Thursday, April 28, 2011

An ode to spring, Cinco de Mayo and Mother's Day

4/27/11 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

An ode to Spring, Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day

The month of April is quickly winding to a close. That means Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day are just around the corner making it difficult for a weekly columnist to cover all of the holiday bases. So this week’s column is something of a smorgasbord of recipes. A little bit of this and a little bit of that.

First, we'll check out the wonderful food of Mexico. Pork carnita tacos are absolutely delicious and have become my favorite soft taco dish. Carnitas are cooked and eaten in a variety of styles but taco-style is my favorite. Sometimes known as street food in Mexico and East Los Angeles, the meat is cooked until falling apart tender. The following recipe can also be cooked on the stove top or all day long in a crockpot. Be sure and have lots of topping available, especially coleslaw or shredded cabbage.

Today’s spring vegetable dish (Asparagus Risotto) does double duty by combining asparagus with a rich, creamy Arborio rice. Arborio is a stubby, milky, Italian variety of rice with a unique texture. It has a starchy surface and a firm bite in the center that allows it to be both firm and creamy when cooked. If you’re going to take the time to prepare an Arborio dish, don’t skimp! Be sure and buy Arborio rice.

Cooking risotto is a time consuming and somewhat tedious process but it certainly is worth the effort. If you prefer not to use the white wine, simply substitute an equal amount of chicken broth (or water) with maybe a dash of vinegar for tang. The risotto must be prepared just before serving.

Finally, we finish up with some delightfully easy and pretty petit fours that little girls and boys can help make for mom. Enjoy!

Pork Carnitas Tacos

4 pounds boned pork shoulder, cut into large cubes
1 quart beef broth
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 cups chunky tomato salsa (or green tomatillo sauce)
2 teaspoons oregano
salt and pepper
Corn tortillas, small size

In a large, heavy saucepan, over medium-high heat, combine pork, broth, zest, salsa and oregano. Add enough water to completely cover the meat. Cover with lid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered 4-5 hours or until meat pulls apart easily. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 400° F. Remove meat from cooking liquid (discard liquid). Spread meat out in a roasting pan, breaking into small chunks with your fingers. Roast meat 15-20 min. or until brown and crispy.

Note: Skip the above browning step if you prefer your meat soft.

Heat the tortillas either in a microwave or on a hot skillet. Wrap warm tortillas in a clean cloth towel for serving.

To serve, double up the tortillas and place a few spoonfuls of the carnitas on them. Garnish with one or more (or all!) of the following:

Red onion, thinly sliced
Shredded cabbage with a splash of vinegar
Sliced avocado or guacamole
Fresh cilantro
Sour cream
Cotija or Jack cheese, shredded
Lime wedges
Pico de Gallo (fresh salsa

Asparagus Risotto

1 pound asparagus, cut on bias, 2” long
5 cups chicken broth
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-1/3 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
Sea sale and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Warm the broth in a saucepan over low heat and keep warm, just below a simmer.

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add the arborio rice and cook, stirring constantly, about 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Add the broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring occasionally and waiting until it is absorbed before adding more.

Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sauté the asparagus until bright green and slightly tender, 3-4 minutes. Once the broth is completely absorbed in the risotto, add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper and stir in the Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Mother’s Day Petit Fours

1 (16-ounce) pound cake
9 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 to 3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Liquid food coloring
Decorations, such as sprinkles, colored sugar, and candy flowers

Cut the entire cake into 1-inch-thick slices. Then use 1-inch-wide cookie cutters or a knife to cut round, square, and diamond shapes from each slice. Place the cake pieces on a wire rack set on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, mix together the powdered sugar, corn syrup, 1/2 cup water, and vanilla and almond extracts until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool for about 5 minutes. As the icing cools, it may start to stiffen; if so, stir in a spoonful of water to keep the icing smooth and flowing. Divide the icing equally between two or three small bowls. Stir food coloring, a drop at a time, into each bowl until the icing is the desired shade.

Working with one piece of cake at a time, spoon on the icing to cover it completely, then add sprinkles, colored sugar, or a candy flower before the icing sets. Let the cakes stand, uncovered, until the icing is dry, about 30 minutes. Store them in an airtight container for up to three days. Makes about 30 cakes.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipe
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hot Cross Buns celebrate Easter's new life


Hot Cross Buns celebrate Easter’s new life

This Sunday Christians around the world will be celebrating Easter, the cornerstone of their faith. Most will gather at services beginning at dawn to recognize and honor the resurrection of Jesus and take hope from the promise of eternal life for all who believe. New life is the essence of Easter.

Later, everyone will gather at the dinner table for a sumptuous feast but first, we need to eat breakfast. During the Lenten season, Hot Cross Buns are a tradition in many Christian homes. Typically they are readily picked up at a bakery and served on Good Friday but homemade is best.

The origin of the buns, like Easter’s chocolate covered bunnies and eggs, is mixed with early pagan roots. But I like the story dating the origin of Hot Cross Buns back to the 12th century when an Anglican monk was said to have placed the sign of the cross on the buns to honor Good Friday, known at that time as the “Day of the Cross.”

As a cook, food columnist and Christian, my point is that Hot Cross Buns and a plate of scrambled eggs make a tasty and symbolic Easter Sunday breakfast before everyone heads off to church. The buns can be made the day before, heated up and served with a pat of butter or a dollop of Lemon Curd. Your family will love them. Enjoy!

Diana’s Hot Cross Buns
“Diana’s Desserts”

For the Buns:
1/2 cup warm milk (105°F–115°F)
1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon PLUS 1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour (and 1/4 cup extra flour as needed for kneading)
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
1 egg
1/4 cup (golden) raisins or currants
2 teaspoons grated orange or lemon zest

For the Egg Wash:
1 egg white or yolk, beaten
3 tbsp. granulated sugar

Icing for the Crosses:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. milk or cream

Instructions for the Buns:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the milk, yeast and the 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 5-10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mix together the 2 cups flour, the allspice, cinnamon, salt and the 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Add half of the flour mixture to the milk mixture. Using the flat beater, beat until combined. Add the butter and egg and mix to combine. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until soft dough forms.

Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If needed, add extra flour 1 tbsp. at a time (up to 1/4 cup) to keep the dough from being too sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled large bowl and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until almost doubled in size, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured work surface, punch down the dough and knead in the raisins and grated orange zest. Shape the dough into a 12-inch log and cut into 12 equal pieces. Cover with clean plastic wrap and let dough rest for 10 minutes. Shape each piece into a ball and place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing the buns 1 1/2 inches apart. Cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Egg wash: In a small bowl, mix together the beaten egg white/yolk with the 3 tablespoons of sugar. Brush the buns with the glaze.

Bake buns in preheated 400 degree F. oven for 12 minutes. Remove buns from oven and transfer to wire rack. Cool buns for 5 to 10 minutes while you make the icing for the crosses.

Icing for the Crosses:
Combine all the icing ingredients in a small bowl and beat until thick. Use a pastry bag and tip to pipe thick crosses onto the buns. (Or fill a sturdy plastic bag with the icing, squeezing it down into one corner. Snip the tip of the bag off, and squeeze the icing onto the buns).

Serve with lemon curd (recipe follows) for a delicious Good Friday or Easter treat. Makes 12 buns.

Lemon Curd
Elinor Klivans, Fine Cooking

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer; about 2 min. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for 1 min. Mix in the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.

In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15 min. It should leave a path on the back of a spoon and will read 170° F. on a thermometer. Don’t let the mixture boil.

Remove the curd from the heat; stir in the lemon zest. Transfer the curd to a bowl. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the curd to keep a skin from forming and chill the curd in the refrigerator. The curd will thicken further as it cools. Cover tightly; it will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for 2 months.

Note: Divide into 3 small jelly jars to give as gifts. Keep refrigerated.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

I remember when ...

4/13/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

I remember when …

Recently, as President Obama began putting his re-election campaign together he did a little reminiscing. I was interested in his remarks that began “I remember when …”

First, the president reminded his audience that it wasn’t too long ago that he was still paying off his student loans. People could relate to that. And then he endeared himself to every workingman and woman when he added, “I don’t pump gas now, but I remember what it was like pumping gas … I remember the end of the month (paying bills) … I remember that.”

We all have memories like that, don’t we? At the time of hardship, we sometimes don’t think we are going to make it through. In my younger years, I could get pretty dramatic and think that some circumstance was the end of the world. Now I know better. And the older I get, the more often I find myself reflectively saying, “I remember when … ”

I remember when … my first paycheck at a 40-hour a week job was $32 (after taxes). Today no one could get by on that. But I was still living at home and going to school so that amount of money was doable. In fact, I saved enough from each paycheck to eventually pay for a beautiful wedding.

I remember when … I lived in Los Angeles where the skies were blue and the streets safe. As a young girl I confidently rode the buses and streetcars clear across town and back all by myself.

I remember when … those same streets erupted in flames during the Watt’s riots in 1965. By that time I had moved out of L.A.

I remember when … the Brooklyn Dodgers came to L.A. and took up residence at Chavez Ravine. I remember the smell of the hot dogs, the crack of the bats and announcer Vin Scully’s “Forget it!” home run call.

I remember when … I thought that two people in love could conquer the world with or without money. I got that one wrong. It takes love and money to make the world go round!

I remember when … I was pregnant with my third child in four years. Those were years of exhilaration and exhaustion. Some days I thought I wouldn’t survive the grind. I thought that my life would forever consist of diapers, formula, sleepless nights, rocking chairs, ear infections and sweet baby kisses.

I remember when … I learned that time isn’t static; nothing is forever. One day my babies were chubby little cuddlers and the next they were long and lanky school kids. Suddenly they were out of the house and we were empty nesters. Wow. How did that happen?

I remember when … I thought that “30” was old. In fact, the only birthday that I seriously mourned was the day I moved from 29 to 30 years old. Silly? You bet. Little did I know that life had only just begun!

I remember when … I went to the grocery store with a $20 bill and brought home 4 large bags of groceries to feed a family of 5 people. I bought everything on sale or with a coupon. Del Monte corn and green beans were 5 cans for $1; tomato sauce was 10 cans for $1; ground round was 69¢ a pound and bread was 20¢ a loaf at the day-old store. A chocolate bar was a treat to be divided five ways.

I remember when … I thought that if we could just earn $10,000 a year we would be rich. We finally got there but by that time inflation had eroded the dollar. We were still behind but we always got by.

I can remember when … being a millionaire meant that you were not just rich, you were really wealthy. It meant that you could not only afford a mansion on the hill but another one in Palm Springs and a yacht in Florida. Today, monetary wealth is measured in Billions and billionaires buy islands.

I remember when … tragedy seemed to stop time in our world. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 was my generation’s first rude awakening. The horror of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995; the twin towers terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and each and every war (whether declared or not) all took their toll.

I remember when … a man walked on the moon. Our entire extended family had gathered at a restaurant in Marina del Rey to celebrate a birthday. Suddenly the voice of Neil Armstrong and his grainy image came up on a television in the bar. His thoughtful words, “One small step for man and one giant step for mankind” still resonate today.

I remember when … decades later, the Space Shuttle Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003) disintegrated into flames at take off. I questioned: was the exploration in space frontiers worth the loss?

Last week as I was driving through Cottage Grove, I was reminded of changes in the around town during my 23 years here. Places and people that were once vital parts of the community have either moved on or are now gone forever. We are a town in flux.

I remember when … Uncle Bud Betz’s Chevrolet was known all over the state for his “Don’t you buy no ugly truck!” commercials. Tilly’s Top Hat Pies served the best pies ever. Bill Whiteman reigned as mayor; women could buy dresses at the Hub and Elsie’s Fashions; Hoovers and Self-Selecto shoes sold everything from fancy dress shoes to motorcycle boots.

Memories and times of reminiscing add richness and perspective to life as I age. They remind me of what is and isn’t important. Truly, nothing tangible lasts forever, only the memories.

I’m sure President Obama would agree.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Symbolic Passover Foods

4/6/11 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Symbolic Passover foods

Food is a component of many religious celebrations. An example is the springtime Passover when Jews retell the story of their people’s exodus from Egypt thousands of years ago with symbolic foods after a season of fasting. This year’s Passover celebration is April 19— 25.

According to the Torah, when God helped the Jews escape from Egypt, the Israelites left the country so quickly that bread dough did not have time to rise. It was quickly baked and in its unleavened state, wrapped for the journey. As a reminder of their escape, no leavened bread is eaten during Passover.

Before Passover begins, the entire household must be thoroughly cleaned of all prohibited leaven products (grains, bread, cereal, vinegar and cornstarch). The crumbs are ceremoniously brushed into a bag with a feather or palm branch and either burned or stored in a sealed off part of the house until after Passover.

On the first two nights of Passover a joyful family dinner and worship is enjoyed at home. This Seder ceremony includes the washing of hands, telling the Passover story; eating greens and bitter herbs to symbolize the bitterness of the Jews while enslaved. Celery dipped in saltwater is eaten in memory of all the tears shed during those years.

A hardboiled egg symbolizes renewal of life and their existence as a people. The dinner of lamb, beef brisket or roasted chicken symbolizes the traditional sacrificial offering. A special glass of wine is poured for the prophet Elijah and the doors are briefly opened to allow his spirit to grace them with his presence.

Dishes made of matzoh meal are common at the Seder. This meal consists of crumbs of unleavened bread and is used in many ways. A bland product it is good in soups.

Now, one might wonder what is on the table for dessert. Think about it. How does one make a sweet cake without some form of flour?

Well, butter, chocolate, cream and eggs are not forbidden. A clever cook can combine them in a deliciously decadent flourless chocolate cake to be remembered. A ganache glaze enhances its rich, dark color and deep chocolate flavor. And since it contains neither flour nor leavening, it’s perfect for Passover. Enjoy!

Matzoh Ball Soup
“Jewish Cooking 101”

1/2 cup matzoh meal
2 eggs
2 tbsp. oil or schmaltz (melted chicken fat)
2 tbsp. water or chicken broth
2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
A little black pepper
2 quarts thin chicken broth or consommé
A handful of baby carrots or regular carrots cut into large chunks (optional)
A few stalks of celery cut into large chunks (optional)

Beat the eggs, oil and water together thoroughly. Add the matzoh meal, parsley and black pepper; mix until you achieve an even consistency. Let this sit for a few minutes, so the matzoh meal absorbs the other ingredients and stir again.

Bring the broth to a vigorous boil, then reduce the heat until the broth is just barely boiling. Add the vegetables to the broth. Wet your hands and make balls of about 1-2 tbsp. of the batter. Drop the balls gently into the boiling water. They will be cooked enough to eat in about 15 minutes; however, you may want to leave it simmering longer to absorb more of the chicken broth flavor. They are done when they float on top of the broth and look bloated.

For lighter matzoh balls, use a little less oil, a little more water, and cook at a lower temperature for a longer time. For heavier matzoh balls, do the reverse. If you are using this to treat a cold, put extra black pepper into the broth (pepper clears the sinuses).

Passover Flourless Chocolate Cake
“King Arthur’s Flour recipe”

1 cup chopped semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 teaspoons espresso powder, optional
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch-process preferred

1 cup (6 ounces) chopped semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips
1/2 cup (4 ounces) heavy cream

1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted in a 350°F oven till golden brown, about 10 minutes

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease an 8" round cake pan; cut a piece of parchment or waxed paper to fit, grease it, and lay it in the bottom of the pan.

To make the cake: Put the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat till the butter is melted and the chips are soft. Stir until the chips melt, reheating briefly if necessary. You can also do this over a burner set at very low heat. Transfer the melted chocolate/butter to a mixing bowl.

Add the sugar, salt, and espresso powder. Espresso enhances chocolate’s flavor much as vanilla does; using 1 teaspoon will simply enhance the flavor, while 2 teaspoons will lend a hint of mocha to the cake. Add the eggs, beating briefly until smooth. Add the cocoa powder, and mix just to combine.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for 25 minutes; the top will have formed a thin crust. Remove it from the oven, and cool it in the pan for 5 minutes. Loosen the edges of the pan with a table knife or nylon spreader, and turn it out onto a serving plate. The top will now be on the bottom; that’s fine. Also, the edges will crumble a bit, which is also fine. Allow the cake to cool completely before glazing.

To prepare the glaze: Combine the chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat till the cream is very hot, but not simmering. Remove from the microwave, and stir till the chocolate melts and the mixture is completely smooth.

Spoon the glaze over the cake, spreading it to drip over the sides a bit. Allow the glaze to set for several hours before serving the cake.

Yield: one 8" cake, 12 rich servings.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing
a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.