Monday, March 20, 2017

Put Some Spring into your Step... er, Soup
What’s cooking? Spring Vegetable Soup with Orzo



Yup. It’s here. At 5:28 this morning (that would be Central Daylight Time), Spring arrived. Certainly cause for some celebration. I know you want to put away your quilts and your sweaters, throw open your windows, and head out looking for pansies or lettuces or whatever it is you like to plant once the ground thaws.

Trouble is, the ground hasn’t really thawed in most places. And you’ll wish you had those quilts and sweaters available, at least for the next few weeks. Unless, of course, you live in Texas, where it actually is warm enough to plant the garden, but still not necessarily warm enough to put away the sweaters.

KG’s kitchen garden: lettuces and sorrel.
The KG’s kitchen garden: basil, tomatoes, arugula and pansies.


In the meantime, the Kitchen Goddess recommends... Spring Cleaning. Very satisfying and way more fun than doing your taxes. I was making Sticky Toffee Pudding for a St. Pat’s celebration this weekend and was chagrined to find that my self-rising flour carried a use-by date of August 27, 2016. I wasn’t sure how critical that window of opportunity was, so I checked on the web, where I noted that the flex-time was 4-6 months. Let’s see...[counting on fingers] Sept-Oct-.... Well, it appears that I reached almost the 7-month mark. Still, in a desperate effort to avoid that last-minute run to the store, I thought there must be a way to decide if it was really no good.

Then I remembered that the difference between self-rising flour and all-purpose flour is salt and baking powder. Well, I reasoned, if there’s baking powder in the stuff, I can tell by putting some in water if it’s got any life to it. You do remember, don’t you, that baking powder will bubble in water if it’s still working? So I threw a little into a small bowl of water. Nothing. Maybe I didn’t put enough in, I thought. So I put a little more in. Nothing. I poured the whole mess out and tried again. Nothing. Folks, that self-rising flour was as dead as the mice my cat used to bring me. So into the trash it went and off to the store went the KG.

Which is why I spent a bit of time this morning checking other use-by dates in my pantry. I found Melba crackers that should have passed on last March, cake flour in the same condition as my self-rising stuff, and microwaveable popcorn with a best-buy date of September 21, 2015. Yikes – how did I miss that last year?! And others I don’t dare tell you about for fear that you’ll get the wrong idea about me. But it’s a great way to clear some of the shelf space in your pantry. Tomorrow I’ll be giving my spices their annual sniff test.

When you’ve finished that little survey, you’ll be feeling noble and energetic. What to do with that energy? Why, cook! (Notice the difference the comma makes in that little sentence – it’s a totally opposite sentiment without the comma. The Kitchen Goddess loves the nuances of good punctuation.)

For you, I have just the dish. Yes, it’s early for most veggies. But you can pretend. And some – like sugar snap peas – are now in stores, fresh! So even though most of what’s in the soup is fairly standard, it doesn’t cook for so long that the veggies mush up; those sugar snap peas still have a bit of crunch. The real key is the basil and arugula, which give this delightful soup all the freshness of spring, without sacrificing the warmth you need for a while. See how clear the broth looks? Perhaps because the orzo tends to maintain a firmness without dissolving in the way that rice or some other pastas might. And once you get the veggies chopped, it takes very little cooking time. Add some orange slices – it’s still citrus season! – and some French bread with melted cheese, and the meal is complete.

Welcome spring!


Spring Vegetable Soup with Orzo

Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine, March 2017.

 Serves 4.

Ingredients
Somehow, I left out the peas and avocado. But they’re in the soup.
¾ cup orzo
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 small turnip, cut into ⅜-inch dice
1 small sweet onion, cut into ⅜-inch dice
1 small fennel bulb, cut into ⅜-inch dice
1 celery rib, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces sugar snap peas, sliced diagonally into ½-inch pieces
6 cups good quality chicken stock
½ cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
½ cup frozen peas
1 small avocado, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 ounces arugula (about 2 cups packed), thinly ribboned
½ cup basil leaves, thinly ribboned

Directions
In a medium saucepan, boil the orzo in lightly salted water until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside, covered.

In a heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the carrot, turnip, onion, fennel, celery, and garlic, along with ½ teaspoon of salt. Sauté the vegetables for 6-7 minutes, and stir in the sugar snap peas for another minute.


Add the chicken stock, and bring the soup to a simmer. Stir in the tomatoes and frozen peas, and return the soup to a simmer. Cook partially covered over medium-low heat, for 12-15 minutes, or until the vegetables are fork-tender. Stir in the avocado, and continue to cook the soup for another 3-4 minutes. Stir in the orzo, and adjust seasoning with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.


Place a generous portion of basil and arugula into each bowl, and ladle the soup on top. Stir and serve hot.


If you want to make the soup ahead of time, follow directions down to just before the avocado. (The orzo tends to clump a bit if it sits on its own for long, so you may want to break it up before stirring it into the soup. Or you can cook the orzo at the last minute when you’re getting ready to serve.) When you’re ready to serve, reheat the soup, add the avocado, and proceed from that point in the directions above.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Nerd Alert: Happy Pi Day!
What’s cooking? Pecan Delight Pie



3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286

In case you don’t recognize this number, it’s Pi, symbolized by the Greek letter, π, and shown here with just its first 75 digits after the decimal point.

Why is it here? Because today is March 14, which when written as 3.14, is known among the math nerds of the world as Pi Day.

It’s certainly one of my favorite days of the year. That’s because, in addition to being a Kitchen Goddess, I am also a math nerd.

You are doubtless asking yourselves why you should care about π, or Pi Day. And the answer is that it’s arguably the most ubiquitous of all mathematical or scientific constants. (I’m sure someone out there will argue this point with me, but what the heck.) Also a great excuse to bake a pie.

So in deference to those of you who didn’t show up here looking for a math lesson, I’ll keep it short. Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. And it’s the same regardless of how large or small the circle is. Which is why pie is such a good reference point. It’s also the ratio of the area of a circle to the radius squared. In other words, for any circle:

C = πd, where C is the circumference, and d is the diameter
A = πr-squared, where A is the area and r is the radius

It’s all coming back to you now, isn’t it?

What makes π an amazing number is that it shows up in so many fields of math and science. Because it helps us to calculate the length of and area under curved lines, it’s the number that inevitably appears when we’re talking about the orbits of moons or planets, or machining parts for aircraft, or understanding sound waves, or building GPS systems (remember, the earth’s surface is an arc). Cornell math professor Steven Strogatz (in a 2015 New Yorker article) noted that we encounter π whenever we calculate rhythms – processes that repeat periodically, with a fixed tempo, like a pulsing heart. Pi even appears in the math that describes the gentle breathing of a baby.

And now, before I get to today’s recipe – it’s coming, I promise – I will torture you with just a few fun facts about π.

■ π is what’s known as an irrational number, which means that it can’t be expressed as a fraction. (The closest I found in my research is 355/113, which is accurate to only six decimal places.) Being irrational also means that π, when written as a decimal number, continues forever without any repeating pattern.

■ According to a Business Insider article, at position 17,387,594,880, you find the sequence 0123456789; at position 60 you find these ten digits together in a scrambled order.

■ Mathematicians have known about the ratio since ancient Babylonia, almost 4000 years ago. But the man who introduced the Greek letter as a stand-in for the ratio was a Welsh mathematics teacher named William Jones, in 1706. He chose it because it’s the first letter in the Greek word perimetros, meaning circumference.

So now you know why to care about π. And the reason to care about Pi Day is that the Kitchen Goddess has a fun recipe for you.


I first came across this pie at Hill’s Restaurant in the tiny town of Vivian, Louisiana, where my mother and aunt spent their early childhood. My cousin, Helen, and I were there settling my grandmother’s estate, and when it got around to lunchtime, one of the locals directed us to Hill’s. In a small country town, when you find out where the locals go, you should always check it out. Sadly, Hill’s doesn’t appear to be in business any more; but we were certainly grateful for it that day.

Hill’s had the most amazing buffet of Southern food I think I’ve ever seen. Fried catfish, fried okra, fried chicken, hush puppies, mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon,... I get hungry just remembering it. And when we thought we’d eaten as much as we could, they brought out the three-tiered tray of pies, which included Pecan Delight. It was early days in the Kitchen Goddess’s culinary adventures, but she knew enough to get the recipe for that pie. And now she shares it with you.

You’ll find this recipe in other places on the internet, so it’s not just a specialty of a now-defunct café in Louisiana. But the Kitchen Goddess finds it irresistibly charming in its use of Ritz crackers: one of those great dishes that illustrate the inventiveness of Southern cooks.

And by the way, the whipped cream topping is a must.


Pecan Delight Pie


Adapted from Hill’s Restaurant in Vivian, Louisiana.

For the pie:
3 large egg whites
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
22 Ritz crackers, finely ground
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped pecans

For the whipped cream topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1 rounded teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter a 9-inch pie plate.

In a large mixing bowl, with a mixer set on high, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks. While the mixer is running, add the vanilla, then slowly add the sugar and continue beating until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks.

In a separate bowl, stir together the cracker crumbs, the baking soda, and the pecans. Fold the dry ingredients into the whipped egg whites, and pour into the prepared pie pan. Kitchen Goddess note: No crust! Is this easy or what?!

Before baking.

Bake 25 minutes. Let the pie cool completely on a rack. Chill until ready to serve. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

After baking.



For the whipped cream topping, place a mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for 15-20 minutes. Into the cold bowl, pour the cream, sugar, and vanilla. Whisk on high until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute and 20-30 seconds. Do not over beat, or you’ll end up with butter.












Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Season of Waiting
What’s cooking? Butter-Steamed Broccoli with Panko and Parmesan Cheese




It’s that middling time of year. When spring is so near you can almost taste it, except that the wind chill keeps freezing your taste buds. But the hardest thing about this time of year is finding something fresh to cook.

There’s lots in the stores, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve pretty much had my fill of broccoli and broccolini and cauliflower, and butternut and acorn squash, which is what’s still most abundant in the fresh produce aisle. Fresh asparagus will make an appearance soon – that would be fresh, local asparagus, from someplace on this continent. But not just yet.

Do I sound whiney? I’m sure that’s right. And not like me. For the truth is that I’ve had the flu – in spite of having gotten a flu shot this year – and even if I’d felt like cooking or eating, my prince has refused to let me near anything he’s planning to put in his mouth.

So we’ve had lots of takeout, and a few meals that involved boiling liquid – to adequately eliminate any germs. But at some point, you know, the Kitchen Goddess must cook. Sharks gotta swim.

I’m not alone in this lament, by the way. Just last week, the very talented Sam Sifton (NY Times food writer) posted a piece in the Sunday NYT Magazine, wherein he said, “These are hard days for cooking.... Early March can leave cooks adrift in home and restaurant kitchens alike, unsure of themselves, desirous of inspiration.” So misery does indeed love company.

And that’s where this very tasty broccoli recipe comes in. I know, I said I was tired of broccoli; mostly, I meant I was tired of the same old preparations.

Often, when trying to figure out what to do with veggies, my thoughts run to steam/boil/grill/roast and then slather with butter. But that seemed sort of inadequate. So when I uncovered this recipe in my slush pile of good ideas, I cheered. For starters, this technique of cooking the broccoli in a bath of water and butter over high heat is truly magical. A new arrow in the Kitchen Goddess’s quiver, as it were. The broccoli absorbs both the water and the butter, which completely changes the flavor of the food. Add the nuttiness of shaved parmesan cheese, plus a nice crunch delivered by toasted, peppered panko, and you have what is both a very good and a very easy dish. Not exactly springlike, but then, it’s not exactly spring. (If you want to hint at the coming of spring, grate some lemon zest into the panko or squeeze a bit of lemon into the skillet with the broccoli.) Thankfully, it is actually possible to get very attractive fresh broccoli in the stores.

I served this excellent preparation with grilled – by the prince – chicken thighs and rice (another dish from boiling water). Not an awe-inspiring meal, but way better than takeout.


Butter-Steamed Broccoli with Panko and Parmesan Cheese

Adapted from David Tanis in The New York Times.

Serves 4.

¾ cup panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¾ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
salt
1 large head broccoli (about 1 pound)
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1 cup water
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved
Optional: ½ lemon (zest grated into the bread crumbs, or juice squeezed into the water bath for broccoli)

Preheat the oven to 400º.

In a medium bowl, toss the panko crumbs with the olive oil. Place the crumbs on a rimmed baking pan and put the pan in the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the crumbs take on a golden color. Stir the crumbs once or twice as they cook, to encourage even browning. When the panko crumbs have reached a color you like, remove them from the oven and scrape them into a bowl to cool. Stir in the pepper and salt to taste.






In the meantime, separate the broccoli into spears 3-4 inches long, slicing the thickest ones to make stems no thicker than ½ inch. If the base of the broccoli is a long, thick stem, use a peeler to remove the tough outer skin, and slice the stem into batons (sticks, like French fries) no more than ½ inch thick.








Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the broccoli, garlic, and water, and season with salt to taste. Stir well and turn the heat to medium-high, then cover the skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Cook the broccoli over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, at which point it should be firm-tender and still green. (Some of the stems will brown lightly from the butter in the bottom of the pan.)

Transfer the broccoli to a warm serving platter and sprinkle it with the toasted panko crumbs. The broccoli should have absorbed all the butter and water; if not, pour any remaining liquid over the broccoli in the serving dish. Shave large, thin slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, and serve.



Monday, February 13, 2017

What to Do If You Forgot It’s Valentine’s Day
What’s cooking? Wild Mushroom Soup with Madeira




OMG – it’s Valentine’s Day! And you forgot?!! Okay, so don’t panic. How about making dinner for your loved one/friend/spouse/parent... whoever? Yeah, sure,... ok... dinner. What’s fast and easy but special? Steak? Right, steak. Get a couple of those little filet mignons and grill or broil them. That’s easy enough. Then... let’s see, ... salad. Yup. Just the thing – salad. Some nice lettuce, maybe a sprig or two of watercress, and a simple oil and vinegar dressing. Hmmm... but what’s going to make this dinner special?

Ah... So you turned to the Kitchen Goddess for help? Good thinking, because I have just the dish: Wild Mushroom Soup with Madeira. It comes from one of my old stand-by sources, The New Basics Cookbook from the Silver Palate ladies, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.


You will love this soup. The flavor is outstanding – nutty, earthy – the texture velvety, and the aroma will remind you of an early morning walk in the woods when the trees haven’t leafed out but the birds have arrived.

It’s a rich taste, but without cream, so not high calorie. Yes, there’s butter, but not so much. And it takes only about an hour to cook, if you start the mushrooms to soak first, then chop the onion and leeks, and quarter the criminis while the mushrooms are absorbing the wine.



In fact, the only real downside to this soup is the cost. Yes, you read this photo right: the dried morels at my grocer are $300 per pound. But you only need one ounce, which is less than $20. And if you’re cooking for two, you can halve this recipe and it’ll only cost $10 for the fungi. But they are soooo worth it. And after all, it’s Valentine’s Day!


A couple of short notes about the ingredients. (You didn’t think the Kitchen Goddess would be able to skip this part, did you?) Morels are pricey in part because the flavor is so distinct and intense, but also because no one has yet figured out a way to cultivate them commercially. They come out as the snow melts, and they’re not easy to spot. Morel fans have been known to travel hundreds of miles in the hunt.


And morels are famously paired with Madeira in cooking. Madeira – named for the Madeira Islands, where it’s made, off the coast of Portugal – is a fortified wine produced in a range of dry to sweet styles. The unique process involves repeatedly heating the wine, which gives it a mix of flavors including notes of roasted nuts, stewed fruit, caramel, and toffee.


This is a soup fit for a queen or a king, ... or a Valentine!


Wild Mushroom Soup with Madeira

Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.


Serves 6.

Ingredients
½ cup medium-dry Madeira
2¾ cups good vegetable stock (can substitute good chicken stock)
1 ounce dried morel mushrooms (substitutes: dried shiitakes or dried chanterelles)
3 leeks (white part only), well rinsed
1 medium onion
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (bleached or unbleached)
2¼ cups good beef stock
1 pound crimini mushrooms (or white button mushrooms) with stems trimmed, quartered
kosher salt and white pepper to taste
Garnishes: crème fraîche, snipped fresh chives or sautéed sliced mushrooms











Directions
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the morels, the Madeira, and ½ cup of the vegetable stock, and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes. (If it sits for longer than 30 minutes, that’s ok.)



While the dried mushrooms are soaking, dice the leeks and the onion. (You should end up with about 1 cup each of chopped onion and leeks.) In a larger soup pot, melt the butter then add the chopped leeks and onion. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft but not browned. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and continue to cook, stirring with a whisk, for 5 minutes more.





Add the remaining 2¼ cups of vegetable stock slowly, while stirring with a whisk to avoid lumps. Stir in the beef stock and the quartered crimini mushrooms. Add the morels and their soaking liquid to the pot, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Season the broth to taste with salt and white pepper.


Let the soup cool a little before transferring it to a blender and purée for at least a minute to make sure the soup is smooth. Depending on the size of your blender or food processor, you may need to do this in batches.

Serve hot, with a dollop of crème fraîche and either fresh chives or sautéed sliced mushrooms.



Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Football Party in the Year of the Rooster
What’s cooking? Asian Slaw


It’s that time of year again: Super Bowl Sunday. And Chinese New Year. What to do, what to do. Well, it may not surprise you to learn that the Kitchen Goddess has the perfect solution. A dish that’s not only Asian-inspired but is just the thing to serve to your football-obsessed friends.

At a group dinner the other night, one of the men was willing to bet that I didn’t know either of the teams that will be playing next Sunday. So it is not a secret as to my level of enthusiasm toward football, generally speaking. As it happens, though, I know exactly which teams will be playing and what their team colors are, because I’ve volunteered to make rollout cookies for the party. Any excuse to play with sprinkles. Here’s what the KG delivered last year, when the Panthers played the Broncos.



At the same time, the Kitchen Goddess posted an excellent list of noshes appropriate to a Super Bowl gathering, so if the salad below doesn’t do it for you, look HERE. And for your added enjoyment, there’s an excellent discussion on the origins of the phrase “Hut 1, hut 2...” We set the bar high for entertainment around here.

But I do enjoy the Super Bowl party – it’s always a potluck dinner, and I love sampling what other guests bring. A couple of years ago, a friend brought today’s salad, and it was absolutely inhaled by the crowd. So of course I wrangled the recipe. (In fact, being a kind and generous friend, she was happy to give it to me.) I couldn’t resist tweaking it a bit – adding the bell pepper and carrot for color – but the bright Asian flavor is unchanged.

This is a great recipe for a day like Super Bowl Sunday, when people are jumping up and down to get food, some eating early and some eating late, and some grazing throughout. This salad doesn’t wilt over the hours of the game. The ramen noodles won’t stay overly crisp the entire time – they work a bit like croutons in a green salad – but they taste great even after absorbing some of the dressing. And mine still crunched after a night in the fridge.

Because I know that you all share the Kitchen Goddess’s love of knowledge, here’s a little known fact to amuse your friends during any less-than-sparkling ads on Sunday: The first mention of “cole slaw” in a recipe book was in 1770, where it appeared in The Sensible Cook: Dutch Foodways in the Old and New World, and was attributed to the author’s Dutch landlady. The name derives from the Dutch word “koolsla,” for “cabbage salad.” Having a strong streak of Dutch ancestry herself, the KG is thrilled.

Kitchen Goddess note: The KG begs you to use fresh, uncut produce versus the pre-cut, bagged stuff. Not only are pre-cut veggies often almost twice as expensive, studies show they lose significant amounts of Vitamin C. Most of the time, they’ve been washed in a chlorine solution to kill harmful bacteria, then rinsed in water before being packaged. Appetizing? If you decide to go the pre-cut way, please note carefully the sell-by dates on the packages. According to The New York Times, processors allow 12-14 days from the time of packaging to their use-by dates. So that cabbage you buy might have been sliced up two weeks ago. Two weeks?!! The Goddess feels faint just at the thought.

The Times had 14 packages tested, and found relatively high levels of bacteria – admittedly harmless – in 12 of the 14. “The high levels of harmless bacteria mean the contents must be handled with great care. If, for example, some form of protein, like grilled chicken, is combined with pre-cut vegetables, the resulting mixture should not be kept at room temperature for more than 20 minutes. High bacteria levels are an indication that harmful bacteria may also be present at low levels, and the combination of warm temperatures and protein could encourage those harmful bacteria to grow and cause food poisoning.”

Now, if you have a wide-mouth food processor, you can slice that cabbage up in about a minute. But even by hand, it doesn’t take more than 5 minutes. The Kitchen Goddess sliced hers by hand, then used the slicing disk on her processor to handle the bell pepper, and the shredding disk with the carrots. 


Asian Slaw


Serves 10.

Salad ingredients:
Half of a 2-pound head of cabbage, thinly sliced (or a 16-ounce package of shredded cabbage)
1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, coarsely grated (about 1 cup)
2 packages ramen noodles (Oriental or Chicken flavor)
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup sunflower seeds
½ stick of butter
Optional: 1 cup shredded or chopped cooked chicken

Salad dressing:
⅓ cup rice vinegar
⅔ cup sugar
⅓ cup sunflower seed oil or other mild oil, like grapeseed or canola
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (can substitute sweet-and-spicy, if you prefer)

Directions:
Make the dressing. In a small bowl or a 16-ounce jar, stir together the rice vinegar and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk together (or put the lid on the jar and shake) until well blended – about 1 minute.

Before opening the packages of ramen noodles, use your hands to break the noodles into small chunks. Open the packages and set aside the seasoning packets.












In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the slivered almonds, sunflower seeds, ramen noodles, and one seasoning packet. Stir together and cook for about 12 minutes or until the nuts turn golden brown. (The noodles won’t change color much.) Be careful that the ingredients don’t burn. Once the mix has reached as deep a color as you’d like, remove them from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
 


In a large bowl, stir together the raw ingredients and the toasted mixture. Add the chicken, if desired. Pour the dressing – sparingly! – over the salad and mix well. [Kitchen Goddess note: This will be more dressing than you need, so pour a bit and taste as you go. I used about ½ cup.] Cover the bowl with cellophane wrap and refrigerate. Serve chilled.



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Happy New Year! Kitchen Tips from the Kitchen Goddess
What’s cooking? Cranberry-Apple Cobbler



Did you think I’d forgotten about you? Never. But I’ve been crawling through my research – trying desperately as I do every year to get my *&#@ together as a nod to the “fresh start” mentality of early January, and it’s been slow progress. As you know, the Kitchen Goddess is a relentless reader of cookbooks, food magazines, newspaper articles about food, and various online food-related newsletters. As a result, she accumulates a treasure trove of tidbits about cooking, kitchen equipment, and food itself.

So here we are, past the midpoint of January, and I’m still clearing the piles from my desk. But I’ve come across many of these gems – on sticky notes, as sidebars to other writing, at the bottom of grocery lists,... pretty much everywhere. And it occurred to me that I could rid myself of some of these random pieces of paper by passing along the information in a post. That way, at least I’ll know where they are when I need them for reference.

Some of this may not be news to you. Or not interesting to you. In which case, you can skip down to today’s recipe for a dessert that will be just the thing on a cold winter evening. But for the rest of you who, like the KG herself, never tire of kitchen arcana, here goes.

1. Eggs separate more easily when they are cold, because the proteins in the whites hold together more tightly when cold. But whites whip higher and firmer at room temperature. So if you have a recipe that calls for separated eggs, make that the first thing you do when you start the recipe, then you can let the whites sit in a bowl on the counter until it’s time to whip them. If you’re putting the whole egg into a recipe, like for cake batter, it makes no detectable difference (according to the friendly folks at America’s Test Kitchen) in the taste if the eggs are cold or room temp, although some pastry chefs claim that room temp eggs produce a lighter texture.

2. And while we’re on the subject... If you’re boiling eggs – hard or soft – you’ll find that the shells come off easier if you bring the water to a boil before submerging the eggs. Also, older eggs don’t stick to the shell as much. So if you’re buying your eggs from the farmstand, hang onto them for a few days before you try boiling them or whipping the whites. According to food scientist Kenji López-Alt, for perfectly cooked eggs, plunge the eggs into boiling water for 30 seconds, then reduce the temperature to a simmer for 11 minutes. (Six minutes for soft-boiled eggs.) [Kitchen Goddess note: López-Alt says 11 minutes, but I found that not to be quite enough. And then I ran out of eggs. So I will get more eggs and try again at 12 minutes and let you know. At dinner tonight, my friend, Elaine, said she does all this and cooks them for 13 minutes.]

Remove the eggs immediately into an ice water bath – which will keep that dimple from developing in the round end of the shelled egg, and helps with the shell removal. Chill eggs completely – 15 minutes at least and maybe even in the fridge overnight – before peeling. Peel under running water.

Now there’s no perfect method for achieving perfectly cooked, perfectly peeled eggs, but apparently – and the Kitchen Goddess is waaay too lazy to conduct all these tests herself – the factor that López-Alt (who does have the patience for testing) found made the most difference in how cleanly eggs released from their shells was the temperature at which they started: “A hot start produces easier-to-peel eggs.” And that goes for cooking the eggs in boiling water or in a steamer.

3. Potatoes, on the other hand, need to be started in cold water. Why? Because potatoes are very dense,  so they need long, gradual heating to cook evenly.




4. How long have you had that tin of baking powder? Ever wonder if it’s still good? Most sources will tell you that six months is the limit, but I think that may vary depending on where and how you store it. Worry no more. Take a small bowl with ½ cup of very hot water (tap water is fine), and stir into it about ¼ teaspoon of your baking powder. If the powder bubbles up immediately, it’ll still make your cakes and cookies rise.  If your baking powder doesn’t fizz, toss it and get a new can.

To test baking soda, you needs to add an acid to get a reaction, so use the same method as for baking powder but add ¼ teaspoon of vinegar to the water before adding the soda. As before, vigorous bubbling tells you the soda is fine to use. Even if it’s flat, you can still use it to clean your kitchen or brush your teeth.

5. Something new on the sugar front: toasting sugar. Take a cup of sugar, spread it out in an ovenproof skillet, and bake it for 2+ hours at 300º. For the photo here, I roasted mine for 2½ hours. What happens is magic: through a process called thermal decomposition, the sugar caramelizes without melting. As a result, the toasted sugar tastes less sweet, but takes on a subtle, slightly caramel flavor that’s like sugar umami. I haven’t used it yet in anything but my coffee, where it totally took the edge off without making it terribly sweet. Mmm-mm. Stella Parks, professional baker and delightful blogger (bravetart.com), stumbled on this idea by accident, and says it’s terrific in meringues, berry pies, banana bread,... She says you can substitute it 1:1 in any recipe. Try it and let me know how you use it.

Toasted sugar after 2½ hours. With a small bowl of untoasted sugar for contrast.
Parks also writes for the Serious Eats website, where the original – and much longer – explanation of the toasted sugar phenomenon is here. And as a side note, the toasted sugar is not only less sweet, it has fewer calories, less sucrose, and a lower glycemic index.

So aren’t you glad you kept reading?

And now for today’s treat, which I made before I learned about toasting sugar. You can be sure I’ll be trying it that way next time.


* * *

My book group meets once a month, and because most of the others are working professionals, no one has time to eat dinner beforehand. So we structure it as a potluck. No assignments, no agreements as to who’s bringing what; so you can never tell what the mix of dishes will be. But no one seems to care, and most of the time it’s a pretty even distribution of protein, veggies, and dessert.

This month, though, we got salads and desserts. Which also didn’t bother anyone, since more salad means you can enjoy more dessert. The Kitchen Goddess took this cobbler – it’s winter, after all, and what better time for apples and cobbler – and while she doesn’t see these evenings as competitive events, she was pleased to note that this dish appeared to be the favorite dessert. (FYI, what you see in these photos is a doubling of the recipe.)




Cranberry-Apple Cobbler

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library: Fruit Desserts

Serves 6.

Ingredients
For the filling:
1½ pounds tart, firm apples (I recommend Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and cut into ½-inch dice
8 ounces (about 2 cups) cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons candied ginger, chopped

For the biscuit topping:
1¼ cups (163 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup milk (whole, low-fat, or skim – your choice)
grated zest of 1 orange

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375º.


Combine the apples and cranberries in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar and candied ginger, and transfer the mixture to a large frying pan. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat until the juices come to a boil, which should take about 10 minutes.


While the fruit is heating, make the biscuit topping. Place the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, and salt – in the bowl of a food processor, and give it 5-6 good pulses, to mix and aerate the ingredients. Add the butter and continue to pulse the mixture until it takes on the consistency of coarse meal. Add the milk while you continue to pulse, until the dry ingredients have been completely absorbed, but do not overmix. The dough will be wet.


Remove the fruit from the heat and scrape it into an oven-proof casserole. Drop the dough by large spoonfuls on top. Don’t worry if there are spaces between dollops of dough, as these will allow the fruit to bubble up and create a nice mosaic pattern.


Kitchen Goddess note: If you have a nice large cast iron skillet – or something like a Le Creuset braiser – that can go from cooktop to oven, there’s no need to transfer the fruit mixture to a casserole. Just make the entire recipe in that pan.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.