Halloween “Spooky” Sushi

Spooky Sushi

When I make sushi, I often use brown or black sticky (sweet) rice. I actually prefer the texture over the white rice. It occurred to me that the black sticky rice might make fun sushi for Halloween. I find black sweet rice at my local Asian grocery store. That is also where I get nori, rolling mats and wasabi.

To add a pop of color, I finely shredded carrots and added them to the sushi roll, too. The black rice actually cooks to a dark purple color. The color combination is fun for Halloween.

You’ll need a rolling mat, but beyond that, not a lot of special equipment is needed. I served my sushi with wasabi. You could serve with pickled ginger, too. Here is the recipe and directions.

Spooky” Sushi

To make the rice:

4 c. black sweet rice, uncooked

4 c. water, or a little more

1 recipe Sushi Su, recipe follows

finely shredded carrots

In strainer, rinse the rice repeatedly with cold water until the water runs clear. Place rice in microwave safe container with the 4 cups of cold water. Cover container with a lid and place in microwave. I use a large Pyrex casserole dish that has a lid.  Cook 20 minutes. Check for doneness and add a little more water, if needed. Cook another 10-15 minutes. Don’t stir the rice. Black rice takes longer to cook than white sushi rice. You want it to be cooked, but not mushy. Cooking times vary by microwave. Remove from the microwave once cooked and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Place rice in a large, cool bowl and pour on the Sushi Su, tossing in. Fan rice while tossing to give it a shiny look.  Makes enough for 8 rolls.

 Sushi Su:

1/2 cup rice vinegar

4 T. sugar

1/2 t. salt

msg, optional

Combine all and set aside until ready to use. You can also buy a dry powder of Sushi Su and you can use that instead. It is a 2.65 oz. packet.

Assembling Sushi

Place a sheet of nori ( dried seaweed sheets) on mat and spread about 1 cup of the rice over the nori, leaving about 1-2 inches empty on the far side. Place fillings in a strip a little off center away from the side with no rice. Start rolling up the mat using it to press the sushi roll and keeping the fillings in the nori. Once rolled, press the mat once more to seal and make the fillings stick together. Wetting the edge of the nori with a little water can also make the sushi stick better. Slice each piece using a sharp knife dipped in water.

Wrapping the sushi takes practice. Don’t be discouraged if the first few are a little less that perfect, Still, with a little practice it gets pretty easy. Just be careful not to overfill the rolls as it makes the job harder.

Pear and Pecan Coffee Cake

Pear and Pecan Coffee Cake

This may be one of my favorite pear desserts. I combined ripe pears with pecans and cinnamon sugar to create this moist and flavorful cake. I had both Bosc and Bartlett pears, but use whatever pears you have on hand. They should be ripe, but still firm. In the recipe directions I say to have the pears peeled and sliced, and ready to go in the cake. I actually made the batter first, then prepped the fruit. Mostly because I was distracted and forgot. It worked out just fine. The upside was that the pears did not have a chance to discolor, and I didn’t have to put them in lemon water until ready to use.

The cake is wonderful served all on its own, but I also enjoy topping it with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream.

Pear and Pecan Coffee Cake

1 c. oil- I like to use olive oil or avocado oil

4 eggs

1 t. vanilla

1/3 c. orange or lemon juice

3 c. flour

2 c. sugar

3 t. baking powder

¼ t. salt

3-4 pears, peeled, cored and sliced

½ c. sugar

1 T. cinnamon

¾ c. pecan halves or pieces

Grease a 9×13 inch pan. Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Combine oil with eggs, vanilla and juice until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients and add to egg mixture. Beat together until batter is smooth. Batter will be thick. Combine the ½ cup sugar with the cinnamon. Set aside. Place ½ of batter in prepared pan. Arrange pear slices on batter and sprinkle on ½ of the cinnamon mixture. Pour on remaining batter and top with the pecans. Sprinkle with remaining sugar mixture. Bake 50- 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean. Cool before slicing. Serves 10-12.

The Gentle Art of Biscuits

Biscuits Supreme

Biscuits are easy to make. They really are. Fast, too. You can mix up  a batch of biscuits in the time it takes the oven to preheat.  Yet, I know  people who seem to struggle with them. The other night, a friend and I were talking about the secret to  a light and flaky biscuit.

So what goes wrong? How do you make light, flaky biscuits every time?

For the moment I’ll assume you have a decent recipe. There are a lot of great biscuit recipes out there. I know people that have treasured family recipes. Biscuits that have been made the same way for generations.

Assuming also, that the baking powder is fresh*, there has to be some other reason that some folks just seem to struggle with biscuits.

The problem is, more than likely, over-mixing the dough. When I talk to someone who tells me that their  biscuits are always heavy or tough, I first ask about how they are put together.

Once the dry ingredients have been mixed and the fat cut in, there is just liquid to be added. I prefer to chill whatever fat I am using.

At this point the dough should be handled just enough to hold together. A light hand means a light biscuit. The same is true for making scones. The more you knead the dough, handle the dough and roll the dough, the less flaky biscuits become. Be gentle with your dough.

Don’t treat biscuit dough the way you would a yeast-based dinner roll. The two are very different in how they are handled. Yeast-based doughs benefit from kneading and “working” the dough. Biscuits are the opposite.

Even when cutting out the biscuits, it will help if you cut  them out as close together as you can. That way you have fewer scraps to re-roll. Every time you roll the dough out- it becomes a little tougher. You can always roll or pat your dough into a square and cut out the biscuits into triangles, leaving no scraps and no re-rolling.

Here is a recipe for one of my favorite biscuits. They are light and very flaky. Is there anything better than a fresh, warm biscuit with some butter?

Biscuits Supreme

2 c. flour
4 t. baking powder
2 t. sugar
½ t. cream of tartar
½ t. salt
½ c. cold butter, shortening or coconut oil – you can even use lard
2/3 c. milk

Stir together dry ingredients and cut in butter to resemble coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and add milk all at once. Stir until dough sticks together and knead on lightly floured surface 10-12 strokes. Roll or pat to ½ inch thickness. Cut with 2-21/2 inch biscuit cutter and place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake in 450-degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 10-12.

*If your baking powder might be old, you can test it. Place a couple of tablespoons of boiling water in a cup. Add a teaspoon, or two, of baking powder. The mixture should bubble vigorously. If there are no bubbles, or very few bubbles, you might want to get a new container of baking powder.

Applesauce Cake

Spiced Applesauce Cake

This is a favorite recipe of mine. The cake is moist, lightly spiced and very easy to make. I shared it with friends yesterday and they loved it. The applesauce adds moisture and flavor.

I used butter in the recipe, but if you used coconut oil instead, the recipe would be vegan. Actually, any oil would work in this recipe, if you don’t want to use butter. The spices work so well together. Sometimes simple is the best. Before someone asks, it is not a misprint, there are no eggs in the recipe.

I wish I remembered where this recipe came from. I have a piece of flowered stationery, a little crinkled around the edges, creased from being folded many times, with the recipe written on it. It is not my handwriting. I would love to credit the source of this wonderful recipe.

Spiced Applesauce Cake

2 c. unsweetened applesauce

½ c. butter, coconut oil or avocado oil

2 c. sugar

3 c. flour

1 T. baking soda

½ t. salt

1 t. each cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg

¼ t. cloves

1 c. raisins or chopped nuts

Heat together applesauce and butter until butter melts. Cool down a bit. Preheat oven 375 and grease 9×13-inch pan. Stir all ingredients together bake 30 minutes. Cool in pan.

Pumpkin Ice Cream

Pumpkin Ice Cream

Pumpkin ice cream is such a nice addition to many fall desserts. It makes a nice topper for apple cake or pumpkin roll. Its also pretty good all on its own. I added some cinnamon and vanilla to mine, but you can certainly add more spices. Colder Fall weather might make us think less about ice cream desserts. I don’t think it is ever too cold for ice cream.

This is a nice, simple recipe. I did not use eggs/custard as the base. You just mix the ingredients and freeze. Easier if you have an ice cream maker, but doable without.

Pumpkin Ice Cream

2 c. whipping cream

2 c. pumpkin puree or winter squash

1 c. sugar, or to taste

1 T. molasses

2 t. cinnamon

1 t. vanilla

1/4 t. salt

Combine all ingredients and stir until well mixed and sugar is dissolved. Place in an ice cream maker following the manufacturer’s directions. My machine can’t take the whole recipe at once so I froze it in 2 batches and kept the rest of the pumpkin mixture chilled until ready to use. Place finished ice cream in the freezer until ready to serve.

Note: If you don’t have an ice cream maker you can place the mixture in a shallow pan and freeze until solid. remove from freezer and allow to thaw a little- about 10 minutes then break up and place in a mixing bowl. Whip with a mixer until smooth and return to the freezer. Repeat process once more to end up with creamy ice cream. You can also use a food processor for this step.

Apple Fritters

Apple Fritters

I love apple season.  Besides eating them fresh, I enjoy cooking with apples. One of my favorite apple dishes is apple fritters.

Fritters are  similar to doughnuts. Rather than being made from a dough that is rolled and cut, like doughnuts, fritters are made from a batter. The fritter batter  is spooned into oil for frying. They are actually very easy to make.

Good fritters are light and airy inside, with a crisp outside. These are very good fritters. These fritters have diced apples and cinnamon in the batter and cook up tender and light. Fritters are good plain, but can be rolled in powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar or drizzled with a powdered sugar glaze. Unlike a lot of the giant-sized fritters I see at local orchards and farm markets this time of year, these fritters are smaller. Only a few bites each. I actually prefer that.

For my gluten-free friends, I have made these fritters with gluten free flour. They tasted great. The gluten free version seemed to brown faster, so I turned down the temperature of the oil to 350 degrees.

So enjoy one of my favorite recipes of the season, and make yourself some fritters.

Apple Fritters

2 c. flour

2 T. sugar

2 T. baking powder

1 T. cinnamon

1/2 t. salt

1 c. milk

2 eggs, beaten

2 T. melted butter

1 c. diced apples

oil for frying

Combine dry ingredients and set aside. Mix together milk with the eggs and butter. Stir in dry ingredients until just moistened and add the apples. Heat oil to 375. If using gluten-free flour heat oil to 350. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Don’t do more than 4-5 at a time. It will take about  4 minutes in total but you need to turn them to brown evenly so 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. While warm roll in powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, or drizzle with a powdered sugar glaze. Makes about 32.

Rosemary Oatmeal Bread

Rosemary Oatmeal Bread

There is something about the smell of baking bread that always makes me remember my childhood, and going to the movies. I know that sounds odd, but there is an explanation. When I was a kid, there was a neighborhood movie theater. It was close by and we would walk there to see movies. On the walk home, we passed a local bakery. Late at night they would be baking bread and other goodies for the next day. The air would be filled with the aroma of baking bread.

This oatmeal bread is one of my favorites. With the addition of rosemary and  molasses, the bread has an earthy sweetness that I just love. It is versatile. You can make 2 round loaves, or bake it in loaf pans, or even make dinner rolls out of it.

 Rosemary Oatmeal Bread

5-5 ½ c. flour

1 package active dry yeast   

1 ½ t. salt                                                                                                

3T.  fresh rosemary, chopped  or 1 T. dried, crumbled

1 1/3 c. water

¼ c. milk

¼ c. molasses

¼ c. butter

1 egg

1 c. old fashioned oatmeal

In large bowl mix 1 cup of the flour with yeast and salt. In small pan, heat together next 5 ingredients until warm. Pour into bowl with flour mixture and beat 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup additional flour and egg and beat 2 minutes longer. Stir in oatmeal and 1 cup more flour and stir, adding enough flour to form soft dough. Turn onto lightly floured surface and knead, adding flour as needed until dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough on a greased bowl, turning to grease top and cover, allowing to rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Grease a large baking sheet and set aside. Punch dough down and divide in half. Shape each half into a ball and place on prepared sheet. Cover with towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes or until done. Loaves are done when they sound hollow when tapped lightly. Makes 2 loaves.

This versatile dough can also be shaped into loaves and places in 8×4-inch greased loaf pans. Baking time will remain the same. Dough can also be divided into 24 equal pieces and shaped into dinner rolls. Bake rolls at 375 for 15 minutes.

The Science of Creamy Mac and Cheese

Gouda Mac and Cheese

I knew about sodium citrate and its effects on cheese sauces. It took me a while to try it myself. The end result was the creamiest cheese sauce ever. Now I use it all the time when I want a really creamy cheese sauce. We made two versions of mac and cheese in a cooking class with kids. We made the traditional roux-based recipe and the less traditional sodium citrate version. The kids preferred the sodium citrate version by far.

Sodium citrate is the natural salt of citric acid. It has a sour taste, and is used as a preservative and food additive. It is also used in sour candies.

For a lot of us, making a cheese sauce involves making a classic white sauce, or béchamel. Flour and butter are combined in a saucepan, then heated together until the butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Then you add milk, cream or half and half. Once the mixture thickens, you add the cheese and end up with a cheese sauce. Wonderful and classic, but some cheeses don’t melt that well. You end up with a tasty, but somewhat un-creamy end product.

There is a way to make the creamiest cheese sauce ever and it involves a little science. When you make a cheese sauce, the cheese will melt, but sometimes has a grainy texture. That is because of the way the proteins bond with calcium in the cheese. When you combine warmed liquid with a little sodium citrate, then add the cheese, the sodium substitutes for some of the calcium and the cheese breaks down better. The end result is a really creamy sauce.

The liquid you use can be water or milk. I like half and half. I found several recipes on line. I played around, and ended up with the recipe below. Some directions said you have to use an immersion blender to get a creamy result. I did that the first time and the sauce was very creamy. I used a whisk the next time. I found whisking worked just fine.

You want to be sure to use food grade sodium citrate.

Super Creamy Mac and Cheese

12 oz. dry pasta

2 T. butter

1¼ c. half and half – you can also use water, milk, broth

2½ t. sodium citrate

12 oz. finely shredded cheese- I used Gouda, but cheddar, Muenster or any cheese that melts well, will work

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, place in bowl and toss with the butter. Set aside. Heat half and half in a saucepan, over medium heat. Stir in the sodium citrate and bring to a simmer. Add the cheese slowly, about ¼ cup at a time, whisking well until melted before adding more. Sauce will become thick and creamy. Once all the cheese has been added, stir in the prepared pasta, adjust seasonings and serve. If you like, you can place mac and cheese in a casserole, top with buttered bread crumbs and bake until bread crumbs are toasted, about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Serves 4.

Dukkah – A Taste of Egypt

Dukkah

Dukkah is an Egyptian dish that is a mix of toasted nuts and spices. It has a wonderful fragrance and crunchy texture. A lot of the flavor comes from toasting the nuts and spices before grinding them up. Toasting really brings out the flavor of both the nuts and the other ingredients.

Dukkah is traditionally served with olive oil and bread. You put some dukkah in a little bowl, and put olive oil in another little bowl. Dip your bread in the oil and then in the dukkah. I like to sprinkle it on fish or chicken before baking. Dukkah is also good tossed with cooked veggies, or sprinkled on an omelet. So simple and so tasty.

Dukkah

¾ c. each whole, blanched almonds and hazelnuts
½ c. (scant) coriander seeds
¼ c. cumin seeds
6 T. sesame seeds
In 300-degree oven toast nuts for about 20 minutes or until golden. Bake cumin and coriander seeds, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until you can smell them. Toast sesame seeds for about 5 minutes. Cool all ingredients. If you prefer, you can toast the seeds in a skillet, over medium heat. Just place the coriander and cumin seeds in a skillet and heat, stirring often until they become fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the sesame seeds and continue toasting until sesame seeds are golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Be careful not to burn them. Grind sesame seeds and spices into a coarse powder. In processor, chop nuts fine and combine with spices. To serve dukkah: pour olive oil in a small bowl. Place crusty bread and dukkah on a plate. Dip bread in oil then in the dukkah. I also use dukkah sprinkled on chicken and fish. Store in fridge or freezer for extended freshness.

Toasting the spices
Serving Dukkah with olive oil and bread

Apple Galette

Apple Galette

If you like apple pie,  you will like apple galette. A galette is made by rolling out your crust, adding filling and folding up the edges. No pie pan involved.

I actually find a galette easier to make than pie. You don’t have to try to roll out your dough to fit into the pie pan. Nor does you dough have to be rolled into a perfect circle.

That takes a lot of pressure off, if rolling a perfect circle of dough is not your best talent. I must confess to liking its rustic charm. I make my own crust, but you can used purchased crusts, if you prefer.

You can serve your galette with ice cream, whipped cream or dusted with powdered sugar. You can make it with other fruits, as well. Any fruit pie can become a galette.

Apple Galette

Flaky Pie Crust

2 c. flour

1 t. salt

3/4 c. butter, chilled

1 T. cider vinegar

4-5 T. cold water

Combine flour and salt and cut in butter. Toss in vinegar and water 1 tablespoon at a time until dough holds together. Use a fork to toss the ingredients together and as soon as the mixture holds together stop adding water. Makes 2. Chill well before using.

Filling:

5-6 medium apples- I used Jonathan, Gala and Macintosh

2/3 c. sugar- plus extra for sprinkling

3 T. cornstarch

1 T. cinnamon

1 T. Lemon juice, plus extra for treating the apples

1 t. nutmeg

1 t. vanilla

1/2 t. salt

Prepare dough. Roll half the dough into a 10-inch circle- repeat with remaining dough. Keep covered with plastic wrap until ready to use. Peel and core apples and slice thin. Place apples in water with lemon juice added to prevent browning. Drain apple slices well and place in a bowl. Toss with the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and seasonings. Place one of the crusts on a baking sheet. Pile half of the prepared apples on the center of the crust. You should have about a 2-inch circle of dough around the edges that is uncovered. Fold edges of the crust up over the apples pressing lightly to hold in place. Sprinkle with a little extra sugar. Repeat with the remaining crust and apples. You will have a little liquid in the bowl from the apple mixture- save that for now. Place the galettes in a preheated 425 degree oven and bake for 15 minutes. Turn down heat to 350 and bake for another 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown. While galettes are baking take the liquid left from the apples and cook in a small saucepan until thickened- it will take a minute or two. This will be used to glaze the galettes. When galettes come out of the oven brush the apples with the thickened  glaze.  Cool on wire rack. Makes 2.

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