registers 190F.  To prevent over browning, cover with foil.

(Since I like my buns browned but with a soft crust, I brush butter over the top immediately after taking the pan out of the oven.)

Cool in the pan for about 10-15 minutes then move the bread to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Yum yum, yum!!!!

 

 

 

In Someone Else’s Kitchen

We had a lovely vacation (read as hubby had a couple of meetings but the kid and I relaxed and enjoyed the cool air!) and our generous host fed us scrumptious meals.  Of course I had to reciprocate!

(Flashback to some 3 decades ago, when I cooked paella for 20 people in someone else’s kitchen!!!)

It is not easy cooking (meddling???) in someone else’s kitchen, mainly because I have no idea where anything is!  But what is quite nice about the kitchen of someone who likes to cook is that the kitchen would definitely have the basic tools and then some.  Since friend G had an oven, I gladly made use of it.

My menu consisted of 4 parts – protein, carbohydrate, healthy (veggie) and something sweet.

For the protein, I thought roasted salmon was perfect!  And again my favorite recipe comes from Mark Bittman.  With a bit of a twist, though.  The online version of the recipe is slightly different from the book version –

First, I used half butter and half olive oil, which I seasoned with pink salt and freshly cracked peppercorns… and about 1/2 tablespoon of dried dill seeds.  Off in the oven it went until the butter melted and stopped fizzing.

I then placed 4 pieces of salmon fillet slabs, about 220 to 250 grams each, skin side up, into the pan and back to the oven it went and stayed for about 5 to 7 minutes.  The fillets got flipped to get the skin side down.  And then I sprinkled some more pink salt and crushed peppercorns over the top.  It went back into the oven for another 5 to 6 minutes, just until it was done.

 

Salmon Roasted in Butter and Dill

When I think of experimenting in the kitchen, I browse and peruse my cookbook collection. One of the first books I reach for is Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”.

It is there that I found a super easy and very tasty recipe for salmon.

I used half butter and half olive oil, and fresh dill, following the secondary instructions for ‘Salmon Roasted with Herbs’.

The recipe can be found online – http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/04/mark-bittmans-roasted-salmon-with-butter.html

Pineapple Cheesecake

For the last 7 years I have tried to make my sweetie a birthday cake. I usually make it on time but this year I am horribly late, which I blame on the little girl’s quarterly exams. But better late than never, right?

This year I decided on a “healthier” cake, fruit-based, and if my ancestral beliefs are true – lucky!

As a child I’ve often wondered why there were always red pineapple paper lanterns in most Chinese homes and business establishments. My mom always told me they were for good luck, though I never fully understood the reason. It only made sense to me when I was much much older, when it was explained to me that the Chinese name of the pineapple was a homonym for the words that meant ‘good luck come’. It also explained why pineapple desserts are popular in Chinese cuisine!

Anyway, for hubby’s __th (his 38th, he vehemently insists) birthday, I wish him good luck and great fortune with this Pineapple Cheesecake!

For the pineapple cake base –

Heat 1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice and cook until reduced by at least half; make sure there’s 3 tablespoons. Let cool. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350*F. Line a 7-inch springform pan with greaseproof paper.

Stir together 3/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add 1 egg, 3 tablespoons canola oil, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and 3 tablespoons pineapple juice “concentrate”. Mix well. Fold in 1/3 cup fully drained crushed pineapple.

Place batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 15 to 18 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan.

For the no-bake pineapple cheesecake layer –

Beat 300 grams cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add 1/3 cup sugar and mix well. Add 1/3 cup thick Greek-style yogurt, 1/3 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup whipping cream and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mi well. Fold in 1/2 cup fully drained crushed pineapple. Pour over fully cooled cake. Chill at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

For the pineapple topping –

In a thick-bottomed saucepan, stir together 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 3/4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice and 1/3 cup sugar. Add 1/4 cup butter. Heat over medium-low heat to a gentle boil. Simmer about 75 seconds; mixture should be thick and creamy. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of Caribbean rum (one with coconut overtones preferred). Stir in 1/2 cup fully drained crushed pineapple. Let cool completely. Spread a thin layer of the topping on the cheesecake. Unmold from the pan. Keep chilled.

Note – the crushed pineapple should be fully drained otherwise texture of the cake will be affected; the cheesecake layer might not set properly and the topping may turn watery (and become sauce instead of topping).

I did not spread a full layer of the topping on the cheesecake, opting instead for a decorative garnish. My reason is a personal one – I wanted enough topping left over so I could make some pineapple tartlets!

Belated Happy Birthday Sweetie!

Scallops and Mushrooms on Yellow and Red Peppers

This dish is a hubby-wifey compromise.  Hubby loves bell peppers and I love scallops and mushrooms.  The bonus is that it cooks up in a few minutes!

300 grams shelled Chinese scallops

1 large yellow bell pepper
1 large red bell pepper

200 grams white Shimenji mushrooms

1 large thumb-sized ginger, smashed and chopped (skin off)
sea salt
oyster sauce
shao xing wine

Clean the Chinese scallops with some sea salt and rinse; drain fully.  Marinate in 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce.  (personally I use the lower limit and adjust later.  this is because various brands have slight nuances in saltiness etc.)

Clean and dry the bell peppers.  Remove the top and seeds, then slice into squarish or diamond-shaped pieces.  (meanwhile, start heating the wok with about 1 tablespoon of peanut oil (or canola oil).

Cut the ends of the mushrooms; rinse and dry them.

When the wok and oil is (very) hot, put in the bell peppers and stir fry a few seconds.  Sprinkle in a large pinch of sea salt.  Stir the peppers around, and remove from the pan using a slotted spoon to a serving dish.

In the same pan, sauté half the ginger then add the mushrooms.  Add 1 teaspoon of oyster sauce and stir fry several seconds.  After a couple of minutes add the rest of the ginger and the Chinese scallops.  Splash some shao xing wine (about 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoon/s) and stir fry until the scallops are just about done (about a minute or two, depending on the size of the scallops, bigger ones take a bit longer to cook).  Adjust seasonings as desired.  Do not overcook the scallops otherwise they will be tough.

Using a slotted spoon, place the scallops and mushrooms over the bell peppers.

Reduce the liquid in the wok to about half (as preferred) then pour over the dish.  Serve immediately.