Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mini Break

Life happens. I'm taking a short break and should be back next week.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ad of the Week Update: Hershey's Chocolate

Remember this Hershey's ad? The one that asks the question "What makes a Hershey's bar pure?" Back when they were first airing this commercial, I was happy to provide one answer with this post. In short, it wasn't the chocolate. For the past several years, Hershey's has been using the emulsifier and extender PGPR on their products, including their trademark milk chocolate bar.

It looks like someone may have pointed out that people were becoming aware of the hypocrisy (and borderline misrepresentation) of their claim that their chocolate was still pure. Being the responsible, quality-conscious company that they are, they have addressed the problem.

:sigh: No, they didn't take all of the crap out of their chocolate. They changed the commercial. Now, the voice-over asks: "What makes Hershey's so special?" and ends with the phrase "pure Hershey." No dishonesty there.

And still no chocolate either.

I suppose they have done me a favor. It's easy to hold out against those chocolate cravings when what were some of my favorite chocolate bars are no longer chocolate.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Baking Class: Spinach, Leek and Gruyere Tart

As you know if you have been following my blog (all four of you), I have been working on my pastry technique. Every time I think I have got it down, I'll roll out something soggy, or tough, or salty. Yes, salty, and don't ask.

Because I don't want to be drowning in pie (although now that I have written out those words that doesn't seem like such a bad thing), I have tried to intersperse some savory between the sweet. I've made quiches, tarts, and a chicken pot pie, all with varying degrees of success. Some were a little runny. Some were too thick. The mustard greens quiche was a touch too bitter. The onions on the potato and caramelized onion pie were a wee bit too caramelized. The custard didn't set completely on the tomato-basil pie. They were all edible, but none were particularly memorable or repeatable.

But I stuck with it, and I finally got it right.

I am quite pleased with myself right now. Everything came together beautifully in this Spinach, Leek and Gruyere Tart. The pie crust was tender and flaky with just the right amount of crunch. The custard was smooth and creamy without being too rich. The spinach and leeks complemented each other perfectly.

I based it on my quiche recipe, but I am especially pleased that I reduced the amount of cream, milk and eggs by 25 percent. With a dish this rich, that's no small thing.

I know it's a big fat cliche, but throw a fresh garden salad on the plate along with a slice of this tart and you have the perfect lunch or dinner.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 8 servings

For crust:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3-4 Tbsp ice cold water

For tart:
2 Tbsp grapeseed or canola oil
1 large or 2 small leeks, trimmed, halved lengthwise and thoroughly rinsed to remove any mud that is caught between the layers
1 bunch fresh spinach
4 oz shredded Swiss gruyere cheese (about 1 cups)
3 eggs
3/4 cup cream
3/4 cup milk
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp dried mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the butter into 1/2-inch pieces and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Place flour, sugar, and salt in food processor and pulse two or three times to mix everything together. Add butter and pulse in 5 to 10-second intervals until a coarse mixture is formed.

Add about two tablespoons of the ice water and pulse in 10-second intervals two or three times. Check the dough to see if it comes together when it is squeezed between your fingers. If necessary, add more water, a tablespoon at a time and pulsing once for about 5 seconds, until the dough comes together. You want to be a little careful here not to over-work the dough or you will have a tough crust.

Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead just enough to bring it together into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (up to 2 days).

Trim any tough stems off of the spinach leaves and rinse them. Heat a large pot over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Place the spinach in the pot and then cover the pot. Lower the heat as low as it will go and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the pot and rinse with cold water to cool it. Using your hands, squeeze as much liquid out of thespinach as you can, and then cut it into a rough chop.

Make sure the leeks have been thoroughly cleaned. Cut away any of the tougher green tips, then slice the leeks thinly. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over a medium flame. Add the leeks and saute about 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook leeks until they are translucent and limp, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit for about 10 minutes so it wll be easier to roll out. Place on a lightly floured surface and roll out into a circle that is about an inch wider than the diameter of a 9-inch pie pan. Carefully layer the dough into the pan, gently molding it to the shape of the pan (do not stretch the dough). Fold the edges under and make a decorative pattern by pinching the edges between your fingers, or push down around the edge with the tines of a fork.

Layer the cheese along the bottom of the pan, right on top of the dough. Then arrange the spinach and leeks evenly over the cheese.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the flour and the dried mustard to the milk and cream mixture while it is still in the measuring cup and whisk it together. Add it to the eggs along with the Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and mix well. Pour it over the cheese, spinach and leeks.

Bake at 350 deg. F. for about 50 minutes, until a sharp knife inserted into the custard comes out clean.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.45 (

Monday, June 07, 2010

Baking Class: Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting

I love fancy desserts as much as the next person, but sometimes I just want a piece of cake. A nice piece of yellow cake with chocolate frosting can be the perfect dessert. Add a cup of ice-cold milk and it is the perfect dessert.

I had a standby recipe, but it has been a long time since I have made this cake and I have no idea where the recipe has gone. It isn't in any of my older notebooks or recipe boxes, and it was harder than you would think to find a replacement.

I had a different recipe in one of my notebooks, a recipe that called for quite a bit of butter, but it actually came out dry. If you're going to use that much butter, you have the right to expect a moist, rich cake. I won't be using that recipe again.

I did some more searching, and finally decided to try a recipe I found at It is a simple recipe, easy to follow, and it came out moist and delicious. The chocolate icing is from an old family recipe.

I made this for our end-of-month lunch at work. Everyone seemed to like it, as evidenced by how quickly it disappeared.

This would make a lovely dessert for a barbecue or a picnic in the park. It travels well and pairs nicely with ice cream.
Home Cookin Chapter: Cakes and Pies


2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 13- x 9-inch baking dish.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium-sized bowl and mix briskly with a whisk.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, adding them one at a time. Add the vanilla and mix well. Slowly add the flour mixture and the milk, alternating between the two, starting and ending with the flour mixture. The batter should be smooth by the time all of the dry and wet ingredients have been incorporated.

Pour the batter into the pan. Lift it up and let it drop against the counter once or twice, to release any air bubbles. Smooth the top with a spatula until it is even.

Bake at 350 deg. F. for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

For a layer cake, divide batter between two 9-inch greased baking pans and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then invert cakes onto a plate. Let cool completely before layering and icing.

adapted from

Exported from Home Cookin 6.45 (


1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
confectioners sugar

Notes: The butter and vanilla are the only constants in this frosting recipe. The rest of the ingredients are added gradually until the desired taste and consistency is achieved. A hand mixer is not necessary, but it does make it easier. Use a wooden spoon and mix vigorously.

In a medium bowl with the softened butter, add 3/4 cup of the confectioners sugar, 2 tablespoons of the cocoa, about 2 tablespoons of milk, and the vanilla. With a hand mixer, beat together at medium-high speed until they ingerdients come together. The mixture should be thick, but not too dry. Add confectioners sugar, cocoa and milk in small amounts, mixing and tasting each time, until the frosting reaches the desired flavor and consistency.

Can be used immediately on a completely cooled cake. Let the frosting set before covering up the cake. If not using immediately, cover the frosting with plastic wrap so it doesn't set in the bowl. Can be frozen and used at a later time.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Handmade Pasta with Pancetta and Sugar Snap Peas

The green market still has slim pickings this early in the season, but luckily for me they are all pickings that I like. After the asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries, sugar snap peas have their brief time to shine. They first showed up last Wednesday, and I expect they'll be around maybe one or two more weeks if I'm lucky. They are sweet and crisp and tender, and I love that you can eat the whole thing, pod and all.

The first thing I do with them is cut them in half and throw them in a salad. Then I cook them up with pasta, like I did here.

I used a batch of handmade pasta for this dish. It's easy enough to throw together a batch, and if I'm not ready to use it when I make it I can put it in the refrigerator for up to two days before I need to use it.

But if you don't feel like making it yourself, dried pasta works just as well for this.
makes 4 servings

1 batch handmade pasta, or 12-oz package fettucini
1/4 lb thick sliced pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch wide strips, then crosscut into 1-inch strips
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 pint sugar snap peas, trimmed
3/4 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup cream
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove. While the pasta water is heating, prepare the sauce.

Place pancetta in a single layer in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a little oil if necessary. Cook the pancetta until it is crispy. Remove it from the pan and place it on a paper-towel lined plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.

Lower heat to medium and add garlic. Saute until just turning brown. Add the broth and the cream, scraping the pancetta fond from the bottom of the skillet. Add the thyme. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the sauce has reduced by half.

At this point cook the pasta. If using dried pasta, cook the pasta about 2 minutes short of the time on the package directions and add the sugar snap peas to the sauce about 2 minutes before the pasta is done. If using fresh pasta, add the sugar snap peas to the sauce when you put the pasta in the pot to cook for 2 minutes.

Reserve half a cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet. Add the cheese the the pancetta and mix well. If the dish is too runny, turn the heat on high long enough to evaporate some of the sauce. If it is too thick, add the pasta water a little at a time.

Serve immediately, with extra grated cheese on the side.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...