Beer-Battered Onion Rings

Beer-battered onion rings, being kept warm in the oven.

I made these nice deep-fried onion rings, mostly according to this recipe:
Just a Taste: Beer-Battered Onion Rings

I halved the recipe, leaving more than enough for two people, substituted garlic salt for salt (and skipped the garlic powder), and used Hofbräu Original beer.

Deep-frying beer-battered onion rings

Since both the battering and deep-frying can be a messy process, I prepared these in cast iron pan on a gas grill burner with canola oil at ~375°F, and kept batches warm in the oven until finished.

Oak Display Spice Racks


Oak Display Spice Racks

After years of having spice jars inconveniently located in cabinets, slide-out drawers, or shelves that were too small, I inquired with the salesperson at the Penzeys store if they knew of a good source for large wooden spice racks that fit their jars well. Unfortunately they didn’t, so I decided to make some myself.

Our kitchen happens to have a bridge cabinet installed over a countertop workspace opposite the range that seemed to be the perfect place for spice racks. For this location, I built these removable oak spice shelves, totaling 9 linear feet of visible and accessible “spice space.”

This woodworking project used just two sorts of prepared wood procured from a local home improvement store: pre-cut planks, and outside corner trim.


The (3) shelves were assembled as follows:

  1. Use a mitre box and saw to cut the wood planks (2) and trim pieces (1) to length (e.g., 36 inches), for each shelf. Before continuing with assembly, examine each plank’s surfaces to select which side you’d like to be displayed.
  2. Clamp each pair of 4 inch x 1/2 inch planks together, forming an “L”-shaped shelf with the back piece atop the bottom piece. This will form a shelf with a back slightly taller than the shelf bottom is deep.
    Using tiny brass wood screws, in holes you’ve drilled perhaps every 6-12 inches.
    Once installed, this yields a shelf back of the appropriate thickness to prevent the spice jars or their lids from touching the (painted) wall when the spice jars are removed or replaced.
  3. Using construction adhesive and clamps, glue the oak outside corner to the front edge of each shelf, with the rounded edge upward (toward the top and front of shelf).
    This, of course, forms a channel in which the spice jars sit, so they won’t easily fall off the shelves.
  4. As shown in the close-up below, cut a short piece of outside corner trim and use construction adhesive to glue them at the back edges at the end of each shelf.
    This will act as a stand-off to keep the shelf a bit away from the wall, yet allowing some “play,” which is especially necessary when either the shelf back board or the wall (or both :) ) is not perfectly straight, flat, and true.
  5. Once the adhesive is completely dry, sand shelves as necessary and finish them as you wish. Here, a combination stain and polyurethane satin finish was applied to match the existing cabinets.


oak spice shelf, underneath detail.

Lastly, mount the removable shelves with shelf pins in shallow holes drilled in the cabinets on both ends of each spice rack(s), allowing you to remove the shelves or to reposition them.

Since, it is important that the shelf pin holes are drilled at the same level for both ends of the spice shelves, so the shelves are level, I use a jig built from peg board to select the hole positions to drill.

With multiple shelves, such as the three shown here, a 7-inch separation (above or below) each shelf has proved to work well for our spice jars and containers. Loaded up with a set of (mostly) Penzys jars, we have a handsome, utilitarian display of spices!


Oak Display Spice Racks – close up

Blackened Swordfish with Sweet Corn Salsa


Blackened Swordfish with Sweet Corn Salsa

Well, I guess I’ve been away from this blog for a loooong time! Things are going well, I just haven’t been cooking too many new things.

However, making this swordfish dinner reminded me of my last post (last year), and reminded me to come back. :)

Swordfish a favorite and surprisingly easy, er, quick anyway. I made the salsa the other day with a couple lightly boiled cobs of fresh corn, a can of black beans, a touch of lemon juice, cider vinegar, red pepper, onion, apple cider vinegar and spices.

The thawed swordfish steaks cook in 5 minutes in a hot cast iron pan, 2-2.5 mins per side (from frozen at Trader Joe’s.)

I didn’t measure anything, but I’ve included a recipe below that’s a good basis for the blackening spices.



Blackened Swordfish with Sweet Corn Salsa

Gołąbki: Polish Cabbage Rolls

Gołąbki with tomatoes and sauce.

Gołąbki with tomatoes and sauce.

Gołąbki are Polish cabbage rolls. I’m of Polish heritage, on my father’s side, and have enjoyed this very common, traditional dish, but hadn’t previously tackled preparation myself. As it turns out, it can be done in about 2 hours preparation time, and 2 hours cooking time. “Gołąbki” is the plural Polish word for pigeon, and is a apparently based on the resulting size of the rolls. To an English speaker, it is pronounced like one would say “gawumpki.”

The occasion that caused me to make gołąbki was that we have a Polish graduate student visiting for a summer internship at my work, and I thought he might like some taste of home… given that our Polish-named staples here in the U.S., such as Polish pickles or Polish sausage, are nothing like he knows from home. It also helped put a good dent in our CSA share of vegetables in that it uses a head of cabbage and my, unusual, vegetarian version also used a fennel bulb.

There are many preparation techniques for gołąbki, some involving pan frying and then boiling or steaming them. I chose to use this recipe as the basis for my gołąbki, which simply has you to bake them, covered, in a 350° F oven for 2 hours.

The filling for the meat-based gołąbki was a combination of the following:

  • 1 cabbage, medium
  • about 2 pounds raw ground pork sausage (I used Italian sausage, or what we call Italian sausage in the states)
  • 2 cups cooked rice, with some butter added during cooking, cooled
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • garlic cloves, minced, sautéed in butter
  • 1 large onion, diced, sautéed in butter
  • butter
  • marjoram
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato sauce

For the vegetarian gołąbki I used the above except substituted the following for the ground meat:

  • chopped fennel bulb, sautéed until tender
  • chopped mushroom, lightly sautéed

For the fillings, mix the above (except for butter, tomatoes and tomato sauce), in a large bowl similar to the way one makes meatballs; cover and refrigerate until ready to fill and roll the cabbage leaves.

To prepare the cabbage leaves, I followed the method show in this video. That is, I brought a large pot of water to very low boil, enough water so that the whole cabbage head could just be submerged. Then removed the core of the cabbage leaves, and boiled it slowly, carefully removing the leaves one by one with tongs and cooled them on a cutting board. It’s important to remove the core complete so that the leaves can separate as they soften and loosen while boiling.

Once the leaves were prepared, cutting out some of the cabbage leaves’ “stem” if it’s too difficult to roll, I filled them with an amount of filling proportional to the size of the leaf (from 1 Tablespoon to 2 or more), and rolled them by folding the sides first, and rolling them, typically with the more substantial base of the leaf toward the outside of the roll.  After rolling, I packed them fairly tightly in a baking dish. (Use a separate baking dish for the meat and vegetarian gołąbki if you make both.)

Gołąbki before cooking.

Gołąbki before cooking.

Once the baking dishes are filled, pour the diced tomato and tomato sauce over the top, spreading evenly, and sprinkle again with marjoram.  Cover the dishes tightly with aluminum foil and bake in a 350° F oven for 2 hours.

Gołąbki, ready to be covered and baked.

Gołąbki, ready to be covered and baked.

Once cooked, let the gołąbki sit and cool a bit and serve them, accompanied by a dollop of sour cream if you like.

Gołąbki with tomato sauce, served with sour cream.

Gołąbki with tomato sauce, served with sour cream.

I really enjoyed making and eating these.These are also nice left-over, even frozen and reheated as necessary; this is a good thing, since it’s best to make quite a large batch given the work. My Polish student friend liked them, but rated them as spicier than his grandmother’s version. (That was by design, in that I used a medium spicy Italian sausage rather than the typical blander combination of ground pork and beef that most gołąbki recipes call for.)  He also noted that they leave the tomato sauce to be added only after cooking.

Here are some related recipes and a video I referenced:

Indian Omelette Breakfast Burrito

Indian omelette breakfast burrito served with curry salsa.

Indian omelette breakfast burrito served with curry salsa.

Yesterday, an Indian friend said this Indian Omelet recipe “looks legit,” so I decided to try it; the Indian omelette reminds me of the Chinese omelette, egg foo young, and is prepared quite similarly just with different spices and a lot less oil.

For my version of this omelette (2 servings), I used the following ingredients:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup minced red onion
  • 1/3 cup chopped napa cabbage
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh mushroom
  • fresh coriander leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder (to taste)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • canola oil (1-2 tablespoons)

(I reduced the turmeric quite a bit from the original recipe because I’ve found that if I don’t cook it in oil in the pan first, it can taste metallic to me.)

To prepare:

As with any omelette beat the eggs, I added a bit of water.  Next whisk in all the other ingredients (except the oil for frying). Over medium heat add the oil to an omelette or other non-stick frying pan. When oil is hot, but not smoking, be sure it’s spread evenly over the pan surface and add the egg mixture, spreading it evenly. Cover immediately with a pan lid or serving plate, and cook for a few minutes, checking to see that it is solidifying, but not yet cooked through. (Expect the bottom to brown in the oil.) Before the egg is completely cooked on top, slide the omelette onto a plate that is larger than the pan, then place the pan upside-down over the plate and flip it over so that the omelette is back in the pan. Cook this other side for a minute or so and slide it onto a serving plate; garnish with cilantro leaf.

An Indian omelette topped with coriander leaf.

An Indian omelette topped with coriander leaf.

Despite all the ingredients and spices, I found my omelette uninteresting on its own (and I’m not really a fan of breakfasts dominated by egg), so as I’ve done before, I chopped the omelette into large pieces and used it to fill a large, warmed flour tortilla as a breakfast burrito.

As an additional burrito filling and flavorful accompaniment, I prepared a hot curry salsa by stirring about 1/2 teaspoon of Indian curry paste into about 1/4 cup tomato-based Mexican salsa.

Mixing up a curry salsa.

Mixing up a curry salsa.

I used less than half the omelette for the burrito and served it with additional hot curry salsa on the side.

An Indian omelette and breakfast burrito.

An Indian omelette and breakfast burrito.

This was a nice Indian-fusion variation of the wonderful Tex-Mex breakfast burrito. Another way to make it more Indian would be to use chappati instead of a mexican-style tortilla. I was first introduced to the frozen variety of chappati by an Indian housemate; they’re quite good, you just take them from the freezer right into the fry pan for a few minutes, but the frozen ones are smaller than burrito-sized tortillas, so would make for tiny burritos.

The Indian omelette is yet-another way to put some variety into your breakfasts of vegetables and eggs!

Here is the recipe I used as the basis for this omelette:

And some related recipes:

UPDATE (Feb. 2015):

I made an “egg roll,” (nothing like a Chinese egg roll) as in this video, with scallion, black pepper, scrambled egg, and a tortilla and that works out great too and is yet-another breakfast burrito variation!


Refried bean and cheese Pupusas.

Refried bean and cheese pupusas.

This afternoon we made pupusas, a traditional Salvadorian stuffed, soft tortilla.

As it happens, the east coast is currently awaiting a nor’easter blizzard that is expected to deliver 1-3 feet of snow and up to 60 mile per hour winds. Boston has a unique alert system for such winter storms: The French Toast Alert System, so called due to the propensity of area residents to stock up on bread, eggs, and milk with the likely prospect of being stuck at home during the storm. Instead, we prepared by making pupusas of masa de maiz, refried beans, and cheese… enough so there are some leftovers (even thought they’re likely best eaten fresh.)

I was introduced to pupusas a few years ago by an Indian friend, i.e., from India, while I was couch-surfing near Baltimore, Maryland, of all places. He took me to his favorite Salvadorian restaurant, a modest place called Bananitos, where friendly Salvadorian ladies were continually preparing pupusas by hand and other Salvadorian dishes for a stream of customers, many to take away.

To make your own pupusas, start by making a simple dough of masa and water, so that the dough is a bit sticky, but can be rolled into a ball yet still flattened without cracking at the edges. (We used Maseca brand instant corn masa flour.)

Roll dough pieces into an approximately golf ball-sized balls (or slightly larger), push each flat, then add a spoonful of filling in the middle, e.g., refried beans mixed with shredded cheese. (We used smoked mozzarella.) Next, wrap the dough around the filling back into a ball and then re-flatten it into a tortilla perhaps 1/4 inch thick. Try to keep the filling contained when pressing, but it’s OK if leaks a bit.

Preparing refried bean and cheese pupusas.

Preparing refried bean and cheese pupusas.

Next, simply cook the tortillas a few minutes per side at medium or medium-low heat on an oiled surface, e.g., a cast iron pan, until a bit browned and cooked through.

Cooking pupusas in an oiled pan.

Cooking pupusas in an oiled pan.

Pupusas are typically served accompanied by a mildly pickled cabbage slaw called curtido and a tomato sauce. We served our pupusas with a green cabbage slaw of the sort one might serve with fish tacos and a mole sauce, left over from last night’s mole chicken.

Pupusas with cabbage slaw and sauce.

Pupusas served with cabbage slaw and sauce.

Pupusas are a wonderful treat from central America that, whenever I see them, I’m reminded of visits with my exuberant Indian friend, a great citizen of the world, with whom I first shared them.

Here are some recipes I consulted that you might find helpful:

I found pupusas fairly forgiving to prepare, being able to add additional water to the dough (that I had originally prepared for dumplings cooked in the mole sauce) until it was possible to work (or rework) them easily into thick tortillas.

I hope you give them a try and enjoy them too!

I bet pupusas would be nice accompanied by scrambled eggs for breakfast.  Maybe we’ll be snowed-in soon and I’ll have a chance to find out, while the rest of Boston presumably enjoys french toast. :)

Steamed Dumplings and Potstickers

Steamed Dumplings with soy and chili garlic sauces.

Steamed Dumplings with soy and chili garlic sauces.

Here is a popular treat from Chinese restaurants that’s fun to prepare at home, especially if you’re interested in an exotic dinner and aren’t short on time; we spent a couple hours making about 30 dumplings. They can be prepared ahead of time and frozen, but I wouldn’t want to miss the pleasure of eating a few right to reward myself right after the prep work!

The vegetarian dumplings were filled with a mix of napa cabbage (finely chopped), carrot (grated), ginger (finely grated), spring onion (minced), shiitake mushroom (rehydrated from dry, then chopped), tofu (firm, crumbled), garlic (finely grated), and five spice powder. We also tossed the filling with some soy sauce and sesame oil; this is optional, but gave the vegetable filling more flavor and perhaps helped it to clump when wrapping.

The meat dumplings contained the same filling with ground pork sausage flavored with five spice powder.  We used the meat from two store-bought sausages (fresh, raw); any mildly-spiced, coarse sausage would likely work well, but ours were Italian sausage, often spiced with fennel or anise seed, which is commonly used to flavor Chinese foods too.

We wrapped the filling using a simple dough of all-purpose flour and water, about 3 cups flour to about 1 1/4 cups water, rolled into balls and flattened by hand into circular wrappers. Fill each wrapper right after you flatten it to avoid the dough becoming too dry to work with.

Place whole cabbage leaves in the bottom of a steamer tray to keep the dumplings from sticking. After steaming the dumplings for about 20 minutes total (15 minutes is probably sufficient for the vegetarian ones), we served them for dinner along with a miso soup and froze about half of them to steam another time.

Our leftover steamed dumplings were prepared as potstickers the next day; from the refrigerator, they were rewarmed by microwave and then pan-fried in oil until browned on the bottom. I don’t think it’s traditional, but turn to brown the sides if you like – I did. :)



Here is the recipe that was basis for these dumplings and a recipe for the somewhat similar Polish dumplings, pierogi:

These dumplings were a fun project for two on a weekend evening and tasted every bit as good as many I’ve had at restaurants, even though this was a first time making them at home. Give them a try!

Mirza Ghasemi and Barbari Bread

Mirza ghasemi with Barbari bread.

Mirza ghasemi with Barbari bread.

This is a special recipe for me and one that I’ve been meaning to make for 10 years or more.

I was introduced to Iranian or Persian foods in the ’90s in Madison, Wisconsin at a wonderful restaurant called Caspian Cafe.  The restaurant has been closed for some years, but its colorful co-owner and chef, Mohila Nateghi, has a web site here.  She typically had a smile for guests and did a great job of pointing the neophyte to her best options on the menu that day, such as the crispy part of her lubia polow or her dill rice.

One of my favorites was, and is, mirza ghasemi, the wonderful dish of scrambled egg, eggplant, tomatoes, and garlic.  Mohila’s version was absolutely loaded with garlic; whenever it was on the day’s lunch menu, I knew I would smell of garlic the rest of the workday, but that did not dissuade… it was so good.

For preparation details, see detailed recipes linked below (at bottom of post). I used them roughly as is, except used a combination of canned and fresh tomato and added smoked paprika to the mirza ghasemi. Unusually, I also chopped the roasted eggplant length-wise and and width-wise with a chef’s knife to cut their skin into pieces; while atypical to include the eggplant skin in the dish (rather than peeling it after roasting) I didn’t find the skin in any way objectionable since I roasted the eggplant in the oven rather than over open flame (which would then add an undesirable burnt flavor if the skin were included).

Mirza ghasemi ingredients.

Mirza ghasemi ingredients.

The restaurant served all its entrees with a number of sides, one of which was a tasty flatbread that was likely a version of Tandoori or Barbari bread.
(Here’s an interesting video show how such bread is made in a Tandoori oven.)

Barbari bread ingredients.

Barbari bread ingredients.

For this meal, paired with Barbari bread, one must start preparing the bread first… perhaps 4 hours in advance.  I made the bread dough and had it initially rise in the refrigerator for a couple hours.
(Here’s a short video showing a similar preparation of the bread, but with different volumes, times, and temperature.)

Barbari bread dough after rising.

Barbari bread dough after initial rising.

Barbari bread dough.

Barbari bread dough final rising for about an hour.

Having previously attempted to roast eggplant over the open flame of a gas stovetop and having it be undercooked, this time I decided to bake them in the oven (40 minutes at 425° F) and then finished under the broiler to just begin to blister, but not burn, the skin.

Roasted eggplant.

Roasted eggplant.

Near the end of the cooking on the stovetop, I poured beaten egg (3 large) into 6 holes in the eggplant, tomato mixture, and continued cooking until the egg solidified, then stirred and allowed to cool about 20 minutes before serving.

Adding the beaten eggs.

Adding the beaten eggs.

The Barbari bread was topped with sesame seed and baked on a pre-heated pizza pan (500° F) for about 15 minutes, until it browned nicely.

Mirza ghasemi and Barbari bread.

Mirza ghasemi and Barbari bread with sesame seed.

I served the mirza ghasemi garnished with walnut pieces and accompanied by a piece of bread.

Mirza ghasemi with Barbari bread.

Mirza ghasemi with Barbari bread.

Here are the recipes I consulted to prepare this dish:

I really enjoyed this meal that reminds me both of my introduction to wonderful foods of the world and friends from far-off lands; I hope you enjoy it too!

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with Ginger and Sesame

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger, served with rice.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger, served with rice.

When I was young, I was not  a fan of celery.  As a child, it was somewhat palatable when topped with peanut butter, but even then I preferred peanut butter on carrots.  Basically, I used to think celery was a great way to ruin things, especially soup or chili. (“What were they thinking?!”)

Today, however, I quite enjoy celery, especially in Chinese dishes. So, finding ourselves in the predicament of having two big bunches of celery in the fridge, we decided to make a dinner of it, a stir-fry of celery and mushrooms.  While any mélange of mushrooms, asian or otherwise, might work, we chose shiitake, for their rich, smoky flavor to compliment the mild celery.  Some fresh baby bellas add a nice texture contrast.

For the sauce, I prepared perhaps 2/3 cup total by mixing the following to taste:

  • soy sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • fish sauce
  • rice vinegar
  • honey
  • water (sparingly)
  • ground black pepper
  • bird peppers to taste (whole, dried)
  • sriracha or similar hot sauce to taste (optional)
  • corn starch (prepared as a slurry for thickening, added on heat at end)

Since the celery will release some water, the sauce need not be diluted much with water.

For the main ingredients:

  • celery, 1 bunch of stalks, leaves intact, coarsely cut, diagonally
  • shiitake, stems removed, caps cut in strips (from whole dried, reconstituted in warm water for a couple hours)
  • baby bella mushooms, fresh, cut into qarters or sixths
  • fresh ginger, finely chopped (a generous amount, e.g., 2 thumbs)
  • onion, cut in short strips, 2 small
  • sesame seeds

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger.

While preparing rice in a rice cooker, we stir-fried the ingredients in a large cast iron skillet with a few tablespoons of canola oil, beginning with the onion, ginger and shiitake, and a fraction of the sauce; I also put all the bird peppers in the pan at this time to soften them while cooking.  Once those are somewhat tender, add the celery and more sauce progressively, stirring and cooking for desired tenderness of the celery.  I like it cooked, but somewhat firm.  Lastly, add the fresh mushrooms (so as they are only lightly cooked) and thicken the sauce with corn starch slurry if you like a sauce that clings to the ingredients.

When finished, add some dashes of sesame oil, and then sprinkle with sesame seeds; alternatively, you might do this on the serving plate instead.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger.

We plated the stir-fry with white sticky rice.  This time I used Nishiki rice and found it nearly identical, prepared in a rice cooker, to the Calrose rice I usually use; both are grown in California, but Nishiki suggests it’s a Japanese sushi rice.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger, served with rice.

Shiitake and Celery Stir-Fry with sesame and ginger, served with rice.

This turned out to be a delicious dish, with the shiitake and ginger being a nice complement to simple, some might say, otherwise “shitty” celery.

For taking this celery from shit to shiitake, I’ll dedicate this post to FoodIsTheBestShitEver. Check ’em out if you haven’t already. :)

Here are some related recipes that might be useful, although I’ve not tried them:


Fresh German-Style soft pretzels

Fresh German-style soft pretzels.

Given how much I love beer, including German beers, I was surprised I hadn’t thought to make fresh pretzels before; they’re a perfect companion for beer and bready palate-cleanser when sampling beer styles.

These pretzels were prepared for a party where, thankfully, they were a popular addition.

For this recipe I had help from my companion, more experienced in bread-making than me. She prepared the dough based on this recipe.
For a double batch (about 16 medium-sized pretzels), we used the following ingredients:

  • doubled the ingredient quantities
  • substituted 1/2 whole wheat flour
  • used a biga-style preferment, i.e., soaked flour + water + small amount of yeast for about 4 hours
  • placed half the pretzels (on one baking sheet) into the freezer to firm before boiling

There are a lot of good video recipes online showing the technique to roll-out the dough, form the pretzels, boil, and bake, so I won’t describe the process here, but rather refer you to the recipes and videos linked below. (I especially liked this video.)

Some observations:

  • When forming the pretzels, be sure to stick the feet down (perhaps by moistening with a dab of water) so they don’t come loose while boiling and baking.
  • The more baking soda in the boiling water, the darker the pretzels will be.  We used about 2 heaping tablespoons in a large skillet to boil the pretzels three or four at a time.
  • It didn’t seem to make much difference whether or not the pretzels were cooled in the freezer for a short time before boiling.
  • Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with kosher salt (or other coarse salt) before baking.
  • We baked them on parchment paper for 25-30 minutes in a preheated 410° F oven.

Pretzels baked on parchment paper.

Pretzels baked on parchment paper.

We served the pretzels with a coarse mustard (as god intended), e.g., Grey Poupon Country Dijon, and also a spicy sauce made of mayonnaise and Sriracha hot pepper sauce.

All in all these turned out quite nice and were safely boiled in baking soda water rather than the traditional, but caustic, lye solution.  I knew lye was used for pretzels and lye bread, but never knew exactly how until researching these pretzel recipes.

While we didn’t follow one specific recipe to the letter, here is the primary one we consulted (first), plus a number of videos demonstrating the preparation techniques:

This was a fun baking project; I suggest you try freshly homemade pretzels as well!