Category Archive for: ‘Deserts’
Baking Soda vs Baking Powder, what’s the difference – Jughandle’s Fat Farm

Baking Soda vs Baking Powder, what’s the difference?  When should we use one over the other?  Are there any other uses for either, than baking or cooking?

If you are a serious cook, you should be able to rattle off the answers to those questions instantly.

Baking is more of a science than an art.  Chemistry and exact proportions are very important to achieving a quality finished product consistently.

Dough Rising

The holes are formed by the expansion of CO2 as the dough rises and sets.

Baking Soda

Sodium bicarbonate, sodium bicarb, bicarb soda, bicarbonate, and bicarb are all names for the same thing – NaHCO

It is a salt made up of sodium and bicarbonate molecules.  For a more in-depth explanation and chemistry, go to Wikipedia.  Sodium Bi-carbonate is used for many things but since our many focus is cooking, let us look at that first.

the leavening difference

without and with


In cooking Sodium bi-carbonate is called Baking Soda.  By providing CO2, its primary use is as a leavening agent in batters and dough such as pancakes and breads, but is also used to crisp up the batter in fried foods.  Baking soda is very alkaline and in too large a quantity can leave sodium carbonate, which has a bitter or soapy taste.

What you need to remember is that Baking Soda releases CO2, carbon dioxide gas, that causes the batter or dough to rise by expanding within the lattice like structure of protein, known as gluten, in the dough.  The gluten traps the CO2 gas as it forms to make the bread or batter rise. 

Ok, now dig deeper and recall a little high school chemistry.  Baking Soda, aka: Sodium Bi-carbonate, is a base.  A base will decompose in the presence of of heat, starting at 180 deg F, but give up only half of its its CO2 leaving, proportionately, more of its bitter, soapy flavor, relative to the gas, in the final product.

You may also recall that a base and an acid have a strong chemical reaction.  In the case of Baking Soda, if you also use an acid such as a phosphate, cream of tartar, lemon juice, yogurt, buttermilk, cocoa vinegar or even a sourdough batter, you can create a reaction that will release much more of its CO2. Remember that unlike batter or dough that has no acid, which will only rise when CO2 is released at 180 deg when baking.  When your acid and baking soda are mixed the reaction will start immediately and you will need to hurry and start the cooking.


You might find useful the fact that when adding baking soda to your coating for fried foods, your crust will be more crispy.  The reason for the crispiness is that the emerging CO2 leaves passages for steam to escape from the food not only keeping the breading from being soggy but also preventing the crust from being blown off during cooking.

Baking Powder

Let us now consider, baking powder.  Not the stuff with a thousand uses that you put open in the refrig, but the powder in a round can that that said
“Double Acting” on it.

Baking powder generally contains around 30% sodium bicarbonate combined with calcium acid phosphate, sodium aluminium phosphate  or cream of tartar, which are activated by adding water, not needing acid.  Having both the Baking Soda and other additives make it “double acting”.

While baking soda is alkaline; the acid used in baking powder helps to avoid the metallic, bitter, soapy taste when the chemical change during baking creates sodium carbonate.

Tips bulletin is a very informative site that gives tips on all sorts of different topics.  The following are excerpts from their 50+ Amazing Uses of Baking Soda

1. Clean Your Bathtub

Bathtub Cleaner Recipe

  • Baking soda (1/2 Cup)
  • Coarse salt (1 Tbsp)
  • Dish soap (1 Tbsp)
A safe and effective way to wash your bathtub, sink, and surrounding tile is by sprinkling a light layer of baking soda on a clean, damp sponge and scrubbing the tub as usual. Thoroughly rinse the bathtub and wipe it dry with a clean towel.

Baking soda also works well to clean fiberglass and glossy tiles. For extra cleaning power, you can make a paste with the baking soda for a deep-down clean.

9. Clean Furniture

Baking soda is an excellent product if you need to clean or remove marks from painted furniture or walls. Apply baking soda to a clean damp rag or sponge and lightly rub the area that you need to clean.

Baking soda works especially well to clean patio furniture. Using a clean, dry cloth, remove the residue from the furniture or wall. This method will even work for removing crayon marks from your walls and furniture.

17. Natural Fruit and Vegetable Scrub

Even if you buy organic produce, it is important to make sure to wash your fruits and veggies before consuming them. Not only can this get rid of any pesticides that may have seen use during the growing of the produce, but it can remove bacteria from your food.

Baking Soda Uses: Keeps Produce Fresh

You can make a natural produce cleaner by adding one teaspoon of baking powder to one tablespoon water. The paste is an excellent way to get rid of unwanted bacteria and pesticides from your produce.

23. Extinguish Grease Fires

If you encounter a minor grease fire in your kitchen, you can use baking soda to put it out quickly. Pouring baking soda on the fire will instantly stifle the flames. When the baking soda is heated, it discharges carbon dioxide and produces water.

The carbon dioxide doesn’t support combustion like oxygen. It smothers the fire, allowing the water that has formed to cool the fire to below the temperature needed for ignition.

31. Deodorize Recycling Bin

You can make sure your recycling bin doesn’t smell by adding baking soda to the top of the container every time you add to the container.

You can also clean the recycle bin with baking soda after it is empty. Place some baking soda on a damp sponge and wipe down the inside of the recycle bin, followed by a thorough rinse with warm water.

And many others – Check it out – Jughandle

25th Anniversary Party Cake
This is a cake we made for a 25th anniversary party. It is a yellow cake with white butter cream icing, covered in white and silver fondant with a royal icing bow on top and gum paste bows and ribbons on the bottom. Designed to serve 150 people. This actually was a very successful cake with few problems because yellow cake is naturally dense and it could easily hold the weight of the small cake on top. The only caution here is about the royal icing bow on top.

Gum paste bow with temporary supports

This type of bow is very fragile and should be supported with tissue when transporting. Make sure you have a bag of royal icing to re-attach any broken loops that occurred along the way. The dragees (small silver dots on the fondant) are great to cover any minor problems with the fondant.


Finished Product

Finished Cake

Cake Recipes – when to make it yourself, when to buy it made, and when to use a box mix
Types of Cake – yellow, chocolate, white, red velvet, cheese cake, carrot cake
Structure – supports, framework, columns, wire, wood, plastic, steel
Types of frosting– fondant, butter-cream, royal, gum paste, cream cheese, glaze, poured fondant
Decorations– pre-made, gum paste, fondant, royal icing, piped butter-cream
Fondant– white, chocolate, marshmallow, poured
Butter-cream Recipes and Problems – cooked, with eggs, with out eggs, no cook
To Freeze or not to Freeze – fresh or frozen
When to refrigerate
When to deliver the cake
How to deliver the cake
How NOT to transport the cake
What to do on site at the event and what not to do
How to fix disasters – and you will have disasters
Why you can’t prevent disasters 
I know there will be more, but that is a good start.

Cake, fondant, weddings, special events

I am frustrated in my efforts to create the perfect cake.  Yes, I know, perfection is a lofty goal, but the finished product can be a hell of a lot better than most we amateurs – and even professionals, turn out.  I call myself an amateur, because that is exactly what I am.  My wife and I made (I use the past tense because we have retired from the stress of the cake making business) cakes for special events that our friends and family have, and we didn’t make money in the process.  We watched every “cake challenge”, “Ace of Cakes” and any other show that broadcasts cake making events and contests.  REAL secrets of how to bake, decorate and deliver a cake to an event are never full explained. I intend to revel those secrets, eventually, in this blog.
Your Cake – And Eat it Too!

Trials and tales of an amateur cake “Expert”.  Things you can’t learn about making cakes from watching TV or reading books

This will be a series of posts all relating to making CAKE

Scratch or Box?

 This post is bound to be controversial. Some purist will insist that your cake should be completely scratch made. Sure, that’s a nice thought but unless your cake is a small cake and you don’t have to spend a lot of time on the decoration you will have other priorities than impressing people with your ability to read a recipe. First you have to determine what purpose you are making the cake in the first place. Here is how we do it:
Wedding cake: We feel that a wedding cake should make a statement. The brides statement, what ever that may be. So you need to make a cake that will be nicely designed, impressive to look at and it must taste good too.
Show Cake: A show cake can be anything from a cake you make for a contest to a cake that you know no one will eat much of. Here the priority is what the cake looks like, not what it tastes like. DSC_6465  Brandons logThats it. There are no other choices, so let’s break that down. In order for a cake to be large enough to serve over 150 people it needs to have a structure. That structure can be anything from a wooden form to metal bracing. The simplest structure to hold a multi tiered cake is simple wooden or plastic dowels that are pushed through the cake to support the layer above it. Or you can watch one of the TV shows and see the elaborate frames they use to support their “show” cake. Ahh, now we are getting to the point I want to make. While you are watching those TV shows, notice that the cake they use is extremely dense. When I say dense, I mean that they can stand on the cake. Also notice that these very same cakes are made in a shallow sheet pan and then cut out with a cookie cutter type of device, to the shape needed. The reason the cake is thin is to make it firm and strong. You CAN NOT make a cake that tastes good that way. At least I haven’t figured out how.So ask yourself, how can they stack cake 3 feet tall without the sides sagging or even crumbling and have the cake not taste like cardboard? They CAN’T! Period. So you have to make the choice I posed above. If you would like your cake to look impressive and taste good then you must be very creative in your cake design. Plus, all conditions must be perfect, which they NEVER are. Remember that a good tasting cake is moist, soft and never dry.Our method: We design the cake to any shape and specs that the bride and groom want, but we try to find a way to achieve that look and still deliver a cake that will be completely eaten by their guests. We do it by making box cakes. Yes, box cakes. Go to the store and buy what ever flavor box cake your customer wants and then make it in your kitchen. We have tried lots of different scratch recipes, but none of them taste as good or are as moist as a box cake. We still put the wet ingredients in, so really all you are buying is the flour, baking powder, sugar and coloring. You still add the water or milk, oil or butter and the whole eggs or egg whites. You still mix it, you still pour it in the pan of your choice and you still cook the thing until it is done. Which, by the way, never is what the back of the box says.Tricks of the trade: There are tricks you can use to improve the work-ability of your cake with out hurting the taste. In fact, these tricks often improve the taste.1) Cook in 2″ thick cake pans, greased, floured and the bottom lined with parchment paper, filled 3/4 full of batter, allowing the cake to rise above the pan in order to be leveled. Cook the cake until the side of the cake separates from the pan about an 1/8th of an inch, no mater if you are cooking a 16″ square cake or a 4″ round. If you do that, your center will be done and will be firmer.

2) Always let your cake cool in the pan on a rack until you can easily handle it without gloves. The longer the cake sits out the firmer the crumbs will become. But if you wait too long the cake will stick to the pan and you will have to warm the bottom to get it to release.

3) after turning the cake out on to a elevated drying rack you can let it sit for up to 12 hours. In fact you should let it sit for at least 8 hours. The texture of the cake will improve and you will be able to handle the cake more easily. Chocolate cake is the easiest to work with because it has lots of fat and whole eggs to bind it together. White cake and Red Velvet are the hardest cakes to work with, because they are so soft. We call this stage the staling stage. The cake doesn’t really get stale, but it becomes more of a unit. After the staling stage, place the cake on at least a 1/4′ foam board and level the top with either a knife or a cake saw and then wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer. Freeze each layer over night or for at least 4 hours. Amazingly, freezing vastly improves the texture of the cake. We then remove the cake from the freezer and bring it to almost room temperature before using a cake saw to cut it in half. Ice with what ever you want between the layers and continue to build the cake.

Our cakes, soft and moist, are almost always eaten completely. The cake in the picture below is one of our wedding cakes. It is 4 – 4″ layers of white cake with white buttercream icing covered in white fondant. We used 48 cake mixes, 72 pounds of confectioners sugar, 2 gals of Crisco, a pint of vanilla and 12 dozen egg whites.  Problematic conditions were overcome. The bride was happy that the cake was almost completely eaten by the more than 300 guests.


15 Different Frosting Recipes

Tired of the same old same old? Need something more than sticky on your buns?  Try one of these from

1. Meringue Buttercream


  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 5 large egg whites
  • Pinch cream of tartar
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar and water to a boil. Clip a candy thermometer onto the saucepan. Boil the syrup, brushing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent crystallization, until the syrup registers 240 degrees (soft-ball stage).
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and beat on medium high until stiff but not dry peaks form.
  3. With the mixer running, pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl (to prevent splattering) into the egg whites in a steady stream, and beat on high speed until the steam is no longer visible, about 3 minutes. Beat in butter, piece by piece. Add vanilla; beat until smooth and spreadable, 3 to 5 minutes. If it looks curdled at any point during the beating process, continue beating until smooth.

2. Whipped Frosting


  • 3 large egg whites
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. In a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water, combine egg whites, sugar, salt, and water. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until sugar has dissolved (or mixture registers 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer), 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium-high until glossy, stiff peaks form (do not overbeat), about 3 minutes; reduce speed to low, add vanilla extract, and beat just until combined. Use immediately.

3. Basic Buttercream


  • 12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Beat butter with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Reduce speed to medium. Add sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating after each addition, about 5 minutes. (After every 2 additions, increase speed to high, and beat for 10 seconds, then reduce speed to medium-high). Add vanilla, and beat until buttercream is smooth. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth before using.)

4. 7 minute frosting


  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature


  1. In a small, heavy saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar, corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved. Rub a bit between your fingers to make sure there is no graininess. Raise heat to bring to a boil. Do not stir anymore. Boil, washing down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water from time to time to prevent the sugar from crystallizing, until a candy thermometer registers 230 degrees about 5 minutes. (Depending on the humidity, this can take anywhere from 4 to 10 minutes.)
  2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 2 1/2 minutes. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Remove the syrup from the heat when the temperature reaches 230 degrees (it will keep rising as pan is removed from heat). Pour the syrup in a steady stream down the side of the bowl (to avoid splattering) containing the egg-white mixture, with the mixer on medium-low speed.
  3. Beat frosting on medium speed until cool, 5 to 10 minutes. The frosting should be thick and shiny. Use immediately.

5. Dark Chocolate Ganache


  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped


  1. In a large saucepan, bring 2 cups heavy cream, 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to a boil. Remove from heat; add 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped, and let stand, without stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk just until combined. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until spreadable, about 1 hour.

6. Cream Cheese frosting


  • 1 pound (16 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
  • 2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted


  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and vanilla until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. With mixer on medium speed, gradually add butter, beating until incorporated.
  2. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add sugar, beating until incorporated.

7.  Brown Sugar Butter cream


  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons


  1. In a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water, whisk together egg whites, sugar, and salt. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch.
  2. Transfer to the clean bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until fluffy and cooled, about 15 minutes.
  3. Raise speed to high; beat until stiff peaks form. Reduce speed to medium-low; add butter, 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, until fully incorporated.

8.  Caramel frosting


  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 package (16 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, plus more if needed
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt


  1. In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat until nut-brown in color, about 8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour butter into a bowl, leaving any burned sediment behind; let cool.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, salt, and butter. With the mixer on low, slowly add cream; beat until smooth. If frosting seems too thick, stir another tablespoon cream into the mixture.

9. Mrs. Milman’s chocolate frosting


  • 24 ounces Nestle semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 4 cups whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon light corn syrup


  1. Place chocolate morsels and cream in a heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until combined and thickened, between 20 and 25 minutes. Increase the heat to medium low; cook, stirring, 3 minutes more. Remove pan from heat.
  2. Stir in corn syrup. Transfer frosting to a large metal bowl. Chill until cool enough to spread, about 2 hours, checking and stirring every 15 to 20 minutes. Use immediately.

10. Coconut-Pecan frosting


  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
  • 1 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and brought to room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 2/3 cups (7 ounces) sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped


  1. Combine egg yolks, evaporated milk, and brown sugar in a saucepan. Add butter, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick, about 10 minutes. Pour through a fine sieve into a bowl.
  2. Stir in vanilla, salt, coconut, and pecans. Let cool completely. Frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 day; bring to room temperature before using.

11. Maple Buttercream frosting


  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 cups pure maple syrup, preferably grade A dark amber
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces


  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pour maple syrup into a medium saucepan. Place pan over medium-high heat; bring syrup to a boil. Cook syrup until a candy thermometer registers 240 degrees (just above soft-ball stage), about 15 minutes.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat. While the electric mixer is running, pour the syrup in a slow, steady stream down the side of the mixing bowl into the egg-yolk mixture (it is essential that the syrup touches the side of the bowl as you pour it in so the sugar will be very evenly incorporated and not splatter onto the sides of the bowl) until the syrup has been completely incorporated, about 1 1/2 minutes. Beat until the bowl is just slightly warm to the touch, 5 to 6 minutes.
  4. Add butter, one piece at a time, until all of it has been completely incorporated and the frosting is fluffy, about 4 minutes more. Use immediately.

12. Italian Meringue buttercream


  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 5 large egg whites
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar and 2/3 cup water to a boil. Continue boiling until syrup reaches 238 degrees on a candy thermometer (soft-ball stage).
  2. Meanwhile, place egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on low speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and beat on medium-high speed until stiff but not dry; do not overbeat.
  3. With mixer running, add syrup to whites in a stream, beating on high speed until no longer steaming, about 3 minutes. Add butter bit by bit, beating until spreadable, 3 to 5 minutes; beat in vanilla. If icing curdles, keep beating until smooth.

13. Coconut meringue buttercream


  • 10 large egg whites
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups (8 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup cream of coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure coconut extract


  1. Whisk egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer set over a pan of simmering water until sugar has dissolved and mixture registers 160 degrees, about 3 minutes.
  2. Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until cooled, about 10 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add butter; beat until pale and fluffy. Mix in cream of coconut and extract. Buttercream can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 3 days; beat before using.


When Martha used this buttercream to frost the Coconut Column Cake, she used 2 1/2 cups sugar.

14. Brown Sugar Swiss meringue buttercream


  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 2/3 cups packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature


  1. Put egg whites, sugar, and salt into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until mixture registers 160 degrees, about 4 minutes.
  2. Beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low. Add butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added). Beat until frosting is smooth and glossy, 3 to 5 minutes. Buttercream can be refrigerated airtight for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature, and beat before using.

15. Chocolate whipped cream frosting


  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 ounces finely chopped semisweet chocolate


  1. In a small saucepan, combine heavy cream and chocolate, and heat over medium heat until chocolate has melted. Remove from heat and refrigerate until well chilled.
  2. Place heavy cream mixture in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat until thick and spreadable. Use immediately
More Notes from Thanksgiving week







Asparagus Souffle –  It was supposed to look like the first picture but ended up looking like the second picture.  It tasted great, but it didn’t rise.  The only thing I can think of that I might have done wrong was to under fill the ramekins and possibly over whip the egg whites.  I’m going to keep trying this one until I get it right.




 Broccoli Bites – These were a HUGE success and were scarfed down instantly.  They were invented by the author as a broccoli dish for kids.  I’m here to tell you that adults love these too.  They can be made in advance and then scooped out onto a cookie sheet to bake for 20-30 mins or until they brown.  Cool until they won’t burn your mouth and serve with some sort of dipping sauce, but mine didn’t get that far. I recommend making a double batch.  These were voted in the top 3 dishes of the week by my guests.




 A can’t fail salad and desert

Ceasar Salad – ala Jughandle –  I’ve been making this salad for almost 30 years.  I modified it slightly to make it unique and safe to eat.  Instead of adding a raw egg to the salad as an emulsifying agent, I use a tablespoon of mayonnaise, which is basically just eggs and oil.  I also make my own croutons and often use limes instead of lemons for an unusual twist.  When you have to have a quick salad that is a crowd pleaser, try this salad.




 Creme Brulee – I’ve never had anyone not love this desert and I’ve been making them with this recipe for 20 years.  These can be made way in advance and even frozen for future use as a late night snack.  Always taste the custard before putting it in the ramekins, because what you taste there is what you are going to get in the end.  Cooking only changes the texture.





 I’ll give you more tomorrow,  stay warm – jughandle




Notes from Thanksgiving – a few successes

Notes to self:

Self- in the future try to have fewer than 55 items on the menu for the week, 40 of which were new recipes I’ve never tried before.

Self- Don’t renovate the kitchen two days before a major holiday when 6 guests are coming to Thanksgiving dinner.

Attempted and the Result

My eyes are always bigger than my stomach and I seem to always be thinking about what I can accomplish with energy and dexterity I had 15 years ago.  The following are the dishes I scheduled to cook for the holiday week.  Some were good, some bad, and some were memorable.  Click on the links for the recipes:

Spinach Balls –  These looked great and weren’t too hard to make.  I substituted Panko bread crumbs for the All Brand Buds – the buds looked too much like kibble.  I sauteed fresh spinach instead of using frozen and  I also made my own croutons instead of using stuffing mix.  I screwed up by cooking them too long and some were burned and some were ok.  The mustard dip was great if you make your own ranch dressing.  I’d do these again and not cook them to death.  They did hold together well.  I made the balls with a small scoop and they were easy.



 Mario Batali’s Stuffed Cabbage –  This is a killer, must do and remember type of recipe.  The instructions include a “how to” on how to make the leaves soft enough to fold easily and was perfect and easy.  The recipe is vegetarian, but you could leave out the cheese and make it vegan pretty easily, or add meat and have a great dish too.  I substituted grated white cheddar cheese for the ricotta and Pecorino and it was very nice.  I didn’t have to use tooth picks to hold the packets together.  I just rolled them up and turned them seam down on the cooking sheet.  I did drizzle a little olive oil on the outside before baking and sprinkled that with Panko bread crumbs for a little crunch.  I’m using some sesame seeds next time. Every one loved this dish with the freshly made tomato sauce.


 Upside Down Potato and Onion Tart –   This may have been the best dish of the week.  It was gone in 60 sec, just like the movie.  I made this one exactly like the recipe called for, cutting my onions and potatoes on a mandolin slicer, which made it faster but wasn’t necessary.  I used a 9 inch, deep-sided, cast-iron skillet and everything fit nicely.  This can be cooked this a little in advance, which I did and when it came time to flip it onto a serving plate I had to warm the bottom and run a knife around the side of the skillet to release it from the pan, but that worked perfectly.  The tart cut cleanly using a pizza wheel and everyone wondered why I didn’t make two.  My only recommendation is to make sure you have another pan under the skillet when you put it into the oven to catch spill over and avoid filling the kitchen with smoke.


 Turkey number 1 – the rotisserie turkey is always a winner.  We have a Ronco standard rotisserie oven that gets used 3, sometimes 4 or 5 times a week.  I use it for everything from meat to vegetables.  The turkey gets brined with a 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of salt to every 2 gals of water, over night.  You don’t really have to do the brine with the rotisserie as it distributes the juices and always leaves a juicy result.  I dry the bird and rub it with olive oil, then sprinkle liberally with McCormick’s lemon-pepper.  That’s it.  This bird was a 13 pounder so I cooked it for 3 hours and 15 mins, then rotated without heat to redistribute the juices for 20 mins.  Easy. It pulls apart.



Turkey number 2, the de-boned stuffed turkey – My first de-boning of a turkey, went as well as could be expected.  No skin tears or bone fragments.  I cheated a little and left the wing and leg bones intact to better represent a whole turkey.  The stuffing was my own mix of rice, whole hard cooked eggs, spinach, arugula, mushrooms, dried fruit and nuts. The eggs were mostly for presentation when the bird was sliced, but I should have added 2 or 3 raw eggs to the mix to bind the stuffing more.  When it was cut the stuffing kind of fell out. The second picture shows the sliced bird.  I was able to eat the stuffing which was great.  Nice and moist.  Everyone loved the turkey and it would have been a star if it hadn’t been for the rotisserie turkey.


 This is the sliced bird with the egg reveal.





 The winner is!!  Pretzel rolls – this recipe got the most raves of all.  We had these with a nice potato soup that I made last week and Darlene doctored.  Chopped turkey was optional to add to the soup.  These rolls were easy to make.  They only have to rise about an hour and they you poach them in a salt/soda bath to make a pretzel like crust before baking them for 20 mins.  Crust on outside, doughy on the inside.  Great with butter or dipped in the soup.  I’ll be making these once a month at least.



 Thought I’d show you one of the desserts.  This is a double layer cheese cake with pistachio nuts on the outside and dried cherries and fresh blackberries on top.  Mine isn’t as pretty as the recipe, which was only one layer, but it was good.  I didn’t chop the nuts, so mine didn’t cover as well as the recipe’s and I changed the berries too.  My mother and I jointly made this cake using an old standard Philadelphia cheese cake recipe that is a never fail recipe.  It is so rich that only a small piece with satisfy even the sweetest of tooths.




More successes and failures on my next post – jughandle

How to Make Pie Dough (and why)

This is one of the basic skills necessary to become a good cook.   Learn this and you are on your way to greatness.


Why, you ask.  Because I told you to…. Oh, sorry I digressed to my teen years and flashed on my father.  I’m thinking that we all should be able to make a killer pie crust from scratch with out looking at a recipe  in case we are unexpectedly on a cooking show?  No, how about, because it is way better than store bought dough in a tin pan and scratch pie crust “makes” a pot pie great, or a cherry pie amazing, or a hot apple pie melt in your mouth.  But I’m going to go with “Because I told you to…..

How it should end up

Are you used to your pie crust tasting like freezer burn?  Does it crumble into tiny pieces when you touch it with a fork?  Is it the last thing sitting on every one’s plate?  If you answered yes to any of these then you have been using store bought pie crust.

Your crust should be flakey not dry and it should melt in your mouth and enhance the flavor of your pie.  If you are thinking that every attempt you’ve made at your own pie crust has turned out tasting like cardboard, then you are trying too hard.


Pie crust is only flour, butter, salt and water.  The rest is up to you.  The only way to screw this up is by overworking the dough or using ingredients that are too warm.

side bar – flour by its very nature contains a protein called gluten.  When the flour gets wet with any liquid, those glutens link together to form chains.  Those chains are great when you make bread because the more you work the dough, the more chains of gluten proteins are formed and those chains trap gases in the dough making it rise during cooking.  Bread flour has even more gluten in it making the bread dough rise more easily.  We don’t want our pie crust to rise at all.  We want it to be flaky and tender, not chewy and soft.  So…… don’t work the pie dough more than it takes to mix it together.

The butter – If you bake, you might soften your butter before you incorporate it into the batter.  DO NOT soften the butter with a pie crust.  In fact you want your butter as cold as you can get it and still cut it.  I have been known to slice my cold butter then put it in the freezer before cutting it into small bits that I barely distribute by mixing  thought out the  dough.  Your pieces of butter should look like small yellow peas in the flour.  These pieces of cold butter will melt and expand when cooked to make your pie crust flaky.  So chill all of your ingredients and the bowl before making your dough.

Ingredients – to make a double pie crust, or two single crusts, use

  • 2 1/2 cups of all – purpose or pastry flour
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter cut into pats
  • 1 t of salt or a little less, not more
  • 1 cup of ice water – you won’t need it all
  • Chill all your ingredients and the work bowls in the freezer for 10-15 minutes
  • put the flour salt and butter pats into a chilled food processor bowl
  • Pulse until the butter is the size of small peas 10 -15 pulses- they don’t have to be consistent – less is more
  • Pour about a tablespoon of the ice water through the feed tube of your processor while pulsing once or twice
  • Depending on the conditions in your kitchen you will now need anywhere from a few tablespoons to 1/2 cup or more of the ice water
  • open the lid and squeeze some of the flour mixture in your hand.  If it sticks together you are done.  If not add a tablespoon or two of water and test again
  • when it “just” sticks together
  • dump the work bowl onto a large sheet of plastic wrap on your work bench
  • bring the sides of the plastic together and squeeze the dough
  • if at any point the mixture seems to be warming up or the butter is melting, put it back in the freezer for a few minutes
  • repeat bringing the plastic up from several sides until the dough comes together
  • Wrap the dough ball in the plastic tightly and put it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more.
  • You are now ready to roll out your dough to make the crust
  • dust your work surface lightly with flour and turn out the dough
  • roll it out until it is just less than 1/4″ thick and about 2 inches bigger than your pie pan
  • use scissors or a knife to trim the extra dough
  • then pinch with your thumb and forefinger to crimp the edge

You can now finish your pie and feel secure in the fact that you are now a “scratch” baker – jughandle

In the following video the recipe is a little different from mine above.  I don’t use sugar and I use more butter.