Saturday, October 8, 2011

Orchard Cooler

This is a drink which is an invention born of Mother Necessity. Last weekend, our family met up with my best friend's family and my brother in-law's family for an afternoon of fun at the local apple orchard. One thing led to another, and we decided to all make the trek back to our place for pizza and beer. Alas, our beer supply was pitifully low... so I went about trying to find a drink to fill in if necessary. The Orchard Cooler was born. First try. Yes, I'm impressed too. There are precious few ingredients in this drink, so they NEED to be top quality. The pear brandy I used was a souvenir from our vacation to Portland, two summers ago. It was distilled here. (On a side note, Edgefield is pretty much the most amazing destination we've ever been to... our 9 year old is still talking about it weekly, over a year later.) The cider is pressed at a local MN orchard. You do NOT want the completely clear, tasteless cider that you will find on the store shelves. This time of year, you should be able to find good cider in the produce or refrigerated section at your grocery store. Better yet, if you're able -- buy directly from the orchard that presses the cider.

1.5 oz high quality pear brandy
3 dashes cinnamon
small pinch nutmeg
about 8 oz. fresh apple cider

In a coctail shaker, combine all ingredients. Shake well until well mixed and foamy. Pour into pub glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick, if desired/available.
We just drank these straight up, but I bet they would be amazing with homemade pretzels, or buttered popcorn.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thai Rice Pudding

This is a very loosely adapted (so loosely that I don't even need to reference it) recipe from an old cookbook of mine. It was one of those "bargain" cookbooks from the cheap section at Barnes and Noble, and I soon discovered why... major misprints and omissions. Such as omitting the temperature at which their version of coconut rice pudding should be cooked. But it got me thinking -- what about making it in the slow cooker? The original recipe was finicky in that you had to watch it bake in the oven for 3+ hrs, stirring every once in a while and making sure it wouldn't burn. The slow cooker method takes that out of the equation. I played with the ingredients and switched a bunch of things around, and this is what I got... it's a combination of three of my favorite things: rice, coconut, and lime; all wrapped up into one happy bowl of comfort food.


1 cup arborio rice

2 cans coconut milk (not reduced fat)

2 cups milk*

1/2 cup brown sugar*

zest of 1/2 lime

1/4 tsp salt

toasted coconut

lime wedges (optional)

In a slow cooker, mix the following: rice, coconut milk, milk, brown sugar, and lime zest. Cook on medium for about 2 hrs, or until the rice has fully plumped up and the sauce has thickened considerably.

Serve warm with a generous heap of toasted coconut on top, and garnish with lime wedge if desired.

*for my vegan friends: substitute soy or almond milk for dairy, and you could use any vegan sweetener of your choice (turbinado sugar, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, etc.).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Creme Brulee

A dessert usually seen on restaurant menus, and less often on the home cook's kitchen table... creme brulee is an unjustifiably feared dish to prepare. This recipe makes an intimidating dessert very easy. Not only that, but it is also one of the best version of creme brulee I've had. Often, creme brulee is too firm, eggy, sweet, and/or runny. This recipe makes a rich, velvety custard. The recipe I use is adapted from the one found in "Coffee: The Essential Guide to the Essential Bean". It can be found on Amazon at


9 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1 tsp real vanilla extract

1 cup of half and half

3 cups of cream

sugar for caramelizing

Oven: 325 F

In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks along with sugar, salt and vanilla until slightly lightened in color and sugar is well incorporated. At the same time: in a large saucepan, heat cream and half and half over medium heat until a skin forms on top. Remove from heat. Add about 1/3 of the hot cream to the egg yolk mixture, whisking continually. Once well incorporated, add yolk/cream mixture back into hot cream -- again, whisking the whole time. Once well blended, pour mixture through a wire mesh strainer back into the original bowl. Place 6 Pyrex custard cups in a 9x13 cake pan. Fill custard cups with the creme brulee mixture, nearly to the top but leave enough room to move the pan without spilling the custard. Place on oven rack of preheated oven. Pour hot or boiling water into the pan around the custard cups until it comes about 1/2 of the way up the sides of the cups. Cook for 40-60 minutes until edges look set but the center (size of a quarter to half dollar) is still wobbly. Remove from oven. Take custard cups out of water bath and place on a rack to cool to room temperature. Cover each cup with a square of plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.
For serving: sprinkle a teaspoon or so of sugar on the top of each custard. Using either a dessert torch or small propane torch, gently melt the sugar on the tops of the custard until is is a deep brown and no sugar crystals remain. This part takes a bit of practice, but the mistakes are tasty. I use a standard handyman's propane torch... it cost me all of $12 at the hardware store. I find it works better than the small butane culinary torches and costs about 1/4 of the price. Not to mention the propane torch is useful for other things than just melting sugar. Let the desserts sit for about a minute to let the sugar harden, then serve immediately with a cup of freshly made strong coffee, or perhaps a dark porter or stout beer to cut the richness.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Curried Chickpeas

Indian (of the subcontinent, not Native American) food is probably our favorite cuisine to cook at home. Part of it is out of sheer necessity; neither St. Cloud nor our prior city of residence, La Crosse, has a single Indian restaurant. I've had to learn some basic techniques of Indian cooking. This has come from a few great cookbooks, and a heck of a lot of experimentation. There have been pots of curry gone wrong... very wrong. But overall, I think I've gotten pretty consistent with turning out decent, sometimes even excellent, Indian meals. This is an example of a dish that came out of simple trial and error.



2 tablespoons vegetable oil

large onion, diced very small

3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed

1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and shredded
2 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoon curry powder

zest of one lemon

2 cups chicken stock

2 cans chickpeas, drained

3/4 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt

palmful of cilantro, chopped

salt, if needed

In dutch oven or deep large saucepan over medium heat, brown onion in oil until golden brown. Add grated ginger and minced garlic and stir for about 1 minute. Add curry powder, honey, and lemon zest and stir for another 1 minute. Add chicken stock and chickpeas. Bring to a boil. Cook at a low boil for about 20 - 30 minutes until liquid has reduced to at least half the volume or less and starts to thicken a bit. Remove from heat. Add yogurt, a little bit at a time, stirring constantly to try to avoid curdling. (if the yogurt curdles, the dish isn't ruined... it just won't look as pretty) Add chopped cilantro. Adjust seasoning by adding a little salt if needed. You can increase spiciness by adding cayenne pepper or using a spicy curry mix. Serve over basmati rice. Serves 4-5. It's easy to make this vegetarian by substituting water or vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"French Toast and Bacon" Cupcakes

Simply put, these are the best cupcakes I’ve ever made and probably the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten. Yes, I know, a bold statment. Bacon in desserts is a big trend, and I’m certainly not the first to put bacon on a cupcake. Regardless, I’m thrilled that this recipe turned out so well on the first try. These treats taste exactly like French toast with butter, maple syrup and a side of bacon. It’s a great excuse to eat cake for breakfast (as if we really needed an excuse?).


Glazed walnuts:
24 walnut halves
¼ cup real maple syrup
Pinch of salt

French toast cupcakes:
1 package of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup oil
1 1/3 cup water
1 tsp cinnamon

Maple buttercream:
½ cup butter (salted), room temp
½ cup butter flavor Crisco
1 lb. confectioners sugar
¼ cup milk
2 tsp imitation maple flavor extract

Bacon bits:
1 lb. high quality bacon

Start cooking bacon while you prepare the glazed walnuts. I bake my bacon on a foil-covered jelly roll pan in the oven at 375 F. You want to cook the bacon long enough that it is VERY dark brown and completely crispy. You definitely don’t want any soft fat left. I let mine go to a dark brown, just a few minutes shy of almost burning it. It was perfect. Let cool and break into small shards about the size of your pinky nail.

To make the walnuts, place the nuts, salt and syrup in a small sautee pan over low-medium heat. Stir constantly. Syrup will start to bubble, and in several minutes it will start to thicken. Cook the nuts until the syrup gets so thick that it completely coats the nuts and starts to lose some of its sheen. Make sure not to let the syrup/nut mixture burn. Pour the nuts onto parchment paper or foil, separate the nuts and let them cool.
For the cupcakes, blend the cake mix along with the oil, eggs, water and cinnamon on low with a hand mixer for 2 minutes. Pour into lined muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees for 18-22 mins just until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs clinging to it. Remove from pan and let cupcakes cool completely on a wire rack.

For the maple buttercream, blend the butter and Crisco together in a large bowl with a hand mixer until well combined and softened. Add the confectioners sugar and blend into the fat mixture – icing will be very dry at this point. Add milk and maple flavoring, whip on medium to high for 1-2 minutes until frosting is light and fluffy and has increased in volume. If frosting is not a spreadable consistency, add more milk about 1 TBS at a time to achieve the thickness you want.

Assembly: Take a cooled cupcake, and frost with a generous dollop of maple buttercream. Place one glazed walnut half into top of icing for garnish. Sprinkle some of the bacon bits over the top of the cupcake, gently pressing if needed for bacon to adhere to the icing.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Beer-Cheese Spread


This dip is a quick, easy, and delicious party dish. You can literally whip it up in about 5 minutes. It is wonderful with crusty bread, pretzels, or crackers. My friend Jen also used it as a spread on grilled smoked turkey sandwiches, as well as tossed into some mashed potatoes and said it was "super yummy". If you don't like beer, I'd imagine that you could substitute 6 oz. of white wine in place of the beer. Then again, if you don't like beer, what on earth are you doing reading this blog??? :) The cheeses you use in this could be substituted with almost any variety; however, I've found that the sharper the better (although I'd stay away from using blue-veined cheeses, I suspect those would be TOO intense). The beer should actually be something light in color and flavor... a basic American pilsner *gasp* will do fine.


1 clove garlic
1 stick of butter, room temp/softened
8 oz of extra sharp cheddar, room temperature
8 oz of Monterey Jack, room temperature
about 1/3 to 1/2 bottle of beer
few pinches of salt, to taste (if needed)

In the bowl of a food processor, chop garlic clove until minced finely. Chop cheese into roughly 1" cubes and toss into food processor with butter and the 1/3 bottle of beer. Puree until everything comes together in a smooth paste; this may take a few minutes, as the cheese will have to incorporate fully into the mixture (this is why the cheese should be room temp). If the spread seems too thick, add a little more beer to get a nice rich but spreadable/dipable consistency. Keep in mind that the spread will firm up a bit in the fridge because of the cheese and butter. Add a pinch or two of salt if needed, blend (whether or not you'll need salt and how much depends on how salty your cheese is to start with). Transfer to a lidded bowl and refrigerate at least 1 hr. Will keep a few days in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brown Butter Cookies

There has been a surge of brown butter recipes as of late on the web... largely inspired by a recent article in the now-retired Gourmet Magazine. Brown butter is an amazing ingredient -- it's the result of cooking butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it starts to foam and turn a caramel brown. This results in caramelization of the milk solids and alters the flavor of the butter to an amazing nutty, toffee-like taste. I've seen it used in everything from pasta sauce to cakes and cookies.

With Nathan deployed for a year, baking and shipping cookies has been fairly high on my priority list. I wanted to come up with a brown butter cookie recipe of my own, and after some trial and error, invented one I really love. It is a salty-sweet cookie with a sparkling sugar coat and would be perfect for your holiday gift baskets. Or just to eat by the fistful with a big glass of milk. Whatever floats your boat. ;)


1 cup of butter, browned and cooled to room temp. (You can do this part up to 1 day ahead. The butter won't firm up after it cools, it will be semi-liquid and grainy. Don't worry, it will whip up beautifully when the eggs are added to the batter. )

1.5 cups white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

2.5 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup sugar for coating

In a large mixing bowl, combine browned butter and sugar. Mix until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla and whip until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Sift flour, salt, soda, and baking powder together into wet mixture. Mix just until well blended. Form into 1" balls (I used a small cookie scoop which worked great), and roll in additional sugar until coated. Place about 3 inches apart on a cookie sheet. I line mine with parchment paper -- well worth a few bucks for the roll. When the cookies come out of the oven, i just pull the whole sheet of parchement off, cookies and all, and cool that way. No mess, no crumbs, no cookies falling through wire racks. Bake at 400 F for about 8-10 minutes. You want the cookies to take on a sandy brown color but not cook so long they dry out. Experiment a little to see what doneness you prefer. Less time = chewier cookie. I like mine on the crisp side, so 10 mins was about right. They still had some chew in the center but the outer edges were crisp and wonderful.