Saturday, April 27, 2013

Farmers Breakfast Casserole

This is a great dish for breakfast or even dinner.  You may know I'm not a big fan of casseroles but this one actually comes out quite well and is easy to make.  It is an excellent dish for a large family gathering.  Add a side of breakfast bread or muffins and a glass of orange juice or half grapefruit, and you have a filling delicious complete meal.  I heated up the breakfast version and served it with a salad side at dinner, and it was jut as good as when it was fresh.

Farmers Breakfast Casserole

8 x 8” baking dish (6 servings)

3 cups frozen shredded hash browns
3/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup diced cooked ham
3 sliced green onions, separate upper most greens
1/4 cup (about 1/3 of) green/orange/red bell pepper
4 large beaten eggs
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1/8 teaspoon each, salt and pepper

9 x 12” baking dish (12 servings)
6 cups frozen shredded hash browns
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups diced cooked ham
6 sliced green onions, separate upper most greens
1/2 cup (about 2/3 of) green/orange/red bell pepper
8 large beaten eggs
Two 12-ounce cans evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon each, salt and pepper

Cut off the dried top ends of the green onions.  Slice and separate some of the top green portions to use as a garnish.  Dice the ham and bell pepper.  Any color bell pepper will work fine.  Spray the baking dish with food release or olive oil.

Arrange potatoes evenly in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with cheese, ham, bell pepper and the green onion reserving some of the green top pieces for garnish after cooking.  In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over potato mixture in dish. Bake at 350F degrees 45-60 or until a knife in the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.  Cut pieces and sprinkle with remaining green onion.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Magic Cake or Custard Cake?

Whatever you call it, your diners will enjoy it!  I saw several images of this dessert on and decided I would test it out on my dinner guests.  It did not disappoint.  This is a custard-like cake that makes three layers while baking, even though you simply placed one single batter into the pan.

During baking the dessert makes its own crust on the bottom, a custard layer in the center and a cake topping.  It is simple to prepare, uses only a few common ingredients and requires no additional sauces.  It is however rather rich and I cut the 8-inch square cake into six servings.  It could have been cut into 8 servings as many found it too much after a full dinner.

Below I reproduce for you the recipe from Pasteles de Colores, which was obviously made in Europe as it is in grams.  I weighed the ingredients as my scale has grams as an option.  I've provided you with U.S. equivalents if yours does not.

I've also modified the recipe slightly with some notes to ensure your success.

Stiff Peaks on Egg Whites
Ingredients: (all at room temperature)
4 eggs
1 Tablespoon water
150 g (5.3 ounces) sugar
125 g (1 stick) butter, melted
115 g (4 ounces) all-purpose flour
500 ml (2 cups) milk
powdered sugar for dusting


  1. Preheat oven to 325F degrees.  Grease or spray with food release an 8 x 8 inch baking pan.
  2. Separate eggs and add the egg whites to a mixer and whip until egg whites are stiff.  Place egg whites in a bowl and set aside or use a second mixing bowl for the next step.
  3. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until they are lighter lemon color.  Add butter and water and continue beating for another minute.  Add the flour and mix in until fully incorporated.
  4. Slowly add the milk and beat until well mixed.
  5. To this batter, gently fold in the egg whites, a third at a time, until fully combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the baking pan and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden brown.  Do not use convection while baking.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool.  The cake will fall somewhat.  This is normal.
  8. Cut the cake and serve, sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

I never thought to post about mashed potatoes before because I had assumed everyone made them regularly and new the several common variations.  But a note from a reader asking about 'what was in the mashed potatoes' that I showed as a side dish brought to light that not everyone makes mashed potatoes.  When they do, they are often the peeled white potato variety with no additional flavors.

Home made mashed potatoes should be a favorite on every family table.  They really are not hard to prepare and they are always satisfying, especially for children.  The flavor is mild and the potatoes are soft.  If you don't make them because you don't like peeling potatoes, then the red skinned variety are perfect for you.  I simply scrub these, cut out any eyes or bad spots, and quarter them.  Boil them in salted water until tender, then mash with warm butter and milk.  What could be more simple?  Here are a few tips to the perfect mashed potato.

Choosing the Right Potato

Your selection of potato variety will depend on whether you prefer the mashed potatoes to be smooth and creamy or to have more texture (i.e., lumpy or the new restaurant favorite, "smashed").

Waxy potatoes, such Yukon Gold or plain thin-skinned white potatoes, are recommended for boiling because they have less starch and a higher moisture content. They hold up to boiling and do not absorb as much water. Waxy potatoes tend to result in a more flavorful end product, but it can be difficult to get a really smooth texture without turning them a bit pasty.  These are my peeled potatoes of choice for mashed white potatoes. The red-skinned potato as noted above also boils quite well and can be used 'skins on' making preparation even more simple.  I make these more than any other type.  In these varieties it is best to select a larger potato if you are going to peel it, and even with smaller red-skinned potatoes that you do not plan to peel, they should be cut into a uniform size of 1-2" for boiling.

The cooking water should be plentiful and salted, and while I always put them in cold water and then put the pot on a high flame, my trials over the years have showed it does not matter whether the potatoes were started cold water or dropped into a rolling boil.  Boil the potatoes until they are very soft, when the tip of a knife goes all the way through the center.  Remove immediately when done so they do not begin to fall apart in the boiling water.

Idaho and russet potatoes have a higher starch content and lower moisture, resulting in a mealier texture when cooked. This means they absorb more moisture and tend to fall apart when boiled. Thus, if you prefer a more grain-like texture, use these potatoes and steam them rather than boil.

Prepare to Mash
While the potatoes are boiling heat the butter or a butter and milk mixture and if adding garlic, saute the garlic right along with the butter and milk.  When the potatoes are cooked, drain them completely and put them back on the hot burner (flame off or very low) and shake the pot a few times to let them steam for a minute or two to dry as much of the liquid off as possible.

Starting with hot, dry potatoes and hot butter/milk is important to preparing excellent mashed potatoes.

Ricer vs Masher vs Food Mill vs Mixer
One question that often comes up with potatoes is what device is best for mashing.  Most of our mothers preferred the electric mixer for this task although my aunt regularly used an old-fashioned potato masher. I  keep a hand-held electric mixer on hand just for this purpose.  I think it is quicker and easier than using one of the mashers or ricers for the task, but many believe these manual devices provide a better potato consistency.  In my experiments in this regard, the old-fashioned potato masher (shown left in the image below) makes for a lumpier result, which some people prefer as they seem more rustic.

Masher             Ricer                       Food Mill        Oxo Masher          Mixer
The ricers, food mill and the newly designed Oxo 'potato masher' which is much like a ricer, produce a very even consistency that works well, even if you are not planning on using much butter or cream and prefer a fluffier result.  These devices have a flat face, a grid pattern and tight edges where the potato meets the masher.  If you want to use a ricer or food mill, I do suggest the Oxo potato masher which is easier to handle than a traditional ricer.  Using these devices it should only take about two minutes for fluffy potatoes that are not the least bit gummy.  These fluffy mashed potatoes can be served as is. Alternatively, more mashing and mixing will quickly produce a creamier, denser result.

I generally prefer the creamier result and as such use a hand held electric mixer.  However, you must stop mixing as soon as the potatoes are creamy. Beating the potatoes further does not make them smoother.  Continued mixing causes them to become more pasty, as the cell walls are broken down allowing the starch to spread making them more viscous.  So a quick mix with the electric mixer until the lumps are gone and the potatoes are creamy is all that is required.

Really with some butter, salt and pepper these are good to go!  But for variety, I sometimes add minced fresh garlic that I've briefly sauteed with the butter, or even garlic salt during the mashing.  This adds a nice bit of extra flavor when you do not have gravy for the potatoes. You can do the same thing with sauteed sweet onions. You can also add a few parsnips, or some carrot or celery root to the potatoes while boiling. Of course adding cheeses during mashing is also an option.

Then there is the question of what liquid to add to the potatoes during mashing.  If you are wanting the potatoes to be less fat filled, you can reserve a bit of the starchy water in which the potatoes had been boiled.  Whip this in as you would milk and the consistency will be similar.  Of course, milk, cream and/or butter are other options that will add flavor and improve consistency if you like them creamy.  If I have the latter on hand, I select it over the starchy water.  But sometimes I don't have milk/cream in the house and so use the starchy water with some butter.  They come out just fine too.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Apple Strudel

Finding myself with some leftover filo dough, I decided dessert would be apple strudel with vanilla bean ice cream.  It's easy to make and once dinner comes out of the oven I'll have the strudel ready to bake.  It takes about 30 minutes to prepare and another 50 minutes to bake, then a half hour or more to cool.  So it will be just warm, flaky and ready for dessert at the right time.

Julian's Apple Strudel
Strudel is most often associated with the Austrian cuisine, but is also a traditional pastry in the whole area formerly belonging to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Here, apple strudel is the most widely known strudel, and whenever I'm in Austria I always make sure I have it at least once, along with my other favorite Austrian dishes, Wiener Schnitzel and the Sacher Tort, which I've written about previously.

The oldest known Strudel recipe is from 1696, a handwritten recipe is housed at the Vienna City and State Library (the Wiener Stadtbibliothek).  But today I'm using a recipe I modified from Martha Stewart, which is quick and easy to make and comes out perfectly every time.  On her website you'll find many variations of strudel, but I was particularly fond of this one because it adds dried apricots, which blend in and add a subtle flavor to the apples.  But you can also substitute those with raisins, which is more common in Austria.

Julian sugars the buttered filo dough.
The recipe uses filo dough for the crust, which you can purchase from your grocer's freezer case.  It has variations of spelling such as phyllo, filo, or fillo dough.  Whatever spelling is on the package, these are paper-thin sheets of unleavened flour dough used for making pastries.  About 24 hours before use, place the frozen dough in the refrigerator so it can slowly thaw.  Mine shown here had been thawed for 72 hours as I had used part of the dough for another recipe, and this didn't seem to matter in the final result, although it was more delicate than it had been when more fresh.

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Granny Smith apples
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup dried fine breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon potato starch (or corn starch)
1 tablespoon flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
12 sheets filo dough (roughly 13 by 16 inches), thawed if frozen
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 tablepoon sanding sugar (optional)
Ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl; set aside 3 tablespoons mixture. Peel and core apples; slice, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces. Toss with lemon juice; stir into sugar mixture with apricots, breadcrumbs, starch and flour.

Lightly flour your work surface.  Gently unfold the thawed filo dough on the counter next to your work surface.  If it has small cracks or rips you may still use it.  Select the top two sheets and gently refold them to making moving them easier.  Move the folded sheets onto your work surface and unfold.

Apple and apricot filling.
Brush the top sheet of filo with the melted butter, and lightly sprinkle with reserved sugar mixture. Move two more folded sheets on top of the surgared sheet, unfold, brush with better and sprinkle with the sugar mixture.  Do this with all of the remaining sheets, two sheets at a time, layering with butter and sugar mixture.

Gently spread the apple filling on filo, leaving a 1-inch border. Starting with a long end, roll up to enclose filling ending with the seam side down.  Carefully move the strudel (using your hands to support it in the center and on the ends onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush top with remaining butter; sprinkle with remaining sugar.  Add sanding sugar if available.  Bake until golden brown and cooked through, about 50 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack or cutting board until just warm.  Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

A flaky, crispy, fruit-filled treat!