Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Gluten-Free Boston Cream Cupcakes

My friend Dana, who is gluten intolerant, had a birthday picnic last month.  So, I decided to bake some gluten-free treats that turned out rather well, so I thought I’d share them: gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, and gluten free Boston Cream Cupcakes.

Unlike the cookies, which were from scratch, I decided to try the Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Mix as a base for the cupcakes.  I hit upon the idea of Boston Cream cupcakes because I had read mixed reviews of the BC boxed mix, so I wanted to be able to dress up the cupcakes a bit, just in case.  And, happily, I discovered that both Jell-o instant pudding mixes and BC tub frostings are gluten-free, which took a lot of guesswork out of the filling and frosting.  Jell-o pudding mixes list “modified food starch” under the ingredients, and this is corn starch unless otherwise stated, Kraft is very diligent about listing allergens.  This opens up a ton of possibilities for flavors and fillings. Obviously, if someone is also casein intolerant, other arrangements for fillings would have to be made. I’m definitely not an expert on non-dairy fillings, but I’ve heard (although I haven’t tried it for myself) that the non-instant pudding works better with soy and almond milk than the instant.

Before trying the cupcakes, I searched around to find other people who had already tried the mix, to see if anyone had tweaked the box directions to get a better result, and I hit upon a fabulous resource, A Gluten-Free Guide, which has all manner of gluten-free info, recipes, restaurant lists, food reviews, etc. On this site was posted a review of the BC gluten-free yellow cake box mix, along with tweaks that the author said vastly improved the cupcakes’ taste and texture (backed up by reviews posted on the site). It called for adding, amongst other things, instant pudding and orange juice directly to the mix. So, I decided to give it a try, and they turned out better than I had even hoped.  However, and I can not stress this enough, pudding flavor does make a difference in taste, and if you can find it, I definitely recommend the French Vanilla pudding over the regular vanilla, for both the cake and the filling.

You are basically ignoring the directions on the cake mix package, and following the instructions below, as suggested by A Gluten-Free Guide. This recipe yields anywhere from 16-22 cupcakes, depending on how high you fill the liners:



  • 1 box BC Gluten-free cupcakes, yellow
  • 1 pkg Jell-o instant French Vanilla Pudding
  • 1/3 C granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs plus 1 egg white
  • ½ C vegetable oil
  • ¾ C no pulp OJ
  • 1 tbls vanilla


  • 1 pkg Jell-o instant French Vanilla pudding
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • ½ C milk

  • Betty Crocker chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate frosting in a tub

Directions for cupcakes

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Mix the wet ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  In a large bowl sift together the dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients  and   beat   on  medium speed until completely combined
  3. Line  a muffin tin with cupcake liners.  Fill 2/3 of the way full.
  4. Bake for about 23-25 minutes, until the cupcakes are golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  (this will depend on how high you fill the liners, so keep an eye on them and look for that golden color.
  5. Cool on rack until completely cooled. The cupcakes can be made the day before and stored, covered (once they cool, you don’t want condensation) overnight at room temp, and filled the morning you intend to serve them.

Directions for filling

  1. Combine Jell-o, heavy cream, and milk in a bowl. 
  2. Beat on high, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently. I typically do this with a hand mixer, but you can also do this with the whisk attachment of a stand mixer. Beat until mixture is thick and holds semi.stiff peaks.  Don’t beat until it starts to separate, unless you want some French Vanilla-flavored butter.
  3. Put the pudding in a plastic ziplock bag with one corner snipped off. This is going to be an easy pastry bag that can be just thrown away when you are done.

Directions for Assembling:

It is hard to see, but that piece is cone-shaped
  1. Taking a knife, gently cut into the cupcake at an angle, about 2/3 of the way into the cupcake, and cut all the way around the cupcake to remove a cone-shaped piece. 
  2. Cut off the point of the cone piece, leaving a cake lid that can be put back over the hole you just made. This lid should be no more than ½” thick, the thinner, the better.
  3. Then, using your pastry bag filled with the pudding, fill the hole in the cupcake almost to the top, and then press you cake “lid” down over the filling. As you can see from the picture, I over-filled many of my cupcakes, ideally the lid should be flush with the rest of the surface of the cupcake.
  4. Take the tub of chocolate frosting, remove the cover and foil, and microwave in the container for 10-15 seconds, until it is slightly liquidy and runs off of a spoon. Spoon the frosting over each cupcake and let it set
  5. Store in the fridge.

Filled and hopefully flush with the surface

I have to say, that even without the cream filling, these cupcakes were quite tasty plain, and had a texture close to what you would expect from wheat-containing cupcakes. So close, in fact, that I don’t know if one would be able to tell the difference between them if they weren’t really looking for it.

Frosted! And upside down. I don't know why, but I can't seem to fix it!
 These plain cupcakes could serve as the base for any number of filling/frosting combinations. The cupcakes could be filled in the way that I demonstrated here, which I recommend for a thicker filling, or they could be filled Hostess Cupcake-style with a metal pastry tip inserted into the top for thinner fillings. I think these cupcakes would be delicious with a fruit jam filling inserted (raspberry or strawberry), and then a vanilla icing on top. And, it goes without saying that the filling and assembly methods here can also be used to make Boston Cream cupcakes out of the BC gluten-containing boxed mixes.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Triple Berry Pie. Make this now.

Wow. All I can say is, wow. I tried making a triple berry pie on a whim, not really expecting much from it, and I just might have found my favorite fruit pie. Ever. No mean feat, since it had some stiff competition from blueberry and cherry, not to mention key lime and lemon meringue.  But this pie has an edge, at least for my tastebuds. Not only that, but it is incredibly easy to put together. You can probably use any combination of berries you want, adjusting the sugar content accordingly, but I went with fresh blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.


  • Dough for a 2-crust pie (your favorite recipe or refrigerated)
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 12 oz raspberries
  • 12 oz blackberries
  • 1 C sugar (can adjust up or down depending on your tastebuds and sweetness of berries, but 1 C was perfect for mine)
  • 5 tbls cornstarch
  • 1 tbls AP flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1-2 tbls lemon juice, depending on how tart you like your pies (I used 1 tbls)
  • Butter for dotting filling
  • Milk for brushing crust
  • Sugar for sprinkling on crust


  1. Preheat oven to 450F
  2. Combine berries, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and lemon juice in a bowl
  3. Line a pie plate with bottom crust. Spread 1 tbls flour on the bottom of crust, to prevent crust from getting soggy
  4. Spoon filling into the crust and dot with butter.
  5. Place top crust over filling and seal. I chose to make a lattice crust (look here for a great tutorial), but you can also use a full top crust with vents cut out if you wish. However, as you can see, a lattice crust really shows off the ruby red filling to perfection.  A dual-blade pastry cutter is a nice tool to have for lattice crust-making, it will add lovely little crimps to your dough strips.
  6. Brush the top crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar
  7. Place a protective shield around the crust edge to prevent excess browning
  8. Place the pie on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and bake for 15 minutes
  9. Lower oven temp to 375 and bake an additional 40-45 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Keep an eye on your crust, different crust recipes might brown at different rates depending on the amount of butter in the dough.
  10. Let pie cool on rack. If you cut the pie too soon, it will run. It needs to sit for several hours at a bare minimum to gel. I waited until the next day to cut mine, and the filling was perfect.

This pie was fabulous. It looked spectacular, was possibly the best smelling thing I’ve ever baked, and the filling was divine. The combination of berries gave the pie an incredible complex flavor that was slightly tart, as a fresh fruit pie should be. Alone, or paired with vanilla ice cream, this pie was a huge hit when I brought it to work, and I can’t give it enough accolades. I’m definitely going to the store to purchase some more berries, I want to make this pie several more times this summer!

Cherry Pie

I have a confession to make. Prior to this pie, I’d never made a cherry pie using fresh cherries before. Or even frozen cherries for that matter.  I’ve always used Comstock cherry pie filling. But after making this pie, I can tell you that I will never use Comstock filling again. Not that Comstock pie filling is bad – it isn’t. And it has a home in certain recipes, such as a cheesecake topping. But in pie form, it tastes nothing like the real thing, and the real thing is fabulous.  This recipe, which I modified from a recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen, is meant for sweet cherries. I searched high and low (too late in the season), because I had my heart set on making a sour cherry pie, but it was not to be. I couldn’t even find frozen sour cherry berries. Next year, I will make sure not to miss my local orchard’s sour cherry picking season, which is typically for 2 or 3 weeks sometime in the middle of June.

Cherries are “stone fruits” or “drupes”, meaning that the fruity flesh surrounds a hard pit, the endocarp that contains the seeds. Cherries are part of the genus Prunus, along with apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, and almonds. Most eating cherries are divided into 2 types: sweet (Prunus avium) and sour (Prunus cerasus).

Wild cherries have been considered good eats since prehistoric times, and the first known example of cultivated cherries dates from 72 BC Rome, where it was introduced by Lucius Licinius Lucullus who was, amongst other things, a Consul of Rome, brother-in-law of Cato and uncle-in-law of Julius Caesar’s assassin Marcus Junius Brutus. Cherries were first introduced to England in the 16th century by Henry VIII.

I made this particular pie for the 4th of July weekend, the “red” to complement the “blue” blueberry pie that I made. Like that pie, this recipe is for a 2 crust pie, although I have seen cherry pies with a crumb top before. And also like this pie, you can do up the top crust in a variety of ways, although I chose star-shaped vents to match the 4th of July theme and my Blue pie. I didn’t take many pictures of this particular pie, but you get the idea.

If you want to use fresh cherries (and I highly recommend doing so), you should invest in a cherry pitter. It really makes life so much easier. If you want some pie dough tips, check out this site.


  • Dough for a double-crust pie, rolled out (your favorite recipe or refrigerated)
  • 4 C pitted fresh cherries (if using frozen, thaw and drain them first)
  • 1/2-3/4 C sugar (adjust to the sweetness of your cherries, I used 1/2 C for sweet cherries and it was perfect)
  • 4 tbls cornstarch
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • Butter (for dotting filling)
  • 1 tbls AP flour
  • Milk (for brushing top crust)
  • Sugar (for sprinking on top crust)
  1. Preheat oven to 400F
  2. Combine cherries, cornstarch, sugar, lemon, salt, and almond extract gently in a bowl
  3. Place bottom crust in pie plate, and spread 1 tbls flour on the bottom crust. This will help prevent the bottom crust from getting soggy.
  4. Spoon filling into the bottom crust. Leave most of the liquid that pooled at the bottom of the bowl in the bowl, you won’t need it, the cherries will release plenty of liquid as they cook.
  5. Dot the filling with a little butter and place the top crust on, sealing around the edges. Don’t forget to vent the top crust in a manner of your choosing. Put a protective shield around the pie edge to prevent excess browning.
  6. Brush the top crust with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar.
  7. Place the pie on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and bake for 25 minutes. Reduce oven temp to 350F, and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes, until the crust is golden.
  8. Let the pie cool on a rack.

I convinced myself that people would need help distinguishing the blueberry from the cherry pie, and so I made little signs for each pie. But the real reason was that I wanted to somehow use this adorable picture of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree.

This cherry pie is super yummy. Trust me, go get a cherry pitter, and pit some cherries before the season is completely over. Make a fresh cherry pie, pair it with vanilla ice cream, and kick back, relax and enjoy the rest of summer.

Blueberry Pie

As part of my summer fruit baking theme, and as part of a delicious 4th of July weekend, I decided to make several fruit pies, the first being blueberry. I love a good blueberry pie. In fact, it might be my favorite fruit pie of all time. It is mostly because of the flavor, but also partly because I am sentimentally attached to blueberries – my Yia-Yia had blueberry bushes in her backyard, and I was forever picking blueberries in the summer when I would visit her. Unfortunately, I dropped the ball with picture-taking with this recipe, and the cherry pie. In fact, for most of my 4th of July recipes: I was working so fast, I didn’t even pause to take good shots. But, the few pictures I have should give you a good idea.

A blueberry is what is known as a “false” or epigynous berry (along with bananas, watermelons, cranberries, and a few others); meaning that the berry comes from an inferior ovary (attached to the receptacle below other flowering parts). This results in berries forming below the flowers of these plants.

Blueberries contain a number of micronutrients and other phytochemicals, including: Mn, vitamins B6, C and K, dietary fiber,  anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, resveratrol,flavonols, and tannins, which, among other things, are believed to be anti-carcinogenic. There is even evidence that the phytochemicals found in blueberries and other berries can slow the cognitive decline in age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, as well as be neuroprotective during ischemic brain damage (stroke). I should really tag this recipe as “health food.” What better excuse could there be for eating pie??

The particular recipe I am partial to is a two crust pie. Although I’ve seen blueberry pies with crumb tops, I’ve never made one before. Maybe that will be a project for later in the summer.  My recipe calls for fresh blueberries. If you intend to use frozen blueberries, thaw and drain them first, otherwise there will be waaaaay too much liquid in the filling.


  • Enough dough for a 2 crust pie (your favorite recipe or refrigerated)
  • 2 pints blueberries
  • 1/2-3/4 C sugar (depends on the sweetness of the berries)
  • 4 tbls cornstarch, divided in half
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 tbls fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 tbls AP flour
  • Butter (for dotting filling)
  • Milk (for brushing pastry)
  • Sugar (for sprinkling)


  1. Preheat oven to 425F
  2. Combine sugar, 2 tbls cornstarch, cinnamon and water in a saucepan. Heat rapidly on high until thickened (this will happen quickly). Set aside to cool completely. Once cooled, add berries, lemon juice, 2 additional tbls cornstarch.
  3. Prepare your crust, and line a pie plate with the bottom crust. Spread 1 tbls of flour onto the bottom of the bottom crust. This will help prevent the bottom crust from getting too soggy.
  4. Add the filling to the bottom crust, dot with butter, and place the top crust over. Be sure to seal the crust well around the edges, this works best if you wet the edges of the crust and pinch them together. You can either slice the top crust and weave a lattice, or you can just cut holes in the top to vent. Because this was the “blue” in a “red, white & blue” 4th of July theme, I used a star-shaped cookie cutter to cut my vents. 
  5. Brush milk onto the top crust, and sprinkle with sugar. You might want to protect the crust edges with a silicone crust guard or aluminum foil.
  6. Place the pie on a cookie sheet (do yourself a favor and line the sheet with parchment paper), and bake for 20 minutes; then lower the oven temp to 350F and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until the crust is a nice golden color and the filling is bubbling. You need to get the filling nice and hot so that the cornstarch can do its job.

Dork that I am, I also printed a “Blueberry Pie” sign to distinguish it from the cherry (“red”) pie that I also made for the 4th.

This pie is excellent. You would think that the cinnamon would be overpowering, but it is just a hint, and adds a lot of depth to the flavor, as does the lemon. I personally think summer fruit pies are seasonal cooking/baking at its best, and as far as pies go, you can’t do much better than this one.

Blackberry Cobbler

On her website, Ree had a debate about cobbler recipes. Now, I’m not normally one for cobbler, but when I saw her pics and saw how easy it was, I figured I’d give it a try. This recipe isn’t a true cobbler however, it seems somewhere between a berry buttermilk cake and a cobbler, I think. But it is nonetheless delicious, and pretty simple to toss together. I had been itching to make something with blackberries, so that's what I used, but you can use whatever berries you wish.


  • 1 stick Butter
  • 1-¼ cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Self-Rising Flour (or substitute 1 C all-purpose flour plus 1 ¼ tsp baking powder plus 1/8 tsp salt)
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 2 cups Blackberries (frozen Or Fresh)
  • 1 tbls lemon zest (optional)
  • ¼ C Sugar for sprinkling


  1. Melt butter in a microwavable dish. 
  2. Pour 1 cup of sugar and flour into a mixing bowl, whisking in milk. Mix well. Then, pour in melted butter and whisk it all well together. 
  3. Butter a baking dish. The directions don't come with size, but by my estimates this is good for anywhere between an 8"-10" dish, round or square. You just need to watch it.
  4. Pour the batter into the buttered baking dish. 
  5. Sprinkle blackberries over the top of the batter; distributing evenly. 
  6. Sprinkle ¼ cup sugar over the top. ¼ C seemed like a lot to me so I skimped out on this and I wish I hadn't, because I think it would have added great texture and taste carmelized on top. Don't be like me -- use the full ¼ C of sugar for sprinkling.
  7. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until golden and bubbly. 
  8. If you desire, sprinkle an additional teaspoon of sugar over the cobbler 10 minutes before it’s done.

When Ree did this, her cobbler actually looked, well, cobbled. Mine however did not, my berries sank. I did coat them with a little flour first, but I think it was just a function of the fact that I used a deeper dish than Ree did. In point of fact, I used a dish that I had borrowed from my sister-in-law for Superbowl, and I brought the cobbler to her 4th of July party. How’s that for (belatedly) paying it forward?

This dish was quite tasty. I served it with whipped cream, but I think it could have been even better with ice cream. Next time, I am going to try a mixed berry cobbler.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Banana Pudding, Bumped Up

Not really. It’s better, and easier. The original Nilla banana pudding recipe is an actual cooked pudding dish. Bah. Too much work! And just using boxed pudding according to box directions is okay I suppose...but it lacks something – unless you tweak it just a bit. This dish is a snap, and I’ve never yet met a person who didn’t love this, and I’ve fed this to a lot of people!

You will need:

  • 2 boxes of Jell-o French Vanilla Instant Pudding
  • 2 C heavy cream
  • 1 ½ C milk
  • 1 box of Nilla wafers
  • A bunch of bananas
  • Cool Whip

The choice of pudding is crucial here. French Vanilla, not regular vanilla. If you’ve tasted both, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t tried the French Vanilla, get it. Sometimes it can be hard to locate, not every store carries it, but it is worth the effort, believe me.  If all else fails, you can get it here. I use this pudding for cream puffs and as a base for napoleon filling as well. Yes, Jell-o makes a “banana crème” pudding as well – but trust me and go with the French Vanilla. Synthetic banana flavor is not the taste we’re looking for.

I generally make this the morning I am serving it, so that the cookies don’t get soggy.  Find a bowl, something large and with a lid. You can see the plastic bowl I used below. Put it aside, that is the bowl you will be assembling the dish in.

I tend to make pudding with a hand mixer, but you can also use the whisk attachment on a stand mixer. Combine both pudding boxes with the milk and heavy cream (light cream and whipping cream just don’t give quite the same flavor, so go ahead and splurge). Beat on high, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the pudding is thickened like so. With the heavy cream in there, it won’t take long to get to the whipped stage. If you continue whipping cream into the break stage (when it starts to look dry), and it will turn into butter, so keep that in mind.

Put one layer of Nilla wafers down into the assembly bowl, one cookie thick.

Then, spread pudding on top. The thickness is up to you and the depth of your bowl. Your bowl should be deep enough to get 2 layers, so plan accordingly when you put the pudding down, you want to have enough for the second layer, which will probably have a bigger diameter than the first layer. You might not want to just use half your pudding, however, because that might be so high that you can’t fit 2 layers. Judge by eye, depending on the bowl height.

Then, put down a layer of sliced bananas. I normally slice them right as I am putting them down, so they don’t sit exposed to the air for too long.

And then half of the Cool Whip, sealing the edges around the bowl to keep the bananas from the air. Then, repeat: Nilla, pudding, bananas and ending again with Cool Whip.

Cover and refrigerate for several hours.  Voila! Banana pudding. Not  very labor intensive, but a big pay-off in terms of taste. The heavy cream, French Vanilla pudding, and Cool Whip make a world of difference in the taste! Enjoy!

Oreo Balls, Patriot Style

I’m just going to toss these out here, because I’ve posted cake ball recipes numerous times, but never Oreo balls. They are part of the same culinary family, as far as I’m concerned, and wickedly easy. Even easier than their cake ball cousins, if you can believe that, because – get this – you don’t have to bake anything. I’ll say it again: you don’t have to bake anything.

And you only need 3 ingredients:

  • Package of regular Oreos (less 7 cookies or so), crushed
  • 1 8oz block of cream cheese, softened
  • Chocolate or candy coating for dipping

1.  First, remove those 7 cookies from the package. Treat yourself to a cookie. Then, take the remaining package of Oreos and crush them. I do this by putting them in a ziplock bag and beating them senseless with a rolling pin or a tamper. You could do it by using a food processor, I’m just too lazy to clean it. Treat yourself to another cookie, two if you crushed the Oreos by hand.

2.  Next, combine the crushed cookies and the softened cream cheese. I find it is easiest to do this in a stand mixer, this way if you don’t let the cream cheese soften quite enough (which I never do), the mixer will take care of the rest.

3.  Then, scoop out the mixture, form them into balls, and place on a wax-lined cookie sheet. I do this with a #60 cookie scoop.

4.  Put the balls in the freezer for about 30 minutes or so (a little longer won’t kill them). Then, you can melt your coating and dip. I usually take the balls out about 5-6 at a time for dipping, and leave the rest in the freezer so that they don’t start to soften.

5.  Once the coating is hard, you can drizzle on some decorations – my theme here is obvious, but get creative. Any method used to decorate a cake ball will work for these too.

6.  Here is one crucial difference between these and cake balls: Oreo balls need to be stored in the fridge because of the cream cheese, so keep this in mind and make sure you have enough space in your fridge for a cookie tin (or whatever other storage device you plan to use).

These balls can be made with flavored Oreos as well. I’ve used mint Oreos and they are delicious! Just remember, most flavored Oreos are double-stuffed, so you need to compensate for the extra filling – for mint and other double stuffs, use about 22 whole cookies and 10 cookies with the filling taken out. I haven’t used peanut butter Oreos yet, but I am sure they will be fabulous. This can be done with nearly any sandwich cookie – Nutter Butters, Vienna Cremes, etc. For a cookie you’ve never tried before, I’d add about 2/3 of a package plus the cream cheese, and then add the remaining cookies, a few at a time. If it seems that the mixture is too loose, you can scrape out the filling of the remaining cookies before you add them, as with the double stuff Oreos.

Summer Squash Salad

I have a friend. That friend has a farm share. Did everyone but me already know about these things? I didn’t, until I came to work at my present job, where all of my co-workers have a farm share. It is exactly what it sounds like – you pay for a share in a farm, and weekly during the summer, you get an allotment of fresh veggies, which constantly change depending on what is in season. It is a great way to 1) Make sure you eat your veggies; 2) Get exposure to some veggies you might not typically buy if left to your own devices; and 3) learn new recipes for said veggies. It really promotes seasonal cooking.

So anyway, my friend was going to be out of town, so he suggested that I pick up and use his farm share veggies for that week so that they wouldn’t go to waste, and I happily agreed. The harvest from that week (and imagine getting a comparable amount of fresh veggies every week in all different varieties), which was also conveniently right before the 4th of July weekend, included: cabbage, carrots, red and green onions, green beans, swiss chard, cucumbers, red beets, and summer squash. Lots of summer squash. As in 8 of them, a mixture of zucchinis, yellow pattypans and yellow crook neck squash. Now, I had managed to use up the cabbage and carrots, plus some cucumbers and onion making cole slaw and a pasta salad. The swiss chard and beet greens found a home being sautéed up as a side dish to some chicken. But what about the summer squash?

Summer squash, as it turns out, isn’t a veggie at all, at least to botanists. They are fruit belonging to the same genus as pumpkins, Cucurbita. Move up one taxonomic rank to the family Cucurbitaceae, and you can add cucumbers and gourds to that list as well. Summer squash are normally harvested in the summer (hence, the name), when they are still immature and have thin skins. The skins of summer squashes are jam-packed with nutrients, so resist the urge to peel them (although, peeling a pattypan squash would be next to impossible anyway).

But I digress. Back to the mystery of what to do with the summer squash. What I wanted, since it was 4th of July weekend and I had already over-extended myself volunteering to make tons of stuff, was a nice simple recipe and I found it from Rachel Ray: a simple cold squash salad with a simple dressing.  And when I say simple, I mean simple, the dressing itself is only mustard, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. This salad is a snap to put together, it barely takes longer than the time required to cut up some vegetables. I use it with squash here as per Rachel Ray’s original recipe, but the dressing would be great on a number of things, so this recipe can be modified for whatever veggies you happen to have laying around, anything you would be willing to eat raw. A great way to use up some excess vegetables, if you find yourself in that situation. Heck, throw in some cooked pasta, and maybe some cheese, and *poof* you have a pasta salad!



  • ~5-6 summer squash, sliced
  • 1/2-1 pint red grape tomatoes, whole
  • 1 cucumber, sliced
  • ½ medium red onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I used Grey Poupon Country Dijon)
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

* Feel free to substitute any veggies that you want, or to add more tomato, cucumber, onion, etc, if that is to your taste.


  1. In a medium bowl, toss together the sliced veggies and the tomatoes.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar.
  3. Whisk in the olive oil until combined. Make sure to do this before pouring onto the vegetables. In addition to adding flavor to the dressing, the mustard is acting as an emulsifier here, and will keep the oil and vinegar from separating later on.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste and pour over the vegetables. Cover and store in the fridge.

Summer squash is very mild, so this dish almost entirely takes on the flavor of the dressing. Therefore, if you don’t like mustard, this dressing recipe might not be the right one for you, in which case you can easily substitute in a more typical balsamic vinaigrette as the dressing (or any other type of dressing, although some variation of vinaigrette would probably taste best).

When I made this salad, I combined the veggies with the dressing a few hours before I wanted to serve it. It will keep, dressed and refrigerated, for several days. If you use all the dressing and you think it needs more, it is very easy to make a double batch. Don’t be alarmed if the salad seems like it dried out when you pull it out of the fridge, that is just the oil solidifying in the cold – a few minutes at room temp and the oil should re-liquify.

I’m a big fan of easy recipes that taste good, and this is definitely one of them.

Sun-dried Tomato and Feta Pasta Salad

It is my firm belief that every picnic should have a nice, cold pasta salad. It is the perfect side dish to every conceivable bbq entrée. My first instinct was a tuna macaroni salad, but I decided to save that for another time. Instead, I decided to keep the pasta salad strictly vegetarian, and so I adapted this recipe from Ina Garten.
I wish I had better pics, but you get the gist.


  • 1 pound small pasta. Ina calls for spirals (fusilli), but I went with mini bowties (piccolini farfalle) from Barilla. Any small pasta, including macaroni, will work fine.
  • Kosher salt
  • Good olive oil
  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes. I used grape tomatoes, and added them whole.
  • 1 cup good black olives, such as kalamata, pitted and chopped or diced. Kalamata are very salty and strong. I happen to love them, but if that is a bit much for you, just use regular sliced black olives
  • ~1 pound good feta cheese, crumbled. Athenos makes pre-crumbed feta, which is what I used.  I added by sight, and I didn’t add in the full lb, so add it in batches until you get an amount you like. Feta is a strong flavor.
  • 6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped fine
  • 1 onion, chopped

Dressing (1X)

  • 10 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ¾ C good olive oil (can scale this down to ½ C if you desire)
  • 2 garlic clove, diced
  • 1 teaspoon capers, drained (can omit if you don’t like capers)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1- 1 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, depending on taste
  • 1 cup packed flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional)


  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water with a splash of oil to keep it from sticking together. Boil for 12 minutes, or according to the directions on the package. Drain well and allow to cool. This is accomplished quickly by running the pasta-filled colander under cold water, and then re-draining, shaking to dry. Put the pasta in a bowl large enough to accommodate all the other ingredients and allow for mixing.
  2. For the dressing, combine the sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, capers, salt and pepper in a food processor until almost smooth. The texture will be slightly thick.
  3. Pour over the pasta. (Everything including this step can be done the night before, and the pasta/dressing can be stored in the fridge, covered.)
  4. The morning it is going to be served, add the tomatoes, olives, onion, cheese (feta and parm), parsley, and the chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Toss well. If you made the pasta the night before, you might want to make another recipe or half-recipe of the dressing to take with you, or you can choose to just make a double recipe of dressing the night before to have on hand.**  Store in the fridge until a little before serving.

**The next day, your pasta salad is going to look as though it dried out, and if you made any extra dressing that sat overnight (or even for a few hours), it will look as though it dried and thickened up into a paste. Although the pasta will absorb some dressing, the “drying” you see is mostly because the olive oil solidifies in the fridge. If you let the pasta salad and/or extra dressing get closer to room temperature, the dressing will re-liquify. Be sure to let it do this before you determine whether or not you actually need to add more dressing, otherwise you might end up with a pasta salad dripping with dressing. You can make this determination right before you serve it, just let it sit out for a bit before you intend to serve, and then have a looksie at the moisture level.

This is definitely an adult pasta salad. And I got nothing but complements when I brought it to a majority adult picnic. The flavors are complex and absolutely delicious together, but between the feta, kalamata, red wine vinegar and capers, it is a little salty, slightly briny and tangy, and most children will probably turn up their noses at it, so keep that in mind if you are intending to feed a lot of little ones.

Cole Slaw (KFC Copycat Recipe)

A good cole slaw is a must-have for any picnic. Personally, I love fresh raw cabbage, so a well-made cole slaw is one of my absolute favorite things.  But, prior to this past 4th of July weekend, I had never attempted it from scratch before.

So after hunting around on the internet, I came up with this recipe, which I found on Amanda’s Cookin’, but which is also posted on various other websites. This recipe happens to be a KFC cole slaw copycat recipe, and an excellent one at that. Make it the day before you want to serve it, and leave it in the fridge overnight to let the flavors mingle. You won’t regret it. Seriously, this is some good cole slaw, I got nothing but complements.



  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (* to make your own buttermilk, and avoid having to buy it for a mere ¼ cup’s worth, add 1 tbls of lemon juice or white vinegar to 1 C milk and let clabber at room temp for about 10 minutes until thickened)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (this is separate from any lemon juice you use to clabber the milk)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar (this is separate from any vinegar you use to clabber the milk)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 head of cabbage, medium sized
1 medium carrot, about 1/4 cup, chopped finely or shredded
2 tablespoons minced onion


  1. Chop cabbage into chunks and run through your food processor, or chop fine. I prefer just chopping it semi-fine, as you can see from the pics. The variation in cabbage piece size adds a difference in texture that I personally enjoy, but that is a matter for your own preference. If you don’t want to process or chop the cabbage, you can also shred it by using the largest holes on your grater. And if you’re really in a pinch, you can use the premixed bag of slaw, and just add the onion and dressing. Although, as with everything else, fresh always tastes a little bit better.
  2. Combine cabbage, carrots, and onion and toss well. If you want more carrots, go ahead and add more.
  3. Let ¼ C milk clabber if need be.
  4. Combine mayo, milk, buttermilk, sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl, whisking well.
  5. Pour dressing over the slaw and turn to coat well. If you have a bowl with a lid, cover it and shake it.
  6. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving to allow the cabbage to soak up the marinade. Overnight really is best. When you take it out the next day to serve, remix it, a lot of the dressing will have pooled on the bottom.

It didn't occur to me to take a picture of the cole slaw until I was eating it. Oops.  Right next to it is a little of the pasta salad I also made for the 4th of July... As you can see, I chopped the veggies roughly, because I like that texture. How you want to chop the cabbage and carrots is totally up to you.

This recipe makes a great cole slaw that can easily be scaled up for a large crowd. It is tasty and surprisingly light in flavor while still having a bit of a tang. The leftovers kept well for several days after the picnic.


Now that summer barbecue season is here, I thought I should start adding some picnic-related posts. I made many of the recipes in this, and subsequent posts, for this past 4th of July. The first entry, BLT Dip, is a great addition to any bbq, or party in general. I brought it to two different parties during the 4th of July weekend, and it was a hit both places. My pictures are a little crappy, I was so intent on getting everything done for the 4th that I often forgot to take pics until it was too late. Hopefully you get the idea.

The recipe itself is very simple, I modified it from a recipe by Paula Deen:


  • 1 C mayonnaise
  • 1 C sour cream
  • 8 oz (1 block) cream cheese, softened
  • ~1 lb bacon
  • Iceburg lettuce, shredded or finely chopped
  • Tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes cut in half)
  • 1-2 C shredded cheese, cheddar or other (optional)


  1. Cook the bacon until crispy. Drain and then crumble.
  2. Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, and cream cheese until well blended. 
  3. Add in bacon and mix well.
  4. Refrigerate until about to serve. (When I made this recipe, I put the mixture together in the morning, and it had about 4 hours in the fridge before I took half of it, topped it with lettuce and tomato and served it, and it was perfect. I took the other half of this dip somewhere the next day, and it was still delicious although the bacon had lost its crunchiness by the next day.)
  5. Before serving (or taking it somewhere), layer chopped tomatoes and then lettuce on the top. It is okay to do this before you leave to go somewhere, you don’t have to do immediately before serving, but I would serve it within an hour or so of doing this. Conveniently, this is an appetizer, so it gets put out first.

A few notes:

  • You can substitute turkey bacon if you want, but I would not substitute light mayo, sour cream, or cream cheese because the texture will be runny and it will not combine properly.
  • Feel free to add diced tomatoes (fresh or from a can) directly to the mayo/sour cream/cream cheese mixture, in addition to layering some on top. Lettuce mixed in will get soggy, however, so I recommend leaving the lettuce on top.
  • Shredded cheese (1-2 cups) is also a nice addition, either layered on or incorporated directly into the mix. This depends on your tastebuds, but I would recommend cheddar.

This dish is very simple, and requires minimal effort, but it is huge on taste. It is a great recipe to keep in your party repertoire, especially since it isn't really time consuming, except for frying the bacon. Like I said, I brought it to two different parties, and it was a hit both places, with many recipe requests.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Chicken and chorizo bake

Most people have a word or words they can't remember. My Dad can't remember the name of the computer operating system "Linux". My friend Dee couldn't for years tell the difference between "Accessorize" and "Claire's Accessories", calling them, always, "Accessories" and "Claire's Accessorize". It drove me fucking nuts.

When I first met my husband, I casually pronounced "chorizo" "chorit-zo". He quickly told me that that was for idiots who said "haitch" instead "aitch" and called "Ibiza" "Ibit-za".

"Either chorrrr-eeee-tho," he said, glaring at me, "or chorrr-eeee-zzzoh. Just not 'choritzo'. Please."

But from that moment on I was so stressed about not getting it wrong, that I got it wrong. It got to a point where when I wanted to say the word in front of my husband I would start and say "chorrrrr-iiiii-eeeee" hedging my bets a bit, looking at him from under my eyelashes, willing him to help me out.

"eeee-zoh?" He would finish off.

He was always pretty patient about it, given that my husband is at times such a lazy thinker that he'll say sentences like "If you ask me, if you buy a roof over a restaurant you've got to expect noise from the pub" and consistently presses "reply" on emails when he wanted to press "forward" (if you think about it, this has the most potential for disaster of any mis-type on an email).

Anyway, I've nailed it now. So much so that I have CHOR-EEEEE-ZOH in my fridge almost at all times. Yesterday, I baked it in a pan with chicken thighs, mushrooms and sour cream, which worked really well, with the added bonus that it was damned easy.

For 2

4 chicken thighs
2 in of CHOR-EEEEE-ZOH, diced into 2cm ish cubes
a large handful of button mushrooms, if you've got some
four large tablespoons of sour cream
salt and pepper

1 Brown the thighs really well in some groundnut oil. If you get the skin quite brown and crispy at this stage, it will go crunchy and lovely in the oven
2 Place in an oven dish, scatter over the CHOR-EEEE-ZOH and then mushrooms and then dollop the sour cream around the chicken, not on top
3 Season the thighs well with salt and pepper
4 Shove in the oven at 180 for 1 hr

Monday, 12 July 2010

Chilli tacos

The internet is a funny place for an old print hack like me. I don't really understand the concept of "networking" with other blogs in order to increase my "traffic", although other people seem to, because I get an awful lot of comments these days that leave a random compliment, followed by the address of their own blog.

I mean, don't get me wrong - I'm not annoyed by it or anything, but is this what we're all doing now? And why? So that Highland Spring will email us offering to advertise on our sites? Is that the dream?

It's not like that in newspapers. In newspapers you only have to please one person: your commissioning editor. I have four commissioning editors at the moment: Hannah, Amy, Nicola and Vanessa, (I do not believe in working for men), which is a 400% increase on the number of commissioning editors I had this time last year. They are to me what volcanoes are to small, sun-worshipping island communities in the South Pacific, in that if they asked me to toss a virgin into a furnace, I would.

Here, the reader is everything. I can measure my popularity (or at least, how often I post) by a weekly mail-out, which tells me how many visits I've had, from where and how long they stayed, and by the quantity and enthusiasm of my comments. And I do it all for free.

But in newspapers no-one cares about the readers. The readers don't matter and they never really have. Anyone who writes to or emails a newspaper, even someone with a legitimate point, is a "green inker", most probably an escapee from a mental asylum, and readers never, ever know best. They are like naughty schoolchildren who need to be told what they like - Summer Reads AGAIN, some feature on how to get a good night's sleep (my God insomniacs must gnash their teeth at those) and 10,000 items a week on working mothers.

It never helps my attitude towards newspaper readers that they're always mean about whatever I've written in those "Have your say" boxes at the end, whereas on blogs, everyone is nice. And anyway, the reader has probably bought the paper to read someone else anyway, and stumbled across my piece on horseshoe making in southern Ukraine (p.56) quite by accident.

So all that considered the reader can get stuffed, as long as my comm ed likes it. Because if they like it, there's a chance they'll remember to put through my 15p per word payment to finance department, so that an undercover Russian spy, who doesn't want to give herself away by ever speaking intelligible English, (in an elaborate double-bluff), can lose my payslip, delete my account and then deny all knowledge of the piece when I ring her in six months' time to complain.

And that, ladies and gents, is why newspapers are going to die.

I made chilli tacos last night for my husband, because he was watching the World Cup final and I thought that chilli tacos and beer were suitable football food.

I've never managed to make chilli really taste like chilli, only like extra tangy bolognese, so I consulted a Tomasina Miers recipe and ripped it off. It went something like this.

500g ground beef
2 small onions
3 garlic cloves
1 red chilli SEEDS IN - don't be such a wuss for god's sake
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tsp soft dark brown sugar
1 tbsp cider vinegar
25g chorizo, chopped
2 bay leaves - don't panic if you haven't got these
2 cans of plum tomatoes

1 Brown the meat and the chorizo in a pan and then set aside

2 Put the onions, garlic and chilli in a blender and whizz until chopped. I've never done this before, always instead painstakingly chopping everything up. I am never chopping onions again - it's going to be blended garlic and onion for everything from now on

3 Cook the blended onion mixture in a frying pan for about 10 minutes over a very low flame with the cumin, bay leaves and spices. Season with a pinch of salt and a few turns of pepper.

4 Add the plum tomatoes, the ketchup, vinegar and sugar. Mess this around for a bit and then pile the meat back in. Cook this up for about 5 minutes and then taste. If you want more or less of anything chuck it in now. You'll probably find you need more salt. If you want this really fucking spicy, wham in some tabasco.

5 Cook all this for about 40 minutes over a low heat.

6 Serve with tortilla wraps (Waitrose), guacamole (mash up some avocado and add lemon and salt - you don't need to add any chilli because the chilli ought to be hot enough as it is), shredded lettuce and sour cream. Sprinkle over jalapeno peppers - if you're a glutton for punishment - while pondering whether or not the paywall is going to work.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Anchovy straws

I like to think I have an complicated relationship with anchovies but I think that it's probably the same relationship that most other people have with them, i.e. they are disgusting, but at times you crave them nonetheless.

I found myself in Chichester on Friday. There was a spooky moment where I wondered why I recognised it, just this particular stretch of street here, with that shop on the corner and the cathedral just there. Then my husband reminded me that this was where, two years ago, he broke the land speed record and collected 3 points for his licence while driving me to a GP, because I was struck down en route to our weekend away, with an acutely painful and unpleasant ladies' problem, which requires antibiotics.

But I try not to let the trauma of pissing blood colour my judgment of a provincial town and I can say with confidence that Chichester is really quite lovely in the sunshine. We went to Field and Fork, which is a restaurant within an art gallery to have dinner, just before we missed the last train back to London and had to get a cab all the way home. It was £120 and as nice as Chichester is, it was worth every penny.

Anyway at Field and Fork we were brought some anchovy straws as a sort of amuse bouche. And it was one of those days when I thought "Yes. I really, really, really want some anchovy."

So here we go. This is a mash-up of a cheese biscuit recipe I found on a Hugh FW cutting out of the Guardian and a recipe from The New Penguin Cookery Book. If you are doing these for a party rather than tout seul or a deux scoffing, you would, of course, make some plain cheese straws, or some other kind of canape, too, because not everyone wants salty mushy fish specks just before dinner.

Me? I want the same as any woman; I want to be Shakira.

Anchovy straws
makes about 20

125g butter, diced
150g plain flour
0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
black pepper
125g grated cheddar
approx 3 tablespoons grated pecorino or parmesan, or any other hard cheese you want
1 tin anchovy fillets

1 Pulverise everything except the anchovies in a blender until it forms a rough dough. Turn it out onto a floured surface and bash it around for a bit, then bring it together into a ball and put in the fridge for half an hour.

2 Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to a thickness of about 0.5cm and cut into shapes. I've done these as straws but you could do them as little biscuits, or squares or stars or anything you like really. Chop or snip up the anchovy fillets into little scrapings and then press them with the point of a knife into the pastry in a gracious or amusing pattern. For anchovy-phobes, leave the cheesy pastry plain, or you could substitute the anchovy for rosemary, mint or anything else that takes your fancy.

3 Lay out your straws or biscuits onto a baking tray either greased or lined with baking parchement and cook at 190 for 10 minutes, or in a fan oven, 180 for 9 minutes. If you have gone for a straw-shape, be extra careful when moving these about when cooked as they snap pretty easily. If in doubt, wait for them to cool completely and pick them up by their middles.

Like anything made out of mostly cheese and butter, these will freeze well.