Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ category

Your own ketchup

July 23, 2014

Did you know that ketchup (or catsup to some) originally referred to any of a variety of table sauces made from items as diverse as mushrooms, oysters, and walnuts? It apparently originated in the far east where, in present-day Malaysia it was called kecap (pronounced kaychap). It was brought back to Europe and the American colonies by English explorers. Today, of course, ketchup pretty much always refers to a sweet/sour tomato sauce that is consumed by the lake-full on French fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, and what have you. And guess what? You do not have to limit yourself to the store-bought kind.

A lot of people give me a puzzled look when I suggest home-made ketchup – why bother when you can get perfectly good ketchup in the store? For one thing, you can make it additive free (you don’t really think that commercial ketchup is that red naturally, do you?). For another, you can tweak the recipe to get just what you want – less salty, more tartness, and so on. My version gets a subtle but delicious difference from the use of Thai fish sauce. This recipe makes about 3 cups. Can be frozen.


1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 red sweet (bell) pepper, coarsely chopped
2 TB tomato paste
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1-28 oz can whole or diced tomatoes
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/3 c cider vinegar
1/2 tsp powdered mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp each powdered allspice, cinnamon, clove, bay and leaf (see note below)
1 TB Thai fish sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Note: If you lack the powdered version of any of these, tie the whole spices in cheesecloth and add to the pot. Be sure to remove before blending!

In a 2 quart saucepan, sauté the onion and pepper in a little canola or other oil over medium heat until soft – don’t let them brown. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the paste darkens a bit. Add the tomatoes with their liquid along with all other ingredients. Simmer for about an hour, stirring once in a while, until thickened. Allow to cool for half an hour and transfer to a blender. Zap until completely smooth. At this time you can sample the ketchup and adjust the taste if needed. You can also add a little water if it’s too thick or simmer for a while if too thin.


Mixed vegetable “slaw” pickle

July 5, 2013

This is a simple “refrigerator” pickle – in other words, no need to pack in jars and process in a canner. It is very flexible and can use a wide variety of vegetables that you may have on hand. It works well with veggies that are a bit past their prime, too. Cabbage, carrots, celery, cukes, jicama, red and green peppers,  onion – be creative! The batch in the photo used cabbage, carrots, red bell pepper, and Vidalia onion. This pickle has many uses, as a side dish, on sandwiches and burgers, eat with cheese and bread – very versatile.

I have seen versions of this recipe where the pickling liquid is allowed to cool before being added to the jars. That works perfectly well, but I find that adding the liquid while it is still hot gives the veggies a very slight cooking. They are still crispy, to be sure, but I prefer the texture. You can always try both ways.


About 2 quarts finely julienned mixed vegetables.
2 TB kosher salt
1/4c white sugar
1 c cider vinegar
1 c water
2 TB whole mustard seeds, yellow or black
1 TB whole black peppercorns

Put the veg in a bowl and mix with 1 TB of the salt. Let sit for half an hour or more. This wilts the veggies slightly, making the packing into jars easier. Pack firmly into pint jars to within an inch of the top – you’ll probably get about 3 pints.

Put the remaining salt and all other ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and ladle into the jars while still hot. Make sure the mustard seeds and peppercorns are distributed among all jars. Use a wooden spoon or a chopstick to make sure air bubbles are not trapped in the veggies and that the liquid completely covers the contents. Screw on the lids, let cool, and pop into the fridge. They will be ready the next day and will last at least a month.

Smoked salmon, caramelized onion, and potato torte

May 14, 2013

A lovely dish for a fancy breakfast or lunch. I like to serve it with tomato slices and toasted bagels with cream cheese.

1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
large pinch each salt and sugar
1 large or 2 medium onions, peeled and cut into thin half-rings (about 2c)
2 TB butter or olive oil, divided
1/2c diced smoked salmon
6 large eggs
2 TB milk or cream

In a non-stick skillet, cook the onions, salt, and sugar in 1 TB of the butter or oil over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until nicely caramelized. This will take 30-40 minutes, they will reduce in volume by more than half and turn a lovely nut brown. You can do this ahead, even a day ahead. If you have done ahead and refrigerated them, bring to room temperature before proceeding.

In a 10 inch non-stick skillet, cook the potatoes slowly in the remaining 1 TB butter or oil, turning and shaking the pan now and then, until cooked completely through and slightly browned (use a thin-bladed knife to test them). Sprinkle a little salt over, then stir in the onions and salmon and distribute the solids evenly over the bottom of the pan.

Beat the eggs with milk or cream and salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the potato mixture and cook over medium-low heat until the eggs are mostly set – they will still be running in the center. Now you have 2 choices. One is to tip the pan so the uncooked eggs run out to the edges, then cover for a few minutes until they are set. The other is to run briefly under a preheated broiler.

You can serve right from the pan or invert onto a plate for a nice presentation – the bottom (now the top) should have attained a lovely brown shade.

Really good beef stock

January 29, 2013

Good beef stock, or broth as some people call it, is a real treat. It is essential for good French onion soup and has a host of other uses. The canned stuff is OK for some uses, but does not stack up against homemade. It’s a bit of work, but it can be frozen almost indefinitely. In addition to the usual beef bones, this recipe uses ground beef to add more flavor and an interesting technique with egg whites to clarify the stock.

First steps:

10 lbs beef bones, ask your butcher to cut them into 2-3 inch lengths
3 medium or 2 large onions, halved and peeled
2-3 large carrots cut in thirds, no need to peel
3 stalks celery cut in thirds
about a dozen whole black peppercorns
2 tsp salt

Put the above ingredients, except salt and pepper, in a single layer in a shallow baking pan and roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer solids to your stockpot. Place the baking pan on a burner and add a couple of cups of water. Bring to a simmer, scraping up all the brown bits that are stuck to the pan. Add to stockpot. Don’t worry about the fat, you’ll get rid of it later. Add water to cover by an inch or two and the salt and pepper. Cover, bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 4 hours, stirring once in a while. You want a really gentle simmer, with just a few bubbles rising to the surface every second. Do not let the stock come to a full boil or it will become cloudy.

At the end of the 4 hours use tongs to remove and discard the bones. Strain the stock through a coarse strainer (such as a pasta strainer) into a 2nd pot or large bowl and reserve the cooked vegetables. Rinse out the stockpot and strain the stock again, this time through a finer strainer, back into the original pot. Discard any bits that the strainer collects. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Final steps

1 lb ground beef
the reserved vegetables, chopped
8 egg whites

Remove the stock from the fridge. The fat will have congealed into a layer on the top; remove this and either discard or save for another purpose. Mix the ground beef, vegetables, and egg whites in a bowl and then stir into the stock. Bring to a slow simmer, stirring now and then. As it nears the simmer, stop stirring. After a little while of simmering, a foamy “raft” will form on the surface – this is the ground beef and chopped vegetables bound together by the egg whites, and this is what will trap all the small particles in the stock. Once it reaches the simmer, cook for an hour without stirring. Check after a few minutes – the raft may have developed an opening in the middle. If not, use a knife to cut a slit – this helps the stock to circulate.

After the hour of simmering, remove from heat and let cool slightly. Gently push the raft to one side and ladle the clarified stock through a cheesecloth-lined stainer (to catch any stray bits of the raft) into a large bowl. That’s it! You can correct for salt now but I prefer to wait and adjust the salt for each individual recipe. Discard the raft, or your dog or cat might really like it!


February 12, 2012

OK, so what’s a nacatamale? You may have guessed that it’s related to the standard Mexican tamale that many Americans are familiar with. Briefly, both are savory ingredients with corn meal mush wrapped in a leaf and steamed. But, a nacatamale takes the concept to a whole new level. It is considered the national dish of Nicaragua, where I was first exposed to them and learned how to make them. I understand that other Central American countries, such as Honduras, have their own versions. They do take some time and effort and are traditionally a holiday or celebration feast.

The wrapper

Banana leaves are used to wrap nacatamales. You can buy them frozen in most Latino markets. Cut crossways into 12-14 inch lengths, rinse, and set aside. You’ll need 2 or 3 sections per nacatamale. Just in case you were wondering, you do not eat the leaves!

The spice:


The central spice in nacatamales is achiote (or achote), also called annatto. It can be obtained at most Mexican / Latino markets as either a paste or a powder. It’s bright red and has a unique flavor that I love. I’ve seen nacatamale recipes without achiote but I think it’s essential. Here’s a photo of achiote seeds in their pod.

Meat for nacatamale

Pork with achiote for nacatamale

The meat:

Tradition says to use pork, either pork shoulder or boneless country-style ribs, cut into ~1 inch pieces. Chicken is less traditional but also tastes great. You can use whole drumsticks if you can get relatively small ones or boned thighs. I recommend against using the breasts because they tend to be dry. Anyway, put the meat in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and toss with enough achiote to cover. Set in the fridge. The photos shows cubed pork with achiote before being mixed.

The dough:

The dough is made from masa harina, available widely in Mexican markets and many supermarkets. Be sure to use masa and not regular cornmeal. Masa is made from hominy, corn that has been treated with lime to change some of its properties and make it more nutritious—it’s also what tortillas are made from. The other dough ingredients are lard and a liquid.

The quality of your nacatamales depends in large part on the quality of the dough, and the dough contains fat – traditionally, lard (rendered pork fat). This presents 2 problems. First, some people shy away from lard because of its supposed health dangers (widely overblown, in my opinion). Second, it can be difficult to get good lard—the canned supermarket stuff has additives and is processed to where it’s a pale shadow of the real stuff. So, ideally you will find a source for good lard. Lacking that you can use the store-bought or substitute with butter or solid vegetable shortening.

The liquid is usually chicken stock but can be milk, water, vegetable stock, etc.

OK, here we go…

6 c masa flour
1 TB salt
1 c lard or other solid fat
Juice of 2 limes made up to 1/2 c with orange juice
Liquid, as above, 4 to 5 cups

Use a mixer or pastry blender to incorporate the lard and salt into the masa until you have a texture like coarse cornmeal. Vigorously beat in the lime/orange juice and most of the liquid, adding more as needed to get a consistency a bit stiffer than mashed potatoes. Beat on medium-high for a couple more minutes – this makes the dough a bit fluffier by incorporating some air. Set aside for 30 minutes or more.

The filling

In addition to the masa and meat, nacatamales contain a veritable cornucopia of other ingredients.The first 5 listed and the mint seem to be “standard,” with the remaining ones added, perhaps a tablespoon or 2 of each, as taste and availability permit. Here you see the various fillings ready for assembly.

2/3 c raw white rice soaked in water for 30 min
Small onion in 1/4 inch slices
Green bell pepper in 1/4 inch slices
Tomato in 1/4 inch slices
Boiling potato peeled and in 1/4 inch slices (put slices in water with rice to keep from turning brown)
Raw or frozen green peas
Sliced green olives
Diced unsweetened pineapple
Sprigs of fresh mint

Assembly and cooking

Depending on your liking for the achiote flavor, and the amount you put on the meat, you may want to add a bit more. I mix a sauce of equal parts of achiote paste and water to do this.

Nacatamale assembly

Place 2 or 3 banana leaf sections on your counter, overlapping, with the long edge toward you (if your sections are square, not to worry). Place not-quite-a cup of masa in the center and flatten a bit with your fingers. Start piling the ingredients on, typically 3-4 pieces of pork, 1 slice each of potato, tomato, pepper, and onion, a TB of rice (drained), a TB or so of the each of the smaller items, a mint spring, and 1-2 TB of the achiote sauce (if using). Fold the long edges together, fold the joined edges over each other about an inch at a time until snug, then fold the 2 sides in. It should be a snug wrap but not too tight because the masa expands a little while cooking, Then, tie together with cotton kitchen string. The photos show an assembled but not wrapped nacatamale and then all of them tied and ready to be cooked.

Place the nacatamales on a rack in a large pot. You can stack them 2-3 deep. Put an inch or so of water in the pot (the nacatamales should not be in contact with the water). Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Steam for 3 hours, adding water now and then to make sure the pot does not boil dry. You may see a little masa leaking out, particularly if you are not experienced at the wrapping, but this is OK.

After the 3 hours, remove the nacatamales from the pot and remove the string. Each diner gets a still-wrapped nacatamale to open themselves.

Ready to eat!


Cooked nacatamale

Grilled polenta with sausage

February 4, 2012

This is a lovely and unusual way to prepare polenta. See below for a vegetarian version.

1-1/4 c coarse polenta (cornmeal)
4 c water
1 tsp salt
3 TB unsalted butter
12 oz sweet or hot Italian sausage

Combine the polenta, water, and salt in a 2-3 quart microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for a total of about 8-10 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Stir in the butter. Meanwhile slice or crumble the sausage and saute until cooked thru. Drain off the fat, mix the sausage with the polenta, and turn into a greased or buttered loaf pan. Smooth out the top, let cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours.

To serve, slice the solidified polenta into slices about 1 inch thick then saute carefully in a nonstick pan, using some butter or olive oil, until browned on both sides. I like to serve this with a simple tomato sauce.

Vegetarian variation: Instead of sausage, use a combination of onion, zucchini, and mushrooms.

Peter’s egg salad

December 20, 2011

Most egg salad is either insipid, consisting of little more than eggs and mayo (or worse, Miracle Whip), or it’s way too involved and complex. THis one, I think, strikes the right balance.

4 hard cooked eggs (see below)
1/3 c chopped celery
2 TB finely chopped scallions (white part)
1/3c Hellman’s mayo
1 TB capers, drained
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and black pepper to taste

Chop the eggs, or put them thru an egg slicer twice, turning 1/4 turn between cuts. Mix well with all other ingredients and let sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors blend.

In my experience, the best way to hard-cook eggs without getting the dreaded green ring – harmless but unsightly – is to put the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water at least 1 inch above the eggs. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and cover. Let sit 20 minutes and you’re done. Cool immediately under running water.

Zucchini-feta pancakes

July 5, 2011

When your garden brings you a flood of zucchini, make these! Serve with sour cream or plain yogurt and a tomato-cucumber salad.

2 lb zucchini
1 medium onion
1/2 lb feta cheese
2 eggs
1/2 c all purpose flour
2 TB olive oil
black pepper
dash Tabasco sauce
Wash and trim but do not peel the zucchini. Coarsely grate along with the onion (the coarse grating disk on a food processor is great for this) and toss in a colander with 1 tsp salt. Let drain for at least 30 min. A handful at a time, wrap in a clean towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then transfer to a bowl. Put all other ingredients in a food processor and zap to a smooth paste. Mix with the zucchini and onion. Heat additional olive oil about 1/8 inch deep over medium high heat in a non-stick skillet. Add mixture 1/3 to 1/2 c at a time and flatten into a 4 or 5 inch pancakes. Cook, turning once, until browned and crisp on both sides.
Zucchini-feta pancakes

Cooking the pancakes

Coffee concentrate for iced coffee

June 16, 2011

If you like iced coffee as much as I do, this recipe will make your life a lot easier. The cold brewing gives a rich flavor without the acidity and bitterness that hot brewing can cause. Apparently this technique has been popular in New Orleans for a long time. I particularly like French Market coffee with chicory, but it works with any type.

1/2 lb ground coffee
5 c cold water

Mix the water and coffee and let sit at room temperature for about 12 hours. Put through a strainer, pressing on the grounds to get as much liquid as you can. Strain again through several layers of folded cheesecloth. You’ll end up with about 3 cups of intensely dark concentrate that can be kept in the fridge for at least several weeks. Use about 1/4 c of concentrate for a glass of iced coffee, mixing with milk or water, sugar, and pouring over ice.

Goat cheese and spinach pizza

May 1, 2011

This makes enough for one large or two small (12″) pizzas. Use the crust of your choice.

2 lb fresh spinach
8 oz fresh (soft) goat cheese
2 eggs, beaten
6 TB olive oil
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
4 cloves garlic minced

Wash the spinach and drain. Remove tough stems and chop coarsely. Sauté the garlic in 4 TB of the oil until just starting to color. Add the spinach and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is wilted. Remove cover and continue to cook until almost all of the liquid is gone. Let cool to lukewarm and stir in the eggs, cheese, and nutmeg, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Spread remaining oil on uncooked pizza crust and add the topping. Cook on a preheated pizza stone at 450 degrees for about 20-24 minutes.

%d bloggers like this: