Sunday, May 17, 2009

Recipe: Cauliflower Soup

I love this soup. It’s light enough for summer, or you can garnish with cheese and make it hearty for winter. It has a surprising amount of flavor for a soup with so few ingredients. I am not a cold soup person at all, but I like this one cool on summer days. This a pretty healthy soup, too – half a cup of cream in six or seven cups of soup isn’t much.


Immersion blender (also known as a hand blender or a stick blender)


5 cups chicken stock

One smallish head of cauliflower

1 tsp nutmeg

2 large bay leaves

½ cup cream


1. Clean the cauliflower and cut it into florets. Size and regularity doesn’t matter, because they will be pureed.

2. Combine the cauliflower and the chicken broth in a pot with a heavy bottom. Add the bay leaves and the nutmeg.

3. Simmer until cauliflower is very soft.

4. Take out the bay leaves. This is important.

5. Turn the heat on the burner down very low.

6. Use the immersion blender to puree the cauliflower in the stock. Keep blending until it’s very smooth.

7. Gently stir in the cream.

8. Taste, and add water, cream, or milk as needed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Technique: White Rice

This is another one of those tricks I would be embarrassed to post if I hadn’t just had someone ask me how to do this. You can use this technique to cook any kind of white rice – basmati, jasmine, long grain, short grain. It will come out just right every time. I learned it from a Kuwaiti friend of Persian heritage, and I noticed a few years ago that Marc Bittman also recommends it.

stove, heavy-bottomed pot

First, rinse your rice. I rinse all rice. I don’t know if it’s necessary or not, but I always do. I rinse it in the pot I will cook it in. I put the rice in the pot, fill it with water, and swish it around with my hands. Then I pour the water off the rice. Then I do it again. (you don’t have to use drinkable water for this, but it should be reasonably clean.)

After pouring out the second put of water, I add the cooking water. I fill the pot until the water is about two inches higher than the rice. I don’t know what the volume on that is. Just keep adding water until the water level is two inches above the rice level. Err on the side of too much water.

Bring the water and rice to a boil. Once the water is boiling, move the lid aside to steam can escape, and turn the rice down to a simmer or a slow boil. Taste the rice every couple of minutes. When it is mostly cooked, but still has a tiny raw bit in the middle, drain the rice.

Put a little butter or oil in the bottom of the pot (optional if your pot is really solid, but it adds flavor ether way) and then return the drained rice to the pot. Add a little butter on top if you want. Put the lid on the pot, and set it on a burner on very low heat. The lowest heat your gas stove will allow you to use. On an electric stove, you can return it to the warm turned-off burner it came from.

In about five minutes, your rice will be ready to eat. It can sit as long as you want on the warm burner while you get the rest of the meal ready. It may get a crunchy bit on the bottom, but Iranians do that on purpose. It’s tasty.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Recipe: Tasty No-Fail Chocolate Cake

This is my go-to recipe for cake. It is tender, moist, delicious, and very easy to make. No breaking eggs or sifting anything. I have been making it for seven years; I even used this recipe and made cupcakes for my brother’s wedding. It’s a great choice for uncertain ovens because it has no eggs. If it comes out a little undercooked, no harm done. It’s very sweet – a kid friendly cake. For grown-ups you can reduce the sugar by half a cup.

I had meaning to post this recipe anyway, but I am putting it up in response to Rachel's call for help on How to Cook Like Your Grandmother. I didn't have an icing recipe to offer. If you have one, click over and suggest it.

Oven. That's all.


· 3 cups flour
· 2 cups sugar
· 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
· 2 teaspoons baking powder
· 1.5 teaspoon salt
· 2 cups very cold decaf coffee (don’t worry, you can’t taste it. It just adds color and a subtle depth of flavor.)
· 1 cup corn or other vegetable oil
· 2 tablespoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Butter and flour three 9-inch cake pans or butter and line bottoms with parchment paper. This is important – the cake will stick if you don’t prep the pan right.
3. In a medium bowl mix first 5 (dry) ingredients
4. In a large bowl mix the coffee, oil and vanilla, then whisk in dry ingredients until well blended. Do not overmix – it doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth. This is more like a muffin batter; a few lumps are okay.
5. Divide the batter evenly between the pans.
6. Bake cakes about 25-30 minutes or until they test done.
7. Cool completely. And I mean COMPLETELY. If the cake is at all warm, it will break coming out of the pan.

Notes: You can use orange extract instead of vanilla for a chocolate-orange cake.

Technique: French Toast and Apple Topping

My husband made a special breakfast for mother's day. It was so tasty I asked him to write it up for this blog.

Apple Topping
1. Clean and dice one large apple, leave the skin on
2. In a pat of butter, fry apples on medium heat in a medium fry pan with a generous portion of cinnamon and sugar, and a dash of cardamom
3. Add 2-3 splashes of pomegranate juice (or any other non-pulpy juice such as apple or cherry)
4. Continue to cook on medium heat, stirring occassionaly, until juice has cooked down and apples can be smooshed a bit with a fork, should take approximately 5-8 minutes.

French Toast
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine 4 beaten eggs with an approximately equal quantity of milk (any fat level) until mixture has a custard color
2. Add a generous quantity (3 tablespoons?) of sugar (preferably powdered, but any sugar will do)
3. Further add a small splash of vanilla to the mixture
4. Dip slices of bread into the mixture. This will be enough for 12 slices of bread
5. Place the bread on a well greased cookie sheet and bake in an oven pre-heated to 425 (F) for 8-10 minutes or fry slices in a pan with butter.
Serve with syrup and/or whipped cream. Double the apple recipe if you like a lot of apples. Serves 3-4.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Recipe: School Cake

This is not in fact a cake at all. It’s oatmeal bread that I make for my son’s playgroup. It’s as healthy as I can make it, and still produce food that little boys will consistently eat. It’s a very solid bread, good for eating and staying full. It’s sweet, but not overly sweet. It’s a bit like a big muffin.

I make this recipe a couple times a week; I cook it in two metal bowls to make cake-shaped loaves. Each little loaf nicely serves four little kids. It would also fill two mini loaf pans or one standard loaf pan.

One thing to watch out for as you’re making this – you add the sugar to the wet ingredients, not the dry.

Oven. That’s it!

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup milk (I have sucessfully substituted sour cream, yogurt, and/or kefir for part of the milk)
  • 1/3 cup oil – type doesn’t matter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (if you don’t have this, substitute rum, amaretto, or orange juice)
  • 2 cups oatmeal (any kind)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (or use baking soda and add 1 teaspoon of vinegar with the wet ingredients)
  • I teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ginger (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 and a half cups flour
  • 2 cups diced fruit (Any kind you want. This can include up to a cup of carrots if you like.)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the loaf pan well.
2. Combine sugar, milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a bowl.
3. Combine oatmeal, baking powder, salt, spices, and flour in another bowl.
4. Add wet ingredients to dry, stirring well.
5. Stir in chopped fruit.
6. Bake for 50-60 minutes. (It takes a really long time, and will look done before it is done. Test with a knife and don’t take it out of the oven until the knife comes out clean. The top will be cracked.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Technique: Cheesy Noodles

This is an emergency meal for me, when everyone is hungry, and we’re short on time and groceries. It’s so basic I am almost embarrassed to post it here, but maybe I can help some peace corps volunteer with no cooking background. It’s good food for kids and drunks, too! (Am I allowed to lump kids and drunks in the same category? They both like simple food that cooks fast.)


Uncooked pasta

Bouillon cubes or broth – I usually use chicken but I bet the flavor doesn’t matter

Chopped or grated cheese

Spreadable cheese like La Vache Qui Rit (Or brie if you’re getting fancy, but why get fancy with a dish based on bouillon cubes?) – optional, but it’s nice

Chopped chives or parsley, dried herbs or spices – optional. I like paprika and chives.


1. Bring water and your bouillon cubes to a boil.

2. Add the pasta.

3. When the pasta is done, use a mug to remove about half a cup of broth from the pot before you drain the noodles. Set aside.

4. Drain the noodles. Put them back in the pot, on low heat. (on an electric stove, you can put them on the hot burner you’ve turned off)

5. Add the reserved broth to the noodles. Stir it in.

6. Add the spread cheese if you’re using it. Stir.

7. Add the grated or chopped cheese. Stir.

8. Add the herbs and spices if you’re using them. Done!

Notes: You can also add butter, which I do if I am feeling decadent or short on cheese. The cheese doesn’t evenly distribute into a sauce, but it does stick to most of the noodles with the occasional appealing clump of cheese. You can also add chopped chicken or ham to this, or diced vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans, which makes it seem vaguely like a casserole. It’s a great dish to use up leftovers.

Monday, May 4, 2009

How to Make Your Own Yogurt

Be warned: it really only makes sense to do this if you live somewhere that pasteurized milk is cheap and plain yogurt is expensive. Home-made yogurt is delicious, though, and good for intestinal health.

Equipment required: boiling water, stove with controllable temperature, glass jars with lids, clean water

Time required: 30 minutes prep, 7-24 hours unattended fermentation time

• 1 - 2 liters milk
• About half a cup of yogurt as a starter – commercial yogurt works well, or homemade yogurt that is less than a week old

1. Sterilize your jars. Set them upright in a baking pan or large pot with the lids upside down next to them, and fill them with enough boiling water to fill them up and run down the sides. Do the same with the lids. Leave them there full of water and go to the next step.

2. Heat your milk. Put it in a pot, and heat in over medium heat. Watch it very, very carefully. You want to heat the milk until tiny bubbles form where the milk touches the edge of the pot. Then remove it from the heat. The amount of time will differ depending on pot size and what kind of medium your heat is, so watch it like a hawk. Time it for the next time you make yogurt.

3. Let the milk cool. You want it to cool to about 110 Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a thermometer (I don’t) that is the temperature of a nice hot bath. You can feel the outside of the pot to test the temperature, or do what I do and test it with a clean finger.

4. Add your starter. Once the milk is the right temperature, add one tablespoon of yogurt for each liter of milk. Stir it thoroughly to distribute the starter through the milk.

5. Pour the water out of your jars. Pour in the milk. Put on the lids.

6. Now you need to let your milk turn into yogurt. You want it to sit at 100 degrees to encourage bacterial production. That’s almost exactly body temperature. A sunny windowsill works, or an oven with the light on. I put mine on the warm spot on top of the fridge, and cover it in a dishtowel to hold in heat.

7. Let it sit undisturbed for at least seven hours. Moving it around is bad for the bacteria. After seven hours, it will be yogurt. A little runny, but recognizably yogurt. The longer you let it sit, the thicker it will be. I leave mine for about twenty hours to get the thick greek-style yogurt. There will be yellowish liquid on top of your new yogurt. That’s whey; just pour it off if you don’t like it. There is not too much of it - you can see they whey in the picture up there; it's that thin line on top.