Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Recipe: Buttermeal Cookies

Yield: Approx. 4 dozen
Time: 12 minutes at 300F per ovenload

This dough is a very stiff dough, so either use a very sturdy metal spoon, if mixing by hand, or use a countertop mixer, if you're lucky enough to own one. The latter will probably save you half an hour vs. mixing the dough by hand. Don't even try it with a hand-held electric mixer. See "notes" at the end of the recipe.

I cadged this recipe off my grandparents' next door neighbor about 35 years ago. For the life of me, I cannot remember the woman's name. At the time, they were the best cookies I'd ever tasted, and boy do they withstand the test of time. Yum!

  • 2 sticks of butter, softened (1/2 lb.)
  • 1 heaping cup. of dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs. of dark corn syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 scant tsp. of baking soda
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 cups of quick oats
  1. Cream together the butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup
  2. Mix in the salt and baking soda
  3. Stir/cut/cream/blend in the flour, about 1/3 cup at a time (whatever works best for you), until it's all incorporated
  4. Repeat step 3, with the quick oats
  5. Grease a cookie sheet, and plop about 1 Tbs. of batter per cookie on it, about 3" apart, center to center
  6. Score each cookie with a fork, in cross directions, to press it down to 1/4" thick, or less
  7. Bake at 300F for 12 minutes
  1. I only had light brown sugar on hand this afternoon, so I substituted molassas for dark corn syrup, and they came out tasting the same as always
  2. The original recipe calls for dropping the batter off a spoon onto the cookie sheet, but it's not a sticky batter, so I find it much easier to form the batter into flat patties by hand first, then toss them on the sheet
  3. Do let these cool for a minute or two on the baking sheet before removing them
  4. Truth be told, you could easily get away with 1/3 to 1/2 cup less quick oats than the recipe calls for
  5. They're supposed to come out crunchy

Recipe: Tuna Casserole

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes prep; 45 in the oven at 350F

  • one medium sized onion, diced
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, diced
  • handful of white or brown mushrooms, chopped (optional)
  • one clove of garlic, sliced thinly or minced (optional)
  • 2 6-oz. cans of tuna, thoroughly drained, and flaked
  • dried spaghetti or linguini (about 3/4" diameter held between your thumb and index finger, if you circle them together), broken in half or thirds
  • 3-4 Tbs. of olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. of flour
  • 1 to 1-1/4 cups of milk (you could use light cream)
  • salt
  • pepper (preferably freshly ground)
  • handful of grated parmesan
  • handful of Italian-style breadcrumbs
  1. Sautee the onions, celery, and mushrooms in enough olive oil to get the job done, making them sweat, not fry, on medium to medium-low heat. This should take no more than 10 minutes. Set them aside to cool.
  2. Add 2 Tbs. of olive oil and 2 Tbs. of flour to the pot in which the veggies sauteed, and stir or whisk well to make a roux. Cook it just long enough to get the flour taste out of it. You're shooting for a really light roux here, so it shouldn't take more than a minute or two.
  3. Add some milk, maybe 1/3 of a cup to start with, and whisk it in really well. When it starts to thicken, add more milk, a splash or two at a time, and whisk it in really well. Repeat as necessary until you have a sauce that's not runny, but somewhat on the thin side. It should coat a spoon, but drip off pretty quickly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Collectively, this step with the previous one, is sort of a fake bechamel. Cover the pot, so your sauce doesn't form a skin, unless you do step 4 simultaneously with this one.
  4. Boil the pasta, according to directions. You can let it go a minute or two beyond al dente, but don't let it get mushy. Frankly, you can do this simultaneously with step 3.
  5. Drain the pasta and stir it into the milk/cream sauce, mixing well.
  6. Stir in the veggies, and mix well, then stir in the flaked tuna, and mix well. It's supposed to look like glop -- it's a casserole.
  7. Pour the mess into an oven-proof casserole dish, sprinkle a handful of grated parmesan on top, then sprinkle a handful of Italian-style breadcrumbs on top of that.
  8. Bake in a 350F oven, covered, for 30-35 minutes, then remove the cover, and bake another 10-15 minutes. It's done when it smells done, the sauce bubbles through the topping in a few spots, and the topping gets golden brown.
  1. I was out of mushrooms, so I omitted them this time. I like this dish better with the mushrooms, but it tastes fine either way.
  2. All I had around was 2% milkfat milk, so that's what I used for the sauce, but it doesn't really matter what you have around -- it'll work, as long as you shoot for the right consistency of the sauce. Even skim works.
  3. The reason for the milk/cream sauce being a little on the thin side is that while the casserole bakes, the pasta will absorb more liquid, so the sauce gets thicker by default.
  4. Leftovers reheat really well in a microwave on 40-50% power.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Recipe: Low-Fat Chicken Stew

This is a relatively low-fat version of chicken stew that uses a cornstarch slurry at the end to thicken the liquid, rather than a roux at the beginning. The leftovers reheat really well, either on the stovetop, or in a microwave at 40% (or so) power. Truth be told, I didn't follow a recipe, or even refer to one; I just cooked it. Ingredient quantities are approximate.

Yield: approximately half a gallon
Time: 2-3 hours, on the stovetop

  • One very large chicken breast on the bone, or two small ones, with the skin
  • 4 stalks of celery, sliced about 1/4" thick
  • 4 oz. of baby carrots, sliced about 1/4" thick (or two large carrots)
  • one very large onion, or 2-3 smaller ones, roughly chopped
  • cloves from half a small head of garlic, or 1/3 or a large one, peeled and sliced
  • 2 small or one large potato, peeled, and diced into 1/2" chunks
  • 1 qt. of chicken stock (chicken broth works fine, too)
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • salt (preferably sea salt, but it doesn't really matter)
  • pepper (preferably freshly ground Tellicherry)
  • 3-4 Tbs. of olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. of cornstarch
  1. Heat 1-2 Tbs. of olive oil in a wide pot, and brown the chicken breasts on medium heat. You can coat them with flour first, but it's not necessary -- salt and pepper's sufficient.
  2. Remove the chicken, and toss in the sliced veggies, add salt and pepper, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Add more olive oil as necessary. Let the veggies sweat until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally (about 10 minutes).
  3. Place the chicken back in the pot, bone side down, sprinkle on the thyme and rosemary, then add the chicken stock. Nestle the chicken down into the stock and veggies a bit, then put a lid on the pot. Reduce the heat to a low simmer.
  4. After about an hour, flip the chicken, and nestle it back into the rest of the stuff in the pot.
  5. Give it maybe another 20-30 minutes, then take out the chicken, and let it cool for a few minutes.
  6. Peel the skin off the chicken, throw it away, along with the bones, and shred the chicken.
  7. Toss the shredded chicken back into the pot with the diced potato. Let it simmer for another half an hour. The lid is optional at this point.
  8. Mix the cornstarch with enough cold water to make a slurry, then stir it into the pot. It'll thicken the "sauce" once it comes to a boil.
  9. Adjust the seasonings to your taste, serve, and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Garden Rice

Type: Chinese
Location: 234 Main St., Chatham, NJ
Price Range: Inexpensive

This place advertises itself on its menu as "Szechuan & Cantonese Cuisine," although it has a few Hunan dishes on the menu as well. As is typical, their lunch specials range from $5.50 to $6.15, and include your choice of rice (white, brown, or pork fried), and soup (wonton, egg drop, or hot & sour) to go with the main dish.

The dinner menu ranges in price from $6.35 for varieties of Foo Young to $12.95 for a few things on the "chef's special" section, with most dishes in the $9-11 range.

There's a $10 minimum for delivery, instead of the customary $20. Garden Rice also claims to use only vegetable oil and no MSG. Delivery is prompt; the usual half an hour they quote over the phone is normally an overestimate for delivery to my neighborhood, a town away.

Best dishes are:
  • Lemon Chicken (nobody around makes this better than Garden Rice; it's phenomenal)
  • Hunan Beef (nice and spicy, the way it should be)
  • Kung Po Chicken (what you expect from this dish)
  • Shrimp in Lobster Sauce (hard to mess this one up, but they always get it right, and never overcook the shrimp)
  • Lake Tung Ting Shrimp (see above)
  • Szechuan Beef (it's almost all onion and pepper, and not even slightly spicy)
  • Hot & Sour Soup (it doesn't have enough vinegar to give the sour flavor, and has those weird green greeblies that I pick out, as I find them, but at least it doesn't have strips of mystery meat)
Could Go Either Way:
  • Pu Pu Platter (the value for the money is there, but the pork dumplings are really bland)
The pu-pu is almost all fried. The stuff that looks burned is shrimp toast. It's not burned, and tastes great. It just looks odd. The fried shrimp and fried chicken nuggets are excellent. The fried wontons are so-so, but if you're starving, they'll do nicely.

The lemon chicken is to die for. No other Chinese restaurant around here makes it better.

Normally, I'm not into battered and fried food other than fish and chips, but this is phenomenal. For $20, the pu-pu and lemon chicken is enough food for three meals -- for three people. OK, I consider an egg roll to be an entire meal, so you'll have to adjust my take on the amount of food to your own stomach size.

It's best immediately after delivery, but believe it or not, the leftovers reheat really well.

Friday, February 06, 2009


Location: 11 Prospect St., Madison, NJ, 07940

: Italian

Price Range
: Expensive (expect to pay $50+ per person)

Saverio and Giovanni Allocca run this place, right smack dab in the center of town.

From the moment you walk in the door and check your coat, to the moment you leave, the hospitality is wonderful.

I love the pizzette con gorgonzola for a starter. What's not to like about a thin, crunchy-crust blue cheese mini-pizza?

You can get just about any wine to go with what you order, whether it's seafood, pasta, or veal. Skip the wine, and you can keep down the cost of the meal, but if you dress up to go there, why do that?

I go there for the seafood. My partner-in-eating loves the pasta dishes. I wish they'd bottle their fra diavolo sauce.

Dive into a dish of seafood, and you will never find it overcooked. Dive into pasta, and it'll always be al dente. Dive into veal, whether it be osso buco, piccata, or saltimbucco, it's great! They never undercook, nor overcook your meal.

Here's their dinner menu. Their saltimbucco is phenomenal. So's their shrimp fra diavolo.

I'd rate this place up there with my beloved (and gone) White Horse Inn.

The only downside is that since it's in the center of town, you might have to park a block away.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sourdough Loaf

This is the way it came out of the oven after 375F for around 45 minutes, and cooling. The starter we have is a good 30 years old. Personally, I'd like it less dense, but it has a good flavor, a good crumb, and makes really good toast. It also makes an excellent base for eggs benedict, if you have no english muffins on hand.

The next picture shows an inside shot, to give you an idea of the crumb, and denseness. It's sourdough, so it's not really supposed to look like a baguette, inside, but I'd prefer bigger holes in it.

As James Beard said in Beard on Bread, to paraphrase . . . sourdough is really unpredictable. Indeed, it is.

In the end, it's no denser than your average loaf of Russian rye. I keep thinking I could have cooked it another 10 minutes, but the bottom really is cooked. It's not gooey.

I'd love to post a recipe for it but, sourdough is just one of those things you make, without any exact proportions. The following paragraph gives you my best shot at it.

Take out the starter, dump in a cup of milk and a cup of flour, mix it together really well, and let it sit around all day until it gets really bubbly. Then toss half the mix back into the fridge to be starter for next time. Work the rest into a soft (but not sticky) dough, form it into a loaf, plop it into a loaf tin, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rise until it tops the pan. Bake it at 375F until it smells done -- around 45 minutes.