Monday, October 31, 2011


Sweet potato. Ricotta. Arugula. Pizza. That’s all you need to know, OK?

What? No? More? Fine. I spotted this recipe (presented as an appetizer “flatbread,” but you say flatbread, I say pizza) at The Kitchn during The Great Ovenless Exile. I knew my stovetop pizza-making method (which I still need to detail for you sometime, considering that it has become my default pizza-making method, even though I still write all my recipes as though I’m baking them in the traditional manner) wouldn’t be enough to cook the sweet potatoes properly, so carefully squirreled it away, glancing at it longingly now and then, until My!New!Oven! finally arrived. It seemed like such a slam dunk: I love ricotta on pizzas, the contrasting colors were so bright and autumnal, and the peppery crunch of the arugula seemed like a perfect foil for the sweet starchiness of the potato.

And it was, indeed, very good. Not transcendent—it tasted exactly like the sum of its parts, although the thyme was a surprisingly nice, elevating touch—but I enjoyed it. One of the original recipe commenters had noted that she had difficulty getting the sweet potato slices to cook through by the time the crust was done, and I don’t have a mandoline or the requisite knife skills to slice a sweet potato that thinly, and besides, I still wanted to use my stovetop method, so I decided to precook the sweet potatoes in the oven, taking a page from this pesto-butternut squash pizza recipe. It worked fairly well, but I think I could have roasted them a bit less long, because they dried out more than I expected. Other than that, everything went smoothly and as written. As always with recipes where raw arugula is added at the end, it was a bit awkward to eat, with leaves falling every which way as soon as you take a bite, but if you add the arugula to the pizza immediately when it comes out of the oven, it does wilt a little bit, which helps. (I always just load up my pizzas with as much arugula as they can hold, which makes overflow a given.)

A was unenthused about this pizza, claiming that he doesn’t like sweet potatoes, which was news to me because he happily devours sweet potato fries and sweet potato spinach salad, but I suppose ketchup and bacon (respectively, not together) go a long way toward making anything palatable. His disapproval means this isn’t destined to become a favorite standby, but I’ll definitely make it again on occasion. It’s a fallish but light meal, which is perfect for this I’m-craving-squash-but-it’s-90-degrees-outside funk I inevitably fall into every October since I moved to Southern California.

1 sweet potato (about 12 ounces)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup ricotta
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 pound pizza dough
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, loosely packed
2 ounces arugula (two big handfuls)
Salt to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Peel the sweet potato and slice it into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Combine the slices with the olive oil in a large bowl and toss well to coat. Spread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet (coat with foil or parchment for extra ease) and bake for about 20 minutes or until tender.

3. Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and increase the heat to 450 degrees.

4. In a small bowl, mix the thyme into the ricotta.

5. Roll out the pizza dough and place it on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal or a little olive oil. Spread the ricotta mixture evenly across the top of the dough. Arrange the sweet potato coins in slightly overlapping layers on top. Sprinkle the entire surface with a little salt.

6. Bake pizza for 7 minutes, rotate it, and then bake for another 7 minutes, or until the edges of the crust are turning golden. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top and bake for one more minute or until melted.

7. Scatter the arugula on top of the pizza as soon as it comes out of the oven. Let it stand for a few minutes to allow the arugula to wilt. Slice and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good. I only added the arugula to the slices I was eating immediately, preferring to add fresh arugula to the leftovers after reheating them, but I think it would be OK reheated with the arugula already on top, too.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Behold! I have worked wonders! Actually, it turns out that making your own mayonnaise is a cinch, at least if you have an immersion blender. I’m not sure why I suddenly got crazy and decided to try this after watching a video at Serious Eats, but I did it and it worked beautifully—like a delicious magic trick! I’d love to whip this out at a party. Even though I technically understand how emulsification works, it still seems bizarre to me that an egg and a bunch of oil can combine in a matter of seconds to form a thick, creamy spread. (You’ll notice mine is a bit freckled, since I only had coarse-grain mustard on hand, but it tasted good all the same.)

The only problem with making my own mayonnaise is that…I don’t really like mayonnaise. I tolerate it a bit more than I used to, and the homemade stuff is certainly far superior to storebought, although I think some claims I’ve seen in recipe comments that homemade mayo will “change your life” or “convert mayonnaise haters” are overblown. I made this on a night I was serving fish cakes, so I used it in the cakes themselves and also in the tartar sauce I dolloped on top, which was noticeably improved by it. But most of the rest of the batch of mayo languished unused in the refrigerator, because I simply don’t have that many recipes that call for great quantities of it and I don’t eat a lot of sandwiches, dips, or creamy dressings. I don’t regret trying it because it was so easy and such a fun discovery, but in the future I’ll be saving it for special occasions. It would be fun to try adding garlic and/or herbs. I can definitely see myself making it periodically throughout the summer, when we tend to have BLTs on a near-weekly basis. I thought I’d perfected my BLT skillz, but this will take it to a whole new level!

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon room-temperature water
1 tablespoon lemon juice (from half a lemon)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup vegetable or canola oil (not olive oil; the flavor is too strong)
Kosher salt to taste

1. Place egg yolk, water, lemon juice, and mustard in the bottom of a narrow immersion blender cup. Pour oil on top and allow to settle for 15 seconds.

2. Place head of immersion blender at bottom of cup (directly over egg yolk) and switch it on. As mayonnaise forms, slowly tilt and lift the head of the immersion blender until all oil is emulsified.

Time: 5 minutes
Yields: About 1 cup
Leftover potential: Good; will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.


During my long ovenless purgatory, I kept wistfully bookmarking cookie recipes, and now that My!New!Oven! and I have gotten to know each other and are getting along like gangbusters, it’s time to start putting them to use. Cookies containing oatmeal are always my favorites (except for The Dreaded Oatmeal Raisin), and I’ve been hopelessly attracted to butterscotch chips in all their artificially flavored glory ever since I first encountered them them (in monster cookies) a few years ago, so the ubiquitous oatmeal butterscotch cookies (aka “oatmeal scotchies”) seemed like a no-brainer. I’d figured I’d just try the recipe on the Nestle Tollhouse butterscotch-chip bag (since I find their chocolate-chip cookie formula so hard to beat), until I stumbled across this one at Annie’s Eats. Annie attests that she has tried many oatmeal butterscotch cookie recipes and this one is the best, and how could I resist that?

This recipe varies from the traditional version by adding coconut and toffee bits, two other things I love. Combined with the always-on-the-verge-of-cloying butterscotch chips and the usual cookie ingredients, they conspire to make a very sweet cookie, although the oatmeal and cinnamon help to temper that somewhat. If you can get over the sugar high, however, the flavors are wonderful and the texture is perfect; the coconut adds tenderness and the toffee a bit of chew. I’d still like to try the standard recipe sometime just for the sake of comparison, but I’d definitely make these again.

This was my first time using toffee baking bits (I bought the Heath brand—the “Bits o’Brickle,” not the ones with chocolate), and I have to admit, they were pretty tasty. I’ve got some left over and am looking forward to trying them in another recipe.

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups shredded coconut
1 cup butterscotch chips
½ cup toffee bits

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

2. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir to blend, and set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugars and beat on medium-high speed until light and smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs until incorporated. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. With a spatula, fold in the oats, coconut, butterscotch chips, and toffee bits until evenly combined.

4. Drop scoops of dough (about 2 tablespoons each) onto the prepared baking sheets, a few inches apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until just set and light golden, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Let cool on the pans about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields: About 4 dozen cookies
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good; freezes well.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


My!New!Oven! was installed unexpectedly midweek, so I hadn’t had the chance to plan and shop for any recipes that would put it to use immediately. I did break it in by making chocolate chip cookies and baked oatmeal, two things I could throw together using ingredients already in my pantry, but it wasn’t until the following Sunday that I really got to bake my official inaugural meal. I didn’t have to think very long about what I wanted: roasted chicken with actual bones in it (not daring to attempt anything as ambitious as a whole chicken until the oven and I became better acquainted, I went with lemon-garlic drumsticks), and these potatoes, which I’d bookmarked at Smitten Kitchen last spring, after the “I love Dijon mustard” realization of early 2011, but before The Great Ovenlessness.

And it was AWESOME. Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who hadn’t eaten a roasted vegetable in five months, but these were easily the best potatoes I’ve ever made, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and so incredibly tasty. Old Me would have been scared off by the quantity of mustard I slathered on those things, but truthfully, after roasting, the overall taste wasn’t very identifiably mustardy (I don’t think if I’d tasted one blindfolded, I would have exclaimed, “Ah, mustard!”), just super-complex and dynamic and wonderful. It was a little more complicated to put together than many other roasted potato recipes I’ve tried, but every single one of those ingredients—oil, butter, lemon juice and zest, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper—played a crucial role in the zippy flavor. In particular, the whole mustard seeds became addictively nutty and crunchy when roasted; I found myself picking up the crusty scraps that fell off the potatoes and devouring them straight off the baking sheet with glee. I’d better start buying larger jars of mustard, because this is going to be my go-to potato recipe from now on.

¼ cup whole-grain Dijon mustard (I used Grey Poupon Harvest Coarse Ground, which still has enough liquidity that it sticks to the potatoes easily; if your mustard is on the drier side, you may want to consider using 3 tablespoons of it and 1 tablespoon of regular, smooth Dijon to help things along)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1½ pounds small unpeeled red and/or yellow potatoes, cut into ¾-inch-wide wedges
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray or coat with parchment paper.

2. Whisk mustard, olive oil, butter, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, lemon peel, and salt in large bowl to blend. Add potatoes; sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper and toss to coat. Place potatoes on prepared baking sheet, spreading them out in a single layer.

3. Roast potatoes 20 minutes. Stir, and then roast about 25 minutes longer, until crusty and browned.

(Potatoes can be made up to 2 hours ahead; let stand on baking sheet at room temperature, then rewarm in a 425-degree oven for about 10 minutes.)

Serves: 4–5
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: OK; leftover potatoes will be softer if reheated in the microwave, but they’ll still have great flavor. I haven’t tried reheating them in the oven, but I imagine that would restore them to something closer to their former glory.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


As soon as I saw this recipe in the October issue of Cooking Light, I dogeared the page. I had almost skipped over it because the title contained the dreaded (to me) phrase “goat cheese,” but I quickly noticed that feta was suggested as a substitute, and I think we’re all aware how much I currently adore feta. I do think pizzas topped with salad are difficult to eat gracefully (I refuse to resort to a knife and fork), but I can never resist fresh arugula with lemon-Dijon vinaigrette, and when you add apples, pecans, and cheese, you’ve got a perfect early-autumn meal.

Everything came together exactly as you’d expect. My!New!Oven! hadn’t been installed yet, so I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, using my now-habitual cast-iron-skillet-on-the-stovetop method and finishing it under the broiler (the only part of Sad Old Oven that still functioned). I realized while typing this just now that the recipe calls for a “six-grain pizza crust,” implying some sort of prepared, pre-cooked product, whereas I started with actual dough. I’m specifying dough in the recipe below, but I don’t think it should make too much of a difference which one you use; you just may need to cook it a bit longer when starting with raw dough. Just use your common sense—pizza recipes are always just loose suggestions anyway.

I did make a few changes that aren’t shown below. I doubled the dressing and arugula quantities, heaping some of the salad atop the pizza and whatever didn’t fit off to the side of the plate. This makes for a heartier meal and also gives you something to do with all the bits of nuts, cheese, apple, and arugula that will inevitably tumble off the pizza as soon as you take your first bite; just let them fall onto the plate, and then when you’re done with your pizza, stir all the detritus into the remaining greens and you’ve got a nice side salad to enjoy! I also amped up the lemon juice a bit in the dressing, because the honey was more noticeable than I’d expected and I prefer a more acidic taste with my salad; next time I might try leaving out the honey completely because I don’t think the added sugar is really needed when you’ve already got baked fruit. But all in all, the flavors went together wonderfully—the sweet apple, salty cheese, earthy nuts, and lemony dressing combine for a simple yet sophisticated lunch or light supper.

1 pound pizza dough
3 cups thinly sliced Fuji apple (about 8 ounces)
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta or goat cheese
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1½ teaspoons honey
2 cups baby arugula
3 tablespoons chopped pecans, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Roll out pizza dough and place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Arrange apple slices evenly over crust; top with cheese. Sprinkle thyme evenly over cheese. Bake for 8 minutes or until crust is crisp and browned and cheese is melted.

3. Combine oil, mustard, lemon juice, and honey in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add arugula and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle pecans evenly over pizza; top with arugula mixture.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; just store the cooked pizza, dressing, arugula, and pecans separately and assemble them after reheating the pizza.

Friday, October 14, 2011


And so we come to the end of my effort to make homemade versions of all my favorite Jell-O instant pudding varieties. (Well, I might try coconut someday…and maybe pumpkin…but I will not be attempting “cheesecake,” “Oreo,” “chocolate fudge,” “Devil’s food” [don’t ask me how Kraft’s three kinds of chocolate pudding differ from one another], “white chocolate,” “egg custard,” or “flan.” [Kraft’s online description: “But don’t be fooled by its elitist attitude this flavor is beloved by everyone.” Aside from the heinous lack of punctuation, how is flan even a flavor? Is it shorthand for caramel? And while we’re at it, the concept of custard-flavored pudding kind of blows my mind, too. Isn’t that like saying “yam-flavored sweet potato”?])

I used Food Blog Search to find my way to this recipe, from a book called Luscious Lemon Desserts by Lori Longbotham. There’s not much to say about it except that it’s lemon, it’s pudding, and it’s delicious. The recipe is structured a bit differently from other ones I’ve tried, in that you cook the egg at the same time as all the other ingredients instead of adding it later, but the result was pretty much the same. I like a really thick pudding, so for my taste, I should have cooked the pudding a tiny bit longer; I forgot that I’d be stirring in an entire ½ cup of liquid at the very end, which thinned it out somewhat. I also freaked out and threw in some vanilla at the last minute, on the principle that vanilla is delicious with everything and would give it a richer, smoother taste. I liked the resulting flavor, but I’m not sure I can out-and-out recommend it because the bright taste of the unadulterated lemon is great, too—I’d go with straight lemon for a spring/summer version, whereas mine was maybe more appropriate for fall/winter.

As I was making this, I pondered why other fruit-flavored puddings aren’t common. Why not strawberry, for instance? Couldn’t you make a lime or orange pudding using the same method as this lemon one, or would that just be gross? As you know, I had a hard time even finding a banana pudding recipe that had real banana in it. Most of my searches for fruit puddings turn up bread puddings, British-style puddings, or pudding cakes, not plain old pudding pudding. Although I’m not necessarily sure this is something I want to pursue—my ideas for future pudding experiments tend more toward peanut butter or maple. Which off-the-beaten-track pudding flavors sound good to you?

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
2½ cups milk
3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
A pinch of salt
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

1. Whisk together the sugar and the cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Add the egg yolks, zest, and salt and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently at first and constantly towards the end, until thickened.

2. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and butter. Press through a fine-mesh strainer into a large serving bowl or four individual serving dishes. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, loosely covered, for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days, until set and thoroughly chilled.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good, for a few days (I've found that homemade pudding eventually gets runny or sort of separates if you keep it too long, although it comes together with a vigorous stirring and still retains its essential yumminess).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Lest you think I’m some sort of perfect kitchen goddess (aw, I know you were thinking it), I must confess to a recent string of cooking disappointments, or at least non-triumphs. Usually if a recipe turns out poorly I don’t bother to post it (don’t worry, though—if I had any really spectacularly inedible disasters I’d definitely write about them for your amusement), but in these cases it’s not the recipe that’s at fault, just my recipe-selection skills, and the results haven’t been unpleasant, just sort of…meh.

I blame the transition to autumn, which has me all confused about what’s in season, what I feel like eating, and what’s appropriate for weather that swings wildly between cool, rainy, and fallish and hot, sunny, and summery. My five-month ovenless state was also a factor, keeping at least half of my recipe collection off-limits and severely limiting which new things I could tackle. At first I approached the challenge with can-do pioneer spirit, trying to focus on what I could cook, but eventually the initial thrill of experimentation—Skillet pizza! Muesli! Puddingfest!—died down, leaving me feeling restless and deprived. I should have just hunkered down and relied on old favorites, but I still felt compelled to seek out and try new recipes to generate blog material, with decidedly mixed results. My to-be-posted queue got clogged with entries I felt ambivalent about, yet couldn’t completely discard. Maybe someone else would want to know about these recipes, or perhaps I’d try them again sometime and love them more, or hey, that photo turned out rather prettily…And so here we are. Now that I have a Brand-New Oven (I should just assign a macro for this phrase, because I’m totally going to try to work it into every blog post from now on), I’m ready to move forward, and I’ve decided a roundup is the best way to tackle all these lingering fragments.

Spinach, Mushroom, and Feta Pizza

I improvised this one after being inspired by, of all things, a pizza I glimpsed on an episode of Man vs. Food Nation. I love spinach, mushrooms, and feta on pizza, but it hadn’t occurred to me to put the three together. I made it so long ago that I can’t really remember the details to share them with you, but my approach was pretty much as you might expect. It turned out tastily, except that somehow, even knowing perfectly well how much spinach shrinks up when you cook it, I didn’t use quite enough and it faded into the background. I’m mainly mentioning this pizza here to remind myself of the concept, because I intend to make it again someday (with double the spinach) and do a full post when I’ve perfected it.

Chicken With Tomato-Herb Pan Sauce/Fresh Corn and Basil Polenta

We eat chicken about once a week, but at least half of my recipes use the oven, so I was getting desperate for new sautéed and grilled versions by the time I spotted this one, originally from Bon Appetit, at Annie’s Eats. It seemed to be getting rave reviews and looked like a super-flavorful treatment for boneless, skinless chicken breasts (oh, how I was missing chicken with actual bones in it at this point!), so I decided to give it a shot, but I wasn’t sure what to serve with it. It seemed like you’d want something to soak up all that savory-looking sauce, but I couldn’t make bread, I don’t like rice, and potatoes with tomatoes just seems weird to me. Annie’s Eats had linked to several other posts about the recipe at other blogs, and one of them, Pink Parsley, showed it being served with this beautiful fresh corn and basil polenta. As soon as I saw it, I wanted it, despite never having made polenta before. Tomatoes, corn, and basil are a perfect combo, after all, and I’ve been obsessed with corn all summer long.

Technically, the recipes turned out just fine…except it turns out that A hates polenta. I should have guessed this, knowing he dislikes other similarly-textured foods like oatmeal, not to mention the fact that he can take or leave corn. It also turns out that that recipe, which neglects to mention this so I assumed it would match the quantities of the chicken recipe, makes a TON of polenta—like eight servings. I figured I’d save the leftovers, let them firm up in a baking dish, and then cut them into squares and fry them up all nice and crispy, but alas, I never got around to it, and to my shame, I ended up throwing it all away. Personally, I liked the recipe, and normally I don’t let it bother me too much when A doesn’t care for something that I’ve made, because he always gives it a fair try and is polite and appreciative and hey, more tasty leftovers for me! This was just one of those cases where I wore myself out making two new recipes at the same time, and then by the time I sat down to eat I was so exhausted and Over It that the whole effort just felt like a horrible miscalculation and a complete waste of time. That’s the problem with having too many cooking victories in a row sometimes—the first thing that’s not a total win feels like a failure. I would definitely recommend the polenta recipe to polenta lovers (make a half-batch, though), and as for the chicken, I wouldn’t mind trying it again someday. Mine turned out a little dry, but the sauce was nice.

Asparagus and Bacon Hash

I actually just wanted to make the sweet corn hash again, but I was trying to restrain myself because it had only been a week since the first time I’d made it, plus corn season is so close to its end that I never know if it will still be there when I show up to the farmer’s market. I know asparagus isn’t in season either, but there’s always one stand selling decent hothouse stuff, and the Smitten Kitchen has never steered me wrong. Indeed, this was a great recipe, and if I’d tried it a month ago you’d definitely have been seeing a whole post about it here, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the corn hash, and I don’t know if I really love hash enough to accommodate two recipes in my repertoire. Maybe when spring rolls around I’ll feel inspired to give this another shot, and if it looks good to you I totally recommend it, but I didn’t care quite enough about it to give it the full blog treatment.

BLT Pizza With Corn

This was another improvisation on my part (I know! Who am I all of a sudden?), an homage on my favorite summer meal of BLTs and corn on the cob. It should have been a slam dunk, considering it involved diced bacon, wilted arugula, heirloom tomato slices, fresh corn kernels, and shredded mozzarella, but somehow it didn’t quite gel. It was quite moist—the tomatoes gave off a lot of liquid, the arugula cooked more than I expected, and maybe I used too much cheese?—and the bacon flavor didn’t come through as much as I expected (I’m thinking I cut the pieces too small). Perhaps I should have scattered fresh arugula on top rather than baking it on there? It tasted just fine and we certainly had no trouble polishing it off, but I was vaguely disappointed. I’m not sure whether I’ll give it another shot or whether I should just let BLTs be BLTs and pizza be pizza.

Maple Frozen Yogurt

Once I’d burned through all the homemade pudding flavors I could think of, it was luckily cool enough to start making ice cream again. I wanted something fallish, but wasn’t quite ready for pumpkin yet, and maple seemed to fit the bill. I wouldn’t describe myself as a maple fan because I hardly ever put syrup on my pancakes or waffles, but when I think harder about it, I have periodically enjoyed maple-flavored things—like Nut Goodies, Minnesota’s distinctive local candy, with which I have a fond history. (At my last job, I wrote a children’s book about candy making that was based on the Pearson’s factory, which involved many tours and all the free Nut Goodies and Salted Nut Rolls I could ever want.) That is apparently the point at which my brain stopped working. This recipe at Sassy Radish was described in such glowing terms that I never really stopped to ponder the fact that it was frozen yogurt and thus tart. Or that it involved sour cream, which is even tarter. All the frozen yogurts and sour cream ice creams I’ve made thus far have been fruity, which to some extent has masked/complemented the tartness, so all I was thinking of was how wonderfully thick sour cream ice cream can be. The maple frozen yogurt was easy to put together, and it sure felt like I was putting in a ridiculous amount of maple syrup (it feels quite bizarre to pour syrup into a bowl of dairy products, by the way), but I was surprised by how not-sweet the result was. I added a bit more syrup (and, in a moment of panic, some vanilla), but the dominant flavor was still, surprise, surprise, yogurt.

What had I been thinking? I do like yogurt, but since I’m on the fence about maple anyway, I’d geared myself up for something candy-sweet, like the interior of a maple cream See’s chocolate, and I had a hard time not being crushed that it didn’t meet my expectations. Still, it wasn’t bad enough to throw away, so it had to be eaten. I knew A wouldn’t like it—he hates that tangy yogurt flavor—but he wasn’t home anyway, so I resignedly scooped myself a bowl. I don’t know whether it was Stockholm Syndrome or what, but after a few bites I really liked it! The syrup flavor was just a subtle sweet smokiness, well balanced by the creamy tartness of the dairy. I wouldn’t make it again, just because I know A won’t eat it (he did try some later and declared his dislike) and I shouldn’t be polishing off entire batches of frozen treats on my own, but I enjoyed it and would recommend it to others. (Just remember: Is tangy!) It also inspired me to look for more maple dessert recipes. I’d like to try a maple pecan ice cream, sure, but I also had a brainwave: Why not maple pudding? It turns out there are several recipes I can try, so yay.

Crustless Broccoli-Feta Quiche

Now that I have my Brand-New Oven, I can try all the baked recipes that have been sitting in my queue for months. This simple, easy egg dish from Poppytalk seemed like a perfect Saturday-night supper, and indeed it was (it would also make a good breakfast or lunch). Not quite exciting enough to devote a whole post to, but the kind of thing I’m glad I know about because it’s so easy to throw together. Obviously, you could use put anything you want into it, but I like broccoli and feta together, and feta and dill together for that matter (baked feta is my love right now—it gets so tantalizingly crisp and browned), so this worked well for me.

So now that I’ve cleared away all my ambivalence, stay tuned for some recipes that got me genuinely excited! I’m kicking it into high gear and putting my Brand-New Oven through its paces this week—I hope it's up to the task.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Yes! More pudding! If you’re some kind of weird pudding hater, be forewarned that there is actually still one more pudding recipe in the to-be-posted queue. After that, however, you’re in luck, because glory hallelujah, after suffering with just a stovetop and a broiler lo these many months, I finally have a brand-new oven, which means I will be reveling in cookies and cakes for the foreseeable future. Not that I will ever lose my newfound love of homemade pudding. In fact, Weird Pudding Hater, you can send all your unwanted pudding my way and I’ll gladly finish it off for you.

As far as I can remember, I never tasted a real pistachio until I was well into high school (I just don’t recall seeing them around when I was a kid—maybe they were harder to obtain in Minnesota back then or something?), but Jell-O instant pistachio pudding was always my very favorite flavor, even if I had no idea what it was supposed to taste like or why it was green. I loved it with an intensity matched only by my adoration of the croissants from Napoleon’s Bakery that were stuffed with a fat layer of almond paste. Later, I discovered that the green layer of spumoni ice cream was usually pistachio-flavored, and I would carefully excavate only that portion from my college cafeteria’s self-serve ice cream freezer, leaving the boring chocolate and weird chunky cherry parts behind. What can I say? I’ve always loved those somewhat old-fashioned dessert flavors (see also: butterscotch, butter pecan, butter brickle, maple nut). So as soon as I realized, thanks to this recipe at Joy the Baker, that I could make homemade pistachio pudding using real pistachios, which remain perhaps my favorite kind of nut (although it’s a close tie with cashews), I was all over it.

I made this recipe once before, early in my pudding-making adventures, but didn’t manage to photograph it before we devoured it all. That time, craving a perfectly silky-smooth pudding, I carefully strained it after cooking to remove all the pistachio bits. It was good, but on the thin side, because I wasn’t perfectly experienced with cooking puddings yet. This time around, tired and pressed for time, I just said “Screw it” and skipped the straining, and I gotta say, I don’t know if it was that or my improved pudding-making skills, but it was even better than before. Leaving the pistachio pieces in obviously heightens the flavor, and the texture is nubblier but not off-putting—and actually more reminiscent of the good old Jell-O version, which did have little nut chunks sprinkled throughout. You will, however, notice that unlike the Jell-O version, my pudding is more golden-brown than green. That’s because I lazily used the shelled pistachios from Trader Joe’s, which I’m guessing are roasted after being shelled, thus losing most of their color. If you have the patience to shell the pistachios yourself, you should be rewarded with a gentle green hue.

Ever since I first made this, I’ve been dying to know if I could achieve a decent almond pudding (as tasty as those almond-paste-filled croissants, perhaps?) by substituting almonds for the pistachios and almond extract for some of the vanilla. It seems like it should work, right? I’ll give it a try sometime and let you know—once I’m done playing with my new oven, that is.

½ cup salted pistachio nuts, plus extra for garnishing if desired
⅔ cup granulated sugar, divided
2 tablespoons water
2 cups milk (original recipe calls for whole, but 1% worked for me)
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1. Place ½ cup pistachios in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the nuts are in small bits. Add ⅓ cup sugar and the water, and blend until relatively smooth.

2. Spoon pistachio paste into a medium saucepan. Add the milk and whisk over medium heat until steamy and hot.

3. While milk is heating, whisk together ⅓ cup sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch, and pinch of salt. (Mixture will be thick; keep whisking until it’s smooth.) Pour ½ cup of the steaming pistachio milk into the sugar and egg mixture; whisk together. Add another ½ cup of hot milk and whisk to incorporate. Return the milky egg mixture to the saucepan over medium heat.

4. Heat pudding mixture over medium heat until thick and bubbly, whisking constantly. (You might also want to use a heat-proof spatula to stir the mixture, ensuring that the sides and corners of the pan aren’t burning.) Boil for about 1 minute, or until fully thickened. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla extract, until butter is melted. If you want a smoother pudding, press cooked pudding through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl to remove the pistachio pieces.

5. Spoon into small ramekins, cover the surface of the individual puddings with plastic wrap if you don’t like pudding skin (I happen to love it), and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours. If desired, garnish with chopped pistachios before serving.

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; pudding will last, covered, in the refrigerator for about 4 days.