Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rice Pudding

Rice pudding is most definitely one of my favorite comfort foods. It's creamy and sweet and it totally reminds me of my mother. The problem that I have with some rice pudding recipes is that either it tastes like canned vanilla pudding or else the rice is too hard. This recipe, passed down from my mother, takes a little time, but it is relatively simple. And it produces the most creamy, delicious rice pudding you will ever have.

Rice Pudding

1 cup water
1/2 cup rice
a dash of salt
1 quart of milk
1/4 cup butter
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup raisins (soaked in hot water so they plump up), optional

1. Bring the water, rice and salt to a boil over medium/high heat in a large, non-stick saucepan.  Cover and let it boil until the water is absorbed, about 7 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the milk and the butter and bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce the heat to simmer, replace the lid and let the rice cook for 90 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes or so.

2. Remove the rice from the heat and slowly pour in the beaten eggs, stirring constantly. Put the pan back on the heat and cook for another minute or two. Stir in the sugar, vanilla and the raisins. Serve warm or cold with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

That's it. Easy, isn't it?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dutch Pancakes (Pannekoeken)

Have you ever asked someone for a recipe and gotten a blank stare….because they don’t really follow a recipe? You know—an old family heirloom that is made without measurements, but always turns out perfect? Such is the case with my family’s Dutch pancakes. I've been making them for years after being taught how by my sister, who learned from our mother. It goes something like this:

6 eggs
12 spoons of flour
1 spoon of sugar
1 spoon of oil
1 dash of salt
Enough milk to make it all a buttermilk consistency

Dutch pancakes are very much like a slightly thicker, eggier crepe. They are great eaten hot with some fried apples and maple syrup or, in the rare case there are any leftover, cold with a little sugar or jam. We have them for breakfast or for dinner and, though I know that the pancake restaurants in Holland serve them wrapped around savory fillings as well as sweet, we always serve them sweet, with syrup and maybe some fruit. Today, they made a perfect Christmas breakfast.

Let’s see if I can translate the recipe into something workable.

First, whisk the eggs, flour, sugar, oil and salt in a large bowl.

When I say spoons, I mean regular soup spoons. Some spoons of flour will be big, and some smaller--you'll get the right consistency when the milk is added.

Then add the milk, whisking constantly, until you have a thin batter. Now let the batter sit for at least 30 minutes.

Next, heat a small, heavy pan over medium high heat. Melt a bit of butter in the hot pan, then add 1/4 cup pancake batter, swirling it around to coat the pan evenly.

When the top looks dry, flip it over.

After you flip it,  the pancake might curl slightly and that is OK, but if it curls too much, add a bit more milk to your batter. Sometimes the first pancake is kind of a dud. Just eat it and don't show it to anyone.

Go ahead and stack them on a plate. At this point, impatient people will try to snatch a few. Tell them to wait for the apples.

The fried apples are easy. Just melt a couple (or four!)  tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan and add of couple of sliced apples. I'm not sure what kind of apples these were, but they were a little dry. You can sprinkle a bit of sugar on them (I don't) and just fry them until they caramelize, about 20 minutes.

Whether you decide to have fruit or not, the way to serve Dutch pancakes is rolled up. They are best with real maple syrup, but my family has a strange preference for the stuff in a bottle that resembles corn syrup. For a real treat, serve up some very crispy bacon or some sausage for that sweet/savory combo.

Here, we rolled them up with some leftover fruit compote.

And here we've topped them with some orange-cranberry compound butter...Holy Yum!

Any way you serve them, they won't last long!

Monday, December 21, 2009


I am perpetrating a bit of a fraud by bringing you these cookies, today. First of all, speculaas cookies (or Dutch windmill cookies, if you will) are traditionally served on the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas, December 5th. Luckily, you can find them all year long nowadays, so my sin is not in bringing them to you so late, but rather in bringing them to you as a cutout cookie. The very word, speculaas, comes from the Latin word speculum, which means mirror---and these cookies are always made with designs imprinted on them, usually from a speculaas mold (my father always made windmill shaped cookies with his molds). Alas, I had no molds. First, I procrastinated about ordering one, and then I found out that my sister had one of my father's molds still in her possession....unfortunately the one she had didn't work out for me. It was too big and it didn't leave an impression in the dough. It does make a nice keepsake, though!

I researched for awhile to come up with the actual recipe for my speculaas, the spices being the key ingredient. So, while I will share the recipe here today, I will be back when I actually have the speculaas mold and I will give an update. In fact, I'll save the whole story about the Dutch St. Nicholas for next year. In the mean time, these cookies are too good to pass up!


1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup white sugar
1/1/4 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 tablespoons speculaas spice*
1 teaspoon kosher salt

* Speculaas spice:
8 parts cinnamon
2 parts nutmeg
2 parts ground cloves
1 part white pepper
1 part ground ginger
1 part cardamom

This combination of spices can be found in recipes dating back to the fifteenth century
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream butter, vanilla, and both kinds of sugar until light and fluffy. Add both eggs and blend well.
Whisk all of the dry ingredients together and slowly add to the butter mixture, combining until the dough pulls from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. I actually kept the dough in the fridge for several days.

Roll out dough to 1/4" or 1/8" thick and cut with cookie cutters. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

The taste of these cookies are spot on. They should be thin and crisp and very spicy. Enjoy them any time of the year---you have my permission!

Update December 2011: This is the actual mold my father used (big thanks to my sister-in-law)! Now I just need the courage to try it out. I may have to modify the recipe a bit, in order for them to turn out right. I'll post when and if they turn out. :)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pumpkin Lasagna

Three things happened to make this the perfect recipe for me to make over the weekend. The first thing actually happened a few months ago when my 19 year old daughter announced that she was a vegetarian. It was really no surprise, although I have seen her wolf down an order or two of chicken nuggets. She has always preferred veggies, even when she was little, dipping her carrots in ranch dressing. Sounds a little like a Hidden Valley Ranch commercial, n’est pas? At any rate, it’s not a huge deal for me, except that now I was on the lookout for vegetarian recipes.

The second thing happened when my friend, Michelle Cadieux Tibbs, posted a pumpkin lasagna recipe on FaceBook. Her mouthwatering description of it on her status update prompted a comment from me and she was nice enough to provide me with the details.

Interestingly, the lasagna recipe was made in a crock pot, which brings me to the third thing: I won a brand new digital crock pot from the lovely Liz Brooks over at It arrived just about the same time I printed out the recipe! Karma. It had to be made.

Isn't it a beauty?

Truth be told, the original recipe was called Chèvre & Pumpkin Lasagna (chèvre being goat cheese, for the uninformed). My daughter might have tried goat cheese, but I knew my husband wouldn’t go for it, so that was my one modification. Here is the recipe as written:

Chèvre Pumpkin Lasagna

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 large onions, halved and cut into thin slices
4 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
¾ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
1 teaspoon dried ground sage
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon flour
1 ½ cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, divided
1 can (15 oz) 100% pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1/3 cup finely chopped pine nuts
¾ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided
12 lasagna noodles, cooked and cooled in cold water
8 oz fresh chèvre, broken into small pieces (I used ricotta cheese)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

Yum--I love onions.

Add the onions and cook slowly until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add three-fourths of the garlic, 1 teaspoon of the salt, ½ teaspoon of the pepper, the sage, thyme and flour and stir until the onions are thoroughly coated.

I mixed the flour and spices in a cup first.

Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the broth and stir until slightly thickened. Stir in the vinegar and half the parsley and set aside.

This is where I started whifting the smell up with my hands like they do on the Food Network.

Mix the pumpkin, eggs, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, 1/2 cup parmesan, and the remaining parsley, and garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium mixing bowl.

Coat the interior of the crock of a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Spoon a fourth of the onion mixture over the bottom of the crock, top with 3 lasagna noodles, a third of the pumpkin mixture, and a third of the chèvre.

Spoon a third of the remaining onion mixture over the chèvre, top with 3 more noodles, half the remaining pumpkin, and half the remaining chèvre. Spoon half the remaining onion mixture over the chèvre, top with 3 more noodles, the remaining pumpkin, the remaining chèvre, and the remaining onion mixture. Top with 3 remaining noodles. Cover the crock with 2 kitchen towels and the lid. Cook for 3 to 4 hours on low. When the lasagna is done, the edges will be browned and the center will be barley set.

Top with the remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and cover until melted, about 1 minute. Remove the crock from the cooker and let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. Cut into 8 portions and serve.

Now here is where I goofed up. This new crock pot is awesome because it is digital--you can set the time and it will switch over to the warm mode when the time runs out. Well, the instructions call for 3-4 hours on "low" and this crockpot switches to "high" if you go under 7 hours. Of course, instead of just keeping it at 7 hours and manually turning it off after 4, I set it on high. The result was some pretty burned edges. Really, though, it didn't matter---it turned out fantastic! Both my husband and my daughter raved.

Now, only three more cans of pumpkin to use.....

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Frosted Cutout Cookies

My husband has been after me to make frosted cutout cookies for at least three weeks now. I have finally given in. It’s not that cutouts are hard to make, it’s just that (1) I am not very gifted at frosting them artistically and (2) I generally make a mess of the entire kitchen. Fortunately, my husband doesn’t really care what they look like. He usually snatches a few out of my hand before the frosting has even had a chance to dry. Unfortunately, I made a mess out of the entire kitchen. Sigh.

Since Hanukkah has officially begun (and since I happen to have Hanukkah cookie cutters and blue food coloring), I decided that Hanukkah cookies were the route to go. I started with a recipe from my trusty BHG cookbook. I have used this recipe for some 25 years and it hasn’t failed me yet.

Rolled Sugar Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (I omit this if I am using salted butter)
6 tablespoons butter 
1/3 cup shortening 
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream the shortening and the butter for 30 seconds. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy.

Add the egg, milk and vanilla and beat well. Add the flour mixture (a little at a time unless you want the mixer to blow it all over the kitchen) beating until well blended. Divide the mixture in half and wrap each half in plastic. Chill for several hours.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes. Place on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 8 minutes (silly me--I baked them for 11 minutes in a 350 degree oven--they were fine).

I've tried different kinds of frosting over the years and I find that I like the taste of canned frosting the best (must be the Sandra Lee in me). It doesn't always dry nicely, though. So this time I stirred in a little corn syrup and just a bit of powdered sugar. It worked--it gave it a little more gloss.

Then I sprinkled them with some colored sugar. Someday, I will figure out how to really decorate a cookie. Until then, these will do.

Happy Hanukkah!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sloppy Joes on Homemade Hamburger Buns

Ok--I am seriously over Christmas cookies. At least for the next ten minutes. Right now I am totally up for something a little more savory. I was browsing through all of the food pictures that are taking up so much memory on my computer (note to self: put an external hard drive on the gift list), and I saw these Sloppy Joe's that I made a while back. I am going to have to piece together the recipe for you, since I don't really have one. The buns are homemade, too. For that I have a recipe:

Homemade Hamburger Buns

1 cup warm water (115 degrees F. --like warm bathwater)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons powdered milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten (room temperature)
1 envelope (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 cups bread flour

Combine water, oil, powdered milk, sugar, egg, yeast and one cup flour in large mixing bowl. With paddle attachment, beat mixture for about 2 minutes.

Add the rest of the flour and, using the dough hook, knead the dough for about 5 minutes. The dough should make a ball and “clean” the sides of the bowl. If it looks too sticky, add a bit more flour, a tablespoon at a time.

Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl and cover with a clean towel. Allow the dough to rise in a draft-free, warm area until it has doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Punch down the dough and let it rest for 5 minutes. On a floured surface, divide the dough into 12 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and flatten slightly, to make a bun shape. Place buns on baking pans lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Allow buns to rise for 30-35 minutes.

Gently brush the top of each bun with melted butter. At this time, you can sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds, poppy seeds or a bit of finely chopped onion if desired.

Bake buns in 350 degree F. oven for 15-18 minutes or until golden.

Wasn't that fun? Now for the Sloppy Joes. Did anyone else ever call these Spanish hamburgers? Or is that a Wisconsin term? Hmmm.....

The first thing I do is poke around the refrigerator to see what I have. Let's chop up a few veggies first.

Celery, onions and tomatoes---you can't go wrong with those.

A little oil in the pan.

Fry up the celery and onions for a few minutes until they soften.

Add about a pound of ground beef or turkey, cook until no pink shows, then add the tomatoes.

Throw some wet stuff in from the refrigerator-- mustard, spaghetti sauce, BBQ sauce---enough to make it good and saucy. Then cook it for a few minutes, steal a taste and add whatever seasonings you think it needs. Salt? Pepper? Cayenne Pepper? It's all good. Just go light on the salt. Those processed foods are packed with it.

And there you have it. Easy Sloppy Joe's. Even easier if you buy the buns (but try the homemade--they taste better).