Velvety Chocolate and Vanilla Custards (Pots de Crème) and a tutorial.

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Pots de crème, a.k.a. baked individual custards, are one of my favorite foods in the entire world.  Just knowing that I have a few little ramekins of this heavenly custard waiting for me in the fridge helps me handle anything the day, or a child, throws my way.  The Evil Genius gets almost weepy when he knows I'm making these for dessert. There are not enough superlatives in existence to describe these dreamy custards but I'll try anyway.  If silk or velvet could become a food they would become this one.  I think Lindy gets closer to the appropriate level of food-worshipping description due to these custards when he takes a bite, shuts his eyes and whispers reverently, "It's like chocolate butter..."  My kids go silent when eating these.  And that silence?  Let's just say that it's a precious and rare commodity... The original recipe that I've used for years came from one of the first 'Everyday Food' magazines.  It's available online, but stick with me.  I have some tips that are helpful for both the novice and frustrated custard makers and I have a couple extra touches that make these custards even more wonderful. For a printable, photo-free copy of the recipe, click here. Velvety Baked Chocolate and Vanilla Custards You can make either Vanilla or Chocolate Custard with the same custard base.  Simply omit the chocolate for a pure vanilla custard.  I personally prefer the chocolate, but I know that's not a shared universal obsession trait. 1 1/2 cups half … {Read on...}

Blueberry Love Muffins

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Dang.  It is cold.  At least it is cold here in my own little corner of Amish country.  When I woke this morning my outdoor thermometer was shivering.  I used what little brain power I have available prior to quaffing a pot of Irish Breakfast Tea to decide that firing up the oven to bake would be a very, very good idea.  Courtesy of the forward thinking I had done two days previously, I had blueberry muffin batter waiting for me in the fridge so I didn't have to measure or do anything requiring precision of thought or movement.  I love muffins. This blueberry muffin recipe comes courtesy of the King Arthur Flour website but I learned about it from a very special young friend; Abigail Santora.  Abby is the daughter of my dear friend, Alison.  Alison and I go way back.  So far back that at our ages it might be indecent to mention the number of years of friendship we have under our belts.  Abby has become quite the cook lately. The last time we stayed over at their house, Abby whipped up a beautiful batch of these muffins in under 20 minutes for the whole crew. The key to the speed here is that you prepare the muffin batter ahead of time.  It can store in the chill-chest for up to a week.   That means that you folks out there who, unlike myself, don't have to make at least 1 dozen muffins per meal can bake just as many as you need at one time.  (Hey Melissa!  That's you... wink wink!)  Just roll out of bed and into your fluffy bunny slippers, itch your head a bit, wander … {Read on...}

Power Juicy Jigglers

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My kids ate so many sweets over the holidays that I really thought maybe they'd be tired out on them. No way, Jose! Not even close. So back into the file I keep on (relatively) healthy snacks. I suppose everyone has their own idea of what constitutes healthy eating, so just for the record let me explain my criteria: Minimally processed. I prefer to make food from scratch both for the sake of our tastebuds and the sake of our health. With a few notable exceptions (wine, cheese, dry-aged beef, etc...) most foods taste best and contain the most nutrients when they're fresh. I do, however, hit the fish sticks pretty hard at least twice a year. It's a weakness. No artificial colorings or flavorings. I'm not freaky strict about this. I've been known to enjoy gummi bears and the occasional Shamrock Shake, but I am of the opinion that less is more in this category. Not that everything natural is good for you (think belladonna and digitalis, par example...) In most situations, though, adding color is completely unnecessary. Unless we're talking 'red velvet cake', in which case it's positively, very, very necessary... (I'm not eating it, though. Ew.) Use the real stuff. It is easier for the body to metabolize butter rather than margarine, olive oil (or canola, vegetable, peanut, etc...) than Olestra, sugar than High Fructose Corn Syrup, and so on. It is far better for you to eat less of the offending item. Variety is the spice of life. Instead of worrying about the food … {Read on...}

Homemade Seed Crackers

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Sooooo... Did I mention that we had more than 30 people in our home to celebrate Ty's birthday? (A.K.A. New Year's Eve.  Such a helpful and cooperative baby... He was our little tax deduction.)  And did I mention that with the notable exceptions of the rocking hummus my sister made and the fudge from my friend Beth I made all the food?  Really, what kind of catering fool would I be if I didn't cater my own son's birthday bash?  A couple words quickly come to mind: Sane, Smart, and Aware-of-my-own-limitations, for starters...   One of the fun foods I played with for Ty's shindig was homemade crackers based on Alton Brown's Seedy Crisps recipe.  The main thing I did differently than AB was use mustard seeds and granulated garlic in place of the poppy seeds.  Did I mess with it because I thought I knew better?  Nah.  I did it because I was out of poppy seeds, but the resulting crackers were delicious.  And when paired with some extra sharp white cheddar the mustard seeds in these crackers really sing!    They were easy to make since I took AB's advice and rolled them out with my pasta machine.  That was some seriously handy device advice from the culinary multi-tasking king.  I found that the dough made it through the machine more intact when I lightly rolled over each piece with my rolling pin before sending it through the pasta machine.  They baked up quickly and were done before the party with plenty of time to spare for me to run around and shove dirty socks … {Read on...}

This is for my Dad.

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My wild and crazy crew was lucky enough to be visited by my Dad-and-Val (my counterpart here at Foodie With Family) over the holidays.  After five days of relief for me ("Hey!  Why don't you go share that stream-of-consciousness story idea you're developing with Grandma?  She LOVES to read!"  and "Papa is outside walking the dog.  Why don't you go out with him?  He looks like he could use your company.  All five of you.")  and five days of Dad-and-Val wishing they had hearing aids so they could turn them down our visit came to an end.  It was such a treat having them here.   When I got kitted up to go out in the near-zero temperatures to feed the chickens I heard my father snickering.  Thinking Dad was reading something funny or formulating a clever pun I asked, "What's so funny, Dad?"  He replied, while pointing at my get-up, "When you were fourteen I never thought I'd see the day that you weren't worried about how you looked in front of someone else."    Well, Dad, this is for you.  This is how much I've grown.  I'm posting a picture of me in that gear and proving that I've matured to the point where I can let people laugh at me... (The truth is that my kids killed every last ounce of pride I had related to my appearance.  It's hard to remain vain when someone wipes a booger or frosting on you regardless of the audience or setting...)   And what you can't see in the picture because (more proof of my dwindling lack of concern about my appearance) I've done … {Read on...}