Friday, June 20, 2008

Mayonnaise without the Jar

My mom sends me some leftover cooking magazines every now and again. I appreciate them, and sometimes I find some really awesome stuff in there. Most of them have really elegant, labor-intensive recipes for exotic-sounding dishes. Imagine my surprise when I came across a recipe (and positively hilarious accompanying editorial) for mayonnaise in a recent edition of Bon Appetit.

Mayonnaise? Is there anything elegant or exotic-sounding about mayonnaise? I didn't think so, but something about the witty musings sparked my interest. One can make mayonnaise? From scratch? I don't think I even really knew what mayonnaise was made out of before this adventure: I just assumed it was a base element or something.

I went forward, botched the first batch (seriously: pour the oil in slowly), but the second one was like a little piece of creamy heaven delivered to my kitchen. I kid you not, it was 11:45 pm (what else was I going to do at quarter to midnight?), and I was so excited I cooked a chicken breast, diced some celery, green onions, and fresh dill to make a chicken salad sandwich just so I could enjoy it. It was the best sandwich I have ever had after midnight.

Homemade Mayonnaise

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 3/4 cup oil (you'll want a mild-flavored oil for this)
Beat the egg yolk with the lemon juice, then add the rest of the ingredients except for the oil, and beat well together.

Now, this is where the fun begins. Start beating, and very, very slowly (almost 1 drop at a time), add about 1/4 cup of the oil. Never allow the oil to collect or pool, or it won't emulsify* correctly. After the initial oil is added, pour in the rest of the oil in a steady, thin stream. Add salt to taste and enjoy. It won't last more than just a few days, so enjoy quickly.

*I didn't know what emulsify meant, so I had to look it up: to create a mixture of two liquids that do not mix together well, such as oil and water, to which other ingredients are added to help hold the mixture together

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Simple Peach Tart

This one is modified from a recipe from one of my all-time favorites, Ina Garten. Her "Rustic Apple Crostata" looked amazing, and not that difficult, but I had some fresh summer peaches I really wanted to showcase. The result was a surprisingly easy dish with a clean, unadorned summer flavor. Its kind of lumpy, homely appearance has an endearing charm to it, and it pairs perfectly with homemade vanilla ice cream for a perfect summer dessert.

Simple Peach Tart


For the crust:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut up
  • 1/4 cup very cold water
For the filling and topping:
  • 1 1/2 pound fresh peaches, cut into wedges, skins attached
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut up
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

For the crust: in the bowl of a food processor with the metal blade, pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt until well mixed. Add the pieces of butter, and pulse until the butter is diced up and mixed with the flour, but still crumb-like. While still pulsing, add the cold water in a thin, steady stream. Keep pulsing until the dough is even throughout, but not yet smooth.

Roll the dough out on a oiled and floured cookie sheet or pizza pan to a circle about as large as a pie tin (make sure the dough isn't so thin that it will tear easily). Place the sliced peaches in the center of the dough, spreading them out but maintaining at least a 1 inch border around the edge.

For the filling/topping: back in the food processor, pulse the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together until mixed. Add the rest of the butter and pulse until crumb-like. Sprinkle the mixture over the peaches, then fold over the edges of the crust onto the peaches.

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the topping is browned. Serve with ice cream.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Life lesson learned: I love food with a twist. Most people have a preconceived idea of how everything should taste, and I think that really great food subtly challenges those ideas. Often times, there's just the tiniest little hint of something unexpected, and that makes a great dish sparkle.

Often times, if you told someone what the magic ingredient was, they might turn up there noses at it, but when creatively just snuck in, they may not even notice. Some of my favorite unexpected combinations include:
  • Balsamic vinegar and strawberries: when making a strawberry sauce or glaze, just a hint of balsamic vinegar
  • Watermelon and lime
  • Curry and apples: just a hint of curry in an apple pie, wow
  • Orange and broccoli
  • Pork and raspberry: I love to put some pureed raspberries in gravy to go on pork
  • Balsamic vinegar and vanilla ice cream: if you've never tried it, it sounds disgusting, but a tablespoon a high quality vinegar just right on top of the ice cream is amazing
Please comment and share some of your favorite, unexpected flavor combinations.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Buttermilk Dill Potato Salad

Potato salad. What do you think of? Homogeneous, yellow-ish, gloop? Grocery store tubs of mayonnaise with microscopic vegetables?

It's unfortunate if that's what you think of. I have a very distinct memory: a big gallon bag of leftover potato salad from the kitchen of a caterer in Wisconsin. Sure, she was just giving us some wedding leftovers, but that salad was the thing dreams are made of. There were big ole' chunks of red potatoes with the peels still on, large pieces of dill, and a creamy, obviously-more-than-just-mayo dressing. I long for that potato salad. Sometimes it keeps me up at night. Well, maybe not, but I have wanted it again for years.

With a little help from some other food bloggers, a little creativity, and some experimentation, here is what resulted.

Buttermilk Dill Potato Salad

  • 5 pounds small red potatoes, halved or quartered
  • 3 - 4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 3 - 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 10 - 15 sprigs fresh dill
  • Salt & pepper to taste
For an interesting little twist on the texture, roast the potatoes instead of boil them. Put them in a roasting pan, coat with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roast at 400 degrees about 15 - 20 minutes (this will greatly vary depending on how big the potatoes are and how small you've cut them: check regularly). Let them cool.

Place the roasted potatoes, chopped eggs, red pepper, celery, and peas in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper. Pinch the leaves off the dill sprigs, leaving rather large chunks, and stir into the dressing. If the dressing is too thick, dilute with a little more buttermilk (It should be a little thicker than salad dressing). Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Pineapple Pork Mexican-Wannabe Salad

In Utah where I spent the last several years, there are a few "Fresh Mexican" restaurants, all of which are identical except for a few trivial differences. Notwithstanding, there is an enormous feud as to the quality of one versus the others. Now I have strong opinions about which is best, but this isn't the medium for that debate. They're all pretty good, but being on the east coast now, I can't feed my pork salad addiction in the same way I did in Utah. This is kind of a collection of the best of several different restaurants, but I quite like the outcome.

The term 'salad' is used loosely here; it's really more of an open burrito with lots of lettuce and toppings, but I don't complain about the semantics: I just eat.

I'll warn you on this one, it has a lot of different components, all of which need to be ready as the same time. Make what you can in advance (I find a slow cooker and a rice maker indispensable). This looks like a whole lot: it can be simplified by substituting ready-made ingredients for the salsa, guacamole, salad dressing, etc.

"Fresh Mexican" Pork Salad

  • 8 - 10 tortillas
  • 1 - 2 cans black beans
  • 1 - 2 heads romaine lettuce, chopped into thin strips
  • Pineapple pork roast
    • 1 medium pork roast (about 2 pounds)
    • 1 can pineapple tidbits
    • a few splashes or Worcestershire sauce
    • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
    • 2 - 3 tablespoons brown sugar
    • Salt and pepper
  • Cilantro lime rice
    • 3 -4 cups white rice
    • water, salt, and butter to follow rice-maker's instructions
    • a few sprigs fresh cilantro
    • 1 -2 tablespoons lime juice
    • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Caramelized onions
    • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into half-rings
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 2 -3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Tomatillo ranch dressing
    • 1 packet buttermilk ranch dressing mix
    • 1/2 cup buttermilk
    • 2/3 cup sour cream
    • 1/2 cut mayonaise
    • 1 large tomatillo
    • A splash of lime juice
    • A few springs cilantro
  • Lime wedges and cilantro sprigs, to garnish

I'm going to take you through these instructions in order of how I would do them.

The day before (or any spare time during the day):
  • Pico de gallo: make it and put it in an airtight container in the fridge
  • Tomatillo ranch dressing: combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until very smooth. Put in a container and refrigerate
The morning of the meal
  • The pork: put all the roast ingredients in a crock pot or slow cooker set on low (for about 6 - 8 hours). Just let it sit throughout the day: you want it to be very tender and juicy. You should be able to just pull it apart with tongs.
1-2 hours before the meal
  • Cilantro lime rice: put all the rice ingredients in a rice cooker and let 'er rip (I love rice cookers)
  • Guacamole: assemble the guac, cover with a little more lime juice, and refrigerate it in an airtight container (you really don't want it to go brown)
10 minutes before the meal
  • Black beans: empty the beans, juice and all, into a small saucepan and let simmer on low until heated well through
  • Onions: melt the butter in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the onions and brown sugar. Stir-fry until the onions are translucent and a golden brown.
This is how I assemble my salad: put a tortilla in a large cereal bowl, add the rice, beans, pork, and onions (all the warm ingredients). Then add the lettuce, cheese, salsa, guacamole, ranch dressing, and squeeze the lime juice over top.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hawaiian Chicken Pizza

I found out something most egregious lately: Papa Johns doesn't deliver to my neighborhood. To say I was livid is perhaps an understatement.

I really like good food, but there is a special place in my heart for pizza delivery. It just shows up, right when you want it. All those junior high memories of blissfully gorging yourself on pizza and soda without thoughts of obesity, diabetes, kidney failure, or high blood pressure just come flooding back (too bad that now I do worry about obesity, diabetes, kidney failure, and high blood pressure: it's sad what time and education will do to you).

So, angered that I couldn't just conjure up my instantaneous order of barbecue chicken pizza or whatever they call it at Papa Johns, I would just make up my own. Now, it wasn't really anything like delivery pizza, or really anything like almost any pizza. It ended up being much thicker than I anticipated (more fork-food than finger food), but liked it. Here it goes.

Hawaiian Chicken Pizza


Pizza dough (there are many great recipes for pizza dough out there: feel free to use another)
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 envelope yeast
  • 2 cups flour (plus up to 1/4 cup more)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 cup barbecue sauce (preferably a sweet sauce, like honey barbecue)
  • 1 large chicken breast, cut into strips and grilled
  • 1 cup pineapple tidbits, drained
  • 1 pound mozzarella cheese (I buy a block and then cut it into coarse chunks)
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut into rings or strips
  • 1/4 red onion, cut into thin rings
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
  • 1/4 cup crushed bacon strips (optional)
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds (optional)
  • a few sprigs fresh cilantro (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Pour the yeast into the hot water and let sit for a few minutes. Mix together the flour, salt, and sugar, then add the water/yeast and the olive oil. Stir until coated. Knead well in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment on low for about 8 - 10 minutes, or by hand (you'll build some serious muscle doing it that way). Put the dough in a bowl coated with a little more olive oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit until the dough has risen to twice its original size (about an hour). Beat it down some, then spread it out on an oiled and floured pizza stone, cookie sheet, or pizza pan.

Top the dough the barbecue sauce, then start with all the rest of the toppings. You can do it however you want, but I kind of like to layer it. This is how I did it: put the chicken and pineapple onto the layer of barbecue sauce, then cover with the mozzarella cheese. Layer the pepper and onion on top of the cheese with the cilantro (if using). Cover with the remaining cheese, then put the bacon and almonds on top.

Bake for 20 - 30 minutes, checking regularly until the crust is golden brown, the cheese is melted, and the almonds have started to brown a little.

Better than Papa Johns. Vindication at last.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Kevin's Grilled Vegetables with Red Pepper Viniagrette

Summer = grilling.

Now, depending on what side of the country you may find yourselves on, you may have different names for what is being described in this post. In my family's home state of Utah, anything cooked outdoors qualifies as 'barbecue,' but in my current home in North Carolina, 'barbecue' refers specifically to whole pigs cooked on coals slathered in vinegar. Having spent a few years in Wisconsin, where hamburgers and bratwursts on the grill constitute a 'fry out,' I have no idea what to call this activity, but I know that I love it. Something about standing in front of a hot grill with a giant set of tongs makes you feel completely in control.

This recipe comes from a good friend of mine, probably the one responsible for my culinary experimentation. I will admit, I was very skeptical of grilled avocados, but boy howdy, was I pleasantly surprised.

Grilled Vegetables with Red Pepper Vinaigrette

  • Vegetables for grilling: we used zucchini, onions, avocados, and sweet potatoes. Other good possibilities would include eggplant, bell peppers, yellow squash, portobello mushrooms, etc.
Red Pepper Vinaigrette
  • 2 red bell peppers (due to a lack of quality produce, we used one red and one orange, but the result was still quite good)
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a grill to medium-low heat. Cut the vegetables into grill-able chunks: you'll probably want to cut things a little thicker so they don't get soggy. We cut the avocados in fourths, and it worked great. Cut the red peppers for the vinaigrette into 4-5 flat segments.

Place the red pepper segments, skin-side down on the grill. Cook until the skins are charred black. Remove from the grill and place in a bowl with plastic wrap covering. Let set for a few minutes.

Place the rest of the vegetables on the grill. Be aware that many vegetables cook at different speeds: this is kind of an exercise in timing. Sweet potatoes take the longest, while zucchini took the shortest. Put the firmer, denser vegetables on first, then follow after a few minutes with the rest.

While the vegetables are grilling (keep an eye on them!), peel the charred skins off the pepper. Put the pepper flesh, the tomato, olive oil, vinegar, and some salt and pepper in a blender and process until smooth.

Once the vegetables are done (you want soft, but not mushy), serve with the vinaigrette.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry shortcake. Everyone's had it a bagillion times, but the name itself begs the obvious question: what really is a shortcake? I mean, don't get me wrong; there's usually always cake involved, but I'm pretty sure that somewhere we've migrated away from what strawberry shortcake's founding fathers had envisioned.

I've had unnatural-looking strawberry gloop on top of angel food cake a whole bunch, and sometimes even on just straight-from-the-box yellow cake. As quick and easy as these alternatives are, they don't really satiate that part of my childhood that remembers made-from-scratch, flaky, slightly sweet drop biscuits with strawberry sauce and real whipped cream (Mom, with all her ultra-healthy ways, always had a soft spot for real whipped cream).

The last time I saw Mom, we sat down and pulled out that old shortcake recipe from where it had been hiding, and I threw in a few little twists to the strawberry sauce that I got from
Bon Appétit magazine. Unfortunately, this was such an impromptu event that upon realizing that there was no whipping cream available, we opted to just use the stuff from the can. I would recommend against it, except in emergency dessert situations.

Strawberry Shortcake


Shortcake biscuits
  • 2 Cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2/3 cup milk
Strawberry Filling
  • 2 quarts fresh strawberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
  • splash lemon juice
  • Whipped cream to top

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the butter into the sugar, flour, baking powder with a food processor with the plastic dough blade (you could do this by hand, but it's such a chore) until the mixture looks like meal or fine crumbs. Transfer to another bowl and add the egg and milk, stirring until just mixed. Drop heaping spoonfuls of the dough onto a greased cookie sheet (enough to make 8 biscuits) and bake for about 10 minutes until the tips and ridges turn golden brown. Don't overcook or it becomes too hard and not dessert-like.

Strawberry Filling

Cut the strawberries into slices of fourths. Heat a little oil or butter in a large saucepan and sauté the strawberries until slightly soft. Add the sugar, cinnamon, orange zest, and lemon juice and stir until the sugar is dissolved in the juice. You really don't want this to be too runny, but it should thicken as it cools.

Cut the biscuits in half, and thickly layer the strawberries and whipped cream on the bottom half. Place the top on and serve. There you have it: childhood summer memories on a plate.