Royal Icing

There are so many do's and don'ts to royal icing. And just when I have everything down and I'm feeling confident reality steps in to hand me a humbling experience. If you've worked with royal icing you know how temperamental it can be. Almost everything will destroy a batch of RI just when you're in a time crunch. 

  • The humidity affects RI, but living in Rain-gell I've learned to work around that. 
  • The eggs (or meringue powder) could be older than they should be.
  • Over mixing will give disastrous results, as will adding too much liquid to thin RI. Setting a timer will help in a busy kitchen. Also, only using paste coloring (I only use AmeriColor) eliminates many issues. Thinning with water in a spray bottle is another trick I use.
  • Buttercream and RI are arch enemies, which means all bowls, mixing blades, utensils, etc have to be washed with soapy water and then wiped down with a vinegar bath.
  • Various colors and/or brands of colors have their own drying times. I suppose that is just something you have to get used to. It comes with experience - the more you experiment the better you are at anticipating results.

But when my latest two attempts refused to dry I was ready to throw in the towel. The first attempt took over a week with sticky results and then it simply crumbled upon the touch. The second attempt remained sticky. But what was it that went wrong? I worked back through the recipe and technique. I scanned the internet for reasons and new recipes. I just couldn't come up with a logical explanation. 

So I went back to my panty and started reading labels. There on my bottle of Almond Extract was my culprit:  OIL OF BITTER ALMOND. I had run out of my clear vanilla extract and decided to use a new bottle of Almond Extract.  (Uggggggg!!!!! ) Just to be clear - keep all butter, lard, and oil away from RI - and knowing this isn't enough apparently - now I'm adding another item to my list - READ LABELS.

So now that I feel incredibly dumb I'll begin my next order of cookies with renewed anticipation of success. 

Rice Noodles with Pork and Veggies

This is a quick and easy adaption of my pork fried rice dish using a lot of the same ingredients but having a lighter taste. Often I make this in my electric skillet, but a stovetop skillet will work just fine.

1 package of rice noodles - prepared by package instructions

Cold pressed olive oil

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 sweet onion or one bunch of scallions coarsely chopped

2 cloves Garlic,minced

1 large, thick cut pork steak cut into cubes or slices - approx 1 pound

1 small cabbage head, coarsely chopped

4 large carrots, cut into cubes or julienned if you prefer

approx 1/4 c soy sauce



Add approx 2 tbsp oil to skillet, heat, and add carrots. Cook carrots partially - they should become darker in color but not done, done - add pork and fish sauce and sauté on low until almost done - in other words they should be still a bit pink.  While pork is cooking put your rice noodles in the bowl of water to soak. Throw in your pan the cabbage, onions, and garlic and sauté on low. These should be just limp but not overdone and the pork is now completely cooked. Drain your noodles and shake off excess water. Stir in rice noodles and soy sauce. Heat through and mix with pork, juices, and vegetables. 

Mmmm .... now I'm getting hungry.

Tasty Steak Bites

Tender, melt in your mouth meaty bites can be fun any time of year, but more often than not many people end up with meat that is chewy and overdone. It's relatively easy to turn almost any cut or grade of meat into a delicious dinner with just a little bit of kitchen chemistry.

A few years ago while making beef and broccoli I stumbled upon a quick fix to tenderizing the beef. It was one of those things where you ask "where were you all my life?" And the answer is - taking up wasted space in the back of the refrigerator. That's right - that wasted box of baking soda is really the queen of the kitchen. With just a little bit added to your meat marinade you can have tender little pieces of meat too. (And just a heads up - although you could probably get away with using the refrigerator box, cough up the extra 33 cents and buy a new box of baking soda!)

1/3 c worcestershire sauce

1/3 c soy sauce

1/3 c brown sugar

1/3 c cold pressed olive oil

2 large garlic cloves minced

2 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp chopped basil

1 tbsp dijon mustard

Add all ingredients to a ziplock back and shake to mix well. 

Add to this mix 1 pound of 1 inch cubes of sirloin or rib eye steak and let sit for the afternoon (or for the next day). 

Heat cold pressed olive oil in a skillet or heat the grill with appropriate rack on high. Add steak to heat and sear. Two minutes with constant attention for medium rare. 

Serve with brie and french bread for a quick dinner.

Ziplock ingredients also freeze well if you're trying to use up excess beef pieces.


A New Quiche Loraine

I have discovered a couple of things over the years when making quiche. It's always been one of my favorite dishes, but there are a couple of problems that come up. First, it can bee quite heavy with a dough crust which doesn't always compliment a garden salad if using this as a summer dinner dish. Second, I've always been a bit dissatisfied with the cheese base, quite possibly because I use a lot of cheese. Also, left overs, when heated in the microwave, tend to separate, so while the first serving is fine the next day tends to be clumpy.

I've come up with a solution to these problems. To make the dish a bit lighter, I've started using a hash brown crust instead of a dough crust. Fresh, frozen, or boxed really doesn't affect the taste so it's your preference. I use the freeze dried hash browns I get at Costco. They taste as good as any other, they keep in the pantry, and they're relatively inexpensive. In Alaska we always appreciate anything that's inexpensive, especially living on an island where food can be outrageously expensive.

To address the cheese consistency, for this or for any baked or heated cheese/dairy dish, I have started incorporating Sodium Citrate into my recipes. The brand I use is Modern Pantry and you can find it on Amazon for about $10 for 14 ounces. Any dish only needs a pinch and it will give your recipe a creamy smooth consistency, even when left on a steam table or re-heated. 

A couple of variations on this: 1. Instead of a glass pie dish, use a spring form pan, a cast iron pan, or your copper core fry pan. 2. Add seasoned, steamed spinach or seasoned, roasted asparagus to the dish.

  • 2 cups of dehydrated hash browns 
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A dash of nutmeg and cheyenne pepper for fun

Soak the hash browns in a stainless steel bowl of water for about 1/2 hour and drain well. Add spices and mix. Mold into a 9" glass pie dish and bake at 400 degrees until brown - 20-30 minutes.

  • 1 cup of cream or half & half
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 pound of bacon - chopped and fried
  • 1/2 half of a small onion - chopped and fried
  • 1 pound of cheese - Jarlsberg (or white cheddar) - shredded
  • 1 tbsp Wondra (you can use flour)
  • salt, pepper, nutmeg, cheyenne to taste
  • 1 tsp sodium citrate

While the crust is baking, fry the bacon until it has legs then add the onions. Continue frying until the onions are translucent but still have texture.

Whisk the eggs in a stainless steel bowl. Add cream, Wondra, spices, SC, and beat well. Mix in the bacon and onion. Toss in the cheese and coat well. 

With the pie plate hot from the oven pour the mixture into the hot plate and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees for 40 minutes (or until a toothpick comes out clean).

Remove from oven. Let sit for 15 minutes. Slice into 8 servings and serve with a fresh garden salad and a refreshing Riesling. Enjoy!

Friday Night Pizza

This was always a favorite when my son was little and now that he's older he still comes over to snag a few pieces. As with everything else I'm trying to be really diligent in measurements since I tend to measure by taste and the  "more or less" method.  It's no wonder our grandmothers never left their recipes for us. They probably never wrote them down. 

  • 1 tbsp dry active yeast - one packet or a heaping spoonful from the jar in the fridge 
  • 5 count of honey (about 1 tbsp)
  • 1 cup of water heated to 115-120 degrees - go ahead and use a thermometer if you must - I take mine out of the tap hot and then cool down to touch by stirring with a spoon if needed.

Using a 2 cup liquid measuring cup, measure out your water. Add your honey - I say "a 5 count" since I'm squeezing this from a fancy "honey bear". Throw in the yeast and stir everything together. Let this sit until it starts to rise above the glass. 

Some people would scream with disgust at the idea of stirring the yeast mixture, but hey, remember I'm using honey from a fancy bear too! Let the screaming begin.  I'm sure it really can't matter all that much especially when I'm getting such terrific results with my dough.

  • 2 cups flour (more or less)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

In your Kitchen Aid, put the flour and salt and the yeast mixture. Mix well and then scrape from the sides of the bowl and paddle. (The dough should feel light, soft, and moist... sticky. If it's tough to the touch at all add a bit more water and remix.)  Leave in the bowl and cover with a towel until double in size. Mix again in the kitchen aid for about a minute. Cover and let sit until double. While this is sitting, turn your oven to 450 degrees and place your pizza stone on the center rack. I turn my stone upside down since it has handles that don't accommodate the size of the pizza pan. 

Flour your pan. Turn your dough out onto your pan, knead until it holds it's shape. The whole point of kneading the dough is for the gluten to do it's job and firm up - not be all loose goosey like it was just after the first spin in the KA.  If done properly you should be able to play catch with this across the kitchen without making a mess - but I digress. Shape this into a smooth ball, and then flatten gently with the palm of your hand. Gently work this into a larger and larger circle using the tips of your fingers working from the center to the edge and spinning the pan as you work. Using this technique you will find the edges forming a natural crust shape. You don't have to throw the dough to get a nice edge, but what the heck, have some fun.  DO NOT USE A ROLLING PIN. That would just be embarrassing. (Heck, for that matter just go and buy a Pillsbury crust.)

Now your crust is ready for toppings. This is the best part since there is such a variety of what you can add. 

For my traditional pizza, I start off by spooning on a cheap tomato sauce, generously adding cheese, layering pepperoni, and then spooning on the sautéed mushroom, burger, sausage mixture. Next the sliced onions and black olives.

For my white pizza, I start with rubbing the dough with olive oil and garlic, spreading this generously with ricotta cheese, and then a healthy layer of shredded mozzarella. On top of this I make three concentric circles of spiced, steamed spinach. The last to be added is a sprinkling of crushed red pepper.

Now for the important part:

  1.  Let your pizza sit and rest for a few minutes before putting it in the oven. 
  2. Once your pizza is done - 15/20 minutes - slide it off onto the cutting board and let it rest once more prior to slicing. 
  3. Be first in line so you can get the most fabulous piece!

This is the pizza prior to going in the oven. 

This is a plain pepperoni just coming out of the oven.