Saturday, December 18, 2010

Salted Caramel Butter Bars

Yes these are rich. Yes they are supremely buttery. Yes, they melt in your mouth. No, you cannot just eat one.

I had to bring something into work to share with co-workers and I wanted something different and I came across this recipe. (Original source here)  They are amazingly good. Give them a try.

Preparation and Method:

For the Crust:

1 lb. butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1½ cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
4 cups flour

For the Filling:

1 bag (14 oz.) caramel candies (about 50 individual caramels), unwrapped
⅓ cup milk or cream or half and half
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt 

To make the crust:

In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugars. Using mixer on medium speed, beat together until creamy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. Add flour and mix until smooth.

Spray a 9x13 inch baking pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust.
Place remaining crust mixture in the refrigerator

Preheat to 325F.

Bake crust  until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown approximately 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool about 15 minutes.

While the bottom crust is baking and the remaining dough is chilling, make the caramel filling. Place the unwrapped caramels in a saucepan, add the cream and vanilla and cook and stir over low to medium heat until completely melted. (You can also use the microwave in short bursts to melt the caramel mixture.)

Pour the caramel filling over the crust. Generously salt with sea salt.

Remove the remaining chilled dough from the refrigerator and crumble it evenly over the caramel. You may find the chilled dough doesn't "crumble" that easily. If so, just place on a cutting board and chop into the
size pieces you want for the topping.

Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbly and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm and lightly golden, about 25 - 30 minutes.

Let cool, and cut into squares.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Double Chocolate Pudding

I know Chocolate Pudding. Who eats chocolate pudding anymore?  I do. Not often, but last week I just had the urge for some deep, thick, homemade, chocolate pudding with a touch of whipped cream. (The urge resulted in my making Chocolate Cream pie for Thanksgiving later, but that's another post)

This pudding is simply so delicious and easy to make. It is rich too, so I would not portion it into big bowls. A little of this pudding goes a long way. 

Ingredients and Method:

1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
Whipped cream

In a measuring cup add 1/2 cup of the cold milk to the cornstarch. Mix thoroughly and pour into medium saucepan. Turn to medium heat and immediately add cocoa powder, sugar, salt, balance of milk, and three beaten egg yolks. Mix well. Stir constantly until the mixture just begins to simmer. Add half and half and vanilla extract and continue to heat until the pudding thickens. Do not boil!  When it has thickened (approximately seven minutes) remove from heat and add chocolate. (The mixture may appear lumpy, that's ok, don't worry it will smooth out just fine)  Stir the chocolate until completely melted and incorporated into the pudding.

Pour into serving dishes, and refrigerate for 2 hours until completely cooled. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Enjoy, and don't say I didn't warn you. This is addictive pudding, I'm tellin' ya. I got a bet for ya. You got a chocolate craving?  You won't after you eat one of these.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Chip Cookies with Sea Salt

I looked in my cabinet the other day and checked the expiration dates on some semi-sweet chocolate and some peanut butter chips I had, and they were to be out of date in a couple of weeks. I didn't want to waste
them so what to make?  Um, cookies????   Yeah, I think so. So I tinkered with another of my recipes for Chocolate Butterfinger Cookies and made Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies with Peanut Butter Chips and Chocolate Chips, and since I'm totally addicted to salty sweet, dusted them with sea salt. All I know is, they didn't last long when I brought a couple dozen to work.

Ingredients and Method:
4 oz butter, room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Sea salt for dusting

In a mixing bowl, cream together the sugars and butter. Add peanut butter and cocoa powder and mix well. 
Add eggs, one at a time and fully incorporate. Then add the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and combine. Add vanilla extract.  Add the two chips and mix just long enough to distribute them.

Refrigerate dough for 15 minutes to make it easier to work with.  On a baking sheet covered with parchment paper (if you use parchment paper, it sure makes cleanup easier) drop by tablespoonfuls on the sheet about 2 inches apart. Pick up each scoop and shape it into a ball and then press down on it slightly. (Doing this prevents the cookie from spreading too much and makes them more uniform) Repeat until all dough is used.
Dust with coarse sea salt. A pinch sprinkled over each cookie is perfect.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Do not over bake. They may not look completely done, but they are.

Remove to cooling rack. Then grab a very cold glass of milk, and eat 5 of them when still a bit warm, and don't tell anybody. Your secret is safe with me.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sponge Candy

I've never made candy. Well, I've made fudge, which I guess is a type of candy, but other than that, nothing.

When I was a kid, I used to come across a candy bar in the downtown Walgreen's drugstore that was from Australia. It was in a bright purple wrapper with yellow writing (I don't remember the name of it) but it was a chocolate covered sponge and honeycomb type candy. I loved them. The honeycomb just melted in your mouth as soon as you touched it with your tongue. You didn't chew this candy per se, you savored it slowly. Well, guess what?

I came across a recipe by Christine Cushing on Food Network Canada and it was so simple and straightforward, I decided to try it.  It was easy and so delicious. And it was my SPONGE CANDY I used to love as a child. I also made a batch and added some molasses which was great also.

This would be a real fun item to make with your children, although well supervised, given it calls for boiling hot sugar!  But it's fun to watch it boil up and foam when you add the baking soda, and then harden into a delicious candy....

I think you should give it a try, it's quick, easy and delicious! And although it might not bring back childhood memories like it did for me, ya never know, it might create a memory or two for your child(ren).

Ingredients and Method:

Crisco or vegetable oil for greasing the baking dish
2 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cups light corn syrup
6 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup molasses if you want that flavor of candy

Layer an 13 x 9 baking dish with aluminum foil, and allow the foil to hang over the edges. Spread crisco or
oil over the aluminum foil and set aside.

In a deep heavy saucepan add sugar, corn syrup, and water. Stir once to distribute the sugar and water
and syrup. Begin heating over medium heat and monitor temperature with a candy thermometer.

A lot of sugar boiled recipes always talk about if sugar crystals form on the side of the pan to brush them with cold water. I had no such problem. This stuff just boiled and boiled just fine.

Do not stir but do monitor the liquid as it boils. When it reaches approximately 250 degrees add the vanilla, and the molasses if desired. Continue heating until it reaches 300 degrees (Hard Crack stage)

Remove from heat and sift/sprinkle the baking soda all over the sugar mixture. It will begin to vigorously  bubble up and foam. Stir to evenly distribute the baking soda as much as possible.

Pour molten candy into the prepared dish, scraping the sides of the pan. Let the candy cool completely.

Lift out of the pan using the tinfoil and place on cutting board. I used a piece of waxed paper to cover the candy, and gently broke it into pieces using a small wooden tenderizing hammer. In any event, the object is to shatter the candy into bite size pieces.

Enjoy this melt-in-your-mouth treat!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Giveaway!

This giveaway ended on November 2nd, 2010 at 5:00 PM

That being said I'm about to announce the winner of the $60.00 gift certificate.

I wish everyone could win, but only one can.....

And the winner is:

BETHANY - Entry Number 13!!!!

So let me ask you a question. If I gave ya a $60.00 gift certificate, what would you buy?

Would it be: A Krups Espresso Machine?

Or a set of knives?

Or a slow cooker?

Or one of thousands of other products? Well, you might get the chance as CSN is helping with another giveaway. 

CSN Stores has over 200 online stores where you can find everything from stylish handbags, to modern bar stools, or great cookware!

I naturally showed pictures of cookware and stuff for the kitchen because I have a food blog, but you can buy whatever you want at their sites. If you win the drawing, I will have them send you a promotional code worth $60.00 for anything they carry. Not a bad deal.

All you need to do is leave a comment telling me what you might buy. Doesn't matter what you finally decide on if you win, just let me know what you might buy. And leave your email address in typed out format so I can contact you if you win. That's it!

I will use Random.Org to select the winner after the deadline which is November 2nd at 5:00 pm West Coast time.

Thanks for reading my blog, and visiting, and thanks for entering. I value each and every one of my visitors.

Good Cooking! The Merlin Menu

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cinnamon Currant Bread - Dutch Oven Style

I recently posted some no-knead bread I baked in a Dutch Oven and it came out so well I couldn't wait to try it with a different dough. This time I didn't preheat the dutch oven, and made a dough that I kneaded as normal. I let it rise the second time on parchment paper in the pot, and preheated the oven, baked it covered in the dutch oven for a while and finished uncovered so the crust browns and it came out in fantastic shape.

This is the recipe I use for my cinnamon rolls usually, but this time, just wanted some bread with a touch of cinnamon and currants. I'll be toasting this at work this week, with some butter. Man, ya gotta love bread.

It's my new cooking toy, my Dutch Oven. I'm Lovin' the Oven.

Ingredients and Method:
2 packages yeast
1 cup milk, heated to about 110 degrees
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg beaten
4 tablespoons butter, melted, but not too hot
Approx. 3 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup currants

Add yeast to mixing bowl along with brown sugar. Add beaten egg and butter to milk, mix and melt until warm, not more than 110 degrees. (If it's too hot to the touch, it's too hot to add to the yeast)

Mix egg, butter and milk with yeast and sugar mixture and let sit for 15 minutes until it foams (proofs).

Add 3 cups flour, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg and mix well.  Add currants and continue to mix until well incorporated. Add flour in 1/4 cup increments, mixing after each addition until dough forms a shaggy ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Remove the dough hook from the mixer, scrap dough into mixing bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise, at room temperature  for at least six hours, and preferably overnight. Some may be concerned with leaving dough at room temperature with an egg as one of the ingredients. Although I've never had a problem , alternatively, you may refrigerate the dough instead. Remove dough and let come to room temperature.

Liberally sprinkle some flour on a cutting board. Scrape the dough onto the floured board and sprinkle flour over the top of the dough also. Fold dough onto itself a couple of times, and then knead 10 or 12 times to smooth it out. Place on a sheet of parchment paper and lift by paper and place in dutch oven. Cover and place in a warm place to rise for an hour to an hour and a half. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cut 3 diagonal slashes in the dough and place covered dutch oven into oven and bake for 25 minutes. Remove lid from dutch oven and continue baking for 15 minutes more. Check at 10 minutes because it'll brown very quickly.

Remove and let cool completely before cutting.

Enjoy!  And remember, lovin' the oven!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dutch Oven Bread

I have for years  made homemade bread. It's one of the most satisfying things to bake I think. And yet I have tried and tried to make bread that will have a nice crust and soft and moist inside. But that crispy outside crust is very difficult to achieve because of todays ovens. I've tried pans of steaming water, spray bottles of water while baking and various other methods but they just don't work that well. One reason is, that no matter how much steam you might be able to produce, today's ovens vent it, so it just kinda waves at your bread as it exits the oven. The fact of the matter is, that professional baking ovens, I understand, have steam injection systems into a closed oven, with allows the crust to be moistened by steam while beginning to bake, which is what creates the crust I'm talking about. (The moistness of the steam keeps the outside of the loaf from setting immediately as it does in a hot dry oven, which also helps with it's rising during baking, who knew?)

10 days ago I bought a Dutch Oven, plain cast iron, because I've always wanted to Braise meat in a long cooking process in the oven. Yes, I have a slow cooker, yes I have a pressure cooker, but I'm a foodie. We simply HAVE to try all kinds of cooking methods, don't we?

Anyway, apparently when you bake bread in a covered dutch oven, it "steams" inside the pot and therefore yields the kind of crust and texture we are all looking for. I tell ya, I opened up the lid halfway through, and was stunned at how it had risen and how delicious it looked and smelled.
Well, there is a reason you have not yet seen me post something I've made in a Dutch Oven. Because I've made two things already and they both BOMBED!  Miserably BOMBED!

I first tried to make Beef Bourguignon and the recipe I was following I think was defective because it was overcooked, and although the meat was tender and delicious, the gravy was the ugliest gray color I've ever seen. Cooked out all the color and the essence.

So, not to be deterred, I decided to make my own baked beans from scratch. It smelled delicious in here for like five hours as I slow-cooked them, and slow-cooked them, and slow-cooked them, and they STILL were hard. (Yes,  I soaked the beans overnight)

So I threw out the beans because I got tired of messing with them.

So it's Dutch Oven 2, Merlin ZERO.

Then I remembered about baking bread in a Dutch Oven. All I can say is, you gotta try this, you just gotta.

This is a no-knead bread recipe and is intended to be a kind of loose, easy dough, with a lot of bubbles.

Ingredients and Method:

1 package active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour and a bit more for dusting the bread after rising.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a bowl or mixer. Add the flour and salt (in that order) and mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest on a counter at room temperature at least six hours
and preferably, overnight. (This allows the enzymes to continue to work to develop a nice flavor to
the dough)  It'll be loose and bubble up, that's ok.
Dust a cutting board with some flour and scrape the dough onto it. Sprinkle a bit of flour over the top
as it will be very sticky. Don't knead, just fold the dough over onto itself a couple of times, and shape
into a ball. If the dough is too loose, just knead in 1/4 cup of flour. Repeat as necessary until the dough is the
consistency you would like. Shape into a ball by pulling around the dough edges and folding underneath. Place on the counter on a piece of parchment paper and cover with a towel and let rise for another 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
When you are ready to bake the bread, preheat the dutch oven in the oven at 450 degrees. Carefully remove the dutch oven, take off the top, and using the parchment paper, lift up the dough ball (towel removed, of course, heh heh)  and gently drop it into the dutch oven. Use a knife to slash 3 slits in the dough, diagonally.Cover and place back in oven. 
Bake covered for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and continue baking for 15 minutes until dough is browned. Remove from oven and cool for one hour before cutting.

All I can say is....   Dutch Oven 2, Merlin ONE!

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Spaghetti and Meatballs

    I recently posted a delicious 3 ingredient Spaghetti Sauce that has received really good reviews from folks. I was asked if I could provide a meatball recipe to go along with it, and I thought, of course I can. Naturally I had to make it first, so I've been enjoying this dish for several days. Hope you like it.

    One thing about meatballs, I don't like meatballs that are hard, or tough, or overcooked etc. Usually this comes about by rough handling when shaping, or frying or baking first before adding to a sauce. The secret to delicious melt in your mouth meatballs is to treat it gently and to cook the meatballs in the sauce, not pre-cooked or fried.

    I hope you like this recipe. It's awfully good, and like I said, you can't beat the sauce. (Here's the recipe for the 3 ingredient  sauce as well as my slow-cooker recipe)

    Ingredients and Method:
    1 cup Breadcrumbs
    1/3 cup milk
    8 ounces ground beef
    8 ounces ground pork
    1 cup ground Parmesan Cheese
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup chopped parsley
    1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
    2 eggs (beaten)
    2 garlic cloves, finely minced, or pressed

    Mix milk and breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Set aside

    Place beef and pork to a bowl and add cheese, salt, pepper, parsley, garlic, nutmeg and beaten eggs.

    Drain milk from breadcrumbs and add to meat mixture.

    Mix all ingredients together gently by hand. Try not to compress or squeeze the meat mixture. You're trying
    to just combine them thoroughly and yet keep a "looseness" to the meat.

    Refrigerate for 20 minutes so it will be easier to shape into meatballs.

    Shape into meatballs about the size of a golf ball using a gentle touch. Add directly to cooking sauce 30 minutes before the sauce is done. (If making slow cooker sauce, then add the meatballs one hour prior to
    the end of the cooking cycle.)

    I made this with my 3 ingredients spaghetti sauce, and dusted it with shaved Parmesan. It was delicious.


    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    You Know You're a Foodie Society Member if.....

    1. You actually plan your shopping list by searching the recipes you want to make, and post,  and buying those ingredients too.

    2. You wind up two weeks later throwing out about two of the things you bought because you just never "got around to" making the buttermilk pound cake or the ricotta cheesecake.

    3. You've ever covertly tried to take photos of the meal you just prepared for your guests, before you serve it, because you don't want to look like a geek and photograph their dinner as they watch.

    4. You have your own contact for special Balsamic Vinegar. (Thanks Steph for that one)

    5. You have your own "secret" source for cheap vanilla beans.... (Yeah, I'm guilty of that one.  See Link.)

    6. You decide to cook/bake things based upon expirations dates upcoming. Usually stupid things, like, I just made peanut butter rice krispie bars because my peanut butter chips are a month away from expiring.

    7. If you've ever delayed making something, because the natural light should be better tomorrow.

    8. If you've ever built a "photography light box"....  Yeah, guilty of that one too, see here.

    9. If you are conscious of the fact that you spend hundreds of $$ on groceries, and even more on gadgets, and pans, and cookers and such, and you make a measly paltry sum of tiny revenue of $xx.xx  from an ad or two you have on your bog.. And you don't care. You love to cook.  ha!  Cough, cough, Pioneer Woman excepted of course!

    10. Speaking of The Pioneer Woman, I love her and all that she does and has accomplished. But, I have to admit I looked one time at the number of "comments" only she received to one of her posts, and I calculated that times 30 days in a month, (in other words, not even counting the ones who visit who don't comment) and multiplied it by my measly rate of CPM stats or Visits or Impressions or whatever the hell it is..... and if I had THAT many visitors.....

    I'd get a $22,000 check each month!!!!

    I gotta find me a Cowgirl and move to Oklahoma!!!!

    11. You take shitty pictures of a meal you had at a restaurant because you were thinking you might blog about it, until you get home and see what you shot looks like.

    12. You have a business card for your blog.   (Again, guilty!)

    13. Your internet reader is constantly updating food blogs so you can pore over potential new ideas, concepts, or recipes to adapt, even though, you already have a thousand in draft form saved on your blog, and another 1200 saved as favorites in your reader, which if you made them all would take you until you're 137 years old if you made two a day. Yet you STILL save more, it's an addiction I tell ya!

    14. You own more than four types and flavors of salt and you know what 87% cacao means.

    15. You're at the store and see an ingredient or two that you have no recipe for.  BUT, you've ALWAYS wanted to make something using that, so you buy it, and then scour the net and your lists trying to find something to make.  Always the chance too, that this will wind up on the, shit, gotta throw this away, it's expired list. (See item 2, lol)

    16. If you have more pictures of food you've made than you do of your children on Flickr or Picasa online.

    17. You own a Dutch Oven. Period.

    18. You have, or are thinking of buying a Pressure Cooker, because it sounds cool to cook in.

    19. You loved the movie Julie & Julia although if you're a guy, like me, you don't admit it.  (Same goes for The Notebook, but for different reasons)

    20. You can't wait until they open a Sur La Table near you.

    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    Three Ingredient Tomato Sauce!

    Alright, I've been making tomato sauce for years and years and years.  And for a long time, I figured the more ingredients the better, right?   So, sauce with balsamic, and/or carrots, and/or brown sugar, tons of spices, fresh and/or dried, mushrooms occasionally, real tomatoes, canned tomatoes, different kinds of onions, etc. etc. etc.   The more the better right? ................ Wrong, apparently. Not that tomato sauce with a lot of ingredients isn't good, it's just that, sometimes, less is MORE.

    I came across an article regarding Marcella Hazan, and her recipe for Tomato Sauce.   Ahem, only three ingredients. Yes, THREE!

    What can I tell you. The sauce is amazing!  Bright, and vibrant, and tangy and absolutely delicious. Something about the butter gives the tomato sauce a "mouth feel" that is indulgent. The onion adds just a hint of depth and the tomatoes just are uncluttered by anything else. It tastes like a fresh tomato, I don't know how to describe it. I love this sauce. (I admit I did add some fresh basil, but old habits die hard).

    Next up for me is this sauce and my homemade meatballs.

    Please give it a try. I bet you are as astounded as I was.

    Ingredients and Method:

    1 28 oz canned whole or diced tomatoes (I use San Marzano)
    1 onion, quartered
    1 stick of butter
    salt, to taste

    Yup, that's it!

    Place tomatoes in a large saucepan. Cut up tomatoes if using whole ones. Add the butter. Peel and quarter the onion and place in sauce.

    Heat over medium heat until it begins to bubble and then lower heat slightly and let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard onions (or eat separately if you'd like). Taste and add salt if needed. (You may not need it if you used salted butter)

    Ladle sauce onto pasta of your choice and sprinkle with fresh Parmesan or even better, Parmesan Reggiano cheese.


    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Project Food Blog

    As some of you know, I'm affiliated with Food Buzz, an online Food Blog Community.

    They have initiated a competition for their bloggers called the Project Food Blog and I decided to participate.

    It's a 10 step process called Challenges that range from preparing a classic meal to photography, to video, to creating recipes from given ingredients and others.

    I decided to enter it because it promises to stretch my blogging talents and force me out of my comfort zone. I welcome the challenge and the opportunity to learn more.

    One of the things I pride myself on is publishing recipes that are tried and true. I want them to be foolproof so that you can depend on my blog as a reliable source to supplement you cooking and baking. I also enjoy researching and finding foods I haven't made before, perfecting them, and offering them to you so you can experience them with me.

    Anyway, part of the judging is done by YOUR VOTES, so I would appreciate you taking a moment to vote for me and allow me to continue in the challenge. Here's the link to vote: Vote for the Merlin Menu

    Or click on the badge on the left hand side of this page.  Thank you for your consideration.

    I'll do my best.

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Guinness Stout Ginger Cake

    One of the things I made over the weekend was Guinness Slow Cooker Pot Roast which will be posted in about a week. Since I had some Guinness left over I decided to make a recipe which has been in my archives forever, Guinness Stout Ginger Cake which originated from FOODday of the Oregonian.

    Now, I almost never try recipes printed in a newspaper because I've had such horrible luck with them. Ask me to tell you the Mustard Crusted Turkey I made one Thanksgiving.

    Anyway, I simply love anything ginger and I read and re-read this recipe and based upon the ingredients, I just couldn't see how it could be anything but delicious.

    It was. It was. It was. WOW. Some folks at work, who regularly get to taste my food proclaimed it one of the best I've brought in to them to try.

    If you like sweet, tons of frosting, cake with little body, this cake isn't for you.

    This one is deep, dark, pungent, with a complex mix of flavors that just linger and make you want more.  Trust me on this. Finally, a newspaper recipe I love.

    Ingredients and Method:
    1 cup molasses
    1 cup Guinness Stout
    1/2 tablespoon baking soda
    3 eggs
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup white sugar
    3/4 cup vegetable oil
    2 cups flour
    1/ 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    2 tablespoons ground ginger (yes, two tablespoons)
    3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
    1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
    confectioners sugar for finishing

    In a pan, add molasses, stout and slowly bring to a boil. Add the baking soda and immediately turn heat off. It will bubble and roil, just stir, and let settle for a few minutes until cool.

    In a mixer bowl or bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until well blended. Add oil and mix thoroughly.

    Add the molasses/stout mixture slowly into the eggs while beating.
    Add the flour a cup at a time, incorporating fully each time. Add all the spices and baking powder and beat thoroughly. The batter will be a bit thin, that's ok.

    Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan and bake for 1 hour in a 350 degree oven. Use a toothpick to check if it's completely baked.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, remove to wire rack and cool completely.

    Dust with confectioner's sugar.


    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Lemon Chicken

    Over the years I've always enjoyed cooking a variety of ethnic dishes. One of my favorites is Chinese Food.
    I got the urge to do some more Chinese cooking and decided to go to a Restaurant Sales Store and buy an authentic Wok. And did so.

    First two dishes were fried rice and a lemon chicken dish. I'm so glad I did, they were delicious. I love fried rice because of the wide variety of items you can add to it. Not all combinations work, but this one did. That being said, see my note at the bottom of this post.

    One key to the lemon chicken was to cut the chicken into pieces and let it marinade in soy sauce and sesame oil for 24 hours. The marinade completely saturated the chicken, and when cooked and eaten, the chicken was bursting with that delicious taste combination. Lastly, the lemon sauce had that perfect balance of lightly lemony taste, and a not overly thick sauce. (Adapted from Appetite for China)

    You can make these dishes in a large cast iron skillet as I have for years, but it's easier, and more fun with a wok.

    Ingredients and Method:
    2 skinless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
    1 cup cornstarch
    1/2 teaspoon pepper
    1/2 cup oil (I use Canola or Peanut)
    Sesame seeds for garnish

    4 tablespoons soy sauce
    1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

    Lemon Sauce:
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    2 teaspoons ginger, minced
    3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon yields 3 tablespoons)
    2 teaspoons lemon zest
    1/4 cup chicken stock
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon corn starch dissolved in 1/4 cup water

    chopped green onion for garnish

    Rinse and dry chicken breasts and cut into 1 inch cubes. Place in bowl and add soy sauce and sesame oil, cover and marinate for at least 8 hours and preferable 24 hours. Stir every few hours to ensure all pieces are marinated evenly.

    Blend cornstarch and pepper in a bowl, and dredge chicken directly from the marinade in the cornstarch. Cover completely and place on plate. Continue with remaining chicken.

    Add oil to wok or large sauce pan and heat to 360 degrees. Add chicken to oil (8 - 10 pieces at a time, don't crowd) and fry 2 1/2 minutes, turn the chicken over, and fry an additional 2 1/2 minutes. Remove chicken and let drain on paper towels. Let oil return to 360 degrees before cooking additional chicken.

    Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the wok or pan, add ginger and garlic and sauté briefly, approximately 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, chicken stock and sugar. Heat on medium until sugar is dissolved and then add corn starch and water. Stir until sauce thickens slightly.

    Place chicken on plate and drizzle with lemon sauce. Sprinkle with sliced scallions. Serve with white rice.

    (Note on rice. I served it with delicious fried rice, but as my dinner guest commented, the flavors in the fried rice competed with the subtle lemon taste of the chicken, and I agree, so I suggest white rice for that reason)


    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    Grilled Balsamic Peaches with Parmesan

    I know it doesn't look that good, but man, these need to be a go-to side dish for you when grilling.

    Here's one of my summer efforts that I forgot to post, so I shall now.

    I'm always on the lookout for grilled side dishes during the summer and based upon the balsamic grilled tomatoes (link here) I love to make I decided to have a go with peaches.

    Oh these were so good. I actually ate one and a half of them before my dinner was even ready. The other thing is, even if the peaches aren't the best, or not quite ripe, because you are grilling them it will make little difference to the final product. They are deliciously sweet, with the tang of balsamic and what really sets it apart I think is, I sprinkled the top with the saltiness of parmesan cheese. The combination of sweet, salty parmesan, and tart balsamic was tremendous.

    And, should you happen to try a bite of this along with a bite of your grilled steak which is topped with my award winning sauce?  Then you are living the Merlin Menu best meal I got to offer. (just joking, I got others, but this one is GOOD!)

    Do give it a try if you would and let me know what you think.

    Ingredients and Method:
    2 ripe or close to ripe peaches
    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

    Cut peaches carefully in half around the pit and remove. If the pit is hard to remove, leave it in as you
    don't want to crush the peach trying to remove it.

    Slash the cut side of the peach diagonally a few times (or cut around the pit if it is still in) and slowly
    sprinkle with balsamic so it permeates the slits in the peach.

    Place on tinfoil or small pan directly onto a hot grill and grill about 5 minutes until it is very soft.

    Remove (it will be very soft so be careful), remove pit now if you left it in, slice each piece in half again,  and  sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately.

    Thursday, August 26, 2010

    Watermelon and Cucumber with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

    I went to a restaurant two weeks ago with my son for a chicken dinner. It was delicious, fried chicken, baked beans, jalapeño cornbread, cole slaw and an appetizer which was chunks of watermelon and cucumber with some frisee sprinkled over it. There was also a small dish with ranch dressing which was intended to be used to dunk pieces of chicken in. I decided to pour a little over the watermelon and cucumber, and thought, man, this is delicious.

    For me, the sweetness of the cucumber with the tartness of the ranch was an ideal combination. So I went home and duplicated it using a recipe for buttermilk ranch dressing (compliments to Simply Recipes) which I think is an improvement because of the addition of the tartness of the buttermilk. Do give it a try.

    Seriously, it's simple, quick, and absolutely delicious. (And by the way, when you're watching the ballgame the next night?  And drinking an adult beverage, it's easy to finish off the leftovers)  I'm just sayin'...

    There's also a body of work that suggests watermelon is very good for you. Look at what Helen Nichols has to say on the subject:

    And don't forget to consider a copy of my cookbook:

    1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced into long pieces
    1 cup watermelon, cut and cubed

    1/2 cup mayonnaise
    1 cup fresh buttermilk
    1/4 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/8 teaspoon pepper
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
    1 teaspoon chopped fresh chive
    1/4 teaspoon dried dill

    Mix buttermilk and mayonnaise together until well blended. Add the balance of the ingredients and stir. Taste and adjust spice/taste to your preferences.  Refrigerate for at least an hour and preferably two hours to let flavors blend.

    Spoon dressing over watermelon and cucumber on a serving plate.  Enjoy!

    So simple, and so delicious.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Homemade Potato Chips

    I'm ashamed of this post. I really am.  It's so simple, and so short I am self-conscious about posting it.

    But I had to, because it's SO freaking good! Something I never thought about making at home but knocked
    it out of the park when I did.

    So here's the deal.  I told you about the Beringer Great Steak Challenge in a previous post. The night before the Saturday challenge the Beringer folks had a welcome reception at the Capitol Grille in Seattle. I had never been there but as soon as I walked in, knew I liked the place. Huge, a bit dark, heavy mahogany paneling, brass, a long bar, and nothing but dry aged steak. That's it, steak!  How appropriate considering we were all cooking a steak in competition the next day.

    Anyway, after the reception, what better thing to do, than to mosey on up the bar, with my son, settle in, have a cold beer and a huge perfectly aged steak.

    And as we're served a cold beer, the bartender placed some clear bowls of "bar food" in front of us. The bar food was......(wait for it)  ......                homemade potato chips!   They were out of this world. Thin, crispy, deliciously salted, browned to perfection!  I almost ate so many of them I didn't want a steak.

    When I asked how they made them, they told me. White russet potatoes, deep fried, and salted. Whut???  And they taste this good?  And I've never made them?  Are you KIDDING me? They make Lay's potato chips taste like a piece of cardboard.

    So I made them, and like I said, knocked them out of the park.  Do try these. A bit of a pain with the hot oil and all, but so simple.  I used sea salt on mine which was divine, but I'm thinking next time using some flavored sea salt. Like smoked sea salt?  Chipotle sea salt?  Imagine the possibilities.


    2 large rusted potatoes, washed, not peeled.
    Canola or peanut oil
    Sea Salt

    Using a Mandolin or a slicer of some type (a necessity because you want the slices thin) cut off the tips of the potatoes and slice the remainder into thin strips. (I used the next to lowest setting on mine) Place them in a large bowl and cover with cold water for one hour. (Takes the gumminess and some starch out of the potatoes)

    After an hour, remove chips from water, paper towel them dry, and lay on paper towels for 15 minutes to let them dry further. In the water and while drying they will curl by themselves forming that perfect potato chip look.

    Heat oil to 370 to 380 degrees.

    Drop 7 - 10 slices into the oil at a time. They'll separate just fine. Cook for 2 minutes per side, turning once. Cook them a minute or two longer if you like really dark chips. (My favorite is the darker ones....)

    Drain on paper towels and salt one side. I find less salt is better but it's your personal taste.

    Let the oil heat again to the proper temperature in between batches of chips. Repeat until all potatoes are cooked. Now tell me, you didn't try one from the first batch you made..... I bet you did.

    Store in baggies for up to 3 days. Enjoy, these are killer, and they won't last 3 days, I bet ya. ha ha

    Thursday, August 5, 2010

    Straight Up Egg Salad

    Look, I know it's a lame photo. What happened was, I made a half a sandwich, photographed it, and then ate it. It was DELICIOUS!   So I made another half, and this time I loaded it up with the salad.....but didn't take photos. So this photo is merely a "ghost" of what YOUR sandwich could look like.

    But here's the other thing.  As I looked at my lame photo, I realized it kinda makes ya wanna make an egg salad sandwich, and make a BETTER and BIGGER one. So, I think the photo works in a longing kind of enticing way.   Was that strange to say?   ha ha....

    One of my favorite sandwiches is Egg Salad. I've tried recipe after recipe for years and like some, and not too crazy about most of them. I especially find I don't like the egg salad recipes that have ingredient after ingredient. So I tried messing around with the ingredients I know I like in my egg salad, along with another new one, and I loved it. This is probably my go-to egg salad recipe from now on. Check it out.

    4 large eggs
    3 tablespoons mayonnaise or salad dressing
    salt and pepper to taste
    1 teaspoon chopped chives
    1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    2 teaspoons Smoked (Sweet) Paprika

    that's it!  Quick and easy and delicious, especially after the flavors blend overnight.

    Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Turn off and gently add the eggs into the water. Cover pan, remove from heat, and let sit for exactly seven minutes. (Yup, seven minutes, perfectly done egg for egg salad, you'll see) Immediately drain hot water and replace with cold water to arrest the cooking process.

    Peel eggs, and using a fork, mash into smallish pieces in a bowl. Add the balance of ingredients and mix thoroughly.


    On the bread of your choice, spread a thick layer of egg salad and enjoy. I especially like my egg salad on toasted bread or in pita bread. Enjoy!

    Sunday, July 25, 2010

    Cherry Clafoutis

    Cherry Season here in Washington!  Time for cherry desserts. Cherry pie, cherry cobbler, and the old reliable French favorite Cherry Clafoutis. (pronounced Cla-foo-tee) This dish is essentially whole cherries baked in a custard base. It's light, refreshing, delicious, and visually very appealing. One thing I found, is that this dish is best served freshly warm from the oven. You can refrigerate leftovers of course, but they are just not as good the next day. Give it a try.

    Ingredients and Method:
    4 eggs, separated
    6 tablespoons flour
    2/3 cup sugar
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 cup heavy cream
    1 pound fresh cherries, pitted or not (The French leave the pits in because they feel it imparts flavor to the
                                                           finished baked product).
    1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
    1 tablespoon Kirsch or brandy (optional)
    Confectioners sugar for finish

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 inch pie pan or a 9x9 square baking pan

    In a mixing bowl combine the egg yolks and sugar and beat until smooth and well combined. Add salt, vanilla extract and cream and mix thoroughly. Beat in the flour. Whisk the egg whites for two minutes and fold into the mixture. Mix in lemon juice and kirsch.

    Pour into prepared pan and drop cherries one by one into the batter. Bake for 35 minutes until set in the middle and browned on top. Remove, cool for 15 minutes, dust with confectioners sugar and serve.


    Monday, July 19, 2010

    Beringer Great Steak Challenge

    Yesterday I competed as a Regional Finalist is the Beringer Great Steak Challenge and came in third place.

    What a wonderful event. I've not had such a good time cooking in my life. The folks at Beringer are top notch, professional and treated the 10 of as as if we were royalty. Which I guess we were for a couple of hours or so. And the other contestants were so enjoyable with everyone pulling for one another. Very nice.
    We started with a welcome reception at the Capital Grille in Seattle on Friday night. We were each given gift bags which included a beautiful boxed stainless steel carving set. We were housed at the W Hotel a few blocks away.

    The following morning, we went by shuttle to the Bite of Seattle to a large tented area for the Beringer event. Wine aplenty, a crowd of hundreds milling about, and 5 beautiful new Gas Barbeque's arranged in a semi-circle.

    Everything we needed was supplied to us in individual containers at the beginning of the 30 minute competition, for which there were two groups of five each. Music blaring in the background, a professional emcee roaming, questioning, and filming of our cooking efforts every step of the way.

    Four judges, two of whom were Paula Deen's son's, Jamie and Bobby.
    And away we went.

    Thank you Beringer for such a quality event. I'm definitely entering again next year. And this time, I'm gonna win it.

    And, best of all, my youngest son, Nate, came up to attend, cheer me on, and take photographs!

    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Char Siu Country Style Ribs

    One of the things I really enjoy is Asian style marinades. I've blogged 5 Spice Soy Baked Chicken Wings
    and Char Siu Pork Tenderloin and Chinese 5 Spice Game Hen and even Maui Ribs. All have similar, but slightly different combinations of ingredients.

    For the 4th of July, I wanted to make Country Style Pork Ribs and I wanted them Char Siu style and I finally hit upon a combination of ingredients for a marinade/basting sauce that I think is the best I've had and the best I've made. The ribs came out incredibly tender with an absolutely delicious aroma and taste from the marinade. You gotta try it. I think we got a winner here. This may very well be the marinade I use for all the recipes above I've already blogged. It's that good.

    Adapted from Crepes of Wrath and my own recipes.

    Ingredients and Method:
    4 large bone-in or boneless country style pork ribs
    1/4 cup oyster sauce
    1/3 cup soy sauce
    3/4 cup white sugar
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    2 teaspoons salt
    2 teaspoons ground ginger
    2 1/2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder
    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    2 tablespoons cooking sherry
    1/4 honey to brush over the finished ribs

    Combine all ingredients except honey in a baking dish until thoroughly mixed. Add pork ribs to marinade, cover with plastic, and marinate in refrigerator for at least 8 hours, but 24 hours is preferable. Rotate ribs about every 8 hours or so.

    Grill over indirect heat (with a smoker box if available) for 1 1/2 hours, brushing occasionally with marinade. Check to ensure internal temperature has reached 170 degrees. Brush both sides with honey, let grill for 3 more minutes, and remove.  Let meat rest for 15 minutes before serving.

    If you'd like to use the marinade as a sauce, pour into saucepan, with 1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 1 tablespoon water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Serve ladled over meat and/or rice.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010

    Salted Dulce De Leche Cheesecake Bars

    I started subscribing to Bon Apetit again after an absence of many years. In my first issue I came across a recipe that sounded awfully good to me. Cheesecake bars, flavored with Dulce de Leche and sprinkled with Sea Salt. Man, what's NOT to like about that combination.  So here's the recipe adapted from Bon Apetit, June, 2010.

    2 1/4 cups graham crackers, crushed
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    10 tablespoons melted butter

    3 8 oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature
    1 cup sugar
    3 large eggs
    1/2 cup Dulce De Leche (available at your grocery store)
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    2/3 cup Dulce De Leche
    3 tablespoons heavy cream
    sea salt or fleur de sel

    Combine the crust ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Press into lightly greased (spray Pam is fine) 9 x 13 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Let cool.

    In a mixing bowl combine cream cheese and sugar until fully blended. Add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Add Dulce De Leche and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly. Pour and scrape over crust and spread evenly all the way to the edges of the pan. Bake at 350 for 38 to 42 minutes until filling is puffed, browning, and starting to crack. Remove and let cool.

    Heat glaze, combine and spread over baked cream cheese and sprinkle with sea salt and refrigerate for an hour.

    Now a couple of specifics. Salting the dessert, you want to be careful as it's a fine line to perhaps salt it too much and it's easy not to salt enough. Here's what you do, salt it once, somewhat liberally, and then refrigerate. When you go to cut the squares, test one, and if the saltiness is not enough, salt again. That should be sufficient, and perfect.

    Also, a cold cheesecake dish like this with a creamy middle and sticky dulce de leche topping can be difficult to cut cleanly. Here's a method I found that works. One, use a heavy knife or even a dough cutter and run it under hot water, dry with a paper towel, and make one cut through the dessert. Then, run again under hot water, clean off cheesecake crumbs, dry, and make another cut. Continue this way until you've made four to six cuts in the cheesecake. Then, remove a "large square" from the pan and place on cutting board. Again, run hot water over the knife, wipe clean, and now you can cut down directly onto the cheesecake until you have evenly shaped squares that are the size you want. Repeat with the remaining "large" squares in the pan. This way you're not trying to cut even squares inside the pan. Also, this will prevent most of the scattering of crumbs from the cutting process.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010

    Lime Cake with Strawberry Compote

    Fresh Strawberries. Especially perfectly RIPE fresh strawberries. What do ya do with them?  Well, here's one thing you can do with them. Try combining them with a freshly made and delicious Lime Cake from King Arthur Flour.

    This cake has a delicate lime essence to it and when paired with fresh fruit is the perfect summer dessert. You could use Raspberries or Strawberries. I chose Strawberries for this time.  Actually, the Strawberries ran out, and the leftover cake was great all by itself.  Do give it a try.

    Ingredients and Method:

    1 cup butter, room temperature
    2 cups sugar
    4 eggs
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 1/4 teaspoons salt
    3 cups King Arthur Flour
    1 cup milk
    grated rind of two limes

    1/3 cup fresh lime juice
    2/3 cup superfine or confectioners sugar

    Strawberry Compote
    1 small basket fresh strawberries, de-hulled and quartered
    1/3 cup water
    4 tablespoons sugar

    Coarse white sparkling sugar for topping

    Combine the butter and sugar until creamy.  Add the eggs, one at a time and beat thoroughly after each

    Add salt, baking powder and flour and milk and mix well. Mix in lime zest.

    Pour batter into 9 x 13 lightly greased baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown and a cake tester (toothpick) comes out clean.

    Remove to cooling rack. Mix together lime juice and sugar in a small bowl. Using a toothpick pierce the top
    of the cake all over.  Using a brush spread the lime glaze all over the warm cake. Let it soak in and repeat with the brush until all the glaze has been absorbed by the warm cake.  Sprinkle the top of the cake liberally with sparkling sugar for decoration.

    Combine the strawberries, water, and sugar in a bowl. Stir to distribute sugar and water throughout the berries. Let sit for an hour in the refrigerator to allow the berries to "juice".

    Slice the cake, top with strawberry compote and a touch of whip cream.


    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel

    A few blocks from where I live a new produce stand has opened up. I stopped by there the other day and was amazed at the quality and freshness of the produce. In addition to all the produce, they also have a wide array of jams, jellies, pickled condiments, infused olive oils and infused balsamic vinegars. I was so surprised at the quality and array of products I sought out the owner to inquire as to his sourcing for product.

    Come to find out they are Pike Street Produce!  Ever heard of Pike Street Market in Seattle?  It's pretty famous. And known for the quality of their produce. So I was pleasantly surprised to see them open an extension just a few blocks from my house. Here's a shot of the downtown Pike Street Market in Seattle:

    As I scooped up some fresh corn on the cob, heirloom tomatoes, and some pears, I came across the strawberries. Huge and fresh and smelled delicious. Right beside those was some fresh rhubarb.  I've
    had strawberry rhubarb pie before and love it, but I didn't feel like messing with pie crust. That's when I decided may strawberry and rhubarb streusel might be good.  Oh, it was, especially warm with a touch of ice cream. Give it a try. One of the best summer desserts I've had.

    Ingredients and Method:

    4 medium rhubarb stalks
    1 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
    1 cup sugar
    1/3 cup flour
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    1 cup brown sugar
    1 cup flour
    1 cup rolled oats
    1 stick of butter, melted

    Combine strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, 1/3 cup flour, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a bowl. Spread fruit mixture evenly in a 9 x 13 inch greased baking dish.

    In another bowl mix together 1 cup flour, oats and brown sugar. Pour melted butter over it and blend well with a fork. Break apart any large lumps. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the fruit mixture. Use the back of the fork or a spoon to press the streusel slightly into the fruit.

    Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.