Posted by: Rachel | December 18, 2016

chilly? chili!!

I thought I knew what chili was. Then I moved to Texas.

Now mind you, I’d never put pasta in my chili (sorry you Cincinnati folks), or at least I wouldn’t call it chili if I did. Then again, what I call chili and what you call chili might be at odds as well.

What I can tell you is this. Today we are having winter and this is what I want for lunch and possibly dinner as well.

Now understand, a central Texas “winter” often lasts no more than a day. This year they tell us it might last for two! And, I will give them this – it is coooooold outside! So I’m determined to enjoy winter food before it gets too warm again.

The good thing about my chili (and yes, I will insist on calling it that) is that you can make it quickly. Unless you insist on working with dry beans, in which case winter could be over before the chili is ready, you can fix this in an hour or so and enjoy it almost immediately. Of course it is better the next day (and even better the day after, if winter lasts that long), but it isn’t bad from the get-go.

The name’s the thing. I call this Yankee Chili. Texas chili as I understand it believes that beans are anathema. I, on the other hand, never met a bean I didn’t like. So, rather than calling it bean and burger stew or something equally cumbersome, here’s a quick and easy cold weather pick-me-up.

Yankee Chili

tasty and toasty

tasty and toasty

3/4 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped fine*
3 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans fire roasted tomatoes

Brown the beef in a heavy Dutch oven. Add the onion* (see below) and cook until the onion is soft. Add the beans and tomatoes, stir well, cover and barely simmer for several hours or until you can’t stand it and have to have some.


Now, about that asterisk. When I add the onions I often add a tablespoon or so each of ground cumin and ground coriander, a pinch of cinnamon, and some salt. Spices are up to you, but I like my chili this way. Also, note there is no “heat”. Feel free to add chili powder if you like it hot. This is one of those flexible recipes – have fun!

The important thing is, stay safe and warm this season, enjoy family and friends, be healthy (note: I am not saying *eat* healthy – its the holidays, after all!) and have a wonderful start to the new year!

Posted by: Rachel | December 5, 2016

steal this recipe!

I stole this recipe. There, I’ve said it. At least I’m honest about the theft!

When I read this recipe on Measure and Whisk I could actually imagine making these light (yes, really), delicious (oh, definitely!) and easy (actually, yup) truffles in *my* kitchen.

See, I’m a terrible candy maker. I have the thermometers and a few of the other trappings, but I get confounded by “soft ball stage”, “hard ball stage”, and all that jazz. I’m much better at cooking and even baking – those sports at far more forgiving.

Still, this sounded like something even I could manage and sure enough, to my delight, they came out just as promised!

Then, of course, I just had to fiddle with it.

If you know me, then you know that I can rarely leave well enough alone. See, when I read the original recipe I thought it would taste a bit like Nutella ™. Instead, (and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you) they tasted rather like Reeses ™. The peanut butter completely overwhelmed the delicate hazelnut and stole the show.

In my rework, I opted for almond butter and almond powder, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Just so we’re all on the same page (so to speak), here’s the exact recipe I stole (with thanks again to Measure and Whisk).

Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles:

3/4 cup hazelnut meal (I use the Bob’s Red Mill brand)
1/2 cup peanut butter, softened to the point of being a little melty
2 Tbs cocoa powder
10 oz dark chocolate (I like Hershey’s special dark chocolate chips)
large grain sea salt for sprinkling

Begin by combining your hazelnut meal, and cocoa powder in a medium sized bowl. Get your peanut butter nice and softened in the microwave (30 seconds to a minute, stirring once or twice), and pour it into your hazelnut meal and cocoa powder bowl. Stir until the mixture is thick and thoroughly blended.

Roll about a tablespoon of the dough into a ball, and put it on a silicone mat or wax paper lined cookie sheet. Do this with the rest of the dough until you have 20 or so small dough balls. Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes to chill.

Next, melt about 6 ounces of your chocolate chips in a medium bowl in the microwave (I used this tutorial for tempering chocolate, and it was really helpful). You want to melt them just enough to get them totally melted and shiny, but not to the point of being really hot or bubbly. I did mine in about 30 second increments, stirring until they were just melted and pretty warm. Then add the last 4 ounces of chocolate chips, stirring until they are melted in.

Now, remove the dough balls from the fridge, and place one in the chocolate mixture, roll it in the chocolate until it is coated, remove from the chocolate with a fork, scraping the excess chocolate onto the side of the bowl, and carefully push the truffle off the fork onto the silicone mat. Repeat with each truffle. Top with a small sprinkle of sea salt.

Let the truffles refrigerate for 2 hours up to overnight, until the chocolate is a nice hard matte shell. Try not to eat them all, and enjoy!

Here’s what I did differently for my round two: no change to the amounts but I substituted almond meal and chunky unsalted almond butter. Cocoa as above, but less chocolate chips as I hate to waste and I ended up with far more melted chocolate than I actually needed the first time. Also, I used a dark chocolate chip that is less sweet. Divine (she said modestly…)

The thing I learned, also, that wasn’t completely clear to me (although probably those of you who have a hand at making candies probably figured this out) is this. When you are making the small balls from the warm paste, its best to portion them out, chill them for a few hours, and *then* roll them into actual balls. This would be a fun thing to have kids help with, I think.

Then chill them again (amazing how quickly your hands can heat up a small ball of yumminess) before rolling them in the melted chocolate. Chill yet again and enjoy. I set mine on parchment on a cookie sheet for the chilling part and it worked just fine.

This is all pretty easy – mostly it takes time to chill everything in stages. Here’s what they looked like in case you’re curious.

batch one, step one (roughly)

batch one, step one (roughly)

finished! mmm...

finished! mmm…

Mine are (obviously) not as perfect as Measure and Whisk’s; they have a bit of that “clay ashtray” (or, as we now say, “artisinal”) air about them, but they sure went like hotcakes and I was hard pressed to restrain myself. I’m thinking I may try a hazelnut meal and hazlenut butter next time… mmmmmmm!

Do let us know if you try these, OK? Stay safe and warm, enjoy your friends and family and any holiday you choose during these wintry times!

Posted by: Rachel | November 15, 2016


In the spirit of “America Recycles Day” (thanks, Cecilia!) I’m bringing you a reprise of an earlier recipe. Is that a cheat? I think not!

Remember my Aunt Jane’s Chutney? Mmmm…

I made a batch yesterday (it is so much better made a week or so in advance) and this morning the house still smells wonderfully spicy.

This is not quite a jam, nor is it a sauce. Chutney is a law unto itself. Wikipedia says “Chutney (Devanagari- “चटनी” also transliterated chatney or chatni, Sindhi: چٽڻي‎) is a sauce in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent that can vary from a tomato relish to a ground peanut garnish or a yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip.” but this recipe is about as far from that as one can get.

Cranberries, pears, raisins, spices, sugar and apple cider vinegar combine to make my mouth water! And, it keeps. Mine is in the freezer now after an afternoon on the kitchen counter and a night in the fridge, but if I weren’t planning to pack it and travel I’d simply keep it in the fridge – for months!

shiny, spicy, rich and thick!

shiny, spicy, rich and thick!

Here’s the actual recipe:

Aunt Jane’s Chutney

prep: 30 minutes
cooking time: 25 minutes

2 cups fresh cranberries
2 large firm pears
2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 cups golden raisins
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
2 t. salt
2 T. pickling spices
12 whole allspice
5 whole cloves

Rinse cranberries. Peel, core, and slice pears. Combine all fruits in large saucepan with sugar, raisins, vinegar, and salt. Place all spices on 6 inch square of cheese cloth, tie up to form a spice bag, and add to fruit mixture.

Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium-low (simmer), cook stirring frequently for 20 minutes.

Remove the spice bag, cool the chutney and refrigerate or freeze.

I added more cranberries this time, currants as well as raisins, and a few extra cloves. It tasted good hot and even better cold this morning. I may have to make another batch to get me through the winter!

Of course it is part of our family Thanksgiving dinner – it wakes up the mashed potatoes, moistens the turkey, and is so pretty on the table. But I like it on oatmeal in the morning – fruity and spicy as part of breakfast! And, it is fine with yogurt on warmer days, again, why not?

So, as this holiday season starts, safe travels to all, good times in good health with friends and family, and good cheer all around. Mmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | November 12, 2016

walk with me (2016 edition)

A few weeks ago I spent a nice long weekend with my New York cousins.

You may remember previous walks in the city from past years. This time, no hurricanes, no blackouts, no torrential downpours or other natural disasters; I had a great time! It was a bit chilly and rainy one day, perfect ramen weather, and we took full advantage. I’m not sure but I think the broth had been simmering since I was there a few years ago. Oh it was goooood!

But the find of finds this time was a tiny 3 barstool “restaurant” called Kopitiam. If you’re going to be in New York, I recommend stopping in for an afternoon snack. The place is tiny. I mean, the whole place (kitchen and “seating area”) could easily fit in my kitchen, probably twice! Still, the three staff managed an impressive ballet of crepe flipping and customer service.


I had the Pulut Inti described on the menu as “Blue Morning Glory Sticky Rice with Choice of Grated Coconut”. Wow!

blue sticky rice and coconut wrapped in a leaf

I’m not sure how they make the rice that color, and maybe I don’t want to know, but it was delicious and amazingly filling. I’d go back in a flash and try a few other items happily!

You know I love walking in the city. I walked through Bryant Park near Grand Central. The food stands had a distinctly European feeling.



Here are a few more sights from around town:

sandwich board stating "a yawn in a silent scream for coffee"



I liked this:


and this:


I had great fun walking, noshing, sho pping at the farmer’s market, and even cooking a little bit as well. I’m already looking forward to visiting again next fall!

Posted by: Rachel | October 16, 2016

try, try again…

I’m not convinced about this batch of apple peel sourdough starter. Nope, not at all.

I followed the (albeit vague) instructions and it is bubbling quietly, but after 4 days it smells more cheese-y then yeast-y. Hmmmm…

It started out innocuously enough. I found the information I needed based on the tv show I saw, bought the apples and gave it a shot.

At first it smelled mostly like paper maché paste, just flour and water. And it didn’t look like much of anything.

starting the starter

starting the starter

I did as instructed; mixed it up, covered it loosely with clean cheesecloth and walked away.



A few days later it started to “take”. I looked online to see if I should be worried and came away more confused than anything. It looks slightly brownish to me. Not pink or any of the other colors that would indicate bacteria rather than wild yeast. And, as I said, it smells a bit like cheese (I swear that cheesecloth was clean!), and not bad exactly, but I’m just not sure.

starter, started??

starter, started??

I think I’ll give it another day or so before I decide whether to go forward or to start over. I know the adage is “when in doubt, throw it out” but that hurts! Still, better safe than sorry…

Any thoughts from you bakers out there? Help!

Posted by: Rachel | October 9, 2016

and cauldron bubble…

Last weekend was the third annual AustinFermentation Festival. I was lucky enough to win a pair of tickets (thanks, Field and Feast!!), I’ve never seen so many delicious things dripping, bubbling, oozing, churning, breathing, growing, and, well, fermenting!

There were lots of interesting vendors, local breweries and bakers, all the kombucha and kimchi you could drink and eat, sauerkraut (both things in which to ferment it and the kraut itself), cheesemakers, yogurt and kefir and lhassi, oh my! Lots of interesting samples, mmmmmm!

I had a great time. The weather was nearly perfect, and it was inspiring as well as yummy. Then, a day or so later, I was watching New Scandinavian Cooking. The host was making a sourdough starter using apple peels. I guess you can tell where this is going, right?

I haven’t actually started it yet. I got the apples, though, and I’m ready. You know I’ll let you know how it works out. I’m sure there’s some wild yeast hanging about in my kitchen from baking of years past and the theory is pretty simple, it just takes time.

Basically, you peel the apples and mix the peel with flour, water, and a little sugar. You cover loosely and let it “cook” for a week. If all goes well you then have a sourdough starter. If it fails, you at least have enjoyed a few lovely organic (if not local) apples. I think I’ve figured out what to put it in to try to get it started. You want (I think) glass or enamel, not metal or plastic, with room for the starter to expand, and I’ve just the thing. I’ll take pictures and let you know how it works.

Meantime, let us know if you’re fermenting anything (intentionally, I mean) at your place, OK? Ever curious…

Posted by: Rachel | September 30, 2016

slowly, now…

Last night, Slow Food Austin had one of their “slow sessions“. This one was hosted by Lick. If you’re from around here you (hopefully) already know about their ice cream. If not, read on!


First, though, a few words about Slow Food. I’ve been a member of this group for a few years now and I’m very impressed with what they do for the local food community. They say “Slow Food Austin reconnects people with the food they eat. Our educational initiatives, social activities, fundraising events, and community volunteer projects inspire respect for where food comes from and awaken true pleasure in eating.” If you live here I highly recommend joining the local Austin group. They sponsor happy hours that benefit local farm initiatives and they offer the slow sessions, which are more educational (but just as much fun).

Now, about Lick! Mmmm… I won’t bore you with the info you can read on their site, but I will tell you that Anthony, one of the co-owners, gave us lots of info about how they source their ingredients. If I had any concerns about their product (which I did not) they would have disappeared.

good and (I'm sure) good for you!

good and (I’m sure) good for you!

After his presentation we got down to the challenge of tasting product. He let us sample a few flavors that are not yet available to the public – what fun! Of the “currently availables” I particularly enjoyed the “fromage and fig”. Oh la la!

It was a delightful, delicious, and informative evening. My thanks to Lick and Slow Food Austin. Now I think I need to go chase down some ice cream! Mmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | September 27, 2016

as promised

Seems to me that way back at the beginning of the year I promised to introduce you to some of my friends. I posted one guest post, but I’m only now getting around to the rest of their wonderful articles – apologies to them and to you but there you have it. I got a delicious bouquet of entries and so, in no particular order whatsoever, here’s one yummy offering from a very good friend indeed!
Cauliflower is an amazingly versatile veggie. I have recently been using it as a low carb option for pizza crust, tacos, adding to quinoa, roasting, and well, soup!

On a chilly January afternoon, I was looking for ideas for using chicken stock I made after cooking a chicken for tacos. A friend mentioned having had roasted cauliflower soup. I just happened to have a cauliflower so I found several recipes and then modified based on what I happened to have in the fridge and spice cabinet.

The recipes called for a bay leaf. I didn’t have one so used a Trader Joe’s “21 seasoning salute”. I also used cardamom, one of my favorite flavors, so comforting… And some smoked salt I picked up in Napa.

I invited over two friends, one of whom has a dairy sensitivity so I used coconut milk instead of cream. And since this was now going to serve four, I added some leftover chicken meat. The recipe called for topping with bacon- didn’t have that but toasted some prosciutto-even better!

Scrounging in the fridge I had leftover shredded cabbage in a chipotle chili mayo from the tacos. I added that to spinach and arugula for a salad and made an avocado dressing.

The salad needed something sweet so I searched the cupboard for some dried cranberries I thought I had and also for some kind of nuts to add crunch to the salad. I didn’t find them, but… wait, here’s some candied ginger- wonder how that would work? Oh look here’s the dried, salted coconut we got in Maui at that waterfall place… So not your usual salad additives, but they worked great!

The ginger was sweet and a bit spicy and the coconut strips had just the right crunch. If you don’t have time to go to Maui (though you should make time…) you can get these online also. Ok, so now I had soup and a salad, but don’t we need bread? I decided to make a Brazilian cheese bread recipe I had found and love. Easy to make, low carb or gluten free and sooo good!

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

1 cauliflower, chopped
A few peeled cloves of garlic
2-3 Tbsp Olive oil
3-4 cups chicken broth
Shredded chicken (optional)
1 Tbsp ground cardamom
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning salute or 1 bay leaf and a sprig of thyme
1 cup of coconut milk
2- 4 slices of prosciutto

Drizzle the cauliflower and garlic with olive oil and roast at 375 for 30-40 minutes until browned and tender, then transfer to a large saucepan. Add broth and spices, bring to a boil and then simmer about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and puree soup in blender or food processor, then return to pot over moderate heat and add coconut milk and chicken.

Garnish bowls with prosciutto crisped in oven for about 10-15 in at 375 degrees.

I can vouch for her cooking (and baking!!) but now I guess I have to bug her for that “bread” recipe. And, maybe she’ll offer some insights into cauliflower pizza crust as well. Oh, I’m hungry now!

Posted by: Rachel | February 24, 2016

had enough?

If the question is “had enough chocolate?” then my answer is a resounding “No!”. Even in this month of dentist, florist, and card-maker’s holidays, I still can’t get enough. Here’s one guest blogger’s answer to the “gotta get me some mores”. Mmmm…
While shopping at my local grocery store, I picked up their monthly publication, which contains suggested items and recipes in which to use those items. Well I came across a recipe that reminded me of my childhood and my Grandmother’s wonderful pumpkin empanadas (hand pies in English).

The recipe in the publication is actually for Butternut Squash and Gruyere Cheese Hand Pies. I made them and was pleasantly surprised that they came out well and everyone seemed to enjoy them. That success story was the inspiration for my next adventure with making empanadas.

As the holiday season was coming to a close, rather than having a holiday gathering of our French Conversation group, one of our charming members invited us all to his home in mid-January. He and his wife are delightful hosts and we all had a lovely time, sharing stories of our holiday activities and new years resolutions.

Of course one cannot attend a gathering here in central Texas without taking something to contribute to the affair. Being southerners and all, whether native or transplanted, that’s how we do things around here.

So back to my empanada adventure, as I pondered what to prepare for the gathering, I thought of making the butternut squash empanadas again but that just didn’t seem to satisfy my yearn to try something different. You see, crazy as it may be, I like trying new recipes on my friends and family and if they work, I keep the recipe for another occasion and if not well, into the recycle bin it goes.

Nonetheless, the original recipe was the catalyst for what turned to be a keeper recipe. Ok, the suspense is about to be over. In my ponderings and reminiscing about the pain au chocolat I had for breakfast almost every morning on a recent trip to France, (late October to early November) it occurred to me to make the empanadas with a dark chocolate filling. And so the search began for just the right filling recipe but it had to be simple. Finding a simple recipe became a challenge and just as I was about to give up on the idea, it dawned on me that I could make the filling out of a delicious dark chocolate with sea salt bar. This chocolate bar has become a favorite during our French Conversation meetings with different members taking turns providing this lovely treat.

It just so happened that I had a couple of bars at home so the baking began and here, finally you might be thinking, is how I made them…

Almonds & Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate Empanadas

prep time: about 30-40 minutes
cook time: 15 minutes per batch if cooking one batch at a time
servings: about 20

3-4 Almond Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate bars (or your favorite chocolate bar)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 boxes frozen puff pastry, thawed and brought to room temperature
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup cinnamon sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Dust a clean surface with flour.
Unroll puff pastry on the floured surface and lightly roll dough to about 1/4 inch thickness.

Using a biscuit or cookie cutter, cut 4-inch circles.
(I didn’t have anything that size so I used the rim of a plastic glass that measured about 4 inches.)
Cut two squares from the chocolate bar and place into center of each pastry disk.
Fold into half-moons and press edges together with a fork. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet or use parchment paper.
Mix eggs and water together then lightly brush mixture on finished pastries.
Lightly dust with cinnamon sugar if you like.

Bake at 400 degrees F until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Served warm the filling is still soft while at room temperature it may begin to harden.


Many thanks to my friend for sharing both this recipe and some of the pies with me. I am here to tell you they are delicious, flaky, yummy 2-bite delights! Until next time… bon appetit!

Posted by: Rachel | January 31, 2016

good things come…

They (whoever they are) say that good things come to those who wait. Much as I am a fan of immediate gratification, especially concerning food, sometimes “they” are right.

I know perfectly well that pizza really should cool for a few minutes before I put hot cheese in my mouth, that I need to blow on my cup of tea or hot chocolate if I want to be able to taste it and not scald myself, and that some cookies really do need to cool on the baking sheet or they will crumble.

Still, this time I may have overdone the waiting thing.

I got curious about making vanilla extract. I got a bottle of home-made extract a few years ago in that blogger swap, and it is almost gone. It was so good, rich and strong, that I decided to see if I could replicate it. While the actual ingredients are quite simple, the one thing it requires in spades is, well, time!

Honestly though, if I’d known it was this simple I’d have done it long ago. Its even easier than making limoncello, although vanilla extract does take longer. Thing is, though, you can just put it away and (apparently) be (pleasantly) surprised down the road.

All It takes is vodka, vanilla beans, and patience!

I bought a smallish bottle of middle-of-the-road vodka, I had the vanilla beans, and I’m not in any hurry about this. I still have some of Ken’s wonderful extract left, and so far it has been too warm to do much baking this “winter”.

I split the vanilla beans, put them in the vodka, recapped the vodka and tucked it away in a cupboard. Now we wait… for months apparently!

While we’re waiting, I had a thought. I’ve mentioned friends and family to you occasionally, in context of (cough) stealing their recipes or cooking with them or enjoying something they’ve treated me to, and I thought maybe you’d like to meet some of them.

I’ve invited some of my friends to guest blog. They all agreed, and even seemed pleased to be asked. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? I’ve given them free rein, so I honestly have no idea what they will write about (except for next month’s – wait until you see/smell/taste it! mmmm…. shhhhh) I think this will be great fun and hope you’ll come along for the ride. While we’re enjoying their ideas I’ll keep an eye on that vodka/vanilla extract for us as well.

So, yours in patience until next time, and bon appetit!!

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