Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Homemade Chex Mix

Homemade Chex Mix

The Ultimate Party Food

Chex Mix is one of the best party foods going.  Put out a bowl of it, and you’ll have an irresistible guest magnet.  People hover around, grabbing handfuls until the bowl is empty.  And then they’ll look for a refill.  It’s great for New Year’s Eve – or any other big party night.

For most of us, serving Chex Mix means buying a packaged snack that’s shelved with potato chips, pretzels, and corn chips in the “salty snack” aisle of the local supermarket.  This pre-packaged stuff is readily available, and it’s pretty tasty.  But it can’t compare to the homemade version. 

Haven’t had homemade Chex Mix lately?  Or ever?  You’re in for a treat.

And once you’ve tasted the real thing, you’ll have a hard time going back to the packaged variety.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Stollen

Christmas Stollen

A Traditional Holiday Cake — or Is It Bread? 

‘Tis the season for Christmas cakes. You know, like fruitcake, panettone, and Stollen. All three are sweet, and all three typically contain candied or dried fruits. Stollen (like fruitcake) also contains nuts, but Stollen has a more breadlike consistency.

Dresden is synonymous with Stollen, and Dresden Stollen is often quite hefty. Loaves can weigh upwards of 4 pounds, and typically are covered with white icing. But Stollen is baked throughout Germany in all sizes and shapes. And almost every family has its own recipe.

This recipe has been in my family for generations. It probably arrived from Germany with my great-great-grandmother. It’s a bit less rich than the typical Dresden Stollen, and can be baked either in a loaf pan or free form on a baking sheet. It’s delicious plain or dusted with powdered sugar (or iced, if that’s your preference). And although the dough takes several hours to rise, actual hands-on time is only about half an hour if you knead the Stollen in a stand mixer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cherry Winks

Cherry Winks Cookies

A Classic Cookie from the 1950s

You can’t have too many cookies at Christmas.

In a recent discussion on Pfeffernüsse, I mentioned that when I was young, my mother baked Christmas cookies in quantity every year – usually more than a dozen varieties. Although many were family favorites like the Pfeffernüsse or the Best Chocolate Drop Cookie, she frequently added new recipes to the rotation.

One that I always enjoyed was Cherry Winks. This cookie was born in 1950 — as a winner in the second-ever Pillsbury Bake-Off contest.

Cherry Winks are tasty and very easy to make. And they’ll definitely make you a winner in the kitchen!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011



Make This Winter Classic Now to Enjoy Over the Holidays

Eggnog (or Egg Nog) enjoys seasonal popularity between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.  Then it drops off our radar screens for the rest of the year.  Which is OK by me — certain foods are best savored seasonally.  And nothing says “holiday season” like Eggnog.

But when was the last time you tasted the real thing?  Yeah, you’ll find shelves of “Eggnog” in your grocer’s dairy case this time of the year (usually non-alcoholic; it’s up to you to add the booze).  But the commercial stuff pales in comparison to what you can make at home. 

Eggnog is a snap to make.  My recipe takes only a few minutes.  But the mixture should age a week or more for peak flavor.  So now’s the time to whip up a batch if you want Eggnog for the holidays. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kitchen Riffs on What’s Cookin’!

Just some fun news - the good folks over at What’s Cookin’ have a nice review of Kitchen Riffs in their What We’ve Been Reading feature. You can check it out here.  .

This was a real surprise.  But thanks to them for such a kind article.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pfeffernüsse Cookies

Pfeffernüsse Cookies

This Spicy German Favorite May Be the World’s Best Christmas Cookie

When I was young, my mother would bake a vast assortment of cookies for Christmas — a dozen varieties at least.  Pfeffernüsse (often spelled Pfeffernuesse) were always the first one she made, usually right after Thanksgiving.

Why so early?  Well, the flavor of Pfeffernüsse deepens and sharpens with age.  Although delicious when first baked, they are incomparably better after a couple of weeks.  And still better a few weeks after that.

So if you plan to enjoy these cookies for Christmas, you’ll want to make them soon.  And the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll discover how easy Pfeffernüsse are to make.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cranberry Relish with Jalapeño

Cranberry Relish with Jalapeno

Spice Up a Traditional Thanksgiving Favorite

Thanksgiving dinner may be the most traditional, never-changing meal of the year.

Turkey. Dressing. Gravy. Mashed Potatoes. A Sweet Potato Something. A Cranberry Something. A Green Veggie Something. Add Biscuits, Pumpkin Pie, a nice wine (Beaujolais Nouveau for me), and whatever else is in your family’s repertoire.

We may tinker with the menu occasionally, but we usually revert back to our traditional dishes.

Still, if you’re looking for a new riff on an old favorite, why not consider adding a jalapeño pepper (or two) to your cranberry relish?  The dish won’t be much hotter (unless you want it to be) and it takes little extra preparation time.

Best of all, you’ll have everyone at the table trying to guess why this year’s cranberry relish tastes so much more interesting than last year’s!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Beaujolais Nouveau

Roast Sweet Potatoes

Perfect for Thanksgiving:  The Hows and Whys of this Exuberant Wine

“Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!”  Every year on the third Thursday of November – Beaujolais Day – those words signal that “The New Beaujolais has arrived!” 

And by new, we mean new — this wine is released 5 to 8 weeks after harvest.  In the wine world, it doesn’t get any newer than that.

So, what exactly is Beaujolais Nouveau?  And why is it so great for Thanksgiving?

You’ve got questions.  I’ve got answers.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Roast Sweet Potatoes

Roast Sweet Potatoes

When You’re Not in the Mood for Marshmallows

Everyone roasts meat and poultry.  And next week roast turkey will have the starring role on millions of festive Thanksgiving tables.  But roast vegetables?  Not so much. 

Too bad, because they’re delectable.  Roasting deepens and concentrates the flavor of vegetables, often revealing hidden layers of taste.  Roasting offers a flavor dimension you just won’t experience with the traditional T-day “candied yams.”

Sweet potatoes are ideal for roasting.  They’re naturally sweet — that’s why we call them sweet potatoes, no?  Roasting only emphasizes that sweetness, with no additional sugar (or marshmallows) needed.

Best of all?  Roast Sweet Potatoes take minimal preparation time.  And when cooking a big multi-dish meal like Thanksgiving dinner, who doesn’t want to reduce prep time?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kitchen Riffs is on Gojee!

Income Tax Cocktail in Cocktail Glass amidst tax forms

Gojee Is Expanding to Include Gojee Drinks

I’m delighted to announce that Gojee is expanding their content and list of contributors, and has asked Kitchen Riffs to contribute to their site.

What is Gojee and why should you care? Glad you asked that.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Baking Powder Biscuits

Baking Powder Biscuits

Great Weekend Fare, Wonderful for Thanksgiving

Biscuits are quick to make and supremely satisfying to eat, particularly when gobbled hot from the oven. 

They are also part of American history.  In the early colonial days, homes often lacked ovens suitable for bread making, so “quick breads” like biscuits were popular, and would sometimes be baked fresh for each meal.  In many households today, they’re a Thanksgiving tradition.

This recipe calls for just a few pantry staples:  flour, baking powder, butter or shortening, and sweet milk.  No buttermilk needed (it makes great biscuits, but most of us don’t have it in the refrigerator).

And the best thing about this recipe?  You can be eating biscuits in under 30 minutes from now!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Manhattan Cocktail

Best Chocolate Drop Cookie Ever

Is This All-American Classic the World’s Best Cocktail? 

Cocktails are an American invention, and one of the best-known is the Manhattan.

No one can say with certainty where or when the Manhattan was first concocted, although cocktail historian David Wondrich says ”its roots stretch back to the old Manhattan Club, in 1874.”

But there’s no controversy regarding the popularity of the drink. Cocktail aficionados consider it one of the finest ever conceived, and it’s on almost everyone’s list of best cocktails.

We’ll get into this whole “best” thing later. Right now, we have a drink to build!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Best Chocolate Drop Cookie Ever

Best Chocolate Drop Cookie Ever

My Great-Grandmother’s Recipe Delivers Moist Richness

Who doesn’t like chocolate?  And who doesn’t like a good chocolate cookie?

The trouble is, a really delicious chocolate cookie can be hard to find.  A lot of chocolate cookies look great.  But when you bite into them?  Meh.  Dull flavor.  Chalky texture.   Sometimes acidic or bitter undertones.

So let me introduce my great-grandmother.  She baked one of the best chocolate cookies ever.  They’re moist and rich, with a deep chocolate flavor.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frito Pie with Chili

Frito Pie with Chili

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, I Know — But When You Want It, You Want It 

We all crave foods that are bad for us or that we’re embarrassed to admit we like — often both. They’re our guilty pleasures. We visited the concept a few months back in our Cheddar Cheese Chicken Curry post.

You’ve got your own list, I’m sure. It might include Tuna Noodle Casserole (with corn-flake topping!) or fake Mexican “queso” dip (made with Velveeta!) or Jell-O Mold (with marshmallows!).

Me? At this time of year, I hear the siren song of one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Frito Pie.

It’s decadent and delicious — and I can’t resist it. I’ll bet you can’t, either.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spinach Salad with Parmesan

Spinach Salad with Parmesan

Freshly Grated Cheese Makes This Dish Sing

Although an elaborately constructed salad can be a great main course (think Salade Niçoise), most of us prefer to use salad as a light starter that sharpens the palate for the rest of the meal.

The best salads often have only a few well-chosen ingredients. Mixed together expertly, however, they can deliver a distinct, clear taste that lingers agreeably on the tongue.

A great example is this Spinach Salad — a simple dish that delivers superb flavor and takes only a few minutes to prepare.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dry Martini Cocktail

Dry Martini

Splash an Olive into this Classic Concoction — and Enjoy

Everybody knows the Martini, right?  Well, sort of.

Everybody knows the name, but not everybody has sipped the classic version recently – if ever. 

Say “Martini” today, and your listener will probably imagine one of those “something-tinis” that just happen to be served in a martini glass.  You know what I mean — drinks whose predominant flavor is apple or raspberry or chocolate or expresso.  Even when people want to drink the “real” thing, they may order a vodka Martini.

All those drinks may be good in their own way.  But they aren’t the Martini.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo

A Perfect Dinner for Two — or for Entertaining Special Friends

Fettuccine Alfredo appears frequently on Italian restaurant menus, particularly those that concentrate on northern Italian food.  The really pricey places might shave fresh white truffles over the pasta, sending an already sumptuous dish into the stratosphere.

Restaurants with a high “snoot” factor used to prepare it tableside.  That’s rarely seen these days — maybe because it’s a bit over the top.  But it’s also authentic.  Alfredo di Lelio, the inventor of the dish and proprietor of the Roman restaurant now called Alfredo alla Scrofa, used to do the same. 

His eatery was a hit with tourists during the Jazz Age.  Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks reportedly visited Alfredo’s restaurant in 1927 and took a liking to his signature dish.  According to Wikipedia, they presented di Lelio with “a golden fork and spoon”— which he then began using to serve his fettucine.

Despite its aura of elegance and luxury, Fettuccine Alfredo is actually a simple and quick recipe.  Once you have your pasta-cooking water at a boil, you can prepare and be eating this dish in under 5 minutes.

And you don’t need a gold fork and spoon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Homemade Pasta and Noodles

Homemade Pasta and Noodles

Machines Make Homemade Pasta Easier

Homemade pasta and noodles are incredibly tasty — and relatively easy to make if you use a food processor and a pasta machine. 

Some will argue that mixing the dough and rolling it out by hand produces a more toothsome result.  And they may be right.  But unless you’re ready to make a batch of pasta every day for weeks on end to acquire the skill and muscle memory you need for this exercise, well, using machines in your kitchen is the way to go.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chili Basics

Beef Chili with Beans

How To Make the Chili We All Know & Love

The nights are turning cooler, and we’re beginning to hanker after heartier food.  Few dishes are heartier — or deliver a bigger flavor punch — than homemade chili.  And if you haven’t already begun thinking about making a batch, maybe you should.

Although Texas chili (which contains meat, chiles, and little else) is perhaps the most iconic version of the dish in the United States, it’s not the chili that most of us crave.  For the majority of us, chili means ground beef, tomato, onion, and beans.  (Beans are heresy in Texas chili.)  Spice levels can vary from mild to incendiary, though most of us prefer a moderate level of heat.

Chili is an easy dish to make.  Learn the basics of this recipe, and you can make any chili — even that no-bean Texas stuff.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

White Bean and Tuna Salad

White Bean and Tuna Salad

Serve this Fast and Easy Italian Classic as a Main Dish or a Side

We have some warm days ahead of us before autumn rolls in, so we’re still in the mood for lighter fare.  Nothing tastes better — or is quicker to prepare — than a refreshing bean salad.

Pairing white (cannellini) beans with tuna is a classic of Italian home cooking.  In the United States, the closest corollary would probably be tuna salad made with mayonnaise.

White bean and tuna salad makes a pleasing main course when you want something light for dinner or lunch.  It also works as a hefty side dish. 

Best of all, it requires only pantry staples.  In fact, you probably have the ingredients on hand already.  So you could make it — and be eating it — in under ten minutes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pegu Club Cocktail


A Smooth-Tasting Drink from Exotic Rangoon

Back in the days when the sun never set on the British Empire, its soldiers and civil servants could face any crisis with equanimity as long as they had a gentlemen’s club to retreat to at day’s end — and something to drink therein. That “something” usually contained gin.

In Rangoon, Burma — today known as Yangon, Myanmar, but once a tough corner of the Empire — the  Pegu Club Cocktail was the house drink of The Pegu Club, a meeting place for British military officers and civilian administrators (visitors welcome). The club got its name from the Pegu (Bago) river, which flows through the city.

This is the perfect drink for late summer/early autumn. We’ve still got our share of hot days ahead of us, so something citrusy-cool appeals. But Labor Day has come and gone, and we know the chill temperatures will soon start to descend. We’ll want a beverage that stiffens our spines against cold weather ahead.

The Pegu Club delivers. It’s a drink with authority, but its hint-of-grapefruit tang is mighty soothing.

And you won’t have to go to Rangoon to sample it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Barbecued Pork Steaks

Barbecued Pork Steaks

Finish Summer Right with an Authentic Recipe for this St. Louis Specialty

Where has summer gone? Labor Day is almost here — and for many of us this weekend is the last great cookout opportunity of the year.

The holiday’s best festivities involve firing up the Weber and cooking great slabs of meat. I live in St. Louis, and although St. Louis Cut spare ribs are nationally known, the cut of meat most St. Louisians favor for cookouts is the pork steak.

If you haven’t had these for a while – or worse yet, never had them – Labor Day would be a great time to savor their porky succulence.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Easy Peach Cobbler

Peach CObbler with Drop Biscuits

Use Drop Biscuits for a Quick Version of This Classic American Dessert

We’re approaching the end of prime peach season, but there’s still time enough to make another dessert or two using this juicy and naturally sweet fruit.

Although peach pie is terrific, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as warm peach cobbler. It’s also an all-American dessert, likely having “originated in the early British American colonies”. Most colonists didn’t have the ingredients or cooking equipment to replicate traditional British suet puddings, so they made puddings with biscuit dough. “Cobbler” got its name because the rough biscuit surface of the dessert resembles a street constructed of lumpy cobblestones.

These days, few of us make biscuits from scratch. Many people are quite skittish about making them. Too complicated, they say. Something could go wrong.

Well, drop biscuits are extremely easy to make — nothing can go wrong. And in my opinion, they work even better in cobbler than the traditional rolled version.

Best of all, they’re quick to make.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Peach Salsa

Peach Salsa

Great with Chips, Even Better with Grilled Fish or Chicken  

Colorful, juicy peaches are one of the delights of summer. Their sweetness shines beautifully in rich desserts, particularly baked goodies like pies and cobblers.

But peaches also marry well with savory. And spicy flavors offer a particularly intriguing contrast to peaches’ lush sweetness.

One of the easiest — and best — savory peach dishes is Peach Salsa. You can serve it with chips as an appetizer. Or pair it with grilled fish or chicken (it takes grilled salmon up a level in flavor and elegance).

And you can make it in just a few minutes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Quick & Easy Gazpacho


This Cool & Refreshing Vegan Favorite Delivers Big Flavor

Late summer brings stifling heat, but it’s also a time when many vegetables are at their peak.  In August, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers all enter their prime.

Combine them with garlic, onion, olive oil, and wine vinegar and you have gazpacho — the liquid salad that doubles as a soup.  Its crisp coolness and rich, satisfying flavor is a great way to beat the heat.

Best of all, this Spanish classic can be served either as a first course or as a light luncheon or supper entrée.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gin and Tonic

Gin and Tonic Cocktail

This Ultimate Summer Cooler Originated as a Health Drink

We’ve endured relentless heat these past few weeks, and I’ve been searching for ways to cope. I’ve found that Gin and Tonic, with its crisp effervescence, makes a great summer cooler.

When you’re suffering from summer doldrums, a G and T is the perfect remedy. Which seems fitting for a cocktail that originated as a medicinal drink.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pasta Puttanesca

Pasta Puttanesca

This Classic with the “Naughty” Name is a Great Summer Dish

Although I enjoy Pasta Puttanesca year round, it always seems particularly wonderful this time of year. That’s because the dish is best when cooked for only 15 or 20 minutes — ideal when you don’t want to heat the kitchen with a long-simmering sauce.

And the naughty name? I’ll get to that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tuna Pasta Salad

Tuna Pasta Salad

Simple Summer Comfort Food

It’s been hot, hot, hot throughout much of the United States lately, with no letup from the heat immediately in sight. So most of us don’t want to spend more time than necessary over the stove. And somehow the thought of a big, heavy meal sounds unattractive at best, revolting at worst.

No, in these dog days of summer many of us want to eat lighter, but still crave flavor. A cold dish is ideal.

What better than a nutritious and relatively light pasta salad? Maybe the tuna pasta salad so many of us remember from childhood. A simple dish, but – like mac ‘n cheese – one that still delights us today.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Salade Niçoise

Salade Niçoise

Serve this Summer Classic as a Main Dish or Appetizer

Salade Niçoise was born in the French coastal Mediterranean city of Nice. The original Niçoise salad reportedly was a simple affair of largely uncooked ingredients: lettuce (though some insist the original didn’t include this), black olives, sliced tomatoes, bell pepper, anchovies, and sometimes artichoke hearts. These ingredients were tossed with olive oil (no vinegar), minced garlic, and perhaps some herbs. The dish was served in small hors d’œuvre portions, often with a garnish of sliced hard-boiled eggs.

Over the years, peoples’ tastes evolved, and so did the recipe. In the United States today, Salade Niçoise is usually a substantial composed salad that may also include green beans, potatoes, and canned (or seared fresh) tuna.

In its modern form, Salade Niçoise makes a generous (but not heavy) main course, perfect for hot summer weather. With the addition of some good quality bread and a nice wine, it’s a great company meal.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mai Tai Cocktail

Mai Tai Cocktail

World’s Best Umbrella Drink?

The Mai Tai is perfect as a summer cocktail: sultry, yet cooling and refreshing at the same time.

And to answer the question posed above: Yes, the Mai Tai is the world’s best umbrella drink. No doubt about that.

But I know that many people scorn the whole concept of umbrella drinks — usually because they’ve had bad experiences with versions that are over-the-top frou-frou or so full of fruit they are sickeningly sweet. So, lest you harbor suspicions about the Mai Tai because of its parasol persuasion, let me hasten to add that this is arguably one of the world’s top ten drinks.

In fact, I’d say there’s really no “arguably” about it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

German Potato Salad with Bacon

German Potato Salad with Bacon

Tastes Great Served Hot (or Just Warm)

This German Potato Salad, with its rich bacon and vinegar flavor, is delicious winter or summer.  It pairs as nicely with burgers or barbeque as it does with knockwurst or schnitzel.

If you like bacon (who doesn’t?) and potato salad (don’t we all?), you owe it to yourself to give this recipe a try.

Monday, June 27, 2011

American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad

American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad

Just Like Our Moms Made

For many of us in the United States, classic mayonnaise potato salad is the ultimate summer comfort food.  We associate it with picnics, fried chicken, and barbeque.  Hot dogs and hamburgers, too.  Good times, good memories.

For a lot of us, though, the potato salad of memory has been replaced by deli fare.  Either we (think) we don’t have the time to make the real thing or don’t know how.

If you’d like to recapture the taste of homemade, this post is for you.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hard-Boiled Eggs

Hard-Boiled Eggs

The Secret to Quick, Easy, and Fool-Proof Preparation

Eggs are almost the perfect food. Inexpensive, high in protein, chockfull of nutrients.

And until recently many of us have been avoiding them because of their cholesterol risk. Fortunately, scientists now are largely in agreement that the dangers eggs represent to our health have been overstated (I have more information about this, plus links to scientific sources, in my Red Pepper and Onion Frittata post). Indeed, many doctors now urge us to include eggs in our diets.

So now that we can eat eggs again, many of us enjoy them frequently. Most days, I have a hard-boiled egg and fruit for breakfast. And what could be easier than boiling eggs?

Well, as many cooks discover, there are pitfalls to be avoided. Discolored yolks and hard-to-peel shells are two frequent problems. But there’s a secret to overcoming those problems.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

French Potato Salad

French Potato Salad

The Mother of All Potato Salads

One nice thing about potato salad is that it’s, well . . . a salad.  And the classic French version is a very basic salad indeed.

Think of the classic green salad.  The formula is uncomplicated and endlessly adaptable:  Take lettuce, toss with oil and vinegar, season with salt and pepper.  Perhaps add shallots or other aromatics for flavoring (fresh herbs go well).  That’s it.

Now, replace the lettuce with warm sliced potatoes and you have — French Potato Salad.  Simple, easy, and quick to prepare.

What’s more, once you know how to make this classic recipe, you’ll have the foundation for every other type of potato salad out there (mayonnaise, mustard, whatever).  The basic technique is always the same — you just add layers of flavoring and additional ingredients.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Potato Salad Basics

American Potato Salad made with cooked cubed potatoes, mayonnaise, onion, and celery
American Potato Salad

Kicking Off Potato Salad Fortnight

We’re well into picnic season, and what’s better for a picnic than potato salad? During the next two weeks — or fortnight, as our British cousins might say — Kitchen Riffs will dedicate itself to discussing potatoes and their salads. We’ll have posts on French Potato Salad, American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad, and German Potato Salad.

But before we get to any of these recipes, in this post we’ll first discuss some basic facts and techniques that are common to all potato salads.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Scallops on Artichoke Scoops

Artichoke Scoops with Poached Scallops

This Elegant Dish Is Easy To Prepare Ahead — And Mustard Vinaigrette Makes It Sing

Although artichokes are available in our supermarkets year round, their peak season is spring. In St. Louis, where I live, there are still plenty of prime specimens available in the local markets. So before the season slips away, why not feature artichokes one more time in a special meal?

This dish makes a delicious main course, which is how we usually serve it at the Kitchen Riffs household. It also pairs well with an assertive meat course. So if a 2-inch thick grilled porterhouse or other festive meat is on the menu for your weekend Father’s Day feast, this would be a terrific appetizer.

And once you taste it, this elegant-but-simple dish will become a regular at your house.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Poached Scallops

Poached Scallops

A Basic “How To” That You Can Use in Many Recipes

Poaching is one of the best ways to cook scallops, shrimp, and many types of lean fish.  The gentle, even heat provided by simmering can cook seafood in a few minutes.  And because the seafood is surrounded by liquid, there’s less danger that it will dry out.

But it’s not often that you poach scallops or fish and eat them plain.  Usually, poached seafood is served with sauce, and sometimes the poaching liquid becomes the basis of that sauce.  Indeed, there is a whole school of French sauces that start with reducing the liquid used to poach seafood.  (In the future, we’ll be working our way through some of those famous recipes.)

Knowing how to poach seafood is essential for many recipes.  Today, we focus specifically on how to achieve a perfectly poached scallop.  We’ll need poached scallops for a dish we’ll be discussing later this week.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Classic Daiquiri Cocktail

JFK and Hemingway Didn’t Do Girly Drinks

When you say “daiquiri,” most people think of a frozen blender drink — frequently strawberry-flavored, and with the reputation of being a “girly” cocktail.  Hence, a drink that real men eschew (if we’re allowed to say “eschew” and “real men” in the same sentence).

Yet the daiquiri was a favorite drink of both President John F. Kennedy and writer Ernest Hemingway.  Nobody would have dared question the macho credentials of either man (try it with Hemingway, and he’d probably have dragged you into the boxing ring).

Those guys were drinking the classic daiquiri, which is nothing like the frou-frou concoction commonly served today.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing


This Easy Classic Takes Your Game to 11

This year, summer has been slow to arrive in many parts of the United States.  We’ve had some cool spring temperatures — prime growing weather for spinach.  Though hotter days are coming in now, there’s still time to fix a few more spinach salads before the season passes by.

If you haven’t paired spinach with hot bacon dressing for a while, now would be a great time.

And if you’ve never tried this combo, prepare to take your taste buds to 11.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pineapple, Coconut, and Carrot Salad

Pineapple, Coconut, and Carrot Salad

A Sweet Salad for Dinner Party or Picnic

With only 3 ingredients — canned crushed pineapple, packaged angel-flake coconut, and grated carrots — this salad is about as easy as it gets.

When I was growing up, this is a salad my mother would often serve on festive occasions.  Visually, it’s a pretty dish.  And it has a pleasant, sweet taste that almost everyone likes.  In fact, it rivals some desserts in sweetness.

If you have trouble wrapping your mind around a sweet salad, just think of it as a loose-textured relish or nonspreadable chutney.

But however you classify it, once you taste it, you’ll call it delicious.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pasta Cacio e Pepe

Pasta Cacio e Pepe

Romano Cheese & Black Pepper Combine in this Easy-to-Make Classic

Cacio e Pepe is an extremely popular pasta dish in Rome. Cacio is Italian for “cheese” and pepe means pepper. Combined with pasta, they form a deceptively simple dish that delivers big flavor.

The cheese of choice is Pecorino Romano, an Italian cheese made of sheep’s milk. It’s similar to Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano), but has a more rough and robust flavor that is also saltier.

Black pepper is an ingredient we all know. Freshly ground pepper, and lots of it, is a large part of what makes this dish delicious.

And the best part of all? Pasta Cacio e Pepe is extremely fast and easy to make. It’s a great dish for a quick dinner — or as a snack after a night on the town.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pimm’s Cup – The Perfect Summer Cocktail

Pimm's Cup Cocktail

The Best Drink You’ve Probably Never Had

Most people in the United States have never had a Pimm’s Cup.  Many have never heard of it.

But Pimm’s Cup is very popular as a summer drink in England (along with champagne, it’s the official drink of Wimbledon).  It has a relatively low alcohol content, so you can enjoy a couple of tall cool ones at a picnic or sitting out on your patio — and still remain clear-headed.

Best yet, it’s a snap to mix.  With Memorial Day a couple of weekends away, you’ve got plenty of time to lay in a supply of Pimm’s and learn how to make this great-tasting drink.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Homemade Meringues with Strawberry Sauce

Homemade Meringues with Strawberry Sauce

A Macaron Cousin for Mother’s Day

Meringues - egg white and sugar nests of airy sweetness - are one of those old-fashioned desserts that wax and wane in popularity.

Lately, they seem to have lost some appeal. Which is odd considering that macarons - a cookie-form cousin of the meringue - are all the rage these days.

When I was a child, meringues were the special-occasion dessert at our house, served with vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries, and sometimes whipped cream.

Because meringues have the reputation of being somewhat finicky to prepare, I think my mother always mentally held her breath each time she made them. And she probably didn’t exhale until the first bite revealed that, once again, meringue success was hers.

And speaking of mom, Mother’s Day is just around the corner. What better dessert to celebrate with than meringues?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Strawberry Sauce

Strawberry Sauce

A Classic, Quick Topping for Desserts

Who doesn’t like strawberries?  They’re wonderful just to munch “neat” (whole or sliced).

And they’re delicious when macerated and served with whipped cream over shortcake.  Or baked into pies or tarts.  Or churned into ice cream.  You name it, their unmistakable flavor is one we crave.

So when strawberry season rolls around, we indulge  . . . and indulge and indulge.

At the height of the season, when strawberries are plentiful and inexpensive, we in the Kitchen Riffs household tend to buy carton after carton.  So many that, unless we do something with them right now, they run the risk of spoiling.

That’s often when we decide to convert excess, overripe strawberries into strawberry sauce.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sweet Potatoes in Tomato Curry Sauce with Hard-Boiled Eggs

Sweet Potatoes in TOmato Curry Sauce with Hard-Boiled Eggs

There’s a Vegan Option to this Recipe

Every Easter we hard-boil and dye eggs.  Inevitably, we then face the problem of what to do with all those eggs once we’ve finished our gleeful round of decorating.

Deviled eggs (I add curry to mine) are an obvious answer, and a good one.  But this year we wanted to do something different.  Riffing off the curry idea, I decided to make, well, curried eggs.

The dish I devised is well worth trying.  Not only that, there’s a vegan version that’s even better!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rich & Easy Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding

Eggy Goodness Lurks Beneath a Crisp Crust  

Bread pudding is right up there on my list of comfort foods.  Lots of smooth custardy carbs sharpened by raisin and cinnamon highlights.  A touch of dark rum (some prefer bourbon) to provide a bass note.  Maybe a bit of powdered sugar on top for extra decadence.  What’s not to like?

Well, all that great flavor does pack a few calories.  And my scale groans a bit if I overindulge.  So bread pudding is an occasional treat for me (and, I suspect, for many of us).  Which means when we have this dish, we want it to be really, really good.

Fortunately, Mrs. Kitchen Riffs — who is the dessert supremo in our household — has a deft hand when it comes to mixing up a batch of bread pudding.

Make that a mean batch of bread pudding.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Old-School Macaroni & Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

Traditional Flavor Worthy of Grown Ups 

Macaroni and Cheese may be the ultimate comfort food.  There’s just something pleasing and satisfying about pasta enrobed in a rich cheese sauce, baked to golden goodness.

But the versions of Mac ‘n Cheese we usually eat in the United States are “quick” dishes with less than full flavor.  Harried cooks generally prepare them from a “blue box” or use one of the myriad stovetop recipes available on the internet.

Those versions can be good enough, and many are kiddy favorites.  But they simply can’t compare to the traditional (and somewhat more time-consuming) recipe presented here, which involves making a cheese sauce.

I suggest making this traditional Mac ‘n Cheese on a night when you have an extra 20 minutes or so to spend in the kitchen.  The deep flavor this recipe delivers is so good that I’d proudly serve the dish to company, complete with a nice bottle of wine.

When you think about it, macaroni and cheese isn’t all that different from Fettuccine Alfredo (both contain pasta, butter, milk/cream, cheese — and little else).  And who wouldn’t serve fettuccine on a special occasion?

My Mac ‘n Cheese is so good your guests will come back for seconds.  And probably lick the serving dish clean.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Income Tax Cocktail

The Income Tax Cocktail

A Classic Cocktail as April 15 Approaches

“April is the cruellest month” — that’s what poet T. S. Eliot wrote.  Anyone who’s struggling with a tax return will be tempted to agree.

It’s a shame that a month like April — when the weather is finally beginning to turn pleasant — finds so many of us indoors working on taxes.  Cruel indeed.

So when you’re finally finished with this yearly burden, why not celebrate (or console yourself) with a cocktail?  And what could be more appropriate than the Income Tax?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Best Darn Tofu Dish Ever: Mapo Tofu

Vegan Mapo Tofu

A Vegan Remake of a Sichuan Classic

The name of this dish translates as “pock-marked woman’s bean curd”— so-called because it originated with a roadside vendor who was scarred by smallpox.  English spellings for the dish vary and include Mapo doufu, Ma po dou fu, and Ma-po tofu.

But however you spell it, Mapo tofu is the best tofu dish.  Ever.

Traditionally, Mapo Tofu includes ground beef (sometimes ground pork).  These versions are good, but they gild the lily; the meat seems superfluous to me.  Classic Mapo Tofu is also oil-laden and fiery hot — not a dish that suits everyone’s digestive system.

My version eliminates much of the oil, tames the heat, and replaces the meat with portobello mushrooms, which pack a flavor punch of their own.

The result is a vegan beauty that your whole family can enjoy.  And they probably won’t even realize it’s vegan unless you tell them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Roasted Sichuan Pepper Powder

The Forbidden Pepper

Most people in the United States have never tasted Sichuan peppercorns. From 1968 to 2005 they couldn’t, because it was illegal to import them into the US.

Were they banned because they were, like, really powerful? The good stuff, you know, that would propel your taste buds into spasms of wild abandonment? Were they heavily addictive, leading you on a lifelong downward spiral in your desperate search for more and better pepper highs?

Alas, no. They were banned because they could carry citrus canker (which can cause unsightly blemishes, making citrus fruit difficult to sell). Now Sichuan peppers are street legal again, as long as they’ve been heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit before import (the high heat kills the canker bacteria).

Sichuan peppers aren’t really peppers at all. They’re not related to black pepper or chile peppers. They are actually the dried out pods of woody shrubs in the Zanthoxylum genus. Nor are Sichuan peppers really “hot” or pungent in the chile sense. Rather, they produce a kind of tingling numbness in the mouth or on the tongue that somewhat resembles a mild dose of novocaine.

For most people, the biggest attraction of Sichuan peppers is their glorious fragrance. They have a lemony-pepper aroma (and flavor) that is quite pleasing. The flavor adds an almost summer-like quality to food.

You can add whole Sichuan peppercorns to a dish as you’re cooking it. But I prefer to roast the peppercorns and then grind them into powder.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Split Pea Soup with Bacon

Split Pea Soup with Bacon

Ham Bone Flavor Without the Ham Bone

All dried beans, legumes, and pulses have their own distinctive flavor, but split peas turn it up to eleven.

And we all know the best split pea soup is one that’s simmered with a ham bone for several hours.  The aroma alone is irresistible; the flavor, incomparable.

But making long-cooked soup takes a while — two hours at the very least, often three.  Who has that much time?  Besides, few people prepare whole (or even half) hams these days, so ham bones are scarce.

What to do when you crave a split pea soup with the flavor of long-cooked ham bone, but don’t have a ham bone handy or enough spare time to cook for three hours?

My Split Pea Soup with Bacon – which includes a secret ingredient – is just the ticket.