Friday, August 14, 2015

Product Review: Hamilton Beach Wave Action Blender

This may be the longest I have gone without posting since I first started this blog almost ten years ago.  As happens, life has gotten busy (mostly in good ways) and I haven't had the time that I would like to spend either cooking or writing about cooking. So when Hamilton Beach approached me again with an offer to review their Wave Action Blender I thought it might be a good opportunity for me to do some cooking and to restart the blog.

Since I burned out the motors on the last three blenders I owned trying to make hummus I finally gave up on owning one.  Between my treasured stick blender and food processor I have managed to chop, grate, whip and puree just about anything I have needed. But when I saw the 700 watt power on the Wave Action Blender I thought it might be time to try it again, so I agreed to give it a shot.

I was a little disconcerted when it arrived to see by the packaging and the instructions that it looks like it is being specifically marketed as a smoothie/shake maker.  And I am not a big fan of either.  My perception was further enhanced when I saw that two of the buttons were labeled "Mix - Milkshake - Easyclean (?)" and "Puree - Smoothie - Icy Drink" and the Pulse button said "Dice - Chop Salsa" on one side and "Grind - Crush Ice" on the other.  But I figured it should still work for my purposes so I decided to give it a try.

The first thing I did was chop up tomatoes, cucumber, green peppers, onion and garlic for a quick batch of Gazpacho.  And I have to say, as easy as it is to throw everything into a big jar and just stick in my hand blender and whip it into shape, the blender did it in a mere fraction of the time.  Score one for the machine.
Next, I decided to make my old favorite corn casserole, which calls for a blending together of eggs, oil (or butter) and corn as the base.  I have been making a seemingly infinite number of variations of this dish over the years so I decided to go back to the original recipe.

I combined the oil, corn, and eggs in the blender and pureed it for a few seconds to get started.  I turned it off and checked to see how much more time it needed.

To my surprise, it was completely pureed and suspiciously smoothie-like. I must admit, I was pretty impressed

I regret that my time constraints did not provide a chance for me to test it any further, as I would have preferred to have used it for at least three different purposes, but this is what I can say after these two uses:


1.  Glass blender bowl
2.  Power - 700 watts is a lot of power and does the job quickly
3.  Ease of cleaning - the gasket is actually attached to the blade, and that one little detail makes all the difference in cleaning.  Blenders by definition are a little bit of a pain to clean, but this was not so bad and not enough to keep me from using it.  Although I did spend a bit of time trying to get it off when I first opened it, even though the instructions made a point to tell me not to (who reads the instrutions right off the bat anyway?).
4.  Small Footprint.  For having such a powerful motor, it is surprisingly light and not terribly big or heavy.  Since I don't have room to leave it out on the counter top, it is no small thing that it is small enough and light enough to put it on a shelf and take it out to use easily.
5.  The dual blade system seems to keep the liquid from jumping up all over the container when you turn it on.
6.  The lid has a pour spout that you can open without having to take the lid off, so you can pour soups (or yes, smoothies) without having to take the lid off, which you will see comes in handy when you get to my dislikes.


1.  The lid has a wide plastic rim that fits so closely and tightly into the glass container that it takes a lot of muscle to get it off.  I'm no weakling and it takes me a few tries (and some grunting and groaning) to get it off.  On the other hand, there is little change of spillage once that baby is on.  And, as I mentioned above, you can pour soups and drinks through a spout without having to take off the lid.
2.  The sides of the container cave in on the sides, which makes the it a little hard to clean.  Not terrible, but a little inconvenient.

And that's it.  Given majority of likes over dislikes, I would have to say that I like this product and will be using it often.  I am already trying to come up other uses for it.

Bottom line:  I recommend it.

You can find the original corn casserole recipe here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Baking Class: Savory Soda Bread

After I made my first Irish soda bread for St. Patrick's Day a couple of years ago I started looking for a more healthful, savory version.  I really liked the raisin-sweetened white flour version, but like most sweet treats it is meant to be enjoyed occasionally, as a treat.  But because it was so easy to make and had such a wonderful bread-like consistency achieved without yeast or long risings, I wanted to see if I could find a savory version that contained whole wheat flour and no sugar.

An internet search brought up a recipe from Claire Robinson, who had (has?) a show on the food channel called "5 Ingredient Fix."  Not counting salt and pepper and maybe a few other ingredients considered staples, the show features recipes that can be made from 5 or less ingredients.  When I first started watching it I assumed it would involve opening a lot of boxes and cans a la Sandra Lee, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the recipes contained fresh ingredients and involved actual cooking.  And what she was cooking looked good.

I was not particularly tempted to try any of them, but when I went searching for a savory soda bread recipe that did not contain raisins and found this recipe I decided to give it a try, based on what I had seen from her show.

And I was not disappointed.  It was delicious.  And ridiculously easy.  It has become one of my staple bread recipes.  It is the perfect recipe for those times when I have neither the time nor the inclination to play with yeast but I want bread.  And it holds up beautifully to sandwiches and toasting.

When I am making it just for myself I will halve the recipe and I have enough bread for about a week.  From the thought of bread to a lovely loaf cooling on your counter in less than an hour, this is the one that you want.

Home Cookin Chapter:  Breads and Muffins

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading surface
3 cups whole-wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp kosher salt
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, oats and salt. Pour in most of the buttermilk and mix well, adding more buttermilk, if needed, to form a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and lightly knead into a shapeable dough. Avoid overworking it.

Shape the dough into a round disk shaped loaf and cut a deep "X" in the top with a sharp knife. Put the dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 7 minutes at 425 degrees F. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. and bake another 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven to a cutting board. Cool slightly before cutting and enjoy warm!


Exported from Home Cookin 8.63 (

Sunday, June 07, 2015

North African Cauliflower Soup

photo by C Chang
I made North African Cauliflower Soup for a Spiced-up potluck last week.  The theme was fennel, a spice which I only recently started using, and I have mainly used the seeds, not ground.  The first time I experimented with ground fennel was for a rice dish upon which I improvised a few years ago on one of my Austin visits with my brother.  It was one of many herbs and spices I used, and I think it was one (if not a few) too many.  The end result was a muddy mishmash of oddly conflicting flavors.

I love the flavor of the whole seeds, toasted in oil before adding zucchini, greens, or other vegetables.  And they are now a must for me when I make pot roast, and of course they are a large part of what makes Italian sausage Italian sausage.  But ground?  Not so much.

The next opportunity I had to use it was in a dish I made for our fenugreek potluck (yes, fenugreek).  I did like the way it combined with the other spices in that dish, so I realized that it is a matter of matching it with the right ingredients, and not having too many conflicting flavors with which it must contend.  The spice combination for this soup is cumin and fennel, which I thought surely ought to go together fairly well.

They did.  The cumin adds its wonderfully earthy tones and the fennel gives it a slightly sweet, floral finish that comes through at the end.  And it was ridiculously easy to make.  The original recipe called for water and bouillon cubes, but I don't use bouillon these days.  I happened to have a quart-sized bag full of vegetable trimmings in the freezer so I threw them into a pan with enough water to cover and cooked it for about an hour and just like that I had vegetable broth.  If that is too much work for you, though, store-bought would work just as well.

This was delicious heated up for the potluck, but for the rest of the week I just let what I took into work for lunch come to room temperature outside of the refrigerator.  Like vichysoisse, it was just as good cool as it was warm.

The person who originally posted the recipe mentioned that the tomato and chives (or scallions) garnish really makes the dish.  I would have to agree with that assessment.  Next time, I might even toast some fennel seeds as well.
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews
Servings: 4

2-1/2 cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 potatoes (about 2 cups diced)
1 medium head cauliflower (about 5 cups chopped)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons ground fennel
4 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt and ground black pepper to taste
chopped fresh tomatoes for garnish
chopped chives or scallions for garnish

Saute the onions in a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat until they are translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the cumin and fennel and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the potatoes and cook, again stirring constantly, until the potatoes are well coated with the spices.

Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Add the cauliflower and bring back to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and puree the mixture in a blender, food processor, or with a stick blender until smooth. Return to the heat and add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Reheat if necessary over low heat.

Serve garnished with the chopped tomatoes and chives or scallions.

adapted from a recipe in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, by The Moosewood Collective (Touchstone, 1994), as found at

Exported from Home Cookin 8.63 (

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Baking Class: Onion Rolls (Pletzlach)

The bread group I joined a little over a year ago disbanded at the end of the year, so one of the members and I decided to start up our own bread group so we could continue to challenge ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones and try new techniques or recipes, which is something I am always wanting to do.

We kept the theme for our first meeting simple:  bake any kind of yeasted bread.  It was a small group, but successful.  So we decided to keep going with it. For our second meeting, we decided to make rolls.  I will often shape my regular bread recipes into rolls and bake them that way, but it is not often that I make a recipe that is a particular kind of roll.  I wanted to make something different from the bagels, bolillos, and buns that I had already made so I looked through my files and ran across a recipe for onions rolls (pletzlach) that I had bookmarked a while ago and I decided to make them.

They turned out surprisingly well, and the process was not overly complicated or fussy.  I took them to work the next day and they disappeared quickly.  They were a little sweet to my taste, even after I cut the amount of sugar in half, but no one else seemed to mind that.  I might drop the amount to 1 tablespoon the next time I make them to see if there is a significant difference.

And I will be making them again.
Home Cookin Chapter: Breads and Muffins
makes 20 rolls

360g to 480 g (3 to 4 cups) all-purpose flour
14g yeast (2 packets)
24g sugar (2 Tbsp) sugar*
1 large egg
1/4 cup plus 2 tsp grapeseed oil
6g (1-1/2 tsp) salt
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
2 tsp poppy seeds
2g (1/2 tsp) kosher salt

*original recipe calls for 4 Tbsp

In a large bowl, add the yeast and sugar to the water and mix well. Add 360g (3 cups) of the flour and mix well. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.

Add the egg, 1/4 cup of the oil and the salt to the sponge and mix well, until the dough is soft but not sticky. Add more flour if necessary. Put the mixture into a greased bowl, cover, and let rise for an hour. Punch it down and let it rise again for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350°F. Combine the onion, remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and the poppy seeds and set aside.

Divide the dough into 20 balls. On a floured board, roll each ball into a circle about 2 or 3 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick. Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of onion-poppy seed mixture on each circle. Roll circles again, to a thickness of about 1/8 of an inch. Prick each circle with a fork and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Transfer to 2 ungreased baking sheets. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

adapted from a recipe by Rebecca Peltz, The New York Times, December 1, 2004 (article by Joan Nathan): 

Exported from Home Cookin 8.63 (

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Haluska (Cabbage and Onions with Pork)

I have discovered a most wondrous thing.  A few years ago I was looking for something new I could do with cabbage.  I had half of a large head of it left over from something and didn't know what to do with it.  I was also feeling the urge to make pasta, so I looked for recipes that had both cabbage and pasta.

I found an eastern European dish called Haluska, which is basically just braised cabbage and onions with noodles.  It seemed simple enough and I certainly had the ingredients so I decided to give it a try.

And it was delicious.  "Where have you been all my life?" delicious.  The cabbage and onion cooks long enough to become tender and velvety and coats the pasta like a buttery velvet glove.

What's the catch?  The recipe calls for a stick of butter.  That is half a cup.  And while I love butter, that seemed like an awful lot of fat in general, and butter in particular.  So the first time I made it I cut the fat in half and used equal amounts of olive oil and butter.  Not having ever made the recipe as written I can't make a true comparison and I am sure it would be absolutely fantastically divine with the full stick of butter, but it was mighty darned tasty the way I made it.  So tasty that I have made it fairly often since that first time.  Any time I have any leftover cabbage, as a matter of fact.

I usually make it with just the cabbage, onions and noodles, but many recipes offer variations that include meat.  This last time when I decided to make it I remembered that I had thrown some braised pork shoulder in the freezer since I had cooked more than I could eat in a few days.  I am always trying to reduce the load in my freezer so I decided this would be a good use for it.  So I shredded up the pork and added it to the dish along with the noodles.

And oh my gosh, what a wonderful thing that turned out to be!  The meat melted into the dish like it was meant to be there, and while all of the flavors were detectable, they combined into something much much greater than the sum of its parts.  It was heavenly.

And I will be making it often.  In fact, I now plan to always cook a little more meat than I need when I am braising so I can hold some back to make Haluska.  For such an easy dish to prepare, it packs a powerful punch of flavor.  Try it - I am sure you will agree!

Home Cookin Version 8.62 Chapter: My Recipes
4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons butter
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion halved and thinly sliced
1/2 large head of cabbage, cut into thin strips
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 pound noodles, cooked and drained
1 cup cooked pork, chicken or beef, shredded (optional)
fresh parsley, for garnish

Melt the butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cabbage and saute until they are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the salt and pepper, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cabbage and onions are translucent.  Do not let them brown.

Add the cooked noodles and meat if using and mix everything together.  Sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving.

(Adapted from recipe found online but the link seems to be broken)
Exported from Home Cookin 8.62 (

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry

There are times when our long lingering winters get to me more than others.  When that happens, I look for something light and fresh to eat so I can fool myself into thinking that spring really is just around the corner.

I put this dish together last April, after one of the worst winters I can remember in Chicago.  We still had winter conditions and it seemed that spring would never come.  So I made this chicken and broccoli stirfry for dinner and - lo and behold! - spring arrived the very next day.

As if.  But it did help me feel better.  And now that we are once again in the throes of what seems like a never-ending (and is indeed a record-breaking) winter, I plan to make me a stirfry tonight and see if I can't work that magic again.  Maybe if we all stirfry tonight spring really will come tomorrow.

I know.  Sigh.  But I'll be happier regardless.
Home Cookin 8.62 Chapter: My Recipes
Makes 4 servings

4 skinless boneless chicken thighs (about 3/4 lb.)
2 Tbsp cornstarch, separated
3 Tbsp peanut oil, divided
2 Tbsp garlic/ginger paste*
4 cups broccoli florets
1/2 lb snow peas
6 green onions, separated, whites thinly sliced and greens sliced
about 1/2-inch thick
2 Tbsp sweet sherry
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 fresno or other small fresh chili, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced ginger

Fill a three-quart saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Add the broccoli florets. Turn off the heat, cover them immediately and let the pan sit for four minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, then set aside.

Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces, keeping the size as uniform as possible. Place in a small bowl and sprinkle with one tablespoon of the cornstarch. Set aside. Combine the sherry, soy sauce, and rice vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. In a smaller bowl, combine a tablespoon of cornstarch with a tablespoon of water and stir to make a slurry.

When all of the ingredients are ready, place a wok over high heat and let it sit until smoke begins to rise from the bottom. Add 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil and swirl around to evenly coat, then add the chicken. Cook, stirring continuously, until the chicken pieces are cooked, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside.

Add the remaining peanut oil to the wok, then the garlic/ginger paste. Stir for a few seconds and then add the broccoli. Stirfry for 2 to 3 few minutes. Add the snow peas and stirfry for a minute more, then add the white parts of the green onions and the fresno chili and stirfry one more minute. Add the chicken back into the wok and stirfry for another minute. Add the walnuts, then pour in the sherry, soy sauce and vinegar mixture and cook until the liquid is boiling. Add the cornstarch slurry and stirfry until the liquid has thickened to the desired consistency.

Remove the wok from the heat and add the sesame oil, sesame seeds and the tops of the green onions. Serve immediately.


Exported from Home Cookin 8.62 (

Monday, February 16, 2015

Black Beans with Vermicelli

Gosh it's been cold around here.  It has not been nearly as bad as last year, or as bad as they have it on the East Coast right now, but cold is cold and it has been cold.

And when it is cold I want comfort food.  What that means can vary, often depending on what I have on hand.  What I had on hand this weekend was black beans.  I associate black beans with Mexican food, but I was not in the mood for Mexican.  I didn't know what I wanted, but I was pretty sure it wasn't the usual Mexican flavors.

When that happens I will wander over the pantry and look over what I have to see if inspiration strikes.  I was lucky this time when my eye fell on about half a cup of vermicelli.  It was one of many last little bits of items I buy for a specific purpose and for which I don't use the entire package.  So I am always happy when something catches my eye and I immediately realize that I can incorporate it into what I am trying to do and help clean out my pantry.  I know beans and pasta go together and form a complete protein for a meal-in-a-bowl, so I knew that was what I wanted to do.

I think of vermicelli noodles as comfort food, largely thanks to those packages of chicken noodle soup we always had in the house when I was a child.  The packaged versions are so loaded with sodium and chemicals that I no longer care for it, but I still have fond memories of that flavor profile so I loved the thought of adding it to black beans for a nice comforting meal for a cold winter's day.

This dish came together in about half an hour, which is great for a weeknight. I had cooked the beans the day before because I knew I was going to make something with them and wouldn't have time to cook them from scratch and put together dinner on the same day.  That has become one of my tricks for weeknight cooking.  I'll decide what beans I will be wanting and I will cook them and put them in the refrigerator until I am ready to use them.  And if I haven't found a use for them within three days I throw them in the freezer so they don't go to waste.

This makes a lovely dinner with a nice green salad, and travels well for work lunches.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes
Makes 6 servings

3 cups cooked black beans (1/2 lb fresh or 2 15-oz cans)
3 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups vegetable broth or water
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup dried vermicelli
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill plus some for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent but not browned. Add the wine and cooking, stirring often, to let the alcohol evaporate.

Add the vegetable broth, tomatoes and black beans and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for ten to fifteen minutes to let the flavors blend.

Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the vermicelli and cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is done according to the package directions. Serve immediately, garnished with more of the chopped dill.


Exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (

Monday, January 26, 2015

Curried Yellow Peas

On one of my recent pilgrimages to the Indian shops on Devon Avenue I picked up what I thought was a four-pound bag of split chickpeas.  Imagine my surprise when I got home and saw that I had picked up a big old bag of yellow split peas instead.  Quelle suprise!

Although to be honest, I am not completely sure that they are yellow split peas.  They might be pigeon peas.  The bag said chana dal, which I thought was the split chickpeas but when I looked up images online for chana dal I found more images of these than the chickpeas.  So I'm not sure what they actually are, or what they are actually called.

No matter, though.  It wasn't so much that I did not want them; I was mainly disappointed because those four-pound bags are heavy, and now I was going to have to go back again to get the chickpeas.  As for the yellow split peas, they are not going to waste.  To start with, I made this quick dal for weekday lunches.  These seem much sturdier than green split peas, which is why I think they might actually be something else.  They do taste like peas.  Who knows?  All I know is they are all delicious, and all provide a powerhouse combo of protein, fiber, and minerals.  How can you lose?

If this recipe seems familiar, it is because by now I have made a lot of dals.  The technique is the same.  The only differences now are which spices I am currently absorbed with and using at any given time.  These days I am adding paprika and amchur to the mix, and I have rediscovered ajwain.

But as usual, if you do not have the separate spices and do not want to deal with them, just leave them all out and throw in a tablespoon or three of your favorite curry powder instead.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes
Makes 4 servings

1 cup split yellow peas, sorted, rinsed and drained
1 quart water
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tsp nigella seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp ginger/garlic paste
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne, or to taste
1/2 tsp amchur
1/2 tsp ajwain, optional
3 tomatoes (canned or fresh), diced
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the peas and water in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer until the peas are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

While the peas are cooking, heat the oil and nigella seeds in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds. When the mustard seeds start popping, add the onions and ginger/garlic paste and saute until the onions are translucent. Add the spices and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently and being careful not to let them burn. Add tomato and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato breaks down, 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the cooked peas to the skillet, including as much water as necessary to achieve the desired consistency. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Serve over rice.

Exported from Home Cookin 8.59 (
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...